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Title: Mr. Wicker's Window
Author: Dawson, Carley
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Mr. Wicker's Window" ***

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                         Transcriber's Note:

         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.



                                 MR.

                           WICKER'S WINDOW



                                  by

                            Carley Dawson



                            Illustrated by

                              Lynd Ward



                                 1952

                   HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY BOSTON

                    The Riverside Press Cambridge



                         Copyright, 1952, by

                     CARLEY DAWSON and LYND WARD

       *       *       *       *       *



_For

those at

Second Family

House_

       *       *       *       *       *



CHAPTER 1

[Illustration]


Christopher Mason felt numb. It seemed to him that he was as good as
an orphan already, for his father, a Commander in the Navy, was far
away at sea, and Chris's mother was in a hospital, not expected to
live.

Chris scuffed along the brick pavements of Georgetown, but he did not,
as he usually did, look about at its familiar houses. This friendly
core of the growing city of Washington, D.C., today seemed to him
almost hostile.

Georgetown, where Chris lived, is the oldest part of the capital city,
built by early English settlers long years before Washington itself
was even planned. Grouped at the head of the navigable part of the
Potomac River, above Georgetown's bluffs, the Potomac foams and dashes
over wild rocks and waterfalls, and across the river, the country
starts.

Chris had just left his mother's sister, his Aunt Rachel. Aunt Rachel,
white-faced, was preparing to go to the hospital to be with his mother
and had asked him, "Don't you want to come too, Chris? For a little
while?" But a cold-edged wing of fear had brushed the boy like a bat
wing in the night. He had shaken his head, speechless, grabbed his
sweater, and slammed the front door.

Now he hesitated on a corner, suddenly dismayed, not knowing quite
where to go or what to do. The whole city with its white marble
buildings and templed memorials, its elm-lined avenues, seemed all at
once very empty.

He looked down to the Potomac, always, for Chris, just "the river,"
where it glinted distantly blue and silver at the end of the street.
Factories along the riverbank cut off all but the farthest stretches
of water as the river moved under bridge after bridge beside the banks
of Maryland and Virginia.

Chris made up his mind to see what might be in the Pep Boys' store,
far down the hill and along traffic-filled M Street. Somehow the
tawdry bustle of this street, with its many shops, appealed to the boy
who carried misery inside him like a cold, heavy stone. Running, he
started down the hill between the lines of old brick houses, left Rock
Creek Park behind him, and turning to the right up M Street, reached
the hardware glitter of The Pep Boys'.

And it was there, as he stood staring in at the chromium bicycle
lamps, red glass tail lights, and wire baskets, that Mike Dugan found
him.



CHAPTER 2


Mike was in his class at public school, the eighth grade. Mike was all
right. Chris liked him.

"Hya, Chris!"

"Hi, Mike!"

"Whatcha doin'?"

"Nothin' much. Just looking."

"Say--you know sumthin'?" Mike wiggled himself across part of the Pep
Boys' window to gain Chris's attention. "Old Wicker's got a sign in
his window--he needs a boy. For after school, I guess. Think he'd pay,
huh? Whyncha try?"

Chris looked from a nickel-plated flashlight to a car jack and spark
plug.

"Oh--I don't know."

Mike persisted. "Well, I'll tell you what. Know who needs a job bad?
That's Jakey Harris. His mother's sick, and he's got that bad foot.
Whyncha ask for him, huh? You sit next to him at school."

All Chris heard was "--needs a job bad--mother's sick."

"O.K.," he said. "Only why didn't you ask him yourself?"

Mike became uneasy and fished an elastic band out of his pocket, made
a flick of paper and sent it soaring out into M Street.

"Well--" he admitted, "I did. Wicker's such a queer old guy. That ol'
antique shop is dark an' spooky, an'--Well, I went in, and there
wasn't nobody there, on'y him and me."

Mike stopped, and after a pause Chris said, "So what?"

[Illustration]

"So--" Mike swallowed. "So I said I was there about the job, an' do
you know what he said? He said"--he went on without urging, but with a
frown of perplexity ridging his forehead--"He said, 'Turn around and
look out that window, son, and tell me what you see.'"

Mike stopped and looked at Chris with a comical expression. "Everybody
knows what's outside his window!" he burst out. "Of all the silly
things! But I turned around and looked, like he told me to, and of
course there was the traffic goin' by, and trucks, and cabs, and
people crossin' the street, and the freeway overhead, an'--_you_
know."

"So what did he say?" Chris asked, and for the first time that day the
heavy weight he carried within him lifted and lightened a little.

Mike examined the toe of his worn shoe. "Oh, he just smiled, that
funny little crackly smile, and said, 'I'm sorry, young man, you won't
do.'"

[Illustration]

For a moment both boys stared into one another's eyes, each
questioning, wondering, and neither being able to supply the answer.

At last, Chris broke the silence.

"Queerest thing I ever heard. Gee! Whaddaya suppose?"

Mike took heart, his experience believed and his bafflement shared. He
spoke cheerfully. "It doesn't make sense, but old Wicker's so old he
may be addled, don't you reckon? Who else would keep an antique store
where nobody ever looks? All the other antique places are along
Wisconsin Avenue where people go to shop."

"You reckon Jakey really could use the job?" Chris asked, his courage
ebbing as he pictured to himself the dark little shop with its bow
window of small panes, and Mr. Wicker, so thin and wizened he seemed
only bones and wrinkles. "Think he really needs it?" he pursued.

But Mike was certain, or perhaps he needed a companion in this curious
experiment.

"You bet he does! He tol' me at noon today he wished he could find
something that would help bring some money in. His mother's sick," he
repeated, "an' Jakey don' look so good himself."

"Well--" Chris said, half agreeing.

"I'll go with ya!" Mike announced, as if that finished the argument;
which, as a matter of fact, it did.

Chris did not feel too happy about his mission and hung back a moment
longer, looking in the Pep Boys' window at things he had already seen.
He would have liked to get the job for Jakey, who needed it, but
somehow the task of facing Mr. Wicker, especially now that the light
was going and dusk edging into the streets, was not what Chris had
intended for ending the afternoon. Although he had not been quite
certain how he had meant to spend the rest of the remaining daylight,
Mike's plan did not seem to fit his present mood.

"Are you coming?" Mike challenged, with a hint of derision.

"Yes," said Chris suddenly, "I'm coming. I'll ask for Jakey."

Mike's expression changed at once to one of triumph, but Chris was
only partly encouraged.

The two boys walked to the corner of M Street and Wisconsin Avenue.
Traffic roared up the first short block of Wisconsin from under the
high steel freeway down to their left.

Chris glanced down the slope of Wisconsin. Houses and shops thinned
suddenly on both sides of the street. Far down at the very end, on his
side, he could see the brick walls and slate roof of Mr. Wicker's
house. Chris knew it well, for times without number he had pressed his
nose to the square Georgian panes of Mr. Wicker's window to gaze at
the strangely fascinating jumble of oddments that were displayed. Now,
however, he felt in no mood to visit the curiosity shop and stood
shifting his feet and looking aimlessly about. Mike, beside him, was
becoming restive, and gave him a poke.

"Betcha aren't goin' after all!"

Chris turned on him. "Am too!"

Mike looked disdainful. "Aw--you're stalling!"

"Not any sucha thing. I'm going now."

"O.K. Let's see you."

Chris turned his back on Mike and started down the hill. After a step
or two, not finding his friend beside him, he turned. Mike was
standing on the corner.

"Hi!" Chris called, indignant. "You said you were coming with me!"

"Well, I was," Mike howled back, "but I just remembered. My mother
told me to bring her some stuff from the Safeway. I'll run all the way
and come back and meet you."

"Aw shucks!" Chris kicked at a nonexistent pebble and scowled. But a
chore was a chore, and was never worth discussion.

"I'll meetcha in fifteen or twenty minutes," Mike shouted. "It won't
take me long," and throwing out his hands to signify that there was
nothing he could do about it he disappeared.

Chris started off once more, passing the bleak little Victorian church
perched on the hill above Mr. Wicker's house. An empty lot cut into by
Church Lane gave a look of isolation to the L-shaped brick building
that served Mr. Wicker as both house and place of business. Chris
paused to look below him. Even from where he stood, fifty feet above
the house, the slope of the hill was sharp and the plan of the house
below him could be plainly seen.

It was built like an inverted L, the short wing faced towards the
street and the traffic of Wisconsin Avenue. The longer wing, toward
the back, had a back door that opened onto Water Street. The space
between the house and Wisconsin Avenue had been made into a neat
oblong flower garden, fenced off from the sidewalk by box shrubs and a
white picket fence. Behind it, along the other side of the long wing,
lay a meticulously arranged vegetable garden and a few apple trees.

His gaze moved back to the house itself. It seemed to have been built
at about the same time as the vacant storehouses opposite, for they
had a similar look of design and age. The windows of Mr. Wicker's
house had smaller panes of glass than were used nowadays, and like the
warehouses across from it, Mr. Wicker's had many dormer windows
jutting out from the slated roof. Unlike the warehouses, however,
which were rickety and down-at-heel, Mr. Wicker's home was well cared
for. The windows--except for the bow window of the shop to the right
of the front door--had shutters painted a pleasing bluey-green, and at
their sides could be seen the edges of gay curtains. The traffic
freeway rose high above the roof, dwarfing the old house and casting
a deepening shadow over the whole length of Water Street, shading even
Mr. Wicker's back door, so close did it rise beside the house. The air
was filled with mechanical sounds--the roar of cars speeding up the
hill, the grind of gears, the shuddering throb of wheels along the
freeway, and the clanking bang of chains and weights in the factories
along the shore.

[Illustration]

The sun was dropping, and the sky behind Chris made a sinister promise
for the following day. A livid yellow stained the horizon beyond the
factories and gray clouds lowered and tumbled above. The air was
growing chill and Chris decided to finish his job. All at once he
wondered how his mother was, and everything in him pinched and
tightened itself.

At the foot of the hill he reached the house. As he came to the bow
front the old familiar excitement that always seized Chris when he
looked in Mr. Wicker's window touched him again, and he stopped to
look at its well-memorized display.

For as long as he had stopped to look into Mr. Wicker's window, which
was as far back as he could remember, Chris had never known the
objects to vary or be changed. There were three things that always
caught his eye, amid the litter of dusty pieces. On the left, the coil
of rope; in the center, the model of a sailing ship in a green glass
bottle, and on the right, the wooden statue of a Negro boy in baggy
trousers, Turkish jacket, and white turban. The figure was holding up
a wooden bouquet, the yellow paint peeling from the carved flowers.
The figure's mouth was open in an engaging toothy smile, and its right
hand was on one hip, on the chipped red paint of the baggy trousers.
The ship, so often contemplated by Chris that he knew every tiny
thread and delicately jointed board, was a three-masted schooner,
sleek of line, painted--at one time--a dazzling white. Now with dust
dulling the green sides of the bottle, its sails looked loose, its
sides grimed. But the name still showed at the prow, and many a time
Chris, safe at home in bed, had sailed imaginary voyages in the
_Mirabelle_. It lay there snug and captured, as if at the bottom of a
tropical sea, seen through the glass sides of the bottle, and Chris
never tired of looking at it.

But perhaps the coil of rope, so meaningless, so meaningful, held his
imagination by an even stronger hold. Why a coil of rope in an antique
shop? Who would want it? People bought rope in a hardware store--there
was one farther along M Street near the old deserted Lido Theatre. But
here, in an antique shop? Chris shook his head as he stared. He had
never seen anyone go into Mr. Wicker's shop, now he thought of it.
How then, did he live, and what did he ever sell?

A sudden car horn woke him from his dream. He looked up, seeing for
the first time the small card hung at eye level in the window. In a
beautiful script such as Chris had never seen before, but very
legible, the card read:

Boy Wanted.
Good Pay.
_W. Wicker._

Jakey Harris came back into Chris's thoughts. He looked over his
shoulder at the darkening sky streaked luridly with citrous strokes;
noticed the wheel and tackle high up at the loft door of the warehouse
opposite, and put his hand on the doorknob. The last flicker of light
scudded across the steel sides of the freeway to pick out the
lettering above the shop window.

W-LLM. WICKER, CURIOSITIES

Chris opened the door and a bell jangled, very faintly, but with
persistence, far away in some distant part of the house.



CHAPTER 3


The last reverberations of sound hung in the air and jangled in
Chris's head. Of the many times he had examined Mr. Wicker's window
and pored over the rope, the ship and the Nubian boy, he had never
gone into Mr. Wicker's shop. So now, alone until someone should answer
the bell, he looked eagerly, if uneasily, around him.

What with the one window and the lowering day outside, the long narrow
shop was somber. The ceiling seemed close above Chris's head. Heavy
hand-hewn beams crossed it from one side to the other. A few dusty
pieces of furniture stood about, whether for sale or for use Chris
could not determine, and almost lost in the black shadows at the far
end were what appeared to be boxes and bales, piled one upon the
other.

[Illustration]

The growing silence, now the bell had stopped, gripped Chris. A chill
made itself felt in his feet and spread rapidly over his body so that
he gave a convulsive shiver. He was about to turn and go out when, at
the farthest end of the gloomy shop, a small primrose oblong of light
seeped for a little way along the floor and a door opened.
Fascinated, Chris stared, as into this distant pallor stepped the
short and remarkably spidery figure of a man. Mr. Wicker's back being
toward the source of light, Chris could not see his face. The figure
paused, with a fragile hand scarcely bigger than that of a child's on
the doorhandle, and then came forward.

The silence, Chris noticed, was still unbroken as Mr. Wicker advanced
toward him, and Chris shuddered again as he stood waiting and
watching, but whether it was with cold or with fear--and the room was
indeed very dank and unaired--it would have been hard to say.

When Mr. Wicker had come within a few feet of Chris, the final
vestiges of daylight from outside reached the extraordinary man facing
the boy, and for the first time Chris was able to examine the old man
who was more legend than fact throughout Georgetown.

William Wicker's face in itself was not forbidding. What made an icy
mouse seem to run the length of Chris's spine was the impression of
enormous age in the appearance of the man confronting him. The thin
lips crackled the withered and multi-wrinkled cheeks in the ghost of
what had once been a smile. The nose, once hawk-like and proud and
denoting strength of character and purpose, was now pinched by the
ever-tightening fingers of a progression of years. The double fans of
minute wrinkles breaking from eye corner to temple and joining with
those over the cheekbones were drawn into the horizontal lines across
the domed forehead. Little tufts of white fuzz above the ears were all
that remained of the antiquarian's hair, but what drew and held
Chris's gaze were the old man's eyes.

Mr. Wicker's eyes were not those of an old man at all. They had the
vigor of a man in the prime of life, and their presence in that
puckered face of age which confronted Chris was horribly
disconcerting. Chris blinked and looked again. Yes, they were still
there. Eyes so deeply brown they might well have been black, but
clear, sparkling, and with a decided glint of humor and mischief.
While the boy had been too frightened to move at the sight of Mr.
Wicker's ancient cheeks, pinched nose, and hairless head, he was
encouraged by the friendly eyes. Chris could not help but like those
eyes, even though it was hard to believe they belonged to the man
before him.

As though from a great distance Mr. Wicker's voice came to his ears,
and this too, Chris found difficult to credit. There, not four feet in
front of him was the old shopkeeper, and yet the high thin voice might
have come from anywhere else--the rafters, the room beyond the lighted
door; anywhere.

"Well, my boy? You wanted something?"

Chris swallowed and his voice came back to him. "Yes sir," he said. "I
saw your sign, and I know a boy who needs the job." He looked at Mr.
Wicker as though he were unable to look elsewhere. "He's a schoolmate
of mine. Jakey Harris, his name is, and he really needs the job. I
wondered--" Mr. Wicker's eyes, laughing at him just a little, confused
Chris and he began to stammer.

"I--I just wondered if the place was still open."

Mr. Wicker studied Chris for a moment or two before he replied. What
he saw was a fresh-cheeked lad tall for thirteen, sturdy, with
sincerity and good humor in his face, and something sensitive and
appealing about his eyes. His chin showed obstinacy and tenacity; his
nose would shape itself well as he grew older. Unruly tawny hair was
blown and ruffled in every direction and his hands, even young as he
was, showed ability and strength.

"Hm-mm," said Mr. Wicker, and his remote smile broadened while his
eyes sparkled with the warmth of a fire on a winter's night. "Hm-mm.
Yes. The job is still open, young man, but while you're here, why not
apply for it yourself?"

Chris, somewhat less ill at ease, now he had got his message out,
shifted his feet and gave a short laugh.

"Oh no, thank you, sir. You see, I don't really need it, and Jakey
does. It wouldn't be fair for me to take it if Jakey has a chance."

He looked away, and saw that the light from the distant hidden room
was jumping and flickering on the shadowed walls. He guessed there
must be a lively fire in that room beyond.

"Of course," Chris added anxiously, "I don't know what the job is. You
don't say, on the sign, and Jakey isn't awfully well. He has a twisted
foot and it makes him slow in walking. Would that interfere with
Jakey's getting the job, sir?" Chris enquired.

The reply was slow in coming, and Chris heard as if the words had been
spoken, not before him, where the black outlined figure still stood,
but as if at his very ear. Soft but clear, the words sounded.

"It would not interfere, Christopher my boy. But now that you are
here, you must make the test. Jakey will be cared for, never fear."

Almost as in a dream, Chris felt an atmosphere drenching him as though
a powerful scent filled the air. His head swam a little, and he
realized that it was a long time since he had had lunch. He thought he
detected a pleasant smell of herbs, like the potpourri his mother had
in bowls in their house. The sharp black outline of Mr. Wicker
impressed itself on his eyeballs, and in the room, now totally dark
except for the light that streamed from the faraway open door, Mr.
Wicker's body seemed to radiate a bright edge, like a carbon paper
held up to the sun. The voice at his ear once more filled his head and
his hearing.

"_You_ will make the test, my boy. Now. Just turn around, and tell me
what you see out my window."

[Illustration]

Chris, in spite of the strangeness rising about him like a mist,
remembered very well what lay outside the window. But even as he
slowly turned, the thought pierced his mind, Why had he not seen the
reflection of the headlights of the cars moving up around the corner
of Water Street and up the hill toward the traffic signals? And why
had the sound of wheels, of gears and of horns, been so completely
muffled out? The room seemed overly still.

Then, in that second, he turned and faced about. The wide bow window
was there before him, the three objects he liked best showing frosty
in the moonlight that poured in from across the water.

Across the water! Where was the freeway? It was no longer there, nor
were the high walls and smokestacks of factories to be seen. The
warehouses were still there. They were the very same, for Chris could
make out the winch and tackle he had noticed as he opened the door.
But instead of factories, instead of the freeway, the river flickered
silver under the moon, and the hulls and masts of countless ships
broke the starry sky.

Flabbergasted and breathless, Chris was unaware that he had moved
closer to peer out the window in every direction. No electric signs,
no lamplit streets. Going as far as the wall to his left and leaning
forward, Chris looked up toward M Street.

Where the People's Drugstore had stood but a half-hour before, rose
the roofs of what was evidently an inn. A courtyard was sparsely lit
by a flaring torch or two, showing a swinging sign hung on a post. The
post was planted at the edge of what was now a broad and muddy road.
Even as Chris stared, not knowing whether to believe what his eyes saw
or not, there was a great sound of hoofs and of a cracking whip. A
coach with its top piled high with luggage stamped to a halt beside
the flagged courtyard. Ostlers ran out to hold the team of horses
steaming in the cool night air, and linkboys carrying torches and
orange lanterns ran out to help the travelers in. The coachman wore
knee breeches and a cockaded hat; two gentlemen got down from the
interior of the coach, stretching their cramped legs. Chris could
catch the shine as lantern glow touched the silver buckles on their
shoes. Their full-backed coats were slightly lifted, on the left, by
the tips of their rapiers, and a froth of white, lace or muslin, fell
from their necks onto satin waistcoats. They moved into the inn; the
coach rattled off to the stable. Before the window, farm carts rumbled
by, and instead of the crowded outline of Georgetown roofs, Chris
could see only a few chimneys against the stars, and many lofty trees.

"What do you see, boy?" asked the voice, so gentle, at his ear. Chris,
frightened and dumbfounded, shook his head.

"I will tell you," Mr. Wicker said. "My window has a power for those
few who are to see. You are looking back into the past, my boy. The
way it used to be."

Then the coldness, the strangeness, the fluttering of the light was
too much for Chris. Blackness descended on him as if a hood had been
dropped over his head, but before he was quite gone, he heard what he
thought was Mr. Wicker's voice saying kindly:

"You will do."



CHAPTER 4


When Chris came to himself he woke from sleep and lay for a moment
without opening his eyes. He waited with his usual sense of irritation
for Aunt Rachel's step at the door, and her voice saying, "Get up,
Chris! You're late again!" But the step did not come, and feeling
rested and hungry, Chris opened his eyes.

What was this? The high regular walls of his bedroom were not around
him, nor the familiar furniture. Chris sat up, rubbing at his eyes as
if this would help to clear his vision, and looked about him.

He was in a narrow bed in a small sunny room. An attic room, it would
seem to be, for the walls slanted down in different sharp angles from
the low ceiling to the broad wood planks of the floor. Two dormer
windows projected from the room beyond the roof, making two niches in
the wall across from where Chris lay, and a third window in the wall
above his head showed that the room, as well as being at the top of
the house, was also at a corner of it. A door was just beyond the
foot of the bed; a chest of drawers and a table with a blue and white
porcelain wash bowl and pitcher, stood along the farther side. Wooden
pegs were placed at hand level here and there, and a rag rug in bright
colors lay on the floor by the bed. The walls were white and the
sunlight poured in to dash itself upon the floor and splash up the
walls in irresistible gaiety. There was no doubt about it, bare though
it was, it was a pleasing room, snug, clean and cheerful, and somehow
well suited to a thirteen-year-old boy. Chris half smiled as he
looked, leaning on one elbow, and then his smile faded as he caught
sight of the chair and what it held.

The only chair in the room was laid with carefully folded clothes. But
they were not Chris's clothes. Chris jumped out of bed and then looked
down with a quick startled intake of his breath. He was wearing a
white nightshirt, something he had never even seen before and barely
heard of. The sleeves were long and cuffed, and the nightshirt fell in
linen lines to his feet.

"Golly Moses!" Chris exclaimed, completely baffled.

He returned to the examination of the clothes that were obviously laid
out for him. There was a fine white shirt with full sleeves and
turned-back cuffs. White cotton stockings; knee breeches of a
blue-gray worsted material, and matching frock coat with silver carved
buttons. Below the chair, Chris saw, was a pair of black leather shoes
with polished silver buckles.

"Fancy dress, huh?" Chris murmured, and then, as if he had been
slapped into full awareness, came the remembrance of the evening
before, of Mr. Wicker, and of the dark flickering shop.

Chris sat down suddenly on the edge of the bed, his mouth, in spite
of all his efforts, drawn down at the corners, and his eyes blank with
confusion and misery.

"Oh my golly!" Chris said, and stared at the clothes he still held in
his hands.

Then another idea struck him, and he jumped up to run to the nearest
dormer window, the floorboards, where the sun had lain on them, warm
under his bare feet.

But no. No freeway, no factories. The window looked out over Water
Street, skirting the edge of the Potomac banks, and there below
Chris's amazed eyes rose a forest of masts and spars of ships at
anchor along the shore. Water Street, below him, was swarming with
activity, but not the activity that Chris had previously known. Men
dressed in the same sort of clothes as those laid out for him pushed
at cotton bales, rolled hogsheads along to the docks, or rowed out to
ships anchored in midstream. Most of the stevedores were hatless, and
Chris snickered at the sight of the short braid of hair at the napes
of their necks. Many wore brilliant scarves tied around their heads,
red, or mustard-yellow or green, and the sound of deep voices
swearing, laughing, or rising in unfamiliar sea chanteys excited Chris
and sent the blood tingling along his veins.

He rushed to the high-placed window overlooking Wisconsin Avenue. No
Key Bridge was to be seen in the distance, only stretches of fields
and orchards, scattered with occasional houses of russet brick, and
when he craned his neck there was the inn where the People's Drugstore
ought to be, the sign swinging high above the road.

Wisconsin Avenue! Chris had to laugh. If it could see itself! Only a
wide muddy road full of ruts and puddles, along which someone's line
of geese was waddling, impervious to the cursing of passing carters
and riders on horseback. A little below him Chris could see the two
old warehouses he remembered from the night before. But now they
looked quite new, their bricks bright and their walls solid. Barrels
were being lifted by the winch and tackle into the upper loft, and
Chris watched the busy scene for quite some time.

His rolling stomach and a simultaneous smell of food reminded him of
his hunger. Dressing quickly in the strange new clothes, he opened the
door and peered outside.

His bedroom door was at the top of a narrow curling stair that twisted
away to the left out of sight. It was steep, and Chris stood silent
and intent on the top step, listening. A deep woman's voice loudly
singing, "Farewell and Adieu, to you, Spanish ladies--" came rolling
up the stairwell to the accompaniment of a brisk clatter of pots and
pans. What rose also to Chris's nostrils was a smell of newly baked
bread, frying bacon, and woodsmoke, and the combination put an end to
his indecision. For a while he decided to call a truce to any attempt
at solving the mystery in which he found himself, and following his
nose, went softly down the stairs.

Rounding the last turn of the staircase, Chris remained in its shadow
while he stared with unbelieving eyes at the room and figure before
him. If this is a dream, he said in himself, it's the best one I've
ever had--the very best!

What confronted Chris was Mr. Wicker's kitchen. This room took up
almost all of the side wing of the house. Across from Chris two
casement windows showed the shrubs and flowers and white picket fence
of Mr. Wicker's garden, and at his left was the back door opening onto
Water Street, flanked by two smaller windows. These seemed most
inviting, each possessing a window seat from which one could watch
the busy comings and goings of the docks, with a view of the ships
beyond.

But what drew Chris's eyes and made them grow round with wonder was
the extraordinary figure in front of the fireplace. The vast, deeply
set fireplace was in the wall that faced the back door. So deep it
was, that there was even a bench on one side of it, and over the
smoking logs were hung all manner of trivets, spits, and cooking
irons. It was, in short, a fireplace such as Chris had never dreamed
of. Yet the tall buxom woman stirring the hissing pots and singing to
herself was what held Chris rooted to the last step of the attic
stair.

The woman stood easily six feet, broad and brawny enough to be a match
for almost any man. Countless yards of sprigged cotton must have gone
into the making of her dress, to say nothing of her apron. A massive
fichu of freshly laundered muslin went around her neck and was tucked
into her bodice; a white turban was on her head, but on top of the
turban--! Chris simply could not believe his eyes as he counted
rapidly. On top of this amazing woman's head was a gigantic hat
supporting twenty-four roses and twelve waving black plumes! Chris's
jaw dropped at the sight of the turbaned, hatted head, the flowers
bobbing and swaying, the ostrich plumes blowing and curtseying with
every slightest movement.

[Illustration]

As if blissfully unaware that her costume was not the usual one for
cooking, the woman hummed and stirred, tasted, and hung up her ladle.
But the sight was too much for Chris. Before he could stop it a shout
of laughter exploded from his lips. He laughed and laughed, and the
indignant expression on the woman's face when she turned, to stand
glaring at him with her hands on her jutting hips, only added to
Chris's laughter. At last, sobering up somewhat as he realized that
his behavior was rude, to put it mildly, Chris stopped and caught his
breath, shaken only now and again by a diminishing paroxysm. Seeing
the spark of bad temper in the red face of the enormous woman, Chris
decided to pour oil on the troubled waters.

"Good morning, ma'am. I--I'm Chris Mason, from upstairs, and I'm sorry
I laughed so loud. I--" he floundered and grabbed desperately at any
passing idea "--I saw something comical out the window there"--he
pointed wildly--"and it just set me off. I hope I didn't disturb you?"

Mollified, though not entirely, the woman accepted this effort at
peacemaking and her face eased a little.

"Well now. So you are awake at the last, eh? And hungry, bein' a boy,
I don't doubt?"

She moved to the dresser and took down a mug and plate, the roses and
ostrich plumes nodding in evident agreement.

"So you are Chris, did you say? Christopher, that would be? And I am
Mistress Rebecca Boozer, should you be wanting to know. Becky Boozer,
they call me."

She bustled over to a covered bowl, dipped out creamy milk with a
long-handled dipper, and set bread, butter, and bacon in front of
Chris at a table pulled up to one of the window seats.

"Eat up now, young man," Becky Boozer advised, every red rose and
feather accenting her words, "for Mr. Wicker will be wanting to see
you when you have done. It's late. Past eight of the clock." She
glanced out the window. "It might be just possible that Master Cilley
will be passing by before long for a midmorning snack and here I am
gossiping with you instead of getting on with my work."

Chris ate with a will, looking around as he chewed. The spotless brick
floor and the starched curtains at the windows, the shining copper
pans hung beside the huge fireplace, were proof of Becky Boozer's
housekeeping.

"Don't you have an icebox?" Chris asked, his mouth full.

"What may that be?" Becky asked sharply.

"To keep the food cool," Chris answered.

Becky stopped to consider this, her hands on her hips. "We have a
larder on the cool side of the house, if that be what you mean," she
told him, nodding. "Keeps the food pretty well up to April or May.
Then the heat makes everything go. Oh! This heat! Prosperity,
Maryland, where I come from, and on the sea coast as it is, was never
like this!"

A table with a wooden tub and dishes stacked nearby caught Chris's
eye. Buckets of water stood beneath the table, and presently Becky
Boozer took off a small pot of steaming water from a hook above the
fire, poured it in the tub, and dipped cold water from one of the
buckets into it.

What a system! Chris thought as he watched Becky busy with her dishes,
thinking of the neat white kitchen he knew at home.

Aloud he said: "If you had a little wooden trough that led from that
tub out through the window there, you could pull out a bung when you
were ready and the water would run outdoors. It would save you
carrying that great tub about, when you are in a hurry."

Becky Boozer rested her soapy hands on the edge of the tub and looked
at him admiringly over her shoulder.

"I would never have thought it," she said, "by the look of you. Never
in this world. You have brains, young lad, that's what you have. A
better idea than that I never heard! Indeed, it is just what I have
been a-needin' since years, and that simple I might have thought it
out myself! I shall set Master Cilley to work on it when he comes.
He's right handy with tools, is Ned Cilley."

At this moment a short knock sounded on the back door, and an instant
change came over Becky Boozer. It was impossible to imagine that
anyone as ponderous as Becky could be coy, but at the sound of the
knock, this is what she became. Wiping her hands hastily on one of
many petticoats, she pushed and pulled at her hat (which remained
immovable), straightened her fichu, and smoothing her dress, she
minced her huge bulk to the door with a welcoming smile.

A little man scarcely higher than Becky's barrel waist, with a rolling
sea gait and twinkling blue eyes, bounced into the room and strained
up on tiptoe toward Miss Boozer's blushing cheek. Chris, behind the
opened door, had not yet been perceived.

"Come now, Becky me love!" shouted Cilley the sailor in a good-humored
roar, "How can I start the day right 'thout a kiss from my Boozer?"

Becky blushed and simpered and cast down her eyes. "Get along with
you, Cilley! What a way to behave," she admonished, delighted and
abashed. "See--there's company here."

She pushed her suitor off with an elephantine shove and gestured to
Chris.

Chris was feeling the contagion of laughter catching up with him again
at the scene he had watched, and was glad when the sailor turned and
came over to where he sat.

"A visitor, eh? Well, well. Off a ship?"

[Illustration]

"No--no!" Becky put in quickly, and gave Chris a look. "No. He is a
friend of the master's, from--" she searched her mind--"from another
part of the country. He got here last night and slept late, as you
see."

"Indeed and indeed!" said the sailor, settling himself comfortably,
and as if for a long stay, in his chair and observing Chris through
his keen blue eyes. "Well, young man," he announced genially, "I am
Cilley," he said, and stretched out a hard brown hand.

"Christopher Mason," Chris said in return, and they solemnly shook
hands, taking account of each other as men do when they meet.

"I shall sit here, Mistress Becky, by your leave," Cilley called out,
as if Becky Boozer were a mile away, "to keep this lad company, as it
were."

"So you shall!" Becky answered warmly, smiling broadly, wrinkles of
pleasure at the corners of her eyes. "And could I tempt you with a
morsel, Master Cilley?"

Ned Cilley appeared to consider this invitation from all sides before
he gave his reply, cocking his head on one side like a parrot as he
reflected. Finally, he answered.

"How could I refuse when I know your fame as a cook?" he said with a
smile at Becky and a wink at Chris, and put his horny forefinger and
thumb the distance of a thread apart. "But a crumb, Mistress Becky. A
morsel. A taste. Just to pay my respects to your art, as it were."

Then such a commotion took place in the kitchen. Chris watched
flabbergasted, as Becky set before Cilley a meat pie, a large cheese,
fruit preserves, two kinds of bread, cakes and cookies, latticed
tarts, and pickles in jars. And with a beaming smile Becky drew from
a cask a jugful of ale which she set down on the table with a thud.

"Just a morsel, Master Cilley," she said, adding in a coaxing tone,
"Try just a taste, to please me."

Ned Cilley, his eyes winking with anticipation and smacking his lips,
attacked the meat pie and the cheese, tarts and pickles, with a will.

"Here--try this," he urged Chris, heaping the boy's plate as lavishly
as his own, and the two ate in silence and gusto while Becky stood by
with roses and feathers bobbing.

"You must keep your strength up, Ned Cilley," she admonished, "for
'tis a hard life that you lead," she warned him.

Ned paused long enough to swallow. "Aye, that it is, that it is!" he
agreed, wagging his head, champing his jaws, and digging into the
food. "A hard life, has a sailor," Ned said with an effort at sorrow,
which failed signally, and he took a great draught of the ale.

After a while Cilley slowed, wiped his mouth with his hand and leaned
back in his chair, rolling a dazed eye at the anxious face of the
waiting Becky Boozer.

"Mistress Boozer," he announced, "I am a new man." He heaved a sigh of
repletion. "You have saved me again. Ah! Mistress Becky, what a
treasure you are!"

Becky curtsied and giggled, her fabulous hat shaking as if with a
secret all its own. Just then a bell tinkled, at the end of the
kitchen passage.

"That will be the master," Becky said, bustling away. Then she turned.
"I shall be back, Master Cilley! I pray you, do not leave!"

Chris seized his opportunity. "Please, Master Cilley," he asked,
leaning across the empty plates in his interest, "Why does she wear
that queer hat?"

Master Cilley cocked an eye at the boy before him, picked comfortably
at his teeth with an iron nail which he took from his pocket, and
loosened his belt buckle.

"Ah!" he said, "So you've not heard? Quick, then, I shall tell you,
for that is truly a tale."

The sailor stretched back in his chair, one hand holding the mug of
ale. His short nose and red, wind-burned cheeks seemed to share the
joke with his eyes as he finally leaned forward across the table with
an air of conspiracy.



CHAPTER 5


"Well now," began Cilley, "that's a tale that not everyone knows,
don't you see. And Mistress Becky would not care to be reminded of it,
mark you, for reasons I shall shortly tell."

His eyes, humorous as they were, took on a shrewdness under their
sandy brows as if judging the character of the boy before him and his
ability to keep a secret.

