‘And then,’ said the boy, ’in return you promise to tell me of my parentage?’
‘You shall know all.’
The boy paced the floor for a few moments. His figure was slender, but lithe and active, of medium stature; and there was a restlessness about his movements that told of a wild spirit within. His face was remarkably handsome; features chiselled in a form that would have served a Grecian sculptor for a model—and his long dark hair fell in glossy locks even over his shoulders. He stood holding the back of a chair, and looking more to seaward than at his companion, began:
’It was not in this country, I am sure, that I first recollect myself, in a handsome house, but built different from these. There were cocoa-nut trees growing near it; and other trees that do not grow here; but I have seen something like them in the Earl’s green house. There were luscious fruits, but not English ones—oranges and bananas I am sure. The people around us too were black. I remember I was frightened when I came here first at seeing so many white people and no blacks.’
Walter regarded him steadily—but the young man’s eye was seaward. He seemed to see before him the scenes he was depicting.
’There was a piazza round the house, where I used to play, and a sweet lady, very like poor Mary, but dark-haired, whom I used to call mother.’ There was powerful emotion depicted on the listener’s face, but he said nothing. ’I remember a handsome gentleman, but he was not there often. He wore a uniform, but not like the officers here. I think now he must have been in the navy. I used to call him papa. I am sure he must have been my father, and he was a sailor; for my mother was always looking out to sea when he was absent, and he took me onboard a man of war ship once, where, from the deference every one showed to him, I judge, now that I am older, that he must have been the Captain of. These things seem to me like shadows, for I was not more than five years old then.’
‘True,’ said his auditor, ‘your memory is good.’
’There was a party. I think my father was not there, but I was handsomely dressed, and ladies caressed me, and the negroes were dancing. I think it must have been my birth-day. I remember a servant bringing in a letter, and my mother fainting, and talk about a great fight at sea, and my father’s name mentioned—I have forgotten it—but ladies told me not to cry, and I knew that he was dead; but I did not know what it meant. After this another gentleman used to come there, very handsome too, but not like my father, for he had a dark face and dark hair, and my father’s hair was light. I did not like him, for he spoke very stern to my mother, and she used to weep, and was very much frightened by him. It was some paper he wanted from her, and he offered her gold once. I saw him, for I hid myself and watched him. Then my mother got sick—they said she was getting better, and I remember being much surprised one morning, when the old nurse came down and told me she was dead. She had died suddenly in the night, they said, and yet she had been better the evening before.’