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Frank Stockton R.

CAPTAIN ELI'S BEST EAR

    The little seaside village of Sponkannis lies so quietlyupon a protected spot on our Atlantic coast that it makes no more stir in theworld than would a pebble whichheld between one's finger and thumbshould bedipped below the surface of a millpond and then dropped. About the post-officeand the store -- both under the same roof -- the greater number of the housesclusteras if they had come for their week's groceriesor were waiting for themailwhile toward the west the dwellings become fewer and feweruntil at lastthe village blends into a long stretch of sandy coast and scrubby pine-woods.Eastward the village ends abruptly at the foot of a windswept bluffon which noone cares to build.

    Among the last houses in the western end of the villagestood two neatsubstantial dwellingsone belonging to Captain Eli Bunkerandthe other to Captain Cephas Dyer. These householders were two very respectableretired marinersthe first a widower about fiftyand the other a bachelor ofperhaps the same agea few years more or less making but little difference inthis region of weather-beaten youth and seasoned age.

    Each of these good captains lived aloneand each



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took entire charge of his own domestic affairsnot because he was poorbutbecause it pleased him to do so. When Captain Eli retired from the sea he wasthe owner of a good vesselwhich he sold at a fair profit; and Captain Cephashad made money in many a voyage before he built his house in Sponkannis andsettled there.

 

    When Captain Eli's wife was living she was his householdmanager. But Captain Cephas had never had a woman in his houseexcept duringthe first few months of his occupancywhen certain female neighbors came inoccasionally to attend to little matters of cleaning whichaccording to popularnotionsproperly belong to the sphere of woman.

    But Captain Cephas soon put an end to this sort of thing.He did not like a woman's waysespecially her ways of attending to domesticaffairs. He liked to live in sailor fashionand to keep house in sailorfashion. In his establishment everything was shipshapeand everything whichcould be stowed away was stowed awayandif possiblein a bunker. The floorswere holystoned nearly every dayand the whole house was repainted about twicea yeara little at a timewhen the weather was suitable for this marinerecreation. Things not in frequent use were lashed securely to the wallsorperhaps put out of the way by being hauled up to the ceiling by means of blocksand tackle. His cooking was done sailor fashionlike everything elseand henever failed to have plum-duff on Sunday. His well was near his houseand everymorning he dropped into it a lead and lineand noted down the depth of water.Three times a day he entered in a little note-book the state



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of the weatherthe height of the mercury in barometer and thermometerthedirection of the windand special weather points when necessary.

 

    Captain Eli managed his domestic affairs in an entirelydifferent way. He kept house woman fashion -- nothoweverin the manner of anordinary womanbut after the manner of his late wifeMiranda Bunkernow deadsome seven years. Like his friendCaptain Cephashe had had the assistance ofhis female neighbors during the earlier days of his widowerhood. But he soonfound that these women did not do things as Miranda used to do themandalthough he frequently suggested that they should endeavor to imitate themethods of his late consortthey did not even try to do things as she used todo thempreferring their own ways. Therefore it was that Captain Eli determinedto keep house by himselfand to do itas nearly as his nature would allowasMiranda used to do it. He swept his doors and he shook his door-mats; he washedhis paint with soap and hot water; he dusted his furniture with a soft clothwhich he afterwards stuck behind a chest of drawers. He made his bed very neatlyturning down the sheet at the topand setting the pillow upon edgesmoothingit carefully after he had done so. His cooking was based on the methods of thelate Miranda. He had never been able to make bread rise properlybut he hadalways liked ship-biscuitand he now greatly preferred them to the risen breadmade by his neighbors. And as to coffee and the plainer articles of food withwhich he furnished his tableeven Miranda herself would not have objected tothem had she been alive and very hungry.

    The houses of the two captains were not very far



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apartand they were good neighborsoften smoking their pipes together andtalking of the sea. But this was always on the little porch in front of CaptainCephas's houseor by his kitchen fire in the winter. Captain Eli did not likethe smell of tobacco smoke in his houseor even in front of it in summer-timewhen the doors were open. He had no objection himself to the odor of tobaccobut it was contrary to the principles of woman housekeeping that rooms shouldsmell of itand he was always true to those principles.

 

    It was late in a certain Decemberand through the villagethere was a pleasant little flutter of Christmas preparations. Captain Eli hadbeen up to the storeand he had stayed there a good whilewarming himself bythe stoveand watching the women coming in to buy things for Christmas. It wasstrange how many things they bought for presents or for holiday use -- fancysoap and candyhandkerchiefs and little woollen shawls for old peopleand alot of pretty little things which he knew the use ofbut which Captain Cephaswould never have understood at all had he been there.

    As Captain Eli came out of the store he saw a cart inwhich were two good-sized Christmas treeswhich had been cut in the woodsandwere goingone to Captain Holmes's houseand the other to Mother Nelson's.Captain Holmes had grandchildrenand Mother Nelsonwith never a child of herowngood old soulhad three little orphan nieces who never wanted for anythingneedful at Christmas-time or any other time.

