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A Wager in Candlesticks

By Robert T. Griebling

DURING the generation or more in which I did business as a New Bedford ship chandler, sailors brought many a strange story of even stranger lands to me. There was that yarn of the girl on Johnnycake Hill, the story of Margaret Vandogrift and the wishing-tree. the weird stories of India and China. There was that old tale Michob Fuller brought with him from the Arctic. I have told and retold them through the years, and never have these yarns lost their relish for me.

One of the strangest of them all was the one old Joab Doane told to his guests at the wedding of Sarah Doane to Peter Bradford, Joab and I had grown up together, and through the years remained fast friends. He always remembered me with a gift of some sort or other when he came home from his whaling voyages: a scrimshawed whale's tooth, carved ivory from Korea, macabre jewelry from India or Arabia.

Joab's vessels would come back from their journeys with a fair regularity, if one can refer at all to whalers as "regular," when their voyages took anywhere from three to seven years, but there was one time when we didn't hear from him for quite a while. Yet he returned in the end, and on a ship not his own; told us he had been wrecked somewhere in the East Indies, and that's all we could learn about him. He brought a reddish, ugly scar with him; it ran from the middle of his forehead well into the line of his hair, where it disappeared somewhere in its bushy growth. When asked about it, he told us he had been hit by a boom and refused to say more. Of course we never believed that, and we teased him about an accident such as would only happen to a landlubber. He cut us short deftly, and the scar remained a mystery until the day of Sarah's wedding. Then, in one of his rare bursts of confidence, he told us about it.

Joab gave Peter a check for $100,000 and Sarah the most perfectly matched rope of pearls it has ever been my privilege to see. She, quite naturally, asked him where he got it, and then, without any further introduction, he told us the story. "All of you remember, I believe," he began, "most of the details of my life. You recall my early whaling days and the time when I changed to trading. I hated to give up the thrill of the whale hunt, but did it for my wife and Sarah, and took command of the Alopex. Jerez Mitchell was my first mate, and much of my knowledge of trading T gained from him. We tramped along the coasts of South America, around the Horn, across the Pacific, and into the East Indies. Jerez wanted to go to the Indies direct, but T followed the old whaling routes as long as I could.

"On one of our voyages we stopped at the Marquesas for water and then proceeded in the general directior of Papua. But after we passed Tahiti and the Society Islands we were driven before the wind in a terrific gale. We raced toward the south for two days and then were dashed on a reef near an island that wasn't even given on our chart.. Every man jack of us was ready for disaster. Our craft had been dashed to pieces in no time, and with the help of a spar, a crate, or a piece of driftwood, we made our way to the island as best we could.

"A pleasant, cheerful sunshine spread itself over the seascape as we swam toward shore. The natives had long ago seen us and came out to help. They paddled us back in their canoes and gave us refreshments. Once on the island, we were immediately conducted to a large hut and quartered there. Fatigued beyond endurance, wrc threw' ourselves on the rattan mats and fell into a deep sleep.

"I don't know how long I remained there, but when I awroke I found a native sitting at my side. He respectfully said to me: 'Parlez-vous français?'

"'Un peu,' I answered. He, then told me that 'the Master' wanted to see me, and asked me to follow' him. I walked after him as he made his way through the little village, and watched the natives basking in the sun or mending their nets. Once outside the village, my guide turned sharply into a footpath that led through the jungle. We began to ascend, passed a tumbling little rill of water, veered to the left' and then began to climb in earnest. After about five minutes of this we reached a plateau.

"Along this we walked until we came to a clearing in the middle of which, much to my surprize, I saw a wide, comfortable bungalow. A veranda ran all around it, and several natives lolled in the sun before the main entrance.

"My guide turned to me and asked me whether I was fatigued from the climb. I told him I wasn't, but he insisted that I rest on the veranda until 'the Master' was ready to see me.

"I lit my pipe and looked at the landscape. Far below -me I could see the shore line, to the left a bit of the village, and in the distance the wide, inscrutable sea. What manner of man is this, I wondered, who would build on such a deserted island?

"IN THE midst of my ruminations my guide came out and motioned to me. I followed him through a short corridor into a room which was evidently the library. It was long, low, and dark, yet not without its comfort, and thousands of books lined the walls. A few heavy leather chairs stood about the room, in the center of which there was a beautifully carved oak table, bare except for a Persian rug, used as a runner, and a priceless majolica vase. That the owner was a man of taste and refinement was manifest. The object that arrested my attention from the beginning, however, was a fireplace set in the center of the north wall. A mantelpiece, made of; a block of solid oak, ran across the top of it. On each end was set a solid silver candlestick, beautifully wrought. One of these was a trifle bent above the base, an...

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