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 sidewalks were much worn. That was a great many years ago.
The brig Industry was one of the ships that used to sail from that wharf and Captain Solomon was her captain for many years. But, after he had been sailing to far countries for a long time, he thought it would be nice to stop going to sea, for he found that what he wanted was a farm where he could settle down and stay in one place. And, besides, he had three sons; and he didn't want his three sons to go to sea because he knew what a hard life it was.
Little Sol was the oldest of his three sons, and he had been one voyage to far countries. Captain Solomon took him, thinking that the voyage would show him how much better it was to stay ashore and be a farmer than to go to sea and be a captain and have to stand all sorts of storms and perhaps be wrecked. But the voyage to those far countries hadn't made Sol think what Captain Solomon had hoped it would make him think, but it had only made him want to go to sea all the more. Little Sol wasn't little any longer, but he had got to be about sixteen years old. And Captain Solomon's youngest son was the one that was, afterwards, Uncle John and the father of little John, that it tells about in the Farm Stories. And what was the name of the middle son of Captain Solomon I have forgotten. Perhaps it was Seth.
So Captain Solomon bought the farm that he wanted. It was a beautiful farm, with a river running through it, and a great pond in it, and you would have thought that it would have suited Sol exactly. But it didn't. For the one thing that Sol wanted, and that all these beautiful things, the river and the great pond, and the hills and the woods, wouldn't make up for, was the ocean. The farm was twenty miles from the ocean. Sol would have given anything if he could just hear the ocean. Where he had lived he could hear it all the time, sometimes loud and sometimes soft. It put him to sleep many and many a night, that sound of the sea as it broke on the shore. And he wanted it so badly that he was almost sick, but his father wouldn't let him go to sea, and he wouldn't even let him go to Wellfleet to visit his cousins; for he was very much afraid that Sol wouldn't come home again, but would go off to sea. And at last Sol couldn't stand it any longer. He felt sick all the time and he couldn't sleep and he just hated that farm. So he made up his mind that he would have to run away from home.
It was on his sixteenth birthday that he made up his mind to run away from home. Captain Solomon was a kind father, but he had been a captain for such a long time that he wanted to run his family and his farm just like a ship and to have everybody do just exactly as he said and ask no questions; and, when anybody didn't seem to want to do just as he said, but began to ask questions and argue, he got very angry. Sol was very sorry to leave his mother, but there was nobody else except his two brothers. And he was very sure that Seth would run away to sea when he got old enough, unless Captain Solomon let him go. But, long before it came to be Seth's time, Captain Solomon had learned better. And John, at that time, was a little boy.
So Sol made his plans. And, when the time came, he left a letter to his father. The letter was scribbled on a leaf that Sol tore out of a book, and it was very short, for Sol didn't like to write letters. The letter said that he just had to go to sea, and that he hoped that his father wouldn't blame him, and that he would come back some day when he had got to be a mate or a captain.
Then there was a letter to his mother. It was longer than the letter to his father and in it Sol said that he was just sick for the sea and that, if he stayed on the farm, he knew he should get sicker and die. The farm was a beautiful farm, but farms were not for him for many years yet. He would rather plough the ocean than plough the earth. Sol was rather proud when he wrote that about ploughing the ocean, for he thought it sounded rather well when he read the letter over. And he subscribed himself, with a great deal of love, her loving son.
Then Sol made a bundle of the clothes he thought he would need, but the bundle was a small one, for he didn't think that he would need many clothes. And, when it got late that night, and everything was quiet about the house and even his brothers, Seth and John, were sound asleep, Sol opened the window and threw his bundle out. Then he got out and slid down the rain spout. The rain spout made a good deal of noise, but it was wooden and not made of tin, so it didn't make as much noise as a rain spout would make now. Sol was afraid that his father would hear the noise and wake up, so he hid behind the lilac bushes in the corner of the fence. But Captain Solomon had been doing a hard day's work, haying, and he slept very soundly. And, when he found that his father didn't wake up, Sol crept out from behind the lilac bushes and took up his bundle and went out the wide gate.
Took up his bundle and went out the wide gate.
First he turned north and walked quietly along until he had passed the old schoolhouse and had got well into the village. He went carefully, while he was in the village, for he was afraid that somebody might be about and see him. Almost everybody in the village knew Sol, and anybody who met him, at that time of night, would know that he was running away. Perhaps they would call up the constable and have him sent back. Sol shivered when he thought of that. Then he came to the old turnpike road to Boston and he turned toward the east into the turnpike. He hadn't met anybody in the village nor seen a single light.