    Captain Eli walked home very slowlytaking observationsin his mind. It was more than seven years



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since he had had anything to do with Christmasexcept that on that day he hadalways made himself a mince-piethe construction and the consumption of whichwere equally difficult. It is true that neighbors had invited himand they hadinvited Captain Cephasto their Christmas dinnersbut neither of these worthyseamen had ever accepted any of these invitations. Even holiday foodwhen notcooked in sailor fashiondid not agree with Captain Cephasand it would havepained the good heart of Captain Eli if he had been forced to make believe toenjoy a Christmas dinner so very inferior to those which Miranda used to setbefore him.

 

    But now the heart of Captain Eli was gently moved by aChristmas flutter. It had been foolishperhapsfor him to go up to the storeat such a time as thisbut the mischief had been done. Old feelings had comeback to himand he would be glad to celebrate Christmas this year if he couldthink of any good way to do it. And the result of his mental observations wasthat he went over to Captain Cephas's house to talk to him about it.

    Captain Cephas was in his kitchensmoking his thirdmorning pipe. Captain Eli filled his pipelighted itand sat down by the fire.

    "Cap'n" said he"what do you say to ourkeepin Christmas this year? A Christmas dinner is no good if it's got to be eataloneand you and me might eat ourn together. It might be in my houseor itmight be in your house -- it won't make no great difference to me which. OfcourseI like woman housekeepin'as is laid down in the rules of service fermy house. But next best to that I like sailor housekeepin'so I don't



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mind which house the dinner is inCap'n Cephasso it suits you."

 

    Captain Cephas took his pipe from his mouth. "You'repretty late thinkin' about it" said he"fer day after to-morrow'sChristmas."

    "That don't make no difference" said CaptainEli. "What things we want that are not in my house or your house we caneasily get either up at the store or else in the woods."

    "In the woods!" exclaimed Captain Cephas. "Whatin the name of thunder do you expect to get in the woods for Christmas?"

    "A Christmas tree" said Captain Eli. "Ithought it might be a nice thing to have a Christmas tree fer Christmas. Cap'nHolmes has got oneand Mother Nelson's got another. I guess nearly everybody'sgot one. It won't cost anything -- I can go and cut it."

    Captain Cephas grinned a grinas if a great leak had beensprung in the side of a vesselstretching nearly from stem to stern.

    "A Christmas tree!" he exclaimed. "WellIam blessed! But look hereCap'n Eli. You don't know what a Christmas tree's fer.It's fer childrenand not fer grown-ups. Nobody ever does have a Christmas treein any house where there ain't no children."

    Captain Eli rose and stood with his back to the fire."I didn't think of that" he said"but I guess it's so. And whenI come to think of ita Christmas isn't much of a Christmasanywaywithoutchildren."

    "You never had none" said Captain Cephas"and you've kept Christmas."

    "Yes" replied Captain Elireflectively"wedid do



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itbut there was always a lackment -- Miranda has said soand I have saidso."

 

    "You didn't have no Christmas tree" saidCaptain Cephas.

    "Nowe didn't. But I don't think that folks was asmuch set on Christmas trees then as they 'pear to be now. I wonder" hecontinuedthoughtfully gazing at the ceiling"if we was to fix up aChristmas tree -- and you and me's got a lot of pretty things that we've pickedup all over the worldthat would go miles ahead of anything that could bebought at the store fer Christmas trees -- if we was to fix up a tree real niceif we couldn't get some child or other that wasn't likely to have a tree to comein and look at itand stay awhileand make Christmas more like Christmas. Andthenwhen it went awayit could take along the things that was hangin' on thetreeand keep 'em fer its own."

    "That wouldn't work" said Captain Cephas."If you get a child into this businessyou must let it hang up itsstockin' before it goes to bedand find it full in the mornin'and then tellit an all-fired lie about Santa Claus if it asks any questions. Most childrenthink more of stockin's than they do of trees -- so I've heardat least."

    "I've got no objections to stockin's" saidCaptain Eli. "If it wanted to hang one upit could hang one up either hereor in my housewherever we kept Christmas."

    "You couldn't keep a child all night"sardonically remarked Captain Cephas"and no more could I. Fer if it wasto get up a croup in the nightit would be as if we was on a lee shore withanchors draggin' and a gale a-blowin'."





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    "That's so" said Captain Eli. "You've putit fair. I suppose if we did keep a child all nightwe'd have to have some sortof a woman within hail in case of a sudden blow."

    Captain Cephas sniffed. "What's the good of talkin'?"said he. "There ain't no childand there ain't no woman that you couldhire to sit all night on my front step or on your front stepa-waitin' to bepiped on deck in case of croup."

    "No" said Captain Eli. "I don't supposethere's any child in this village that ain't goin' to be provided with aChristmas tree or a Christmas stockin'or perhaps both -- exceptnow I come tothink of itthat little gal that was brought down here with her mother lastsummerand has been kept by Mrs. Crumley sence her mother died."

