Please read and complete activities for Module 5.01, “Imagine the Journey.” We are going to be looking a analyzing narrative text in this unit. Module 5.01 talks about “implicit” and “explicit” ideas in text. Read the materials and answer the questions below using complete sentences and evidence from the text.
1. What does the phrase, “use your imagination,” mean to you?
2. On page 4 of Module 5.01, which words help you to understand the meaning of the word “explicitly”?
3. What does it mean to “inference”?
4. What were the differences between the scenes on page 5? Which scene was “implicit”?
5. Choose a short story from the list below to use as illustrations or examples in this module. The links to these short stories are attached below:
“Cupid and Psyche” by Apuleius
” The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry
“The Golden Touch” by Nathaniel Hawthorne
” The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane
“King Midas with his daughter” by Walter Crane is in the public domain.
The Golden Touch By Nathaniel Hawthorne
Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) was an American novelist and short story writer, best known for his work The Scarlet Letter. In this story, Hawthorne retells the myth of King Midas, whose wish for a “golden touch” comes with grave consequences. As you read, take notes on how Hawthorne foreshadows the danger of Midas’ gift, and how this helps reveal the story’s theme.
Once upon a time, there lived a very rich man, and a king besides, whose name was Midas; and he had a little daughter, whom nobody but myself ever heard of, and whose name I either never knew, or have entirely forgotten. So, because I love odd names for little girls, I choose to call her Marygold.
This King Midas was fonder of gold than of anything else in the world. He valued his royal crown chiefly because it was composed of that precious metal. If he loved anything better, or half so well, it was the one little maiden who played so merrily around her father’s footstool. But the more Midas loved his daughter, the more did he desire and seek for wealth. He thought, foolish man! that the best thing he could possibly do for this dear child would be to bequeath1
her the immensest pile of yellow, glistening coin, that had ever been heaped together since the world was made. Thus, he gave all his thoughts and all his time to this one purpose. If ever he happened to gaze for an instant at the gold-tinted clouds of sunset, he wished that they were real gold, and that they could be squeezed safely into his strong box. When little Marygold ran to meet him, with a bunch of buttercups and dandelions, he used to say, “Poh, poh, child! If these flowers were as golden as they look, they would be worth the plucking!”
1. Bequeath (verb) to give or hand down a valuable possession
And yet, in his earlier days, before he was so entirely possessed of this insane desire for riches, King Midas had shown a great taste for flowers. He had planted a garden, in which grew the biggest and beautifullest and sweetest roses that any mortal ever saw or smelt. These roses were still growing in the garden, as large, as lovely, and as fragrant, as when Midas used to pass whole hours in gazing at them, and inhaling their perfume. But now, if he looked at them at all, it was only to calculate how much the garden would be worth if each of the innumerable2 rose-petals were a thin plate of gold. And though he once was fond of music (in spite of an idle story about his ears, which were said to resemble those of an ass),3 the only music for poor Midas, now, was the chink of one coin against another.
At length (as people always grow more and more foolish, unless they take care to grow wiser and wiser), Midas had got to be so exceedingly unreasonable, that he could scarcely bear to see or touch any object that was not gold. He made it his custom, therefore, to pass a large portion of every day in a dark and dreary apartment, underground, at the basement of his palace. It was here that he kept his wealth. To this dismal hole — for it was little better than a dungeon — Midas betook himself, whenever he wanted to be particularly happy. Here, after carefully locking the door, he would take a bag of gold coin, or a gold cup as big as a washbowl, or a heavy golden bar, or a peckmeasure of gold-dust, and bring them from the obscure corners of the room into the one bright and narrow sunbeam that fell from the dungeon-like window. He valued the sunbeam for no other reason but that his treasure would not shine without its help. And then would he reckon over the coins in the bag; toss up the bar, and catch it as it came down; sift the gold-dust through his fingers; look at the funny image of his own face, as reflected in the burnished circumference of the cup; and whisper to himself, “O Midas, rich King Midas, what a happy man art thou!” But it was laughable to see how the image of his face kept grinning at him, out of the polished surface of the cup. It seemed to be aware of his foolish behavior, and to have a naughty inclination to make fun of him.
Midas called himself a happy man, but felt that he was not yet quite so happy as he might be. The very tiptop of enjoyment would never be reached, unless the whole world were to become his treasure-room, and be filled with yellow metal which should be all his own.
Now, I need hardly remind such wise little people as you are, that in the old, old times, when King Midas was alive, a great many things came to pass, which we should consider wonderful if they were to happen in our own day and country. And, on the other hand, a great many things take place nowadays, which seem not only wonderful to us, but at which the people of old times would have stared their eyes out. On the whole, I regard our own times as the strangest of the two; but, however that may be, I must go on with my story.
Midas was enjoying himself in his treasure-room, one day, as usual, when he perceived a shadow fall over the heaps of gold; and, looking suddenly up, what should he behold but the figure of a stranger, standing in the bright and narrow sunbeam! It was a young man, with a cheerful and ruddy face. Whether it was that the imagination of King Midas threw a yellow tinge over everything, or whatever the cause might be, he could not help fancying that the smile with which the stranger regarded him had a kind of golden radiance in it. Certainly, although his figure intercepted the sunshine, there was now a brighter gleam upon all the piled-up treasures than before. Even the remotest corners had their share of it, and were lighted up, when the stranger smiled, as with tips of flame and sparkles of fire.
2. Innumerable (adjective) too many to count 3. a reference to another myth of King Midas: after questioning the Greek god Apollo’s victory in a musical competition
against the god of wilderness Pan, Midas was cursed by Apollo with the ears of a donkey
As Midas knew that he had carefully turned the key in the lock, and that no mortal strength could possibly break into his treasure-room, he, of course, concluded that his visitor must be something more than mortal. It is no matter about telling you who he was. In those days, when the earth was comparatively a new affair, it was supposed to be often the resort of beings endowed with supernatural power, and who used to interest themselves in the joys and sorrows of men, women, and children, half playfully and half seriously. Midas had met such beings before now, and was not sorry to meet one of them again. The stranger’s aspect, indeed, was so good-humored and kindly, if not beneficent,4 that it would have been unreasonable to suspect him of intending any mischief. It was far more probable that he came to do Midas a favor. And what could that favor be, unless to multiply his heaps of treasure?
The stranger gazed about the room; and when his lustrous smile had glistened upon all the golden objects that were there, he turned again to Midas.
“You are a wealthy man, friend Midas!” he observed. “I doubt whether any other four walls, on earth, contain so much gold as you have contrived to pile up in this room.”
“I have done pretty well — pretty well,” answered Midas, in a discontented tone. “But, after all, it is but a trifle, when you consider that it has taken me my whole life to get it together. If one could live a thousand years, he might have time to grow rich!”
“What!” exclaimed the stranger. “Then you are not satisfied?”
Midas shook his head.
“And pray what would satisfy you?” asked the stranger. “Merely for the curiosity of the thing, I should be glad to know.”
Midas paused and meditated. He felt a presentiment5 that this stranger, with such a golden lustre in his good- humored smile, had come hither with both the power and the purpose of gratifying his utmost wishes. Now, therefore, was the fortunate moment, when he had but to speak, and obtain whatever possible, or seemingly impossible thing, it might come into his head to ask. So he thought, and thought, and thought, and heaped up one golden mountain upon another, in his imagination, without being able to imagine them big enough. At last, a bright idea occurred to King Midas. It seemed really as bright as the glistening metal which he loved so much.
Raising his head, he looked the lustrous stranger in the face.
“Well, Midas,” observed his visitor, “I see that you have at length hit upon something that will satisfy you. Tell me your wish.”
“It is only this,” replied Midas. “I am weary of collecting my treasures with so much trouble, and beholding the heap so diminutive,6 after I have done my best. I wish everything that I touch to be changed to gold!”
The stranger’s smile grew so very broad, that it seemed to fill the room like an outburst of the sun, gleaming into a shadowy dell, where the yellow autumnal leaves — for so looked the lumps and particles of gold — lie strewn in the glow of light.
4. Beneficent (adjective) generous, charitable, helpful 5. a feeling that something is about to happen; a premonition 6. Diminutive (adjective) very small
“The Golden Touch!” exclaimed he. “You certainly deserve credit, friend Midas, for striking out so brilliant a conception. But are you quite sure that this will satisfy you?”
“How could it fail?” said Midas.
“And will you never regret the possession of it?”
“What could induce me?” asked Midas. “I ask nothing else, to render me perfectly happy.”
“Be it as you wish, then,” replied the stranger, waving his hand in token of farewell. “To-morrow, at sunrise, you will find yourself gifted with the Golden Touch.”
The figure of the stranger then became exceedingly bright, and Midas involuntarily closed his eyes. On opening them again, he beheld only one yellow sunbeam in the room, and, all around him, the glistening of the precious metal which he had spent his life in hoarding up.
Whether Midas slept as usual that night, the story does not say. Asleep or awake, however, his mind was probably in the state of a child’s, to whom a beautiful new plaything has been promised in the morning. At any rate, day had hardly peeped over the hills, when King Midas was broad awake, and, stretching his arms out of bed, began to touch the objects that were within reach. He was anxious to prove whether the Golden Touch had really come, according to the stranger’s promise. So he laid his finger on a chair by the bedside, and on various other things, but was grievously disappointed to perceive that they remained of exactly the same substance as before. Indeed, he felt very much afraid that he had only dreamed about the lustrous stranger, or else that the latter had been making game of him. And what a miserable affair would it be, if, after all his hopes, Midas must content himself with what little gold he could scrape together by ordinary means, instead of creating it by a touch!
All this while, it was only the gray of the morning, with but a streak of brightness along the edge of the sky, where Midas could not see it. He lay in a very disconsolate mood, regretting the downfall of his hopes, and kept growing sadder and sadder, until the earliest sunbeam shone through the window, and gilded the ceiling over his head. It seemed to Midas that this bright yellow sunbeam was reflected in rather a singular way on the white covering of the bed. Looking more closely, what was his astonishment and delight, when he found that this linen fabric had been transmuted to what seemed a woven texture of the purest and brightest gold! The Golden Touch had come to him with the first sunbeam!
Midas started up, in a kind of joyful frenzy, and ran about the room, grasping at everything that happened to be in his way. He seized one of the bed-posts, and it became immediately a fluted golden pillar. He pulled aside a window-curtain, in order to admit a clear spectacle of the wonders which he was performing; and the tassel grew heavy in his hand,–a mass of gold. He took up a book from the table. At his first touch, it assumed the appearance of such a splendidly bound and gilt-edged volume as one often meets with, nowadays; but, on running his fingers through the leaves, behold! it was a bundle of thin golden plates, in which all the wisdom of the book had grown illegible. He hurriedly put on his clothes, and was enraptured7 to see himself in a magnificent suit of gold cloth, which retained its flexibility and softness, although it burdened him a little with its weight. He drew out his handkerchief, which little Marygold had hemmed for him. That was likewise gold, with the dear child’s neat and pretty stitches running all along the border, in gold thread!
7. Enraptured (adjective) filled with delight
Somehow or other, this last transformation did not quite please King Midas. He would rather that his little daughter’s handiwork should have remained just the same as when she climbed his knee and put it into his hand.
But it was not worthwhile to vex8 himself about a trifle. Midas now took his spectacles from his pocket, and put them on his nose, in order that he might see more distinctly what he was about. In those days, spectacles for common people had not been invented, but were already worn by kings; else, how could Midas have had any? To his great perplexity,9 however, excellent as the glasses were, he discovered that he could not possibly see through them. But this was the most natural thing in the world; for, on taking them off, the transparent crystals turned out to be plates of yellow metal, and, of course, were worthless as spectacles, though valuable as gold. It struck Midas as rather inconvenient that, with all his wealth, he could never again be rich enough to own a pair of serviceable spectacles.
