By Octave Thanet
The ship was nearing the Irish coast. It was a delightful June day
and most of the passengers were on deck. Two ladies sat a little
apart from the crowd of ship-chairs under the cabin awning. One was
fair, plump, pretty and dressed in black; the cabin passengers
called her "the lovely Widow." She was a Mrs. Morris on her way to
Europe to join her brother, accompanied by her two nephews (sons of
two brothers), her sister Nora, and her maid. The other lady was
Miss Nora. She was much younger than her sister whom she did not
resemble in the least, being a tall straight, slim, handsome young
woman with black hair and dark gray eyes in which sparkled a
suspicious gleam of mirth.
Mrs. Morris was speaking: "He is a perfect young savage! Such
manners, and such grammar—I am sure no one would dream that his
father was a bishop. Do you suppose all Western boys are that way?
And such a temper, too! I assure you, Nora, he was fighting the
whole time we were in New York. And look at the way he treats
Edmund—I wonder the boy stands it—poor nice fellow!"
"Edmund is nice," answered Nora, "but Oscar has his good
points—what are they all crowding aft for?"
With an exclamation of "Those dreadful children!" the elder lady
extricated herself from her rug and hurried aft. Nora followed.
Evidently there had been a quarrel of some sort. The purser and the
deck-steward were each holding a boy.
The steward's captive, a handsome, flushed, black-haired lad of
thirteen, was kicking and pushing and making violent efforts to
wiggle out between the steward's legs. The other lad stood
perfectly quiet. He was taller than the dark boy and might have
been two years older, but he was of a much slighter build. His fair
hair was disordered, his nose bleeding, and his collar torn.
Looking up into the purser's face, he said in a low tone,
"Please let us fight it out. He'll bully me again, if you
At this the dark boy stopped in his violent attacks on the
steward's legs and said, breathlessly: "Well, you ain't such a
milksop after all, Ned!"
"No, no," said the purser; "no fighting on the Gallia. You
two young gentlemen must promise to let each other alone while you
are on shipboard or"—
"O, promise, Ned," the dark boy interrupted, "we can have it out
onshore, you know! Say, I promise, let me go."
"I promise, too, then," said the fair boy.
"Mind you both remember," said the purser, releasing his captive;
and turning to Mrs. Morris: "No harm done yet ma'am."
Both boys recognized their aunt; they had been too busy with each
other before to look about. They stood silently by, Oscar grinning
and Edmund frowning, while she apologized for their conduct. Then
she turned to them and led them to an impromptu court of justice
behind the wheel-house. The proceedings were brief. Oscar told his
story. As usual, he related a perfectly plain, uncolored tale,
making no excuse for himself.
"We were up on deck, Aunt Nellie and Aunt Nora, and Ned was reading
and us boys wanted him to play shovel-board and he wouldn't; so
just for fun, I tried to show the boys—while he was reading, you
know—how near I could come to hitting his cap, and not hit it; and
I made a mistake and hit it and just then the wind blowed and it
went overboard, and the boys laughed and he jumped up and said,
'Who knocked my hat off?' and I said it was me, and he said he
wasn't going to take any more bullying from me and up and hit me in
the face and then I hit him back. I told him I was only fooling,
but he didn't mind and kept on getting madder and hitting till I
got mad too and—that's how it happened. But I didn't mean to knock
his hat off, and I'll fight him all he wants on shore."
"I didn't know he was fooling," said Edmund, "and Aunt Nellie, it
isn't just this time; I don't mind once; but it's all the time
and—and I truly can't bear it!" The boy's pale face flushed as he
spoke; his voice trembled over the last words and he turned his
head away, winking his eyes hard. Oscar's own eyes grew round with
amazement; it was all he could do to keep from whistling. He
listened to his aunt's reproaches in silence, abstractedly sliding
up and down a freshly tarred rope; and, at their close, when
sentence was pronounced (keeping his high spirits below deck the
rest of the day), he merely nodded his head and walked off saying:
"All right, Aunt Nellie, that's fair enough, I am sure; I'll stay
"Well!" said Mrs. Morris in a puzzled way, "did ever one see such a
boy? I don't believe he cares a particle—Mercy!" The last
ejaculation was caused by her seeing Oscar's back.
"Let him go," said Nora, who was shrewder than her sister; "don't
say anything about that to-day; I'm not sure about his not caring."
