The Country of the Pointed Firs
Sarah Orne Jewett
Part 2 out of 3
"She was scared of seeing so many children about her; there
was only her and me and brother John at home then; the older boys
were to sea with father, an' the rest of us wa'n't born," explained
Mrs. Fosdick. "That next fall we all went to sea together. Mother
was uncertain till the last minute, as one may say. The ship was
waiting orders, but the baby that then was, was born just in time,
and there was a long spell of extra bad weather, so mother got
about again before they had to sail, an' we all went. I remember
my clothes were all left ashore in the east chamber in a basket
where mother'd took them out o' my chist o' drawers an' left 'em
ready to carry aboard. She didn't have nothing aboard, of her own,
that she wanted to cut up for me, so when my dress wore out she
just put me into a spare suit o' John's, jacket and trousers. I
wasn't but eight years old an' he was most seven and large of his
age. Quick as we made a port she went right ashore an' fitted me
out pretty, but we was bound for the East Indies and didn't put in
anywhere for a good while. So I had quite a spell o' freedom.
Mother made my new skirt long because I was growing, and I poked
about the deck after that, real discouraged, feeling the hem at my
heels every minute, and as if youth was past and gone. I liked the
trousers best; I used to climb the riggin' with 'em and frighten
mother till she said an' vowed she'd never take me to sea again."
I thought by the polite absent-minded smile on Mrs. Todd's
face this was no new story.
"Little Louisa was a beautiful child; yes, I always thought
Louisa was very pretty," Mrs. Todd said. "She was a dear little
girl in those days. She favored your mother; the rest of you took
after your father's folks."
"We did certain," agreed Mrs. Fosdick, rocking steadily.
"There, it does seem so pleasant to talk with an old acquaintance
that knows what you know. I see so many of these new folks
nowadays, that seem to have neither past nor future.
Conversation's got to have some root in the past, or else you've
got to explain every remark you make, an' it wears a person out."
Mrs. Todd gave a funny little laugh. "Yes'm, old friends is
always best, 'less you can catch a new one that's fit to make an
old one out of," she said, and we gave an affectionate glance at
each other which Mrs. Fosdick could not have understood, being the
latest comer to the house.
ONE EVENING my ears caught a mysterious allusion which Mrs. Todd
made to Shell-heap Island. It was a chilly night of cold
northeasterly rain, and I made a fire for the first time in the
Franklin stove in my room, and begged my two housemates to come in
and keep me company. The weather had convinced Mrs. Todd that it
was time to make a supply of cough-drops, and she had been bringing
forth herbs from dark and dry hiding-places, until now the pungent
dust and odor of them had resolved themselves into one mighty
flavor of spearmint that came from a simmering caldron of syrup in
the kitchen. She called it done, and well done, and had
ostentatiously left it to cool, and taken her knitting-work because
Mrs. Fosdick was busy with hers. They sat in the two rocking-
chairs, the small woman and the large one, but now and then I could
see that Mrs. Todd's thoughts remained with the cough-drops. The
time of gathering herbs was nearly over, but the time of syrups and
cordials had begun.
The heat of the open fire made us a little drowsy, but
something in the way Mrs. Todd spoke of Shell-heap Island waked my
interest. I waited to see if she would say any more, and then took
a roundabout way back to the subject by saying what was first in my
mind: that I wished the Green Island family were there to spend the
evening with us,--Mrs. Todd's mother and her brother William.
Mrs. Todd smiled, and drummed on the arm of the rocking-chair.
"Might scare William to death," she warned me; and Mrs. Fosdick
mentioned her intention of going out to Green Island to stay two or
three days, if the wind didn't make too much sea.
"Where is Shell-heap Island?" I ventured to ask, seizing the
"Bears nor-east somewheres about three miles from Green
Island; right off-shore, I should call it about eight miles out,"
said Mrs. Todd. "You never was there, dear; 'tis off the
thoroughfares, and a very bad place to land at best."
"I should think 'twas," agreed Mrs. Fosdick, smoothing down
her black silk apron. "'Tis a place worth visitin' when you once
get there. Some o' the old folks was kind o' fearful about it.
'Twas 'counted a great place in old Indian times; you can
pick up their stone tools 'most any time if you hunt about.
There's a beautiful spring o' water, too. Yes, I remember when
they used to tell queer stories about Shell-heap Island. Some said
'twas a great bangeing-place for the Indians, and an old chief
resided there once that ruled the winds; and others said they'd
always heard that once the Indians come down from up country an'
left a captive there without any bo't, an' 'twas too far to swim
across to Black Island, so called, an' he lived there till he
"I've heard say he walked the island after that, and sharp-
sighted folks could see him an' lose him like one o' them citizens
Cap'n Littlepage was acquainted with up to the north pole,"
announced Mrs. Todd grimly. "Anyway, there was Indians--you can
see their shell-heap that named the island; and I've heard myself
that 'twas one o' their cannibal places, but I never could believe
it. There never was no cannibals on the coast o' Maine. All the
Indians o' these regions are tame-looking folks."
"Sakes alive, yes!" exclaimed Mrs. Fosdick. "Ought to see
them painted savages I've seen when I was young out in the South
Sea Islands! That was the time for folks to travel, 'way back in
the old whalin' days!"
"Whalin' must have been dull for a lady, hardly ever makin' a
lively port, and not takin' in any mixed cargoes," said Mrs. Todd.
"I never desired to go a whalin' v'y'ge myself."
"I used to return feelin' very slack an' behind the times,
'tis true," explained Mrs. Fosdick, "but 'twas excitin', an' we
always done extra well, and felt rich when we did get ashore. I
liked the variety. There, how times have changed; how few
seafarin' families there are left! What a lot o' queer folks there
used to be about here, anyway, when we was young, Almiry.
Everybody's just like everybody else, now; nobody to laugh about,
and nobody to cry about."
It seemed to me that there were peculiarities of character in
the region of Dunnet Landing yet, but I did not like to interrupt.
"Yes," said Mrs. Todd after a moment of meditation, "there was
certain a good many curiosities of human natur' in this
neighborhood years ago. There was more energy then, and in some
the energy took a singular turn. In these days the young folks is
all copy-cats, 'fraid to death they won't be all just alike; as for
the old folks, they pray for the advantage o' bein' a little
"I ain't heard of a copy-cat this great many years," said Mrs.
Fosdick, laughing; "'twas a favorite term o' my grandfather's. No,
I wa'n't thinking o' those things, but of them strange straying
creatur's that used to rove the country. You don't see them now,
or the ones that used to hive away in their own houses with some
strange notion or other."
I thought again of Captain Littlepage, but my companions were
not reminded of his name; and there was brother William at Green
Island, whom we all three knew.
"I was talking o' poor Joanna the other day. I hadn't thought
of her for a great while," said Mrs. Fosdick abruptly. "Mis'
Brayton an' I recalled her as we sat together sewing. She was one
o' your peculiar persons, wa'n't she? Speaking of such persons,"
she turned to explain to me, "there was a sort of a nun or hermit
person lived out there for years all alone on Shell-heap Island.
Miss Joanna Todd, her name was,--a cousin o' Almiry's late
I expressed my interest, but as I glanced at Mrs. Todd I saw
that she was confused by sudden affectionate feeling and
unmistakable desire for reticence.
"I never want to hear Joanna laughed about," she said
"Nor I," answered Mrs. Fosdick reassuringly. "She was crossed
in love,--that was all the matter to begin with; but as I look
back, I can see that Joanna was one doomed from the first to fall
into a melancholy. She retired from the world for good an' all,
though she was a well-off woman. All she wanted was to get away
from folks; she thought she wasn't fit to live with anybody, and
wanted to be free. Shell-heap Island come to her from her father,
and first thing folks knew she'd gone off out there to live, and
left word she didn't want no company. 'Twas a bad place to get to,
unless the wind an' tide were just right; 'twas hard work to make
"What time of year was this?" I asked.
"Very late in the summer," said Mrs. Fosdick. "No, I never
could laugh at Joanna, as some did. She set everything by the
young man, an' they were going to marry in about a month, when he
got bewitched with a girl 'way up the bay, and married her, and
went off to Massachusetts. He wasn't well thought of,--there were
those who thought Joanna's money was what had tempted him; but
she'd given him her whole heart, an' she wa'n't so young as she had
been. All her hopes were built on marryin', an' havin' a real home
and somebody to look to; she acted just like a bird when its nest
is spoilt. The day after she heard the news she was in dreadful
woe, but the next she came to herself very quiet, and took the
horse and wagon, and drove fourteen miles to the lawyer's, and
signed a paper givin' her half of the farm to her brother. They
never had got along very well together, but he didn't want to sign
it, till she acted so distressed that he gave in. Edward Todd's
wife was a good woman, who felt very bad indeed, and used every
argument with Joanna; but Joanna took a poor old boat that had been
her father's and lo'ded in a few things, and off she put all
alone, with a good land breeze, right out to sea. Edward Todd ran
down to the beach, an' stood there cryin' like a boy to see her go,
but she was out o' hearin'. She never stepped foot on the mainland
again long as she lived."
"How large an island is it? How did she manage in winter?" I
"Perhaps thirty acres, rocks and all," answered Mrs. Todd,
taking up the story gravely. "There can't be much of it that the
salt spray don't fly over in storms. No, 'tis a dreadful small
place to make a world of; it has a different look from any of the
other islands, but there's a sheltered cove on the south side, with
mud-flats across one end of it at low water where there's excellent
clams, and the big shell-heap keeps some o' the wind off a little
house her father took the trouble to build when he was a young man.
They said there was an old house built o' logs there before that,
with a kind of natural cellar in the rock under it. He used to
stay out there days to a time, and anchor a little sloop he had,
and dig clams to fill it, and sail up to Portland. They said the
dealers always gave him an extra price, the clams were so noted.
Joanna used to go out and stay with him. They were always great
companions, so she knew just what 'twas out there. There was a few
sheep that belonged to her brother an' her, but she bargained for
him to come and get them on the edge o' cold weather. Yes, she
desired him to come for the sheep; an' his wife thought perhaps
Joanna'd return, but he said no, an' lo'ded the bo't with warm
things an' what he thought she'd need through the winter. He come
home with the sheep an' left the other things by the house, but she
never so much as looked out o' the window. She done it for a
penance. She must have wanted to see Edward by that time."
Mrs. Fosdick was fidgeting with eagerness to speak.
"Some thought the first cold snap would set her ashore, but
she always remained," concluded Mrs. Todd soberly.
"Talk about the men not having any curiosity!" exclaimed Mrs.
Fosdick scornfully. "Why, the waters round Shell-heap Island were
white with sails all that fall. 'Twas never called no great of a
fishin'-ground before. Many of 'em made excuse to go ashore to get
water at the spring; but at last she spoke to a bo't-load, very
dignified and calm, and said that she'd like it better if they'd
make a practice of getting water to Black Island or somewheres else
and leave her alone, except in case of accident or trouble. But
there was one man who had always set everything by her from a boy.
