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The Bee-Man of Orn and Other Fanciful Tales online

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reception.

"We will not do that at present," said the Queen. "When I shall have
thoroughly examined and studied all these objects, most of which are
entirely new to me, we will decide about the button-holes."

The Hermit's Pupil did not return to his cave. He was greatly
delighted with the spice and dash of a robber's life, so different
from that of a hermit; and he determined, if possible, to change his
business and enter the band. He had a conversation with the Captain
on the subject, and that individual encouraged him in his purpose.

"I am tired," the Captain said, "of a robber's life. I have stolen so
much, that I cannot use what I have. I take no further interest in
accumulating spoils. The quiet of a hermit's life attracts me; and,
if you like we will change places. I will become the pupil of your
old master, and you shall be the captain of my band."

The change was made. The Captain retired to the cave of the Hermit's
Pupil, while the latter, with the hearty consent of all the men, took
command of the band of robbers.

When the King heard of this change, he was not at all pleased, and he
sent for the ex-pupil.

"I am willing to reward you," he said, "for assisting me in my recent
undertaking; but I cannot allow you to lead a band of robbers in my
dominions."

A dark shade of disappointment passed over the ex-pupil's features,
and his face lengthened visibly.

"It is too bad," he said, "to be thus cut short at the very outset of
a brilliant career. I'll tell you what I'll do," he added suddenly,
his face brightening, "if you'll let me keep on in my new profession,
I'll promise to do nothing but rob robbers."

"Very well," said the King, "if you will confine yourself to that,
you may retain your position."

The members of the band were perfectly willing to rob in the new way,
for it seemed quite novel and exciting to them. The first place they
robbed was their own cave, and as they all had excellent memories,
they knew from whom the various goods had been stolen, and every
thing was returned to its proper owner. The ex-pupil then led his
band against the other dens of robbers in the kingdom, and his
movements were conducted with such dash and vigor that the various
hordes scattered in every direction, while the treasures in their
dens were returned to the owners, or, if these could not be found,
were given to the poor. In a short time every robber, except those
led by the ex-pupil, had gone into some other business; and the
victorious youth led his band into other kingdoms to continue the
great work of robbing robbers.

The Queen never sent for the collection of curiosities which the
robbers had stolen from her. She was so much interested in the new
museum that she continually postponed the re-establishment of her old
one; and, as far as can be known, the button-holes are still in the
cave where the robbers shut them up.





CHRISTMAS BEFORE LAST;

OR, THE FRUIT OF THE FRAGILE PALM.

* * * * *

The "Horn o' Plenty" was a fine, big, old-fashioned ship, very high
in the bow, very high in the stern, with a quarter-deck always
carpeted in fine weather, because her captain could not see why one
should not make himself comfortable at sea as well as on land.
Covajos Maroots was her captain, and a fine, jolly, old-fashioned,
elderly sailor he was. The "Horn o' Plenty" always sailed upon one
sea, and always between two ports, one on the west side of the sea,
and one on the east. The port on the west was quite a large city, in
which Captain Covajos had a married son, and the port on the east was
another city in which he had a married daughter. In each family he
had several grandchildren; and, consequently, it was a great joy to
the jolly old sailor to arrive at either port. The Captain was very
particular about his cargo, and the "Horn o' Plenty" was generally
laden with good things to eat, or sweet things to smell, or fine
things to wear, or beautiful things to look at. Once a merchant
brought to him some boxes of bitter aloes, and mustard plasters, but
Captain Covajos refused to take them into his ship.

"I know," said he, "that such things are very useful and necessary at
times, but you would better send them over in some other vessel. The
'Horn o' Plenty' has never carried any thing that to look at, to
taste, or to smell, did not delight the souls of old and young. I am
sure you cannot say that of these commodities. If I were to put such
things on board my ship, it would break the spell which more than
fifty savory voyages have thrown around it."

There were sailors who sailed upon that sea who used to say that
sometimes, when the weather was hazy and they could not see far, they
would know they were about to meet the "Horn o' Plenty" before she
came in sight; her planks and timbers, and even her sails and masts,
had gradually become so filled with the odor of good things that the
winds that blew over her were filled with an agreeable fragrance.

