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A short story by William John Hopkins

The Albatross

Title:     The Albatross
Author: William John Hopkins [More Titles by Hopkins]

Once 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, little Jacob and little Sol had gone in the brig _Industry_ on a voyage to far countries; and they had been to the countries and had sailed again for home, but they had not got out of the warm oceans. And one morning little Jacob and little Sol came on deck together. They didn't race through their breakfast as they had been used to doing, because Captain Solomon had put a stop to that. And, as soon as they got on deck, they looked all around to see what was up that morning. Far away they saw the upper sails of a ship that was going the same way they were, but they didn't see anything else except the blue water, although they looked very carefully out ahead and on both sides. But, right astern of the ship, and pretty near, was a great, enormous bird.

The bird was so near that the little boys could see it very well, and they could see what color it was, and the shape of its bill, but they couldn't see its back nor the top of its head, because the bird was above them. If they had climbed up on the mast they could have seen its back, but they didn't think of that then. The bird was all white, so far as they could see, and it had a bill that was rather long and straight, and was hooked at the end. And the bird just sailed along and waved a little, up and down, but it didn't move its wings, so far as the boys could see, and they watched it for a long time.

Its wings were enormous. Little Sol thought they were almost as long as the main-top-gallant yard if you could measure them spread out, as the bird was sailing. And little Jacob looked very wise and he said that he didn't know how long the main-top-gallant yard was, but he should think they might measure two fathom and a half from tip to tip. And little Jacob felt rather proud when he had said that, because he had guessed in fathoms.

Little Sol looked rather scornful and said "Huh!" And then little Jacob asked him what kind of a bird it was, and little Sol didn't know. Then little Jacob said "Huh!" So they went to ask Mr. Steele or Captain Solomon. Captain Solomon was standing right behind them, and he was smiling because he had heard what the boys said. And he said that the bird was an albatross, and that little Jacob was pretty nearly right about the length of its wings. Little Sol was taken down a peg and didn't say anything.

Then Captain Solomon went on to say that albatrosses often followed ships for days together, and the sailors never could see that they had to move their wings, but they sailed along just as fast as the ship sailed. He had seen lots of them in his time, but he had never seen them do anything else but sail, just as that one was doing then. And how they managed it, he didn't know, and nobody else knew, so far as he had ever heard.

Then little Sol asked what the bird was following the ship for. And Captain Solomon said that he supposed that the albatross was following the ship to get the scraps that the cook threw overboard. At least, he didn't know any other reason, and the albatross took the scraps, anyway. They were like sharks in that way.

Then little Sol asked him if they couldn't catch the albatross with a hook and a piece of pork, as they had caught the shark. And Captain Solomon said that they could, but that Sol had better not try it, if he knew what was good for him; for the sailors thought that it always brought the worst kind of luck to a ship to kill an albatross, and he didn't know but they were right. And little Jacob was glad Captain Solomon said that, for he didn't want the albatross killed, but he would rather watch it sailing along with the ship.

So nobody tried to do any harm to the albatross, but the men were all glad that it was there. And the little boys watched it almost all of that day. And the next day it was there, and they watched it, and they watched it the day after the next, too; but the morning after that it wasn't there.

Little Jacob was sorry that it had gone, and the sailors were sorry, and they said that there would be a change of weather. And little Jacob went down into the cabin to write all about the albatross in the log-book and to see the barometer, to see whether it said that the weather would change. The barometer was what Captain Solomon called "the glass," and people could tell, by looking at it, whether it was going to be stormy or not.

And that's all.

[The end]
William John Hopkins's Short Story: The Albatross Story