EMBELLISHMENT

By Jacob Abbott

One day Beechnut, who had been ill, was taken by Phonny and Madeline for a drive. When Phonny and Madeline found themselves riding quietly along in the waggon in Beechnut's company, the first thought which occurred to them, after the interest and excitement awakened by the setting out had passed in some measure away, was that they would ask him to tell them a story. This was a request which they almost always made in similar circumstances. In all their rides and rambles Beechnut's stories were an unfailing resource, furnishing them with an inexhaustible fund of amusement sometimes, and sometimes of instruction.

"Well," said Beechnut, in answer to their request, "I will tell you now about my voyage across the Atlantic Ocean."

"Yes," exclaimed Madeline, "I should like to hear about that very much indeed."

"Shall I tell the story to you just as it was," asked Beechnut, "as a sober matter of fact, or shall I embellish it a little?"

"I don't know what you mean by embellishing it," said Madeline.

"Why, not telling exactly what is true," said Beechnut, "but inventing something to add to it, to make it interesting."

"I want to have it true," said Madeline, "and interesting, too."

"But sometimes," replied Beechnut, "interesting things don't happen, and in such cases, if we should only relate what actually does happen, the story would be likely to be dull."

"I think you had better embellish the story a little," said Phonny—"just a little, you know."

"I don't think I can do that very well," replied Beechnut. "If I attempt to relate the actual facts, I depend simply on my memory, and I can confine myself to what my memory teaches; but if I undertake to follow my invention, I must go wherever it leads me."

"Well," said Phonny, "I think you had better embellish the story, at any rate, for I want it to be interesting."

"So do I," said Madeline.

"Then," said Beechnut, "I will give you an embellished account of my voyage across the Atlantic. But, in the first place, I must tell you how it happened that my father decided to leave Paris and come to America. It was mainly on my account. My father was well enough contented with his situation so far as he himself was concerned, and he was able to save a large part of his salary, so as to lay up a considerable sum of money every year; but he was anxious about me.

"There seemed to be nothing," continued Beechnut, "for me to do, and nothing desirable for me to look forward to, when I should become a man. My father thought, therefore, that, though it would perhaps be better for him to remain in France, it would probably be better for me if he should come to America, where he said people might rise in the world, according to their talents, thrift, and industry. He was sure, he said, that I should rise, for, you must understand, he considered me an extraordinary boy."

"Well," said Phonny, "I think you were an extraordinary boy."

"Yes, but my father thought," rejoined Beechnut, "that I was something very extraordinary indeed. He thought I was a genius."

"So do I," said Phonny.

"He said," continued Beechnut, "he thought it would in the end be a great deal better for him to come to America, where I might become a man of some consequence in the world, and he said that he should enjoy his own old age a great deal better, even in a strange land, if he could see me going on prosperously in life, than to remain all his days in that porter's lodge.

"All the money that my father had saved," Beechnut continued, "he got changed into gold at an office in the Boulevards; but then he was very much perplexed to decide how it was best to carry it."

"Why did he not pack it up in his chest?" asked Phonny.

"He was afraid," replied Beechnut, "that his chest might be broken open, or unlocked by false keys, on the voyage, and that the money might be thus stolen away; so he thought that he would try to hide it somewhere in some small thing that he could keep with him all the voyage."

"Could not he keep his chest with him all the voyage?" asked Phonny.

"No," said Beechnut; "the chests, and all large parcels of baggage belonging to the passengers, must be sent down into the hold of the ship out of the way. It is only a very little baggage that the people are allowed to keep with them between the decks. My father wished very much to keep his gold with him, and yet he was afraid to keep it in a bag, or in any other similar package, in his little trunk, for then whoever saw it would know that it was gold, and so perhaps form some plan to rob him of it.

"While we were considering what plan it would be best to adopt for the gold, Arielle, who was the daughter of a friend of ours, proposed to hide it in my top. I had a very large top which my father had made for me. It was painted yellow outside, with four stripes of bright blue passing down over it from the stem to the point. When the top was in motion, both the yellow ground and the blue stripes entirely disappeared, and the top appeared to be of a uniform green colour. Then, when it came to its rest again, the original colours would reappear."

"How curious!" said Madeline. "Why would it do so?"

"Why, when it was revolving," said Beechnut, "the yellow and the blue were blended together in the eye, and that made green. Yellow and blue always make green. Arielle coloured my top, after my father had made it, and then my father varnished it over the colours, and that fixed them.

