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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Jolly Fellowship - Chapter 16. Mr. Chipperton Keeps Perfectly Cool
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A Jolly Fellowship - Chapter 16. Mr. Chipperton Keeps Perfectly Cool Post by :Dusty13 Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :2396

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A Jolly Fellowship - Chapter 16. Mr. Chipperton Keeps Perfectly Cool


It's of no use to deny the fact that Nassau was a pretty dull place, just about this time. At least Corny and I found it so, and I don't believe young Mr. Colbert was very happy, for he didn't look it. It's not to be supposed that our quarrel affected the negroes, or the sky, or the taste of bananas; but the darkeys didn't amuse me, and my recollection of those days is that they were cloudy, and that I wasn't a very good customer down in the market-house by the harbor, where we used to go and buy little fig-bananas, which they didn't have at the hotel, but which were mighty good to eat.

Colbert and I still kept up a frigid reserve toward each other. He thought, I suppose, that I ought to speak first, because I was the older, and I thought that he ought to speak first because he was the younger.

One evening, I went up into my room, having absolutely nothing else to do, and there I found Colbert, writing. I suppose he was writing a letter, but there was no need of doing this at night, as the mail would not go out for several days, and there would be plenty of time to write in the daytime. He hadn't done anything but lounge about for two or three days. Perhaps he came up here to write because he had nothing else to do.

There was only one table, and I couldn't write if I had wanted to, so I opened my trunk and began to put some of my things in order. We had arranged, before we had fallen out, that we should go home on the next steamer, and Mr. and Mrs. Chipperton were going too. We had been in Nassau nearly a month, and had seen about as much as was to be seen--in an ordinary way. As for me, I couldn't afford to stay any longer, and that had been the thing that had settled the matter, as far as Colbert and I were concerned. But now he might choose to stay, and come home by himself. However, there was no way of my knowing what he thought, and I supposed that I had no real right to make him come with me. At any rate, if I had, I didn't intend to exercise it.

While I was looking over the things in my trunk, I came across the box of dominoes that Corny had given us to remember her by. It seemed like a long time ago since we had been sitting together on the water-battery at St. Augustine! In a few minutes I took the box of dominoes in my hand and went over to Colbert. As I put them on the table he looked up.

"What do you say to a game of dominoes?" I said. "This is the box Corny gave us. We haven't used it yet."

"Very well," said he, and he pushed away his paper and emptied the dominoes out on the table. Then he picked up some of them, and looked at them as if they were made in some new kind of a way that he had never noticed before; and I picked up some, too, and examined them. Then we began to play. We did not talk very much, but we played as if it was necessary to be very careful to make no mistakes. I won the first game, and I could not help feeling a little sorry, while Colbert looked as if he felt rather glad. We played until about our ordinary bed-time, and then I said:

"Well, Colbert, I guess we might as well stop," and he said:

"Very well."

But he didn't get ready to go to bed. He went to the window and looked out for some time, and then he came back to the table and sat down. He took his pen and began to print on the lid of the domino-box, which was of smooth white wood. He could print names and titles of things very neatly, a good deal better than I could.

When he had finished, he got up and began to get ready for bed, leaving the box on the table. Pretty soon I went over to look at it, for I must admit I was rather curious to see what he had put on it. This was the inscription he had printed on the lid:


* * * * *

There was a place left for the date, which I suppose he had forgotten. I made no remark about this inscription, for I did not know exactly what remark was needed; but the next morning I called him "Rectus," just the same as ever, for I knew he had printed our names on the box to show me that he wanted to let me off my promise. I guess the one time I called him Colbert was enough for him.

When we came down stairs to breakfast, talking to each other like common people, it was better than most shows to see Corny's face. She was standing at the front door, not far from the stairs, and it actually seemed as if a candle had been lighted inside of her. Her face shone.

I know I felt first-rate, and I think Rectus must have felt pretty much the same, for his tongue rattled away at a rate that wasn't exactly usual with him. There was no mistaking Corny's feelings.

After breakfast, when we all got together to talk over the plans of the day,--a thing we hadn't done for what seemed to me about a week,--we found out--or rather remembered--that there were a lot of things in Nassau that we hadn't seen yet, and that we wouldn't miss for anything. We had been wasting time terribly lately, and the weather was now rather better for going about than it had been since we came to the place.

We agreed to go to Fort Charlotte that morning, and see the subterranean rooms and passage-ways, and all the underground dreariness of which we had heard so much. The fort was built about a hundred years ago, and has no soldiers in it. To go around and look at the old forts in this part of the world might make a person believe the millennium had come. They seem just about as good as ever they were, but they're all on a peace-footing. Rectus said they were played out, but I'd rather take my chances in Fort Charlotte, during a bombardment, than in some of the new-style forts that I have seen in the North. It is almost altogether underground, in the solid calcareous, and what could any fellow want better than that? The cannon-balls and bombs would have to plow up about an acre of pretty solid rock, and plow it deep, too, before they would begin to scratch the roof of the real strongholds of this fort. At least, that's the way I looked at it.