He'd have married her if the other hadn't come about an' spoilt his
chance, and he used to get close to the island, before light, on
his way out fishin', and throw a little bundle way up the green
slope front o' the house. His sister told me she happened to see,
the first time, what a pretty choice he made o' useful
things that a woman would feel lost without. He stood off fishin',
and could see them in the grass all day, though sometimes she'd
come out and walk right by them. There was other bo'ts near, out
after mackerel. But early next morning his present was gone. He
didn't presume too much, but once he took her a nice firkin o'
things he got up to Portland, and when spring come he landed her a
hen and chickens in a nice little coop. There was a good many old
friends had Joanna on their minds."
"Yes," said Mrs. Todd, losing her sad reserve in the growing
sympathy of these reminiscences. "How everybody used to notice
whether there was smoke out of the chimney! The Black Island folks
could see her with their spy-glass, and if they'd ever missed
getting some sign o' life they'd have sent notice to her folks.
But after the first year or two Joanna was more and more forgotten
as an every-day charge. Folks lived very simple in those days, you
know," she continued, as Mrs. Fosdick's knitting was taking much
thought at the moment. "I expect there was always plenty of
driftwood thrown up, and a poor failin' patch of spruces covered
all the north side of the island, so she always had something to
burn. She was very fond of workin' in the garden ashore, and that
first summer she began to till the little field out there, and
raised a nice parcel o' potatoes. She could fish, o' course, and
there was all her clams an' lobsters. You can always live well in
any wild place by the sea when you'd starve to death up country,
except 'twas berry time. Joanna had berries out there,
blackberries at least, and there was a few herbs in case she needed
them. Mullein in great quantities and a plant o' wormwood I
remember seeing once when I stayed there, long before she fled out
to Shell-heap. Yes, I recall the wormwood, which is always a
planted herb, so there must have been folks there before the Todds'
day. A growin' bush makes the best gravestone; I expect that
wormwood always stood for somebody's solemn monument. Catnip, too,
is a very endurin' herb about an old place."
"But what I want to know is what she did for other things,"
interrupted Mrs. Fosdick. "Almiry, what did she do for clothin'
when she needed to replenish, or risin' for her bread, or the
piece-bag that no woman can live long without?"
"Or company," suggested Mrs. Todd. "Joanna was one that loved
her friends. There must have been a terrible sight o' long winter
evenin's that first year."
"There was her hens," suggested Mrs. Fosdick, after reviewing
the melancholy situation. "She never wanted the sheep after that
first season. There wa'n't no proper pasture for sheep after the
June grass was past, and she ascertained the fact and couldn't bear
to see them suffer; but the chickens done well. I remember
sailin' by one spring afternoon, an' seein' the coops out front o'
the house in the sun. How long was it before you went out with the
minister? You were the first ones that ever really got ashore to
I had been reflecting upon a state of society which admitted
such personal freedom and a voluntary hermitage. There was
something mediaeval in the behavior of poor Joanna Todd under a
disappointment of the heart. The two women had drawn closer
together, and were talking on, quite unconscious of a listener.
"Poor Joanna!" said Mrs. Todd again, and sadly shook her head
as if there were things one could not speak about.
"I called her a great fool," declared Mrs. Fosdick, with
spirit, "but I pitied her then, and I pity her far more now. Some
other minister would have been a great help to her,--one that
preached self-forgetfulness and doin' for others to cure our own
ills; but Parson Dimmick was a vague person, well meanin', but very
numb in his feelin's. I don't suppose at that troubled time Joanna
could think of any way to mend her troubles except to run off and
"Mother used to say she didn't see how Joanna lived without
having nobody to do for, getting her own meals and tending her own
poor self day in an' day out," said Mrs. Todd sorrowfully.
"There was the hens," repeated Mrs. Fosdick kindly. "I expect
she soon came to makin' folks o' them. No, I never went to work to
blame Joanna, as some did. She was full o' feeling, and her
troubles hurt her more than she could bear. I see it all now as I
couldn't when I was young."
"I suppose in old times they had their shut-up convents for
just such folks," said Mrs. Todd, as if she and her friend had
disagreed about Joanna once, and were now in happy harmony. She
seemed to speak with new openness and freedom. "Oh yes, I was only
too pleased when the Reverend Mr. Dimmick invited me to go out with
him. He hadn't been very long in the place when Joanna left home
and friends. 'Twas one day that next summer after she went, and I
had been married early in the spring. He felt that he ought to go
out and visit her. She was a member of the church, and might wish
to have him consider her spiritual state. I wa'n't so sure o'
that, but I always liked Joanna, and I'd come to be her cousin by
marriage. Nathan an' I had conversed about goin' out to pay her a
visit, but he got his chance to sail sooner'n he expected. He
always thought everything of her, and last time he come home,
knowing nothing of her change, he brought her a beautiful coral pin
from a port he'd touched at somewheres up the Mediterranean. So I
wrapped the little box in a nice piece of paper and put it
in my pocket, and picked her a bunch of fresh lemon balm, and off
Mrs. Fosdick laughed. "I remember hearin' about your trials
on the v'y'ge," she said."
"Why, yes," continued Mrs. Todd in her company manner. "I
picked her the balm, an' we started. Why, yes, Susan, the minister
liked to have cost me my life that day. He would fasten the sheet,
though I advised against it. He said the rope was rough an' cut
his hand. There was a fresh breeze, an' he went on talking rather
high flown, an' I felt some interested. All of a sudden there come
up a gust, and he gave a screech and stood right up and called for
help, 'way out there to sea. I knocked him right over into the
bottom o' the bo't, getting by to catch hold of the sheet an' untie
it. He wasn't but a little man; I helped him right up after the
squall passed, and made a handsome apology to him, but he did act
kind o' offended."
"I do think they ought not to settle them landlocked folks in
parishes where they're liable to be on the water," insisted Mrs.
Fosdick. "Think of the families in our parish that was scattered
all about the bay, and what a sight o' sails you used to see, in
Mr. Dimmick's day, standing across to the mainland on a pleasant
Sunday morning, filled with church-going folks, all sure to want
him some time or other! You couldn't find no doctor that would
stand up in the boat and screech if a flaw struck her."
"Old Dr. Bennett had a beautiful sailboat, didn't he?"
responded Mrs. Todd. "And how well he used to brave the weather!
Mother always said that in time o' trouble that tall white sail
used to look like an angel's wing comin' over the sea to them that
was in pain. Well, there's a difference in gifts. Mr. Dimmick was
not without light."
"'Twas light o' the moon, then," snapped Mrs. Fosdick; "he was
pompous enough, but I never could remember a single word he said.
There, go on, Mis' Todd; I forget a great deal about that day you
went to see poor Joanna."
"I felt she saw us coming, and knew us a great way off; yes,
I seemed to feel it within me," said our friend, laying down her
knitting. "I kept my seat, and took the bo't inshore without
saying a word; there was a short channel that I was sure Mr.
Dimmick wasn't acquainted with, and the tide was very low. She
never came out to warn us off nor anything, and I thought, as I
hauled the bo't up on a wave and let the Reverend Mr. Dimmick step
out, that it was somethin' gained to be safe ashore. There was a
little smoke out o' the chimney o' Joanna's house, and it did look
sort of homelike and pleasant with wild mornin'-glory vines trained
up; an' there was a plot o' flowers under the front window,
portulacas and things. I believe she'd made a garden once,
when she was stopping there with her father, and some things must
have seeded in. It looked as if she might have gone over to the
other side of the island. 'Twas neat and pretty all about the
house, and a lovely day in July. We walked up from the beach
together very sedate, and I felt for poor Nathan's little pin to
see if 'twas safe in my dress pocket. All of a sudden Joanna come
right to the fore door and stood there, not sayin' a word."
MY COMPANION and I had been so intent upon the subject of the
conversation that we had not heard any one open the gate, but at
this moment, above the noise of the rain, we heard a loud knocking.
We were all startled as we sat by the fire, and Mrs. Todd rose
hastily and went to answer the call, leaving her rocking-chair in
violent motion. Mrs. Fosdick and I heard an anxious voice at the
door speaking of a sick child, and Mrs. Todd's kind, motherly voice
inviting the messenger in: then we waited in silence. There was a
sound of heavy dropping of rain from the eaves, and the distant
roar and undertone of the sea. My thoughts flew back to the lonely
woman on her outer island; what separation from humankind she must
have felt, what terror and sadness, even in a summer storm like
"You send right after the doctor if she ain't better in half
an hour," said Mrs. Todd to her worried customer as they parted;
and I felt a warm sense of comfort in the evident resources of even
so small a neighborhood, but for the poor hermit Joanna there was
no neighbor on a winter night.
"How did she look?" demanded Mrs. Fosdick, without preface, as
our large hostess returned to the little room with a mist about her
from standing long in the wet doorway, and the sudden draught of
her coming beat out the smoke and flame from the Franklin stove.
"How did poor Joanna look?"
"She was the same as ever, except I thought she looked
smaller," answered Mrs. Todd after thinking a moment; perhaps it
was only a last considering thought about her patient.
"Yes, she was just the same, and looked very nice, Joanna did. I
had been married since she left home, an' she treated me like her
own folks. I expected she'd look strange, with her hair turned
gray in a night or somethin', but she wore a pretty gingham dress
I'd often seen her wear before she went away; she must have kept it
nice for best in the afternoons. She always had beautiful, quiet
manners. I remember she waited till we were close to her, and then
kissed me real affectionate, and inquired for Nathan before she
shook hands with the minister, and then she invited us both in.
'Twas the same little house her father had built him when he was a
bachelor, with one livin'-room, and a little mite of a bedroom out
of it where she slept, but 'twas neat as a ship's cabin. There was
some old chairs, an' a seat made of a long box that might have held
boat tackle an' things to lock up in his fishin' days, and a good
enough stove so anybody could cook and keep warm in cold weather.
I went over once from home and stayed 'most a week with Joanna when
we was girls, and those young happy days rose up before me. Her
father was busy all day fishin' or clammin'; he was one o' the
pleasantest men in the world, but Joanna's mother had the grim
streak, and never knew what 'twas to be happy. The first minute my
eyes fell upon Joanna's face that day I saw how she had grown to
look like Mis' Todd. 'Twas the mother right over again."
"Oh dear me!" said Mrs. Fosdick.
"Joanna had done one thing very pretty. There was a little
piece o' swamp on the island where good rushes grew plenty, and
she'd gathered 'em, and braided some beautiful mats for the floor
and a thick cushion for the long bunk. She'd showed a good deal of
invention; you see there was a nice chance to pick up pieces o'
wood and boards that drove ashore, and she'd made good use o' what
she found. There wasn't no clock, but she had a few dishes on a
shelf, and flowers set about in shells fixed to the walls, so it
did look sort of homelike, though so lonely and poor. I couldn't
keep the tears out o' my eyes, I felt so sad. I said to myself, I
must get mother to come over an' see Joanna; the love in mother's
heart would warm her, an' she might be able to advise."
"Oh no, Joanna was dreadful stern," said Mrs. Fosdick.
"We were all settin' down very proper, but Joanna would keep
stealin' glances at me as if she was glad I come. She had but
little to say; she was real polite an' gentle, and yet forbiddin'.
