Part 3 out of 4
the elbow of the speaker, who was evidently embarrassed by the
respectability of his audience, consisting of Captain Nutter, Miss Abigail,
myself, and Kitty, whose face shone with happiness like one of the polished
tin platters on the dresser.
"Well, my hearties," commenced Sailor Ben-then he stopped short and turned
very red, as it struck him that maybe this was not quite the proper way to
address a dignitary like the Captain and a severe elderly lady like Miss
Abigail Nutter, who sat bolt upright staring at him as she would have
stared at the Tycoon of Japan himself.
"I ain't much of a hand at spinnin' a yarn," remarked Sailor Ben,
apologetically, "'specially when the yarn is all about a man as has made a
fool of hisself, an' 'specially when that man's name is Benjamin Watson."
"Bravo!" cried Captain Nutter, rapping on the table encouragingly.
"Thankee, sir, thankee. I go back to the time when Kitty an' me was livin'
in lodgin's by the dock in New York. We was as happy, sir, as two
porpusses, which they toil not neither do they spin. But when I seed the
money gittin' low in the locker-Kitty's starboard stockin', savin' your
presence, marm-I got down-hearted like, seem' as I should be obleeged to
ship agin, for it didn't seem as I could do much ashore. An' then the sea
was my nat'ral spear of action. I wasn't exactly born on it, look you, but
I fell into it the fust time I was let out arter my birth. My mother
slipped her cable for a heavenly port afore I was old enough to hail her;
so I larnt to look on the ocean for a sort of step-mother-an' a precious
hard one she has been to me.
"The idee of leavin' Kitty so soon arter our marriage went agin my grain
considerable. I cruised along the docks for some-thin' to do in the way of
stevedore: an' though I picked up a stray job here and there, I didn't am
enough to buy ship-bisket for a rat; let alone feedin' two human mouths.
There wasn't nothin' honest I wouldn't have turned a hand to; but the
'longshoremen gobbled up all the work, an' a outsider like me didn't stand
"Things got from bad to worse; the month's rent took all our cash except a
dollar or so, an' the sky looked kind o' squally fore an' aft. Well, I set
out one mornin'-that identical unlucky mornin'-determined to come back an'
toss some pay into Kitty's lap, if I had to sell my jacket for it. I spied
a brig unloadin' coal at pier No. 47-how well I remembers it! I hailed the
mate, an' offered myself for a coal-heaver. But I wasn't wanted, as he told
me civilly enough, which was better treatment than usual. As I turned off
rather glum I was signalled by one of them sleek, smooth-spoken rascals
with a white hat an' a weed on it, as is always goin' about the piers
a-seekin' who they may devower.
"We sailors know 'em for rascals from stem to starn, but somehow every fresh
one fleeces us jest as his mate did afore him. We don't lam nothin' by
exper'ence; we're jest no better than a lot of babys with no brains.
"'Good mornin', my man,' sez the chap, as iley as you please.
"'Mornin', sir,' sez I.
"'Lookin' for a job?' sez he.
"'Through the big end of a telescope,' sez 1-meanin' that the chances for a
job looked very small from my pint of view.
"'You're the man for my money,' sez the sharper, smilin' as innocent as a
cherubim; 'jest step in here, till we talk it over.'
"So I goes with him like a nat'ral-born idiot, into a little grocery-shop
near by, where we sets down at a table with a bottle atween us. Then it
comes out as there is a New Bedford whaler about to start for the fishin'
grounds, an' jest one able-bodied sailor like me is wanted to make up the
crew. Would I go? Yes, I wouldn't on no terms.
"'I'll bet you fifty dollars,' sez he, 'that you'll come back fust mate.'
"'I'll bet you a hundred,' sez I, 'that I don't, for I've signed papers as
keeps me ashore, an' the parson has witnessed the deed.'
"So we sat there, he urgin' me to ship, an' I chaffin' him cheerful over the
"Arter a while I begun to feel a little queer; things got foggy in my upper
works, an' I remembers, faint-like, of signin' a paper; then I remembers
bein' in a small boat; an' then I remembers nothin' until I heard the
mate's whistle pipin' all hands on deck. I tumbled up with the rest; an'
there I was-on board of a whaler outward bound for a three years' cruise,
an' my dear little lass ashore awaitin' for me."
"Miserable wretch!" said Miss Abigail, in a voice that vibrated among the
tin platters on the dresser. This was Miss Abigail's way of testifying her
"Thankee, marm," returned Sailor Ben, doubtfully.
"No talking to the man at the wheel," cried the Captain. Upon which we all
laughed. "Spin!" added my grandfather.
Sailor Ben resumed:
"I leave you to guess the wretchedness as fell upon me, for I've not got the
gift to tell you. There I was down on the ship's books for a three years'
viage, an' no help for it. I feel nigh to six hundred years old when I
think how long that viage was. There isn't no hour-glass as runs slow
enough to keep a tally of the slowness of them fust hours. But I done my
duty like a man, seem' there wasn't no way of gettin' out of it. I told my
shipmates of the trick as had been played on me, an they tried to cheer me
up a bit; but I was sore sorrowful for a long spell. Many a night on watch
I put my face in my hands and sobbed for thinkin' of the little woman left
among the land-sharks, an' no man to have an eye on her, God bless her!"
Here Kitty softly drew her chair nearer to Sailor Ben, and rested one hand
on his arm.
"Our adventures among the whales, I take it, doesn't consarn the present
company here assembled. So I give that the go by. There's an end to
everythin', even to a whalin' viage. My heart all but choked me the day we
put into New Bedford with our cargo of ile. I got my three years' pay in a
lump, an' made for New York like a flash of lightuin'. The people hove to
and looked at me, as I rushed through the streets like a madman, until I
came to the spot where the lodgin'-house stood on West Street. But, Lord
love ye, there wasn't no sech lodgin'-house there, but a great new brick
"I made bold to go in an' ask arter the old place, but nobody knowed nothin'
about it, save as it had been torn down two years or more. I was adrift
now, for I had reckoned all them days and nights on gittin' word of Kitty
from Dan Shackford, the man as kept the lodgin'.
"As I stood there with all the wind knocked out of my sails, the idee of
runnin' alongside the perlice-station popped into my head. The perlice was
likely to know the latitude of a man like Dan Shackford, who wasn't over
an' above respecktible. They did know-he had died in the Tombs jail that
day twelvemonth. A coincydunce, wasn't it? I was ready to drop when they
told me this; howsomever, I bore up an' give the chief a notion of the fix
I was in. He writ a notice which I put into the newspapers every day for
three months; but nothin' come of it. I cruised over the city week in and
week out I went to every sort of place where they hired women hands; I
didn't leave a think undone that a uneddicated man could do. But nothin'
come of it. I don't believe there was a wretcheder soul in that big city of
wretchedness than me. Sometimes I wanted to lay down in the sheets and die.
"Drif tin' disconsolate one day among the shippin', who should I overhaul
but the identical smooth-spoken chap with a white hat an' a weed on it! I
didn't know if there was any spent left in me, till I clapped eye on his
very onpleasant countenance. 'You villain!' sez I, 'where's my little Irish
lass as you dragged me away from?' an' I lighted on him, hat and all, like
Here Sailor Ben brought his fist down on the deal table with the force of a
sledge-hammer. Miss Abigail gave a start, and the ale leaped up in the
pitcher like a miniature fountain.
"I begs your parden, ladies and gentlemen all; but the thought of that
feller with his ring an' his watch-chain an' his walrus face, is alus too
many for me. I was for pitchin' him into the North River, when a perliceman
prevented me from benefitin' the human family. I had to pay five dollars
for hittin' the chap (they said it was salt and buttery), an' that's what I
call a neat, genteel luxury. It was worth double the money jest to see that
white hat, with a weed on it, layin' on the wharf like a busted accordiun.
"Arter months of useless sarch, I went to sea agin. I never got into a foren
port but I kept a watch out for Kitty. Once I thought I seed her in
Liverpool, but it was only a gal as looked like her. The numbers of women
in different parts of the world as looked like her was amazin'. So a good
many years crawled by, an' I wandered from place to place, never givin' up
the sarch. I might have been chief mate scores of times, maybe master; but
I hadn't no ambition. I seed many strange things in them years-outlandish
people an' cities, storms, shipwracks, an' battles. I seed many a true mate
go down, an' sometimes I envied them what went to their rest. But these
things is neither here nor there.
"About a year ago I shipped on board the Belphcebe yonder, an' of all the
strange winds as ever blowed, the strangest an' the best was the wind as
blowed me to this here blessed spot. I can't be too thankful. That I'm as
thankful as it is possible for an uneddicated man to be, He knows as reads
the heart of all."
Here ended Sailor Ben's yarn, which I have written down in his own homely
words as nearly as I can recall them. After he had finished, the Captain
shook hands with him and served out the ale.
As Kitty was about to drink, she paused, rested the cup on her knee, and
asked what day of the month it was.
"The twenty-seventh," said the Captain, wondering what she was driving at.
"Then," cried Kitty, "it's ten years this night sence-"
"Since what?" asked my grandfather.
"Sence the little lass and I got spliced!" roared Sailor Ben. "There's
another coincydunce for you!"
On hearing this we all clapped hands, and the Captain, with a degree of
ceremony that was almost painful, drank a bumper to the health and
happiness of the bride and bridegroom.
It was a pleasant sight to see the two old lovers sitting side by side, in
spite of all, drinking from the same little cup-a battered zinc dipper
which Sailor Ben had unslung from a strap round his waist. I think I never
saw him without this dipper and a sheath-knife suspended just back of his
hip, ready for any convivial occasion.
We had a merry time of it. The Captain was in great force this evening, and
not only related his famous exploit in the War of 1812, but regaled the
company with a dashing sea-song from Mr. Shakespeare's play of The Tempest.
He had a mellow tenor voice (not Shakespeare, but the Captain), and rolled
out the verse with a will:
"The master, the swabber, the boatswain, and I,
The gunner, and his mate,
Lov'd Mall, Meg, and Marian, and Margery,
But none of us car'd for Kate."
"A very good song, and very well sung," says Sailor Ben; "but some of us
does care for Kate. Is this Mr. Shawkspear a seafarm' man, sir?"
"Not at present," replied the Captain, with a monstrous twinkle in his eye.
The clock was striking ten when the party broke up. The Captain walked to
the "Mariner's Home" with his guest, in order to question him regarding his
"Well, sir," said he, "I ain't as young as I was, an' I don't cal'ulate to
go to sea no more. I proposes to drop anchor here, an' hug the land until
the old hulk goes to pieces. I've got two or three thousand dollars in the
locker, an' expects to get on uncommon comfortable without askin' no odds
from the Assylum for Decayed Mariners."
