Main Contents & Search

Sarah Orne Jewett

      DURING the summer which Kate Lancaster and I spent at Deephaven, we made many desirable friends and acquaintances, besides those of whom I spoke in The Shore House. It was curious to notice, in this quaint little fishing village by the sea, how clearly the gradations of society were defined. The place prided itself most upon having been long ago the residence of one Governor Chantrey, who was a rich ship-owner and East India merchant, and whose fame and magnificence were almost fabulous. It was a never-ceasing regret that his house should have burned down after he died, and there is no doubt that if it were still standing it would rival any ruin of the Old World.

      The elderly people, though laying claim to no slight degree of present consequence, modestly ignored it, and spoke with pride of the grand way in which life was carried on by their ancestors, the Deephaven families of old times. I think Kate and I were assured at least a hundred times that Governor Chantrey kept a valet, and his wife, Lady Chantrey, kept a maid, and that the governor had an uncle in England who was a baronet; and I believe this must have been why our friends felt so deep an interest in the affairs of the English nobility: they no doubt felt themselves entitled to seats near the throne itself. There were formerly five families who kept their coaches, in Deephaven; there were balls at the governor's, and regal entertainments at other of the grand mansions; there is not a really distinguished person in the country who will not prove to have been directly or indirectly connected with Deephaven. We were shown the cellar of the Chantrey house, and the terraces, and a few clumps of lilacs, and the grand rows of elms. There are still two of the governor's warehouses left, but his ruined wharves are fast disappearing, and are almost deserted, except by small, barefooted boys, who sit on the edges to fish for sea-perch when the tide comes in. There is an imposing monument in the burying-ground to the great man and his amiable consort. I am sure that if there were any surviving relatives of the governor, they would receive in Deephaven far more deference than is consistent with the principles of a republican government; but the family became extinct long since, and I have heard, though it is not a subject that one may speak of lightly, that the sons were unworthy their noble descent and came to inglorious ends.

      There were still remaining a few representatives of the old families, who were treated with much reverence by the rest of the towns-people, although they were like the conies of Scripture, a feeble folk.

      Deephaven is utterly out of fashion. It never recovered from the effects of the embargo of 1807, and a sand-bar has been steadily filling in the mouth of the harbor. Though the fishing gives what occupation there is for the inhabitants of the place, it is by no means sufficient to draw recruits from abroad. But nobody in Deephaven cares for excitement, and if some one once in a while has the low taste to prefer a more active life, he is obliged to go elsewhere in search of it, and is spoken of afterward with kind pity. I well remember the Widow Moses said to me, in speaking of a certain misguided nephew of hers, "I never could see what could 'a' sot him out to leave so many privileges and go way off to Lynn, with all them children too. Why, they lived here no more than a cable's length from the meetin' house!"

      There were two schooners owned in town, and 'Bijah Manley and Jo Sands owned a trawl. There were two schooners and a small brig slowly going to pieces by the wharves, and indeed all Deephaven looked more or less out of repair. All along shore one might see dories and wherries and whale-boats, which had been left to die a lingering death. There is something piteous to me in the sight of an old boat. If one I had used much and cared for were past its usefulness, I should say good-by to it, and have it towed out to sea and sunk; it never should be left to fall to pieces above high-water mark.

      Even the commonest fishermen felt a satisfaction, and seemed to realize their privilege, in being residents of Deephaven; but among the nobility and gentry there lingered a fierce pride in their family and town records, and a hardly concealed contempt and pity for people who were obliged to live in other parts of the world. There were acknowledged to be a few disadvantages, -- such as living nearly a dozen miles from the railway, -- but, as Miss Honora Carew said, the tone of Deephaven society had always been very high, and it was very nice that there had never been any manufacturing elements introduced. She could not feel too grateful herself that there was no disagreeable foreign population.

      "But," said Kate one day, "wouldn't you like to have some pleasant new people brought into town?"

      "Certainly, my dear," said Miss Honora, rather doubtfully; "I have always been public-spirited; but then, we always have guests in summer, and I am growing old. I should not care to enlarge my acquaintance to any great extent." Miss Honora and Mrs. Dent had lived gay lives in their younger days, and were interested and connected with the outside world more than any of our Deephaven friends; but they were quite contented to stay in their own house, with their books and letters and knitting, and they carefully read Littell and "the new magazine," as they called The Atlantic.