Oscar went directly to the cabin. His young head was fully occupied
trying to make out his cousin's behavior. The boys had never seen
each other until they met in New York, about a week previous to
sailing. It was Oscar's first visit East. The New York boys were
amused by his Western way of speaking and showed their amusement
openly. They made fun of his dress, too, which to be sure was
rather queer, for his mother had been dead many years and the
bishop, good man, was only anxious to encourage the tradespeople in
his own town, and took whatever they were pleased to offer. Mrs.
Morris soon reformed his wardrobe, and Oscar went to work, himself,
reforming his tormentors' manners with his fists. He was in the
full career of his missionary work, and well covered with bruises,
when it came time to sail.
Edmund was the only New York boy now left him. It happened that
Edmund had taken little notice of Oscar, thinking him a rude,
quarrelsome, noisy fellow; while Oscar had a slight opinion of
Edmund—a boy who did not fight, or play games, and always afraid
of soiling his clothes. He said to himself that he would "give Ned
a pretty lively voyage." At first, Edmund was simply scornful; then
he became irritated—at last, angry in good earnest. The quarrel
was the sequel of a series of petty annoyances. Nevertheless it
bewildered Oscar. Ned had not acted in the least as expected. He
could fight; and though he fought in an ignorant, unskilful fashion
that aroused Oscar's pity, he could fight vigorously, and take hard
knocks without whimpering. Most marvelous of all, "Ned" whom he had
pictured wrapt in self-admiration because he lived in New York and
his father was so rich—Ned had been hurt by the teasing.
While he thought, the boy sat with his feet curled up under him on
the long cabin seat that looks out on the sea; and his cheek was
pressed against a little grimy hand. He could see the steel-blue
waves moving toward the ship in wide scallops and the white
sea-gulls flying between the ocean and the sky. Yet he hardly
noticed them; so deeply was he thinking that he started when a hand
was laid on his shoulder.
Then he saw and pulled Aunt Nora down beside him. "What were you
thinking of?" said she.
"Of Ned," he answered. "He ain't so mean as I thought he was. At
any rate, he ain't a coward."
"I could have told you better than that," said Nora. "Why, Oscar,
once I saw him hold a mad dog so that some little girls could run
away. He held it until a man came running up and knocked the poor
beast over the head. It was Ned's favorite dog, too, and when it
had drawn its last breath he sat down and cried over it."
"Humph," said Oscar, "he was pretty brave; what did you do?"
"I was in the house; I ran down to him, but when I got there the
dog was dying. I heard Ned say, 'Oh! please kill him quick. Poor
"Guess he felt bad," said Oscar.
"He is fond of animals, even those most people dislike. Didn't you
hear of his collection of snakes? He has tamed them so that he can
do anything with them. Once, most unluckily, they got out of the
box and came down stairs into the drawing-room which was filled
"And they, every one, jumped on the chairs and hollered," said
"They did precisely that, Oscar; every one except your Aunt Lizzie.
She stood still and told us how harmless the snakes were until,
knowing her I suppose, they all glided up to her when she
climbed a chair, too, very quickly. Luckily Ned happened to be in
the house and heard the commotion and ran in. He whipped the snakes
up and wound them about his arm as coolly as though they had been
pieces of rope."
Oscar was evidently impressed. But his prejudice made a last rally.
He muttered something about Ned's being a nice boy if he were not
so "airy;" always "fussing about his clothes and talking in a
mincing way—just like a New York boy."
"Do you remember," said Nora, "how the boys plagued you in New
York, merely because you didn't talk and dress quite as they do?
Didn't you think it mean of them?"
"Mean as dirt," Oscar said promptly; "and I made 'em sick of it,
too. I guess they won't try it on another Western feller!"
"But, my dear boy, don't you see you are doing the same thing? You
tease Ned and make him unhappy because he doesn't dress and talk
like the boys you know at home."
Oscar shrugged his shoulders; then he laughed. "Maybe you're right,
Aunt Nora. Anyhow I didn't mean to be mean and I'm willing to make
up if Ned is!"
Nora squeezed the little grimy hand so affectionately that he
shrank back lest she should kiss him, "before everybody"—the
erratic and inconsiderate conduct of women in kissing boys was one
of his trials. However, she was more judicious. She went on: "I
knew I could trust you to be just, Oscar. Only you must remember
that Ned isn't impulsive like you; it takes him a long time to get
over things. You have made him unhappy and he may not be ready to
forgive you at a minute's notice. But if you persevere, I am sure
he will understand you and you will be the best friends possible."