    "And won't be kept much longer" said CaptainCephas"fer I've hearn Mrs. Crumley say she couldn't afford it."

    "That's so" said Captain Eli. "If shecan't afford to keep the little galshe can't afford to give no Christmas treesnor stockin'sand so it seems to mecap'nthat that little gal would be apretty good child to help us keep Christmas."

    "You're all the time forgettin'" said the other"that nuther of us can keep a child all night."

    Captain Eli seated himselfand looked ponderingly intothe fire. "You're rightcap'n" said he. "We'd have to ship somewoman to take care of her. Of courseit wouldn't be no use to ask Mrs. Crumley?"

    Captain Cephas laughed. "I should say not."

    "And there doesn't seem to be anybody else"said his companion. "Can you think of anybodycap'n?"





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    "There ain't anybody to think of" repliedCaptain Cephas"unless it might be Eliza Trimmer. She's generally readyenough to do anything that turns up. But she wouldn't be no good -- her house istoo far away for either you or me to hail her in case a croup came up suddint."

    "That's so" said Captain Eli. "She doeslive a long way of."

    "So that settles the whole business" saidCaptain Cephas. "She's too far away to come if wantedand nuther of uscouldn't keep no child without somebody to come if they was wantedand it's nouse to have a Christmas tree without a child. A Christmas without a Christmastree don't seem agreeable to youcap'nso I guess we'd better get along justthe same as we've been in the habit of doin'and eat our Christmas dinneraswe do our other meals in our own houses."

    Captain Eli looked into the fire. "I don't like togive up things if I can help it. That was always my way. If wind and tide'sag'in' meI can wait till one or the otheror both of themserve."

    "Yes" said Captain Cephas"you was alwaysthat kind of a man."

    "That's so. But it does 'pear to me as if I'd have togive up this timethough it's a pity to do iton account of the little galfer she ain't likely to have any Christmas this year. She's a nice little galand takes as natural to navigation as if she'd been born at sea. I've given hertwo or three things because she's so prettybut there's nothing she likes somuch as a little ship I gave her."

    "Perhaps she was born at sea" remarked CaptainCephas.





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    "Perhaps she was" said the other; "andthat makes it the bigger pity."

    For a few moments nothing was said. Then Captain Elisuddenly exclaimed"I'll tell you what we might docap'n! We might askMrs. Trimmer to lend a hand in givin' the little gal a Christmas. She ain't gotnobody in her house but herselfand I guess she'd be glad enough to help givethat little gal a regular Christmas. She could go and get the childand bringher to your house or to my houseor wherever we're goin' to keep Christmasand-- "

    "Well" said Captain Cephaswith an air ofscrutinizing inquiry"what?"

    "Well" replied the othera little hesitatingly"so far as I'm concerned-- that isI don't mind one way or the other--she might take her Christmas dinner along with us and the little galand thenshe could fix her stockin' to be hung upand help with the Christmas treeand-- "

    "Well" demanded Captain Cephas"what?"

    "Well" said Captain Eli"she could --that isit doesn't make any difference to me one way or the other -- she mightstay all night at whatever house we kept Christmas inand then you and me mightspend the night in the other houseand then she could be ready there to helpthe child in the mornin'when she came to look at her stockin'."

    Captain Cephas fixed upon his friend an earnest glare."That's pretty considerable of an idea to come upon you so suddint"said he. "But I can tell you one thing: there ain't a-goin' to be any suchdoin's in my house. If you choose to come over here to sleepand give up yourhouse to any woman you can find to



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take care of the little galall right. But the thing can't be done here."

 

    There was a certain severity in these remarksbut theyappeared to affect Captain Eli very pleasantly.

    "Well" said he"if you're satisfiedI am.I'll agree to any plan you choose to make. It doesn't matter to me which houseit's inand if you say my houseI say my house. All I want is to make thebusiness agreeable to all concerned. Now it's time fer me to go to my dinnerand this afternoon we'd better go and try to get things straightened outbecause the little galand whatever woman comes with herought to be at myhouse to-morrow before dark. S'posin' we divide up this business: I'll go andsee Mrs. Crumley about the little galand you can go and see Mrs.Trimmer."

    "Nosir" promptly replied Captain Cephas"I don't go to see no Mrs. Trimmer. You can see both of them just the sameas you can see one -- they're all along the same way. I'll go cut the Christmastree."

    "All right" said Captain Eli. "It don'tmake no difference to me which does which. But if I was youcap'nI'd cut agood big treebecause we might as well have a good one while we're about it."

    When he had eaten his dinnerand washed up his dishesand had put everything away in neathousewifely orderCaptain Eli went to Mrs.Crumley's houseand very soon finished his business there. Mrs. Crumley keptthe only house which might be considered a boarding-house in the village ofSponkannis; and when she had consented to take charge of the little girl who hadbeen left on her hands she had hoped it would not be very long before she wouldhear



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from some of her relatives in regard to her maintenance. But she had heardnothingand had now ceased to expect to hear anythingand in consequence hadfrequently remarked that she must dispose of the child some way or otherforshe couldn't afford to keep her any longer. Even an absence of a day or two atthe house of the good captain would be some reliefand Mrs. Crumley readilyconsented to the Christmas scheme. As to the little girlshe was delighted. Shealready looked upon Captain Eli as her best friend in the world.

