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The Spread Eagle and Other Stories by Gouverneur Morris

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possibly--why, a thousand dollars is always a thousand dollars."

"Just the same," said I, "_no_ coalitions."

The wind went on howling till late in the afternoon and then it began to
peter out. We had spent the whole day in the house, and everybody was
tired and bored, and nervous about Monday, and bedtime came earlier
than usual.

"Sam," said Sally, when we were alone, "it's just occurred to me that we
_may_ be causing some of these people to lose a lot of money."

"Why, Sally," I said, "you look scared."

"I am," she said. "Don't _you_ think it would be rather awful?"

"No, I don't," I said; "I think it would be split-tingly funny. But they
won't lose. Their absence will steady the market."

"Who told you that, Sam?" said Sally.

"Sam!" said I.


Even before the leaves come, you can't see the pier from the house. It
runs out from the bottom of a high bank and is otherwise hidden by
trees. But it's only a short distance, and in good weather we have the
guests walk it, because it gives them a better chance to admire the
gardens and the Athenian columns and things. But Monday, which dawned
bright and still and warm, and was just as typical of May in Westchester
as was the snow-and-wind storm, we drove them down in a bus because the
roads and paths were horribly muddy. Of course, none of the women
wanted to take the early train, so there were only the men and Sally
and I in the bus. Sally said that there was going to be some fun when
the men got to the pier and didn't find the _Hobo_, and she wasn't going
to miss it. Just before we started she drew me aside and said:

"Sam, when we get there, for Heaven's sake look blank."

"I understand your fears, Sally," I said, "and I will look as blank as I
possibly can. But remember, child, how easy it is for _you_ to look
blank; and don't always be urging others to attempt the impossible."

"Mrs. Sam," said Billoo, on the way down, "I can't tell you what a good
time I've had."

"You nice man," said Sally, "I wish we could persuade you to stay a day
or two longer."

"If it wasn't for the market, I could stay forever," said Billoo.

"Not if I lived," said I. "Saturday to Monday is plenty long

The pier and the empty stretch of water between the island and the
mainland were in sight, but there was no _Hobo_.

"Hello what?" said Tombs. "Why, where's the ferry?"

"I don't see her," I said, and, I hope, anxiously; "you don't suppose--"

"Isn't the _Hobo_ there?" shrieked Billoo. He turned his head on his
fat neck, and at first he looked very angry, and then scared.

We walked down to the pier, and then out on the float to get as big a
water view as possible, but there wasn't so much as a row-boat in sight.

"What can have happened?" said Sally.

"I'm worried to death," I said. "Suppose she _was_ blown from her
moorings, the captain could have run her into New Rochelle, and come
back yesterday afternoon when the wind went down. Something must have

"Oh, Sam," cried Sally, "you don't think she may have been run down by
one of the Sound steamers and sunk?"

"I dare not think of it," I said. "I dare not think of the poor chaps on

"I don't see how I'm to get to town," said Billoo dismally. He pulled
out his watch, and held it in his hand, and every moment or two looked
at it. "Haven't you a couple of row-boats? We couldn't get this train,
but we could get the next--"

I shook my head. "I'm sorry," I said. "We're not much on the water, and
we've never been properly supplied with boats--"

Billoo swallowed some hasty thought or other, and began to look across
at the mainland. My father owns all the land opposite the island, even
the pier and the short road to the village of Stepping-Stone; and
although there were several boats at the pier, there were no people, and
the rest of the shore is nothing but thick woods.

"We must telephone somewhere," said Billoo.

"You can't," I said. "You know you tried to telephone all yesterday and
couldn't, and the butler told me this morning that he had tried to put
in a call and got no answer."

"What does it matter?" said Sally. "You've all got to stay now. I think
that's splendid."

"Mrs. Sam," said Tombs hollowly, "do you realize that this accident may
mean _ruin_ for some of us?"

"Oh, dear!" said Sally "how dreadful!"

