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Wild Life in the Land of the Giants Part 20

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Peter told her in his off-hand way, in Auntie's presence too, that when she was a few years older he might possibly make love to her, and probably marry her, but not to build upon this as a promise.

Mattie told him he was an old man, and he had better marry Sarah. She said Robert wouldn't mind, because Robert had Trots, the pony.

Mattie, and Jill, and I, visited the _Thunderbolt_. Mr Moore was still in charge, and we talked much of old times and poor Tom Morley, but we did not play at pirates, though Mrs Moore pulled out the black flag and displayed it. She was always going to keep it, she said, as a memento of days gone by.

On board the hulk, Mattie took me aside to show me something, which she did with sparkling eyes and a heightened colour. It was only the little letter that I had put on her pillow.

"But," said Mattie, "of course we always pray for you when far away at sea, only there is one word in this letter that I don't like, quite I mean."

"And what is that, Mattie?"

"Why do you say, 'Poor Jill'?" I do not know how it was, but at that very moment a kind of shadow pa.s.sed over my heart: I cannot otherwise define it--a kind of cold feeling.

"I don't know, Mattie," I replied, looking, I'm sure more serious than I intended, for my looks were mirrored in Mattie's face. "I don't know, Mattie; but I often think something will happen to 'poor Jill'--"

"There it is again--'poor Jill.'"

"Only," I added, "Heaven, forbid it should be in my lifetime, Mattie."

"Amen," said the child.

It was while I was at home this time--this last time for many years-- that a very curious thing happened. A sailor died at Cardiff, and on his death-bed called a priest and confessed to him that he alone had been the murderer of Roderigo, the Spanish sailor and companion of Adriano, who had suffered so long in prison.

I felt extremely happy about this, and so did auntie. She, of course, had not known the story of the man at the time when he was instrumental in saving Jill and me from probably an ugly fate. I had told her afterwards, however, when I knew Adriano had gone out of the country.

And, with some show of reason perhaps, both auntie and Mummy Gray connected him and the murdered Roderigo with the mystery that enshrouded Mattie's life.

"He will come again some day," auntie said, "and we will know all."

"Yes," said Mummy Gray, solemnly, "I hope so."

The Queen granted Adriano a free pardon. Auntie was disloyal enough to laugh when she read that piece of intelligence in the newspaper.

"Pardon for what?" she said, "after having kept the poor dear sailor in prison and bondage for so many terrible years. It sounds like adding hideous insult to awful injury."

CHAPTER TWELVE.

"COME TO ME, JACK, I CANNOT COME TO YOU."

Peter Jeffries, now chief mate of the dear old _Salamander_, could no more help chaffing Jill and me, than a monkey can help pulling its mother's tail. And we used to tell him so.

For instance, brother and I nearly always kept watch together, merely for company's sake. You see we were both put in the same watch because the _Salamander_ required no third mate. So Peter did not hesitate to remind us often enough that we were only one man between the two of us.

But the fact was we were kept together on the _Salamander_, at auntie's wish, in order to become perfect sailors under bold Captain Coates, and not, as Peter would have it, that we might have our socks seen to by Mrs Coates, and our pocket-handkerchiefs aired by the black but comely Leila.

However, by way of paying him out for it, Jill would sometimes keep Peter's watch for him, and let him have four hours extra in, thus returning wheat for chaff.

During the next year of our life, Jill and I grew to to be quite men-- seventeen, you know, or nearly--and Jill reminded Peter that he could thrash him now, for we really were taller.

The resemblance between us was not a whit marred, and to tell you the truth we took a pride in it, and, just for the fun of the thing, always dressed exactly alike, even to our scarves.

About this time we were bound from the Cape to Rio, which we made in fine form, though we kept a good look-out for Russian cruisers, it being war time. We often met s.h.i.+ps that made us fidget for the time being, but the danger was never extreme at the best.

From Rio we started for San Francisco, meaning at first to go round the Horn, but Captain Coates changed his mind, and determined to penetrate through the Straits of Magellan.

We received the first intimation of the captain's intention from Peter, when he came on deck one lovely morning to join my brother and me in our walk.

There was about a six-knot breeze blowing aslant our course from the south-west by west, so though every st.i.tch of canvas was set, there was not a deal doing.

"The old man says you're to keep a few points closer to the wind," said Peter.

"All right," I replied, giving the necessary orders.

Peter was in one of his funny moods to-day, I knew, because he asked Jill if, having nothing else to do, he would mind whistling for some more wind.

"For a capful, if you like," said Jill, merrily; "may I have your cap to hold it in?"

"Now, youngster, I own you're smart, but never cheek your superior officer. Besides, I'm older than either of you, and if you're both good boys I'm going to marry your sister."

We laughed outright.

"Thank you," said Jill, "that is very good. I remember you told Mattie herself that last time we were home, and I thought at the time cheek couldn't well go further."

"If anybody marries Mattie," continued Jill, "it must be Jack."

"Jack! What! Marry his sister?"

I grew suddenly serious.

"My dear Peter," I said, "it is strange that through all these years it never occurred to me to tell you that Mattie is not our sister, though we call her so, and love her just the same, but--"

"Just the same as a sister?" said Peter, interrupting me. He had a smile on his face, but it was a made one--one of those smiles that curl round the lips, but never reach as far as the eyes; at the same time in those eyes was a look of such earnestness as I but seldom saw there.

Jill and I were standing side by side looking at Peter, and as the latter spoke, our hands touched. I knew then, as I do now--though neither my brother nor I ever spoke of it--that the same thought thrilled through both of us: "Could Peter be in love with our little Mattie? To be sure she was barely fifteen, but then--"

"I _ought_ to have told you," I continued, "that there is a sad mystery about Mattie's birth and parentage."

"Ha!" said Peter, "a story, eh? Well, we will have it to-night in the first watch."

"Very well."

Peter brightened up again immeasurably.

"Do you know why we altered course?" he asked.

"Usual thing, I suppose."

"No, not the usual thing.

"We're going to try to push through the straits. Fine weather, clear skies, a spanking bit of a breeze, and good luck will do it, though it is risky enough in all weathers for sailing s.h.i.+ps, 'cause of course you're in and out, off and on, tacking and running, and all kinds of capers, and never off a lee-sh.o.r.e, morn, noon, and night, till you're out into the Pacific Ocean.

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Wild Life in the Land of the Giants Part 20 summary

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