Dickens /Christmas /A Message from the Sea

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A Message from the Sea – 1860 – A Christmas tale – a collaboration

A Message from the Sea” was a short story by Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins written in 1860 for the Christmas issue of All the Year Round
The story begins with Captain Jorgan’s arrival on a beautiful island, He looks at avillage high up the sheer face of a steep and lofty cliff. He could see strings of pack-horses and pack-donkeys toiling slowly up the cliff bearing fish, coal and such other cargo. The red-brown cliffs, richly wooded to their extremest verge, were reflected in the bluest water, under the clear North Devonshire sky of a November day.

Jorgan, a New-Englander, says, ‘A mighty sing’lar and pretty place it is, as ever I saw in all the days of my life!’ He chatted with the fishermen then saw someone he recognised, he calledout, ‘Tom Pettifer, Ho!’

The two climbed high up the village and stopped before a quaint little house that stated ‘Mrs Raybrock, Draper’ and ‘Post Office’. They entered and Jorgan told the old woman ‘How do you do, ma’am? I am very glad to see you. I have come a long way to see you.’ She replied ‘Have you, sir?  Then I am sure I am very glad to see you, though I don’t know you from Adam’. But she recognised he was a sailor.

‘My name’s Jorgan, and I’m a ship-owner, and I sail my own and my partners’ ships, and have done so this five-and-twenty year. According to custom I am called Captain Jorgan, but I am no more a captain, bless your heart, than you are.’

They settled in the parlour, and a young man who Jorgan had met among the fisherman entered. He was with his affianced sweetheart, Kitty, whom they had mentioned earlier. Jorgan slapped his thighs and said. ‘In my country we should call Devonshire beauty first-rate!’

He asks the young man if his name is Alfred, and the young man confirmed that it was. ‘Somebody belonging to you went to sea?’ and the young man confirmed that his brother, High, had done so three years ago.

‘Ship struck upon some reef or rock, as I take it,’ said the captain, ‘and all hands lost?’

‘It may be that I have some information to give you,’ The captain suggested privacy and they went to Alfred’s bedroom.

The captain explained that he had been blown off course near to Cape Horn and came to an island not on their charts. ‘I ordered a boat to be lowered and manned, and went in that boat myself to explore the island. There was a reef outside it, and, floating in a corner of the smooth water within the reef, was a heap of sea-weed, and entangled in that sea-weed was this bottle.’

They explored further and found a firepit, one of the crewsank into a hole and they found it was lined with pulverised human bones. The captain looked inside the bottle and found a note saying ‘ Whoever finds this, is solemnly entreated by the dead to convey it unread to Alfred Raybrock, Steepways, North Devon, England.’

The captain politely averted his attention while Alfred read the note. But Alfred insisted he had earned the right to see its contents. The captain needed to encourage Alfred to read it.

Alfred read it an explained his father had saved £500 for his mother, and that this was the money that was to be used for him to marry Kitty the very next week. He traced out with his fore-finger the words, ‘poor father’s five hundred pounds‘, in the written paper. His brother’s note said that the money was stolen money.

Given this information he could not possibly use the money, how was he to tell Kitty? They re-read the note and saw a village metione d, Lanrean. Alfred explained that Kitty’s father, Mr Tregarthen,knew the village well. Alfred was convinced his father had nothing to do with it being stolen and so they agree to investigate this.

Alfred talks with Kitty and puts the wedding on hold, while he and Jorgan journey to Lanrean. But first, they go to meet Mr Tregarthen, to ask him for the names of people in Lanrean. Kitty goes with them and they leave Tom Pettifer to keepMrs Raybrook company.

As they passed through the village the sight of Alfred unhappy and Kitty in tears made all the women folk glare at Jorgan. Kitty went to her room and Alfred explained matters to her father, who became angry. Jorgan intervened, there stands the lover of your only child, and here stand I who know his secret. I warrant it a righteous secret, and none of his making, though bound to be of his keeping. I want to help him out with it, and tewwards that end we ask you to favour us with the names of two or three old residents in the village of Lanrean.

