English Literature

Freaks of Fortune; or, Half Round The World by Oliver Optic

Freaks of Fortune; or, Half Round The World by Oliver Optic

CHAPTER I.

THREE YEARS AFTER.

“This is the spot, Bessie,” said Levi Fairfield, as he paused on the bank of the brook which flows into the bay near Mike’s Point.

“But what was the thing you made?” asked Bessie Watson, as she looked with interest at the place indicated, though she could not see anything very remarkable, or even strange.

“It was a young saw-mill,” laughed Levi. “It rested on those flat stones you see there; but the dam is entirely washed away. I made it in Mr. Mogmore’s carpenter’s shop, near uncle Nathan’s house. After a deal of fussing and tinkering, I got it so that it sawed through a board two feet long from one end to the other. It was the proudest day of my life when I showed Mr. Mogmore the two parts, separated by my machine; and he declared I should make a good machinist.”

“Where is the saw-mill now?” inquired Bessie, interested in the machine because it had been made by Levi, rather than because she had a taste for mechanics.

“It is up in the attic of uncle Nathan’s house; at least it was there three years ago, when I went to live with Mr. Gayles.”

“I should really like to see it.”

“Should you? Well, you shall, if the thing is still in being. I will go down to uncle Nathan’s and get it, and then I will set it up, and you shall see it go,” answered Levi, as he led the way towards the house of his uncle.

The water privilege which Levi Fairfield, as a boy of thirteen, had improved, was located on the brook behind the cottage of Mr. Mogmore. Bessie did not care to meet uncle Nathan; so she decided to call upon the carpenter’s family; for, having spent three seasons at Rockport, she was well acquainted in several families near her father’s new house, which was on the shore, not far from Mike’s Point.

Bessie—or, as we ought to call her now, Miss Watson, though it does not sound half so pleasant to the ear, and Levi had been several times reproved for addressing her in this formal manner—Miss Watson was “sweet sixteen,” or so near it that we give her the full benefit of the majority fraction. If she was pretty at twelve, she was beautiful at sixteen. She was rather tall for her age, but exceedingly well formed. She had spent much of her time in the open air, and on her cheeks glowed the roses of health.

Mrs. McGilvery, a widowed sister of Mr. Watson, who had been the principal of a young ladies’ seminary before her marriage, was intrusted with the care of her niece’s education. Though Bessie attended school while in the city, yet she was absent four months in the year, during three of which she studied with her governess, on the sea-shore. Fortunately for Bessie, Mrs. McGilvery was an amphibious lady, and was always ready for a trip in The Starry Flag, Levi Fairfield’s well-tried craft. She had a taste for yachts, not only in pleasant weather, and on a smooth sea, but when the wind blew anything short of a gale, and the white caps whipped over the gunwale of the boat. Bessie, therefore, was frequently on the salt water with her duenna, and her constitution had been wonderfully strengthened by this healthful exercise.

Levi Fairfield and The Starry Flag were in demand almost every day; and we need not add that the young skipper did not regard himself as a martyr in the cause. Though the excursions to Halibut Point, Straitsmouth, the Selvages, and other places in the vicinity, were frequently repeated, he was never happier than when at the helm with Bessie and Mrs. McGilvery on board; not particularly on account of the latter, though he was quite a favorite with her.

Levi left Miss Watson at the door of Mr. Mogmore’s cottage, and walked over to uncle Nathan’s house. Three years had not improved the appearance of the miser’s house, for he spent no money upon it in paint and repairs. When anything about the building caved in, as it frequently did, he tinkered it himself. If time had not improved uncle Nathan or his house, it had improved Levi. He was nearly eighteen, was “man grown,” strong as a lion, and agile as a deer. Within the preceding three years he had made two fishing trips, though most of his time had been spent at the academy.

He entered his uncle’s house. Though his visits, like angels’, had been few and far between, they were not so because Levi cherished any ill will towards his former guardian, but because he had been made to feel that he was not a welcome guest. Uncle Nathan never felt right after his removal from the position of guardian of his nephew. The care of the money was taken from him, and he was deprived of the profits he derived from boarding and clothing his ward. He realized that money had been taken out of his pocket by the spirited conduct of Levi; and taking money out of the miser’s pocket was the sorest injury that could be inflicted upon him.

But Levi behaved like a Christian. He did not forget that his uncle and aunt lived in that old and dilapidated house, and he did his best to keep the peace with them. In the most literal manner he returned good for evil. It is true he could not respect his uncle, or get up a very warm regard for him,—he was too mean, selfish, and unprincipled to win the respect and regard of any decent person,—but he could treat him with Christian kindness.

