On the Spot; or,
Last winter was socially the most disgusting that I remember ever having
known, because everybody lost money, except Sally's father and mine. We
didn't, of course, mind how much money our friends lost—they always had
plenty left; but we hated to have them talk about it, and complain all
the time, and say that it was the President's fault, or poor John
Rockefeller's, or Senator So-and-so's, or the life insurance people's.
When a man loses money it is, as a matter of fact, almost always his own
fault. I said so at the beginning of last winter, and I say so still.
And Sally, who is too lazy to think up original remarks, copied it from
me and made no bones about saying it to all the people she knew who she
thought needed that kind of comfort. But perhaps, now that I think of
it, Sally and I may have contributed to making the winter socially
disgusting. Be that as it may, we were the greatest sufferers.
We moved to Idle Island in September. And we were so delighted with what
the architects, and landscape-gardeners, and mosquito doctors had done
to make it habitable; with the house itself, and the grape-house, and
greenhouses, and gardens, and pergolas, and marble columns from Athens,
and terraces, and in-and-out door tennis-courts, and swimming-pools, and
boat-houses, and golf links, and all the other country-place
necessities, and particularly with a line of the most comfortable
lounging-chairs and divans in the world, that we decided to spend the
winter there. Sally telephoned to my father's secretary and asked him to
spend the winter with us, and make out lists for week-end parties, and
to be generally civil and useful. The secretary said that he would be
delighted to come if he could persuade my father and mother to go abroad
for the winter; and later he called Sally up, and said that he had
Well, from the first our week-end parties were failures. On the first
Friday in October the President of the United States said that he hated
cheats and liars (only he mentioned names) and the stock-market went to
smash. Saturday it was still in a messy state, and the people who came
out Saturday afternoon couldn't or wouldn't talk about anything else.
They came by the 4:30 to Stepping-Stone, and were ferried over to the
island in the motor boat. Sally and I rode down to the pier in the
jinrikishas that my father's secretary had had imported for us for a
wedding present; and, I give you my word, the motor-boat as it slowed
into the pier looked like an excursion steamer out to view the beauties
of the Hudson. Everybody on board was hidden behind a newspaper.
"Fong," said Sally to her jinrikisha man, "take me back to the house."
He turned and trotted off with her, and they disappeared under the elms.
"Just because your guests aren't interested in you," I called after her,
"is no reason why you shouldn't be interested in them."
But she didn't answer, and I was afraid I'd hurt her feelings; so I said
to my man, or horse, or horse-man—it's hard to know what to call them:
"Long Lee, you go back to the house, clip-step."
Clip-step soon overtook Sally, and I asked her what she was mad about.
"I'm mad," she said, "because none of those people have ever seen this
beautiful island before, and they wouldn't look up from their dirty old
newspapers. What's the matter with them?"
"They're worried about the market," said I, "and each one wants the
others to think that he's more worried than they are. That's all."
"But the women!" said Sally. "There we sat waving to them, and not so
much as a look for our pains. My arm is all numb from waving
"Never mind," I said. "I'll—I'll—ask your maid to rub it for you. And
then we'll send the motor-boat for the very latest edition of the
papers, and we'll have Blenheim and Windermere fold them like ships and
cocked hats, the way they do the napkins, and put them at each person's
place at dinner. That will be the tactful way of showing them what we
think about it."
Sally, naturally enough, was delighted at this idea, and forgot all
about her poor, numb arm. But the scheme sounded better than it worked.
Because when we went in to dinner the guests, instead of being put to
shame by the sight of the newspapers, actually sputtered with pleasure,
and fell on them and unfolded them and opened them at the financial
pages. And then the men began to shout, and argue, and perspire, and
fling quotations about the table, and the women got very shrill, and
said they didn't know what they would do if the wretched market kept up,
or rather if it didn't keep up. And nobody admired the new furniture or
the pictures, or the old Fiffield plate, or Sally's gown, or said
anything pleasant and agreeable.
"Sam," said Tony Marshall to me, "I'm glad that you can empty your new
swimming-pool in three-quarters of an hour, but if you don't watch out
you may be so poor before the winter's over that you won't be able to
buy water enough to fill it."
"If you're not careful," I said, "I'll fill it with champagne and make
you people swim in it till you're more sprightly and agreeable. I never
saw such a lot of oafs. I—"
"I tell you, Sam," bellowed Billoo, "that the financial status of this
country, owing to that infernal lunatic in the White House—"
"If you must tell me again—" I began.