“It is no great matter, nevertheless,” said he to himself, very philosophically. “We cannot expect any great good, without its being accompanied with some small inconvenience. The Golden Touch is worth the sacrifice of a pair of spectacles, at least, if not of one’s very eyesight. My own eyes will serve for ordinary purposes, and little Marygold will soon be old enough to read to me.”
Wise King Midas was so exalted by his good fortune, that the palace seemed not sufficiently spacious to contain him. He therefore went down stairs, and smiled, on observing that the balustrade10 of the staircase became a bar of burnished gold, as his hand passed over it, in his descent. He lifted the door latch (it was brass only a moment ago, but golden when his fingers quitted it), and emerged into the garden. Here, as it happened, he found a great number of beautiful roses in full bloom, and others in all the stages of lovely bud and blossom. Very delicious was their fragrance in the morning breeze. Their delicate blush was one of the fairest sights in the world; so gentle, so modest, and so full of sweet tranquility,11 did these roses seem to be.
But Midas knew a way to make them far more precious, according to his way of thinking, than roses had ever been before. So he took great pains in going from bush to bush, and exercised his magic touch most indefatigably;12 until every individual flower and bud, and even the worms at the heart of some of them, were changed to gold. By the time this good work was completed, King Midas was summoned to breakfast; and as the morning air had given him an excellent appetite, he made haste back to the palace.
What was usually a king’s breakfast in the days of Midas, I really do not know, and cannot stop now to investigate. To the best of my belief, however, on this particular morning, the breakfast consisted of hot cakes, some nice little brook trout, roasted potatoes, fresh boiled eggs, and coffee, for King Midas himself, and a bowl of bread and milk for his daughter Marygold. At all events, this is a breakfast fit to set before a king; and, whether he had it or not, King Midas could not have had a better.
8. Vex (verb) to bother or distress 9. Perplexity (noun) confusion or bewilderment
10. A balustrade is an old term for a railing. 11. Tranquility (noun) calm or peace 12. Indefatigably (adverb) without fatigue, untiringly
Little Marygold had not yet made her appearance. Her father ordered her to be called, and, seating himself at table, awaited the child’s coming, in order to begin his own breakfast. To do Midas justice, he really loved his daughter, and loved her so much the more this morning, on account of the good fortune which had befallen him. It was not a great while before he heard her coming along the passageway crying bitterly. This circumstance surprised him, because Marygold was one of the cheerfullest little people whom you would see in a summer’s day, and hardly shed a thimbleful of tears in a twelvemonth. When Midas heard her sobs, he determined to put little Marygold into better spirits, by an agreeable surprise; so, leaning across the table, he touched his daughter’s bowl (which was a China one, with pretty figures all around it), and transmuted13 it to gleaming gold.
Meanwhile, Marygold slowly and disconsolately14 opened the door, and showed herself with her apron at her eyes, still sobbing as if her heart would break.
“How now, my little lady!” cried Midas. “Pray what is the matter with you, this bright morning?”
Marygold, without taking the apron from her eyes, held out her hand, in which was one of the roses which Midas had so recently transmuted.
“Beautiful!” exclaimed her father. “And what is there in this magnificent golden rose to make you cry?”
“Ah, dear father!” answered the child, as well as her sobs would let her; “it is not beautiful, but the ugliest flower that ever grew! As soon as I was dressed I ran into the garden to gather some roses for you; because I know you like them, and like them the better when gathered by your little daughter. But, oh dear, dear me! What do you think has happened? Such a misfortune! All the beautiful roses, that smelled so sweetly and had so many lovely blushes, are blighted and spoilt! They are grown quite yellow, as you see this one, and have no longer any fragrance! What can have been the matter with them?”
“Poh, my dear little girl — pray don’t cry about it!” said Midas, who was ashamed to confess that he himself had wrought the change which so greatly afflicted her. “Sit down and eat your bread and milk. You will find it easy enough to exchange a golden rose like that (which will last hundreds of years) for an ordinary one which would wither in a day.”
“I don’t care for such roses as this!” cried Marygold, tossing it contemptuously15 away. “It has no smell, and the hard petals prick my nose!”
The child now sat down to table, but was so occupied with her grief for the blighted roses that she did not even notice the wonderful transmutation of her China bowl. Perhaps this was all the better; for Marygold was accustomed to take pleasure in looking at the queer figures, and strange trees and houses, that were painted on the circumference of the bowl; and these ornaments were now entirely lost in the yellow hue of the metal.
Midas, meanwhile, had poured out a cup of coffee, and, as a matter of course, the coffee-pot, whatever metal it may have been when he took it up, was gold when he set it down. He thought to himself, that it was rather an extravagant style of splendor, in a king of his simple habits, to breakfast off a service of gold, and began to be puzzled with the difficulty of keeping his treasures safe. The cupboard and the kitchen would no longer be a secure place of deposit for articles so valuable as golden bowls and coffee-pots.
13. to apply the fabled alchemical process of changing base metals into gold 14. Disconsolately (adverb) without cheer, in a downcast or dejected manner 15. Contemptuously (adverb) expressing hatred or disapproval
Amid these thoughts, he lifted a spoonful of coffee to his lips, and, sipping it, was astonished to perceive that, the instant his lips touched the liquid, it became molten gold, and, the next moment, hardened into a lump!
“Ha!” exclaimed Midas, rather aghast.
“What is the matter, father?” asked little Marygold, gazing at him, with the tears still standing in her eyes.
“Nothing, child, nothing!” said Midas. “Eat your milk, before it gets quite cold.”
He took one of the nice little trouts on his plate, and, by way of experiment, touched its tail with his finger. To his horror, it was immediately transmuted from an admirably fried brook-trout into a gold-fish, though not one of those gold-fishes which people often keep in glass globes, as ornaments for the parlor. No; but it was really a metallic fish, and looked as if it had been very cunningly made by the nicest gold-smith in the world. Its little bones were now golden wires; its fins and tail were thin plates of gold; and there were the marks of the fork in it, and all the delicate, frothy appearance of a nicely fried fish, exactly imitated in metal. A very pretty piece of work, as you may suppose; only King Midas, just at that moment, would much rather have had a real trout in his dish than this elaborate and valuable imitation of one.
“I don’t quite see,” thought he to himself, “how I am to get any breakfast!”
He took one of the smoking-hot cakes, and had scarcely broken it, when, to his cruel mortification,16 though, a moment before, it had been of the whitest wheat, it assumed the yellow hue of Indian meal. To say the truth, if it had really been a hot Indian cake, Midas would have prized it a good deal more than he now did, when its solidity and increased weight made him too bitterly sensible that it was gold. Almost in despair, he helped himself to a boiled egg, which immediately underwent a change similar to those of the trout and the cake. The egg, indeed, might have been mistaken for one of those which the famous goose, in the story-book, was in the habit of laying; but King Midas was the only goose17 that had had anything to do with the matter.
“Well, this is a quandary!”18 thought he, leaning back in his chair, and looking quite enviously at little Marygold, who was now eating her bread and milk with great satisfaction. “Such a costly breakfast before me, and nothing that can be eaten!”
Hoping that, by dint of great dispatch, he might avoid what he now felt to be a considerable inconvenience, King Midas next snatched a hot potato, and attempted to cram it into his mouth, and swallow it in a hurry. But the Golden Touch was too nimble for him. He found his mouth full, not of mealy potato, but of solid metal, which so burnt his tongue that he roared aloud, and, jumping up from the table, began to dance and stamp about the room, both with pain and affright.
“Father, dear father!” cried little Marygold, who was a very affectionate child, “pray what is the matter? Have you burnt your mouth?”
“Ah, dear child,” groaned Midas, dolefully,19 “I don’t know what is to become of your poor father!”
16. Mortification (noun) embarrassment, humiliation, or shame 17. The term “goose,” besides referring to the animal, also means idiot. 18. Quandary (noun) a state of confusion or doubt 19. Dolefully (adverb) expressing grief or sadness
And, truly, my dear little folks, did you ever hear of such a pitiable case in all your lives? Here was literally the richest breakfast that could be set before a king, and its very richness made it absolutely good for nothing. The poorest laborer, sitting down to his crust of bread and cup of water, was far better off than King Midas, whose delicate food was really worth its weight in gold. And what was to be done? Already, at breakfast, Midas was excessively hungry. Would he be less so by dinner-time? And how ravenous would be his appetite for supper, which must undoubtedly consist of the same sort of indigestible dishes as those now before him! How many days, think you, would he survive a continuance of this rich fare?
These reflections so troubled wise King Midas, that he began to doubt whether, after all, riches are the one desirable thing in the world, or even the most desirable. But this was only a passing thought. So fascinated was Midas with the glitter of the yellow metal, that he would still have refused to give up the Golden Touch for so paltry20 a consideration as a breakfast. Just imagine what a price for one meal’s victuals!21 It would have been the same as paying millions and millions of money (and as many millions more as would take forever to reckon up) for some fried trout, an egg, a potato, a hot cake, and a cup of coffee!
“It would be quite too dear,” thought Midas.
Nevertheless, so great was his hunger, and the perplexity of his situation, that he again groaned aloud, and very grievously too. Our pretty Marygold could endure it no longer. She sat, a moment, gazing at her father, and trying, with all the might of her little wits, to find out what was the matter with him. Then, with a sweet and sorrowful impulse to comfort him, she started from her chair, and, running to Midas, threw her arms affectionately about his knees. He bent down and kissed her. He felt that his little daughter’s love was worth a thousand times more than he had gained by the Golden Touch.
“My precious, precious Marygold!” cried he.
But Marygold made no answer.
Alas, what had he done? How fatal was the gift which the stranger bestowed! The moment the lips of Midas touched Marygold’s forehead, a change had taken place. Her sweet, rosy face, so full of affection as it had been, assumed a glittering yellow color, with yellow tear-drops congealing on her cheeks. Her beautiful brown ringlets took the same tint. Her soft and tender little form grew hard and inflexible within her father’s encircling arms. Oh, terrible misfortune! The victim of his insatiable22 desire for wealth, little Marygold was a human child no longer, but a golden statue!
Yes, there she was, with the questioning look of love, grief, and pity, hardened into her face. It was the prettiest and most woeful sight that ever mortal saw. All the features and tokens of Marygold were there; even the beloved little dimple remained in her golden chin. But, the more perfect was the resemblance, the greater was the father’s agony at beholding this golden image, which was all that was left him of a daughter. It had been a favorite phrase of Midas, whenever he felt particularly fond of the child, to say that she was worth her weight in gold. And now the phrase had become literally true. And now, at last, when it was too late, he felt how infinitely a warm and tender heart, that loved him, exceeded in value all the wealth that could be piled up betwixt23 the earth and sky!
20. Paltry (adjective) unimportant, trivial, or inferior 21. food 22. Insatiable (adjective) impossible to satisfy 23. archaic term for “between”
It would be too sad a story, if I were to tell you how Midas, in the fullness of all his gratified desires, began to wring his hands and bemoan himself; and how he could neither bear to look at Marygold, nor yet to look away from her. Except when his eyes were fixed on the image, he could not possibly believe that she was changed to gold. But, stealing another glance, there was the precious little figure, with a yellow tear-drop on its yellow cheek, and a look so piteous and tender, that it seemed as if that very expression must needs soften the gold, and make it flesh again. This, however, could not be. So Midas had only to wring his hands, and to wish that he were the poorest man in the wide world, if the loss of all his wealth might bring back the faintest rose-color to his dear child’s face.
While he was in this tumult24 of despair, he suddenly beheld a stranger standing near the door. Midas bent down his head, without speaking; for he recognized the same figure which had appeared to him, the day before, in the treasure-room, and had bestowed on him this disastrous faculty25 of the Golden Touch. The stranger’s countenance26 still wore a smile, which seemed to shed a yellow lustre all about the room, and gleamed on little Marygold’s image, and on the other objects that had been transmuted by the touch of Midas.
“Well, friend Midas,” said the stranger, “pray how do you succeed with the Golden Touch?”