 

    It was not so easy to go to Mrs. Trimmer's house and putthe business before her. "It ought to be plain sailin' enough"Captain Eli said to himselfover and over again"butfer all thatitdon't seem to be plain sailin'."

    But he was not a man to be deterred by difficultnavigationand he walked straight to Eliza Trimmer's house.

    Mrs. Trimmer was a comely woman about thirty-fivewho hadcome to the village a year beforeand had maintained herselfor at least hadtried toby dressmaking and plain sewing. She had lived at Stetforda seaportabout twenty miles awayand from therethree years beforeher husbandCaptain Trimmerhad sailed away in a good-sized schoonerand had neverreturned. She had come to Sponkannis because she thought that there she couldlive cheaper and get more work than in her former home. She had found the firstquite possiblebut her success in regard to the work had not been very great.

    When Captain Eli entered Mrs. Trimmer's little roomhefound her busy mending a sail. Here fortune



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favored him. "You turn your hand to 'most anythingMrs. Trimmer"said heafter he had greeted her.

 

    "Ohyes" she answeredwith a smile"Iam obliged to do that. Mending sails is pretty heavy workbut it's better thannothing."

    "I had a notion" said he"that you wasready to turn your hand to any good kind of businessso I thought I would stepin and ask you if you'd turn your hand to a little bit of business I've got onthe stocks."

    She stopped sewing on the sailand listened while CaptainEli laid his plan before her. "It's very kind in you and Captain Cephas tothink of all that" said she. "I have often noticed that poor littlegirland pitied her. Certainly I'll comeand you needn't say anything aboutpaying me for it. I wouldn't think of asking to be paid for doing a thing likethat. And besides" -- she smiled again as she spoke-- "if you aregoing to give me a Christmas dinneras you saythat will make things more thansquare."

    Captain Eli did not exactly agree with herbut he was invery good humorand she was in good humorand the matter was soon settledandMrs. Trimmer promised to come to the captain's house in the morning and helpabout the Christmas treeand in the afternoon to go to get the little girl fromMrs. Crumley's and bring her to the house.

    Captain Eli was delighted with the arrangements. "Thingsnow seem to be goin' along before a spankin' breeze"said he. "But Idon't know about the dinner. I guess you will have to leave that to me. I don'tbelieve Captain Cephas could eat a woman-cooked



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dinner. He's accustomed to livin sailor fashionyou knowand he has declaredover and over again to me that woman-cookin' doesn't agree with him."

 

    "But I can cook sailor fashion" said Mrs.Trimmer-- "just as much sailor fashion as you or Captain Cephasand ifhe don't believe itI'll prove it to him; so you needn't worry about that."

    When the captain had goneMrs. Trimmer gayly put away thesail. There was no need to finish it in a hurryand no knowing when she wouldget her money for it when it was done. No one had asked her to a Christmasdinner that yearand she had expected to have a lonely time of it. But it wouldbe very pleasant to spend Christmas with the little girl and the two goodcaptains. Instead of sewing any more on the sailshe got out some of her ownclothes to see if they needed anything done to them.

    The next morning Mrs. Trimmer went to Captain Eli's houseand finding Captain Cephas therethey all set to work at the Christmas treewhich was a very fine oneand had been planted in a box. Captain Cephas hadbrought over a bundle of things from his houseand Captain Eli kept runninghere and therebringingeach time that he returnedsome new objectwonderfulor prettywhich he had brought from China or Japan or Coreaor some spicyisland of the Eastern seas; and nearly every time he came with these treasuresMrs. Trimmer declared that such things were too good to put upon a Christmastreeeven for such a nice little girl as the one for which that tree wasintended. The presents which Captain Cephas brought were much more suitable forthe purpose; they were odd and funnyand some of them pretty

Captain Cephas had brought over a bundle of things.






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but not expensiveas were the fans and bits of shellwork and carved ivorieswhich Captain Eli wished to tie upon the twigs of the tree.

 

    There was a good deal of talk about all thisbut CaptainEli had his own way.

    "I don't supposeafter all" said he"thatthe little gal ought to have all the things. This is such a big tree that it'smore like a family tree. Cap'n Cephas can take some of my thingsand I can takesome of his thingsandMrs. Trimmerif there's anything you likeyou cancall it your present and take it for your ownso that will be fair andcomfortable all round. What I want is to make everybody satisfied."

    "I'm sure I think they ought to be" said Mrs.Trimmerlooking very kindly at Captain Eli.

    Mrs. Trimmer went home to her own house to dinnerand inthe afternoon she brought the little girl. She had said there ought to be anearly supperso that the child would have time to enjoy the Christmas treebefore she became sleepy.