"Oh," he said disgustedly, "you can't be serious about anything.
You're so da—a—ah—urn—rich that you never give a thought to the
suffering of the consumer."
"Don't I?" said I. "Did you happen to see me the morning after the
Clarion's ball last winter?—I thought about the consumer then, I can
Billoo turned his back on me very rudely. I looked across the table to
Sally. She smiled feebly. She had drawn back her chair so that Tombs and
Randall could fight it out across her plate without hitting her in the
nose. They were frantically shaking their fists at each other, and they
kept saying very loud, and both at once:
"I tell you!" and they made that beginning over and over, and never
got any further.
At two o'clock the next morning Mrs. Giddings turned to Sally and said:
"And now, my dear, I can't wait another moment. You must show me all
over your lovely new house. I can think of nothing else."
"Can't you?" said Sally. "I can. It's two o'clock. But I'll show you to
your own lovely room, if you like."
In the morning I sent for Blenheim, and told him to take all the Sunday
papers as soon as they arrived and throw them overboard. All I meant to
be was tactful. But it wouldn't do. The first thing the men asked for
was the papers; and the second thing. And finally they made such a fuss
and threw out so many hints that I had to send the motor-boat over to
the main-land. This made me rather sore at the moment, and I wished that
the motor-boat was at the bottom of the Sound; but it wasn't, and had
to be sent.
Later in the day I was struck with an idea. It was one of the few that
ever struck me without outside help, and I will keep it dark for the
present. But when I got Sally alone I said to her:
"Now, Sally, answer prettily: do you or do you not know what plausible
"I do not," she said promptly.
"Of course, you do not," I said, "you miserable little ignoramus. It has
to do with an idea."
"No, Sam!" cried Sally.
"One of mine," I said.
"Oh, Sam!" she said. "Can I help?"
"You can pray for it."
"For the idea?" she asked.
"No, you silly little goat," I said. "For the plausible weather."
"Must I?" she asked.
"You must," I said. "If you have marrow-bones, prepare to use them now."
Sally looked really shocked.
"Knees," I explained. "They're the same thing. But now that I think of
it, you needn't use yours. If anybody were looking, it would be
different, of course. But nobody is, and you may use mine."
So Sally used my knees for the moment, and I explained the idea to her
briefly, and some other things at greater length; and then we both
laughed and prayed aloud for plausible weather.
But it was months coming.
Think, if you can, of a whole winter passing in Westchester County
without its storming one or more times on any single solitary Saturday
or Sunday or holiday! Christmas Day, even, some of the men played tennis
out-of-doors. The balls were cold and didn't bounce very high, and all
the men who played wanted to sit in the bar and talk stocks, but
otherwise it made a pretty good game. Often, because our guests were so
disagreeable about the money they had lost or were losing, we decided
not to give any more parties, but when we thought that fresh air was
good for our friends, whether they liked it or not, of course we had to
keep on asking them. And, besides, we were very much set on the idea
that I have referred to, and there was always a chance of
It did not come till May. But then it "came good," as Sally said. It
"came good" and it came opportunely. Everything was right. We had the
right guests; we had the right situation in Wall Street, and the weather
was right. It came out of the north-east, darkly blowing (this was
Saturday, just after the usual motor-boat load and their afternoon
editions had been landed), and at first it made the Sound, and even the
sheltered narrows between the island and the main-land, look pancake-flat
and oily. Then it turned the Sound into a kind of incoming gray, striped
with white; and then into clean white, wonderfully bright and staring
under the dark clouds. I never saw a finer storm come up finer. But
nobody would go out to the point to see it come. The Stock Exchange had
closed on the verge of panic (that was its chronic Saturday closing last
winter) and you couldn't get the men or women away from the thought of
what might happen Monday. "Good heavens," said Billoo, "think of poor
Sharply on his way home from Europe! Can't get to Wall Street before
Wednesday, and God knows what he'll find when he gets there."
"What good would it do him to get there before?" I asked. "Wouldn't he
sail right in and do the wrong thing, just as everybody has done
"You don't understand, Sam," said Billoo, very lugubriously; and then he
annihilated me by banging his fist on a table and saying, "At least
he'd be on the spot, wouldn't he?"
"Oh," I said, "if you put it that way, I admit that that's just where he
would be. Will anybody come and have a look at the fine young storm that
I'm having served?"
