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Stories of Mystery edited by Rossiter Johnson


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Stories of Mystery edited by Rossiter Johnson

I could be "as tedious as a king," in analyzing those chivalrous instincts of masculine youth that lured me from college at nineteen, and away over the watery deserts of the sea; and, like Dogberry, "I could find in my heart to bestow it all of your worships." But since, like the auditor of that worthy, you do not want it, I will pass over the embarkation, which was tedious, over the sea-sickness, which was more tedious, over the home-sickness, over the monotonous duties assigned me, and the unvarying prospect of sea and sky, all so tedious that I grew as morose after a time as a travelling Englishman. Neither was coasting, with restricted liberty and much toil, amongst people whose language I could not speak, quite all that my fancy painted it,--although Genoa, Venice, the Bay of Naples,--crimsoned by Vesuvius, and canopied by an Italian sky,--and the storied scenes of Greece, all rich in beauties and historic associations, repaid many discomforts at the time and remain to me forever as treasures of memory the more precious for being dearly bought. But these, with the pleasures and displeasures of Constantinople,--the limit of our voyage,--I will pass over, to the midsummer eve when, with all the arrangements for our return voyage completed, we swung slowly out of the northern eddy of the Golden Horn into the clear blue Bosphorus.

Already the lengthening shadows of a thousand domes and minarets stretched across its waters, and glimpses of sunlight lay between them, like golden clasps linking continent to continent. Around us were ships and sailors from all parts of the habitable globe; while through shine and shadow flitted boats and caiques innumerable, and except where these, or the rising of a porpoise, or the dipping of a gull, broke the surface of the water, it lay as smooth as a mirror, reflecting its palace-guarded shores.

The men were lounging about the deck or leaning over the bulwarks, listening to a neighboring crew chanting their vespers, while we awaited the coming on board of our captain. Meanwhile the shadows crept up the Asian hills, till the last sombre answering smile to the sun's good-night faded from the cypress-trees above the graves of Scutari.

Beside me, long in silent admiration of the scene, stood my messmates, Fred Smith and Mike O'Hanlon,--two genuine specimens of Young New York, the first of whom disappointed love had driven to sea, whither also friendship and a reckless spirit of adventure had impelled the second. Behind us was one, a just impression of whom--if I could but convey it--would make what followed appear as possible to you as it did to us who were long his companions. I never knew to what country he belonged; for he spoke any language occasion called for, with the same apparent ease and fluency. He was far beyond the ordinary stature, yet it was only when you saw him in comparison with other men that you observed anything gigantic in his form. His hair was black, and hung in a smooth, heavy, even wave down to his massive jaw, which was always clean shaved, if indeed beard ever grew upon it. Neither could I guess his age; for though he was apparently in manhood's prime, it often appeared to me that the spirit I saw looking through his eyes must have been looking from them for a thousand years.

And how I need to exult in watching him deal with matter! He never took anything by the wrong end, nor failed to grasp a swinging rope or a flapping sail, nor miscalculated the effort necessary to the performance of whatever he undertook. He was silent, but not morose. Yet there was something in his measured tones and the gaze of his large gray eyes which Mike compared in their mingled effects to the charms of sight and sound that the victims of the rattlesnake's fascination are said to undergo. Whatever sensations they occasioned, men shrank from renewing them, and the frankest and boldest of the crew shunned occasions for addressing him. Stranger still, this feeling, instead of wearing off by the close companionship of our little bark, seemed to deepen and strengthen, until at length, except myself, no one spoke to him who could avoid it. Even the captain, when circumstances allowed him a choice, always directed his orders to another, though this man's duties were performed with the quiet promptness of a machine. If he was conscious of anything peculiar in the behavior of his companions toward him, he betrayed no indication of it. Such he was who stood listening, with an appearance of interest unusual in him, to our otherwise inconsequent chat.