Frank Richard Stockton.

The novels and stories of Frank R. Stockton . (Volume 19) online

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They presented a strange sight
From a drawing by PETER NEWELL






Copyright, 1900, 1903, by









"COME IN, NEW YEAR" . . . .183



HALL 265



BY land or sea, from old-time mansion, from far
afield or afloat, from inland waters or the distant
seas, these stories come together and form a company
which will proceed, whether on wheels or keels, into
that vast region marked "Unknown" on the maps of
good and bad fortune.

These stories wear no uniform, and although they
stand together, each in its appointed place, they have
no common purpose except to make a book. They
are related only by the bonds of love or water, for
those tales the interest of which does not rest on the
fate of lovers deal with the fortunes of the brave folk
who float on stream or ocean.

For the moment it was thought that it might be
well to give the book the title of "Love and Water,"
for there is but one story in it, and that a little one,
which does not deal with one or the other or both of
these two great sources of romance. But as it was
deemed unwise to designate the tales by a title which
might be construed to indicate diluted affection, this
idea was quickly set aside.

There are a great many Bullers in this world, and
perhaps an equal number of Podingtons, who find that
while there is joy afield and happiness afloat, it is
dangerous to forsake a chosen element and to do that



which may give an amphibious nature to one's ex
periences. The two friends in the opening story are
not the first to find out that a mixture of land and
water makes mud.

But in "The Mule-Car" the happy lovers care not
whether it is on land or water that they sit together
and hold each other's hands. Love to them is every
thing, and whether it be tossing wave or ragged
rocks of which the world around them is composed,
they care not. Their Cupid bears no bow, but he
wears upon his neck a tinkling bell.

It is to the troublous storms which of late have
swept the Spanish Main that a governor-general of
an Eastern isle, a Spanish captain, and a Yankee
skipper owe their places in this group of tales. War
is stern and grim, no matter how we look at it ; but
on the edges of the most dreadful precipice fair vines
and blossoms often grow, and we are lucky if we can
pick the flowers without tumbling into the deep

The holiday story belongs to the land. Although
Christmas comes to those who sail upon the seas,
and the New Year begins upon the ocean on the first
of January, as it does on mountain or on plain, Santa
Claus was never known to come sliding down a mast,
nor is it likely that the New Year was ever asked to
come in through an open hatchway. The true Christ
mas revel demands the warm hearthstone and the
sheltering roof.

So, too, the ghost ; the great staircase and the lofty
halls of the olden times best please his fancy, and
although the spirit of a departed mariner might ap
pear on quarter-deck, in cabin, or even at the wheel,



it would, most likely, present a dim and watery
aspect. The true ghost, though of no weight what
ever, demands solid ground to tread upon, whether
said ground be tradition or old oaken floors.

The boomerang does not always hit its mark, and
it often fails to come back again in the manner and
direction which was expected of it j but to the on
looker a devious course and unexpected deflections
may be more interesting than a commonplace flight
direct to its object and an ordinary return to the
hands of the hurler.

A well-tied " sailor's knot " has nothing Gordian
about it. It may appear difficult, or even impossible,
to untie it ; but if one knows how to give it the
proper pull the thing is done the knot disappears.
Thus it is in the story in which Captain Brower ties
a knot which it would appear no man could loose ;
yet, in spite of all this subtle ingenuity, old Captain
Lopper finds a hidden end of a rope, and, although it
may be said that he uses his teeth, the knot was
pulled apart and love's restrictions fell away.

Love has nothing to do with " The Ghosts in my
Tower," and there is no water in the story. Like
the tower, this little tale stands up alone ; as for the
ghost, he hated water, and, as far as was possible,
avoided contact with the land. Thus, although
steadfastly keeping its place in the line, this story is
not unlike an unarmed Eskimo marching into China
with the International marines.

" The Landsman's Tale " came into existence in a
fashion somewhat odd. It was first told to a company
of salt- wrinkled Cape Cod captains, all with memories
laden with wild doings of the winds and waves ; and



rocks were never so hard and stern as were the coun
tenances of these old mariners while listening to the
tale the landsman told. But not one word was heard
in deprecation. If a traveller from afar had told
them that he had seen a turtle of Galapagos playing
upon a violoncello, they would have regarded him
with the same silent, stony stare with which they
gazed upon the landsman who presumed to tell a
story of the sea.

