Part 1 out of 5
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THE MAGIC EGG
AND OTHER STORIES
FRANK R. STOCKTON
THE MAGIC EGG
"HIS WIFE'S DECEASED SISTER"
THE WIDOW'S CRUISE
CAPTAIN ELI'S BEST EAR
LOVE BEFORE BREAKFAST
THE STAYING POWER OF SIR ROHAN
A PIECE OF RED CALICO
THE CHRISTMAS WRECK
MY WELL AND WHAT CAME OUT OF IT
MY UNWILLING NEIGHBOR
OUR ARCHERY CLUB
THE MAGIC EGG
The pretty little theatre attached to the building of the
Unicorn Club had been hired for a certain January afternoon by
Mr. Herbert Loring, who wished to give therein a somewhat novel
performance, to which he had invited a small audience consisting
entirely of friends and acquaintances.
Loring was a handsome fellow about thirty years old, who had
travelled far and studied much. He had recently made a long
sojourn in the far East, and his friends had been invited to the
theatre to see some of the wonderful things he had brought from
that country of wonders. As Loring was a club-man, and belonged
to a family of good social standing, his circle of acquaintances
was large, and in this circle a good many unpleasant remarks had
been made regarding the proposed entertainment--made, of course,
by the people who had not been invited to be present. Some of
the gossip on the subject had reached Loring, who did not
hesitate to say that he could not talk to a crowd, and that he
did not care to show the curious things he had collected to
people who would not thoroughly appreciate them. He had been
very particular in regard to his invitations.
At three o'clock on the appointed afternoon nearly all the
people who had been invited to the Unicorn Theatre were in their
seats. No one had stayed away except for some very good reason,
for it was well known that if Herbert Loring offered to show
anything it was worth seeing.
About forty people were present, who sat talking to one
another, or admiring the decoration of the theatre. As Loring
stood upon the stage--where he was entirely alone, his exhibition
requiring no assistants--he gazed through a loophole in the
curtain upon a very interesting array of faces. There were the
faces of many men and women of society, of students, of workers
in various fields of thought, and even of idlers in all fields of
thought; but there was not one which indicated a frivolous or
listless disposition. The owners of those faces had come to see
something, and they wished to see it.
For a quarter of an hour after the time announced for the
opening of the exhibition Loring peered through the hole in the
curtain, and then, although all the people he had expected had
not arrived, he felt it would not do for him to wait any longer.
The audience was composed of well-bred and courteous men and
women, but despite their polite self-restraint Loring could see
that some of them were getting tired of waiting. So, very
reluctantly, and feeling that further delay was impossible, he
raised the curtain and came forward on the stage.
Briefly he announced that the exhibition would open with some
fireworks he had brought from Corea. It was plain to see that
the statement that fireworks were about to be set off on a
theatre stage, by an amateur, had rather startled some of the
audience, and Loring hastened to explain that these were not
real fireworks, but that they were contrivances made of colored
glass, which were illuminated by the powerful lens of a lantern
which was placed out of sight, and while the apparent pyrotechnic
display would resemble fireworks of strange and grotesque
designs, it would be absolutely without danger. He brought out
some little bunches of bits of colored glass, hung them at some
distance apart on a wire which was stretched across the stage
just high enough for him to reach it, and then lighted his
lantern, which he placed in one of the wings, lowered all the
lights in the theatre, and began his exhibition.
As Loring turned his lantern on one of the clusters of glass
lenses, strips, and points, and, unseen himself, caused them to
move by means of long cords attached, the effects were beautiful
and marvellous. Little wheels of colored fire rapidly revolved,
miniature rockets appeared to rise a few feet and to explode in
the air, and while all the ordinary forms of fireworks were
produced on a diminutive scale, there were some effects that were
entirely novel to the audience. As the light was turned
successively upon one and another of the clusters of glass,
sometimes it would flash along the whole line so rapidly that all
the various combinations of color and motion seemed to be
combined in one, and then for a time each particular set of
fireworks would blaze, sparkle, and coruscate by itself,
scattering particles of colored light as if they had been real
sparks of fire.
This curious and beautiful exhibition of miniature
pyrotechnics was extremely interesting to the audience, who gazed
upward with rapt and eager attention at the line of wheels,
stars, and revolving spheres. So far as interest gave evidence
of satisfaction, there was never a better satisfied audience. At
first there had been some hushed murmurs of pleasure, but very
soon the attention of every one seemed so completely engrossed by
the dazzling display that they simply gazed in silence.
For twenty minutes or longer the glittering show went on, and
not a sign of weariness or inattention was made by any one of the
assembled company. Then gradually the colors of the little
fireworks faded, the stars and wheels revolved more slowly, the
lights in the body of the theatre were gradually raised, and the
stage curtain went softly down.
Anxiously, and a little pale, Herbert Loring peered through
the loophole in the curtain. It was not easy to judge of the
effects of his exhibition, and he did not know whether or not it
had been a success. There was no applause, but, on the other
hand, there was no signs that any one resented the exhibition as
a childish display of colored lights. It was impossible to look
upon that audience without believing that they had been
thoroughly interested in what they had seen, and that they
expected to see more.
For two or three minutes Loring gazed through his loophole,
and then, still with some doubt in his heart, but with a little
more color in his checks, he prepared for the second part of his
At this moment there entered the theatre, at the very back of
the house, a young lady. She was handsome and well dressed, and
as she opened the door--Loring had employed no ushers or other
assistants in this little social performance--she paused for a
moment and looked into the theatre, and then noiselessly
stepped to a chair in the back row and sat down.
This was Edith Starr, who, a month before, had been betrothed
to Herbert Loring. Edith and her mother had been invited to this
performance, and front seats had been reserved for them, for each
guest had received a numbered card. But Mrs. Starr had a
headache, and could not go out that afternoon, and for a time her
daughter had thought that she, too, must give up the pleasure
Loring had promised her, and stay with her mother. But when the
elder lady dropped into a quiet sleep, Edith thought that, late
as it was, she would go by herself, and see what she could of the
She was quite certain that if her presence were known to
Loring he would stop whatever he was doing until she had been
provided with a seat which he thought suitable for her, for he
had made a point of her being properly seated when he gave the
invitations. Therefore, being equally desirous of not disturbing
the performance and of not being herself conspicuous, she sat
behind two rather large men, where she could see the stage
perfectly well, but where she herself would not be likely to be
In a few moments the curtain rose, and Loring came forward,
carrying a small, light table, which he placed near the front of
the stage, and for a moment stood quietly by it. Edith noticed
upon his face the expression of uncertainty and anxiety which had
not yet left it. Standing by the side of the table, and speaking
very slowly, but so clearly that his words could be heard
distinctly in all parts of the room, he began some introductory
remarks regarding the second part of his performance.
"The extraordinary, and I may say marvellous, thing which I
am about to show you," he said, "is known among East Indian
magicians as the magic egg. The exhibition is a very uncommon
one, and has seldom been seen by Americans or Europeans, and it
was by a piece of rare good fortune that I became possessed of
the appliances necessary for this exhibition. They are indeed
very few and simple, but never before, to the best of my
knowledge and belief, have they been seen outside of India.
"I will now get the little box which contains the articles
necessary for this magical performance, and I will say that if I
had time to tell you of the strange and amazing adventure which
resulted in my possession of this box, I am sure you would be as
much interested in that as I expect you to be in the contents of
the box. But in order that none of you may think this is an
ordinary trick, executed by means of concealed traps or doors, I
wish you to take particular notice of this table, which is, as
you see, a plain, unpainted pine table, with nothing but a flat
top, and four straight legs at the corners. You can see under
and around it, and it gives no opportunity to conceal anything."
Then, standing for a few moments as if he had something else to
say, he turned and stepped toward one of the wings.
Edith was troubled as she looked at her lover during these
remarks. Her interest was great, greater, indeed, than that of
the people about her, but it was not a pleasant interest. As
Loring stopped speaking, and looked about him, there was a
momentary flush on his face. She knew this was caused by
excitement, and she was pale from the same cause.
Very soon Loring came forward, and stood by the table.
"Here is the box," he said, "of which I spoke, and as I hold
it up I think you all can see it. It is not large, being
certainly not more than twelve inches in length and two deep, but
it contains some very wonderful things. The outside of this box
is covered with delicate engraving and carving which you cannot
see, and these marks and lines have, I think, some magical
meaning, but I do not know what it is. I will now open the box
and show you what is inside. The first thing I take out is this
little stick, not thicker than a lead-pencil, but somewhat
longer, as you see. This is a magical wand, and is covered with
inscriptions of the same character as those on the outside of the
box. The next thing is this little red bag, well filled, as you
see, which I shall put on the table, for I shall not yet need it.
"Now I take out a piece of cloth which is folded into a very
small compass, but as I unfold it you will perceive that it is
more than a foot square, and is covered with embroidery. All
those strange lines and figures in gold and red, which you can
plainly see on the cloth as I hold it up, are also characters in
the same magic language as those on the box and wand. I will now
spread the cloth on the table, and then take out the only
remaining thing in the box, and this is nothing in the world but
an egg--a simple, ordinary hen's egg, as you all see as I hold it
up. It may be a trifle larger than an ordinary egg, but then,
after all, it is nothing but a common egg--that is, in
appearance. In reality it is a good deal more.
"Now I will begin the performance." And as he stood by the
back of the table, over which he had been slightly bending, and
threw his eyes over the audience, his voice was stronger, and his
face had lost all its pallor. He was evidently warming up with
"I now take up this wand," he said, "which, while I hold it,
gives me power to produce the phenomena which you are about to
behold. You may not all believe that there is any magic whatever
about this little performance, and that it is all a bit of
machinery; but whatever you may think about it, you shall see
what you shall see.
"Now with this wand I gently touch this egg which is lying on
the square of cloth. I do not believe you can see what has
happened to this egg, but I will tell you. There is a little
line, like a hair, entirely around it. Now that line has become
a crack. Now you can see it, I know. It grows wider and wider!