Midas shook his head.
“I am very miserable,” said he.
“Very miserable, indeed!” exclaimed the stranger. “And how happens that? Have I not faithfully kept my promise with you? Have you not everything that your heart desired?”
“Gold is not everything,” answered Midas. “And I have lost all that my heart really cared for.”
“Ah! So you have made a discovery, since yesterday?” observed the stranger. “Let us see, then. Which of these two things do you think is really worth the most — the gift of the Golden Touch, or one cup of clear cold water?”
“O blessed water!” exclaimed Midas. “It will never moisten my parched throat again!”
“The Golden Touch,” continued the stranger, “or a crust of bread?”
“A piece of bread,” answered Midas, “is worth all the gold on earth!”
“The Golden Touch,” asked the stranger, “or your own little Marygold, warm, soft, and loving as she was an hour ago?”
“Oh my child, my dear child!” cried poor Midas wringing his hands. “I would not have given that one small dimple in her chin for the power of changing this whole big earth into a solid lump of gold!”
24. a state of agitation; a spasm of strong emotions 25. Faculty (noun) ability, power 26. Countenance (noun) a person’s face or facial expression
“You are wiser than you were, King Midas!” said the stranger, looking seriously at him. “Your own heart, I perceive, has not been entirely changed from flesh to gold. Were it so, your case would indeed be desperate. But you appear to be still capable of understanding that the commonest things, such as lie within everybody’s grasp, are more valuable than the riches which so many mortals sigh and struggle after. Tell me, now, do you sincerely desire to rid yourself of this Golden Touch?”
“It is hateful to me!” replied Midas.
A fly settled on his nose, but immediately fell to the floor; for it, too, had become gold. Midas shuddered.
“Go, then,” said the stranger, “and plunge into the river that glides past the bottom of your garden. Take likewise a vase of the same water, and sprinkle it over any object that you may desire to change back again from gold into its former substance. If you do this in earnestness and sincerity, it may possibly repair the mischief which your avarice27 has occasioned28.”
King Midas bowed low; and when he lifted his head, the lustrous stranger had vanished.
You will easily believe that Midas lost no time in snatching up a great earthen pitcher (but, alas me! it was no longer earthen after he touched it), and hastening to the river-side. As he scampered along, and forced his way through the shrubbery, it was positively marvelous to see how the foliage turned yellow behind him, as if the autumn had been there, and nowhere else. On reaching the river’s brink, he plunged headlong in, without waiting so much as to pull off his shoes.
“Poof! poof! poof!” snorted King Midas, as his head emerged out of the water. “Well; this is really a refreshing bath, and I think it must have quite washed away the Golden Touch. And now for filling my pitcher!”
As he dipped the pitcher into the water, it gladdened his very heart to see it change from gold into the same good, honest earthen vessel which it had been before he touched it. He was conscious, also, of a change within himself. A cold, hard, and heavy weight seemed to have gone out of his bosom. No doubt, his heart had been gradually losing its human substance, and transmuting itself into insensible metal, but had now softened back again into flesh. Perceiving a violet, that grew on the bank of the river, Midas touched it with his finger, and was overjoyed to find that the delicate flower retained its purple hue, instead of undergoing a yellow blight. The curse of the Golden Touch had, therefore, really been removed from him.
King Midas hastened back to the palace; and, I suppose, the servants knew not what to make of it when they saw their royal master so carefully bringing home an earthen pitcher of water. But that water, which was to undo all the mischief that his folly had wrought, was more precious to Midas than an ocean of molten gold could have been. The first thing he did, as you need hardly be told, was to sprinkle it by handfuls over the golden figure of little Marygold.
No sooner did it fall on her than you would have laughed to see how the rosy color came back to the dear child’s cheek and how she began to sneeze and sputter! — and how astonished she was to find herself dripping wet, and her father still throwing more water over her!
“Pray do not, dear father!” cried she. “See how you have wet my nice frock, which I put on only this morning!”
27. Avarice (noun) greed 28. “Occasion,” as a verb, means “to cause.”
“The Golden Touch” by Nathaniel Hawthorne is in the public domain.
Unless otherwise noted, this content is licensed under the CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license
For Marygold did not know that she had been a little golden statue; nor could she remember anything that had happened since the moment when she ran with outstretched arms to comfort poor King Midas.
Her father did not think it necessary to tell his beloved child how very foolish he had been, but contented himself with showing how much wiser he had now grown. For this purpose, he led little Marygold into the garden, where he sprinkled all the remainder of the water over the rose-bushes, and with such good effect that above five thousand roses recovered their beautiful bloom. There were two circumstances, however, which, as long as he lived, used to put King Midas in mind of the Golden Touch. One was, that the sands of the river sparkled like gold; the other, that little Marygold’s hair had now a golden tinge, which he had never observed in it before she had been transmuted by the effect of his kiss. This change of hue was really an improvement, and made Marygold’s hair richer than in her babyhood.
When King Midas had grown quite an old man, and used to trot Marygold’s children on his knee, he was fond of telling them this marvelous story, pretty much as I have now told it to you. And then would he stroke their glossy ringlets, and tell them that their hair, likewise, had a rich shade of gold, which they had inherited from their mother.
“And to tell you the truth, my precious little folks,” quoth King Midas, diligently29 trotting the children all the while, “ever since that morning, I have hated the very sight of all other gold, save this!”
29. Diligently (adverb) attentive and persistent in doing something
Directions: For the following questions, choose the best answer or respond in complete sentences.
1. In the story, which of the following items, turned to gold, first foreshadows the damaging consequences of the Golden Touch?
A. The window-curtain B. The handkerchief C. The spectacles D. Marygold’s rose
2. PART A: What does the term “lustrous” most closely mean as used in paragraph 9?
A. Sneaky and mischievous B. Kind and generous C. Shining and sparkling D. Dark and shadowy
3. PART B: Which phrase from the text best supports the answer to Part A?
A. “intending any mischief” (Paragraph 8) B. “came to do Midas a favor” (Paragraph 8) C. “the stranger gazed about the room” (Paragraph 9) D. “glistened upon all the golden objects” (Paragraph 9)
4. PART A: Which of the following best identifies a theme in the text?
A. Greed can have dire consequences. B. Love others more than you love yourself. C. Nature should be valued over riches. D. Too much pride makes a person unpopular.
5. PART B: Which quote best supports the answer to Part A?
A. “All the beautiful roses, that smelled so sweetly and had so many lovely blushes, are blighted and spoilt!” (Paragraph 40)
B. “‘Ah, dear child,’ groaned Midas, dolefully, ‘I don’t know what is to become of your poor father!’” (Paragraph 55)
C. “…Have I not faithfully kept my promise with you? Have you not everything that your heart desired?” (Paragraph 69)
D. “Gold is not everything,” answered Midas. “And I have lost all that my heart really cared for.” (Paragraph 70)
Directions: Brainstorm your answers to the following questions in the space provided. Be prepared to share your original ideas in a class discussion.
1. Can wealth drive us apart from others, especially those we love? Why or why not? Cite evidence from this text, your own experience, and other literature, art, or history in your answer.
2. Can money buy happiness? Cite evidence from this text, your own experience, and other literature, art, or history in your answer.
- The Golden Touch
- By Nathaniel Hawthorne
- Text-Dependent Questions
- Discussion Questions
Cupid and Psyche
A certain king and queen had three daughters. The charms of the two elder were more than common, but the beauty of the youngest was so wonderful that the poverty of language is unable to express its due praise. The fame of her beauty was so great that strangers from neighboring countries came in crowds to enjoy the sight, and looked on her with amazement, paying her that homage which is due only to Venus herself. In fact Venus found her altars deserted, while men turned their devotion to this young virgin. As she passed along, the people sang her praises, and strewed her way with chaplets and flowers.
This homage to the exaltation of a mortal gave great offense to the real Venus. Shaking her ambrosial locks with indignation, she exclaimed, “Am I then to be eclipsed in my honors by a mortal girl? In vain then did that royal shepherd, whose judgment was approved by Jove himself, give me the palm of beauty over my illustrious rivals, Pallas and Juno. But she shall not so quietly usurp my honors. I will give her cause to repent of so unlawful a beauty.”
Thereupon she calls her winged son Cupid, mischievous enough in his own nature, and rouses and provokes him yet more by her complaints. She points out Psyche to him and says, “My dear son, punish that contumacious beauty; give your mother a revenge as sweet as her injuries are great; infuse into the bosom of that haughty girl a passion for some low, mean, unworthy being, so that she may reap a mortification as great as her present exultation and triumph.”
Cupid prepared to obey the commands of his mother. There are two fountains in Venus’s garden, one of sweet waters, the other of bitter. Cupid filled two amber vases, one from each fountain, and suspending them from the top of his quiver, hastened to the chamber of Psyche, whom he found asleep. He shed a few drops from the bitter fountain over her lips, though the sight of her almost moved him to pity; then touched her side with the point of his arrow. At the touch she awoke, and opened eyes upon Cupid (himself invisible), which so startled him that in his confusion he wounded himself with his own arrow. Heedless of his wound, his whole thought now was to repair the mischief he had done, and he poured the balmy drops of joy over all her silken ringlets.
Psyche, henceforth frowned upon by Venus, derived no benefit from all her charms. True, all eyes were cast eagerly upon her, and every mouth spoke her praises; but neither king, royal youth, nor plebeian presented himself to demand her in marriage. Her two elder sisters of moderate charms had now long been married to two royal princes; but Psyche, in her lonely apartment, deplored her solitude, sick of that beauty which, while it procured abundance of flattery, had failed to awaken love.
Her parents, afraid that they had unwittingly incurred the anger of the gods, consulted the oracle of Apollo, and received this answer, “The virgin is destined for the bride of no mortal lover. Her future husband awaits her on the top of the mountain. He is a monster whom neither gods nor men can resist.”
This dreadful decree of the oracle filled all the people with dismay, and her parents abandoned themselves to grief. But Psyche said, “Why, my dear parents, do you now lament me? You should rather have grieved when the people showered upon me undeserved honors, and with one voice called me a Venus. I now perceive that I am a victim to that name. I submit. Lead me to that rock to which my unhappy fate has destined me.”
Accordingly, all things being prepared, the royal maid took her place in the procession, which more resembled a funeral than a nuptial pomp, and with her parents, amid the lamentations of the people, ascended the mountain, on the summit of which they left her alone, and with sorrowful hearts returned home.
While Psyche stood on the ridge of the mountain, panting with fear and with eyes full of tears, the gentle Zephyr raised her from the earth and bore her with an easy motion into a flowery dale. By degrees her mind became composed, and she laid herself down on the grassy bank to sleep.
When she awoke refreshed with sleep, she looked round and beheld nearby a pleasant grove of tall and stately trees. She entered it, and in the midst discovered a fountain, sending forth clear and crystal waters, and fast by, a magnificent palace whose august front impressed the spectator that it was not the work of mortal hands, but the happy retreat of some god. Drawn by admiration and wonder, she approached the building and ventured to enter.
Every object she met filled her with pleasure and amazement. Golden pillars supported the vaulted roof, and the walls were enriched with carvings and paintings representing beasts of the chase and rural scenes, adapted to delight the eye of the beholder. Proceeding onward, she perceived that besides the apartments of state there were others filled with all manner of treasures, and beautiful and precious productions of nature and art.
While her eyes were thus occupied, a voice addressed her, though she saw no one, uttering these words, “Sovereign lady, all that you see is yours. We whose voices you hear are your servants and shall obey all your commands with our utmost care and diligence. Retire, therefore, to your chamber and repose on your bed of down, and when you see fit, repair to the bath. Supper awaits you in the adjoining alcove when it pleases you to take your seat there.”
Psyche gave ear to the admonitions of her vocal attendants, and after repose and the refreshment of the bath, seated herself in the alcove, where a table immediately presented itself, without any visible aid from waiters or servants, and covered with the greatest delicacies of food and the most nectareous wines. Her ears too were feasted with music from invisible performers; of whom one sang, another played on the lute, and all closed in the wonderful harmony of a full chorus.
