The town of Queensferry lies farther west, and the neighbourhood of the inn looked pretty lonely at that time of day, for the boat had just gone north with passengers. A skiff, however, lay beside the pier, with some seamen sleeping on the thwarts; this, as Ransome told me, was the brig’s boat waiting for the captain; and about half a mile off, and all alone in the anchorage, he showed me the Covenant herself. There was a sea-going bustle on board; yards were swinging into place; and as the wind blew from that quarter, I could hear the song of the sailors as they pulled upon the ropes. After all I had listened to upon the way, I looked at that ship with an extreme abhorrence; and from the bottom of my heart I pitied all poor souls that were condemned to sail in her.
We had all three pulled up on the brow of the hill; and now I marched across the road and addressed my uncle. “I think it right to tell you, sir.” says I, “there’s nothing that will bring me on board that Covenant.”
He seemed to waken from a dream. “Eh?” he said. “What’s that?”
I told him over again.
“Well, well,” he said, “we’ll have to please ye, I suppose. But what are we standing here for? It’s perishing cold; and if I’m no mistaken, they’re busking the Covenant for sea.”
WHAT BEFELL AT THE QUEEN’S FERRY
As soon as we came to the inn, Ransome led us up the stair to a small room, with a bed in it, and heated like an oven by a great fire of coal. At a table hard by the chimney, a tall, dark, sober-looking man sat writing. In spite of the heat of the room, he wore a thick sea-jacket, buttoned to the neck, and a tall hairy cap drawn down over his ears; yet I never saw any man, not even a judge upon the bench, look cooler, or more studious and self-possessed, than this ship-captain.
He got to his feet at once, and coming forward, offered his large hand to Ebenezer. “I am proud to see you, Mr. Balfour,” said he, in a fine deep voice, “and glad that ye are here in time. The wind’s fair, and the tide upon the turn; we’ll see the old coal-bucket burning on the Isle of May before to-night.”
“Captain Hoseason,” returned my uncle, “you keep your room unco hot.”
“It’s a habit I have, Mr. Balfour,” said the skipper. “I’m a cold-rife man by my nature; I have a cold blood, sir. There’s neither fur, nor flannel—no, sir, nor hot rum, will warm up what they call the temperature. Sir, it’s the same with most men that have been carbonadoed, as they call it, in the tropic seas.”
“Well, well, captain,” replied my uncle, “we must all be the way we’re made.”
But it chanced that this fancy of the captain’s had a great share in my misfortunes. For though I had promised myself not to let my kinsman out of sight, I was both so impatient for a nearer look of the sea, and so sickened by the closeness of the room, that when he told me to “run down-stairs and play myself awhile,” I was fool enough to take him at his word.