My grandfather indorsed the plan warmly, and Sailor Ben did drop anchor in
Rivermouth, where he speedily became one of the institutions of the town.
His first step was to buy a small one-story cottage located at the head of
the wharf, within gun-shot of the Nutter House. To the great amusement of
my grandfather, Sailor Ben painted the cottage a light sky-blue, and ran a
broad black stripe around it just under the eaves. In this stripe he
painted white port-holes, at regular distances, making his residence look
as much like a man-of-war as possible. With a short flag-staff projecting
over the door like a bowsprit, the effect was quite magical. My description
of the exterior of this palatial residence is complete when I add that the
proprietor nailed a horseshoe against the front door to keep off the
witches-a very necessary precaution in these latitudes.
The inside of Sailor Ben's abode was not less striking than the outside. The
cottage contained two rooms; the one opening on the wharf he called his
cabin; here he ate and slept. His few tumblers and a frugal collection of
crockery were set in a rack suspended over the table, which had a cleat of
wood nailed round the edge to prevent the dishes from sliding off in case
of a heavy sea. Hanging against the walls were three or four highly colored
prints of celebrated frigates, and a lithograph picture of a rosy young
woman insufficiently clad in the American flag. This was labelled "Kitty,"
though I'm sure it looked no more like her than I did. A walrus-tooth with
an Esquimaux engraved on it, a shark's jaw, and the blade of a sword-fish
were among the enviable decorations of this apartment. In one corner stood
his bunk, or bed, and in the other his well-worn sea-chest, a perfect
Pandora's box of mysteries. You would have thought yourself in the cabin of
a real ship.
The little room aft, separated from the cabin by a sliding door, was the
caboose. It held a cooking-stove, pots, pans, and groceries; also a lot of
fishing-lines and coils of tarred twine, which made the place smell like a
forecastle, and a delightful smell it is-to those who fancy it.
Kitty didn't leave our service, but played housekeeper for both
establishments, returning at night to Sailor Ben's. He shortly added a
wherry to his worldly goods, and in the fishing season made a very handsome
income. During the winter he employed himself manufacturing crab-nets, for
which he found no lack of customers.
His popularity among the boys was immense. A jackknife in his expert hand
was a whole chest of tools. He could whittle out anything from a wooden
chain to a Chinese pagoda, or a full-rigged seventy-four a foot long. To
own a ship of Sailor Ben's building was to be exalted above your
fellow-creatures. He didn't carve many, and those he refused to sell,
choosing to present them to his young friends, of whom Tom Bailey, you may
be sure, was one.
How delightful it was of winter nights to sit in his cosey cabin, close to
the ship's stove (he wouldn't hear of having a fireplace), and listen to
Sailor Ben's yarns! In the early summer twilights, when he sat on the
door-step splicing a rope or mending a net, he always had a bevy of
blooming young faces alongside.
The dear old fellow! How tenderly the years touched him after this-all the
more tenderly, it seemed, for having roughed him so cruelly in other days!
How We Astonished the Rivermouthians
Sailor Ben's arrival partly drove the New Orleans project from my brain.
Besides, there was just then a certain movement on foot by the Centipede
Club which helped to engross my attention.
Pepper Whitcomb took the Captain's veto philosophically, observing that he
thought from the first the governor wouldn't let me go. I don't think
Pepper was quite honest in that.
But to the subject in hand.
Among the few changes that have taken place in Rivermouth during the past
twenty years there is one which I regret. I lament the removal of all those
varnished iron cannon which used to do duty as posts at the corners of
streets leading from the river. They were quaintly ornamental, each set
upon end with a solid shot soldered into its mouth, and gave to that part
of the town a picturesqueness very poorly atoned for by the conventional
wooden stakes that have deposed them.
These guns ("old sogers" the boys called them) had their story, like
everything else in Rivermouth. When that everlasting last war-the War of
1812, I mean-came to an end, all the brigs, schooners, and barks fitted out
at this port as privateers were as eager to get rid of their useless
twelve-pounders and swivels as they had previously been to obtain them.
Many of the pieces had cost large sums, and now they were little better
than so much crude iron-not so good, in fact, for they were clumsy things
to break up and melt over. The government didn't want them; private
citizens didn't want them; they were a drug in the market.
But there was one man, ridiculous beyond his generation, who got it into his
head that a fortune was to be made out of these same guns. To buy them all,
to hold on to them until war was declared again (as he had no doubt it
would be in a few months), and then sell out at fabulous prices-this was
the daring idea that addled the pate of Silas Trefethen, "Dealer in E. & W.
I. Goods and Groceries," as the faded sign over his shop-door informed the
Silas went shrewdly to work, buying up every old cannon he could lay hands
on. His back-yard was soon crowded with broken-down gun-carriages, and his
barn with guns, like an arsenal. When Silas's purpose got wind it was
astonishing how valuable that thing became which just now was worth nothing
"Ha, ha!" thought Silas. "Somebody else is tryin' hi git control of the
market. But I guess I've got the start of him."
So he went on buying and buying, oftentimes paying double the original price
of the article. People in the neighboring towns collected all the worthless
ordnance they could find, and sent it by the cart-load to Rivermouth.
When his barn was full, Silas began piling the rubbish in his cellar, then
in his parlor. He mortgaged the stock of his grocery store, mortgaged his
house, his barn, his horse, and would have mortgaged himself, if anyone
would have taken him as security, in order to carry on the grand
speculation. He was a ruined man, and as happy as a lark.
Surely poor Silas was cracked, like the majority of his own cannon. More or
less crazy he must have been always. Years before this he purchased an
elegant rosewood coffin, and kept it in one of the spare rooms in his
residence. He even had his name engraved on the silver-plate, leaving a
blank after the word "Died."
The blank was filled up in due time, and well it was for Silas that he
secured so stylish a coffin in his opulent days, for when he died his
worldly wealth would not have bought him a pine box, to say nothing of
rosewood. He never gave up expecting a war with Great Britain. Hopeful and
radiant to the last, his dying words were, England-war - few days-great
It was that sweet old lady, Dame Jocelyn, who told me the story of Silas
Trefethen; for these things happened long before my day. Silas died in
At Trefethen's death his unique collection came under the auctioneer's
hammer. Some of the larger guns were sold to the town, and planted at the
corners of divers streets; others went off to the iron-foundry; the
balance, numbering twelve, were dumped down on a deserted wharf at the foot
of Anchor Lane, where, summer after summer, they rested at their ease in
the grass and fungi, pelted in autumn by the rain and annually buried by
the winter snow. It is with these twelve guns that our story has to deal.
The wharf where they reposed was shut off from the street by a high fence-a
silent dreamy old wharf, covered with strange weeds and mosses. On account
of its seclusion and the good fishing it afforded, it was much frequented
by us boys.
There we met many an afternoon to throw out .our lines, or play leap-frog
among the rusty cannon. They were famous fellows in our eyes. What a racket
they had made in the heyday of their unchastened youth! What stories they
might tell now, if their puffy metallic lips could only speak! Once they
were lively talkers enough; but there the grim sea-dogs lay, silent and
forlorn in spite of all their former growlings.
They always seemed to me like a lot of venerable disabled tars, stretched
out on a lawn in front of a hospital, gazing seaward, and mutely lamenting
their lost youth.
But once more they were destined to lift up their dolorous voices-once more
ere they keeled over and lay speechless for all time. And this is how it
Jack Harris, Charley Marden, Harry Blake, and myself were fishing off the
wharf one afternoon, when a thought flashed upon me like an inspiration.
"I say, boys!" I cried, hauling in my line hand over hand, "I've got
"What does it pull like, youngster?" asked Harris, looking down at the taut
line and expecting to see a big perch at least.
"O, nothing in the fish way," I returned, laughing; "it's about the old
"What about them?"
"I was thinking what jolly fun it would be to set one of the old sogers on
his legs and serve him out a ration of gunpowder."
Up came the three lines in a jiffy. An enterprise better suited to the
disposition of my companions could not have been proposed.
In a short time we had one of the smaller cannon over on its back and were
busy scraping the green rust from the touch-hole. The mould had spiked the
gun so effectually, that for a while we fancied we should have to give up
our attempt to resuscitate the old soger.
"A long gimlet would clear it out," said Charley Marden, "if we only had
I looked to see if Sailor Ben's flag was flying at the cabin door, for he
always took in the colors when he went off fishing.
"When you want to know if the Admiral's aboard, jest cast an eye to the
buntin', my hearties," says Sailor Ben.
Sometimes in a jocose mood he called himself the Admiral, and I am sure he
deserved to be one. The Admiral's flag was flying, and I soon procured a
gimlet from his carefully kept tool-chest.
Before long we had the gun in working order. A newspaper lashed to the end
of a lath served as a swab to dust out the bore. Jack Harris blew through
the touch-hole and pronounced all clear.
Seeing our task accomplished so easily, we turned our attention to the other
guns, which lay in all sorts of postures in the rank grass. Borrowing a
rope from Sailor Ben, we managed with immense labor to drag the heavy
pieces into position and place a brick under each muzzle to give it the
proper elevation. When we beheld them all in a row, like a regular battery,
we simultaneously conceived an idea, the magnitude of which struck us dumb
for a moment.
Our first intention was to load and fire a single gun. How feeble and
insignificant was such a plan compared to that which now sent the light
dancing into our eyes!
"What could we have been thinking of?" cried Jack Harris. "We'll give 'em a
broadside, to be sure, if we die for it!"
We turned to with a will, and before nightfall had nearly half the battery
overhauled and ready for service. To keep the artillery dry we stuffed wads
of loose hemp into the muzzles, and fitted wooden pegs to the touch-holes.
At recess the next noon the Centipedes met in a corner of the school-yard to
talk over the proposed lark. The original projectors, though they would
have liked to keep the thing secret, were obliged to make a club matter of
it, inasmuch as funds were required for ammunition. There had been no
recent drain on the treasury, and the society could well afford to spend a
few dollars in so notable an undertaking.
It was unanimously agreed that the plan should be carried out in the
handsomest manner, and a subscription to that end was taken on the spot.
Several of the Centipedes hadn't a cent, excepting the one strung around
their necks; others, however, were richer. I chanced to have a dollar, and
it went into the cap quicker than lightning. When the club, in view of my
munificence, voted to name the guns Bailey's Battery I was prouder than I
have ever been since over anything.
The money thus raised, added to that already in the treasury, amounted to
nine dollars-a fortune in those days; but not more than we had use for.
