SURPRISING ADVENTURES OF MASTER CHARLES SUMMERTON
by Bret Harte
At exactly half-past nine o'clock on the morning of
Saturday, August 26th, 1865, Master Charles Summerton,
aged five years, disappeared mysteriously from his
paternal residence on Folsom Street, San Francisco.
At twenty-five minutes past nine he had been observed,
by the butcher, amusing himself by going through that
popular youthful exercise known as "turning the crab,"
a feat in which he was singularly proficient.
At a court of inquiry summarily held in the back parlor
at 10.15, Bridget, cook, deposed to have detected him at
twenty minutes past nine, in the felonious abstraction
of sugar from the pantry, which, by the same token, had
she known what was a-comin', she'd have never previnted.
Patsey, a shrill-voiced youth from a neighboring alley,
testified to having seen "Chowley" at half-past nine, in
front of the butcher's shop round the corner, but as
this young gentleman chose to throw out the gratuitous
belief that the missing child had been converted into
sausages by the butcher, his testimony was received
with some caution by the female portion of the court,
and with downright scorn and contumely by its masculine
But whatever might have been the hour of his departure,
it was certain that from half-past ten A. M. until nine
P. M., when he was brought home by a policeman, Charles
Summerton was missing.
Being naturally of a reticent disposition, he has since
resisted, with but one exception, any attempt to wrest
from him a statement of his whereabouts during that
That exception has been myself.
He has related to me the following in the strictest
His intention on leaving the doorsteps of his dwelling,
was to proceed without delay to Van Dieman's Land, by
way of Second and Market streets.
This project was subsequently modified so far as to
permit a visit to Otaheite, where Captain Cook was
The outfit for his voyage consisted of two car tickets,
five cents in silver, a fishing line, the brass capping
of a spool of cotton, which, in his eyes, bore some
resemblance to metallic currency, and a Sunday-school
His garments, admirably adapted to the exigencies of
any climate, were severally, a straw hat with a pink
ribbon, a striped shirt, over which a pair of trousers,
uncommonly wide in comparison to their length, were
buttoned, striped balmoral stockings, which gave his
youthful legs something of the appearance of wintergreen
candy, and copper-toed shoes with iron heels, capable
of striking fire from any flagstone.
This latter quality, Master Charley could not help
feeling would be of infinite service to him in the
wilds of Van Dieman's Land, which, as pictorially
represented in his geography, seemed to be deficient
in corner groceries and matches.
Exactly as the clock struck the half-hour, the short legs
and straw hat of Master Charles Summerton disappeared
around the corner.
He ran rapidly, partly by way of inuring himself to
the fatigues of the journey before him, and partly
by way of testing his speed with that of a North
Beach car which was proceeding in his direction.
The conductor, not being aware of this generous and lofty
emulation, and being somewhat concerned at the spectacle
of a pair of very short, twinkling legs so far in the
rear, stopped his car, and generously assisted the youthful
Summerton upon the platform.
From this point a hiatus of several hours' duration
occurs in Charles's narrative.
He is under the impression that he "rode out" not only
his two tickets, but that he became subsequently indebted
to the company for several trips to and from the opposite
termini, and that at last, resolutely refusing to give
any explanation of his conduct, he was finally ejected,
much to his relief, on a street corner.
Although, as he informs us, he felt perfectly satisfied
with this arrangement, he was impelled under the
circumstances, to hurl after the conductor an opprobrious
appellation which he had ascertained from Patsey was the
correct thing in such emergencies, and possessed peculiarly
We now approach a thrilling part of the narrative, before
which most of the adventures of the "Boys' Own Book" pale
There are times when the recollection of this adventure
causes Master Charles to break out in a cold sweat, and
he has several times since its occurrence been awakened
by lamentations and outcries in the night season by merely
dreaming of it.
On the corner of the street lay several large empty sugar
A few young gentlemen disported themselves therein, armed
with sticks, with which they removed the sugar which still
adhered to the joints of the staves, and conveyed it to
Finding a cask not yet preempted, Master Charles set to
work, and for a few moments revelled in a wild saccharine
dream, whence he was finally roused by an angry voice
and the rapidly retreating footsteps of his comrades.
An ominous sound smote his ear, and the next moment he
felt the cask wherein he lay uplifted and set upright
against the wall.
He was a prisoner, but as yet undiscovered.
Being satisfied in his mind that hanging was the
systematic and legalized penalty for the outrage
he had committed, he kept down manfully the cry
that rose to his lips.
In a few moments he felt the cask again lifted by a powerful
hand, which appeared above him at the edge of his prison,
and which he concluded belonged to the ferocious giant
Blunderbore, whose features and limbs he had frequently met
in colored pictures.
Before he could recover from his astonishment, his cask
was placed with several others on a cart, and rapidly
The ride which ensued, he describes as being fearful in
Rolled around like a pill in a box, the agonies which
he suffered may be hinted at, not spoken.
Evidences of that protracted struggle were visible in
his garments, which were of the consistency of syrup,
and his hair, which for several hours, under the
treatment of hot water, yielded a thin treacle.
At length the cart stopped on one of the wharves, and
the cartman began to unload.
As he tilted over the cask in which Charles lay, an
exclamation broke from his lips, and the edge of the
cask fell from his hands, sliding its late occupant
upon the wharf.
To regain his short legs, and to put the greatest
possible distance between himself and the cartman,
were his first movements on regaining his liberty.
He did not stop until he reached the corner of Front
Another blank succeeds in this veracious history.
He cannot remember how or when he found himself in front
of the circus tent.
He has an indistinct recollection of having passed
through a long street of stores which were all closed,
and which made him fear that it was Sunday, and that
he had spent a miserable night in the sugar cask.
But he remembers hearing the sound of music
within the tent, and of creeping on his hands and
knees, when no one was looking, until he passed under
His description of the wonders contained within that
circle; of the terrific feats which were performed by a
man on a pole, since practised by him in the back yard;
of the horses, one of which was spotted and resembled an
animal in his Noah's Ark, hitherto unrecognized and
undefined; of the female equestrians, whose dresses could
only be equalled in magnificence by the frocks of his
sister's doll; of the painted clown, whose jokes excited
a merriment, somewhat tinged by an undefined fear, was
an effort of language which this pen could but weakly
transcribe, and which no quantity of exclamation points
could sufficiently illustrate.
He is not quite certain what followed.
He remembers that almost immediately on leaving the
circus it became dark, and that he fell asleep, waking
up at intervals on the corners of the streets, on front
steps, in somebody's arms, and finally in his own bed.
He was not aware of experiencing any regret for his
conduct; he does not recall feeling at any time a
disposition to go home--he remembers distinctly that
he felt hungry.
He has made this disclosure in confidence.
He wishes it to be respected.
He wants to know if you have five cents about you.
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~