Part 2 out of 4
Pettingil's confectionery store was on the corner of Willow and High
Streets. The saloon, separated from the shop by a flight of three steps
leading to a door hung with faded red drapery, had about it an air of
mystery and seclusion quite delightful. Four windows, also draped, faced
the side-street, affording an unobstructed view of Marm Hatch's back yard,
where a number of inexplicable garments on a clothes-line were always to be
seen careering in the wind.
There was a lull just then in the ice-cream business, it being dinner-time,
and we found the saloon unoccupied. When we had seated ourselves around the
largest marble-topped table, Charley Marden in a manly voice ordered twelve
sixpenny icecreams, "strawberry and verneller mixed."
It was a magnificent sight, those twelve chilly glasses entering the room on
a waiter, the red and white custard rising from each glass like a
church-steeple, and the spoon-handle shooting up from the apex like a
spire. I doubt if a person of the nicest palate could have distinguished,
with his eyes shut, which was the vanilla and which the strawberry; but if
I could at this moment obtain a cream tasting as that did, I would give
five dollars for a very small quantity.
We fell to with a will, and so evenly balanced were our capabilities that we
finished our creams together, the spoons clinking in the glasses like one
"Let's have some more!" cried Charley Marden, with the air of Aladdin
ordering up a fresh hogshead of pearls and rubies. "Tom Bailey, tell
Pettingil to send in another round."
Could I credit my ears? I looked at him to see if he were in earnest. He
meant it. In a moment more I was leaning over the counter giving directions
for a second supply. Thinking it would make no difference to such a
gorgeous young sybarite as Marden, I took the liberty of ordering ninepenny
creams this time.
On returning to the saloon, what was my horror at finding it empty!
There were the twelve cloudy glasses, standing in a circle on the sticky
marble slab, and not a boy to be seen. A pair of hands letting go their
hold on the window-sill outside explained matters. I had been made a
I couldn't stay and face Pettingil, whose peppery temper was well known
among the boys. I hadn't a cent in the world to appease him. What should I
do? I heard the clink of approaching glasses-the ninepenny creams. I rushed
to the nearest window. It was only five feet to the ground. I threw myself
out as if I had been an old hat.
Landing on my feet, I fled breathlessly down High Street, through Willow,
and was turning into Brierwood Place when the sound of several voices,
calling to me in distress, stopped my progress.
"Look out, you fool! The mine! The mine!" yelled the warning voices.
Several men and boys were standing at the head of the street, making insane
gestures to me to avoid something. But I saw no mine, only in the middle of
the road in front of me was a common flour-barrel, which, as I gazed at it,
suddenly rose into the air with a terrific explosion. I felt myself thrown
violently off my feet. I remember nothing else, excepting that, as I went
up, I caught a momentary glimpse of Ezra Wingate leering through is shop
window like an avenging spirit.
The mine that had wrought me woe was not properly a mine at all, but merely
a few ounces of powder placed under an empty keg or barrel and fired with a
slow-match. Boys who didn't happen to have pistols or cannon generally
burnt their powder in this fashion.
For an account of what followed I am indebted to hearsay, for I was
insensible when the people picked me up and carried me home on a shutter
borrowed from the proprietor of Pettingil's saloon. I was supposed to be
killed, but happily (happily for me at least) I was merely stunned. I lay
in a semi-unconscious state until eight o'clock that night, when I
attempted to speak. Miss Abigail, who watched by the bedside, put her ear
down to my lips and was saluted with these remarkable words: "Strawberry
and verneller mixed!"
"Mercy on us! What is the boy saying?" cried Miss Abigail.
1 This inscription is copied from a triangular-shaped piece of slate, still
preserved in the garret of the Nutter House, together with the pistol butt
itself, which was subsequently dug up for a postmortem examination.
I Become an R. M. C.
In the course of ten days I recovered sufficiently from my injuries to
attend school, where, for a little while, I was looked upon as a hero, on
account of having been blown up. What don't we make a hero of? The
distraction which prevailed in the classes the week preceding the Fourth
bad subsided, and nothing remained to indicate the recent festivities,
excepting a noticeable want of eyebrows on the part of Pepper Whitcomb and
In August we had two weeks' vacation. It was about this time that I became a
member of the Rivermouth Centipedes, a secret society composed of twelve of
the Temple Grammar School boys. This was an honor to which I had long
aspired, but, being a new boy, I was not admitted to the fraternity until
my character had fully developed itself.
It was a very select society, the object of which I never fathomed, though I
was an active member of the body during the remainder of my residence at
Rivermouth, and at one time held the onerous position of F. C., First
Centipede. Each of the elect wore a copper cent (some occult association
being established between a cent apiece and a centipedes suspended by a
string round his neck. The medals were worn next the skin, and it was while
bathing one day at Grave Point, with Jack Harris and Fred Langdon, that I
had my curiosity roused to the highest pitch by a sight of these singular
emblems. As soon as I ascertained the existence of a boys' club, of course
I was ready to die to join it. And eventually I was allowed to join.
The initiation ceremony took place in Fred Langdon's barn, where I was
submitted to a series of trials not calculated to soothe the nerves of a
timorous boy. Before being led to the Grotto of Enchantment-such was the
modest title given to the loft over my friend's wood-house-my hands were
securely pinioned, and my eyes covered with a thick silk handkerchief. At
the head of the stairs I was told in an unrecognizable, husky voice, that
it was not yet too late to retreat if I felt myself physically too weak to
undergo the necessary tortures. I replied that I was not too weak, in a
tone which I intended to be resolute, but which, in spite of me, seemed to
come from the pit of my stomach.
"It is well!" said the husky voice.
I did not feel so sure about that; but, having made up my mind to be a
Centipede, a Centipede I was bound to be. Other boys had passed through the
ordeal and lived, why should not I?
A prolonged silence followed this preliminary examination and I was
wondering what would come next, when a pistol fired off close by my car
deafened me for a moment. The unknown voice then directed me to take ten
steps forward and stop at the word halt. I took ten steps, and halted.
"Stricken mortal," said a second husky voice, more husky, if possible, than
the first, "if you had advanced another inch, you would have disappeared
down an abyss three thousand feet deep!"
I naturally shrunk back at this friendly piece of information. A prick from
some two-pronged instrument, evidently a pitchfork, gently checked my
retreat. I was then conducted to the brink of several other precipices, and
ordered to step over many dangerous chasms, where the result would have
been instant death if I had committed the least mistake. I have neglected
to say that my movements were accompanied by dismal groans from different
parts of the grotto.
Finally, I was led up a steep plank to what appeared to me an incalculable
height. Here I stood breathless while the bylaws were read aloud. A more
extraordinary code of laws never came from the brain of man. The penalties
attached to the abject being who should reveal any of the secrets of the
society were enough to make the blood run cold. A second pistol-shot was
heard, the something I stood on sunk with a crash beneath my feet and I
fell two miles, as nearly as I could compute it. At the same instant the
handkerchief was whisked from my eyes, and I found myself standing in an
empty hogshead surrounded by twelve masked figures fantastically dressed.
One of the conspirators was really appalling with a tin sauce-pan on his
head, and a tiger-skin sleigh-robe thrown over his shoulders. I scarcely
need say that there were no vestiges to be seen of the fearful gulfs over
which I had passed so cautiously. My ascent had been to the top of the
hogshead, and my descent to the bottom thereof. Holding one another by the
hand, and chanting a low dirge, the Mystic Twelve revolved about me. This
concluded the ceremony. With a merry shout the boys threw off their masks,
and I was declared a regularly installed member of the R. M. C.
I afterwards had a good deal of sport out of the club, for these
initiations, as you may imagine, were sometimes very comical spectacles,
especially when the aspirant for centipedal honors happened to be of a
timid disposition. If he showed the slightest terror, he was certain to be
tricked unmercifully. One of our subsequent devices-a humble invention of
my own-was to request the blindfolded candidate to put out his tongue,
whereupon the First Centipede would say, in a low tone, as if not intended
for the ear of the victim, "Diabolus, fetch me the red-hot iron!" The
expedition with which that tongue would disappear was simply ridiculous.
Our meetings were held in various barns, at no stated periods, but as
circumstances suggested. Any member had a right to call a meeting. Each boy
who failed to report himself was fined one cent. Whenever a member had
reasons for thinking that another member would be unable to attend, he
called a meeting. For instance, immediately on learning the death of Harry
Blake's great-grandfather, I issued a call. By these simple and ingenious
measures we kept our treasury in a flourishing condition, sometimes having
on hand as much as a dollar and a quarter.
I have said that the society had no special object. It is true, there was a
tacit understanding among us that the Centipedes were to stand by one
another on all occasions, though I don't remember that they did; but
further than this we had no purpose, unless it was to accomplish as a body
the same amount of mischief which we were sure to do as individuals. To
mystify the staid and slow-going Rivermouthians was our frequent pleasure.
Several of our pranks won us such a reputation among the townsfolk, that we
were credited with having a large finger in whatever went amiss in the
One morning, about a week after my admission into the secret order, the
quiet citizens awoke to find that the signboards of all the principal
streets had changed places during the night. People who went trustfully to
sleep in Currant Square opened their eyes in Honeysuckle Terrace. Jones's
Avenue at the north end had suddenly become Walnut Street, and Peanut
Street was nowhere to be found. Confusion reigned. The town authorities
took the matter in hand without delay, and six of the Temple Grammar School
boys were summoned to appear before justice Clapbam.
Having tearfully disclaimed to my grandfather all knowledge of the
transaction, I disappeared from the family circle, and was not apprehended
until late in the afternoon, when the Captain dragged me ignominiously from
the haymow and conducted me, more dead than alive, to the office of justice
Clapham. Here I encountered five other pallid culprits, who had been fished
out of divers coal-bins, garrets, and chicken-coops, to answer the demands
of the outraged laws. (Charley Marden had hidden himself in a pile of
gravel behind his father's house, and looked like a recently exhumed
There was not the least evidence against us; and, indeed, we were wholly
innocent of the offence. The trick, as was afterwards proved, had been
played by a party of soldiers stationed at the fort in the harbor. We were
indebted for our arrest to Master Conway, who had slyly dropped a hint,
within the hearing of Selectman Mudge, to the effect that "young Bailey and
his five cronies could tell something about 20them signs." When he was
called upon to make good his assertion, he was considerably more terrified
than the Centipedes, though they were ready to sink into their shoes.
At our next meeting it was unanimously resolved that Conway's animosity
should not be quietly submitted to. He had sought to inform against us in
the stagecoach business; he had volunteered to carry Pettingil's "little
bill" for twenty-four icecreams to Charley Marden's father; and now he had
caused us to be arraigned before justice Clapham on a charge equally
groundless and painful. After much noisy discussion, a plan of retaliation
was agreed upon.
There was a certain slim, mild apothecary in the town, by the name of Meeks.