This sum was divided into twelve parts, for it would not do for one boy to
buy all the powder, nor even for us all to make our purchases at the same
place. That would excite suspicion at any time, particularly at a period so
remote from the Fourth of July.
There were only three stores in town licensed to sell powder; that gave each
store four customers. Not to run the slightest risk of remark, one boy
bought his powder on Monday, the next boy on Tuesday, and so on until the
requisite quantity was in our possession. This we put into a keg and
carefully hid in a dry spot on the wharf.
Our next step was to finish cleaning the guns, which occupied two
afternoons, for several of the old sogers were in a very congested state
indeed. Having completed the task, we came upon a difficulty. To set off
the battery by daylight was out of the question; it must be done at night;
it must be done with fuses, for no doubt the neighbors would turn out after
the first two or three shots, and it would not pay to be caught in the
Who knew anything about fuses? Who could arrange it so the guns would go off
one after the other, with an interval of a minute or so between?
Theoretically we knew that a minute fuse lasted a minute; double the
quantity, two minutes; but practically we were at a stand-still. There was
but one person who could help us in this extremity-Sailor Ben. To me was
assigned the duty of obtaining what information I could from the ex-gunner,
it being left to my discretion whether or not to intrust him with our
So one evening I dropped into the cabin and artfully turned the conversation
to fuses in general, and then to particular fuses, but without getting much
out of the old boy, who was busy making a twine hammock. Finally, I was
forced to divulge the whole plot.
The Admiral had a sailor's love for a joke, and entered at once and heartily
into our scheme. He volunteered to prepare the fuses himself, and I left
the labor in his hands, having bound him by several extraordinary
oaths-such as "Hope-Imay-die" and "Shiver-my-timbers"-not to betray us,
come what would.
This was Monday evening. On Wednesday the fuses were ready. That night we
were to unmuzzle Bailey's Battery. Mr. Grimshaw saw that something was
wrong somewhere, for we were restless and absent-minded in the classes, and
the best of us came to grief before the morning session was over. When Mr.
Grimshaw announced "Guy Fawkes" as the subject for our next composition,
you might have knocked down the Mystic Twelve with a feather.
The coincidence was certainly curious, but when a man has committed, or is
about to commit an offence, a hundred trifles, which would pass unnoticed
at another time, seem to point at him with convicting fingers. No doubt Guy
Fawkes himself received many a start after he had got his wicked kegs of
gunpowder neatly piled up under the House of Lords.
Wednesday, as I have mentioned, was a half-holiday, and the Centipedes
assembled in my barn to decide on the final arrangements. These were as
simple as could be. As the fuses were connected, it needed but one person
to fire the train. Hereupon arose a discussion as to who was the proper
person. Some argued that I ought to apply the match, the battery being
christened after me, and the main idea, moreover, being mine. Others
advocated the claim of Phil Adams as the oldest boy. At last we drew lots
for the post of honor.
Twelve slips of folded paper, upon one of which was written "Thou art the
man," were placed in a quart measure, and thoroughly shaken; then each
member stepped up and lifted out his destiny. At a given signal we opened
our billets. "Thou art the man," said the slip of paper trembling in my
fingers. The sweets and anxieties of a leader were mine the rest of the
Directly after twilight set in Phil Adams stole down to the wharf and fixed
the fuses to the guns, laying a train of powder from the principal fuse to
the fence, through a chink of which I was to drop the match at midnight.
At ten o'clock Rivermouth goes to bed. At eleven o'clock Rivermouth is as
quiet as a country churchyard. At twelve o'clock there is nothing left with
which to compare the stillness that broods over the little seaport.
In the midst of this stillness I arose and glided out of the house like a
phantom bent on an evil errand; like a phantom. I flitted through the
silent street, hardly drawing breath until I knelt down beside the fence at
the appointed place.
Pausing a moment for my heart to stop thumping, I lighted the match and
shielded it with both hands until it was well under way, and then dropped
the blazing splinter on the slender thread of gunpowder.
A noiseless flash instantly followed, and all was dark again. I peeped
through the crevice in the fence, and saw the main fuse spitting out sparks
like a conjurer. Assured that the train had not failed, I took to my heels,
fearful lest the fuse might burn more rapidly than we calculated, and cause
an explosion before I could get home. This, luckily, did not happen.
There's a special Providence that watches over idiots, drunken men, and
I dodged the ceremony of undressing by plunging into bed, jacket, boots, and
all. I am not sure I took off my cap; but I know that I had hardly pulled
the coverlid over me, when "BOOM!" sounded the first gun of Bailey's
I lay as still as a mouse. In less than two minutes there was another burst
of thunder, and then another. The third gun was a tremendous fellow and
fairly shook the house.
The town was waking up. Windows were thrown open here and there and people
called to each other across the streets asking what that firing was for.
"BOOM!" went gun number four.
I sprung out of bed and tore off my jacket, for I heard the Captain feeling
his way along the wall to my chamber. I was half undressed by the time he
found the knob of the door.
"I say, sir," I cried, "do you hear those guns?"
"Not being deaf, I do," said the Captain, a little tartly-any reflection on
his hearing always nettled him; "but what on earth they are for I can't
conceive. You had better get up and dress yourself."
"I'm nearly dressed, sir."
"BOOM! BOOM!"-two of the guns had gone off together.
The door of Miss Abigail's bedroom opened hastily, and that pink of maidenly
propriety stepped out into the hail in her night-gown-the only indecorous
thing I ever knew her to do. She held a lighted candle in her hand and
looked like a very aged Lady Macbeth.
"O Dan'el, this is dreadful! What do you suppose it means?"
"I really can't suppose," said the Captain, rubbing his ear; "but I guess
it's over now."
"BOOM!" said Bailey's Battery.
Rivermouth was wide awake now, and half the male population were in the
streets, running different ways, for the firing seemed to proceed from
opposite points of the town. Everybody waylaid everybody else with
questions; but as no one knew what was the occasion of the tumult, people
who were not usually nervous began to be oppressed by the mystery.
Some thought the town was being bombarded; some thought the world was coming
to an end, as the pious and ingenious Mr. Miller had predicted it would;
but those who couldn't form any theory whatever were the most perplexed.
In the meanwhile Bailey's Battery bellowed away at regular intervals. The
greatest confusion reigned everywhere by this time. People with lanterns
rushed hither and thither. The town watch had turned out to a man, and
marched off, in admirable order, in the wrong direction. Discovering their
mistake, they retraced their steps, and got down to the wharf just as the
last cannon belched forth its lightning.
A dense cloud of sulphurous smoke floated over Anchor Lane, obscuring the
starlight. Two or three hundred people, in various stages of excitement,
crowded about the upper end of the wharf, not liking to advance farther
until they were satisfied that the explosions were over. A board was here
and there blown from the fence, and through the openings thus afforded a
few of the more daring spirits at length ventured to crawl.
The cause of the racket soon transpired. A suspicion that they had been sold
gradually dawned on the Rivermouthians. Many were exceedingly indignant,
and declared that no penalty was severe enough for those concerned in such
a prank; others-and these were the very people who had been terrified
nearly out of their wits-had the assurance to laugh, saying that they knew
all along it was only a trick.
The town watch boldly took possession of the ground, and the crowd began to
disperse. Knots of gossips lingered here and there near the place,
indulging in vain surmises as to who the invisible gunners could be.
There was no more noise that night, but many a timid person lay awake
expecting a renewal of the mysterious cannonading. The Oldest Inhabitant
refused to go to bed on any terms, but persisted in sitting up in a
rocking-chair, with his hat and mittens on, until daybreak.
I thought I should never get to sleep. The moment I drifted off in a doze I
fell to laughing and woke myself up. But towards morning slumber overtook
me, and I had a series of disagreeable dreams, in one of which I was waited
upon by the ghost of Silas Trefethen with an exorbitant bill for the use of
his guns. In another, I was dragged before a court-martial and sentenced by
Sailor Ben, in a frizzled wig and three-cornered cocked hat, to be shot to
death by Bailey's Battery-a sentence which Sailor Ben was about to execute
with his own hand, when I suddenly opened my eyes and found the sunshine
lying pleasantly across my face. I tell you I was glad!
That unaccountable fascination which leads the guilty to hover about the
spot where his crime was committed drew me down to the wharf as soon as I
was dressed. Phil Adams, Jack Harris, and others of the conspirators were
already there, examining with a mingled feeling of curiosity and
apprehension the havoc accomplished by the battery.
The fence was badly shattered and the ground ploughed up for several yards
round the place where the guns formerly lay-formerly lay, for now they were
scattered every which way. There was scarcely a gun that hadn't burst. Here
was one ripped open from muzzle to breech, and there was another with its
mouth blown into the shape of a trumpet. Three of the guns had disappeared
bodily, but on looking over the edge of the wharf we saw them standing on
end in the tide-mud. They had popped overboard in their excitement.
"I tell you what, fellows," whispered Phil Adams, "it is lucky we didn't try
to touch 'em off with punk. They'd have blown us all to finders."
The destruction of Bailey's Battery was not, unfortunately, the only
catastrophe. A fragment of one of the cannon had earned away the chimney of
Sailor Ben's cabin. He was very mad at first, but having prepared the fuse
himself he didn't dare complain openly.
"I'd have taken a reef in the blessed stove-pipe," said the Admiral, gazing
ruefully at the smashed chimney, "if I had known as how the Flagship was
agoin' to be under fire."
The next day he rigged out an iron funnel, which, being in sections, could
be detached and taken in at a moment's notice. On the whole, I think he was
resigned to the demolition of his brick chimney. The stove-pipe was a great
deal more shipshape.
The town was not so easily appeased. The selectmen determined to make an
example of the guilty parties, and offered a reward for their arrest,
holding out a promise of pardon to anyone of the offenders who would
furnish information against the rest. But there were no faint hearts among
the Centipedes. Suspicion rested for a while on several persons-on the
soldiers at the fort; on a crazy fellow, known about town as "BottleNose";
and at last on Sailor Ben.
"Shiver my timbers!" cries that deeply injured individual. "Do you suppose,
sir, as I have lived to sixty year, an' ain't got no more sense than to go
for to blaze away at my own upper riggin'? It doesn't stand to reason."