Privately, she resolved to try to soften Edmund's resentment before
Oscar should speak to him. But the unfortunate Oscar did not let a
moment slip. No sooner was his aunt's back turned to speak to an
acquaintance than he darted away "to find Ned." Ned was easily
found. He was lying in his berth so bundled up in a rug that only a
patch of his hair was visible. The poor boy had been crying; but of
course Oscar could not know that. He began in a loud, cheerful
voice that grated on Edmund's nerves. "I say, Ned, s'pose we make
up! we'd have lots more fun being friends; and I'll learn you how
to box and everything."
"Say, Ned, are you 'sleep?"
"No, I'm not," came in a fierce, smothered voice from the heap on
the berth, "and I wish you'd leave me alone!"
"Then you don't want to make up and be friends?" said Oscar, in a
"No, I don't."
"All right for you, then!" said Oscar. With which withering sarcasm
and a vast deal of dignity he marched out of the room. "Catch me
trying that again," thought he.
Nevertheless his pride was soon conquered by his new admiration of
Edmund and his longing for society. In a day or two he brought his
best cap to his cousin, saying with assumed carelessness: "You can
have it, if you want it, for the one I knocked overboard."
"Thanks," answered Edmund stiffly; "I don't want it; I've plenty of
He met all Oscar's rough yet timid advances in the same spirit. He
was always civil, but an iceberg would have been as companionable.
To Nora who remonstrated with him he said: "I can't help it; I
don't like him and I never shall. He's bullied me all the voyage
and now he thinks he has only to ask me and I'll make up. I wish
he'd let me alone!"
"How unforgiving you are, Ned," said Nora, "don't you ever do wrong
"I never do mean things. And it's no use talking; I shall always
She said no more, thinking, "I will leave it to time. They will be
so much together that they will have to like each other to be
comfortable. If only Oscar doesn't lose his temper and take to
tormenting him again!"
Happily Oscar kept his temper. He had a great notion of fairness
and, once convinced that he had done wrong, he took his punishment
unflinchingly, angry for the moment, sometimes, but bearing no
By this time the voyage had ended and they were in Warwickshire,
visiting an English friend of Mrs. Morris. It was while there that
they went one afternoon to drink tea with Lady Margaret Vincent.
Lady Margaret was a Scotchwoman. She had married an Englishman
(long since dead), and for many years had lived in England, but she
travelled far and often, having even been to America, which is
considered a prodigious journey in England.
Edmund was charmed with Lady Margaret's home. He could not look
enough at the quaint old garden with its formal flower-beds and
primly cut yew-trees, or the wonderful old house, the front of
which had not been changed since Henry and Elizabeth. As they went
through the hall, he gazed in an awe-stricken way at the great
carved staircase and the walls where armor was hanging and
strangely fashioned weapons. He felt as though he were stepping
into the Middle Ages.
Meanwhile, Oscar, oblivious of the Middle Ages and every other
improving subject, was getting acquainted with the page. Oscar had
seen pages, for the first time, in New York. He pitied them; they
couldn't like it, rigged out in those ridiculous clothes and never
able to laugh or play. Always willing to talk, he did his best to
amuse them. Now he was busy questioning James: Did his high collar
hurt him? Did he have to rub up his buttons to keep them bright?
Did—here his aunt saw him and jerked him away.
From the hall they passed into a room as odd as delightful. All the
woodwork was of oak, age-darkened to a brown-black, and most
curiously carved. The mantelpiece had high pillars decorated with
ribbons and scrolls and shields and griffin's heads cut out of the
wood; and deep shelves on which were arranged queerly shaped and
colored china vases, teapots and teacups. Oscar thought them ugly,
wondering at the ladies' admiration. Before the doors and windows
hung tapestry curtains in which pictures of hunting scenes were
woven. The stuff was darned in so many places that Oscar quite
pitied Lady Margaret who must have such old curtains; but Mrs.
Morris gave a little scream of delight and cried "Oh!" and "How
priceless!" and something that sounded like "Goblins!" But though
Oscar looked hard at the curtains to find the goblins, he saw none.
Then his eyes strayed over the polished floor and the dull-hued
rugs, over ebony and ivory cabinets and stiff-backed chairs, to be
fixed, finally, by a huge Wardian case.
