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A MESSAGE FROM THE SEA.

CHAPTER I. THE VILLAGE.

"AND a mighty sing'lar and pretty place it
is, as ever I saw in all the days of my life!" said
Captain Jorgan, looking up at it.

Captain Jorgan had to look high to look at it,
for the village was built sheer up the face of a
steep and lofty cliff. There was no road in it,
there was no wheeled vehicle in it, there was
not a level yard in it. From the sea-beach to
the cliff-top, two irregular rows of white houses,
placed opposite to one another, and twisting
here and there and there and here, rose, like
the sides of a long succession of stages of
crooked ladders, and you climbed up the village
or climbed down the village by the staves
between: some six feet wide or so, and made of
sharp irregular stones. The old pack-saddle,
long laid aside in most parts of England as one
of the appendages of its infancy, nourished here
intact. Strings of pack-horses and pack-donkeys
toiled slowly up the staves of the ladders, bearing
fish, and coal, and such other cargo as was
unshipping at the pier from the dancing fleet
of village boats, and from two or three little
coasting traders. As the beasts of burden
ascended laden, or descended light, they got so
lost at intervals in the floating clouds of village
smoke, that they seemed to dive down some of
the village chimneys and come to the surface
again far off, high above others. No two
houses in the village were alike, in chimney, size,
shape, door, window, gable, roof-tree, anything.
The sides of the ladders were musical with
water, running clear and bright. The staves
were musical with the clattering feet of the
pack-horses and pack-donkeys, and the voices
of the fishermen urging them up, mingled with
the voices of the fishermen's wives and their
many children. The pier was musical with the
wash of the sea, the creaking of capstans and
windlasses, and the airy fluttering of little vanes
and sails. The rough sea-bleached boulders of
which the pier was made, and the whiter boulders
of the shore, were brown with drying nets. The
red-brown cliffs, richly wooded to their
extremest verge, had their softened and beautiful
forms reflected in the bluest water, under the
clear North Devonshire sky of a November day
without a cloud. The village itself was so
steeped in autumnal foliage, from the houses
giving on the pier, to the topmost round
of the topmost ladder, that one might have
fancied it was out a birds'-nesting, and was (as
indeed it was) a wonderful climber. And
mentioning birds, the place was not without some
music from them too; for, the rook was very
busy on the higher levels, and the gull with his
flapping wings was fishing in the bay, and the
lusty little robin was hopping among the great
stone blocks and iron rings of the breakwater,
fearless in the faith of his ancestors and the
Children in the Wood.

Thus it came to pass that Captain Jorgan,
sitting balancing himself on the pier-wall, struck
his leg with his open hand, as some men do when
they are pleasedand as he always did when he
was pleasedand said:

"A mighty sing'lar and pretty place it is, as
ever I saw in all the days of my life!"

Captain Jorgan had not been through the
village, but had come down to the pier by a
winding side-road, to have a preliminary look at
it from the level of his own natural element.
He had seen many things and places, and had
stowed them all away in a shrewd intellect and
a vigorous memory. He was an American born,
was Captain Jorgana New Englanderbut
he was a citizen of the world, and a combination
of most of the best qualities of most of its best
countries.

For Captain Jorgan to sit anywhere in his
long-skirted blue coat and blue trousers, without
holding converse with everybody within
speaking distance, was a sheer impossibility. So,
the captain fell to talking with the fishermen, and
to asking them knowing questions about the
fishery, and the tides, and the currents, and the
race of water off that point yonder, and what
you kept in your eye and got into a line with
what else when you ran into the little harbour;
and other nautical profundities. Among the
men who exchanged ideas with the captain, was
a young fellow who exactly hit his fancya young
fisherman of two or three-and-twenty, in the
rough sea-dress of his craft, with a brown face,

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