      The Carews were very intimate with the minister and his sister, and there were one or two others who belonged to this set. There was Mr. Joshua Dorsey, who wore his hair in a queue, was very deaf, and carried a ponderous cane which had belonged to his venerated father, -- a much taller man than he. He was polite to Kate and me, but we never knew him much. He went to play whist with the Carews every Monday evening, and commonly went out fishing once a week. He had begun the practice of law, but he had lost his hearing, and at the same time his lady-love had inconsiderately fallen in love with somebody else; after which he retired from active business life. He had a fine library, which he invited us to examine. He had many new books, but they looked shockingly overdressed in their fresher bindings, beside the old brown volumes of essays and sermons, and lighter works in many-volume editions. A prominent link in society was Widow Tully, who had been the much respected housekeeper of old Captain Manning for forty years. When he died, he left her the use of his house and family pew, besides an annuity. The existence of Mr. Tully seemed to be a myth. During the first of his widow's residence in town, she had been much affected when obliged to speak of him, and always represented herself as having seen better days and as being highly connected. But she was apt to be ungrammatical when excited, and there was a whispered tradition that she used to keep a bake-shop in a town in Connecticut; though the mystery of her previous state of existence will probably never be solved. She wore mourning for the captain which would have befitted his widow, and patronized the towns-people conspicuously, while she herself was treated with much condescension by the Carews and Lorimers. She occupied, on the whole, much the same position that "Mrs. Betty Barker" did in Cranford. And indeed Kate and I were often reminded of that estimable town. We heard that Kate's aunt, Katherine Brandon, had never been appreciative of Mrs. Tully's merits, and that since her death the others had received Mrs. Tully into their society rather more.

      It seemed as if all the clocks in Deephaven, and all the people with them, had stopped years ago, and the people had been doing over and over what they had been busy about during the last week of their unambitious progress. Their clothes had lasted wonderfully well, and they had no need to earn money when there was so little chance to spend it; indeed there were several families who seemed to have no more visible means of support than a balloon. There were no young people whom we knew, though a number used to come to church on Sunday from the inland farms, or "the country," as we learned to say. There were children among the fishermen's families at the shore, but a few years will see Deephaven possessed by two classes instead of the time-honored three.

      We always went to church, and we enjoyed our first Sunday morning most heartily. We felt that we were considered as Miss Brandon's representatives, and we had already found that it was no slight responsibility, as she had received much honor and respect from her neighbors. We really tried, that summer, to do nothing to lessen the family reputation, and to give pleasure as well as take it, though we were singularly persistent in our pursuit of "a good time." It was very pleasant having Kate for one's companion, for she has an unusual power of winning people's confidence, and knows with surest instinct how to meet them on their own ground. It is the girl's being so genuinely sympathetic and interested which makes every one ready to talk to her and be friends with her; just as the sunshine makes it easy for flowers to grow up out of the ground, which the chilly winds have hindered. She is not polite for the sake of being polite, but polite for the sake of being kind; and there is not a particle of what Hugh Miller justly calls "the insolence of condescension" about her.

      But to go back to our first Sunday at church: it must be in vain to ask you to imagine our delight when we heard the tuning of a bass-viol in the gallery just before service. We pressed each other's hands most tenderly, looked up at the singers' seats, and then trusted ourselves to look at each other. It was more than we had hoped for. There were also a violin and sometimes a flute, and a choir of men and women singers, though the congregation were expected to join in the psalm-singing. It was all so delightfully old-fashioned; our pew was a square pew, and was by an open window looking seaward. We also had a view of the entire congregation, and as we were somewhat early, we watched the people come in, with great interest. The Deephaven aristocracy came with stately step up the aisle; this was all the chance there was for displaying their unquestioned dignity in public.

      Many of the people drove to church in wagons that were low and old and creaky, with worn buffalo-robes over the seat, and some hay tucked underneath for the sleepy, undecided old horse. Some of the younger farmers and their wives had high, shiny wagons, with tall horsewhips, -- which they sometimes brought into church, -- and they drove up to the steps with a consciousness of being conspicuous and enviable. They had a bashful look when they came in, and for a few minutes after they took their seats they evidently felt that all eyes were fixed upon them, but after a little while they were quite at their ease, and looked critically at the new arrivals.