It certainly did not seem probable that Mr. Watson would maliciously knock
over his own chimney, and Lawyer Hackett, who had the case in hand, 'bowed
himself out of the Admiral's cabin convinced that the right man had not
People living by the sea are always more or less superstitious. Stories of
spectre ships and mysterious beacons, that lure vessels out of their course
and wreck them on unknown reefs, were among the stock legends of
Rivermouth; and not a few people in the town were ready to attribute the
firing of those guns to some supernatural agency. The Oldest Inhabitant
remembered that when he was a boy a dim-looking sort of schooner hove to in
the offing one foggy afternoon, fired off a single gun that didn't make any
report, and then crumbled to nothing, spar, mast, and hulk, like a piece of
The authorities, however, were of the opinion that human hands had something
to do with the explosions, and they resorted to deep-laid stratagems to get
hold of the said hands. One of their traps came very near catching us. They
artfully caused an old brass fieldpiece to be left on a wharf near the
scene of our late operations. Nothing in the world but the lack of money to
buy powder saved us from falling into the clutches of the two watchmen who
lay secreted for a week in a neighboring sail-loft.
It was many a day before the midnight bombardment ceased to be the
town-talk. The trick was so audacious and on so grand a scale that nobody
thought for an instant of connecting us lads with it. Suspicion at length
grew weary of lighting on the wrong person, and as conjecture-like the
physicians in the epitaph-was in vain, the Rivermouthians gave up the idea
of finding out who had astonished them.
They never did find out, and never will, unless they read this veracious
history. If the selectmen are still disposed to punish the malefactors, I
can supply Lawyer Hackett with evidence enough to convict Pepper Whitcomb,
Phil Adams, Charley Marden, and the other honorable members of the
Centipede Club. But really I don't think it would pay now.
A Frog He Would A-Wooing Go
If the reader supposes that I lived all this while in Rivermouth without
falling a victim to one or more of the young ladies attending Miss Dorothy
Gibbs's Female Institute, why, then, all I have to say is the reader
exhibits his ignorance of human nature.
Miss Gibbs's seminary was located within a few minutes' walk of the Temple
Grammar School, and numbered about thirty-five pupils, the majority of whom
boarded at the Hall-Primrose Hall, as Miss Dorothy prettily 20called it.
The Prim-roses, as we called them, ranged from seven years of age to sweet
seventeen, and a prettier group of sirens never got together even in
Rivermouth, for Rivermouth, you should know, is famous for its pretty
There were tall girls and short girls, rosy girls and pale girls, and girls
as brown as berries; girls like Amazons, slender girls, weird and winning
like Undine, girls with black tresses, girls with auburn ringlets, girls
with every tinge of golden hair. To behold Miss Dorothy's young ladies of a
Sunday morning walking to church two by two, the smallest toddling at the
end of the procession, like the bobs at the tail of a kite, was a spectacle
to fill with tender emotion the least susceptible heart. To see Miss
Dorothy marching grimly at the head of her light infantry, was to feel the
hopelessness of making an attack on any part of the column.
She was a perfect dragon of watchfulness. The most unguarded lifting of an
eyelash in the fluttering battalion was sufficient to put her on the
lookout. She had had experiences with the male sex, this Miss Dorothy so
prim and grim. It was whispered that her heart was a tattered album
scrawled over with love-lines, but that she had shut up the volume long
There was a tradition that she had been crossed in love; but it was the
faintest of traditions. A gay young lieutenant of marines had flirted with
her at a country ball (A.D. 1811), and then marched carelessly away at the
head of his company to the shrill music of the fife, without so much as a
sigh for the girl he left behind him. The years rolled on, the gallant gay
Lothario-which wasn't his name-married, became a father, and then a
grandfather; and at the period of which I am speaking his grandchild was
actually one of Miss Dorothy's young ladies. So, at least, ran the story.
The lieutenant himself was dead these many years; but Miss Dorothy never got
over his duplicity. She was convinced that the sole aim of mankind was to
win the unguarded affection of maidens, and then march off treacherously
with flying colors to the heartless music of the drum and fife. To shield
the inmates of Primrose Hall from the bitter influences that had blighted
her own early affections was Miss Dorothy's mission in life.
"No wolves prowling about my lambs, if you please," said
Miss Dorothy. "I will not allow it."
She was as good as her word. I don't think the boy lives who ever set foot
within the limits of Primrose Hall while the seminary was under her charge.
Perhaps if Miss Dorothy had given her young ladies a little more liberty,
they would not have thought it "such fun" to make eyes over the white
lattice fence at the young gentlemen of the Temple Grammar School. I say
perhaps; for it is one thing to manage thirty-five young ladies and quite
another thing to talk about it.
But all Miss Dorothy's vigilance could not prevent the young folks from
meeting in the town now and then, nor could her utmost ingenuity interrupt
postal arrangements. There was no end of notes passing between the students
and the Primroses. Notes tied to the heads of arrows were shot into
dormitory windows; notes were tucked under fences, and hidden in the trunks
of decayed trees. Every thick place in the boxwood hedge that surrounded
the seminary was a possible post-office.
It was a terrible shock to Miss Dorothy the day she unearthed a nest of
letters in one of the huge wooden urns surmounting the gateway that led to
her dovecot. It was a bitter moment to Miss Phoebe and Miss Candace and
Miss Hesba, when they had their locks of hair grimly handed back to them by
Miss Gibbs in the presence of the whole school. Girls whose locks of hair
had run the blockade in safety were particularly severe on the offenders.
But it didn't stop other notes and other tresses, and I would like to know
what can stop them while the earth holds together.
Now when I first came to Rivermouth I looked upon girls as rather tame
company; I hadn't a spark of sentiment concerning them; but seeing my
comrades sending and receiving mysterious epistles, wearing bits of ribbon
in their button-holes and leaving packages of confectionery (generally
lemon-drops) in the hollow trunks of trees-why, I felt that this was the
proper thing to do. I resolved, as a matter of duty, to fall in love with
somebody, and I didn't care in the least who it was. In much the same mood
that Don Quixote selected the Dulcinea del Toboso for his lady-love, I
singled out one of Miss Dorothy's incomparable young ladies for mine.
I debated a long while whether I should not select two, but at last settled
down on one-a pale little girl with blue eyes, named Alice. I shall not
make a long story of this, for Alice made short work of me. She was
secretly in love with Pepper Whitcomb. This occasioned a temporary coolness
between Pepper and myself.
Not disheartened, however, I placed Laura Rice-I believe it was Laura
Rice-in the vacant niche. The new idol was more cruel than the old. The
former frankly sent me to the right about, but the latter was a deceitful
lot. She wore my nosegay in her dress at the evening service (the Primroses
were marched to church three times every Sunday), she penned me the
daintiest of notes, she sent me the glossiest of ringlets (cut, as I
afterwards found out, from the stupid head of Miss Gibbs's chamber-maid),
and at the same time was holding me and my pony up to ridicule in a series
of letters written to Jack Harris. It was Harris himself who kindly opened
"I tell you what, Bailey," said that young gentleman, "Laura is an old
veteran, and carries too many guns for a youngster. She can't resist a
flirtation; I believe she'd flirt with an infant in arms. There's hardly a
fellow in the school that hasn't worn her colors and some of her hair. She
doesn't give out any more of her own hair now. It's been pretty well used
up. The demand was greater than the supply, you see. It's all very well to
correspond with Laura, but as to looking for anything serious from her, the
knowing ones don't. Hope I haven't hurt your feelings, old boy," (that was
a soothing stroke of flattery to call me "old boy,") "but it was my duty as
a friend and a Centipede to let you know who you were dealing with."
Such was the advice given me by that time-stricken, careworn, and embittered
man of the world, who was sixteen years old if he was a day.
I dropped Laura. In the course of the next twelve months I had perhaps three
or four similar experiences, and the conclusion was forced upon me that I
was not a boy likely to distinguish myself in this branch of business.
I fought shy of Primrose Hall from that moment. Smiles were smiled over the
boxwood hedge, and little hands were occasionally kissed to me; but I only
winked my eye patronizingly, and passed on. I never renewed tender
relations with Miss Gibbs's young ladies. All this occurred during my first
year and a half at Rivermouth.
Between my studies at school, my out-door recreations, and the hurts my
vanity received, I managed to escape for the time being any very serious
attack of that love fever which, like the measles, is almost certain to
seize upon a boy sooner or later. I was not to be an exception. I was
merely biding my time. The incidents I have now to relate took place
shortly after the events described in the last chapter.
In a life so tranquil and circumscribed as ours in the Nutter House, a
visitor was a novelty of no little importance. The whole household awoke
from its quietude one morning when the Captain announced that a young niece
of his from New York was to spend a few weeks with us.
The blue-chintz room, into which a ray of sun was never allowed to
penetrate, was thrown open and dusted, and its mouldy air made sweet with a
bouquet of pot-roses placed on the old-fashioned bureau. Kitty was busy all
the forenoon washing off the sidewalk and sand-papering the great brass
knocker on our front-door; and Miss Abigail was up to her elbows in a
I felt sure it was for no ordinary person that all these preparations were
in progress; and I was right. Miss Nelly Glentworth was no ordinary person.
I shall never believe she was. There may have been lovelier women, though I
have never seen them; there may have been more brilliant women, though it
has not been my fortune to meet them; but that there was ever a more
charming one than Nelly Glentworth is a proposition against which I
I don't love her now. I don't think of her once in five years; and yet it
would give me a turn if in the course of my daily walk I should suddenly
come upon her eldest boy. I may say that her eldest boy was not playing a
prominent part in this life when I first made her acquaintance.
It was a drizzling, cheerless afternoon towards the end of summer that a
hack drew up at the door of the Nutter House. The Captain and Miss Abigail
hastened into the hall on hearing the carriage stop. In a moment more Miss
Nelly Glentworth was seated in our sitting-room undergoing a critical
examination at the hands of a small boy who lounged uncomfortably on a
settee between the windows.
The small boy considered himself a judge of girls, and he rapidly came to
the following conclusions: That Miss Nelly was about nineteen; that she had
not given away much of her back hair, which hung in two massive chestnut
braids over her shoulders; that she was a shade too pale and a trifle too
tall; that her hands were nicely shaped and her feet much too diminutive
for daily use. He furthermore observed that her voice was musical, and that
her face lighted up with an indescribable brightness when she smiled.
On the whole, the small boy liked her well enough; and, satisfied that she
was not a person to be afraid of, but, on the contrary, one who might be
made quite agreeable, he departed to keep an appointment with his friend
Sir Pepper Whitcomb.
But the next morning when Miss Glentworth came down to breakfast in a purple
dress, her face 20as fresh as one of the moss-roses on the bureau upstairs,
and her laugh as contagious as the merriment of a robin, the small boy
experienced a strange sensation, and mentally compared her with the
loveliest of Miss Gibbs's young ladies, and found those young ladies
wanting in the balance.