"First and foremost," he said, "You had best know who I am." He leaned
back and hooked his thumbs under his armpits in a prideful gesture.

"My lad," said Ned Cilley, thrusting out his chin, "I am a member of
the _Mirabelle's_ crew!"

"The _Mirabelle_!" Chris exclaimed, "Why--that's the ship in the
bottle!"

"Aye," agreed Cilley, nodding sagely, "The model of it's in a bottle
right enough, since it's meself that made it, the last trip home from
the Chiny Seas."

"You made it _yourself_?" Chris breathed, looking aghast at the
gnarled knotted fingers, thick and roughened by work and weather,
picturing to himself the delicacy of the miniature ship that lay so
snugly in its transparent walls. "How in the world could you get it
inside?" he asked.

Ned wagged his head. "Ah, 'tis a trick and a tedious thing, no
mistaking, but there's time and to spare for it, coming home from
China."

"China? You've been there? What's it like?" Chris wanted to know, his
eyes eager.

Cilley smiled at him, a snaggled-toothed friendly grin. "That's a tale
for another time, my boy, for there's much telling there. You wanted
the story of Becky's fine hat."

"Yes--yes!" Chris urged. "Before she comes back."

"Well, now," began Cilley, "Bein' a member of the _Mirabelle_ and all,
means I see quite a bit of this port when we're home." He looked arch
as if Chris must know the reason for that. "An' seein' as how Mistress
Becky and me are fast friends, well--she's told me a thing or two that
not everyone knows."

He took a pull on the mug and wiped the froth from his lips.

"It seems," he began, "that in her younger days, Mistress Becky had
one craving. She'd seen this hat that she now wears, in a milliner's,
and have it she must.

"Now--" and the sailor leaned forward as the story held his own
interest--"now a hat of that sort costs many a shilling, and Becky
worked and saved for that bonnet for over a year." He eyed Chris again
closely. "If you tell what I tell ye, Chris lad," Cilley conjured him,
"I shall get even with ye, I swear I will! For I would never want to
hurt the feelin's of Becky Boozer, on my oath."

"I'll not tell, sir. Not to anyone," Chris assured him.

Ned Cilley seemed satisfied. "Well now," hunching closer with his
chair, "It seems at long last she paid for that bonnet, and decided to
wear it to the spectacle, that very afternoon."

"The spectacle?" Chris questioned, his forehead wrinkled. "What's
that?"

"Haw--Haw!" cackled Cilley, "You _are_ a country boy! Why--the
_spectacle_, where the players are. The _theatre_--what else?"

"Oh," Chris said shortly, and thought of television and the movies,
and held his tongue. He was beginning to try to fit himself into two
centuries before his own time.

"Yes," took up Cilley, "so as I was saying, Mistress Boozer bein'
young and flighty in them days, and rightful proud of the bonnet she
had took so long to earn, wore it to the spectacle, together with her
best gown.

"Now as you seem not acquainted with the theatre, me lad, let me tell
you that we give it here in any hall standing vacant, and out of doors
in fair weather, and we set the benches in rows for those that pay for
seats."

He pulled out an evil-smelling clay pipe and stuffed it with tobacco,
tamping it down with one grubby forefinger, and when it was well lit,
pointed the stem at Chris by way of emphasis.

"Mistress Becky gets herself a good place, on this occasion, and sits
herself down, a-tossin' of her feathers and her flowers, and as proud
as a peacock, every inch of her. The people pack the benches, and the
performance then begins.

"Rightly--" and Cilley jabbed the pipestem at Chris--"Rightly, only
ladies of quality wear such hats as Becky wore, and should they go to
the spectacle--which would be doubtful, for the crowd makes it no
place for gentlewomen--they would be sitting off apart, don't you see?

"But Becky sat spang in the center of the hall, and--you've seen the
hat? 'Tis big enough for two and no mistake, and spreads along as well
as up--well, the time came to begin. The players came out on the
stage, a-speakin' of their parts and abrandishin' of their arms as
they do, when all at once a gentleman sitting behind Becky Boozer
leaned forward and asked her--ever so polite--'Madam,' sez he, 'please
be so good as to remove your bonnet!'"

[Illustration]

Here Cilley leaned forward, one hand on his stomach to facilitate a
bow, aping as best he could the speech and manners of a gentleman. In
a flash he resumed his own character and turned to Chris.

"Well, did she take it off?" Ned demanded of Chris, frowning with
concentration. "'Twas asked with rare politeness, anyone would agree
to that." He shook his head solemnly. "Why no, Master Christopher,
that she did not! Our Becky had just paid the final pence upon that
hat, and after a year, seven months and eighteen days, the hat was
hers. She wanted all beholders to admire it. What cared she if the
gentleman seated on the bench behind her saw more of her bonnet than
of the play? In Becky Boozer's opinion, 'twas a more than fair
exchange! So she tossed her head, did Becky, and deigned not even a
reply."

[Illustration]

Cilley tossed his own sun-bleached thatch and pursed up his mouth in
imitation of Becky. Then, with another rapid change of grimace, he
squinted up his eyes to signify the growing intensity of the
situation, and leaning half-way across the table, shoved the dishes,
pies, and pickles out of his way with his elbows. His deep voice sank
to a husky whisper.

"So the performance went on, and never a glimpse of it did the poor
gentleman see, seated as he was behind our Becky Boozer. So once more
he bends forward and he speaks at her ear, urgent-like--"

Cilley's eyebrows rose and fell with his agitation. So strong was the
grip of the story upon him that it was evident that he fancied himself
at the play, and could see the whole thing before him as plain as day.

"The poor gentleman says again," he took up, "'Madam,' he says, 'I beg
of you--please to be so kind! Nothing of the spectacle can I see!
Please and be so good as to remove your hat!'

"And would you believe it, my lad--no." Ned Cilley shook his head from
side to side, "No, no, you would not." He leaned back, waving his hand
as if to wipe away any lingering doubt in Chris's mind. "Mistress
Rebecca Boozer was that proud--_that proud_"--he dropped his
voice--"that not for the world would she remove her bonnet. Dear me
no! She tossed her head again, feeling all them plumes a-tossin' too,
and sat up straighter than before. An' she a tall woman."

Master Cilley took a red bandanna handkerchief from his coattail
pocket and mopped his face, so excited and heated had he become at his
own telling of the tale. Then once more he leaned forward
confidentially.

"Well, little did she dream, our Becky Boozer. For when she tossed her
head the second time and made no motion to remove her hat, the
gentleman bent toward her, and--no doubt, his words were for her
alone. And this is what he said."

Ned Cilley's blue eyes popped and he cupped his hand by the side of
his mouth so that his words could carry no further than the few inches
dividing the boy and the man.

"He said--and so she told me, it did sound like a roar of thunder,
though no one else did seem aware of it--'So, then, Rebecca Boozer,
_wear_ your hat!' the gentleman said. 'The Devil himself shall have no
power to take it off'n you'!

"And do you know," whispered Cilley in a low rumble, his eyes starting
out of his head as were Chris's own, "'Tis our belief it must have
been the Devil himself who sat behind her there, for from that very
time Rebecca Boozer has been unable to remove that hat, neither by
pushing, pulling, prying, steaming, cutting, tearing, nor by any
method howsomever! The Devil it was! The Devil it must have been!"

Master Cilley, exhausted by his recital, fell back in his chair, with
just strength enough left to replenish his pewter mug from the jug of
ale. Then, refreshed, he set the mug down, wiped his lips, and cocked
an eye at Chris who sat staring at him open-mouthed.

"Try it yourself," he suggested wagging his head. "I have. You'll not
be able to heave it off, that I promise you. That hat is there for
good and all. Mistress Boozer will doubtless be buried in that
bonnet." He cocked his head the other way. "And what do you think of
_that_?" Ned Cilley enquired.

After a long and thoughtful pause Chris found his voice.

"Master Cilley," he said respectfully, "Does she--does she _sleep_ in
it?" he asked.

The picture of the elephantine Becky Boozer with a counter-pane under
her chin and the hat with twenty-four red roses and twelve waving
black plumes rising above the pillow took hold of the sailor's fancy.
He tipped back in his chair and laughed till he cried, and as he was
coughing and spluttering, Mistress Boozer herself came rustling out of
the passageway and across the kitchen to the table.

"Be off with you, boy!" she cried. "You and Cilley--you're two of a
kind, that is plain to be seen!"

She looked from one to the other and Chris decided that it was a good
thing for him that Becky likened him to the object of her doting,
Master Cilley.

"Get along with you!" she cried again, pulling Chris up out of his
chair by his coat collar. "You are wanted by the master in his study,
so look sharp! It's down the passage and to your right," Becky said,
"and knock before you go in!"

Chris started off, but in the dusk of the passage he looked back in
time to see Becky Boozer lost in tittering giggles and wild blushes as
Master Cilley, reaching up as high as his arm would go, chucked her
under the chin.



CHAPTER 6


Chris stood for a moment before the closed door of Mr. Wicker's study.
His head was full of the story of Becky Boozer's hat or he might have
glimpsed the room beside him--for the passage stopped at this point.
Beyond the passage lay the dimly glimmering shop with its bow window
at the far end, and the door to the street beside it. He might have
been able, had he not been so intent on Becky's story, to slip past
the dusty bales and cases and out into--what? But Chris's head was
ringing with Ned Cilley's tale, and with all the things, so different
and so absorbing, that surrounded him. He put out his hand, knocked,
and on hearing a low reply, stepped inside.

The room Chris entered, his eyes round in order to take in every new
sight, was a small study. It stretched across the back of the house.
The kitchen fireplace had its echo in a fireplace on this side of the
wall, and facing Chris three windows looked out onto the pleached pear
and apple trees; the ordered rows of the vegetable and herb garden. A
final window at the end of the room, at Chris's left, looked out on a
little hill behind the house. Chris, without thinking, stepped forward
a pace or two in order to look for the familiar ugly red and gray
church at the end of Church Lane. It was not to be seen. There was
only a pasture hemmed by woods and fine trees with, in the distance
where M Street should be, a roof or two.

A thin voice, that came from nowhere and was everywhere, broke in to
Chris.

"No, my boy. The church is not yet built. That will come in seventy
years. In eighteen-sixty, to be exact. Confusing, is it not?"

Chris whipped about at the sound of the antiquarian's voice but for a
moment longer he could not see him, and looked toward the other end of
the room with interest.

Mr. Wicker's study was cosy and bright, well warmed by a cheerfully
burning fire. The heavy curtains, drawn back now from the windows to
let in the morning sun, were of a fine ruby damask. The furniture
consisted, as far as Chris was concerned, of antiques. Two wing chairs
covered in red leather, tacked at the edges with brassheaded nails,
looked invitingly comfortable. One had its back to Chris and the door,
and the other was empty. Both were drawn close to the snapping logs. A
grandfather clock stood in the corner between the fireplace and the
first window, and gave out a steady deep tock. The carpet was a soft
Indian rug of fine texture and many colors, red, blue, and gold
predominating. Most surprisingly, a steep spiral staircase of polished
wood came down into the room in the right-hand corner near where Chris
stood, and Chris wondered for a moment, if Mr. Wicker's voice had come
from the top of the stair.

Turning back, he saw that a desk, opposite him, stood between the two
windows that faced the garden. It seemed very old-fashioned, to
Chris--no neat folded writing paper, but large bold sheets covered in
Mr. Wicker's delicate handwriting lay on the open top, with several
goose-quill pens standing at the back in a penholder. Chris noticed
prints of sailing ships on the walls, and candlesticks holding candles
and candle snuffers on the desk, table, and mantelpiece. A closed
cupboard with carved doors stood at the far end of the room.

Once again Chris turned back to look for Mr. Wicker, and to his
astonishment, now saw him in the chair that he had thought empty a
moment before. Mr. Wicker, his elbows on the arms of the chair and his
fingertips touched lightly together, was watching Chris with interest
and amusement. When the boy caught sight of him, Mr. Wicker nodded,
smiling, and motioned Chris toward the other leather chair across from
him.

"Good morning, my boy," said the old man. "I trust you slept well?"

Chris slowly let himself down into the offered chair. "Oh yes, thank
you sir," he replied. "I don't even know how I got to bed."

Mr. Wicker made a sound that seemed to indicate that that did not
matter.

"And breakfast?" Mr. Wicker asked. "Becky fed you?"

"Yes sir. _And_ Mr. Cilley--he fed me too."

"Indeed?" Mr. Wicker's eyebrows went up in an inverted V above his
bright dark eyes. "Ned Cilley so early? Well, he is a loyal soul, is
Cilley. You shall know more of him."

[Illustration]

He fell silent, observing the boy sitting on the edge of the big
chair. Mr. Wicker looked, as if casually, at the clothes Chris now
wore and which fitted him as though made to his measure. What he saw
seemed to please the old man for he nodded his bald head and his
wrinkles multiplied themselves across his face in a way Chris took to
be his smile. At last he spoke again, and his voice was strangely
gentle and kind. So kind that the forlornness Chris had momentarily
forgotten at the mystery of his position, the puzzlement and lost
feeling that reclaimed him instantly should he allow himself to wonder
at how he could get back again into his own life and time, was
reawakened by the something he heard in Mr. Wicker's voice. The tears
gathered in his throat and he had to swallow and cough several times
before he could reply with any degree of clearness.

[Illustration]

"Feel? Well--all right, I guess, in a way. But there's a sort of
spinning in my head and my stomach if I try to figure any of this out.
I just don't get it." He shook his head dubiously. "I feel alive all
right, and the food tasted good just now, but how in the world can all
the changes come about, or be? And there's something I should see to,
at home--" All at once he needed desperately to know how his mother
was, that morning. He stood up abruptly.

"If I can just go now, please?" Chris asked politely but firmly. "It's
been very interesting, but I--"

His throat tightened up again and he made a helpless gesture with his
hand, and looking toward the window, wondered if he could jump out
into the flower beds and be off. Mr. Wicker's voice, soft but with
such authority that one did not question it, came again, and it had a
healing in its sound.

"Sit down, Christopher my lad," he said, and his eyes were kind,
intent and eager. "We have much to talk of, you and I. But first, your
mind and heart shall be put at ease. Do you know who I am?"

Restive and anxious to be off, Chris nevertheless found it necessary
to reply.

"You sell old stuff. That's all I know," he answered, beginning to
feel a trifle surly.

Mr. Wicker nodded, tapping his fingertips together. "Yes," he agreed,
"I sell old things--in _your_ time. But now--in _this_ time, what do
you know of me?"

As he spoke there was a change of tone, as if a younger man was
speaking, and in spite of his impatience to get home, Chris looked up
sharply. Mr. Wicker was leaning forward, and Chris felt himself
immovable under the vigor of those dark eyes.

"Nothing, sir," he heard himself saying, not taking his eyes from
those of the man before him.

"I am a shipowner, Christopher, for one thing," Mr. Wicker drew a
slow breath. "A merchant trading in tobacco, cotton, corn, and flour.
But I am also--" he paused as if to give Chris time to hear each word,
"I am also quite a fine magician," said Mr. Wicker.

Chris leaned back, disappointed and scornful. "Rabbits out of hats?"
he inquired.

"No, young man," Mr. Wicker answered with no show of annoyance, "Not
rabbits out of hats. That--as you would say--is for toddlers. Suppose
I prove to you just how good?"

"Go ahead," said Chris, whose only thought was still to get home but
who admitted to himself a faint stir of curiosity.

"Watch closely then," commanded Mr. Wicker. "I have been in my
twentieth-century shape so that you would recognize me. Now I shall
regain my appearance of _this_ time--not a great change, I grant you,
but there will be a difference. Watch me closely."

Chris leaned forward in his chair. The room was well lit from three
sides; sunlight and firelight mingled to wash Mr. Wicker in their
joined apricot glow. Added to this, the two chairs--Chris's and Mr.
Wicker's--were not more than four feet apart. Chris hunched forward
yet a little more to lessen this space and watch for any movement,
however swift. He had seen magicians before, he told himself.

But what he saw was so amazing that Chris's lips parted in
astonishment and his eyes stared unblinkingly. For the tiny figure of
the old man before him, wizened with age and wrinkled past belief,
before his eyes shook off not ten or twenty years, but one hundred and
fifty! It left him, while not a young man, middle-aged; a vigorous man
of forty years. The face was smoothed out and firm; thick chestnut
hair was caught back with a black ribbon bow. Dark eyebrows were level
above the steady eyes.

"I don't believe it!" Chris breathed. "You looked almost like a mummy,
before. And now--"

Mr. Wicker rose from his chair, and now he stood six feet, no longer
wizened, no longer feeble.

"Fascinating, is it not?" he remarked, with a sardonic smile. "A good
trick, do you not agree?"

Chris sat looking at him, amazed but still incredulous. "Well yes," he
admitted, "but maybe with make-up, or something--"

"Ah," said Mr. Wicker, and his voice was deeper and more vigorous too.
"Ah. Then we shall try another. See if you can find me." And before
Chris's eyes Mr. Wicker vanished into thin air.

Chris looked about and got up. He looked under the chairs, under the
table, behind the curtains, up the chimney, up the spiral staircase,
out the windows--in short, everywhere and anywhere a man might hide,
and in a great many places where it was impossible for him to be.
Finally he stood in the middle of the room.

"You're not here," he said aloud.

"Oh, yes, I am," said Mr. Wicker's voice. "Look on the table."

Chris looked on the table. A bowl of flowers stood in the center. A
small silver tray with a finely blown glass and a round-bellied silver
pitcher of water stood at one side. A few leather-bound books were all
else to be seen, except--if one could count that--a bluebottle fly
that buzzed, lit on the flowers, and buzzed again.

[Illustration]

"It's not fair!" Chris challenged aloud. "You've got some trick hiding
place. You're just not here."

"Yes I am," came the voice. "I am within reach of your hand,
Christopher," Mr. Wicker told him. "And I will reappear in whatever
part of the room you wish. Choose."

Chris looked around him, and then pointed to the end window.

"There," he said, "by the window. There's nothing anywhere around it.
Come back there."

"Very well," sounded Mr. Wicker's deep new voice.

The bluebottle fly buzzed upward from the table, flew directly at
Chris's nose, hit it, flew around his head, and bumped into his ear.

"Darn that ol' fly!" Chris muttered, and made a grab at it. The
bluebottle buzzed towards the window, swirled about, hit Chris on the
nose again with remarkable stupidity, and blundered off once more
towards the window.

Chris ran after it, saw it on a pane of glass, swooped down, and felt
the angry wings and heard the enraged buzz in his cupped hand. But
before he could either squeeze the fly or open his hand to let it
free, Mr. Wicker stood before him, and Chris found himself holding on
to the tail of Mr. Wicker's coat.

"And what did you think of _that_ trick?" asked Mr. Wicker smiling.



CHAPTER 7


Chris was speechless, and Mr. Wicker answered himself.

"Yes, it is a good trick, but before we talk, I should like to show
you one more."

He dropped his hand on Chris's shoulder and somehow the firm touch was
wonderfully comforting to the boy.

"You want to be at home, do you not, Christopher?" Mr. Wicker asked.

"Yes sir. Please."

"Well, that cannot be for a time," Mr. Wicker replied, "for you have
important work to do."

Mr. Wicker turned and walked back to the two leather chairs with his
hand still on Chris's shoulder. He stopped near the table and looked
down.

"I know that all this--" he waved a hand to take in not only the room
but, Chris thought, the different time as well, "--all this seems
impossible to understand." He paused, pondering. "Perhaps we had
better sit down and I will try to make it understandable."

"Let me put it this way," Mr. Wicker began when they were seated once
more in their chairs before the fire. "You have a television set at
home?"

"Oh yes!" Chris agreed enthusiastically, "And say! Some of the
programs--"

"Yes, they are splendid, I know," Mr. Wicker broke in. "But will you
please explain to me how television works?"

Chris stared at his questioner for a moment and then settled back in
his chair, his forehead puckered with concentration.

"Well, gee--" He stopped. "Well," he began again, "I _think_ it has to
do with light rays passing through a--well, hm-mm, there's an electric
impulse, see--I guess it's that that sends out--" He stopped
altogether. "Well golly Moses, Mr. Wicker," he ended lamely, "it seems
to be pretty complicated to go into."

Mr. Wicker smiled, a wide engaging smile showing strong white teeth.

"It is," he agreed warmly, his eyes twinkling, "Is it not? Very
complicated. You probably would not be able to describe to me the
details of how the radio or long-distance telephone work either, would
you, young man?"

Chris had to grin back when he saw that Mr. Wicker was not laughing at
him, but rather at the complexity of such mechanical things.

"No, sir, I guess not. We're just glad to be able to use them, I
expect."

"Ah!" said Mr. Wicker in a tone of immense satisfaction, "Quite so.
You are just glad to be able to use and enjoy them. Well, then, my
boy, the things I have just shown you, and what I am about to show
you now, are parts of knowledge which are yet to be discovered and
learned, in a time beyond your own. And the ability to move _within_
Time--_within Time_," Mr. Wicker stressed, leaning forward toward
Chris, "that faculty is also still in the future. In the meantime it
remains a rare gift."

Mr. Wicker put out a lean strong hand and tapped Chris's knee.

[Illustration]

"You have it, Christopher. You were born with the ability to move
backward into time that has passed. Whether or not you will ever
master the gift of moving into the future, that, of course"--Mr.
Wicker shrugged--"is impossible to tell. You may. But for my purposes,
that you have been able to return this far is enough." He looked
searchingly at Chris. "Have you understood what I have been saying up
to now?" he asked.

"I think so, sir," Chris answered slowly.

"This ability to move back and forth in Time," Mr. Wicker continued,
"is no more farfetched than the ability to send colored images and
sound across the land into your own house, where you can see and hear
them. It is something which, so far, and I mean, of course, in your
time, has not yet been discovered. But it will be," mused Mr. Wicker
thoughtfully, pulling at his underlip with thumb and forefinger. "Yes,
it will be." He looked across at Chris as if returning from a great
distance. "But until it has been it appears fantastic, does it not?"

"It certainly does!" Chris replied with fervor. "If it weren't
happening to me I wouldn't believe it!"

"No," nodded Mr. Wicker, "and I would not blame you. But now," he
announced, rising and turning toward the table, "you must have your
mind set at rest regarding your mother." He motioned for Chris to join
him. "You will need to know only once and they say--" he smiled down
at the boy beside him "--they say that seeing is believing, so you
shall see for yourself."

Mr. Wicker picked up the round-bellied silver pitcher and set it in
front of Chris.

"They say too," Mr. Wicker said scornfully, "that crystal balls are
the things to look into. Perfect tommyrot. This will do equally well.
Look and see."

Chris bent to peer at the polished silver side of the pitcher. At
first, it shone as no doubt it always did from Becky Boozer's powerful
rubbing. Then, as he watched, the rounded side of the pitcher misted
over, as if it had been filled with ice water. Next, the center of the
misted portion cleared away, and as it cleared a picture formed,
welling up into his sight as if from within the pitcher through the
silver of its sides.

What Chris saw was a hospital room. On a white bed lay his mother, and
beside her were his Aunt Rachel and a white-coated man Chris took to
be a doctor. Then, as if inside his head, for he was not conscious of
sound within the room which had grown deeply still, he heard voices
and words, and saw the lips of the doctor and his Aunt Rachel move.

The doctor said, "The turn has come. She will pull through, but she
will need watchful care."

"Oh, thank God! Thank God!" his Aunt Rachel cried, and covering her
face with her hands, she burst into tears.

The scene misted over once again and when it cleared, the pitcher was
merely a pitcher on a table in Mr. Wicker's room. Chris looked up at
the man who regarded him gravely.

"Is that a trick too?" he asked. "Just to make me stay?" he demanded
more loudly.

"No, son," the man replied, and his eyes confirmed his words. "That is
how it really is. My word of honor."

And to Chris's great surprise, all at once he felt tears on his cheeks
while simultaneously a great lightness invaded him, and a wild wish to
laugh.

Mr. Wicker poured him a glass of water and held it out.

"Drink this," he said. "All is well. You can be at peace. And now," he
went on in a brisker tone, replacing the glass Chris had drained, "let
us begin our talk."



CHAPTER 8


Chris returned happily to his chair and curled up in it as if he were
at home. Even Mr. Wicker's expression seemed to have changed, and as a
matter of fact it had, for the relief and portion of content that
showed now in the boy's face, was reflected in some measure in that of
the man. Before seating himself Mr. Wicker rang a silver bell on the
tray by the pitcher. In a moment Becky Boozer knocked on the door and
stuck her gigantic hat through the opening.

"You rang, sir?" she inquired, the feathers and roses bobbing as
cheerily as live things around the sweeping brim.

"I did, Becky. It occurred to me," said Mr. Wicker, looking sideways
at Chris, "that some hot chocolate for Master Christopher and coffee
for me would not be amiss at this hour of the morning. And," he added,
seeing the interested spark in the boy's eyes, "some of your delicious
little cakes, perhaps?"

"Most certainly," beamed Becky, "most certainly sir. I have the
chocolate hot, as it so happens, and some cakes new-baked."

She bustled off and in no time returned with a tray of china cups,
matching flowered pots for coffee and for chocolate, a bowl of sugar,
and a plate piled high with cakes. From one corner Becky pulled out a
small table which she placed between the two chairs. The tray was
safely settled, the fire given a poke and a fresh log before Mistress
Boozer removed herself, in her starched dress and apron and her
outrageous hat, from her master's study.

"Now," said Mr. Wicker, pouring out the steaming drinks, "we shall
refresh ourselves and you shall listen, if you will."

Chris took a sip of the hot chocolate and a bite of golden cake,
deciding that he had never tasted better. This point decided on within
himself, he gave his attention to the man across from him.

"I told you," Mr. Wicker said, "that I was a shipowner and a merchant.
That is true. But these are troubled times. A revolution has had the
land in its grasp. Times are bad, and this vast land is now convulsed
with the birth throes of democracy. Money is hard to come by, and much
needed, for General Washington's troops were farmers called away from
their harvesting or sowing. The period of healing, for them and for
the land, will be long and costly."

He paused to sip his coffee and then put the cup down.

"Destruction is so fast, and to construct and build," Mr. Wicker said,
staring at the fire, "that is what is slow." He turned to Chris.
"Without financial help, without money for the beginning of this new
land and this new government that is struggling to be born, this free
place and this fine democratic experiment will fail. I know a way to
save it, and you have been sent back into the past from our future--my
future and yours, and that of the land--to help us and make it real.
You will not disappoint me, Christopher?" Mr. Wicker turned burning
eyes on Chris's face. "You will help your country get its start?"

A wave of excitement such as he had never known surged over Chris and
he started to his feet, almost upsetting the table and making the cups
rattle on their saucers.

"Oh, yes sir! You bet! If I can, I'll help!"

Mr. Wicker's face expressed his satisfaction. He rose too and held out
his hand.

"I knew you would," he said. "It had to be, for it could be no other
way. But there is always doubt. Your hand, my boy, for we have work to
do together."

The two hands, large and small, were firm, one in the other, and Chris
felt a new power coming to him from the man whose hand he grasped.

"Listen closely," Mr. Wicker said, and Chris drew nearer. "There is a
wondrous thing, unique in the world, and which, for the benefit of
this growing country, we must obtain. Its possession will mean we can
pay for many things--a new city here, tools; building materials. This
wonderful object is the Jewel Tree belonging to the Princess of
China."

Chris waited, listening.

"This Jewel Tree," Mr. Wicker went on, "is a tree that grows, that
puts out leaves and flowers and bears fruit, but here is the wonder of
it," and he bent his piercing eyes on Chris's intent face. "This
growing tree is made of jewels; leaves and flowers and even seeded
fruit. The leaves are emeralds; the flowers, diamonds and sapphires;
the fruits, huge rubies seeded thick with pearls. Imagine such a
treasure if you can!" He spread his arms wide and Chris's eyes were
shining with excitement.

"Imagine the possession of such a plant!" Mr. Wicker went on. "Break
off a branch of it--another grows. And flowers and fruit--much like
your orange trees--bear both their fruit and flowers at the same
time."

They sat down again, the better to continue their conversation.

"The taking of such a prize would be hard enough," Mr. Wicker
continued, "for it is well guarded. But there is a greater hazard." He
rose from his chair to walk about in his nervousness and eagerness at
what lay ahead. Then he went on.

"There is a man here, posing as a merchant. Claggett Chew. You will
see him in the town when you walk there, which you shall do,
presently. But he has some magic powers, and knows me well. Too well."
Mr. Wicker shook his head and his eyes became slits of rage. "We have
been enemies for long," said Mr. Wicker, "but he has yet to get the
better of me."

"Is he after the Jewel Tree too?" Chris wanted to know.

"He is. He heard of it, by power of magic certainly, for it is a
secret so well guarded that those who carry knowledge of it--all but
myself, up to this time--all others have died before they could make
use of it. You can well imagine," Mr. Wicker enlarged, turning his
gaze on Chris, "that a treasure that replenishes itself is beyond
price. The Chinese Emperor knows it well. So do the guards about his
palaces, and so does Claggett Chew."

Mr. Wicker strode about, striking the closed fist of one hand into
the palm of the other, and Chris scrambled out of his chair to stand
watching the pacing figure. And it came to Chris as he followed with
his eyes the black swinging coat, the silver-buckled black knee
breeches, the neat white stock and black-brocaded waistcoat of the
magician, it came to him that he had a great confidence and affection
for this man. Even knowing him as little as he did, having to take so
much on trust, still, in Chris's mind there was no smallest grain of
doubt, suspicion, or distrust. He knew, without having to think it
out, that Mr. Wicker was a great man, great in knowledge and in heart.
Reliable and kind and wise. In that moment Chris put his whole faith
in a man he had not known yet for a day.

[Illustration]

"There is one way," Mr. Wicker said, wheeling about and standing
still, "and that is where I need your help." He strode back across the
room towards Chris. "This villain, Claggett Chew--for that is what he
is, no better--this villain knows me and he knows my power. But if my
power were in a boy--a lad he never would suspect--then--" Mr. Wicker
put both hands on Chris's shoulders and looked searchingly at
him--"then only would we have an opportunity to seize the Jewel Tree.
Can you learn what I know?" demanded Mr. Wicker. "Can you learn my
magic?"

"_Magic?_" Chris stammered. "Those tricks--the fly--and others?"

"Yes," said Mr. Wicker quietly. "Many more."

"Well," Chris answered after a moment's thought, "I got here, didn't
I? I've gone back all these years, so I guess I could." He looked up
with a grin. "At least I can try," he said.

Mr. Wicker gave Chris's shoulder a little shake of pride and
acceptance. "Good lad!" he said. "I know that you can learn. For you
it will not be hard."

"There's just one thing," Chris said, with puzzlement in his voice.
"You say, sir, 'Seize the Tree.' That means just stealing it? Must we
do that?"

Mr. Wicker looked at Chris and his face was serene and smooth with the
great satisfaction of his feelings.

"You are the lad for me!" he cried, and Chris felt himself coloring
with pleasure at the tone of Mr. Wicker's voice. "I knew it from the
first! It _would_ be stealing, boy, but for one thing. When--and
heaven willing, if--you reach the Tree, you will break a branch from
it and stick it in the ground. It will root itself and grow and
thrive, and the Princess will still have delicate jewel flowers for
her hair."

"And now," he said, "I smell a broiling chicken. Off you go and eat
your lunch, and later we shall talk again."

Chris went out smiling.



CHAPTER 9


In the kitchen, Chris leaned against the corner of the passage and
kitchen wall to watch Becky at her tasks. How different from the
compact white kitchen they had at home! And yet there was a cosy
feeling about the huge room in front of him with its ruddy copper
utensils, tub-size wicker basket of vegetables, steaming pots hung
over the fire, and the browning row of four chickens on a revolving
spit, that gave out a friendliness and welcome modern kitchens did not
have. Becky finally paused in her work long enough to glance out from
under her hat at Chris.

"Now then, me lad! 'Tis not yet time to eat. That young belly of yours
takes a bit of filling, and no mistake! Be off now, and do you not go
a-bothering Becky for a bit. I will soon call you when all's done."

Chris would have liked to go outside and put his hand on the handle of
the back door, when a momentary confusion overtook him. He wondered if
in going out he would step back into his own time before he had
completed the work Mr. Wicker wanted him to do, and suddenly unsure,
turned away regretfully. Not knowing where else to go, he climbed the
stairs to his bedroom.

Becky had made his bed, and the little room looked spruce. Chris
walked into one of the niches made by the projecting windows, pushed
up the sash, and leaned perilously out.

This was to be the first of many such times that Chris was to lean out
so, king of this new world spread out below him as far as the eye
could reach. A vast and absorbing panorama lay beneath and beyond him.
Immediately below turned Water Street, narrow and muddy, while the
broad wharves and wooden storehouses spaced themselves at intervals
along the shore. Beyond, the sailing ships of all kinds that he had
admired that morning pointed their bowsprits along the docks or swung
at anchor along the river.

Chris looked down at the many vessels. He could not tell one from
another, but names began to drift into his mind from some forgotten
trip to a museum, or from the pages of a book read long ago. Frigate,
schooner, brigantine. Good ships all. The creak of rigging sounded in
the names, the harsh whip of salty winds, and the heart-lifting sight
of white sails cutting across blue water. Chris leaned on his arms,
his eyes shining. If he should ever go to sea in a sailing ship, what
a day that would be! And then he remembered that he must do so if he
were ever to obtain the fabulous Jewel Tree. All at once the dangers
of such a quest were terrifying, and Chris turned his thoughts away
from them to look at the view.

Where the city of Washington lay in his time were only woods and
marshlands. No Monument, no Lincoln Memorial, no houses. Lying in the
river like a great green ship, he could see the island which had once
belonged to his ancestor, George Mason. Once? Now it probably still
did. He could make out figures moving at the bank of it, and a ferry
pushing off from the shore.

[Illustration]

What fun this was! Chris gave a chuckle out loud. What a chance--to
see what once had been! He was enjoying himself increasingly as he
glanced down at the activity along the riverbanks.

[Illustration]

So close to noon, the sailors and stevedores had vanished to eat their
meal, and passers-by were few. The street was nearly deserted when
along the hardened muddy ruts of Water Street Chris heard a wailing
cry: "Pity the blind! Pity the pore blind!" The boy looked down, and
the drop below him to the road made his head swim, until he refused to
think of it. He saw below him a grotesque figure making its way,
turning its head toward the houses as it made its cry.

It was a hunchbacked man with a wooden peg leg and a crutch. Tied
crisscross over his snarled hair were two black eye patches. He was
unshaven and in a rare state of filth, his coat green with age and
speckled with greasy stains, the stocking on his one good leg
wrinkling down into his shoe, and his hands gnarled with long-nailed
fingers. Chris gave an involuntary shudder, but the sight of the man
held his gaze, for he had never seen anyone quite like him before.

As the cripple advanced slowly past the few houses of Water Street,
here and there a window was opened and a coin tossed out, which the
cripple held his cap for, or grubbed with his filthy hands where he
heard it fall. Watching his progress, Chris became fascinated with the
accuracy with which the blind man caught the coins or found them in
the road. After a passing gentleman on horseback had tossed a silver
piece in his direction, the hunchback made off around the corner of
the stables beyond Mr. Wicker's garden.

