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Eleven

Rosalie read along, the old lady nodded her head, listened, smiled, approved,

“My friend,” said the bishop, “before you go away, here are your candlesticks; take them.”

He went to the mantlepiece, took the two candlesticks and brought them to Jean Valjean. The two women beheld the action without a word, or gesture, or look that might disturb the bishop.

Jean Valjean was trembling in every limb. He took the candlesticks mechanically, and with a wild appearance.

“Now,” said the bishop, “go in peace. By the way, when you come again, you need not come through the garden. You can always come in and go out by the front door. It is closed only with a latch, day and night.”

Then turning to the gendarmes, he said: “Messieurs, you can retire.” The gendarmes withdrew.

Jean Valjean felt like a man who is just about to faint.

The Bishop approached him and said in a low voice:

“Forget not; never forget that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man.”

Jean VaiJean, who had no recollection of this promise, stood utterly confounded. The bishop had laid much stress upon these words as he uttered them. He continued solemnly: Jean Valjean, my brother; you belong no longer to evil but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, a I give it to God!”

“Rosalie, he was a saint, a true saint.”

“Yes he really loved the poor.”

“He gave away everything he had. I don’t think much of these rich persons that live in palaces, and draw great salaries. It’s a bad system to get into a round of hidebound prayers. They get to worship an institution instead of helping the people. There are very few real Christians like the bishop in the world, you can count them on your fingers and toes.”

“Do you really think so, Old Lady?” said Rosalie timidly. “Don’t you think you’ll get to Heaven if you go to church regularly and say all the prayers?”

“Heaven! Where is it? In the sky? Deep in the earth? It’s my opinion that the only people who’ll get to Heaven, if there is such a place, will be saints like the Bishop.”

“Do you think everyone should give away all they have, Old Lady?’

asked Rosalie.

“Certainly not, where would I be if I’d given away my shirt? In the county poorhouse. I’m rich and I’ve hung on to my money. I’m no saint, I’m a sinner, you have to be one or the other. This plan of giving away everything doesn’t work for sinners, it only works for saints.”

“But you’ve been kinder to me, Old Lady, than anyone so far in the world, surely you must be a Christian.”

“No, I’m not. It’s a bold man that calls himself such. Most of them are seeking something more; heavenly insurance, I call it. No poor one comes to this door without a gift of food or clothing, but still I’m not a Christian. I have plenty of money in the trust company, and I mean to hang on to it. You have to look after your property, your possessions, or you’ll come to a sorry end. Now, Mat he came near to being a saint, he never longed for possessions, he was always doing a good turn for somebody, if he had a dollar in his pocket his fingers itched at the sight of a beggar.”

“Tell me more about you and Mat,” said Rosalie.

“It was six years,” began the little old lady, “before the owners called the Arethusa home, to be cleaned and refitted. She had made a pot of money in those six years, for freights were high. We’d never carried away a yard of spar, though we’d been in plenty of gales, for Mat was a triple A master, daring yet careful; he had no frayed rigging, no rotten sails, for halyards and braces and foot-ropes were rewove three times a year. Good seamen liked to sail with Mat. He was a driver, but they felt safe on his ship. I was the one that saved the money for what I bought in Shanghai or Valpariso, I sold duty free at great profit in Boston and London. Mat was the saint, I was the worldly one, women are often greedy.

“Well, at last after six years we came home; through the deep narrow Gut, across the blue Basin, home up the little tidal river, that seemed like a child’s brook after the Amazon; up the little home tidal river we went on the top of the flood.

“Father’s tug picked us up a mile below the drawbridge, and on an even keel, we came up four miles of river between hills gay with orchards, our sails rolled tight and neat the gaskets all tied down and the yards squared. She was no battered barque returning, for Mat was a great lad to lay on paint. I was proud as a queen standing there on the poop-deck, watching the people on the wharves grow from pigmies to full-sized people I could begin to recognize. It was good to be home, but how low the green hills looked, how small and shrunken my native village of white houses.

