All that the captain said and did was honestly according to his nature; and his nature was open nature and good nature; therefore, when he paid this little compliment, and expressed with a sparkle or two of his knowing eye, "I see how it is, and nothing could be better," he had established a delicate confidence on that subject with the family.
"I was saying to your worthy mother," said the captain to the young man, after again introducing himself by name and occupation,--"I was saying to your mother (and you're very like her) that it didn't signify where I was born, except that I was raised on question- asking ground, where the babies as soon as ever they come into the world, inquire of their mothers, 'Neow, how old may you be, and wa'at air you a goin' to name me?'--which is a fact." Here he slapped his leg. "Such being the case, I may be excused for asking you if your name's Alfred?"
"Yes, sir, my name is Alfred," returned the young man.
"I am not a conjurer," pursued the captain, "and don't think me so, or I shall right soon undeceive you. Likewise don't think, if you please, though I do come from that country of the babies, that I am asking questions for question-asking's sake, for I am not. Somebody belonging to you went to sea?"
"My elder brother, Hugh," returned the young man. He said it in an altered and lower voice, and glanced at his mother, who raised her hands hurriedly, and put them together across her black gown, and looked eagerly at the visitor.
"No! For God's sake, don't think that!" said the captain, in a solemn way; "I bring no good tidings of him."
There was a silence, and the mother turned her face to the fire and put her hand between it and her eyes. The young fisherman slightly motioned toward the window, and the captain, looking in that direction, saw a young widow, sitting at a neighbouring window across a little garden, engaged in needlework, with a young child sleeping on her bosom. The silence continued until the captain asked of Alfred, -
"How long is it since it happened?"
"He shipped for his last voyage better than three years ago."
"Ship struck upon some reef or rock, as I take it," said the captain, "and all hands lost?"
"Wa'al!" said the captain, after a shorter silence, "Here I sit who may come to the same end, like enough. He holds the seas in the hollow of His hand. We must all strike somewhere and go down. Our comfort, then, for ourselves and one another is to have done our duty. I'd wager your brother did his!"
"He did!" answered the young fisherman. "If ever man strove faithfully on all occasions to do his duty, my brother did. My brother was not a quick man (anything but that), but he was a faithful, true, and just man. We were the sons of only a small tradesman in this county, sir; yet our father was as watchful of his good name as if he had been a king."
"A precious sight more so, I hope--bearing in mind the general run of that class of crittur," said the captain. "But I interrupt."
"My brother considered that our father left the good name to us, to keep clear and true."
"Your brother considered right," said the captain; "and you couldn't take care of a better legacy. But again I interrupt."
"No; for I have nothing more to say. We know that Hugh lived well for the good name, and we feel certain that he died well for the good name. And now it has come into my keeping. And that's all."
"Well spoken!" cried the captain. "Well spoken, young man! Concerning the manner of your brother's death,"--by this time the captain had released the hand he had shaken, and sat with his own broad, brown hands spread out on his knees, and spoke aside,-- "concerning the manner of your brother's death, it may be that I have some information to give you; though it may not be, for I am far from sure. Can we have a little talk alone?"
The young man rose; but not before the captain's quick eye had noticed that, on the pretty sweetheart's turning to the window to greet the young widow with a nod and a wave of the hand, the young widow had held up to her the needlework on which she was engaged, with a patient and pleasant smile.