The boy hung out even farther and craned his neck to see what the
blind man would do, for from his determined gait he seemed to have a
purpose. Feeling along the side of the barn to guide himself, when he
came to the back of it the cripple darted around, and then, to Chris's
amazement, lifted the corner of one black eye patch and peered out
from under it! Seeing no one, and thinking himself unobserved, the
cripple nonchalantly pushed both eye patches onto his forehead, fished
in his pocket, and began examining the silver piece he had just
retrieved. It appeared to satisfy his scrutiny, turn it over and over
though he did, but to be quite sure of its value he bit tentatively on
it with his back teeth. This seemed to be the final test, for the
cripple grinned from ear to ear, disclosing even fewer teeth than
Master Cilley.

Next, the hunchback sat down upon a heap of straw, laying his crutch
beside him, and with a quick movement, wriggled himself out of not
only his jacket but his humpback too!

Chris could scarcely believe his eyes, but he now saw that a false
hump had been cleverly sewn into the jacket from inside. The cripple
untied a patch that formed a trap door in the hump, and putting his
hand inside the hollow, drew from its hiding place in the false hump a
small bag tied at the neck with a string. Then, as Chris watched, he
counted the contents of the bag, pieces of money that winked in the
sun, and added to his horde those pieces he had begged that morning.
The bag was then retied, replaced, and the jacket and hump put back on
its wearer with evident satisfaction.

But the cripple had not yet completed his work. Holding the silver
piece between the blackened stubs of his front teeth, with difficulty
he managed to hoist his peg leg over his good knee. Then, after
darting many a sly look all about him, he unstrapped the wooden peg
off the stump of his leg.

First, from the interior of the stump he pulled out an assortment of
rags used for stuffing, and to cushion the weight of his stump. Then,
after spreading a torn bandanna handkerchief near him, he tipped up
the stump and from its hollow peg, out rained a shower of coins!

Chris looked, and looked again. Gold and silver money flashed on the
crumpled handkerchief, and adding to it the last silver piece he had
held in his teeth, the loathsome cripple stirred the heap around and
around with one dirty forefinger, his mouth stretched in a cackle of
greed.

After a while he caught up the coins, counting them over not once but
many times, and at last let them fall slowly one by one into the
hollow peg of his stump, strapping it back securely. Finally, after
looking about with his face close to the ground to make sure that no
smallest coin had escaped him, the cripple replaced his eye patches
and heaved himself up with his crutch under his arm, turning to make
his way once more toward the docks and the ships. His wailing cry
lagged behind him like a cur dog: "Pity the blind! Pity the pore
crippled blind!" Yet Chris now noticed that his head was tilted back
to enable him to see under the patches as he went.

The boy was straining to see him out of sight when a resounding bellow
from Becky Boozer let him know that dinner was ready. Hastily shutting
the window and running downstairs, Chris could think of only one
thing.

"Becky!" he cried, bursting out at the bottom of the stairs, "Who is
the blind man that just went by--the hunchback?"

Becky never even turned from the plate she was preparing. "Oh, him?
That would be Simon Gosler, one of Claggett Chew's men. How he can be
a sailor beats me, but Claggett Chew has hired him for years, plague
take him! Now," and she came toward the sunny table with a beaming
smile, "eat up, young man, or I shall think my cooking does not please
you!"

Chris hurriedly set about proving his appreciation.



CHAPTER 10


The learning of magic was by no means easy. The days went by with
Chris's mornings and afternoons spent in Mr. Wicker's study, reading
books too heavy for him to lift, learning incantations by heart, and
how to blend simple formulae over the fire. He had told his master at
once about Simon Gosler, his horde of money and his hiding places for
it. Mr. Wicker though interested and attentive, gave Chris the
impression that what he had been told was not new to him. At times
Chris was allowed to run about the large vegetable garden and climb
the orchard trees, but he was told that the moment had not yet come
when he could wander at will in early Georgetown.

Chris had tried it once, rebellious and bored at the now familiar
ground, but it was as if an invisible wall kept him in the confines of
Mr. Wicker's land, a slippery glass wall he could feel but not see,
and in which he could discover no chink in which to put his toe to
find the height of it. So there was nothing left to do but to work as
fast and as well as he could. "There are rumors," Mr. Wicker had told
him quietly, too quietly, "that Claggett Chew is preparing his ship,
the _Venture_, for a voyage East. There is much activity about his
ship, and he is laying in stores, so I am informed. We must get
forward with all haste, for his ship is a fast one--faster than the
_Mirabelle_."

Chris therefore threw himself into all the preliminaries of his task.
His head swam when he laid it on his pillow at night, and Becky Boozer
would stand with her hands on her barrel-sized hips, shaking her hat
until its plumes and roses waved madly, over "her boy's" shadowed eyes
and weary air.

For Chris was now as accepted a member of the household as Mr. Wicker
himself, and had it not been for the robust guffaws of Ned Cilley, and
the ministrations of the now devoted Becky, Chris's days would have
been tedious indeed.

One afternoon when he returned, after a rest, to Mr. Wicker's study,
he saw that there was something new in the room. A bowl with a
goldfish in it stood on the table, but Mr. Wicker was not to be seen.
Now, however, Chris was not the boy he had been a few weeks before. He
went straight to the bowl and addressed the fish.

"Sir," he said to the goldfish, "I am here. What shall I do first?"

The goldfish might almost have been said to have changed its
expression and smiled, before, brushing a drop of water from his
sleeve, Mr. Wicker stood beside the table smiling.

"How you have improved, my boy!" he exclaimed. "It is now time for you
to try, and this is as good a change as any."

All at once, at the imminent prospect of really changing himself into
some other form, Chris became frightened and his hands grew cold.

"Oh, sir! Do you really think I know how?" he cried, gazing up into
the face of his master. "Suppose I change and can't change back?"

Mr. Wicker shook his head with a smile.

"Never fear, Christopher. You know enough to start, and I feel
reasonably sure that you will be quite able to change back again. If
you get stuck I can help you. Come now," he said, putting out his hand
to touch Chris's shoulder in a reassuring way, "here you go. Remember
Incantation Seventy-three, Book One."

Chris stared at the fishbowl, empty now. He remembered Incantation 73,
Book One, quite well, but his knees began to tremble and he stood as
if paralyzed. Mr. Wicker waited patiently beside him for a few moments
for Chris to get up his courage.

Then as nothing happened, with a voice like a whip Mr. Wicker said:
"Start at once!"

Chris was so startled at his usually gentle master's tone that without
further thought or effort on his part, he began intoning to himself
the words and sounds of Incantation 73, Book One. As he went on,
concentrating on becoming a goldfish in the bowl on the table, he
became aware of a humming sensation in his head. This grew until it
seemed that all his body was filled with the strange new vibration,
tingling from his feet to the crown of his head. The sensation spread,
faster and faster. His head swam and he felt faint and a little sick,
but he persisted through the final words. Somewhere deep inside him
there seemed a sudden lurch, and then a wonderfully cool, liquid
sensation. He felt buoyant and rested and looked about, only to get a
wavery, enlarged glimpse of Mr. Wicker, looking more like a reflection
in a circus mirror than himself. With a light twist of his body Chris
floated over, to see that the room looked the same, and rolling back,
could see that Mr. Wicker was peering in at him from above and smiling
broadly.

[Illustration]

"Good Lord--I'm a fish!" Chris said, and he heard the words muffled as
they came back to him through the water of his bowl. Well, what do you
know? he thought, not without a feeling of pride, and commenced
experimenting with his tail and fins with such enthusiasm and delight
that some little time elapsed before Mr. Wicker's voice boomed close
by.

"Better come back now. Take it slowly, son. Seventy-four, Book One:
The Return."

The same strange sensations flooded Chris as he made the change back
to his own shape, but when he stood once more on his own two feet on
the carpet in Mr. Wicker's study, he was pleased and happy despite his
weakness. Mr. Wicker took hold of his arm and helped him to a chair,
and taking a small vial from the cupboard at the end of the room, he
dropped a pellet into it and handed it to Chris.

"This will seem to smoke. Sniff the smoke and drink the liquid that
remains," he said.

[Illustration]

Chris did as he was told, and his momentary weakness vanished, leaving
him quieted and as strong as usual.

"There now," Mr. Wicker said, rubbing his hands with immense
satisfaction, "that was not so bad, was it? A peculiar feeling, but as
you come to do it more often and more quickly, the change will come
more rapidly and in time you will be scarcely aware of the sensations
at all." He looked at his pupil with pride. "You will do famously, my
boy. In another moment, when you have rested, we shall try another
one."

From that time, Chris became increasingly proficient, and as his
ability grew he began to find magic a wonderful game, which he and Mr.
Wicker played together. They played this new and unique form of
hide-and-seek, each one taking a new shape, turn by turn, as a
challenge to the other's powers of imagination and detection. Soon
Chris could turn himself into a limited number of things, for even Mr.
Wicker's magic had a limit: a singing bird in a cage, a part of the
pattern in the brocaded curtains, or a section of the design in the
Indian rug. The bluebottle fly or the goldfish became as easy as
saying "Eureka!" and on one occasion Chris turned himself into the
chair on which Mr. Wicker was sitting, and then walked across the room
on his four wooden legs carrying Mr. Wicker, who laughed more heartily
than he had in years at this display on the part of his student.

One day Chris wandered alone into the dusty shop. The time had nearly
come when he could walk about in early Georgetown and know that it
would still be the Georgetown of the past, and not the one into which
he had been born. This afternoon, a rainy one, he had tired of
changing himself into and out of objects. Mr. Wicker was busy, and
Becky Boozer had gone off to market accompanied by Ned Cilley. Chris
felt somewhat forlorn and lonely, as any boy might, and kicked an old
piece of wood ahead of him into the darkness of the shop.

Going up to the shop window, he stood with his hands thrust into his
pockets staring glumly first out the window and then, idly, at the
three objects he had once loved to contemplate, the _Mirabelle_ in her
bottle, the coil of heavy rope, and the carved wooden figure of the
Nubian boy.

Without interest at first, Chris stared at the little Negro boy, so
gaily dressed in full red trousers, gilded jacket and white turban.
The figure's shoes, carved in some Eastern style, had curved
up-pointing toes. Then all at once the idea came to Chris. If he was
to be a magician, could he make this boy come to life?

The prospect excited him wildly, for he had no companion with whom to
laugh and share jokes. Grown people, however gay and kind, were never
quite the same. The more he thought of it, the more Chris knew it had
to be attempted. He squatted on his haunches, examining the carved
wooden figure attentively, and felt convinced that, once alive, the
boy would be an ideal and happy companion.

But how did one change inanimate to animate? Chris got up and stole
back to Mr. Wicker's door. He heard the magician going up the spiral
staircase to his room above, and after changing himself to a mouse to
slip under the door and see that the room was really empty, Chris
resumed his proper shape and opened the doors of the cupboard at the
far end of the room.

On its top shelf was Book Three, a book a foot thick and bound in
heavy brass studded with semi-precious stones in the form of signs and
symbols. With difficulty, standing on tiptoe, Chris lifted it down,
and placing it on the floor, turned over page after page.

The afternoon, rainy before, increased in storm. Dusk came two hours
before its time; thunder snarled in the sky.

At last Chris found it. There were the words, and there the charm.
Certain elements were to be mixed and poured at the proper time. He
hurried, memorizing as he closed the book, and hoisted it once more to
its high shelf. Looking about, he found the ingredients that had been
listed, and in an empty vial poured first two drops of this, and then
seventeen of that, and ran to heat it at the fire.

Mr. Wicker began moving about upstairs; the floorboards creaked, and
still Chris could not leave until the potion fumed and glowed.

After what seemed an endless time, amid a growing grind of thunder and
in the almost darkened room, the phial in Chris's hand gave off an
arching rosy glow. Chris, his cheeks hot from excitement and the fire,
tiptoed out just as Mr. Wicker's step creaked on the topmost tread of
the spiral stair. With infinite caution Chris closed the door silently
behind him, and running lightly forward, reached the figure of the
Negro boy.

The words came out, interrupted by peals and cracks of thunder. The
shop was black except for the paler crescent of the bow window giving
onto the street. With a crash of thunder all but drowning out his
words, the boy shouted in the emptiness of the shop as he poured the
rosy liquid on the figure made of wood.

And then, appalled at his audacity, Chris dropped the phial which
splintered on the floor. Watching there in the darkness, he shook so
with nerves that he had to kneel.

For in the blackness lit only by the lightning and its own eerie glow,
the wood was changing as he watched.

It was as if the stiffness melted. Under his eyes the wooden folds of
cloth became rich silk, embroidery gleamed in its reality upon the
coat, and oh! the face! The wooden grin loosened, the large eyes
turned, the hand holding the hard bouquet of carved flowers moved, and
let the bouquet fall. The feet of the boy twitched and shifted in
their pointed shoes.

[Illustration]

Aghast, Chris remained frozen as the boy moved slowly, and a final
_Boom!_ of thunder seemed to split the sky apart. Outside, the rain
poured down as if over some skyward dam.

The boy looked down at Chris with a radiant smile and put out his
hand.

"I'll help you up," he said to the kneeling boy in front of him. "I am
Amos."

And as they turned, the light and the dark hands holding firm, the
firelight was streaming from the distant door and Mr. Wicker waited.



CHAPTER 11


From that time on Chris and Amos were inseparable, with the exception
of those times when Chris studied alone with Mr. Wicker. Amos, during
these hours, soon endeared himself to Becky Boozer, to whom he became
invaluable, for he took over those chores Chris had undertaken as his
share. These consisted of carrying water, peeling potatoes, or
watching the roasting meat in case it should burn. For Chris had less
and less time for such jobs, and Amos's laughter and willing happy
nature soon made Becky spoil him as much as she did Chris.

Another cot was put into Chris's room, and night after night they
would hang out the two mansard windows, watching what went on below
until it was too dark to see. Or else they would talk by the light of
their candle until they fell asleep.

Chris now knew how lonely he had been until he set Amos free from his
wooden shroud, but, warned by Mr. Wicker, he did not tell his new
friend that he came from another year as yet unreached by the time
they lived in.

"It is enough for a while," cautioned Mr. Wicker, "that Amos get used
to being limber and alive. That is change enough from a carved wooden
figure. It would only confuse and trouble him to think you do not
really belong where you are. So let him be happy. And I shall seal
your lips with regard to the secret of the Jewel Tree, for that must
be known to no one," and so saying he rubbed a salve over Chris's
lips.

"Now tell me what you are to journey after," commanded Mr. Wicker. But
when Chris attempted to talk of the Jewel Tree, the words would not
pass his lips but remained in his mouth like a handful of marbles.

"Good," said Mr. Wicker, rubbing his hands. "Not even to me. Excellent
stuff, this," he added, turning the tiny case that contained the salve
in his fingers. "I got it in India years ago, and this is the last of
it. But I hardly imagine I shall need it again. Its use is somewhat
drastic, but occasionally wise."

"Mr. Wicker," Chris said thoughtfully one afternoon after his lessons
and memorizing were over for the day, "of the three things in your
shop window that I liked best, two have been explained. Yet the third,
which still interests me, seems to have had, so far, no significance.
I mean, of course, the rope."

"Ah yes," Mr. Wicker agreed, nodding and stretching his feet out
toward the fire, "the rope. Very well, my boy, since it has come into
your mind again, that means that the time has come for you to discover
its use. Go and bring it to me."

Chris ran to get the coiled rope. He experienced almost a shock when
he touched it. It had looked harsh and coarse to the touch, of rough
hemp fibre, but on picking it up, the coils in his hand seemed almost
silky. Certainly they were more than usually pliable. Returning to the
study, the boy put the rope beside Mr. Wicker's chair. The magician
did not move, his feet still stretched comfortably towards the flames.
His dark handsome face was dreamy and remote, and Chris wondered in
what faraway place or time his teacher moved. The apprentice sat down
cross-legged with his back to the fire, and presently Mr. Wicker took
his gaze from the sparks and smoke to look thoughtfully at him.

"You have heard of the Indian rope trick, Christopher?"

"Yes--and no, sir," Chris replied. "I'm not sure how it works."

Mr. Wicker gave a chuckle. "Indeed? Well, let me tell you, my boy, no
one else does either. The rope is made to go up in the air, so stiffly
that the fakir--that is, the Eastern magician--can climb it. Some
claim to have seen the fakirs climb up it and vanish from sight, and
the rope disappear after them."

Mr. Wicker waved one hand as much as to say that those who had seen it
could believe as they pleased.

"A good enough trick, in its way," condescended Mr. Wicker, "but this
rope is capable of so much more remarkable possibilities as to throw
the Indian rope trick completely in the shade."

With one of his quick gestures, Mr. Wicker reached down for the rope
and was up and out of his chair, all in one movement.

"You shall learn, last of your lessons, a new way of using a lasso.
Not lassoing--" Mr. Wicker held up a finger to stress his point,
"that, too, you shall learn, but how to use this particular rope to
make the most of its--shall we say?--qualities."

Mr. Wicker smiled his sardonic smile, though his eyes were snapping as
brightly as the fire.

"Now Christopher," he began, running the rope through his long, fine
hands, "just push that table and the chairs to the wall, there's a
good lad, and we shall get the stiffness out of this rope." Chris
cleared the room. "And pull the curtains, my boy," added his master,
"for one never knows but that Amos or Becky Boozer might pass by at
the crucial moment. What they do not know," murmured the magician, "is
best for them."

[Illustration]

When the room was satisfactorily arranged, and candles had been lit,
Chris returned to stand by the fireplace beside his master, who was
turning the rope lightly in his fingers.

"Now Christopher, your attention please," said the magician, and his
tone was crisp and authoritative. "Imagine that you are in need of a
boat, and there is no boat."

With several twists of his hands the rope spun out into the middle air
of the room. It moved and twisted like a live thing, and Mr. Wicker,
Chris thought, seemed to be drawing the outline of a boat in the air
with the moving line. Even as this thought flickered in his mind, the
rope formed in mid-air the skeleton of a dingy, and then,
mysteriously, the rope added to itself until the bare struts and sides
were filled in and there, rocking lightly from the speed of its
creation, a small row-boat hovered in the air, as if it were tied up
to a dock.

"Go and feel of it, Christopher," Mr. Wicker urged. "Climb in it if
you like. I have left the two ends of the rope long enough to make
oars, if necessary."

Chris ran over and felt the sides of the boat. It was sound and
secure, no doubt of that. He went all around it, pounding its sides,
and at last heaved himself over to fall into its center. The boat
never stirred, and stamp as he would, the rope bottom and gunwales
resisted firmly.

"Gee! Mr. Wicker!" Chris exclaimed. "This is the best yet--except for
Amos. Golly Moses!" and as he sat down and took up the two loose ends
of rope still remaining, he found that he held not rope ends but two
oars. "Even oars!" Chris cried in delight.

Mr. Wicker stood with his hands behind his back, the firelight
outlining his black clothes and neat dark head.

"Yes," he said, in a matter-of-fact voice, "Quite so. Now climb out
and I will show you some of the other shapes of which it is capable. A
ladder," Mr. Wicker remarked as Chris rejoined him, "is almost too
simple. We can do that at any time."

Grasping the end of one oar, with movements too fast for Chris's eyes
to follow, in an instant the boat was a rope again, coiled over Mr.
Wicker's arm.

"Now!" said Mr. Wicker, and his eyes twinkled with mischief. The rope
flew out again, but this time took a strange outline--the outline of
an elephant.

"It will have to be a _small_ elephant," murmured Mr. Wicker, his
hands flying, "because of the size of the room."

The elephant, like the boat, took shape, the final ends of the rope
hanging down at its trunk and tail. After the elephant came a horse,
an eagle, and a dolphin, and Chris's admiration and zest to learn the
secrets of the rope grew with every change of shape.

"Very well," ended Mr. Wicker, "you shall learn." And placing his
hands over Chris's while the boy held the rope, he began slowly to
show him the magic twists and turns.



CHAPTER 12


The time had come when Chris could go out beyond the confines of Mr.
Wicker's gardens. It was a bright fall day when Amos and he stepped
out the kitchen door. Becky Boozer's huge frame blocked it behind them
as she stood in the sun to see them off. Each boy had been given meat
and bread, some cakes and apples, for their midday meal, and Chris
stood looking up and down the street for a moment before starting,
savoring the promise of new sights and new adventure. The only
drawback was that Amos would not, and must not, know why Chris might
be surprised at certain places. Georgetown in the year 1790 might be
new for Amos, but not nearly as new as it would be for Chris.

"Where-all are we going in the first place?" Amos asked.

Chris had long ago decided. "We'll take a look at the _Mirabelle_," he
said.

While looking about him, Chris glanced more than once at Amos. The
colored boy's brilliant foreign costume was very noticeable, his
friend thought, but when no one paid any attention, Chris decided
Amos's clothes were not unfamiliar to the seafaring men among whom
they were walking.

A ship had just come in, the sailors browned and cheerful at being
once more in their home port. Merchants in coats of fine but sober
cloth were talking with the captain and mate, while they kept an eye
on the cargo being laboriously unloaded by stevedores.

For some time Chris and Amos stood watching the men carrying out bales
or kegs on their shoulders. When one part of the cargo had been
assembled on the dock, an auction was held forthwith to sell it off at
once to the highest bidder.

Listening and looking, Chris saw bolts of silk, hardware, china, wines
and liquors, needles and pins--all manner of things auctioned and
sold. The ship, American-owned, had come from England, and Chris
overheard one man say to another: "See there, the thin man. That be
Mr. Mason's agent. I heard he's here to buy the ballast bricks for his
master's plantation on the island."

Chris, not understanding, asked, "Ballast bricks? Please sir, what's
that?"

The men, astounded to be interrupted by a boy, and looking down to see
two, each with an apple in his hands, turned around, and after a
moment's scrutiny, answered.

"Ballast bricks? Why, anyone knows that these are the bricks brought
over in the hold, my lad, should there not be sufficient cargo, both
to make ballast for the vessel and to sell once here. English bricks
are cheaper than those we can make ourselves. Did you not know, young
man," he said, frowning with disapproval, "that our bricks for
building houses have all come from British kilns?"

"No sir, thank you sir," Chris said, and moved away, not in the least
abashed.

How I should have loved to have told him I didn't belong in this age
anyway, and that in _my_ time, we _do_ make our own bricks! he
chuckled to himself.

Further on, a ship being painted a dazzling white caught their eyes.

"The _Mirabelle_!" Chris cried, running forward, and sure enough,
black and gold letters along her bow pronounced that indeed it was the
_Mirabelle_.

"I'd know those lines anywhere!" Chris said to Amos, and the two boys
stood gazing at Mr. Wicker's ship.

The _Mirabelle_ was a three-masted schooner of more than usually trim
lines. Even at the dockside, the curve of her bow gave an instant
vision of how the waves would curl back as she drove forward over the
sea. At the waterline, a clear light green contrasted well with the
white of her sides. Above decks, the size of the masts and neatly
furled sails showed at a glance that the _Mirabelle_ was hardy enough
to weather many a storm, and also that her crew were able and well
trained.

Looking about, Chris soon spied Ned Cilley, on deck lounging against
the side of the ship and smoking his pipe. Master Cilley's eyes lit up
as he saw his friends, and hurrying down the gangplank, shook them by
the hand as warmly as if he had not seen them for a month, instead of
just the night before when he had shared with them what Becky termed,
"a taste, a mere spoonful" of supper.

"Eh well, lookee here!" he exclaimed, delighted. "Chris and Amos, by
me soul!" Ned Cilley beamed on them and leaned back on his heels for a
better view. "Lookin' about, lads? Eh, that's the way. Is she not the
finest ship that ever ye did rest your eyes on?"

The boys were agreeing enthusiastically when a remarkable couple came
into sight, pacing the decks of the _Mirabelle_. Soon the watchers
were given a better look, for the two men came down the gangplank to
examine cases that had been brought to the dock for loading, and Chris
and Amos were hard put to it not to laugh out loud at the comical
pair.

The first man was so round and so short he appeared to have no legs at
all. Below a tight round paunch, two small feet looking rather like
mice, went in and out as he walked. The roundness of his face was
underlined by three folds of chin, but his small piercing blue eyes
had a way of suddenly opening wide that made Chris feel the man was no
fool. He constantly burbled with laughter and was in a high good
humor, occasional remarks from his companion causing him now and again
to chuckle with amusement.

What the other man could be saying that was so entertaining Chris
could not imagine, for he was the opposite of the fat good-humored
one.

This second person was twice again as tall as the plump little fellow
beside him, and was as dour and thin as the other was cheery and fat.
He seemed in a state of perpetual depression, and no amount of
chuckles on the part of the plump gentleman could cause even a passing
smile over the long sad face of the dour man.

"Who in the world are they?" Chris asked of Cilley as they drew near.
Cilley looked scandalized at Chris's impertinence in finding them in
any way droll.

"Them? Why, bless me cap and buttons! That-there's the captain of the
_Mirabelle_ no less, and his first mate. Captain Ezekial Blizzard, he
is, and Mr. Elisha Finney," Ned Cilley told them, watching the earnest
conversation of the pair with evident affection.

[Illustration]

[Illustration]

"Blizzard and Finney, that's them," he said. "And a better captain and
first mate is not come by in the whole land, I shall warrant you. He
may look too plump for his own good," Master Cilley went on, lowering
his voice and bending down to be on a level with Chris and Amos, "but
believe me, there's no sounder captain afloat. They all know it
hereabouts, for Ezekial Blizzard knows the Chiny Seas better than the
sight of his own feet, make no mistake about it. As to Elisha Finney,
he's glum, I don't deny, but faithful! That's true of the two of
them--whatever they can do for Mr. Wicker is law for Ezekial Blizzard
and Elisha Finney. They swear by Mr. Wicker, so they do," Ned said,
wagging his head with the certainty of it. "Mr. Finney's kind, too,"
Ned went on, "though he don't look it, bless me cap and boots! He's
tenderhearted as a bird, under that gloom, is Finney."

"Could we go on board the ship?" Chris asked, when the Captain and Mr.
Finney had moved off to the far end of the wharf.

"No, me lad," Cilley answered gravely. "'Tis better not. Wait till the
master do present you proper to the Captain, for the _Mirabelle_ is
Captain Blizzard's castle, like. I would sooner ye were asked aboard
by him."

Then, seeing Chris's crestfallen face, Cilley clapped him so heartily
on the back that the boy staggered forward a pace or two.

"Come now! Cheer up!" Ned cried. "Come meet some of the crew!" he
invited, and taking Chris and Amos's arms, drew them towards a group
of seamen.

Chris looked quickly around at the faces of the men, for these, he
secretly knew, were to be his companions on a long sea journey soon to
start. With a deep sense of relief he found that he liked them all.
All, perhaps, but one. Then he gave his attention to Ned Cilley, who
with a flourish was making the introductions.

"Me lads!" he cried, "Here are two likely young 'uns, living at the
house of Mr. Wicker. Ye've heard me speak of them. Amos, here, on me
right, and Chris, that's on me other side." He beamed at both and on
the men confronting him. "Now boys," he roared, "this good man here is
Bowie."

A short, muscular, bowlegged man with a friendly grin, nodded his
head at them and cut off a piece of black tobacco with his knife,
stuffing it into his mouth, knife blade and all. Chris gave a shiver
as the blade went in and came out and Bowie champed contentedly on his
chew.

"This here's Elbert Jones," Cilley went on, "and that one's Abner
Cloud, and that one," pointed Ned, "that one's Zachary Heigh."

Chris smiled and nodded, or shook hands, and Amos followed suit, but
when they had reached Zachary, a tall young man of eighteen years or
so, Zachary bent his handsome surly face and fumbled at his shoe.
Chris stood there with his hand out, feeling the red blood surging
angrily up his cheeks, and then he wondered who Zachary was looking at
from the corner of his eye.

Chris turned his head and did not have to hear the name muttered by
Cilley or by Bowie at his back. Chris found himself staring at
Claggett Chew.



CHAPTER 13


Claggett Chew possessed a face and bearing not easily forgotten. A
giant of a man, standing well over six feet three, he stood bareheaded
in the morning sun. Contrary to the custom of the time, he wore no
pigtail at his neck, nor even hair caught back, tied with a bow.
Claggett Chew's head was shaved so close that the pale skin of his
skull showed through the peppery stubble, making him seem bald. Below
the bare skull, as if in counterbalance, his black eyebrows started
out, tangled and thickly black, and under them, as out of a rocky
cave, his small pale eyes blinked like cornered foxes in their dens.
His nose, overlarge to start with, had at some time in his life been
broken, and its crooked shape leaned to the right as if still bending
beneath the blow that had battered it.

[Illustration]

A long untrimmed mustache shadowed his mouth, and stray hairs caught
inside his lips when he opened and closed them. His lips, like his
eyes, were pale, and his skin sickly as that of a man who sees but
little of the light. His cheeks and chin were stubbly, like his
head; his beard seemed more reluctant than half grown. His whole
appearance, in his sallow yellow vest, gun-gray coat and breeches and
canary-colored stockings, was one of mingled power and weakness;
strength joined with an unhealthy habit of never being in the sun, and
a cruelty best enjoyed when he knew that he could win.

His cold eyes pinned Chris with their gaze as if the boy were a
butterfly transfixed by a pin. His thin, pallid lips curled with
disdain and yet, Chris thought, uneasiness perhaps, as he eyed the two
lads and the little knot of men. One strong, too white hand held a
whip, its long leather tail ending like a scorpion's sting, in a
length of wire. He held the five feet of the whip loosely caught in
his hand against the plaited leather handle, and Chris had an icy
sensation as he looked at it that it was never far from the large
white hand of Claggett Chew.

A little behind Claggett Chew, examining the scene through a pair of
jeweled lorgnettes, stood an even weirder figure.

"Osterbridge Hawsey," whispered Ned Cilley, as if to himself, as he
followed the direction of Chris's eyes.

Osterbridge Hawsey, younger than Claggett Chew by twenty years to
Claggett's forty, was dressed in the height of the French mode.
Anything more out of place on the dirty swarming docks of Georgetown
could scarcely have been imagined. His three-cornered hat was rakishly
set at an angle on his fair hair, which was meticulously rolled in
curls above his ears, and the curls were caught at his neck with a
black velvet ribbon. Beside Claggett Chew's offensive bare skull, the
hat, in its delicate blue velvet, silver braid, and airy rim of
ostrich feathers, was ludicrous. Osterbridge Hawsey's costume was of a
piece with the hat, for his coat was of fine blue velvet of too pale
a shade for any use outside a drawing room. It, too, was edged in
silver braid, and its owner, holding a lorgnette with his right hand,
with his left pushed back the velvet folds to display the delicacy of
his flower-embroidered waistcoat. Satin knee breeches, a cascade of
fine lace at his throat, and lace falling gracefully over his small
well-kept hands made up the picture. As Chris looked at him,
fascinated and repelled, he noticed that the young man wore a patch in
the shape of a crescent moon, on his left cheek.

Chris, who had been not a little overawed at seeing Claggett Chew,
could not restrain himself at the sight of this fop. The touch of fear
he had felt, looking into the pale expressionless eyes of Mr. Wicker's
enemy, found relief and release in an uncontrollable burst of laughter
when from his pocket Osterbridge Hawsey drew a tiny bottle of smelling
salts and held it delicately to his nose.

Chris's young laughter rose in peal after peal. Amos's warmer, quicker
laugh joined in, and in a second, laughter had spread to the group of
seamen who doubled up, convulsed, fell on one another's shoulders as
they wiped their eyes, and slapped their hard thighs with their
roughened hands.

The pair that so amused the rest, Claggett Chew and his fine friend, had
stopped some ten feet away at the first sound of mirth. Then into
Claggett Chew's gray-white face came astonishment, for he was used to
creating many impressions--fear, hatred, or cringing obsequiousness--but
never before had he or any of his friends been laughed at. Furthermore,
he, the dreaded Claggett Chew, and his gaudy friend Osterbridge Hawsey,
were held as being of so little account that a boy dared to laugh at
them!

[Illustration]

After a surge of deep ugly red to his head, Claggett Chew's face
became whiter than before, and his eyes were murderous.

"Oh, Claggett, they seem to be laughing at me!" Osterbridge Hawsey
whined in a high-pitched voice.

Unfortunately, at this moment Chris, forgetting caution in the grip of
his laughter, held on to Amos shouting feebly: "He's got a patch on
his cheek! What do you know--a beauty patch!"

The derision in his voice, in spite of his laughter, was unmistakable,
but before he could so much as draw another breath, he heard Claggett
Chew's voice for the first time.

"So--you ill-found ugly twirp! You idiot whippersnapper! Let me give
you one to match!"

And quicker than the eye could follow, the whip flicked out, and with
a cutting sting, lashed Chris's cheek. The cut, from the metal wire,
was deep, almost to Chris's jawbone; but he did not feel the hurt as
much as he realized--his laughter gone--that Claggett Chew was now his
deadly enemy.

"Next time," came Claggett Chew's sneering voice, "I shall take an
_eye_ from you, my laughing boy, and see if that amuses _us_ as well!"

And turning on his heel, followed by the sauntering, giggling fop, the
pair picked their way along the wharf and disappeared.

It was only then, looking around at the sobered, silent sailors, Chris
remembered that Zachary Heigh was the only one who had not laughed.



CHAPTER 14


Barely were Claggett Chew and Osterbridge Hawsey out of sight, when
Chris simultaneously became aware of two things. One was the deep
throbbing ache of the whip cut, so painful it made him feel sick and
faint, and the second was the black figure of Mr. Wicker. Mr. Wicker
was threading his way in and out of the crowds and litter of the
wharves, and although to most he might have seemed leisurely, Chris
was able to detect in the step of his master a certain haste. He came
up to the little group of men, glanced at the back of Zachary Heigh,
who was moving away as if to some interrupted duty, and at Chris's
white face and the reddening handkerchief which he held to his chin.
Mr. Wicker looked slowly at all the faces and then raised his eyebrows
as if in surprise.

"Well, lads," he said, "what has happened here? You all look angry and
somewhat a-frighted. What occurred, Ned?" he asked, addressing Ned
Cilley, whose kind face was puckered with sympathy for Chris and who
stood pulling at the stocking cap he held in his hands. But Chris
spoke up before Ned could reply.

"It was my fault, sir. I expect I got what I deserved, but it seemed
to happen in spite of myself. I laughed at Osterbridge Hawsey's beauty
patch--and at him--all of him, really. We all did. Claggett Chew got
mad, and I guess I wouldn't blame him. It was a dreadful thing to
do--to laugh at someone to their face--and he lashed out with his whip
and gave _me_ a beauty patch!"

In spite of the pain Chris managed a grin as he took the handkerchief
from his chin to bare the deep, cruel cut.

"But truly sir," he ended, "I never saw anything like Osterbridge
Hawsey before. He's a dilly!"

And before they knew it they had all, including even the habitually
grave Mr. Wicker, burst into another shout of laughter. Mr. Wicker
soon stopped, however, and reached back into the pocket in the flap of
his coattails. When he drew out his hand it held a small glass box.
With unhurried gestures Mr. Wicker's fine fingers took off the lid.

"What a fortunate coincidence that I happened by just at this time,"
he said casually, "and that I have with me such an excellent
ointment." Master and pupil looked at one another for a moment, and
there was the hint of a wink in Mr. Wicker's right eye, and the
vestige of an answer from Chris's left.