"Not now, Sam—not now," said Billoo, as if the storm would always stay
just where, and as, it was; and nobody else said anything. The men
wanted to shout and get angry and make dismal prophecies, and the women
wanted to stay and hear them, and egg them on, and decide what they
would buy or sell on Monday.
"All right, Billoo-on-the-spot," I said. "Sally—?"
Sally was glad to come. And first we went out on the point and had a
good look at the storm. The waves at our feet were breaking big and
wild, the wind was groaning and howling as if it had a mortal
stomach-ache, and about a mile out was a kind of thick curtain of
perpendicular lines, with dark, squally shadows at its base.
"Sam!" cried Sally, "it's snow—snow," and she began to jump up and
In a minute or two flakes began to hit us wet slaps in the face, and we
took hands and danced, and then ran (there must have been something
intoxicating about that storm) all the way to the pier. And there was
the captain of the motor-boat just stepping ashore.
"The man himself," said Sally.
"Captain," said I, "how are we off for boats?"
By good-luck there were in commission only the motor-boat, and the
row-boat that she towed behind, and a canoe in the loft of the
"Captain," I said, "take the Hobo (that was the name of the
motor-boat) and her tender to City Island, and don't come back till
Wednesday morning, in time for the Wall Street special."
"When you get to City Island," said Sally, "try to look crippled."
"Not you," I said, "but the Hobo."
"Tell them," said Sally, "if they ask questions, that you were blown
from your moorings, and that you couldn't get back in the teeth of the
"Because," said I, "your cylinders slipped, and your clutch missed
fire, and your carbureter was full of prunes."
"In other words," said Sally, "if anybody ever asks you anything about
We gave him a lot more instructions, and some eloquent money, and he
said, "Very good, ma'am," to me, and "Very good, miss," to Sally, and
pretty soon he, and the Hobo, and the engineer, and the Hobo's crew
of one, and the tender were neatly blown from their moorings, and
drifted helplessly toward City Island at the rate of twenty-two miles an
hour. Then Sally and I (it was snowing hard, now) climbed into the loft
of the boat-house, and fixed the canoe.
"There," said Sally, putting down her little hatchet, "I don't believe
the most God-fearing banker in this world would put to sea in that!
Well, Sam, we've done it now."
"We have," said I.
"Will Monday never come?" said Sally.
"Stop," said I; "the telephone."
Idle Island was moored to the mainland by a telephone cable. It took us
nearly an hour to find where this slipped into the water. And we were
tired and hungry and wet and cold, but we simply had to persevere. It
was frightful. At length we found the thing—it looked like a slimy
black snake—and we cut it, where the water was a foot deep—the water
bit my wrists and ankles as sharply as if it had been sharks—and went
back to the house through the storm.
It was as black as night (the weather, not the house), snowing furiously
and howling. We crept into the house like a couple of sneak-thieves, and
heard Billoo at his very loudest shouting:
"I had Morgan on the wire all right—and the fool operator cut me off!"
Sally snipped her wet fingers in my face.
"Hello, fool operator," she said.
"Hello, yourself," said I. "But oh, Sally, listen to that wind, and tell
me how it sounds to you. A wet hug if you guess the answer."
"To me," said Sally, "it sounds plausible." And she got herself hugged.
I don't believe that anybody slept much Saturday night. You never heard
such a storm in your life. It seemed to Sally and me, who would have
been the chief sufferers if it had blown down, that our comfortable,
brand-new marble house flapped like a flag. Every now and then there
came a tremendous crack from one part of the island or another; and
each time Sally would say, "There goes my favorite elm," or I would say,
"There goes that elm again."
Most of the men came down to breakfast Sunday morning. What with the
storm and the worry about stocks keeping them awake most of the night,
they were without exception nervous and cross, particularly Billoo. He
looked like an owl that had been first stuffed and then boiled. Blenheim
told me later that at various times during the night he had carried four
several pints of champagne to Billoo's room; and at 7 A.M., bicarbonate
of soda and aromatic spirits of ammonia.
"I tell you, Sam," said Billoo crossly, "I've been awake all night
thinking what it would mean to some of us—yes, me!—if this storm
should wreck that ferry-boat of yours."
A lot of wet snow and wind hit the dining-room windows a series of
"She's a good boat, Sam, but smallish to ride out such a storm as this."
"What a goat you are, Sam," said Tombs, also crossly, "not to keep two
ferry-boats, so that if one breaks down you have the other."