Look! The shell of the egg is separating in the middle. The
whole egg slightly moves. Do you notice that? Now you can see
something yellow showing itself between the two parts of the
shell. See! It is moving a good deal, and the two halves of the
shell are separating more and more. And now out tumbles this
queer little object. Do you see what it is? It is a poor, weak,
little chick, not able to stand, but alive--alive! You can all
perceive that it is alive. Now you can see that it is standing
on its feet, feebly enough, but still standing.
"Behold, it takes a few steps! You cannot doubt that it is
alive, and came out of that egg. It is beginning to walk about
over the cloth. Do you notice that it is picking the embroidery?
Now, little chick, I will give you something to eat. This little
red bag contains grain, a magical grain, with which I shall feed
the chicken. You must excuse my awkwardness in opening the bag,
as I still hold the wand; but this little stick I must not drop.
See, little chick, there are some grains! They look like rice,
but, in fact, I have no idea what they are. But he knows, he
knows! Look at him! See how he picks it up! There! He has
swallowed one, two, three. That will do, little chick, for a
"The grain seems to have strengthened him already, for see
how lively he is, and how his yellow down stands out on him, so
puffy and warm! You are looking for some more grain, are you?
Well, you cannot have it just yet, and keep away from those
pieces of eggshell, which, by the way, I will put back into the
box. Now, sir, try to avoid the edge of the table, and, to quiet
you, I will give you a little tap on the back with my wand. Now,
then, please observe closely. The down which just now covered
him has almost gone. He is really a good deal bigger, and ever
so much uglier. See the little pin-feathers sticking out over
him! Some spots here and there are almost bare, but he is ever
so much more active. Ha! Listen to that! He is so strong that
you can hear his beak as he pecks at the table. He is actually
growing bigger and bigger before our very eyes! See that funny
little tail, how it begins to stick up, and quills are showing at
the end of his wings.
"Another tap, and a few more grains. Careful, sir! Don't
tear the cloth! See how rapidly he grows! He is fairly covered
with feathers, red and black, with a tip of yellow in front. You
could hardly get that fellow into an ostrich egg! Now, then,
what do you think of him? He is big enough for a broiler, though
I don't think any one would want to take him for that purpose.
Some more grain, and another tap from my wand. See! He does not
mind the little stick, for he has been used to it from his very
birth. Now, then, he is what you would call a good half-grown
chick. Rather more than half grown, I should say. Do you notice
his tail? There is no mistaking him for a pullet. The long
feathers are beginning to curl over already. He must have a
little more grain. Look out, sir, or you will be off the table!
Come back here! This table is too small for him, but if he were
on the floor you could not see him so well.
"Another tap. Now see that comb on the top of his head; you
scarcely noticed it before, and now it is bright red. And see
his spurs beginning to show--on good thick legs, too. There is a
fine young fellow for you! Look how he jerks his head from side
to side, like the young prince of a poultry-yard, as he well
deserves to be!"
The attentive interest which had at first characterized the
audience now changed to excited admiration and amazement. Some
leaned forward with mouths wide open. Others stood up so that
they could see better. Ejaculations of astonishment and wonder
were heard on every side, and a more thoroughly fascinated and
absorbed audience was never seen.
"Now, my friends," Loring continued, "I will give this
handsome fowl another tap. Behold the result--a noble, full-
grown cock! Behold his spurs! They are nearly an inch long!
See, there is a comb for you! And what a magnificent tail of
green and black, contrasting so finely with the deep red of the
rest of his body! Well, sir, you are truly too big for this
table. As I cannot give you more room, I will set you up higher.
Move over a little, and I will set this chair on the table.
There! Upon the seat! That's right, but don't stop. There is
the back, which is higher yet! Up with you! Ha! There, he
nearly upset the chair, but I will hold it. See! He has turned
around. Now, then, look at him. See his wings as he flaps them!
He could fly with such wings. Look at him! See that swelling
breast! Ha, ha! Listen! Did you ever hear a crow like that?
It fairly rings through the house. Yes, I knew it! There is
At this point the people in the house were in a state of wild
excitement. Nearly all of them were on their feet, and they were
in such a condition of frantic enthusiasm that Loring was afraid
some of them might make a run for the stage.
"Come, sir," cried Loring, now almost shouting, "that will
do. You have shown us the strength of your lungs. Jump down on
the seat of the chair; now on the table. There, I will take away
the chair, and you can stand for a moment on the table and let
our friends look at you; but only for a moment. Take that tap on
your back. Now do you see any difference? Perhaps you may not,
but I do. Yes, I believe you all do. He is not the big fellow
he was a minute ago. He is really smaller--only a fine
cockerel. A nice tail that, but with none of the noble sweep
that it had a minute ago. No, don't try to get off the table.
You can't escape my wand. Another tap. Behold a half-grown
chicken, good to eat, but with not a crow in him. Hungry, are
you? But you need not pick at the table that way. You get no
more grain, but only this little tap. Ha, ha! What are you
coming to? There is a chicken barely feathered enough for us to
tell what color he is going to be.
"Another tap will take still more of the conceit out of him.
Look at him! There are his pin-feathers, and his bare spots.
Don't try to get away; I can easily tap you again. Now then.
Here is a lovely little chick, fluffy with yellow down. He is
active enough, but I shall quiet him. One tap, and now what do
you see? A poor, feeble chicken, scarcely able to stand, with
his down all packed close to him as if he had been out in the
rain. Ah, little chick, I will take the two halves of the egg-
shell from which you came, and put them on each side of you.
Come, now get in! I close them up. You are lost to view. There
is nothing to be seen but a crack around the shell! Now it has
gone! There, my friends; as I hold it on high, behold the magic
egg, exactly as it was when I first took it out of the box, into
which I will place it again, with the cloth and the wand and the
little red bag, and shut it up with a snap. I will let you take
one more look at this box before I put it away behind the scenes.
Are you satisfied with what I have shown you? Do you think it is
really as wonderful as you supposed it would be?"
At these words the whole audience burst into riotous
applause, during which Loring disappeared, but he was back in a
"Thank you!" he cried, bowing low, and waving his arms before
him in the manner of an Eastern magician making a salaam. From
side to side he turned, bowing and thanking, and then, with a
hearty "Good-by to you; good-by to you all!" he stepped back and
let down the curtain.
For some moments the audience remained in their seats as if
they were expecting something more, and then they rose quietly
and began to disperse. Most of them were acquainted with one
another, and there was a good deal of greeting and talking as
they went out of the theatre.
When Loring was sure the last person had departed, he turned
down the lights, locked the door, and gave the key to the steward
of the club.
He walked to his home a happy man. His exhibition had been a
perfect success, with not a break or a flaw in it from beginning
"I feel," thought the young man, as he strode along, "as if I
could fly to the top of that steeple, and flap and crow until all
the world heard me."
That evening, as was his daily custom, Herbert Loring called
upon Miss Starr. He found the young lady in the library.
"I came in here," she said, "because I have a good deal to
talk to you about, and I do not want interruptions."
With this arrangement the young man expressed his entire
satisfaction, and immediately began to inquire the cause of her
absence from his exhibition in the afternoon.
"But I was there," said Edith. "You did not see me, but I
was there. Mother had a headache, and I went by myself."
"You were there!" exclaimed Loring, almost starting from his
chair. "I don't understand. You were not in your seat."
"No," answered Edith. "I was on the very back row of seats.
You could not see me, and I did not wish you to see me."
"Edith!" exclaimed Loring, rising to his feet and leaning
over the library table, which was between them. "When did you
come? How much of the performance did you see?"
"I was late," she said. "I did not arrive until after the
fireworks, or whatever they were."
For a moment Loring was silent, as if he did not understand
"Fireworks!" he said. "How did you know there had been
"I heard the people talking of them as they left the
theatre," she answered.
"And what did they say?" he inquired quickly.
"They seemed to like them very well," she replied, "but I do
not think they were quite satisfied. From what I heard some
persons say, I inferred that they thought it was not very much of
a show to which you had invited them."
Again Loring stood in thought, looking down at the table.
But before he could speak again, Edith sprang to her feet.
"Herbert Loring," she cried, "what does all this mean? I was
there during the whole of the exhibition of what you called the
magic egg. I saw all those people wild with excitement at
the wonderful sight of the chicken that came out of the egg, and
grew to full size, and then dwindled down again, and went back
into the egg, and, Herbert, there was no egg, and there was no
little box, and there was no wand, and no embroidered cloth, and
there was no red bag, nor any little chick, and there was no
full-grown fowl, and there was no chair that you put on the
table! There was nothing, absolutely nothing, but you and that
table! Even the table was not what you said it was. It was not
an unpainted pine table with four straight legs. It was a table
of dark polished wood, and it stood on a single post with feet.
There was nothing there that you said was there. Everything was
a sham and a delusion; every word you spoke was untrue. And yet
everybody in that theatre, excepting you and me, saw all the
things that you said were on the stage. I know they saw them
all, for I was with the people, and heard them, and saw them, and
at times I fairly felt the thrill of enthusiasm which possessed
them as they glared at the miracles and wonders you said were
Loring smiled. "Sit down, my dear Edith," he said. "You are
excited, and there is not the slightest cause for it. I will
explain the whole affair to you. It is simple enough. You know
that study is the great object of my life. I study all sorts of
things; and just now I am greatly interested in hypnotism. The
subject has become fascinating to me. I have made a great many
successful trials of my power, and the affair of this afternoon
was nothing but a trial of my powers on a more extensive scale
than anything I have yet attempted. I wanted to see if it were
possible for me to hypnotize a considerable number of people
without any one suspecting what I intended to do. The result was
a success. I hypnotized all those people by means of the first
part of my performance, which consisted of some combinations of
colored glass with lights thrown upon them. They revolved, and
looked like fireworks, and were strung on a wire high up on the
"I kept up the glittering and dazzling show--which was well
worth seeing, I can assure you--until the people had been
straining their eyes upward for almost half an hour. And this
sort of thing--I will tell you if you do not know it--is one of
the methods of producing hypnotic sleep.
"There was no one present who was not an impressionable
subject, for I was very careful in sending out my invitations,
and when I became almost certain that my audience was thoroughly
hypnotized, I stopped the show and began the real exhibition,
which was not really for their benefit, but for mine.