She had not yet seen her destined husband. He came only in the hours of darkness and fled before the dawn of morning, but his accents were full of love, and inspired a like passion in her. She often begged him to stay and let her behold him, but he would not consent. On the contrary he charged her to make no attempt to see him, for it was his pleasure, for the best of reasons, to keep concealed.
“Why should you wish to behold me?” he said. “Have you any doubt of my love? Have you any wish ungratified? If you saw me, perhaps you would fear me, perhaps adore me, but all I ask of you is to love me. I would rather you would love me as an equal than adore me as a god.”
This reasoning somewhat quieted Psyche for a time, and while the novelty lasted she felt quite happy. But at length the thought of her parents, left in ignorance of her fate, and of her sisters, precluded from sharing with her the delights of her situation, preyed on her mind and made her begin to feel her palace as but a splendid prison. When her husband came one night, she told him her distress, and at last drew from him an unwilling consent that her sisters should be brought to see her.
So, calling Zephyr, she acquainted him with her husband’s commands, and he, promptly obedient, soon brought them across the mountain down to their sister’s valley. They embraced her and she returned their caresses.
“Come,” said Psyche, “enter with me my house and refresh yourselves with whatever your sister has to offer.”
Then taking their hands she led them into her golden palace, and committed them to the care of her numerous train of attendant voices, to refresh them in her baths and at her table, and to show them all her treasures. The view of these celestial delights caused envy to enter their bosoms, at seeing their young sister possessed of such state and splendor, so much exceeding their own.
They asked her numberless questions, among others what sort of a person her husband was. Psyche replied that he was a beautiful youth, who generally spent the daytime in hunting upon the mountains.
The sisters, not satisfied with this reply, soon made her confess that she had never seen him. Then they proceeded to fill her bosom with dark suspicions. “Call to mind,” they said, “the Pythian oracle that declared you destined to marry a direful and tremendous monster. The inhabitants of this valley say that your husband is a terrible and monstrous serpent, who nourishes you for a while with dainties that he may by and by devour you. Take our advice. Provide yourself with a lamp and a sharp knife; put them in concealment that your husband may not discover them, and when he is sound asleep, slip out of bed, bring forth your lamp, and see for yourself whether what they say is true or not. If it is, hesitate not to cut off the monster’s head, and thereby recover your liberty.”
Psyche resisted these persuasions as well as she could, but they did not fail to have their effect on her mind, and when her sisters were gone, their words and her own curiosity were too strong for her to resist. So she prepared her lamp and a sharp knife, and hid them out of sight of her husband. When he had fallen into his first sleep, she silently rose and uncovering her lamp beheld not a hideous monster, but the most beautiful and charming of the gods, with his golden ringlets wandering over his snowy neck and crimson cheek, with two dewy wings on his shoulders, whiter than snow, and with shining feathers like the tender blossoms of spring.
As she leaned the lamp over to have a better view of his face, a drop of burning oil fell on the shoulder of the god. Startled, he opened his eyes and fixed them upon her. Then, without saying a word, he spread his white wings and flew out of the window. Psyche, in vain endeavoring to follow him, fell from the window to the ground.
Cupid, beholding her as she lay in the dust, stopped his flight for an instant and said, “Oh foolish Psyche, is it thus you repay my love? After I disobeyed my mother’s commands and made you my wife, will you think me a monster and cut off my head? But go; return to your sisters, whose advice you seem to think preferable to mine. I inflict no other punishment on you than to leave you for ever. Love cannot dwell with suspicion.” So saying, he fled away, leaving poor Psyche prostrate on the ground, filling the place with mournful lamentations.
When she had recovered some degree of composure she looked around her, but the palace and gardens had vanished, and she found herself in the open field not far from the city where her sisters dwelt. She repaired thither and told them the whole story of her misfortunes, at which, pretending to grieve, those spiteful creatures inwardly rejoiced.
“For now,” said they, “he will perhaps choose one of us.” With this idea, without saying a word of her intentions, each of them rose early the next morning and ascended the mountain, and having reached the top, called upon Zephyr to receive her and bear her to his lord; then leaping up, and not being sustained by Zephyr, fell down the precipice and was dashed to pieces.
Psyche meanwhile wandered day and night, without food or repose, in search of her husband. Casting her eyes on a lofty mountain having on its brow a magnificent temple, she sighed and said to herself, “Perhaps my love, my lord, inhabits there,” and directed her steps thither.
She had no sooner entered than she saw heaps of corn, some in loose ears and some in sheaves, with mingled ears of barley. Scattered about, lay sickles and rakes, and all the instruments of harvest, without order, as if thrown carelessly out of the weary reapers’ hands in the sultry hours of the day.
This unseemly confusion the pious Psyche put an end to, by separating and sorting everything to its proper place and kind, believing that she ought to neglect none of the gods, but endeavor by her piety to engage them all in her behalf. The holy Ceres, whose temple it was, finding her so religiously employed, thus spoke to her, “Oh Psyche, truly worthy of our pity, though I cannot shield you from the frowns of Venus, yet I can teach you how best to allay her displeasure. Go, then, and voluntarily surrender yourself to your lady and sovereign, and try by modesty and submission to win her forgiveness, and perhaps her favor will restore you the husband you have lost.”
Psyche obeyed the commands of Ceres and took her way to the temple of Venus, endeavoring to fortify her mind and ruminating on what she should say and how best propitiate the angry goddess, feeling that the issue was doubtful and perhaps fatal.
Venus received her with angry countenance. “Most undutiful and faithless of servants,” said she, “do you at last remember that you really have a mistress? Or have you rather come to see your sick husband, yet laid up of the wound given him by his loving wife? You are so ill favored and disagreeable that the only way you can merit your lover must be by dint of industry and diligence. I will make trial of your housewifery.” Then she ordered Psyche to be led to the storehouse of her temple, where was laid up a great quantity of wheat, barley, millet, vetches, beans, and lentils prepared for food for her pigeons, and said, “Take and separate all these grains, putting all of the same kind in a parcel by themselves, and see that you get it done before evening.” Then Venus departed and left her to her task.
But Psyche, in a perfect consternation at the enormous work, sat stupid and silent, without moving a finger to the inextricable heap.
While she sat despairing, Cupid stirred up the little ant, a native of the fields, to take compassion on her. The leader of the anthill, followed by whole hosts of his six-legged subjects, approached the heap, and with the utmost diligence taking grain by grain, they separated the pile, sorting each kind to its parcel; and when it was all done, they vanished out of sight in a moment.
Venus at the approach of twilight returned from the banquet of the gods, breathing odors and crowned with roses. Seeing the task done, she exclaimed, “This is no work of yours, wicked one, but his, whom to your own and his misfortune you have enticed.” So saying, she threw her a piece of black bread for her supper and went away.
Next morning Venus ordered Psyche to be called and said to her, “Behold yonder grove which stretches along the margin of the water. There you will find sheep feeding without a shepherd, with golden-shining fleeces on their backs. Go, fetch me a sample of that precious wool gathered from every one of their fleeces.”
Psyche obediently went to the riverside, prepared to do her best to execute the command. But the river god inspired the reeds with harmonious murmurs, which seemed to say, “Oh maiden, severely tried, tempt not the dangerous flood, nor venture among the formidable rams on the other side, for as long as they are under the influence of the rising sun, they burn with a cruel rage to destroy mortals with their sharp horns or rude teeth. But when the noontide sun has driven the cattle to the shade, and the serene spirit of the flood has lulled them to rest, you may then cross in safety, and you will find the woolly gold sticking to the bushes and the trunks of the trees.”
Thus the compassionate river god gave Psyche instructions how to accomplish her task, and by observing his directions she soon returned to Venus with her arms full of the golden fleece; but she received not the approbation of her implacable mistress, who said, “I know very well it is by none of your own doings that you have succeeded in this task, and I am not satisfied yet that you have any capacity to make yourself useful. But I have another task for you. Here, take this box and go your way to the infernal shades, and give this box to Proserpine and say, ‘My mistress Venus desires you to send her a little of your beauty, for in tending her sick son she has lost some of her own.’ Be not too long on your errand, for I must paint myself with it to appear at the circle of the gods and goddesses this evening.”
Psyche was now satisfied that her destruction was at hand, being obliged to go with her own feet directly down to Erebus. Wherefore, to make no delay of what was not to be avoided, she goes to the top of a high tower to precipitate herself headlong, thus to descend the shortest way to the shades below. But a voice from the tower said to her, “Why, poor unlucky girl, do you design to put an end to your days in so dreadful a manner? And what cowardice makes you sink under this last danger who have been so miraculously supported in all your former?” Then the voice told her how by a certain cave she might reach the realms of Pluto, and how to avoid all the dangers of the road, to pass by Cerberus, the three-headed dog, and prevail on Charon, the ferryman, to take her across the black river and bring her back again. But the voice added, “When Proserpine has given you the box filled with her beauty, of all things this is chiefly to be observed by you, that you never once open or look into the box nor allow your curiosity to pry into the treasure of the beauty of the goddesses.”
Psyche, encouraged by this advice, obeyed it in all things, and taking heed to her ways traveled safely to the kingdom of Pluto. She was admitted to the palace of Proserpine, and without accepting the delicate seat or delicious banquet that was offered her, but contented with coarse bread for her food, she delivered her message from Venus. Presently the box was returned to her, shut and filled with the precious commodity. Then she returned the way she came, and glad was she to come out once more into the light of day.
But having got so far successfully through her dangerous task a longing desire seized her to examine the contents of the box. “What,” said she, “shall I, the carrier of this divine beauty, not take the least bit to put on my cheeks to appear to more advantage in the eyes of my beloved husband!” So she carefully opened the box, but found nothing there of any beauty at all, but an infernal and truly Stygian sleep, which being thus set free from its prison, took possession of her, and she fell down in the midst of the road, a sleepy corpse without sense or motion.
But Cupid, being now recovered from his wound, and not able longer to bear the absence of his beloved Psyche, slipping through the smallest crack of the window of his chamber which happened to be left open, flew to the spot where Psyche lay, and gathering up the sleep from her body closed it again in the box, and waked Psyche with a light touch of one of his arrows. “Again,” said he, “have you almost perished by the same curiosity. But now perform exactly the task imposed on you by my mother, and I will take care of the rest.”
Then Cupid, as swift as lightning penetrating the heights of heaven, presented himself before Jupiter with his supplication. Jupiter lent a favoring ear, and pleaded the cause of the lovers so earnestly with Venus that he won her consent. On this he sent Mercury to bring Psyche up to the heavenly assembly, and when she arrived, handing her a cup of ambrosia, he said, “Drink this, Psyche, and be immortal; nor shall Cupid ever break away from the knot in which he is tied, but these nuptials shall be perpetual.”
Thus Psyche became at last united to Cupid, and in due time they had a daughter born to them whose name was Pleasure.
- Source: Thomas Bulfinch, The Age of Fable; or, Stories of Gods and Heroes, 3rd edition (Boston: Sanborn, Carter, Bazin and Company, 1855), ch. 11, pp. 115-28.
- Edited by D. L. Ashliman, © 2001.
- Bulfinch’s source is The Golden Ass (books 4-6) by the Roman writer Lucius Apuleius.
- Link to Apuleius’ “Cupid and Psyche”: The Story of Cupid and Psyche, translated from the Latin of Apuleius by Charles Stuttaford; illustrated by Jessie Mothersole (London: David Nutt, 1903).
- Link to Apuleius’ novel The Metamorphosis; or, Golden Ass of Apuleius, translated from the original Latin by Thomas Taylor (London: Robert Triphook and Thomas Rudd, 1822). The inserted story of Cupid and Psyche is found on pages 66-99.