"When we made up our minds to spend the winter here," I said, "I ordered
another; in fact, two. But they're still building; and besides, what if
the Hobo does break down? There's plenty to eat and drink, I hope.
Nobody would suffer much."
"No," said Billoo, "it would be no suffering for a business man to be
storm-bound here during a probable panic in Wall Street!
"I'm tired," I said, "of hearing you refer to yourself or any of these
gentlemen as business men. You always gamble; and when you're in
good-luck you gambol, and when you aren't, you don't. What makes me
sickest about you all is that you're so nauseatingly conceited and
self-important. You all think that your beastly old Stock Exchange is
the axle about which the wheel of the world revolves, and each of you
thinks, privately, that he's the particular grease that makes it revolve
"Well," said Billoo, "you know that the presence on the floor of one
steady, conservative man may often avert a panic."
"Show me the man," I said. "Has any one here ever caused a panic or
averted one? But you all lose money just as often because you're on the
spot, as make it. Wouldn't you all be the richer for an absence now
"Of course," said Randall, "there are times when it doesn't matter one
way or the other. But when—well, when the market's in the state it is
now, it's life or death, almost, to be on the spot."
"I don't understand," I said. "When the market looks fussy, why not
sell out, and wait for better times?"
"We can't sell out," said Billoo. "We're loaded up to the muzzle."
"You look as if you had been," I said courteously; but Billoo brushed
the remark aside as if it had been a fly.
"If we try to unload," he said, "the market begins to collapse. We
can't unload, except a little at a time, and still prices get lower
and lower and margins thinner and thinner. Now, I happen to know"—he
looked about him importantly—"that to-morrow will hear the failure of a
very well-known house, and after that's announced—God knows."
"How true that is!" I said. "But tell me: suppose you gentlemen
deliberately absented yourselves for a few days—wouldn't it restore
confidence? Wouldn't the other brokers say: 'Billoo, Randall, Tombs,
Marshall, Bedlo, etc., don't seem to think there's much doing. None of
'em's here—what's the use of me being scared?'"
"It would have the contrary effect, Sam," said Tombs solemnly. "They
would think that we had decamped in a body for Canada."
"I don't know," said I, "but it would be a better thing for the country
if you all did ship to Canada—I don't think there's much doing
out-doors to-day. Hear that wind!"
"If I can get rid of all my holdings," said Billoo, "I'll sit tight.
We'll see lower prices before we see higher."
"Well," said I, "I'll bet you we don't."
"Young man," said Billoo, and he looked almost well and happy, "just
name your sum."
"I'll bet you a thousand," I said.
"Sammy," said Tombs very sweetly, "have you got another thousand up your
"Sure," I said.
"Done with you," said Tombs.
In about five minutes I had bet with everybody present.
"But mind," I said, "there mustn't be any dirty work. You people mustn't
go to town to-morrow with the idea of forming a strong coalition and
putting prices down."
"It wouldn't be worth while," said Billoo. "As a matter of fact, we'd
like nothing better than to see you win your bet, but as you can't,
possibly—why, a thousand dollars is always a thousand dollars."
"Just the same," said I, "no coalitions."
The wind went on howling till late in the afternoon and then it began to
peter out. We had spent the whole day in the house, and everybody was
tired and bored, and nervous about Monday, and bedtime came earlier
"Sam," said Sally, when we were alone, "it's just occurred to me that we
may be causing some of these people to lose a lot of money."
"Why, Sally," I said, "you look scared."
"I am," she said. "Don't you think it would be rather awful?"
"No, I don't," I said; "I think it would be split-tingly funny. But they
won't lose. Their absence will steady the market."
"Who told you that, Sam?" said Sally.
"Sam!" said I.
Even before the leaves come, you can't see the pier from the house. It
runs out from the bottom of a high bank and is otherwise hidden by
trees. But it's only a short distance, and in good weather we have the
guests walk it, because it gives them a better chance to admire the
gardens and the Athenian columns and things. But Monday, which dawned
bright and still and warm, and was just as typical of May in Westchester
as was the snow-and-wind storm, we drove them down in a bus because the
roads and paths were horribly muddy. Of course, none of the women
wanted to take the early train, so there were only the men and Sally
and I in the bus. Sally said that there was going to be some fun when
the men got to the pier and didn't find the Hobo, and she wasn't going
to miss it. Just before we started she drew me aside and said:
"Sam, when we get there, for Heaven's sake look blank."
