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A Jolly Fellowship By Frank R. Stockton Characters: 16495

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

We found that Corny had not been mistaken about her influence over her family, for the next morning, before we were done breakfast, Mr. Chipperton came around to see us. He was full of Nassau, and had made up his mind to go with us on Tuesday. He asked us lots of questions, but he really knew as much about the place as we did, although he had been so much in the habit of mixing his Bahamas and his Bermudas.

"My wife is very much pleased at the idea of having you two with us on the trip over," said he; "although, to be sure, we may have a very smooth and comfortable voyage."

I believe that, since the Silver Spring affair, he regarded Rectus and me as something in the nature of patent girl-catchers, to be hung over the side of the vessel in bad weather.

We were sorry to leave St. Augustine, but we had thoroughly done up the old place, and had seen everything, I think, except the Spring of Ponce de Leon, on the other side of the St. Sebastian River. We didn't care about renewing our youth,-indeed, we should have objected very much to anything of the kind,-and so we felt no interest in old Ponce's spring.

On Tuesday morning, the "Tigris" made her appearance on time, and Mr. Cholott and our good landlady came down to see us off. The yellow-legged party also came down, but not to see us off. They, too, were going to Nassau.

Rectus had gone on board, and I was just about to follow him, when our old Minorcan stepped up to me.

"Goin' away?" said he.

"Yes," said I, "we're off at last."

"Other feller goin'?"

"Oh, yes," I answered, "we keep together."

"Well now, look here," said he, drawing me a little on one side. "What made him take sich stock in us Minorcans? Why, he thought we used to be slaves; what put that in his head, I'd like to know? Did he reely think we ever was niggers?"

"Oh, no!" I exclaimed. "He had merely heard the early history of the Minorcans in this country, their troubles and all that, and he--"

"But what difference did it make to him?" interrupted the old man.

I couldn't just then explain the peculiarities of Rectus's disposition to Mr. Menendez, and so I answered that I supposed it was a sort of sympathy.

"I can't see, for the life of me," said the old man, reflectively, "what difference it made to him."

And he shook hands with me, and bade me good-bye. I don't believe he has ever found anybody who could give him the answer to this puzzle.

The trip over to Nassau was a very different thing from our voyage down the coast from New York to Savannah. The sea was comparatively smooth, and, although the vessel rolled a good deal in the great swells, we did not mind it much. The air was delightful, and after we had gone down the Florida coast, and had turned to cross the Gulf Stream to our islands, the weather became positively warm, even out here on the sea, and we were on deck nearly all the time.

Mr. Chipperton was in high spirits. He enjoyed the deep blue color of the sea; he went into ecstasies over the beautiful little nautiluses that sailed along by the ship; he watched with wild delight the porpoises that followed close by our side, and fairly shouted when a big fellow would spring into the air, or shoot along just under the surface, as if he had a steam-engine in his tail. But when he saw a school of flying-fish rise up out of the sea, just a little ahead of us, and go skimming along like birds, and then drop again into the water, he was so surprised and delighted that he scarcely knew how to express his feelings.

Of course, we younger people enjoyed all these things, but I was surprised to see that Corny was more quiet than usual, and spent a good deal of her time in reading, although she would spring up and run to the railing whenever her father announced some wonderful discovery. Mr. Chipperton would have been a splendid man for Columbus to have taken along with him on his first trip to these islands. He would have kept up the spirits of the sailors.

I asked Corny what she was reading, and she showed me her book. It was a big, fat pamphlet about the Bahamas, and she was studying up for her stay there. She was a queer girl. She had not been to school very much, her mother said, for they had been travelling about a good deal of late years; but she liked to study up special things, in which she took an interest. Sometimes she was her own teacher, and sometimes, if they staid in any one place long enough, she took regular lessons.

"I teach her as much as I can," said her mother, "although I would much rather have her go regularly to school. But her father is so fond of her that he will not have her away from him, and as Mr. Chipperton's lung requires him to be moving from place to place, we have to go, too. But I am determined that she shall go to a school next fall."

"What is the matter with Mr. Chipperton's lung?" I asked.

"I wish we knew," said Mrs. Chipperton, earnestly. "The doctors don't seem to be able to find out the exact trouble, and besides, it isn't certain which lung it is. But the only thing that can be done for it is to travel."

"He looks very well," said I.

"Oh, yes!" said she. "But"-and she looked around to see where he was-"he doesn't like people to tell him so."

After a while, Rectus got interested in Corny's book, and the two read a good deal together. I did not interrupt them, for I felt quite sure that neither of them knew too much.

