Our Midnight Visitor II
My mind was so busy with my grievance that I was poor company, I fear, and drank perhaps more whisky than was good for me. I remember that. I stumbled over a stool once and that Minnie looked surprised and tearful. while old Fullarton sniggered to himself and coughed to hide it. I did not set out for home till half-past nine, which was a very late hour for the island. I knew my father would be asleep, and that if I climbed through my bedroom window I should have one night in peace.
lt was blowing great guns by this time, and I had to put my shoulder against the gale as I came along the winding path which led down to Carracuil. I must still have been under the intluence of liquor, for I remember that I sang uproariously and joined my feeble pipe to the howling of the wind. I had just got to the inclosure of our croft when a little incident occurred which helped to sober me.
White is a color so rare in nature that in an island like ours, where even paper was a precious commodity, it would arrest the attention at once. Something white fluttered across my path and stuck flapping upon a furze bush. I lifted it up and discovered, to my very great surprise, that it was a linen pocket handkerchief—and scented. Now, I was very sure that beyond my own there was no such thing as a white pocket handkerchief in the island. A small community like ours knew each other’s wardrobes to a nicety. But as to scent in Uffa—it was preposterous! Who did the handkerchief belong to. then? Was Minnie right. and was there really a stranger in the island? I walked on very thouglitfully, holding my discovery in my hand and thinking of what Minnie had seen the night before.
When I got into my bedroom and lit my rushlight I examined it again. It was clean and new, with the initials “A.W.” worked in red silk in the corner. There was no other indication as to who it might belong to, though from its size it was evidently a man’s. The incident struck me as so extraordinary that I sat for some time on the side of my bed turning it over in my befuddled mind, but without getting any nearer a conclusion. I might even have taken my father into confidence, but his hoarse snoring in the adjoining room showed that he was fast asleep. It is as well that it was so, for I was in no humour to be bullied, and we might have had words. The old man had little longer to live, and it is some solace to me now that that little was unmarred by any further strife between us. I did not take my clothes off, for my brain was getting swimmy after its temporary clearness, so I dropped my head upon the pillow and sank into profound slumber. I must have slept about four hours when I woke with a violent start. To this day I have never known what it was that roused me. Everything was perfectly still, and yet I found all my faculties in a state of extreme tension. Was there some one in the room?
It was very dark, but I peered about, leaning on my elbow. There was nothing to be seen, but still that eerie feeling haunted me. At that moment the flying scud passed away from the face of the moon and a flood of cold light was poured into my chamber. I turned my eyes up instinctively, and—good God!—there at the window was the face, an evil. malicious face, hard- cut and distinct against the silvery radiance, glaring in at me as Minnie had seen it the night before. For one moment I tingled and palpitated like a frighten ed child; the next both glass and sash were gone and I was rolling over and over on the gravel path with my arms round a tall strong man— the two of us worrying each other like a pair of dogs. Almost by intuition I knew as we went down together that he had slipped his hand into his side pocket, and I clung to that wrist like grim death. He tried hard to free it, but Iwas too strong for him, and we staggered on to our feet again in the same position, panting and snarling.
“Let go of my hand, damn you!” he said.
“Let go that pistol, then” I gasped.
We looked hard at each other in the moonlight, and than he laughed and opened his fingers. A heavy. glittering object, which I could see was a revolver, dropped witha clink on to the gravel. I put my foot on it and let go my grip of him.
“Well, matey, how now,” he said with another laugh. “Is that the end of a round or the end of a battle? You islanders seem a hospitable lot.Your’re so ready to welcome a. stranger that you can’t. wait to find the door, but must; come flying through tho window like infernal fireworks.”
“What do you want to come prowling round people’s houses at night for, with weapons in your pocket,” I asked. sternly.
“I should think I needed a weapon,” he answered, “when ther are young devils like you knocking around, HuIlo! here’s another of the family.”
I turned my heady and there was my father almost at my elbow. He had come round from the front door. His gray woolen night dress and grizzled hair were streaming in the wind, and he was evidently much excited. He had in his hand the double-barreled gun with which he had threatened me in the morning. He put this up to his shoulder, and would most certainly have blown out either my brains or those of the stranger, had I not turned away the barrel with my hand.
“Wait a bit, father,” I said, ” let us hear what he has to say for himself. And you,” I continued, turning to the stranger, “can come inside with us and justify yourselt if you can. But remember we are in a majority, so keep your tongue between your teeth.”
“Not so fast, my young bantam,” he grumbled; ” you’ve got my six-shooter, but I have a Derringer in my pocket. I learned in Colorado to carry them both. However, come along into this shanty of yours, and let us get the damned palaver over. I’m wet through, and most infernally hungry.”