"This top of mine was a monstrous large one, and being hollow, Arielle thought that the gold could all be put inside. She said she thought that that would be a very safe hiding-place, too, since nobody would think of looking into a top for gold. But my father said that he thought that the space would not be quite large enough, and then if anybody should happen to see the top, and should touch it, the weight of it would immediately reveal the secret.

"At last my father thought of a plan which he believed would answer the purpose very perfectly. We had a very curious old clock. It was made by my grandfather, who was a clockmaker in Geneva. There was a little door in the face of the clock, and whenever the time came for striking the hours, this door would open, and a little platform would come out with a tree upon it. There was a beautiful little bird upon the tree, and when the clock had done striking, the bird would flap its wings and sing. Then the platform would slide back into its place, the door would shut, and the clock go on ticking quietly for another hour.

"This clock was made to go," continued Beechnut, "as many other clocks are, by two heavy weights, which were hung to the wheel-work by strong cords. The cords were wound round some of the wheels, and as they slowly descended by their weight, they made the wheels go round. There was a contrivance inside the clock to make the wheels go slowly and regularly, and not spin round too fast, as they would have done if the weights had been left to themselves. This is the way that clocks are often made.

"Now, my father," continued Beechnut, "had intended to take this old family clock with him to America, and he now conceived the idea of hiding his treasure in the weights. The weights were formed of two round tin canisters filled with something very heavy. My father said he did not know whether it was shot or sand. He unsoldered the bottom from these canisters, and found that the filling was shot. He poured out the shot, put his gold pieces in in place of it, and then filled up all the interstices between and around the gold pieces with sand, to prevent the money from jingling. Then he soldered the bottom of the canisters on again, and no one would have known that the weights were anything more than ordinary clock-weights. He then packed the clock in a box, and put the box in his trunk. It did not take up a great deal of room, for he did not take the case of the clock, but only the face and the works and the two weights, which last he packed carefully and securely in the box, one on each side of the clock itself.

"When we got to Havre, all our baggage was examined at the custom-house, and the officers allowed it all to pass. When they came to the clock, my father showed them the little door and the bird inside, and they said it was very curious. They did not pay any attention to the weights at all.

"When we went on board of the vessel our chests were put by the side of an immense heap of baggage upon the deck, where some seamen were at work lowering it down into the hold through a square opening in the deck of the ship. As for the trunk, my father took that with him to the place where he was going to be himself during the voyage. This place was called the steerage. It was crowded full of men, women, and children, all going to America. Some talked French, some German, some Dutch, and there were ever so many babies that were too little to talk at all. Pretty soon the vessel sailed.

"We did not meet with anything remarkable on the voyage, except that once we saw an iceberg."

"What is that?" asked Madeline.

"It is a great mountain of ice," replied Beechnut, "floating about in the sea on the top of the water. I don't know how it comes to be there."

"I should not think it would float upon the top of the water," said
Phonny. "All the ice that I ever saw in the water sinks into it."

"It does not sink to the bottom," said Madeline.

"No," replied Phonny, "but it sinks down until the top of the ice is just level with the water. But Beechnut says that his iceberg rose up like a mountain."

"Yes," said Beechnut, "it was several hundred feet high above the water, all glittering in the sun. And I think that if you look at any small piece of ice floating in the water, you will see that a small part of it rises above the surface."

"Yes," said Phonny, "a very little."

"It is a certain proportion of the whole mass," rejoined Beechnut. "They told us on board our vessel that about one-tenth part of the iceberg was above the water; the rest—that is, nine-tenths—was under it; so you see what an enormous big piece of ice it must have been to have only one-tenth part of it tower up so high.

"There was one thing very curious and beautiful about our iceberg," said Beechnut. "We came in sight of it one day about sunset, just after a shower. The cloud, which was very large and black, had passed off into the west, and there was a splendid rainbow upon it. It happened, too, that when we were nearest to the iceberg it lay toward the west, and, of course, toward the cloud, and it appeared directly under the rainbow, and the iceberg and the rainbow made a most magnificent spectacle. The iceberg, which was very bright and dazzling in the evening sun, looked like an enormous diamond, with the rainbow for the setting."

"How curious!" said Phonny.

