The Sandman: His Sea Stories  by Willliam J. Hopkins

The Christmas Story

O NCE upon a time there was a wide river that ran into the ocean, and beside it was a little city. And in that city was a wharf where great ships came from far countries. And a narrow road led down a very steep hill to that wharf and anybody that wanted to go to the wharf had to go down the steep hill on the narrow road, for there wasn't any other way. And because ships had come there for a great many years and all the sailors and all the captains and all the men who had business with the ships had to go on that narrow road, the flagstones that made the sidewalk were much worn. That was a great many years ago.

The wharf was Captain Jonathan's and Captain Jacob's and they owned the ships that sailed from it; and, after their ships had been sailing from that wharf in the little city for a good many years, they changed their office to Boston. After that, their ships sailed from a wharf in Boston.

Once, in the long ago, the brig Industry  had sailed from Boston for far countries, and she had been gone about three months. She was going to Java, first, to get coffee and sugar and other things that they have in Java; and then she was going to Manila and then back to India and home again. It was almost Christmas time. Little Jacob and little Sol were on board the Industry  on that voyage, and it seemed very strange to them that it should be hot at Christmas time. But they were just about at the equator, or a little bit south of it, and it is always hot there; and besides, it is summer at Christmas time south of the equator. So little Jacob and Sol had on their lightest and coolest clothes, and they had straw hats on; but they didn't run about and play much, it was so hot.

The two little boys were lying stretched out in the shadow of a great sail, and they had their hands behind their heads, and they looked up at the tall masts and the yards and the great white sails and once in a while they saw a little hilly cloud, and they didn't say anything for a long time. Finally little Jacob spoke to little Sol.

"What are you thinking about, Sol?" he asked.

"Oh, nothing, much," answered little Sol. "I was thinking it would be fun to be sitting up on the very tip top of the mainmast and letting my feet hang down and swinging back and forth with the mast. Maybe I could see Java."

Little Jacob shivered to think of sitting on top of the mast. "My, Sol!" he said. "You'd fall. There's nothing to hold on to."

"Oh, I'm not going to try it, Jake," said little Sol. "Father'd give it to me, if I did. You know the time I fell overboard?"

Little Jacob nodded. "Well, then," said little Sol. "I guess a boy'd be foolish to try that twice."

Little Jacob nodded again. "Did he thrash you, Sol?" he asked.

Little Sol smiled. "Didn't he, though?" he said. "Ever get a thrashing, Jake?"

Little Jacob hesitated. "Well," he said, slowly, "sometimes—with a slipper."

"Huh!" said little Sol, with much scorn. "That's nothing. My father don't use any slipper."

Little Jacob thought it was time to change the subject. "What makes you think that you could see Java from up there?"

"I don't s'pose I could, really," answered little Sol. "But father said that we ought to sight it within two days."

"To-morrow is Christmas," remarked little Jacob, thoughtfully. "I'd rather like to be at home, on Christmas."

"Well, you can't," said little Sol. "You're thousands of miles from home. I wonder what they'll have for dinner."

"We generally have lots of things for Christmas dinner," said little Jacob, in a stifled little voice, "goose and apple sauce, and potatoes and squash and——"

"I don't mean at home, Jake," said little Sol, gently. "I mean here. We always have good things at home, too. But we haven't any goose or anything else except salt junk and plum duff. I s'pose it'll be that."

But little Jacob didn't say anything because he couldn't speak. He tilted his hat over his eyes and thought how nice it was at home at Christmas time, and how sorry Lois, his mother, would be that he wasn't there, and how sorry his little sister Lois would be. He didn't know about his father, Captain Jacob, but he thought that perhaps he would be sorry, too; and he knew that his grandfather, Captain Jonathan, would be sorry. He was very fond of his grandfather because Captain Jonathan was always nice and kind and gentle and he seemed to understand little boys. And, at last, little Jacob jammed his hat on straight and got up and ran down into the cabin to write his mother a letter. Captain Solomon would leave the letter in Java for some ship to take home. When he had written the letter he felt better.

When the two little boys came out on deck the next morning, they went forward among the sailors; and they wished each man a Merry Christmas and they gave each one some little thing that they had found. The things were some things that Captain Solomon had brought to give away, although he did not expect, when he brought them, to give them to the sailors. And the men seemed very much pleased, and they wished little Jacob and little Sol a Merry Christmas, too, and some of the men had presents for the boys. These presents were usually something that the men had whittled out of ivory or bone or ebony. And little Jacob and little Sol hadn't expected that the men would give them any presents, and they were delighted; and, by the time they had got through giving the men presents their jacket pockets bulged out with all the things the men had given them.

