Captain Kidd's Money

In Harriet Beecher Stowe's moralistic short story, the tale's narrator recounts for an audience of curious boys the story of the legendary Captain Kidd and his haunted stash of ill-gotten gains.
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One of our most favorite legendary resorts was the old barn.

Sam Lawson preferred it on many accounts. It was quiet and retired, that is to say, at such distance from his own house that he could not hear if Hepsy called ever so loudly, and farther off than it would be convenient for that industrious and painstaking woman to follow him. Then there was the soft fragrant cushion of hay, on which his length of limb could be easily bestowed.

Our barn had an upper loft with a swinging outer door that commanded a view of the old mill, the waterfall, and the distant windings of the river, with its grassy green banks, its graceful elm draperies, and its white flocks of water-lilies; and then on this Saturday afternoon we had Sam all to ourselves. It was a drowsy, dreamy October day, when the hens were lazily "craw, crawing," in a soft, conversational undertone with each other, as they scratched and picked the hay-seed under the barn windows. Below in the barn black Cæsar sat quietly hatchelling flax, sometimes gurgling and giggling to himself with an overflow of that interior jollity with which he seemed to be always full. The African in New England was a curious contrast to everybody around him in the joy and satisfaction that he seemed to feel in the mere fact of being alive. Every white person was glad or sorry for some appreciable cause in the past, present, or future, which was capable of being definitely stated; but black Cæsar was in an eternal giggle and frizzle and simmer of enjoyment for which he could give no earthly reason: he was an "embodied joy," like Shelley's skylark.

"Jest hear him," said Sam Lawson looking pensively over the hay-mow and strewing hayseed down on his wool. "How that are crittur seems to tickle and laugh all the while 'bout nothin'. Lordy massy, he don't seem never to consider that 'this life's a dream, an empty show.'"

"Look here, Sam," we broke in, anxious to cut short a threatened stream of morality, "you promised to tell us about Captain Kidd and how you dug for his money."

"Did I now? Wal, boys, that are history o' Kidd's is a warnin' to fellers. Why, Kidd had pious parents and Bible and sanctuary privileges when he was a boy, and yet come to be hanged. It's all in this 'ere song I'm a goin' to sing ye. Lordy massy, I wish I had my bass-viol now. —Cæsar," he said, calling down from his perch, "can't you strike the pitch o' 'Cap'n Kidd' on your fiddle?"

Cæsar's fiddle was never far from him. It was, in fact, tucked away in a nice little nook just over the manger, and he often caught an interval from his work to scrape a dancing-tune on it, keeping time with his heels, to our great delight.

"'My name was Robert Kidd
        As I sailed, as I sailed,
  My name was Robert Kidd;
  God's laws I did forbid,
  And so wickedly I did,
        As I sailed, as I sailed.'

"Now ye see, boys, he's a goin' to tell how he abused his religious privileges; just hear now:—

"'My father taught me well,
        As I sailed, as I sailed;
  My father taught me well,
  To shun the gates of hell,
  But yet I did rebel,
        As I sailed, as I sailed.

"'He put a Bible in my hand
        As I sailed, as I sailed
  He put a Bible in my hand,
  And I sunk it in the sand,
  Before I left the strand,
        As I sailed, as I sailed.'

"Did ye ever hear o' such a hardened, contrary crittur, boys? It's awful to think of. Wal, ye see that are's the way fellers allers begin the ways o' sin, by turnin' their back on the Bible and the advice o' pious parents. Now hear what he come to:—

"'Then I murdered William More,
        As I sailed, as I sailed
  I murdered William More,
  And left him in his gore,
  Not many leagues from shore,
        As I sailed, as I sailed.

"'To execution dock
        I must go, I must go,
  To execution dock,
  While thousands round me flock,
  To see me on the block,
        I must go, I must go.'

"There was a good deal more on 't," said Sam, pausing, "but I don't seem to remember it; but it's real solemn and affectin'."

"Who was Captain Kidd, Sam?" said I.

"Wal, he was an officer in the British navy, and he got to being a pirate, used to take ships and sink 'em, and murder the folks; and so they say he got no end o' money; gold and silver and precious stones as many as the wise men in the East. But ye see, what good did it all do him? He couldn't use it and dars'n't keep it, so he used to bury it in spots round here and there in the awfullest heathen way ye ever heard of. Why, they say he allers used to kill one or two men or women or children of his prisoners and bury with it so that their sperits might keep watch on it ef anybody was to dig arter it. That are thing has been tried and tried and tried, but no man nor mother's son on 'em ever got a cent that dug. 'T was tried here 'n Oldtown, and they come pretty nigh gettin' on, but it gin 'em the slip. Ye see, boys, it's the Devil's money, and he holds a pretty tight grip on 't."

"Wal, how was it about digging for it? Tell us, did you do it? Were you there? Did you se it? And why couldn't they get it?" we both asked eagerly and in one breath.

"Why, Lordy massy, boys, your questions tumbles over each other thick as martins out o' a martin-box. Now you jist be moderate and let alone, and I'll tell you all about it from the beginnin' to the end. I didn't railly have no hand in 't, though I was knowin' to 't, as I be to most things that goes on round here, but my conscience wouldn't railly a let me start on no sich undertakin'.

"Wal, the one that fust sot the thing a goin' was old Mother Hokum, that used to live up in that little tumble-down shed by the cranberry-pond up beyond the spring pastur'. They had a putty bad name them Hokums. How they got a livin' nobody knew, for they didn't seem to pay no attention to raisin' nothin' but childun, but the deuce knows there was plenty o' them. Their old hut was like a rabbit-pen—, there was a tow head to every crack and cranny. 'Member what old Cæsar said once when the word come to the store that old Hokum had got twins. 'S'pose de Lord know best,' says Cæsar, 'but I thought dere was Hokums enough afore.' Wal, even poor workin' industrious folks like me finds it's hard gettin' along when there's so many mouths to feed. Lordy massy, there don't never seem to be no end on 't, and so it ain't wonderful, come to think on 't, ef folks like them Hokums gets tempted to help along in ways that ain't quite right. Anyhow folks did use to think that old Hokum was too sort o' familiar with their wood-piles 'long in the night, though they couldn't never prove it on him; and when Mother Hokum come to houses round to wash, folks use sometimes to miss pieces, here and there, though they never could find 'em on her; then they was allers a gettin' in debt here and a gettin' in debt there. Why, they got to owin' two dollars to Joe Gidger for butcher's meat. Joe was sort o' good-natured and let 'em have meat, 'cause Hokum he promised so fair to pay, but he couldn't never get it out o' him. 'Member once Jo walked clear up to the cranberry-pond arter that are two dollars, but Mother Hokum she see him a comin' jist as he come past the juniper-bush on the corner. She says to Hokum, 'Get into bed, old man, quick, and let me tell the story,' says she. So she covered him up, and when Gidger come in she come up to him and says she, 'Why, Mr. Gidger, I'm jist ashamed to see ye; why Mr. Hokum was jist a comin' down to pay ye that are money last week, but ye see he was took down with the small-pox—' Joe didn't hear no more; he jist turned round and he streaked it out that are door with his coat-tails flyin' out straight ahind him, and old Mother Hokum she jist stood at the window holdin' her sides and laughin' fit to split to see him run. That are's jist a sample o' the ways them Hokums cut up.

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