"Yes," said Beechnut, "and to make it more remarkable still, a whale just then came along directly before the iceberg, and spouted there two or three times; and as the sun shone very brilliantly upon the jet of water which the whale threw into the air, it made a sort of silver rainbow below in the centre of the picture."

"How beautiful it must have been!" said Phonny.

"Yes," rejoined Beechnut, "very beautiful indeed. We saw a great many beautiful spectacles on the sea; but then, on the other hand, we saw some that were dreadful."

"Did you?" asked Phonny. "What?"

"Why, we had a terrible storm and shipwreck at the end," said Beechnut. "For three days and three nights the wind blew almost a hurricane. They took in all the sails, and let the ship drive before the gale under bare poles. She went on over the seas for five hundred miles, howling all the way like a frightened dog."

"Were you frightened?" asked Phonny.

"Yes," said Beechnut. "When the storm first came on, several of the passengers came up the hatchways and got up on the deck to see it; and then we could not get down again, for the ship gave a sudden pitch just after we came up, and knocked away the step-ladder. We were terribly frightened. The seas were breaking over the forecastle and sweeping along the decks, and the shouts and outcries of the captain and the sailors made a dreadful din. At last they put the step-ladder in its place again, and we got down. Then they put the hatches on, and we could not come out any more."

"The hatches?" said Phonny. "What are they?"

"The hatches," replied Beechnut, "are a sort of scuttle-doors that cover over the square openings in the deck of a ship. They always have to put them on and fasten them down in a great storm."

Just at this time the party happened to arrive at a place where two roads met, and as there was a broad and level space of ground at the junction, where it would be easy to turn the waggon, Beechnut said that he thought it would be better to make that the end of their ride, and so turn round and go home. Phonny and Madeline were quite desirous of going a little farther, but Beechnut thought that he should be tired by the time he reached the house again.

"But you will not have time to finish the story," said Phonny.

"Yes," replied Beechnut; "there is very little more to tell. It is only to give an account of our shipwreck."

"Why, did you have a shipwreck?" exclaimed Phonny.

"Yes," said Beechnut. "When you have turned the waggon, I will tell you about it."

So Phonny, taking a great sweep, turned the waggon round, and the party set their faces toward home. The Marshal was immediately going to set out upon a trot, but Phonny held him back by pulling upon the reins and saying:

"Steady, Marshal! steady! You have got to walk all the way home."

"The storm drove us upon the Nova Scotia coast," said Beechnut, resuming his story. "We did not know anything about the great danger that we were in until just before the ship went ashore. When we got near the shore the sailors put down all the anchors; but they would not hold, and at length the ship struck. Then there followed a dreadful scene of consternation and confusion. Some jumped into the sea in their terror, and were drowned. Some cried and screamed, and acted as if they were insane. Some were calm, and behaved rationally. The sailors opened the hatches and let the passengers come up, and we got into the most sheltered places that we could find about the decks and rigging and tied ourselves to whatever was nearest at hand. My father opened his trunk and took out his two clock-weights, and gave me one of them; the other he kept himself. He told me that we might as well try to save them, though he did not suppose that we should be able to do so.

"Pretty soon after we struck the storm seemed to abate a little. The people of the country came down to the shore and stood upon the rocks to see if they could do anything to save us. We were very near the shore, but the breakers and the boiling surf were so violent between us and the land that whoever took to the water was sure to be dashed in pieces. So everybody clung to the ship, waiting for the captain to contrive some way to get us to the shore."

"And what did he do?" asked Phonny.

"He first got a long line and a cask, and he fastened the end of the long line to the cask, and then threw the cask overboard. The other end of the line was kept on board the ship. The cask was tossed about upon the waves, every successive surge driving it in nearer and nearer to the shore, until at last it was thrown up high upon the rocks. The men upon the shore ran to seize it, but before they could get hold of it the receding wave carried it back again among the breakers, where it was tossed about as if it had been a feather, and overwhelmed with the spray. Presently away it went again up upon the shore, and the men again attempted to seize it. This was repeated two or three times. At last they succeeded in grasping hold of it, and they ran up with it upon the rocks, out of the reach of the seas.

"The captain then made signs to the men to pull the line in toward the shore. He was obliged to use signs, because the roaring and thundering of the seas made such a noise that nothing could be heard. The sailors had before this, under the captain's direction, fastened a much stronger line—a small cable, in fact—to the end of the line which had been attached to the barrel. Thus, by pulling upon the smaller line, the men drew one end of the cable to the shore. The other end remained on board the ship, while the middle of it lay tossing among the breakers between the ship and the shore.