There was another thing about which Captain Covajos was very
particular; he always liked to arrive at one of his ports a few days
before Christmas. Never, in the course of his long life, had the old
sailor spent a Christmas at sea; and now that he had his fine
grandchildren to help make the holidays merry, it would have grieved
him very much if he had been unable to reach one or the other of his
ports in good season. His jolly old vessel was generally heavily
laden, and very slow, and there were many days of calms on that sea
when she did not sail at all, so that her voyages were usually very,
very long. But the Captain fixed the days of sailing so as to give
himself plenty of time to get to the other end of his course before
Christmas came around.

One spring, however, he started too late, and when he was about the
middle of his voyage, he called to him Baragat Bean, his old
boatswain. This venerable sailor had been with the Captain ever since
he had commanded the "Horn o' Plenty," and on important occasions he
was always consulted in preference to the other officers, none of
whom had served under Captain Covajos more then fifteen or twenty
years.

"Baragat," said the Captain, "we have just passed the Isle of
Guinea-Hens. You can see its one mountain standing up against the sky
to the north."

"Aye, aye, sir," said old Baragat; "there she stands, the same as
usual."

"That makes it plain," said the Captain, "that we are not yet
half-way across, and I am very much afraid that I shall not be able
to reach my dear daughter's house before Christmas."

"That would be doleful, indeed," said Baragat; "but I've feared
something of the kind, for we've had calms nearly every other day,
and sometimes, when the wind did blow, it came from the wrong
direction, and it's my belief that the ship sailed backward."

"That was very bad management," said the Captain. "The chief mate
should have seen to it that the sails were turned in such a manner
that the ship could not go backward. If that sort of thing happened
often, it would become quite a serious affair."

"But what is done can't be helped," said the boatswain, "and I don't
see how you are going to get into port before Christmas."

"Nor do I," said the Captain, gazing out over the sea.

"It would give me a sad turn, sir," said Baragat, "to see you spend
Christmas at sea; a thing you never did before, nor ever shall do, if
I can help it. If you'll take my advice, sir, you'll turn around, and
go back. It's a shorter distance to the port we started from than to
the one we are going to, and if we turn back now, I am sure we all
shall be on shore before the holidays."

"Go back to my son's house!" exclaimed Captain Covajos, "where I was
last winter! Why, that would be like spending last Christmas over
again!"

"But that would be better than having none at all, sir," said the
boatswain, "and a Christmas at sea would be about equal to none."

"Good!" exclaimed the Captain. "I will give up the coming Christmas
with my daughter and her children, and go back and spend last
Christmas over again with my son and his dear boys and girls. Have
the ship turned around immediately, Baragat, and tell the chief mate
I do not wish to sail backward if it can possibly be avoided."

For a week or more the "Horn o' Plenty" sailed back upon her track
towards the city where dwelt the Captain's son. The weather was fine,
the carpet was never taken up from the quarter-deck, and every thing
was going on very well, when a man, who happened to have an errand at
one of the topmasts, came down, and reported that, far away to the
north, he had seen a little open boat with some people in it.

"Ah me!" said Captain Covajos, "it must be some poor fellows who are
shipwrecked. It will take us out of our course, but we must not leave
them to their fate. Have the ship turned about, so that it will sail
northward."

It was not very long before they came up with the boat; and, much to
the Captain's surprise, he saw that it was filled with boys.

"Who are you?" he cried as soon as he was near enough. "And where do
you come from?"

"We are the First Class in Long Division," said the oldest boy, "and
we are cast away. Have you any thing to eat that you can spare us? We
are almost famished."

"We have plenty of every thing," said the Captain. "Come on board
instantly, and all your wants shall be supplied."

"How long have you been without food?" he asked, when the boys were
on the deck of the vessel.

"We have had nothing to eat since breakfast," said one of them; "and
it is now late in the afternoon. Some of us are nearly dead from
starvation."

"It is very hard for boys to go so long without eating," said the
good Captain. And leading them below, he soon set them to work upon a
bountiful meal.