    This meal was prepared entirely by Captain Eliand insailor fashionnot woman fashionso that Captain Cephas could make no excusefor eating his supper at home. Of course they all ought to be together the wholeof that Christmas eve. As for the big dinner on the morrowthat was anotheraffairfor Mrs. Trimmer undertook to make Captain Cephas understand that shehad always cooked for Captain Trimmer in sailor fashionand if he objected toher plum-duffor if anybody else objected to her mince-pieshe was going to bevery much surprised.

    Captain Cephas ate his supper with a good relishand wasstill eating when the rest had finished. As



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to the Christmas treeit was the most valuableif not the most beautifulthathad ever been set up in that region. It had no candles upon itbut was lightedby three lamps and a ship's lantern placed in the four corners of the roomandthe little girl was as happy as if the tree were decorated with little dolls andglass balls. Mrs. Trimmer was intensely pleased and interested to see the childso happyand Captain Eli was much pleased and interested to see the child andMrs. Trimmer so happyand Captain Cephas was interestedand perhaps a littleamused in a superior fashionto see Captain Eli and Mrs. Trimmer and the littlechild so happy.

 

    Then the distribution of the presents began. Captain Eliasked Captain Cephas if he might have the wooden pipe that the latter hadbrought for his present. Captain Cephas said he might take itfor all he caredand be welcome to it. Then Captain Eli gave Captain Cephas a red bandannahandkerchief of a very curious patternand Captain Cephas thanked him kindly.After which Captain Eli bestowed upon Mrs. Trimmer a most beautifultortoise-shell combcarved and cut and polished in a wonderful wayand with ithe gave a tortoise-shell fancarved in the same fashionbecause he said thetwo things seemed to belong to each other and ought to go together; and he wouldnot listen to one word of what Mrs. Trimmer said about the gifts being too goodfor herand that she was not likely ever to use them.

    "It seems to me" said Captain Cephas"thatyou might be giving something to the little gal."

    Then Captain Eli remembered that the child ought not to beforgottenand her soul was lifted into ecstasy



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by many giftssome of which Mrs. Trimmer declared were too good for any childin this widewide world. But Captain Eli answered that they could be taken careof by somebody until the little girl was old enough to know their value.

 

    Then it was discovered thatunbeknown to anybody elseMrs. Trimmer had put some presents on the treewhich were things which had beenbrought by Captain Trimmer from somewhere in the far East or the distant West.These she bestowed upon Captain Cephas and Captain Eli. And the end of all thiswas that in the whole of Sponkannisfrom the foot of the bluff to the easttothe very last house on the shore to the westthere was not one Christmas eveparty so happy as this one.

    Captain Cephas was not quite so happy as the three otherswerebut he was very much interested. About nine o'clock the party broke upand the two captains put on their caps and buttoned up their pea-jacketsandstarted for Captain Cephas's housebut not before Captain Eli had carefullyfastened every window and every door except the front doorand had told Mrs.Trimmer how to fasten that when they had goneand had given her a boatswain'swhistlewhich she might blow out of the window if there should be a suddencroup and it should be necessary for any one to go anywhere. He was sure hecould hear itfor the wind was exactly right for him to hear a whistle from hishouse. When they had gone Mrs. Trimmer put the little girl to bedand wasdelighted to find in what a wonderfully neat and womanlike fashion that housewas kept.

    It was nearly twelve o'clock that night when Captain



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Elisleeping in his bunk opposite that of Captain Cephaswas aroused byhearing a sound. He had been lying with his best ear uppermostso that heshould hear anything if there happened to be anything to hear. He did hearsomethingbut it was not a boatswain's whistle; it was a prolonged cryand itseemed to come from the sea.

 

    In a moment Captain Eli was sitting on the side of hisbunklistening intently. Again came the cry. The window toward the sea wasslightly openand he heard it plainly.

    "Cap'n! " said heand at the word CaptainCephas was sitting on the side of his bunklistening. He knew from hiscompanion's attitudeplainly visible in the light of a lantern which hung on ahook at the other end of the roomthat he had been awakened to listen. Againcame the cry.

    "That's distress at sea" said Captain Cephas."Harken!"

    They listened again for nearly a minutewhen the cry wasrepeated.

    "Bounce on deckboys!" said Captain Cephasgetting out on the floor. "There's some one in distress off shore."

    Captain Eli jumped to the floorand began to dressquickly.

    "It couldn't be a call from land?" he askedhurriedly. "It don't sound a bit to you like a boatswain's whistledoes it?"

    "No" said Captain Cephasdisdainfully. "It'sa call from sea." Thenseizing a lanternhe rushed down the companionway.

    As soon as he was convinced that it was a call from



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seaCaptain Eli was one in feeling and action with Captain Cephas. The latterhastily opened the draughts of the kitchen stoveand put on some woodand bythe time this was done Captain Eli had the kettle filled and on the stove. Thenthey clapped on their caps and their pea-jacketseach took an oar from a cornerin the back halland together they ran down to the beach.

