Read CHAPTER IV of Walladmor Vol. I, free online book, by Thomas De Quincey, on

Pist. Perpend my words, O Signieur Dew, and mark;

O Signieur Dew, thou diest on point of fox,
Except, O Signieur, thou do give to me
Egregious ransome.

Fr. Sol. O preñez misericorde, ayez pitié de moy!
Pis. Moy shall not sarve; I will have forty moys.
Hen. V. Act 4.

Spite of the Captain’s absence, and though there was no regular officer to represent him, Bertram was surprised to find that the duty on deck seemed in no respect to suffer either in order, precision, or alacrity. All were in full activity, moving with the industry, and almost with the instinct of bees, in the tops among the shrouds or on deck; handling the ropes, trimming the sails, sounding, and performing all other parts of a vigilant seaman’s duty. This seemed the more remarkable, as most of the crew carried a flask of brandy slung about their necks; very few of them choosing to justify the Captain’s flattering picture of their orthodoxy by substituting a rosary.

The steady old helmsman, to whom Bertram was communicating his astonishment, replied

“Aye, aye; but this is nothing: you should see them in a storm, or on a boarding party. There’s not a man of ’em but might take the Captain’s place. And, for that matter, the Captain might take any of ours: for he’s as good a seaman as ever stept the deck. And once he was the handiest among us all, and would take his turn at any thing. But now I know not what’s come to him. Ever since we were made ‘regular,’ (you understand), and crossed out of the king’s black books, and since the captain got his commission, it’s partly my belief that he’s not right here” (touching his forehead). “And no good will come of it. For one hour we must behave pretty, and be upon honour, and, says he, ’Lads, I must have you chained up, by reason we’re now a king’s ship:’ and the next hour he’ll be laying his plots and his plans for doing some business in the old line. The Captain must have a spree now and then. He couldn’t be well without it. Whereby it comes that, what between the old way and the new way, a queer rum-looking life we lead.”

Of the business on board, however, though interesting for a short period, Bertram soon grew weary: and, stretching himself at his length upon the deck, he gradually withdrew his attention from every thing that was going on about him to the contemplation of the sea and the distant shores which he was approaching. The day, for a winter’s day, was bright and sunny: the sky without a cloud; the atmosphere of a frosty clearness; and the sea so calm, that it appeared scarcely to swell into a ripple, except immediately in the ship’s wake. The distant promontory, which he suspected to be the point whither he had been washed by the waves, after the explosion of the Halcyon, and which seemed the extremity of a small island, had now receded into an azure speck: the ship’s course lay to the southward or south-east: and on the larboard quarter a long line of coast trended away to the south-west. A remarkable pile of rock on this coast attracted his attention, and rivetted his gaze as by some power of fascination. Who will refuse to sympathize with the feeling which at this moment possessed him? What person of much sensibility or reflection but has, in travelling, or on other occasions, sometimes felt a dim and perplexing sense of recognition awakened by certain objects or scenes which yet he had no reason to believe that he could ever have seen before? So it was with Bertram: a feeling of painful perplexity disturbed and saddened him as he gazed upon the coast before him: he felt as though he had at some early period of his life been familiar with some of its features: which yet seemed impossible: for he now understood from the helmsman that what he saw were parts of the Caernarvonshire and Merionethshire coasts in the neighbourhood of Pwlheli Bay.