The minister found it hard," confessed Mrs. Todd; "he got
embarrassed, an' when he put on his authority and asked her if she
felt to enjoy religion in her present situation, an' she replied
that she must be excused from answerin', I thought I should fly.
She might have made it easier for him; after all, he was the
minister and had taken some trouble to come out, though 'twas kind
of cold an' unfeelin' the way he inquired. I thought he might have
seen the little old Bible a-layin' on the shelf close by him, an'
I wished he knew enough to just lay his hand on it an' read
somethin' kind an' fatherly 'stead of accusin' her, an' then given
poor Joanna his blessin' with the hope she might be led to comfort.
He did offer prayer, but 'twas all about hearin' the voice o' God
out o' the whirlwind; and I thought while he was goin' on that
anybody that had spent the long cold winter all alone out on Shell-
heap Island knew a good deal more about those things than he did.
I got so provoked I opened my eyes and stared right at him.
"She didn't take no notice, she kep' a nice respectful manner
towards him, and when there come a pause she asked if he had any
interest about the old Indian remains, and took down some queer
stone gouges and hammers off of one of her shelves and showed them
to him same's if he was a boy. He remarked that he'd like to walk
over an' see the shell-heap; so she went right to the door and
pointed him the way. I see then that she'd made her some kind o'
sandal-shoes out o' the fine rushes to wear on her feet; she
stepped light an' nice in 'em as shoes."
Mrs. Fosdick leaned back in her rocking-chair and gave a heavy
"I didn't move at first, but I'd held out just as long as I
could," said Mrs. Todd, whose voice trembled a little. "When
Joanna returned from the door, an' I could see that man's stupid
back departin' among the wild rose bushes, I just ran to her an'
caught her in my arms. I wasn't so big as I be now, and she was
older than me, but I hugged her tight, just as if she was a child.
'Oh, Joanna dear,' I says, 'won't you come ashore an' live 'long o'
me at the Landin', or go over to Green Island to mother's when
winter comes? Nobody shall trouble you an' mother finds it hard
bein' alone. I can't bear to leave you here'--and I burst right
out crying. I'd had my own trials, young as I was, an' she knew
it. Oh, I did entreat her; yes, I entreated Joanna."
"What did she say then?" asked Mrs. Fosdick, much moved.
"She looked the same way, sad an' remote through it all," said
Mrs. Todd mournfully. "She took hold of my hand, and we sat down
close together; 'twas as if she turned round an' made a child of
me. 'I haven't got no right to live with folks no more,' she said.
'You must never ask me again, Almiry: I've done the only thing I
could do, and I've made my choice. I feel a great comfort in your
kindness, but I don't deserve it. I have committed the
unpardonable sin; you don't understand,' says she humbly. 'I was
in great wrath and trouble, and my thoughts was so wicked towards
God that I can't expect ever to be forgiven. I have come to
know what it is to have patience, but I have lost my hope. You
must tell those that ask how 'tis with me,' she said, 'an' tell
them I want to be alone.' I couldn't speak; no, there wa'n't
anything I could say, she seemed so above everything common. I was
a good deal younger then than I be now, and I got Nathan's little
coral pin out o' my pocket and put it into her hand; and when she
saw it and I told her where it come from, her face did really light
up for a minute, sort of bright an' pleasant. 'Nathan an' I was
always good friends; I'm glad he don't think hard of me,' says she.
'I want you to have it, Almiry, an' wear it for love o' both o'
us,' and she handed it back to me. 'You give my love to Nathan,--
he's a dear good man,' she said; 'an' tell your mother, if I should
be sick she mustn't wish I could get well, but I want her to be the
one to come.' Then she seemed to have said all she wanted to, as
if she was done with the world, and we sat there a few minutes
longer together. It was real sweet and quiet except for a good
many birds and the sea rollin' up on the beach; but at last she
rose, an' I did too, and she kissed me and held my hand in hers a
minute, as if to say good-by; then she turned and went right away
out o' the door and disappeared.
"The minister come back pretty soon, and I told him I was all
ready, and we started down to the bo't. He had picked up some
round stones and things and was carrying them in his pocket-
handkerchief; an' he sat down amidships without making any
question, and let me take the rudder an' work the bo't, an' made no
remarks for some time, until we sort of eased it off speaking of
the weather, an' subjects that arose as we skirted Black Island,
where two or three families lived belongin' to the parish. He
preached next Sabbath as usual, somethin' high soundin' about the
creation, and I couldn't help thinkin' he might never get no
further; he seemed to know no remedies, but he had a great use of
Mrs. Fosdick sighed again. "Hearin' you tell about Joanna
brings the time right back as if 'twas yesterday," she said. "Yes,
she was one o' them poor things that talked about the great sin; we
don't seem to hear nothing about the unpardonable sin now, but you
may say 'twas not uncommon then."
"I expect that if it had been in these days, such a person
would be plagued to death with idle folks," continued Mrs. Todd,
after a long pause. "As it was, nobody trespassed on her; all the
folks about the bay respected her an' her feelings; but as time
wore on, after you left here, one after another ventured to make
occasion to put somethin' ashore for her if they went that way. I
know mother used to go to see her sometimes, and send William over
now and then with something fresh an' nice from the farm.
There is a point on the sheltered side where you can lay a boat
close to shore an' land anything safe on the turf out o' reach o'
the water. There were one or two others, old folks, that she would
see, and now an' then she'd hail a passin' boat an' ask for
somethin'; and mother got her to promise that she would make some
sign to the Black Island folks if she wanted help. I never saw her
myself to speak to after that day."
"I expect nowadays, if such a thing happened, she'd have gone
out West to her uncle's folks or up to Massachusetts and had a
change, an' come home good as new. The world's bigger an' freer
than it used to be," urged Mrs. Fosdick.
"No," said her friend. "'Tis like bad eyesight, the mind of
such a person: if your eyes don't see right there may be a remedy,
but there's no kind of glasses to remedy the mind. No, Joanna was
Joanna, and there she lays on her island where she lived and did
her poor penance. She told mother the day she was dyin' that she
always used to want to be fetched inshore when it come to the last;
but she'd thought it over, and desired to be laid on the island, if
'twas thought right. So the funeral was out there, a Saturday
afternoon in September. 'Twas a pretty day, and there wa'n't
hardly a boat on the coast within twenty miles that didn't head for
Shell-heap cram-full o' folks an' all real respectful, same's if
she'd always stayed ashore and held her friends. Some went out o'
mere curiosity, I don't doubt,--there's always such to every
funeral; but most had real feelin', and went purpose to show it.
She'd got most o' the wild sparrows as tame as could be, livin' out
there so long among 'em, and one flew right in and lit on the
coffin an' begun to sing while Mr. Dimmick was speakin'. He was
put out by it, an' acted as if he didn't know whether to stop or go
on. I may have been prejudiced, but I wa'n't the only one thought
the poor little bird done the best of the two."
"What became o' the man that treated her so, did you ever
hear?" asked Mrs. Fosdick. "I know he lived up to Massachusetts
for a while. Somebody who came from the same place told me that he
was in trade there an' doin' very well, but that was years ago."
"I never heard anything more than that; he went to the war in
one o' the early regiments. No, I never heard any more of him,"
answered Mrs. Todd. "Joanna was another sort of person, and
perhaps he showed good judgment in marryin' somebody else, if only
he'd behaved straight-forward and manly. He was a shifty-eyed,
coaxin' sort of man, that got what he wanted out o' folks, an' only
gave when he wanted to buy, made friends easy and lost 'em without
knowin' the difference. She'd had a piece o' work tryin' to make
him walk accordin' to her right ideas, but she'd have had
too much variety ever to fall into a melancholy. Some is meant to
be the Joannas in this world, an' 'twas her poor lot."
On Shell-heap Island
SOME TIME AFTER Mrs. Fosdick's visit was over and we had returned
to our former quietness, I was out sailing alone with Captain
Bowden in his large boat. We were taking the crooked northeasterly
channel seaward, and were well out from shore while it was still
early in the afternoon. I found myself presently among some
unfamiliar islands, and suddenly remembered the story of poor
Joanna. There is something in the fact of a hermitage that cannot
fail to touch the imagination; the recluses are a sad kindred, but
they are never commonplace. Mrs. Todd had truly said that Joanna
was like one of the saints in the desert; the loneliness of sorrow
will forever keep alive their sad succession.
"Where is Shell-heap Island?" I asked eagerly.
"You see Shell-heap now, layin' 'way out beyond Black Island
there," answered the captain, pointing with outstretched arm as he
stood, and holding the rudder with his knee.
"I should like very much to go there," said I, and the
captain, without comment, changed his course a little more to the
eastward and let the reef out of his mainsail.
"I don't know's we can make an easy landin' for ye," he
remarked doubtfully. "May get your feet wet; bad place to land.
Trouble is I ought to have brought a tag-boat; but they clutch on
to the water so, an' I do love to sail free. This gre't boat gets
easy bothered with anything trailin'. 'Tain't breakin' much on the
meetin'-house ledges; guess I can fetch in to Shell-heap."
"How long is it since Miss Joanna Todd died?" I asked, partly
by way of explanation.
"Twenty-two years come September," answered the captain, after
reflection. "She died the same year as my oldest boy was born, an'
the town house was burnt over to the Port. I didn't know but you
merely wanted to hunt for some o' them Indian relics. Long's you
want to see where Joanna lived--No, 'tain't breakin' over
the ledges; we'll manage to fetch across the shoals somehow, 'tis
such a distance to go 'way round, and tide's a-risin'," he ended
hopefully, and we sailed steadily on, the captain speechless with
intent watching of a difficult course, until the small island with
its low whitish promontory lay in full view before us under the
bright afternoon sun.
The month was August, and I had seen the color of the islands
change from the fresh green of June to a sunburnt brown that made
them look like stone, except where the dark green of the spruces
and fir balsam kept the tint that even winter storms might deepen,
but not fade. The few wind-bent trees on Shell-heap Island were
mostly dead and gray, but there were some low-growing bushes, and
a stripe of light green ran along just above the shore, which I
knew to be wild morning-glories. As we came close I could see the
high stone walls of a small square field, though there were no
sheep left to assail it; and below, there was a little harbor-like
cove where Captain Bowden was boldly running the great boat in to
seek a landing-place. There was a crooked channel of deep water
which led close up against the shore.
"There, you hold fast for'ard there, an' wait for her to lift
on the wave. You'll make a good landin' if you're smart; right on
the port-hand side!" the captain called excitedly; and I, standing
ready with high ambition, seized my chance and leaped over to the
"I'm beat if I ain't aground after all!" mourned the captain
But I could reach the bowsprit, and he pushed with the boat-
hook, while the wind veered round a little as if on purpose and
helped with the sail; so presently the boat was free and began to
drift out from shore.
"Used to call this p'int Joanna's wharf privilege, but 't has
worn away in the weather since her time. I thought one or two
bumps wouldn't hurt us none,--paint's got to be renewed, anyway,--
but I never thought she'd tetch. I figured on shyin' by," the
captain apologized. "She's too gre't a boat to handle well in
here; but I used to sort of shy by in Joanna's day, an' cast a
little somethin' ashore--some apples or a couple o' pears if I had
'em--on the grass, where she'd be sure to see."