It was generally given out that Mr. Meeks had a vague desire to get
married, but, being a shy and timorous youth, lacked the moral courage to
do so. It was also well known that the Widow Conway had not buried her
heart with the late lamented. As to her shyness, that was not so clear.
Indeed, her attentions to Mr. Meeks, whose mother she might have been, were
of a nature not to be misunderstood, and were not misunderstood by anyone
but Mr. Meeks himself.
The widow carried on a dress-making establishment at her residence on the
comer opposite Meeks's drug-store, and kept a wary eye on all the young
ladies from Miss Dorothy Gibbs's Female Institute who patronized the shop
for soda-water, aciddrops, and slate-pencils. In the afternoon the widow
was usually seen seated, smartly dressed, at her window upstairs, casting
destructive glances across the street-the artificial roses in her cap and
her whole languishing manner saying as plainly as a label on a
prescription, "To be Taken Immediately!" But Mr. Meeks didn't take.
The lady's fondness, and the gentleman's blindness, were topics ably handled
at every sewing-circle in the town. It was through these two luckless
individuals that we proposed to strike a blow at the common enemy. To kill
less than three birds with one stone did not suit our sanguinary purpose.
We disliked the widow not so much for her sentimentality as for being the
mother of Bill Conway; we disliked Mr. Meeks, not because he was insipid,
like his own syrups, but because the widow loved him. Bill Conway we hated
Late one dark Saturday night in September we carried our plan into effect.
On the following morning, as the orderly citizens wended their way to
church past the widow's abode, their sober faces relaxed at beholding over
her front door the well known gilt Mortar and Pestle which usually stood on
the top of a pole on the opposite corner; while the passers on that side of
the street were equally amused and scandalized at seeing a placard bearing
the following announcement tacked to the druggist's window-shutters:
Wanted, a Sempstress!
The naughty cleverness of the joke (which I should be sorry to defend) was
recognized at once. It spread like wildfire over the town, and, though the
mortar and the placard were speedily removed, our triumph was complete. The
whole community was on the broad grin, and our participation in the affair
It was those wicked soldiers at the fort!
I Fight Conway
There was one person, however, who cherished a strong suspicion that the
Centipedes had had a hand in the business; and that person was Conway. His
red hair seemed to change to a livelier red, and his sallow cheeks to a
deeper sallow, as we glanced at him stealthily over the tops of our slates
the next day in school. He knew we were watching him, and made sundry
mouths and scowled in the most threatening way over his sums.
Conway had an accomplishment peculiarly his own-that of throwing his thumbs
out of joint at will. Sometimes while absorbed in study, or on becoming
nervous at recitation, he performed the feat unconsciously. Throughout this
entire morning his thumbs were observed to be in a chronic state of
dislocation, indicating great mental agitation on the part of the owner. We
fully expected an outbreak from him at recess; but the intermission passed
off tranquilly, somewhat to our disappointment.
At the close of the afternoon session it happened that Binny Wallace and
myself, having got swamped in our Latin exercise, were detained in school
for the purpose of refreshing our memories with a page of Mr. Andrews's
perplexing irregular verbs. Binny Wallace finishing his task first, was
dismissed. I followed shortly after, and, on stepping into the playground,
saw my little friend plastered, as it were, up against the fence, and
Conway standing in front of him ready to deliver a blow on the upturned,
unprotected face, whose gentleness would have stayed any arm but a
Seth Rodgers, with both hands in his pockets, was leaning against the pump
lazily enjoying the sport; but on seeing me sweep across the yard, whirling
my strap of books in the air like a sling, he called out lustily, "Lay low,
Conwayl Here's young Baileyl"
Conway turned just in time to catch on his shoulder the blow intended for
his head. He reached forward one of his long arms-he had arms like a
windmill, that boy-and, grasping me by the hair, tore out quite a
respectable handful. The tears flew to my eyes, but they were not the tears
of defeat; they were merely the involuntary tribute which nature paid to
the departed tresses.
In a second my little jacket lay on the ground, and I stood on guard,
resting lightly on my right leg and keeping my eye fixed steadily on
Conway's-in all of which I was faithfully following the instructions of
Phil Adams, whose father subscribed to a sporting journal.
Conway also threw himself into a defensive attitude, and there we were,
glaring at each other motionless, neither of us disposed to risk an attack,
but both on the alert to resist one. There is no telling how long we might
have remained in that absurd position, had we not been interrupted.
It was a custom with the larger pupils to return to the play-ground after
school, and play baseball until sundown. The town authorities had
prohibited ball-playing on the Square, and, there being no other available
place, the boys fell back perforce on the school-yard. just at this crisis
a dozen or so of the Templars entered the gate, and, seeing at a glance the
belligerent status of Conway and myself, dropped bat and ball, and rushed
to the spot where we stood.
"Is it a fight?" asked Phil Adams, who saw by our freshness that we had not
yet got to work.
"Yes, it's a fight," I answered, "unless Conway will ask Wallace's pardon,
promise never to hector me in future-and put back my hair!"
This last condition was rather a staggerer.
"I sha'n't do nothing of the sort," said Conway, sulkily.
"Then the thing must go on," said Adams, with dignity. "Rodgers, as I
understand it, is your second, Conway? Bailey, come here. What's the row
"He was thrashing Binny Wallace."
"No, I wasn't," interrupted Conway; "but I was going to because he knows who
put Meeks's mortar over our door. And I know well enough who did it; it was
that sneaking little mulatter!" pointing at me.
"O, by George!" I cried, reddening at the insult.
"Cool is the word," said Adams, as he bound a handkerchief round my head,
and carefully tucked away the long straggling locks that offered a tempting
advantage to the enemy. "Who ever heard of a fellow with such a head of
hair going into action!" muttered Phil, twitching the handkerchief to
ascertain if it were securely tied. He then loosened my gallowses (braces),
and buckled them tightly above my hips. "Now, then, bantam, never say die!"
Conway regarded these business-like preparations with evident misgiving, for
he called Rodgers to his side, and had himself arrayed in a similar manner,
though his hair was cropped so close that you couldn't have taken hold of
it with a pair of tweezers.
"Is your man ready?" asked Phil Adams, addressing Rodgers.
"Keep your back to the gate, Tom," whispered Phil in my car, "and you'll
have the sun in his eyes."
Behold us once more face to face, like David and the Philistine. Look at us
as long as you may; for this is all you shall see of the combat. According
to my thinking, the hospital teaches a better lesson than the battle-field.
I will tell you about my black eye, and my swollen lip, if you will; but
not a word of the fight.
You'll get no description of it from me, simply because I think it would
prove very poor reading, and not because I consider my revolt against
Conway's tyranny unjustifiable.
I had borne Conway's persecutions for many months with lamb-like patience. I
might have shielded myself by appealing to Mr. Grimshaw; but no boy in the
Temple Grammar School could do that without losing caste. Whether this was
just or not doesn't matter a pin, since it was so-a traditionary law of the
place. The personal inconvenience I suffered from my tormentor was nothing
to the pain he inflicted on me indirectly by his persistent cruelty to
little Binny Wallace. I should have lacked the spirit of a hen if I had not
resented it finally. I am glad that I faced Conway, and asked no favors,
and got rid of him forever. I am glad that Phil Adams taught me to box, and
I say to all youngsters: Learn to box, to ride, to pull an oar, and to
swim. The occasion may come round, when a decent proficiency in one or the
rest of these accomplishments will be of service to you.
In one of the best books1 ever written for boys are these words:
"Learn to box, then, as you learn to play cricket and football. Not one of
you will be the worse, but very much the better, for learning to box well.
Should you never have to use it in earnest there's no exercise in the world
so good for the temper, and for the muscles of the back and legs.
"As for fighting, keep out of it, if you can, by all means. When the time
comes, if ever it should, that you have to say 'Yes' or 'No' to a challenge
to fight, say 'No' if you can-only take care you make it plain to yourself
why you say 'No.' It's a proof of the highest courage, if done from true
Christian motives. It's quite right and justifiable, if done from a simple
aversion to physical pain and danger. But don't say 'No' because you fear a
licking and say or think it's because you fear God, for that's neither
Christian nor honest. And if you do fight, fight it out; and don't give in
while you can stand and see."
And don't give in when you can't! say 1. For I could stand very little, and
see not at all (having pommelled the school pump for the last twenty
seconds), when Conway retired from the field. As Phil Adams stepped up to
shake hands with me, he received a telling blow in the stomach; for all the
fight was not out of me yet, and I mistook him for a new adversary.
Convinced of my error, I accepted his congratulations, with those of the
other boys, blandly and blindly. I remember that Binny Wallace wanted to
give me his silver pencil-case. The gentle soul had stood throughout the
contest with his face turned to the fence, suffering untold agony.
A good wash at the pump, and a cold key applied to my eye, refreshed me
amazingly. Escorted by two or three of the schoolfellows, I walked home
through the pleasant autumn twilight, battered but triumphant. As I went
along, my cap cocked on one side to keep the chilly air from my eye, I felt
that I was not only following my nose, but following it so closely, that I
was in some danger of treading on it. I seemed to have nose enough for the
whole party. My left cheek, also, was puffed out like a dumpling. I
couldn't help saying to myself, "If this is victory, how about that other
"Tom," said Harry Blake, hesitating.
"Did you see Mr. Grimshaw looking out of the recitation-room window just as
we left the yard?"
"No was he, though?"
"I am sure of it."
"Then he must have seen all the row."
"No, he didn't," broke in Adams, "or he would have stopped it short metre;
but I guess be saw you pitching into the pump which you did uncommonly
strong-and of course be smelt mischief directly."
"Well, it can't be helped now," I reflected.
"-As the monkey said when he fell out of the cocoanut tree," added Charley
Marden, trying to make me laugh.
It was early candle-light when we reached the house. Miss Abigail, opening
the front door, started back at my hilarious appearance. I tried to smile
upon her sweetly, but the smile, rippling over my swollen cheek, and dying
away like a spent wave on my nose, produced an expression of which Miss
Abigail declared she had never seen the like excepting on the face of a
She hustled me unceremoniously into the presence of my grandfather in the
sitting-room. Captain Nutter, as the recognized professional warrior of our
family, could not consistently take me to task for fighting Conway; nor was
he disposed to do so; for the Captain was well aware of the long-continued
provocation I had endured.
"Ah, you rascal!" cried the old gentleman, after hearing my story. "Just
like me when I was young-always in one kind of trouble or another. I
believe it runs in the family."
"I think," said Miss Abigail, without the faintest expression) on her
countenance, "that a table-spoonful of hot-dro-" The Captain interrupted
Miss Abigail peremptorily, directing her to make a shade out of cardboard
and black silk to tie over my eye. Miss Abigail must have been possessed
with the idea that I had taken up pugilism as a profession, for she turned
out no fewer than six of these blinders.
"They'll be handy to have in the house," says Miss Abigail, grimly.
Of course, so great a breach of discipline was not to be passed over by Mr.
