IN THE NIGHT.
The evening had been peaceful, all beauty and silence; but not so the night for the boy John. Something was the matter; he could not sleep. The bunk in the little cabin was comfortable enough for anyone, but to him it was a couch for an emperor. He speculated on the probability of George the Third’s having had anything like so luxurious a bed, and rejected the thought as absurd. There were no lumps in the mattress, neither any holes through which sharp fingers of straw came out and scratched him. The red curtains at the sides could be drawn at will, and, drawing them, he found himself in a little world of his own, warm and still and red. The shells were outside in the other world; he could look out at any moment and see them, and touch them, take them up; his friend had said so. Now, however, it seemed best just to be alive, and to stay still and wonder what would become of him. He heard the Skipper come down and go to bed, and soon the sound of deep, regular breathing told that he slept, the man of wonder; but John could not sleep. And now other thoughts came thronging into his mind, thoughts that were not soft and crimson and luxurious. To go away, as the Skipper had said,—to go to heaven! But one did not go to heaven till the time came. Was it right? Was the Skipper a good man?
The child debated the question with anguish, lying with wide open eyes in his crimson-shaded nest. Mr. Scraper was—not—very nice, perhaps; but he had taken him, John, when his mother died, and fed and clothed him. He had often had enough to eat—almost enough—and—and Mr. Scraper was old, and perhaps pretty soon his legs would go to sleep, like old Captain Baker’s, and he would not be able to walk at all, and then how would it be if he were left alone? Perhaps people would not come to help him, as they had helped the captain, because everybody in the village loved the captain, and no one exactly loved Mr. Scraper. So if the only person who belonged to him at all should go off and leave him, how could it be expected that the folks who had their own grandfathers and things to take care of would stop and go to take care of this old man? And if he should die there, all alone, with no one to read to him or bring him things, or feed him with a spoon, why,—how would it seem to himself, the boy John’s self, when he should hear of it?
“I am a murderer!” he said aloud; and straightway, at the sound of his own voice, cowered under the bedclothes, and felt the hangman’s hand at his neck.
What did it mean, when a person could not sleep?
There was a man in an old book there at the house, and he was wicked, and he never could sleep, never at all. The things he had done came and sat on him, and they were hot, like coals, and the heat went through to his heart and burned it. Would it be so with him, if he should go away in the “Nautilus,” and forget—or try to forget—the old man who had nobody to love him? Not that Mr. Scraper wanted to be loved yet, at all; but—but he might, some time, when his legs had gone to sleep, and then—