     The old folks interested us most. "Do you notice how many more old women there are than old men?" whispered Kate to me; and we wondered if the husbands and brothers had been drowned, and if it must not be sad to look at the blue, sunshiny sea beyond the marshes, if the far-away white sails reminded them of some ships that had never sailed home into Deephaven harbor, or of fishing-boats that had never come back to land.

      The girls and young women adorned themselves in what they believed to be the latest fashion, but the elderly women were usually relics of old times in manner and dress. They wore to church thin, soft silk gowns that must have been brought from over the seas years upon years before, and wide collars fastened with mourning-pins holding a lock of hair. They had big black bonnets, some of them with stiff capes, such as Kate and I had not seen before, since our childhood. They treasured large, rusty lace veils of scraggly pattern, and wore sometimes, on pleasant Sundays, white China-crape shawls with attenuated fringes; and there were two or three of these shawls in the congregation which had been dyed black, and gave an aspect of meekness and general unworthiness to the aged wearer, they clung and drooped about the figure in such a hopeless way. We used to notice often the most interesting scarfs, without which no Deephaven woman considered herself in full dress. Sometimes there were red India scarfs in spite of its being hot weather; but our favorite ones were long strips of silk, embroidered along the edges and at the ends with dismal-colored floss in odd patterns. I think there must have been a fashion once, in Deephaven, of working these scarfs, and I should not be surprised to find that it was many years before the fashion of working samplers came about. Our friends always wore black mitts on warm Sundays, and many of them carried neat little bags of various designs on their arms, containing a precisely folded pocket-handkerchief, and a frugal lunch of caraway seeds or red and white peppermints. I should like you to see, with your own eyes, Widow Ware and Miss Exper'ence Hull, two old sisters whose personal appearance we delighted in, and whom we saw feebly approaching down the street this first Sunday morning under the shadow of the two last members of an otherwise extinct race of parasols.

      There were two or three old men who sat near us. They were sailors, -- there is something unmistakable about a sailor, -- and they had a curiously ancient, uncanny look, as if they might have belonged to the crew of the Mayflower, or even have cruised about with the Northmen in the times of Harold Harfager and his comrades. They had been blown about by so many winter winds, so browned by summer suns, and wet by salt spray, that their hands and faces looked like leather with a few deep folds instead of wrinkles. They had pale blue eyes, very keen and quick; their hair looked like the fine sea-weed which clings to the kelp roots and mussel shells in little locks. These friends of ours sat solemnly at the heads of their pews and looked unflinchingly at the minister, when they were not dozing, and they sang with voices like the howl of the wind, with an occasional deep note or two.

      Have you never seen faces that seemed old-fashioned? Many of the people in Deephaven church looked as if they must be -- if not supernaturally old -- exact copies of their remote ancestors. I wonder if it is not possible that the features and expression may be almost perfectly reproduced. These faces were not modern American faces, but belonged rather to the days of the early settlement of the country, the old colonial times. We often heard quaint words and expressions which we never had known anywhere else but in old books. There was a great deal of sea-lingo in use; indeed, we learned a great deal ourselves, unconsciously, and used it afterward to the great amusement of our friends; but there were also many peculiar provincialisms, and among the people who lived on the lonely farms inland, we often noticed words we had seen in Chaucer, and studied out at school in our English literature class. Everything in Deephaven was more or less influenced by the sea; the minister spoke oftenest of Peter and his fishermen-companions, and prayed most earnestly every Sunday morning for those who go down to the sea in ships. He made frequent allusions and drew numberless illustrations of a similar kind for his sermons, and indeed I am in doubt whether, if the Bible had been written wholly in inland countries, it would have been much valued in Deephaven.

      The singing was very droll, for there was a majority of old voices, which had seen their best days long before, and the bass-viol was excessively noticeable and apt to be a little ahead of the time the singers kept, while the violin lingered after. Somewhere on the other side of the church we heard an acute voice which rose high above all the rest of the congregation, sharp as a needle, and slightly cracked, with a limitless supply of breath. It rose and fell gallantly, and clung long to the high notes of Dundee. It was like the wail of the banshee, which sounds clear to the fated hearer above all other noises. We afterward became acquainted with the owner of this voice, and were surprised to find her a meek widow, who was like a thin black beetle in her pathetic cypress veil and big black bonnet. She looked as if she had forgotten who she was, and spoke with an apologetic whine; but we heard she had a temper as high as her voice, and as much to be dreaded as the equinoctial gale.