"The seamen then carried that part of the cable which was on shipboard up to the masthead, while the men on shore made their end fast to a very strong post which they set in the ground. The seamen drew the cable as tight as they could, and fastened their end very strongly to the masthead. Thus the line of the cable passed in a gentle slope from the top of the mast to the land, high above all the surges and spray. The captain then rigged what he called a sling, which was a sort of loop of ropes that a person could be put into and made to slide down in it on the cable to the shore. A great many of the passengers were afraid to go in this way, but they were still more afraid to remain on board the ship."

"What were they afraid of?" asked Phonny.

"They were afraid," replied Beechnut, "that the shocks of the seas would soon break the ship to pieces, and then they would all be thrown into the sea together. In this case they would certainly be destroyed, for if they were not drowned, they would be dashed to pieces on the rocks which lined the shore.

"Sliding down the line seemed thus a very dangerous attempt, but they consented one after another to make the trial, and thus we all escaped safe to land."

"And did you get the clock-weights safe to the shore?" asked Phonny.

"Yes," replied Beechnut, "and as soon as we landed we hid them in the sand. My father took me to a little cove close by, where there was not much surf, as the place was protected by a rocky point of land which bounded it on one side. Behind this point of land the waves rolled up quietly upon a sandy beach. My father went down upon the slope of this beach, to a place a little below where the highest waves came, and began to dig a hole in the sand. He called me to come and help him. The waves impeded our work a little, but we persevered until we had dug a hole about a foot deep. We put our clock-weights into this hole and covered them over. We then ran back up upon the beach. The waves that came up every moment over the place soon smoothed the surface of the sand again, and made it look as if nothing had been done there. My father measured the distance from the place where he had deposited his treasure up to a certain great white rock upon the shore exactly opposite to it, so as to be able to find the place again, and then we went back to our company. They were collected on the rocks in little groups, wet and tired, and in great confusion, but rejoiced at having escaped with their lives. Some of the last of the sailors were then coming over in the sling. The captain himself came last of all.

"There were some huts near the place on the shore, where the men made good fires, and we warmed and dried ourselves. The storm abated a great deal in a few hours, and the tide went down, so that we could go off to the ship before night to get some provisions. The next morning the men could work at the ship very easily, and they brought, all the passengers' baggage on shore. My father got his trunk with the clock in it. A day or two afterward some sloops came to the place, and took us all away to carry us to Quebec. Just before we embarked on board the sloops, my father and I, watching a good opportunity, dug up our weights out of the sand, and put them back safely in their places in the clock-box."

"Is that the end?" asked Phonny, when Beechnut paused.

"Yes," replied Beechnut, "I believe I had better make that the end."

"I think it is a very interesting and well-told story," said Madeline.
"And do you feel very tired?"

"No," said Beechnut. "On the contrary, I feel all the better for my ride. I believe I will sit up a little while."

So saying, he raised himself in the waggon and sat up, and began to look about him.

"What a wonderful voyage you had, Beechnut!" said Phonny. "But I never knew before that you were shipwrecked."

"Well, in point of fact," replied Beechnut, "I never was shipwrecked."

"Never was!" exclaimed Phonny. "Why, what is all this story that you have been telling us, then?"

"Embellishment," said Beechnut quietly.

"Embellishment!" repeated Phonny, more and more amazed.

"Yes," said Beechnut.

"Then you were not wrecked at all?" said Phonny.

"No," replied Beechnut.

"And how did you get to the land?" asked Phonny.

"Why, we sailed quietly up the St. Lawrence," replied Beechnut, "and landed safely at Quebec, as other vessels do."

"And the clock-weights?" asked Phonny.

"All embellishment," said Beechnut. "My father had no such clock, in point of fact. He put his money in a bag, his bag in his chest, and his chest in the hold, and it came as safe as the captain's sextant."

"And the iceberg and the rainbow?" said Madeline.

"Embellishment, all embellishment," said Beechnut.

"Dear me!" said Phonny, "I thought it was all true."

"Did you?" said Beechnut. "I am sorry that you were so deceived, and I am sure it was not my fault, for I gave you your choice of a true story or an invention, and you chose the invention."

"Yes," said Phonny, "so we did."