Grimshaw. He had, as we suspected, witnessed the closing scene of the fight
from the school-room window, and the next morning, after prayers, I was not
wholly unprepared when Master Conway and myself were called up to the desk
for examination. Conway, with a piece of court-plaster in the shape of a
Maltese cross on his right cheek, and I with the silk patch over my left
eye, caused a general titter through the room.
"Silence!" said Mr. Grimshaw, sharply.
As the reader is already familiar with the leading points in the case of
Bailey versus Conway, I shall not report the trial further than to say that
Adams, Marden, and several other pupils testified to the fact that Conway
had imposed on me ever since my first day at the Temple School. Their
evidence also went to show that Conway was a quarrelsome character
generally. Bad for Conway. Seth Rodgers, on the part of his friend, proved
that I had struck the first blow. That was bad for me.
"If you please, sir," said Binny Wallace, holding up his hand for permission
to speak, "Bailey didn't fight on his own account; he fought on my account,
and, if you please, sir, I am the boy to be blamed, for I was the cause of
This drew out the story of Conway's harsh treatment of the smaller boys. As
Binny related the wrongs of his playfellows, saying very little of his own
grievances, I noticed that Mr. Grimshaw's hand, unknown to himself perhaps,
rested lightly from time to time on Wallace's sunny hair. The examination
finished, Mr. Grimshaw leaned on the desk thoughtfully for a moment and
"Every boy in this school knows that it is against the rules to fight. If
one boy maltreats another, within school-bounds, or within school-hours,
that is a matter for me to settle. The case should be laid before me. I
disapprove of tale-bearing, I never encourage it in the slightest degree;
but when one pupil systematically persecutes a schoolmate, it is the duty
of some head-boy to inform me. No pupil has a right to take the law into
his own hands. If there is any fighting to be done, I am the person to be
consulted. I disapprove of boys' fighting; it is unnecessary and
unchristian. In the present instance, I consider every large boy in this
school at fault, but as the offence is one of omission rather than
commission, my punishment must rest only on the two boys convicted of
misdemeanor. Conway loses his recess for a month, and Bailey has a page
added to his Latin lessons for the next four recitations. I now request
Bailey and Conway to shake hands in the presence of the school, and
acknowledge their regret at what has occurred."
Conway and I approached each other slowly and cautiously, as if we were bent
upon another hostile collision. We clasped hands in the tamest manner
imaginable, and Conway mumbled, "I'm sorry I fought with you.'
"I think you are,' I replied, drily, "and I'm sorry I had to thrash you."
"You can go to your seats," said Mr. Grimshaw, turning his face aside to
hide a smile. I am sure my apology was a very good one.
I never had any more trouble with Conway. He and his shadow, Seth Rodgers,
gave me a wide berth for many months. Nor was Binny Wallace subjected to
further molestation. Miss Abigail's sanitary stores, including a bottle of
opodeldoc, were never called into requisition. The six black silk patches,
with their elastic strings, are still dangling from a beam in the garret of
the Nutter House, waiting for me to get into fresh difficulties.
1 "Tom Brown's School Days at Rugby"
All About Gypsy
This record of my life at Rivermouth would be strangely incomplete did I not
devote an entire chapter to Gypsy. I had other pets, of course; for what
healthy boy could long exist without numerous friends in the animal
kingdom? I had two white mice that were forever gnawing their way out of a
pasteboard chateau, and crawling over my face when I lay asleep. I used to
keep the pink-eyed little beggars in my bedroom, greatly to the annoyance
of Miss Abigail, who was constantly fancying that one of the mice had
secreted itself somewhere about her person.
I also owned a dog, a terrier, who managed in some inscrutable way to pick a
quarrel with the moon, and on bright nights kept up such a ki-yi-ing in our
back garden, that we were finally forced to dispose of him at private sale.
He was purchased by Mr. Oxford, the butcher. I protested against the
arrangement and ever afterwards, when we had sausages from Mr. Oxford-s
shop, I made believe I detected in them certain evidences that Cato had
been foully dealt with.
Of birds I had no end-robins, purple-martins, wrens, bulfinches, bobolinks,
ringdoves, and pigeons. At one time I took solid comfort in the iniquitous
society of a dissipated old parrot, who talked so terribly, that the Rev.
Wibird Hawkins, happening to get a sample of Poll's vituperative powers,
pronounced him "a benighted heathen," and advised the Captain to get rid of
him. A brace of turtles supplanted the parrot in my affections; the turtles
gave way to rabbits; and the rabbits in turn yielded to the superior charms
of a small monkey, which the Captain bought of a sailor lately from the
coast of Africa.
But Gypsy was the prime favorite, in spite of many rivals. I never grew
weary of her. She was the most knowing little thing in the world. Her
proper sphere in life-and the one to which she ultimately attained-was the
saw-dust arena of a travelling circus. There was nothing short of the three
R's, reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic, that Gypsy couldn't be taught. The
gift of speech was not hers, but the faculty of thought was.
My little friend, to be sure, was not exempt from certain graceful
weaknesses, inseparable, perhaps, from the female character. She was very
pretty, and she knew it. She was also passionately fond of dress-by which I
mean her best harness. When she had this on, her curvetings and prancings
were laughable, though in ordinary tackle she went along demurely enough.
There was something in the enamelled leather and the silver-washed
mountings that chimed with her artistic sense. To have her mane braided,
and a rose or a pansy stuck into her forelock, was to make her too
conceited for anything.
She had another trait not rare among her sex. She liked the attentions of
young gentlemen, while the society of girls bored her. She would drag them,
sulkily, in the cart; but as for permitting one of them in the saddle, the
idea was preposterous. Once when Pepper Whitcomb's sister, in spite of our
remonstrances, ventured to mount her, Gypsy gave a little indignant neigh,
and tossed the gentle Emma heels over head in no time. But with any of the
boys the mare was as docile as a lamb.
Her treatment of the several members of the family was comical. For the
Captain she entertained a wholesome respect, and was always on her good
behavior when he was around. As to Miss Abigail, Gypsy simply laughed at
her-literally laughed, contracting her upper lip and displaying all her
snow-white teeth, as if something about Miss Abigail struck her, Gypsy, as
being extremely ridiculous.
Kitty Collins, for some reason or another, was afraid of the pony, or
pretended to be. The sagacious little animal knew it, of course, and
frequently, when Kitty was banging out clothes near the stable, the mare
being loose in the yard, would make short plunges at her. Once Gypsy seized
the basket of clothespins with her teeth, and rising on her hind legs,
pawing the air with her fore feet followed Kitty clear up to the scullery
That part of the yard was shut off from the rest by a gate; but no gate was
proof against Gypsy's ingenuity. She could let down bars, lift up latches,
draw bolts, and turn all sorts of buttons. This accomplishment rendered it
hazardous for Miss Abigail or Kitty to leave any eatables on the kitchen
table near the window. On one occasion Gypsy put in her head and lapped up
six custard pies that had been placed by the casement to cool.
An account of my young lady's various pranks would fill a thick volume. A
favorite trick of hers, on being requested to "walk like Miss Abigail," was
to assume a little skittish gait so true to nature that Miss Abigail
herself was obliged to admit the cleverness of the imitation.
The idea of putting Gypsy through a systematic course of instruction was
suggested to me by a visit to the circus which gave an annual performance
in Rivermouth. This show embraced among its attractions a number of trained
Shetland ponies, and I determined that Gypsy should likewise have the
benefit of a liberal education. I succeeded in teaching her to waltz, to
fire a pistol by tugging at a string tied to the trigger, to lie down dead,
to wink one eye, and to execute many other feats of a difficult nature. She
took to her studies admirably, and enjoyed the whole thing as much as
The monkey was a perpetual marvel to Gypsy. They became bosom-friends in an
incredibly brief period, and were never easy out of each other's sight.
Prince Zany-that's what Pepper Whitcomb and I christened him one day, much
to the disgust of the monkey, who bit a piece out of Pepper's nose-resided
in the stable, and went to roost every night on the pony's back, where I
usually found him in the morning. Whenever I rode out, I was obliged to
secure his Highness the Prince with a stout cord to the fence, he
chattering all the time like a madman.
One afternoon as I was cantering through the crowded part of the town, I
noticed that the people in the street stopped, stared at me, and fell to
laughing. I turned round in the saddle, and there was Zany, with a great
burdock leaf in his paw, perched up behind me on the crupper, as solemn as
After a few months, poor Zany sickened mysteriously, and died. The dark
thought occurred to me then, and comes back to me now with redoubled force,
that Miss Abigail must have given him some hot-drops. Zany left a large
circle of sorrowing friends, if not relatives. Gypsy, I think, never
entirely recovered from the shock occasioned by his early demise. She
became fonder of me, though; and one of her cunningest demonstrations was
to escape from the stable-yard, and trot up to the door of the Temple
Grammar School, where I would discover her at recess patiently waiting for
me, with her fore feet on the second step, and wisps of straw standing out
all over her, like quills upon the fretful porcupine.
I should fail if I tried to tell you how dear the pony was to me. Even hard,
unloving men become attached to the horses they take care of; so I, who was
neither unloving nor hard, grew to love every glossy hair of the pretty
little creature that depended on me for her soft straw bed and her daily
modicum of oats. In my prayer at night I never forgot to mention Gypsy with
the rest of the family-generally setting forth her claims first.
Whatever relates to Gypsy belongs properly to this narrative; therefore I
offer no apology for rescuing from oblivion, and boldly printing here a
short composition which I wrote in the early part of my first quarter at
the Temple Grammar School. It is my maiden effort in a difficult art, and
is, perhaps, lacking in those graces of thought and style which are reached
only after the severest practice.
Every Wednesday morning, on entering school, each pupil was expected to lay
his exercise on Mr. Grimshaw's desk; the subject was usually selected by
Mr. Grimshaw himself, the Monday previous. With a humor characteristic of
him, our teacher had instituted two prizes, one for the best and the other
for the worst composition of the month. The first prize consisted of a
penknife, or a pencil-case, or some such article dear to the heart of
youth; the second prize entitled the winner to wear for an hour or two a
sort of conical paper cap, on the front of which was written, in tall
letters, this modest admission: I AM A DUNCE! The competitor who took prize
No. 2. wasn't generally an object of envy.
My pulse beat high with pride and expectation that Wednesday morning, as I
laid my essay, neatly folded, on the master's table. I firmly decline to
say which prize I won; but here's the composition to speak for itself.
It is no small-author vanity that induces me to publish this stray leaf of
natural history. I lay it before our young folks, not for their admiration,
but for their criticism. Let each reader take his lead-pencil and
remorselessly correct the orthography, the capitalization, and the
punctuation of the essay. I shall not feel hurt at seeing my treatise cut
all to pieces; though I think highly of the production, not on account of
its literary excellence, which I candidly admit is not overpowering, but
because it was written years and years ago about Gypsy, by a little fellow
who, when I strive to recall him, appears to me like a reduced ghost of my
I am confident that any reader who has ever had pets, birds or animals, will
forgive me for this brief digression.