With the rippling of water, the rumbling of
wheels, the tinkling of a bell, the booming of can
non, the silent footsteps of ghosts, the crash of tim
bers, and the roar of a hurricane, these stories now
go on, and good luck go with them !



"T TELL yon, William," said Thomas Buller to his
JL friend Mr. Podington, "I am truly sorry about it,
but I cannot arrange for it this year. Now, as to my
invitationthat is very different."

"Of course it is different," was the reply, "but I am
obliged to say, as I said before, that I really cannot
accept it."

Remarks similar to these had been made by Thomas
Buller and William Podington at least once a year for
some five years. They were old friends ; they had
been school-boys together, and had been associated in
business since they were young men. They had now
reached a vigorous middle age ; they were each mar
ried, and each had a house in the country in which
he resided for a part of the year. They were warmly
attached to each other, and each was the best friend
the other had in this world. But during all these
years neither of them had visited the other in his
country home.

The reason for this avoidance of each other at their
respective rural residences may be briefly stated. Mr.
Buller's country house was situated by the sea, and he
was very fond of the water. He had a good cat-boat,



which he sailed himself with much judgment and skill,
and it was his greatest pleasure to take his friends and
visitors upon little .excursions on the bay. But Mr.
Podington was desperately afraid of the water, and
he was particularly afraid of any craft sailed by an
amateur. If his friend Buller would have employed
a professional mariner, of years and experience, to
steer and manage his boat, Podington might have been
willing to take an occasional sail ; but as Buller al
ways insisted upon sailing his own boat, and took it
ill if any of his visitors doubted his ability to do so
properly, Podington did not wish to wound the self-
love of his friend, and he did not wish to be drowned.
Consequently he could not bring himself to consent
to go to Buller's house by the sea.

To receive his good friend Buller at his own house
in the beautiful upland region in which he lived
would have been a great joy to Mr. Podington j but
Buller could not be induced to visit him. Podington
was very fond of horses, and always drove himself,
while Buller was more afraid of horses than he was of
elephants or lions. To one or more horses driven by
a coachman of years and experience he did not always
object, but to a horse driven by Podington, who had
much experience and knowledge regarding mercantile
affairs but was merely an amateur horseman, he most
decidedly and strongly objected. He did not wish to
hurt his friend's feelings by refusing to go out to drive
with him, but he would not rack his own nervous
system by accompanying him. Therefore it was that
he had not yet visited the beautiful upland country
residence of Mr. Podington.

At last this state of things grew awkward. Mrs.



Buller and Mrs. Podington, often with their families,
visited each other at their country houses j but the fact
that on these occasions they were never accompanied
by their husbands caused more and more gossip among
their neighbors, both in the upland country and by
the sea.

One day in spring, as the two sat in their city office,
where Mr. Podington had just repeated his annual in
vitation, his friend replied to him thus :

"William, if I come to see you this summer, will
you visit me ? The thing is beginning to look a little
ridiculous, and people are talking about it."

Mr. Podington put his hand to his brow and for a
few moments closed his eyes. In his mind he saw a
cat-boat upon its side, the sails spread out over the
water, and two men, almost entirely immersed in the
waves, making efforts to reach the side of the boat.
One of these was getting on very well : that was Buller.
The other seemed about to sink j his arms were waving
uselessly in the air : that was himself. But he opened
his eyes and looked bravely out of the window ; it was
time to conquer all this ; it was indeed growing ridicu
lous. Buller had been sailing many years and had
never been upset.

"Yes," said he, "I will do it ; I am ready any time
you name."