 

    The night was darkbut not very coldand Captain Cephashad been to the store that morning in his boat.

    Whenever he went to the storeand the weather permittedhe rowed there in his boat rather than walk. At the bow of the boatwhich wasnow drawn up on the sandthe two men stood and listened. Again came the cryfrom the sea.

    "It's something ashore on the Turtle-back Shoal"said Captain Cephas.

    "Yes" said Captain Eli"and it's somesmall craftfer that cry is down pretty nigh to the water."

    "Yes" said Captain Cephas. "And there'sonly one man aboardor else they'd take turns a-hollerin'."

    "He's a stranger" said Captain Eli"or hewouldn't have triedeven with a cat-boatto get in over that shoal on ebb-tide."

    As they spoke they ran the boat out into the water andjumped ineach with an oar. Then they pulled for the Turtle-back Shoal.

    Although these two captains were men of fifty orthereaboutthey were as strong and tough as any young fellows in the villageand they pulled with steady strokesand sent the heavy boat skimming over thewaternot in a straight line toward the Turtle-back Shoalbut now a few pointsin the darkness



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this wayand now a few points in the darkness that waythen with a great curveto the south through the dark nightkeeping always near the middle of the onlygood channel out of the bay when the tide was ebbing.

 

    Now the cries from seaward had ceasedbut the twocaptains were not discouraged.

    "He's heard the thumpin' of our oars" saidCaptain Cephas.

    "He's listenin'and he'll sing out again if hethinks we're goin' wrong" said Captain Eli. "Of course he doesn'tknow anything about that."

    And so when they made the sweep to the south the cry cameagainand Captain Eli grinned. "We needn't to spend no breath hollerin'"said he. "He'll hear us makin' fer him in a minute."

    When they came to head for the shoal they lay on theiroars for a momentwhile Captain Cephas turned the lantern in the bowso thatits light shone out ahead. He had not wanted the shipwrecked person to see thelight when it would seem as if the boat were rowing away from him. He had heardof castaway people who became so wild when they imagined that a ship or boat wasgoing away from them that they jumped overboard.

    When the two captains reached the shoalthey found therea cat-boat agroundwith one man aboard. His tale was quickly told. He hadexpected to run into the little bay that afternoonbut the wind had fallenandin trying to get in after darkand being a strangerhe had run aground. If hehad not been so coldhe saidhe would have been willing to stay there till thetide rose; but he was getting chilledand



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seeing a light not far awayhe concluded to call for help as long as his voiceheld out.

 

    The two captains did not ask many questions. They helpedanchor the cat-boatand then they took the man on their boat and rowed him toshore. He was getting chilled sitting out there doing nothingand so when theyreached the house they made him some hot grogand promised in the morningwhenthe tide rosethey would go out and help him bring his boat in. Then CaptainCephas showed the stranger to a bunkand they all went to bed. Such experienceshad not enough of novelty to the good captains to keep them awake five minutes.

    In the morning they were all up very earlyand thestrangerwho proved to be a seafaring man with bright blue eyessaid thatashis cat-boat seemed to be riding all right at its anchoragehe did not care togo out after her just yet. Any time during flood-tide would do for himand hehad some business that he wanted to attend to as soon as possible.

    This suited the two captains very wellfor they wished tobe on hand when the little girl discovered her stocking.

    "Can you tell me" said the strangeras he puton his cap"where I can find a Mrs. Trimmerwho lives in this village?"

    At these words all the sturdy stiffness whichfrom hisyouth uphad characterized the legs of Captain Eli entirely went out of themand he sat suddenly upon a bench. For a few moments there was silence.

    Then Captain Cephaswho thought some answer should bemade to the questionnodded his head.

    "I want to see her as soon as I can" said thestranger.



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"I have come to see her on particular business that will be a surprise toher. I wanted to be here before Christmas beganand that's the reason I tookthat cat-boat from Stetfordbecause I thought I'd come quicker that way than byland. But the wind fellas I told you. If either one of you would be goodenough to pilot me to where Mrs. Trimmer livesor to any point where I can geta sight of the placeI'd be obliged."

 

    Captain Eli rose and with hurried but unsteady steps wentinto the house (for they had been upon the little piazza)and beckoned to hisfriend to follow. The two men stood in the kitchen and looked at each other. Theface of Captain Eli was of the hue of a clam-shell.

    "Go with himcap'n" he said in a hoarsewhisper. "I can't do it."

    "To your house?" inquired the other.

    "Of course. Take him to my house. There ain't noother place where she is. Take him along."

    Captain Cephas's countenance wore an air of the deepestconcernbut he thought that the best thing to do was to get the stranger away.

    As they walked rapidly toward Captain Eli's house therewas very little said by either Captain Cephas or the stranger. The latter seemedanxious to give Mrs. Trimmer a surpriseand not to say anything which mightenable another person to interfere with his project.