Not until their hunger was fully satisfied did he ask them how they
came to be cast away.

"You see, sir," said the oldest boy, "that we and the Multiplication
Class had a holiday to-day, and each class took a boat and determined
to have a race, so as to settle, once for all, which was the highest
branch of arithmetic, multiplication or long division. Our class
rowed so hard that we entirely lost sight of the Multiplicationers,
and found indeed that we were out of sight of every thing; so that,
at last, we did not know which was the way back, and thus we became
castaways."

"Where is your school?" asked the Captain.

"It is on Apple Island," said the boy; "and, although it is a long
way off for a small boat with only four oars for nine boys, it can't
be very far for a ship."

"That is quite likely," said the Captain, "and we shall take you
home. Baragat, tell the chief mate to have the vessel turned toward
Apple Island, that we may restore these boys to their parents and
guardians."

Now, the chief mate had not the least idea in the world where Apple
Island was, but he did not like to ask, because that would be
confessing his ignorance; so he steered his vessel toward a point
where he believed he had once seen an island, which, probably, was
the one in question. The "Horn o' Plenty" sailed in this direction
all night, and when day broke, and there was no island in sight, she
took another course; and so sailed this way and that for six or seven
days, without ever seeing a sign of land. All this time, the First
Class in Long Division was as happy as it could be, for it was having
a perfect holiday; fishing off the sides of the vessel, climbing up
the ladders and ropes, and helping the sailors whistle for wind. But
the Captain now began to grow a little impatient, for he felt he was
losing time; so he sent for the chief mate, and said to him mildly
but firmly:

"I know it is out of the line of your duty to search for island
schools, but, if you really think that you do not know where Apple
Island lies, I wish you to say so, frankly and openly."

"Frankly and openly," answered the mate, "I don't think I do."

"Very well," said the Captain. "Now, that is a basis to work upon,
and we know where we stand. You can take a little rest, and let the
second mate find the island. But I can only give him three days in
which to do it. We really have no time to spare."

The second mate was very proud of the responsibility placed upon him,
and immediately ordered the vessel to be steered due south.

"One is just as likely," he said, "to find a totally unknown place by
going straight ahead in a certain direction, as by sailing here,
there, and everywhere. In this way, you really get over more water,
and there is less wear and tear of the ship and rigging."

So he sailed due south for two days, and at the end of that time they
came in sight of land. This was quite a large island, and when they
approached near enough, they saw upon its shores a very handsome
city.

"Is this Apple Island?" said Captain Covajos to the oldest boy.

"Well, sir," answered the youth, "I am not sure I can say with
certainty that I truly believe that it is; but, I think, if we were
to go on shore, the people there would be able to tell us how to go
to Apple Island."

"Very likely," said the good Captain; "and we will go on shore and
make inquiries. - And it has struck me, Baragat," he said, "that
perhaps the merchants in the city where my son lives may be somewhat
annoyed when the 'Horn o' Plenty' comes back with all their goods on
board, and not disposed of. Not understanding my motives, they may be
disposed to think ill of me. Consequently the idea has come into my
head, that it might be a good thing to stop here for a time, and try
to dispose of some of our merchandise. The city seems to be quite
prosperous, and I have no doubt there are a number of merchants
here."

So the "Horn o' Plenty" was soon anchored in the harbor, and as many
of the officers and crew as could be spared went on shore to make
inquiries. Of course the First Class in Long Division was not left
behind; and, indeed, they were ashore as soon as anybody. The Captain
and his companions were cordially welcomed by some of the dignitaries
of the city who had come down to the harbor to see the strange
vessel; but no one could give any information in regard to Apple
Island, the name of which had never been heard on those shores. The
Captain was naturally desirous of knowing at what place he had
landed, and was informed that this was the Island of the Fragile
Palm.

"That is rather an odd name," said the old Captain. "Why is it so
called?"

"The reason is this," said his informant. "Near the centre of the
island stands a tall and very slender palm-tree, which has been
growing there for hundreds of years. It bears large and handsome
fruit which is something like the cocoanut; and, in its perfection,
is said to be a transcendently delicious fruit."