There were rocks in the case, coated with moss; ferns and strange
sea-weeds grew on the edge of the water; crabs clung below; lizards
crept above; innumerable slimy things swam about, midway. The case
stood on a long table. Near it, on another box, half a dozen snakes
lay coiled into one indistinguishable mass. Under the table three
monkey-like little creatures were dancing and chattering. A wee
Scotch terrier ran about, sniffing at the guests' clothing. Before
the fire of coals—for the day was chilly for June—was stretched a
great white stag-hound. The room and all the animals made Oscar
think of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
Lady Margaret was standing close to the staghound. Her tall, large
figure was clad in black satin; her fair old face was framed by
abundant white hair which had a gloss like silver; and her dark
eyes were bright as her diamonds. She greeted them cordially, at
once taking a fancy to Edmund because of his evident delight in
animals. Perhaps she might have thought better of Oscar, had she
not caught him in the act of winking at the page. Very soon she
began to speak of the creatures about her. "Marmosets, my dears,"
clutching one of the little chatterers under the table; "they make
a deal of noise, but like most noisy people's talk it doesn't mean
much. This is my aquarium; the sea-horses are most odd, don't you
think? And here," coolly pushing back her sleeve and plunging a
plump, white arm into the water, "this, you know—just a frog! See
how tame! And people call them ugly! That's all they know about it.
Look at his beautiful skin and his honest eye! Isn't he handsome,
now? Here are some lizards, but they are not so interesting; quite
pleasant, you know, but not fascinating, like frogs and snakes.
Yes, my lad, I dare say you will be wanting to see the snakes. Here
they are. They are as tame as they are beautiful."
"She isn't going to take them out in her hands, is she?"
Mrs. Morris whispered to her English friend.
"She always does," was the placid answer. "See!"
Lady Margaret had made a bracelet of a snake and was holding out
her arm. One by one she added the others while Mrs. Morris, having
interposed her friend between her and the spectacle, controlled her
nerves as best she could. "They are quite harmless, quite, I assure
you," said Lady Margaret, making a reassuring gesture with her arm,
on which it happened two snakes were coiled. "Now, look, my lads,
I'll put this one back; he is a well-meaning snake but rather
stupid. This one I'll lay on the table."
Mrs. Morris rapidly retreated towards the fire, stepping on the
hound's tail by the way, and naturally bringing out a deep growl
which sent her back again.
Unconscious of her guest's alarm, Lady Margaret continued: "His
name is Marcus Aurelius; I call him that after the great Roman
emperor, because he is so sweet-tempered and intelligent. See what
a humorous expression he has!" (And, in fact, the snake's tiny eyes
and wide mouth had something the look of an ironical grin about
them.) "Look! See him follow me about the table. He knows his
friend—don't you, my pet? Now, Marcus, I'll put up my arm for a
pole; make a monkey of yourself. Climb down, again. Now," tapping
the table, "be a dead snake. Very good. Now, show them what you
think of strangers." She motioned to Oscar; but he edged back
behind Nora, muttering, "No, they are nasty!"
Then Nora stepped forward. Instantly the snake coiled itself up,
"Now, you," said Lady Margaret to Edmund.
"He won't be afraid of me," laughed Edmund, stretching forth his
hand; "come, pet!"
And to Lady Margaret's surprise the snake came, twining about the
boy's wrist as it was used to twine about hers. "Ah, you have my
gift, my dear!" she cried, delighted.
She put the snake back in the box and excused herself for a moment.
The page brought in the tea-tray. In a moment Lady Margaret
returned and made the tea, Mrs. Morris who had been looking on all
this while in a kind of trance of horror, recovered enough, at
these refreshing signs, to sink into a chair by a low table. She
clutched her sister's arm—Nora sat next to her—and murmured, "Was
there ever such an awful menagerie of a house?"
"Be quiet," whispered Nora.
"I can't be quiet! Those dreadful little monkey things are under
the table, nibbling at my ankles, I shall have to scream!"
"You can't scream. Don't disgrace your country. Lady Margaret will
hear us, I much fear!"
"She's making tea at the other table. Besides, Mrs. Darrel and Eddy
are talking to her, Nora. Are you sure that big dog is safe? Did
you hear him growl? It was an awfully fierce-sounding growl! And,
Nora, I think one of the snakes is loose. There were six in
the box and I can count only five—yes, Lady Margaret, the tea is
quite right. It is delicious."