      I should consider my sketch of Deephaven society incomplete if I did not tell you something of the ancient mariners who may be found every pleasant morning, sunning themselves like turtles, on one of the wharves. There were always three of them, and sometimes several others, but the less constant members of the club were older than the rest, and the epidemics of rheumatism in town were sadly frequent. They sat close together, because most of them were deaf, and when we heard the conversation, it seemed to concern their adventures at sea, or the freight carried out by the Sea-Duck, the Ocean Rover, or some other Deephaven ship, the particulars of the voyage and its disasters and successes being as familiar as the wanderings of the children of Israel to an old parson. There were sometimes violent altercations when "the cap'ns" differed as to the tonnage of some ship that had been a prey to the winds and waves, dry-rot, or barnacles, fifty years before. The old fellows puffed away at little black pipes with short stems, and otherwise consumed tobacco in fabulous quantities. We used to wish we could join this agreeable company, but we found that the appearance of an outsider caused a disapproving silence, and that the club was evidently not to be interfered with. Once we were impertinent enough to hide ourselves for a while, just round the corner of the warehouse, but we were afraid or ashamed to try it again, though the conversation was inconceivably edifying. Captain Isaac Bean, the oldest and wisest of all, was discoursing upon some cloth he had purchased once in Bristol, which the shopkeeper delayed sending until just as they were ready to weigh anchor.

      "I happened to take a look at that cloth," said the captain in a loud, droning voice, "and as quick as I got sight of it, I spoke onpleasant of that swindling English fellow, and the crew, they stood back. I was dreadful high-tempered in them days, mind ye; and I had the gig manned. We was out in the stream, just ready to sail, nice wind a-coming in from the no'east. I went ashore, and when I walks into his shop, ye never see a creatur' so wilted. Ye see the miser'ble sculpin thought I'd never stop to open the goods, an' it was a chance I did, mind ye! 'Lor,' says he, grinning and turning the color of a b'iled lobster, 'I s'posed ye were a-standing out to sea by this time.' 'No,' says I, 'and I've got some men out here on the quay a-landing, that cloth o' yourn, and if you don't send just what I bought and paid for, down there to go back in the gig within fifteen minutes, I'll take ye by the collar and drop ye into the dock.' I was twice the size of him, mind ye, and master strong. 'Don't ye like it?' says he, edging round. 'I'll change it for ye, then.' Ter'ble perlite he was. 'Like it?' says I, 'it looks as if it were built of dog's hair and divil's wool, kicked together by spiders; and it's coarser than Irish frieze; three threads to an armful,' says I."

      This was evidently one of the captain's favorite stories, for we heard an approving grumble from the audience.

      In the course of a long walk inland we made a new acquaintance, Captain Lant, whom we had noticed at church, and who sometimes joined the company on the wharf. We had been walking through the woods, and, coming out to his fields, we went on to the house for some water. There was no one at home but the captain, who announced cheerfully that he should be pleased to serve us, though his womenfolks had gone off to a funeral, the other side of the P'int. He brought out a pitcher full of milk, and after we had drunk some, we all sat down together in the shade. The captain brought an old flag-bottomed chair from the wood-house and sat down facing Kate and me, with an air of certainty that he was going to hear something new and make some desirable new acquaintances, and also as if he knew something it would be worth our while to hear. He looked more and more like a well-to-do old English sparrow, and chippered faster and faster.