Mr. Gayles, since he had been Levi’s guardian, had, by the advice of Mr. Watson, given his ward a regular allowance of five dollars a week for pocket money, independent of his actual expenses for clothing himself. This money was spent in books, in improvements on The Starry Flag, in charity, and for other proper purposes. Not a cent of it ever went to the keeper of a grog-shop, billiard-saloon, or other place which a young man should avoid; but not a little of it, in one way and another, found its way into the comfortless abode of uncle Nathan.

Though his aunt, by the force of circumstances, had become almost as mean as her husband, she was not a bad woman in other respects, and Levi had considerable regard for her. She had but few joys in this world, and one of them was reading the newspaper, when she was so fortunate as to procure one, which was but seldom. Levi subscribed for the Boston Journal for her, which came every day, and for a weekly religious newspaper. The old lady had a splendid time every afternoon reading her paper, and enjoyed a “rich season” every “Sabba’ day” over her Sunday paper.

Levi did more than this. He not only carried to the house a great many fish he caught himself, but a leg of veal or lamb, a roasting-piece of beef, a pair of chickens, or a turkey was not unfrequently laid upon the kitchen table by him. Uncle Nathan ate the roast beef, the turkeys, and the chickens, but he hated the giver none the less. It was a shameful waste of money to buy such things; and these delicacies reminded him of the dollars and half dollars that had slipped away from him when he lost Levi, rather than the kindness and Christian charity of the young man in presenting them.

It was not so with Mrs. Fairfield, though the savage flings and unkind allusions of her husband to his nephew were not without their influence upon her. She could not help feeling a great regard for the donor of the newspapers, and the substantials which gave the table such an unwonted attractiveness. As far as her dull nature would permit, she appreciated the kindness and good will of Levi. It is true that on several occasions uncle Nathan had sold the turkeys, chickens, and roasting-pieces his late ward had given him; yet it had never been without a protest on the part of aunt Susan. It was an awful waste for him to eat these luxuries; but selling the gifts of Levi was monstrous to her, and her protest was so energetic that she carried her point, and the miser was compelled to eat food which was so costly that it almost choked him.

Uncle Nathan did not get fat on the bounty of his liberal nephew. He had too many corroding cares, too many financial terrors, too many fears that the banks would break, his creditors fail, his stocks depreciate, to eat and sleep like a Christian. Misers never grow liberal as they grow old, and he was no exception to the rule. A financial panic had just swept over the land, and though he had lost nothing by it, it caused him more anguish than thousands who had lost their all. He was afraid of banks, afraid of men, afraid even of good mortgages on productive real estate. He dreaded some calamity he could not define, which would wrest from him every dollar he had in the world.

To guard against this horrible event, he had actually converted some of the less reliable of his securities into gold, and concealed it in his house, preferring to sacrifice the interest to the safety of the principal, bitter as the necessity seemed to be.

For two months uncle Nathan had kept four thousand dollars in gold in the house, groaning at the loss of sixty-six and two thirds cents a day in interest; but a bank somewhere in the state had failed, and he dared not trust the money out of his own possession. It had been hidden in the cellar, hidden in the parlor, hidden in the kitchen, and hidden in his chamber; but no place seemed to be safe, and the miser trembled when awake, and trembled when asleep, in his dreams, lest the figurative description of riches should be realized, and his gold should take to itself wings and fly away.

Ruin and decay had invaded the sleeping-room of the miser, as it had every other part of his house. There was many a hole in the plastering, and many a hole in the floor; but there was one particular hole in the wall, about a foot above the floor, in a corner behind the bed. This particular hole was selected as the receptacle for the gold. He had cut away the laths, so that he could thrust his arm down into the aperture, and deposit the bag on the sill of the house.

He had begged a piece of board of Mr. Mogmore to cover this hole, and had fastened it over the plastering with four screws. While he was thus engaged, Mat Mogmore, the carpenter’s son, had come for the screw-driver uncle Nathan had borrowed at the shop. Mrs. Fairfield, not knowing what her husband was doing, sent him into the chamber for it.

“Stoppin’ up the cracks to keep the cold out,” whined the miser. “I cal’late I got the rheumatiz out of this hole.”

Mat wanted the screw-driver, but he helped fasten up the board before he took it, and wondered what the old man had cut away the laths for. The board was put up, and the money was safe; but the miser hardly dared to go out of sight of the house.

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Categories: English Literature

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