THE GARDENER’S COTTAGE
So we walked out of the village, with many a head craned after us and many an eye peeping from behind a shutter, and on into the open highway. The day was heavenly bright, the wind humming around us and playing mad pranks with the white cotton clouds, and I forgot awhile the pity within me to wonder at the orderly look of the country, the hedges with never a stone out of place, and the bars always up. The ground was parcelled off in such bits as to make me smile when I remembered our own wide tracts in the New World. Here waste was sin: with us part and parcel of a creed. I marvelled, too, at the primness and solidity of the houses along the road, and remarked how their lines belonged rather to the landscape than to themselves. But I was conscious ever of a strange wish to expand, for I felt as tho’ I were in the land of the Liliputians, and the thought of a gallop of forty miles or so over these honeycombed fields brought me to a laugh. But I was yet to see some estates of the gentry.
I had it on my tongue’s tip to ask the captain whither he was taking me, yet dared not intrude on the sorrow that still gripped him. Time and time we met people plodding along, some of them nodding uncertainly, others abruptly taking the far side of the pike, and every encounter drove the poison deeper into his soul. But after we had travelled some way, up hill and down dale, he vouchsafed the intelligence that we were making for Arbigland, Mr. Craik’s seat near Dumfries, which lies on the Nith twenty miles or so up the Solway from Kirkcudbright. On that estate stood the cottage where John Paul was born, and where his mother and sisters still dwelt.
“I’ll juist be saying guidbye, Richard,” he said; “and leave them a bit siller I hae saved, an’ syne we’ll be aff to London thegither, for Scotland’s no but a cauld kintra.”
“You are going to London with me?” I cried.
“Ay,” answered he; “this is hame nae mair for John Paul.”
I made bold to ask how the John’s owners had treated him.
“I have naught to complain of, laddie,” he answered; “both Mr. Beck and Mr. Currie bore the matter of the admiralty court and the delay like the gentlemen they are. They well know that I am hard driven when I resort to the lash. They were both sore at losing me, and says Mr. Beck: I We’ll not soon get another to keep the brigantine like a man-o’-war, as did you, John Paul.’ I thanked him, and told him I had sworn never to take another merchantman out of the Solway. And I will keep that oath.”
He sighed, and added that he never hoped for better owners. In token of which he drew a certificate of service from his pocket, signed by Messrs. Currie and Beck, proclaiming him the best master and supercargo they had ever had in their service. I perceived that talk lightened him, and led him on. I inquired how he had got the ‘John’.