A Little Boy Lost
by Hudson, W. H.
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Martin stared at this strange uncouth visitor from the sea; while he in turn, leaning over the rock, stared back into Martin's face with his immense fishy eyes.

Every time a fresh wave broke over him, lifting up his hair and garments, which were of brown seaweed and all rags and tatters, it seemed to annoy him somewhat; but he never stirred; and when the wave retired he would wring the water out once more and blow a cloud of sea-spray from his beard. At length, holding out his mighty arms towards Martin, he opened his great, cod-fish mouth, and burst into a hoarse laugh, which sounded like the deep laughter-like cries of the big, black-backed gulls. Still, Martin did not feel at all afraid of him, for he looked good-natured and friendly.

"Who are you?" shouted Martin at last.

"Who be I?" returned the man-shaped monster in a hoarse, sea-like voice. "Ho, ho, ho,—now I calls that a good un! Why, little Martin, that I've knowed all along, I be Bill. Leastways, that's what they called me afore: but I got promotion, and in consekence I'm called the Old Man of the Sea."

"And how did you know I was Martin?"

"How did I know as you was Martin? Why, bless your innocent heart, I knowed it all along of course. How d'ye think I wouldn't know that? Why, I no sooner saw you there among them rocks than I says to myself, 'Hullo,' says I, bless my eyes if that ain't Martin looking at my cows, as I calls 'em. Of course I knowed as you was Martin."

"And what made you go and live in the sea, Old—Bill?" questioned Martin, "and why did you grow so big?"

"Ho, ho, ho!" laughed the giant, blowing a great cloud of spray from his lips. "I don't mind telling you that. You see, Martin, I ain't pressed for time. Them blessed bells is nothing to me now, not being in the foc'sle trying to git a bit of a snooze. Well, to begin, I were born longer ago than I can tell in a old town by the sea, and my father he were a sailor man, and was drowned when I were very small; then my mother she died just becoz every man that belonged to her was drowned. For those as lives by the sea, Martin, mostly dies in the sea. Being a orphan I were brought up by Granny. I were very small then, and used to go and play all day in the marshes, and I loved the cows and water-rats and all the little beasties, same as you, Martin. When I were a bit growed Granny says to me one day, 'Bill, you go to sea and be a sailor-boy,' she says, 'becoz I've had a dream,' she says, 'and it's wrote that you'll never git drowned.' For you see, Martin, my Granny were a wise woman. So to the sea I goes, and boy and man, I was on a many voyages to Turkey and Injy and the Cape and the West Coast and Ameriky, and all round the world forty times over. Many and many's the time I was shipwrecked and overboard, but I never got drowned. At last, when I were gitting a old man, and not much use by reason of the rheumatiz and stiffness in the jints, there was a mutiny in our ship when we was off the Cape; and the captain and mate they was killed. Then comes my turn, becoz I went again the men, d'ye see, and they wasn't a-going for to pardon me that. So out they had me on deck and began to talk about how they'd finish me—rope, knife, or bullet. 'Mates,' says I 'shoot me if you like and I'll dies comforbly; or run a knife into me, which is better still; or string me up to the yard-arm, which is the most comforble thing I know. But don't you go and put me into the sea,' says I, 'becoz it's wrote that I ain't never going to git drowned, and you'll have all your trouble for nothing,' says I. That made 'em larf a most tremenjous larf. 'Old Bill,' says they, 'will have his little joke.' Then they brings up some iron stowed in the hold, and with ropes and chains they ties well-nigh half a ton of it to my legs and arms, then lowers me over the side. Down I wrent, in course, which made 'em larf louder than afore; and I were fathoms and fathoms under water afore I stopped hearing them larf. At last I comes down to the bottom of the sea, and glad I were to git there, becoz now I couldn't go no further. There I lies doubled up like a old sea-sarpint along of the rocks, but warm and comforble like. Last of all, the ropes and chains they got busted off becoz of my growing so big and strong down there, and up I comes to blow like a grampus, for I were full of water by reason that it had soaked into me. So that's how I got to be the Old Man of the Sea, hundreds and hundreds of years ago."

"And do you like to be always in the sea, Old Bill?" asked Martin.