"I understand your fears, Sally," I said, "and I will look as blank as I
possibly can. But remember, child, how easy it is for you to look
blank; and don't always be urging others to attempt the impossible."
"Mrs. Sam," said Billoo, on the way down, "I can't tell you what a good
time I've had."
"You nice man," said Sally, "I wish we could persuade you to stay a day
or two longer."
"If it wasn't for the market, I could stay forever," said Billoo.
"Not if I lived," said I. "Saturday to Monday is plenty long
The pier and the empty stretch of water between the island and the
mainland were in sight, but there was no Hobo.
"Hello what?" said Tombs. "Why, where's the ferry?"
"I don't see her," I said, and, I hope, anxiously; "you don't suppose—"
"Isn't the Hobo there?" shrieked Billoo. He turned his head on his
fat neck, and at first he looked very angry, and then scared.
We walked down to the pier, and then out on the float to get as big a
water view as possible, but there wasn't so much as a row-boat in sight.
"What can have happened?" said Sally.
"I'm worried to death," I said. "Suppose she was blown from her
moorings, the captain could have run her into New Rochelle, and come
back yesterday afternoon when the wind went down. Something must have
"Oh, Sam," cried Sally, "you don't think she may have been run down by
one of the Sound steamers and sunk?"
"I dare not think of it," I said. "I dare not think of the poor chaps on
"I don't see how I'm to get to town," said Billoo dismally. He pulled
out his watch, and held it in his hand, and every moment or two looked
at it. "Haven't you a couple of row-boats? We couldn't get this train,
but we could get the next—"
I shook my head. "I'm sorry," I said. "We're not much on the water, and
we've never been properly supplied with boats—"
Billoo swallowed some hasty thought or other, and began to look across
at the mainland. My father owns all the land opposite the island, even
the pier and the short road to the village of Stepping-Stone; and
although there were several boats at the pier, there were no people, and
the rest of the shore is nothing but thick woods.
"We must telephone somewhere," said Billoo.
"You can't," I said. "You know you tried to telephone all yesterday and
couldn't, and the butler told me this morning that he had tried to put
in a call and got no answer."
"What does it matter?" said Sally. "You've all got to stay now. I think
"Mrs. Sam," said Tombs hollowly, "do you realize that this accident may
mean ruin for some of us?"
"Oh, dear!" said Sally "how dreadful!"
"Somehow of other," said Billoo, "I'm going to get across."
And the others said that somehow or other they were going to get
"I've got to!" said Billoo, and he looked about in a fat, challenging
way as if daring any one to say that he had not got to.
"You poor things," said Sally, "I hope to Heaven you can; but how?"
"Where there's a will, Mrs. Sam—" Billoo said. And he began to think
hard. All of a sudden his face brightened.
"It's too easy," he said. "The wind's right; four or five of us have
umbrellas—Sam, you'll have to lend us this float. We've only to cut it
from its moorings, and sail it across—May we have it?"
"Yes," I said, "but you're crazy to try it."
"It's a case of sink or swim," said he. "Who's coming?"
Without exception the men agreed to sail with him on the float. It was a
fine, big platform, floated on sheet-iron air-tanks, and moored at the
four corners by heavy ropes.
Sally and I withdrew to the pier and watched Billoo and the others cut
slowly through the ropes with their pocket-knives. Presently the float
began to move, and a second or two later the float end of the gang-plank
slipped into the water with a heavy splash. Those who had umbrellas
opened them to catch the breeze, and the others lit cigars, and stood
about in graceful attitudes. Sally and I cheered as loud as we could.
"I'll send you a tug or something," Billoo called back to us, "and try
to find out what's happened to the Hobo."
"Thank you!" I called back.
"Sam," said Sally, "I don't know what you think, but I call it good
"So do I," said I, "but foolish."
"Why foolish?" said Sally. "They're really going quite fast, and
they'll be across in no time, and they'll get the next train and
"They will not," I said.
"Why?" said Sally.
"Because," said I, "they will run on to the middle ground, and stay
"Not at high tide!" exclaimed Sally.
"At high tide," said I. "That float draws a good two feet, and it's so
heavy that once it runs on the mud it will stay on the mud—" And then I
shouted to Billoo:
"Look out for the middle ground!"
"What?" he answered.
"Why do you warn him?" said Sally.
"Because it won't help him," said I.
"What?" called Billoo again, and Sally answered at the top of her lungs,
"Right O!" Billoo answered; "where is it?"
