Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
A Roland for an Oliver
By Robert Carter (18191879)
[Born in Albany, N. Y., 1819. Died at Cambridge, Mass., 1879. A Summer Cruise on the Coast of New England. 1864.New Edition. 1888.]
AS the Skipper said that this was a good place for fish, we got out our lines while the Pilot was getting dinner. Before we had caught anything the meal was ready, and we went below, leaving our lines in the water, in hopes of finding that some fish had been foolish enough to hook himself during our absence.
It so happened that I was first on deck after dinner. I tried the lines, but found nothing caught. The Assyrians line was over the stern, and, as the tide was running very fast, he had let it out to its whole length of several hundred feet. I hauled it in to see that it was still baited, and as no one had yet followed me out of the cabin, I was enticed by the opportunity to play the Assyrian a trick. A huge stone jug weighing many pounds, and capable of holding several gallons, stood near me on the deck empty. It was our principal water-jug, and the Skipper had placed it there to have it handy, intending to take it ashore and fill it after he had cleared away the dinner-things. The temptation was irresistible. I quickly tied the end of my friends line to the handle of the jug, and lowered it overboard. The strong tide swept it far along until it had gurgled full of water, when of course it sank plumb. I returned to my own line, and presently caught a large cod, the sound of whose flapping on deck brought out my comrades with the exception of the Skipper, who remained to put the cabin to rights a little.
The Assyrian, cigar in mouth, sat down on the taffrail, and gently fingered his line with the air of a man who has had a satisfactory dinner, and does not yet care to exert himself to catch fish for supper. Presently, however, he had a bite, and began languidly to pull up his line. The unusual weight soon made itself felt. The Assyrian grew suddenly excited. He said nothing about halibut, for previous disappointments had made him reticent of expression on that point, but halibut was evidently in his mind, by the gingerly way in which he handled his line, holding it in readiness to yield judiciously in case the monster should suddenly put forth his strength. We gathered round to witness the struggle. The gentleman from Nineveh tugged and tugged, growing gradually more and more astonished at the weight of his capture, and the passive nature of his resistance, for the halibut, as the fishermen often told us, never yields without a desperate and powerful contest. At length his prize reached the surface. Without remark the Assyrian quietly lifted it on board, amid roars of laughter, and as he passed into the cabin to relight his cigar, good-humoredly nodded to me, saying,
The men of the fishermans family were away, but there were several women at the house, who received us kindly, and gave us milk and berries. The Assyrian speedily made himself at home with the ladies,and when I proposed to go to the beach, about two hundred yards from the house, to take an ocean bath, he refused to accompany me, but offered to wait where he was till I came back. The Skipper had gone to his sloop with his jug of water, to invite the Artist and Professor on shore to partake also of milk and berries. So I went alone to the sea, and strolled along the beach till I came to a convenient pile of rocks, out of sight of the house, and took off my clothes, and went in.
The water was awfully cold, though the air was warm,and being unable to swim, and so not daring to plunge boldly, I endured fearful torture in the heroic efforts to get a thorough bath. A few rods farther along from where I went in, there was a large rock almost covered by the water, to which I determined to go, calculating that by the time I could reach it, and return, I should have had as much sea-bathing as it was desirable, or, for me, possible to endure.
Conceive my consternation at beholding, as I looked around, a woman approaching along the beach from the direction of the house. A tall, elderly female, wearing a veil, and carrying a parasol. Evidently she was bent on a sea-side stroll. She must have seen me if she had looked in my direction, for the distance that separated us was inconsiderable. But she walked with her eyes cast down, either wrapt in thought, or searching for shells and pebbles, I could not determine which. Nor did it much matter. I was nearly dead with cold, but of course could not quit the shelter of the water while the lady was in sight. If she only kept onward, however slowly, I thought I could hold out, for, thank heaven! there was a rocky point at no great distance which would conceal her, or rather me, from view as soon as she should pass it. So I crouched behind the rock to which I was clinging, shuddering with anguish as the chill waves rolled in succession over me.
The lady was provokingly slow. She lingered, she stopped, she stooped to examine every shell and every pebble. I grew almost frantic with suffering, and was twenty times on the point of crying out, and warning her off. Still, I trusted she would pass without seeing me, and thought I could endure a little longer.
At length she reached the rocks, among which I had deposited my clothes. She did not notice the garments apparently, but, after pausing for a minute, coolly sat down, and, to my horror and despair, pulled a book from under her shawl, and began to read.
I could stand it no longer. All the tales I had ever heard of persons who had died from staying too long in the water rushed upon my memory. I felt convinced that I was not only blue around the mouth, but blue all over. It seemed as if I had been in the water at least two hours. I should certainly die. But death itself was preferable to this infernal cold, which caused my very bones to ache. Positively I could stand it no longer.
I splashed the water. All to no effect. A horrible thought flashed across me: perhaps she was deaf,as deaf as Dame Eleanor Spearing. I tried to get a stone from the bottom to throw at her, or rather near her, in hopes of attracting her attention, but found I could not reach bottom without putting my head under water. It suddenly occurred to me that the tide was rising, and that my post would no longer be tenable even if I could stand the cold. That settled the question.
I recognized the voice at the first word, and was beside the speaker before the sentence was finished. Throwing up the veil, which had concealed his features, the Assyrian burst into a laugh, in which, though at first I thought of stoning him, I finally joined. He had persuaded the women at the cottage to lend him his disguise, in order to repay me, as he had promised, for the affair of the jug. I forgave him for the sake of the provocation, though he had put me to direful torture,but we entered then and there into a compact to desist from such pranks for the future.