Winter at Rivermouth
"I guess we're going to have a regular old-fashioned snowstorm," said
Captain Nutter, one bleak December morning, casting a peculiarly nautical
The Captain was always hazarding prophecies about the weather, which somehow
never turned out according to his prediction. The vanes on the
church-steeples seemed to take fiendish pleasure in humiliating the dear
old gentleman. If he said it was going to be a clear day, a dense sea-fog
was pretty certain to set in before noon. Once he caused a protracted
drought by assuring us every morning, for six consecutive weeks, that it
would rain in a few hours. But, sure enough, that afternoon it began
Now I had not seen a snow-storm since I was eighteen months old, and of
course remembered nothing about it. A boy familiar from his infancy with
the rigors of our New England winters can form no idea of the impression
made on me by this natural phenomenon. My delight and surprise were as
boundless as if the heavy gray sky had let down a shower of pond lilies and
white roses, instead of snow-flakes. It happened to be a half-holiday, so I
had nothing to do but watch the feathery crystals whirling hither and
thither through the air. I stood by the sitting-room window gazing at the
wonder until twilight shut out the novel scene.
We had had several slight flurries of hail and snow before, but this was a
Several inches of snow had already fallen. The rose-bushes at the door
drooped with the weight of their magical blossoms, and the two posts that
held the garden gate were transformed into stately Turks, with white
turbans, guarding the entrance to the Nutter House.
The storm increased at sundown, and continued with unabated violence through
the night. The next morning, when I jumped out of bed, the sun was shining
brightly, the cloudless heavens wore the tender azure of June, and the
whole earth lay muffled up to the eyes, as it were, in a thick mantle of
It was a very deep snow. The Oldest Inhabitant (what would become of a New
England town or village without its oldest Inhabitant?) overhauled his
almanacs, and pronounced it the deepest snow we had bad for twenty years.
It couldn't have been much deeper without smothering us all. Our street was
a sight to be seen, or, rather, it was a sight not to be seen; for very
little street was visible. One huge drift completely banked up our front
door and half covered my bedroom window.
There was no school that day, for all the thoroughfares were impassable. By
twelve o'clock, however, the great snowploughs, each drawn by four yokes of
oxen, broke a wagon-path through the principal streets; but the
foot-passengers had a hard time of it floundering in the arctic drifts.
The Captain and I cut a tunnel, three feet wide and six feet high, from our
front door to the sidewalk opposite. It was a beautiful cavern, with its
walls and roof inlaid with mother-of-pearl and diamonds. I am sure the ice
palace of the Russian Empress, in Cowper's poem, was not a more superb
piece of architecture.
The thermometer began falling shortly before sunset and we had the bitterest
cold night I ever experienced. This brought out the Oldest Inhabitant again
the next day-and what a gay old boy he was for deciding everything! Our
tunnel was turned into solid ice. A crust thick enough to bear men and
horses had formed over the snow everywhere, and the air was alive with
merry sleigh-bells. Icy stalactites, a yard long, bung from the eaves of
the house, and the Turkish sentinels at the gate looked as if they had
given up all hopes of ever being relieved from duty.
So the winter set in cold and glittering. Everything out-of-doors was
sheathed in silver mail. To quote from Charley Marden, it was "cold enough
to freeze the tail off a brass monkey,"-an observation which seemed to me
extremely happy, though I knew little or nothing concerning the endurance
of brass monkeys, having never seen one.
I had looked forward to the advent of the season with grave apprehensions,
nerving myself to meet dreary nights and monotonous days; but summer itself
was not more jolly than winter at Rivermouth. Snow-balling at school,
skating on the Mill Pond, coasting by moonlight, long rides behind Gypsy in
a brand-new little sleigh built expressly for her, were sports no less
exhilarating than those which belonged to the sunny months. And then
Thanksgiving! The nose of Memory-why shouldn't Memory have a nose?-dilates
with pleasure over the rich perfume of Miss Abigail's forty mince-pies,
each one more delightful than the other, like the Sultan's forty wives.
Christmas was another red-letter day, though it was not so generally
observed in New England as it is now.
The great wood-fire in the tiled chimney-place made our sitting-room very
cheerful of winter nights. When the north-wind howled about the eaves, and
the sharp fingers of the sleet tapped against the window-panes, it was nice
to be so warmly sheltered from the storm. A dish of apples and a pitcher of
chilly cider were always served during the evening. The Captain had a funny
way of leaning back in the chair, and eating his apple with his eyes
closed. Sometimes I played dominos with him, and sometimes Miss Abigail
read aloud to us, pronouncing "to" toe, and sounding all the eds.
In a former chapter I alluded to Miss Abigail's managing propensities. She
had affected many changes in the Nutter House before I came there to live;
but there was one thing against which she bad long contended without being
able to overcome. This was the Captain's pipe. On first taking command of
the household, she prohibited smoking in the sitting-room, where it had
been the old gentleman's custom to take a whiff or two of the fragrant weed
after meals. The edict went forth-and so did the pipe. An excellent move,
no doubt; but then the house was his, and if he saw fit to keep a tub of
tobacco burning in the middle of the parlor floor, he had a perfect right
to do so. However, be humored her in this as in other matters, and smoked
by stealth, like a guilty creature, in the barn, or about the gardens. That
was practicable in summer, but in winter the Captain was hard put to it.
When he couldn't stand it longer, he retreated to his bedroom and
barricaded the door. Such was the position of affairs at the time of which
One morning, a few days after the great snow, as Miss Abigail was dusting
the chronometer in the ball, she beheld Captain Nutter slowly descending
the staircase, with a long clay pipe in his mouth. Miss Abigail could
hardly credit her own eyes.
"Dan'el!" she gasped, retiring heavily on the hat-rack.
The tone of reproach with which this word was uttered failed to produce the
slightest effect on the Captain, who merely removed the pipe from his lips
for an instant, and blew a cloud into the chilly air. The thermometer stood
at two degrees below zero in our hall.
"Dan'el!" cried Miss Abigail, hysterically-"Dan'el, don't come near me!"
Whereupon she fainted away; for the smell of tobacco-smoke always made her
Kitty Collins rushed from the kitchen with a basin of water, and set to work
bathing Miss Abigail's temples and chafing her hands. I thought my
grandfather rather cruel, as be stood there with a half-smile on his
countenance, complacently watching Miss Abigail's sufferings. When she was
"brought to," the Captain sat down beside her, and, with a lovely twinkle
in his eye, said softly:
"Abigail, my dear, there wasn't any tobacco in that Pipe! It was a new pipe.
I fetched it down for Tom to blow soap-bubbles with."
At these words Kitty Collins hurried away, her features-working strangely.
Several minutes later I came upon her in the scullery with the greater
portion of a crash towel stuffed into her mouth. "Miss Abygil smelt the
terbacca with her oi!" cried Kitty, partially removing the cloth, and then
immediately stopping herself up again.
The Captain's joke furnished us-that is, Kitty and me-with mirth for many a
day; as to Miss Abigail, I think she never wholly pardoned him. After this,
Captain Nutter gradually gave up smoking, which is an untidy, injurious,
disgraceful, and highly pleasant habit.
A boy's life in a secluded New England town in winter does not afford many
points for illustration. Of course he gets his ears or toes frost-bitten;
of course he smashes his sled against another boy's; of course be bangs his
bead on the ice; and he's a lad of no enterprise whatever, if be doesn't
manage to skate into an eel-hole, and be brought home half drowned. All
these things happened to me; but, as they lack novelty, I pass them over,
to tell you about the famous snow-fort which we built on Slatter's Hill.
The Snow Fort on Slatter's Hill
The memory of man, even that of the Oldest Inhabitant, runneth not back to
the time when there did not exist a feud between the North End and the
South End boys of Rivermouth.
The origin of the feud is involved in mystery; it is impossible to say which
party was the first aggressor in the far-off anterevolutionary ages; but
the fact remains that the youngsters of those antipodal sections
entertained a mortal hatred for each other, and that this hatred had been
handed down from generation to generation, like Miles Standish's
I know not what laws, natural or unnatural, regulated the warmth of the
quarrel; but at some seasons it raged more violently than at others. This
winter both parties were unusually lively and antagonistic. Great was the
wrath of the South-Enders, when they discovered that the North-Enders bad
thrown up a fort on the crown of Slatter's Hill.
Slatter's Hill, or No-man's-land, as it was generally called, was a rise of
ground covering, perhaps, an acre and a quarter, situated on an imaginary
line, marking the boundary between the two districts. An immense stratum of
granite, which here and there thrust out a wrinkled boulder, prevented the
site from being used for building purposes. The street ran on either side
of the hill, from one part of which a quantity of rock had been removed to
form the underpinning of the new jail. This excavation made the approach
from that point all but impossible, especially when the ragged ledges were
a-glitter with ice. You see what a spot it was for a snow-fort.
One evening twenty or thirty of the North-Enders quietly took possession of
Slatter's Hill, and threw up a strong line of breastworks, something after
Ft Slatter graphic
The rear of the entrenchment, being protected by the quarry, was left open.
The walls were four feet high, and twenty-two inches thick, strengthened at
the angles by stakes driven firmly into the ground.
Fancy the rage of the South-Enders the next day, when they spied our snowy
citadel, with Jack Harris's red silk pocket handkerchief floating defiantly
from the flag-staff.
In less than an hour it was known all over town, in military circles at
least, that the "Puddle-dockers" and the "River-rats' (these were the
derisive sub-titles bestowed on our South-End foes) intended to attack the
fort that Saturday afternoon.
At two o'clock all the fighting boys of the Temple Grammar School, and as
many recruits as we could muster, lay behind the walls of Fort Slatter,
with three hundred compact snowballs piled up in pyramids, awaiting the
approach of the enemy. The enemy was not slow in making his approach-fifty
strong, headed by one Mat Ames. Our forces were under the command of
General J. Harris.
Before the action commenced, a meeting was arranged between the rival
commanders, who drew up and signed certain rules and regulations respecting
the conduct of the battle. As it was impossible for the North-Enders to
occupy the fort permanently, it was stipulated that the South-Enders should
assault it only on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons between the hours of
two and six. For them to take possession of the place at any other time was
not to constitute a capture, but on the contrary was to be considered a
dishonorable and cowardly act.
The North-Enders, on the other hand, agreed to give up the fort whenever ten
of the storming party succeeded in obtaining at one time a footing on the
parapet, and were able to hold the same for the space of two minutes. Both
sides were to abstain from putting pebbles into their snow-balls, nor was
it permissible to use frozen ammunition. A snow-ball soaked in water and
left out to cool was a projectile which in previous years had been resorted
to with disastrous results.
These preliminaries settled, the commanders retired to their respective
corps. The interview had taken place on the hillside between the opposing
General Harris divided his men into two bodies; the first comprised the most
skilful marksmen, or gunners; the second, the reserve force, was composed
of the strongest boys, whose duty it was to repel the scaling parties, and
to make occasional sallies for the purpose of capturing prisoners, who were
bound by the articles of treaty to faithfully serve under our flag until
they were exchanged at the close of the day.
