‘Company,’ was the answer; and the captain turned to Temple and me, apologizing profusely for talking over family matters with his brother after a separation of three years. I had guessed but hastily at the subject of their conversation until they mentioned the Billings, the family of my maternal grandmother. The name was like a tongue of fire shooting up in a cloud of smoke: I saw at once that the man in the Bench must be my father, though what the Bench was exactly, and where it was, I had no idea, and as I was left to imagination I became, as usual, childish in my notions, and brooded upon thoughts of the Man in the Iron Mask; things I dared not breathe to Temple, of whose manly sense I stood in awe when under these distracting influences.
‘Remember our feast in the combe?’ I sang across the table to him.
‘Never forget it!’ said he; and we repeated the tale of the goose at Rippenger’s school to our entertainers, making them laugh.
‘And next morning Richie ran off with a gipsy girl,’ said Temple; and I composed a narrative of my wanderings with Kiomi, much more amusing than the real one. The captain vowed he would like to have us both on board his ship, but that times were too bad for him to offer us a prospect of promotion. ‘Spin round the decanters,’ said he; ’now’s the hour for them to go like a humming-top, and each man lend a hand: whip hard, my lads. It’s once in three years, hurrah! and the cause is a cruel woman. Toast her; but no name. Here’s to the nameless Fair! For it’s not my intention to marry, says she, and, ma’am, I’m a man of honour or I’d catch you tight, my nut-brown maid, and clap you into a cage, fal-lal, like a squirrel; to trot the wheel of mat-trimony. Shame to the first man down!’
‘That won’t be I,’ said Temple.
‘Be me, sir, me,’ the captain corrected his grammar.
’Pardon me, Captain Bulsted; the verb “To be” governs the nominative case in our climate,’ said Temple.
’Then I’m nominative hic . . . I say, sir, I’m in the tropics, Mr. Tem . . . Mr. Tempus. Point of honour, not forget a man’s name. Rippenger, your schoolmaster? Mr. Rippenger, you’ve knocked some knowledge into this young gentleman.’ Temple and I took counsel together hastily; we cried in a breath: ’Here ’s to Julia Rippenger, the prettiest, nicest girl living!’ and we drank to her.
‘Julia!’ the captain echoed us. ’I join your toast, gentlemen. Mr. Richmond, Mr. Tempus-Julia! By all that’s holy, she floats a sinking ship! Julia consoles me for the fairest, cruellest woman alive. A rough sailor, Julia! at your feet.’
The captain fell commendably forward. Squire Gregory had already dropped. Temple and I tried to meet, but did not accomplish it till next morning at breakfast. A couple of footmen carried us each upstairs in turn, as if they were removing furniture.
Out of this strange evening came my discovery of my father, and the captain’s winning of a wife.