I stood watching while Captain Bowden cleverly found his way
back to deeper water. "You needn't make no haste," he called to
me; "I'll keep within call. Joanna lays right up there in the far
corner o' the field. There used to be a path led to the place. I
always knew her well. I was out here to the funeral."
I found the path; it was touching to discover that this lonely
spot was not without its pilgrims. Later generations will know
less and less of Joanna herself, but there are paths trodden to the
shrines of solitude the world over,--the world cannot forget
them, try as it may; the feet of the young find them out because of
curiosity and dim foreboding; while the old bring hearts full of
remembrance. This plain anchorite had been one of those whom
sorrow made too lonely to brave the sight of men, too timid to
front the simple world she knew, yet valiant enough to live alone
with her poor insistent human nature and the calms and passions of
the sea and sky.
The birds were flying all about the field; they fluttered up
out of the grass at my feet as I walked along, so tame that I liked
to think they kept some happy tradition from summer to summer of
the safety of nests and good fellowship of mankind. Poor Joanna's
house was gone except the stones of its foundations, and there was
little trace of her flower garden except a single faded sprig of
much-enduring French pinks, which a great bee and a yellow
butterfly were befriending together. I drank at the spring, and
thought that now and then some one would follow me from the busy,
hard-worked, and simple-thoughted countryside of the mainland,
which lay dim and dreamlike in the August haze, as Joanna must have
watched it many a day. There was the world, and here was she with
eternity well begun. In the life of each of us, I said to myself,
there is a place remote and islanded, and given to endless regret
or secret happiness; we are each the uncompanioned hermit and
recluse of an hour or a day; we understand our fellows of the cell
to whatever age of history they may belong.
But as I stood alone on the island, in the sea-breeze,
suddenly there came a sound of distant voices; gay voices and
laughter from a pleasure-boat that was going seaward full of boys
and girls. I knew, as if she had told me, that poor Joanna must
have heard the like on many and many a summer afternoon, and must
have welcomed the good cheer in spite of hopelessness and winter
weather, and all the sorrow and disappointment in the world.
The Great Expedition
MRS. TODD never by any chance gave warning over night of her great
projects and adventures by sea and land. She first came to an
understanding with the primal forces of nature, and never trusted
to any preliminary promise of good weather, but examined the
day for herself in its infancy. Then, if the stars were
propitious, and the wind blew from a quarter of good inheritance
whence no surprises of sea-turns or southwest sultriness might be
feared, long before I was fairly awake I used to hear a rustle and
knocking like a great mouse in the walls, and an impatient tread on
the steep garret stairs that led to Mrs. Todd's chief place of
storage. She went and came as if she had already started on her
expedition with utmost haste and kept returning for something that
was forgotten. When I appeared in quest of my breakfast, she would
be absent-minded and sparing of speech, as if I had displeased her,
and she was now, by main force of principle, holding herself back
from altercation and strife of tongues.
These signs of a change became familiar to me in the course of
time, and Mrs. Todd hardly noticed some plain proofs of divination
one August morning when I said, without preface, that I had just
seen the Beggs' best chaise go by, and that we should have to take
the grocery. Mrs. Todd was alert in a moment.
"There! I might have known!" she exclaimed. "It's the 15th
of August, when he goes and gets his money. He heired an annuity
from an uncle o' his on his mother's side. I understood the uncle
said none o' Sam Begg's wife's folks should make free with it, so
after Sam's gone it'll all be past an' spent, like last summer.
That's what Sam prospers on now, if you can call it prosperin'.
Yes, I might have known. 'Tis the 15th o' August with him, an' he
gener'ly stops to dinner with a cousin's widow on the way home.
Feb'uary n' August is the times. Takes him 'bout all day to go an'
I heard this explanation with interest. The tone of Mrs.
Todd's voice was complaining at the last.
"I like the grocery just as well as the chaise," I hastened to
say, referring to a long-bodied high wagon with a canopy-top, like
an attenuated four-posted bedstead on wheels, in which we sometimes
journeyed. "We can put things in behind--roots and flowers and
raspberries, or anything you are going after--much better than if
we had the chaise."
Mrs. Todd looked stony and unwilling. "I counted upon the
chaise," she said, turning her back to me, and roughly pushing back
all the quiet tumblers on the cupboard shelf as if they had been
impertinent. "Yes, I desired the chaise for once. I ain't goin'
berryin' nor to fetch home no more wilted vegetation this year.
Season's about past, except for a poor few o' late things," she
added in a milder tone. "I'm goin' up country. No, I ain't
intendin' to go berryin'. I've been plottin' for it the past
fortnight and hopin' for a good day."
"Would you like to have me go too?" I asked frankly, but not
without a humble fear that I might have mistaken the purpose of
this latest plan.
"Oh certain, dear!" answered my friend affectionately. "Oh
no, I never thought o' any one else for comp'ny, if it's convenient
for you, long's poor mother ain't come. I ain't nothin' like so
handy with a conveyance as I be with a good bo't. Comes o' my
early bringing-up. I expect we've got to make that great high
wagon do. The tires want settin' and 'tis all loose-jointed, so I
can hear it shackle the other side o' the ridge. We'll put the
basket in front. I ain't goin' to have it bouncin' an' twirlin'
all the way. Why, I've been makin' some nice hearts and rounds to
These were signs of high festivity, and my interest deepened
moment by moment.
"I'll go down to the Beggs' and get the horse just as soon as
I finish my breakfast," said I. "Then we can start whenever you
Mrs. Todd looked cloudy again. "I don't know but you look
nice enough to go just as you be," she suggested doubtfully. "No,
you wouldn't want to wear that pretty blue dress o' yourn 'way up
country. 'Taint dusty now, but it may be comin' home. No, I
expect you'd rather not wear that and the other hat."
"Oh yes. I shouldn't think of wearing these clothes," said I,
with sudden illumination. "Why, if we're going up country and are
likely to see some of your friends, I'll put on my blue dress, and
you must wear your watch; I am not going at all if you mean to wear
the big hat."
"Now you're behavin' pretty," responded Mrs. Todd, with a gay
toss of her head and a cheerful smile, as she came across the room,
bringing a saucerful of wild raspberries, a pretty piece of salvage
from supper-time. "I was cast down when I see you come to
breakfast. I didn't think 'twas just what you'd select to wear to
the reunion, where you're goin' to meet everybody."
"What reunion do you mean?" I asked, not without amazement.
"Not the Bowden Family's? I thought that was going to take place
"To-day's the day. They sent word the middle o' the week. I
thought you might have heard of it. Yes, they changed the day. I
been thinkin' we'd talk it over, but you never can tell beforehand
how it's goin' to be, and 'taint worth while to wear a day all out
before it comes." Mrs. Todd gave no place to the pleasures of
anticipation, but she spoke like the oracle that she was. "I wish
mother was here to go," she continued sadly. "I did look for her
last night, and I couldn't keep back the tears when the dark really
fell and she wa'n't here, she does so enjoy a great occasion. If
William had a mite o' snap an' ambition, he'd take the lead
at such a time. Mother likes variety, and there ain't but a few
nice opportunities 'round here, an' them she has to miss 'less she
contrives to get ashore to me. I do re'lly hate to go to the
reunion without mother, an' 'tis a beautiful day; everybody'll be
asking where she is. Once she'd have got here anyway. Poor
mother's beginnin' to feel her age."
"Why, there's your mother now!" I exclaimed with joy, I was so
glad to see the dear old soul again. "I hear her voice at the
gate." But Mrs. Todd was out of the door before me.
There, sure enough, stood Mrs. Blackett, who must have left
Green Island before daylight. She had climbed the steep road from
the waterside so eagerly that she was out of breath, and was
standing by the garden fence to rest. She held an old-fashioned
brown wicker cap-basket in her hand, as if visiting were a thing of
every day, and looked up at us as pleased and triumphant as a
"Oh, what a poor, plain garden! Hardly a flower in it except
your bush o' balm!" she said. "But you do keep your garden neat,
Almiry. Are you both well, an' goin' up country with me?" She
came a step or two closer to meet us, with quaint politeness and
quite as delightful as if she were at home. She dropped a quick
little curtsey before Mrs. Todd.
"There, mother, what a girl you be! I am so pleased! I was
just bewailin' you," said the daughter, with unwonted feeling. "I
was just bewailin' you, I was so disappointed, an' I kep' myself
awake a good piece o' the night scoldin' poor William. I watched
for the boat till I was ready to shed tears yisterday, and when
'twas comin' dark I kep' making errands out to the gate an' down
the road to see if you wa'n't in the doldrums somewhere down the
"There was a head-wind, as you know," said Mrs. Blackett,
giving me the cap-basket, and holding my hand affectionately as we
walked up the clean-swept path to the door. "I was partly ready to
come, but dear William said I should be all tired out and might get
cold, havin' to beat all the way in. So we give it up, and set
down and spent the evenin' together. It was a little rough and
windy outside, and I guess 'twas better judgment; we went to bed
very early and made a good start just at daylight. It's been a
lovely mornin' on the water. William thought he'd better fetch
across beyond Bird Rocks, rowin' the greater part o' the way; then
we sailed from there right over to the landin', makin' only one
tack. William'll be in again for me to-morrow, so I can come back
here an' rest me over night, an' go to meetin' to-morrow, and have
a nice, good visit."
"She was just havin' her breakfast," said Mrs. Todd, who had
listened eagerly to the long explanation without a word of
disapproval, while her face shone more and more with joy. "You
just sit right down an' have a cup of tea and rest you while we
make our preparations. Oh, I am so gratified to think you've come!
Yes, she was just havin' her breakfast, and we were speakin' of
you. Where's William?"
"He went right back; said he expected some schooners in about
noon after bait, but he'll come an' have his dinner with us
tomorrow, unless it rains; then next day. I laid his best things
out all ready," explained Mrs. Blackett, a little anxiously. "This
wind will serve him nice all the way home. Yes, I will take a cup
of tea, dear,--a cup of tea is always good; and then I'll rest a
minute and be all ready to start."
"I do feel condemned for havin' such hard thoughts o'
William," openly confessed Mrs. Todd. She stood before us so large
and serious that we both laughed and could not find it in our
hearts to convict so rueful a culprit. "He shall have a good
dinner to-morrow, if it can be got, and I shall be real glad to see
William," the confession ended handsomely, while Mrs. Blackett
smiled approval and made haste to praise the tea. Then I hurried
away to make sure of the grocery wagon. Whatever might be the good
of the reunion, I was going to have the pleasure and delight of a
day in Mrs. Blackett's company, not to speak of Mrs. Todd's.
The early morning breeze was still blowing, and the warm,
sunshiny air was of some ethereal northern sort, with a cool
freshness as it came over new-fallen snow. The world was filled
with a fragrance of fir-balsam and the faintest flavor of seaweed
from the ledges, bare and brown at low tide in the little harbor.
It was so still and so early that the village was but half awake.
I could hear no voices but those of the birds, small and great,--
the constant song sparrows, the clink of a yellow-hammer over in
the woods, and the far conversation of some deliberate crows. I
saw William Blackett's escaping sail already far from land, and
Captain Littlepage was sitting behind his closed window as I passed
by, watching for some one who never came. I tried to speak to him,
but he did not see me. There was a patient look on the old man's
face, as if the world were a great mistake and he had nobody with
whom to speak his own language or find companionship.