The repellers were called light infantry; but when they carried on
operations beyond the fort they became cavalry. It was also their duty, 20w
hen not otherwise engaged, to manufacture snow-balls. The General's staff
consisted of five Templars (I among the number, with the rank of Major),
who carried the General's orders and looked after the wounded.
General Mat Ames, a veteran commander, was no less wide-awake in the
disposition of his army. Five companies, each numbering but six men, in
order not to present too big a target to our sharpshooters, were to charge
the fort from different points, their advance being covered by a heavy fire
from the gunners posted in the rear. Each scaler was provided with only two
rounds of ammunition, which were not to be used until he had mounted the
breastwork and could deliver his shots on our heads.
The drawing below represents the interior of the fort just previous to the
assault. Nothing on earth could represent the state of things after the
Fort Slatter detail graphic
The thrilling moment had now arrived. If I had been going into a real
engagement I could not have been more deeply impressed by the importance of
The fort opened fire first-a single ball from the dexterous band of General
Harris taking General Ames in the very pit of his stomach. A cheer went up
from Fort Slatter. In an instant the air was thick with flying missiles, in
the midst of which we dimly descried the storming parties sweeping up the
hill, shoulder to shoulder. The shouts of the leaders, and the snowballs
bursting like shells about our ears, made it very lively.
Not more than a dozen of the enemy succeeded in reaching the crest of the
hill; five of these clambered upon the icy walls, where they were instantly
grabbed by the legs and jerked into the fort. The rest retired confused and
blinded by our well-directed fire.
When General Harris (with his right eye bunged up) said, 'Soldiers, I am
proud of you!" my heart swelled in my bosom.
The victory, however, had not been without its price. Six North-Enders,
having rushed out to harass the discomfited enemy, were gallantly cut off
by General Ames and captured. Among these were Lieutenant P. Whitcomb (who
had no business to join in the charge, being weak in the knees), and
Captain Fred Langdon, of General Harris's staff. Whitcomb was one of the
most notable shots on our side, though he was not much to boast of in a
rough-and-tumble fight, owing to the weakness before mentioned. General
Ames put him among the gunners, and we were quickly made aware of the loss
we had sustained, by receiving a frequent artful ball which seemed to light
with unerring instinct on any nose that was the least bit exposed. I have
known one of Pepper's snow-balls, fired pointblank, to turn a comer and hit
a boy who considered himself absolutely safe.
But we had no time for vain regrets. The battle raged. Already there were
two bad cases of black eye, and one of nosebleed, in the hospital.
It was glorious excitement, those pell-mell onslaughts and hand-to-hand
struggles. Twice we were within an ace of being driven from our stronghold,
when General Harris and his staff leaped recklessly upon the ramparts and
hurled the besiegers heels over head down hill.
At sunset, the garrison of Fort Slatter was still unconquered, and the
South-Enders, in a solid phalanx, marched off whistling "Yankee Doodle,"
while we cheered and jeered them until they were out of hearing.
General Ames remained behind to effect an exchange of prisoners. We held
thirteen of his men, and he eleven of ours. General Ames proposed to call
it an even thing, since many of his eleven prisoners were officers, while
nearly all our thirteen captives were privates. A dispute arising on this
point, the two noble generals came to fisticuffs, and in the-fracas our
brave commander got his remaining well eye badly damaged. This didn't
prevent him from writing a general order the next day, on a slate, in which
he complimented the troops on their heroic behavior.
On the following Wednesday the siege was renewed. I forget whether it was on
that afternoon or the next that we lost Fort Slatter; but lose it we did,
with much valuable ammunition and several men. After a series of desperate
assaults, we forced General Ames to capitulate; and he, in turn, made the
place too hot to hold us. So from day to day the tide of battle surged to
and fro, sometimes favoring our arms, and sometimes those of the enemy.
General Ames handled his men with great skill; his deadliest foe could not
deny that. Once he outgeneralled our commander in the following manner: He
massed his gunners on our left and opened a brisk fire, under cover of
which a single company (six men) advanced on that angle of the fort. Our
reserves on the right rushed over to defend the threatened point.
Meanwhile, four companies of the enemy's scalers made a detour round the
foot of the hill, and dashed into Fort Slatter without opposition. At the
same moment General Ames's gunners closed in on our left, and there we were
between two fires. Of course we had to vacate the fort. A cloud rested on
General Harris's military reputation until his superior tactics enabled him
to dispossess the enemy.
As the winter wore on, the war-spirit waxed fiercer and fiercer. At length
the provision against using heavy substances in the snow-balls was
disregarded. A ball stuck full of sand-bird shot came tearing into Fort
Slatter. In retaliation, General Harris ordered a broadside of shells; i.
e. snow-balls containing marbles. After this, both sides never failed to
freeze their ammunition.
It was no longer child's play to march up to the walls of Fort Slatter, nor
was the position of the besieged less perilous. At every assault three or
four boys on each side were disabled. It was not an infrequent occurrence
for the combatants to hold up a flag of truce while they removed some
Matters grew worse and worse. Seven North-Enders had been seriously wounded,
and a dozen South-Enders were reported on the sick list. The selectmen of
the town awoke to the fact of what was going on, and detailed a posse of
police to prevent further disturbance. The boys at the foot of the hill,
South-Enders as it happened, finding themselves assailed in the rear and on
the flank, turned round and attempted to beat off the watchmen. In this
they were sustained by numerous volunteers from the fort, who looked upon
the interference as tyrannical.
The watch were determined fellows, and charged the boys valiantly, driving
them all into the fort, where we made common cause, fighting side by side
like the best of friends. In vain the four guardians of the peace rushed up
the hill, flourishing their clubs and calling upon us to surrender. They
could not get within ten yards of the fort, our fire was so destructive. In
one of the onsets a man named Mugridge, more valorous than his peers, threw
himself upon the parapet, when he was seized by twenty pairs of hands, and
dragged inside the breastwork, where fifteen boys sat down on him to keep
Perceiving that it was impossible with their small number to dislodge us,
the watch sent for reinforcements. Their call was responded to, not only by
the whole constabulary force (eight men), but by a numerous body of
citizens, who had become alarmed at the prospect of a riot. This formidable
array brought us to our senses: we began to think that maybe discretion was
the better part of valor. General Harris and General Ames, with their
respective staffs, held a council of war in the hospital, and a backward
movement was decided on. So, after one grand farewell volley, we fled,
sliding, jumping, rolling, tumbling down the quarry at the rear of the
fort, and escaped without losing a man.
But we lost Fort Slatter forever. Those battle-scarred ramparts were razed
to the ground, and humiliating ashes sprinkled over the historic spot, near
which a solitary lynx-eyed policeman was seen prowling from time to time
during the rest of the winter.
The event passed into a legend, and afterwards, when later instances of
pluck and endurance were spoken of, the boys would say, "By golly! You
ought to have been at the fights on Slatter's Hill!"
The Cruise of the Dolphin
It was spring again. The snow had faded away like a dream, and we were
awakened, so to speak, by the sudden chirping of robins in our back garden.
Marvellous transformation of snowdrifts into lilacs, wondrous miracle of
the unfolding leaf! We read in the Holy Book how our Saviour, at the
marriage-feast, changed the water into wine; we pause and wonder; but every
hour a greater miracle is wrought at our very feet, if we have but eyes to
I had now been a year at Rivermouth. If you do not know what sort of boy I
was, it is not because I haven't been frank with you. Of my progress at
school I say little; for this is a story, pure and simple, and not a
treatise on education. Behold me, however, well up in most of the classes.
I have worn my Latin grammar into tatters, and am in the first book of
Virgil. I interlard my conversation at home with easy quotations from that
poet, and impress Captain Nutter with a lofty notion of my learning. I am
likewise translating Les Aventures de Telemaque from the French, and shall
tackle Blair's Lectures the next term. I am ashamed of my crude composition
about The Horse, and can do better now. Sometimes my head almost aches with
the variety of my knowledge. I consider Mr. Grimshaw the greatest scholar
that ever lived, and I don't know which I would rather be-a learned man
like him, or a circus rider.
My thoughts revert to this particular spring more frequently than to any
other period of my boyhood, for it was marked by an event that left an
indelible impression on my memory. As I pen these pages, I feel that I am
writing of something which happened yesterday, so vividly it all comes back
Every Rivermouth boy looks upon the sea as being in some way mixed up with
his destiny. While he is yet a baby lying in his cradle, he hears the dull,
far-off boom of the breakers; when be is older, he wanders by the sandy
shore, watching the waves that come plunging up the beach like white-maned
seahorses, as Thoreau calls them; his eye follows the lessening sail as it
fades into the blue horizon, and he burns for the time when he shall stand
on the quarter-deck of his own ship, and go sailing proudly across that
mysterious waste of waters.
Then the town itself is full of hints and flavors of the sea. The gables and
roofs of the houses facing eastward are covered with red rust, like the
flukes of old anchors; a salty smell pervades the air, and dense gray fogs,
the very breath of Ocean, periodically creep up into the quiet streets and
envelop everything. The terrific storms that lash the coast; the kelp and
spars, and sometimes the bodies of drowned men, tossed on shore by the
scornful waves; the shipyards, the wharves, and the tawny fleet of
fishing-smacks yearly fitted out at Rivermouth-these things, and a hundred
other, feed the imagination and fill the brain of every healthy boy with
dreams of adventure. He learns to swim almost as soon as he can walk; he
draws in with his mother's milk the art of handling an oar: he is born a
sailor, whatever he may turn out to be afterwards.
To own the whole or a portion of a row-boat is his earliest ambition. No
wonder that I, born to this life, and coming back to it with freshest
sympathies, should have caught the prevailing infection. No wonder I longed
to buy a part of the trim little sailboat Dolphin, which chanced just then
to be in the market. This was in the latter part of May.
Three shares, at five or six dollars each, I forget which, had already been
taken by Phil Adams, Fred Langdon, and Binny Wallace. The fourth and
remaining share hung fire. Unless a purchaser could be found for this, the
bargain was to fall through.
I am afraid I required but slight urging to join in the investment. I had
four dollars and fifty cents on hand, and the treasurer of the Centipedes
advanced me the balance, receiving my silver pencil-case as ample security.
It was a proud moment when I stood on the wharf with my partners,
inspecting the Dolphin, moored at the foot of a very slippery flight of
steps. She was painted white with a green stripe outside, and on the stern
a yellow dolphin, with its scarlet mouth wide open, stared with a surprised
expression at its own reflection in the water. The boat was a great
I whirled my cap in the air, and ran to the stairs leading down from the
wharf, when a hand was laid gently on my shoulder. I turned and faced
Captain Nutter. I never saw such an old sharp-eye as he was in those days.