"This will help to stop the bleeding, my boy," said Mr. Wicker, "and
take away the pain. It hastens the cure," he went on, lightly applying
the ointment to the wound. "In an hour you will scarcely know it
happened," he concluded.

Seeing the color seep back into Chris's cheeks, the men touched their
caps to Mr. Wicker and went back to their interrupted tasks. Ned
Cilley, with his hand on Amos's shoulder, moved off to point out some
detail of the _Mirabelle_, and Chris and Mr. Wicker were left alone.
Mr. Wicker looked down kindly at the boy, but there was a sadness also
in his face.

"Perhaps," he said as if to himself, "I have set you too great a task,
my poor Christopher, for you are but a boy." He laid his hand on
Chris's arm. "You are a boy, but what lies before you is a man's task,
and no mistake. You cannot in the future allow yourself the luxury of
such childish enjoyments as a laugh at Claggett Chew, or his friend!"

[Illustration]

"I know that now sir," Chris replied solemnly. "I asked for trouble
that time."

"Yes," agreed Mr. Wicker in a tired voice, "You did. Too bad," he
added, and Chris saw fatigue for the first time in his master's face.
"The laughter you could not resist has meant that you came forcibly
to Claggett Chew's notice in such a way that you will never be
forgotten." Mr. Wicker looked from some distant horizon back to Chris.
"I saw it happening while I was in my study, but could not warn you in
time," he said. "So I came down with the ointment for your poisoned
wound."

"Poisoned wound, sir?" Chris whispered, suddenly feeling much worse
than he had before.

[Illustration]

Mr. Wicker sighed. "Yes. Sometimes Mr. Chew has a way of wiping poison
onto the metal tip of his whip. It is a slow poison--it does not take
effect for days or weeks. In fact, so long after his lash that no one
attributes the whip cut to the death that finally follows. Never
fear," he said smiling his reassurance, "the ointment I have put on
will take care of that too, and your cut will be closed and healed
before the day is over. What is unfortunately more lasting," said Mr.
Wicker, "is Mr. Chew's memory. Well"--and Mr. Wicker shrugged his
shoulders--"there's no help for what is done. Use caution in the
future, Christopher. That is all I ask."

"I shall, sir!" Chris assured him. They turned to join Amos.

"Enjoy yourself the rest of the day, my boy," Mr. Wicker urged. "But
be constantly on the alert and look in all directions. Here," he said
putting his hand in his pocket, "take these few coins in case you
should need them. Now find Amos, and be off with you!"

Although Chris would have liked to investigate all the wharves and see
as many of the vessels as he could, he understood the warning given
him by Mr. Wicker. So with Amos he moved away from the scenes he
preferred, taking the first road he saw leading off Water Street.

M Street was, for Chris, completely unrecognizable. It was merely a
broad unpaved road in what seemed, at best, a country town. Groves of
old trees, pasture lands and orchards of large size surrounded the few
houses. It was hard for Chris to realize that this was the core of the
capital of the vast and teeming country into which he had been born.

With difficulty, for the streets all had different names if they
existed at all, Chris looked for his own street. Going back along what
he had known as M Street, not even the Pep Boys' or Iron Horse Grill
was to be seen. Instead of two wide stone bridges, now there was only
a rickety one crossing Rock Creek Park.

The boys walked to the bank above the park and looked down. The broad
asphalt traffic lanes were gone, and so was the tidiness of the park
lawns. Below him, Chris saw the tangled thick forests that had always
stood there. The creek itself, in the quiet of this earlier time,
could be plainly heard running over its stones.

Chris turned and led Amos to where he half expected to see his
mother's house. But where his house would stand in some future year,
nothing was to be seen but a dense grove of trees growing along the
top of a little rise of ground. Someone had once built a fire at the
corner, where his front door would one day be. Chris kicked idly at
the ashes and picked up a metal button blackened by the fire.

"What you-all looking for?" patient Amos asked.

"Just something I hoped I'd find," Chris answered, filled with a sense
of desolation.

Then he made himself remember that his house had yet to be built, and
aware of the hollowness of his stomach, he said to Amos: "Must be
lunch time. Let's go down to the creek to eat."

They scrambled down the bank near where, in his time, there was a
children's playground, and weaving in and out of the thick wood, found
the creek, clear and fresh. Here they ate their lunch, and then,
running and leaping, followed the turns of the stream until they
neared the marshes and the river.



CHAPTER 15


The two boys came out toward the mouth of Rock Creek and as the woods
thinned, they saw ahead of them a sandy sloping bank on which a small
boat was drawn up. Around the coals of a fire nearby, three men were
crouching. Remembering Mr. Wicker's warning to be cautious, Chris put
out a hand to touch Amos and the two stood still.

"Let's climb up a little above them," Chris suggested. "We're beyond
the bridge--they might be--well, we'd better be careful. I want to see
what they're doing before they see us."

Amos agreeing, the two boys, with extra care for rattling twigs, moved
stealthily up the banks of the Potomac that rose with increasing
steepness. The men, who were huddled near their fire now, came
directly into their view below, and Chris and Amos could see that they
were playing cards. One seemed to be losing to the other two. He had
piled a heap of his small possessions in front of him on the sand, in
lieu of money.

[Illustration]

They were certainly a villainous-looking trio. The boys could hear
some of their exclamations, and it was with a mingled feeling of
curiosity and uneasiness that Chris recognized the losing gambler to
be Simon Gosler, the humpbacked cripple.

"Come now, Gosler!" they heard one of the men cry out in annoyance,
"Pay up--you've lost!"

"I've no money to pay you," complained the sly voice of the cripple.
"I'm a poor man--well you know it. A cripple--just a poor old
cripple!"

"Ah--none o' that!" cut in the second winner. "We know how well you do
at your begging--more in a day than we get in a month's pay. Pay up
now, or it won't go well with you," he rasped out, laying his hand on
a dagger stuck into his belt.

"What about your glass, your spyglass, Gosler?" urged the first man.
"Put that up and it will cover your losses well enough!" he sneered,
but Simon Gosler hugged his coat to him and looked from side to side
searching for a way of escape.

"No, no, good fellows," he moaned, "not my glass. I won that from the
Captain himself three years ago, and that I never shall part from
willingly."

"You'd part from it for silver quick enough!" snarled the first
gambler, "and of that you must have plenty, for 'tis rare you ever
lose. Come now, we'll give you a few minutes more to make up your
mind, but make it up you must. Either the glass or silver, you may
choose."

The two gamblers rose menacingly and moved away to put their boat into
the stream. Simon Gosler was left mumbling and sniveling and fingering
his coat pocket, in which he kept his glass. Chris, watching him, had
a sudden inspiration and whispered to Amos. "Hide here behind those
bushes and don't follow me. Don't move or show yourself. I'm going to
have that glass."

So saying he moved carefully back until he was out of sight of Amos,
and then, for the first time on his own, he tried a change of shape.
Choosing a broad flat stone at the edge of the shrubbery and safely
removed from the sight of the two winners, he changed himself into a
silver coin and allowed himself to drop with a sweet metallic ring on
the stone, waiting winking in the sun for Simon Gosler. The old
cripple saw the coin before it had bounced twice on the stone, and
with a quick sly look over his shoulder at the backs of his companions
as they pushed at the boat, hoisted himself up on his crutch and began
hobbling over toward his find.

But instead of a coin, he found only a resolute boy awaiting him,
tossing and catching a silver piece. It was one of those Mr. Wicker
had given Chris but an hour before. He looked Simon Gosler in the eye.

"I've heard what went on, Simon Gosler," said Chris, his eyes on a
level with the rheumy watering eyes of the cripple, "and if you will
sell your spyglass to me, I'll buy it off you with this silver piece.
Otherwise you shall not have it."

Simon Gosler's eyes dripped tears of greed at the sight of the coin,
and then another expression washed over them. Fast as he was and fast
as was his movement, Chris was faster. As the old beggar braced
himself and brought the head of his crutch down where Chris's head
should have been, someone from behind dealt him a staggering blow with
a sizable club, and yet when he turned around no one was there. When
he faced about again, rubbing his head and whimpering with rage and
frustration, he found himself once more facing the boy who was
tossing and catching, tossing and catching, the round silver coin.

Chris stood with his legs apart, his head back, his eyes full of
scorn. His hand did not cease to toss and catch the silver piece.
"Well, you old villain," he challenged, "will you take the coin in
fair exchange, or shall I hit you again with that club you just felt?"
he asked. "It doesn't feel the same when you get it back as when you
give it out, does it, you old faker? Hurry up--your friends will soon
be coming back, and I don't think they intend to argue," he added.

[Illustration]

Gosler, still rubbing his head and muttering, finally spoke. "Very
well, you nasty young man, I'll sell my glass. Give me the coin!" and
he stretched out a dirty claw.

"Oh no!" Chris shook his head decisively. "No indeed! You put the
glass down between us--carefully, mind you--and back away. I'll throw
you the coin when I've seen if the glass is worth the silver!"

Mumbling to himself, Simon Gosler did as he was told. He reached back
in his coat pocket to draw out a small spyglass, which he laid down on
the ground. He then backed away. Chris picked up and examined the
glass, tested it, and then just as the two gamblers came back up the
riverbank, tossed the silver piece to the beggar. Gosler caught it in
mid-air with the dexterity of years of practice. In an instant Chris
had vanished into the thick shade of the wood, and going as fast but
as quietly as he could, regained the place where Amos waited for him.

[Illustration]

"Gee, Chris!" Amos exclaimed, for he had caught all Chris's expression
of speech, "We got us a spyglass!"

"We sure have!" Chris agreed, "And it's a fine one--best I ever saw,"
he said. "Here, try it out over the river there, where that ship is
anchored."

Amos pointed the glass through the shrubs toward a distant ship that
swung at anchor close to the shore, and while he tried out their
prize, Chris watched the departure of the three gamblers. Gosler had
evidently paid up while Chris was returning to their hidden perch, for
he was now hustled into the boat by the other two. Soon the three were
far down the stream and their boat was moving into the main flow of
the river.

"Here," Amos said passing back the glass, "you look. That's a mighty
fine ship out there, black as the _Mirabelle_ is white, but she looks
fast and strong just the same."

But Chris, taking the glass, was idly following the progress of the
three men. Gosler, lost in gloom, sat in the stern hugging his rags
about him. The other two bent their backs to the oars and headed
straight for the anchored ship.

Turning the glass to the brig Chris hunted for the name as the prow
swung about. Through the glass the letters, gold on the black-painted
side, leapt at his eye across the distance. _Venture_, Chris read, and
with a beating heart he saw his adversary's ship for the first time.



CHAPTER 16


"Come along, Amos! We must get a closer look at that ship!" Chris
cried, putting his glass away. Scrambling down, the two boys ran along
the stream until it was shallow enough to cross. The water was icy,
telling, as well as the turning leaves and cooler air, that fall had
come and winter was on the way.

Hurrying forward, Chris and Amos reached the mouth of the stream where
it joined the river. There on the left bank of Rock Creek, high rushes
grew in rank profusion on the marshy land. They rose higher than the
heads of the two boys and were too closely packed to allow for easy
passage.

"We'll have to skirt the very edge," Chris said glancing about.
"Barefoot would be the best. This soft ground would soon go over our
shoes and maybe suck them down."

"Keep right against the rushes," Chris warned Amos, "and if a boat
shows up coming from the wharves, we can't take any chances. We'll
have to dive into the rushes and hide, just in case it's Claggett
Chew."

[Illustration]

"That's right," Amos nodded his head vigorously. "I don't want to meet
_him_ again, and you do less'n me!" he chuckled.

The two went on, making slow progress, for the river was deep at that
point, with little foothold between the end of the jungle of reeds and
deep water.

"Keep an eye out, Amos!" Chris called back over his shoulder as he
went ahead. It was no time before Amos's voice came huskily up to his
friend.

"Chris! Chris--hold on! There's a boat with four men in it just left
the last wharf, and they're headin' this way! Get in those rushes
quick--my clothes is mighty bright!"

[Illustration]

Rushing and panting, they shoved their way into the dusty rushes,
groping back until they could barely see the river through the stalks.
And it was just in time, for barely were they hidden when they heard,
carried over the water, the dip and splash of two pairs of oars and
the creak of oarlocks. Then, in another moment, came the high-pitched
voice of Osterbridge Hawsey. Chris gave a shiver as it reached him.

"Claggett," came the voice of the fop, who with Claggett Chew was
sitting in the stern of the boat, "Claggett--I find myself quite,
quite fatigued. A little wine, I fancy, might revive me when we reach
the ship. Heated, I think, and spiced, to ward off the night chill.
And Claggett," went on the voice, almost upon them now it was so
clear, "what do you think of this muslin for my new shirts? Is it not
delicate? Irish, _cela va sans dire_, as the dear French say. I feel
sure it will be satisfactory."

From Claggett Chew the two boys heard not a word, and peering out,
they saw the boat shoot by. Osterbridge Hawsey, wrapped in a great
cloak, was admiring a bolt of muslin that he held, but Claggett Chew,
his face shadowed by a hat, was holding his whip upon his knees and
glowering at the water.

The boat passed, and some time after, the two boys heard from across
the water the echo of wood against wood as the dinghy reached the
_Venture's_ hull. After a while, as the boys were about to move along,
a heavy dropping sound, and the shuddering of the marshy ground, made
the two in hiding look at one another in concern.

"What in the world?" Chris murmured.

The sound, accompanied by steps, oaths, and a rhythmical drop and
shudder, continued farther along the shore. Stealthily, trying not to
shake the rushes and so show where they might be, Chris and Amos
pushed through the marsh.

The sun was setting as they came near the steps and voices. Pushing
through the reeds towards the river, Chris found that they were nearly
opposite where the _Venture_ floated, below Mr. Mason's island, and at
a desolate part of the river.

Chris gestured Amos forward, and they went on step by step until, in a
pause of the thundering dropping sound, they knew themselves to be
near its origin and parted the reeds enough to see.

There, within a few yards of them and at the edge of a hard-beaten
track from the main shore, lay a mass of cannon balls and shot for
guns of various sizes, such as are used on men-of-war. The crew of the
_Venture_, able to carry but one at a time, kept a line going from
shore to pile, and this, as they dropped the cannon balls from their
shoulders, was the sound and shaking of the ground the boys had heard
and felt. Seeing the red caps and kerchiefed heads of men above the
rushes, the boys let the reeds fall back.

"I'm going to have a look at the ship through the glass," Chris
whispered, and moved forward closer to the shore.

Parting the stalks, he trained the glass on Claggett Chew's ship. It
was a fine, rich vessel, that was evident, and swarming with activity.
At this hour of dusk, other boats along the river had stopped their
commerce for the day and there were none to observe what Claggett Chew
might be about. Chris and Amos were the only watchers.

The cannon balls and ammunition were taken out in boats and hoisted up
in nets. Chris observed everything closely, and saw still other
crewmen disappearing with their burdens down the hold. Then something
caught his eye and he examined the name along the side through the
spyglass.

Curious, thought Chris, that all the letters of the ship's name seemed
exact except the second and third. Among the other letters of carved
and gilded wood, the _E_ and _N_ were not quite as straight in line as
the rest.

Oh well, Chris thought, it's doubtless a custom of the time for all I
know.

Putting the glass in his pocket, he rejoined Amos, but as he did so
the last two sailors put down their cannon balls and wiped the sweat
off their foreheads with their arms. In the ensuing silence the rustle
of the rushes as Chris and Amos moved away was plainly to be heard.

[Illustration]

"What's that?" one man cried out. "Is a spy there? Here--take this
club and beat about--we'll catch 'em!"

The two men charged into the marsh so fast that Chris barely had time
to whisper to Amos: "Hurry Amos--run! I'll be all right. I'll draw
them off! I'll meet you where we ford the stream!"

Amos safely out of sight, the men came only on a stray dog foraging
for rats, wagging its tail and letting out a yip or two as it followed
a scent along the ground.

"Give it a kick--there--it's only a stray dog," one said.

"Oh--devil take it--what do I care?" answered the other, turning back.

The dog lay panting at the river's edge. Looking past the ship as it
rested, it saw what it thought was snow upon the water and the banks.
But it was just thousands of ducks migrating south, and when they rose
to move farther away, the sky was overcast and thunderous with their
wings.

[Illustration]

Long after dark, cold, dirty, and quite wet, the two boys reached the
house on Water Street.

"Where did you go?" Becky inquired, frowning with solicitude at the
bedraggled pair.

"Oh, no place much," Chris answered, yawning.



CHAPTER 17


The following morning while Chris was telling Mr. Wicker of the
ammunition being loaded on the _Venture_, Becky Boozer announced a
visit from Captain Blizzard and Elisha Finney.

"Show them in, Becky," Mr. Wicker told her. To Chris he said, "I
wonder what brings them here so early? It must be a matter of some
importance. Stay with me, Christopher. I shall present you to the
Captain."

The extraordinary pair came in and Chris was introduced to Captain
Blizzard and Mr. Finney. The Captain was all smiles except for his
eyes; Chris noted that his eyes did not smile at all. Mr. Finney, true
to form, cast down his eyes, sighed, and let the corners of his wide
thin lips droop almost to his chin.

When a chair large enough and solid enough had been found for Captain
Blizzard, and Becky had brought in a decanter of sherry and glasses to
set before the visitors, Chris shut the study door and sat down on the
floor where he could observe the three faces before him.

Mr. Wicker spoke first.

"Well, Captain, what brings you here so betimes? No trouble of any
kind, I trust?"

Captain Blizzard set down his glass of sherry and cleared his throat.
"Now, sir, needs must I come with unpleasant news, and sorry I am to
bring it. I have heard that the _Venture_ plans to sail at any time,
and you well know she is a fast-sailing ship." He folded his plump
hands over his paunch and twiddled his thumbs with agitation. "Sir, it
has been noised about that the _Venture_ is headed for the West
Indies."

He paused and glanced at Mr. Finney who nodded forlornly, his mouth
drooping.

"But 'tis not so." The Captain looked with anxious eyes at Mr. Wicker.
"Early this morning Ned Cilley brought me the information that the
_Venture_ is to sail to the China seas."

Mr. Wicker's face was grave but showed no surprise. "I knew some
trouble was ahead," he said slowly, "but did not know what form it was
to take." He paused. "News of sailings and destinations get about so
rapidly, it is more than likely that someone overheard the destination
of the _Mirabelle_, and sold his knowledge to Captain Chew. Although,"
he added thoughtfully, "I think Claggett Chew guessed it. Well," and
Mr. Wicker looked alertly at the two men, "what advice do you give
me?"

Captain Blizzard wagged his head. "Nay sir, 'tis for orders that I
came to you. It is for you to say."

"How soon can the _Mirabelle_ put to sea?" Mr. Wicker asked, and
Chris's heart skipped a beat.

"At any time, sir," the Captain at once replied. "We have nearly water
enough, and quite sufficient stores. The men are all assembled."

The Captain fell silent and no one spoke for several minutes. Mr.
Wicker leaning his chin on his folded hands was lost in thought.

"How move the tides?" he finally asked, raising his head.

The Captain, with surprising briskness for so large a man, pulled some
folded charts from his pocket. Without a word the three men rose and
went over to the table, pushing aside the china bowl filled with
flowers to spread the charts flat on the table top. Captain Blizzard
leaned his knuckles on the boards.

"The tide will be high at midnight, sir," he informed them. "See"--he
pointed a short forefinger at a spot on one chart--"here is the
sandbar that the tide covers for but a short time, and should there be
other ships crowding the river near this point, we must slip through
there then or not at all."

Mr. Wicker examined the charts and nodded. "Very well," he said, "so
must it be," and Chris felt that his heartbeat would stifle him, it
pounded so fast and thickly in his throat. All at once, looking up at
the thoughtful face of his master, Chris longed to be able to stay
safe at home. The imminent journey, so far and perhaps so perilous,
seemed suddenly too much for him. Mr. Wicker had taken the river
charts and rolled them up, and now turned to the Captain and first
mate.

"Captain Blizzard, and you, Mr. Finney," he said, "should water casks
be seen going on board, the whole of Georgetown will know you mean to
sail. I therefore ask you to so contrive it that the casks be hidden
in bales or boxes so that they seem to be anything but what they are."
He tapped the rolled charts thoughtfully on the palm of one hand. "Our
only chance to steal a march on the _Venture_ will be to sail at least
a day before her." The two men listening nodded in agreement. "There
is one other thing. Your orders for where you are to anchor, once
near China, will be secret, and carried on the person of this boy." He
laid one hand on Chris's shoulder. "He has a task of utmost secrecy to
carry out and will require your help, encouragement, and silence."

Captain Blizzard and Mr. Finney looked solemnly at Chris who looked as
solemnly back.

[Illustration]

"Not only that," Mr. Wicker went on, "but his presence on the ship
must not be known until the _Mirabelle_ is well to sea." He glanced
down meditatively at Chris. "I shall arrange to bring him aboard
somehow, and give you your sailing orders later."

He strode over to the window looking out to his gardens and the trees
where the apples showed their russet cheeks.

"Leave me these charts for yet a little while, and I shall ponder on
our plans," said Mr. Wicker. He turned. "See that the water casks are
taken on at once, Captain, and hidden, and make a place for
Christopher, here," and at a beseeching look from Chris he added with
a smile, "and Amos."

No sooner were the Captain and Mr. Finney gone than Chris spoke up in
great excitement. "Mr. Wicker, sir, I have a plan! May we look at the
river charts again?"

Master and pupil spread out the charts once more, and Chris pointed
eagerly.

"Look, sir! Here is the sandbar, and here"--he put his finger
down--"the _Venture_. Or she was, yesterday. Now sir, the sandbar
being just below and ahead of the _Venture_, once the _Mirabelle_ has
slipped by, wouldn't it be too bad if something happened to make the
_Venture_ drift with the tide and run aground?"

He looked eagerly up into Mr. Wicker's face and saw in it the
reflection of his own excitement.

"There are times, Christopher," said Mr. Wicker with his eyes
snapping, "when you surprise even me. But how is it to be done?"

"Well, sir," began Chris, "it's a little tricky but I think, what with
the things we know, it can be worked."

He began outlining to his master the details of his plan.



CHAPTER 18


It was perhaps as well that Chris had more than enough to think of.
Otherwise the wrench at leaving home might have been even more
distressing than it was. His last day passed like a flash, though from
his attitude no one, certainly not Becky, would have guessed that the
next morning he would not be there to eat his breakfast in the sunny
kitchen window. Amos, quick to sense all Chris's moods, knew something
was afoot, and when Chris and Mr. Wicker finally told him of the
sailing plan, Amos's eyes grew rounder than ever and sparkled more
brightly, but he said never a word.

At ten o'clock that night, when Becky had gone heavily to her room,
wondering perhaps why Chris had given her so hard a hug, Ned Cilley
knocked at the back door. He had brought a light cart on which there
stood a large wicker hamper. Ned and Chris lifted it into the kitchen
while Mr. Wicker drew the curtains and then held a candle high. The
candlelight flickered and flapped like a trapped bird at the corners
of the room, and sharp bird-wing shadows cut across Mr. Wicker's tall
dark figure. Yet to Chris, who was to hold the scene ever after in
his memory, the kitchen by the light of that one candle, and the
figure of his master standing in its center, moved Chris as he had
never been touched before. Amos stood near the basket, looking first
into its square depth filled with shadow, and then up enquiringly at
Mr. Wicker, but he did not speak.

[Illustration]

"Be of good heart, Amos," Mr. Wicker said to him kindly, "and look
after young Christopher as best you can."

Then, at a gesture from Mr. Wicker, Amos, agog, stepped into the
hamper where he stood uncertainly, his expression half terrified and
half delighted.

"Yessir, I will!" he piped up, shrill with excitement. "I'll keep my
eye on him!" he promised, and then curled up in the hamper. Ned Cilley
shut down the top and he and Chris lifted it to the cart. Mr. Wicker
spoke low into Ned's ear.

"All is well understood?" he queried. "This is no time for
misunderstandings!"

"Aye aye, sir! All is clear!" the good Ned replied.

"Then Godspeed to you all and bring you safely home," said Mr. Wicker.
"Be on the lookout for this lad, Ned, when you get past the bar."

[Illustration]

"We shall," Ned whispered back, "and good luck to the two of ye!"

Clucking to his horse, on wheels covered with rags, and with cloths
about the horse's hoofs to deaden their sound, Ned Cilley and his
hamper went quietly away in the direction of the wharfs. In a moment,
cart, horse, and driver were swallowed up in the denseness of the
night.

A black night it was indeed. Although there was a moon, thick clouds
scudded over it and an autumn wind bent the trees, tearing the leaves
from them. A mist rose from the river, but it was blown away from all
but the most sheltered places.

Mr. Wicker and Chris stood in the silent kitchen. Looking about him,
Chris remembered with a pang the first morning he had seen it, with
Becky in her gaudy hat standing near the fire.

"Come, Christopher," Mr. Wicker bade him, taking up his caped black
cloak and another one for Chris. "First, wind the rope about your
waist, and once on board, bind it under your shirt. Let no one, not
even Amos, know of it."

Chris did as he was told. Mr. Wicker then gave him a leather pouch
hung on a cord.

"Here are some oddments of magic that may prove their usefulness," he
remarked. "Wear them about your neck." So saying he slipped the
leather cord over Chris's head.

"What happens to the rope and pouch when I change my shape, sir?"
Chris asked.

"They will remain with you, have no fear of that," the magician
replied. "What would be the use of magic if it proved unable to adjust
itself?" A smile played over Mr. Wicker's face. "So, all is ready," he
said glancing around. "Now we must be off and lose no time, for we
have much ahead of us," said Mr. Wicker drily, blowing out the candle.

Before he knew it, Chris stood--until what far-off time?--outside Mr.
Wicker's house. His master locked the door. The wind, swooping down
like some great bird, tugged at their cloaks and chilled their faces.

Chris led the way to the creek and the marsh. This time both he and
Mr. Wicker wore high boots which kept the icy water and mud from their
feet.

"What I wouldn't give for a flashlight!" Chris muttered as they came
to the marsh.

"Yes, the twentieth century has many conveniences," Mr. Wicker
replied, and Chris could imagine, behind him, the man's sardonic smile
and amused eyes.

They came out suddenly from the blackness of the woods to the
wind-whipped river, and though the moon was still obscured, the river
held a pallid sheen of its own that gave a little light. There was not
a sound to be heard but the hurried lap of water against the shore,
the suck and pull of Chris's and Mr. Wicker's boots in the mud, and
sharp, hair-raising rustles, from time to time, in the reeds. Chris's
heart thudded in his throat at these furtive noises, for they could
only be made by rats or watersnakes, and Chris liked neither of these,
especially by night.

Pushing along the marsh edge and feeling their way, the two figures at
last came in sight of their goal. The high dark hull of the _Venture_
rose above the water, an amber lantern hanging at her stern. The wind
swung the ship, and the tide, still flowing up the Potomac, showed
that the bow, held by the anchor, was pointed somewhat downstream.

"The anchor may have dragged," Chris whispered to Mr. Wicker. "Now for
our boat!"

The rope seemed to uncoil from about his waist almost of itself, and
with the gestures he had been taught, Chris formed a very adequate
craft; a trifle lopsided, it must be admitted, as he had had small
practice, but seaworthy nevertheless.

"I shall see that the men sleep soundly," Mr. Wicker murmured. "You do
the rest."

"I shall, sir!" Chris agreed, and then the moon showed an edge for a
moment in the clouds. "Look sir--the _Mirabelle_!"

Toward sleeping Georgetown, for it was nearly midnight now, a
whiteness showed itself, close against the distant wharfs. The
_Mirabelle_ was edging out, and Chris knew that Ned, Bowie, Abner
Cloud, and others were pulling her by the ship's boats into the main
flow of the river. Once turned, she would float noiselessly down the
Potomac past the _Venture_, and once he was aboard, would hoist her
sails and set her course to sea.

"Then quick!" bade Mr. Wicker. "We took too long! It seems we are a
trifle late!"

[Illustration]

They stepped into the boat, each taking an oar, and with only a few
strong pulls came alongside the silent _Venture_. They moored their
boat to the anchor rope. Mr. Wicker touched Chris by way of wishing
him luck, and disappeared. For half a second more Chris waited. No
sound came from the ship but a light showed in the Captain's cabin.

In a twinkling, a monkey with a pouch about its neck ran up the anchor
rope and pausing on the gunwale, sniffed at the pungent flower smell
that it now knew meant sleep for all the sailors. Then it bounded
toward the light.

A window of the cabin on the lee side had been left open. Clinging to
a piece of rigging before it sprang to the sill, the monkey's eyes
caught what seemed to be a shadow darker than that of the mist or of
the night, moving away from the sailor left at night watch. The man
now lay slumped in sleep, and the same heady scent of spices and
flowers that had overcome Chris when he had first entered Mr. Wicker's
shop blew away on the gusty fall wind.

The ship tugged and strained at her anchor, wind and turning tide
making taut the line that held her close to shore. The _Venture_, her
rigging and masts scarcely visible, so sombre was the night, lay
ominously silent, excepting for a murmur of voices from the cabin.
Abruptly aware of the passing of time and the approaching white cloud
on the water that was the _Mirabelle_, the monkey sprang to the side
of the open window and peered inside.

[Illustration]

A smoking lamp hung low over a center table, dropping a dusky round
glow on the larger circle beneath it. Claggett Chew was blearily
studying a paper spread out before him, leaning his ugly bare skull on
one hand. His eyes were blood-shot, and an empty wine bottle and glass
holding only wine dregs showed he had been drinking and was now half
asleep.

Osterbridge Hawsey, in a heavy silk robe and embroidered slippers,
lounged sideways in a chair with his legs hanging over the arm. His
hand trailed an empty glass on the floor, and a silly drunken smile
played over his face.

"Claggett," he was saying, "is the place marked?" He hiccuped
delicately. "Hup! Oh dear! the hiccups!" he complained with a frown.
"Let me have more wine!"

Claggett Chew did not reply nor rise to fetch another bottle.
Osterbridge Hawsey gave a hiccup and spoke again, "Mark
it--hic!--Claggett. You may forget. All those--hup!--walls, to get
over, or--hic! under." He sighed. "Oh dear! Hic! _Think_ of those
jewels, Claggett! Hup! Devil take these hiccups!" he exclaimed in a
flurry of annoyance, but made no motion to change his comfortable
position.

"Claggett!" Osterbridge Hawsey shrilled. "Are you asleep, or angry,
or--? Hic!--Put a cross where the Tree is, I say! I want
those--hup!--jewels, Claggett, and so do you! Hic!"

Befuddled, his perceptions hopelessly blurred by excessive wine,
Claggett Chew made a mark on the map. "There!" he growled, his upper
lip drawn back over his teeth, "will that shut you up?"

A moving shadow duskier than the shadows themselves came through the
door and hovered over Osterbridge Hawsey. Claggett Chew suddenly
started up.

"I smell him!" he muttered thickly. "He's here! Hullo! Night
watchman!" he shouted drunkenly.

As he got up, stumbling and thrashing about in the uncertainty of his
movements, his chair crashed to the floor and the monkey made a leap,
cuffing the lantern from its hook. The light was dashed out, and in
the dark as he jumped, the monkey seized the creased, well-thumbed
paper as he leaped back toward the pale square that was the window.
Behind it Claggett Chew's oaths and exclamations became fainter as
the spicy scent grew stronger, and at last his mutterings trailed off
into snorts and, finally, snores. The monkey, clutching the paper to
itself, sat on the window ledge stuffing it into the pouch about its
neck, and a monkey smile flitted across its face as it heard a final
dreaming sound from Osterbridge Hawsey.

"Hm-mm. Hic! Jewels! Hup!" came from Osterbridge Hawsey.

Down the anchor rope scrambled the monkey with the agility and speed
for which monkeys are famous. Mr. Wicker was already in the boat.

"How shall it be, sir?" came the low voice of Chris. "Shall I become a
beaver and go down and gnaw the rope off at the anchor?"

"No," said Mr. Wicker. "It can be more easily done than that and
nothing to trace it. Get in the boat. Here comes the _Mirabelle_."

Taking his own shape once more, Chris saw the white ghost-like sides
of the _Mirabelle_ soundlessly passing down stream. Not a creak nor a
splash of water came from her as she passed, but from the stern a tiny
light, struck by a flint perhaps, blinked once, and twice, and then a
third time.

"Now!" came Mr. Wicker's low voice. "Let me have my hand upon that
rope!"

He only seemed to hold the anchor rope a moment and give it an easy
pull. The tugging strain was suddenly gone and the _Venture_ veered
away like a frightened waterfowl.

"Will she go where she should, sir?" Chris wanted to know, leaning
forward.

"That she will, Christopher!" came the familiar voice in the dark.
"And we must get out of her way, for here she comes down at us. The
wind and the tide and--hm-m--other forces will drive her solidly upon
the bar. If I mistake not, it will be several days before they get her
off," and on the night air Chris heard a faint short chuckle.

"Pull, boy!" his master told him sharply. "Here she comes!"

Chris grasped his oar and spun the boat only in time, for the
down-flowing tide and rising wind combined to drive the _Venture_
forward at increasing speed. The tide being still high, the ship was
carried well upon the sandbar before it grounded, lolling over to one
side much like the sleeping sailors.

[Illustration]

"Quick, lad! Now we must catch the _Mirabelle_, and you and I must
part."

"Oh, sir!" Chris cried, holding his oar above the water and turning
his head toward the man beside him. Mr. Wicker clapped Chris on the
shoulder and a glint of moonlight showed him to be smiling.

"I shall miss you too, my lad," he said. "Now, let us send this boat
over the river as fast as she can go. And bear in mind--keep your own
shape at all times unless you can change it out of sight of prying
eyes." They pulled at the oars. "Oh yes, I nearly forgot. Among the
effects placed in your sea chest you will find a conch shell. Hold it
to your ear, Christopher, as children do to hear the sea. You will be
able to hear my voice, if ever you should need to."

"Oh--like a walkie-talkie?" Chris asked, pulling at his oar.

"Somewhat." And Chris knew his master smiled at him.

"What about getting you to shore, sir?" Chris enquired, pulling in
rhythm so that the rope boat flew down the black and silver river.

"Have you forgotten who I am, my boy?" he was asked in return.

"No sir," said Chris, feeling a little small.

"Then undo the dinghy and clamber up the side, for here we are," said
Mr. Wicker, and the towering hull of the _Mirabelle_ rose above them.

Chris grasped a rope ladder that hung down beside them to the water's
edge and turned for a last word.

"I'll do my best, sir, but I hope you'll stay with me!" he cried.

"All that I can, Christopher," came the distant voice. "Godspeed!"

And looking about, Chris made out, coasting on the air, a sea gull,
balancing upon its black-tipped wings. Swallowing a lump in his throat
that proved bothersome, Chris jerked at one oar and deftly coiled the
magic rope over his arm, holding to the ship's ladder with the other.

A signal flashed, a lantern swung in an arc, and dim figures waiting
in their places hauled on the lines. As Chris stepped to the deck over
the side, the great white sails rose, spread, and bellied out from the
three masts. Chris looked in wonder as the _Mirabelle_, proud as a
woman, lifted up her head.

Soon on the silent river only a dwindling sight of lonely sails was to
be seen, heading toward Chesapeake Bay and then to sea. But anyone
with eyesight good enough might have seen a solitary sea gull,
following.