"Of course, I was dreadfully anxious for fear I had not
succeeded entirely, and that there might be at least some one
person who had not succumbed to the hypnotic influences, and so I
tested the matter by bringing out that table and telling them it
was something it was not. If I had had any reason for supposing
that some of the audience saw the table as it really was, I had
an explanation ready, and I could have retired from my position
without any one supposing that I had intended making hypnotic
experiments. The rest of the exhibition would have been some
things that any one could see, and as soon as possible I would
have released from their spell those who were hypnotized. But
when I became positively assured that every one saw a light pine
table with four straight legs, I confidently went on with the
performances of the magic egg."
Edith Starr was still standing by the library table. She had
not heeded Loring's advice to sit down, and she was trembling
"Herbert Loring," she said, "you invited my mother and me to
that exhibition. You gave us tickets for front seats, where we
would be certain to be hypnotized if your experiment succeeded,
and you would have made us see that false show, which faded from
those people's minds as soon as they recovered from the spell,
for as they went away they were talking only of the fireworks,
and not one of them mentioned a magic egg, or a chicken, or
anything of the kind. Answer me this: did you not intend that I
should come and be put under that spell?"
Loring smiled. "Yes," he said, "of course I did. But then
your case would have been different from that of the other
spectators: I should have explained the whole thing to you, and I
am sure we would have had a great deal of pleasure, and profit
too, in discussing your experiences. The subject is extremely--"
"Explain to me!" she cried. "You would not have dared to do
it! I do not know how brave you may be, but I know you would not
have had the courage to come here and tell me that you had taken
away my reason and my judgment, as you took them away from all
those people, and that you had made me a mere tool of your will--
glaring and panting with excitement at the wonderful things you
told me to see where nothing existed. I have nothing to say
about the others. They can speak for themselves if they ever
come to know what you did to them. I speak for myself. I stood
up with the rest of the people. I gazed with all my power, and
over and over again I asked myself if it could be possible that
anything was the matter with my eyes or my brain, and if I could
be the only person there who could not see the marvellous
spectacle that you were describing. But now I know that nothing
was real, not even the little pine table--not even the man!"
"Not even me!" exclaimed Loring. "Surely I was real enough!"
"On that stage, yes," she said. "But you there proved you
were not the Herbert Loring to whom I promised myself. He was an
unreal being. If he had existed he would not have been a man who
would have brought me to that public place, all ignorant of his
intentions, to cloud my perceptions, to subject my intellect to
his own, and make me believe a lie. If a man should treat me in
that way once he would treat me so at other times, and in other
ways, if he had the chance. You have treated me in the past as
to-day you treated those people who glared at the magic egg. In
the days gone by you made me see an unreal man, but you will
never do it again! Good-by."
"Edith," cried Loring, "you don't--"
But she had disappeared through a side door, and he never
spoke to her again.
Walking home through the dimly lighted streets, Loring
involuntarily spoke aloud.
"And this," he said, "is what came out of the magic egg!"
"HIS WIFE'S DECEASED SISTER"
It is now five years since an event occurred which so colored my
life, or rather so changed some of its original colors, that I
have thought it well to write an account of it, deeming that its
lessons may be of advantage to persons whose situations in life
are similar to my own.
When I was quite a young man I adopted literature as a
profession, and having passed through the necessary preparatory
grades, I found myself, after a good many years of hard and often
unremunerative work, in possession of what might be called a fair
literary practice. My articles, grave, gay, practical, or
fanciful, had come to be considered with a favor by the editors
of the various periodicals for which I wrote, on which I found in
time I could rely with a very comfortable certainty. My
productions created no enthusiasm in the reading public; they
gave me no great reputation or very valuable pecuniary return;
but they were always accepted, and my receipts from them, at the
time to which I have referred, were as regular and reliable as a
salary, and quite sufficient to give me more than a comfortable
It was at this time I married. I had been engaged for more
than a year, but had not been willing to assume the support of
a wife until I felt that my pecuniary position was so assured
that I could do so with full satisfaction to my own conscience.
There was now no doubt in regard to this position, either in my
mind or in that of my wife. I worked with great steadiness and
regularity, I knew exactly where to place the productions of my
pen, and could calculate, with a fair degree of accuracy, the
sums I should receive for them. We were by no means rich, but we
had enough, and were thoroughly satisfied and content.
Those of my readers who are married will have no difficulty
in remembering the peculiar ecstasy of the first weeks of their
wedded life. It is then that the flowers of this world bloom
brightest; that its sun is the most genial; that its clouds are
the scarcest; that its fruit is the most delicious; that the air
is the most balmy; that its cigars are of the highest flavor;
that the warmth and radiance of early matrimonial felicity so
rarefy the intellectual atmosphere that the soul mounts higher,
and enjoys a wider prospect, than ever before.
These experiences were mine. The plain claret of my mind was
changed to sparkling champagne, and at the very height of its
effervescence I wrote a story. The happy thought that then
struck me for a tale was of a very peculiar character, and it
interested me so much that I went to work at it with great
delight and enthusiasm, and finished it in a comparatively short
time. The title of the story was "His Wife's Deceased Sister,"
and when I read it to Hypatia she was delighted with it, and at
times was so affected by its pathos that her uncontrollable
emotion caused a sympathetic dimness in my eyes which
prevented my seeing the words I had written. When the reading
was ended and my wife had dried her eyes, she turned to me and
said, "This story will make your fortune. There has been nothing
so pathetic since Lamartine's `History of a Servant Girl.'"
As soon as possible the next day I sent my story to the
editor of the periodical for which I wrote most frequently, and
in which my best productions generally appeared. In a few days I
had a letter from the editor, in which he praised my story as he
had never before praised anything from my pen. It had interested
and charmed, he said, not only himself, but all his associates in
the office. Even old Gibson, who never cared to read anything
until it was in proof, and who never praised anything which had
not a joke in it, was induced by the example of the others to
read this manuscript, and shed, as he asserted, the first tears
that had come from his eyes since his final paternal castigation
some forty years before. The story would appear, the editor
assured me, as soon as he could possibly find room for it.
If anything could make our skies more genial, our flowers
brighter, and the flavor of our fruit and cigars more delicious,
it was a letter like this. And when, in a very short time, the
story was published, we found that the reading public was
inclined to receive it with as much sympathetic interest and
favor as had been shown to it by the editors. My personal
friends soon began to express enthusiastic opinions upon it. It
was highly praised in many of the leading newspapers, and,
altogether, it was a great literary success. I am not inclined
to be vain of my writings, and, in general, my wife tells me,
I think too little of them. But I did feel a good deal of pride
and satisfaction in the success of "His Wife's Deceased Sister."
If it did not make my fortune, as my wife asserted it would, it
certainly would help me very much in my literary career.
In less than a month from the writing of this story,
something very unusual and unexpected happened to me. A
manuscript was returned by the editor of the periodical in which
"His Wife's Deceased Sister" had appeared.
"It is a good story," he wrote, "but not equal to what you
have just done. You have made a great hit, and it would not do
to interfere with the reputation you have gained by publishing
anything inferior to `His Wife's Deceased Sister,' which has had
such a deserved success."
I was so unaccustomed to having my work thrown back on my
hands that I think I must have turned a little pale when I read
the letter. I said nothing of the matter to my wife, for it
would be foolish to drop such grains of sand as this into the
smoothly oiled machinery of our domestic felicity, but I
immediately sent the story to another editor. I am not able to
express the astonishment I felt when, in the course of a week, it
was sent back to me. The tone of the note accompanying it
indicated a somewhat injured feeling on the part of the editor.
"I am reluctant," he said, "to decline a manuscript from you;
but you know very well that if you sent me anything like `His
Wife's Deceased Sister' it would be most promptly accepted."
I now felt obliged to speak of the affair to my wife, who was
quite as much surprised, though, perhaps, not quite as much
shocked, as I had been.
"Let us read the story again," she said, "and see what is the
matter with it." When we had finished its perusal, Hypatia
remarked: "It is quite as good as many of the stories you have
had printed, and I think it very interesting, although, of
course, it is not equal to `His Wife's Deceased Sister.'"
"Of course not," said I; "that was an inspiration that I
cannot expect every day. But there must be something wrong about
this last story which we do not perceive. Perhaps my recent
success may have made me a little careless in writing it."
"I don't believe that," said Hypatia.
"At any rate," I continued, "I will lay it aside, and will go
to work on a new one."
In due course of time I had another manuscript finished, and
I sent it to my favorite periodical. It was retained some weeks,
and then came back to me.
"It will never do," the editor wrote, quite warmly, "for you
to go backward. The demand for the number containing `His Wife's
Deceased Sister' still continues, and we do not intend to let you
disappoint that great body of readers who would be so eager to
see another number containing one of your stories."
I sent this manuscript to four other periodicals, and from
each of them it was returned with remarks to the effect that,
although it was not a bad story in itself, it was not what they
would expect from the author of "His Wife's Deceased Sister."
The editor of a Western magazine wrote to me for a story
to be published in a special number which he would issue for the
holidays. I wrote him one of the character and length he
desired, and sent it to him. By return mail it came back to me.
"I had hoped," the editor wrote, "when I asked for a story
from your pen, to receive something like `His Wife's Deceased
Sister,' and I must own that I am very much disappointed."
I was so filled with anger when I read this note that I
openly objurgated "His Wife's Deceased Sister." "You must excuse
me," I said to my astonished wife, "for expressing myself thus in
your presence, but that confounded story will be the ruin of me
yet. Until it is forgotten nobody will ever take anything I
"And you cannot expect it ever to be forgotten," said
Hypatia, with tears in her eyes.
