The Cruise of the Shining Light

Language: English
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My uncle, Nicholas Top, of Twist Tickle, was of a cut so grotesque that folk forgot their manners when he stumped abroad. Bowling through the streets of St. John’s, which twice a year he tapped with staff and wooden leg, myself in leading––bowling cheerily, with his last rag spread, as he said, and be damned to the chart––he left a swirling wake of amazement: craning necks, open mouths, round eyes, grins so frank, the beholders being taken unaware, that ’twas simple to distinguish hearts of pity from savage ones.

Small wonder they stared; my uncle was a broad, long-bodied, scowling, grim-lipped runt, with the arms and chest of an ape, a leg lacking, three fingers of the left hand gone at the knuckles, an ankle botched in the mending (the surgery his own), a jaw out of place, a round head set low between gigantic shoulders upon a thick neck: the whole forever clad in a fantastic miscellany of water-side slops, wrinkled above, where he was large, flapping below, where he was lean, and chosen with a nautical contempt for fit and fashion, but with a mysteriously perverse regard for the value of a penny.

“An’ how much, lad,” says he, in the water-side slop-shops, “is a penny saved?”

’Twas strange that of all men he should teach me this old-fashioned maxim as though ’twere meant for my own practice. ’Twas well enough for him, it seemed; but ’twas an incumbrance of wisdom in the singular case of the lad that was I.

“A penny made, sir,” says I.

“Co’––rect!” says he, with satisfaction.

There was more to be wondered at: beginning at my uncle’s left ear, which was itself sadly puckered and patched, a wide, rough scar, of changing color, as his temper went, cut a great swath in his wiry hair, curving clear over the crown of his head. A second scar, of lesser dimension and ghastly look, lay upon his forehead, over the right eyebrow, to which though by nature drooping to a glower, it gave a sharp upward twist, so that in a way to surprise the stranger he was in good humor or bad, cynical or sullen, according to the point of approach.

There were two rolls of flabby flesh under his chin, and a puff of fat under each of his quick little eyes; and from the puffs to the lower chin, which was half submerged in the folds of a black cravat, the broad, mottled expanse was grown wild with short gray beard, save where, on the left cheek, a ragged scar (the third) kept it bare and livid. ’Twas plain the man had blundered into some quarrel of wind and sea, whence he had been indifferently ejected, in the way of the sea, to live or die, as might chance: whereof––doubtless to account for his possession of me––he would tell that my father had been lost in the adventure.

“Swep’ away by the third big sea,” says he, his face wan with the terror of that time, his body shrunk in the chair and so uneasy that I was moved against my will to doubt the tale. “May God A’mighty forgive un the deed he done!”

“Was it a sore, wicked thing my father did?”

“God forgive un––an’ me!”

“Is you sure, Uncle Nick?”

“God forgive un!”

“You’re not likin’ my poor father,” I complained, “for the sinful thing he done.”

“’Tis a sinful wicked world us dwells in,” says he....