A Country Road
WHATEVER DOUBTS and anxieties I may have had about the
inconvenience of the Begg's high wagon for a person of Mrs.
Blackett's age and shortness, they were happily overcome by the aid
of a chair and her own valiant spirit. Mrs. Todd bestowed great
care upon seating us as if we were taking passage by boat, but she
finally pronounced that we were properly trimmed. When we had gone
only a little way up the hill she remembered that she had left the
house door wide open, though the large key was safe in her pocket.
I offered to run back, but my offer was met with lofty scorn, and
we lightly dismissed the matter from our minds, until two or three
miles further on we met the doctor, and Mrs. Todd asked him to stop
and ask her nearest neighbor to step over and close the door if the
dust seemed to blow in the afternoon.
"She'll be there in her kitchen; she'll hear you the minute
you call; 'twont give you no delay," said Mrs. Todd to the doctor.
"Yes, Mis' Dennett's right there, with the windows all open. It
isn't as if my fore door opened right on the road, anyway." At
which proof of composure Mrs. Blackett smiled wisely at me.
The doctor seemed delighted to see our guest; they were
evidently the warmest friends, and I saw a look of affectionate
confidence in their eyes. The good man left his carriage to speak
to us, but as he took Mrs. Blackett's hand he held it a moment,
and, as if merely from force of habit, felt her pulse as they
talked; then to my delight he gave the firm old wrist a commending
"You're wearing well; good for another ten years at this
rate," he assured her cheerfully, and she smiled back. "I like to
keep a strict account of my old stand-bys," and he turned to me.
"Don't you let Mrs. Todd overdo to-day,--old folks like her are apt
to be thoughtless;" and then we all laughed, and, parting, went our
"I suppose he puts up with your rivalry the same as ever?"
asked Mrs. Blackett. "You and he are as friendly as ever, I see,
Almiry," and Almira sagely nodded.
"He's got too many long routes now to stop to 'tend to all his
door patients," she said, "especially them that takes pleasure in
talkin' themselves over. The doctor and me have got to be kind of
partners; he's gone a good deal, far an' wide. Looked
tired, didn't he? I shall have to advise with him an' get him off
for a good rest. He'll take the big boat from Rockland an' go off
up to Boston an' mouse round among the other doctors, one in two or
three years, and come home fresh as a boy. I guess they think
consider'ble of him up there." Mrs. Todd shook the reins and
reached determinedly for the whip, as if she were compelling public
Whatever energy and spirit the white horse had to begin with
were soon exhausted by the steep hills and his discernment of a
long expedition ahead. We toiled slowly along. Mrs. Blackett and
I sat together, and Mrs. Todd sat alone in front with much majesty
and the large basket of provisions. Part of the way the road was
shaded by thick woods, but we also passed one farmhouse after
another on the high uplands, which we all three regarded with deep
interest, the house itself and the barns and garden-spots and
poultry all having to suffer an inspection of the shrewdest sort.
This was a highway quite new to me; in fact, most of my journeys
with Mrs. Todd had been made afoot and between the roads, in open
pasturelands. My friends stopped several times for brief dooryard
visits, and made so many promises of stopping again on the way home
that I began to wonder how long the expedition would last. I had
often noticed how warmly Mrs. Todd was greeted by her friends, but
it was hardly to be compared with the feeling now shown toward Mrs.
Blackett. A look of delight came to the faces of those who
recognized the plain, dear old figure beside me; one revelation
after another was made of the constant interest and intercourse
that had linked the far island and these scattered farms into a
golden chain of love and dependence.
"Now, we mustn't stop again if we can help it," insisted Mrs.
Todd at last. "You'll get tired, mother, and you'll think the less
o' reunions. We can visit along here any day. There, if they
ain't frying doughnuts in this next house, too! These are new
folks, you know, from over St. George way; they took this old
Talcot farm last year. 'Tis the best water on the road, and the
check-rein's come undone--yes, we'd best delay a little and water
We stopped, and seeing a party of pleasure-seekers in holiday
attire, the thin, anxious mistress of the farmhouse came out with
wistful sympathy to hear what news we might have to give. Mrs.
Blackett first spied her at the half-closed door, and asked with
such cheerful directness if we were trespassing that, after a few
words, she went back to her kitchen and reappeared with a plateful
"Entertainment for man and beast," announced Mrs. Todd with
satisfaction. "Why, we've perceived there was new doughnuts
all along the road, but you're the first that has treated us."
Our new acquaintance flushed with pleasure, but said nothing.
"They're very nice; you've had good luck with 'em," pronounced
Mrs. Todd. "Yes, we've observed there was doughnuts all the way
along; if one house is frying all the rest is; 'tis so with a great
"I don't suppose likely you're goin' up to the Bowden
reunion?" asked the hostess as the white horse lifted his head and
we were saying good-by.
"Why, yes," said Mrs. Blackett and Mrs. Todd and I, all
"I am connected with the family. Yes, I expect to be there
this afternoon. I've been lookin' forward to it," she told us
"We shall see you there. Come and sit with us if it's
convenient," said dear Mrs. Blackett, and we drove away.
"I wonder who she was before she was married?" said Mrs. Todd,
who was usually unerring in matters of genealogy. "She must have
been one of that remote branch that lived down beyond Thomaston.
We can find out this afternoon. I expect that the families'll
march together, or be sorted out some way. I'm willing to own a
relation that has such proper ideas of doughnuts."
"I seem to see the family looks," said Mrs. Blackett. "I wish
we'd asked her name. She's a stranger, and I want to help make it
pleasant for all such."
"She resembles Cousin Pa'lina Bowden about the forehead," said
Mrs. Todd with decision.
We had just passed a piece of woodland that shaded the road,
and come out to some open fields beyond, when Mrs. Todd suddenly
reined in the horse as if somebody had stood on the roadside and
stopped her. She even gave that quick reassuring nod of her head
which was usually made to answer for a bow, but I discovered that
she was looking eagerly at a tall ash-tree that grew just inside
the field fence.
"I thought 'twas goin' to do well," she said complacently as
we went on again. "Last time I was up this way that tree was kind
of drooping and discouraged. Grown trees act that way sometimes,
same's folks; then they'll put right to it and strike their roots
off into new ground and start all over again with real good
courage. Ash-trees is very likely to have poor spells; they ain't
got the resolution of other trees."
I listened hopefully for more; it was this peculiar wisdom
that made one value Mrs. Todd's pleasant company.
"There's sometimes a good hearty tree growin' right out of the
bare rock, out o' some crack that just holds the roots;" she went
on to say, "right on the pitch o' one o' them bare stony hills
where you can't seem to see a wheel-barrowful o' good earth
in a place, but that tree'll keep a green top in the driest summer.
You lay your ear down to the ground an' you'll hear a little stream
runnin'. Every such tree has got its own livin' spring; there's
folk made to match 'em."
I could not help turning to look at Mrs. Blackett, close
beside me. Her hands were clasped placidly in their thin black
woolen gloves, and she was looking at the flowery wayside as we
went slowly along, with a pleased, expectant smile. I do not think
she had heard a word about the trees.
"I just saw a nice plant o' elecampane growin' back there,"
she said presently to her daughter.
"I haven't got my mind on herbs to-day," responded Mrs. Todd,
in the most matter-of-fact way. "I'm bent on seeing folks," and
she shook the reins again.
I for one had no wish to hurry, it was so pleasant in the
shady roads. The woods stood close to the road on the right; on
the left were narrow fields and pastures where there were as many
acres of spruces and pines as there were acres of bay and juniper
and huckleberry, with a little turf between. When I thought we
were in the heart of the inland country, we reached the top of a
hill, and suddenly there lay spread out before us a wonderful great
view of well-cleared fields that swept down to the wide water of a
bay. Beyond this were distant shores like another country in the
midday haze which half hid the hills beyond, and the faraway pale
blue mountains on the northern horizon. There was a schooner with
all sails set coming down the bay from a white village that was
sprinkled on the shore, and there were many sailboats flitting
about it. It was a noble landscape, and my eyes, which had grown
used to the narrow inspection of a shaded roadside, could hardly
take it in.
"Why, it's the upper bay," said Mrs. Todd. "You can see 'way
over into the town of Fessenden. Those farms 'way over there are
all in Fessenden. Mother used to have a sister that lived up that
shore. If we started as early's we could on a summer mornin', we
couldn't get to her place from Green Island till late afternoon,
even with a fair, steady breeze, and you had to strike the time
just right so as to fetch up 'long o' the tide and land near the
flood. 'Twas ticklish business, an' we didn't visit back an' forth
as much as mother desired. You have to go 'way down the co'st to
Cold Spring Light an' round that long point,--up here's what they
call the Back Shore."
"No, we were 'most always separated, my dear sister and me,
after the first year she was married," said Mrs. Blackett. "We had
our little families an' plenty o' cares. We were always lookin'
forward to the time we could see each other more. Now and then
she'd get out to the island for a few days while her husband'd go
fishin'; and once he stopped with her an' two children, and
made him some flakes right there and cured all his fish for winter.
We did have a beautiful time together, sister an' me; she used to
look back to it long's she lived.
"I do love to look over there where she used to live," Mrs.
Blackett went on as we began to go down the hill. "It seems as if
she must still be there, though she's long been gone. She loved
their farm,--she didn't see how I got so used to our island; but
somehow I was always happy from the first."
"Yes, it's very dull to me up among those slow farms,"
declared Mrs. Todd. "The snow troubles 'em in winter. They're all
besieged by winter, as you may say; 'tis far better by the shore
than up among such places. I never thought I should like to live
"Why, just see the carriages ahead of us on the next rise!"
exclaimed Mrs. Blackett. "There's going to be a great gathering,
don't you believe there is, Almiry? It hasn't seemed up to now as
if anybody was going but us. An' 'tis such a beautiful day, with
yesterday cool and pleasant to work an' get ready, I shouldn't
wonder if everybody was there, even the slow ones like Phebe Ann
Mrs. Blackett's eyes were bright with excitement, and even
Mrs. Todd showed remarkable enthusiasm. She hurried the horse and
caught up with the holiday-makers ahead. "There's all the
Dep'fords goin', six in the wagon," she told us joyfully; "an' Mis'
Alva Tilley's folks are now risin' the hill in their new carry-
Mrs. Blackett pulled at the neat bow of her black bonnet-
strings, and tied them again with careful precision. I believe
your bonnet's on a little bit sideways, dear," she advised Mrs.
Todd as if she were a child; but Mrs. Todd was too much occupied to
pay proper heed. We began to feel a new sense of gayety and of
taking part in the great occasion as we joined the little train.
