As this strange history proceeded, I know not who in that little audience was most affected. The jury, fascinated by the sweet voice of the speaker, as well as the mystery about the vessel and its unwitnessed disappearance, leant forward in their seats with strained and breathless attention. My mother could not take her eyes off the stranger’s face. As he hesitated over the name of the ship, her very lips grew white in agonised suspense, but when the coroner read “the James and Elizabeth,” she sank back in her seat with a low “Thank God!” that told me what she had dreaded, and how terribly. I myself knew not what to think, nor if my ears had heard aright. Part of the tale I knew to be a lie; but how much? And what of the Mary Jane? I looked round about. A hush had succeeded the closing words of Rhodojani. Even the coroner was puzzled for a moment; but improbable as the evidence might seem, there was none to gainsay it. I alone, had they but known it, could give this demon the lie—I, an unnoticed child.
The coroner put a question or two and then summed up. Again the old drowsy insensibility fell upon me. I heard the jury return the usual verdict of “Accidental Death,” and, as my mother led me from the room, the voice of Joe Roscorla (who had been on the jury) saying, “Durn all foreigners! I don’t hold by none of ’em.” As the door slammed behind us, shutting out at last those piercing eyes, a shrill screech from the landlord’s parrot echoed through the house—
“All hands lost! Lord ha’ mercy on us!”
TELLS HOW A FACE LOOKED IN AT THE WINDOW OF LANTRIG; AND IN WHAT MANNER MY FATHER CAME HOME TO US.
My mother and I walked homeward together by way of the cliffs. We were both silent. My heart ached to tell the whole story, and prove that my tale of the Mary Jane was no wanton lie; but fear restrained me. My mother was busy with her own thoughts. She had seen, I knew, the glance of intelligence which the stranger gave me; she guessed that his story was a lie and that I knew it. What she could not guess was the horror that held my tongue fastened as with a padlock. So, both busy with bitter thoughts, we walked in silence to Lantrig.
The evening meal was no better. My food choked me, and after a struggle I was forced to let it lie almost untouched. But when the fire was stirred, the candles lit, and I drew my footstool as usual to her feet by the hearth, the old room looked so warm and cosy that my pale fears began to vanish in its genial glow. I had possessed myself of the “Pilgrim’s Progress,” and the volume, a dumpy octavo, lay on my knee. As I read the story of Christian and Apollyon to its end, a new courage fought in me with my morning fears.
“In this combat no man can imagine, unless he has seen and heard as I did, what yelling and hideous roaring Apollyon made all the time of the fight: he spake like a dragon; and, on the other side, what sighs and groans burst from Christian’s heart. I never saw him all the while give so much as one pleasant look, till he perceived that he had wounded Apollyon with his two-edged sword; then indeed he did smile and look upward! but it was the dreadfullest sight that ever I saw.”