"Somehow of other," said Billoo, "_I'm_ going to get across."

And the others said that somehow or other _they_ were going to get
across, too.

"I've _got_ to!" said Billoo, and he looked about in a fat, challenging
way as if daring any one to say that he had not got to.

"You poor things," said Sally, "I hope to Heaven you can; but how?"

"Where there's a will, Mrs. Sam--" Billoo said. And he began to think
hard. All of a sudden his face brightened.

"It's too easy," he said. "The wind's right; four or five of us have
umbrellas--Sam, you'll have to lend us this float. We've only to cut it
from its moorings, and sail it across--May we have it?"

"Yes," I said, "but you're crazy to try it."

"It's a case of sink or swim," said he. "Who's coming?"

Without exception the men agreed to sail with him on the float. It was a
fine, big platform, floated on sheet-iron air-tanks, and moored at the
four corners by heavy ropes.

Sally and I withdrew to the pier and watched Billoo and the others cut
slowly through the ropes with their pocket-knives. Presently the float
began to move, and a second or two later the float end of the gang-plank
slipped into the water with a heavy splash. Those who had umbrellas
opened them to catch the breeze, and the others lit cigars, and stood
about in graceful attitudes. Sally and I cheered as loud as we could.

"I'll send you a tug or something," Billoo called back to us, "and try
to find out what's happened to the _Hobo_."

"Thank _you_!" I called back.

"Sam," said Sally, "I don't know what you think, but I call it good

"So do I," said I, "but foolish."

"Why foolish?" said Sally. "They're really going quite fast, and
they'll be across in no time, and they'll get the next train and

"They will not," I said.

"Why?" said Sally.

"Because," said I, "they will run on to the middle ground, and stay

"Not at high tide!" exclaimed Sally.

"At high tide," said I. "That float draws a good two feet, and it's so
heavy that once it runs on the mud it will stay on the mud--" And then I
shouted to Billoo:

"Look out for the middle ground!"

"What?" he answered.

"Why do you warn him?" said Sally.

"Because it won't help him," said I.

"What?" called Billoo again, and Sally answered at the top of her lungs,

"Right O!" Billoo answered; "where is it?"

"Just ahead," Sally called.

Billoo turned to look, and at that moment the float, which was
travelling at a good clip, ran into it.

Billoo and Randall fell flat on their faces; everybody staggered; one
umbrella and two hats went overboard and drifted away, and Sally and I
sat down on the pier and laughed till we were helpless.


The float had become a fixture in the landscape about two hundred and
fifty yards out. We could converse with our friends by shouting only,
and when we got tired of condoling with them and giving them assurances
of our sympathy, we told them that _we_ were going back to the house to
get some more breakfast and think out what was best to be done,

"Sam," said Sally, "that's the maddest lot of men I ever saw."

We looked back. Billoo was stamping up and down the float, waving his
arms and orating like Falstaff; Randall and Tombs had their heads
together, and were casting what appeared to be baleful glances at
Billoo. It was evident that he was not popular on the float.

When we had had some more breakfast, and had sat around a little to
digest it, the women began to come down-stairs. Mrs. Randall was the
first to come down, and she was in great distress.

"It's _too_ dreadful," she said. "I had something of the utmost
importance to tell Billy, something that I wanted him to do for me
down-town. And I overslept."

"Well," said I, "let me tell you what a good fellow Billy is. He hasn't
gone yet."

"Good Heavens!" she cried, "not gone yet? Why, what time is it? Why, he
won't get down-town in time for the opening!"

"Probably not," I said. "He was just going, when suddenly he said, 'I
know there's something my wife wants to say to me.' I said, 'Wake her up
and find out what it is.' He said, 'No, she's getting so she can't do
without her beauty sleep; I'll just wait around till she wakes of

"Sam," said Mrs. Randall, "what has happened to my husband?"

"Nothing much," I said. "He's in the same boat with many others--only it
isn't a boat. Don't be alarmed."

