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STORIES OF THE ISLAND WORLD.
Away off in the centre of the great and thriving State of Indiana (the Hoosier State it is called, and a great many very worthy people believe that it is as yet, for the most part, an unbroken wilderness, and that the inhabitants universally wear homespun frocks and shirts, and buckskin leggins and moccasins, and eat hoe-cakes for a living--all of which, I will tell you, is a great mistake)--away off in this supposed wilderness there lives a family in which there are four children, two boys and two girls.
There was a fifth, but years ago he left home to become a sailor. He was not heard from for a long, long time. Once, indeed, a letter came home, written in China; and again news reached his father and mother that he had been seen in California. When he had been three years away, his daguerreotype, showing him in a sailor's blue jacket, and with tanned cheeks, and great rough hands, reached his old home, just, as it were, to say that he was still alive, and had not forgotten the folks there.
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All manner of inquiries for him had been made in various sea-ports, but without effect; and now, had it not been for the daguerreotype, which ever lay on the parlor mantle-piece, scarce any one would have remembered that there was such a little boy as George, as we shall call this runaway.
At last, one day, a letter came from him, stating that he had grown tired of a sailor's life, had returned to the shore, and longed once more to see his old home, and the dear people there. Great was the joy, I dare say, but greatest among the little folks, who had often looked at the strange likeness upon the parlor mantle, and wondered where the wanderer could be. He wrote that he had sailed over many seas, had visited many lands, been witness to many strange scenes, and taken part in many wonderful adventures, such as I suppose generally befall wandering sailors.
And now, in mid-winter, another letter came, announcing that George could no longer remain at the East, but would shortly make a visit to his home and friends. What, think you, were the feelings of the old folks, when informed that they were once more to behold and have with them the runaway boy, long given up for dead? Doubtless they thanked God fervently for his wonderful mercy in preserving the wanderer from the many dangers and temptations with which his rough path must have been beset. Doubtless, too, they looked forward anxiously to his arrival, to know what manner of young
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man had grown the slender and weakly boy, whose restless spirit carried him off to sea long years ago.
The children, when they were told that "brother George" would soon be in their midst, set up a great shout of joy. William and Josephine, the eldest, who had been George's little playmates before he left home, searched anew the store-houses of their memory for recollections of his personal appearance and action; while Albert and little Fanny, the younglings of the flock, who knew of George only from hearsay, climbed eagerly upon chairs, and took down the old daguerreotype, to make themselves more familiar with him who, to their childish imaginations, had heretofore scarcely an actual existence, but had seemed rather an ideal being.
Various were the conjectures hazarded as to the personal appearance of the returning wanderer. Would he be tall or short, slender or stout? they all asked each other. Would he be rough and uncouth, or gentle and kind? Would he talk and act like a sailor, or was he rid of the ungainly manners of the sea? William thought he would wear his sailor clothes, while Albert gravely suggested that he would certainly have a great black beard; whereat Fanny, who is opposed to that hirsute ornament, was thrown into the utmost consternation, and vowed that she would not kiss him if such were the case.
But all these dear souls united in the belief that George was good and true, and so they all determ-
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ined to love him, and to make him love them, as, indeed, he had always done, "the children at home" having, as he has told me, formed the subject of sad and longing thoughts for many a weary night-watch at sea.
So, one stormy afternoon, when the snow lay deep upon the streets of the little village where these children lived, and when the little country school-house, which Fanny and Albert attended, could scarcely be kept warm, and the children sat shivering about the stove, wishing for intermission to come, and making up their minds for a glorious game at snow-balls to warm them up, a message came that Fanny and Albert were wanted at home.
"George has come! George has come!" shouted little Fanny enthusiastically, as she ran home, with her satchel dangling from her neck; while Albert followed sedately after, wondering if, indeed, George had come, and whether he--Albert--would really like him (for, I must tell you, Albert had already his own ideas as to what kind of person he would like for a brother), and revolving in his mind the many questions he would like to put to George concerning the wonders of the sea, of which he had heard much from his father and mother, who had once made a journey to Europe.
I think I will not stop to tell you here of the meeting when George came home; how he found the sprightly little fellow of four years grown up to be a stout and noble-looking boy of fourteen; how
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the little pet, who used to pull his hair and pinch his nose as he lay upon the floor beside her studying his lessons, was now a graceful girl of twelve summers, who came up, bashfully blushing, to kiss the sailor whom she could scarce remember; how the little ones, Fanny and Albert, whom he now saw for the first time, came shyly up to welcome George, much wondering that he should look at all like other people, and determining at once to love him with all their little hearts; how the father and mother--but we will draw a veil over this scene, children, and let your fancy picture it forth for you.
Suppose some days to have passed over since George's arrival at home. He has been questioned by old and young, and made to relate numbers of his adventures, and to give long, and, to him, tedious descriptions of the various accidents of a sailor's life. At last he declares that he has told all--that, really, there is nothing more to relate--and, with a shrug of dissatisfaction, the old folks give the sailor into the hands of the children, that they may tease him for more "yarns." Think of their joy, as they have George entirely to themselves!--they, who have been heretofore obliged to listen quietly, without daring to ask a word of explanation, or utter an ejaculation of surprise.
