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The Cask Ashore
by [?]



At the head of a diminutive creek of the Tamar River, a little above Saltash on the Cornish shore, stands the village of Botusfleming; and in early summer, when its cherry-orchards come into bloom, you will search far before finding a prettier.

The years have dealt gently with Botusfleming. As it is to-day, so– or nearly so–it was on a certain sunny afternoon in the year 1807, when the Reverend Edward Spettigew, Curate-in-Charge, sat in the garden before his cottage and smoked his pipe while he meditated a sermon. That is to say, he intended to meditate a sermon. But the afternoon was warm: the bees hummed drowsily among the wallflowers and tulips. From the bench his eyes followed the vale’s descent between overlapping billows of cherry blossom to a gap wherein shone the silver Tamar–not, be it understood, the part called Hamoaze, where lay the warships and the hulks containing the French prisoners, but an upper reach seldom troubled by shipping.

Parson Spettigew laid the book face-downwards on his knee while his lips murmured a part of the text he had chosen: “A place of broad rivers and streams . . . wherein shall go no galley with oars, neither shall gallant ship pass thereby. . . .” His pipe went out. The book slipped from his knee to the ground. He slumbered.

The garden gate rattled, and he awoke with a start. In the pathway below him stood a sailor; a middle-sized, middle-aged man, rigged out in best shore-going clothes–shiny tarpaulin hat, blue coat and waistcoat, shirt open at the throat, and white duck trousers with broad-buckled waistbelt.

“Beggin’ your Reverence’s pardon,” began the visitor, touching the brim of his hat, and then upon second thoughts uncovering, “but my name’s Jope–Ben Jope.”

“Eh? . . . What can I do for you?” asked Parson Spettigew, a trifle flustered at being caught napping.

“–Of the Vesoovius bomb, bo’s’n,” pursued Mr. Jope, with a smile that disarmed annoyance, so ingenuous it was, so friendly, and withal so respectful: “but paid off at eight this morning. Maybe your Reverence can tell me whereabouts to find an embalmer in these parts?”

“A–a what?”

“Embalmer.” Mr. Jope chewed thoughtfully for a moment or two upon a quid of tobacco. “Sort of party you’d go to supposin’ as you had a corpse by you and wanted to keep it for a permanency. You take a lot of gums and spices, and first of all you lays out the deceased, and next–“

“Yes, yes,” the Parson interrupted hurriedly; “I know the process, of course.”

“What? to practise it?” Hope illumined Mr. Jope’s countenance.

“No, most certainly not. . . . But, my good man,–an embalmer! and at Botusfleming, of all places!”

The sailor’s face fell. He sighed patiently.

“That’s what they said at Saltash, more or less. I got a sister living there–Sarah Treleaven her name is–a widow-woman, and sells fish. When I called on her this morning, ‘Embalmer?’ she said; ‘Go and embalm your grandmother!’ Those were her words, and the rest of Saltash wasn’t scarcely more helpful. But, as luck would have it, while I was searchin’, Bill Adams went for a shave, and inside of the barber’s shop what should he see but a fair-sized otter in a glass case? Bill began to admire it, and it turned out the barber had stuffed the thing. Maybe your Reverence knows the man?–‘A. Grigg and Son,’ he calls hisself.”

“Grigg? Yes, to be sure: he stuffed a trout for me last summer.”

“What weight, makin’ so bold?”

“Seven pounds.”

Mr. Jope’s face fell again.

“Well-a-well! I dare say the size don’t matter, once you’ve got the knack. We’ve brought him along, anyway; and, what’s more, we’ve made him bring all his tools. By his talk, he reckons it to be a shavin’ job, and we agreed to wait before we undeceived him.”