"_Where is my husband?_" said she.

"If you are equal to a short, muddy walk," I said, "I will show him to
you--Morning, little Miss Tombs--want to see brother and young Fitch?
They said they wouldn't go to town till you'd seen them--Morning, Mrs.
Giddings--morning, Miss Marshall--I'm not much on breaking bad news, but
there's been an accident to all your husbands and brothers and fiancÚs.
They're all alive still, so far as I know--but they ought not to last
more than five or six days."

"It's proposed," said Sally, "that we all go and see what can be done
for them."

We refused to answer any questions. We led the way to the pier and
pointed out the float, and the men on it. "There," said Sally, "you can
see them quite plainly from here."

"Yes," said I, "and the more plainly you see them, the plainer they

"Will you kindly tell me," said Mrs. Randall, "what my husband is doing
out there on that float?"

"He is doing nothing," I said. "You can see for yourself. And it isn't a
float any more."

"Better tell them what has happened," said Sally.

"No, Sally," I said, "no."

"Yes, Sam," she said.

"Oh, all right," I said, "if you really think it's best. The fact is,
ladies, the whole thing is a piece of drunken folly. You know how men
are when they get drinking and arguing, and quarrelling. To make a long
story short, it came to Billoo's insulting Randall; Randall challenges
him; duelling is against the law; they take pistols and witnesses out on
the water beyond the jurisdiction of the United States; and they _were_
going to murder each other. But it's all right now--don't be

Sally had turned her face away, and I'm sure I was serious as a judge. I
patted Mrs. Randall on the shoulder.

"Even if your husband isn't brave," I said, "he's clever, clever and

"My husband not brave!" she cried. "I like that; he's the bravest man I
ever saw."

"Well, that may be," I said doubtfully, "but, considering that on the
way out to the duelling ground, or water, when nobody was looking but
Sally and me, he kicked the box of cartridges overboard. But, perhaps
they'll agree to use pocket-knives--"

"Sam," said little Miss Tombs, "I'll give you a kiss good-morning if
you'll be serious."

"Wait till Fitch is looking," I said.

Then Sally explained what had happened, and edged herself so politely
between little Miss Tombs and me that the others laughed.

"They'll float at high tide, won't they?" asked Mrs. Giddings.

"No," I said. "It was high tide when they ran aground. It will take a
tugboat to get them off."

The words weren't out of my mouth when a tugboat appeared round the
corner of the island, making up the channel. The men on the float began
to scream and yell, and jump up and down, and wave their arms. But the
tugboat paid no attention. It thought they were drunk. It passed within
three hundred yards of them, whistled a couple of times, and became
small in the distance.

"Sam," said Sally, "in about an hour they'll be high and dry on the mud.
Then not even a boat can get to them. And by the time it's high tide
again it will be dark and nobody will see them, and they'll be dying of
hunger and thirst."

"That's true," I said. "Sally, you explain that to them, and I'll have
the men fetch one of the stable doors, and we'll put a sail on it and
provision it and trust to its hitting the middle ground about where
they did."

I never worked so hard in my life. I had a stable door taken off its
tracks and rigged with the canoe's sail; and we put a case of champagne
on board, and a tub of ice, and bread, and cold meat, and butter, and
jam, and cigars, and cigarettes, and liquors, and a cocktail shaker, and
a bottle of olives stuffed with red peppers, for Billoo, and two kinds
of bitters, and everything else to eat or drink that anybody could think
of, and some camp-chairs, and cards for bridge, and score-pads, and
pencils, and a folding table. Of course, most of the things got soaked
the minute we launched the door, but there wasn't time to do the thing
over again. So we gave the relief boat three cheers and let her go.

The way the men on the float eyed the course of the door, you would have
thought them all nearly half dead with hunger and thirst. We were all
excited, too.

At first the door made straight for the float. Then the breeze shifted a
little, and it made to the left of the float--then to the right of
it--and then straight at it again.