The wind was fair, and the Fleurs de lys carried so much sail, that within the next hour the whole line of coast and bay began to unfold itself; and all the larger objects were now becoming tolerably distinct. Of these the most conspicuous was a lofty headland which threw its bold granite front in advance of all the adjacent shore, and ran out far into the sea. Like a diadem upon its summit was planted an ancient castle; presenting a most interesting object to the painter, if it were not in some respects rather grotesque. It might truly be described as “planted:” for it seemed literally a natural growth of the rock, and without division of substance: it was indeed in many places an excavation quarried into the rocks rather than a superstructure upon it: and, where this was not the case, the foundations had yet been inlaid and dovetailed as it were so artificially into the splintered crest of the rock, and the whole surface had been for ages so completely harmonized in colour by storms and accidents of climate, that it was impossible to say where the hand of art began or that of nature ended. The whole building displayed a naked baronial grandeur and disdain of ornament; whatever beauty it had seeming to exist rather in defiance of the intentions of its occupants and as if won from those advantages of age and situation which it had not been in their power to destroy. The main body of the building, by following and adjusting itself to the outline of the rock, had of necessity taken the arrangement of a vast system of towers and quadrangles irregularly grouped and connected: at intervals it was belted with turrets: and its habitable character was chiefly proclaimed by the immense number of its windows, and by a roof of deep red tiles; which last, though generally felt as a harsh blot in the picturesque honours of the castle, were however at this particular time lowered into something like keeping by the warm ruddy light of the morning sun which was now glancing upon every window in the sea-front, and also by the dusky scarlet of decaying ferns which climbed all the neighbouring hills and in many plains skirted the water’s edge. In what style of architecture the castle was built, it would have been difficult to say: it was neither exactly Gothic nor Italian of the middle ages: and upon the whole it might safely be referred to some rude and remote age which had aimed at nothing more than availing itself of the local advantages and the materials furnished by nature on the spot for the purpose of constructing a secure and imposing fortress; without any further regard to the rules or pedantries of architecture. Attached to the main building, which ascended to the height of five stories and yet did not seem disproportionately high from the extent of its range, were several smaller dependencies some of which appeared to be framed of wood. The purists of our days, who are so anxious to brush away all the wooden patchwork and little tributary cells that formerly clustered about the pillars and nooks of cathedrals like so many swallows’ nests, had here apparently made no prosélytes. And on the whole the final impression was that of a very venerable and antique but at the same time rather fantastic building.

From each side of the promontory on which the castle stood, ran off at right angles a smaller promontory; that, which was on the left side as viewed from the sea, though narrower and lower than the corresponding one on the other side, terminated however in a much larger area: and on that consideration apparently, in spite of its less commanding elevation, had been selected as the station for a watch-tower. This tower was circular; and in that respect accurately fitted to the area or platform on which it stood; the platform itself being a table of rock at the summit of a rude colossal cylinder which appeared to grow out of the waves. The whole of this lateral process from the main promontory presented a most impressive object to a spectator approaching it from sea: for the connecting part, which ran at right angles, from the great promontory to the platform, had been partly undermined; originally perhaps by some convulsion of nature: but latterly the breach had been greatly widened by storms; so that at length a vast aerial arch of granite was suspended over the waves: which arch once giving away and falling in, the rocky pillar and the watch-tower which it carried would be left insulated in the waves.

Bertram was more and more fascinated by the aspect of the ancient castle and the quiet hills behind it, with their silent fields and woodlands, which lay basking as it were in the morning sun. The whole scene was at once gay and tranquil. The sea had put off its terrors and wore the beauty of a lake: the air was “frosty but kindly:” and the shores of merry England, which he now for the first time contemplated in peace and serenity, were dressed in morning smiles; a morning, it is true, of winter; yet of winter not angry not churlish and chiding but of winter cheerful and proclaiming welcome to Christmas. The colours, which predominated, were of autumnal warmth: the tawny ferns had not been drenched and discoloured by rains; the oaks retained their dying leaves: and, even where the scene was most wintry, it was cheerful: the forest of ported lances, which the deciduous trees presented, were broken pleasingly by the dark glittering leaves of the holly; and the massy gloom of the yew and other evergreens was pierced and irradiated by the scarlet berries of various shrubs, or by the puce-coloured branches and the silvery stem of the birch. The Fleurs de lys had gradually neared the shore; and in the deep waters upon this part of the coast there was so little danger for a ship of much heavier burthen, that she was now running down within pistol shot of the scenery which Bertram contemplated with so much pleasure. He could distinguish every cottage that lurked in the nooks of the hills, as it sent up its light vapoury column of smoke: here and there he could see the dark blue dresses of the cottage-children: and occasionally a sound of laughter or the tones of their innocent voices, betraying them to the ear where they were not seen, or the crowing of a cock from the bosom of some hamlet

Answer’d by faintly echoing farms remote,

gave language and expression to the tranquil beauty of the spectacle.