The captain and all the officers on the steamer were good, sociable men, and made the passengers feel at home. I had got somewhat acquainted with them on our trip from Savannah to St. Augustine, and now the captain let me come into his room and showed me the ship's course, marked out on a chart, and pointed out just where we were, besides telling me a good many things about the islands and these waters.

I mentioned to Corny and Rectus, when I went aft again,-this was the second day out,-that we should see one end of the Great Bahama early in the afternoon.

"I'm glad of that," said Corny; "but I suppose we sha'n't go near enough for us to see its calcareous formation."

"Its what?" I exclaimed.

"Its cal-car-e-ous formation," repeated Corny, and she went on with her reading.

"Oh!" said I, laughing, "I guess the calcareous part is all covered up with grass and plants,-at least it ought to be in a semi-tropical country. But when we get to Nassau you can dig down and see what it's like."

"Semi-tropical!" exclaimed Mr. Chipperton, who just came up; "there is something about that word that puts me all in a glow," and he rubbed his hands as if he smelt dinner.

Each of us wore a gray bean. Rectus and I had ours fastened to our watch-guards, and Corny's hung to a string of beads she generally wore. We formed ourselves into a society-Corny suggested it-which we called the "Association of the Three Gray Beans," the object of which was to save each other from drowning, and to perform similar serviceable acts, if circumstances should call for them. We agreed to be very faithful, and, if Corny had tumbled overboard, I am sure that Rectus and I would have jumped in after her; but I am happy to say that she did nothing of the kind on this trip.

Early the next morning, we reached Nassau, the largest town in the Bahamas, on one of the smallest islands, and found it semi-tropical enough to suit even Mr. Chipperton.

Before we landed, we could see the white, shining streets and houses,-just as calcareous as they could be; the black negroes; the pea-green water in the harbor; the tall cocoa-nut trees, and about five million conch-shells, lying at the edges of the docks. The colored people here live pretty much on the conch-fish, and when we heard that, it accounted for the shells. The poorer people on these islands often go by the name of "conchs."

As we went up through the town we found that the darkeys were nearly as thick as the conch-shells, but they were much more lively. I never saw such jolly, dont-care-y people as the colored folks that were scattered about everywhere. Some of the young ones, as joyful skippers, could have tired out a shrimp.

There is one big hotel in the town, and pretty nearly all our passengers went there. The house

is calcareous, and as solid as a rock. Rectus and I liked it very much, because it reminded us of pictures we had seen of Algiers, or Portugal, or some country where they have arches instead of doors; but Mr. Chipperton wasn't at all satisfied when he found that there was not a fireplace in the whole house.

"This is coming the semi-tropical a little too strong," he said to me; but he soon found, I think, that gathering around the hearth-stone could never become a popular amusement in this warm little town.

Every day, for a week, Mr. Chipperton hired a one-horse barouche, and he and his wife and daughter rode over the island. Rectus and I walked, and we saw a good deal more than they did. Corny told us this, the first walk she took with us. We went down a long, smooth, white road that led between the queer little cottages of the negroes, where the cocoa-nut and orange trees and the bananas and sappadilloes, and lots of other trees and bushes stood up around the houses just as proudly as if they were growing on ten-thousand-dollar lots. Some of these trees had the most calcareous foundations anybody ever saw. They grew almost out of the solid rock. This is probably one of the most economical places in the world for garden mould. You couldn't sweep up more than a bucketful out of a whole garden, and yet the things grow splendidly. Rectus said he supposed the air was earthy.

Corny enjoyed this walk, because we went right into the houses and talked to the people, and bought cocoa-nuts off the trees, and ate the inside custard with a spoon, and made the little codgers race for pennies, and tried all the different kinds of fruits. She said she would like to walk out with us always, but her mother said she must not be going about too much with boys.

"But there are no girls on the island," said she; "at least, no white ones,-as far as I have seen."

I suppose there were white children around, but they escaped notice in the vast majority of little nigs.

The day after this walk, the shorter "yellow-legs" asked me to go out fishing with him. He couldn't find anybody else, I suppose, for his friend didn't like fishing. Neither did Rectus; and so we went off together in a fishing-smack, with a fisherman to sail the boat and hammer conch for bait. We went outside of Hog Island,-which lies off Nassau, very much as Anastasia Island lies off St. Augustine, only it isn't a quarter as big,-and fished in the open sea. We caught a lot of curious fish, and the yellow-legs, whose name was Burgan, turned out to be a very good sort of a fellow. I shouldn't have supposed this of a man who had made such a guy of himself; but there are a great many different kinds of outsides to people.