A night's rest had wrought a wonderful change in Miss Nelly. The pallor and
weariness of the journey had passed away. I looked at her through the
toast-rack and thought I had never seen anything more winning than her
After breakfast she went out with me to the stable to see Gypsy, and the
three of us became friends then and there. Nelly was the only girl that
Gypsy ever took the slightest notice of.
It chanced to be a half-holiday, and a baseball match of unusual interest
was to come off on the school ground that afternoon; but, somehow, I didn't
go. I hung about the house abstractedly. The Captain went up town, and Miss
Abigail was busy in the kitchen making immortal gingerbread. I drifted into
the sitting-room, and had our guest all to myself for I don't know how many
hours. It was twilight, I recollect, when the Captain returned with letters
for Miss Nelly.
Many a time after that I sat with her through the dreamy September
afternoons. If I had played baseball it would have been much better for me.
Those first days of Miss Nelly's visit are very misty in my remembrance. I
try in vain to remember just when I began to fall in love with her.
'Whether the spell worked upon me gradually or fell upon me all at once, I
don't know. I only know that it seemed to me as if I had always loved her.
Things that took place before she came were dim to me, like events that had
occurred in the Middle Ages.
Nelly was at least five years my senior. But what of that? Adam is the only
man I ever heard of who didn't in early youth fall in love with a woman
older than himself, and I am convinced that he would have done so if he had
had the opportunity.
I wonder if girls from fifteen to twenty are aware of the glamour they cast
over the straggling, awkward boys whom they regard and treat as mere
children? I wonder, now. Young women are so keen in such matters. I wonder
if Miss Nelly Glentworth never suspected until the very last night of her
visit at Rivermouth that I was over ears in love with her pretty self, and
was suffering pangs as poignant as if I had been ten feet high and as old
as Methuselah? For, indeed, I was miserable throughout all those five
weeks. I went down in the Latin class at the rate of three boys a day. Her
fresh young eyes came between me and my book, and there was an end of
"O love, love, love!
Love is like a dizziness,
It winna let a body
Gang aboot his business."
I was wretched away from her, and only less wretched in her presence. The
special cause of my woe was this: I was simply a little boy to Miss
Glentworth. I knew it. I bewailed it. I ground my teeth and wept in secret
over the fact. If I had been aught else in her eyes would she have smoothed
my hair so carelessly, sending an electric shock through my whole system?
Would she have walked with me, hand in hand, for hours in the old garden,
and once when I lay on the sofa, my head aching with love and
mortification, would she have stooped down and kissed me if I hadn't been a
little boy? How I despised little boys! How I hated one particular little
boy-too little to be loved!
I smile over this very grimly even now. My sorrow was genuine and bitter. It
is a great mistake on the part of elderly people, male and female, to tell
a child that he is seeing his happiest days. Don't you believe a word of
it, my little friend. The burdens of childhood are as hard to bear as the
crosses that weigh us down later in life, while the happinesses of
childhood are tame compared with those of our maturer years. And even if
this were not so, it is rank cruelty to throw shadows over the young heart
by croaking, "Be merry, for to-morrow you die!"
As the last days of Nelly's visit drew near, I fell into a very unhealthy
state of mind. To have her so frank and unconsciously coquettish with me
was a daily torment; to be looked upon and treated as a child was bitter
almonds; but the thought of losing her altogether was distraction.
The summer was at an end. The days were perceptibly shorter, and now and
then came an evening when it was chilly enough to have a wood-fire in our
sitting-room. The leaves were beginning to take hectic tints, and the wind
was practising the minor pathetic notes of its autumnal dirge. Nature and
myself appeared to be approaching our dissolution simultaneously-
One evening, the evening previous to the day set for Nelly's departure-how
well I remember it-I found her sitting alone by the wide chimney-piece
looking musingly at the crackling back log. There were no candles in the
room. On her face and hands, and on the small golden cross at her throat,
fell the flickering firelight-that ruddy, mellow firelight in which one's
grandmother would look poetical.
I drew a low stool from the corner and placed it by the side of her chair.
She reached out her hand to me, as was her pretty fashion, and so we sat
for several moments silently in the changing glow of the burning logs. At
length I moved back the stool so that I could see her face in profile
without being seen by her. I lost her hand by this movement, but I couldn't
have spoken with the listless touch of her fingers on mine. After two or
three attempts I said "Nelly" a good deal louder than I intended.
Perhaps the effort it cost me was evident in my voice. She raised herself
quickly in the chair and half turned towards me.
"I-I am very sorry you are going away."
"So am I. I have enjoyed every hour of my visit."
"Do you think you will ever come back here?"
"Perhaps," said Nelly, and her eyes wandered off into the fitful firelight.
"I suppose you will forget us all very quickly."
"Indeed I shall not. I shall always have the pleasantest memories of
Here the conversation died a natural death. Nelly sank into a sort of dream,
and I meditated. Fearing every moment to be interrupted by some member of
the family, I nerved myself to make a bold dash.
"Do you-" I hesitated.
"Do I what?"
"Love anyone very much?"
"Why, of course I do," said Nelly, scattering her revery with a merry laugh.
"I love Uncle Nutter, and Aunt Nutter, and you-and Towser."
Towser, our new dog! I couldn't stand that. I pushed back the stool
impatiently and stood in front of her.
"That's not what I mean," I said angrily.
"Well, what do you mean?"
"Do you love anyone to marry him?"
"The idea of it," cried Nelly, laughing.
"But you must tell me."
"Indeed you must, Nelly."
She had risen from the chair with an amused, perplexed look in her eyes. I
held her an instant by the dress.
"Please tell me."
"O you silly boy!" cried Nelly. Then she rumpled my hair all over my
forehead and ran laughing out of the room.
Suppose Cinderella had rumpled the prince's hair all over his forehead, how
would he have liked it? Suppose the Sleeping Beauty, when the king's son
with a kiss set her and all the old clocks agoing in the spell-bound
castle-suppose the young minx had looked up and coolly laughed in his eye,
I guess the king's son wouldn't have been greatly pleased.
I hesitated a second or two and then rushed after Nelly just in time to run
against Miss Abigail, who entered the room with a couple of lighted
"Goodness gracious, Tom!" exclaimed Miss Abigail. "Are you possessed?"
I left her scraping the warm spermaceti from one of her thumbs.
Nelly was in the kitchen talking quite unconcernedly with Kitty Collins.
There she remained until supper-time. Supper over, we all adjourned to the
sitting-room. I planned and plotted, but could manage in no way to get
Nelly alone. She and the Captain played cribbage all the evening.
The next morning my lady did not make her appearance until we were seated at
the breakfast-table. I had got up at daylight myself. Immediately after
breakfast the carriage arrived to take her to the railway station. A
gentleman stepped from this carriage, and greatly to my surprise was warmly
welcomed by the Captain and Miss Abigail, and by Miss Nelly herself, who
seemed unnecessarily glad to see him. From the hasty conversation that
followed I learned that the gentleman had come somewhat unexpectedly to
conduct Miss Nelly to Boston. But how did he know that she was to leave
that morning? Nelly bade farewell to the Captain and Miss Abigail, made a
little rush and kissed me on the nose, and was gone.
As the wheels of the hack rolled up the street and over my finer feelings, I
turned to the Captain.
"Who was that gentleman, sir?"
"That was Mr. Waldron."
"A relation of yours, sir?" I asked craftily.
"No relation of mine-a relation of Nelly's," said the Captain, smiling.
"A cousin," I suggested, feeling a strange hatred spring up in my bosom for
"Well, I suppose you might call him a cousin for the present. He's going to
marry little Nelly next summer."
In one of Peter Parley's valuable historical works is a description of an
earthquake at Lisbon. "At the first shock the inhabitants rushed into the
streets; the earth yawned at their feet and the houses tottered and fell on
every side." I staggered past the Captain into the street; a giddiness came
over me; the earth yawned at my feet, and the houses threatened to fall in
on every side of me. How distinctly I remember that momentary sense of
confusion when everything in the world seemed toppling over into ruins.
As I have remarked, my love for Nelly is a thing of the past. I had not
thought of her for years until I sat down to write this chapter, and yet,
now that all is said and done, I shouldn't care particularly to come across
Mrs. Waldron's eldest boy in my afternoon's walk. He must be fourteen or
fifteen years old by this time-the young villain!
I Become A Blighted Being
When a young boy gets to be an old boy, when the hair is growing rather thin
on the top of the old boy's head, and he has been tamed sufficiently to
take a sort of chastened pleasure in allowing the baby to play with his
watch-seals-when, I say, an old boy has reached this stage in the journey
of life, he is sometimes apt to indulge in sportive remarks concerning his
Now, though I bless my stars that it wasn't in my power to marry Miss Nelly,
I am not going to deny my boyish regard for her nor laugh at it. As long as
it lasted it was a very sincere and unselfish love, and rendered me
proportionately wretched. I say as long as it lasted, for one's first love
doesn't last forever.
I am ready, however, to laugh at the amusing figure I cut after I had really
ceased to have any deep feeling in the matter. It was then I took it into
my head to be a Blighted Being. This was about two weeks after the spectral
appearance of Mr. Waldron.
For a boy of a naturally vivacious disposition the part of a blighted being
presented difficulties. I had an excellent appetite, I liked society, I
liked out-of-door sports, I was fond of handsome clothes. Now all these
things were incompatible with the doleful character I was to assume, and I
proceeded to cast them from me. I neglected my hair. I avoided my
playmates. I frowned abstractedly. I didn't eat as much as was good for me.
I took lonely walks. 1 brooded in solitude. I not only committed to memory
the more turgid poems of the late Lord Byron-"Fare thee well, and if
forever," &c.-but I became a despondent poet on my own account, and
composed a string of "Stanzas to One who will understand them." 1 think I
was a trifle too hopeful on that point; for I came across the verses
several years afterwards, and was quite unable to understand them myself.
It was a great comfort to be so perfectly miserable and yet not suffer any.
I used to look in the glass and gloat over the amount and variety of
mournful expression I could throw into my features. If I caught myself
smiling at anything, I cut the smile short with a sigh. The oddest thing
about all this is, I never once suspected that I was not unhappy. No one,
not even Pepper Whitcomb, was more deceived than I.
Among the minor pleasures of being blighted were the interest and perplexity
I excited in the simple souls that were thrown in daily contact with me.
Pepper especially. I nearly drove him into a corresponding state of mind.
I had from time to time given Pepper slight but impressive hints of my
admiration for Some One (this was in the early part of Miss Glentworth's
visit); I had also led him to infer that my admiration was not altogether
in vain. He was therefore unable to explain the cause of my strange
behavior, for I had carefully refrained from mentioning to Pepper the fact
that Some One had turned out to be Another's.
