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Page:Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869) v1.djvu/296

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THE MAN WHO LAUGHS.

learn the secrets they contained; he put them in order, and ticketed them with his signature. The expression "loger un papier au greffe," still used in the Channel Islands, is thence derived. However, one precaution was certainly taken. Not one of these bottles could be unsealed except in the presence of two examiners of the Admiralty office who were sworn to secrecy, and who signed, conjointly with the holder of the jetsam office, the official report of the opening. But these officials being pledged to secrecy, Barkilphedro was invested with considerable discretionary power. It depended upon him, to a certain extent, to suppress a fact or bring it to light.

These frail floating messages were far from being as rare and insignificant as Barkilphedro had asserted. Some reached land with very little delay; others, after many years. It depended on the winds and the currents. The fashion of casting bottles into the sea is rather out of date now, like that of thank offerings; but in those religious times, those who were about to die were glad thus to despatch their last thoughts to God and men, and at times these messages from the sea were plentiful at the Admiralty. A parchment preserved in the hall at Audlyene (ancient spelling), with notes by the Earl of Suffolk, Grand Treasurer of England under James I., bears witness that in the one year 1615 fifty-two flasks, bladders, and tarred vessels, containing mention of sinking ships, were brought and registered in the records of the Lord High Admiral.

Court appointments are the drop of oil in the widow's cruse, they are ever on the increase. Thus it is that the porter has become chancellor, and the groom constable. The special officer charged with the appointment desired and obtained by Barkilphedro was usually a confidential man; Elizabeth had wished that it should be so. At court, to speak of confidence is to speak of