CHAPTER 19


The long days passed on board the _Mirabelle_. The hours rolled
majestically past as did the waves through which the _Mirabelle_ cut
her way.

Amos and Christopher were kept out of sight until Mr. Wicker's ship
was several days out to sea, for the crew, not knowing that the
success of their voyage depended on Chris, would have been surly at
the presence of two such young boys on board, useless cargo, in their
opinion, who knew nothing of seafaring. But when Chris and Amos
appeared under the banner of "stowaways," the sailors considered them
full of spunk, and welcomed them warmly.

Both Chris and Amos found life on a sailing vessel strange and
fascinating but difficult to get used to. Ned Cilley as their best
friend on board was the one to whom they turned whenever his duties
gave him free time. However, to Chris's surprise, it was the first
mate, sad-looking Mr. Finney, who would patiently instruct them in sea
terms and answer their endless questions.

As the days passed and the _Mirabelle_ pursued her long course through
tropical water, Chris, with many free hours to occupy, at last
understood how the model of the _Mirabelle_ had been so painstakingly
arranged inside a bottle. For the time seemed long between glimpses of
shore and shore, or until they sailed for a time along some wild and
beautiful tropic coast. Then Chris would lean on the side of the ship
looking at the mountainous or jungled shore. A scent such as comes
from the opened door of a hothouse would drift out to sea to the
sailors, who looked yearningly toward the land and the greenness. A
warm breath of flowers, damp moss, and leaves in the sun would mingle
with the rough salt smell of the sea. Chris and Amos imagined to
themselves what the forest or the mountainsides would be like if they
could only land and investigate them.

[Illustration]

Now and again small flocks of birds, migrating perhaps or blown out
to sea, would land on the _Mirabelle_, and Ned Cilley made a large
cage for some of the sweet-singing gaily feathered creatures for Chris
and Amos. And on one occasion when the _Mirabelle_ was sailing past
Brazil, a flock of butterflies was carried out on a breeze from shore
and hung on the rigging until the boys imagined themselves in a
blossoming wood.

Chris had found, his first day at sea, the conch shell Mr. Wicker had
mentioned, and he alone of all the _Mirabelle's_ crew knew how the
_Venture_ had fared.

[Illustration]

That first evening, in the little cabin Captain Blizzard had given
Chris and Amos, Chris had waited impatiently for Amos to sleep. The
two boys each had a hammock swung across the cabin by night which they
rolled up and put away to give more room by day. But that first night
poor Chris had begun to despair that he would ever hear Mr. Wicker's
voice from the shell, for Amos was excited and had no wish to go to
sleep. He swung back and forth, happy as a dark bird in his hammock,
his round eyes looking toward the porthole where there was a faint
gleam of night sea.

"Chris," Amos said, "we're sure going on a mighty far trip! That
Mister Finney, he showed me on a map, but I never heard of any of the
places we pass by. The Bahamas, he say to me, then the West Indies,
Cuba, Barbadoes"--he was ticking them off on his fingers as he named
them--"an' on to South America. Away down at the tippy end
around--what's the name of that loud-named place?"

"Cape Horn?" Chris said. He was scarcely listening.

Amos tried to prop himself up on his elbow and promptly fell out of
the hammock in a flurry of arms and legs and a heavy landing thump
that brought a shout of laughter from Chris. After an attempt at
making his bed again in the hammock, and some little difficulty in
clambering safely back in again, Amos composed himself with the least
possible movement in his swinging bed and yawned.

"I disremember," he said, "where else we're going. Wise Man islands,
or Solemn Islands--"

"You mean, Solomon Islands?" Chris asked him. Amos gave another mighty
yawn.

"That's what I said. Miss Becky, she read to me from the Bible about
Solemn, how wise he was." There was a pause. "On that way--" Amos's
voice was becoming indistinct.

"We go past the West Indian Islands next," Chris murmured, almost to
himself. "I remember that."

"And the Cell-Bees Sea," Amos said in a whisper.

"Celebes," Chris corrected softly.

"What I said," came Amos's voice, and then at last there was silence
in the cabin.

He almost got as far as the China Sea! Chris thought to himself, and
holding to the hammock, eased himself out and on bare feet went
quietly to his sea chest.

Its square bulk stood in the shadow of the wall, but fragments of
light from the night sky caught the brass nailheads and bands upon it
so that it appeared to wink cheerfully at Chris in the gloom.

Slowly, to avoid any creaks that might awake Amos, Chris lifted the
lid, thrust in one hand and found the shell. He held it near the small
port for a moment, its rosy interior faded of color in the gray light.
Then he turned it in his hand and put it to his ear.

At first he heard only the rushing sound of surf on a beach. Then the
sea sound became fainter and a voice so familiar that it meant home to
him came to Chris's ear as if from a long way off.

"Christopher? Christopher, here I am," came Mr. Wicker's voice. "How
are you? All going well I hope. Please do me the favor to tell the
Captain not to put ashore at his usual place in Tahiti, but to go by
night to a cove he will find twelve leagues farther along the coast. I
will tell you what to do nearer that time. He will find ample fresh
water near that cove, but the _Venture_ is up to mischief. You must
escape it, and all on board the _Mirabelle_ shall be witnesses to what
Claggett Chew plans to do."

The voice faded out and then returned.

"You would probably like to know how far behind the _Venture_ is. She
ran aground--most unfortunately and most surprisingly--and is three
full days behind you. But she is a fast ship and will soon lessen the
distance. Please to tell the Captain so; he is the only one to know of
my gifts and that it is possible for me to communicate with you. Tell
him not to stop for water or food until his stores are running low.
You must not waste time. Have you heard me? Tap the edge of the shell
three times for 'Yes.'"

Chris tapped three times, feeling much happier and all at once not
quite so much alone. The voice came back to his ear.

"I am following your progress from this room in the manner you know.
Practise your magic alone, or you will lose the knack. And now good
night. Oh yes--Becky Boozer has been crying into her apron all day.
Partly for Ned Cilley but I fancy--" Chris heard a chuckle from a
well-remembered room--"but I fancy, largely for two boys! Good night,
Christopher. Sleep well."



CHAPTER 20


As the Mirabelle sailed farther into tropical seas, Chris and Amos
worked out a pattern for their days. Before sunup, while the air was
still cool from the night, the two boys were awakened by Ned Cilley or
Abner Cloud. They joined the sailors on deck to do their share of
chores--mending rigging, patching sails, scrubbing decks, or polishing
brass. When the sun rose the boys breakfasted.

The men of the _Mirabelle_ then went on with their various tasks, but
Amos went up to the Captain's bridge where he listened to Mr. Finney
and Captain Blizzard, and Chris went down to their cabin for an hour
or more.

Supposedly, Chris was studying lessons. This was only partially true,
for instead of sums, he was practising magic, in which he soon
attained a high degree of proficiency.

What he most enjoyed was turning himself into some small commonplace
creature to plague his friends on board--a mouse, one day, a flea the
next, a fly on the third. Quite naturally, no one suspected his
ability to adopt such fantastic disguises. So little did they
guess--he had one or two narrow escapes from being swatted or stamped
on.

It was Zachary Heigh whom Chris wanted to watch, and as a flea or a
fly he often rode about on Zachary's jacket listening and observing.
But it was not until the _Mirabelle_ had rounded Cape Horn one morning
that Chris, in the disguise of a fly, rode unnoticed on Zachary's
jacket when that sulky young man, after looking around to make sure
the others were all at work, slipped down to the sailor's quarters
below decks.

There he dragged out his sea chest, and from under his belongings
pulled out a second chest. Fitting a key to the lock, he lifted up the
lid. Chris, perched on his shoulder, peered over to see the contents.
They were disappointing--merely a gray powder carefully packed in a
piece of tarpaulin.

Wonder why it has to be kept so dry? Chris pondered, but Zachary was
already refolding the tarpaulin and locking the lid. In the next
moment, Zachary had uncovered a length of white coils. Then Chris
understood.

By golly! he exclaimed to himself, dynamite! Or gunpowder! And so
much! What's it for?

Zachary made no other disclosures of interest that day, but after that
Chris spent all the time he could, both day and night, watching the
young sailor. He was determined to discover if he could what Zachary
intended to do with the gunpowder.

It was hard for Chris not to be able to ask Mr. Wicker's advice and
not to have his master's superior knowledge to lean on. Yet had he
known it, it was just this lack which was making him quick witted and
more resourceful.

One night a short time after Zachary's uncovering of the gunpowder,
Chris noticed that Zachary remained on deck after the others had gone
to bed, and continued to sit with his back to a stanchion dreamily
gazing at the starry sky. Chris was in a fever for Amos to sleep,
which his good friend soon did. Then a gray mouse scuttered along the
wainscot of the ship's passageways until it reached a good vantage
point from which to see the young sailor on deck. Chris had chosen
well; a mouse is used to the dark.

For several hours Zachary remained still and the mouse dozed, woke
with a start, twitched its ears, and waited. Then, long after midnight
when, alone of the entire ship's company, only the helmsman and night
watch were awake, Zachary very slowly slid his way to the ladder
leading to the hold. The mouse, scurrying forward, was able to follow
by means of a dangling rope and a leap into pitch-blackness at the
rope's end. The poor mouse hit something and ricocheted off. It lay
stunned for a moment or two a few inches from Zachary's feet as the
sailor stood at the foot of the ladder in the black heavy air of the
hold. Then Zachary lit a candle end he had brought in his pocket, and
lifted it up above his head to give the maximum amount of radiance.

The glow of the candle stub, like a yellow daisy in a cavern, spread
petals of light for only a short distance. By its sputtering, the
mouse looked up to the towering figure Zachary now made above it, and
hearing the sharp squeakings and furtive scratches that signaled rats,
the mouse thought it more prudent to adopt the shape of a fly. This
Chris did, and on Zachary's shoulder the fly's many-faceted eyes could
not only see everything, but see them several times over.

Zachary then put the candle on the corner of a packing case and from
under his shirt pulled out the coils of the fuse Chris had seen a few
days before. He took up the candle stub and began a long and patient
search, measuring with the length of fuse, and hunting for a secure
hiding place for the gunpowder. In the end he found a cramped space,
just big enough for him to slide into, made by the shifting of the
cargo which had seemingly rewedged itself firmly, forming a curious
little cave of barrel sides, crates, and heavy bales of cotton
overhead. Dangerous, thought Chris, should anything rock the
_Mirabelle_ in such a way that the cargo shifted back suddenly to its
original tight formation. The hold of the _Mirabelle_ was large, the
packing case cave was surrounded by hundreds of pounds of solid cargo.
It gave Chris a trapped feeling that he did not like, and he was
relieved when Zachary edged and squeezed himself out again into a
freer part of the hold.

[Illustration]

Zachary measured with his fuse from the crate cave, where he evidently
intended hiding the gunpowder, to the farthest point away from it and
nearest the ladder, for the treacherous young man wanted all the time
he could get to escape from the doomed _Mirabelle_. Time to climb the
ladder, reach the ship's side, and perhaps row away to a safe
distance.

The fuse proved to be rather shorter than Zachary Heigh wished. His
candle stub, set on a crate, was burning very low and he had only a
few more moments in which--that night at any rate--to decide where he
would hide the lighting end of the fuse. Just before the candle went
out, Zachary's fuse coil reached a group of molasses barrels, and here
the young man decided that the fuse, when the time came, would be
hidden and lit. He made a mark in white chalk behind one of the
barrels and then hurriedly began coiling up the fuse as he turned
toward the ladder.

[Illustration]

At that moment the candle end, drowned in a pool of its own melted
tallow, guttered, blinked, and went out. The utter blackness of the
hold rushed over Zachary and the fly who clutched at the threads of
the sailor's coarse shirt. Zachary was only a young boy, scarcely
older than Chris himself, and the fly could almost feel the quickening
of Zachary's heartbeat at the sudden flood of dark, the sense of the
late hour, and the rat-infested hold. Zachary moved quickly in the
pitch-black, his hands outstretched to feel the ladder, his breath
coming and going rapidly through his parted lips. The heat of the
airless place, the heavy smells of the cargo itself, oppressed and
weighed on both Zachary and his unsuspected companion. The _Mirabelle_
was moving slowly forward in calm tropic seas, scarcely making headway
on an almost breathless night. Down in the hold the ladder eluded
Zachary's reaching fingers, and the creaking of the ship was all that
was to be heard except for the faint sound of Zachary's breathing.

Then all at once, as sometimes happens in a roomful of talking people,
there came a moment of total silence. For a second there was a space
in the creaking of the ship, the pad of rats, or the slight shift and
reshift of boxes. And in that second, just as Zachary's fingers
touched the ladder, to Zachary and to Chris on his shoulder, came the
distinct sound of another man's breathing.



CHAPTER 21


Exhausted as he was by his long vigil and the effort needed to change
his shape, it was another hour or more before Chris could sleep that
night. The sound of that heavy but held-back breathing, so close to
Zachary and himself in the black hold, frightened Chris almost more,
once he was safe in his cabin and hammock, than it had at the time.
Zachary had bolted up the ladder like a frightened squirrel, with
Chris, as a fly, holding on for dear life. Even so, Zachary moved none
too fast to suit Chris, who flew off toward his own cabin in a
chattering fright. The lumpy form of Amos, asleep in his hammock, was
reassuring, but Chris lay shivering and puzzling for a long time
before he finally fell asleep.

The next day, lying on his stomach in the hot sun, he dozed with his
cheek on his folded hands, his mind going over and over the details of
the night before. Try as he would, Chris could not remember having
seen any member of the crew even near the hatch leading to the hold.

Let's see, he began in his mind, a bunch of the men were
singing--Bowie was one of 'em. They went down to their quarters first.
They were really closest to the hatch. Mr. Finney called Abner up to
the bridge, and Abner came back and went down a while later. Guess Mr.
Finney went to his quarters--I don't remember seeing him cross the
deck or come over that way at all.

Then--let's see--Captain Blizzard took a turn around the deck. It was
getting dark. He joked with the cook at the galley door, and probably
went on, for I didn't see him come by again. Next, Ned Cilley was
relieved at the helm by Elbert Jones, who took over. Ned went on down.

Or did he? Chris wrinkled his brow with concentration. I _guess_ so,
he thought, but I don't _know_ so. It looks to me as if it could have
been one of several people, and I'll be switched if I know who. I'll
keep my eyes open. Maybe whoever it was will give himself away somehow
and give me a clue.

The _Mirabelle_ was nearing Tahiti. The air was balmy, and already a
different fragrance pervaded it, together with a softer quality which
Chris now knew meant land.

At noon one day Captain Blizzard announced to Chris and Amos: "Should
the wind keep up as it is now, by nightfall or by dawn at the latest,
we should sight Tahiti. We've water and fresh stores to take on
there." He beamed over his many chins at the two boys. "'Tis a fair
place, is Tahiti, and one you lads will have an interest and a
pleasure in seeing."

Chris lost no time, as soon as he could do it without being noticed,
in hurrying down to his cabin. Locking the door, he took the conch
shell from his sea chest and held it to his ear. The voice of his
friend--so far distant now!--came to his ear and Chris smiled with
the pleasure this brief link with home gave him.

"Nearly to Tahiti, eh, my lad?" came Mr. Wicker's voice. "Then listen
carefully. Ask for a private interview with the Captain, and when you
are alone with him, tell him that these are my orders: He is to sail
on past his usual anchorage, making all speed. You will know the
reason for it at sundown today. Tell Captain Blizzard to go around the
point--he will know--and continue for twelve leagues farther on. This
must be done by night, for he must not slacken. Then he will see by
moonlight a reef. The water is phosphorescent, and when it breaks over
the reef it will shine in the night. Then must he heave to, and you
will go over the side, and as a fish, find out the channel, for the
coral is dangerous and the way into the cove almost impossible to find
even by day.

[Illustration]

"The land there is like a cup with a chip in its rim; the chip is the
entrance to the cove. This entrance, overhung by slanting trees and
jungle, is just large enough to allow for the passage of the
_Mirabelle_.

"Nevertheless," went on Mr. Wicker's voice in the shell, "the masts
and the sides of the ship could be seen from the sea. So with all
haste, once anchored in the cove, the men must go ashore, bring back
palm fronds and leafy branches and camouflage--as you say in your
time--the _Mirabelle_ from her topmost mast to the water's edge.

"Let the men rest, but by midafternoon have them hide along the shore
facing the sea, for they shall all be witnesses to what is to
transpire. Then you must do your part, for you must board Claggett
Chew's ship and see to it that his vessel does not gain many days'
advantage over the _Mirabelle_. By daylight the _Mirabelle_ will find
her way safely to sea again, and you will rejoin her with the aid of
the rope." The voice paused and then enquired, "Is all this clear?"

Chris tapped three times, his heart thumping with excitement at the
prospect of the imminent action.

Going up to the Captain's cabin, he took advantage of a moment when
Mr. Finney and Amos were outside to ask Captain Blizzard if he might
speak with him alone.

"Certainly my boy," boomed out the Captain, his blue eyes abruptly
keen and penetrating. "Mr. Finney will be some time on deck. We cannot
be overheard in here."

He motioned to a stool as he let himself fall heavily into a teakwood
armchair made especially for his bulk. But Chris was too excited to
sit down, and delivered his message standing.

When he described how in the night--that very night, he realized with
a jumping pulse--he was to go over the side of the _Mirabelle_ and
find out the channel, the Captain looked at him piercingly.

"How now, lad," he said in his deep voice, "how are you to find the
channel in the dark?"

This was a question Chris was unprepared for, but he took a long
breath which gave him a moment of extra time, and then replied.

"I--I see uncommonly well by night, Captain sir," he said, "and I'm a
very strong swimmer."

His face froze with nervousness that this might not do as an answer,
and he stood stiff and still before Captain Blizzard. The Captain sat
forward in his chair looking at him for a long moment, considering.
Then he said: "Well, I do not care for it, I cannot say I do. This
ship is more to me than wife or mother or family. She's all I have,
young man, and you can understand that to trust her to so young a lad,
clever though you may be, to go safely past jagged coral reefs into a
cove I never even guessed at, well"--he threw out a hand and then
rubbed his chin with it--"You can understand I do not fancy it.
However," and he leaned back in his chair again, "I take orders from
Mr. Wicker, the owner of the _Mirabelle_, and since he says so, this
is how it must be."

He paused, fingering his lower lip and looking sideways in a
reflective fashion at Chris standing before him.

"He told me you would have information from him for me, from time to
time. We shall say no more, but I trust you understand the
responsibility you have? This ship, its cargo, and its men will be in
your hands."

Chris felt cold for a moment, chilled as he had never been before, but
he spoke up firmly. "Yes sir. I think I can do it safely, or I should
not try, sir."

Captain Blizzard's round pink face creased in his winning smile. "Aye,
aye. No doubt. Just bear it in mind at the time, eh lad?"

"I shall sir," Chris replied.

He then went on to describe what else was to follow--the covering of
the ship with leaves to make it blend with its surroundings.
Camouflage was not a word the Captain, or anyone else of his time, yet
understood.

"After we see--whatever we are to see," Chris ended, "I'll be absent
for a while. What can be said during that time, sir?" Chris thought to
ask. Captain Blizzard pondered for some minutes, and Chris was
grateful that he asked no questions. At last he answered.

[Illustration]

"I shall say you have a tropical fever, Christopher," he said. "I am
somewhat skilled in medicaments--I have to be, as captain of a ship,
and the crew know it. I shall say that you are in my own cabin so that
I can care for you. I shall allow no one to enter it but myself. It
will be a most contagious fever for a time," he added with his eyes
twinkling. "I shall bring you food with my own hands. Nothing
much--broth and gruel, and I daresay I can eat it myself if I cannot
throw it out the porthole!" He winked at Chris. "Have no fear on that
score, Christopher." He looked steadily at the boy in front of him.
"You have your part to carry out, I have mine."

Not since he had left Mr. Wicker had Chris felt such confidence as he
did in the words and actions of Captain Blizzard. He knew now that his
absence, for as long as he had to be away, would be covered up and
satisfactorily accounted for.

Their conversation had taken some little while. As they went over for
the last time all the details of what lay ahead of them in the next
few hours, Chris, glancing out the windows of the Captain's cabin, saw
the splendors of a tropical sunset streaking the sky.

"Oh sir!" he cried, "Mr. Wicker said we'd know the reason why we must
take shelter tomorrow at sundown today. And now it _is_ sundown!"

With quite surprising silence and agility for so large a man, Captain
Blizzard was out of his chair and half-way to the door of his cabin
before Chris had much more than finished speaking. Over his shoulder,
continuing with rapid quiet steps to the bridge of the _Mirabelle_, he
said: "Run down to your cabin and fetch up that good spyglass of
yours, my boy. We shall have a good look, for as you know, night falls
in a few moments after sundown in these waters."

Racing to his cabin and back, even in those few seconds Chris could
see a change in the sky. The brilliance of the colors, their
extravagant and awe-inspiring cloud effects, had taken on an intensity
of light which meant they were at their peak.

Standing beside Captain Blizzard on the bridge, Mr. Finney and Amos
just beyond, Chris and the Captain looked through Chris's powerful
spyglass at the wide stretch of the horizon.

All around lay only the sea and the dazzling sky. Not even a porpoise
or flying fish broke the surface of the water which was placid save
for the long swells over which the _Mirabelle_ dipped her white sails.
The color ebbed from the sky as if drained from some celestial bowl,
and in the place of the scarlets and turquoise, the clear yellows and
the plums, came a deep blue that was the forerunner of a fine clear
night.

Chris turned slowly, his glass to his eyes, searching the edge of what
was now their world, and especially the line where the sea and sky
meet.

All at once, as if a white dagger had stabbed the rim of the ocean,
white sails grew upward against the encroaching night, and Chris found
what he had been looking for.

"There sir!" he cried, pointing to the distance, and the Captain and
Mr. Finney swung their glasses to where his finger led, far astern of
the _Mirabelle_.

Captain Blizzard's round cheerful face hardened as he looked, and Mr.
Finney's lugubrious countenance seemed positively despairing, while
Amos hopped on one foot crying: "Leave me look through your glass,
Chris! What do you see? What is it you-all see?"

It was Captain Blizzard who answered him.

"We see the _Venture_, Amos, Claggett Chew's ship, coming up fast
astern. Let us all pray that the wind holds."



CHAPTER 22


The captain, turning quickly, bellowed for all hands to come on deck.
When they were assembled below him he spoke. "Men, you have followed
me for many a voyage and I have always brought you safely home. Is it
not so?"

A good-humored and enthusiastic roar of assent came from the sailors.
Captain Blizzard began again.

"What lies ahead of us in the next few hours will not make good sense
to many of you. Nevertheless I ask for your instant help, and you
shall see what lies at the end of my orders when we reach that time.
Are you with me?"

"AYE!" cried the sailors, their faces close together below their
captain, and upturned to see him and catch every word. All but Zachary
Heigh, Chris noticed. Zachary remained sullen and apart, his arms
folded on his chest, taking no part in the enthusiasm of his
companions.

"Well and good," roared Captain Blizzard. "I thank you. Now crowd on
all the sail she will take, boys, for the _Venture_ follows hard upon
us!"

[Illustration]

Without a word the men sprang to work, darting up the masts and out
over the rigging like monkeys. Every bit of sail the _Mirabelle_
possessed bellied out on the night breeze, and Chris could feel the
ship leap under his feet as the additional canvas caught the wind and
the graceful ship surged forward.

Night fell before the men had finished and Chris and the Captain could
no longer see the sails of Claggett Chew's _Venture_.

The Captain turned to Chris. "It would be my advice, lad, to go below
and sleep for a bit. You too, Amos. I shall send Ned to awaken you
when land is sighted."

[Illustration]

This seemed good reasoning, and the two boys went below where they
snatched a few hours' sleep. It seemed only a minute to Chris from the
time he lay down in his hammock, knowing he was too excited to sleep,
until Ned Cilley was at his side with a lantern, bringing food for
Amos and himself.

"Best eat up, lads," Ned told them, "and join the Captain, sez he to
me, for land is just ahead and the Captain do be waiting you on the
bridge, Chris, me lad."

The food was bolted down in no time and Chris, feeling fresh and
alert, ran up to the warm darkness of the bridge.

To his surprise the usual lanterns were not lit; only a small shaded
light shed its rays on the compass near the wheel.

At his questioning look Captain Blizzard muttered: "Impossible to tell
how close behind the _Venture_ may be. We have come quickly, but they
have the faster ship. I have no wish to give them more clue than
necessary as to where we may be." He looked keenly toward the bow, his
hands clasped behind his back. "Land is off the starboard quarter, and
Abner Cloud is out on the bowsprit looking for the reef. We have
passed our anchorage--they expected us, or some other ship, for fires
were lit on shore. Sail has been taken in; we are going slowly and
will soon be there, by my reckoning."

His eyes grown used to the dark, Chris now saw that it was a
remarkably light night. There was no moon, but a myriad of stars gave
a clear pallid sheen to the sea. Chris, looking to his left, could
make out the blacker mass against the stars that was Tahiti. The
_Mirabelle_ was close inshore, and the scent of hot sand from the
beaches, of flowers and of plants, made Chris take many deep grateful
breaths.

"May I go forward and be with Abner?" he asked the Captain.

"Aye," replied that good man, for by this time Chris was as surefooted
as any sailor and for the last month or more had been clambering
barefoot in the rigging with the best of them. "Aye lad," the Captain
told him, "and hurry. Happen your eyes are sharper than Abner's. Sing
out when you spy the reef. We will heave to, and then God be with you,
my lad, to find us out the channel to the cove!"

Chris ran forward to the bow of the _Mirabelle_, and out along the
bowsprit where, at the tip, he could see the long form of Abner Cloud
stretched out at full length. They murmured a greeting and waited,
eyes straining ahead.

Then both saw the phosphorus gleam and fade, gleam and fade as the
waves broke over the coral. Eerie jade-green and white-gold, the
phosphorus shone in the starlight.

"Reef-ho!" sang out Abner, and the sound of his shout was echoed back
from the closeness of the shore in faint dangerous mockery.
"_Reef-ho!_"

"Reef-ho!" came a third time from the bridge, and then "Heave-ho!"
thundered Captain Blizzard. "Drop anchor, lads!"

Abner left his place to go back and lend a hand, and in his sudden
solitude Chris grasped a rope and swung down to the water.

A porpoise slipped away from the _Mirabelle_ and moved this way and
that to get its bearings. Then the mass of the reef to the left and
the hidden shelf of a second but obscured underwater reef to the right
made dark patches in the phosphorescence. Far below lay the ghostly
spread of sand, and the porpoise nosed its way forward.

The channel to the cove proved to be some five hundred yards long, and
it seemed no time before the porpoise passed from the shadow of the
trees at the shore into the starlit cup of the cove. Taking a turn
about in the enjoyment of flipping its fins and giving a leap or two,
the big fish then went back toward where the _Mirabelle_ hung
suspended on the glassy sea.

A boy it was that pulled himself up hand over hand along the anchor
rope and stood dripping sea water on the bridge before Captain
Blizzard.

"I've found the channel, sir," he said, abruptly conscious of his
importance from the admiring way in which Amos was staring at him.
"There's a dangerous shelf of coral that juts out on the port side--if
you let me go first, and the men man the boats and row her in, I think
we shall do it safely even in this light."

Captain Blizzard looked at him, his expression both serious and
trusting.

"Well lad, we do what we must, and you and I understand one another.
Ahoy there!" he roared down to the shadowy decks from which the black
spikes of masts rose high to break the sky. "Man the boats! We shall
tow the _Mirabelle_ to cover, for there's a channel here!"

[Illustration]

He turned to Chris as the sound of running feet and of the boats being
hoisted overboard came loudly in the stillness of the night.

"Now Christopher, my boy, do you go down and go over the side again,
and remember what we spoke of a few hours agone!"

The next half-hour was an exhausting one for poor Chris. It was an
impossibility for him to keep for long at a time, either his own, or
the shape of the porpoise. He had to enter the water under the eyes of
the sailors waiting with their oars poised above the sea, in the
shape they knew; Christopher Mason. But once he dived under, in order
to seek out the treacherous channel in the half-light, he needed his
fish's eyes and senses. He therefore would swim a few yards as a fish,
but had to surface again as himself in order to let the men see him,
and call: "The length of two boats, keeping to starboard, boys. Then
ease her over this way--to port."

So it went, almost foot by foot until the _Mirabelle_ was safe inside
the cove and turned broadside to the entrance. Then, and only then,
with the anchor safely dropped to the white sandy depths of this
hidden harbor, did Chris, tired to his very bones, climb up the ladder
and over the ship's side. There remained the camouflaging of the
_Mirabelle_, for the stars were fading and before long, dawn would
banish secrecy.

[Illustration]

But Captain Blizzard and Mr. Finney awaited Chris on deck. Captain
Blizzard had his hands clasped behind his back in his habitual
gesture, and as Chris stood before him swaying with fatigue, there was
a look on the Captain's face that Chris had never seen there before.
The usually cheerful, joking man was grave, while Mr. Finney, so sober
and forlorn as a rule, looked positively jubilant.

"My good lad," the Captain said, "you said you could do it, but truth
to tell, I doubted it from the bottom of my heart. Now that you have
succeeded where I am sure no other could have done as well, I find I
have no words of praise good enough for ye." He looked almost tenderly
at the tired boy. "I am proud of you, Christopher. You did a man's
task with a boy's body and mind. And it took a man's spirit, too."

Without further words the Captain of the _Mirabelle_ held out his
pudgy hand to hold Chris's in a steadying grip, and Mr. Finney swung
out his hand, his long face breaking into one of the rare smiles Chris
was ever to see on it.

"Now, me boy," thundered the Captain, "do you go to your well-deserved
rest. Depend upon it, we shall cover the ship with green until she
looks like the proverbial Christmas hall decked with boughs of holly,
as the song goes!" he added chuckling. "A little later in the day you
shall be called to see what you make of the result. And now, to bed
with ye both!" and he clapped Amos on the back.

Never had his hammock seemed more like a cloud to Chris than it did on
that night, nor was sleep ever more engulfing.



CHAPTER 23


When Chris awoke he saw that Amos had already stolen out of the cabin,
for his hammock was rolled up and put away. By the strength of the sun
and the heat that seeped even through the boards of the ship, Chris
judged that the morning was well advanced.

Dressing was rapid, for Chris, like the rest of the sailors in the
tropic heat, wore only his breeches. His bare chest and shoulders were
tanned and healthy and the soles of his bare feet as tough as shoe
leather.

Running up to the bridge he was startled at first, at coming on deck,
at the sudden green shade everywhere. Then looking up he saw that to
their very peaks the masts and rigging of the _Mirabelle_ had been
hidden with palm fronds. That side of the ship that could be seen from
the sea through the narrow channel entrance had been completely
covered with green. The work was not yet finished, but most of the
crew were sleeping during the hot hours, while a handful had
volunteered to complete the job.

[Illustration]

The cove by daylight was even lovelier than it had seemed by starlight
the night before. The deep water, with a white base of coral sand,
flashed in emerald, turquoise, or sapphire blue. Its clarity and
sparkling colors put the Jewel Tree into Chris's head and he had a
moment's throb of fright when he realized that it was this very night
that he must board the _Venture_ to impede her progress toward the
Chinese prize.

He put these thoughts from his mind until the time came, and decided
to tackle what was most pressing. The most urgent matter that first
claimed his attention was breakfast, and when he reached the bridge he
was delighted to see fruits from the island piled in shady corners.
These and bread and cheese made up his meal, which he ate while
watching the final leaves and fronds put in place on the sides of the
_Mirabelle_.

Captain Blizzard came up to him, his hands clasped behind his back,
and nodded toward the men pulling themselves slowly over the ship's
side and falling exhausted into the shade to sleep for a few hours.

"They will be fresh enough in a while," he said, "and then we shall
one and all row ashore to see what we shall see."

He paused, and Chris, looking up, saw that the Captain's gaze was
fixed on Zachary Heigh. Zachary was obviously not only far from
sleeping, but was restless, jumping up to look out to sea and then
sitting down again. It would be only a few minutes more before up he
would jump once more to pace the deck or lean at the ship's rail.

"It would seem," the Captain said casually, "that Zachary has
something on his mind."

Mr. Finney joined Chris and the Captain at that moment, and looking
down at Zachary nodded his long sad face in lugubrious agreement.
Chris opened his mouth to say something to the Captain of what he had
seen Zachary doing. Before the words could leave his mouth, he was
interrupted by the appearance of red-faced Ned Cilley. Cheerful as a
sand flea at the prospect of going ashore, Ned had come from his rest
with a small company of the sailors to ask permission of the Captain
if they might leave the ship.

"Well, why not?" the Captain demanded. "And why not take along the
rest too? We were all to go ashore presently, in any case. Those who
still want to sleep can do so even more comfortably on the shady sand
under the palms."

So in an instant the decks of the _Mirabelle_ were crowded with
laughing jostling men, duties over for that day, tumbling down the
ladders to the dinghies in which they rowed ashore.

Chris and Amos were shoved along with their friends, Chris hiking up
his breeches to cover the coil of the magic rope around his waist; the
leathern bag hanging in plain sight about his neck. The sailors had
often teased him about it, saying that he kept his riches there, but
they made no attempt to snatch it from him. There had been no time to
warn the Captain, but as the last boatload of sailors leaped into
shallow water and scattered under the shade of the trees, Chris
searched and searched again for three faces among the crowd that he
did not find. Zachary Heigh, the Captain, and Mr. Finney were not to
be found.

Aghast, as he understood now what Zachary's plan was--to blow up the
_Mirabelle_ just as the _Venture_ and its crew came near enough to
shoot down the unarmed men--Chris rushed back to the water's edge and
stood there hesitating in the powerful sun. How could he change
himself to a fish or other shape, unobserved? The sailors from the
_Mirabelle_ were everywhere--in the thickets for the shade, as well as
along the edge of the cove where he now stood, indecisive. To use the
rope was just as impossible, for the beach was broad and Chris was
acutely aware that he stood out like a single tree in a field, there
on the white sand in the broiling sun.

"Better come outen that sun, Chris!" someone called to him. "There's
too much of heat in it to be good for unkivered heads!"

Chris knew the voice of the sailor was right, and was on the point of
jumping into one of the dinghies, where they lay pulled up on the
beach.

Far out on the cove, the decks of the _Mirabelle_ were deserted and
unlike themselves, so empty of life. Sweat started out on Chris's
forehead, as he imagined Zachary in the hold lighting the fuse, and he
wondered where the good Captain and Mr. Finney might be. He wondered
too if he could row over in time, or if he would be blown up with the
ship.

The boy had his hands on the scorching wood of a dinghy, his muscles
tensed to thrust it into the waters of the cove, when out over the
still harbor, jangling in the heat, came a prolonged and piercing
scream. Hot as he was, Chris felt himself go cold at the sound. He
knew instantly, although he had never heard it before, that this was
the death cry of a man. The scream came a second time, terrified and
despairing, and out over the water following it came a low, scattered
rumble.

Silence fell for several frozen seconds, and then all at once Chris
became aware as he stood rigid with horror by the boat that the
sailors of the _Mirabelle_ had rushed out from the coolness of the
shore to stand stiff and appalled beside him. A babble of voices broke
out, and one by one the boats were hastily launched, heading back to
the ship, leaving Chris shaking and unnerved on the sand. Over the
water as brawny backs bent to the oars the words came floating back:

"Someone's dead for sartin sure--"

"Who was left on board, you say?"