- Lucius Apuleius was born about 124 in northern Africa and was educated in Carthage and Athens. The account of Cupid and Psyche is presented in his novel The Golden Ass (also titled The Metamorphoses, or Metamorphosis) as an “old wive’s tale” told by an old woman to comfort a young woman who has been abducted by a band of robbers and is being held for ransome.
- In the main Bulfinch retells Apuleius’ story with accuracy and sensitivity, but he does omit a few important details, for example:
- Psyche is pregnant with Cupid’s child throughout her search for her lost husband, a fact emphasized by Apuleius.
- The cruel treatment meted out to Psyche by her mother-in-law Venus is substantially understated in Bulfinch’s account.
- Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 425B.
- Link to a Norwgian folktale of type 425B: East of the Sun and West of the Moon.
Return to D. L. Ashliman’s folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.
Revised January 14, 2020.
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The Gift of the Magi
by O. Henry
This story was originally published on Dec 10, 1905 in The New York Sunday World as “Gifts of the Magi.” It was subsequently published as The Gift of the Magi in O. Henry’s 1906 short story collection The Four Million. We created The Gift of the Magi Study Guide for this story to benefit teachers and students.
One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.
There was clearly nothing left to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.
While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the look-out for the mendicancy squad.
In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name “Mr. James Dillingham Young.”
The “Dillingham” had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, the letters of “Dillingham” looked blurred, as though they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called “Jim” and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.
Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a grey cat walking a grey fence in a grey backyard. To-morrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn’t go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling–something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honour of being owned by Jim.
There was a pier-glass between the windows of the room. Perhaps you have seen a pier-glass in an $8 Bat. A very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks. Della, being slender, had mastered the art.
Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass. Her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its colour within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length.
Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim’s gold watch that had been his father’s and his grandfather’s. The other was Della’s hair. Had the Queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out of the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty’s jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.
So now Della’s beautiful hair fell about her, rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. And then she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.
On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she cluttered out of the door and down the stairs to the street.
Where she stopped the sign read: “Mme Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds.” One Eight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the “Sofronie.”
“Will you buy my hair?” asked Della.
“I buy hair,” said Madame. “Take yer hat off and let’s have a sight at the looks of it.”
Down rippled the brown cascade.
“Twenty dollars,” said Madame, lifting the mass with a practised hand.
“Give it to me quick” said Della.
Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim’s present.
She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation–as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim’s. It was like him. Quietness and value–the description applied to both. Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 78 cents. With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.
When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task dear friends–a mammoth task.
Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.
“If Jim doesn’t kill me,” she said to herself, “before he takes a second look at me, he’ll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do–oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty-seven cents?”
At 7 o’clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.
Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment. She had a habit of saying little silent prayers about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered: “Please, God, make him think I am still pretty.”
The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two–and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was with out gloves.
Jim stepped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.
Della wriggled off the table and went for him.
“Jim, darling,” she cried, “don’t look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold it because I couldn’t have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It’ll grow out again–you won’t mind, will you? I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say ‘Merry Christmas!’ Jim, and let’s be happy. You don’t know what a nice-what a beautiful, nice gift I’ve got for you.”
“You’ve cut off your hair?” asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet, even after the hardest mental labour.
“Cut it off and sold it,” said Della. “Don’t you like me just as well, anyhow? I’m me without my hair, ain’t I?”
Jim looked about the room curiously.
“You say your hair is gone?” he said, with an air almost of idiocy.
“You needn’t look for it,” said Della. “It’s sold, I tell you–sold and gone, too. It’s Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered,” she went on with a sudden serious sweetness, “but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?”
Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year–what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later on.
Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.
“Don’t make any mistake, Dell,” he said, “about me. I don’t think there’s anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you’ll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first.”
White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.
For there lay The Combs–the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped for long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise-shell, with jewelled rims–just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.
But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: “My hair grows so fast, Jim!”
And then Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, “Oh, oh!”
Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.
“Isn’t it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You’ll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it.”
Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.
“Dell,” said he, “let’s put our Christmas presents away and keep ’em a while. They’re too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on.”
The magi, as you know, were wise men–wonderfully wise men-who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.The Gift of the Magi was featured as The Short Story of the Day on Wed, Dec 23, 2020
The Gift of the Magi is featured in our collections: Christmas Stories and Short Stories for Middle School. If you enjoyed it, try Giovanni Boccaccio’s Federigo’s Falcon, and The Necklace, both employing ironic twists, and great examples for comparative analysis. Teachers and students may benefit from our The Gift of the Magi Study Guide to more fully enjoy the story.
8.1 Create a library and add your favorite stories. Get started by clicking the “Add” button. Add The Gift of the Magi to your own personal library. Add The Gift of the Magi to your own personal library.
THE OPEN BOATA TALE INTENDED TO BE AFTER THE FACT. BEING THEEXPERIENCE OF FOUR MEN SUNK FROM THE STEAMERCOMMODOREBy Stephen CraneI
NONE of them knew the color of the sky. Their eyes glanced level, and
were fastened upon the waves that swept toward them. These waves were of the
hue of slate, save for the tops, which were of foaming white, and all of the
men knew the colors of the sea. The horizon narrowed and widened, and dipped
and rose, and at all times its edge was jagged with waves that seemed thrust
up in points like rocks.
Many a man ought to have a bath-tub larger than the boat which here rode
upon the sea. These waves were most wrongfully and barbarously abrupt and
tall, and each froth-top was a problem in small boat navigation.
The cook squatted in the bottom and looked with both eyes at the six
inches of gunwale which separated him from the ocean. His sleeves were
rolled over his fat forearms, and the two flaps of his unbuttoned vest
dangled as he bent to bail out the boat. Often he said: “Gawd! That was a
narrow clip.” As he remarked it he invariably gazed eastward over the broken
The oiler, steering with one of the two oars in the boat, sometimes
raised himself suddenly to keep clear of water that swirled in over the
stern. It was a thin little oar and it seemed often ready to snap.
The correspondent, pulling at the other oar, watched the waves and
wondered why he was there.
The injured captain, lying in the bow, was at this time buried in that
profound dejection and indifference which comes, temporarily at least, to
even the bravest and most enduring when, willy nilly, the firm fails, the
army loses, the ship goes down. The mind of the master of a vessel is rooted
deep in the timbers of her, though he command for a day or a decade, and
this captain had on him the stern impression of a scene in the grays of dawn
of seven turned faces, and later a stump of a top-mast with a white ball on
it that slashed to and fro at the waves, went low and lower, and down.
Thereafter there was something strange in his voice. Although steady, it was
deep with mourning, and of a quality beyond oration or tears.
“Keep’er a little more south, Billie,” said he.
“‘A little more south,’ sir,” said the oiler in the stern.
A seat in this boat was not unlike a seat upon a bucking broncho, and, by
the same token, a broncho is not much smaller. The craft pranced and reared,
and plunged like an animal. As each wave came, and she rose for it, she
seemed like a horse making at a fence outrageously high. The manner of her
scramble over these walls of water is a mystic thing, and, moreover, at the
top of them were ordinarily these problems in white water, the foam racing
down from the summit of each wave, requiring a new leap, and a leap from the
air. Then, after scornfully bumping a crest, she would slide, and race, and
splash down a long incline and arrive bobbing and nodding in front of the
A singular disadvantage of the sea lies in the fact that after
successfully surmounting one wave you discover that there is another behind
it just as important and just as nervously anxious to do something effective
in the way of swamping boats. In a ten-foot dingey one can get an idea of
the resources of the sea in the line of waves that is not probable to the
average experience, which is never at sea in a dingey. As each slaty wall of
water approached, it shut all else from the view of the men in the boat, and
it was not difficult to imagine that this particular wavewas the final outburst of the ocean, the last effort of the grim water.
There was a terrible grace in the move of the waves, and they came in
silence, save for the snarling of the crests.
In the wan light, the faces of the men must have been gray. Their eyes
must have glinted in strange ways as they gazed steadily astern. Viewed from
a balcony, the whole thing would doubtlessly have been weirdly picturesque.
But the men in the boat had no time to see it, and if they had had leisure
there were other things to occupy their minds. The sun swung steadily up the
sky, and they knew it was broad day because the color of the sea changed
from slate to emerald-green, streaked with amber lights, and the foam was
like tumbling snow. The process of the breaking day was unknown to them.
They were aware only of this effect upon the color of the waves that rolled
In disjointed sentences the cook and the correspondent argued as to the
difference between a life-saving station and a house of refuge. The cook had
said: “There’s a house of refuge just north of the Mosquito Inlet Light, and
as soon as they see us, they’ll come off in their boat and pick us up.”
“As soon as who see us?” said the correspondent.
“The crew,” said the cook.
“Houses of refuge don’t have crews,” said the correspondent. “As I
understand them, they are only places where clothes and grub are stored for
the benefit of shipwrecked people. They don’t carry crews.”
“Oh, yes, they do,” said the cook.
“No, they don’t,” said the correspondent.
“Well, we’re not there yet, anyhow,” said the oiler, in the stern.
“Well,” said the cook, “perhaps it’s not a house of refuge that I’m
thinking of as being near Mosquito Inlet Light. Perhaps it’s a life-saving
“We’re not there yet,” said the oiler, in the stern.II.
As the boat bounced from the top of each wave, the wind tore through the
hair of the hatless men, and as the craft plopped her stern down again the
spray slashed past them. The crest of each of these waves was a hill, from
the top of which the men surveyed, for a moment, a broad tumultuous expanse;
shining and wind-riven. It was probably splendid. It was probably glorious,
this play of the free sea, wild with lights of emerald and white and amber.
“Bully good thing it’s an on-shore wind,” said the cook. “If not, where
would we be? Wouldn’t have a show.”
“That’s right,” said the correspondent.
The busy oiler nodded his assent.
Then the captain, in the bow, chuckled in a way that expressed humor,
contempt, tragedy, all in one. “Do you think we’ve got much of a show, now,
boys?” said he.
Whereupon the three were silent, save for a trifle of hemming and hawing.
To express any particular optimism at this time they felt to be childish and
stupid, but they all doubtless possessed this sense of the situation in
their mind. A young man thinks doggedly at such times. On the other hand,
the ethics of their condition was decidedly against any open suggestion of
hopelessness. So they were silent.
“Oh, well,” said the captain, soothing his children, “we’ll get ashore
But there was that in his tone which made them think, so the oiler quoth:
“Yes! If this wind holds!”
The cook was bailing: “Yes! If we don’t catch hell in the surf.”
Canton flannel gulls flew near and far. Sometimes they sat down on the
sea, near patches of brown sea-weed that rolled over the waves with a
movement like carpets on line in a gale. The birds sat comfortably in
groups, and they were envied by some in the dingey, for the wrath of the sea
was no more to them than it was to a covey of prairie chickens a thousand
miles inland. Often they came very close and stared at the men with black
bead-like eyes. At these times they were uncanny and sinister in their
unblinking scrutiny, and the men hooted angrily at them, telling them to be
gone. One came, and evidently decided to alight on the top of the captain’s
head. The bird flew parallel to the boat and did not circle, but made short
sidelong jumps in the air in chicken-fashion. His black eyes were wistfully
fixed upon the captain’s head. “Ugly brute,” said the oiler to the bird.
“You look as if you were made with a jack-knife.” The cook and the
correspondent swore darkly at the creature. The captain naturally wished to
knock it away with the end of the heavy painter, but he did not dare do it,
because anything resembling an emphatic gesture would have capsized this
freighted boat, and so with his open hand, the captain gently and carefully
waved the gull away. After it had been discouraged from the pursuit the
captain breathed easier on account of his hair, and others breathed easier
because the bird struck their minds at this time as being somehow grewsome
In the meantime the oiler and the correspondent rowed. And also they
They sat together in the same seat, and each rowed an oar. Then the oiler
took both oars; then the correspondent took both oars; then the oiler; then
the correspondent. They rowed and they rowed. The very ticklish part of the
business was when the time came for the reclining one in the stern to take
his turn at the oars. By the very last star of truth, it is easier to steal
eggs from under a hen than it was to change seats in the dingey. First the
man in the stern slid his hand along the thwart and moved with care, as if
he were of Sevres. Then the man in the rowing seat slid his hand along the
other thwart. It was all done with the most extraordinary care. As the two
sidled past each other, the whole party kept watchful eyes on the coming
wave, and the captain cried: “Look out now! Steady there!”