I knew he wouldn't be angry with me for buying a rowboat; but I also knew
that the little bowsprit suggesting a jib, and the tapering mast ready for
its few square feet of canvas, were trifles not likely to meet his
approval. As far as rowing on the river, among the wharves, was concerned,
the Captain had long since withdrawn his decided objections, having
convinced him-self, by going out with me several times, that I could manage
a pair of sculls as well as anybody.
I was right in my surmises. He commanded me, in the most emphatic terms,
never to go out in the Dolphin without leaving the mast in the boat-house.
This curtailed my anticipated sport, but the pleasure of having a pull
whenever I wanted it remained. I never disobeyed the Captain's orders
touching the sail, though I sometimes extended my row beyond the points he
The river was dangerous for sailboats. Squalls, without the slightest
warning, were of frequent occurrence; scarcely a year passed that six or
seven persons were not drowned under the very windows of the town, and
these, oddly enough, were generally sea-captains, who either did not
understand the river, or lacked the skill to handle a small craft.
A knowledge of such disasters, one of which I witnessed, consoled me
somewhat when I saw Phil Adams skimming over the water in a spanking breeze
with every stitch of canvas set. There were few better yachtsmen than Phil
Adams. He usually went sailing alone, for both Fred Langdon and Binny
Wallace were under the same restrictions I was.
Not long after the purchase of the boat, we planned an excursion to Sandpeep
Island, the last of the islands in the harbor. We proposed to start early
in the morning, and return with the tide in the moonlight. Our only
difficulty was to obtain a whole day's exemption from school, the customary
half-holiday not being long enough for our picnic. Somehow, we couldn't
work it; but fortune arranged it for us. I may say here, that, whatever
else I did, I never played truant ("hookey" we called it) in my life.
One afternoon the four owners of the Dolphin exchanged significant glances
when Mr. Grimshaw announced from the desk that there would be no school the
following day, he having just received intelligence of the death of his
uncle in Boston I was sincerely attached to Mr. Grimshaw, but I am afraid
that the death of his uncle did not affect me as it ought to have done.
We were up before sunrise the next morning, in order to take advantage of
the flood tide, which waits for no man. Our preparations for the cruise
were made the previous evening. In the way of eatables and drinkables, we
had stored in the stem of the Dolphin a generous bag of hard-tack (for the
chowder), a piece of pork to fry the cunners in, three gigantic apple-pies
(bought at Pettingil's), half a dozen lemons, and a keg of spring-water-the
last-named article we slung over the side, to keep it cool, as soon as we
got under way. The crockery and the bricks for our camp-stove we placed in
the bows, with the groceries, which included sugar, pepper, salt, and a
bottle of pickles. Phil Adams contributed to the outfit a small tent of
unbleached cotton cloth, under which we intended to take our nooning.
We unshipped the mast, threw in an extra oar, and were ready to embark. I do
not believe that Christopher Columbus, when he started on his rather
successful voyage of discovery, felt half the responsibility and importance
that weighed upon me as I sat on the middle seat of the Dolphin, with my
oar resting in the row-lock. I wonder if Christopher Columbus quietly
slipped out of the house without letting his estimable family know what he
was up to?
Charley Marden, whose father had promised to cane him if he ever stepped
foot on sail or rowboat, came down to the wharf in a sour-grape humor, to
see us off. Nothing would tempt him to go out on the river in such a crazy
clam-shell of a boat. He pretended that he did not expect to behold us
alive again, and tried to throw a wet blanket over the expedition.
"Guess you'll have a squally time of it," said Charley, casting off the
painter. "I'll drop in at old Newbury's" (Newbury was the parish
undertaker) "and leave word, as I go along!"
'Bosh!" muttered Phil Adams, sticking the boat-hook into the string-piece of
the wharf, and sending the Dolphin half a dozen yards towards the current.
How calm and lovely the river was! Not a ripple stirred on the glassy
surface, broken only by the sharp cutwater of our tiny craft. The sun, as
round and red as an August moon, was by this time peering above the
The town had drifted behind us, and we were entering among the group of
islands. Sometimes we could almost touch with our boat-hook the shelving
banks on either side. As we neared the mouth of the harbor a little breeze
now and then wrinkled the blue water, shook the spangles from the foliage,
and gently lifted the spiral mist-wreaths that still clung along shore. The
measured dip of our oars and the drowsy twitterings of the birds seemed to
mingle with, rather than break, the enchanted silence that reigned about
The scent of the new clover comes back to me now, as I recall that delicious
morning when we floated away in a fairy boat down a river like a dream!
The sun was well up when the nose of the Dolphin nestled against the
snow-white bosom of Sandpeep Island. This island, as I have said before,
was the last of the cluster, one side of it being washed by the sea. We
landed on the river-side, the sloping sands and quiet water affording us a
good place to moor the boat.
It took us an hour or two to transport our stores to the spot selected for
the encampment. Having pitched our tent, using the five oars to support the
canvas, we got out our lines, and went down the rocks seaward to fish. It
was early for cunners, but we were lucky enough to catch as nice a mess as
ever you saw. A cod for the chowder was not so easily secured. At last
Binny Wallace hauled in a plump little fellow crusted all over with flaky
To skin the fish, build our fireplace, and cook the chowder kept us busy the
next two hours. The fresh air and the exercise had given us the appetites
of wolves, and we were about famished by the time the savory mixture was
ready for our clamshell saucers.
I shall not insult the rising generation on the seaboard by telling them how
delectable is a chowder compounded and eaten in this Robinson Crusoe
fashion. As for the boys who live inland, and know naught of such marine
feasts, my heart is full of pity for them. What wasted lives! Not to know
the delights of a clam-bake, not to love chowder, to be ignorant of
How happy we were, we four, sitting crosslegged in the crisp salt grass,
with the invigorating sea-breeze blowing gratefully through our hair! What
a joyous thing was life, and how far off seemed death-death, that lurks in
all pleasant places, and was so near!
The banquet finished, Phil Adams drew from his pocket a handful of
sweet-fern cigars; but as none of the party could indulge without imminent
risk of becoming sick, we all, on one pretext or another, declined, and
Phil smoked by himself.
The wind had freshened by this, and we found it comfortable to put on the
jackets which had been thrown aside in the heat of the day. We strolled
along the beach and gathered large quantities of the fairy-woven Iceland
moss, which, at certain seasons, is washed to these shores; then we played
at ducks and drakes, and then, the sun being sufficiently low, we went in
Before our bath was ended a slight change had come over the sky and sea;
fleecy-white clouds scudded here and there, and a muffled moan from the
breakers caught our ears from time to time. While we were dressing, a few
hurried drops of rain came lisping down, and we adjourned to the tent to
await the passing of the squall.
"We're all right, anyhow," said Phil Adams. "It won't be much of a blow, and
we'll be as snug as a bug in a rug, here in the tent, particularly if we
have that lemonade which some of you fellows were going to make."
By an oversight, the lemons had been left in the boat. Binny Wallace
volunteered to go for them.
"Put an extra stone on the painter, Binny," said Adams, calling after him;
"it would be awkward to have the Dolphin give us the slip and return to
port minus her passengers."
"That it would," answered Binny, scrambling down the rocks.
Sandpeep Island is diamond-shaped-one point running out into the sea, and
the other looking towards the town. Our tent was on the river-side. Though
the Dolphin was also on the same side, it lay out of sight by the beach at
the farther extremity of the island.
Binny Wallace had been absent five or six minutes, when we heard him calling
our several names in tones that indicated distress or surprise, we could
not tell which. Our first thought was, "The boat has broken adrift I"
We sprung to our feet and hastened down to the beach. On turning the bluff
which hid the mooring-place from our view, we found the conjecture correct.
Not only was the Dolphin afloat, but poor little Binny Wallace was standing
in the bows with his arms stretched helplessly towards us-drifting out to
"Head the boat in shore!" shouted Phil Adams.
Wallace ran to the tiller; but the slight cockle-shell merely swung round
and drifted broadside on. O, if we bad but left a single scull in the
"Can you swim it?" cried Adams, desperately, using his hand as a
speaking-trumpet, for the distance between the boat and the island widened
Binny Wallace looked down at the sea, which was covered with white caps, and
made a despairing gesture. He knew, and we knew, that the stoutest swimmer
could not live forty seconds in those angry waters.
A wild, insane light came into Phil Adams's eyes, as he stood knee-deep in
the boiling surf, and for an instant I think he meditated plunging into the
ocean after the receding boat.
The sky darkened, and an ugly look stole rapidly over the broken surface of
Binny Wallace half rose from his seat in the stem, and waved his hand to us
in token of farewell. In spite of the distance, increasing every instant we
could see his face plainly. The anxious expression it wore at first bad
passed. It was pale and meek now, and I love to think there was a kind of
halo about it, like that which painters place around the forehead of a
saint. So he drifted away.
The sky grew darker and darker. It was only by straining our eyes through
the unnatural twilight that we could keep the Dolphin in sight. The figure
of Binny Wallace was no longer visible, for the boat itself had dwindled to
a mere white dot on the black water. Now we lost it, and our hearts stopped
throbbing; and now the speck appeared again, for an instant, on the crest
of a high wave.
Finally, it went out like a spark, and we saw it no more. Then we gazed at
each other, and dared not speak.
Absorbed in following the course of the boat, we had scarcely noticed the
huddled inky clouds that sagged down all around us. From these threatening
masses, seamed at intervals with pale lightning, there now burst a heavy
peal of thunder that shook the ground under our feet. A sudden squall
struck the sea, ploughing deep white furrows into it, and at the same
instant a single piercing shriek rose above the tempest-the frightened cry
of a gull swooping over the island. How it startled us!
It was impossible any longer to keep our footing on the beach. The wind and
the breakers would have swept us into the ocean if we had not clung to each
other with the desperation of drowning men. Taking advantage of a momentary
lull, we crawled up the sands on our hands and knees, and, pausing in the
lee of the granite ledge to gain breath, returned to the camp, where we
found that the gale had snapped all the fastenings of the tent but one.
Held by this, the puffed-out canvas swayed in the wind like a balloon. It
was a task of some difficulty to secure it, which we did by beating down
the canvas with the oars.
After several trials, we succeeded in setting up the tent on the leeward
side of the ledge. Blinded by the vivid flashes of lightning, and drenched
by the rain, which fell in torrents, we crept, half dead with fear and
anguish, under our flimsy shelter. Neither the anguish nor the fear was on
our own account, for we were comparatively safe, but for poor little Binny
Wallace, driven out to sea in the merciless gale. We shuddered to think of
him in that frail shell, drifting on and on to his grave, the sky rent with
lightning over his head, and the green abysses yawning beneath him. We fell
to crying, the three of us, and cried I know not how long.
Meanwhile the storm raged with augmented fury. We were obliged to hold on to
the ropes of the tent to prevent it blowing away. The spray from the river
leaped several yards up the rocks and clutched at us malignantly. The very
island trembled with the concussions of the sea beating upon it, and at
times I fancied that it had broken loose from its foundation, and was
floating off with us. The breakers, streaked with angry phosphorus, were
fearful to look at.
