“Of little boys under the sea,” the Skipper continued,—and once more his smile fell on the boy John, and produced that agreeable sensation of warmth about the heart to which the little fellow had been long unaccustomed,—“there are many. They swim about, they play, they sport, they go to school, as little boys here. They ride, some persons have told me, on the horse-mackerel, but of that I have no knowledge. I see for myself, however, that they play tops, the small sea-boys. Here, little gentleman, is the Imperial Top,—very beautiful shell. You like to take it in your hand?”
John took the splendid thing, and straightway lost himself and the world in a dream of rapture, in which he descended to the depths that his soul desired, and played at spinning tops with the sea-boys, and rode a horse-mackerel, and did many other wonderful things.
“The bat shell!” the Skipper went on, lifting one treasure and then another. “The Voluta Aulica, extremely rare,—the Mitres, worn by bishops under the sea. The bishops must be chosen very small, lady, to fit the shell, since shells were made first. The Queen Conch! This again,—pardon me, gentleman, you desire to assist me? Too kind, but I shall not give that trouble to a visitor!”
The last remark was addressed to Mr. Endymion Scraper, who had for the last five minutes been sidling quietly, and as he thought unobserved, toward the shelf on which lay the Voluta Musica. His claw-like fingers, after hovering over the prize, had finally closed upon it, and he was about to slip it into his pocket without more ado, when a strong brown hand descended upon his wrist. The shell was quietly taken from him, and looking up in impotent rage, he met the dark eyes of the Skipper gazing at him with cheerful gravity.
“Price five dollars!” he murmured, courteously. “In a box, gentleman? But, certainly! A valuable specimen. Thank you kindly. Five-dollar bill, quite right! Exhibition is over for this morning, ladies and gentlemen, to resume in afternoon hours, if graciously pleased to honour the shell schooner,—schooner ‘Nautilus,’ from the Bahamas, with remarkable collection of marine curiosities.”
ABOARD THE “NAUTILUS.”
The shell schooner had many visitors during the next few days, as she lay by the wharf; visitors, of whom a few came to buy, but by far the greater part to look and gossip, and see the monkeys, and ask questions. The monkeys, Jack and Jim, were no small part of the attraction, being delightful little beasts, bright of eye and friendly of heart, always ready to turn a somersault, or to run up the mast, or to make a bow to the ladies (always with Franci in their hearts), as the Skipper directed them.