"Leave the lads--no sight for young-uns."

"_Pull_, you lazy lubbers! The Capt'n and Mr. Finney bean't among
us!"

It was a little later that Chris remembered Amos having taken his arm
and led him into the shade, and of how sick he was--the heat and the
scream, the fear, and a sense of having failed in warning the Captain,
combining to churn his insides into a queasy place that violently
rejected his pleasant breakfast of so short a time before. Then weak,
but somehow feeling better, Chris lay in the cool while Amos found a
cold pool of water with which he bathed his friend's face, and then
sat fanning him without a word.

Chris must have dozed, for when he came to himself the light had
changed, and men were carrying a shapeless bundle wrapped in canvas to
a grave dug in the sand. Chris started up and joined the men gathered
solemnly about the grave, and as he searched among them, knew a great
sense of relief and joy when he saw, standing at the grave head, the
Captain and Mr. Finney. As Chris came up to them, Captain Blizzard was
speaking, a Bible in his hand.

"Men of the _Mirabelle_, by rights as captain of the vessel I should
read the burial service for Zachary Heigh, that met his death by
accident, boxes and crates killing him in the hold the way they did.
But," and the Captain scanned the tough weather-beaten faces near him
slowly, one by one, "you that helped to uncover him know what he meant
to do. We harbored a viper, men, who meant to destroy our ship and
cargo and leave us to who knows what fate? Had not the bung of that
keg of molasses above the lighted fuse most providentially fallen out
and the fuse been put out by the sirup, no doubt neither Mr. Finney
nor I nor the _Mirabelle_ would be here to tell the tale."

He paused again, but there was not a stir from his audience. From
under their dirty headkerchiefs or straggly unkempt hair, the men who
knew no other life but the sea, no happiness or danger unconnected
with it, never took their eyes from their captain.

"So, men," Captain Blizzard resumed, "the gunpowder that was meant to
be the end of our fine ship is now safe and out of harm's way, and the
traitor who intended this infamous deed has been dealt with by fate
and killed in a tomb of his own finding. Therefore, feeling as I do
for my ship and my men, I cannot bring myself to read the holy words
over this man who had no charity in his heart."

[Illustration]

Captain Blizzard handed the Bible to Ned Cilley and stood with his
hands behind him, nodding his head as if to stress his words.

"Yet," he said, "he is being buried far from home and kith or kin. It
is not proper that he should be left without even a token of
respect." He gestured with his plump hand to the Bible. "Do you settle
among yourselves who shall do the reading, but pardon me that I am so
small a man, that I cannot forgive a villain!"

So saying he turned slowly away, followed by Mr. Finney, who was more
than usually sober and solemn. Into the dry clatter of palm fronds
rose the rough voice of Ned Cilley laboriously reading.

"I am the Resurrection and the Life--"

But Chris, watching the disappearing backs of the Captain and first
mate, was thinking what a curious and fortunate thing it was that the
bales had fallen on Zachary just at the right time, and when there was
not a ripple on the cove.

Chris watched the fat short man and the tall lean one go, resolution
and anger still evident even in the set of their shoulders. The boy
was thoughtful, thinking back over what Ned had said of them, that
first day on the docks: Faithful! he seemed to hear Ned say, that's
true of the two of 'em! Whatever they can do for Mr. Wicker is law for
Elisha Finney and Captain Blizzard.

Chris thought them two very remarkable men indeed.



CHAPTER 24


Barely were the last spadefuls of sand packed down into Zachary
Heigh's grave when Amos, who had wandered to the beach facing the sea
and long outer shoreline, sang out: "Ship ahoy!"

Remembering their orders the men rushed over from the cove but
remained hidden behind trees or shrubs. Chris and Amos climbed a tree
from whose branches they had a fine unobstructed view up and down the
coast. To the left, far distant, a point of land jutted out into the
sea, tropical trees carrying their green out in a long curve. To the
right, just appearing from the direction in which they themselves had
come a few hours previously, came a majestic ship black from stem to
stern. Black was its hull, but black too were its sails. It looked
exceedingly ominous on the afternoon blue of the sea, and as it came
almost level with the channel to the cove, its sails were lowered and
the watchers on shore could hear the splash of the anchor as it was
heaved overboard.

Then Ned Cilley, oldest of the _Mirabelle's_ sailors, came panting up
from the cove and Zachary's grave to look out from the leaves at the
base of the boys' tree.

"Oh, Lordy, Lordy!" he exclaimed when he caught sight of the black
ship, the last of her somber sails being taken in, "what did I tell
you, lads?" he cried, addressing anyone and everyone near enough to
hear him. "That be the _Black Vulture_, the pirate ship. No vessel is
safe near the _Black Vulture_! What a God's mercy that all of us, and
the _Mirabelle_, are out of sight, for the men aboard the _Vulture_
know no pity, lads!"

Growls and murmurs rumbled along the shore from clump to clump of
leaves where the men stood hidden. Chris pulled his spyglass from his
pocket and looked eagerly at the pirate ship only a little way out
from shore.

It looked familiar, although Chris had had time to see so few ships he
could not be certain. He shifted the glass, looking at details here
and there, and at the name in gold carved letters against the
black-painted side. _Vulture_. The letters stood out neat and clear
and then Chris's heart stopped and started again.

"Ned!" he called down softly, for sound carries far and clearly over
water, as every sailor knows, "Ned, don't most ships just paint the
name on the side?"

"Aye lad, that they do," Ned replied in a puzzled tone, looking up
through the leaves at the two boys.

"Then isn't it unusual to have letters carved of wood and gilded, on
the side of a ship?" Chris persisted.

"Aye, that it be." Ned's puzzled tone was sharper now and he looked up
at Chris and then out to the pirate vessel. "What're ye aimin' at now,
me lad, eh?" Ned asked. "What's in your mind?"

"Just tell me what ships you know whose name is not painted on but
set in carved letters, Ned," Chris said, and he lowered his glass and
looked down.

[Illustration]

Their conversation, in the silence, had had some quality of excitement
in it that had been caught by the others, for when Chris glanced down
he saw half the ship's company knotted around the base of the tree,
and a half-circle of faces turned up to his, along with Ned's.

Ned's face puckered with effort for a few moments, as he muttered:
"Let me see, now. There's the _Southerner_--no, that's painted on, or
the _Priscilla Drew_--no; that's painted too." He turned, searching
the faces of his friends. "Come, boys, what ship has carved letters
for her name, not painted ones? Where's a better memory nor mine?"

The Captain and Mr. Finney came to join the crowd, standing back in
the shadow of the palm grove. Both men were listening attentively. It
was Bowie who finally spoke up slowly, as if unwillingly.

"There's only one ship that ever I did see with carven letters on her
side, and that was Chew's ship, the _Venture_."

He was surrounded at once by a low murmur of assent from all sides.
"Aye aye!" "That be so!" "'Tis so!" Chris from his higher perch,
pointed an accusing finger out to sea.

"Look then, for there's your same ship! The _Venture_ and the
_Vulture_ are one and the same! Here--take my glass," he cried handing
it down. "See the two second letters--they are just a bit aslant.
Weeks ago, at home, I thought it seemed strange that the _E_ and the
_N_ looked loose. But loose they are! Once at sea they're
changed--bolted in, maybe, I don't know how--and there's your merchant
ship at home and pirate ship at sea!"

The men turned, wonderingly but angrily too, for the remembrance of
what Zachary Heigh had tried to do, and so nearly succeeded in,
rankled, and they now began to understand many things. Voices began to
rise dangerously high in the growing ill-feeling.

"Ah--the dirty dog--"

"_And_ his friend with the airs!"

"Have we then been harboring the like of him at home?"

"Aye--to let him go free to scuttle the next fine ship, take all her
cargo, and leave her valiant men to drown!"

The Captain came forward, his hands upraised. "How-now, men, be still!
We are here to see what may take place, but if your voices should
carry, as well they may, over the water, we should have little chance
of it. Do you be still and watchful."

A low cry came from Amos, who had not taken his eyes from the sea.

"Look! Around the point! Here comes another ship--looks like that was
what the ol' blackbird was a-waiting for!"

Sure enough, as the fine white sails of a good-sized vessel made its
way around the point of land, distant shouts and confusion could be
heard on the _Vulture_. Looking through his glass, which he lent to
Amos every few moments, Chris could make out scurrying figures on the
deck of the pirate ship, men springing up the rigging and others
walking up the anchor as quickly as they could. On the bridge Chris
could see the tall gaunt height of Claggett Chew. The humpbacked
figure of Simon Gosler stood rubbing his hands, at one side of his
master, while on the other, observing the work of the sailors with a
supercilious air, leaned a familiar and ridiculous figure. Dressed as
if for a court ball at Versailles and holding his lorgnette a few
inches from his nose, Osterbridge Hawsey remained elegantly aloof from
anything so degrading as hard work. He looked on with a superior smile
as the black sails were unfurled, the anchor was heaved dripping from
its bed, and the hard-pressed dirty crew made all speed to go in
advance of the oncoming ship. Still others among the pirates could be
plainly seen manning the guns that had already been brought out from
their hiding places, while still more stood by to furnish their
comrades with cannon balls and powder. Amos became so excited he
leaned too far forward, and, nothing learned from his nightly
difficulties with his hammock, fell out of the tree onto the heads and
shoulders of the men below, causing astonishment and swallowed
laughter before he was hoisted back up again.

"Bless my cap and buttons!" Ned Cilley cried, "there's to be a fight
for sartin. I can see the flash of light on the swords and axes!"

[Illustration]

Quicker than it would take to tell, the _Vulture_, black sails spread,
moved forward to head off the merchantman evidently homeward bound
from China.

The pirate ship sailed down the coast, turned, and forced the oncoming
vessel to stop. Then, as well as the watchers could guess, a parley
ensued, but if the pirates thought the prey would be an easy one they
were mistaken, for the merchantman came forward suddenly, all sails
set, in an effort to ram the _Vulture_. But the rich cargo vessel was
hopelessly at a disadvantage. The pirate guns opened fire, ropes were
thrown over to the peaceful ship, and with yells of triumph that
carried even above the tumult of the fighting, the pirate crew leapt
on board. Tiny figures could be seen falling into the water from the
merchantman, and in a bitter hour or so the sound of fighting died out
altogether.

The men watching from the shore had been kept there only by the
obedience the Captain was able to extract from them, for rage was in
the heart of every man at the sight they were forced to see, but were
powerless to prevent. Even among such hard-bitten old salts as they
all were, more than one could be seen mumbling a prayer for the
unfortunate men who had put up such a gallant fight.

[Illustration]

"Come, lads," Captain Blizzard said to them at last. "We have seen
what we had to see, and many is the witness now against Claggett Chew
and all his company!"

"Aye! Aye! That we are! We'll bear witness to such villainy--they
should all hang for it!" the voices cried.

"Then let us go back to our own ship, for the dreaded _Vulture_ is not
yet gone, and unarmed as we too are, what chance have we against
cannon balls and armed men?"

The men turned about and trouped back to the dinghies, while Captain
Blizzard stayed behind a moment to speak to Chris.

"My boy," he said, his hand on Chris's shoulder, as in front of them
in the late afternoon light the men of the _Mirabelle_ made their way
back to the ship, "'tis my advice you had best return with us now, or
you might be missed by one or another of the men, and they have much
time to think. You shall do what has been set for you to do--we shall
stay here another day to take on water and fresh fruits."

He looked smilingly down at Chris but his eyes were concerned. "It
will not be a moment too soon for me until I see you safe and sound on
board again, my lad," he said, "for I like you well and would have no
smallest harm come to you."

Together they went down to the beach and the waiting dinghy. Chris
dared not look at the sky above them for he knew night was darkening
it, and with the night he must leave.



CHAPTER 25


As soon as the night was dark enough, Chris loudly complained of not
feeling well--of being hot and dizzy, and in no time Captain Blizzard
had, as loudly, told him he was to go to bed on a cot in the Captain's
cabin. Captain Blizzard closed the door behind him, and in Amos's and
Ned Cilley's hearing, told Mr. Finney that he was much afraid that
Chris had a touch of the sun and was coming down with a tropical
fever.

Chris remained alone in the cabin from that time. Soon, in the cool of
the night, the sailors of the _Mirabelle_ set out in dinghies to a
cascade of fresh water that emptied itself into the cove at its
farther end, taking with them casks and barrels to replenish the
ship's water supply. Their deep voices swept back over the water to
where Chris stood by the open port of the Captain's cabin. He was
forcing himself toward the moment when he must board the _Vulture_.
His resolve was held back by his mounting anxiety as to how best to
carry out what would be necessary, and a strong natural reluctance to
leave the _Mirabelle_.

Leave it he must. He stood pondering on what shape to assume, and when
he heard the cry of a belated night bird, and saw it coast by on
silent wings to vanish in the night, he decided to take that shape. It
took all his courage and determination, but this was the first step
toward what he had trained for so long to do, and he knew he must do
it, and at once. The boy looked a last time around the cabin, then
spoke the magic formula in his mind, and, with a sudden enjoyment in
the sense of flight, he soared away from the ship out over the cove.

[Illustration]

The bird swept twice around the _Mirabelle_, rising higher as it went.
Below, the few lights of the ship had been carefully hooded away from
the sea, and the bird, spiraling lightly on air currents, drifted out
from land.

[Illustration]

The black bulk of the _Vulture_ was easy to find in the clearness of
the night. She was riding at anchor close inshore farther down the
coast, and final boatfuls of men were returning from the merchantman
carrying the last of the spoils. Sweeping by toward the beach Chris
saw that most of the bandit crew were already drunk, shouting and
carousing around fires where they roasted wild creatures they had
earlier killed. He noticed that a few Tahitians stood apart at the
joining of the palm forests and the sand, watching the coarse faces of
the drunken men. The Tahitians, fitting so well into the beauty of
their island, gold of skin and crowned with flowers, carrying
themselves with dignity, were as far removed as could be imagined from
the idea of pagan men. They contrasted sharply at that moment with
those from "civilization," who in filthy rags of clothes and wild
disorder of gestures and voices staggered about aimlessly gorging
food and drinking. The watching pagans glanced from the brawling
pirates back a short distance down the beach where already a few
bodies had been washed ashore from the fight. Their distaste and
bewilderment were plain.

Chris soared high above the din and the smoke of the fires, and then
seeing Osterbridge Hawsey being rowed back to the _Vulture_, followed
after.

Osterbridge Hawsey had two baskets at his feet. One was filled with
carefully chosen fruits, and the other with the exotic flowers of the
island. Hastily changing himself into a green parakeet, Chris alighted
on the rail of the _Vulture_ just as Osterbridge Hawsey reached the
top of the ladder. Determined to make a good impression and perhaps
catch Osterbridge's fancy, Chris, in his bright parakeet plumage,
bobbed his head and sidled up and down the ship's rail, eyeing
Osterbridge Hawsey with his head on one side as he had seen parakeets
do.

The maneuver succeeded, for Osterbridge, with a little cry of
pleasure, declared himself enchanted.

"I must have that little bird!" he exclaimed, and carefully taking off
his fashionable hat--even more out of place in the tropics than it had
been on the Georgetown docks--he slapped it quickly over the parakeet
which allowed itself to be captured.

This, Osterbridge Hawsey's own prize, made him crow with delight.
Clambering as gracefully as possible over the battle-scarred side of
the _Vulture_, he took the parakeet gently out from under his
tricorne.

"A parakeet--as I _live_!" he shrilled, sounding very like a parakeet
himself. "My soul--what a prize!" he rattled on, entirely to himself
as it turned out, for the sailors were not at all interested in a pet.
Exhausted from the battle or drunk from captured wine, and all
despising the fastidious ways of Osterbridge Hawsey, they paid not the
slightest attention. They obeyed occasional orders from him, for they
knew they would be whipped by Claggett Chew if they did not, and so
hauled up the baskets of fruits and flowers, dumped them
unceremoniously in the Captain's cabin, and left as quickly as they
could to rejoin their shipmates on shore.

Holding the parakeet firmly, Osterbridge Hawsey tied a long silk cord
to its right leg, fastening the other end to the arm of his chair so
that he could closely observe his new pet.

Chris did not disappoint him. As the parakeet, he played the clown for
all he was worth. He strutted up and down, and bobbed his head
whenever Osterbridge Hawsey spoke, so that it appeared that the
brightly feathered bird was in constant agreement with his captor. Or
he would cock his head to one side as if weighing one of Osterbridge's
remarks, in a truly comical manner.

Looking about meanwhile with his black beady eyes, Chris saw that
Claggett Chew was lying in a bunk against one wall, nursing his left
leg which had been given a sword thrust in the fight. He was obviously
in pain and perhaps feverish, and Osterbridge Hawsey's childish talk
irritated and bored him so that he turned his face to the wall. Light
from the swinging lamp that Chris remembered from many weeks before
threw black hollows into Claggett Chew's eye sockets and deeply lined
face. Now and again he could be heard grinding his teeth at the pain
of his wound, but Osterbridge Hawsey, throwing his fine coat and
plumed hat to one side, lightheartedly amused himself by trying to
tempt his new pet with some fruit.

"Claggett!" he cried, as if Claggett Chew could possibly be interested
in a parakeet at that point, "do look at what I captured! This is my
very own spoils of war!" he crowed.

Claggett Chew made an impolite noise and said nothing. "Well,"
Osterbridge Hawsey gave a shrug as answer to the noise, "you know how
I _detest_ fighting. It is vulgar, messy, and noisy. I can imagine no
possible good word to say for it. And I see no reason why you could
not have made them give up their cargo without a skirmish. Ugh!" he
said, at the remembrance.

"Now, a good gentlemanly fight with a rapier is _quite_ another
thing," he went on. He smirked and made a face at the parakeet who did
its best to smirk back. "_That_ is a graceful and fine art. Refined,
and not at all degrading to one's character."

No sound from Claggett Chew. Osterbridge Hawsey rattled on and Chris,
pecking at the fruit proffered him, thought that sometimes Osterbridge
Hawsey might quite possibly talk just as gaily to himself as he did to
the unresponsive Claggett Chew.

"Claggett--your men!" his voice rose. "_Really._ They are making an
_exhibition_ of themselves on the beach. Just as well there is no one
to see but some aborigines. _Quite_ revolting. _How_ can you bear to
associate with such _types_, when you are so much above them
yourself--but there, I must not pique you, must I, poor Claggett? I
expect your wound smarts a trifle?"

Claggett Chew turned his face toward Osterbridge Hawsey, his eyes
blazing with rage and his mouth working with the fretful annoyance of
an ill man, but he only muttered and turned away again.

"Do you know," his more delicate friend pursued, stretching out a long
finger for the parakeet to perch on, which to his evident pleasure it
instantly did, "Do you know, Claggett, this dear little creature seems
fearless and almost human? _Quite_ touching."

He paused, admiring the vivid colors of the feathers which perhaps
awoke a kindred feeling in Osterbridge Hawsey, loving a fine display
as he did.

[Illustration]

"I shall give you a name, my little feathered captive," he said, and
pondered. "I wonder what would be suitable? Something French,
undoubtedly." He waved a hand and the lace at his wrist fell forward
in a not overly clean frill. "Louis, after the dear king? No--that
would be too great an honor for so small a bird, gaudy though you are.
I think, 'Monsieur,' after the king's brother. That's it. Little
Monsieur." He broke off, dreamily. "To think that I once knew such a
royal, such a distinguished man!" He sighed reminiscently.

For the first time words came from Claggett Chew. He bit them off as
if the saying of them cost him very great effort.

"More _ex_tinguished than _dis_tinguished, I would say."

Osterbridge Hawsey permitted a sad condescending smile to cross his
face and he shook his finger at Claggett Chew. "Ah, Claggett--you
never knew him, you see. I am _sure_ you would have liked him--such
charm! So _distingué_. Oh dear me yes. A most _unusual_ royal
personage," Osterbridge Hawsey said, smiling happily at his parakeet.
"Most of them are so _much_ alike--"

He singled out several fresh fruits, peeling some for Claggett Chew.
Silence fell over the cabin except for Osterbridge Hawsey's delicately
smacking lips as he finished the fruit and licked his fingers one by
one, the increasingly heavy breathing of Claggett Chew, who fell
asleep, and the distant sound of shouts and clamor from the shore.
Osterbridge Hawsey made a pouting face at the sleeping figure of Chew;
evidently Osterbridge was bored. He went to the door and clapped his
hands, but no one responded. Except for the two men and the parakeet,
the _Vulture_ was deserted.

Osterbridge Hawsey came back into the cabin holding a bottle of wine
which he uncorked and poured into a glass. Chris, foreseeing what
would follow, hopped up to the back of his new master's chair where he
hoped he would be forgotten, and tucked his head under his wing in
case Osterbridge should look at him.

Waiting for the right moment was the hardest thing Chris had to do,
but he knew, as Osterbridge Hawsey drank glass after glass and his
book fell from his fingers, that the right moment would not be long in
coming.



CHAPTER 26


The tropic coolness of the night intensified as the hours advanced. An
added freshness swept out from the shore carrying its scent of flowers
and earth. The feasting pirates had evidently fallen asleep over their
food and empty wine mugs, for they did not return.

With a growing sense of uneasiness, Chris cautiously brought his head
out from under his jade-green wing. He had had for the past hour the
eerie feeling of being stared at, and he pecked at his scarlet and
yellow breast feathers while sending a glance about the cabin.

He knew without having to look, where the source of his uneasiness
lay. Claggett Chew had turned on his right side and fixed him with a
pale, piercing, and unblinking eye. So fixed, it was, that for a
heart-thudding moment Chris imagined his enemy to be dead. But after a
longer pause than usual, the pale heavy lids finally blinked, though
the unwavering eyes did not move from where Chris was perched, as
nonchalantly as he knew how to, on the back of Osterbridge Hawsey's
chair.

The intelligence behind the stare was infinitely keen and resourceful.
Chris, preening himself in a difficult effort to appear what he was
not, knew that if Claggett Chew had not already guessed his disguise,
he was certainly more than suspicious.

Hastily, and with increasing starts of fear that sent the blood
spurting through his veins, Chris cast about in his mind as to how he
could distract Claggett Chew. As a parakeet, he was chained by the
tough silk cord that bound his bird's foot. He glanced down.
Osterbridge Hawsey's now sleeping head lolled like a child's to one
side. Chris eyed the length of the coral silk cord, and then hopped
lightly from the back of the chair to Osterbridge Hawsey's shoulder. A
blink of his parakeet's eyes, from under their gray lids, showed him
that Claggett Chew had him fixed in a penetrating and unwavering
stare. In his role as parakeet, he moved sideways up Osterbridge
Hawsey's shoulder, making for the shelter that the lolling head would
afford to hide him from his enemy's eyes.

As he moved step by step, the parakeet made small low, raucous
noises--not loud enough to awaken Osterbridge Hawsey, but enough, he
hoped, to make him seem a natural creature to the man who watched him
so intently. As he neared Osterbridge Hawsey's neck, seeing the ridge
of collar on which he intended to perch, Chris took heart and with a
last quick effort, climbed the collar to hide behind Osterbridge
Hawsey's head, under the thick cluster of curls tied with what was now
a ratty black bow. He was, in this precarious shelter, about to change
himself into a fly, when a scraping noise froze him with fear. Looking
around Osterbridge's neck he saw that Captain Chew was making
desperate efforts to get out of his berth, and had not taken his eyes
from the place where he had last seen the parakeet. Chris knew in that
moment with what an astute and formidable enemy he was faced.
Paralyzed, he remained in his green and red parakeet feathers watching
the motions of the injured pirate.

Claggett Chew might be suspicious but he was also a fevered and badly
wounded man. From his insecure hiding place, terrified at every
sleeping movement from Osterbridge Hawsey, and even more fearful of
what Claggett Chew intended, Chris stared out as purposefully as
Claggett Chew had only a few moments before.

[Illustration]

The ashen-faced man across the room in the glare of the hanging lamp
heaved and pushed at the sides of the bunk, his eyes brilliant with
high fever; the sweat of illness and strain glistening over his bare
head and colorless face. He ground his teeth at the sudden, almost
intolerable flashes of pain that gripped him when he moved his leg.
Still he persevered, grasped at a corner of the bunk and pushed
himself upright.

If it was possible for his white face to become paler, some last
vestige of color seemed to leave it. Claggett Chew threw up an arm to
catch on something to steady himself, swayed and closed his sunken
eyes. His arm caught the lamp, which, rocking, threw jet shadows as
jagged as its light was harsh. Claggett Chew's prominent broken nose,
and the deeply grooved lines running down from it to the thin lips
under his mustache, changed the cruelty of his face into a brutal
mask. To Chris, he scarcely looked human. He was a picture of all that
was heartless and evil. But holding to the edge of his bunk, weakened
and ill though he was, the power of his will still ruled his body.

He doesn't know when he's licked, Chris thought, and not knowing--he
isn't!

Then, trying to hoist himself upright, Claggett Chew began beckoning
and appealing to Osterbridge Hawsey, and Chris shook at the momentary
possibility that some noise or word would awaken his sleeping hiding
place.

"Osterbridge! Osterbridge!" Claggett Chew cried hoarsely. "Wake up!
Hear me!--Fire take your eyes!" he muttered in his rage, "can you not
rouse? Osterbridge! Osterbridge!"

But after a slight shift in position, Osterbridge Hawsey slept on.
Claggett Chew, his face livid with pain, blood weaving down his chin
where he had bitten his lip in an attempt to stifle his groans,
managed to push himself up and totter to a chair against which he
leaned weakly, calling out again: "Plague your bones! Osterbridge! You
sot! Help me--you sleazy fashionable!"

He started across the few feet of floor separating him from his
friend, and, stooped though he was to adjust his height to the
low-ceilinged cabin, nevertheless his bulk was a terrifying sight as
he stumbled and staggered forward. His hairless head nearly scraped
the ceiling, and his shoulders were as broad across as those of two
men. His hands, white but strong and bony, twitched at the finger ends
as if they were unused to idleness without hurting, or without the
handle of his whip to grasp.

Two steps forward, Chris saw, was all Claggett Chew needed to show him
where the parakeet had gone, snatch him up, and snuff out his life as
a candleflame is pinched between finger and thumb. Chris was tearing
with his beak at the silk cord on his foot, raking at it between every
look he sent towards Claggett Chew. Chris knew that if the pirate
touched Osterbridge Hawsey, or worse, fell, the touch or the noise
would succeed in awakening the heavily sleeping fop and the parakeet,
exposed, would be an easy prey for Claggett Chew.

The Captain of the _Vulture_, sweat rolling down his tortured face,
his eyes starting from their deep-sunk sockets with the strain of
keeping himself on his feet, began roaring at Osterbridge once more.

"Osterbridge! Scummy no-good! _Wake!_ That parrot has a scar on his
jaw such as I once gave a boy! _Osterbridge!_" he roared with a final
terrible effort.

Then everything happened at once. Osterbridge Hawsey was aroused at
last and sat up abruptly, heavy-headed and bleary, thickly asking:
"Claggett! What a _noise_! Cannot a man be allowed to doze in peace?
Where _are_ your manners?"

In the same instant, Claggett Chew reached out to pluck the parakeet
from behind the sheltering head and neck of "the fashionable." Chris,
with a superhuman effort, changed himself to a mouse, tearing his
foot from the frayed cord that held it, and leaped into the air.
Simultaneously, Claggett Chew, overcome by the approaching blackness
he had been fighting, crashed to the floor unconscious.



CHAPTER 27


A mouse streaked out the door of the Captain's cabin and did not stop
until it reached the farther end of the _Vulture_, where it hid
quaking behind someone's old shoe. The little creature, quieting down
at last and feeling its heart regain a more familiar rhythm, sniffed
distastefully at the shoe. It was plain to see, it thought, that the
_Vulture_ was an untidy, ill-cared-for ship. Old shoes were never left
lying about on the _Mirabelle_.

The thought of the _Mirabelle_ brought Chris's mission on the pirate
ship into sharper focus. He glanced up at the sky; there was little
time left in which to work safely, for Claggett Chew's sharp eyes had
noticed the infinitesimal scar on his cheek and his astute brain had
put two and two together. Chris wondered, with a new start of horror,
if Claggett Chew could read his thoughts, and if this was why he had
stared at him with such intensity.

Well, he shrugged, he knew what had to be done and if he worked
quickly, and Claggett Chew's swoon lasted long enough, not even he
could stop him. Looking about to make sure he was unobserved, he took
his own shape again with a sigh of relief. It was almost like holding
one's breath for long periods of time, to be in the shape of a bird or
a mouse, but to be himself, he knew, held even greater dangers.

For the first time he opened the leather bag at his neck and felt
inside. The first thing his fingers closed on he pulled out. He turned
the object in his palm toward the starlight to see what it might be.

It was a folding knife in a case of tortoise shell inlaid with strange
signs in silver and mother-of-pearl. Chris opened it--the blade was
razor-sharp--and put it experimentally point down on the wood of the
deck. As if by itself the blade revolved with immense speed, sinking
in so fast that only just in time did Chris snatch it out and hold it
more tightly. Trying it out he found that the blade would go through
anything, sometimes so easily as to scarcely seem to cut, leaving no
trace of a mark, it was so keen. At other times when he pressed on it,
the blade whirled around, boring a hole as deep as might be necessary.

What a useful gadget! Chris thought.

This is just what I need and now is the time! he said to himself, and
sprang up the nearest of the _Vulture's_ three masts.

What he had to do would take long, and there was little time left that
night in which to do it. For he intended slitting the lines of the
rigging here and there, not so deeply that they would give way at once
and be soon repaired, but so that with the first hard blow the lines
would break.

Growing daylight should have warned him long before he was done, for
Chris wished also to slit the sails, very slightly, when they had
been unfurled and the _Vulture_ was under way. The sound of voices
broke his absorption in his task. Looking down from the top of the
mainmast where he clung, Chris saw a boatload of returning sailors and
realized with a start that it was nearly sunup. In a moment a rat ran
down the mast to disappear into the foul-smelling hold of the pirate
vessel.

How long must he wait in the hold? Chris wondered. Although he might
be in the shape of a rat, it was only his outward form that had
changed. He could not eat grain or refuse that was not suitable for a
human, and he did not relish having to hold his own in a fight with a
true rat, there in the darkness. He contemplated boring a hole in the
hull of the _Vulture_ but decided to wait until the ship was under
sail. He bitterly regretted not having brought food with him, feeling
hungry after his exertions about the ship. There was nothing else for
it but to hide as safely as he could in his own shape.

This he did, after a thorough search in his rat form to find what
seemed a safe, hidden place high at the top of a pile of the loot
stolen from the merchantman. There the exhausted boy, curled closely
against any sudden movement of the ship, fell into a sound sleep.

The dip and sway of a sailing ship cutting the seas, and a ravenous
appetite, combined to wake Chris. For the first few moments he was
confused at where he was. Little or no light seeped into the hold, and
he was further troubled by having no idea how long he might have
slept.

His first thought was to find food. Climbing down from his sleeping
place he felt his way back to the ladder leading up to the deck. The
hatch at the top of the ladder was open and through it came a long
faded shaft of light and a freshening draught of air. By the quality
of the light, Chris judged the time to be well along in the afternoon.
He was debating with himself whether or not to change his shape and
venture up to find something to eat, when on one of the lower treads
of the plank ladder he caught sight of a plate of food.

Chris stood staring at it for a moment. His mouth watered, for he had
not eaten in many hours and the sight of meat, bread, and fruit was
almost more than he could resist. But resist it he did, for he argued
in himself: If this has been put here, it must be for me. If it is for
me, it may well be poisoned. I shall not be tempted, much as Claggett
Chew would like me to be! He therefore left the plate of food where it
was, hoping the rats would find it before long and he would have
proof, through their actions, whether or not his theory was right.
Then, as a shadow fell over the hatch far above his head, Chris
hastily became a fly, soaring up to hit Simon Gosler on the nose.

Crawling in a leisurely fashion on the beggar's hump, he lingered long
enough to see what the cripple was about. Simon was looking down the
steep ladder, shading his rheumy eyes against the brilliance of the
setting sun with one filthy, crooked hand. Chris, crawling nearer,
could make out what the old man was muttering under his breath.

"The Cap'n, he say go down an' see, is the food et up, sez he. But
'tis a weary hard way for a pore ol' cripple to hop down thet steep
ladder. I'll not do it. He's a sick and fevered man. I shall say it
was et up--the rats will have got it before I get to his cabin, in any
case, an' then who's to be the wiser? Besides, there's no boy on this
ship. What a fancy!" he muttered. "He is an ill man, is Claggett
Chew. May his bones rot! I need do no more for him than what I have a
mind to, knowing as many of his misdeeds as I do. Hah!" He rubbed his
hands with anticipation. "Any day, Simon Gosler could be Cap'n of the
good _Vulture_, an he say the word to the right quarter!" His eyes, no
longer hidden behind black patches, narrowed with cunning. "And in the
meantime, who gets the best share of the spoils?"

[Illustration]

The beggar broke off in a cackle of glee, rubbing his dirty gnarled
hands with satisfaction, and turned away to go back to the Captain's
cabin with his message.

Chris flew away in the direction of the cook's galley, where as a fly
he found it easy enough to eat his fill of meat and what few good
things the _Vulture_ afforded.

Refreshed, he flew hard against the wind in order not to be blown off
the ship entirely, up to the safety of a part of the rigging from
where he could ponder on what he had heard, and see whatever there was
to be seen.

Tahiti seemed to have been left far behind, for the _Vulture_ was well
out to sea, and no smallest cloud on the horizon gave any hint of
distant land. The sailors had set the sails and a good breeze filled
the black canvas of the pirate ship. The pirates themselves, still
surly from having eaten and drunk too well after the fight of the day
before, were quarrelsome and tired and lay about in sprawling groups
on the deck far below. Looking aft, Chris saw Simon Gosler hobbling
from the Captain's cabin, and Osterbridge Hawsey's graceful,
overdressed figure outlined in the doorway. On an impulse, Chris flew
down to hear what they were saving.

"I thank you, Gosler, for your message," Osterbridge was saying, "for
Captain Chew seems much relieved to have heard it, and I think will
now rest quietly and sleep. Who is it, you say, who has some knowledge
of medicine--the ship's carpenter?"

Here Osterbridge Hawsey rolled his eyes upward and shrugged his
expressive shoulders.

"Dear me! At least to be a sawbones, he has the saw!" he said
disdainfully.

"And knows how to drive a nail into a coffin too, master," whined the
beggar.

"Enough!" cried Osterbridge in sudden anger. "Fetch him at once, and
tell the cook, as you pass the galley, to bring the Captain some plain
hot broth! He is much fevered."

The atmosphere seemed right to Chris for all he had to do. Without
Claggett Chew's commanding and forbidding presence, the pirates would
be in a turmoil. Chris returned to the higher rigging to wait until
darkness should be more profound.

It was not long before the tropic night fell, deeply blue in the first
hours until the stars should give off their high clear light. As the
_Vulture_ rolled and pitched over the sea far down beneath him, Chris
clung to the rigging and took the chance of changing himself into his
own shape. Then, with all the haste he could, he moved a hundred feet
above the hard decks, up the masts and along the sails, setting the
new knife gently here and there to part the fibers of the cloth. As he
went the lines were touched occasionally in vital spots.