The brown mats of sea-weed that appeared from time to time were like
islands, bits of earth. They were travelling, apparently, neither one way
nor the other. They were, to all intents stationary. They informed the men
in the boat that it was making progress slowly toward the land.
The captain, rearing cautiously in the bow, after the dingey soared on a
great swell, said that he had seen the lighthouse at Mosquito Inlet.
Presently the cook remarked that he had seen it. The correspondent was at
the oars, then, and for some reason he too wished to look at the lighthouse,
but his back was toward the far shore and the waves were important, and for
some time he could not seize an opportunity to turn his head. But at last
there came a wave more gentle than the others, and when at the crest of it
he swiftly scoured the western horizon.
“See it?” said the captain.
“No,” said the correspondent, slowly, “I didn’t see anything.”
“Look again,” said the captain. He pointed. “It’s exactly in that
At the top of another wave, the correspondent did as he was bid, and this
time his eyes chanced on a small still thing on the edge of the swaying
horizon. It was precisely like the point of a pin. It took an anxious eye to
find a lighthouse so tiny.
“Think we’ll make it, captain?”
“If this wind holds and the boat don’t swamp, we can’t do much else,”
said the captain.
The little boat, lifted by each towering sea, and splashed viciously by
the crests, made progress that in the absence of sea-weed was not apparent
to those in her. She seemed just a wee thing wallowing, miraculously,
top-up, at the mercy of five oceans. Occasionally, a great spread of water,
like white flames, swarmed into her.
“Bail her, cook,” said the captain, serenely.
“All right, captain,” said the cheerful cook.III
IT would be difficult to describe the subtle brotherhood of men that was
here established on the seas. No one said that it was so. No one mentioned
it. But it dwelt in the boat, and each man felt it warm him. They were a
captain, an oiler, a cook, and a correspondent, and they were friends,
friends in a more curiously iron-bound degree than may be common. The hurt
captain, lying against the water-jar in the bow, spoke always in a low voice
and calmly, but he could never command a more ready and swiftly obedient
crew than the motley three of the dingey. It was more than a mere
recognition of what was best for the common safety. There was surely in it a
quality that was personal and heartfelt. And after this devotion to the
commander of the boat there was this comradeship that the correspondent, for
instance, who had been taught to be cynical of men, knew even at the time
was the best experience of his life. But no one said that it was so. No one mentioned it.
“I wish we had a sail,” remarked the captain. “We might try my overcoat
on the end of an oar and give you two boys a chance to rest.” So the cook
and the correspondent held the mast and spread wide the overcoat. The oiler
steered, and the little boat made good way with her new rig. Sometimes the
oiler had to scull sharply to keep a sea from breaking into the boat, but
otherwise sailing was a success.
Meanwhile the light-house had been growing slowly larger. It had now
almost assumed color, and appeared like a little gray shadow on the sky. The
man at the oars could not be prevented from turning his head rather often to
try for a glimpse of this little gray shadow.
At last, from the top of each wave the men in the tossing boat could see
land. Even as the light-house was an upright shadow on the sky, this land
seemed but a long black shadow on the sea. It certainly was thinner than
paper. “We must be about opposite New Smyrna,” said the cook, who had
coasted this shore often in schooners. “Captain, by the way, I believe they
abandoned that life-saving station there about a year ago.”
“Did they?” said the captain.
The wind slowly died away. The cook and the correspondent were not now
obliged to slave in order to hold high the oar. But the waves continued
their old impetuous swooping at the dingey, and the little craft, no longer
under way, struggled woundily over them. The oiler or the correspondent took
the oars again.
Shipwrecks are apropos of nothing. If men could only train for them and
have them occur when the men had reached pink condition, there would be less
drowning at sea. Of the four in the dingey none had slept any time worth
mentioning for two days and two nights previous to embarking in the dingey,
and in the excitement of clambering about the deck of a foundering ship they
had also forgotten to eat heartily.
For these reasons, and for others, neither the oiler nor the
correspondent was fond of rowing at this time. The correspondent wondered
ingenuously how in the name of all that was sane could there be people who
thought it amusing to row a boat. It was not an amusement; it was a
diabolical punishment, and even a genius of mental aberrations could never
conclude that it was anything but a horror to the muscles and a crime
against the back. He mentioned to the boat in general how the amusement of
rowing struck him, and the weary-faced oiler smiled in full sympathy.
Previously to the foundering, by the way, the oiler had worked double-watch
in the engine-room of the ship.
“Take her easy, now, boys,” said the captain. “Don’t spend yourselves. If
we have to run a surf you’ll need all your strength, because we’ll sure have
to swim for it. Take your time.”
Slowly the land arose from the sea. From a black line it became a line of
black and a line of white, trees, and sand. Finally, the captain said that
he could make out a house on the shore. “That’s the house of refuge, sure,”
said the cook. “They’ll see us before long, and come out after us.”
The distant light-house reared high. “The keeper ought to be able to make
us out now, if he’s looking through a glass,” said the captain. “He’ll
notify the life-saving people.”
“None of those other boats could have got ashore to give word of the
wreck,” said the oiler, in a low voice. “Else the life-boat would be out
Slowly and beautifully the land loomed out of the sea. The wind came
again. It had veered from the northeast to the southeast. Finally, a new
sound struck the ears of the men in the boat. It was the low thunder of the
surf on the shore. “We’ll never be able to make the light-house now,” said
the captain. “Swing her head a little more north, Billie,” said the captain.
“‘A little more north,’ sir,” said the oiler.
Whereupon the little boat turned her nose once more down the wind, and
all but the oarsman watched the shore grow. Under the influence of this
expansion doubt and direful apprehension was leaving the minds of the men.
The management of the boat was still most absorbing, but it could not
prevent a quiet cheerfulness. In an hour, perhaps, they would be ashore.
Their back-bones had become thoroughly used to balancing in the boat and they now rode this wild colt of a dingey
like circus men. The correspondent thought that he had been drenched to the
skin, but happening to feel in the top pocket of his coat, he found therein
eight cigars. Four of them were soaked with sea-water; four were perfectly
scatheless. After a search, somebody produced three dry matches, and
thereupon the four waifs rode in their little boat, and with an assurance of
an impending rescue shining in their eyes, puffed at the big cigars and
judged well and ill of all men. Everybody took a drink of water.IV
“COOK,” remarked the captain, “there don’t seem to be any signs of life
about your house of refuge.”
“No,” replied the cook. “Funny they don’t see us!”
A broad stretch of lowly coast lay before the eyes of the men. It was of
low dunes topped with dark vegetation. The roar of the surf was plain, and
sometimes they could see the white lip of a wave as it spun up the beach. A
tiny house was blocked out black upon the sky. Southward, the slim
light-house lifted its little gray length.
Tide, wind, and waves were swinging the dingey northward. “Funny they
don’t see us,” said the men.
The surf’s roar was here dulled, but its tone was, nevertheless,
thunderous and mighty. As the boat swam over the great rollers, the men sat
listening to this roar. “We’ll swamp sure,” said everybody.
It is fair to say here that there was not a life-saving station within
twenty miles in either direction, but the men did not know this fact and in
consequence they made dark and opprobrious remarks concerning the eyesight
of the nation’s life-savers. Four scowling men sat in the dingey and
surpassed records in the invention of epithets.
“Funny they don’t see us.”
The light-heartedness of a former time had completely faded. To their
sharpened minds it was easy to conjure pictures of all kinds of incompetency
and blindness and indeed, cowardice. There was the shore of the populous
land, and it was bitter and bitter to them that from it came no sign.
“Well,” said the captain, ultimately, “I suppose we’ll have to make a try
for ourselves. If we stay out here too long, we’ll none of us have strength
left to swim after the boat swamps.”
And so the oiler, who was at the oars, turned the boat straight for the
shore. There was a sudden tightening of muscles. There was some thinking.
“If we don’t all get ashore — ” said the captain. “If we don’t all get
ashore, I suppose you fellows know where to send news of my finish?”
They then briefly exchanged some addresses and admonitions. As for the
reflections of the men, there was a great deal of rage in them. Perchance
they might be formulated thus: “If I am going to be drowned — if I am going
to be drowned — if I am going to be drowned, why, in the name of the seven
mad gods who rule the sea, was I allowed to come thus far and contemplate
sand and trees? Was I brought here merely to have my nose dragged away as I
was about to nibble the sacred cheese of life? It is preposterous. If this
old ninny-woman, Fate, cannot do better than this, she should be deprived of
the management of men’s fortunes. She is an old hen who knows not her
intention. If she has decided to drown me, why did she not do it in the
beginning and save me all this trouble. The whole affair is absurd. . . .
But, no, she cannot mean to drown me. She dare not drown me. She cannot
drown me. Not after all this work.” Afterward the man might have had an
impulse to shake his fist at the clouds: “Just you drown me, now, and then
hear what I call you!”
The billows that came at this time were more formidable. They seemed
always just about to break and roll over the little boat in a turmoil of
foam. There was a preparatory and long growl in the speech of them. No mind
unused to the sea would have concluded that the dingey could ascend these
sheer heights in time. The shore was still afar. The oiler was a wily
surfman. “Boys,” he said, swiftly, “she won’t live three minutes more and
we’re too far out to swim. Shall I take her to sea again, captain?”
“Yes! Go ahead!” said the captain.
This oiler, by a series of quick miracles, and fast and steady
oarsmanship, turned the boat in the middle of the surf and took her safely to sea again.
There was a considerable silence as the boat bumped over the furrowed sea
to deeper water. Then somebody in gloom spoke. “Well, anyhow, they must have
seen us from the shore by now.”
The gulls went in slanting flight up the wind toward the gray desolate
east. A squall, marked by dingy clouds, and clouds brick-red, like smoke
from a burning building, appeared from the southeast.
“What do you think of those life-saving people? Ain’t they peaches?”
“Funny they haven’t seen us.”
“Maybe they think we’re out here for sport! Maybe they think we’re
fishin’. Maybe they think we’re damned fools.”
It was a long afternoon. A changed tide tried to force them southward,
but wind and wave said northward. Far ahead, where coast-line, sea, and sky
formed their mighty angle, there were little dots which seemed to indicate a
city on the shore.
The captain shook his head. “Too near Mosquito Inlet.”
And the oiler rowed, and then the correspondent rowed. Then the oiler
rowed. It was a weary business. The human back can become the seat of more
aches and pains than are registered in books for the composite anatomy of a
regiment. It is a limited area, but it can become the theatre of innumerable
muscular conflicts, tangles, wrenches, knots, and other comforts.
“Did you ever like to row, Billie?” asked the correspondent.
“No,” said the oiler. “Hang it.”
When one exchanged the rowing-seat for a place in the bottom of the boat,
he suffered a bodily depression that caused him to be careless of everything
save an obligation to wiggle one finger. There was cold sea-water swashing
to and fro in the boat, and he lay in it. His head, pillowed on a thwart,
was within an inch of the swirl of a wave crest, and sometimes a
particularly obstreperous sea came in-board and drenched him once more. But
these matters did not annoy him. It is almost certain that if the boat had
capsized he would have tumbled comfortably out upon the ocean as if he felt
sure it was a great soft mattress.
“Look! There’s a man on the shore!”
“There! See ‘im? See ‘im?”
“Yes, sure! He’s walking along.”
“Now he’s stopped. Look! He’s facing us!”
“He’s waving at us!”
“So he is! By thunder!”
“Ah, now, we’re all right! Now we’re all right! There’ll be a boat out
here for us in half an hour.”
“He’s going on. He’s running. He’s going up to that house there.”
