John hung his head again.
“He keeps them locked up,” he admitted. “I never had one in my hand, except the one on the mantelpiece, sometimes when he goes to sleep after dinner. I—I must be going now!” he cried in desperation, making his way to the gang-plank. “I must get home, or he’ll—”
“What he will do?” the Skipper inquired, holding the plank in his hand. “What he do to you, young gentleman, eh? A little scold you, because you stay too long to talk with the Skipper from the Bahamas, hey? No more than that, is it not?”
“He’ll beat me,” cried little John, driven fairly past himself. “He beats me every time I’m late, or don’t get my work done. I thank you ever so much for being so kind, but I can’t stay another minute.”
“Adios, then, Senor Colorado!” said the Skipper, with a stately bow. “You come soon again, I pray you. And if you will tell Sir Scraper, and all those others, your friends, the shell schooner is here. Exhibition in a few hours ready, free to all. Explanation and instruction when desired by intelligent persons desiring of to know the habits under the sea. Schooner ‘Nautilus,’ from the Bahamas, with remarkable collection of shells and marine curiosities. Adios, Senor Juan Colorado!”
A great exhibition.
Little John was not the one to spread the tidings of the schooner’s arrival. He had to take his whipping,—a hard one it was!—and then he was sent down into the cellar to sift ashes, as the most unpleasant thing that could be devised for a fine afternoon. But the news spread, for all that. John was not the only boy in the village of Tidewater, and by twelve o’clock every man, woman and child was talking about the new arrival; and by two o’clock, the dinner dishes being put away, and the time of the evening chores still some hours off, nearly every man, woman and child was hastening in the direction of the wharf. Of course the boys were going. It was vacation time, and what else should boys do but see all that was to be seen? And of course it was the duty of the elders to see that the children came to no harm. So the fathers were strolling leisurely down, saying to each other that ’twas all nonsense, most likely, and nothing worth seeing, but some one ought to be looking out that the boys and the women folks didn’t get cheated. The mothers were putting on their bonnets, in the serene consciousness that if anyone was going to be cheated it was not they, and that goodness knew what those men-folks would be up to on that schooner if they were left to themselves. And the little girls were shaking the pennies out of their money boxes, or if they had no boxes, watching with eager eyes their more fortunate sisters. Truly, it was a great day in the village.