Everybody cheered. The relief expedition looked like a success. The men
all came to the edge of the float to meet it--and then, just as all
seemed well, a dark patch of wind came scudding across the water, filled
the door's sail, and sent the door kiting off to the right again. The
game was up, The door was going to miss the float by sixty or
seventy feet.

Then the men on the float began to toss coins; there was a shout of
delight; and Billoo, trumpeting his hands, called to me:

"Make the ladies go behind the boat-house, quick!" And he began to
unbutton his coat. I herded the women behind the boat-house and ran back
to the pier. Billoo was stripping as fast as he could.

"What's he doing?" Mrs. Giddings called to me.

And I answered, "He seems to be overcome by the heat."

A few moments later Billoo stood revealed, a fat white silhouette
against the opposite shore. He stepped from the float into the water; it
came to his ankles. Then he waded, gingerly but with determination,
toward the passing door. He went as if he expected the water to get
suddenly deep, but it didn't. At no time did it reach to his ankles,
until, just as he was reaching out his hand to catch hold of the door,
and just as the men on the float set up a cheer, he stepped off the
middle ground in to deep water.

The splash that he made lifted the door half out of water, and shot it
away from him, the wind filled its sail, and when Billoo came to the
surface and looked for it, it was thirty feet off. But he set his teeth
(I think he set them) and swam after it. Just as he reached it, he
fetched an awful yell. He had been seized with cramps. Still, he had
sense enough to cling to the door, and, when the first spasm of the
cramp had passed, to sprawl himself upon it. There he lay for a while,
lapped by the water that came over the door, and writhing in his fat

Meanwhile, the door was caught in the full strength of the ebbing tide,
and began to make for the open Sound. Poor Billoo was in a bad way--and
when he turned the ice-tub upside down for a seat, and wrapped himself
in the canoe sail, I invited the women to come out and see for
themselves how brave he was.

He waved his hand to us, and just as he and his well-provisioned craft
rounded a corner of the island he selected a bottle of champagne and
deftly extracted the cork.

I told some of my men to follow along the shore and to let me know what
became of him. I couldn't do anything more for Billoo; but I liked the
man, and took an affectionate interest in his ultimate fate--_whatever_
it might be. And I call that true friendship.

Pretty soon the middle ground on which the float was stuck began to show
above water, and as it was evident that we could do nothing further for
the relief of our shipwrecked friends, we decided to go back to the
house, change our muddy boots, play a rubber or so, and have lunch. But
first little Miss Tombs called to young Fitch, and told him if he found
himself starving to dig clams in the mud.


The only fault that I could find with the way things had gone so far was
that Sally had a disgusting headache that marred her pleasure and her
sense of humor. She hadn't said very much, and had laughed with only a
half-heart at things that had seemed to me excruciatingly funny. For
instance, when Billoo was seized with the cramps she had barely smiled,
and once or twice when I had been doing the talking she had looked
pityingly at me, instead of roaring with laughter, the way a wife
should do.

And when we got to the house, she said that if we would excuse her she
would go to her room and lie down.

"I've just got one of my usual headaches," she said.

That remark worried me, because it was the first headache she had ever
complained of to _me_; and when, after she had gone upstairs, Miss
Randall said, "Maybe Sally ought to see the doctor," I had a sudden
awful, empty, gulpy feeling. Suppose she was going to be really sick!
Suppose she was going to have pneumonia or scarlet-fever or spinal
meningitis! Here we were, cut off from medical assistance till Wednesday
morning. And it was our own fault--mine; mine, for being _too_ funny.
Then I thought, "Maybe those men on the float are losing all the money
they've got in the world," and that made me feel pretty glum; and then I
thought, "Maybe poor Billoo is drowned by now," and I went cold
all over.

"Why don't you make the trump, Sam?" said Mrs. Giddings.

