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The Widow’s Bandbox
by [?]

“Now, let’s see, boys,” said Sam, when a comfortable meal of pork and beans had been disposed of, and a mug of cider was set down before the fire to warm. “I s’pect ye’ll like to hear a Down-East story to-night.”

Of course we did, and tumbled over each other in our eagerness to get the nearest place to the narrator.

Sam’s method of telling a story was as leisurely as that of some modern novel-writers. He would take his time for it, and proceed by easy stages. It was like the course of a dreamy, slow-moving river through a tangled meadow-flat,–not a rush nor a bush but was reflected in it; in short, Sam gave his philosophy of matters and things in general as he went along, and was especially careful to impress an edifying moral.

“Wal, ye see, boys, ye know I was born down to Newport,–there where it’s all ships and shipping, and sich. My old mother she kep’ a boardin’-house for sailors down there. Wal, ye see, I rolled and tumbled round the world pretty consid’able afore I got settled down here in Oldtown.

“Ye see, my mother she wanted to bind me out to a blacksmith, but I kind o’ sort o’ didn’t seem to take to it. It was kind o’ hard work, and boys is apt to want to take life easy. Wal, I used to run off to the sea-shore, and lie stretched out on them rocks there, and look off on to the water; and it did use to look so sort o’ blue and peaceful, and the ships come a sailin’ in and out so sort o’ easy and natural, that I felt as if that are’d be jest the easiest kind o’ life a fellow could have. All he had to do was to get aboard one o’ them ships, and be off seekin’ his fortin at t’other end o’ the rainbow, where gold grows on bushes and there’s valleys o’ diamonds.

“So, nothin’ would do but I gin my old mother the slip; and away I went to sea, with my duds tied up in a han’kercher.

“I tell ye what, boys, ef ye want to find an easy life, don’t ye never go to sea. I tell ye, life on shipboard ain’t what it looks to be on shore. I hadn’t been aboard more’n three hours afore I was the sickest critter that ever ye did see; and I tell you, I didn’t get no kind o’ compassion. Cap’ns and mates they allers thinks boys hain’t no kind o’ business to have no bowels nor nothin’, and they put it on ’em sick or well. It’s jest a kick here, and a cuff there, and a twitch by the ear in t’other place; one a shovin’ on ’em this way, and another hittin’ on ’em a clip, and all growlin’ from mornin’ to night. I believe the way my ears got so long was bein’ hauled out o’ my berth by ’em: that ‘are’s a sailor’s regular way o’ wakin’ up a boy.

“Wal, by time I got to the Penobscot country, all I wanted to know was how to get back agin. That ‘are’s jest the way folks go all their lives, boys. It’s all fuss, fuss, and stew, stew, till ye get somewhere; and then it’s fuss, fuss, and stew, stew, to get back agin; jump here and scratch yer eyes out, and jump there and scratch ’em in agin,–that ‘are’s life.

“Wal, I kind o’ poked round in Penobscot country till I got a berth on ‘The Brilliant’ that was lyin’ at Camden, goin’ to sail to Boston.

“Ye see, ‘The Brilliant’ she was a tight little sloop in the government service: ’twas in the war-times, ye see, and Commodore Tucker that is now (he was Cap’n Tucker then), he had the command on her,–used to run up and down all the coast takin’ observations o’ the British, and keepin’ his eye out on ’em, and givin’ on ’em a nip here and a clip there,’ cordin’ as he got a good chance. Why, your grand’ther knew old Commodore Tucker. It was he that took Dr. Franklin over Minister, to France, and dodged all the British vessels, right in the middle o’ the war. I tell you that ‘are was like runnin’ through the drops in a thunder-shower. He got chased by the British ships pretty consid’able, but he was too spry for ’em. Arter the war was over, Commodore Tucker took over John Adams, our fust Minister to England. A drefful smart man the Commodore was, but he most like to ‘a’ ben took in this ‘ere time I’m a tellin’ ye about, and all ’cause he was sort o’ softhearted to the women. Tom Toothacre told me the story. Tom he was the one that got me the berth on the ship. Ye see, I used to know Tom at Newport; and once when he took sick there my mother nussed him up, and that was why Tom was friends with me and got me the berth, and kep’ me warm in it too. Tom he was one of your rael Maine boys, that’s hatched out, so to speak, in water like ducks. He was born away down there on Harpswell P’int; and they say, if ye throw one o’ them Harpswell babies into the sea, he’ll take to it nateral, and swim like a cork: ef they hit their heads agin a rock it only dents the rock, but don’t hurt the baby. Tom he was a great character on the ship. He could see farther, and knew more ’bout wind and water, than most folks: the officers took Tom’s judgment, and the men all went by his say. My mother she chalked a streak o’ good luck for me when she nussed up Tom.