I testified to them briefly.
The captain said a curious thing: ’I’ll make an appointment with you in leviathan’s jaws the night of a storm, my lad.’
‘With pleasure,’ said Temple.
‘The Lord send it!’ exclaimed the captain.
His head was bent forward, and he was gazing up into his eyebrows.
Before we knew that anything was coming, he was out on a narrative of a scholar of one of the Universities. Our ears were indifferent to the young man’s career from the heights of fortune to delirium tremens down the cataract of brandy, until the captain spoke of a dark night on the Pool of the Thames; and here his voice struggled, and we tried hard to catch the thread of the tale. Two men and a girl were in the boat. The men fought, the girl shrieked, the boat was upset, the three were drowned.
All this came so suddenly that nothing but the captain’s heavy thump of his fist on the table kept us from laughing.
He was quite unable to relate the tale, and we had to gather it from his exclamations. One of the men was mate of a vessel lying in the Pool, having only cast anchor that evening; the girl was his sweetheart; the other man had once been a fine young University gentleman, and had become an outfitter’s drunken agent. The brave sailor had nourished him often when on shore, and he, with the fluent tongue which his college had trimmed for him, had led the girl to sin during her lover’s absence. Howsoever, they put off together to welcome him on his arrival, never suspecting that their secret had been whispered to Robert Welsh beforehand. Howsoever, Robert gave them hearty greeting, and down to the cabin they went, and there sat drinking up to midnight.
‘Three lost souls!’ said the captain.
‘See how they run,’ Temple sang, half audibly, and flushed hot, ashamed of himself.
‘’Twas I had to bear the news to his mother,’ the captain pursued; ’and it was a task, my lads, for I was then little more than your age, and the glass was Robert’s only fault, and he was my only brother.’
I offered my hand to the captain. He grasped it powerfully. ’That crew in a boat, and wouldn’t you know the devil’d be coxswain?’ he called loudly, and buried his face.
‘No,’ he said, looking up at us, ’I pray for no storm, but, by the Lord’s mercy, for a way to your hearts through fire or water. And now on deck, my lads, while your beds are made up. Three blind things we verily are.’
Captain Welsh showed he was sharp of hearing. His allusion to the humming of the tune of the mice gave Temple a fit of remorse, and he apologized.
‘Ay,’ said the captain, ’it is so; own it: frivolity’s the fruit of that training that’s all for the flesh. But dip you into some o’ my books on my shelves here, and learn to see living man half skeleton, like life and shadow, and never to living man need you pray forgiveness, my lad.’