"Just ahead," Sally called.
Billoo turned to look, and at that moment the float, which was
travelling at a good clip, ran into it.
Billoo and Randall fell flat on their faces; everybody staggered; one
umbrella and two hats went overboard and drifted away, and Sally and I
sat down on the pier and laughed till we were helpless.
The float had become a fixture in the landscape about two hundred and
fifty yards out. We could converse with our friends by shouting only,
and when we got tired of condoling with them and giving them assurances
of our sympathy, we told them that we were going back to the house to
get some more breakfast and think out what was best to be done,
"Sam," said Sally, "that's the maddest lot of men I ever saw."
We looked back. Billoo was stamping up and down the float, waving his
arms and orating like Falstaff; Randall and Tombs had their heads
together, and were casting what appeared to be baleful glances at
Billoo. It was evident that he was not popular on the float.
When we had had some more breakfast, and had sat around a little to
digest it, the women began to come down-stairs. Mrs. Randall was the
first to come down, and she was in great distress.
"It's too dreadful," she said. "I had something of the utmost
importance to tell Billy, something that I wanted him to do for me
down-town. And I overslept."
"Well," said I, "let me tell you what a good fellow Billy is. He hasn't
"Good Heavens!" she cried, "not gone yet? Why, what time is it? Why, he
won't get down-town in time for the opening!"
"Probably not," I said. "He was just going, when suddenly he said, 'I
know there's something my wife wants to say to me.' I said, 'Wake her up
and find out what it is.' He said, 'No, she's getting so she can't do
without her beauty sleep; I'll just wait around till she wakes of
"Sam," said Mrs. Randall, "what has happened to my husband?"
"Nothing much," I said. "He's in the same boat with many others—only it
isn't a boat. Don't be alarmed."
"Where is my husband?" said she.
"If you are equal to a short, muddy walk," I said, "I will show him to
you—Morning, little Miss Tombs—want to see brother and young Fitch?
They said they wouldn't go to town till you'd seen them—Morning, Mrs.
Giddings—morning, Miss Marshall—I'm not much on breaking bad news, but
there's been an accident to all your husbands and brothers and fiancés.
They're all alive still, so far as I know—but they ought not to last
more than five or six days."
"It's proposed," said Sally, "that we all go and see what can be done
We refused to answer any questions. We led the way to the pier and
pointed out the float, and the men on it. "There," said Sally, "you can
see them quite plainly from here."
"Yes," said I, "and the more plainly you see them, the plainer they
"Will you kindly tell me," said Mrs. Randall, "what my husband is doing
out there on that float?"
"He is doing nothing," I said. "You can see for yourself. And it isn't a
float any more."
"Better tell them what has happened," said Sally.
"No, Sally," I said, "no."
"Yes, Sam," she said.
"Oh, all right," I said, "if you really think it's best. The fact is,
ladies, the whole thing is a piece of drunken folly. You know how men
are when they get drinking and arguing, and quarrelling. To make a long
story short, it came to Billoo's insulting Randall; Randall challenges
him; duelling is against the law; they take pistols and witnesses out on
the water beyond the jurisdiction of the United States; and they were
going to murder each other. But it's all right now—don't be
Sally had turned her face away, and I'm sure I was serious as a judge. I
patted Mrs. Randall on the shoulder.
"Even if your husband isn't brave," I said, "he's clever, clever and
"My husband not brave!" she cried. "I like that; he's the bravest man I
"Well, that may be," I said doubtfully, "but, considering that on the
way out to the duelling ground, or water, when nobody was looking but
Sally and me, he kicked the box of cartridges overboard. But, perhaps
they'll agree to use pocket-knives—"
"Sam," said little Miss Tombs, "I'll give you a kiss good-morning if
you'll be serious."
"Wait till Fitch is looking," I said.
Then Sally explained what had happened, and edged herself so politely
between little Miss Tombs and me that the others laughed.
"They'll float at high tide, won't they?" asked Mrs. Giddings.
"No," I said. "It was high tide when they ran aground. It will take a
tugboat to get them off."
The words weren't out of my mouth when a tugboat appeared round the
corner of the island, making up the channel. The men on the float began
to scream and yell, and jump up and down, and wave their arms. But the
tugboat paid no attention. It thought they were drunk. It passed within
three hundred yards of them, whistled a couple of times, and became
small in the distance.
"Sam," said Sally, "in about an hour they'll be high and dry on the mud.