It is needless for me to detail my literary efforts in the
course of the next few months. The ideas of the editors with
whom my principal business had been done, in regard to my
literary ability, had been so raised by my unfortunate story of
"His Wife's Deceased Sister" that I found it was of no use to
send them anything of lesser merit. And as to the other journals
which I tried, they evidently considered it an insult for me to
send them matter inferior to that by which my reputation had
lately risen. The fact was that my successful story had ruined
me. My income was at an end, and want actually stared me in the
face; and I must admit that I did not like the expression of its
countenance. It was of no use for me to try to write another
story like "His Wife's Deceased Sister." I could not get married
every time I began a new manuscript, and it was the
exaltation of mind caused by my wedded felicity which produced
"It's perfectly dreadful!" said my wife. "If I had had a
sister, and she had died, I would have thought it was my fault."
"It could not be your fault," I answered, "and I do not think
it was mine. I had no intention of deceiving anybody into the
belief that I could do that sort of thing every time, and it
ought not to be expected of me. Suppose Raphael's patrons had
tried to keep him screwed up to the pitch of the Sistine Madonna,
and had refused to buy anything which was not as good as that.
In that case I think he would have occupied a much earlier and
narrower grave than the one on which Mr. Morris Moore hangs his
"But, my dear," said Hypatia, who was posted on such
subjects, "the Sistine Madonna was one of his latest paintings."
"Very true," said I. "But if he had married as I did, he
would have painted it earlier."
I was walking homeward one afternoon about this time, when I
met Barbel, a man I had known well in my early literary career.
He was now about fifty years of age, but looked older. His hair
and beard were quite gray, and his clothes, which were of the
same general hue, gave me the idea that they, like his hair, had
originally been black. Age is very hard on a man's external
appointments. Barbel had an air of having been to let for a long
time, and quite out of repair. But there was a kindly gleam in
his eye, and he welcomed me cordially.
"Why, what is the matter, old fellow?" said he. "I never saw
you look so woe-begone."
I had no reason to conceal anything from Barbel. In my
younger days he had been of great use to me, and he had a right
to know the state of my affairs. I laid the whole case plainly
"Look here," he said, when I had finished; "come with me to
my room; I have something I would like to say to you there."
I followed Barbel to his room. It was at the top of a very
dirty and well-worn house, which stood in a narrow and lumpy
street, into which few vehicles ever penetrated, except the ash
and garbage-carts, and the rickety wagons of the venders of stale
"This is not exactly a fashionable promenade," said Barbel,
as we approached the house, "but in some respects it reminds me
of the streets in Italian towns, where the palaces lean over
toward each other in such a friendly way."
Barbel's room was, to my mind, rather more doleful than the
street. It was dark, it was dusty, and cobwebs hung from every
corner. The few chairs upon the floor and the books upon a
greasy table seemed to be afflicted with some dorsal epidemic,
for their backs were either gone or broken. A little bedstead in
the corner was covered with a spread made of New York "Heralds"
with their edges pasted together.
"There is nothing better," said Barbel, noticing my glance
toward this novel counterpane, "for a bed-covering than
newspapers; they keep you as warm as a blanket, and are much
lighter. I used to use `Tribunes,' but they rattled too much."
The only part of the room which was well lighted was one
end near the solitary window. Here, upon a table with a spliced
leg, stood a little grindstone.
"At the other end of the room," said Barbel, "is my cook-
stove, which you can't see unless I light the candle in the
bottle which stands by it. But if you don't care particularly to
examine it, I won't go to the expense of lighting up. You might
pick up a good many odd pieces of bric-a-brac, around here, if
you chose to strike a match and investigate. But I would not
advise you to do so. It would pay better to throw the things out
of the window than to carry them down-stairs. The particular
piece of indoor decoration to which I wish to call your attention
is this." And he led me to a little wooden frame which hung
against the wall near the window. Behind a dusty piece of glass
it held what appeared to be a leaf from a small magazine or
journal. "There," said he, "you see a page from the
`Grasshopper,' a humorous paper which flourished in this city
some half-dozen years ago. I used to write regularly for that
paper, as you may remember."
"Oh, yes, indeed!" I exclaimed. "And I shall never forget
your `Conundrum of the Anvil' which appeared in it. How often
have I laughed at that most wonderful conceit, and how often have
I put it to my friends!"
Barbel gazed at me silently for a moment, and then he pointed
to the frame. "That printed page," he said solemnly, "contains
the `Conundrum of the Anvil.' I hang it there so that I can see
it while I work. That conundrum ruined me. It was the last
thing I wrote for the `Grasshopper.' How I ever came to imagine
it, I cannot tell. It is one of those things which occur to
a man but once in a lifetime. After the wild shout of delight
with which the public greeted that conundrum, my subsequent
efforts met with hoots of derision. The `Grasshopper' turned its
hind legs upon me. I sank from bad to worse,--much worse,--until
at last I found myself reduced to my present occupation, which is
that of grinding points on pins. By this I procure my bread,
coffee, and tobacco, and sometimes potatoes and meat. One day
while I was hard at work, an organ-grinder came into the street
below. He played the serenade from `Trovatore' and the familiar
notes brought back visions of old days and old delights, when the
successful writer wore good clothes and sat at operas, when he
looked into sweet eyes and talked of Italian airs, when his
future appeared all a succession of bright scenery and joyous
acts, without any provision for a drop-curtain. And as my ear
listened, and my mind wandered in this happy retrospect, my every
faculty seemed exalted, and, without any thought upon the matter,
I ground points upon my pins so fine, so regular, and so smooth
that they would have pierced with ease the leather of a boot, or
slipped, without abrasion, among the finest threads of rare old
lace. When the organ stopped, and I fell back into my real world
of cobwebs and mustiness, I gazed upon the pins I had just
ground, and, without a moment's hesitation, I threw them into the
street, and reported the lot as spoiled. This cost me a little
money, but it saved me my livelihood."
After a few moments of silence, Barbel resumed:
"I have no more to say to you, my young friend. All I want
you to do is to look upon that framed conundrum, then upon
this grindstone, and then to go home and reflect. As for me, I
have a gross of pins to grind before the sun goes down."
I cannot say that my depression of mind was at all relieved
by what I had seen and heard. I had lost sight of Barbel for
some years, and I had supposed him still floating on the sun-
sparkling stream of prosperity where I had last seen him. It was
a great shock to me to find him in such a condition of poverty
and squalor, and to see a man who had originated the "Conundrum
of the Anvil" reduced to the soul-depressing occupation of
grinding pin-points. As I walked and thought, the dreadful
picture of a totally eclipsed future arose before my mind. The
moral of Barbel sank deep into my heart.
When I reached home I told my wife the story of my friend
Barbel. She listened with a sad and eager interest.
"I am afraid," she said, "if our fortunes do not quickly
mend, that we shall have to buy two little grindstones. You know
I could help you at that sort of thing."
For a long time we sat together and talked, and devised many
plans for the future. I did not think it necessary yet for me to
look out for a pin contract; but I must find some way of making
money, or we should starve to death. Of course, the first thing
that suggested itself was the possibility of finding some other
business. But, apart from the difficulty of immediately
obtaining remunerative work in occupations to which I had not
been trained, I felt a great and natural reluctance to give up a
profession for which I had carefully prepared myself, and which
I had adopted as my life-work. It would be very hard for me
to lay down my pen forever, and to close the top of my inkstand
upon all the bright and happy fancies which I had seen mirrored
in its tranquil pool. We talked and pondered the rest of that
day and a good deal of the night, but we came to no conclusion as
to what it would be best for us to do.
The next day I determined to go and call upon the editor of
the journal for which, in happier days, before the blight of "His
Wife's Deceased Sister" rested upon me, I used most frequently to
write, and, having frankly explained my condition to him, to ask
his advice. The editor was a good man, and had always been my
friend. He listened with great attention to what I told him, and
evidently sympathized with me in my trouble.
"As we have written to you," he said, "the only reason why we
did not accept the manuscripts you sent us was that they would
have disappointed the high hopes that the public had formed in
regard to you. We have had letter after letter asking when we
were going to publish another story like `His Wife's Deceased
Sister.' We felt, and we still feel, that it would be wrong to
allow you to destroy the fair fabric which you yourself have
raised. But," he added, with a kind smile, "I see very plainly
that your well-deserved reputation will be of little advantage to
you if you should starve at the moment that its genial beams are,
so to speak, lighting you up."
"Its beams are not genial," I answered. "They have scorched
and withered me."
"How would you like," said the editor, after a short
reflection, "to allow us to publish the stories you have
recently written under some other name than your own? That would
satisfy us and the public, would put money in your pocket, and
would not interfere with your reputation."
Joyfully I seized the noble fellow by the hand, and instantly
accepted his proposition. "Of course," said I, "a reputation is
a very good thing; but no reputation can take the place of food,
clothes, and a house to live in, and I gladly agree to sink my
over-illumined name into oblivion, and to appear before the
public as a new and unknown writer."
"I hope that need not be for long," he said, "for I feel sure
that you will yet write stories as good as `His Wife's Deceased
All the manuscripts I had on hand I now sent to my good
friend the editor, and in due and proper order they appeared in
his journal under the name of John Darmstadt, which I had
selected as a substitute for my own, permanently disabled. I
made a similar arrangement with other editors, and John Darmstadt
received the credit of everything that proceeded from my pen.
Our circumstances now became very comfortable, and occasionally
we even allowed ourselves to indulge in little dreams of
Time passed on very pleasantly. One year, another, and then
a little son was born to us. It is often difficult, I believe,
for thoughtful persons to decide whether the beginning of their
conjugal career, or the earliest weeks in the life of their
first-born, be the happiest and proudest period of their
existence. For myself I can only say that the same exaltation of
mind, the same rarefication of idea and invention, which
succeeded upon my wedding day came upon me now. As then, my
ecstatic emotions crystallized themselves into a motive for a
story, and without delay I set myself to work upon it. My boy
was about six weeks old when the manuscript was finished, and one
evening, as we sat before a comfortable fire in our sitting-room,
with the curtains drawn, and the soft lamp lighted, and the baby
sleeping soundly in the adjoining chamber, I read the story to my
When I had finished, my wife arose and threw herself into my
arms. "I was never so proud of you," she said, her glad eyes
sparkling, "as I am at this moment. That is a wonderful story!
