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Eli First published in the "Century Magazine"   By: (1847-1924)

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ELI

By Heman White Chaplin

1887

First published in the "Century Magazine."

I.

Under a boat, high and dry at low tide, on the beach, John Wood was seated in the sand, sheltered from the sun in the boat's shadow, absorbed in the laying on of verdigris. The dull, worn color was rapidly giving place to a brilliant, shining green. Occasionally a scraper, which lay by, was taken up to remove the last trace of a barnacle.

It was Wood's boat, but he was not a boatman; he painted cleverly, but he was not a painter. He kept the brown store under the elms of the main street, now hot and still, where at this moment his blushing sister was captivating the heart of an awkward farmer's boy as she sold him a pair of striped suspenders.

As the church clock struck the last of twelve decided blows, three children came rushing out of the house on the bank above the beach. It was one of those deceptive New England cottages, weather worn without, but bright and bountifully home like within, with its trim parlor, proud of a cabinet organ; with its front hall, now cooled by the light sea breeze drifting through the blind door, where a tall clock issued its monotonous call to a siesta on the rattan lounge; with its spare room, open now, opposite the parlor, and now, too, drawing in the salt air through close shut blinds, in anticipation of the joyful arrival this evening of Sister Sarah, with her little brood, from the city.

The children scampered across the road, and then the eldest hushed the others and sent a little brother ahead to steal, barefoot, along the shining sea weed to his father.

The plotted surprise appeared to succeed completely. The painter was seized by the ears from behind, and captured.

"Guess who 's here, or you can't get up," said the infant captor.

"It 's Napoleon Bonaparte; don't joggle," said his father, running a brush steadily along the water line.

"No! no! no!" with shouts of laughter from the whole attacking party.

"Then it's Captain Ezekiel."

This excited great merriment: Captain Ezekiel was an aged, purblind man, who leaned on a cane.

After attempts to identify the invader with the tax collector come for taxes, then with the elderly minister making a pastoral call, with the formal schoolmaster, and with Samuel J. Tilden the victim reached over his shoulder, and, seizing the assailant by a handful of calico jacket, brought him around, squirming, before him.

"Now," he said, "I 'll give you a coat of verdigris. (Great applause from the reserve force behind.)

"I suppose Mother sent you to say dinner's ready," said the father, rising and surveying the green bottom of the boat. "I must eat quick, so as to do the other side before half flood."

And with a child on each shoulder, and the third pushing him from behind with her head, he marched toward the vine covered kitchen, where, between two opposite netted doors, the table was trimly set.

"Father, you look like a mermaid, with your green hands," said his wife, laughing, as she handed him the spirits of turpentine. "A woman could paint that boat, in a light dress, and not get a spot on her."

He smiled good naturedly: he never spoke much.

"I guess Louise won't have much trade today," said his wife, as they all sat down; "it's so hot in the sun that everybody 'll wait till night. But she has her tatting work to do, and she 's got a book, too, that she wanted to finish."

Her husband nodded, and ate away.

"Oh, can't we go up street and see her, this afternoon?" said one of the children.

"Who can that be?" said the mother, as an elderly, half official looking man stopped his horse at the front gate and alighted. The man left the horse unchecked to browse by the roadside, and came to the door.

"Oh, it 's you, Captain Nourse," said Wood, rising to open the netting door, and holding out his hand. "Come to summons me as a witness in something about the bank case, I suppose. Let me introduce Captain Nourse, Mary," he said, "deputy sheriff. Sit down, Captain, and have some dinner with us... Continue reading book >>




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