"Ho, ho, ho!" laughed the monster. "That's a good un, little Martin! Do I like it? Well, it's better than being a sailor man in a ship, I can tell 'ee. That were a hard life, with nothing good except perhaps the baccy. I were very fond of baccy once before the sea put out my pipe. Likewise of rum. Many's the time I've been picked up on shore that drunk, Martin, you wouldn't believe it, I were that fond of rum. Sometimes, down here, when I remember how good it tasted, I open my mouth wide and takes down a big gulp of sea water, enough to fill a hogshead; then I comes up and blows it all out again just like a old grampus."

And having said this, he opened his vast cavernous mouth and roared out his hoarse ho, ho, ho! louder than before, and at the same time he rose up higher above the water and the black rock he had been leaning on, until he stood like a stupendous tower above Martin—a man-shaped tower of water and spray, and white froth and brown seaweed. Then he slowly fell backwards out upon the sea, and falling upon the sea caused so mighty a wave that it went high over the black rock and washed the face of the cliff, sweeping Martin back among the rocks.

When the great wave retired, and Martin, half-choked with water and half-dazed, struggled on to his feet, he saw that it was night, and a cloudy, black sky was above, and the black sea beneath him. He had not seen the light fade, and had perhaps fallen asleep and seen and talked with that old sea monster in a dream. But now he could not escape from his position down in the gap, just above the roaring waves. There he had to stay, sheltered in a cavity in the rock, and lying there, half sleeping and half waking, he had that great voice of the sea in his ears all night.



After a night spent in the roar of the sea, a drenched and bruised prisoner among the rocks, it was nice to see the dawn again. No sooner was it light than Martin set about trying to make his escape. He had been washed by that big wave into a deep cleft among the rocks and masses of hard clay, and shut in there he could not see the water nor anything excepting a patch of sky above him. Now he began climbing over the stones and crawling and forcing himself through crevices and other small openings, making a little progress, for he was sore from his bruises and very weak from his long fast, and at intervals, tired and beaten, he would drop down crying with pain and misery. But Martin was by nature a very resolute little boy, and after two or three minutes' rest his tears would cease, and he would be up struggling on determinedly as before. He was like some little wild animal when it finds itself captive in a cage or box or room, who tries without ceasing to find a way out. There may be no way, but it will not give up trying to find one. And at last, after so much trying, Martin's efforts were rewarded: he succeeded in getting into the steep passage by which he had come down to the sea on the previous day, and in the end got to the top of the cliff once more. It was a great relief, and after resting a little while he began to feel glad and happy at the sight before him: there was the glorious sea again, not as he had seen it before, its wide surface roughened by the wind and flecked with foam; for now the water was smooth, but not still; it rose and fell in vast rollers, or long waves that were like ridges, wave following wave in a very grand and ordered manner. And as he gazed, the clouds broke and floated away, and the sky grew clear and bright, and then all at once the great red sun came up out of the waters!

But it was impossible for him to stay there longer when there was nothing to eat; his extreme hunger compelled him to get up and leave the cliff and the sandy hills behind it; and then for an hour or two he walked feebly about searching for sweet roots, but finding none. It would have gone hard with him then if he had not seen some low, dark-looking bushes at a distance on the dry, yellow plain, and gone to them. They looked like yew-bushes, and when he got to them he found that they were thickly covered with small berries; on some bushes they were purple-black, on others crimson, but all were ripe, and many small birds were there feasting on them. The berries were pleasant to the taste, and he feasted with the little birds on them until his hunger was satisfied; and then, with his mouth and fingers stained purple with the juice, he went to sleep in the shade of one of the bushes. There, too, he spent the whole of that day and the night, hearing the low murmur of the sea when waking, and when morning came he was strong and happy once more, and, after filling himself with the fruit, set off to the sea again.

Arrived at the cliff, he began walking along the edge, and in about an hour's time came to the end of it, for there it sloped down to the water, and before him, far as he could see, there was a wide, shingled beach with low sand-hills behind it. With a shout of joy he ran down to the margin, and the rest of that day he spent dabbling in the water, gathering beautiful shells and seaweed and strangely-painted pebbles into heaps, then going on and on again, still picking up more beautiful riffraff on the margin, only to leave, it all behind him at last. Never had he spent a happier day, and when it came to an end he found a sheltered spot not far from the sea, so that when he woke in the night he would still hear the deep, low murmur of the waves on the beach.

