The skipper, without replying, steered shorewards, the other clambering down the rock to meet him. After a brief parley, during which the old fellow closely scrutinized his intending passenger from head to foot, a bargain was struck, and they put forth, tacking diagonally across stream. For Balder, having charged his imagination with castles, warlike chieftains, and beautiful princesses, had finally arrived at the conclusion that the stone house was an enchanter’s castle; the figure he had seen, an imprisoned lady; himself, a knight-errant bound to rescue her and give the wicked enchanter his deserts. This idea possessed his brain for the moment more vividly than do realities most men. The plumed helmet was on his head, he glittered with shining arms and sword, his heart warmed and throbbed with visions of conflict and bold emprise. The commonplace assumed an aspect of grandeur and magnificence in harmony with his chivalric mania. The leaky craft in which he sat became a majestic barge; the skipper, some wrinkled Charon who doubtless had ferried many a brave knight to his death beneath yonder castle’s walls. That seeming birch-stump on the farther shore was the castle champion, armed cap-a-pie in silver harness and ready with drawn sword to do battle against all comers. Trim the sail, ferryman, and steer thy skilfullest!
The kind of insanity which sees in outward manifestation the fantasies of the mind is an affection incident at times to every one. An artist sees beauties in a landscape, an artisan in pulleys and levers, and either may be so far insane in the eyes of the other. Nature discovers grandeur, beauty, or truth according as the quality abides in the seer. In this view Balder or Don Quixote was no more insane than other people. Their eyes bore true witness to what was in their minds, and the sanest eyes can do no more. Their minds were, perhaps, out of focus; but who can cast the first stone?
The skipper, when not masquerading as Charon, was a lean, brown, and wrinkled old salt, neither complete nor clean of garb, and bulging as to one lank cheek with a quid of tobacco. At first he sat silent, dividing his attention between the conduct of his boat and his passenger.
“Whereabouts will yer land, Captain?” he asked when they were fairly under way.
“Wherever there is a path upwards. Who is the owner of the castle?”
“The castle? Well, there ain’t many rightly knows just what his name is,” answered Charon, cocking his gray eye rather quizzically. “Some says one thing, some another. I have heard tell he was Davy Jones himself!”
“Have you ever seen him?”
“Well, I don’t know; I’ve seen something that might have been him; but there’s no telling! he can fix himself up to look like pretty much anything, they say. There ain’t many calls up to the castle, anyway.”
“Well, there’s a big wall all around the place, for one thing, and never a gate in it; so without yer dives under ground and up again, there don’t seem no easy way of getting in.”