It took long, for it had to be done with care. Chris scarcely made a
move without looking down to see whether the sailors might not have
glanced up at the dusky full-bellied sails, but they were weary after
two such hard-filled days and soon fell asleep on the planks of the
open deck. Only Simon Gosler hobbled in and out, watching a sailor
here, stealing from another there, lifting his head slowly above the
window of the Captain's cabin to spy on what went on inside. Like a
dark malevolent spirit, Simon Gosler, crippled in thought and body,
moved restlessly about the pirate ship.

Chris completed his task on the sails and rigging and slipped down to
hide behind the third mast as he looked out to see where Simon Gosler
might be. He could see him nowhere, and holding his breath, stepped
over two sleeping pirates sprawled on their backs on the deck to reach
the hatch of the hold. He had one last task to perform before leaving
the _Vulture_.

The hatch top was open, laid back as before, and Chris, feeling some
danger, changed to a mouse as he crouched on the top rung.

Hesitating, sniffing the fetid air of the hold, he finally ran down
the ladder edge. There he sensed imminent death at its foot in time to
leap as far as he could as he reached the last few rungs of the
ladder. For Simon Gosler stood waiting at the bottom armed with a
club, which he brought down with a splintering crash on the wooden
crossbars as the mouse ran past and leapt out of sight. Curses
instantly filled the hot air like so many wasps. Simon Gosler thrashed
around with the club laying it about him on the floor, narrowly
missing several times, and yelling at the top of his raucous lungs for
companions to help him. In no time figures carrying flaming torches
clattered down into the hold and Chris, his own shape regained, knew
he would have to be quick as he had never been quick before.

[Illustration]

With a flick the new knife was open in his hand and the blade pressed
with all his strength against the hull of the _Vulture_. He was
crowded into a corner as far as possible from the advancing row of
torches and shouting men. Frantic rats, terrified by the flames of the
torches and the reverberating noise, scampered over Chris's feet or
ran up over his bending back and shoulders, but he did not move. The
blade whirled in the stout wooden side of the _Vulture_, but it seemed
no time before the flicker and wavering red of the nearest torches
sent their flares over him from a distance. Chris could make out the
silhouette of hunting figures as the first black trickle of sea water
pierced through the side of the ship and stained the dry planks. Still
the boy pushed the knife on a moment more until the water was a steady
spurt, wetting his hand with its coolness. Then, as the torches sent
their flames moving into the obscure corner where he had been, a fly
soared up and out, over an empty metal plate and four dead rats, over
the stooped screaming figure of a humpback, and a scattered line of
searching men, out to the freshness of the night and the open sea.

Only Osterbridge Hawsey, curious at the torches and the shouting,
looked out the cabin door in time to see a tiny boat scud past, back
toward Tahiti. And only in his befuddled dreams did he puzzle over how
the small craft could sail against the wind, or wonder how it could
sail so well, when it seemed to be made of rope.



CHAPTER 28


Chris and Amos lay belly down in a low clump of pine scrub at the top of a
precipitous rocky pinnacle. Below them in the blistering noon lay the
palace walls of the Lord of the Seven Seas, Descendant of the Sun and the
Moon, Overlord of the Mountains and the Plains, Prince of all the Isles,
Father of Plenty, and Brilliance-Before-Which-All-Cast-Down-Their-Eyes, the
Emperor of China.

The two boys were uninterested in titles. Somewhere within that
city-within-a-city, inside the enormous spread of the palace walls
that were surrounded in their turn by the city of Peking, lay the goal
they had come so far to seek, the Jewel Tree of the Princess of China.
Now, like a general planning his campaign, Chris lay looking down at
the high angular walls, thinking of how he would gain entry.

On regaining the _Mirabelle_ in a boat made from the magic rope, Chris
had reappeared among his friends, "recovered" from his fever. He had
given much thought to what he considered would be the last dangerous
section of the journey, and after listening to what his master said
through the shell, was permitted to take Amos on this stage of the
voyage. It was reasoned if something happened to Chris, Amos might be
able to carry out their mission by himself.

The boys had come to Peking on camel-back, a camel made from the magic
rope. As Amos had never seen a real camel, he thought the rope animal
quite natural, and as remarkable a creature as a real one. Chris took
care to make it or disentangle it out of Amos's sight, and so many
were the strange and wonderful things to be seen, that Amos had no
time to concern himself over the reality of a camel.

The arid countryside was blanched by the excessive heat. Flies droned
over the dates and figs that the boys pulled from their pockets to
eat. Amos wriggled with excitement as he pointed out details to Chris.

"Chris! Look at that procession going in the big gate! All those
pigtailed gentlemen dressed in embroidered coats. I like that blue one
with butterflies on it. No, I'd sooner have the black satin one with
the dragon in red and yellow!" He looked again more closely. "Or the
one with the peacock in green and purple. Which would you sooner
have?"

Chris paid little attention to Amos's exclamations. Leaning on his
elbows and looking at the scene below, his mind worked busily on these
last vital problems. But Amos was not waiting for an answer. His mind
was on the present moment and the present scene, forgetful of what lay
ahead of them, a few hours away. He chattered on.

"I like their funny black hats and droopy mustaches. Why don't they
look like us, Chris?" he asked. And then, "Who-all's in the curtained
stretcher they're carrying?"

[Illustration]

"It's a palanquin, Amos. They carry dignitaries in them."

"Hate to be a dignitary in all this heat," Amos said, unenviously.
"What are they doing now?" he enquired, and both boys parted the
prickly pine needles to look out and down.

The leader of the procession rapped three times on the great gate with
a gold staff. Sentinels and guards came forward, walking on the broad
gate top, and after talking with the members of the procession, turned
to give an order.

[Illustration]

Gaily dressed trumpeters with dragon masks on the visors of their
helmets raised long brass trumpets. A prolonged throbbing "Wai! Wo!"
shuddered out, and the great outer gates of the palace, studded with
pronged spikes of carved metal, swung slowly outward. Sixteen men came
into sight, eight on either side, pushing wide the gates.

"Gee! Imagine the weight of those doors!" Chris murmured, and taking
out his spyglass looked through it. "Golly Moses!" he exclaimed. "Take
a look, Amos. Those gates are made of bronze, nearly three feet
thick! And now they have the gates open, look at the depth of the
walls. They're as deep through as a room!"

The waiting procession, the richly dressed courtiers and curtained
palanquin, moved inside and the gates were slowly pulled close by
lines of men dragging at ropes and chains to shut them. From within
the main gate drifted out the sound, becoming fainter and fainter, of
other trumpets sounding the order for the opening of other gates. Ten
times, the boys counted, the trumpets blew, and the same "Wai! Wo!"
throbbed against the sultry air.

"Lawsy me!" Amos sighed, when no more trumpets were to be heard. "Ten
walls and ten gates--at the very least! 'Course we don't know--" He
rolled his worried eyes toward Chris, "We don't know whether those
folks got to the Emperor or not. Likely he's in behind a couple more
walls, just to be on the safe side." He searched his friend's face.
"How are we going past all that many guards and trumpets, Chris? Even
if we could tie up a guard or two, how in the world we going to push
open gates that heavy?"

Amos need not have been so concerned, for Chris had a good plan. But
just at that moment the heat overcame Chris. Putting his head down on
his arms, he slept.

Amos slept too, and it must have been several hours later that the
rising sound of a crowd talking and laughing with excitement
penetrated their sleep and brought them to consciousness. For a moment
they both lay rubbing their eyes and peering out. Then they realized,
by the growing crowd on either side of the palace gate and along the
narrow street leading away from it, that someone of importance was
about to come from the palace and parade through the streets of
Peking.

"Wonder what goes on?" Chris muttered, as the crowds below swelled and
grew. Boys climbed upon one another's shoulders, teakwood stools were
brought for the richer people to stand on, and along the street that
led away to the right around the palace walls, Chris and Amos could
see embroidered silks hung from all the windows, and Chinese people in
their best holiday clothes laughing excitedly. All were looking toward
the gates, and at last, from far within, even more distantly than
before, came the first sound of trumpets. These had a sweeter, clearer
sound than those the boys had heard at noon.

"Never heard a sweeter note," Amos said. "Might be made of silver,
'way they sound."

The boys counted, and twelve times the low, lovely notes swung out on
the air.

"Twelve gates!" Chris said to Amos, "And look, you were right, they
_are_ silver trumpets!"

The trumpeters atop the great outer gates were now differently
dressed, and there were not two but a dozen lined along the deep
palace walls. The trumpets, ten feet long, were curved, and of silver
that in the sunlight dazzled the eye. As they were blown, the final
gates were pushed aside.

A long procession emerged of such fantasy and variety of color that
the two boys were spellbound. Elephants and camels, llamas and horses,
all richly caparisoned in Eastern silks, passed along with their
riders. Guards with curved swords and many-thonged whips formed a
double hedge between those in the procession and the bystanders. Still
others led leopards and black panthers on chains as an added
protection to those they guarded. Palanquin after palanquin passed by,
but still the crowd seemed to be waiting for something.

[Illustration]

Then, as the silver trumpets continued their sweet lingering notes, a
murmur arose from the crowd. Four lines of youths preceded a palanquin
more finely decked than the rest, and the murmur rose. After it came
four lines of Chinese girls, fanning the air with peacock fans on long
staves, fans of white egret feathers, and ostrich plumes dyed a yellow
gold.

[Illustration]

"Amos!" Chris breathed, "That color! Yellow is the royal color of
China!"

He did not have to elaborate his thought, for the palanquin that
finally came in sight showed by its richness that it could belong only
to royalty, and by its beauty and grace, only to a woman. Made of
silver and rock crystal, studded with diamonds and pearls, and hung
about with sheer curtains of embroidered yellow silk, the palanquin
belonged without doubt to a young girl of the royal house. As it
appeared under the high arch of the outer gate, a roar of joy and
greeting arose from the waiting crowd and with one accord every man
bowed low, covering his eyes with the wide sleeve of his left arm. The
women and girls in the crowd, and those leaning from the upper stories
of the houses, threw down before the palanquin objects that flashed
and twinkled in the sun.

Remembering in time, for he had been so much absorbed he had
momentarily forgotten it, Chris whipped out his spyglass and looked at
the curtains of the palanquin. The thin silk was transparent enough
under the strong focus of the glass, and behind it Chris could
perceive, leaning delicately against silk cushions, a Chinese girl as
beautiful as a dream. Her slightly uptilted eyes were large and dark,
her skin put a magnolia flower to shame, her mouth was lifted in a
charming smile, and her long exquisite fingers held a spray of jeweled
flowers. All about the palanquin rained a shower of jeweled buds and
petals, for no doubt a real flower was thought too inferior for the
only child of the Descendant of the Sun and the Moon, Prince of all
the Isles, and Lord of the Seven Seas, the Princess of China.



CHAPTER 29


Chris put down his spyglass and the two boys, hidden on the piny
knoll, watched the procession out of sight.

"I'm supposed to take something from her," Chris said with his eyes
sparkling, "but I know now what I'm going to give her back in return.
I feel sort of sorry for that girl," he added thoughtfully.

"What're we going to do, Chris?" Amos wanted to know. "What-all comes
next, and have we some more of those dates?"

Chris passed him some. "We have to wait until dusk anyway," he said,
his voice abstracted, "and by the look of the light that won't be
long."

The piny knoll was steep and rocky and only two adventurous boys would
ever have reached the top. Too precipitous on which to build houses,
it rose far above the surrounding roofs of Peking. The green and
scarlet of curved tiles spread under the boys' sight like a curling
sea. Before them, stretched out in long angular wings to right and
left, swept the palace walls.

Listening and watching, the boys gathered by the silver trumpet notes
that the Princess and her retinue had re-entered the palace walls by
another gate.

Thinking about it Chris mused: I wonder if that first palanquin held
someone she's to marry? It could be. And if so, this may be her last
appearance to the people of the city before leaving for a new domain.
She would probably take the Jewel Tree with her. I can't imagine a
woman leaving a thing like that behind. He paused, remembering. She
held a spray of jeweled flowers in her hand, maybe off the Tree, and I
never saw anything like it. Well, can't do a thing until dusk comes
down.

The evening was not long in coming, and Chris, who had been sitting
cross-legged under the little crooked pines, looked across with great
concern to where Amos lay on his back, dozing.

I can't take him along, Chris thought, and I can't leave him alone, if
I should get caught. What in the world do I do?

Then, remembering the bag of magic "odds and ends," Chris put his hand
inside it and drew out a small folded piece of silk and netting. On it
a piece of paper, like a label, showed Mr. Wicker's fine script. Chris
looked closer and read: "Strike 3."

"Strike 3."

Chris held the folded object in his hand, and then glanced at Amos.
Amos slept. Going softly out of the pine grove to a narrow ledge of
rock where he was out of sight, Chris put the object down and said:
"Strike three."

Nothing happened. The object remained an object. Then, suddenly
understanding, Chris struck the stone ledge three times.

At once the folded object began to unfold itself and to puff itself
up like a little mushroom. In a matter of seconds, Chris could see
what it was becoming, and before he could wink ten times, a balloon
with a basket hanging from it, quite big enough for two boys, hung
swaying in the air. Chris examined it with pleasure and then struck
the ground three times again. The balloon gently collapsed and
refolded itself, basket and all, into its original neat shape.

[Illustration]

"Now, if that isn't handy!" Chris exclaimed. Then, looking at the
light fading from the sky, he picked up the folded balloon and went to
waken Amos.

"Amos!" he said, shaking his friend's shoulder, "it's time for me to
go. Are you awake?"

Amos blinked a few times and said he thought so.

"Then listen to me," Chris told him earnestly, "and listen hard!" Amos
sat up more alertly.

"I have a handy thing here which is for you to use only--do you hear?
_only_ if I don't come back."

Amos's eyes began to get brighter and he swallowed.

"Don't come _back_? Law! Chris, don't you leave me in this heathen
country where nobody understands good English!" he cried. "Why, unless
I'd steal, and Miss Becky told me _never_ to do that--but unless I
did, how could I eat in these foreign parts?"

Chris sat back on his haunches. "Well, I don't know how you could,
myself. But don't you cross any bridges until you come to them. Look."
He held out the folded balloon. "If I'm not back by two sunups from
now--I may have to hide all during tomorrow--if I'm not back by then,
put this package out beyond the trees in the clearing. That's very
important. You've got that?"

"I haven't got anything but a few old dried-up fruits," Amos pouted.
"That's all."

"_No_, Amos!" Chris gave him another rousing shake. "I mean, do you
understand that much?"

Amos brightened at once and broke into a broad grin.

"Oh yes, of course. Why didn't you say so in the first place? You
said, put the package out in the clear. Where's that, on this
tippy-top of a hill?" Amos asked, looking about.

"The ledge near where we climbed up. That's big enough," Chris
reminded him.

"Oh yes," Amos said, looking wise.

"Well," Chris took up again, "you put the package on the ledge and
strike the ground three times--"

"Like this?" And before Chris could stop him, Amos had struck the
earth beside him twice before Chris seized his hand in mid-air.

"_Amos!_ Not now! I said _only_ if you have to get away. If someone
comes after you, or if I don't come back. Promise me not to strike
three _at all_ except for either of those two reasons."

Amos raised his right hand looking very solemn. "I promise," he said.
"Only," he added, looking bewildered and already somewhat forlorn,
"what happens when I do hit three times?"

"Why, it's a mag--it's a special kind of balloon," Chris began, after
correcting what had almost been a bad slip.

"A what?" Amos stuck his head forward, trying hard to understand.

"A _balloon_. Oh."

Chris stopped and stared at Amos. Perhaps balloons had not yet been
invented. How very confusing!

"It's something that will hold you up in the air. There's a basket for
you to sit in--"

"No _sir_!" Amos cried, wagging his head decisively from side to side.
"Me in the air over the roofs and high up? No _indeedy_, Chris! Not
me."

Chris was becoming exasperated. He had important things to do.

"Look, Amos. If you have to use it, you'll be in such a bad fix that
being up in the air will seem like the very best thing that could
happen. Stop running. I'll be back--I hope."

He turned away toward the ledge and clearing.

"And now, wish me luck, and stay here and wait for me. Don't follow me
now, or watch, or I might fail."

Amos jumped up from the pine-covered ground. "Oh, Chris!" he cried,
his voice sharp with distress, "can't I go? You might get hurt.
There's no telling what could happen if you're all alone!"

Chris was tempted to take his friend with him but someone must get the
news back to the _Mirabelle_ if he should fail. If this happened, he
did not doubt but that the magic balloon would carry Amos safely to
the ship.

"No," he said after a long moment. "Better not. But I'd sure like to,
Amos. Now don't lose that package. It's your escape. Wish me luck."

Amos clasped his hand, and then, rushing off, dashed back again.

"Here, Chris. Our fruits. Better not to eat strange food in this
foreigny place. Good luck," he added.

Chris stuffed the dried fruit in his pocket. Amos turned back into the
darkening pine knoll, and Chris pushed his way out to the narrow steep
ledge, hanging high above the roofs of Peking.

Chris uncoiled the magic rope from around his waist, and standing as
far out on the rock ledge as he dared, in order to have the greatest
possible freedom of movement, he attempted for the first time to draw
an eagle in the air with the rope. It was a complicated, fast
maneuver. The rope twisted and whipped in the air, and the result was
a molted-looking, droop-tailed buzzard. Its wings were not wide
enough, its back very insecure to look at. In short, Chris knew, it
was a total failure.

He tried again, racing against the oncoming darkness, and this time he
succeeded, although, when he pulled it close and straddled the body of
the magic bird, his heart was in his throat that it might unfurl
itself, become just a rope, and hurl him to his death far below.

But this second eagle seemed secure enough. Chris pressed his hands on
the wings spread out on either side, with a jolt they flapped, and the
boy's strange conveyance moved somewhat unsteadily through the air.

Chris, frightened but resolute, found that by touching the head of the
bird in the direction he wanted to go, the magic eagle would turn, and
after a few moments to test out his new method of travel, Chris
coasted over the gaily tiled roofs as he hunted for something.

[Illustration]

Peking at that time had many palaces. Wealthy Chinese and people of
title and family owned beautiful houses set in terraced gardens
surrounded by parks and ancient trees. Somewhere, Chris had heard of
this and remembered it, and now in the dusk that was nearly night,
the eagle carried him silently over the city as he looked for what he
wanted to find.

At last the very fragrance, rising up toward him on the night air,
guided him to a large palace set in gardens. Pools of water reflected
the first stars among their lilypads. The shaded walks and lawns were
deserted at that hour.

Swooping down and flying back and forth to make sure he would not be
seen, Chris grounded the eagle, and holding fast to one wing tip in
case he should have to take off in a hurry, he walked up and down,
examining and searching.



CHAPTER 30


The night was too clear to suit Chris for the dangerous work that lay
ahead. The eagle bore him up again from the garden, and turning back,
lifted high in the air as it neared the maze of walls of the Emperor's
palace.

Chris longed to fly lower but he was afraid that one of the many
guards might give the alarm. The eagle flying between the palace and
the moon cast a quick-racing shadow over wall and ground. The one
advantage on such a clear night, Chris thought, when he could be
easily spotted, was in the silence of the magic bird. He bent over to
peer down between the eagle's beaked head and widespread, beating
wings.

Wall after wall, palace and garden within palace and garden, he saw.
Windows were lit like fireflies far below him and the series of
courtyards opened themselves in seemingly endless duplication. How, he
wondered, could he ever find the inner garden--well hidden,
certainly--where the Princess of China walked under trees and looked
at her goldfish in long clear pools? Then he remembered with a start
the folded paper seized so long ago in a ship anchored on the
Potomac. A cabin under a smoking lamp, the strong scent of flowers, a
monkey's form, came back into his memory and he felt in the leather
pouch for Claggett Chew's plan.

His fingers touched it and brought out the creased, finger-marked
scrap of paper. In the moonlight he unfolded it, sitting on the
eagle's back high above the walls and palaces of the Emperor of China.
He found that he could follow, from his height, and check with the
map, building by building and one courtyard after another. Moving
cautiously forward in the air, he looked at the heavy cross-mark made
by Claggett Chew the night the _Mirabelle_ had set sail. Then, all at
once beneath him, Chris made out walls ahead that seemed higher than
the others. He flew over temples with gently rocking bells hung at
their curled eaves, and over peaked rooftops of carved stone until,
reaching a place apparently identical with the cross on the map, he
dared to drop a little lower above a certain courtyard.

As he did so he saw that the guardhouses were set about on the top of
the wall, which measured about ten feet from side to side. All faced
outward away from the gardens they protected, hidden now in shadow.

Why--it's like a prison! Chris thought, except that the guards aren't
allowed to look down at her. The poor kid! Imagine living here all
your days! No wonder she was pleased at being in a procession
yesterday!

No fragrance, except that of cool water, came up from the courtyard to
Chris. Going higher into the air he hovered there on his eagle's back,
watching the guardhouses. He timed the guards, counting. After an
hour, he found there were two minutes between the time Guard Number
Six reached his post and Guard Number Seven went back to replace him.
Chris waited again, watching the guards and counting half aloud in
case he missed that two-minute interval.

"One--there he goes across to Two. Two. There Two goes back again.
Three--there Three marches along to Guardhouse Four. Four--there he
goes to Five--"

[Illustration]

Chris's breath came quickly and his heart began to pound in his ears.
"Five--Five starts out toward Six. Six--and now they change swords or
something, and here I go!"

Pressing on the back of the eagle the bird sank silently into the
black well of the courtyard, past the guardhouse and down, just as
Guard Number Seven emerged to walk back to replace Number Six.

The walls of the Princess's courtyard were indeed as high and
forbidding as those of a dungeon. A shimmer of water reflected the
night sky, and looking down, Chris saw a dark, glistening mass beneath
him. It seemed to be trees, but when his dangling legs touched them,
sharp edges cut his legs and he quickly veered away. At last, coming
down at the edge of the pool, his eyes became used to the gloom and he
could see about him.

The garden ground crunched under his feet and glowed in the night, and
bending to touch it, Chris's fingertip came away dusted with gold,
"Golly Moses!" he breathed, and looked about.

The edge of the long rectangular pool was of silver; the walk around
it of jasper and chalcedony, and as he lifted his eyes to look
farther, he saw that the entire garden was made up of trees with jewel
leaves.

No wonder the leaves cut my legs! Chris thought to himself. They're
probably emeralds!

Towing the eagle by its beak, he wandered about. There was neither
grass nor flowers; no true plants or trees. All bushes, borders, and
shaded walks were of jewels. They gave out onto the air no scent of
greenness and no welcoming scent of flowers.

Gee! Chris almost said aloud, Who'd want to play on ground-up gold?
Why, except that it's yellow it might as well be gravel. And no
trees--not real ones. Gee! She must be a pretty miserable girl! I
wonder if birds like the jewel trees?

Looking into shrubs of coral, or jade, or amethyst, Chris found no
nests, and shook his head. Guess I brought the right replacement after
all, he decided. Now to work. Which shall I take?

He made a tour of the jewel gardens, and at the end of the pool,
facing the carved jeweled doorway and windows of a pavilion set into
the surrounding walls, Chris found a tree he thought right. Small and
round, as if freshly trimmed, it answered Mr. Wicker's description of
months ago.

"Leaves of emeralds, buds of diamonds, flowers of sapphires, and
fruits of rubies studded thick with pearls."

Taking out his magic knife, in a second Chris had cut away a large
circle of earth in a tub shape to shelter the roots, and carried his
heavy burden to the eagle's back. There, he took off something which
he planted where the Jewel Tree had been, and cupping his hands,
watered it from the pool as best he could.

Just as he finished and was moving away, a movement in the black
rectangle of the pavilion door at the far end of the garden caught his
eye. He had only time enough to pull the eagle, the Jewel Tree, and
himself into the cloaking shadow of a nearby avenue of emerald trees
to avoid being seen.

The movement was pale and slight against the blackness of the open
door, and the night was very still. As Chris held his breath, the
dampened leaves and petals of the bush he had planted sent their green
fragrance lifting and turning on the night air. As if that had been
the signal it had long waited for, a dust-colored bird flew down to
perch on a thorny stem.

It was a nightingale. Its song started slowly and softly at first, and
then, as it forgot that it was alone, the lovely variations grew,
pealing out where no birdsong had ever been heard before. Chris was
not the only one who had never heard a nightingale. To the other
occupant of the jeweled garden, it was newer and more beautiful than
anything she had ever heard.

The Princess's tiny feet made no sound on the gold gravel as she edged
nearer to the bush and the song. At last the nightingale flew away,
and the scent of the roses, drifting toward a princess who had only
been permitted flowers of stone, was overwhelming. She went up and
broke off a flower as red as a ruby and as red as her mouth. As red,
too, as her blood, for a thorn stabbed her and she nearly dropped the
rose with a soft cry. But the wonder of it was stronger than the pain,
and she buried her face in the freshness of the red rose, the first
flower she had ever seen.

Behind her, rising gently and quietly out of sight, was a smiling boy
and a tree of jewels she would never miss.



CHAPTER 31


Chris's thoughts were so taken up with the pleasure of the little
Chinese Princess at her first rose that he had miscalculated. As a
matter of fact he had forgotten about the guards in his excitement at
holding the Jewel Tree and at getting away, and just as the eagle rose
to the top of the wall, one of the guards saw him.

Had it been earlier, Chris could have risen quickly out of sight. But
the Jewel Tree was heavy in itself; the earth holding its roots was an
additional weight, so that the eagle only rose half as quickly as it
had before.

The guard gave a shout, and a spear whistled past Chris's ear.
Instantly the flames of bonfires spurted on all the walls, and to his
terror Chris found himself in a glare of light as powerful as modern
searchlights. He clutched the Jewel Tree, urging the magic bird up,
but there are limits even to magic and the bird was moving at the peak
of its ability. Black racing figures darted along the walls, the
flames of the watchfires leapt higher in the air, and now arrows were
singing their keening note of death about the boy lifting so slowly
into the night.

Chris, crouching behind the Jewel Tree, was rocked and nearly unseated
from the eagle when an arrow hit the earth around the Tree roots,
imbedding itself deeply and quivering there at an angle. The shouts
and confusion grew, but after a few terror-stricken moments Chris knew
he was high enough to be out of danger. He gave a deep shuddering sigh
of relief, and turned the head of the laboring eagle toward the city.
His thoughts were on escape, but first he had a duty that as an
honorable person he felt bound to perform.

He was naturally observant; he had also made a point of noticing
landmarks, so that he found the garden from which he had taken the
rosebush without too much trouble. What he was totally unprepared for
was that the entire city of Peking, aroused by the watchfires on the
palace walls, was awake and in alarm, and the light of flares and
lanterns glowed from every house.

Nevertheless, to replace the rosebush was an honorable necessity, and
in spite of wide canary-yellow blocks streaming from the windows of
the lesser palace and falling in broad sections over the lawns and far
into the gardens, Chris came down as much in the shadow of trees as he
could, and breaking off a sprig of the Jewel Tree, stuck it in the
ground where the rosebush had been. Then quickly regaining the eagle's
back, he was lifted into the air and up over the roofs.

What was his consternation, however, on nearing the pine knoll, to see
the whole group of scrubby trees aflame, and no sign of Amos! The pine
needles and tree trunks thick with resin burnt fiercely. Chris did not
dare to come too close. Not only was the heat intense but the crowds
collecting below looked upward to watch in a puzzled way, while others
ran from near the palace gates to gaze and speculate.

Chris turned sadly away, large tears for Amos running down his cheeks,
his heart constricted and his eyes half blinded, when from a great
distance, he heard a trailing call.

"Oo-h Chris! You--Chris!"

Chris's heart leapt up, and wiping his eyes clear he looked in the
direction of the sound. A balloon was moving rapidly away over the
peaked curved roofs of Peking, careening slightly from side to side as
it sailed on the night breeze. By the time Chris had caught up with
Amos in the balloon, Peking lay far behind them.

Holding on to the edge of the basket, Chris blurted out: "What in the
world goes on, Amos? I thought you were burned alive! I was never more
scared in my life!"

Amos's eyes, wider than ever from the excitement of events, batted at
Chris. "_You're_ scared! What do you think _I_ am? Get me out of
this--I never did want to be up in the air nohow, and I want out
_now_!"

"But what about the fire, Amos?" Chris persisted, holding to the Jewel
Tree with one hand and the balloon basket with the other. "How did you
get out?"

Amos sent a squeamish glance out of the corner of one eye at the
moving ground beneath them, and then, realizing that they were on
their way back to the _Mirabelle_, swallowed and began to talk.

"I waited, like you said, an' I guess I fell asleep. All at once such
a noise, and flames flashing, woke me up, and right away, seeing fires
and commotion all over the palace walls, I supposed they had spotted
you somehow. I thought--should another fire break out somewhere else,
it might pull the crowds away from the palace, or make them think
something was goin' on up there. So I lit a fire with my flint, and
then ran right quick with the package to the ledge, struck three
times, and shut my eyes"--here Amos covered his eyes with one
hand--"and got in. And this silly thing's been a-tippin' and
a-teeterin' ever since."

[Illustration]

Chris brought balloon and eagle down into a rice field, and the two
boys transferred the Jewel Tree to the greater safety of the balloon
basket. Amos, having the wonderful Jewel Tree to guard, forgot his
fears and sat down beside it, where he soon fell asleep. Chris, tying
the tail of the eagle to the side of the basket with his shirt, towed
Amos and the Jewel Tree through the air all that night and all the
next day. They came down at noon in a deserted part of the country so
that Chris could sleep and rest, and Amos find fresh water for the
leathern bottles they had strapped to their waists. Then they went on
until they saw the sea and the wavering line of the coast below and
ahead of them.

[Illustration]

The eagle and balloon came gently down at dusk. The balloon was folded
into its small size and put back in the pouch around Chris's neck. Out
of sight of Amos, Chris transformed the eagle to a boat in which, in
the dark of the night, the two boys reached the side of the
_Mirabelle_ with their precious cargo. The sailors of the _Mirabelle_
were asleep, but Chris roused the Captain, who helped them secretly
carry the Jewel Tree to a corner of his cabin.

All hands were then called on deck and everything was hurry and
bustle. Before dawn had broken, the _Mirabelle_ had left the coast of
China and was well out to sea.



CHAPTER 32


It was not until Chris, relieved, proud and happy at the success of
his mission, opened his sea chest and took out the shell that he had
the faintest vibration of trouble or danger. Until then he had lived,
breathed, and thought only of obtaining the Jewel Tree, and once that
had been accomplished, he felt that his anxieties were over.

However, as he shut and locked the cabin door behind him, feeling with
an increased zest the surge and rock of the _Mirabelle_ under his feet
as she plunged through the sea, something brought him up short and
took the glow from his face. Slowly, and with a grave expression,
Chris went to his sea chest and took the shell from it, but he almost
knew before he heard it what Mr. Wicker would say.

Nevertheless, when through the whorls of the shell at his ear he heard
the familiar voice, so far away and so long unheard, his eyes lit up
again.

"You have done better than my fondest hopes, Christopher, my boy,"
came Mr. Wicker's voice. "I cannot commend you enough for the success
of your difficult journey, and the manner in which with courage, quick
wit, and fortitude you met every danger. Amos is much to be praised
too. He is a loyal friend and I am proud of him as well as of you."

Chris, kneeling by the brass-studded chest with the shell held to his
ear, could easily bring before his inner eye the cosy room in
Georgetown, the crackling logs upon the hearth, and the voice of Becky
Boozer raised in lusty song coming from the direction of the kitchen.

He missed it. Much as he loved the _Mirabelle_, and much as he prized
the friendship of all aboard her, still, Mr. Wicker and Becky held an
especial place in his heart and he longed all at once, with almost
intolerable sharpness, to be at home once more. That his mother was
getting better he had never doubted, but kneeling there alone, he
suddenly wanted to have done with adventure for a while.

"My boy--are you listening?" came Mr. Wicker's words, and Chris's
thoughts brought him back with a jolt to the cabin of a ship sailing
the China seas. "Christopher, my poor lad," Mr. Wicker said at his
ear, "had you forgotten the _Vulture_?

"No," he answered for the boy, "not altogether, but perhaps just a
little. Yet make no mistake--the Captain of the _Vulture_ has not
forgotten _you_. Nor is he under any misapprehension as to who it was
who so skillfully crippled his ship so that he did not reach Peking
before you."

Mr. Wicker's voice took on the edge it always held when he spoke of
Claggett Chew.

"Claggett Chew waits for you beyond Shanghai in the East China Sea. Be
wary, and be rested, Christopher, for you will have a battle such as
you have never dreamed of, and even I cannot tell how it will end. It
will depend on your quickness and ingenuity. And do not forget the
leather pouch!"

The voice of his friend hesitated, and then said so faintly and from
so far that it was all Chris could do to hear it: "I repeat, be wary,
Christopher. He will do everything in his power--"

The voice faded away, and Chris with heavy gestures replaced the
shell, shut the lid of his sea chest, and unlocking the door, went
with dragging feet to tell Captain Blizzard of what awaited them.

[Illustration]

The wind was only moderately fair so that the _Mirabelle_ took some
time passing beyond the Yellow Sea. During those days Chris practised
his magic with more concentration than ever before. He rested and
slept, ate hugely, and exercised by climbing up the masts of the
_Mirabelle_, so that by the time a long dark line was sighted on
their starboard side on the Chinese coast and the approach to
Shanghai, Chris was fit and well as he had never been before.

Warned by Chris in time, Captain Blizzard, on hearing of the dangers
ahead, had determined to put into port at Shanghai, and there, with
much haggling and bargaining, bought four cannons and ammunition. He
also laid in a store of swords, daggers, and assorted weapons for all
on board.

[Illustration]

Believing that an ounce of prevention was better than a pound of cure,
the worthy captain drilled all hands on the _Mirabelle_ twice a day
thereafter. This, the weather being fair and the ship needing only the
helmsman and a lookout to care for her, the sailors were quite willing
to do. More especially when their captain, in whom they had unbounded
faith, told them he had good reason to believe they would have a
nasty, and perhaps disastrous, encounter with the pirate ship during
which they bid fair to be bested if they did not bestir themselves and
prepare for it.

The men entered into the training with gusto. They made dummies which
were hung on ropes and maneuvered by their friends, braced in the
rigging. The dummies were suddenly swung out and down in every
direction, in imitation of pirates boarding the ship, and were fallen
upon by the sailors of the _Mirabelle_ with roars of glee as if they
were at that very moment being tackled by the pirate crew. Then they
practised fast turning and tacking of the ship, and even in between
the regular hours set aside by the Captain for what he termed
"fighting time," several groups of men could always be seen on some
part of the deck practising dueling with sword and dagger. In short,
long before the _Mirabelle_ reached the East China Sea, its crew had
become proficient in all manner of hand-to-hand fighting.

The _Mirabelle_ was level with the Ryukyu Islands on a gusty, glary
day when the lookout's long-drawn-out cry floated down from the
crow's-nest to those sailors who were engaged in a mock fight on deck.

"Sail--ho-oo!"