      "Queer ye should know I'm a sailor so quick; why, I've  been a-farming it this twenty years; have to go down to the shore and take a day's fishing every hand's turn, though, to keep the old hulk clear of barnacles. There! I do wish I lived nigher the shore, where I could see the folks I know, and talk about what's been a-goin' on. You don't know anything about it, you don't; but it's tryin' to a man to be called 'old Cap'n Lant,' and so to speak be forgot when there's anything stirring, and be called gran'ther by clumsy creatur's goin' on fifty and sixty, who can't do no more work to-day than I can; an' then the women-folks keeps a-tellin' me to be keerful and not fall, and as how I'm too old to go out fishing; and when they want to be soft-spoken, they say as how they don't see as I fail, and how wonderful I keep my hearin'. I never did want to farm it, but 'she' always took it to heart when I was off on a v'y'ge, and this farm and some consider'ble means beside come to her from her brother, and they all sot to and give me no peace of mind till I sold out my share of the Ann Eliza and come ashore for good. I did keep an eighth of the Pactolus, and I was ship's husband for a long spell, but she never was heard from on her last voyage to Singapore. I was the lonesomest man, when I first come ashore, that ever you see. Well, you are master hands to walk, if you come way up from the Brandon House. I wish the women was at home. Know Miss Brandon? Why, yes; and I remember all her brothers and sisters, and her father and mother. I can see 'em now, coming into meeting, proud as Lucifer and straight as a mast, every one of 'em. Miss Catherine, she always had her butter from this very farm. Some of the folks used to go down every Saturday, and my wife, she's been in the house a hundred times, I s'pose. So you are Hathaway Brandon's granddaughter?" (to Kate); "why, he and I have been out fishing together many's the time, -- he and Chantrey, his next younger brother.  Henry, he was a disapp'intment; he went to furrin parts and turned out a Catholic priest, I s'pose ye've heard? I never was so set agin Mr. Henry as some folks was. He was the pleasantest spoken of the whole on 'em. You do look like the Brandons; you really favor 'em consider'ble. Well, I'm pleased to see ye, I'm sure."

      We asked him many questions about the old people, and found he knew all the family histories and told them with great satisfaction. We found he had his pet stories, and it must have been gratifying to have an entirely new and fresh audience. He was adroit in leading the conversation around to a point where the stories would come in appropriately, and we helped him as much as possible. In a small neighborhood all the people know each other's stories and experiences by heart, and I have no doubt the old captain had been snubbed many times on beginning a favorite anecdote. There was a story which he told us that first day, which he assured us was strictly true, and it is certainly a remarkable instance of the influence of one mind upon another at a distance. It seems to me worth preserving, at any rate; and as we heard it from the old man, with his solemn voice and serious expression and quaint gestures, it was singularly impressive.

      "When I was a youngster," said Captain Lant, "I was an orphan, and I was bound out to old Mr. Peletiah Daw's folks, over on the Ridge Road. It was in the time of the last war, and he had a nephew, Ben Dighton, a dreadful high-strung, wild fellow, who had gone off on a privateer. The old man, he set everything by Ben; he would disoblige his own boys any day to please him. This was in his latter days, and he used to have spells of wandering and being out of his head; and he used to call for Ben and talk sort of foolish about him, till they would tell him to stop. Ben never did a stroke of work for him, either, but he was a handsome fellow and had a way with him when he was good-natured. One night old Peletiah had been very bad all day and was getting quieted down, and it was after supper; we sat round in the kitchen and he lay in the bedroom opening out. There were some pitch-knots blazing and the light shone in on the bed, and all of a sudden something made me look up and look in; and there was the old man setting up straight, with his eyes shining at me like a cat's. 'Stop 'em!' says he; 'Stop 'em!' and his two sons run in then to catch hold of him, for they thought he was beginning with one of his wild spells, but he fell back on the bed and began to cry like a baby. 'Oh dear me,' says he, 'they've hung him -- hung him right up to the yard-arm! Oh, they oughtn't to have done it; cut him down quick! he didn't think; he means well, Ben does; he was hasty. Oh my God, I can't bear to see him swing round by the neck! It's poor Ben hung up to the yard-arm. Let me alone, I say!' Andrew and Moses, they were holding him with all their might, and they were both hearty men, but he most got away from them once or twice, and he screeched and howled like a mad creatur', and then he would cry again like a grieving child. He was worn out after a while and lay back quiet, and said over and over, 'Poor Ben!' and 'hung at the yard-arm;' and he told the neighbors next day, but nobody noticed him much, and he seemed to forget it as his mind come back. All that summer he was miser'ble, and towards cold weather he failed right along, though he had been a master strong man in his day, and his timbers held together well. Along late in the fall he had taken to his bed, and one day there came to the house a fellow named Sim Decker, a reckless fellow he was, too, who had gone out in the same ship with Ben. He pulled a long face when he came in, and said he had brought bad news. They had been taken prisoner and carried into port and put in jail, and Ben Dighton had got a fever there and died.

      "'You lie!' says the old man from the bedroom, speaking as loud and f'erce as ever you heard. 'They hung him to the yard-arm!'