Mr. Buller rose and stretched out his hand.
"Good ! " said he. "It is a compact ! "

Buller was the first to make the promised country
visit. He had not mentioned the subject of horses to
his friend, but he knew through Mrs. Buller that
Podington still continued to be his own driver. She
had informed him, however, that at present he was



accustomed to drive a big black horse which, in her
opinion, was as gentle and reliable as these animals
ever became, and she could not imagine how anybody
could be afraid of him. So when, the next morning
after his arrival, Mr. Buller was asked by his host if
he would like to take a drive, he suppressed a certain
rising emotion and said that it would please him very

When the good black horse had jogged along a
pleasant road for half an hour Mr. Buller began to
feel that, perhaps, for all these years he had been
laboring under a misconception. It seemed possible
that there were some horses to which surrounding
circumstances in the shape of sights and sounds were
so irrelevant that they were to a certain degree en
tirely safe, even when guided and controlled by an
amateur hand. As they passed a piece of meadow-
land somebody behind a hedge fired a gun ; Mr. Buller
was frightened, but the horse was not.

"William," said Buller, looking cheerfully around
him, "I had no idea that you lived in such a pretty
country. In fact, I might almost call it beautiful.
You have not any wide stretch of water such as I
like so much, but here is a pretty river, those rolling
hills are very charming, and, beyond, you have the
blue of the mountains."

"It is lovely," said his friend j "I never get tired of
driving through this country. Of course the seaside
is very fine, but here we have such a variety of

Mr. Buller could not help thinking that sometimes
the seaside was a little monotonous, and that he had
lost a great deal of pleasure by not varying his sum-



mers by going up to spend a week or two with Pod

"William," said he, "how long have you had this

"About two years," said Mr. Podington j "before I
got him, I used to drive a pair."

"Heavens ! " thought Buller, "how lucky I was not
to come two years ago ! " And his regrets for not
sooner visiting his friend greatly decreased.

Now they came to a place where the stream by
which the road ran had been dammed for a mill and
had widened into a beautiful pond.

"There, now!" cried Mr. Buller. "That's what I
like. William, you seem to have everything ! This
is really a very pretty sheet of water, and the reflec
tions of the trees over there make a charming picture ;
you can't get that at the seaside, you know."

Mr. Podington was delighted ; his face glowed j he
was rejoiced at the pleasure of his friend. "I tell you,
Thomas," said he, "that"

"William ! " exclaimed Buller, with a sudden
squirm in his seat, "what is that I hear? Is that a

"Yes," said Mr. Podington j "that is the ten-forty

"Does it come near here?" asked Mr. Buller,
nervously. "Does it go over that bridge? "

"Yes," said Podington ; "but it can't hurt us, for our
road goes under the bridge. We are perfectly safe ;
there is no risk of accident."

"But your horse ! your horse ! " exclaimed Buller,
as the train came nearer and nearer. "What will
he do?"


"Do? " said Podington. "He'll do what lie is doing
now ; he doesn't mind trains."

"But look here, William," exclaimed Buller, "it
will get there just as we do ; no horse could stand a
roaring in the air like that ! "

Podington laughed. "He will not mind it in the
least," said he.

"Come, come, now," cried Buller. "Keally, I can't
stand this ! Just stop a minute, William, and let me
get out. It sets all my nerves quivering."

Mr. Podington smiled with a superior smile. "Oh,
you needn't get out," said he ; "there's not the least
danger in the world. But I don't want to make you
nervous, and I will turn around and drive the other

"But you can't ! " screamed Buller ; "this road is
not wide enough, and that train is nearly here.
Please stop ! "

The imputation that the road was not wide enough
for him to turn in was too much for Mr. Podington to
bear. He was very proud of his ability to turn a
vehicle in a narrow place.

"Turn ! " said he. "That's the easiest thing in the
world. See j a little to the right, then a back, then a
sweep to the left, and we will be going the other way."
And instantly he began the manoeuvre in which he
was such an adept.

"Oh, Thomas ! " cried Buller, half rising in his seat,
"that train is almost here ! "

"And we are almost" Mr. Podington was about
to say "turned around," but he stopped. Mr. Buller's
exclamations had made him a little nervous, and, in
his anxiety to turn quickly, he had pulled upon his



horse's bit with more energy than was actually neces
sary, and, his nervousness being communicated to the
horse, that animal backed with such extraordinary
vigor that the hind wheels of the wagon went over a
bit of grass by the road and into the water. The
sudden jolt gave a new impetus to Mr. Buller's fears.