Many happy days he spent in the same way, with no living thing to keep him company, except the little white and grey sanderlings that piped so shrill and clear as they flitted along the margin before him; and the great sea-gulls that uttered hoarse, laughter-like cries as they soared and hovered above his head. "Oh, happy birds!" exclaimed Martin, clapping his hands, and shouting in answer to their cries.

Every day Martin grew more familiar with the sea, and loved it more, and it was his companion and playmate. He was bolder than the little restless sanderlings that ran and flitted before the advancing waves, and so never got their pretty white and grey plumage wet: often he would turn to meet the coming wave, and let it break round and rush past him, and then in a moment he would be standing knee-deep in the midst of a great sheet of dazzling white foam, until with a long hiss as it fled back, drawing the round pebbles with it, it would be gone, and he would laugh and shout with glee. What a grand old play-fellow the sea was! And it loved him, like the big spotted cat of the hills, and only pretended to be angry with him when it wanted to play, and would do him no harm. And still he was not satisfied, but grew bolder and bolder, putting himself in its power and trusting to its mercy. He could play better with his clothes off; and one day, chasing a great receding wave as far as it would go, he stood up bravely to encounter the succeeding wave, but it was greater than the last, and lifting him in its great green arms it carried him high up till it broke with a mighty roar on the beach; then instead of leaving him stranded there it rushed back still bearing him in its arms out into the deep. Further and further from the shore it carried him, until he became terrified, and throwing out his little arms towards the land, he cried aloud, "Mother! Mother!"

He was not calling to his own mother far away on the great plain; he had forgotten her. Now he only thought of the beautiful woman of the Hills, who was so strong, and loved him and made him call her "Mother"; and to her he cried in his need for help. Now he remembered her warm, protecting bosom, and how she had cried every night at the fear of losing him; how when he ran from her she followed him, calling to him to return. Ah, how cold was the sea's bosom, how bitter its lips!

Struggling still with the great wave, struggling in vain, blinded and half-choked with salt water, he was driven violently against a great black object tumbling about in the surf, and with all the strength of his little hands he clung to it. The water rolled over him, and beat against him, but he would not lose his hold; and at last there came a bigger wave and lifted him up and cast him right on to the object he was clinging to. It was as if some enormous monster of the sea had caught him up and put him in that place, just as the Lady of the Hills had often snatched him up from the edge of some perilous precipice to set him down in a safe place.

There he lay exhausted, stretched out at full length, so tossed about on the billows that he had a sensation of being in a swing; but the sea grew quiet at last, and when he looked up it was dark, the stars glittering in the dim blue vault above, and the smooth, black water reflecting them all round him, so that he seemed to be floating suspended between two vast, starry skies, one immeasurably far above, the other below him. All night, with only the twinkling, trembling stars for company, he lay there, naked, wet, and cold, thirsty with the bitter taste of sea-salt in his mouth, never daring to stir, listening to the continual lapping sound of the water.

Morning dawned at last; the sea was green once more, the sky blue, and beautiful with the young, fresh light. He was lying on an old raft of black, water-logged spars and planks lashed together with chains and rotting ropes. But alas! there was no shore in sight, for all night long he had been drifting, drifting further and further away from land.

A strange habitation for Martin, the child of the plain, was that old raft! It had been made by shipwrecked mariners, long, long ago, and had floated about the sea until it had become of the sea, like a half-submerged floating island; brown and many-coloured seaweeds had attached themselves to it; strange creatures, half plant and half animal, grew on it; and little shell-fish and numberless slimy, creeping things of the sea made it their dwelling-place. It was about as big as the floor of a large room, all rough, black, and slippery, with the seaweed floating like ragged hair many yards long around it, and right in the middle of the raft there was a large hole where the wood had rotted away. Now, it was very curious that when Martin looked over the side of the raft he could see down into the clear, green water a few fathoms only; but when he crept to the edge of the hole and looked into the water there, he was able to see ten times further down. Looking in this hole, he saw far down a strange, fish-shaped creature, striped like a zebra, with long spines on its back, moving about to and fro. It disappeared, and then, very much further down, something moved, first like a shadow, then like a great, dark form; and as it came up higher it took the shape of a man, but dim and vast like a man-shaped cloud or shadow that floated in the green translucent water. The shoulders and head appeared; then it changed its position and the face was towards him with the vast eyes, that had a dim, greyish light in them, gazing up into his. Martin trembled as he gazed, not exactly with fear, but with excitement, because he recognized in this huge water-monster under him that Old Man of the Sea who had appeared and talked to him in his dream when he fell asleep among the rocks. Could it be, although he was asleep at the time, that the Old Man really had appeared before him, and that his eyes had been open just enough to see him?