    The two men had scarcely stepped upon the piazza when Mrs.Trimmerwho had been expecting early visitorsopened the door. She was aboutto call out "Merry Christmas!" buther eyes falling upon a



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strangerthe words stopped at her lips. First she turned redthen she turnedpaleand Captain Cephas thought she was about to fall. But before she could dothis the stranger had her in his arms. She opened her eyeswhich for a momentshe had closedandgazing into his faceshe put her arms around his neck.Then Captain Cephas came awaywithout thinking of the little girl and thepleasure she would have in discovering her Christmas stocking.

 

    When he had been left aloneCaptain Eli sat down near thekitchen stoveclose to the very kettle which he had filled with water to heatfor the benefit of the man he had helped bring in from the seaandwith hiselbows on his knees and his fingers in his hairhe darkly pondered.

    "If I'd only slept with my hard-o'-hearin' earup" he said to himself"I'd never have heard it."

    In a few moments his better nature condemned this thought.

    "That's next to murder" he muttered"ferhe couldn't have kept himself from fallin' asleep out there in the coldandwhen the tide riz held have been blowed out to sea with this wind. If I hadn'theard himCaptain Cephas never wouldfer he wasn't primed up to wakeas I was."

    Butnotwithstanding his better natureCaptain Eli wasagain saying to himselfwhen his friend returned"If I'd only slept withmy other ear up!"

    Like the honeststraightforward mariner he wasCaptainCephas made an exact report of the facts. "They was huggin' when I leftthem" he said"and I expect they went indoors pretty soonfer itwas too cold outside. It's an all-fired shame she happened to



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be in your housecap'nthat's all I've got to say about it. It's a thunderin'shame."

 

    Captain Eli made no answer. He still sat with his elbowson his knees and his hands in his hair.

    "A better course than you laid down fer theseChristmas times was never dotted on a chart" continued Captain Cephas."From port of sailin' to port of entry you laid it down clear and fine. Butit seems there was rocks that wasn't marked on the chart."

    "Yes" groaned Captain Eli"there wasrocks."

    Captain Cephas made no attempt to comfort his friendbutwent to work to get breakfast.

    When that meal -- a rather silent one -- was overCaptainEli felt better. "There was rocks" he said"and not a breakerto show where they layand I struck 'em bow on. So that's the end of thatvoyage. But I've tuk to my boatscap'nI've tuk to my boats."

    "I'm glad to hear you've tuk to your boats"said Captain Cephaswith an approving glance upon his friend.

    About ten minutes afterwards Captain Eli said"I'mgoin' up to my house."

    "By yourself?" said the other.

    "Yesby myself. I'd rather go alone. I don't intendto mind anythingand I'm goin' to tell her that she can stay there and spendChristmas-- the place she lives in ain't no place to spend Christmas-- andshe can make the little gal have a good timeand go 'long just as we intendedto go 'long -- plum-duff and mince-pie all the same. I can stay hereand youand me can have our Christmas dinner togetherif we choose to give it that name.And if she ain't ready



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to go to-morrowshe can stay a day or two longer. It's all the same to meifit's the same to youcap'n."

 

    Captain Cephas having said that it was the same to himCaptain Eli put on his cap and buttoned up his pea-jacketdeclaring that thesooner he got to his house the betteras she might be thinking that she wouldhave to move out of it now that things were different.

    Before Captain Eli reached his house he saw somethingwhich pleased him. He saw the sea-going strangerwith his back toward himwalking rapidly in the direction of the village store.

    Captain Eli quickly entered his houseand in the doorwayof the room where the tree was he met Mrs. Trimmerbeaming brighter than anymorning sun that ever rose.

    "Merry Christmas!" she exclaimedholding outboth her hands. "I've been wondering and wondering when you'd come to bidme `Merry Christmas' -- the merriest Christmas I've ever had."

    Captain Eli took her hands and bid her "MerryChristmas" very gravely.

    She looked a little surprised. "What's the matterCaptain Eli?" she exclaimed. "You don't seem to say that as if youmeant it."

    "OhyesI do" he answered. "This must bean all-fired -- I mean a thunderin' happy Christmas fer youMrs. Trimmer."

    "Yes" said sheher face beaming again."And to think that it should happen on Christmas day -- that this blessedmorningbefore anything else happenedmy Bobmy only brothershould --"



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    "Your what!" roared Captain Elias if he hadbeen shouting orders in a raging storm.

    Mrs. Trimmer stepped back almost frightened. "Mybrother" said she. "Didn't he tell you he was my brother -- mybrother Bobwho sailed away a year before I was marriedand who has been inAfrica and China and I don't know where? It's so long since I heard that he'dgone into trading at Singapore that I'd given him up as married and settled inforeign parts. And here he has come to me as if he'd tumbled from the sky onthis blessed Christmas morning."

    Captain Eli made a step forwardhis face very muchflushed.

    "Your brotherMrs. Trimmer -- did you really say itwas your brother?"

    "Of course it is" said she. "Who elsecould it be?" Then she paused for a moment and looked steadfastly at thecaptain.