Bertram absolutely shuddered, with the feeling of one who treads, upon a snake, as he turned from these touching images of human happiness to the grim tackling and warlike furniture of the “little bloody: vixen” on board which he was embarked, together with the ferocious though intelligent aspects of her desperate crew. He was already eager to be set ashore; and the sudden shock of contrast made him more so. On communicating his wishes to the boatswain, however, he was honoured by a broad stare and a laugh of derision:

“What,” said the boatswain, “put you ashore close under the muzzle of Walladmor Castle?”

“And why not?”

“Ask the Captain, my good lad: ask Captain Jackson.”

“Jackson! I thought the Captain’s name had been Harnois.”

“All’s one for that: Harnois or Jackson; one name’s as good as t’other. But I wouldn’t be the man to put you upon asking the Captain any such a thing. It’s odds? but you’d be sent overboard, my good lad, head over heels that’s to say on any day when the Captain had taken his breakfast. No, no: high as it’s perched up amongst the eagle’s nests, that d –­d old castle has been the rock that many a good ship has struck on. But wait till three or four o’clock; and then maybe we’ll put you on ashore further down.”

When wishes are hopeless, the mind is soon reconciled to give them up. Bertram felt that his were so; and, contentedly stretching himself again upon the deck, surrendered his thoughts to the influence of the lovely scenery before him.

At length the sun was setting, and another reach of coast had unfolded upon his view, when all at once he heard the dash of oars; and on rising up, he observed a little skiff rapidly nearing them. In a few minutes she boarded the Fleurs de lys: and all was life and motion upon deck. Casks and packages were interchanged; and private signals in abundance passed between the different parties. Bertram took the opportunity of bargaining for a passage to shore; and was in the act of stepping into the boat, when he was suddenly summoned before the Captain.

He found the old tiger on the quarterdeck, and in one of his blander humours. Captain Harnois was sitting on a coil of rope, his back reclining against a carronade, with a keg of brandy on the dexter hand and a keg of whisky on the sinister. An air of grim good humour was spread over his features; he had just awaked from slumber; was for a few minutes sober; and had possibly forgotten the heterodoxy of his passenger; whom he saluted thus:

“Well, sweet Sir, and how goes the world with you?”

“Captain Harnois, I understand that I can have a passage in the boat alongside; and I am really anxious to go ashore.”

“Well, Tom, and what’s to hinder it? The shore’s big enough to hold you: and, if it isn’t, I can’t make it bigger.”

“Then, Captain, I have the honour to wish you a very good evening.”

“The same to you, Tom; and I have the honour, Tom, to drink your worship’s health.”

“I thank you, Sir; and perhaps you will allow me to leave a trifle to drink for the boat’s crew that brought me aboard.”

“Do, Tom, leave a trifle: I’ll allow you to put fifty francs down on this whisky keg.”

“Fifty francs, Captain Harnois! Permit me to remind you that I only came aboard this morning, and that ”

“Jessamy, it’s no use talking: fifty francs: we give no change here. And what the d –­l? Would you think to treat the crew of the Fleurs de lys, four and forty picked men, with less than sixty franks?”

“Sixty! Captain, you said fifty.”

“Did I? Well, but that was the first time of asking. Come, quick, my young gallant, or I shall hoist it up to seventy. I say, boatswain, tell the smith to send me a hammer and a few tenpenny nails: I’ve a customer here that’s wanting to cheat me; and I see I must nail him to the mast, before we shall balance books. But stop a minute: I’ll tell you what, Jessamy, if you’ll enter aboard the Fleurs de lys, I’ll let you off for the money.”

“I fear, Captain, that your work would be too much for my constitution: I am hardly strong enough to undertake such severe duty.”

“Not strong enough? Oh! the dragon! my darling, what should ail you? I’ll make you strong enough by to-morrow morning. Just hang him up an hour to the mast head, salt him, take him down, pickle him, hoist him up in the main tops to season, then give him some flap-dragon and biscuit, and I’ll be bound there’s not a lubber that lives but will be cured into a prime salt-water article. But come, sixty francs!”