Then not even a boat can get to them. And by the time it's high tide
again it will be dark and nobody will see them, and they'll be dying of
hunger and thirst."
"That's true," I said. "Sally, you explain that to them, and I'll have
the men fetch one of the stable doors, and we'll put a sail on it and
provision it and trust to its hitting the middle ground about where
I never worked so hard in my life. I had a stable door taken off its
tracks and rigged with the canoe's sail; and we put a case of champagne
on board, and a tub of ice, and bread, and cold meat, and butter, and
jam, and cigars, and cigarettes, and liquors, and a cocktail shaker, and
a bottle of olives stuffed with red peppers, for Billoo, and two kinds
of bitters, and everything else to eat or drink that anybody could think
of, and some camp-chairs, and cards for bridge, and score-pads, and
pencils, and a folding table. Of course, most of the things got soaked
the minute we launched the door, but there wasn't time to do the thing
over again. So we gave the relief boat three cheers and let her go.
The way the men on the float eyed the course of the door, you would have
thought them all nearly half dead with hunger and thirst. We were all
At first the door made straight for the float. Then the breeze shifted a
little, and it made to the left of the float—then to the right of
it—and then straight at it again.
Everybody cheered. The relief expedition looked like a success. The men
all came to the edge of the float to meet it—and then, just as all
seemed well, a dark patch of wind came scudding across the water, filled
the door's sail, and sent the door kiting off to the right again. The
game was up, The door was going to miss the float by sixty or
Then the men on the float began to toss coins; there was a shout of
delight; and Billoo, trumpeting his hands, called to me:
"Make the ladies go behind the boat-house, quick!" And he began to
unbutton his coat. I herded the women behind the boat-house and ran back
to the pier. Billoo was stripping as fast as he could.
"What's he doing?" Mrs. Giddings called to me.
And I answered, "He seems to be overcome by the heat."
A few moments later Billoo stood revealed, a fat white silhouette
against the opposite shore. He stepped from the float into the water; it
came to his ankles. Then he waded, gingerly but with determination,
toward the passing door. He went as if he expected the water to get
suddenly deep, but it didn't. At no time did it reach to his ankles,
until, just as he was reaching out his hand to catch hold of the door,
and just as the men on the float set up a cheer, he stepped off the
middle ground in to deep water.
The splash that he made lifted the door half out of water, and shot it
away from him, the wind filled its sail, and when Billoo came to the
surface and looked for it, it was thirty feet off. But he set his teeth
(I think he set them) and swam after it. Just as he reached it, he
fetched an awful yell. He had been seized with cramps. Still, he had
sense enough to cling to the door, and, when the first spasm of the
cramp had passed, to sprawl himself upon it. There he lay for a while,
lapped by the water that came over the door, and writhing in his fat
Meanwhile, the door was caught in the full strength of the ebbing tide,
and began to make for the open Sound. Poor Billoo was in a bad way—and
when he turned the ice-tub upside down for a seat, and wrapped himself
in the canoe sail, I invited the women to come out and see for
themselves how brave he was.
He waved his hand to us, and just as he and his well-provisioned craft
rounded a corner of the island he selected a bottle of champagne and
deftly extracted the cork.
I told some of my men to follow along the shore and to let me know what
became of him. I couldn't do anything more for Billoo; but I liked the
man, and took an affectionate interest in his ultimate fate—whatever
it might be. And I call that true friendship.
Pretty soon the middle ground on which the float was stuck began to show
above water, and as it was evident that we could do nothing further for
the relief of our shipwrecked friends, we decided to go back to the
house, change our muddy boots, play a rubber or so, and have lunch. But
first little Miss Tombs called to young Fitch, and told him if he found
himself starving to dig clams in the mud.
The only fault that I could find with the way things had gone so far was
that Sally had a disgusting headache that marred her pleasure and her
sense of humor. She hadn't said very much, and had laughed with only a
half-heart at things that had seemed to me excruciatingly funny. For
instance, when Billoo was seized with the cramps she had barely smiled,
and once or twice when I had been doing the talking she had looked
pityingly at me, instead of roaring with laughter, the way a wife
And when we got to the house, she said that if we would excuse her she
would go to her room and lie down.
"I've just got one of my usual headaches," she said.
That remark worried me, because it was the first headache she had ever
complained of to me; and when, after she had gone upstairs, Miss
Randall said, "Maybe Sally ought to see the doctor," I had a sudden
awful, empty, gulpy feeling. Suppose she was going to be really sick!