      "'Don't mind him,' says Andrew; 'he's wandering-like, and he had a bad dream along back in the spring; I s'posed he'd forgotten it.' But the Decker fellow he turned pale, and kept talking crooked while he listened to old Peletiah a-scolding to himself. He answered the questions the women folks asked him, -- they took on a good deal, -- but pretty soon he got up and winked to me and Andrew, and we went out in the yard. He began to swear, and then says he, 'When did the old man have his dream?' Andrew couldn't remember, but I knew it was the night before he sold the gray colt, and that was the twenty-fourth of April.

      "'Well,' says Sim Decker, 'on the twenty-third day of April Ben Dighton was hung to the yard-arm, and I see 'em do it, Lord help him! I didn't mean to tell the women, and I s'posed you'd never know, for I'm all the one of the ship's company you're ever likely to see. We were taken prisoner, and Ben was mad as fire, and they were scared of him and chained him to the deck; and while he was raving there, a little parrot of a midshipman come up and grinned at him, and snapped his fingers in his face; and Ben lifted his hands with the heavy irons and sprung at him like a tiger, and the boy dropped dead as a stone; and they put the bight of a rope round Ben's neck and slung him right up to the yard-arm, and there he swung back and forth until as soon as we dared one of us clim' up and cut the rope and let him go over the ship's side; and they put us in irons for that, curse 'em. How did that old man in there know, and he bedridden here, nigh upon three thousand miles off?' says he; but I guess there wasn't any of us could tell him," said Captain Lant in conclusion. "It's something I never could account for, but it's true as truth. I've known more such cases; some folks laughs at me for believing 'em, -- 'the cap'n's yarns' they calls 'em, -- but if you'll notice, everybody's got some yarn of that kind they do believe, if they won't believe yours. And there's a good deal happens in the world that's mysterious. Now there was Widder Oliver Pinkham, over to the P'int, told me with her own lips that she" -- But just here we saw the captain's expression alter suddenly, and looked around, to see a wagon coming up the lane. We immediately said we must go home, for it was growing late, but asked permission to come again and hear the Widow Oliver Pinkham story. We stopped however to see "the women folks," and afterward became so intimate with them that we were invited to spend the afternoon and take tea, which invitation we accepted with great pride. We went out fishing, also, with the captain and "Danny," of whom I will tell you presently. I often think of Captain Lant in the winter, for he told Kate once that he "felt master old in winter to what he did in summer." He likes reading, fortunately, and we had a letter from him, not long ago, acknowledging the receipt of some books of travel by land and water which we had luckily thought to send him. He gave the latitude and longitude of Deephaven at the beginning of his letter, and signed himself "respectfully yours with esteem, Jacob Lant (condemned as unseaworthy)."

      Kate and I went to a show that summer, the memory of which will never fade. It is somewhat impertinent to call it a show, and "public entertainment" is equally inappropriate, though we certainly were entertained. It had been raining for two or three days; the Deephavenites spoke of it as "a spell of weather." Just after tea, one Thursday evening, Kate and I went down to the post-office. When we opened the great hall door the salt air was delicious, but we found the town apparently wet through and discouraged; though it had almost stopped raining just then, there was a Scotch mist, like a snowstorm with the chill taken off, and the Chantrey elms dripped hurriedly and creaked occasionally in the east wind.

      "There will not be a cap'n on the wharf for a week after this," said I to Kate; "only think of the cases of rheumatism!"

      We stopped for a few minutes at the Carews', who were as surprised to see us as if we had been mermaids out of the sea, and begged us to give ourselves something warm to drink and to change our boots, the moment we got home. Then we went on to the post-office. Kate went in, but stopped, as she came out with our letters, to read a written notice securely fastened to the grocery door by four large carpet-tacks with wide leathers round their necks.

      "Dear," said she, exultantly, "there's going to be a lecture to-night in the church, a free lecture on The Elements of True Manhood. Wouldn't you like to go?" And we went.

      We were fifteen minutes later than the time appointed, and were sorry to find that the audience was almost imperceptible. The dampness had affected the old-fashioned lamps so that those on the walls and on the front of the gallery were the dimmest lights I ever saw, and sent their feeble rays through a small space, the edges of which were clearly defined. There were two rather more energetic lights on the table near the pulpit, where the lecturer sat, and as we were in the rear of the church we could see the yellow fog between ourselves and him. There were fourteen persons in the audience, and we were all huddled together in a cowardly way in the pews nearest the door: three old men, four women, and four children, besides ourselves and the sexton, a deaf little old man with a wooden leg.