Instantly every man was at the ship's side, shading his eyes against
the dazzle that made a brassy light over sea and sky. The Ryukyu
Islands, off the port beam, were not visible in the metallic haze that
grew as the sun arched higher. The fitful wind gave promise of
stopping altogether and leaving both ships becalmed.

Chris, on the bridge beside the Captain, stood looking through his
spyglass at the advancing sail. Captain Blizzard lowered his own glass
to turn enquiringly to Chris.

"Yes," the boy said at last, "I'm sure now. I ought to know those
sails. They're unmistakable. That is the _Vulture_, sir."

Captain Blizzard wheeled about before the last word had left Chris's
lips, and bellowed at the top of his lungs.

"All hands on deck!" he roared. "Man the guns! Bring out the
ammunition, and every man to his place!"

The training the men had gone through instantly asserted itself.
Although there was a great deal of running about, up and down the
ladder to the hold, and of handing up the heavy ammunition, all was
orderly, and not an extra word was spoken.

There was little enough time left over, however. The _Vulture_
approached rapidly and then crossed the bow of the _Mirabelle_ so
narrowly that the _Mirabelle_ had to put hard about and Captain
Blizzard roared orders to take in sail in order not to smash into the
pirate vessel before it had been carried by the breeze beyond its
prey.

This maneuver by Claggett Chew momentarily threw the _Mirabelle's_
crew into confusion and turned their attention to the hasty management
of their ship. To Chris, working with the men at whatever was most
urgent, it seemed only an instant before the _Vulture_ was again
alongside the _Mirabelle_, and Claggett Chew stood on the gunwale
hailing them.

"Heave-to, or you shall sink to the sharks!" he cried.

"Look to yourself, pirate!" Captain Blizzard thundered in reply, and
giving the signal, the unsuspected guns of the _Mirabelle_ belched out
their deadly charges.

Claggett Chew was knocked back to the deck of his ship, and Chris had
time to see him shake off the hand of a sailor who would have helped
him to safety. Chris also saw, peeking out from the doorway of
Claggett Chew's cabin, the white horrified face of Osterbridge Hawsey,
who "could not _stand_ the sight of blood--so _common_!" The face
withdrew, and Chris could imagine the dandy playing cards or reading
as best he could in the din until the battle should be over.

[Illustration]

The pirates, many wounded and all taken aback at the unforeseen
presence of guns on board the _Mirabelle_, were tough fighters
notwithstanding, and moved the _Vulture_ in ever nearer until the two
ships, with fallen masts and entangled rigging, were locked on the
brazen sea in deathly struggle.

Brave as the seamen of the _Mirabelle_ proved themselves to be, the
pirates were seasoned in pitiless combat. The guns of both ships
roared and coughed and the battle raged through the noon into the
afternoon. Finally, Chris could bear no more. The crew of his ship
were weakening, even as were those of the _Vulture_, and shuddering
though he was at the thought of the sharks in the sea, Chris knew he
had to use every method in his power if any on board were to survive.

[Illustration]

Keeping his own form he jumped into the blood-tinged water, his magic
knife open and ready in his hand.



CHAPTER 33


The smoke of the guns of both ships so hung upon the air that Chris
counted on its heavy curtain to screen him from his enemies. He swam
to the far side of the attacking vessel and there forced his magic
knife for the second time against the side of the _Vulture_.

He was treading water, holding to a rope that dangled over the side of
the ship when, with no interior tremor of warning, a cut that he
almost thought had penetrated to the bone lashed across his shoulders
narrowly missing his left ear. Without stopping to think Chris took
half a breath and submerged as deeply as he could go, hearing above
him, even through the sounds of the battle and the wavering water, the
"fleck!" of Claggett Chew's metal-tipped whip as it hit the water
where he had been only a second before. Chris would have dived under
the great barnacled hull of the _Vulture_ then and there, to come up
on the other side, but good swimmer though he was, he was unsure that
he could hold even a full breath for so long a dive. Added to this, he
had had no time to do more than gasp a momentary breath of air, and
even as he rose to the surface with bursting lungs, he saw the figure
of a man leap into the water from the side of the _Vulture_.

Before the bubbles of the man's descent had had time to disappear, the
most dreaded of all sights for a swimmer showed itself above the
water. It was the sinister triangle of a shark's-fin cutting the
surface of the sea as it advanced with terrifying speed to where Chris
gazed, almost paralyzed with horror.

Thrusting the knife into the pouch at his neck, Chris took the shape
of a dolphin and plunged deeply, even as the infuriated shark was
carried over and beyond him by its own impetus before it could turn.
But turn it did, with lightning speed, and Chris knew he had no
protection against that murderous underslung jaw racked above and
below with deadly teeth.

The shark, in one long powerful movement, had turned and gone under
the dolphin, which now raced upward from the dim, lightless depths of
the sea to the surface where it hoped to escape. The shark turned on
its back with a motion at once lazy and sickening in its assurance of
its prey. Its soft greenish-white belly glimmered slimily in the sea,
its frightful jaws open as it came almost languidly up through the
water, certain of snapping its adversary in half.

But in that one moment when it turned belly uppermost, its eyes were
unable to watch its goal, and in that moment the dolphin made a
desperate leap from the water and a sea bird soared into the air.

The sea bird had no more than wheeled to sight the shark below, when a
scream from the air above it made it instantly drop and shift to one
side as a hawk, talons spread and eyes red with hatred, plunged down
from a great height, its beak open to seize and to rend.

The sea bird, veering away on the wind, became a fly, but the hawk
instantly vanished to be replaced by a bat, which darted after the fly
with such velocity that it was the current of air from its wings that
drove the fly closer to the pirate ship.

[Illustration]

With a despairing effort, the fly flew directly into the smoke of the
battle, and at that moment a mouse hid in a corner near an overturned
cask shaking in all its limbs, its pointed teeth chattering with
fright. Finally regaining its breath, it ventured to look around the
corner. All seemed serene to the mouse, who saw no shadow of danger,
although sounds of battle still ebbed and flowed on the deck below it,
crisscrossed by shouts and orders, screams and groans, as the pirates
and the sailors of the _Mirabelle_ doggedly fought on. The mouse
wished to retake its own shape and continue its work with the magic
knife which had been interrupted, it thought, too soon to have done
any good. At last it decided to run along the deck near Claggett
Chew's cabin. From there it hoped to reach the side of the ship
nearest to the _Mirabelle_.

As it slipped from its hiding place and began its run, it realized too
late its mistake, and panic almost overcame it. For a cat had been
crouched behind it and now gave a mighty pounce. One outstretched paw
came down on the mouse's tail, but the mouse wrenched it free and
desperate and panting, dashed into the first opening it saw.

[Illustration]

This proved to be no less than Claggett Chew's cabin, the door of
which had been left open so that Osterbridge Hawsey could watch the
fight with the least possible discomfort. He sat, somnolent, in a
comfortable chair, his long legs stretched out before him, smoking a
clay pipe. His attention wandering, as it so often did, he failed to
see the mouse who ran under his legs into the shadow beneath them.
The frantic mouse now determined, in the seconds left to it for
decision, to attempt a bold move. In a flash--in fact, as a black cat
with angry yellow-slitted eyes put its head around the door jamb--a
jade-green parakeet with red and yellow breast feathers hopped onto
Osterbridge Hawsey's ankle, and with a speed tempered by its most
engaging ways, sidled up Osterbridge Hawsey's outstretched leg.

The yellow-eyed cat made a dash with both clawing paws outstretched to
fall upon the bird, but the parakeet fluttered into the air out of
reach and came down higher up on Osterbridge Hawsey's knee.
Osterbridge, startled from his daydream, shooed away the cat and got
up precipitously enough to give it a kick which sent it miaowling from
the cabin. Osterbridge, vastly pleased to see his green parakeet
again, was wreathed in smiles.

"Ah, now!" he exclaimed, holding out a condescending finger, "Petit
Monsieur back again! How too simply enchanting! Just when poor
Osterbridge was _so_ bored and had no one to talk to! Well, my
pretty--" and both Osterbridge and the parakeet cocked their heads at
one another--"and where have _you_ been, I wonder?"

Osterbridge examined the little bird perched on his finger and his
eyes were thoughtful. "It is true, you have a tiny mark at the side of
your jaw--if parakeets have jaws, my friend. But there is no such
thing as magic. Not the kind of magic whereby a human can be something
else!"

He broke into peals of high laughter. "What a joke if it were
possible! Now what could _I_ be, eh?"

He looked fondly at the bird and the bird looked back at him, daring
to open its beak and emit a small but clear "Haw!"

"Haw yourself!" returned Osterbridge in high good humor. He leaned
back in his chair.

"Now, all this is a most _engaging_ train of thought," he pursued. "If
I could change myself, _what_ should I be?"

He fell to musing, and as he did so the dreaded shadow Chris had
anticipated fell across the doorway. A moment later Claggett Chew,
limping from an old wound and a newly received bruise, stood in the
entrance.

Osterbridge Hawsey yawned. "Ah--there you are at last, Claggett," he
said, "Battle all over? It still sounds _rather_ ferocious, to me. But
of course I am no expert. Heaven forbid!" Osterbridge ended, rolling
his eyes toward the ceiling with his vague smile.

As Claggett Chew did not reply, Osterbridge looked back at him. The
pirate's eyes were fixed on the parakeet, and his twitching fingers
played with the steel-tipped whip. Claggett Chew's voice when it came
was as sharp and as cold as a dagger in a dead man.

"I will have that bird, Osterbridge," he said.

Osterbridge's expression did not change but his eyes did, and they
became almost as icy as Claggett Chew's.

"Oh no, you will not, Claggett," he said, and his high-pitched voice
managed to be saturated with sarcasm. "This is the one thing that is
keeping me from _unutterable_ boredom, while you go into your
interminable fight." He paused to give Claggett Chew a cutting look.
"You know how I feel about piracy--too terribly degrading, though I
can see it has its excitement and rewards. But it _is_ unnecessary--"

Claggett Chew's eyes had a way of not blinking. They held a crocodile
fixity. His tone, when he spoke again, did not vary. "I am not a
trader, Osterbridge. Nor shall I bandy words with you on this subject.
Give me that bird, or I shall take it from you!"

[Illustration]

Osterbridge Hawsey rose with a slow grace from his chair, his hand
curled gently but protectingly around his parakeet.

"Claggett," he said in his thin voice that cut now with the unexpected
thinness of paper, "I am sorry to say such a thing to you, but your
fever during the weeks just past has undoubtedly altered your brain.
You are a madman, Claggett." Osterbridge Hawsey removed himself with
deliberation from the proximity of the doorway, placing himself on the
other side of the cabin table over which hung the swinging lamp. He
did not turn his back to Claggett Chew nor take his eyes from him.

[Illustration]

"Kindly leave the room, Claggett," he went on, in too quiet a voice to
be otherwise than poisonous, "until you are more yourself. Your
conduct and tone are unbecoming to a gentleman," Osterbridge said,
with his head held high in disdainful dignity.

They were an extraordinary sight. The shaven-headed, clay-faced pirate
looming so high and so huge in the doorway that he filled it
altogether, his clothes torn, filthy and stained from the battle and
from careless weeks at sea. His companion was a travesty of his
onetime elegance, dirty lace ruffles spotted by forgotten meals, his
velvet coat marked by chairbacks and soiled from months of constant
wear, his hair unwashed and sleazily caught back, no longer curled
with a fine exactitude. Both men had been housed together for too
long. Long ago they had exhausted all topics of conversation, their
two difficult personalities had for months been festering, each at the
sight of the other.

Now Claggett Chew ground out between his clenched teeth: "You are a
fool, Osterbridge. Have always been one and will so remain. Do you
defy me and do not give up that bird, as hell is my witness I shall
snatch it from you with this whip, and nothing shall stop me!"

Osterbridge reached behind him with his right hand, holding the
parakeet in an increasingly uncomfortable and tightening grip in his
left. On the wall behind him hung his rapier in its scabbard,
delicately incised and showing the fine workmanship of its French
origin. With a quick, deft movement, Osterbridge's fingers had found
the hilt and drawn the rapier out, his face snarling, his eyes
expressionless. They were fixed on Claggett Chew who had not moved
from where he leaned against the side of the doorway.

Osterbridge Hawsey's voice was almost more frightening when he spoke
again than Claggett Chew's, as he slowly brought the rapier to his
side with quiet calculated gestures.

"I have had enough of your ordering, Claggett. You may order your
scurvy men about as you wish--half-wits, rascals, thieves and
murderers who know no better than to do your bidding, knowing they may
well die by your hands as by some other. But you have met your match.
I, Osterbridge Hawsey, shall not give in to a madman and a murdering
pillager. How I ever came to join you or your pirates God alone knows,
but you shall not govern me! Nor shall you have one object that is my
own! _En garde!_" he cried, whisking out the rapier.

As he did so--such is the force and training of habit--his left hand
automatically came up in the first position of the fencer and the
duelist, and as it came up and the fingers slackened about the
parakeet, the long whip lashed out and curled around Osterbridge
Hawsey's hand. The parakeet ducked into encircling fingers,
Osterbridge Hawsey let out a piercing scream, more of rage than of
pain, and opened his hand. The parakeet, liberated, flew straight into
the face of the man with the whip, pecking at it with its sharp beak,
scratching at it with his pin-like claws, and beating its wings in
such confusing fury that the pirate bobbed his head. At the same time
the big man stepped backward, throwing up his left arm in an attempt
either to catch the bird or drive it off.

But the bird's attack lasted for only a moment. Then, as Claggett
Chew's fingers grasped at it, the parakeet was off over his shoulder
and lost in the din and obscurity of the battle. Behind it it heard
the cries of hatred and rage as the pirate and Osterbridge Hawsey
faced one another in the cabin to fight with whip and sword amid the
crash of overturned tables and chairs and the splintering crack of the
lamp and the windowpanes.



CHAPTER 34


Safe on the _Mirabelle_, Chris, exhausted and increasingly conscious
of the pain of the whiplash, took his own shape with sighs of
thankfulness and looked about him. A wind was rising, rocking the
interlocked ships, and he could plainly see that the crew of the
_Mirabelle_ had done enormous damage to the _Vulture_ and its
attacking men. Cannon shots from the opening sally, and at such close
range, had broken two of its three masts, and the decks of the
_Vulture_ were a clutter and tangle of lines, sails and splintered
spars. The fact that the men of the _Mirabelle_ were in better
physical shape than the pirates stood them in good stead, for their
agility and strength had carried them through the battle even against
the wilier and more murderous knowledge of Claggett Chew's men. The
pirates, Chris could see, were turning back, and those who still
fought were one and all wounded or grazed, and losing ground with
every passing moment.

[Illustration]

Chris had been so terrified and panicstricken by his own personal
danger and fight for life that it took him a few minutes to catch his
breath and grasp the situation from where he stood on the Captain's
bridge. Wondering if he still had the strength to force a leak in the
_Vulture's_ hull, as he had begun to do, he felt in the leather pouch
at his neck for the knife. At the bottom of the pouch his fingernails
hit a gritty substance, and into his head came an echo of Mr. Wicker's
words: "Remember the leather pouch!"

Taking out the knife, the folded balloon, and the map of where the
Jewel Tree had been, Chris, leaning against the side of the
_Mirabelle_, shook out the grainy stuff into the palm of one hand.

It looked like ground-up lava. Gray-black, almost a powder, it had a
faintly sulphurous smell. As he turned it speculatively in his hand,
wondering how he was supposed to use it, a few grains sifted between
Chris's fingers and fell over the side into the sea.

Instantly, as soon as they touched the water, several infinitesimal
flames started up, burning on the waves as hardily as if they had
fallen onto dry grass, and their heat produced a sturdy mist which
rose in heavy spirals from every grain.

Then Chris knew what it was for. Shaking every particle carefully back
into the bag, he hurried to find Captain Blizzard.

"Sir!" he cried as soon as he was within earshot, "the pirates are
bested, and we can make a safe escape if you will give an order to set
loose the grappling irons and lines and bid our men raise sail!" He
looked eagerly at Captain Blizzard. "The pirates look pretty tired
now, but the _Vulture_ might pursue us if I didn't know a way to stop
her!"

The Captain looked thoughtfully at Chris and hesitated not at all.
Too much had already depended on the boy and had been faithfully
carried out for even Captain Blizzard to doubt of his ability. Orders
were quickly given to cast off from the pirate ship and Chris
disappeared to a hidden corner. There he hid everything the leather
bag had contained excepting the grainy powder. Next, taking the bag
from around his neck and leaving the mouth of it wide open, he changed
his shape to that of a sea gull.

Taking the pouch in its beak the gull soared high above the two
vessels, now drifting imperceptibly apart. Sounds of violent fighting
could still be heard inside Claggett Chew's cabin, but the pirate crew
seemed grateful enough to fall to the bloody decks to rest and care
for their wounds. As the two ships finally stood clear of one another,
a resounding cheer of victory rose from the courageous members of the
_Mirabelle_. Their shirts ripped into hasty bandages, their bodies
glistening with sweat and rusty with their own or their foes' blood,
they were a bedraggled sight. Nevertheless, as they raised their arms
or flung their caps into the air, flinging after the pirates a few
last resounding epithets. Chris's heart swelled with emotion at the
men he was proud to call his friends.

As the gull, he swung up into the air away from the _Mirabelle_, and
began shaking the dust from the open pouch on the sea around the
_Vulture_. By the time the bag was empty, a mist impossible for any
helmsman to see through had surrounded the battered ship from stem to
stern, and in despite of a freshening wind, was rising steadily to the
top of its one remaining mast.

Chris returned to his own ship, and in his own shape at last, surveyed
the dwindling island of mist that clung persistently around the
Vulture, blow though the wind might, and turn and turn again though
the helmsman might try to do. How long, Chris wondered, would the mist
hold? Or would the _Vulture_ be doomed to drift at the mercy of the
sea in its magic white shroud?

He gave it a long look, a diminishing irregular white shape on the
vast spread of the ocean, then turned quickly and went to the decks
below to help his wounded friends. Yet not before he had seen that the
prow of the _Mirabelle_ was turned triumphantly home!



CHAPTER 35


Chris had always known, tucked away somewhere out of sight at the back
of his heart and his mind, that he loved his country and his city. But
he had never given it much thought; it had been something as taken for
granted as the air he breathed. So that he found himself overwhelmed
by the gust of emotion sweeping through him when he stood beside
Captain Blizzard as the _Mirabelle_ sailed slowly up the Potomac.

Chris stood there with Amos on his other side, looking at the shores
that were both familiar and unfamiliar. Familiar when he saw Mount
Vernon on its imposing bluff; unfamiliar because no domes or obelisks
were to be seen; no airfield, and no Pentagon. But the sweet green
land itself was there, holding out its welcoming and individual scent
of fields and rich American soil.

However, the Georgetown Ned Cilley and Amos remembered, the little
town from which they had all sailed in secrecy and haste so many
months before, was there awaiting them. The noon sun was bright over
the few slate roofs and red brick chimneys, and Chris felt a choke of
happiness binding his throat like a scarf too tightly drawn, and a
constriction at his heart as if it were too firmly held in a welcoming
hand.

An excited happiness shook him as the _Mirabelle_ was eased to the
wharfside, and at last, after dangers and adventures beyond his
imagining, Chris not only knew that he was home again, but saw a
familiar black-dressed figure and a plump woman in a monstrous hat,
waiting for him to disembark.

What a day that was! The greetings and handshakings; the enveloping
hug for Chris and Amos from Becky Boozer, her eyes filled with happy
tears and her bonnet trembling with agitation. Her roguish glances and
coy giggles flew out like a flock of doves at the sight of swaggering
Ned Cilley, who came down the gangplank carrying a macaw in a cage for
"Mistress Boozer," and hustled her behind some bales to kiss her
warmly. But most of all and best of the day, that first look from Mr.
Wicker that spoke more than any gesture or carefully chosen words
could have done. He had no need to speak. Chris could see the pride
and pleasure shining in his face, and Mr. Wicker, so solitary all his
life, could see in the boy's eyes an affection his own son might have
shown him.

In due time a well-crated object was carefully hauled by cart to Mr.
Wicker's back door and taken inside. The ship's carpenter had made a
case to measurements given him without knowing what it was to hold,
and when Chris saw it at last set in a corner of Mr. Wicker's
well-remembered study, he knew a lightness of mind he had not had
since first he had been told of the Jewel Tree and his long journey.

There were long hours of talk with Mr. Wicker before the fire,
telling him of every detail. Mr. Wicker's fine dark head nodded from
time to time, interspersing Chris's account with an occasional "Quite
so--you did perfectly right," or, "Indeed? I did not see that too
clearly, and so I was not sure." At last all was told; every tale
unfolded.

Then Mr. Wicker rose, smiling at Chris. "Go have your supper lad, and
come back. I have some other things to say."

The candlelit kitchen, the blazing hearth, the hissing spit on which
wood pigeons roasted; the steaming pots where savory things were
cooking; Amos laughing and chattering and swinging his legs from the
cane-bottomed chair; Becky Boozer alternating between bursts of happy
song and jokes directed at Amos or Ned Cilley, everything seemed
beautiful to Chris and the room the gayest he had ever known. Yet he
was conscious of a heavy feeling inside himself in spite of the
laughter and the talk, and sat quietly staring at the rosy firelight
that flowed up Becky's white apron and starched fichu to her hot,
flushed face and kind blue eyes. The reflection of the sparks went
even higher to gild the twenty-four roses and twelve waving black
plumes, and when they passed on, found a kindred spark in the large
contented eyes of his friend Amos. Ned Cilley was going through the
usual formula of pretending that he should not stay to supper, and
that even if he did, he had no appetite at all.

"Ah now, Master Cilley," coaxed Becky, her hands on her hips and the
soup ladle she still held standing out at right angles, "you will fade
away into a wraith, my good man, so you will! Do you not eat a morsel
nor a mouthful, and die in the night, how shall I bear to live with my
conscience thereafter, tell me that?"

Ned Cilley, seated at the table near the Water Street windows, his
legs sprawled out and his rough hands folded over his round little
paunch, twiddled his thumbs and wagged his head in a doleful manner,
drawing the corners of his mouth down, though it was plain that this
was an effort.

"Eh, lack-a-day!" he sighed. "The life of a sailor, 'tis that
hard--is't not, me boys?" He wagged his head again. "The vittles is
hard on a stummick as delikit nor what mine be--"

[Illustration]

Amos put his hand over his mouth to stifle some sound that broke
through in spite of him. Ned gave him a reproving glance. "Or else, me
innards is ruint by that galley cook of ours." He sighed and nodded in
reminiscent sorrow. "Ah, sweet Boozer, were you to sample but a
spoonful of what us pore sailors must face week after week, and month
after month, and us on the high seas--you bein' such a delikit cook,
so to speak--your heart's blood would curdle on the instant, that it
would, by my cap and buttons!"

Tears of pity streamed down Becky Boozer's face, and pulling out a
bandanna handkerchief from her apron pocket she blew her nose with a
honk that would have blown a less sturdy man than Ned Cilley off his
chair.

[Illustration]

"Deary me, the saints preserve and defend us!" she cried. "I must do
all in my poor weak woman's power to tempt you as best I may. Draw up,
lads, for here it comes!" she announced without ceremony, and the
three watching her needed no second invitation.

Then such a feast as was heaped upon their plates and crowded on the
table. Steaming vegetable soup, roast pigeons, roasted ducks, several
boiled fowl with wild rice, a cold beef pie, several kinds of cheese,
tarts and pies, jams and preserves. A blissful silence fell over the
cheerful room and Becky Boozer stood back to survey the two busy boys
and engrossed silent man. Silent if one can call Ned Cilley's champing
jaws, smacking lips, great sighs after a draught of ale, or loud
appreciative belches a silent meal.

When everyone had finished at last and they had pushed back their
chairs and looked about them again with dozy smiles, Chris remembered
Mr. Wicker's request. He rose, not without difficulty.

"Mr. Wicker asked me to see him for a moment." He moved to the
passageway. "That was a superb supper, Becky. I'm stuffed."

Becky looked around genuinely surprised. "Why--a mere mouthful, a
taste, a tidbit, was all any of you had. See--there's a pigeon or two
left, and half a duck, and part of the beef pie--why, you do but peck
at your food, all of you, like poor birds!" she insisted.

Chris laughed. Ned Cilley, picking his teeth with his habitual ship's
nail, was already falling asleep, and Amos, his head on one hand,
propped himself up amid a jumble of empty plates. Peacefulness and
content lay everywhere in the room, warm as the firelight and as
pervasive.

Chris turned. "Anyhow, thanks again. I'll be back," and he went along
to knock at Mr. Wicker's door.

Inside, the ruby damask curtains were drawn close across the windows,
for it was nearly dark, and the fire here too was as red as the rose
that was the joy of a princess of China. Chris closed the door behind
him, looking around with a smile at the familiar walls and objects he
had missed and dreamed of, many a time, the table with its flowers in
a fine China bowl, the desk between the windows with the
long-feathered quill pens and the papers marked by Mr. Wicker's
meticulous hand, the carved cupboard at the end of the room, and the
Indian rug of many colors under his feet. Last of all he brought his
look back to Mr. Wicker, sitting in the winged leather chair.

Mr. Wicker had a strange expression on his face. He was smiling but at
the same time he looked sad. And for the first time Chris saw some
curious-looking garments folded neatly on a stool before the fire. Mr.
Wicker, watching him as he gazed about, saw the question in his eyes.
"Do you not recognise these things, Christopher?" he asked.

Chris looked more closely, touching nothing. His voice was bewildered.
"Well--it seems to me I may have seen them before--they sort of look
familiar, but--I couldn't be sure."

His master's voice was gentle. "They are your twentieth-century
clothes, my lad. The ones you wear in your own time. And deeply as it
hurts me to say it, the moment has come for you to put them on."

Chris raised startled worried eyes to the dark penetrating ones
watching him so quietly from the high-backed chair. "Not _yet_? I
don't have to go _now_, do I, sir?" And as he saw insistence in Mr.
Wicker's face he began to expostulate as a child does when it wants to
retard its bedtime.

"But I've scarcely got back--I mean, here. And we've only had one
talk--I'm sure there'll be other things I've forgotten to say that you
should know--"

He threw out his hands as if to grasp at something that might hold him
there.

"And--and--I didn't say good-bye to Captain Blizzard or Mr. Finney.
They were wonderful to me, really they were! And"--his voice suddenly
became very small and high, disappearing to a whisper at the end--"and
Becky and Ned and dear Amos--"

He stood there against the door, swallowing hard with his head down,
his stomach and his throat a mass of hateful knots and the whole of
him swamped with unhappiness. Mr. Wicker had never moved, his elbows
on the arms of his chair, and his folded hands just touching his chin.
At last Chris whispered: "Does it have to be?"

[Illustration]

"It has to be," said Mr. Wicker.

Without a word, Chris took the folded clothes that seemed so
unfamiliar off the stool and dressed behind the other leather chair,
his lower lip trembling. Mechanically, as boys will, he shifted
everything from his pockets to those of the trousers he had just put
on. With careful slow gestures he folded up the knee breeches, the
full-sleeved shirt, the long white hose and silver buckled shoes, the
flare-backed jacket last of all, and put them where his clothes had
been.

Mr. Wicker then spoke, getting slowly to his feet and standing with
his back to the fire.

"I am afraid I shall have to have the leather pouch, Christopher," he
said, holding out his hand. Chris took it off and put it in the long,
strong hand of the magician.

[Illustration]

"More than that," Mr. Wicker said, putting the pouch in his pocket, "I
shall have to take everything from you that you have gained here,
Christopher." He paused. "All but one thing which you may choose and
keep--one ability." He waited. "Choose well."

Chris looked up at the man he admired and respected and had grown to
love, and pondered deeply.

To make a boat or eagle or dolphin out of rope? Very tempting! How the
kids would envy him!

Or change himself in other shapes? So useful. He hesitated.

"I'd like to be able to come back, sir," he said, and his growing
grief at those he must leave prevented him from saying anything else.
Mr. Wicker's face broke into a radiant smile and he held out his firm
hand.

"So you shall, Christopher, so you shall! And you shall remember it
all, I promise you. That too, you can have."

He stepped forward and put his hands on the boy's shoulders. His eyes
were deeply sad although his lips still smiled.

"And now," said Mr. Wicker, "good soldier that you are for General
Washington and for your country, all that you learned must leave you
and remain with me."

Mr. Wicker put his hand briefly on Chris's head, let it slip to cover
his eyes--so lightly it was scarcely felt--and then to cover his
mouth. Chris waited, but he felt no different.

"Be a fly!" commanded the magician.

Chris searched his mind. There were words to say, and you thought
hard. He tried once more, and a third time, and then wordlessly shook
his head.

"Make a rope boat!" said Mr. Wicker.

Chris took the rope and as it hung from his hands he wondered how one
set about it--he _had_ known how, once upon a time. He let the inert
rope fall to the floor. Mr. Wicker put a hand on his shoulder and
turned him toward the door.

"Come, my boy," he said.



CHAPTER 36


The shop was dark but headlights flashed by out on Wisconsin Avenue,
glaring over the meager display of objects in Mr. Wicker's window.
There seemed even fewer objects than before, Chris thought, for the
carved figure of the Nubian boy was gone, and so was the coil of dusty
rope. The ship in the glass bottle was still there, however.

Mr. Wicker went forward in the darkness and leaning over, took up the
bottle with care from where it had lain for so many years, dusted and
polished only by the loving eyes of a boy who had often pressed his
nose against the Georgian panes.

"You are to have this," Mr. Wicker said, putting the bottle with its
delicate contents in both Chris's hands. "Both Ned and I would like to
know that it is yours."

He turned to put his hand on the doorknob. Chris found his voice.

"What about the job, sir?" he broke out. "Can Jakey Harris apply for
it?"

Mr. Wicker smiled, and it was strange, in that dim room inconsistently
lit by the lights of passing cars, Mr. Wicker looked exactly like a
venerable, wizened old man, when Chris knew perfectly well he was not.

It's peculiar, he thought, the tricks your eyes play on you. Guess I'm
tired.

"Jakey Harris for the job?" Mr. Wicker remarked, "Why no--there is no
job to fill. You filled it, Christopher!"

[Illustration]

And all at once, without any good-bye, Chris found himself outside on
the top step. The din of cars and honking horns rushed at him like a
gape-mouthed monster; the drumming whine and roar from the freeway
shook the ground, and up ahead the lights of the People's Drugstore
looked garish but friendly. Across the way as he turned to go home,
Chris glanced at the two tumbledown storehouses opposite, the winch
and tackle broken, and panes of glass missing from the windows.

As he reached the corner of Wisconsin and M Street, Mike rushed
breathlessly up.

"Hey! Here I am! Not much later than I said I'd be, either! What you
got?" he asked, falling into step beside Chris and looking down at the
bottle.

"Mr. Wicker gave it to me," Chris replied in a colorless voice.

"What for?"

"I dunno. Guess he didn't need it."

A silence fell, and then Mike said as they passed the strong light of
a shop window, returning down bustling M Street toward 28th: "Say--you
been running--or sitting by a fire? You look almost sunburnt. And
look--"

They stopped dead while Mike put a grubby forefinger on a mark on
Chris's jaw. "I never noticed that before. It shows up white an'
plain. Must have been a pretty deep cut ya had there!"

For the first time in what felt like hours, Chris smiled, and the
smile became a grin.

"It sure was!" he said reminiscently.

"Oh--an' by the way," Mike said much farther along as he left Chris to
go on to his own house, "your Aunt Rachel called my ma and told her
your mother was so much better she could come home soon. Seems that
your father's on his way back too." He walked off and then turned to
call from a quarter-block away, "Bet you'll be glad to have your own
folks at home?"

Chris's grin deepened but he did not reply, nor even wave, for fear of
dropping the bottle.

N Street, then Dumbarton Avenue, dropped behind him, and he came to
Happy's Grocery with the bookshop on the opposite corner. He stood
looking at his lighted windows, the lighted windows of his house,
remembering a time when he and Amos had seen only a wooded ridge and a
burnt-out campfire.

Something stirred in his mind, and after finding the front door
unlatched, he eased himself in and up the stairs as quietly as he
could. He did not want to face his Aunt Rachel for a few minutes
longer.

In his own room he shut the door and carefully lifted the _Mirabelle_
in its bottle to the place of honor on top of his chest of drawers.
Then he stood looking at his reflection in the small mirror hung askew
near the window.

He looked the same--well, not quite. The tiny scar was there, to prove
it was not a dream, and he quickly undid his shirt, and pulling it
off, got up on a chair to peer over his shoulder to see how his back
looked in the square of glass.

A whiplash like a long clean briar tear lay across his shoulders, and
as he looked, he almost felt again the searing cut.

Chris grinned, buttoning up his shirt. Then it had been no dream, no
childish imagining.

A voice soared up the stairs. "Chris! Chris darling? Are you home?"

Aunt Rachel had news for him of his mother's imminent return.

Chris opened his bedroom door, pulling out from his pocket the first
thing his fingers hit on, and as he went downstairs whistling,
"Farewell and Adieu, to you Spanish Ladies," he tossed and caught, and
tossed and caught again, an old silver button burnt black in a fire.

       *       *       *       *       *



$3.25


_Mr. Wicker's Window_

_by_

Carley Dawson

When twelve-year-old Chris entered Mr. Wicker's shop to inquire about
a job for his friend, something about old Mr. Wicker forced him to
take the job himself. Chris found himself the pupil of Mr. Wicker, not
the old man he first saw, but a powerful man in his forties--a
magician. Chris learned how to turn himself into a fish, a bird, a
fly, and with a magic rope he learned to make a boat or even an
elephant.

Chris had been chosen to sail to China on a mysterious mission. Long
before he sailed, Chris met the enemies who would try and stop
him--evil Claggett Chew, the dandy Osterbridge Hawsey, the treacherous
old beggar Simon Gosler. With a Nubian boy Chris brought to life with
magic, he set out on his hazardous voyage.

Carley Dawson writes beautifully, combining fact and fantasy with
skill. Her characters are lifelike and vivid, and the plot of this,
her first book, is fantastically exciting and exceptionally
outstanding. With power and imagination Lynd Ward has illustrated the
book with over eighty drawings in two colors.

_Illustrated by_

Lynd Ward

       *       *       *       *       *



Johnny Tremain

_By Esther Forbes_


Illustrated by

_Lynd Ward_


"If Jonathan Lyte Tremain never lived in the flesh, he lives vividly
with the men of his time in this book. So we dare to put him among the
people of importance.

"He is a boy, an apprentice to a silver-smith in Boston, when we meet
him just before the American Revolution. Casting the handle of a sugar
basin for John Hancock, he seriously burns his right hand. He is
crippled, the work that he loves must be given up--forever. Johnny
goes through some hard and bitter times before he finds his work in
the struggle that is to free the Colonies from British rule. The
solution comes through the young printer, who likes Johnny and
befriends him. Rab, too, is a 'person of importance.'...

"This story of Johnny Tremain is almost uncanny in its 'aliveness.'
Esther Forbes's power to create, and to recreate, a face, a voice, a
scene takes us as living spectators to the Boston Tea Party, to the
Battles of Lexington and of North Creek. It takes us, with Johnny, to
the secret meetings of the Sons of Liberty, to the secret training of
the Minute Men...."

_Saturday Review of Literature_

$3.00

       *       *       *       *       *





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allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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