My father was still mumbling to himself and fidgeting with his gun, but he did not oppose my taking the stranger into the house. I struck a match and lit the oil lamp in the kitchen, on which our prisoner stooped down to it and began smoking a cigarette. As the light fell full on his face both my father and I took a good look at him. He was a man of about forty, remarkably handsome, of rather a Spanish type, with blue—black hair and beard, and sun-burned features. His eyes were very bright and their gaze so intense that you would think they projected somewhat, unless you saw him in profile. There was a dash of recklessness and devilry about them, which, with his wiry, powerful frame and jaunty manner, gave the impression of a man whose past had been an adventurous one. He was elegantly dressed in a velveteen jacket and grayish trousers of a foreign cut. Without in the least resenting our prolonged scrutiny. he seated himself upon the dresser, swinging his legs and blowing little blue wreaths from his cigarette. His appearance seemed to reassure my father, or perhaps it was the sight of the rings which flashed on the stranger’s left hand every time he raised it to his lips.
“Ye munna mind Archie, Sir,” he said in a cringing voice. “He was aye a fashious bairn, ower quick wi’ his hands, and wi’ mair muscle than brains. I was fashed mysel’ wi’ the sudden stour, but as tae shootin’ at ye, Sir, that was a’ an auld man’s havers. Nae doobt ye’re a veesitor, or maybe it’s a shipwreck—it’s no’ a shipwreck, is’t?” The idea awoke the covetous devil in my father’s soul, and it looked out through his glistening eyes, and set his long stringy hands a-shaking.
“I came here in a boat,” said the stranger shortly. “This was the iirst house I came to after I left the shore, and I’m not likely to forget the reception you have given me. That young hopeful of yours has nearly broken my back.”
“A good job too!” I interrupted hotly, “why couldn’t you come up to the door like a man, instead of skulking at the window?”
“Hush, Archie, hush !” said my father imploringly; while our visitor grinned across at me as amicably as if my speech had been most conciliatory.
“I don’t blame you,” he said—he spoke with a strange mixture of accents, sometimes with a foreign lisp, sometimes with a slight Yankee intonation, and at other times very purely indeed. ” I have done the same, mate. Maybe you noticed a brigantine standing on and off the shore yesterday?”
I nodded my head.
“That was mine,” he said. “I’m owner, skipper, and everything else. Why shouldn’t a man spend his money in his own way? I like cruising about and I like new experiences. I suppose there’s no harm in that. I was in the Mediterranean last month, but I’m sick of blue skies and fine weather. Chios is a damnable paradise of a place. I’ve come up here for a little fresh air and freedom. I cruised all down the western isles, and when we came abreast ef this place of yours it rather took my fancy, so I hauled the foreyard aback and came ashore last night to prospect. It wasn’t this house I struck, but another further to the west’ard: however, I saw enough to be sure it was a place after my own heart—a real quiet corner. So I went back and set everything straight aboard yesterday, and now here I am. You can put me up for a few weeks, I suppose. I’m not hard to please, and I can pay my way; suppose we say ten dollars a week for board and lodging, and a fortnight to be paid in advance?
He put his hand in his pocket and pro-duced four shining napoleons, which he pushed along the dresser to my father, who grabbed them up eagerly.
“I’m sorry I gave you such a rough reception,” I said rather awkwardly. “I was hardly awake at the time.”
“Say no more, mate, say no more!” he shouted heartily, holding out his hand and clasping mine. “Hard knocks are nothing new to me. I suppose we may consider the bargain settled then?”
“Ye can bide as lang as ye wull, Sir,” answered my father, still fingering the four coins. “Archie and me’ll do a’ we can to mak’ your veesit a pleasant ane. It’s no’ such a dreary place as ye might think. When the Lamlash boats come in we get the papers and a’ the news.”
It struck me that the stranger looked anything but overjoyed by this piece of inforniation. “You don’t mean to say that you get the papers here,” he said.
“O aye, the Scotsman an’ the Glasgey Herald. But maybe you would like Archie and me to row ower to your ship in the morn, an’ fetch your luggage?
“The brig is fifty miles away by this time,” said,our visitor. “She is running before the wind for Marseilles. I told the mate to bring her round again in a month or so. As to luggage, I always travel light in that matter. If a man’s purse is only full he can do with very little else. All I have is in a bundle under your window. By the way, my name is Digby—Charles Digby.”
“I thought your initials were A.W.,” I remarked.
He sprang off the dresser as if he had been stung, and is face turned quite gray for a moment. “What the devil do you mean by that?”‘ he said.
“I thought this might be yours,” I answered, handing him the handkerchief I had found.
‘”Oh, is that all !” he said, with rather a forced laugh. “I didn’t quite see what you were driving at. That’s all right. It belongs to Whittingdale, my second oflicer. l’ll keep it until I see him again. And now suppose you give me something to eat, for I’m about famished.”
We brought him out such rough fare as was to be found in our larder, and he ate ravenously, and tossed off a stiff glass of whisky and water. Afterward my father showed him into the solitary spare bedroom, with which he professed himself well pleased, and we all settled down for the night. As I went back to my couch I noticed that the gale had freshened up, and I saw long streamers of seaweed flying past my broken window in the moonlight. A great bat fluttered into the room, which is reckoned a sure sign of misfortune in the islands; but I was never superstitious, and let the poor thing find its way out again unmolested.