Jerome looked at the clock and the pendulum swinging dimly behind a painted landscape on the glass door, and never after saw one without his uncle’s imagery recurring to his mind. Always for him the pendulum swung into the midst of a cowering throng of beggars on the left, and into a band of purple-clad revellers on the right. Somehow, too, Doctor Seth Prescott’s face always stood out for him plainly among them in purple.
Always, sooner or later, Ozias Lamb would seize Doctor Prescott and Simon Basset as living illustrations and pointed examples of the social wrongs. “Look at them two men,” he would say, “to come down to this town; look at them. You’ve heard about cuttle-fishes, J’rome, ’ain’t ye?”
Jerome shook his head, as he drew his waxed thread through.
“Well, I’ll tell ye what they be. They’re an awful kind of fish. I never see one, but Belinda’s brother that was a sailor, I’ve heard him tell enough to make your blood run cold. They’re all head an’ eyes an’ arms. Their eyes are big as saucers, an’ they’re made just to see things the cuttle-fishes want to kill; an’ they’ve got a hundred arms, with suckin’ claws on the ends, an’ they jest search an’ seek, search an’ seek, with them dreadful eyes that ain’t got no life but hate an’ appetite, an’ they stretch out an’ feel, stretch out an’ feel, with them hundred arms, till they git what they want, an’ then they lay hold with all the suckers on them hundred arms, an’ clutch an’ wind, an’ twist an’ overlay, till, whether it’s a drownin’ sailor or a ship, you can’t see nothin’ but cuttle-fish, an’—”
Jerome stopped working, staring at him. He was quite pale. His imagination leaped to a glimpse of that frightful fish. “An’—what comes—then?” he gasped.
“The cuttle-fish—has got a beak,” said Ozias. “By-an’-by there ain’t nothin’ but cuttle-fish.”
Jerome saw quite plainly the monster writhing and coiling over a waste of water, and nothing else.
“Look at this town, an’ look at Doctor Prescott, an’ look at Simon Basset,” Ozias went on, coming abruptly from illustration to object, with a vigor of personal spite. “Look at ’em. You can’t see much of anything here but them two men. Much as ever you can see the meetin’-house steeple. There are a few left, so you can see who they be, like Squire Merritt an’ Lawyer Means; but, Lord, they’d better not get too careless huntin’ and fishin’ and card-playin’, or they’ll git hauled in, partridges, cards, an’ all. But I’ll tell you what ‘tis—about all that anybody can see in this town is the eyes an’ the arms of them two men, a-suckin’ and graspin’.
“Doctor Prescott, he’s a church member, too, an’ he gives tithes of his widders an’ orphans to the Lord. That meetin’-house couldn’t be run nohow without him. If they didn’t have him to speak in the prayer-meetin’s, an’ give the Lord some information about the spiritooal state of this town on foreign missions, an’ encourage Him by admittin’ He’d done pretty well, as far as He’s gone, why, we couldn’t have no prayer-meetin’s at all.”