By-and-by the cloud-like face disappeared, and did not return though he watched for it a long time. Then sitting on the black, rotten wood and brown seaweed he gazed over the ocean, a vast green, sunlit expanse with no shore and no living thing upon it. But after a while he began to think that there was some living thing in it, which was always near him though he could not see what it was. From time to time the surface of the sea was broken just as if some huge fish had risen to the surface and then sunk again without showing itself. It was something very big, judging from the commotion it made in the water; and at last he did see it or a part of it—a vast brown object which looked like a gigantic man's shoulder, but it might have been the back of a whale. It was no sooner seen than gone, but in a very short time after its appearance cries as of birds were heard at a great distance. The cries came from various directions, growing louder and louder, and before long Martin saw many birds flying towards him.

On arrival they began to soar and circle round above him, all screaming excitedly. They were white birds with long wings and long sharp beaks, and were very much like gulls, except that they had an easier and swifter flight.

Martin rejoiced at seeing them, for he had been in the greatest terror at the strangeness and loneliness of the sea now that there was no land in sight. Sitting on the black raft he was constantly thinking of the warning words his mother of the hills had spoken —that the sea would kiss him with cold salt lips and take him down into the depths where he would never see the light again. O how strange the sea was to him now, how lonely, how terrible! But birds that with their wings could range over the whole world were of the land, and now seemed to bring the land near him with their white forms and wild cries. How could they help him? He did not know, he did not ask; but he was not alone now that they had come to him, and his terror was less.

And still more birds kept coming; and as the morning wore on the crowd of birds increased until they were in hundreds, then in thousands, perpetually wheeling and swooping and rising and hovering over him in a great white cloud. And they were of many kinds, mostly white, some grey, others sooty brown or mottled, and some wholly black. Then in the midst of the crowrd of birds he saw one of great size wheeling about like a king or giant among the others, with wings of amazing length, wild eyes of a glittering yellow, and a yellow beak half as long as Martin's arm, with a huge vulture-like hook at the end. Now when this mighty bird swooped close down over his head, fanning him with its immense wings, Martin again began to be alarmed at its formidable appearance; and as more and more birds came, with more of the big kind, and the wild outcry they made increased, his fear and astonishment grew; then all at once these feelings rose to extreme terror and amazement at the sight of a new bird-like creature a thousand times bigger than the largest one in the circling crowd above, coming swiftly towards him. He saw that it was not flying but swimming or gliding over the surface of the sea; and its body was black, and above the body were many immense white wings of various shapes, which stood up like a white cloud.

Overcome with terror he fell flat on the raft, hiding his face in the brown seaweed that covered it; then in a few minutes the sea became agitated and rocked him in his raft, and a wave came over him which almost swept him into the sea. At the same time the outcry of the birds were redoubled until he was nearly deafened by their screams, and the screams seemed to shape themselves into words. "Martin! Martin!" the birds seemed to be screaming. "Look up, Martin, look up, look up!" The whole air above and about him seemed to be full of the cries, and every cry said to him, "Martin! Martin! lookup! lookup!"