"You'll upset ! " he cried, and not thinking of what
he was about, he laid hold of his friend's arm. The
horse, startled by this sudden jerk upon his bit, which,
combined with the thundering of the train, now on the
bridge, made him think that something extraordinary
was about to happen, gave a sudden and forcible
start backward, so that not only the hind wheels of
the light wagon, but the fore wheels and his own hind
legs, went into the water. As the bank at this spot
sloped steeply, the wagon continued to go backward,
despite the efforts of the agitated horse to find a foot
ing on the crumbling edge of the bank.

"Whoa ! " cried Mr. Buller.

"Get up ! " exclaimed Mr. Podington, applying his
whip upon the plunging beast.

But exclamations and castigations had no effect
upon the horse. The original bed of the stream ran
close to the road, and the bank was so steep and the
earth so soft that it was impossible for the horse to
advance or even to maintain his footing. Back, back
he went, until the whole equipage was in the water
and the wagon was afloat.

This vehicle was a road- wagon without a top, and
the joints of its box-body were tight enough to pre
vent the water from entering it immediately; so,
though somewhat deeply sunken, it rested upon the
water. There was a current in this part of the pond,



and it turned the wagon down-stream. The horse
was now entirely immersed in the water, with the
exception of his head and the upper part of his neck,
and, unable to reach the bottom with his feet, he
made vigorous efforts to swim.

Mr. Podington, the reins and the whip in his hands,
sat horrified and pale ; the accident was so sudden, he
was so startled and so frightened, that for a moment
he could not speak a word. Mr. Buller, on the other
hand, was now lively and alert. The wagon had no
sooner floated away from the shore than he felt him
self at home. He was upon his favorite element;
water had no terrors for him. He saw that his friend
was frightened nearly out of his wits, and that, figura
tively speaking, he must step to the helm and take
charge of the vessel. He stood up and gazed about him.

"Put her across stream ! " he shouted ; "she can't
make headway against this current. Head her to
that clump of trees on the other side ; the bank is
lower there, and we can beach her. Move a little the
other way ; we must trim boat. Now, then, pull on
your starboard rein."

Podington obeyed, and the horse slightly changed
his direction.

"You see," said Buller, "it won't do to sail straight
across, because the current would carry us down and
land us below that spot."

Mr. Podington said not a word ; he expected every
moment to see the horse sink into a watery grave.

"It isn't so bad, after all, is it, Podington?" con
tinued Buller. "If we had a rudder and a bit of a
sail it would be a great help to the horse ; this wagon
is not a bad boat."



The despairing Podington looked at his feet. "It's
coming in," he said in a husky voice. "Thomas, the
water is over my shoes ! "

"That's so," said Buller. "I am so used to water I
didn't notice it. She leaks. Do you carry anything
to bail her out with! "

"Bail!" cried Podington, now finding his voice.
"Oh, Thomas, we are sinking ! "

"That's so," said Buller ; "she leaks like a sieve."

The weight of the running-gear and of the two men
was entirely too much for the buoyancy of the wagon-
body. The water rapidly rose toward the top of its

"We are going to drown ! " cried Podington, sud
denly rising.

"Lick him ! Lick him ! " exclaimed Buller.
"Make him swim faster ! "

"There's nothing to lick," cried Podington, vainly
lashing at the water, for he could not reach the horse's
head. The poor man was dreadfully frightened ; he
had never even imagined it possible that he should
be drowned in his own wagon.

"Whoop ! " cried Buller, as the water rose over the
sides. "Steady yourself, old boy, or you'll go over
board ! " And the next moment the wagon-body sank
out of sight.

But it did not go down very far. The deepest part
of the channel of the stream had been passed, and
with a bump the wheels struck the bottom.

"Heavens ! " cried Buller. "We are aground ! "

"Aground!" exclaimed Podington. "Heaven be
praised ! "

As the two men stood up in the submerged wagon


the water was above their knees, and when Poding-
ton looked out over the surface of the pond, now so
near his face, it seemed like a sheet of water he had
never seen before. It was something horrible, threat
ening to rise and envelop him. He trembled so that
he could scarcely keep his footing.

