Did you ever play in a cellar? I don't mean a cellar with a smooth
floor, and coal-bins, and a big furnace, and shelves with jars of nice
jam on them and glasses of jelly; I've been in that kind of a cellar
too—I like quince jelly the best; it's first rate spread on bread and
butter—but I'm talking of another kind of a cellar, one with the house
all taken away, and only a big brick chimney left in the centre, with
the top knocked off of that, and bricks and pieces of stone and chunks
of mortar scattered all round; with berry bushes growing in one corner,
and wild vines growing all around the edges.
There was just such a cellar as this where I used to live, and Kate and
Teddy Ames, who lived in the next house, used to come over and play in
the cellar with Billy and me.
Billy was my brother, eight years old, and the best fellow to play with
you ever saw, because he was always "sperimentin"—that's what mother
called it, and it meant trying to do things.
Billy knew a great deal more than all the rest of the boys in our
school, and he was very fond of reading, but it didn't make him stupid a
bit, for whatever he read about he always wanted to go right off and see
if he could do it too. This made great fun for us, and got Billy into
lots of scrapes.
When he tried to do anything like what he had read about, he never would
be satisfied until he could do it all exactly as the reading said it
was. So when we had read Robinson Crusoe together—I think Billy knew
it all by heart as well as he knew the table of sevens in the
multiplication table—he said, "Now let's play Robinson Crusoe." First
he called the old open cellar Crusoe's cave, and scooped out a place
between some stones and made it clean, and I braided a little mat and a
curtain out of some long grass for it, and there he put his old copy of
Robinson Crusoe, and for days and days, after school was out, and in
vacation, we played Robinson Crusoe together.
Kate was a parrot, and wanted a great deal of cracker, Teddy was a goat,
and I was the dog and "man Friday" by turns. We walked about in the
cellar pretending to look for the print of naked feet, Billy going in
front carrying a rusty old broken musket we had found in the garret, and
a piece of rubber hose (Billy always could find or make anything we
wanted) for a telescope, which he used to look through to see if there
were any savages in sight when he climbed up to the edge of the cellar.
The cellar was really an island, just like Robinson Crusoe's; for Billy
and Teddy had digged a ditch all round it, and filled it with water; but
it was a very trying sort of an ocean, 'cause we had to fill it up every
BILLY WATCHING FOR SAVAGES.—Drawn by C. S. Reinhart.
Teddy, who could whittle nicely, made some little canoes, and when Billy
was looking through the hose for savages, it was Teddy's part to poke
the canoes with a long stick like a fish-pole, so they would float right
in front of Billy's hose. Then Billy would scramble down the wall, and
come running to us 'round behind the chimney, and tell us to lie very
still, for there were seven canoes full of cruel savages sailing for the
Then we would all creep close to the chimney on the shady side, and not
go out for two weeks, which meant about fifteen minutes (Billy counted
seven minutes to a week), and we liked this part of Robinson Crusoe
very much indeed, 'cause then Billy would give us what he called
"rations"—nice sugary raisins, dried beef, and seed cookies, which he
said were cocoa-nuts given to him by monkeys that lived in tall trees in
another part of the island, where we should go with him some time when
he was sure the savages had left.
Oh, if you never played Robinson Crusoe, you can't think what fun we
had playing it, and we played almost the whole book through, sometimes
one part, and sometimes another, and whatever part we played, Billy
tried to have it just as near like what the book said as it could be
made without a real ship, a real ocean, and a real island; and he was so
in earnest that it seemed real to me, and I used to feel shivery and
scared when he cried out that the savages were coming.
There were all sorts of nice rubbishy things in the cellar to play with,
'cause everything that got broken or too old for use in the house—or
"the wreck," as Billy called it—got thrown out into the old cellar:
empty fruit cans, broken dishes, leaky old pans and dippers, parts of
broken chairs and broken looking-glasses, and old kettles and
frying-pans; bits of shingles, old nails, and piles and piles of clam
and oyster shells; and Billy knew the minute he saw a thing what to do
Kate and I helped with pieces of muslin, ribbon, and old calico, so that
every day the little square place behind the chimney was more and more
like Robinson Crusoe's own house on the real island.
One day papa stopped and looked at us as he was going by, and said he
was afraid it wasn't a safe place for us, the old chimney might tumble
down on us, or we might cut our feet on some of the broken things; but
mother only smiled and said, "Oh, do let the children be happy." I guess
she was jolly to play with when she was a little girl.
She often came out, or sent Biddy out with a nice turn-over, or a plate
of hot ginger cookies; and after papa spoke about the chimney, she
climbed down into the cellar, and went over and felt the chimney all
round to see if it was quite firm. Once we coaxed her to stay with us
during the two weeks while the savages were on the island. Billy, who
liked to play just what was in the book, said at first that Robinson
Crusoe didn't ever have his mother with him, but he "guessed the man who
wrote the story would have put that in if he had known what larks it
But one day something happened that stopped our playing Robinson
Crusoe or anything else for a long time. Mother had sent Billy on an
errand a long way off, Kate Ames was sick, and Teddy had to stay at home
to amuse her, and I was in the house, in the sitting-room with mother.