But though, in truth it was delicious, and though equally to be
praised were the thin bread and butter, the Scotch shortbread from
Edinburgh, and the English plum cake, Mrs. Morris never enjoyed a
repast less. She spent her time making little sorties with her feet
at the marmosets, which took it for play and returned to the attack
with new zest; and she whispered to Nora that she was morally sure
the sixth snake was crawling up her chair.
Nora, herself, was not at ease; nevertheless, her patriotic
politeness conquered; she ate everything, looked at everything,
praised everything. Lady Margaret found her "most agreeable."
Mrs. Darrel had seen the snakes too often to be disturbed, and
Edmund was in his element. As for Oscar, he fell into sad
disgrace—he kicked the marmosets. Lady Margaret was too kind to
say anything; but Mrs. Morris did the subject justice all the way
home. "At least you might have kicked them, quietly, under the
table," said she; "but no, you do it sideways in full view of
The next day the party journeyed on towards London. The sun shone
brightly and the weather, which had been so abnormally cold as to
require overcoats, or as the English term them, "top coats," grew
warmer, so that there was nothing to mar enjoyment unless it were
the lack of harmony between the two boys. This still continued. If
there were times when Edmund felt his dislike yielding ever so
slightly to Oscar's good humor and gay spirits, his pride and his
contempt for his cousin stiffened it at once.
It was two days after their arrival in a quiet town near London
where they were to stay a few days for rest at a picturesque old
inn, that Mrs. Morris received a letter from Mrs. Darrel. She read
it at the breakfast table. Before she was half down the first page
she turned to Nora: "There! Didn't I tell you one of those snakes
was gone? Listen to this: 'Poor Lady Margaret is in such distress
over losing her pet snake, the one she called Marcus Aurelius. She
thinks she didn't replace the cover of the box securely the day you
were there, for she hasn't seen it since. She fears it crawled away
and wandered into the village and was killed. Isn't she a dear old
"Was it the little trick-snake?" said Oscar. "What a shame!"
Edmund said nothing; he was sorry for Lady Margaret and he was
sorry for himself. The little Marcus Aurelius had made a deep
impression on him; ever since he had been meditating the bold
venture of writing to Lady Margaret asking her if she would sell or
exchange that snake.
He kept thinking of the matter all the morning, wondering what had
become of Marcus. In the afternoon, he was to drive with his Aunt
Nora. While he was dressing, Celeste, the maid, brought him his
overcoat. Madame desired him to wear it, as he had a cold. "Very
well," said Edmund, obliging as usual. Approaching to put the coat
on, a little later, he stopped short. Surely the wind didn't cause
that singular flutter in the cloth! Then the flap moved. "Come
out!" cried Edmund.
As though in response to his invitation a small head erected itself
from the pocket, a small green head with glittering eyes, a head
which had an indescribably droll and Waggish air—the head, in
short, of the lost Marcus Aurelius. The intelligent reptile
immediately crawled out. He wound himself about the hand Edmund
held to him, curled under the boy's sleeve, nestled under his
sleeve with manifest pleasure at renewing the acquaintance.
It was plain enough to Edmund how it had happened. The intelligent
Marcus crawling into the hall had spied the pocket of Edmund's coat
and coolly entered. Once there, he had gone to sleep and the
unsuspecting Celeste had rolled the coat up in a strap not to undo
it until now. "So here you are, you beauty," said Edmund, "and I'll
take good care of you while you are mine; I only wish you could be
There was a candy-box on the table with a glass cover. Of this he
hastily made a prison, then sallied out to find his captive some
mice. They were not the easiest thing in the world to get,
requiring considerable seeking and talking. He did not venture to
tell why he wanted mice; and he overheard the housekeeper grumble:
"Most extraordinary boys, those Americans! Do you expect he wants
to cat them?"
By this time Nora was ready; he had hardly replaced the snake in
the box before he heard her knock at the door. It was a charming
day and drive, yet I fear he saw little of the scenery. Alas, that
it must be confessed, a wicked thought had crept into his brain. He
coveted Lady Margaret's snake. He coveted it so ardently that he
began to imagine how easy it would be for him to keep it. There was
a man in London who sold snakes. Edmund had been up buying some
snakes from him which the man was to keep until he should want
them. What more easy than to send Marcus Aurelius to this saurian
boarding-house? Ah, what an ugly temptation for Edmund who had been
called a good boy from his cradle. He would have no more of it. But
it came back again and finally, when he reached the inn, he had
almost decided to keep the snake. "Anyhow I'll take it to Tomlin's"
(Tomlin was the snake man), he said to himself; "there's no hurry."