I treated Pepper shabbily. I couldn't resist playing on his tenderer
feelings. He was a boy bubbling over with sympathy for anyone in any kind
of trouble. Our intimacy since Binny Wallace's death had been
uninterrupted; but now I moved in a sphere apart, not to be profaned by the
step of an outsider.
I no longer joined the boys on the playground at recess. I stayed at my desk
reading some lugubrious volume-usually The Mysteries of Udolpho, by the
amiable Mrs. Radcliffe. A translation of The Sorrows of Werter fell into my
hands at this period, and if I could have committed suicide without killing
myself, I should certainly have done so.
On half-holidays, instead of fraternizing with Pepper and the rest of our
clique, I would wander off alone to Grave Point.
Grave Point-the place where Binny Wallace's body came ashore-was a narrow
strip of land running out into the river. A line of Lombardy poplars, stiff
and severe, like a row of grenadiers, mounted guard on the water-side. On
the extreme end of the peninsula was an old disused graveyard, tenanted
principally by the early settlers who had been scalped by the Indians. In a
remote corner of the cemetery, set apart from the other mounds, was the
grave of a woman who had been hanged in the old colonial times for the
murder of her infant. Goodwife Polly Haines had denied the crime to the
last, and after her death there had arisen strong doubts as to her actual
guilt. It was a belief current among the lads of the town, that if you went
to this grave at nightfall on the 10th of November-the anniversary of her
execution-and asked, "For what did the magistrates hang you?" a voice would
Many a Rivermouth boy has tremblingly put this question in the dark, and,
sure enough, Polly Haines invariably answered nothing!
A low red-brick wall, broken down in many places and frosted over with
silvery moss, surrounded this burial-ground of our Pilgrim Fathers and
their immediate descendants. The latest date on any of the headstones was
1780. A crop of very funny epitaphs sprung up here and there among the
overgrown thistles and burdocks, and almost every tablet had a death's-head
with cross-bones engraved upon it, or else a puffy round face with a pair
of wings stretching out from the ears, like this:
These mortuary emblems furnished me with congenial food for reflection. I
used to lie in the long grass, and speculate on the advantages and
disadvantages of being a cherub.
I forget what I thought the advantages were, but I remember distinctly of
getting into an inextricable tangle on two points: How could a cherub,
being all head and wings, manage to sit down when he was tired? To have to
sit down on the back of his head struck me as an awkward alternative.
Again: Where did a cherub carry those indispensable articles (such as
jack-knives, marbles, and pieces of twine) which boys in an earthly state
of existence usually stow away in their trousers-pockets?
These were knotty questions, and I was never able to dispose of them
Meanwhile Pepper Whitcomb would scour the whole town in search of me. He
finally discovered my retreat, and dropped in on me abruptly one afternoon,
while I was deep in the cherub problem.
"Look here, Tom Bailey!" said Pepper, shying a piece of clam-shell
indignantly at the file jacet on a neighboring gravestone. "You are just
going to the dogs! Can't you tell a fellow what in thunder ails you,
instead of prowling round among the tombs like a jolly old vampire?"
"Pepper," I replied, solemnly, "don't ask me. All is not well here"-touching
my breast mysteriously. If I had touched my head instead, I should have
been nearer the mark.
Pepper stared at me.
"Earthly happiness," I continued, "is a delusion and a snare. You will never
be happy, Pepper, until you are a cherub."
Pepper, by the by, would have made an excellent cherub, he was so chubby.
Having delivered myself of these gloomy remarks, I arose languidly from the
grass and moved away, leaving Pepper staring after me in mute astonishment.
I was Hamlet and Werter and the late Lord Byron all in one.
You will ask what my purpose was in cultivating this factitious despondency.
None whatever. Blighted beings never have any purpose in life excepting to
be as blighted as possible.
Of course my present line of business could not long escape the eye of
Captain Nutter. I don't know if the Captain suspected my attachment for
Miss Glentworth. He never alluded to it; but he watched me. Miss Abigail
watched me, Kitty Collins watched me, and Sailor Ben watched me.
"I can't make out his signals," I overheard the Admiral remark to my
grandfather one day. "I hope he ain't got no kind of sickness aboard."
There was something singularly agreeable in being an object of so great
interest. Sometimes I had all I could do to preserve my dejected aspect, it
was so pleasant to be miserable. I incline to the opinion that people who
are melancholy without any particular reason, such as poets, artists, and
young musicians with long hair, have rather an enviable time of it. In a
quiet way I never enjoyed myself better in my life than when I was a
In Which I Prove Myself
To Be the Grandson of My Grandfather
It was not possible for a boy of my temperament to be a blighted being
longer than three consecutive weeks.
I was gradually emerging from my self-imposed cloud when events took place
that greatly assisted in restoring me to a more natural frame of mind. I
awoke from an imaginary trouble to face a real one.
I suppose you don't know what a financial crisis is? I will give you an
You are deeply in debt-say to the amount of a quarter of a dollar-to the
little knicknack shop round the corner, where they sell picture-papers,
spruce-gum, needles, and Malaga raisins. A boy owes you a quarter of a
dollar, which he promises to pay at a certain time. You are depending on
this quarter to settle accounts with the small shop-keeper. The time
arrives-and the quarter doesn't. That's a financial crisis, in one
sense-twenty-five senses, if I may say so.
When this same thing happens, on a grander scale, in the mercantile world,
it produces what is called a panic. One man's inability to pay his debts
ruins another man, who, in turn, ruins someone else, and so on, until
failure after failure makes even the richest capitalists tremble. Public
confidence is suspended, and the smaller fry of merchants are knocked over
These commercial panics occur periodically, after the fashion of comets and
earthquakes and other disagreeable things.
Such a panic took place in New Orleans in the year 18-, and my father's
banking-house went to pieces in the crash.
Of a comparatively large fortune nothing remained after paying his debts
excepting a few thousand dollars, with which he proposed to return North
and embark in some less hazardous enterprise. In the meantime it was
necessary for him to stay in New Orleans to wind up the business.
My grandfather was in some way involved in this failure, and lost, I fancy,
a considerable sum of money; but he never talked much on the subject. He
was an unflinching believer in the spilt-milk proverb.
"It can't be gathered up," he would say, "and it's no use crying over it.
Pitch into the cow and get some more milk, is my motto."
The suspension of the banking-house was bad enough, but there was an
attending circumstance that gave us, at Rivermouth, a great deal more
anxiety. The cholera, which someone predicted would visit the country that
year, and which, indeed, had made its appearance in a mild form at several
points along the Mississippi River, had broken out with much violence at
The report that first reached us through the newspapers was meagre and
contradictory; many people discredited it; but a letter from my mother left
us no room for doubt. The sickness was in the city. The hospitals were
filling up, and hundreds of the citizens were flying from the stricken
place by every steamboat. The unsettled state of my father's affairs made
it imperative for him to remain at his post; his desertion at that moment
would have been at the sacrifice of all he had saved from the general
As he would be detained in New Orleans at least three months, my mother
declined to come North without him.
After this we awaited with feverish impatience the weekly news that came to
us from the South. The next letter advised us that my parents were well,
and that the sickness, so far, had not penetrated to the faubourg, or
district, where they lived. The following week brought less cheering
tidings. My father's business, in consequence of the flight of the other
partners, would keep him in the city beyond the period he had mentioned.
The family had moved to Pass Christian, a favorite watering-place on Lake
Pontchartrain, near New Orleans, where he was able to spend part of each
week. So the return North was postponed indefinitely.
It was now that the old longing to see my parents came back to me with
irresistible force. I knew my grandfather would not listen to the idea of
my going to New Orleans at such a dangerous time, since he had opposed the
journey so strongly when the same objection did not exist. But I determined
to go nevertheless.
I think I have mentioned the fact that all the male members of our family,
on my father's side-as far back as the Middle Ages-have exhibited in early
youth a decided talent for running away. It was an hereditary talent. It
ran in the blood to run away. I do not pretend to explain the peculiarity.
I simply admit it.
It was not my fate to change the prescribed order of things. I, too, was to
run away, thereby proving, if any proof were needed, that I was the
grandson of my grandfather. I do not hold myself responsible for the step
any more than I do for the shape of my nose, which is said to be a
facsimile of Captain Nutter's.
I have frequently noticed how circumstances conspire to help a man, or a
boy, when he has thoroughly resolved on doing a thing. That very week the
Rivermouth Barnacle printed an advertisement that seemed to have been
written on purpose for me. It read as follows:
WANTED. A Few Able-bodied Seamen and a Cabin-Boy, for the ship Rawlings, now
loading for New Orleans at Johnson's Wharf, Boston. Apply in person, within
four days, at the office of Messrs.- & Co., or on board the Ship.
How I was to get to New Orleans with only $4.62 was a question that had been
bothering me. This advertisement made it as clear as day. I would go as
I had taken Pepper into my confidence again; I had told him the story of my
love for Miss Glentworth, with all its harrowing details; and now conceived
it judicious to confide in him the change about to take place in my life,
so that, if the Rawlings went down in a gale, my friends might have the
limited satisfaction of knowing what had become of me.
Pepper shook his head discouragingly, and sought in every way to dissuade me
from the step. He drew a disenchanting picture of the existence of a
cabin-boy, whose constant duty (according to Pepper) was to have dishes
broken over his head whenever the captain or the mate chanced to be out of
humor, which was mostly all the time. But nothing Pepper said could turn me
a hair's-breadth from my purpose.
I had little time to spare, for the advertisement stated explicitly that
applications were to be made in person within four days. I trembled to
think of the bare possibility of some other boy snapping up that desirable
It was on Monday that I stumbled upon the advertisement. On Tuesday my
preparations were completed. My baggage-consisting of four shirts, half a
dozen collars, a piece of shoemaker's wax, (Heaven knows what for!) and
seven stockings, wrapped in a silk handkerchief-lay hidden under a loose
plank of the stable floor. This was my point of departure.
My plan was to take the last train for Boston, in order to prevent the
possibility of immediate pursuit, if any should be attempted. The train
left at 4 P.M.
I ate no breakfast and little dinner that day. I avoided the Captain's eye,
and wouldn't have looked Miss Abigail or Kitty in the face for the wealth
of the Indies.
When it was time to start for the station I retired quietly to the stable
and uncovered my bundle. I lingered a moment to kiss the white star on
Gypsy's forehead, and was nearly unmanned when the little animal returned
the caress by lapping my cheek. Twice I went back and patted her.
