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 river and the ocean are there yet, as they always have been and always will be; and the city is there, but it is a different kind of a city from what it used to be. And the wharf is slowly falling down, for it is not used now; and the narrow road down the steep hill is all grown up with weeds and grass.
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, the brig Industry had sailed from Boston for a far country and she had got down into the warm parts of the ocean. Little Jacob and little Sol had gone on that voyage. Little Sol always got out on deck, in the morning, a little while before little Jacob got out. And, one morning, he had gone on deck and little Jacob was hurrying to finish his breakfast, when little Sol came running back and stuck his head in at the cabin door.
"Oh, Jake," he called, "come out here, quick! There are fishes with wings on 'em, and they are flying all 'round."
Then little Jacob was very much excited, and he wanted to leave the rest of his breakfast and go out. All of a sudden he found that he wasn't hungry. But Captain Solomon was there, and he smiled at little Jacob's eagerness.
"Better finish your breakfast, Jacob," he said. "The flying fish won't go away—not before you get through."
"Thank you, sir," said little Jacob. "I'm all through. I don't feel hungry for any more."
"All right," said Captain Solomon. "But if you and Sol get hungry you can go to the cook. I have an idea that he will have something for you."
Little Jacob was already half way up the cabin steps. "Thank you, sir," he said; but there was some doubt whether he had heard. Captain Solomon smiled again and got up and followed him.
Little Sol was in his favorite place on the bowsprit, and little Jacob was going there as fast as he could. He settled himself in his place and began to look around.
"Where, Sol?" he asked. "Where are the—oh!"
For, just ahead of the ship, a school of fish suddenly leaped out of the water, and went flying about fifteen or twenty feet above the water for a hundred feet or more. And they kept coming. Little Jacob could hear the humming of their long fins, but he couldn't see their fins, they went so fast. Little Sol had thought they were wings; and it was as nearly right to call them wings as to call them fins.
"Oo—o, Sol!" cried little Jacob. "Aren't they pretty? And aren't they small? And don't they fly fast?"
"M—m," said little Sol.
"Look at these over there!" cried little Jacob, again. "See! They are flying faster than the ship is going. They are beating us!"
Little Jacob was pointing to some fish that were flying in the same direction that the Industry was sailing. They went ahead of her and dropped into the water.
"H'mph!" said little Sol. "There isn't much wind, anyway. If there was, I'll bet they wouldn't beat us." There really was a good deal of wind.
"But aren't they pretty colors, Sol?" said little Jacob. "They're all colors of blue and silvery. I can't see them very plainly, they go so fast. I wish I could see them plainer."
Captain Solomon was standing near enough to hear what little Jacob said.
"If you'll come inboard, Jacob," said Captain Solomon, "you can see them. We're catching them."
And little Jacob turned his head, and then he scrambled in. Now and then some of the flying fish flew right across the deck of the Industry. And some of them came down on the deck, and some struck against the masts and ropes; and the sailors were standing all about, looking excited, as if they were playing a game. They had their caps in their hands, and when the fish flew across the deck, they tried to catch them in their caps. And some they caught and some they didn't; but the sailors were having a good time, and they laughed and shouted at their play.
The sailors were having a good time.
And a sailor who had just caught a fish in his cap brought it to little Jacob.
"Now you can see it plainer," said Captain Solomon.
Little Jacob looked and he saw a fish that was less than a foot long, and the color on its back was a deep, ocean blue, and the fins were a darker blue, and it was all silvery underneath. And it had long fins coming out of its shoulders, almost as long as the fish, and they looked very strong and almost like a swallow's wings.
By and by little Jacob looked up at Captain Solomon. "Why do the men want to catch so many of them?" he asked. "Because it's fun?"
"Well, no," said Captain Solomon. "It is great fun. I've done it myself, in my day. But these fish are very good to eat. Any kind of fresh meat is a good thing, when you know there's nothing better than salted meat to fall back on. You'll see how good they are, at dinner."
Little Jacob sighed. "Oh," he said. "Thank you for showing me."
And he was rather sober as he went back to his place on the bowsprit to watch. But when dinner time came, he ate some of the flying fish and thought they were very nice, indeed.
And that's all.