But one thing little Jacob didn't put in his pocket, for fear that he would break it. That was a little model of the brig Industry, about three inches long. The hull of the model was cut out of ebony, and the masts and spars were little ebony sticks stuck in, and the sails were of ivory, scraped thin, and the ropes were silk thread. And the sails were bulging, as if the wind was filling them and making them stand out from the yards. Altogether, it was a most beautiful model, and little Jacob was so surprised and pleased that, for some time, he couldn't say anything to the sailor who had given it to him.

"Is this for me? "he said, at last. "For me?"

That sailor was an old man. The little crinkles came around his eyes as he smiled down at little Jacob.

"Yes, little lad," he said. "For you—if you want it. And with a Merry Christmas!"


"Yes, little lad," he said. "For you—if you want it."

"Oh," cried little Jacob, "if I want it! I think it is the—most—beautiful—thing I ever saw. I can't thank you enough."

You should have seen the old sailor's face when little Jacob said that. The crinkles were so deep that you could hardly have seen his eyes.

"To see your face now is thanks enough for me," he said.

"But— but," said little Jacob, "Sol hasn't got anything half so pretty as this."

"Never you mind about Sol," said the old man, in a whisper that Sol could hear perfectly well. "He'll be havin' a ship of his own, one o' these days soon. What does he care about models?"

And he looked at Sol and winked. And Sol straightened his shoulders and stopped looking disappointed. "That's what I will," said Sol.

And the boys stayed with the old sailor for a long time, and the sailor pointed to something that was blue and dim on the water, far away.

"See that land?" he said. "That's Christmas Island on Christmas mornin'."


Christmas Island: first view, bearing N by E


Christmas Island: second view, bearing SW

And the boys asked if they would go near the island, and he said that they would go pretty near. And little Jacob said that he would get some paper and draw the island when they came near it, and he would put it in the log book. And so he did, and he made it look like the pictures here. When little Jacob had it all written in the log-book about the presents and about his little model of the Industry  and about Christmas Island, it was time for dinner.

When the little boys went in to dinner, they were both very much surprised; for there, on the table, was a real goose, beautifully browned over and smoking hot, and there was apple sauce to eat with it. And there was squash and potato and cabbage and ham and almost as many different things as little Jacob would have had if he had been at home. And behind the goose stood Captain Solomon sharpening the carving knife, and he was smiling.

Little Jacob didn't ask how he managed to have fresh goose, but he evidently wanted to; so Captain Solomon told him that the cook had kept it alive in the long boat all that long time, so as to be sure to have goose for their Christmas dinner. The long boat was kept high up above the men's heads, on a sort of framework, so that little Jacob had never seen the goose; but the cook had had a great deal of trouble to keep the boys from hearing it, and he had had to make it a secret with the sailors and sometimes he had the sailors take it down into the forecastle while little Jacob and little Sol were playing about. The forecastle is the place where the sailors sleep, and the little boys never went there. But little Sol rather suspected that there was something that the cook was hiding from them, although he had never found out what it was.

And, when they were through eating their goose, they had squash pie and apple pie, two kinds, and potato pie; but they weren't quite like the pies they would have had at home because the cook didn't have any butter to make the crust with, and his lard wasn't very good because they had been in the hot oceans for so long. And they had some very nice steamed pudding with raisins in it, and there were lots of raisins.

When they were through eating their pudding and all the kinds of pies, little Jacob was filled up about to his chin, and there was just room enough left for an apple and some nuts and raisins. And they had the apples and the nuts and raisins; all the kinds of nuts that they had at home and another kind of nut that little Jacob had never seen before. He didn't know whether to call it a nut or a raisin. It had a thin shell and it was nearly as big as an English walnut, but inside the shell was a raisin; and the raisin had a single stone inside it, a little bigger than a cherry stone. Little Jacob and little Sol thought that these raisinuts tasted very good indeed, and they didn't care whether they were raisins or nuts. Little Sol invented the name, raisinuts.

At last they were through dinner, and the little boys got up, very slowly, for they were filled as full as they could hold. And they walked slowly to the cabin steps and up the steps and out on deck. It was rather squally and, just as little Jacob went out of the cabin door, a great gust of wind came and took his straw hat and carried it sailing away over the ocean. You can't stop a ship to get a straw hat, and little Jacob watched it go sailing away on the gust of wind and settle into the ocean; but he was sorry, for it was the only straw hat he had, and it was too hot to wear his white beaver hat. But he thought that he wouldn't wear any hat until they got to Java and then he would get another straw.


When little Jacob had watched his hat out of sight, he went into the cabin again to write some more on his letter to his mother.

And that's all.