    "You don't mean to sayCaptain Eli" she asked"that you thought it was -- "

    "YesI did" said Captain Elipromptly.

    Mrs. Trimmer looked straight in the captain's eyesthenshe looked on the ground. Then she changed color and changed back again.

    "I don't understand" she said hesitatingly"why I mean what difference it made."

    "Difference!" exclaimed Captain Eli. "Itwas all the difference between a man on deck and a man overboard -- that's thedifference it was to me. I didn't expect to be talkin' to you so early thisChristmas mornin'but things has been sprung on meand I can't help it I justwant to ask you one thing: Did you think I was gettin' up this Christmas treeand the



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Christmas dinner and the whole business fer the good of the little galand ferthe good of youand fer the good of Captain Cephas?"

 

    Mrs. Trimmer had now recovered a very fair possession ofherself. "Of course I did" she answeredlooking up at him as shespoke. "Who else could it have been for!"

    "Well" said he"you were mistaken. Itwasn't fer any one of you. It was all fer me -- fer my own self."

    "You yourself?" said she. "I don't see how."

    "But I see how" he answered. "It's been along time since I wanted to speak my mind to youMrs. Trimmerbut I didn'tever have no chance. And all these Christmas doin's was got up to give me thechance not only of speakin' to youbut of showin' my colors better than I couldshow them in any other way. Everything went on a-skimmin' till this mornin?when that stranger that we brought in from the shoal piped up and asked fer you.Then I went overboard -- at leastI thought I did -- and sunk downdowncleanout of soundin's."

    "That was too badcaptain" said shespeakingvery gently"after all your trouble and kindness."

    "But I don't know now" he continued"whetherI went overboard or whether I am on deck. Can you tell meMrs. Trimmer?"

    She looked up at him. Her eyes were very softand herlips trembled just a little. "It seems to mecaptain" she said"that you are on deck -- if you want to be."

    The captain stepped closer to her. "Mrs.Trimmer" said he"is that brother of yours comin' back?"



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    "Yes" she answeredsurprised at the suddenquestion. "He's just gone up to the store to buy a shirt and some things.He got himself splashed trying to push his boat off last night."

    "Wellthen" said Captain Eli"would youmind tellin' him when he comes back that you and me's engaged to be married? Idon't know whether I've made a mistake in the lights or notbut would you mindtellin' him that?"

    Mrs. Trimmer looked at him. Her eyes were not so soft asthey had beenbut they were brighter. "I'd rather you'd tell him thatyourself" said she.

    The little girl sat on the floor near the Christmas treejust finishing a large piece of red-and-white candy which she had taken out ofher stocking. "People do hug a lot at Christmas-time" said she toherself. Then she drew out a piece of blue-and-white candy and began on that.

    Captain Cephas waited a long time for his friend toreturnand at last he thought it would be well to go and look for him. When heentered the house he found Mrs. Trimmer sitting on the sofa in the parlorwithCaptain Eli on one side of her and her brother on the otherand each of themholding one of her hands.

    "It looks as if I was in portdon't it?" saidCaptain Eli to his astonished friend. "Wellhere I amand here's my fustmate" inclining his head toward Mrs. Trimmer. "And she's in port toosafe and sound. And that strange captain on the other side of herhe's herbrother Bobwho's been away for years and yearsand is just home fromMadagascar."

    "Singapore" amended Brother Bob.



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    Captain Cephas looked from one to the other of the threeoccupants of the sofabut made no immediate remark. Presently a smile of genialmaliciousness stole over his faceand he asked"How about the poor littlegal? Have you sent her back to Mrs. Crumley's?"

    The little girl came out from behind the Christmas treeher stockingnow but half filledin her hand. "Here I am" she said."Don't you want to give me a Christmas hugCaptain Cephas? You and me'sthe only ones that hasn't had any."

    The Christmas dinner was as truly and perfectly asailor-cooked meal as ever was served on board a ship or off it. Captain Cephashad said thatand when he had so spoken there was no need of further words.

    It was nearly dark that afternoonand they were allsitting around the kitchen firethe three seafaring men smokingand Mrs.Trimmer greatly enjoying it. There could be no objection to the smell of tobaccoin this house so long as its future mistress enjoyed it. The little girl sat onthe floor nursing a Chinese idol which had been one of her presents.

    "After all" said Captain Elimeditatively"this whole business come out of my sleepin' with my best ear up. Fer ifI'd slept with my hard-o'-hearin' ear up -- " Mrs. Trimmer put one fingeron his lips. "All right" said Captain Eli"I won't say no more.But it would have been different."

    Even nowseveral years after that Christmaswhen thereis no Mrs. Trimmerand the little girlwho has been regularly adopted byCaptain Eli and his wifeis studying geographyand knows more about latitudeand longitude than her teacher at schoolCaptain Eli



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has still a slight superstitious dread of sleeping with his best ear uppermost.

 

    "Of course it's the most all-fired nonsense" hesays to himself over and over again. Neverthelesshe feels safer when it is his"hard-o'-hearin? ear" that is not upon the pillow