It is, indeed I am sure it is, just as good as `His Wife's
As she spoke these words, a sudden and chilling sensation
crept over us both. All her warmth and fervor, and the proud and
happy glow engendered within me by this praise and appreciation
from one I loved, vanished in an instant. We stepped apart, and
gazed upon each other with pallid faces. In the same moment the
terrible truth had flashed upon us both. This story WAS as
good as "His Wife's Deceased Sister"!
We stood silent. The exceptional lot of Barbel's super-
pointed pins seemed to pierce our very souls. A dreadful vision
rose before me of an impending fall and crash, in which our
domestic happiness should vanish, and our prospects for our boy
be wrecked, just as we had began to build them up.
My wife approached me, and took my hand in hers, which was as
cold as ice. "Be strong and firm," she said. "A great danger
threatens us, but you must brace yourself against it. Be strong
I pressed her hand, and we said no more that night.
The next day I took the manuscript I had just written, and
carefully infolded it in stout wrapping-paper. Then I went to a
neighboring grocery store and bought a small, strong, tin box,
originally intended for biscuit, with a cover that fitted
tightly. In this I placed my manuscript, and then I took the box
to a tinsmith and had the top fastened on with hard solder. When
I went home I ascended into the garret and brought down to my
study a ship's cash-box, which had once belonged to one of my
family who was a sea-captain. This box was very heavy, and
firmly bound with iron, and was secured by two massive locks.
Calling my wife, I told her of the contents of the tin case,
which I then placed in the box, and having shut down the heavy
lid, I doubly locked it.
"This key," said I, putting it in my pocket, "I shall throw
into the river when I go out this afternoon."
My wife watched me eagerly, with a pallid and firm-set
countenance, but upon which I could see the faint glimmer of
"Wouldn't it be well," she said, "to secure it still further
by sealing-wax and pieces of tape?"
"No," said I. "I do not believe that any one will attempt to
tamper with our prosperity. And now, my dear," I continued in an
impressive voice, "no one but you, and, in the course of time,
our son, shall know that this manuscript exists. When I am dead,
those who survive me may, if they see fit, cause this box to be
split open and the story published. The reputation it may give
my name cannot harm me then."
THE WIDOW'S CRUISE
The Widow Ducket lived in a small village about ten miles
from the New Jersey sea-coast. In this village she was born,
here she had married and buried her husband, and here she
expected somebody to bury her; but she was in no hurry for this,
for she had scarcely reached middle age. She was a tall woman
with no apparent fat in her composition, and full of activity,
both muscular and mental.
She rose at six o'clock in the morning, cooked breakfast, set
the table, washed the dishes when the meal was over, milked,
churned, swept, washed, ironed, worked in her little garden,
attended to the flowers in the front yard, and in the afternoon
knitted and quilted and sewed, and after tea she either went to
see her neighbors or had them come to see her. When it was
really dark she lighted the lamp in her parlor and read for an
hour, and if it happened to be one of Miss Mary Wilkins's books
that she read she expressed doubts as to the realism of the
characters therein described.
These doubts she expressed to Dorcas Networthy, who was a
small, plump woman, with a solemn face, who had lived with the
widow for many years and who had become her devoted disciple.
Whatever the widow did, that also did Dorcas--not so well,
for her heart told her she could never expect to do that, but
with a yearning anxiety to do everything as well as she could.
She rose at five minutes past six, and in a subsidiary way she
helped to get the breakfast, to eat it, to wash up the dishes, to
work in the garden, to quilt, to sew, to visit and receive, and
no one could have tried harder than she did to keep awake when
the widow read aloud in the evening.
All these things happened every day in the summertime, but in
the winter the widow and Dorcas cleared the snow from their
little front path instead of attending to the flowers, and in the
evening they lighted a fire as well as a lamp in the parlor.
Sometimes, however, something different happened, but this
was not often, only a few times in the year. One of the
different things occurred when Mrs. Ducket and Dorcas were
sitting on their little front porch one summer afternoon, one on
the little bench on one side of the door, and the other on the
little bench on the other side of the door, each waiting until
she should hear the clock strike five, to prepare tea. But it
was not yet a quarter to five when a one-horse wagon containing
four men came slowly down the street. Dorcas first saw the
wagon, and she instantly stopped knitting.
"Mercy on me!" she exclaimed. "Whoever those people are,
they are strangers here, and they don't know where to stop, for
they first go to one side of the street and then to the other."
The widow looked around sharply. "Humph!" said she. "Those
men are sailormen. You might see that in a twinklin' of an eye.
Sailormen always drive that way, because that is the way they
sail ships. They first tack in one direction and then in
"Mr. Ducket didn't like the sea?" remarked Dorcas, for about
the three hundredth time.
"No, he didn't," answered the widow, for about the two
hundred and fiftieth time, for there had been occasions when she
thought Dorcas put this question inopportunely. "He hated it,
and he was drowned in it through trustin' a sailorman, which I
never did nor shall. Do you really believe those men are comin'
"Upon my word I do!" said Dorcas, and her opinion was
The wagon drew up in front of Mrs. Ducket's little white
house, and the two women sat rigidly, their hands in their laps,
staring at the man who drove.
This was an elderly personage with whitish hair, and under
his chin a thin whitish beard, which waved in the gentle breeze
and gave Dorcas the idea that his head was filled with hair which
was leaking out from below.
"Is this the Widow Ducket's?" inquired this elderly man, in a
strong, penetrating voice.
"That's my name," said the widow, and laying her knitting on
the bench beside her, she went to the gate. Dorcas also laid her
knitting on the bench beside her and went to the gate.
"I was told," said the elderly man, "at a house we touched at
about a quarter of a mile back, that the Widow Ducket's was the
only house in this village where there was any chance of me and
my mates getting a meal. We are four sailors, and we are making
from the bay over to Cuppertown, and that's eight miles ahead
yet, and we are all pretty sharp set for something to eat."
"This is the place," said the widow, "and I do give meals if
there is enough in the house and everything comes handy."
"Does everything come handy to-day?" said he.
"It does," said she, "and you can hitch your horse and come
in; but I haven't got anything for him."
"Oh, that's all right," said the man, "we brought along
stores for him, so we'll just make fast and then come in."
The two women hurried into the house in a state of bustling
preparation, for the furnishing of this meal meant one dollar in
The four mariners, all elderly men, descended from the wagon,
each one scrambling with alacrity over a different wheel.
A box of broken ship-biscuit was brought out and put on the
ground in front of the horse, who immediately set himself to
eating with great satisfaction.
Tea was a little late that day, because there were six
persons to provide for instead of two, but it was a good meal,
and after the four seamen had washed their hands and faces at the
pump in the back yard and had wiped them on two towels furnished
by Dorcas, they all came in and sat down. Mrs. Ducket seated
herself at the head of the table with the dignity proper to the
mistress of the house, and Dorcas seated herself at the other end
with the dignity proper to the disciple of the mistress. No
service was necessary, for everything that was to be eaten or
drunk was on the table.
When each of the elderly mariners had had as much bread
and butter, quickly baked soda-biscuit, dried beef, cold ham,
cold tongue, and preserved fruit of every variety known, as his
storage capacity would permit, the mariner in command, Captain
Bird, pushed back his chair, whereupon the other mariners pushed
back their chairs.
"Madam," said Captain Bird, "we have all made a good meal,
which didn't need to be no better nor more of it, and we're
satisfied; but that horse out there has not had time to rest
himself enough to go the eight miles that lies ahead of us, so,
if it's all the same to you and this good lady, we'd like to sit
on that front porch awhile and smoke our pipes. I was a-looking
at that porch when I came in, and I bethought to myself what a
rare good place it was to smoke a pipe in."
"There's pipes been smoked there," said the widow, rising,
"and it can be done again. Inside the house I don't allow
tobacco, but on the porch neither of us minds."
So the four captains betook themselves to the porch, two of
them seating themselves on the little bench on one side of the
door, and two of them on the little bench on the other side of
the door, and lighted their pipes.
"Shall we clear off the table and wash up the dishes," said
Dorcas, "or wait until they are gone?"
"We will wait until they are gone," said the widow, "for now
that they are here we might as well have a bit of a chat with
them. When a sailorman lights his pipe he is generally willin'
to talk, but when he is eatin' you can't get a word out of him."
Without thinking it necessary to ask permission, for the
house belonged to her, the Widow Ducket brought a chair and
put it in the hall close to the open front door, and Dorcas
brought another chair and seated herself by the side of the
"Do all you sailormen belong down there at the bay?" asked
Mrs. Ducket; thus the conversation began, and in a few minutes it
had reached a point at which Captain Bird thought it proper to
say that a great many strange things happen to seamen sailing on
the sea which lands-people never dream of.
"Such as anything in particular?" asked the widow, at which
remark Dorcas clasped her hands in expectancy.
At this question each of the mariners took his pipe from his
mouth and gazed upon the floor in thought.
"There's a good many strange things happened to me and my
mates at sea. Would you and that other lady like to hear any of
them?" asked Captain Bird.
"We would like to hear them if they are true," said the
"There's nothing happened to me and my mates that isn't
true," said Captain Bird, "and here is something that once
happened to me: I was on a whaling v'yage when a big sperm-
whale, just as mad as a fiery bull, came at us, head on, and
struck the ship at the stern with such tremendous force that his
head crashed right through her timbers and he went nearly half
his length into her hull. The hold was mostly filled with empty
barrels, for we was just beginning our v'yage, and when he had
made kindling-wood of these there was room enough for him. We
all expected that it wouldn't take five minutes for the vessel to
fill and go to the bottom, and we made ready to take to the
boats; but it turned out we didn't need to take to no boats,
for as fast as the water rushed into the hold of the ship, that
whale drank it and squirted it up through the two blow-holes in
the top of his head, and as there was an open hatchway just over
his head, the water all went into the sea again, and that whale
kept working day and night pumping the water out until we beached
the vessel on the island of Trinidad--the whale helping us
wonderful on our way over by the powerful working of his tail,
which, being outside in the water, acted like a propeller. I
don't believe any thing stranger than that ever happened to a
"No," said the widow, "I don't believe anything ever did."