The remote beach seemed lower than the sea, and it required a searching
glance to discern the little black figure. The captain saw a floating stick
and they rowed to it. A bath-towel was by some weird chance in the boat,
and, tying this on the stick, the captain waved it. The oarsman did not dare
turn his head, so he was obliged to ask questions.
“What’s he doing now?”
“He’s standing still again. He’s looking, I think. . . . There he goes
again. Toward the house. . . . Now he’s stopped again.”
“Is he waving at us?”
“No, not now! he was, though.”
“Look! There comes another man!”
“Look at him go, would you.”
“Why, he’s on a bicycle. Now he’s met the other man. They’re both waving
at us. Look!”
“There comes something up the beach.”
“What the devil is that thing?”
“Why, it looks like a boat.”
“Why, certainly it’s a boat.”
“No, it’s on wheels.”
“Yes, so it is. Well, that must be the life-boat. They drag them along
shore on a wagon.”
“That’s the life-boat, sure.”
“No, by — — , it’s — it’s an omnibus.”
“I tell you it’s a life-boat.”
“It is not! It’s an omnibus. I can see it plain. See? One of these big
“By thunder, you’re right. It’s an omnibus, sure as fate. What do you
suppose they are doing with an omnibus? Maybe they are going around
collecting the life-crew, hey?”
“That’s it, likely. Look! There’s a fellow waving a little black flag.
He’s standing on the steps of the omnibus.
There come those other two fellows. Now they’re all talking together. Look
at the fellow with the flag. Maybe he ain’t waving it.”
“That ain’t a flag, is it? That’s his coat. Why, certainly, that’s his
“So it is. It’s his coat. He’s taken it off and is waving it around his
head. But would you look at him swing it.”
“Oh, say, there isn’t any life-saving station there. That’s just a winter
resort hotel omnibus that has brought over some of the boarders to see us
“What’s that idiot with the coat mean? What’s he signaling, anyhow?”
“It looks as if he were trying to tell us to go north. There must be a
life-saving station up there.”
“No! He thinks we’re fishing. Just giving us a merry hand. See? Ah,
“Well, I wish I could make something out of those signals. What do you
suppose he means?”
“He don’t mean anything. He’s just playing.”
“Well, if he’d just signal us to try the surf again, or to go to sea and
wait, or go north, or go south, or go to hell — there would be some reason
in it. But look at him. He just stands there and keeps his coat revolving
like a wheel. The ass!”
“There come more people.”
“Now there’s quite a mob. Look! Isn’t that a boat?”
“Where? Oh, I see where you mean. No, that’s no boat.”
“That fellow is still waving his coat.”
“He must think we like to see him do that. Why don’t he quit it. It don’t
“I don’t know. I think he is trying to make us go north. It must be that
there’s a life-saving station there somewhere.”
“Say, he ain’t tired yet. Look at ‘im wave.”
“Wonder how long he can keep that up. He’s been revolving his coat ever
since he caught sight of us. He’s an idiot. Why aren’t they getting men to
bring a boat out. A fishing boat — one of those big yawls — could come out
here all right. Why don’t he do something?”
“Oh, it’s all right, now.”
“They’ll have a boat out here for us in less than no time, now that
they’ve seen us.”
A faint yellow tone came into the sky over the low land. The shadows on
the sea slowly deepened. The wind bore coldness with it, and the men began
“Holy smoke!” said one, allowing his voice to express his impious mood,
“if we keep on monkeying out here! If we’ve got to flounder out here all
“Oh, we’ll never have to stay here all night! Don’t you worry. They’ve
seen us now, and it won’t be long before they’ll come chasing out after us.”
The shore grew dusky. The man waving a coat blended gradually into this
gloom, and it swallowed in the same manner the omnibus and the group of
people. The spray, when it dashed uproariously over the side, made the
voyagers shrink and swear like men who were being branded.
“I’d like to catch the chump who waved the coat. I feel like soaking him
one, just for luck.”
“Why? What did he do?”
“Oh, nothing, but then he seemed so damned cheerful.”
In the meantime the oiler rowed, and then the correspondent rowed, and
then the oiler rowed. Gray-faced and bowed forward, they mechanically, turn
by turn, plied the leaden oars. The form of the light-house had vanished
from the southern horizon, but finally a pale star appeared, just lifting
from the sea. The streaked saffron in the west passed before the all-merging
darkness, and the sea to the east was black. The land had vanished, and was
expressed only by the low and drear thunder of the surf.
“If I am going to be drowned — if I am going to be drowned — if I am
going to be drowned, why, in the name of the seven mad gods, who rule the
sea, was I allowed to come thus far and contemplate sand and trees? Was I
brought here merely to have my nose dragged away as I was about to nibble
the sacred cheese of life?”
The patient captain, drooped over the water-jar, was sometimes obliged to
speak to the oarsman.
“Keep her head up! Keep her head up!”
“‘Keep her head up,’ sir.” The voices were weary and low.
This was surely a quiet evening. All save the oarsman lay heavily and
listlessly in the boat’s bottom. As for him, his eyes
were just capable of noting the tall black waves that swept forward in a
most sinister silence, save for an occasional subdued growl of a crest.
The cook’s head was on a thwart, and he looked without interest at the
water under his nose. He was deep in other scenes. Finally he spoke.
“Billie,” he murmured, dreamfully, “what kind of pie do you like best?”V
“PIE,” said the oiler and the correspondent, agitatedly. “Don’t talk
about those things, blast you!”
“Well,” said the cook, “I was just thinking about ham sandwiches, and —
A night on the sea in an open boat is a long night. As darkness settled
finally, the shine of the light, lifting from the sea in the south, changed
to full gold. On the northern horizon a new light appeared, a small bluish
gleam on the edge of the waters. These two lights were the furniture of the
world. Otherwise there was nothing but waves.
Two men huddled in the stern, and distances were so magnificent in the
dingey that the rower was enabled to keep his feet partly warmed by
thrusting them under his companions. Their legs indeed extended far under
the rowing-seat until they touched the feet of the captain forward.
Sometimes, despite the efforts of the tired oarsman, a wave came piling into
the boat, an icy wave of the night, and the chilling water soaked them anew.
They would twist their bodies for a moment and groan, and sleep the dead
sleep once more, while the water in the boat gurgled about them as the craft
The plan of the oiler and the correspondent was for one to row until he
lost the ability, and then arouse the other from his sea-water couch in the
bottom of the boat.
The oiler plied the oars until his head drooped forward, and the
overpowering sleep blinded him. And he rowed yet afterward. Then he touched
a man in the bottom of the boat, and called his name. “Will you spell me for
a little while?” he said, meekly.
“Sure, Billie,” said the correspondent, awakening and dragging himself to
a sitting position. They exchanged places carefully, and the oiler, cuddling
down to the sea-water at the cook’s side, seemed to go to sleep instantly.
The particular violence of the sea had ceased. The waves came without
snarling. The obligation of the man at the oars was to keep the boat headed
so that the tilt of the rollers would not capsize her, and to preserve her
from filling when the crests rushed past. The black waves were silent and
hard to be seen in the darkness. Often one was almost upon the boat before
the oarsman was aware.
In a low voice the correspondent addressed the captain. He was not sure
that the captain was awake, although this iron man seemed to be always
awake. “Captain, shall I keep her making for that light north, sir?”
The same steady voice answered him. “Yes. Keep it about two points off
the port bow.”
The cook had tied a life-belt around himself in order to get even the
warmth which this clumsy cork contrivance could donate, and he seemed almost
stove-like when a rower, whose teeth invariably chattered wildly as soon as
he ceased his labor, dropped down to sleep.
The correspondent, as he rowed, looked down at the two men sleeping under
foot. The cook’s arm was around the oiler’s shoulders, and, with their
fragmentary clothing and haggard faces, they were the babes of the sea, a
grotesque rendering of the old babes in the wood.
Later he must have grown stupid at his work, for suddenly there was a
growling of water, and a crest came with a roar and a swash into the boat,
and it was a wonder that it did not set the cook afloat in his life-belt.
The cook continued to sleep, but the oiler sat up, blinking his eyes and
shaking with the new cold.
“Oh, I’m awful sorry, Billie,” said the correspondent, contritely.
“That’s all right, old boy,” said the oiler, and lay down again and was
Presently it seemed that even the captain dozed, and the correspondent
thought that he was the one man afloat on all the oceans. The wind had a
voice as it came over the waves, and it was sadder than the end.
There was a long, loud swishing astern of the boat, and a gleaming trail
of phosphorescence, like blue flame, was furrowed on the black waters. It might have been made by a monstrous knife.
Then there came a stillness, while the correspondent breathed with the
open mouth and looked at the sea.
Suddenly there was another swish and another long flash of bluish light,
and this time it was alongside the boat, and might almost have been reached
with an oar. The correspondent saw an enormous fin speed like a shadow
through the water, hurling the crystalline spray and leaving the long
The correspondent looked over his shoulder at the captain. His face was
hidden, and he seemed to be asleep. He looked at the babes of the sea. They
certainly were asleep. So, being bereft of sympathy, he leaned a little way
to one side and swore softly into the sea.
But the thing did not then leave the vicinity of the boat. Ahead or
astern, on one side or the other, at intervals long or short, fled the long
sparkling streak, and there was to be heard the whiroo of the dark fin. The
speed and power of the thing was greatly to be admired. It cut the water
like a gigantic and keen projectile.
The presence of this biding thing did not affect the man with the same
horror that it would if he had been a picnicker. He simply looked at the sea
dully and swore in an undertone.
Nevertheless, it is true that he did not wish to be alone with the thing.
He wished one of his companions to awaken by chance and keep him company
with it. But the captain hung motionless over the water-jar and the oiler
and the cook in the bottom of the boat were plunged in slumber.VI
“IF I am going to be drowned — if I am going to be drowned — if I am
going to be drowned, why, in the name of the seven mad gods, who rule the
sea, was I allowed to come thus far and contemplate sand and trees?”
During this dismal night, it may be remarked that a man would conclude
that it was really the intention of the seven mad gods to drown him, despite
the abominable injustice of it. For it was certainly an abominable injustice
to drown a man who had worked so hard, so hard. The man felt it would be a
crime most unnatural. Other people had drowned at sea since galleys swarmed
with painted sails, but still —
When it occurs to a man that nature does not regard him as important, and
that she feels she would not maim the universe by disposing of him, he at
first wishes to throw bricks at the temple, and he hates deeply the fact
that there are no bricks and no temples. Any visible expression of nature
would surely be pelleted with his jeers.
Then, if there be no tangible thing to hoot he feels, perhaps, the desire
to confront a personification and indulge in pleas, bowed to one knee, and
with hands supplicant, saying: “Yes, but I love myself.”
A high cold star on a winter’s night is the word he feels that she says
to him. Thereafter he knows the pathos of his situation.
The men in the dingey had not discussed these matters, but each had, no
doubt, reflected upon them in silence and according to his mind. There was
seldom any expression upon their faces save the general one of complete
weariness. Speech was devoted to the business of the boat.
To chime the notes of his emotion, a verse mysteriously entered the
correspondent’s head. He had even forgotten that he had forgotten this
verse, but it suddenly was in his mind.
A soldier of the Legion lay dying in Algiers,
There was lack of woman’s nursing, there was dearth of woman’s
But a comrade stood beside him, and he took that comrade’s hand
And he said: “I shall never see my own, my native land.”
In his childhood, the correspondent had been made acquainted with the
fact that a soldier of the Legion lay dying in Algiers, but he had never
regarded the fact as important. Myriads of his school-fellows had informed
him of the soldier’s plight, but the dinning had naturally ended by making
him perfectly indifferent. He had never considered it his affair that a
soldier of the Legion lay dying in Algiers, nor had it appeared to him as a
matter for sorrow. It was less to him than breaking of a pencil’s point.