The Bowden Reunion
IT IS VERY RARE in country life, where high days and holidays are
few, that any occasion of general interest proves to be less than
great. Such is the hidden fire of enthusiasm in the New England
nature that, once given an outlet, it shines forth with
almost volcanic light and heat. In quiet neighborhoods such inward
force does not waste itself upon those petty excitements of every
day that belong to cities, but when, at long intervals, the altars
to patriotism, to friendship, to the ties of kindred, are reared in
our familiar fields, then the fires glow, the flames come up as if
from the inexhaustible burning heart of the earth; the primal fires
break through the granite dust in which our souls are set. Each
heart is warm and every face shines with the ancient light. Such
a day as this has transfiguring powers, and easily makes friends of
those who have been cold-hearted, and gives to those who are dumb
their chance to speak, and lends some beauty to the plainest face.
"Oh, I expect I shall meet friends today that I haven't seen
in a long while," said Mrs. Blackett with deep satisfaction.
"'Twill bring out a good many of the old folks, 'tis such a lovely
day. I'm always glad not to have them disappointed."
"I guess likely the best of 'em'll be there," answered Mrs.
Todd with gentle humor, stealing a glance at me. "There's one
thing certain: there's nothing takes in this whole neighborhood
like anything related to the Bowdens. Yes, I do feel that when you
call upon the Bowdens you may expect most families to rise up
between the Landing and the far end of the Back Cove. Those that
aren't kin by blood are kin by marriage."
"There used to be an old story goin' about when I was a girl,"
said Mrs. Blackett, with much amusement. "There was a great many
more Bowdens then than there are now, and the folks was all setting
in meeting a dreadful hot Sunday afternoon, and a scatter-witted
little bound girl came running to the meetin'-house door all out o'
breath from somewheres in the neighborhood. 'Mis' Bowden, Mis'
Bowden!' says she. 'Your baby's in a fit!' They used to tell that
the whole congregation was up on its feet in a minute and right out
into the aisles. All the Mis' Bowdens was setting right out for
home; the minister stood there in the pulpit tryin' to keep sober,
an' all at once he burst right out laughin'. He was a very nice
man, they said, and he said he'd better give 'em the benediction,
and they could hear the sermon next Sunday, so he kept it over. My
mother was there, and she thought certain 'twas me."
"None of our family was ever subject to fits," interrupted
Mrs. Todd severely. "No, we never had fits, none of us; and 'twas
lucky we didn't 'way out there to Green Island. Now these folks
right in front; dear sakes knows the bunches o' soothing catnip an'
yarrow I've had to favor old Mis' Evins with dryin'! You can see
it right in their expressions, all them Evins folks. There, just
you look up to the crossroads, mother," she suddenly exclaimed.
"See all the teams ahead of us. And, oh, look down on the
bay; yes, look down on the bay! See what a sight o' boats, all
headin' for the Bowden place cove!"
"Oh, ain't it beautiful!" said Mrs. Blackett, with all the
delight of a girl. She stood up in the high wagon to see
everything, and when she sat down again she took fast hold of my
"Hadn't you better urge the horse a little, Almiry?" she
asked. "He's had it easy as we came along, and he can rest when we
get there. The others are some little ways ahead, and I don't want
to lose a minute."
We watched the boats drop their sails one by one in the cove
as we drove along the high land. The old Bowden house stood, low-
storied and broad-roofed, in its green fields as if it were a
motherly brown hen waiting for the flock that came straying toward
it from every direction. The first Bowden settler had made his
home there, and it was still the Bowden farm; five generations of
sailors and farmers and soldiers had been its children. And
presently Mrs. Blackett showed me the stone-walled burying-ground
that stood like a little fort on a knoll overlooking the bay, but,
as she said, there were plenty of scattered Bowdens who were not
laid there,--some lost at sea, and some out West, and some who died
in the war; most of the home graves were those of women.
We could see now that there were different footpaths from
along shore and across country. In all these there were straggling
processions walking in single file, like old illustrations of the
Pilgrim's Progress. There was a crowd about the house as if huge
bees were swarming in the lilac bushes. Beyond the fields and cove
a higher point of land ran out into the bay, covered with woods
which must have kept away much of the northwest wind in winter.
Now there was a pleasant look of shade and shelter there for the
great family meeting.
We hurried on our way, beginning to feel as if we were very
late, and it was a great satisfaction at last to turn out of the
stony highroad into a green lane shaded with old apple-trees. Mrs.
Todd encouraged the horse until he fairly pranced with gayety as we
drove round to the front of the house on the soft turf. There was
an instant cry of rejoicing, and two or three persons ran toward us
from the busy group.
"Why, dear Mis' Blackett!--here's Mis' Blackett!" I heard them
say, as if it were pleasure enough for one day to have a sight of
her. Mrs. Todd turned to me with a lovely look of triumph and
self-forgetfulness. An elderly man who wore the look of a
prosperous sea-captain put up both arms and lifted Mrs. Blackett
down from the high wagon like a child, and kissed her with hearty
affection. "I was master afraid she wouldn't be here," he said,
looking at Mrs. Todd with a face like a happy sunburnt schoolboy,
while everybody crowded round to give their welcome.
"Mother's always the queen," said Mrs. Todd. "Yes, they'll
all make everything of mother; she'll have a lovely time to-day.
I wouldn't have had her miss it, and there won't be a thing she'll
ever regret, except to mourn because William wa'n't here."
Mrs. Blackett having been properly escorted to the house, Mrs.
Todd received her own full share of honor, and some of the men,
with a simple kindness that was the soul of chivalry, waited upon
us and our baskets and led away the white horse. I already knew
some of Mrs. Todd's friends and kindred, and felt like an adopted
Bowden in this happy moment. It seemed to be enough for anyone to
have arrived by the same conveyance as Mrs. Blackett, who presently
had her court inside the house, while Mrs. Todd, large, hospitable,
and preeminent, was the centre of a rapidly increasing crowd about
the lilac bushes. Small companies were continually coming up the
long green slope from the water, and nearly all the boats had come
to shore. I counted three or four that were baffled by the light
breeze, but before long all the Bowdens, small and great, seemed to
have assembled, and we started to go up to the grove across the
Out of the chattering crowd of noisy children, and large-
waisted women whose best black dresses fell straight to the ground
in generous folds, and sunburnt men who looked as serious as if it
were town-meeting day, there suddenly came silence and order. I
saw the straight, soldierly little figure of a man who bore a fine
resemblance to Mrs. Blackett, and who appeared to marshal us with
perfect ease. He was imperative enough, but with a grand military
sort of courtesy, and bore himself with solemn dignity of
importance. We were sorted out according to some clear design of
his own, and stood as speechless as a troop to await his orders.
Even the children were ready to march together, a pretty flock, and
at the last moment Mrs. Blackett and a few distinguished
companions, the ministers and those who were very old, came out of
the house together and took their places. We ranked by fours, and
even then we made a long procession.
There was a wide path mowed for us across the field, and, as
we moved along, the birds flew up out of the thick second crop of
clover, and the bees hummed as if it still were June. There was a
flashing of white gulls over the water where the fleet of boats
rode the low waves together in the cove, swaying their small masts
as if they kept time to our steps. The plash of the water could be
heard faintly, yet still be heard; we might have been a company of
ancient Greeks going to celebrate a victory, or to worship the god
of harvests, in the grove above. It was strangely moving to see
this and to make part of it. The sky, the sea, have watched
poor humanity at its rites so long; we were no more a New England
family celebrating its own existence and simple progress; we
carried the tokens and inheritance of all such households from
which this had descended, and were only the latest of our line. We
possessed the instincts of a far, forgotten childhood; I found
myself thinking that we ought to be carrying green branches and
singing as we went. So we came to the thick shaded grove still
silent, and were set in our places by the straight trees that
swayed together and let sunshine through here and there like a
single golden leaf that flickered down, vanishing in the cool
The grove was so large that the great family looked far
smaller than it had in the open field; there was a thick growth of
dark pines and firs with an occasional maple or oak that gave a
gleam of color like a bright window in the great roof. On three
sides we could see the water, shining behind the tree-trunks, and
feel the cool salt breeze that began to come up with the tide just
as the day reached its highest point of heat. We could see the
green sunlit field we had just crossed as if we looked out at it
from a dark room, and the old house and its lilacs standing
placidly in the sun, and the great barn with a stockade of
carriages from which two or three care-taking men who had lingered
were coming across the field together. Mrs. Todd had taken off her
warm gloves and looked the picture of content.
"There!" she exclaimed. "I've always meant to have you see
this place, but I never looked for such a beautiful opportunity--
weather an' occasion both made to match. Yes, it suits me: I don't
ask no more. I want to know if you saw mother walkin' at the head!
It choked me right up to see mother at the head, walkin' with the
ministers," and Mrs. Todd turned away to hide the feelings she
could not instantly control.
"Who was the marshal?" I hastened to ask. "Was he an old
"Don't he do well?" answered Mrs. Todd with satisfaction.
"He don't often have such a chance to show off his gifts,"
said Mrs. Caplin, a friend from the Landing who had joined us.
"That's Sant Bowden; he always takes the lead, such days. Good for
nothing else most o' his time; trouble is, he"--
I turned with interest to hear the worst. Mrs. Caplin's tone
was both zealous and impressive.
"Stim'lates," she explained scornfully.
"No, Santin never was in the war," said Mrs. Todd with lofty
indifference. "It was a cause of real distress to him. He kep'
enlistin', and traveled far an' wide about here, an' even took the
bo't and went to Boston to volunteer; but he ain't a sound man, an'
they wouldn't have him. They say he knows all their
tactics, an' can tell all about the battle o' Waterloo well's he
can Bunker Hill. I told him once the country'd lost a great
general, an' I meant it, too."
"I expect you're near right," said Mrs. Caplin, a little
crestfallen and apologetic.
"I be right," insisted Mrs. Todd with much amiability. "'Twas
most too bad to cramp him down to his peaceful trade, but he's a
most excellent shoemaker at his best, an' he always says it's a
trade that gives him time to think an' plan his maneuvers. Over to
the Port they always invite him to march Decoration Day, same as
the rest, an' he does look noble; he comes of soldier stock."
I had been noticing with great interest the curiously French
type of face which prevailed in this rustic company. I had said to
myself before that Mrs. Blackett was plainly of French descent, in
both her appearance and her charming gifts, but this is not
surprising when one has learned how large a proportion of the early
settlers on this northern coast of New England were of Huguenot
blood, and that it is the Norman Englishman, not the Saxon, who
goes adventuring to a new world.
"They used to say in old times," said Mrs. Todd modestly,
"that our family came of very high folks in France, and one of 'em
was a great general in some o' the old wars. I sometimes think
that Santin's ability has come 'way down from then. 'Tain't
nothin' he's ever acquired; 'twas born in him. I don't know's he
ever saw a fine parade, or met with those that studied up such
things. He's figured it all out an' got his papers so he knows how
to aim a cannon right for William's fish-house five miles out on
Green Island, or up there on Burnt Island where the signal is. He
had it all over to me one day, an' I tried hard to appear
interested. His life's all in it, but he will have those poor
gloomy spells come over him now an' then, an' then he has to
Mrs. Caplin gave a heavy sigh.
"There's a great many such strayaway folks, just as there is
plants," continued Mrs. Todd, who was nothing if not botanical. "I
know of just one sprig of laurel that grows over back here in a
wild spot, an' I never could hear of no other on this coast. I had
a large bunch brought me once from Massachusetts way, so I know it.
