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- Castle Nowhere - 3/23 -
At dawn the sunshine colored the fog golden, but that was all; it was still fog, and lay upon the dark water thicker and softer than ever. Waring eat some dried meat, and considered the possibilities; he had reckoned without the fog, and now his lookout was uncomfortably misty. The provisions would not last more than a week; and though he might catch fish, how could he cook them? He had counted on a shore somewhere; any land, however desolate, would give him a fire; but this fog was muffling, and unless he stumbled ashore by chance he might go on paddling in a circle forever. 'Bien,' he said, summing up, 'my part at any rate is to go on; I, at least can do my duty.'
'Especially as there is nothing else to do,' observed the Spirit.
Having once decided, the man kept at his work with finical precision. At a given moment he eat a lunch, and very tasteless it was too, and then to work again; the little craft went steadily on before the stroke of the strong arms, its wake unseen, its course unguided. Suddenly at sunset the fog folded its gray draperies, spread its wings, and floated off to the southwest, where that night it rested at Death's Door and sent two schooners to the bottom; but it left behind it a released dug-out, floating before a log fortress which had appeared by magic, rising out of the water with not an inch of ground to spare, if indeed there was any ground; for might it not be a species of fresh-water boat, anchored there for clearer weather?
'Ten more strokes and I should have run into it,' thought Waring as he floated noiselessly up to this watery residence; holding on by a jutting beam, he reconnoitred the premises. The building was of logs, square, and standing on spiles, its north side, under which he lay, showed a row of little windows all curtained in white, and from one of them peeped the top of a rose-bush; there was but one storey, and the roof was flat. Nothing came to any of these windows, nothing stirred, and the man in the dug-out, being curious as well as hungry, decided to explore, and touching the wall at intervals pushed his craft noiselessly around the eastern corner; but here was a blank wall of logs and nothing more. The south side was the same, with the exception of two loopholes, and the dug-out glided its quietest past these. But the west shone out radiant, a rude little balcony overhanging the water, and in it a girl in a mahogany chair, nibbling something and reading.
'My sugar and my sonnets, as I am alive!' ejaculated Waring to himself.
The girl took a fresh bite with her little white teeth, and went on reading in the sunset light.
'Cool,' thought Waring.
And cool she looked truly to a man who had paddled two days in a hot sticky fog, as, clad in white, she sat still and placid on her airy perch. Her hair, of the very light fleecy gold seldom seen after babyhood, hung over her shoulders unconfined by comb or ribbon, felling around her like a veil and glittering in the horizontal sunbeams; her face, throat and hands were white as the petals of a white camellia, her features infantile, her cast-down eyes invisible under the full-orbed lids. Waring gazed at her cynically, his boat motionless; it accorded with his theories that the only woman he had seen for months should be calmly eating and reading stolen sweets. The girl turned a page, glanced up, saw him, and sprang forward smiling; as she stood at the balcony, her beautiful hair fell below her knees.
'Jacob,' she cried gladly, 'is that you at last?'
'No,' replied Waring, 'it is not Jacob; rather Esau. Jacob was too tricky for me. The damsel, Rachel, I presume!'
'My name is Silver,' said the girl, 'and I see you are not Jacob at all. Who are you, then?'
'A hungry, tired man who would like to come aboard and rest awhile.'
'Aboard? This is not a boat.'
'A castle,--Castle Nowhere.'
'You reside here?'
'Of course; where else should I reside? Is it not a beautiful place?' said the girl, looking around with a little air of pride.
'I could tell better if I was up there.'
'Do you not see the ladder?'
'Ah, yes,--Jacob had a ladder, I remember; he comes up this way, I suppose?'
'He does not; but I wish he would.'
'Undoubtedly. But you are not Leah all this time?'
'I am Silver, as I told you before; I know not--what you mean with your Leah.'
'But, mademoiselle, your Bible--'
'What is Bible?'
'You have never read the Bible?'
'It is a book, then. I like books,' replied Silver, waving her hand comprehensively; 'I have read five, and now I have a new one.'
'Do you like it, your new one?' asked Waring, glancing towards his property.
'I do not understand it all; perhaps you can explain to me?'
'I think I can,' answered the young man, smiling in spite of himself; 'that is, if you wish to learn.'
'Is it hard?'
'That depends upon the scholar; now, some minds--' Here a hideous face looked out through one of the little windows, and then vanished. 'Ah,' said Waring, pausing, 'one of the family?'
'That is Lorez, my dear old nurse.'
The face now came out on to the balcony and showed itself as part of an old negress, bent and wrinkled with age.
'He came in a boat, Lorez,' said Silver, 'and yet you see he is not Jacob. But he says he is tired and hungry, so we will have supper, now, without waiting for father.'
The old woman smiled and nodded, stroking the girl's glittering hair meanwhile with her black hand.
'As soon as the sun has gone it will be very damp,' said Silver, turning to her guest; 'you will come within. But you have not told me-your name.'
'Jarvis,' replied Waring promptly.
'Come, then, Jarvis.' And she led the way through a low door into a long narrow room with a row of little square windows on each side all covered with little square white curtains. The walls and ceiling were planked and the workmanship of the whole rude and clumsy; but a gay carpet covered the floor, a chandelier adorned with lustres, hung from a hook in the ceiling, large gilded vases and a mirror in a tarnished gilt frame adorned a shelf over the hearth, mahogany chairs stood in ranks against the wall under the little windows and a long narrow table ran down the centre of the apartment from end to end. It all seemed strangely familiar; of what did it remind him? His eyes fell upon the table-legs; they were riveted to the floor. Then it came to him at once,--the long narrow cabin of a lake steamer.
'I wonder if it is not anchored after all,' he thought.
'Just a few shavings and one little stick, Lorez,' said Silver; 'enough to give us light and drive away the damp.'
Up flared the blaze and spread abroad the dear home feeling. (O hearth-fire, good genius of home, with thee a log-cabin is cheery and bright, without thee the palace a dreary waste!)
'And now, while Lorez is preparing supper, you will come and see my pets,' said Silver, in her soft tone of unconscious command.
'By all means,' replied Waring. 'Anything in the way of mermaidens?'
'Mermaidens dwell in the water, they cannot live in houses as we can; did you not know that? I have seen them on moonlight nights, and so has Lorez; but Aunt Shadow never saw them.'
'Another member of the family,--Aunt Shadow?'
'Yes,' replied Silver; 'but she is not here now. She went away one night when I was asleep. I do not know why it is,' she added sadly, 'but if people go away from here in the night they never come back. Will it be so with you, Jarvis?'
'No; for I will take you with me,' replied the young man lightly.
'Very well; and father will go too, and Lorez,' said Silver.
To this addition, Waring, like many another man in similar circumstances, made no reply. But Silver did not notice the omission. She had opened a door, and behold, they stood together in a bower of greenery and blossom, flowers growing everywhere,--on the floor, up the walls, across the ceiling, in pots, in boxes, in baskets, on shelves, in cups, in shells, climbing, crowding each other, swinging, hanging, winding around everything,--a riot of beauty with perfumes for a language. Two white gulls stood in the open window and gravely surveyed the stranger.
'They stay with me almost all the time,' said the water-maiden; 'every morning they fly out to sea for a while, but they always come back.'
Then she flitted to and fro, kissed the opening blossoms and talked to them, tying back the more riotous vines and gravely admonishing them.
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