Bertram hesitated for a moment: during which Captain Harnois rose; turned on his heel; placed himself astride the carronade with a large goblet of brandy in his right hand; and with the air of an old Cupid who was affecting to look amiable and to warble, but in reality more like a Boreas who was growling, he opened the vast chasm of his mouth and began to sing a sentimental love song.

Bertram perceived that, as the brandy lowered, Captain Harnois’ demand would be likely to rise; and therefore paid the money without further demur.

“And now, my sweet boy,” said Captain Harnois, “what do you think of the Fleurs de lys? Tight sea-boat! isn’t she, and a little better managed than the Halcyon, eh? Things go on in another guess fashion here than they did on board your d –­d steam boat? Different work on my deck, eh?”

“Very different work, indeed, Captain Harnois!”

“Aye, a d –­d deal different, my boy. I know what it is I’m speaking to, when I speak to my lads: but I’m d –­d if a man knows what he’s speaking to, when he speaks to a boiler.”

During this speech Bertram was descending the ship’s side: when he had seated himself in the boat, he looked up; and, seeing the Captain lounging over the taffarel, he said by way of parting speech

“You are right, Captain Harnois; perfectly right: and I shall always remember the very great difference I found between the Halcyon and the Fleurs de Lys.”

The old ruffian grinned, and appeared to comprehend and to enjoy the equivoque. He was in no hurry to clear scores with Bertram; but leisurely pursued the boat with a truculent leer; nailed Bertram with his eye; and, when the boat was just within proper range, he took his speaking-trumpet and hailed him:

“Tom Drum, ahoy! Take care now, when you get ashore, where you begin your old tricks portmanteaus, old women, tumbling; mind you don’t begin hocus pocus too soon: steer large, and leave Walladmor Castle on the larboard tack: for there’s an old dragon in Walladmor that has one of his eyes on you by this time. He’s on the look-out for you. So farewell: he’s angling for you. Good bye, my lily-white Tom! A handier lad has been caught than you, Tom. So let the old women pass quietly, till Walladmor’s out of hearing. I can’t cry, Tom: but here’s my blessing.”

So saying Captain Harnois drank up his goblet of brandy; and, tossing his heel-taps contemptuously after the boat, rolled away to his orgies at the carronade. And in this manner terminated Bertram’s connexion with the Trois Fleurs de lys.

It was not very agreeable to Bertram that the gallant Captain’s farewell speech had drawn the attention of all in the boat upon himself, and in no very advantageous way. Most of the party laughed pretty freely: at the bottom of the boat lay a man muffled up in a cloak, and apparently asleep: but it appeared to Bertram that he also was laughing. To relieve himself from this distressing attention, he took out his pocket-book and busied himself with his pencil; using it alternately for minuting memoranda of the scene before him, or sketching some of its more striking features. These were at this moment irresistibly captivating. The boat was gliding through a sea unrippled by a breeze: the water was exquisitely clear and reflecting the rich orange lights of the decaying sunset: a bold rocky shore was before him haunted by gulls and sea-mews, flights of which last pursued the boat for the sake of the refuse fish which were occasionally tossed overboard: behind the rocky screen of the coast appeared a tumultuous assemblage of mountains, the remotest of which melted away into a faint aerial blue: and finally the boat’s company itself, consisting of sailors rowing in their shirt-sleeves, fishermen and their wives in dresses of deep red and indigo, with the usual marine adjuncts of fish, tangle, sea-weed, &c. composed a centre to the spectacle which inspirited the whole by its rich colouring, grouping, and picturesque forms. The living part of the contributors to this fine composition seemed however but little aware of their own share in the production of the picturesque: for most of them were engaged in amusing their fancies at the expense of Bertram, whose motions had but given a different turn to the satiric humour which Captain Harnois had called forth. One old man, who sate opposite to Bertram, laid aside his pipe, and said in an under tone to his next neighbour:

“Well, in my life I never saw the man that brought as much to paper in a summer’s day as young master here has done in one half hour; he beats the parson and ’torney Williams all to nothing. But I see how it is: they say Merlin wrote the History of Wales down to the day of judgment upon these very rocks that lie right a-head: and sure, if he did, there’s somebody must come to read it: and that must be young master here. For you see he cocks his eye at the rocks, as if he had some run goods in his pocket, and was looking out for a signal to come on shore. Look at him now! Lord how nimbly his fingers go! One would swear he believed that all must be over with this world, if he should stop above half a minute. See, look at him! there he goes again!”