We made up a party and walked over. It's at the western end of the town, and about a mile from the hotel. Mr. and Mrs. Chipperton were with us, and a lady from Chicago, and Mr. Burgan. The other yellow-legs went out riding with his wife, but I think he wanted to go with us. The fort is on the top of a hill, and a colored shoemaker is in command. He sits and cobbles all day, except when visitors come, and then he shows them around. He lighted a lamp and took us down into the dark, quiet rooms and cells, that were cut out of the solid rock, down deep into the hill, and it was almost like being in a coal-mine, only it was a great deal cleaner and not so deep. But it seemed just as much out of the world. In some of the rooms there were bats hanging to the ceilings. We didn't disturb them. One of the rooms was called the governor's room. There wasn't any governor there, of course, but it had been made by the jolly old earl who had the place cut out,--and who was governor here at the time,--as a place where he might retire when he wanted to be private. It was the most private apartment I ever saw. This earl was the same old Dunmore we used to study about in our histories. He came over here when the Revolution threw him out of business in our country. He had some good ideas about chiselling rock.

This part of the fort was so extremely subterranean and solemn that it wasn't long before Mrs. Chipperton had enough of it, and we came up. It was fine to get out into the open air, and see the blue sky and the bright, sparkling water of the harbor just below us, and the islands beyond, and still beyond them the blue ocean, with everything so bright and cheerful in the sunlight. If I had been governor of this place, I should have had my private room on top of the fort, although, of course, that wouldn't do so well in times of bombardment.

But the general-in-chief did not let us off yet. He said he'd show us the most wonderful thing in the whole place, and then he took us out-of-doors again, and led us to a little shed or enclosed door-way just outside of the main part of the fort, but inside of the fortifications, where he had his bench and tools. He moved away the bench, and then we saw that it stood on a wooden trap-door. He took hold of a ring, and lifted up this door, and there was a round hole about as big as the hind wheel of a carriage. It was like a well, and was as dark as pitch. When we held the lamp over it, however, we could see that there were winding steps leading down into it. These steps were cut out of the rock, as was the hole and the pillar around which the steps wound. It was all one piece. The general took his lamp and went down ahead, and we all followed, one by one. Those who were most afraid and went last had the worst of it, for the lamp wasn't a calcium light by any means, and their end of the line was a good deal in the dark. But we all got to the bottom of the well at last, and there we found a long, narrow passage leading under the very foundation or bottom floor of the whole place, and then it led outside of the fort under the moat, which was dry now, but which used to be full of water, and so, on and on, in black darkness, to a place in the side of the hill, or somewhere, where there had been a lookout. Whether there were any passages opening into this or not, I don't know, for it was dark in spite of the lamp, and we all had to walk in single file, so there wasn't much chance for exploring sidewise. When we got to the end, we were glad enough to turn around and come back. It was a good thing to see such a place, but there was a feeling that if the walls should cave in a little, or a big rock should fall from the top of the passage, we should all be hermetically canned in very close quarters. When we came out, we gave the shoemaker commander some money, and came away.

"Isn't it nice," said Corny, "that he isn't a queen, to be taken care of, and we can just pay him and come away, and not have to think of him any more?"

We agreed to that, but I said I thought we ought to go and take one more look at our old queen before we left. Mrs. Chipperton, who was a really sensible woman when she had a chance, objected to this, because, she said, it would be better to let the old woman alone now. We couldn't do anything for her after we left, and it would be better to let her depend on her own exertions, now that she had got started again on that track. I didn't think that the word exertion was a very good one in Poqua-dilla's case, but I didn't argue the matter. I thought that if some of us dropped around there before we left, and gave her a couple of shillings, it would not interfere much with her mercantile success in the future.

I thought this, but Corny spoke it right out--at least, what she said amounted to pretty much the same thing.

"Well," said her mother, "we might go around there once more, especially as your father has never seen the queen at all. Mr. Chipperton, would you like to see the African queen?"

Mr. Chipperton did not answer, and his wife turned around quickly. She had been walking ahead with the Chicago lady.

"Why, where is he?" she exclaimed. We all stopped and looked about, but couldn't see him. He wasn't there. We were part way down the hill, but not far from the fort, and we stopped and looked back, and then Corny called him. I said that I would run back for him, as he had probably stopped to talk with the shoemaker. Rectus and I both ran back, and Corny came with us. The shoemaker had put his bench in its place over the trap-door, and was again at work. But Mr. Chipperton was not talking to him.

"I'll tell you what I believe,"--said Corny, gasping.

But it was of no use to wait to hear what she believed. I believed it myself.

"Hello!" I cried to the shoemaker before I reached him. "Did a gentleman stay behind here?"

"I didn't see none," said the man, looking up in surprise, as we charged on him.

"Then," I cried, "he's shut down in that well! Jump up and open the door!"