The morning had been very pleasant and warm, and though I wished we were
all together in the cellar at play, I was quite contented with a book
called Beechnut, a Franconia story, and I was thinking that Beechnut
was almost just like Billy. Mother laid down her sewing, and went out of
the room, patting my cheek with her kind hand as she passed, to tell
Biddy something about dinner.
In a few minutes it grew so dark that I looked out of the window to see
what made it, and saw the sky covering with a big black cloud that
unrolled ever so fast, and the wind began to blow very hard, and the
trees bent and turned over the white sides of their leaves in it. If
Billy had been at home I should have gone out with him to run in the
wind, because it feels so pleasant on my cheeks and in my hair, just as
flowing water looks. It grew darker, began to rain, and the wind grew
louder, with a queer sound; but I could see to read, and I got so
interested in Beechnut that, though I saw out of the side of my eye some
one go by the window, I did not really think about it, but kept on
reading till I heard papa's voice in the next room, and heard mamma say:
"I'm so glad you're safe in the house; but where can Billy be? I sent
him to Morton's, but he ought to have been home an hour ago. It's a
"Oh, he'll do," said papa; "he's under cover somewhere, but—"
I couldn't hear any more, for just then the windows rattled; the floor
shook so I could hardly keep my seat. There was an awful roar of wind, a
crackling sound in the walls, a crash outside as if a load of coal were
being tumbled into the bin, and the pretty vases on the mantel fell and
broke to pieces on the floor. I ran as well as I could, and caught hold
of papa. He held mamma's hands. She was white, and looked so strange. It
frightened me more than all the rest, and I couldn't keep from crying.
"Hurricane! my dear," I heard papa say; "it's an earthquake shock. I do
wish we knew where Billy is."
Then I remembered, and I said, "Oh, mamma, don't be frightened; Billy
came in half an hour ago."
But when papa, mamma, and I—Biddy coming after us, with her apron up
over her face, and crying, "Och, what a nize!" and "God save us!" every
step—went from room to room, we didn't find Billy.
"Maggie, are you sure you saw him?" said mamma, stopping me, with both
her hands on my shoulders, at the head of the stairs—"are you sure?"
"Oh yes; he went by the window when I was reading in Beechnut about
"The cellar!" cried mamma, and drew in her breath just like the sound of
Already the clouds had rolled away; the storm was over; and Biddy, who
had been standing at the back stairway window, cried out, "Feth, mem,
an' av me two eyes don't be afther desavin' me, the owld chimbley's
blowed over, an' niver a brick lift o' the poor childer's foine
In a moment mamma was down the stairs; papa could not hold her nor catch
up with her, and we all ran after her to the edge of the cellar. Our
pretty Robinson Crusoe house was all ruined. Dirt, sticks, stones, and
everything that had lain about the yard were just as if they had been
swept with a big broom into the cellar; and the big chimney—all blown
to pieces now—helped to fill up the cave.
Mother was crying dreadfully, and I cried too. She went right down on
her knees, and began picking up and throwing out the bricks. Papa could
not stop her; she only said, in a voice that did not sound like mamma's
voice at all, "My Billy's here."
It was so dreadful I can't remember exactly all about it; but papa got
Mr. Ames and one or two other men, and after a while mamma caught hold
of and kissed a little coat sleeve, and a hand so white it didn't look
one bit like Billy's. Mamma thought Billy was dead, and she sat down
very still, and did not try to work any more, but held the hand until
the men had lifted every bit off from Billy; and she went beside them
when he was carried in. He was not dead, he was only stunned; but his
arm, the one mamma found, was broken in three places. He had a great
deal of pain before his arm began to heal; but he never made a bit of
fuss about it, and he never said anything to papa or mamma about the
cellar, and how it happened, except just once when mamma asked him a
question, and he told her he had gone into the cellar to cover up some
of the things if he could. But the first time we were left alone
together he called me close to him.
"The cave's all spoiled, I s'pose?" said he.
"Oh yes. Papa had it filled up right away."
Billy didn't say anything for a little while, but held on to my hand,
and looked so pleased, I wondered at it. Then he said:
"I'm sorry for all the trouble I made them; but I don't mind telling
you, Maggie, because you're a real first-class girl, and won't tattle. I
was always bothering about how we could have the earthquake. We played
everything else of Robinson Crusoe's, you know, but I couldn't see how
to get that up." Billy was so eager that he forgot, and tried to lean on
his lame elbow. That made him twist his face, but after a moment he
smiled again. "Oh, Maggie," said he, "if that cellar had been filled up
before we had that earthquake, I never should have been satisfied; but
now, you see, I'm even with old Robinson!"