Suppose she was going to have pneumonia or scarlet-fever or spinal
meningitis! Here we were, cut off from medical assistance till Wednesday
morning. And it was our own fault—mine; mine, for being too funny.
Then I thought, "Maybe those men on the float are losing all the money
they've got in the world," and that made me feel pretty glum; and then I
thought, "Maybe poor Billoo is drowned by now," and I went cold
"Why don't you make the trump, Sam?" said Mrs. Giddings.
"Good Heavens!" I said. "Did I deal? Won't somebody play my hand? I'm
worried about Sally."
Then I bolted upstairs, and there was Sally lying on her bed, with a
glass tube sticking out of her mouth.
"How are you," I said, "and what are you doing?"
"I feel rather sick, Sam," she said. And she looked so pale that I could
have screamed. "And I'm taking my temperature."
"Do you think you've got fever?" I cried.
"I don't know," she said.
"Oh, Sally—Sally!" I cried. "Forgive me—it's all my fault—and I love
you so—My God! what shall I do? I know—"
Then I kissed her, and ran out of the room, and all the way to the
boat-house. I found a bathing-suit, undressed, put it on, tore down to
the pier, and went overboard. I suppose the water was ghastly cold, but
I didn't feel it. I suppose I never should have gotten all the way
across to the main-land if I hadn't been boiling with fear and
excitement, and besides I walked and waded across the middle ground and
got a rest that way. The men on the float kept calling to me, and asking
me questions, but I hadn't enough breath nor reason to answer them; I
just swam and swam and swam.
About fifty feet from the pier on the main-land I began to get horrible
pains up and down the muscles of my legs; and they wanted to stop
kicking, but I wouldn't let them. I had to sit on the pier for a while
to rest, but pretty soon I was able to stand, and somehow or other,
running and walking, I got to the doctor's house in Stepping-Stone. He
is very nice and an old friend, and the moment I told him Sally was
desperately sick he said she wasn't, and I felt better. He gave me some
brandy to drink, and we started for the island. I begged him to run,
but he wouldn't. He walked leisurely and pointed out this tree as a very
fine specimen and well grown, or that one as too much crowded by its
neighbors. He was daft on forestry. Patients didn't interest him a bit.
Finally, however, we got to the pier, and stole somebody's row-boat, and
I took the oars, and then we went faster.
When we entered the house we found all the women except Sally
surrounding Billoo. He was very red in the face and dressed only in the
canoe sail; but he wasn't in the least embarrassed. He had a
self-satisfied smile; and he was talking as fast and as loud as
We told him to go to bed and be ashamed of himself, and sleep it off.
And he said that nobody understood him, and denied having drunk the
whole case of champagne, and he said that he was in perfect control of
all his faculties, and that if the ladies wished him to, he could dance
a hornpipe for them that he had learned when he was a sailor….
The doctor and I went upstairs; and while he was with Sally I changed
into proper clothes; and then I waited outside the door for him to come
out and tell me the worst. After a long time he came. He looked very
solemn, and closed the door behind him.
"What is it?" I said, and I think my voice shook like a leaf.
"Sam," he said gravely, "Sally is by way of cutting her first wisdom
"Good Lord!" I said, "is that all?"
"It's enough," said the doctor, "because it isn't a tooth."
"Oh!" I said, "oh! What ought I to do?"
"Why," said he, "I'd go in, and tell her how glad you are, and maybe
laugh at her a little bit, and make much of her."
But I couldn't laugh at Sally, because she was crying.
I took her in my arms and made much of her, and asked her why she was
crying, and she said she was crying because she was glad.
When the doctor had returned to Stepping-Stone, he got the Hobo's
captain on the telephone and told him from me to bring the Hobo back
to Idle Island at once. She came about six, just as the tide was getting
high, and she brought rescue to the men on the float, and, better than
rescue, she brought the evening papers.
There had been a big day on Wall Street; one of the biggest in its
history. And the men whom we had kept from going to business had made,
among them, hundreds of thousands of dollars, just by sitting still.
But they were ungrateful, especially Billoo. He complained bitterly, and
said that he would have made three times as much money if he had been
on the spot.
* * * * *
When the men paid the bets that they had lost to me, I turned the money
over to my father's secretary and told him to deposit it as a
"What shall I call the account?" he asked.
"Call it," I said, "the account of W. Tooth."