      The children whispered noisily, and soon, to our surprise, the lecturer rose and began. He bowed, and treated us with beautiful deference, and read the dreary lecture with enthusiasm. I wish I could say for his sake that it was interesting, but I cannot tell a lie, and it was so long! He went on and on, until I felt as if I had been there ever since I was a little girl. Kate and I did not dare to look at each other, and in my desperation at feeling her quiver with laughter, I moved to the other end of the pew, knocking over a big hymn-book on the way, which attracted so much attention that I have seldom felt more embarrassed in my life. Kate's great dog rose several times to shake himself and yawn loudly, and then lay down again despairingly.

      You would have thought the man was addressing an enthusiastic Young Men's Christian Association. He exhorted us with fervor upon our duties as citizens and as voters, and told us a great deal about George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, whom he urged us to choose as our examples. He waited for applause after each of his outbursts of eloquence, and presently went on again, in no wise disconcerted at the silence, and with redoubled energy, as if he were sure he would fetch us next time. The rain had begun to fall again heavily, and the wind wailed around the meetinghouse. If the lecture had been upon any other subject it would not have been so hard for Kate and me to keep sober faces, but it was directed entirely toward young men, and there was not a single young man there.

      The children in front of us mildly scuffled with each other at one time, until the one at the end of the pew dropped a marble, which struck the floor and rolled with a frightful noise down the edge of the aisle, where there was no carpet. The congregation instinctively started up to look after it, but we recollected ourselves and leaned back again in our places, while the awed children, after keeping unnaturally quiet, fell asleep and tumbled against each other helplessly. After a time the man sat down and wiped his forehead, looking well satisfied; and when we were wondering whether we might with propriety come away, he rose again, and said it was a free lecture, and he thanked us for our kind patronage on that inclement night, but in other places which he had visited there had been a contribution taken up for the cause. It would perhaps do no harm -- would the sexton -- But the sexton could not have heard a cannon at that distance, and slumbered on.

      Neither Kate nor I had any money except a twenty-dollar bill in my purse, and some coppers in the pocket of her water-proof cloak, which she assured me she was prepared to give; but we saw no signs of the sexton's waking, and as one of the women kindly went forward to wake the children, we all rose and came away.

      After we had made fun of the affair and laughed as long as we pleased that night, we became suddenly conscious of the pitiful side of it all; and being anxious that every one should have the highest opinion of Deephaven, we sent Tom Dockum out early in the morning with an anonymous note for the lecturer, whom he found without much trouble; but afterward we were disturbed at hearing that he was going to repeat his lecture that evening, -- the wind having gone round to the northwest, -- and I have no doubt there were a good many women able to be out, and that he harvested enough ten-cent pieces to pay his expenses without our help, though he had particularly told us it was "for the cause" the evening before, and that ought to have been a consolation.

      None of our cronies were more interesting than the fishermen. The fishhouses, which might be called the business centre of the town, were at a little distance from the old warehouses, and were ready to fall down in despair. There were some fishermen who lived near by, but most of them were also farmers in a small way, and lived inland. From our eastern windows we could see the moorings, and we always liked to watch the boats go out and come straying in, one after the other, tipping and skimming under the square little sails, and we sometimes went down to the fish-houses to see what kind of a catch there had been.

      I said we liked to see the boats go out, but I must not give you the impression that we saw them often, for they weighed anchor at an early hour in the morning. I remember once there was a light fog over the sea, lifting fast, as the sun was coming up, and the brownish sails soon disappeared, while voices could be heard occasionally for some minutes after the men were hidden from sight. But afterward, when the sun had risen, we found everything looked much the same as usual; the fog had gone, and the dories and even the larger boats were distant specks on the sparkling sea.

      One afternoon we made a new acquaintance in this wise. We went down to the shore to see if we could hire a conveyance to the light-house the next morning. We often went out in one of the fishing-boats, and after we stayed as long as we pleased, Mr. Kew -- do you remember him? -- would bring us home. It was quiet enough that day, for not a single boat had come in, and there were no men to be seen along shore. There was a solemn company of lobster-coops or "cages" which had been brought in to be mended. They always amused Kate. She said they seemed like droll old women telling each other secrets. These were scattered about in different attitudes, and looked more confidential than usual.