“All the village was on the wharves to greet us, and of course, father and mother among them. Mat’s people, the humble Deckers, were there too, but not in the front row. It took some time to tie up, but the wharves were high, and on the flood flush with the Arathusa’s deck, so we were soon ashore. Father gave me a hug, then held me off and looked at me and said, ‘Why, you’re a woman now, Kitty, you went away a little girl.’ Mother kissed me warmly, and I could tell by the light in her eyes that she was glad to see me back, though I’d always been more friendly with father than mother. ‘You’ll have a thousand things to tell me, Kitty,’ she said, and so I had, though I can tell them better now, when I can see the whole of my life as one piece.

“They had a grand surprise for us too; a shining new ship on the ways, two hundred tons bigger than the old Arethusa, that was to be full-rigged with yards on her mizzen, and Mat was to be not only master, but a third-part owner. She was a beauty, clipper-built like the ships in the China tea trade.

“But there was a sad part; joy and sorrow you learn come in streaks, like fat and lean in bacon. The old Arethusa was fourteen years old and had paid for herself many times over—she was a lucky ship—and be­fore we got home the owners had sold her to some Norwegians. A month after our arrival a foreign captain and crew came and took her down the river. It nearly broke my heart for I felt that I had been married to her as well as to Mat. I stood on the highest hill and watched and watched, as the tug took our lovely old barque down the winding river, and out into the Basin, till her royals faded in the mists about the Gut. She had been my first home with my great-hearted lover; in her I had first seen strange lands, strange cities, strange peoples; never again in any ship could I have such days of wonder. Only I was glad that if she had to be sold the Norwegians had got her, for Norwegians are good and true sailor-men.

“We were home for four months, while the new Arethusa was finished and sparred and rigged and painted. She was indeed a beautiful ship and of course much faster than the barque whose name she bore. But I was home quite long enough, for after the first few days of getting acquainted again, my father and mother took it for granted that I was still little Kitty, and the rules and little conventions of the village irked me. However, I was wise enough to smile and say nothing. But I was indeed glad to be on the sea with Mat again in our fast full-rigged ship in a kingdom that was all our own.

“I must skip hundreds of things, Rosalie, my memory of what happened on our ship is not as clear and vivid as what happened on the barque, for then it was all new and strange. Moreover, I would go on for ever and ever; there would be no end.”

“I like to listen, Old Lady,” said Rosalie. “I’m learning all the time.”

“Once in March we were making the Nova Scotia coast, and after we left the Gulf Stream the weather was thick as mud with driving squalls of snow. I tell you I changed quickly from cottons to woolens. It wasn’t often that Mat made an error in reckoning, and then we always checked together, but we had to run by dead reckoning for we hadn’t seen the sun by day nor the stars by night. Something went wrong; perhaps the compass was out, for you know, Rosalie, sometimes the iron­work of the ship, or some metallic substance in the cargo, may pull the compass several degrees off. Anyway, we made the coast too far to the westward, and the first thing we knew we were almost on top of Little Hope light. Willard Langille and Lily used to tend that light. Fortunately, we heard the bell and horn just in time and the water was bold. Mat hauled the Arethusa off seaward and jogged her slowly up the coast. Then at the end of a day and a nignt the fog lifted and the sun came out, and far inshore we saw a strange sight; a ship, a full-rigged iron ship, with the sails tied up but flapping as if the work had been done hurriedly; she rode straight as if to anchor but was flying a flag of distress. Mat stood the Arethusa in as close as he dared, and lowered the jolly-boat from the davits. ‘Mat,’ I said, ‘I want to go with you.’ He hesitated for a moment, and then said, ‘All right, Kitty,’ for he always wanted to please me. We had a good first-mate, and he jogged the Arethusa to and fro with the foresail backed, while we rowed over to the anchored ship. As we got nearer we noticed, that she was full-rigged with no list, and painted red. Though not aground, she was close in on the harbour sand-bar,, and as we came under her quarter we saw her name The Ardmore of Belfast. ‘What in the world of cats is she doing here?’ said Mat.

“She was loaded with alcohol, and had jogged alone nearly five hundred miles. Mat had a pretty shrewd idea what had happened to her, but that’s another story. My head’s so full of stories, Rosalie, that it’s hard for me to finish any one.

“The boy, the son of the shipbuilder, was less frightened than the other, and he said, “Let the off-shore wind blow her till she’ll swing clear off the bar and then we’ll let go the anchor and give her plenty of chain.