The shoemaker did jump up, and we helped him move the bench, and had the trap-door open in no time. By this, the rest of the party had come back, and when Mrs. Chipperton saw the well open and no Mr. Chipperton about, she turned as white as a sheet. We could hardly wait for the man to light his lamp, and as soon as he started down the winding stairs, Rectus and I followed him. I called back to Mrs. Chipperton and the others that they need not come; we would be back in a minute and let them know. But it was of no use; they all came. We hurried on after the man with the light, and passed straight ahead through the narrow passage to the very end of it.

There stood Mr. Chipperton, holding a lighted match, which he had just struck. He was looking at something on the wall. As we ran in, he turned and smiled, and was just going to say something, when Corny threw herself into his arms, and his wife, squeezing by, took him around his neck so suddenly that his hat flew off and bumped on the floor, like an empty tin can. He always wore a high silk hat. He made a grab for his hat, and the match burned his fingers.

"Aouch!" he exclaimed, as he dropped the match. "What's the matter?"

"Oh, my dear!" exclaimed his wife. "How dreadful to leave you here! Shut up alone in this awful place! But to think we have found you!"

"No trouble about that, I should say," remarked Mr. Chipperton, going over to the other side of the den after his hat. "You haven't been gone ten minutes, and it's a pretty straight road back here."

"But how did it happen?" "Why did you stay?" "Weren't you frightened?" "Did you stay on purpose?" we all asked him at pretty much one and the same time.

"I did stay on purpose," said he; "but I did not expect to stay but a minute, and had no idea you would go and leave me. I stopped to see what in the name of common sense this place was made for. I tried my best to make some sort of an observation out of this long, narrow loop-hole, but found I could see nothing of importance whatever, and so I made up my mind it was money thrown away to cut out such a place as this to so little purpose. When I had entirely made up my mind, I found, on turning around, that you had gone, and although I called I received no answer.

"Then I knew I was alone in this place. But I was perfectly composed. No agitation, no tremor of the nerves. Absolute self-control. The moment I found myself deserted, I knew exactly what to do. I did precisely the same thing that I would have done had I been left alone in the Mammoth Cave, or the Cave of Fingal, or any place of the kind.

"I stood perfectly still!

"If you will always remember to do that," and he looked as well as he could from one to another of us, "you need never be frightened, no matter how dark and lonely a cavern you may be left in. Strive to reflect that you will soon be missed, and that your friends will naturally come back to the place where they saw you last. Stay there! Keep that important duty in your mind. Stay just where you are! If you run about to try and find your way out, you will be lost. You will lose yourself, and no one can find you.

"Instances are not uncommon where persons have been left behind in the Mammoth Cave of Kentucky, and who were not found by searching parties for a day or two, and they were almost invariably discovered in an insane condition. They rushed wildly about in the dark; got away from the ordinary paths of tourists; couldn't be found, and went crazy,--a very natural consequence. Now, nothing of the kind happened to me. I remained where I was, and here, you see, in less than ten minutes, I am rescued!"

And he looked around with a smile as pleasant as if he had just invented a new sewing-machine.

"But were you not frightened,--awe-struck in this dark and horrible place, alone?" inquired Mrs. Chipperton, holding on to his arm.

"No," said he. "It was not very dark just here. That slit let in a little light. That is all it is good for, though why light should be needed here, I cannot tell. And then I lighted matches and examined the wall. I might find some trace of some sensible intention on the part of the people who quarried this passage. But I could find nothing. What I might have found, had I moved about, I cannot say. I had a whole box of matches in my pocket. But I did not move."

"Well," said Mr. Burgan, "I think you'd better move now. I, for one, am convinced that this place is of no use to me, and I don't like it."

I think Mr. Burgan was a little out of temper.

We now started on our way out of the passage, Mrs. Chipperton holding tight to her husband, for fear, I suppose, that he might be inclined to stop again.

"I didn't think," said she, as she clambered up the dark and twisting steps, "that I should have this thing to do, so soon again. But no one can ever tell what strange things may happen to them, at any time."

"When father's along," added Corny.

This was all nuts to the shoemaker, for we gave him more money for his second trip down the well. I hope this didn't put the idea into his head of shutting people down below, and making their friends come after them, and pay extra.

"There are some things about Mr. Chipperton that I like," said Rectus, as we walked home together.

"Yes," said I, "some things."

"I like the cool way in which he takes bad fixes," continued Rectus, who had a fancy for doing things that way himself. "Don't you remember that time he struck on the sand-bank. He just sat there in the rain, waiting for the tide to rise, and made no fuss at all. And here, he kept just as cool and comfortable, down in that dungeon. He must have educated his mind a good deal to be able to do that."

"It may be very well to educate the mind to take things coolly," said I, "but I'd a great deal rather educate my mind not to get me into such fixes."

"I suppose that would be better," said Rectus, after thinking a minute.

And now we had but little time to see anything more in Nassau. In two days the "Tigris" would be due, and we were going away in her. So we found we should have to bounce around in a pretty lively way, if we wanted to be able to go home and say we had seen the place.

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