The wind rose higher and higher, cutting long slits in the tent, through
which the rain poured incessantly. To complete the sum of our miseries, the
night was at hand. It came down suddenly, at last, like a curtain, shutting
in Sandpeep island from all the world.
It was a dirty night, as the sailors say. The darkness was something that
could be felt as well as seen-it pressed down upon one with a cold, clammy
touch. Gazing into the hollow blackness, all sorts of imaginable shapes
seemed to start forth from vacancy-brilliant colors, stars, prisms, and
dancing lights. What boy, lying awake at night, has not amused or terrified
himself by peopling the spaces around his bed with these phenomena of his
"I say," whispered Fred Langdon, at length, clutching my hand, "don't you
see things-out there-in the dark?' 20
"Yes, yes-Binny Wallace's face!"
I added to my own nervousness by making this avowal; though for the last ten
minutes I had seen little besides that star-pale face with its angelic hair
and brows. First a slim yellow circle, like the nimbus round the moon, took
shape and grew sharp against the darkness; then this faded gradually, and
there was the Face, wearing the same sad, sweet look it wore when he waved
his hand to us across the awful water. This optical illusion kept repeating
"And I too," said Adams. "I see it every now and then, outside there. What
wouldn't I give if it really was poor little Wallace looking in at us! O
boys, how shall we dare to go back to the town without him? I've wished a
hundred times, since we've been sitting here, that I was in his place,
alive or dead!"
We dreaded the approach of morning as much as we longed for it. The morning
would tell us all. Was it possible for the Dolphin to outride such a storm?
There was a light-house on Mackerel Reef, which lay directly in the course
the boat bad taken, when it disappeared. If the Dolphin had caught on this
reef, perhaps Binny Wallace was safe. Perhaps his cries had been heard by
the keeper of the light. The man owned a lifeboat, and had rescued several
people. Who could tell?
Such were the questions we asked ourselves again and again, as we lay in
each other's arms waiting for daybreak. What an endless night it was! I
have known months that did not seem so long.
Our position was irksome rather than perilous; for the day was certain to
bring us relief from the town, where our prolonged absence, together with
the storm, had no doubt excited the liveliest alarm for our safety. But the
cold, the darkness, and the suspense were hard to bear.
Our soaked jackets bad chilled us to the bone. To keep warm, we lay huddled
together so closely that we could bear our hearts beat above the tumult of
sea and sky.
After a while we grew very hungry, not having broken our fast since early in
the day. The rain had turned the hard-tack into a sort of dough; but it was
better than nothing.
We used to laugh at Fred Langdon for always carrying in his pocket a small
vial of essence of peppermint or sassafras, a few drops of which, sprinkled
on a lump of loaf-sugar, he seemed to consider a great luxury. I don't know
what would have become of us at this crisis, if it hadn't been for that
omnipresent bottle of hot stuff. We poured the stinging liquid over our
sugar, which bad kept dry in a sardine-box, and warmed ourselves with
After four or five hours the rain ceased, the wind died away to a moan, and
the sea-no longer raging like a maniac-sobbed and sobbed with a piteous
human voice all along the coast. And well it might, after that night's
work. Twelve sail of the Gloucester fishing fleet had gone down with every
soul on board, just outside of Whale's-back Light. Think of the wide grief
that follows in the wake of one wreck; then think of the despairing women
who wrung their hands and wept, the next morning, in the streets of
Gloucester, Marblehead, and Newcastle!
Though our strength was nearly spent, we were too cold to sleep. Once I sunk
into a troubled doze, when I seemed to bear Charley Marden's parting words,
only it was the Sea that said them. After that I threw off the drowsiness
whenever it threatened to overcome me.
Fred Langdon was the earliest to discover a filmy, luminous streak in the
sky, the first glimmering of sunrise.
"Look, it is nearly daybreak!"
While we were following the direction of his finger, a sound of distant oars
fell on our ears.
We listened breathlessly, and as the dip of the blades became more audible,
we discerned two foggy lights, like will-o'the-wisps, floating on the
Running down to the water's edge, we hailed the boats with all our might.
The call was heard, for the oars rested a moment in the row-locks, and then
pulled in towards the island.
It was two boats from the town, in the foremost of which we could now make
out the figures of Captain Nutter and Binny Wallace's father. We shrunk
back on seeing him.
'Thank God!" cried Mr. Wallace, fervently, as he leaped from the wherry
without waiting for the bow to touch the beach.
But when he saw only three boys standing on the sands, his eye wandered
restlessly about in quest of the fourth; then a deadly pallor overspread
Our story was soon told. A solemn silence fell upon the crowd of rough
boatmen gathered round, interrupted only by a stifled sob from one poor old
man, who stood apart from the rest.
The sea was still running too high for any small boat to venture out; so it
was arranged that the wherry should take us back to town, leaving the yawl,
with a picked crew, to hug the island until daybreak, and then set forth in
search of the Dolphin.
Though it was barely sunrise when we reached town, there were a great many
people assembled at the landing eager for intelligence from missing boats.
Two picnic parties had started down river the day before, just previous to
the gale, and nothing had been beard of them. It turned out that the
pleasure-seekers saw their danger in time, and ran ashore on one of the
least exposed islands, where they passed the night. Shortly after our own
arrival they appeared off Rivermouth, much to the joy of their friends, in
two shattered, dismasted boats.
The excitement over, I was in a forlorn state, physically and mentally.
Captain Nutter put me to bed between hot blankets, and sent Kitty Collins
for the doctor. I was wandering in my mind, and fancied myself still on
Sandpeep Island: now we were building our brick-stove to cook the chowder,
and, in my delirium, I laughed aloud and shouted to my comrades; now the
sky darkened, and the squall struck the island: now I gave orders to
Wallace how to manage the boat, and now I cried because the rain was
pouring in on me through the holes in the tent. Towards evening a high
fever set in, and it was many days before my grandfather deemed it prudent
to tell me that the Dolphin had been found, floating keel upwards, four
miles southeast of Mackerel Reef.
Poor little Binny Wallace! How strange it seemed, when I went to school
again, to see that empty seat in the fifth row! How gloomy the playground
was, lacking the sunshine of his gentle, sensitive face! One day a folded
sheet slipped from my algebra; it was the last note he ever wrote me. I
couldn't read it for the tears.
What a pang shot across my heart the afternoon it was whispered through the
town that a body had been washed ashore at Grave Point-the place where we
bathed. We bathed there no more! How well I remember the funeral, and what
a piteous sight it was afterwards to see his familiar name on a small
headstone in the Old South Burying Ground!
Poor little Binny Wallace! Always the same to me. The rest of us have grown
up into hard, worldly men, fighting the fight of life; but you are forever
young, and gentle, and pure; a part of my own childhood that time cannot
wither; always a little boy, always poor little Binny Wallace!
An Old Acquaintance Turns Up
A year had stolen by since the death of Binny Wallace-a year of which I have
nothing important to record.
The loss of our little playmate threw a shadow over our young lives for many
and many a month. The Dolphin rose and fell with the tide at the foot of
the slippery steps, unused, the rest of the summer. At the close of
November we hauled her sadly into the boat-house for the winter; but when
spring came round we launched the Dolphin again, and often went down to the
wharf and looked at her lying in the tangled eel-grass, without much
inclination to take a row. The associations connected with the boat were
too painful as yet; but time, which wears the sharp edge from everything,
softened this feeling, and one afternoon we brought out the cobwebbed oars.
The ice once broken, brief trips along the wharves-we seldom cared to go out
into the river now-became one of our chief amusements. Meanwhile Gypsy was
not forgotten. Every clear morning I was in the saddle before breakfast,
and there are few roads or lanes within ten miles of Rivermouth that have
not borne the print of her vagrant hoof.
I studied like a good fellow this quarter, carrying off a couple of first
prizes. The Captain expressed his gratification by presenting me with a new
silver dollar. If a dollar in his eyes was smaller than a cart-wheel, it
wasn't so very much smaller. I redeemed my pencil-case from the treasurer
of the Centipedes, and felt that I was getting on in the world.
It was at this time I was greatly cast down by a letter from my father
saying that he should be unable to visit Rivermouth until the following
year. With that letter came another to Captain Nutter, which he did not
read aloud to the family, as usual. It was on business, he said, folding it
up in his wallet. He received several of these business letters from time
to time, and I noticed that they always made him silent and moody.
The fact is, my father's banking-house was not thriving. The unlooked-for
failure of a firm largely indebted to him had crippled "the house." When
the Captain imparted this information to me I didn't trouble myself over
the matter. I supposed-if I supposed anything-that all grown-up people had
more or less money, when they wanted it. Whether they inherited it, or
whether government supplied them, was not clear to me. A loose idea that my
father had a private gold-mine somewhere or other relieved me of all
I was not far from right. Every man has within himself a gold-mine whose
riches are limited only by his own industry. It is true, it sometimes
happens that industry does not avail, if a man lacks that something which,
for want of a better name, we call Luck. My father was a person of untiring
energy and ability; but he had no luck. To use a Rivermouth saying, he was
always catching sculpins when everyone else with the same bait was catching
It was more than two years since I had seen my parents. I felt that I could
not bear a longer separation. Every letter from New Orleans-we got two or
three a month-gave me a fit of homesickness; and when it was definitely
settled that my father and mother were to remain in the South another
twelvemonth, I resolved to go to them.
Since Binny Wallace's death, Pepper Whitcomb had been my fidus Achates; we
occupied desks near each other at school, and were always together in play
hours. We rigged a twine telegraph from his garret window to the scuttle of
the Nutter House, and sent messages to each other in a match-box. We shared
our pocket-money and our secrets-those amazing secrets which boys have. We
met in lonely places by stealth, and parted like conspirators; we couldn't
buy a jackknife or build a kite without throwing an air of mystery and
guilt over the transaction.
I naturally hastened to lay my New Orleans project before Pepper Whitcomb,
having dragged him for that purpose to a secluded spot in the dark pine
woods outside the town. Pepper listened to me with a gravity which he will
not be able to surpass when he becomes Chief Justice, and strongly advised
me to go.
"The summer vacation," said Pepper, "lasts six weeks; that will give you a
fortnight to spend in New Orleans, allowing two weeks each way for the
I wrung his hand and begged him to accompany me, offering to defray all the
expenses. I wasn't anything if I wasn't princely in those days. After
considerable urging, he consented to go on terms so liberal. The whole
thing was arranged; there was nothing to do now but to advise Captain
Nutter of my plan, which I did the next day.
The possibility that he might oppose the tour never entered my head. I was
therefore totally unprepared for the vigorous negative which met my
proposal. I was deeply mortified, moreover, for there was Pepper Whitcomb
on the wharf, at the foot of the street, waiting for me to come and let him
know what day we were to start.