"William/ 7 said his companion, "you must sit
down j if you don't, you'll tumble overboard and be
drowned. There is nothing for you to hold to."

"Sit down ! " said Podington, gazing blankly at the
water around him. "I can't do that ! "

At this moment the horse made a slight movement.
Having touched bottom after his efforts in swimming
across the main bed of the stream with a floating
wagon in tow, he had stood for a few moments, his
head and neck well above water, and his back barely
visible beneath the surface. Having recovered his
breath, he now thought it was time to move on.

At the first step of the horse Mr. Podington began
to totter. Instinctively he clutched Buller.

"Sit down ! " cried the latter, "or you'll have us
both overboard/ 7 There was no help for it; down
sat Mr. Podington ; and as, with a great splash, he
came heavily upon the seat, the water rose to his waist.

"Ough ! " said he. "Thomas, shout for help."

"No use doing that," replied Buller, still standing
on his nautical legs ; "I don't see anybody, and I don't
see any boat. We'll get out all right. Just you stick
tight to the thwart."

"The what?" feebly asked the other.

"Oh, the seat, I mean. We can get to the shore
all right if you steer the horse straight. Head him
more across the pond."



"I can't head him," cried Podington. "I have
dropped the reins ! "

"Good gracious!" cried Mr. Buller, "that's bad.
Can't you steer him by shouting 'Gee 7 and <Haw>?"

"No/' said Podington ; "he isn't an ox. But perhaps
I can stop him." Then, with as much voice as he could
summon, he called out," Whoa ! " and the horse stopped.

"If you can't steer him any other way," said Buller,
"we must get the reins. Lend me your whip."

"I have dropped that too," said Podington ; "there
it floats."

"Oh, dear ! " said Buller, "I guess I'll have to dive
for them. If he were to run away, we should be in an
awful fix."

"Don't get out ! Don't get out ! " exclaimed Pod
ington. "You can reach over the dashboard."

"That's under water," said Buller j "it will be the
same thing as diving ; but it's got to be done, and I'll
try it. Don't you move, now ; I am more used to
water than you are."

Mr. Buller took off his hat and asked his friend to
hold it. He thought of his watch and other contents
of his pockets, but there was no place to put them, so
he gave them no more consideration. Then bravely
getting on his knees in the water, he leaned over the
dashboard, almost disappearing from sight. With his
disengaged hand Mr. Podington grasped the sub
merged coat-tails of his friend.

In a few seconds the upper part of Mr. Buller rose
from the water. He was dripping and puffing, and
Mr. Podington could not but think what a difference
it made in the appearance of his friend to have his
hair plastered close to his head.



"I got hold of one of them," said the sputtering
Buller, "but it was fast to something and I couldn't
get it loose."

"Was it thick and wide!" asked Podington.

"Yes," was the answer ; "it did seem so."

"Oh, that was a trace," said Podington ; "I don't
want that j the reins are thinner and lighter."

"Now I remember they are," said Buller. "I'll go
down again."

Again Mr. Buller leaned over the dashboard, and
this time he remained down longer, and when he
came up he puffed and sputtered more than be

"Is this it?" said he, holding up a strip of wet

"Yes," said Podington ; "you've got the reins."

"Well, take them, and steer. I would have found
them sooner if his tail had not got into my eyes.
That long tail's floating down there and spreading
itself out like a fan ; it tangled itself all around my
head. It would have been much easier if he had been
a bobtailed horse."

"Now, then," said Podington, "take your hat,
Thomas, and I'll try to drive."

Mr. Buller put on his hat, which was the only dry
thing about him, and the nervous Podington started
the horse so suddenly that even the sea-legs of Buller
were surprised, and he came very near going back
ward into the water ; but, recovering himself, he sat

"I don't wonder you did not like to do this, Wil
liam," said he. "Wet as I am, it's ghastly ! "

Encouraged by his master's voice, and by the feel-


ing of the familiar hand upon his bit, the horse moved

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Online LibraryFrank Richard StocktonThe novels and stories of Frank R. Stockton . (Volume 19) → online text (page 1 of 19)