This piece grows in an open spot where you'd think 'twould do well,
but it's sort o' poor-lookin'. I've visited it time an' again,
just to notice its poor blooms. 'Tis a real Sant Bowden, out of
its own place."
Mrs. Caplin looked bewildered and blank. "Well, all I know
is, last year he worked out some kind of plan so's to parade the
county conference in platoons, and got 'em all flustered up tryin'
to sense his ideas of a holler square," she burst forth.
"They was holler enough anyway after ridin' 'way down from up
country into the salt air, and they'd been treated to a sermon on
faith an' works from old Fayther Harlow that never knows when to
cease. 'Twa'n't no time for tactics then,--they wa'n't a'thinkin'
of the church military. Sant, he couldn't do nothin' with 'em.
All he thinks of, when he sees a crowd, is how to march 'em. 'Tis
all very well when he don't 'tempt too much. He never did act like
"Ain't I just been maintainin' that he ain't like 'em?" urged
Mrs. Todd decidedly. "Strange folks has got to have strange ways,
for what I see."
"Somebody observed once that you could pick out the likeness
of 'most every sort of a foreigner when you looked about you in our
parish," said Sister Caplin, her face brightening with sudden
illumination. "I didn't see the bearin' of it then quite so plain.
I always did think Mari' Harris resembled a Chinee."
"Mari' Harris was pretty as a child, I remember," said the
pleasant voice of Mrs. Blackett, who, after receiving the
affectionate greetings of nearly the whole company, came to join
us,--to see, as she insisted, that we were out of mischief.
"Yes, Mari' was one o' them pretty little lambs that make
dreadful homely old sheep," replied Mrs. Todd with energy. "Cap'n
Littlepage never'd look so disconsolate if she was any sort of a
proper person to direct things. She might divert him; yes, she
might divert the old gentleman, an' let him think he had his own
way, 'stead o' arguing everything down to the bare bone.
'Twouldn't hurt her to sit down an' hear his great stories once in
"The stories are very interesting," I ventured to say.
"Yes, you always catch yourself a-thinkin' what if they all
was true, and he had the right of it," answered Mrs. Todd. "He's
a good sight better company, though dreamy, than such sordid
creatur's as Mari' Harris."
"Live and let live," said dear old Mrs. Blackett gently. "I
haven't seen the captain for a good while, now that I ain't so
constant to meetin'," she added wistfully. "We always have known
"Why, if it is a good pleasant day tomorrow, I'll get William
to call an' invite the capt'in to dinner. William'll be in early
so's to pass up the street without meetin' anybody."
"There, they're callin' out it's time to set the tables," said
Mrs. Caplin, with great excitement.
"Here's Cousin Sarah Jane Blackett! Well, I am pleased,
certain!" exclaimed Mrs. Todd, with unaffected delight; and these
kindred spirits met and parted with the promise of a good talk
later on. After this there was no more time for
conversation until we were seated in order at the long tables.
"I'm one that always dreads seeing some o' the folks that I
don't like, at such a time as this," announced Mrs. Todd privately
to me after a season of reflection. We were just waiting for the
feast to begin. "You wouldn't think such a great creatur' 's I be
could feel all over pins an' needles. I remember, the day I
promised to Nathan, how it come over me, just's I was feelin'
happy's I could, that I'd got to have an own cousin o' his for my
near relation all the rest o' my life, an' it seemed as if die I
should. Poor Nathan saw somethin' had crossed me,--he had very
nice feelings,--and when he asked what 'twas, I told him. 'I never
could like her myself,' said he. 'You sha'n't be bothered, dear,'
he says; an' 'twas one o' the things that made me set a good deal
by Nathan, he did not make a habit of always opposin', like some
men. 'Yes,' says I, 'but think o' Thanksgivin' times an' funerals;
she's our relation, an' we've got to own her.' Young folks don't
think o' those things. There she goes now, do let's pray her by!"
said Mrs. Todd, with an alarming transition from general opinions
to particular animosities. "I hate her just the same as I always
did; but she's got on a real pretty dress. I do try to remember
that she's Nathan's cousin. Oh dear, well; she's gone by after
all, an' ain't seen me. I expected she'd come pleasantin' round
just to show off an' say afterwards she was acquainted."
This was so different from Mrs. Todd's usual largeness of mind
that I had a moment's uneasiness; but the cloud passed quickly over
her spirit, and was gone with the offender.
There never was a more generous out-of-door feast along the
coast then the Bowden family set forth that day. To call it a
picnic would make it seem trivial. The great tables were edged
with pretty oak-leaf trimming, which the boys and girls made. We
brought flowers from the fence-thickets of the great field; and out
of the disorder of flowers and provisions suddenly appeared as
orderly a scheme for the feast as the marshal had shaped for the
procession. I began to respect the Bowdens for their inheritance
of good taste and skill and a certain pleasing gift of formality.
Something made them do all these things in a finer way than most
country people would have done them. As I looked up and down the
tables there was a good cheer, a grave soberness that shone with
pleasure, a humble dignity of bearing. There were some who should
have sat below the salt for lack of this good breeding; but they
were not many. So, I said to myself, their ancestors may have sat
in the great hall of some old French house in the Middle Ages, when
battles and sieges and processions and feasts were familiar things.
The ministers and Mrs. Blackett, with a few of their rank
and age, were put in places of honor, and for once that I looked
any other way I looked twice at Mrs. Blackett's face, serene and
mindful of privilege and responsibility, the mistress by simple
fitness of this great day.
Mrs. Todd looked up at the roof of green trees, and then
carefully surveyed the company. "I see 'em better now they're all
settin' down," she said with satisfaction. "There's old Mr.
Gilbraith and his sister. I wish they were sittin' with us;
they're not among folks they can parley with, an' they look
As the feast went on, the spirits of my companion steadily
rose. The excitement of an unexpectedly great occasion was a
subtle stimulant to her disposition, and I could see that sometimes
when Mrs. Todd had seemed limited and heavily domestic, she had
simply grown sluggish for lack of proper surroundings. She was not
so much reminiscent now as expectant, and as alert and gay as a
girl. We who were her neighbors were full of gayety, which was but
the reflected light from her beaming countenance. It was not the
first time that I was full of wonder at the waste of human ability
in this world, as a botanist wonders at the wastefulness of nature,
the thousand seeds that die, the unused provision of every sort.
The reserve force of society grows more and more amazing to one's
thought. More than one face among the Bowdens showed that only
opportunity and stimulus were lacking,--a narrow set of
circumstances had caged a fine able character and held it captive.
One sees exactly the same types in a country gathering as in the
most brilliant city company. You are safe to be understood if the
spirit of your speech is the same for one neighbor as for the
The Feast's End
THE FEAST was a noble feast, as has already been said. There was
an elegant ingenuity displayed in the form of pies which delighted
my heart. Once acknowledge that an American pie is far to be
preferred to its humble ancestor, the English tart, and it is
joyful to be reassured at a Bowden reunion that invention has not
yet failed. Beside a delightful variety of material, the
decorations went beyond all my former experience; dates and
names were wrought in lines of pastry and frosting on the tops.
There was even more elaborate reading matter on an excellent early-
apple pie which we began to share and eat, precept upon precept.
Mrs. Todd helped me generously to the whole word BOWDEN, and
consumed REUNION herself, save an undecipherable fragment;
but the most renowned essay in cookery on the tables was a model of
the old Bowden house made of durable gingerbread, with all the
windows and doors in the right places, and sprigs of genuine lilac
set at the front. It must have been baked in sections, in one of
the last of the great brick ovens, and fastened together on the
morning of the day. There was a general sigh when this fell into
ruin at the feast's end, and it was shared by a great part of the
assembly, not without seriousness, and as if it were a pledge and
token of loyalty. I met the maker of the gingerbread house, which
had called up lively remembrances of a childish story. She had the
gleaming eye of an enthusiast and a look of high ideals.
"I could just as well have made it all of frosted cake," she
said, "but 'twouldn't have been the right shade; the old house, as
you observe, was never painted, and I concluded that plain
gingerbread would represent it best. It wasn't all I expected it
would be," she said sadly, as many an artist had said before her of
There were speeches by the ministers; and there proved to be
a historian among the Bowdens, who gave some fine anecdotes of the
family history; and then appeared a poetess, whom Mrs. Todd
regarded with wistful compassion and indulgence, and when the long
faded garland of verses came to an appealing end, she turned to me
with words of praise.
"Sounded pretty," said the generous listener. "Yes, I thought
she did very well. We went to school together, an' Mary Anna had
a very hard time; trouble was, her mother thought she'd given birth
to a genius, an' Mary Anna's come to believe it herself. There, I
don't know what we should have done without her; there ain't nobody
else that can write poetry between here and 'way up towards
Rockland; it adds a great deal at such a time. When she speaks o'
those that are gone, she feels it all, and so does everybody else,
but she harps too much. I'd laid half of that away for next time,
if I was Mary Anna. There comes mother to speak to her, an' old
Mr. Gilbreath's sister; now she'll be heartened right up.
Mother'll say just the right thing."
The leave-takings were as affecting as the meetings of these
old friends had been. There were enough young persons at the
reunion, but it is the old who really value such opportunities; as
for the young, it is the habit of every day to meet their
comrades,--the time of separation has not come. To see the
joy with which these elder kinsfolk and acquaintances had looked in
one another's faces, and the lingering touch of their friendly
hands; to see these affectionate meetings and then the reluctant
partings, gave one a new idea of the isolation in which it was
possible to live in that after all thinly settled region. They did
not expect to see one another again very soon; the steady, hard
work on the farms, the difficulty of getting from place to place,
especially in winter when boats were laid up, gave double value to
any occasion which could bring a large number of families together.
Even funerals in this country of the pointed firs were not without
their social advantages and satisfactions. I heard the words "next
summer" repeated many times, though summer was still ours and all
the leaves were green.
The boats began to put out from shore, and the wagons to drive
away. Mrs. Blackett took me into the old house when we came back
from the grove: it was her father's birthplace and early home, and
she had spent much of her own childhood there with her grandmother.
She spoke of those days as if they had but lately passed; in fact,
I could imagine that the house looked almost exactly the same to
her. I could see the brown rafters of the unfinished roof as I
looked up the steep staircase, though the best room was as handsome
with its good wainscoting and touch of ornament on the cornice as
any old room of its day in a town.
Some of the guests who came from a distance were still sitting
in the best room when we went in to take leave of the master and
mistress of the house. We all said eagerly what a pleasant day it
had been, and how swiftly the time had passed. Perhaps it is the
great national anniversaries which our country has lately kept, and
the soldiers' meetings that take place everywhere, which have made
reunions of every sort the fashion. This one, at least, had been
very interesting. I fancied that old feuds had been overlooked,
and the old saying that blood is thicker than water had again
proved itself true, though from the variety of names one argued a
certain adulteration of the Bowden traits and belongings.
Clannishness is an instinct of the heart,--it is more than a
birthright, or a custom; and lesser rights were forgotten in the
claim to a common inheritance.
We were among the very last to return to our proper lives and
lodgings. I came near to feeling like a true Bowden, and parted
from certain new friends as if they were old friends; we were rich
with the treasure of a new remembrance.