Yet in his secret soul he knew that once taken to Tomlin's, Marcus
Aurelius would never return to Lady Margaret. Thus thinking, he
went toward the box. The snake was gone! Yes, gone, vanished
absolutely, leaving no trace either in the box or in the room.
Vainly and long Edmund searched; either the cover had not fitted
exactly, or Marcus, the intelligent Marcus, had managed to remove
it; in either case he had evidently set off anew on his travels.
Edmund began to feel he had been a wicked boy. He stood in the
centre of the room, trying to collect his wits. Oscar's room
adjoined his; he could hear Oscar moving about, whistling out of
tune. Should he go in and search there? Standing irresolute, he
heard a loud cry from his cousin. "Sloped! gone!" Then followed a
muffled sound which Edmund rightly interpreted to be Oscar poking
under the bed with an umbrella; and, then, came a thundering rap on
the door. "Say, Ned," called Oscar, entering immediately, "I'm in
an awful scrape! Your snake's gone!"
"My snake," repeated Edmund, feebly.
"Yes; the one you bought to-day. I saw it in the glass box on your
Edmund remembered that he had left the box in full view when he
went for mice. His face grew red. "Did you let it out?" said he.
"Of course I didn't," Oscar answered. "Did you think I'd do such a
thing? I opened the door to speak to you and I saw it on the table
and I remembered you'd been talking of buying some snakes, so I
knew it was yours. I didn't go into the room at all, but this
afternoon when I came into my own room, Ned, its little green head
was sticking out of my overcoat pocket—ugh! I pretty near put my
hand on it! I'd have called you, but you'd gone, and it wasn't any
use calling Aunt Nellie—she'd just jump on the bed and scream; so
I didn't know what to do, for I can't handle those things like you,
Ned, so I pushed its head down with my tooth brush and pinned up
the pocket with my scarf pin. Then I waited a while for you, and I
thought it had gone into a torpid condition like you read of, and
Jack Dale came for me to go to see a Punch-and-Judy and when I got
back the little deceitful beggar had cleared out! I'm awful sorry,
Edmund from red, had turned pale; he did not lift his eyes from the
floor; he was feeling more ashamed of himself than he had ever
thought to feel in his life. Poor blundering Oscar whom he had
despised had conquered his horror of snakes to do a service to a
boy who had never given him a pleasant word; while he—he
had tried to steal Lady Margaret's pet! Now Oscar was avowing his
carelessness without a thought of concealment, while he could not
summon courage to tell the truth.
"It may be in the rooms somewhere," he managed to say finally; "and
never mind, Oscar, you did your best to keep him."
"I'm awful sorry, I am, for a fact," said Oscar; "but of course
it's my fault. You're good not to row me, Ned!"
"Don't!" said Edmund quickly.
"Why"—began Oscar; but his words were drowned by a tumult that
suddenly arose outside; shrieks, voices, a great trampling of feet.
"They've found Marcus! They're killing him!" cried Oscar.
Both boys flew out of the room. "Don't kill him!" called Edmund.
"He is our snake!" shouted Oscar.
People opened doors in all directions as the boys raced past. One
timid woman put her head out of her window, screaming, "Police!"
until quite a small army of blue-coated fellows had assembled.
Another of bolder stamp thought the hotel was on fire and rushed to
the rescue with her water jug.
"Don't kill him!" Oscar and Edmund kept crying, a cry not
calculated to reassure the nervous. Down the hall dashed the boys.
At the far end an agitated group, variously armed with canes,
brooms and umbrellas, was gathered about a fainting chambermaid
supported in the arms of a waiter and fanned by another chambermaid
with a brush broom. Just behind her stood the head waiter in his
immaculate dress suit, disgust painted on his countenance and a
dustpan held aloft in his hand.
Something very like a groan burst from Edmund's lips; for, there,
on the dustpan, his gleaming length trailing limply over the edges,
bruised, battered, crushed, lay poor little dead Marcus Aurelius.
Thus tragically had all his travels ended.
"It's our snake!" cried Oscar, making a spring and snatching the
dustpan from the man's hand. Without another word he darted off at
full speed. He did not hear the head waiter's dignified reproof:
"Young gentlemen as keeps snakes for pets better keep 'em safe
'ome, in my opinion;" or one of the women's speeches: "I
expect he have got a baby tiger hid somewhere; them American
children will do anythink!"