"Said to be!" exclaimed the Captain; "are you not positive about it?"

"No," said the other; "no one living has ever tasted the fruit in its
perfection. When it becomes overripe, it drops to the ground, and,
even then, it is considered royal property, and is taken to the
palace for the King's table. But on fête-days and grand occasions
small bits of it are distributed to the populace."

"Why don't you pick the fruit," asked Captain Covajos, "when it is in
its best condition to eat?"

"It would be impossible," said the citizen, "for any one to climb up
that tree, the trunk of which is so extremely delicate and fragile
that the weight of a man would probably snap it; and, of course, a
ladder placed against it would produce the same result. Many attempts
have been made to secure this fruit at the proper season, but all of
them have failed. Another palm-tree of a more robust sort was once
planted near this one in the hope that when it grew high enough, men
could climb up the stronger tree and get the fruit from the other.
But, although we waited many years the second tree never attained
sufficient height, and it was cut down."

"It is a great pity," said the Captain; "but I suppose it cannot be
helped." And then he began to make inquiries about the merchants in
the place, and what probability there was of his doing a little trade
here. The Captain soon discovered that the cargo of his ship was made
up of goods which were greatly desired by the citizens of this place;
and for several days he was very busy in selling the good things to
eat, the sweet things to smell, the fine things to wear, and the
beautiful things to look at, with which the hold of the "Horn o'
Plenty" was crowded.

During this time the First Class in Long Division roamed, in delight,
over the city. The busy streets, the shops, the handsome buildings,
and the queer sights which they occasionally met, interested and
amused them greatly. But still the boys were not satisfied. They had
heard of the Fragile Palm, and they made up their minds to go and
have a look at it. Therefore, taking a guide, they tramped out into
the country, and in about an hour they came in sight of the beautiful
tree standing in the centre of the plain. The trunk was, indeed,
exceedingly slender, and, as the guide informed them, the wood was of
so very brittle a nature that if the tree had not been protected from
the winds by the high hills which encircled it, it would have been
snapped off ages ago. Under the broad tuft of leaves that formed its
top, the boys saw hanging large clusters of the precious fruit; great
nuts as big as their heads.

"At what time of the year," asked the oldest boy, "is that fruit just
ripe enough to eat?"

"Now," answered the guide. "This is the season when it is in the most
perfect condition. In about a month it will become entirely too ripe
and soft, and will drop. But, even then, the King and all the rest of
us are glad enough to get a taste of it."

"I should think the King would be exceedingly eager to get some of
it, just as it is," said the boy.

"Indeed he is!" replied the guide. "He and his father, and I don't
know how many grandfathers back, have offered large rewards to any
one who would procure them this fruit in its best condition. But
nobody has ever been able to get any yet."

"The reward still holds good, I suppose," said the head boy.

"Oh, yes," answered the guide; "there never was a King who so much
desired to taste the fruit as our present monarch."

The oldest boy looked up at the top of the tree, shut one eye, and
gave his head a little wag. Whereupon every boy in the class looked
up, shut one eye, and slightly wagged his head. After which the
oldest boy said that he thought it was about time for them to go back
to the ship.

As soon as they reached the vessel, and could talk together freely,
the boys had an animated discussion. It was unanimously agreed that
they would make an attempt to get some of the precious fruit from the
Fragile Palm, and the only difference of opinion among them was as to
how it should be done. Most of them were in favor of some method of
climbing the tree and trusting to its not breaking. But this the
oldest boy would not listen to; the trunk might snap, and then
somebody would be hurt, and he felt, in a measure, responsible for
the rest of the class. At length a good plan was proposed by a boy
who had studied mechanics.

"What we ought to do with that tree," said he, "is to put a hinge
into her. Then we could let her down gently, pick off the fruit, and
set her up again.

"But how are you going to do it?" asked the others.