“Aye,” said another: “but I think he’s hardly writing Merlin’s history: though it’s true enough that old saying about Merlin: he wrote it all with his fore finger: and yet they tell me it is cut as deep into the rock as if it had been done with chisel and mallet. But he must clear the moss off the face of the rock before he’ll read that. And it’s not every man that will read it when that’s done,”

“Who then?”

“Why none but a seventh son of a seventh son; nor he neither, except in the moonlight.”

“Well, I know not,” said the first speaker: “but, as to this writing and reading, I see little good it does. Lord! to think of these gentlefolks that come up to Tan-y-bwlch and Festiniog in the summer time like a shoal of herrings: I go with scores of parties to Pont-aber-glas-llyn. Well, now, what should you think there could be to write down consarning a great cobble stone? or consarning a bit of a shaw, or a puddle of water? Yet there’s not one of the young quality but, as soon as ever they get sight of the Llyn, bless your eyes! they’ll stand, and they’ll lift up their hands, and they’ll raise the whites of their eyes, and skrike out to one another that it’s awful to be near ’em.”

“The d –­l! you don’t say so?”

“Aye, and then down they all sits: and out comes their books: and the young gentlemen holds their bits of umbrellas for the ladies; and away all their fingers are running like a dozen of harpers playing Morfa Rhuddlam. And many’s the time I’ve seen ’em stand, whilst a man would walk a mile and a half, staring up at widow Davis’s cottage that one can hardly see for the ivy, and writing consarning it that one would think it was as old and as big as Harlich or Walladmor. Gad I’ll make bold some summer to ask ’em what they see about it: for, as widow Davis said to me, ’I wonder what they find on the outside; for I never could find any thing in the inside.’”

“And what do they do with their writings when they’ve penned ’em?”

“God knows: I’m sure it’s past my power to think. For it’s clear to me, Owen, that a writ consarning a spring will never quench a man’s thirst. And as to these limners that go about making a likeness of the sea, why they’ll never get a herring out of it.”

By this time the boat was running up a narrow creek, which soon contracted into the mouth of a little mountain brook. Here the boat took the ground, and all on board began to jump ashore except Bertram, who was lost in contemplation of the long vista of mountains through which the brook appeared to descend. From this abstraction he was at length awakened by the voice of the old fisherman, who was mooring the skiff, and drily asked him if he purposed to go out to sea again in chace of Captain Harnois. At this summons he started up, and was surprised to observe that his companions were already dispersed, and going off through various avenues amongst the mountains. The boat was quite empty; and his own portmanteau even had been carried out, and was lying on a stone.

“And now, my good friend,” said Bertram, “answer me one question What is the name of the nearest town? For you must know that I am quite a stranger in these parts: in what direction does it lie? how far from this spot? and which is the direct road to it?”

“One question! why that’s four questions, master; and more by three than you bargained for. However, as you’re a stranger, I’ll make shift to fit you with three short answers that shall unlock your four riddles: The nighest town is Machynleth; and a rum-looking town it is. Ifs just fifteen miles off. And you can’t miss it, if you follow your nose by the side of this brook till it leads you into yon pass amongst the mountains.”

“I’m much obliged to you, friend. But is there any person you know of that could guide me through this pass and carry my portmanteau?”

“Aye, master, I know of three such persons.”

“And where are they?”

“Two of them are on board Captain Harnois: and the other ”

“Is where?”

“At Machynleth, and I’ll warrant him as drunk as he can go.”

“And of what use will that be to me?”

“Nay, master, it’s past my power to find out: but you’re a scholar, and can tell more than I can.”

Perceiving that he had got all the information from the old fisherman which he was likely to get, Bertram wished him good night; and, hoisting his portmanteau on his shoulder, set off in the direction pointed out.