Although dazed with the awful din and almost fainting with terror and weakness, he could not resist the command. Pressing his hands on the raft he at last struggled up to his knees, and saw that the feared bird-like monster had passed him by: he saw that it was a ship with a black hull, its white sails spread, and that the motion of the water and the wave that swept over him had been created by the ship as it came close to the raft. It was now rapidly gliding from him, but still very near, and he saw a crowd of strange-looking rough men, with sun-browned faces and long hair and shaggy beards, leaning over the bulwarks staring at him. They had seen with astonishment the corpse, as they thought, of a little naked white boy lying on the old black raft, with a multitude of sea-birds gathered to feed on him; now when they saw him get up on his knees and look at them, they uttered a great cry, and began rushing excitedly hither and thither, to pull at ropes and lower a boat. Martin did not know what they were doing; he only knew that they were men in a ship, but he was now too weak and worn-out to look at or think of more than one thing at a time, and what he was looking at now was the birds. For no sooner had he looked up and seen the ship than their wild cries ceased, and they rose up and up like a white cloud to scatter far and wide over sky and sea. For some moments he continued watching them, listening to their changed voices, which now had a very soft and pleasant sound, as if they were satisfied and happy. It made him happy to hear them, and he lifted his hands up and smiled; then, relieved of his terror and overcome with weariness, he closed his eyes and dropped once more full length upon his bed of wet seaweed. At that the men stared into each other's face, a very strange startled look coming into their eyes. And no wonder! For long, long months, running to years, they had been cruising in those lonely desolate seas, thousands of miles from home, seeing no land nor any green thing, nor dear face of woman or child: and now by some strange chance a child had come to them, and even while they were making all haste to rescue it, putting their arms out to take it from the sea, its life had seemingly been snatched from them!

But he was only sleeping.


When I arranged with Mr. Hudson for the publication of an American Edition of A Little Boy Lost, I asked him to write a special foreword to his American readers. He replied with a characteristic letter, and, taking him at his word. I am printing it on the following pages.


Dear Mr. Knopf:

Your request for a Foreword to insert in the American reprint of the little book worries me. A critic on this side has said that my Prefaces to reprints of my earlier works are of the nature of parting kicks, and I have no desire just now to kick this poor innocent. That evil-tempered old woman, Mother Nature, in one of her worst tantrums, has been inflicting so many cuffs and blows on me that she has left me no energy or disposition to kick anything—even myself.

The trouble is that I know so little about it. Did I write this book? What then made me do it?

In reading a volume of Fors Clavigera I once came upon a passage which sounded well but left me in a mist, and it relieved me to find a footnote to it in which the author says: "This passage was written many years ago and what I was thinking about at the time has quite escaped my memory. At all events, though I let it stand, I can find no meaning in it now."

Little men may admire but must not try to imitate these gestures of the giants. And as a result of a little quiet thinking it over I seem able to recover the idea I had in my mind when I composed this child's story and found a title for it in Blake. Something too of the semi-wild spirit of the child hero in the lines:

"Naught loves another as itself.... And, father, how can I love you Or any of my brothers more? I love you like the little birds That pick up crumbs about the door."

There nature is, after picking up the crumbs to fly away.

A long time ago I formed a small collection of children's books of the early years of the nineteenth century; and looking through them, wishing that some of them had fallen into my hands when I was a child I recalled the books I had read at that time—especially two or three. Like any normal child I delighted in such stories as the Swiss Family Robinson, but they were not the books I prized most; they omitted the very quality I liked best—the little thrills that nature itself gave me, which half frightened and fascinated at the same time, the wonder and mystery of it all. Once in a while I got a book with something of this rare element in it, contained perhaps in some perfectly absurd narrative of animals taking human shape or using human speech, with such like transformations and vagaries; they could never be too extravagant, fantastic and incredible, so long as they expressed anything of the feeling I myself experienced when out of sight and sound of my fellow beings, whether out on the great level plain, with a glitter of illusory water all round me, or among the shadowy trees with their bird and insect sounds, or by the waterside and bed of tall dark bullrushes murmuring in the wind.

These ancient memories put it in my mind to write a book which, I imagined, would have suited my peculiar taste of that early period, the impossible story to be founded on my own childish impressions and adventures, with a few dreams and fancies thrown in and two or three native legends and myths, such as the one of the Lady of the Hills, the incarnate spirit of the rocky Sierras on the great plains, about which I heard from my gaucho comrades when on the spot—the strange woman seldom viewed by human eyes who is jealous of man's presence and is able to create sudden violent tempests to frighten them from her sacred haunts.

That's the story of my story, and to the question in your publisher's practical mind, I'm sorry to have to say I don't know. I have no way of finding out, since children are not accustomed to write to authors to tell them what they think of their books. And after all these excuses it just occurs to me that children do not read forewords and introductions; they have to be addressed to adults who do not read children's books, so that in any case it would be thrown away. Still if a foreword you must have, and from me, I think you will have to get it out of this letter.

I remain,

Yours cordially, W. H. HUDSON.

November 14,1917.


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