"This is the way," said the boy who had studied mechanics. "You take
a saw, and then, about two feet from the ground, you begin and saw
down diagonally, for a foot and a half, to the centre of the trunk.
Then you go on the other side, and saw down in the same way, the two
outs meeting each other. Now you have the upper part of the trunk
ending in a wedge, which fits into a cleft in the lower part of the
trunk. Then, about nine inches below the place where you first began
to saw, you bore a hole straight through both sides of the cleft and
the wedge between them. Then you put an iron bolt through this hole,
and you have your tree on a hinge, only she wont be apt to move
because she fits in so snug and tight. Then you get a long rope, and
put one end in a slipknot loosely around the trunk. Then you get a
lot of poles, and tie them end to end, and push this slip-knot up
until it is somewhere near the top, when you pull it tight. Then you
take another rope with a slip-knot, and push this a little more than
half-way up the trunk. By having two ropes, that way, you prevent too
much strain coming on any one part of the trunk. Then, after that,
you take a mallet and chisel and round off the lower corners of the
wedge, so that it will turn easily in the cleft. Then we take hold of
the ropes, let her down gently, pick off the fruit, and haul her up
again. That will all be easy enough."

This plan delighted the boys, and they all pronounced in its favor;
but the oldest one suggested that it would be better to fasten the
ropes to the trunk before they began to saw upon it, and another boy
asked how they were going to keep the tree standing when they hauled
her up again.

"Oh, that is easy," said the one who had studied mechanics; "you just
bore another hole about six inches above the first one, and put in
another bolt. Then, of course, she can't move."

This settled all the difficulties, and it was agreed to start out
early the next morning, gather the fruit, and claim the reward the
King had offered. They accordingly went to the Captain and asked him
for a sharp saw, a mallet and chisel, an auger, two iron bolts, and
two very long ropes. These, having been cheerfully given to them,
were put away in readiness for the work to be attempted.

Very early on the next morning, the First Class in Long Division set
out for the Fragile Palm, carrying their tools and ropes. Few people
were awake as they passed through the city, and, without being
observed, they reached the little plain on which the tree stood. The
ropes were attached at the proper places, the tree was sawn,
diagonally, according to the plan; the bolt was put in, and the
corners of the wedge were rounded off. Then the eldest boy produced a
pound of butter, whereupon his comrades, who had seized the ropes,
paused in surprise and asked him why he had brought the butter.

"I thought it well," was the reply, "to bring along some butter,
because, when the tree is down, we can grease the hinge, and then it
will not be so hard to pull it up again."

When all was ready, eight of the boys took hold of the long ropes,
while another one with a pole pushed against the trunk of the Fragile
Palm. When it began to lean over a little, he dropped his pole and
ran to help the others with the ropes. Slowly the tree moved on its
hinge, descending at first very gradually; but it soon began to move
with greater rapidity, although the boys held it back with all their
strength; and, in spite of their most desperate efforts, the top came
to the ground at last with a great thump. And then they all dropped
their ropes, and ran for the fruit. Fortunately the great nuts
incased in their strong husks were not in the least injured, and the
boys soon pulled them off, about forty in all. Some of the boys were
in favor of cracking open a few of the nuts and eating them, but this
the eldest boy positively forbade.

"This fruit," he said, "is looked upon as almost sacred, and if we
were to eat any of it, it is probable that we should be put to death,
which would be extremely awkward for fellows who have gone to all the
trouble we have had. We must set up the tree and carry the fruit to
the King."

According to this advice, they thoroughly greased the hinge in the
tree with the butter, and then set themselves to work to haul up the
trunk. This, however, was much more difficult than letting it down;
and they had to lift up the head of it, and prop it up on poles,
before they could pull upon it with advantage. The tree, although
tall, was indeed a very slender one, with a small top, and, if it had
been as fragile as it was supposed to be, the boys' efforts would
surely have broken it. At last, after much tugging and warm work,
they pulled it into an upright position, and put in the second bolt.
They left the ropes on the tree because, as some of them had
suggested, the people might want to let the tree down again the next
year. It would have been difficult for the boys to carry in their
arms the great pile of fruit they had gathered; but, having noticed a
basket-maker's cottage on their way to the tree, two of them were
sent to buy one of his largest baskets or hampers. This was attached


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Online LibraryFrank Richard StocktonThe Bee-Man of Orn and Other Fanciful Tales → online text (page 6 of 13)