On reaching the station I purchased my ticket with a bravado air that ought
to have aroused the suspicion of the ticket-master, and hurried to the car,
where I sat fidgeting until the train shot out into the broad daylight.
Then I drew a long breath and looked about me. The first object that saluted
my sight was Sailor Ben, four or five seats behind me, reading the
Reading was not an easy art to Sailor Ben; he grappled with the sense of a
paragraph as if it were a polar-bear, and generally got the worst of it. On
the present occasion he was having a hard struggle, judging by the way he
worked his mouth and rolled his eyes. He had evidently not seen me. But
what was he doing on the Boston train?
Without lingering to solve the question, I stole gently from my seat and
passed into the forward car.
This was very awkward, having the Admiral on board. I couldn't understand it
at all. Could it be possible that the old boy had got tired of land and was
running away to sea himself? That was too absurd. I glanced nervously
towards the car door now and then, half expecting to see him come after me.
We had passed one or two way-stations, and I had quieted down a good deal,
when I began to feel as if somebody was looking steadily at the back of my
head. I turned round involuntarily, and there was Sailor Ben again, at the
farther end of the car, wrestling with the Rivermouth Barnacle as before.
I began to grow very uncomfortable indeed. Was it by design or chance that
he thus dogged my steps? If he was aware of my presence, why didn't he
speak to me at once? 'Why did he steal round, making no sign, like a
particularly unpleasant phantom? Maybe it wasn't Sailor Ben. I peeped at
him slyly. There was no mistaking that tanned, genial phiz of his. Very odd
he didn't see me!
Literature, even in the mild form of a country newspaper, always had the
effect of poppies on the Admiral. 'When I stole another glance in his
direction his hat was tilted over his right eye in the most dissolute
style, and the Rivermouth Barnacle lay in a confused heap beside him. He
had succumbed. He was fast asleep. If he would only keep asleep until we
reached our destination!
By and by I discovered that the rear car had been detached from the train at
the last stopping-place. This accounted satisfactorily for Sailor Ben's
singular movements, and considerably calmed my fears. Nevertheless, I did
not like the aspect of things.
The Admiral continued to snooze like a good fellow, and was snoring
melodiously as we glided at a slackened pace over a bridge and into Boston.
I grasped my pilgrim's bundle, and, hurrying out of the car, dashed up the
first street that presented itself.
It was a narrow, noisy, zigzag street, crowded with trucks and obstructed
with bales and boxes of merchandise. I didn't pause to breathe until I had
placed a respectable distance between me and the railway station. By this
time it was nearly twilight.
I had got into the region of dwelling-houses, and was about to seat myself
on a doorstep to rest, when, lo! there was the Admiral trundling along on
the opposite sidewalk, under a full spread of canvas, as he would have
I was off again in an instant at a rapid pace; but in spite of all I could
do he held his own without any perceptible exertion. He had a very ugly
gait to get away from, the Admiral. I didn't dare to run, for fear of being
mistaken for a thief, a suspicion which my bundle would naturally lend
I pushed ahead, however, at a brisk trot, and must have got over one or two
miles-my pursuer neither gaining nor losing ground-when I concluded to
surrender at discretion. I saw that Sailor Ben was determined to have me,
and, knowing my man, I knew that escape was highly improbable.
So I turned round and waited for him to catch up with me, which he did in a
few seconds, looking rather sheepish at first.
"Sailor Ben," said I, severely, "do I understand that you are dogging my
"'Well, little mess-mate," replied the Admiral, rubbing his nose, which he
always did when he was disconcerted, "I am kind o' followin' in your wake."
"Under the Captain's orders?"
"In other words, my grandfather has sent you to fetch me back to
"That's about it," said the Admiral, with a burst of frankness.
"And I must go with you whether I want to or not?"
"The Capen's very identical words!"
There was nothing to be done. I bit my lips with suppressed anger, and
signified that I was at his disposal, since I couldn't help it. The
impression was very strong in my mind that the Admiral wouldn't hesitate to
put me in irons if I showed signs of mutiny.
It was too late to return to Rivermouth that night-a fact which I
communicated to the old boy sullenly, inquiring at the same time what he
proposed to do about it.
He said we would cruise about for some rations, and then make a night of it.
I didn't condescend to reply, though I hailed the suggestion of something
to eat with inward enthusiasm, for I had not taken enough food that day to
keep life in a canary.
'We wandered back to the railway station, in the waiting room of which was a
kind of restaurant presided over by a severe-looking young lady. Here we
had a cup of coffee apiece, several tough doughnuts, and some blocks of
venerable spongecake. The young lady who attended on us, whatever her age
was then, must have been a mere child when that sponge-cake was made.
The Admiral's acquaintance with Boston hotels was slight; but he knew of a
quiet lodging-house near by, much patronized by sea-captains, arid kept by
a former friend of his.
In this house, which had seen its best days, we were accommodated with a
mouldy chamber containing two cot-beds, two chairs, and a cracked pitcher
on a washstand. The mantel-shelf was ornamented with three big pink
conch-shells, resembling pieces of petrified liver; and over these hung a
cheap lurid print, in which a United States sloop-of-war was giving a
British frigate particular fits. It is very strange how our own ships never
seem to suffer any in these terrible engagements. It shows what a nation we
An oil-lamp on a deal-table cast a dismal glare over the apartment, which
was cheerless in the extreme. I thought of our sitting-room at home, with
its flowery wall-paper and gay curtains and soft lounges; I saw Major
Elkanah Nutter (my grandfather's father) in powdered wig and Federal
uniform, looking down benevolently from his gilt frame between the
bookcases; I pictured the Captain and Miss Abigail sitting at the cosey
round table in the moon-like glow of the astral lamp; and then I fell to
wondering how they would receive me when 1 came back. I wondered if the
Prodigal Son had any idea that his father was going to kill the fatted calf
for him, and how he felt about it, on the whole.
Though I was very low in spirits, I put on a bold front to Sailor Ben, you
will understand. To be caught and caged in this manner was a frightful
shock to my vanity. He tried to draw me into conversation; but I answered
in icy monosyllables. He again suggested we should make a night of it, and
hinted broadly that he was game for any amount of riotous dissipation, even
to the extent of going to see a play if I wanted to. I declined haughtily.
I was dying to go.
He then threw out a feeler on the subject of dominos and checkers, and
observed in a general way that "seven up" was a capital game; but I
repulsed him at every point.
I saw that the Admiral was beginning to feel hurt by my systematic coldness.
'We had always been such hearty friends until now. It was too bad of me to
fret that tender, honest old heart even for an hour. I really did love the
ancient boy, and when, in a disconsolate way, he ordered up a pitcher of
beer, I unbent so far as to partake of some in a teacup. He recovered his
spirits instantly, and took out his cuddy clay pipe for a smoke.
Between the beer and the soothing fragrance of the navy-plug, I fell into a
pleasanter mood myself, and, it being too late now to go to the theatre, I
condescended to say-addressing the northwest corner of the ceiling-that
"seven up" was a capital game. Upon this hint the Admiral disappeared, and
returned shortly with a very dirty pack of cards.
As we played, with varying fortunes, by the flickering flame of the lamp, he
sipped his beer and became communicative. He seemed immensely tickled by
the fact that I had come to Boston. It leaked out presently that he and the
Captain had had a wager on the subject.
The discovery of my plans and who had discovered them were points on which
the Admiral refused to throw any light. They had been discovered, however,
and the Captain had laughed at the idea of my running away. Sailor Ben, on
the contrary, had stoutly contended that I meant to slip cable and be off.
Whereupon the Captain offered to bet him a dollar that I wouldn't go. And
it was partly on account of this wager that Sailor Ben refrained from
capturing me when he might have done so at the start.
Now, as the fare to and from Boston, with the lodging expenses, would cost
him at least five dollars, I didn't see what he gained by winning the
wager. The Admiral rubbed his nose violently when this view of the case
I asked him why he didn't take me from the train at the first stopping-place
and return to Rivermouth by the down train at 4.30. He explained having
purchased a ticket for Boston, he considered himself bound to the owners
(the stockholders of the road) to fulfil his part of the contract! To use
his own words, he had "shipped for the viage."
This struck me as being so deliciously funny, that after I was in bed and
the light was out, I couldn't help laughing aloud once or twice. I suppose
the Admiral must have thought I was meditating another escape, for he made
periodical visits to my bed throughout the night, satisfying himself by
kneading me all over that I hadn't evaporated.
I was all there the next morning, when Sailor Ben half awakened me by
shouting merrily, "All hands on deck!" The words rang in my ears like a
part of my own dream, for I was at that instant climbing up the side of the
Rawlings to offer myself as cabin-boy.
The Admiral was obliged to shake me roughly two or three times before he
could detach me from the dream. I opened my eyes with effort, and stared
stupidly round the room. Bit by bit my real situation dawned on me. 'What a
sickening sensation that is, when one is in trouble, to wake up feeling
free for a moment, and then to find yesterday's sorrow all ready to go on
"'Well, little messmate, how fares it?"
I was too much depressed to reply. The thought of returning to Rivermouth
chilled me. How could I face Captain Nutter, to say nothing of Miss Abigail
and Kitty? How the Temple Grammar School boys would look at me! How Conway
and Seth Rodgers would exult over my mortification! And what if the Rev.
'Wibird Hawkins should allude to me in his next Sunday's sermon?
Sailor Ben was wise in keeping an eye on me, for after these thoughts took
possession of my mind, I wanted only the opportunity to give him the slip.
The keeper of the lodgings did not supply meals to his guests; so we
breakfasted at a small chophouse in a crooked street on our way to the
cars. The city was not astir yet, and looked glum and careworn in the damp
Here and there as we passed along was a sharp-faced shop-boy taking down
shutters; and now and then we met a seedy man who had evidently spent the
night in a doorway. Such early birds and a few laborers with their tin
kettles were the only signs of life to be seen until we came to the
station, where I insisted on paying for my own ticket. I didn't relish
being conveyed from place to place, like a felon changing prisons, at
somebody else's expense.
On entering the car I sunk into a seat next the window, and Sailor Ben
deposited himself beside me, cutting off all chance of escape.
The car filled up soon after this, and I wondered if there was anything in
my mien that would lead the other passengers to suspect I was a boy who had
run away and was being brought back.
A man in front of us-he was near-sighted, as I discovered later by his
reading a guide-book with his nose-brought the blood to my cheeks by
turning round and peering at me steadily. I rubbed a clear spot on the
cloudy window-glass at my elbow, and looked out to avoid him.