"Good Heavens!" I said. "Did I deal? Won't somebody play my hand? I'm
worried about Sally."

Then I bolted upstairs, and there was Sally lying on her bed, with a
glass tube sticking out of her mouth.

"How are you," I said, "and what are you doing?"

"I feel rather sick, Sam," she said. And she looked so pale that I could
have screamed. "And I'm taking my temperature."

"Do you think you've got fever?" I cried.

"I don't know," she said.

"Oh, Sally--Sally!" I cried. "Forgive me--it's all my fault--and I love
you so--My God! what shall I do? I know--"

Then I kissed her, and ran out of the room, and all the way to the
boat-house. I found a bathing-suit, undressed, put it on, tore down to
the pier, and went overboard. I suppose the water was ghastly cold, but
I didn't feel it. I suppose I never should have gotten all the way
across to the main-land if I hadn't been boiling with fear and
excitement, and besides I walked and waded across the middle ground and
got a rest that way. The men on the float kept calling to me, and asking
me questions, but I hadn't enough breath nor reason to answer them; I
just swam and swam and swam.

About fifty feet from the pier on the main-land I began to get horrible
pains up and down the muscles of my legs; and they wanted to stop
kicking, but I wouldn't let them. I had to sit on the pier for a while
to rest, but pretty soon I was able to stand, and somehow or other,
running and walking, I got to the doctor's house in Stepping-Stone. He
is very nice and an old friend, and the moment I told him Sally was
desperately sick he said she wasn't, and I felt better. He gave me some
brandy to drink, and we started for the island. I begged him to run,
but he wouldn't. He walked leisurely and pointed out this tree as a very
fine specimen and well grown, or that one as too much crowded by its
neighbors. He was daft on forestry. Patients didn't interest him a bit.
Finally, however, we got to the pier, and stole somebody's row-boat, and
I took the oars, and then we went faster.

When we entered the house we found all the women except Sally
surrounding Billoo. He was very red in the face and dressed only in the
canoe sail; but he wasn't in the least embarrassed. He had a
self-satisfied smile; and he was talking as fast and as loud as
he could.

We told him to go to bed and be ashamed of himself, and sleep it off.
And he said that nobody understood him, and denied having drunk the
whole case of champagne, and he said that he was in perfect control of
all his faculties, and that if the ladies wished him to, he could dance
a hornpipe for them that he had learned when he was a sailor....

The doctor and I went upstairs; and while he was with Sally I changed
into proper clothes; and then I waited outside the door for him to come
out and tell me the worst. After a long time he came. He looked very
solemn, and closed the door behind him.

"What _is_ it?" I said, and I think my voice shook like a leaf.

"Sam," he said gravely, "Sally is by way of cutting her first wisdom

"Good Lord!" I said, "is that all?"

"It's enough," said the doctor, "because it isn't a _tooth_."

"Oh!" I said, "oh! What ought I to do?"

"Why," said he, "I'd go in, and tell her how glad you are, and maybe
laugh at her a little bit, and make much of her."

But I couldn't laugh at Sally, because she was crying.

I took her in my arms and made much of her, and asked her why she was
crying, and she said she was crying because she was glad.

When the doctor had returned to Stepping-Stone, he got the _Hobo's_
captain on the telephone and told him from me to bring the _Hobo_ back
to Idle Island at once. She came about six, just as the tide was getting
high, and she brought rescue to the men on the float, and, better than
rescue, she brought the evening papers.

There had been a big day on Wall Street; one of the biggest in its
history. And the men whom we had kept from going to business had made,
among them, hundreds of thousands of dollars, just by sitting still.
But they were ungrateful, especially Billoo. He complained bitterly, and
said that he would have made three times as much money if he had been
_on the spot_.

* * * * *

When the men paid the bets that they had lost to me, I turned the money
over to my father's secretary and told him to deposit it as a
special account.

"What shall I call the account?" he asked.

"Call it," I said, "the account of W. Tooth."

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