The treat consisted in a dish of tea—a luxury in those times, rarely afforded even at Minden Cottage—and a pot of guava-jelly, with Cornish cream and a loaf of white, wheaten bread. Such bread, I need scarcely say, with wheat at 140 shillings a quarter, or thereabouts, never graced the table of Copenhagen Academy. But the dulcet, peculiar taste of guava-jelly is what I associate in memory with that delectable meal; and to this day I cannot taste the flavour of guava but I find myself back in Captain Coffin’s sitting-room, cutting a third slice from the wheaten loaf, with the corals and shells of mother-of-pearl winking at me from among the china on the dresser, and Captain Coffin seated opposite, with the silver rings in his ears, and his eyes very white in the dusk and distinct within their inflamed rims.
“Nothing like tea,” he was saying—“nothing like tea to pull a man round from the drink and cock him back like a trigger.”
His right hand was at his breast as he spoke. It came out swiftly, as upon a sudden impulse. His left hand closed upon it and partly covered it for a moment; then the two hands spread apart and disclosed an oilskin case.
“Brooks!” he whispered hoarsely. “Brooks, look at this!”
His fingers plucked at the oilskin wrapper, uncovered it, unfolded an inner parcel of parchment, and, trembling, spread it out on the table.
I leaned closer, and I saw a chart of the Island of Mortallone in the Bay of Honduras dated MDCCLXXVII. From the scale on the chart, the island was some eight to ten miles long in the north-south direction, and perhaps eight miles broad at the widest point. At the north end of the island, around a promontory called Gable Point, there were five small islands called The Keys. To the south was a wide inlet with a ship seemingly in the act of sailing towards it. The eastward edge of this inlet was labelled Cape Fea and just around from this, in an easterly direction wa a small cove called Try-Again Inlet. In the sea to the west of the island was drawn a mythical sea-monster.
Twice, while I leaned across and stared at it, Captain Coffin’s fingers all but closed over the parchment to hide it from me. The afternoon light was falling dim, and I stood up to walk around the edge of the table for a better look. As I pushed back my chair he clutched his treasure away, and hid it away again in the breast of his jumper, at the same moment falling back and passing a hand over his damp forehead.
“No, no, Brooks! You mustn’t think—Only you took me sudden. But my promise I’ve passed, and my promise I’ll stand by. Come to-morrow, lad.”
Outside in the back yard I could hear Mr. Goodfellow, the slave of love, sawing for dear life and Martha.
ENTER THE RETURNED PRISONER.
Strange to say, although I paid six or eight visits after this to Captain Coffin, and by invitation, and watched his whaleboat building, and ate more of his delectable guava-jelly, I saw nothing more of the chart for several months.