Captain Bird now looked at Captain Sanderson, and the latter
took his pipe out of his mouth and said that in all his sailing
around the world he had never known anything queerer than what
happened to a big steamship he chanced to be on, which ran into
an island in a fog. Everybody on board thought the ship was
wrecked, but it had twin screws, and was going at such a
tremendous speed that it turned the island entirely upside down
and sailed over it, and he had heard tell that even now people
sailing over the spot could look down into the water and see the
roots of the trees and the cellars of the houses.
Captain Sanderson now put his pipe back into his mouth, and
Captain Burress took out his pipe.
"I was once in an obelisk-ship," said he, "that used to trade
regular between Egypt and New York, carrying obelisks. We had a
big obelisk on board. The way they ship obelisks is to make a
hole in the stern of the ship, and run the obelisk in, p'inted
end foremost; and this obelisk filled up nearly the whole of
that ship from stern to bow. We was about ten days out, and
sailing afore a northeast gale with the engines at full speed,
when suddenly we spied breakers ahead, and our Captain saw we was
about to run on a bank. Now if we hadn't had an obelisk on board
we might have sailed over that bank, but the captain knew that
with an obelisk on board we drew too much water for this, and
that we'd be wrecked in about fifty-five seconds if something
wasn't done quick. So he had to do something quick, and this is
what he did: He ordered all steam on, and drove slam-bang on
that bank. Just as he expected, we stopped so suddint that that
big obelisk bounced for'ard, its p'inted end foremost, and went
clean through the bow and shot out into the sea. The minute it
did that the vessel was so lightened that it rose in the water
and we easily steamed over the bank. There was one man knocked
overboard by the shock when we struck, but as soon as we missed
him we went back after him and we got him all right. You see,
when that obelisk went overboard, its butt-end, which was
heaviest, went down first, and when it touched the bottom it just
stood there, and as it was such a big obelisk there was about
five and a half feet of it stuck out of the water. The man who
was knocked overboard he just swum for that obelisk and he
climbed up the hiryglyphics. It was a mighty fine obelisk, and
the Egyptians had cut their hiryglyphics good and deep, so that
the man could get hand and foot-hold; and when we got to him and
took him off, he was sitting high and dry on the p'inted end of
that obelisk. It was a great pity about the obelisk, for it was
a good obelisk, but as I never heard the company tried to
raise it, I expect it is standing there yet."
Captain Burress now put his pipe back into his mouth and
looked at Captain Jenkinson, who removed his pipe and said:
"The queerest thing that ever happened to me was about a
shark. We was off the Banks, and the time of year was July, and
the ice was coming down, and we got in among a lot of it. Not
far away, off our weather bow, there was a little iceberg which
had such a queerness about it that the captain and three men went
in a boat to look at it. The ice was mighty clear ice, and you
could see almost through it, and right inside of it, not more
than three feet above the waterline, and about two feet, or maybe
twenty inches, inside the ice, was a whopping big shark, about
fourteen feet long,--a regular man-eater,--frozen in there hard
and fast. `Bless my soul,' said the captain, `this is a
wonderful curiosity, and I'm going to git him out.' Just then
one of the men said he saw that shark wink, but the captain
wouldn't believe him, for he said that shark was frozen stiff and
hard and couldn't wink. You see, the captain had his own idees
about things, and he knew that whales was warm-blooded and would
freeze if they was shut up in ice, but he forgot that sharks was
not whales and that they're cold-blooded just like toads. And
there is toads that has been shut up in rocks for thousands of
years, and they stayed alive, no matter how cold the place was,
because they was cold-blooded, and when the rocks was split, out
hopped the frog. But, as I said before, the captain forgot
sharks was cold-blooded, and he determined to git that one
"Now you both know, being housekeepers, that if you take a
needle and drive it into a hunk of ice you can split it. The
captain had a sail-needle with him, and so he drove it into the
iceberg right alongside of the shark and split it. Now the
minute he did it he knew that the man was right when he said he
saw the shark wink, for it flopped out of that iceberg quicker
nor a flash of lightning."
"What a happy fish he must have been!" ejaculated Dorcas,
forgetful of precedent, so great was her emotion.
"Yes," said Captain Jenkinson, "it was a happy fish enough,
but it wasn't a happy captain. You see, that shark hadn't had
anything to eat, perhaps for a thousand years, until the captain
came along with his sail-needle."
"Surely you sailormen do see strange things," now said the
widow, "and the strangest thing about them is that they are
"Yes, indeed," said Dorcas, "that is the most wonderful
"You wouldn't suppose," said the Widow Ducket, glancing from
one bench of mariners to the other, "that I have a sea-story to
tell, but I have, and if you like I will tell it to you."
Captain Bird looked up a little surprised.
"We would like to hear it--indeed, we would, madam," said he.
"Ay, ay!" said Captain Burress, and the two other mariners
"It was a good while ago," she said, "when I was living on
the shore near the head of the bay, that my husband was away and
I was left alone in the house. One mornin' my sister-in-law,
who lived on the other side of the bay, sent me word by a boy on
a horse that she hadn't any oil in the house to fill the lamp
that she always put in the window to light her husband home, who
was a fisherman, and if I would send her some by the boy she
would pay me back as soon as they bought oil. The boy said he
would stop on his way home and take the oil to her, but he never
did stop, or perhaps he never went back, and about five o'clock I
began to get dreadfully worried, for I knew if that lamp wasn't
in my sister-in-law's window by dark she might be a widow before
midnight. So I said to myself, `I've got to get that oil to her,
no matter what happens or how it's done.' Of course I couldn't
tell what might happen, but there was only one way it could be
done, and that was for me to get into the boat that was tied to
the post down by the water, and take it to her, for it was too
far for me to walk around by the head of the bay. Now, the
trouble was, I didn't know no more about a boat and the managin'
of it than any one of you sailormen knows about clear starchin'.
But there wasn't no use of thinkin' what I knew and what I didn't
know, for I had to take it to her, and there was no way of doin'
it except in that boat. So I filled a gallon can, for I thought
I might as well take enough while I was about it, and I went down
to the water and I unhitched that boat and I put the oil-can into
her, and then I got in, and off I started, and when I was about a
quarter of a mile from the shore--"
"Madam," interrupted Captain Bird, "did you row or--or was
there a sail to the boat?"
The widow looked at the questioner for a moment. "No,"
said she, "I didn't row. I forgot to bring the oars from the
house; but it didn't matter, for I didn't know how to use them,
and if there had been a sail I couldn't have put it up, for I
didn't know how to use it, either. I used the rudder to make the
boat go. The rudder was the only thing I knew anything about.
I'd held a rudder when I was a little girl, and I knew how to
work it. So I just took hold of the handle of the rudder and
turned it round and round, and that made the boat go ahead, you
"Madam!" exclaimed Captain Bird, and the other elderly
mariners took their pipes from their mouths.
"Yes, that is the way I did it," continued the widow,
briskly. "Big steamships are made to go by a propeller turning
round and round at their back ends, and I made the rudder work in
the same way, and I got along very well, too, until suddenly,
when I was about a quarter of a mile from the shore, a most
terrible and awful storm arose. There must have been a typhoon
or a cyclone out at sea, for the waves came up the bay bigger
than houses, and when they got to the head of the bay they turned
around and tried to get out to sea again. So in this way they
continually met, and made the most awful and roarin' pilin' up of
waves that ever was known.
"My little boat was pitched about as if it had been a feather
in a breeze, and when the front part of it was cleavin' itself
down into the water the hind part was stickin' up until the
rudder whizzed around like a patent churn with no milk in it.
The thunder began to roar and the lightnin' flashed, and three
seagulls, so nearly frightened to death that they began to turn
up the whites of their eyes, flew down and sat on one of the
seats of the boat, forgettin' in that awful moment that man was
their nat'ral enemy. I had a couple of biscuits in my pocket,
because I had thought I might want a bite in crossing, and I
crumbled up one of these and fed the poor creatures. Then I
began to wonder what I was goin' to do, for things were gettin'
awfuller and awfuller every instant, and the little boat was a-
heavin' and a-pitchin' and a-rollin' and h'istin' itself up,
first on one end and then on the other, to such an extent that if
I hadn't kept tight hold of the rudder-handle I'd slipped off the
seat I was sittin' on.
"All of a sudden I remembered that oil in the can; but just
as I was puttin' my fingers on the cork my conscience smote me.
`Am I goin' to use this oil,' I said to myself, `and let my
sister-in-law's husband be wrecked for want of it?' And then I
thought that he wouldn't want it all that night, and perhaps they
would buy oil the next day, and so I poured out about a
tumblerful of it on the water, and I can just tell you sailormen
that you never saw anything act as prompt as that did. In three
seconds, or perhaps five, the water all around me, for the
distance of a small front yard, was just as flat as a table and
as smooth as glass, and so invitin' in appearance that the three
gulls jumped out of the boat and began to swim about on it,
primin' their feathers and lookin' at themselves in the
transparent depths, though I must say that one of them made an
awful face as he dipped his bill into the water and tasted
"Now I had time to sit quiet in the midst of the placid space
I had made for myself, and rest from workin' of the rudder.
Truly it was a wonderful and marvellous thing to look at. The
waves was roarin' and leapin' up all around me higher than the
roof of this house, and sometimes their tops would reach over so
that they nearly met and shut out all view of the stormy sky,
which seemed as if it was bein' torn to pieces by blazin'
lightnin', while the thunder pealed so tremendous that it almost
drowned the roar of the waves. Not only above and all around me
was every thing terrific and fearful, but even under me it was
the same, for there was a big crack in the bottom of the boat as
wide as my hand, and through this I could see down into the water
beneath, and there was--"
"Madam!" ejaculated Captain Bird, the hand which had been
holding his pipe a few inches from his mouth now dropping to his
knee; and at this motion the hands which held the pipes of the
three other mariners dropped to their knees.