Kitty’s father gives the names of David Polreath, who may be dead, someone called Penrewed, he didn’t know his Christian name, John Tredgear and old Parvis. They set off for the town and Kitty was waiting beside the road, Jorgan allowed them some time alone.
Jorgan interviews the listed individuals and other elders as well, although none of them know anything about the expedition.

Alfred’s brother, Hugh, is encountered he was miraculously saved. They talk of a trip to Barstaple to see their father’s papers in a lawyer’s safekeeping. Then go to see Tregartthen at Steepways. Though Hugh would take precautions not to be recognised until his wife and mother had been advised.

In Barnstaple, because the brothers were present, the lawyert showed them the papers. An individual calledLwrence Clissoldhad borrowed the five hundred pounds from Mr Raybrock, could not service the debt and had repaid it to Alfred and Hugh’s father.

Hugh recounted his adventures to Jorgan, among the five surviving sailors, were Hugh and Clissold. The ship was discovered by pirates, who enslaved them. Clissold escaped after one year, but Hugh suffered for three years. After escaping, Hugh had gone to Lanrean to investigate his father’s case, where he had accidentally met Alfred and Jorgan.

They discover that Mr Tregarthen was involved in the story of the missing money, so they return to talk to him again. They explain what they have learned and Tregarthern declares ‘Clissold was the man who ruined me! I have suspected it for many a long year, and now I know it’.

He explains that ‘When we were fellow-clerks in that London house, Dringworth Brothers,it was one of my duties to enter daily in a certain book an account of the sums received that day by the firm, and afterward paid into the banker. One memorable day,—a Wednesday, the black day of my life – among the sums I so entered was one of five hundred pounds. It was one of Clissold’s duties to copy from this entry a memorandum of the sums which the clerk employed to go to the bankers’ paid in there.

‘It was my duty to hand the money to Clissold; it was Clissold’s to hand it to the clerk, with that memorandum of his writing. On that Wednesday I entered a sum of five hundred pounds received. I handed that sum, as I handed the other sums in the day’s entry, to Clissold. I was absolutely certain of it at the time, and ever since. A sum of five hundred pounds was afterward found by the house to have been that day wanting from the bag, from Clissold’s memorandum, and from the entries in my book. Clissold, being questioned, declared that he asked to be tested by ‘Tregarthen’s book’.’

‘The house produced my book, and it was not there. I could not deny my book; I could not deny my writing. I knew there must be forgery by some one; but the writing was wonderfully like mine, and I could impeach no one if the house could not. I was required to pay the money back. I did so; and I left the house, almost broken-hearted, rather than remain there,—even if I could have done so,—with a dark shadow of suspicion always on me. I returned to my native place, Lanrean, and remained there, clerk to a mine, until I was appointed to my little post here.

Tom Pettifer explains that he too was in that broking business and with his brother had acquired some furniture from Dringworth Brothers.When pressedhe says he last saw the furntore in Wapping owned by a very nice lady.

Jorgan discovers the missing sheet of the ledger in Tom’s hat. The captain agrees to take it to Dringworths and establish Tregarthen’s innocence.

In the meantime Alfred and Kitty rearranged their wedding, Jorgan couldn’t stay for the wedding, having a few appointments to keep at the irreconcilable distance of about four thousand miles. Within three summers Kitty, a rosy little boy took his first steps,he was Jorgan Raybrook.

Clissold, Lawrence
Jorgan, Captain Silas Jonas
Parvis, Old
Penrewed, Mr
Pettifer, Tom
Polreath, David
Raybrock, Alfred
Raybrock, Hugh
Raybrock, Mrs
Tredgear, John
Tregarthen, Kitty (Margaret)
Tregarthen, Mr

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