But Edmund heard. Too dejected to retort, he crawled back to his
room. This was the end of it, then. The poor pet must die because
of his wicked wishes. He knew only too well that it was his haste
to hide the snake lest his aunt should see it, that had displaced
the cover. Had he spoken up like an honest boy he could have taken
time to be careful and poor Marcus would still be rejoicing in the
sun. He did not dare to lift his eyes as he entered the room; he
was afraid to look again on that pitiful spectacle of his making.
Oscar had laid a newspaper on the bed and placed the dustpan on it
and now was looking mournfully down at Marcus. "'Tain't no use," he
muttered, "head's smashed. It's an awful shame! Don't see how it
got out of the room—I shut the door tight. Wish I'd locked it!
Guess Aunt Nellie'll be vexed when she finds I've lost Ned's snake.
Well, she's vexed about something most of the time, so it can't be
helped!" Then, for the first time seeing Edmund's miserable face,
he tried to comfort him. "It's lucky you didn't have him long, Ned,
so you hadn't got fond of him. And I'll buy you another"—
Edmund lifted his head. Though Oscar did not guess it, in those last
few moments he had fought; a bitter fight with himself. He
interrupted his cousin: "The snake isn't mine. I didn't buy it.
It's Lady Margaret Vincent's." He went on to tell of his finding
"Whew!" whistled Oscar. "You're bright to guess all that; probably
'tis hers. And you didn't tell Aunt Nora or Aunt Nellie?"
"They'll know fast enough now," replied Edmund gloomily, "after all
this racket—they're running about yet!"
"Well, we'd had to told them anyhow," said candid Oscar, "and I
guess I'll catch it. It's truly my fault. You didn't do
nothing. But I ought to have staid and watched and—I declare I'd
forgotten it till this very minute—aunt Nellie told me I mustn't
run out in the streets, ever, without Celeste; she tells me so many
things I can't keep track of all. And there's Lady Margaret too"—
"M-must we tell her?" stammered Edmund.
"Why, it's her snake," said Oscar, opening his honest eyes; "how
can we help it?"
"I suppose we can't help it," said Edmund.
"But we might telegraph," said Oscar; "it's a heap easier than
writing and you can get lots of words for a shilling."
"No, we'll have to write," said Edmund; "I'll do it."
But Oscar shook his head. "No, Ned, that ain't fair. I'm the most
to blame and I ought to do it. Besides you wouldn't say it
was my fault."
Then the last barrier of Edmund's pride broke down. "Don't,"
he cried again. "I tell you it's I'm to blame, not you. And—
and—Oscar, I've been very mean to you all along"—
"No, you haven't," said Oscar promptly; "it was me bullying you
in the first place made all the trouble. Aunt Nora told me maybe you
wouldn't be friends for a while, and she told me all about the mad
dog and I thought you were a pretty nice boy and I wished you would
like me, but you wouldn't, so I pretended I didn't care. But I did.
It's lonesome travelling around with a feller that's mad with you
all the time."
Edmund swallowed a little lump in his throat. "If you'll make up
with me, now, I'll never be mad with you again," said he, holding
out his hand.
Oscar clasped it across the bed over the mangled remains of the
too-adventurous Marcus Aurelius, whose adventures, thus, were not
quite in vain.
Edmund kept his word. Indeed, he was surprised to find how easy it
was to like Oscar; and Nora's prediction was fulfilled. The two
boys were very happy in Europe; but Edmund never forgot Marcus. He
told the truth to Nora and she persuaded Mrs. Morris to deal gently
with Oscar. He went to the races, after all. Previously Edmund had
written the whole story to Lady Margaret in a letter which she read
with smiles and tears. The postscript was by Oscar. It ran as
DEER LADY MARGARET:—
Ned wont let me see his letter but I'm sure he
took all the blame on himself becaws he always dose
but it was me too blame and not him becaws I
pined the snake in my coat pocket becaws I was
affraid to handel it and ran off too the punch
and gudy show and it got out and the head water
killed it I didn't give him any tip when he went
away I'm very sorry and I'm sorry I kicked the
mormossits but they bit my legs No more at pressent
from your obedient servent too comand.
OSCAR T. W——.
It only remains to say that Marcus Aurelius is back home, at Lady
Margaret's; but she never makes a bracelet of him, now; most
ingeniously mended and stuffed, he abides perpetually in a glass
case; and she describes his perfections and his lamentable end with
tears in her eyes.