"Go to New Orleans? Go to Jericho I" exclaimed Captain Nutter. "You'd look
pretty, you two, philandering off, like the babes in the wood, twenty-five
hundred miles, 'with all the world before-you where to choose!'"
And the Captain's features, which had worn an indignant air as he began the
sentence, relaxed into a broad smile. Whether it was at the felicity of his
own quotation, or at the mental picture he drew of Pepper and myself on our
I couldn't tell, and I didn't care. I was heart-broken. How could I face my
chum after all the dazzling inducements I had held out to him?
My grandfather, seeing that I took the matter seriously, pointed out the
difficulties of such a journey and the great expense involved. He entered
into the details of my father's money troubles, and succeeded in making it
plain to me that my wishes, under the circumstances, were somewhat
unreasonable. It was in no cheerful mood that I joined Pepper at the end of
I found that young gentleman leaning against the bulkhead gazing intently
towards the islands in the harbor. He had formed a telescope of his hands,
and was so occupied with his observations as to be oblivious of my
"Hullo!" cried Pepper, dropping his hands. "Look there! Isn't that a bark
coming up the Narrows?"
"Just at the left of Fishcrate Island. Don't you see the foremast peeping
above the old derrick?"
Sure enough it was a vessel of considerable size, slowly beating up to town.
In a few moments more the other two masts were visible above the green
"Fore-topmasts blown away," said Pepper. "Putting in for repairs, I guess."
As the bark lazily crept from behind the last of the islands, she let go her
anchors and swung round with the tide. Then the gleeful chant of the
sailors at the capstan came to us pleasantly across the water. The vessel
lay within three quarters of a mile of us, and we could plainly see the men
at the davits lowering the starboard long-boat. It no sooner touched the
stream than a dozen of the crew scrambled like mice over the side of the
In a neglected seaport like Rivermouth the arrival of a large ship is an
event of moment. The prospect of having twenty or thirty jolly tars let
loose on the peaceful town excites divers emotions among the inhabitants.
The small shopkeepers along the wharves anticipate a thriving trade; the
proprietors of the two rival boarding-houses-the "Wee Drop" and the
"Mariner's Home"-hasten down to the landing to secure lodgers; and the
female population of Anchor Lane turn out to a woman, for a ship fresh from
sea is always full of possible husbands and long-lost prodigal sons.
But aside from this there is scant welcome given to a ship's crew in
Rivermouth. The toil-worn mariner is a sad fellow ashore, judging him by a
severe moral standard.
Once, I remember, a United States frigate came into port for repairs after a
storm. She lay in the river a fortnight or more, and every day sent us a
gang of sixty or seventy of our country's gallant defenders, who spread
themselves over the town, doing all sorts of mad things. They were
good-natured enough, but full of old Sancho. The "Wee Drop" proved a drop
too much for many of them. They went singing through the streets at
midnight, wringing off door-knockers, shinning up water-spouts, and
frightening the Oldest Inhabitant nearly to death by popping their heads
into his second-story window, and shouting "Fire!" One morning a
blue-jacket was discovered in a perilous plight, half-way up the steeple of
the South Church, clinging to the lightning-rod. How he got there nobody
could tell, not even blue-jacket himself. All he knew was, that the leg of
his trousers had caught on a nail, and there he stuck, unable to move
either way. It cost the town twenty dollars to get him down again. He
directed the workmen how to splice the ladders brought to his assistance,
and called his rescuers "butter-fingered land-lubbers" with delicious
But those were man-of-war's men: The sedate-looking craft now lying off
Fishcrate Island wasn't likely to carry any such cargo. Nevertheless, we
watched the coming in of the long-boat with considerable interest.
As it drew near, the figure of the man pulling the bow-oar seemed oddly
familiar to me. Where could I have seen him before? When and where? His
back was towards me, but there was something about that closely cropped
head that I recognized instantly.
"Way enough!" cried the steersman, and all the oars stood upright in the
air. The man in the bow seized the boat-hook, and, turning round quickly,
showed me the honest face of Sailor Ben of the Typhoon.
"It's Sailor Ben!" I cried, nearly pushing Pepper Whitcomb overboard in my
Sailor Ben, with the wonderful pink lady on his arm, and the ships and stars
and anchors tattooed all over him, was a well-known hero among my
playmates. And there he was, like something in a dream come true!
I didn't wait for my old acquaintance to get firmly on the wharf, before I
grasped his hand in both of mine.
"Sailor Ben, don't you remember me?"
He evidently did not. He shifted his quid from one cheek to the other, and
looked at me meditatively.
"Lord love ye, lad, I don't know you. I was never here afore in my life."
"What!" I cried, enjoying his perplexity. "Have you forgotten the voyage
from New Orleans in the Typhoon, two years ago, you lovely old
Ah! then he knew me, and in token of the recollection gave my hand such a
squeeze that I am sure an unpleasant change came over my countenance.
"Bless my eyes, but you have growed so. I shouldn't have knowed you if I had
met you in Singapore!"
Without stopping to inquire, as I was tempted to do, why he was more likely
to recognize me in Singapore than anywhere else, I invited him to come at
once up to the Nutter House, where I insured him a warm welcome from the
"Hold steady, Master Tom," said Sailor Ben, slipping the painter through the
ringbolt and tying the loveliest knot you ever saw; "hold steady till I see
if the mate can let me off. If you please, sir," he continued, addressing
the steersman, a very red-faced, bow-legged person, "this here is a little
shipmate o' mine as wants to talk over back times along of me, if so it's
"All right, Ben," returned the mate; "sha'n't want you for an hour."
Leaving one man in charge of the boat, the mate and the rest of the crew
went off together. In the meanwhile Pepper Whitcomb had got out his
cunner-line, and was quietly fishing at the end of the wharf, as if to give
me the idea that he wasn't so very much impressed by my intimacy with so
renowned a character as Sailor Ben. Perhaps Pepper was a little jealous. At
any rate, he refused to go with us to the house.
Captain Nutter was at home reading the Rivennouth Barnacle. He was a reader
to do an editor's heart good; he never skipped over an advertisement, even
if he had read it fifty times before. Then the paper went the rounds of the
neighborhood, among the poor people, like the single portable eye which the
three blind crones passed to each other in the legend of King Acrisius. The
Captain, I repeat, was wandering in the labyrinths of the Rivermouth
Barnacle when I led Sailor Ben into the sitting-room.
My grandfather, whose inborn courtesy knew no distinctions, received my
nautical friend as if he had been an admiral instead of a common
forecastle-hand. Sailor Ben pulled an imaginary tuft of hair on his
forehead, and bowed clumsily. Sailors have a way of using their forelock as
a sort of handle to bow with.
The old tar had probably never been in so handsome an apartment in all his
days, and nothing could induce him to take the inviting mahogany chair
which the Captain wheeled out from the corner.
The abashed mariner stood up against the wall, twirling his tarpaulin in his
two hands and looking extremely silly. He made a poor show in a gentleman's
drawing-room, but what a fellow he had been in his day, when the gale blew
great guns and the topsails wanted reefing! I thought of him with the
Mexican squadron off Vera Cruz, where,
'The rushing battle-bolt sung from the three-decker out of the
and he didn't seem awkward or ignoble to me, for all his shyness.
As Sailor Ben declined to sit down, the Captain did not resume his seat; so
we three stood in a constrained manner until my grandfather went to the
door and called to Kitty to bring in a decanter of Madeira and two glasses.
"My grandson, here, has talked so much about you," said the Captain,
pleasantly, "that you seem quite like an old acquaintance to me."
"Thankee, sir, thankee," returned Sailor Ben, looking as guilty as if he had
been detected in picking a pocket.
"And I'm very glad to see you, Mr.-Mr.-"
"Sailor Ben," suggested that worthy.
"Mr. Sailor Ben," added the Captain, smiling. "Tom, open the door, there's
Kitty with the glasses."
I opened the door, and Kitty entered the room bringing the things on a
waiter, which she was about to set on the table, when suddenly she uttered
a loud shriek; the decanter and glasses fell with a crash to the floor, and
Kitty, as white as a sheet, was seen flying through the hall.
"It's his wraith! It's his wraith!"' we heard Kitty shrieking in the
My grandfather and I turned with amazement to Sailor Ben. His eyes were
standing out of his head like a lobster's.
"It's my own little Irish lass!" shouted the sailor, and he darted into the
hall after her.
Even then we scarcely caught the meaning of his words, but when we saw
Sailor Ben and Kitty sobbing on each other's shoulder in the kitchen, we
understood it all.
"I begs your honor's parden, sir," said Sailor Ben, lifting his tear-stained
face above Kitty's tumbled hair; "I begs your honor's parden for kicking up
a rumpus in the house, but it's my own little Irish lass as I lost so long
"Heaven preserve us!" cried the Captain, blowing his nose violently-a
transparent ruse to hide his emotion.
Miss Abigail was in an upper chamber, sweeping; but on hearing the unusual
racket below, she scented an accident and came ambling downstairs with a
bottle of the infallible hot-drops in her hand. Nothing but the firmness of
my grandfather prevented her from giving Sailor Ben a table-spoonful on the
spot. But when she learned what had come about-that this was Kitty's
husband, that Kitty Collins wasn't Kitty Collins now, but Mrs. Benjamin
Watson of Nantucket-the good soul sat down on the meal-chest and sobbed as
if-to quote from Captain Nutter-as if a husband of her own had turned up!
A happier set of people than we were never met together in a dingy kitchen
or anywhere else. The Captain ordered a fresh decanter of Madeira, and made
all hands, excepting myself, drink a cup to the return of "the prodigal
sea-son," as he persisted in calling Sailor Ben.
After the first flush of joy and surprise was over Kitty grew silent and
constrained. Now and then she fixed her eyes thoughtfully on her husband.
Why had he deserted her all these years? What right had he to look for a
welcome from one he had treated so cruelly? She had been true to him, but
had he been true to her? Sailor Ben must have guessed what was passing in
her mind, for presently he took her hand and said- "Well, lass, it's a long
yarn, but you shall have it all in good time. It was my hard luck as made
us part company, an' no will of mine, for I loved you dear."
Kitty brightened up immediately, needing no other assurance of Sailor Ben's
When his hour had expired, we walked with him down to the wharf, where the
Captain held a consultation with the mate, which resulted in an extension
of Mr. Watson's leave of absence, and afterwards in his discharge from his
ship. We then went to the "Mariner's Home" to engage a room for him, as he
wouldn't hear of accepting the hospitalities of the Nutter House.
"You see, I'm only an uneddicated man," he remarked to my grandfather, by
way of explanation.
In Which Sailor Ben Spins a Yarn
Of course we were all very curious to learn what had befallen Sailor Ben
that morning long ago, when he bade his little bride goodby and disappeared
After tea, that same evening, we assembled around the table in the
kitchen-the only place where Sailor Ben felt at home3/4to hear what he had
to say for himself.
The candles were snuffed, and a pitcher of foaming nut-brown ale was set at