"Of course it sounds strange," continued the widow, "but I
know that people can see down into clear water, and the water
under me was clear, and the crack was wide enough for me to see
through, and down under me was sharks and swordfishes and other
horrible water creatures, which I had never seen before, all
driven into the bay, I haven't a doubt, by the violence of the
storm out at sea. The thought of my bein' upset and fallin' in
among those monsters made my very blood run cold, and
involuntary-like I began to turn the handle of the rudder, and in
a moment I shot into a wall of ragin' sea-water that was towerin'
around me. For a second I was fairly blinded and stunned, but I
had the cork out of that oil-can in no time, and very soon--you'd
scarcely believe it if I told you how soon--I had another placid
mill-pond surroundin' of me. I sat there a-pantin' and fannin'
with my straw hat, for you'd better believe I was flustered, and
then I began to think how long it would take me to make a line of
mill-ponds clean across the head of the bay, and how much oil it
would need, and whether I had enough. So I sat and calculated
that if a tumblerful of oil would make a smooth place about seven
yards across, which I should say was the width of the one I was
in,--which I calculated by a measure of my eye as to how many
breadths of carpet it would take to cover it,--and if the bay was
two miles across betwixt our house and my sister-in-law's, and,
although I couldn't get the thing down to exact figures, I saw
pretty soon that I wouldn't have oil enough to make a level
cuttin' through all those mountainous billows, and besides, even
if I had enough to take me across, what would be the good of
goin' if there wasn't any oil left to fill my sister-in-law's
"While I was thinkin' and calculatin' a perfectly dreadful
thing happened, which made me think if I didn't get out of this
pretty soon I'd find myself in a mighty risky predicament. The
oil-can, which I had forgotten to put the cork in, toppled over,
and before I could grab it every drop of the oil ran into the
hind part of the boat, where it was soaked up by a lot of dry
dust that was there. No wonder my heart sank when I saw this.
Glancin' wildly around me, as people will do when they are
scared, I saw the smooth place I was in gettin' smaller and
smaller, for the kerosene was evaporatin', as it will do even off
woollen clothes if you give it time enough. The first pond I had
come out of seemed to be covered up, and the great, towerin',
throbbin' precipice of sea-water was a-closin' around me.
"Castin' down my eyes in despair, I happened to look through
the crack in the bottom of the boat, and oh, what a blessed
relief it was! for down there everything was smooth and still,
and I could see the sand on the bottom, as level and hard, no
doubt, as it was on the beach. Suddenly the thought struck me
that that bottom would give me the only chance I had of gettin'
out of the frightful fix I was in. If I could fill that oil-can
with air, and then puttin' it under my arm and takin' a long
breath if I could drop down on that smooth bottom, I might run
along toward shore, as far as I could, and then, when I felt my
breath was givin' out, I could take a pull at the oil-can and
take another run, and then take another pull and another run, and
perhaps the can would hold air enough for me until I got near
enough to shore to wade to dry land. To be sure, the sharks and
other monsters were down there, but then they must have been
awfully frightened, and perhaps they might not remember that man
was their nat'ral enemy. Anyway, I thought it would be better to
try the smooth water passage down there than stay and be
swallowed up by the ragin' waves on top.
"So I blew the can full of air and corked it, and then I tore
up some of the boards from the bottom of the boat so as to make a
hole big enough for me to get through,--and you sailormen needn't
wriggle so when I say that, for you all know a divin'-bell hasn't
any bottom at all and the water never comes in,--and so when I
got the hole big enough I took the oil-can under my arm, and
was just about to slip down through it when I saw an awful turtle
a-walkin' through the sand at the bottom. Now, I might trust
sharks and swordfishes and sea-serpents to be frightened and
forget about their nat'ral enemies, but I never could trust a
gray turtle as big as a cart, with a black neck a yard long, with
yellow bags to its jaws, to forget anything or to remember
anything. I'd as lieve get into a bath-tub with a live crab as
to go down there. It wasn't of no use even so much as thinkin'
of it, so I gave up that plan and didn't once look through that
"And what did you do, madam?" asked Captain Bird, who was
regarding her with a face of stone.
"I used electricity," she said. "Now don't start as if you
had a shock of it. That's what I used. When I was younger than
I was then, and sometimes visited friends in the city, we often
amused ourselves by rubbing our feet on the carpet until we got
ourselves so full of electricity that we could put up our fingers
and light the gas. So I said to myself that if I could get full
of electricity for the purpose of lightin' the gas I could get
full of it for other purposes, and so, without losin' a moment, I
set to work. I stood up on one of the seats, which was dry, and
I rubbed the bottoms of my shoes backward and forward on it with
such violence and swiftness that they pretty soon got warm and I
began fillin' with electricity, and when I was fully charged with
it from my toes to the top of my head, I just sprang into the
water and swam ashore. Of course I couldn't sink, bein' full of
Captain Bird heaved a long sigh and rose to his feet,
whereupon the other mariners rose to their feet "Madam," said
Captain Bird, "what's to pay for the supper and--the rest of the
"The supper is twenty-five cents apiece," said the Widow
Ducket, "and everything else is free, gratis."
Whereupon each mariner put his hand into his trousers pocket,
pulled out a silver quarter, and handed it to the widow. Then,
with four solemn "Good evenin's," they went out to the front
"Cast off, Captain Jenkinson," said Captain Bird, "and you,
Captain Burress, clew him up for'ard. You can stay in the bow,
Captain Sanderson, and take the sheet-lines. I'll go aft."
All being ready, each of the elderly mariners clambered over
a wheel, and having seated themselves, they prepared to lay their
course for Cuppertown.
But just as they were about to start, Captain Jenkinson asked
that they lay to a bit, and clambering down over his wheel, he
reentered the front gate and went up to the door of the house,
where the widow and Dorcas were still standing.
"Madam," said he, "I just came back to ask what became of
your brother-in-law through his wife's not bein' able to put no
light in the window?"
"The storm drove him ashore on our side of the bay," said
she, "and the next mornin' he came up to our house, and I told
him all that had happened to me. And when he took our boat and
went home and told that story to his wife, she just packed up and
went out West, and got divorced from him. And it served him
"Thank you, ma'am," said Captain Jenkinson, and going out
of the gate, he clambered up over the wheel, and the wagon
cleared for Cuppertown.
When the elderly mariners were gone, the Widow Ducket, still
standing in the door, turned to Dorcas.
"Think of it!" she said. "To tell all that to me, in my own
house! And after I had opened my one jar of brandied peaches,
that I'd been keepin' for special company!"
"In your own house!" ejaculated Dorcas. "And not one of them
brandied peaches left!"
The widow jingled the four quarters in her hand before she
slipped them into her pocket.
"Anyway, Dorcas," she remarked, "I think we can now say we
are square with all the world, and so let's go in and wash the
"Yes," said Dorcas, "we're square."
CAPTAIN ELI'S BEST EAR
The little seaside village of Sponkannis lies so quietly upon a
protected spot on our Atlantic coast that it makes no more stir
in the world than would a pebble which, held between one's finger
and thumb, should be dipped below the surface of a millpond and
then dropped. About the post-office and the store--both under
the same roof--the greater number of the houses cluster, as if
they had come for their week's groceries, or were waiting for the
mail, while toward the west the dwellings become fewer and fewer,
until at last the village blends into a long stretch of sandy
coast and scrubby pine-woods. Eastward the village ends abruptly
at the foot of a windswept bluff, on which no one cares to build.
Among the last houses in the western end of the village stood
two neat, substantial dwellings, one belonging to Captain Eli
Bunker, and the other to Captain Cephas Dyer. These householders
were two very respectable retired mariners, the first a widower
about fifty, and the other a bachelor of perhaps the same age, a
few years more or less making but little difference in this
region of weather-beaten youth and seasoned age.
Each of these good captains lived alone, and each took
entire charge of his own domestic affairs, not because he was
poor, but because it pleased him to do so. When Captain Eli
retired from the sea he was the owner of a good vessel, which he
sold at a fair profit; and Captain Cephas had made money in many
a voyage before he built his house in Sponkannis and settled
When Captain Eli's wife was living she was his household
manager. But Captain Cephas had never had a woman in his house,
except during the first few months of his occupancy, when certain
female neighbors came in occasionally to attend to little matters
of cleaning which, according to popular notions, properly belong
to the sphere of woman.
But Captain Cephas soon put an end to this sort of thing. He
did not like a woman's ways, especially her ways of attending to
domestic affairs. He liked to live in sailor fashion, and to
keep house in sailor fashion. In his establishment everything
was shipshape, and everything which could be stowed away was
stowed away, and, if possible, in a bunker. The floors were
holystoned nearly every day, and the whole house was repainted
about twice a year, a little at a time, when the weather was
suitable for this marine recreation. Things not in frequent use
were lashed securely to the walls, or perhaps put out of the way
by being hauled up to the ceiling by means of blocks and tackle.
His cooking was done sailor fashion, like everything else, and he
never failed to have plum-duff on Sunday. His well was near his
house, and every morning he dropped into it a lead and line, and
noted down the depth of water. Three times a day he entered in a
little note-book the state of the weather, the height of the
mercury in barometer and thermometer, the direction of the wind,
and special weather points when necessary.
Captain Eli managed his domestic affairs in an entirely
different way. He kept house woman fashion--not, however, in the
manner of an ordinary woman, but after the manner of his late
wife, Miranda Bunker, now dead some seven years. Like his
friend, Captain Cephas, he had had the assistance of his female
neighbors during the earlier days of his widowerhood. But he
soon found that these women did not do things as Miranda used to
do them, and, although he frequently suggested that they should
endeavor to imitate the methods of his late consort, they did not
even try to do things as she used to do them, preferring their
own ways. Therefore it was that Captain Eli determined to keep
house by himself, and to do it, as nearly as his nature would
allow, as Miranda used to do it. He swept his doors and he shook
his door-mats; he washed his paint with soap and hot water; he
dusted his furniture with a soft cloth, which he afterwards stuck
behind a chest of drawers. He made his bed very neatly, turning
down the sheet at the top, and setting the pillow upon edge,
smoothing it carefully after he had done so. His cooking was
based on the methods of the late Miranda. He had never been able
to make bread rise properly, but he had always liked ship-
biscuit, and he now greatly preferred them to the risen bread
made by his neighbors. And as to coffee and the plainer articles
of food with which he furnished his table, even Miranda herself
would not have objected to them had she been alive and very
The houses of the two captains were not very far apart,
and they were good neighbors, often smoking their pipes together
and talking of the sea. But this was always on the little porch
in front of Captain Cephas's house, or by his kitchen fire in the
winter. Captain Eli did not like the smell of tobacco smoke in
his house, or even in front of it in summer-time, when the doors
were open. He had no objection himself to the odor of tobacco,
but it was contrary to the principles of woman housekeeping that
rooms should smell of it, and he was always true to those
It was late in a certain December, and through the village
there was a pleasant little flutter of Christmas preparations.