There, in the travellers' room, was the severe-looking young lady piling up
her blocks of sponge-cake in alluring pyramids and industriously
intrenching herself behind a breastwork of squash-pie. I saw with cynical
pleasure numerous victims walk up to the counter and recklessly sow the
seeds of death in their constitutions by eating her doughnuts. I had got
quite interested in her, when the whistle sounded and the train began to
The Admiral and I did not talk much on the journey. I stared out of the
window most of the time, speculating as to the probable nature of the
reception in store for me at the terminus of the road.
'What would the Captain say? and Mr. Grimshaw, what would he do about it?
Then I thought of Pepper Whitcomb. Dire was the vengeance I meant to wreak
on Pepper, for who but he had betrayed me? Pepper alone had been the
repository of my secret-perfidious Pepper!
As we left station after station behind us, I felt less and less like
encountering the members of our family. Sailor Ben fathomed what was
passing in my mind, for he leaned over and said:
"I don't think as the Capen will bear down very hard on you."
But it wasn't that. It wasn't the fear of any physical punishment that might
be inflicted; it was a sense of my own folly that was creeping over me; for
during the long, silent ride I had examined my conduct from every
stand-point, and there was no view I could take of myself in which I did
not look like a very foolish person indeed.
As we came within sight of the spires of Rivermouth, I wouldn't have cared
if the up train, which met us outside the town, had run into us and ended
Contrary to my expectation and dread, the Captain was not visible when we
stepped from the cars. Sailor Ben glanced among the crowd of faces,
apparently looking for him too. Conway was there-he was always hanging
about the station-and if he had intimated in any way that he knew of my
disgrace and enjoyed it, I should have walked into him, I am certain.
But this defiant feeling entirely deserted me by the time we reached the
Nutter House. The Captain himself opened the door.
"Come on board, sir," said Sailor Ben, scraping his left foot and touching
his hat sea-fashion.
My grandfather nodded to Sailor Ben, somewhat coldly I thought, and much to
my astonishment kindly took me by the hand.
I was unprepared for this, and the tears, which no amount of severity would
have wrung from me, welled up to my eyes.
The expression of my grandfather's face, as I glanced at it hastily, was
grave and gentle; there was nothing in it of anger or reproof. I followed
him into the sitting-room, and, obeying a motion of his hand, seated myself
on the sofa. He remained standing by the round table for a moment, lost in
thought, then leaned over and picked up a letter.
It was a letter with a great black seal.
In Which I Leave Rivermouth
A letter with a great black seal!
I knew then what had happened as well as I know it now. But which was it,
father or mother? I do not like to look back to the agony and suspense of
My father had died at New Orleans during one of his weekly visits to the
city. The letter bearing these tidings had reached Rivermouth the evening
of my flight-had passed me on the road by the down train.
I must turn back for a moment to that eventful evening. When I failed to
make my appearance at supper, the Captain began to suspect that I had
really started on my wild tour southward-a conjecture which Sailor Ben's
absence helped to confirm. I had evidently got off by the train and Sailor
Ben had followed me.
There was no telegraphic communication between Boston and Rivermouth in
those days; so my grandfather could do nothing but await the result. Even
if there had been another mail to Boston, he could not have availed himself
of it, not knowing how to address a message to the fugitives. The
post-office was naturally the last place either I or the Admiral would
think of visiting.
My grandfather, however, was too full of trouble to allow this to add to his
distress. He knew that the faithful old sailor would not let me come to any
harm, and even if I had managed for the time being to elude him, was sure
to bring me back sooner or later.
Our return, therefore, by the first train on the following day did not
I was greatly puzzled, as I have said, by the gentle manner of his
reception; but when we were alone together in the sitting-room, and he
began slowly to unfold the letter, I understood it all. I caught a sight of
my mother's handwriting in the superscription, and there was nothing left
to tell me.
My grandfather held the letter a few seconds irresolutely, and then
commenced reading it aloud; but he could get no further than the date.
"I can't read it, Tom," said the old gentleman, breaking down. "I thought I
He handed it to me. I took the letter mechanically, and hurried away with it
to my little room, where I had passed so many happy hours.
The week that followed the receipt of this letter is nearly a blank in my
memory. I remember that the days appeared endless; that at times I could
not realize the misfortune that had befallen us, and my heart upbraided me
for not feeling a deeper grief; that a full sense of my loss would now and
then sweep over me like an inspiration, and I would steal away to my
chamber or wander forlornly about the gardens. I remember this, but little
As the days went by my first grief subsided, and in its place grew up a want
which I have experienced at every step in life from boyhood to manhood.
Often, even now, after all these years, when I see a lad of twelve or
fourteen walking by his father's side, and glancing merrily up at his face,
I turn and look after them, and am conscious that I have missed
companionship most sweet and sacred.
I shall not dwell on this portion of my story. There were many tranquil,
pleasant hours in store for me at that period, and I prefer to turn to
One evening the Captain came smiling into the sitting-room with an open
letter in his hand. My mother had arrived at New York, and would be with us
the next day. For the first time in weeks-years, it seemed to me-something
of the old cheerfulness mingled with our conversation round the evening
lamp. I was to go to Boston with the Captain to meet her and bring her
home. I need not describe that meeting. With my mother's hand in mine once
more, all the long years we had been parted appeared like a dream. Very
dear to me was the sight of that slender, pale woman passing from room to
room, and lending a patient grace and beauty to the saddened life of the
Everything was changed with us now. There were consultations with lawyers,
and signing of papers, and correspondence; for my father's affairs had been
left in great confusion. And when these were settled, the evenings were not
long enough for us to hear all my mother had to tell of the scenes she had
passed through in the ill-fated city.
Then there were old times to talk over, full of reminiscences of Aunt Chloe
and little Black Sam. Little Black Sam, by the by, had been taken by his
master from my father's service ten months previously, and put on a
sugar-plantation near Baton Rouge. Not relishing the change, Sam had run
away, and by some mysterious agency got into Canada, from which place he
had sent back several indecorous messages to his late owner. Aunt Chloe was
still in New Orleans, employed as nurse in one of the cholera hospital
wards, and the Desmoulins, near neighbors of ours, had purchased the pretty
stone house among the orange-trees.
How all these simple details interested me will be readily understood by any
boy who has been long absent from home.
I was sorry when it became necessary to discuss questions more nearly
affecting myself. I had been removed from school temporarily, but it was
decided, after much consideration, that I should not return, the decision
being left, in a manner, in my own hands.
The Captain wished to carry out his son's intention and send me to college,
for which I was nearly fitted; but our means did not admit of this. The
Captain, too, could ill afford to bear the expense, for his losses by the
failure of the New Orleans business had been heavy. Yet he insisted on the
plan, not seeing clearly what other disposal to make of me.
In the midst of our discussions a letter came from my Uncle Snow, a merchant
in New York, generously offering me a place in his counting-house. The case
resolved itself into this: If I went to college, I should have to be
dependent on Captain Nutter for several years, and at the end of the
collegiate course would have no settled profession. If I accepted my
uncle's offer, I might hope to work my way to independence without loss of
time. It was hard to give up the long-cherished dream of being a Harvard
boy; but I gave it up.
The decision once made, it was Uncle Snow's wish that I should enter his
counting-house immediately. The cause of my good uncle's haste was this-he
was afraid that I would turn out to be a poet before he could make a
merchant of me. His fears were based upon the fact that I had published in
the Rivermouth Barnacle some verses addressed in a familiar manner "To the
Moon." Now, the idea of a boy, with his living to get, placing himself in
communication with the Moon, struck the mercantile mind as monstrous. It
was not only a bad investment, it was lunacy.
'We adopted Uncle Snow's views so far as to accede to his proposition
forthwith. My mother, I neglected to say, was also to reside in New York.
I shall not draw a picture of Pepper Whitcomb's disgust when the news was
imparted to him, nor attempt to paint Sailor Ben's distress at the prospect
of losing his little messmate.
In the excitement of preparing for the journey I didn't feel any very deep
regret myself. But when the moment came for leaving, and I saw my small
trunk lashed up behind the carriage, then the pleasantness of the old life
and a vague dread of the new came over me, and a mist filled my eyes,
shutting out the group of schoolfellows, including all the members of the
Centipede Club, who had come down to the house to see me off.
As the carriage swept round the corner, I leaned out of the window to take a
last look at Sailor Ben's cottage, and there was the Admiral's flag flying
So I left Rivermouth, little dreaming that I was not to see the old place
again for many and many a year.
With the close of my school-days at Rivermouth this modest chronicle ends.
The new life upon which I entered, the new friends and foes I encountered on
the road, and what I did and what I did not, are matters that do not come
within the scope of these pages. But before I write Finis to the record as
it stands, before I leave it-feeling as if I were once more going away from
my boyhood-I have a word or two to say concerning a few of the personages
who have figured in the story, if you will allow me to call Gypsy a
I am sure that the reader who has followed me thus far will be willing to
hear what became of her, and Sailor Ben and Miss Abigail and the Captain.
First about Gypsy. A month after my departure from Rivemouth the Captain
informed me by letter that he had parted with the little mare, according to
agreement. She had been sold to the ring-master of a travelling circus (I
had stipulated on this disposal of her), and was about to set out on her
travels. She did not disappoint my glowing anticipations, but became quite
a celebrity in her way-by dancing the polka to slow music on a pine-board
ball-room constructed for the purpose.
I chanced once, a long while afterwards, to be in a country town where her
troupe was giving exhibitions; I even read the gaudily illumined show-bill,
setting forth the accomplishments of Zuleika, the famed Arabian Trick
Pony-but I failed to recognize my dear little Mustang girl behind those
high-sounding titles, and so, alas, did not attend the performance! I hope
all the praises she received and all the spangled trappings she wore did
not spoil her; but I am afraid they did, for she was always over much given
to the vanities of this world!
Miss Abigail regulated the domestic destinies of my grandfather's household
until the day of her death, which Dr. Theophilus Tredick solemnly averred
was hastened by the inveterate habit she had contracted of swallowing
unknown quantities of hot-drops whenever she fancied herself out of sorts.
Eighty-seven empty phials were found in a bonnet-box on a shelf in her
The old house became very lonely when the family got reduced to Captain
Nutter and Kitty; and when Kitty passed away, my grandfather divided his
time between Rivermouth and New York.
Sailor Ben did not long survive his little Irish lass, as he always fondly
called her. At his demise, which took place about six years since, he left
his property in trust to the managers of a "Home for Aged Mariners." In his
will, which was a very whimsical document-written by himself, and worded
with much shrewdness, too-he warned the Trustees that when he got "aloft"