“And after the Ardmore had plenty of chain, they cut the lashing that the anchor was catted with, knocked out the pawl, cleared the windlass and let the big mud-hook go with a splash and rattle of chain. That’s always a sweet sound to a sailor-man’s ear after a long voyage. It was just after they hove the anchor, and the sun broke out and they hoisted the jack up-side-down, that we sighted them.

“Mat patted them on back and shoulder, and told them they were brave lads, and would someday make good sailor-men. That was the highest praise he could ever give to a man. Then Mat, thought quick. He wrote down the names and addresses of the two lads and said, ‘We’ll get her under weigh.’ He called up the other sailor from the jolly­ boat and that made seven of us counting the two lads. Somehow, between us we hove up the big heavy anchor. It was hard work breaking her out, but Mat was as powerful as three men and the country lads were strong and willing and so were our own sailors. I pushed too on the capstan bars with all my one hundred and five pounds, and when we were stuck with the chain almost up and down, Mat began to bellow ‘Blow the Man Down’, and we gave an extra heave and the big mud-hook broke loose. You know you have to learn in life, Rosalie, that you always have a little more strength for a crisis than you think you have, for strength is a thing of the mind. It takes three strong men to handle a sailor crazed with dope and drink. Yes, strength is a thing, in great part, of the mind; don’t forget that Rosalie, if you’re ever in a jam.”

“I’ll remember,” said Rosalie, and indeed in later years, she was glad that the little old lady had given her that precept.

“Now the Ardmore was afloat and drifting out to sea, Mat got two jibs on her quick and hurried the lads into their dory. I took the wheel and Mat and the sailor-men loosed the lower topsails and hauled round the braces, and there we were going to sea on a strange ship, before the coward captain and his crew could launch his jolly-boat through the surf. In fact they never tried to push off, as far as we could see. She was an abandoned ship and we had her. Mat figured that they had tried to lose her for the insurance. We sailed in close to the lee of the Arethusa; we had a smart second mate and Mat put him in command of the Ardmore, and give him the whole of starboard watch. Follow the Arethusa, Mat told the the mate, and we’ll make Halifax together. They got sail on her, the wind was light off-shore, and both ships were close-hauled. The Ardmore wasn’t as smart a sailer as the Arethusa, and as she was light in ballast she made more lee-way, but whenever she dropped more than a mile behind, Mat jogged the Arethusa till the Ardmore caught up with her. Next day by noon both ships were anchored in Bedford Basin, and the officials of the admiralty Court came on board.

“Then there was a great to-do, for the Ardmore’s captain turned up and claimed that Mat had stolen his ship, and committed an act of piracy. But he hadn’t a leg to stand on, not even a wooden leg, and in the end he lost his master’s certificate. We got a handsome salvage and our crew got prize money, more money than such simple sailors had ever had in all their lives before, and Mat sent cheques for twelve hundred dollars to each of the lads who had helped us. Good old generous Mat. He wrote on each of the cheques, ‘Get an education with this, I never had the chance.’

“And do you know I always kept track of those two lads, and one be­came a chemist and a few years back he was elected president of the Chemical Society, and the other won a scholarship of money, made by that Mr. Rhodas that I had heard of in of a South Africa, and he went to Oxford and in time became the head of a college. I wrote them both a few years back, when I heard of their success, and asked them if they remembered Mat and me and the Arethusa and the Ardmore, though I’m no great hand at writing letters. I told you, Rosalie, I get paralysis of arm and brain as soon as I take pen in hand, as sailors say. They both wrote back nice letters and thanked both Mat and me—they didn’t know that Mat was gone—and said that of course they re­membered the Ardmore and that the salvage money had given them their start in life.”

“What a lovely story,” said Rosalie, especially that part about heaving up the great anchor by the strength of your minds.”

“Mat would have got her off somehow, even if we hadn’t been able to break out the anchor; Mat was very resourceful in anything about a ship. There was a donkey engine on board to hoist with, but you see we hadn’t time to waste getting up steam; Mat told me afterwards he planned to saw through the chain with a hack-saw and buoy out the chain and anchor. He always knew a second way.”

“That’s a great thing in life, I believe,” said Rosalie, “to have a second way if the first way fails.”

 

 

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Eleven by Dalhousie University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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