Captain Eli had been up to the store, and he had stayed there a
good while, warming himself by the stove, and watching the women
coming in to buy things for Christmas. It was strange how many
things they bought for presents or for holiday use--fancy soap
and candy, handkerchiefs and little woollen shawls for old
people, and a lot of pretty little things which he knew the use
of, but which Captain Cephas would never have understood at all
had he been there.
As Captain Eli came out of the store he saw a cart in which
were two good-sized Christmas trees, which had been cut in the
woods, and were going, one to Captain Holmes's house, and the
other to Mother Nelson's. Captain Holmes had grandchildren, and
Mother Nelson, with never a child of her own, good old soul, had
three little orphan nieces who never wanted for anything needful
at Christmas-time or any other time.
Captain Eli walked home very slowly, taking observations in
his mind. It was more than seven years since he had had
anything to do with Christmas, except that on that day he had
always made himself a mince-pie, the construction and the
consumption of which were equally difficult. It is true that
neighbors had invited him, and they had invited Captain Cephas,
to their Christmas dinners, but neither of these worthy seamen
had ever accepted any of these invitations. Even holiday food,
when not cooked in sailor fashion, did not agree with Captain
Cephas, and it would have pained the good heart of Captain Eli if
he had been forced to make believe to enjoy a Christmas dinner so
very inferior to those which Miranda used to set before him.
But now the heart of Captain Eli was gently moved by a
Christmas flutter. It had been foolish, perhaps, for him to go
up to the store at such a time as this, but the mischief had been
done. Old feelings had come back to him, and he would be glad to
celebrate Christmas this year if he could think of any good way
to do it. And the result of his mental observations was that he
went over to Captain Cephas's house to talk to him about it.
Captain Cephas was in his kitchen, smoking his third morning
pipe. Captain Eli filled his pipe, lighted it, and sat down by
"Cap'n," said he, "what do you say to our keepin Christmas
this year? A Christmas dinner is no good if it's got to be eat
alone, and you and me might eat ourn together. It might be in my
house, or it might be in your house--it won't make no great
difference to me which. Of course, I like woman housekeepin', as
is laid down in the rules of service fer my house. But next best
to that I like sailor housekeepin', so I don't mind which
house the dinner is in, Cap'n Cephas, so it suits you."
Captain Cephas took his pipe from his mouth. "You're pretty
late thinkin' about it," said he, "fer day after to-morrow's
"That don't make no difference," said Captain Eli. "What
things we want that are not in my house or your house we can
easily get either up at the store or else in the woods."
"In the woods!" exclaimed Captain Cephas. "What in the name
of thunder do you expect to get in the woods for Christmas?"
"A Christmas tree," said Captain Eli. "I thought it might be
a nice thing to have a Christmas tree fer Christmas. Cap'n
Holmes has got one, and Mother Nelson's got another. I guess
nearly everybody's got one. It won't cost anything--I can go and
Captain Cephas grinned a grin, as if a great leak had been
sprung in the side of a vessel, stretching nearly from stem to
"A Christmas tree!" he exclaimed. "Well, I am blessed! But
look here, Cap'n Eli. You don't know what a Christmas tree's
fer. It's fer children, and not fer grown-ups. Nobody ever does
have a Christmas tree in any house where there ain't no
Captain Eli rose and stood with his back to the fire. "I
didn't think of that," he said, "but I guess it's so. And when I
come to think of it, a Christmas isn't much of a Christmas,
anyway, without children."
"You never had none," said Captain Cephas, "and you've kept
"Yes," replied Captain Eli, reflectively, "we did do it,
but there was always a lackment--Miranda has said so, and I have
"You didn't have no Christmas tree," said Captain Cephas.
"No, we didn't. But I don't think that folks was as much set
on Christmas trees then as they 'pear to be now. I wonder," he
continued, thoughtfully gazing at the ceiling, "if we was to fix
up a Christmas tree--and you and me's got a lot of pretty things
that we've picked up all over the world, that would go miles
ahead of anything that could be bought at the store fer Christmas
trees--if we was to fix up a tree real nice, if we couldn't get
some child or other that wasn't likely to have a tree to come in
and look at it, and stay awhile, and make Christmas more like
Christmas. And then, when it went away, it could take along the
things that was hangin' on the tree, and keep 'em fer its own."
"That wouldn't work," said Captain Cephas. "If you get a
child into this business, you must let it hang up its stockin'
before it goes to bed, and find it full in the mornin', and then
tell it an all-fired lie about Santa Claus if it asks any
questions. Most children think more of stockin's than they do of
trees--so I've heard, at least."
"I've got no objections to stockin's," said Captain Eli. "If
it wanted to hang one up, it could hang one up either here or in
my house, wherever we kept Christmas."
"You couldn't keep a child all night," sardonically remarked
Captain Cephas, "and no more could I. Fer if it was to get up a
croup in the night, it would be as if we was on a lee shore with
anchors draggin' and a gale a-blowin'."
"That's so," said Captain Eli. "You've put it fair. I
suppose if we did keep a child all night, we'd have to have some
sort of a woman within hail in case of a sudden blow."
Captain Cephas sniffed. "What's the good of talkin'?" said
he. "There ain't no child, and there ain't no woman that you
could hire to sit all night on my front step or on your front
step, a-waitin' to be piped on deck in case of croup."
"No," said Captain Eli. "I don't suppose there's any child
in this village that ain't goin' to be provided with a Christmas
tree or a Christmas stockin', or perhaps both--except, now I come
to think of it, that little gal that was brought down here with
her mother last summer, and has been kept by Mrs. Crumley sence
her mother died."
"And won't be kept much longer," said Captain Cephas, "fer
I've hearn Mrs. Crumley say she couldn't afford it."
"That's so," said Captain Eli. "If she can't afford to keep
the little gal, she can't afford to give no Christmas trees nor
stockin's, and so it seems to me, cap'n, that that little gal
would be a pretty good child to help us keep Christmas."
"You're all the time forgettin'," said the other, "that
nuther of us can keep a child all night."
Captain Eli seated himself, and looked ponderingly into the
fire. "You're right, cap'n," said he. "We'd have to ship some
woman to take care of her. Of course, it wouldn't be no use to
ask Mrs. Crumley?"
Captain Cephas laughed. "I should say not."
"And there doesn't seem to be anybody else," said his
companion. "Can you think of anybody, cap'n?"
"There ain't anybody to think of," replied Captain Cephas,
"unless it might be Eliza Trimmer. She's generally ready enough
to do anything that turns up. But she wouldn't be no good--her
house is too far away for either you or me to hail her in case a
croup came up suddint."
"That's so," said Captain Eli. "She does live a long way off."
"So that settles the whole business," said Captain Cephas.
"She's too far away to come if wanted, and nuther of us couldn't
keep no child without somebody to come if they was wanted, and
it's no use to have a Christmas tree without a child. A
Christmas without a Christmas tree don't seem agreeable to you,
cap'n, so I guess we'd better get along just the same as we've
been in the habit of doin', and eat our Christmas dinner, as we
do our other meals in our own houses."
Captain Eli looked into the fire. "I don't like to give up
things if I can help it. That was always my way. If wind and
tide's ag'in' me, I can wait till one or the other, or both of
"Yes," said Captain Cephas, "you was always that kind of a
"That's so. But it does 'pear to me as if I'd have to give
up this time, though it's a pity to do it, on account of the
little gal, fer she ain't likely to have any Christmas this year.
She's a nice little gal, and takes as natural to navigation as if
she'd been born at sea. I've given her two or three things
because she's so pretty, but there's nothing she likes so much as
a little ship I gave her."
"Perhaps she was born at sea," remarked Captain Cephas.
"Perhaps she was," said the other; "and that makes it the
For a few moments nothing was said. Then Captain Eli
suddenly exclaimed, "I'll tell you what we might do, cap'n! We
might ask Mrs. Trimmer to lend a hand in givin' the little gal a
Christmas. She ain't got nobody in her house but herself, and I
guess she'd be glad enough to help give that little gal a regular
Christmas. She could go and get the child, and bring her to your
house or to my house, or wherever we're goin' to keep Christmas,
"Well," said Captain Cephas, with an air of scrutinizing
"Well," replied the other, a little hesitatingly, "so far as
I'm concerned,--that is, I don't mind one way or the other,--she
might take her Christmas dinner along with us and the little gal,
and then she could fix her stockin' to be hung up, and help with
the Christmas tree, and--"
"Well," demanded Captain Cephas, "what?"
"Well," said Captain Eli, "she could--that is, it doesn't
make any difference to me one way or the other--she might stay
all night at whatever house we kept Christmas in, and then you
and me might spend the night in the other house, and then she
could be ready there to help the child in the mornin', when she
came to look at her stockin'."
Captain Cephas fixed upon his friend an earnest glare.
"That's pretty considerable of an idea to come upon you so
suddint," said he. "But I can tell you one thing: there ain't a-
goin' to be any such doin's in my house. If you choose to come
over here to sleep, and give up your house to any woman you can
find to take care of the little gal, all right. But the
thing can't be done here."
There was a certain severity in these remarks, but they
appeared to affect Captain Eli very pleasantly.
"Well," said he, "if you're satisfied, I am. I'll agree to
any plan you choose to make. It doesn't matter to me which house
it's in, and if you say my house, I say my house. All I want is
to make the business agreeable to all concerned. Now it's time
fer me to go to my dinner, and this afternoon we'd better go and