When we got back to the hotel, along came Rectus and Corny. They had been out walking together, and looked hot.

"Oh," cried Corny, as soon as she saw me. "We have something to talk to you about! Let's go and sit down. I wish there was some kind of an umbrella or straw hat that people could wear under their chins to keep the glare of these white roads out of their eyes. Let's go up into the silk-cotton tree."

I proposed that I should go to my room and clean up a little first, but Corny couldn't wait. As her father had said, she wasn't good at waiting; and so we all went up into the silk-cotton tree. This was an enormous tree, with roots like the partitions between horse-stalls; it stood at the bottom of the hotel grounds, and had a large platform built up among the branches, with a flight of steps leading to it. There were seats up here, and room enough for a dozen people.

"Well," said I, when we were seated, "what have you to tell? Anything wonderful? If it isn't, you'd better let me tell you about my fish."

"Fish!" exclaimed Rectus, not very respectfully.

"Fish, indeed!" said Corny. "We have seen a queen!"

"Queen of what?" said I.

"Queen of Africa," replied Corny. "At least a part of it,-she would be, I mean, if she had stayed there. We went over that way, out to the very edge of the town, and there we found a whole colony of real native Africans,-just the kind Livingstone and Stanley discovered,-only they wear clothes like us."

"Oh, my!" exclaimed Rectus.

"I don't mean exactly that," said Corny; "but coats and trousers and frocks, awfully old and patched. And nearly all the grown-up people there were born in Africa, and rescued by an English man-of-war from a slave-ship that was taking them into slavery, and were brought here and set free. And here they are, and they talk their own language,-only some of them know English, for they've been here over thirty years,-and they all keep together, and have a governor of their own, with a flag-pole before his house, and among them is a real queen, of royal blood!"

"How did you find out that?" I asked.

"Oh, we heard about the African settlement this morning, at the hotel, and we went down there, right after dinner. We went into two or three of the houses and talked to the people, and they all told us the same thing, and one woman took us to see the queen."

"In her palace?" said I.

"No," said Corny, "she don't live in a palace. She lives in one of the funniest little huts you ever saw, with only two rooms. And it's too bad; they all know she's a queen, and yet they don't pay her one bit of honor. The African governor knows it, but he lives in his house with his flag-pole in front of it, and rules her people, while she sits on a stone in front of her door and sells red peppers and bits of sugar-cane."

"Shameful!" said I; "you don't mean that?"

"Yes, she does," put in Rectus. "We saw her, and bought some sugar-cane. She didn't think we knew her rank, for she put her things away when the women told her, in African, why we came to see her."

"What did she say to you?" I asked, beginning to be a good deal interested in this royal colored person.

"Nothing at all," said Corny; "she can't talk a word of English. If she could, she might get along better. I suppose her people want somebody over them who can talk English. And so they've just left her to sell peppers, and get along as well as she can."

"It's a good deal of a come-down, I must say," said I. "I wonder how she likes it?"

"Judging from her looks," said Rectus, "I don't believe she likes it at all."

"No, indeed!" added Corny. "She looks woe-begone, and I don't see why she shouldn't. To be taken captive with her people-may be she was trying to save them-and then to have them almost cut her acquaintance after they all get rescued and settled down!"

"Perhaps," said I, "as they are all living under Queen Victoria, they don't want any other queen."

"That's nothing," said Corny, quickly. "There's a governor of this whole island, and what do they want with another governor? If Queen Victoria and the governor of this island were Africans, of course they wouldn't want anybody else. But as it is, they do, don't you see?"

"They don't appear to want another queen," I said, "for they wont take one that is right under their noses."

Corny looked provoked, and Rectus asked me how I knew that.

"I tell you," said Corny, "it don't make any difference whether they want her or not, they haven't any right to make a born queen sit on a stone and sell red-peppers. Do you know what Rectus and I have made up our minds to do?"

"What is it?" I asked.

Corny looked around to see that no one was standing or walking near the tree, and then she leaned toward me and said:

"We are going to seat her on her throne!"

"You?" I exclaimed, and began to laugh.

"Yes, we are," said Rectus; "at least, we're going to try to."

"You needn't laugh," said Corny. "You're to join."

"In an insurrection,-a conspiracy," said I. "I can't go into that business."

"You must!" cried Corny and Rectus, almost in a breath.

"You've made a promise," said Corny.

"And are bound to stick to it," said Rectus, looking at Corny.

Then, both together, as if they had settled it all beforehand, they held up their gray sea-beans, and said, in vigorous tones:

"Obey the bean!"

I didn't hesitate a moment. I held up my bean, and we clicked beans all around.

I became a conspirator!

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