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The Capture of Father Time

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"The Capture of Father Time" is a short story by L. Frank Baum, one of his American Fairy Tales first published in 1901.

Summary

Jim is the son of an Arizona cowboy, and even at the age of twelve he is adept with his lasso. When he visits relatives in the East, he amuses his cousins with his lasso tricks — at first; though they grow used to them soon enough. One day, the local butcher asks Jim to ride one of his horses to a pasture in the countryside, and Jim is happy to oblige.

In the open pasture, Jim lets loose his pent up energies, galloping the horse and tossing his lasso at imaginary targets. He is amazed when the rope actually seems to have caught some invisible object. He rides in circles around the mysterious target until the rope is tightly wound around it; getting close enough, Jim sees that he has caught an old man with a bald head and a long white beard, dressed in a white robe and carrying a scythe and an hourglass.

The old man claims to be Father Time, and demands to be let loose immediately; he says that time has stopped for the world when Jim lassoed him. Jim is not quite ready to end this unusual experience; he stops to quiz the old man on various points. Jim learns that no one can see Father Time unless they stand within three feet of him — something that Time normally avoids. The scythe is used to end the lives of people whose time for death has come (rather like the common folklore figure of black-robed Death).

Still refusing to release the old man, Jim loads him onto the back of his horse and returns toward town. He sees that the world has indeed stopped as Father Time claimed, with birds hanging motionless in mid-air and people stuck in their poses. (Jim learns that he can still move because he is the one who has captured Time.)

Jim uses his unique opportunity to play some practical jokes on town scolds and busybodies and authority figures like policemen. He finds a wealthy miser ready to drop a penny to a beggar; searching through the man's pockets, Jim finds a $20 gold piece and substitutes it for the penny. In a schoolroom, he writes a message on the blackboard, instructing the students to shout and throw their books at the teacher's head.

Of course, Jim cannot enjoy his jokes until time resumes; and so he releases Father Time, who quickly vanishes about his business. Little bits of disorder and chaos erupt as the world returns to normal.

Background

"The Capture of Father Time" is one of the three stories in the collection illustrated by Harry Kennedy.

In the text of the story, Jim asks Father Time why he has no wings, and Time states that that idea is just a human fancy. Yet in his border illustrations for the book, Ralph Fletcher Seymour depicts Father Time...with wings.

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