It doesn't take a good, strong boy of sixteen all night to walk a little more than twenty miles, and Sol loafed along and didn't hurry. Once in a while he sat down to rest or sleep for a few minutes, but he didn't dare to really go to sleep, for fear that he would sleep all the rest of the night; and he had to be in Boston by daylight. And, once in a while, he had to sneak around a toll-house, because he didn't have any money. And, at each toll-house, they made each person that was walking on the turnpike pay some money; perhaps it was a penny that they had to pay. They charged more for each wagon that passed. At last he came into Boston and it wasn't daylight yet. So he walked over to the Common and lay down under some bushes and went to sleep.
Sol was wakened by the snuffling noise that a cow makes when it is eating the grass and by the sound of the grass being bitten off. And he started up, thinking of the farm at home, and there was a cow almost near enough to touch. When he started up, the cow was frightened and galloped off, and Sol saw that the sun was up and it must be about six o'clock. He laughed at the cow and opened his bundle and took out some bread that he had brought, and some gingerbread, and he ate them. It wasn't much of a breakfast, but he hadn't been able to get anything better. And, when he had finished, he walked down to Spring Lane and got a drink of water at the spring, and he washed his face and hands. Then he kept on down to India street, for he was afraid his father would come after him and there was no time to lose.
He started up, thinking of the farm at home.
Sol needn't have been afraid that his father would come after him, if he had only known what was happening at the farm. Captain Solomon had been surprised that Sol didn't come down stairs and, finally, he had gone up after him. There were Seth and John just waking up and rubbing the sleep out of their eyes; but there was no Sol and his bed hadn't been slept in. And Captain Solomon looked around until he saw the two letters pinned to the pin-cushion. Then he looked angry, and he took the two letters and marched down stairs again. He didn't say anything, but he gave the letter that was directed "For Mother" to his wife.
And Sol's mother didn't say anything, either, but she opened her letter and read it. It didn't take very long to read it but it took longer than Captain Solomon's. And the tears came into her eyes as she handed the letter to Captain Solomon and asked him not to be hard on the poor boy but to be gentle with him, for he must have felt that very same way when he first went to sea.
And Captain Solomon read her letter and then he sat without saying anything for a long time, looking out of the window. Perhaps he didn't see the things that were there; perhaps, instead of the fields of tall grass and of wheat, waving in the breeze, he saw the blue ocean sparkling in the sun and stretching away until it met the sky. Perhaps he saw the tall masts and the white sails of the Industry rising far above his head, and felt her buoyant hull under his feet.
Whatever he saw, as he sat there, he laughed aloud, at last, and brought his fist down on the kitchen table.
"Let him go!" he said. "It's in the blood. The sea's salt is in the blood and the only thing that will take it out is the sea itself. He can no more help it than he can help breathing. I'll write him a letter."
And so it happened that there was a letter for Sol in Captain Jonathan's and Captain Jacob's office the next morning. They didn't know where he was, but they sent to all their ships that were in port to see if he could be found. The Industry happened to be in port, but she was just ready to sail, and she was to sail that afternoon. And it happened that Sol had shipped as one of her crew and he was on board of her. Captain Jonathan and Captain Jacob didn't know that Sol was one of the crew of the Industry, because they didn't generally look over the crew lists any longer, but they left that to the captains and the mates. But when they found Sol, they had him come to their office, and they gave him the letter from his father. And Sol read the letter and he was very happy, and he wrote a long letter to his father.
In that letter he said that he knew, now, that it was very foolish for him to run away, because Captain Solomon would have let him go if he had made him understand how he felt. But Sol had always thought that his father was very stern and he hadn't told him how badly he felt at being kept away from the salt water. It may have been Captain Solomon's fault, too; and when he got Sol's letter he went to a field that was far from the farm-house. But he didn't do any work. He sat there, under a tree that grew beside the stone wall, all the morning looking up at the clouds.
It would be all the more foolish for any boy to run away to sea, now-a-days. For things have changed very much in the last hundred years. Steamers have taken the place of sailing ships, and the crews of the few ships that there are aren't made up of men like Captain Solomon and Sol.
But, when the Industry sailed away from that wharf in Boston for far countries, more than a hundred years ago, Sol was a sailor.
And that's all.