At last we were in the high wagon again; the old white horse
had been well fed in the Bowden barn, and we drove away and soon
began to climb the long hill toward the wooded ridge. The road was
new to me, as roads always are, going back. Most of our companions
had been full of anxious thoughts of home,--of the cows, or
of young children likely to fall into disaster,--but we had no
reasons for haste, and drove slowly along, talking and resting by
the way. Mrs. Todd said once that she really hoped her front door
had been shut on account of the dust blowing in, but added that
nothing made any weight on her mind except not to forget to turn a
few late mullein leaves that were drying on a newspaper in the
little loft. Mrs. Blackett and I gave our word of honor that we
would remind her of this heavy responsibility. The way seemed
short, we had so much to talk about. We climbed hills where we
could see the great bay and the islands, and then went down into
shady valleys where the air began to feel like evening, cool and
camp with a fragrance of wet ferns. Mrs. Todd alighted once or
twice, refusing all assistance in securing some boughs of a rare
shrub which she valued for its bark, though she proved
incommunicative as to her reasons. We passed the house where we
had been so kindly entertained with doughnuts earlier in the day,
and found it closed and deserted, which was a disappointment.
"They must have stopped to tea somewheres and thought they'd
finish up the day," said Mrs. Todd. "Those that enjoyed it best'll
want to get right home so's to think it over."
"I didn't see the woman there after all, did you?" asked Mrs.
Blackett as the horse stopped to drink at the trough.
"Oh yes, I spoke with her," answered Mrs. Todd, with but scant
interest or approval. "She ain't a member o' our family."
"I thought you said she resembled Cousin Pa'lina Bowden about
the forehead," suggested Mrs. Blackett.
"Well, she don't," answered Mrs. Todd impatiently. "I ain't
one that's ord'narily mistaken about family likenesses, and she
didn't seem to meet with friends, so I went square up to her. 'I
expect you're a Bowden by your looks,' says I. 'Yes, I can take it
you're one o' the Bowdens.' 'Lor', no,' says she. 'Dennett was my
maiden name, but I married a Bowden for my first husband. I
thought I'd come an' just see what was a-goin' on!"
Mrs. Blackett laughed heartily. "I'm goin' to remember to
tell William o' that," she said. "There, Almiry, the only thing
that's troubled me all this day is to think how William would have
enjoyed it. I do so wish William had been there."
"I sort of wish he had, myself," said Mrs. Todd frankly.
"There wa'n't many old folks there, somehow," said Mrs.
Blackett, with a touch of sadness in her voice. "There ain't so
many to come as there used to be, I'm aware, but I expected to see
"I thought they turned out pretty well, when you come to think
of it; why, everybody was sayin' so an' feelin' gratified,"
answered Mrs. Todd hastily with pleasing unconsciousness; then I
saw the quick color flash into her cheek, and presently she made
some excuse to turn and steal an anxious look at her mother. Mrs.
Blackett was smiling and thinking about her happy day, though she
began to look a little tired. Neither of my companions was
troubled by her burden of years. I hoped in my heart that I might
be like them as I lived on into age, and then smiled to think that
I too was no longer very young. So we always keep the same hearts,
though our outer framework fails and shows the touch of time.
"'Twas pretty when they sang the hymn, wasn't it?" asked Mrs.
Blackett at suppertime, with real enthusiasm. "There was such a
plenty o' men's voices; where I sat it did sound beautiful. I had
to stop and listen when they came to the last verse."
I saw that Mrs. Todd's broad shoulders began to shake. "There
was good singers there; yes, there was excellent singers," she
agreed heartily, putting down her teacup, "but I chanced to drift
alongside Mis' Peter Bowden o' Great Bay, an' I couldn't help
thinkin' if she was as far out o' town as she was out o' tune, she
wouldn't get back in a day."
ONE DAY as I went along the shore beyond the old wharves and the
newer, high-stepped fabric of the steamer landing, I saw that all
the boats were beached, and the slack water period of the early
afternoon prevailed. Nothing was going on, not even the most
leisurely of occupations, like baiting trawls or mending nets, or
repairing lobster pots; the very boats seemed to be taking an
afternoon nap in the sun. I could hardly discover a distant sail
as I looked seaward, except a weather-beaten lobster smack, which
seemed to have been taken for a plaything by the light airs that
blew about the bay. It drifted and turned about so aimlessly in
the wide reach off Burnt Island, that I suspected there was nobody
at the wheel, or that she might have parted her rusty anchor chain
while all the crew were asleep.
I watched her for a minute or two; she was the old Miranda,
owned by some of the Caplins, and I knew her by an odd
shaped patch of newish duck that was set into the peak of her dingy
mainsail. Her vagaries offered such an exciting subject for
conversation that my heart rejoiced at the sound of a hoarse voice
behind me. At that moment, before I had time to answer, I saw
something large and shapeless flung from the Miranda's deck that
splashed the water high against her black side, and my companion
gave a satisfied chuckle. The old lobster smack's sail caught the
breeze again at this moment, and she moved off down the bay.
Turning, I found old Elijah Tilley, who had come softly out of his
dark fish-house, as if it were a burrow.
"Boy got kind o' drowsy steerin' of her; Monroe he hove him
right overboard; 'wake now fast enough," explained Mr. Tilley, and
we laughed together.
I was delighted, for my part, that the vicissitudes and
dangers of the Miranda, in a rocky channel, should have given me
this opportunity to make acquaintance with an old fisherman to whom
I had never spoken. At first he had seemed to be one of those
evasive and uncomfortable persons who are so suspicious of you that
they make you almost suspicious of yourself. Mr. Elijah Tilley
appeared to regard a stranger with scornful indifference. You
might see him standing on the pebble beach or in a fish-house
doorway, but when you came nearer he was gone. He was one of the
small company of elderly, gaunt-shaped great fisherman whom I used
to like to see leading up a deep-laden boat by the head, as if it
were a horse, from the water's edge to the steep slope of the
pebble beach. There were four of these large old men at the
Landing, who were the survivors of an earlier and more vigorous
generation. There was an alliance and understanding between them,
so close that it was apparently speechless. They gave much time to
watching one another's boats go out or come in; they lent a ready
hand at tending one another's lobster traps in rough weather; they
helped to clean the fish or to sliver porgies for the trawls, as if
they were in close partnership; and when a boat came in from deep-
sea fishing they were never too far out of the way, and hastened to
help carry it ashore, two by two, splashing alongside, or holding
its steady head, as if it were a willful sea colt. As a matter of
fact no boat could help being steady and way-wise under their
instant direction and companionship. Abel's boat and Jonathan
Bowden's boat were as distinct and experienced personalities as the
men themselves, and as inexpressive. Arguments and opinions were
unknown to the conversation of these ancient friends; you would as
soon have expected to hear small talk in a company of elephants as
to hear old Mr. Bowden or Elijah Tilley and their two mates waste
breath upon any form of trivial gossip. They made brief
statements to one another from time to time. As you came to know
them you wondered more and more that they should talk at all.
Speech seemed to be a light and elegant accomplishment, and their
unexpected acquaintance with its arts made them of new value to the
listener. You felt almost as if a landmark pine should suddenly
address you in regard to the weather, or a lofty-minded old camel
make a remark as you stood respectfully near him under the circus
I often wondered a great deal about the inner life and thought
of these self-contained old fishermen; their minds seemed to be
fixed upon nature and the elements rather than upon any
contrivances of man, like politics or theology. My friend, Captain
Bowden, who was the nephew of the eldest of this group, regarded
them with deference; but he did not belong to their secret
companionship, though he was neither young nor talkative.
"They've gone together ever since they were boys, they know
most everything about the sea amon'st them," he told me once.
"They was always just as you see 'em now since the memory of man."
These ancient seafarers had houses and lands not outwardly
different from other Dunnet Landing dwellings, and two of them were
fathers of families, but their true dwelling places were the sea,
and the stony beach that edged its familiar shore, and the fish-
houses, where much salt brine from the mackerel kits had soaked the
very timbers into a state of brown permanence and petrifaction. It
had also affected the old fishermen's hard complexions, until one
fancied that when Death claimed them it could only be with the aid,
not of any slender modern dart, but the good serviceable harpoon of
a seventeenth century woodcut.
Elijah Tilley was such an evasive, discouraged-looking person,
heavy-headed, and stooping so that one could never look him in the
face, that even after his friendly exclamation about Monroe
Pennell, the lobster smack's skipper, and the sleepy boy, I did not
venture at once to speak again. Mr. Tilley was carrying a small
haddock in one hand, and presently shifted it to the other hand
lest it might touch my skirt. I knew that my company was accepted,
and we walked together a little way.
"You mean to have a good supper," I ventured to say, by way of
"Goin' to have this 'ere haddock an' some o' my good baked
potatoes; must eat to live," responded my companion with great
pleasantness and open approval. I found that I had suddenly left
the forbidding coast and come into the smooth little harbor of
"You ain't never been up to my place," said the old man.
"Folks don't come now as they used to; no, 'tain't no use to
ask folks now. My poor dear she was a great hand to draw young
I remembered that Mrs. Todd had once said that this old
fisherman had been sore stricken and unconsoled at the death of his
"I should like very much to come," said I. "Perhaps you are
going to be at home later on?"
Mr. Tilley agreed, by a sober nod, and went his way bent-
shouldered and with a rolling gait. There was a new patch high on
the shoulder of his old waistcoat, which corresponded to the
renewing of the Miranda's mainsail down the bay, and I wondered if
his own fingers, clumsy with much deep-sea fishing, had set it in.
"Was there a good catch to-day?" I asked, stopping a moment.
"I didn't happen to be on the shore when the boats came in."
"No; all come in pretty light," answered Mr. Tilley. "Addicks
an' Bowden they done the best; Abel an' me we had but a slim fare.
We went out 'arly, but not so 'arly as sometimes; looked like a
poor mornin'. I got nine haddick, all small, and seven fish; the
rest on 'em got more fish than haddick. Well, I don't expect they
feel like bitin' every day; we l'arn to humor 'em a little, an' let
'em have their way 'bout it. These plaguey dog-fish kind of worry
'em." Mr. Tilley pronounced the last sentence with much sympathy,
as if he looked upon himself as a true friend of all the haddock
and codfish that lived on the fishing grounds, and so we parted.
Later in the afternoon I went along the beach again until I
came to the foot of Mr. Tilley's land, and found his rough track
across the cobblestones and rocks to the field edge, where there
was a heavy piece of old wreck timber, like a ship's bone, full of
tree-nails. From this a little footpath, narrow with one man's
treading, led up across the small green field that made Mr.
Tilley's whole estate, except a straggling pasture that tilted on
edge up the steep hillside beyond the house and road. I could hear
the tinkle-tankle of a cow-bell somewhere among the spruces by
which the pasture was being walked over and forested from every
side; it was likely to be called the wood lot before long, but the
field was unmolested. I could not see a bush or a brier anywhere
within its walls, and hardly a stray pebble showed itself. This
was most surprising in that country of firm ledges, and scattered
stones which all the walls that industry could devise had hardly
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