Now, however, it quaintly came to him as a human, living thing. It was no
longer merely a picture of a few throes in the breast of a poet, meanwhile
drinking tea and warming his feet at the grate; it was an actuality —
stern, mournful, and fine.
The correspondent plainly saw the soldier. He lay on the sand with his
feet out straight and still. While his pale left hand was upon his chest in
an attempt to thwart the going of his life, the blood came between his
fingers. In the far Algerian distance, a city of low square forms was set
against a sky that was faint with the last sunset hues. The correspondent,
plying the oars and dreaming of the slow and slower movements of the lips of
the soldier, was moved by a profound and perfectly impersonal comprehension.
He was sorry for the soldier of the Legion who lay dying in Algiers.
The thing which had followed the boat and waited had evidently grown
bored at the delay. There was no longer to be heard the slash of the
cut-water, and there was no longer the flame of the long trail. The light in
the north still glimmered, but it was apparently no nearer to the boat.
Sometimes the boom of the surf rang in the correspondent’s ears, and he
turned the craft seaward then and rowed harder. Southward, someone had
evidently built a watch-fire on the beach. It was too low and too far to be
seen, but it made a shimmering, roseate reflection upon the bluff back of
it, and this could be discerned from the boat. The wind came stronger, and
sometimes a wave suddenly raged out like a mountain-cat and there was to be
seen the sheen and sparkle of a broken crest.
The captain, in the bow, moved on his water-jar and sat erect. “Pretty
long night,” he observed to the correspondent. He looked at the shore.
“Those life-saving people take their time.”
“Did you see that shark playing around?”
“Yes, I saw him. He was a big fellow, all right.”
“Wish I had known you were awake.”
Later the correspondent spoke into the bottom of the boat.
“Billie!” There was a slow and gradual disentanglement. “Billie, will you
“Sure,” said the oiler.
As soon as the correspondent touched the cold comfortable sea-water in
the bottom of the boat, and had huddled close to the cook’s life-belt he was
deep in sleep, despite the fact that his teeth played all the popular airs.
This sleep was so good to him that it was but a moment before he heard a
voice call his name in a tone that demonstrated the last stages of
exhaustion. “Will you spell me?”
The light in the north had mysteriously vanished, but the correspondent
took his course from the wide-awake captain.
Later in the night they took the boat farther out to sea, and the captain
directed the cook to take one oar at the stern and keep the boat facing the
seas. He was to call out if he should hear the thunder of the surf. This
plan enabled the oiler and the correspondent to get respite together. “We’ll
give those boys a chance to get into shape again,” said the captain. They
curled down and, after a few preliminary chatterings and trembles, slept
once more the dead sleep. Neither knew they had bequeathed to the cook the
company of another shark, or perhaps the same shark.
As the boat caroused on the waves, spray occasionally bumped over the
side and gave them a fresh soaking, but this had no power to break their
repose. The ominous slash of the wind and the water affected them as it
would have affected mummies.
“Boys,” said the cook, with the notes of every reluctance in his voice,
“she’s drifted in pretty close. I guess one of you had better take her to
sea again.” The correspondent, aroused, heard the crash of the toppled
As he was rowing, the captain gave him some whiskey and water, and this
steadied the chills out of him. “If I ever get ashore and anybody shows me
even a photograph of an oar — “
At last there was a short conversation.
“Billie. . . . Billie, will you spell me?”
“Sure,” said the oiler.VII
WHEN the correspondent again opened his eyes, the sea and the sky were
each of the gray hue of the dawning. Later, carmine
and gold was painted upon the waters. The morning appeared finally, in its
splendor with a sky of pure blue, and the sunlight flamed on the tips of the
On the distant dunes were set many little black cottages, and a tall
white wind-mill reared above them. No man, nor dog, nor bicycle appeared on
the beach. The cottages might have formed a deserted village.
The voyagers scanned the shore. A conference was held in the boat.
“Well,” said the captain, “if no help is coming, we might better try a run
through the surf right away. If we stay out here much longer we will be too
weak to do anything for ourselves at all.” The others silently acquiesced in
this reasoning. The boat was headed for the beach. The correspondent
wondered if none ever ascended the tall wind-tower, and if then they never
looked seaward. This tower was a giant, standing with its back to the plight
of the ants. It represented in a degree, to the correspondent, the serenity
of nature amid the struggles of the individual — nature in the wind, and
nature in the vision of men. She did not seem cruel to him, nor beneficent,
nor treacherous, nor wise. But she was indifferent, flatly indifferent. It
is, perhaps, plausible that a man in this situation, impressed with the
unconcern of the universe, should see the innumerable flaws of his life and
have them taste wickedly in his mind and wish for another chance. A
distinction between right and wrong seems absurdly clear to him, then, in
this new ignorance of the grave-edge, and he understands that if he were
given another opportunity he would mend his conduct and his words, and be
better and brighter during an introduction, or at a tea.
“Now, boys,” said the captain, “she is going to swamp sure. All we can do
is to work her in as far as possible, and then when she swamps, pile out and
scramble for the beach. Keep cool now and don’t jump until she swamps sure.”
The oiler took the oars. Over his shoulders he scanned the surf.
“Captain,” he said, “I think I’d better bring her about, and keep her
head-on to the seas and back her in.”
“All right, Billie,” said the captain. “Back her in.” The oiler swung the
boat then and, seated in the stern, the cook and the correspondent were
obliged to look over their shoulders to contemplate the lonely and
The monstrous inshore rollers heaved the boat high until the men were
again enabled to see the white sheets of water scudding up the slanted
beach. “We won’t get in very close,” said the captain. Each time a man could
wrest his attention from the rollers, he turned his glance toward the shore,
and in the expression of the eyes during this contemplation there was a
singular quality. The correspondent, observing the others, knew that they
were not afraid, but the full meaning of their glances was shrouded.
As for himself, he was too tired to grapple fundamentally with the fact.
He tried to coerce his mind into thinking of it, but the mind was dominated
at this time by the muscles, and the muscles said they did not care. It
merely occurred to him that if he should drown it would be a shame.
There were no hurried words, no pallor, no plain agitation. The men
simply looked at the shore. “Now, remember to get well clear of the boat
when you jump,” said the captain.
Seaward the crest of a roller suddenly fell with a thunderous crash, and
the long white comber came roaring down upon the boat.
“Steady now,” said the captain. The men were silent. They turned their
eyes from the shore to the comber and waited. The boat slid up the incline,
leaped at the furious top, bounced over it, and swung down the long back of
the waves. Some water had been shipped and the cook bailed it out.
But the next crest crashed also. The tumbling boiling flood of white
water caught the boat and whirled it almost perpendicular. Water swarmed in
from all sides. The correspondent had his hands on the gunwale at this time,
and when the water entered at that place he swiftly withdrew his fingers, as
if he objected to wetting them.
The little boat, drunken with this weight of water, reeled and snuggled
deeper into the sea.
“Bail her out, cook! Bail her out,” said the captain.
“All right, captain,” said the cook.
“Now, boys, the next one will do for
us, sure,” said the oiler. “Mind to jump clear of the boat.”
The third wave moved forward, huge, furious, implacable. It fairly
swallowed the dingey, and almost simultaneously the men tumbled into the
sea. A piece of life-belt had lain in the bottom of the boat, and as the
correspondent went overboard he held this to his chest with his left hand.
The January water was icy, and he reflected immediately that it was
colder than he had expected to find it off the coast of Florida. This
appeared to his dazed mind as a fact important enough to be noted at the
time. The coldness of the water was sad; it was tragic. This fact was
somehow mixed and confused with his opinion of his own situation that it
seemed almost a proper reason for tears. The water was cold.
When he came to the surface he was conscious of little but the noisy
water. Afterward he saw his companions in the sea. The oiler was ahead in
the race. He was swimming strongly and rapidly. Off to the correspondent’s
left, the cook’s great white and corked back bulged out of the water, and in
the rear the captain was hanging with his one good hand to the keel of the
There is a certain immovable quality to a shore, and the correspondent
wondered at it amid the confusion of the sea.
It seemed also very attractive, but the correspondent knew that it was a
long journey, and he paddled leisurely. The piece of life-preserver lay
under him, and sometimes he whirled down the incline of a wave as if he were
on a hand-sled.
But finally he arrived at a place in the sea where travel was beset with
difficulty. He did not pause swimming to inquire what manner of current had
caught him, but there his progress ceased. The shore was set before him like
a bit of scenery on a stage, and he looked at it and understood with his
eyes each detail of it.
As the cook passed, much farther to the left, the captain was calling to
him, “Turn over on your back, cook! Turn over on your back and use the oar.”
“All right, sir!” The cook turned on his back, and, paddling with an oar,
went ahead as if he were a canoe.
Presently the boat also passed to the left of the correspondent with the
captain clinging with one hand to the keel. He would have appeared like a
man raising himself to look over a board fence, if it were not for the
extraordinary gymnastics of the boat. The correspondent marvelled that the
captain could still hold to it.
They passed on, nearer to shore — the oiler, the cook, the captain —
and following them went the water-jar, bouncing gayly over the seas.
The correspondent remained in the grip of this strange new enemy — a
current. The shore, with its white slope of sand and its green bluff, topped
with little silent cottages, was spread like a picture before him. It was
very near to him then, but he was impressed as one who in a gallery looks at
a scene from Brittany or Algiers.
He thought: “I am going to drown? Can it be possible? Can it be possible?
Can it be possible?” Perhaps an individual must consider his own death to be
the final phenomenon of nature.
But later a wave perhaps whirled him out of this small deadly current,
for he found suddenly that he could again make progress toward the shore.
Later still, he was aware that the captain, clinging with one hand to the
keel of the dingey, had his face turned away from the shore and toward him,
and was calling his name. “Come to the boat! Come to the boat!”
In his struggle to reach the captain and the boat, he reflected that when
one gets properly wearied, drowning must really be a comfortable
arrangement, a cessation of hostilities accompanied by a large degree of
relief, and he was glad of it, for the main thing in his mind for some
moments had been horror of the temporary agony. He did not wish to be hurt.
Presently he saw a man running along the shore. He was undressing with
most remarkable speed. Coat, trousers, shirt, everything flew magically off
“Come to the boat,” called the captain.
“All right, captain.” As the correspondent paddled, he saw the captain
let himself down to bottom and leave the boat. Then the correspondent
performed his one little marvel of the voyage. A large wave caught him and
flung him with ease and supreme speed completely over the boat and far
beyond it. It struck him even then as an event in gymnastics, and a true
miracle of the sea. An overturned boat in the surf is not a plaything to a
The correspondent arrived in water that reached only to his waist, but
his condition did not enable him to stand for more than a moment. Each wave
knocked him into a heap, and the under-tow pulled at him.
Then he saw the man who had been running and undressing, and undressing
and running, come bounding into the water. He dragged ashore the cook, and
then waded toward the captain, but the captain waved him away, and sent him
to the correspondent. He was naked, naked as a tree in winter, but a halo
was about his head, and he shone like a saint. He gave a strong pull, and a
long drag, and a bully heave at the correspondent’s hand. The correspondent,
schooled in the minor formulae, said: “Thanks, old man.” But suddenly the
man cried: “What’s that?” He pointed a swift finger. The correspondent said:
In the shallows, face downward, lay the oiler. His forehead touched sand
that was periodically, between each wave, clear of the sea.
The correspondent did not know all that transpired afterward. When he
achieved safe ground he fell, striking the sand with each particular part of
his body. It was as if he had dropped from a roof, but the thud was grateful
It seems that instantly the beach was populated with men with blankets,
clothes, and flasks, and women with coffee-pots and all the remedies sacred
to their minds. The welcome of the land to the men from the sea was warm and
generous, but a still and dripping shape was carried slowly up the beach,
and the land’s welcome for it could only be the different and sinister
hospitality of the grave.
When it came night, the white waves paced to and fro in the moonlight,
and the wind brought the sound of the great sea’s voice to the men on shore,
and they felt that they could then be interpreters.