The little family is gathered round the ample western fire-place, in which the great hickory and sugar-tree logs are crackling and blazing, sending forth light and warmth into the room, and casting
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curious shadows upon the walls, at sight of which Fanny creeps closer to her "new brother," as she calls George, and finally climbs upon his knee to tell him how much she is going to love him if he will only "stay at home and be a good boy." Meantime Albert occupies the other knee, and insinuates a desire for a story--"a nice story about the sailors and the ships."
So, while the red blaze of the hickory fire is causing wonderful shadows to flit about the old sitting-room, and while little Fanny peeps with secret awe into the darkened corners, which seem the lurking-places of all those curious shapes which dance, now here, now there, George tells them stories concerning sailors, and ships, and storms, and the strange countries he has seen, with the singular habits and dresses of the people. And, by-and-by, Albert and Fanny are in dream-land, George's voice still sounding in their ears, and causing them to dream wonderful dreams of dangers and adventures. So the little ones are put to bed, and George, looking upon their bright and innocent faces as they lie in the calm, beautiful repose of childhood, feels his eyes fill with tears, and his heart swell with gratitude to Him who has borne him in safety through many dangers, and has, in gracious goodness, brought back this wanderer to his home.
It was now expected that part of every evening should be devoted to story-telling. Albert and Fan-
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ny had been looking forward to the arrival of George with glowing anticipations of the nice stories he must tell; and the older children, William and Josephine, were quite as anxious to hear somewhat of the strange world of which he had seen so much more than they ever hoped to.
But stories are not so easily told, night after night, particularly when, as was the case here, they were all expected to be "about the sea." So it came about that George one evening announced to his auditory that he had come to the end of his budget, and that now they must think of some other subject besides "the sea" to hear stories about.
A very grave consultation resulted from this announcement. Each of the children mentioned some subject for future stories.
"Tell all your stories over again," was little Fanny's suggestion; "I would like to hear them all half a dozen times, because I can't remember well, I'm such a little girl."
To this Master George strongly demurred, preferring much to tell a new set. "But what shall they be about?"
"Let them be about China, where the silks come from, and about the beautiful Spice Islands," said Josephine, who has already a girlish liking for all that's beautiful, and particularly for the beautiful in dress.
"Something about whales," said Albert, who delights in nothing so much as stories of wild adventure.
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"Tell us something about the little boys and girls in the countries so far away that you have seen," said Fanny, brushing her locks from her face, and turning up to George's the brightest and blackest pair of eyes that ever were seen.
"And what do you say, William?"
"Give us some account of the islands you have visited."
"Oh yes," shouts Albert, "something concerning islands. I never was on an island: it must be so strange to have water all around you."
"I would not go on an island for all the world," asseverates Fanny.
"And why not, pray, little miss?"
"Because, if there's water all around you, you can't get off again when you want to, and then one might fall into the water and be drowned."
At this, Albert, who has studied geography, and feels himself the possessor of an infinite store of information about the earth, asks triumphantly how Fanny is going to fall off an island a hundred miles long.
Whereupon Fanny declares her belief that there can not be an island one hundred miles long, "because the water could not get around so far."
To such little girls as Fanny, one hundred miles seems a vast distance. The children explain to her that any body of land entirely surrounded by water is called an island; and when she has been brought to a comprehension of this general truth, Master
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George electrifies his audience by the assertion that America is an island.
"That's a story, sure enough," whispers Josephine, who is mischievously inclined to disbelief.
"But that is an island concerning which I am not going to speak to you. The discoveries in the Arctic regions have proved the fact that the Continent of North America is bounded on the north by water, and is thus entirely unconnected with either Europe or Asia, and, in fact, forms, with South America, a vast island."
"How strange that we should live on an island!" exclaims Fanny; "I sha'n't feel like I did before, I know."
"I would like to hear something concerning islands," says Albert now.
Fanny. Will the stories be true?
George. Yes, indeed.
Fan. And will you tell me something about the little boys and girls on the islands?
Albert. And about the lions, and tigers, and serpents that are found on some of them?
William. And about what the people do, how they dress and live, and of the idols some of them worship?
Josephine. And you will tell us, too, something about those good missionaries, who go so far away
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from home among the poor heathen to make them good?
Al. Have you ever seen a missionary, George?
Geo. Yes, indeed.
Whereat Albert looks up with interest and wonder, for his father has a missionary paper sent to him, and in this he has read often strange accounts of the labors of these good men and women among the heathen.
Jose. And, moreover, I want to know all about the ladies on these islands; and all you tell us must be true.
Al. And I would like to hear how they catch all the wild animals.
Will. And I think you ought to tell us something of how the islands were first discovered.
Geo. Has not Miss Fanny an additional suggestion?
But Fanny has fallen asleep on George's knee, and makes no answer to the demand upon her.
So, after her mother had placed Fanny in her little bed, it was resolved that the "island world," as Master George chose to call it, should be the subject for a series of stories. And it being, by this time, nine o'clock, the three children wished George goodnight, and betook themselves to their peaceful and happy slumbers, thinking, no doubt, of the strange things which should be revealed to them on evenings to come.