      Just as we were going away we happened to see a man at work in one of the sheds. He was the fisherman whom we knew least of all; an odd-looking, silent sort of man, more sunburnt and weather-beaten than any of the others. We had learned to know him by the bright red flannel shirt he always wore, and besides, he was lame; some one told us he had had a bad fall once, on board ship. Kate and I had always wished we could find a chance to talk with him. He looked up at us pleasantly, and when we nodded and smiled, he said "Good day" in a gruff, hearty voice, and went on with his work, cleaning mackerel.

      "Do you mind our watching you?" asked Kate.

      "No, ma'am!" said the fisherman emphatically, so there we stood.

      Those fish-houses were curious places, so different from any other kind of workshop. In this there was a seine, or part of one, festooned among the cross-beams overhead, and there were snarled fishing --lines, and barrows to carry fish in, like wheelbarrows without wheels; there were the queer round lobster-nets, and "kits" of salt mackerel, tubs of bait, and piles of clams; and some queer bones, and parts of remarkable fish, and lobster-claws of surprising size fastened on the walls for ornament. There was a pile of rubbish down at the end; I dare say it was all useful, however, -- there is such mystery about the business.

      Kate and I were never tired of hearing of the fish that come at different times of the year, and go away again, like the birds; or of the actions of the dog-fish, which the 'longshore-men hate so bitterly; and then there are such curious legends and traditions, of which almost all fishermen have a store.

      "I think mackerel are the prettiest fish that swim," said I presently, in an interested way.

      "So do I, miss," said the man, "not to say but I've seen more fancy-looking fish down in southern waters, bright as any flower you ever see; but a mackerel," holding one up admiringly, "why, they're so clean-built and trig-looking! Put a cod alongside, and he looks as lumbering as an old-fashioned Dutch brig aside a yacht.

      "Those are good-looking fish, but they an't made much account of," continued our friend, as he pushed aside the mackerel and took another tub; "they're hake, I s'pose you know. But I forgot, -- I can't stop to bother with them now;" and he pulled forward a barrow full of small fish, flat and hard, with pointed, bony heads.

      "Those are porgies, aren't they?" asked Kate.

      "Yes," said the man, "an' I'm going to sliver them for the trawls."

      We knew what the trawls were, and supposed that the porgies were to be used for bait; and we soon found out what "slivering" meant, by seeing him take them by the head and cut a slice from first one side and then the other in such a way that the pieces looked not unlike smaller fish.

      "It seems to me," said I," that fishermen always have sharper knives than other people."

      "Yes, we do like a sharp knife in our trade, and then we are mostly strong-handed."

      He was throwing the porgies' heads and back-bones -- all that was left of them after slivering -- in a heap, and now several cats walked in as if they felt at home, and began a hearty lunch. "What a troop of pussies there is round here," said I; "I wonder what will become of them in the winter, though to be sure the fishing goes on just the same."

      "The better part of them don't get through the cold weather," said Danny. "Two or three of the old ones have been here for years, and are as much belonging to Deephaven as the meetin'-house; but the rest of them aren't to be depended on. You'll miss the young ones by the dozen, come spring. I don't know myself but they move inland in the fall of the year; they're knowing enough, if that's all!"

      Kate and I stood in the wide doorway, arm in arm, looking sometimes at the queer fisherman and the porgies, and sometimes out to sea. It was low tide; the wind had risen a little, and the heavy salt air blew toward us from the wet brown ledges in the rocky harbor. The sea was bright blue, and the sun was shining. Two gulls were swinging lazily to and fro; there was a flock of sandpipers down by the water's edge, in a great hurry, as usual.

      Presently the fisherman spoke again, beginning with an odd laugh: --

      "I was scared last winter! Jim Toggerson and me, we were up in the Cap'n Manning storehouse hunting for a half-bar'1 of salt the skipper said was there. It was an awful blustering kind of day, with a thin, icy rain blowing from all points at once; sea roaring as if it wished it could come ashore and put a stop to everything. Bad days at sea, them are; rigging all froze up. As I was saying, we were hunting for a half-bar'l of salt, and I laid hold of a bar'l that had something heavy in the bottom, and tilted it up, and my eye! there was a stir and a scratch and a squeal, and out went some kind of a creatur', and I jumped back, not looking for anything live, but I see in a minute it was a cat; and perhaps you think it is a big story, but there were eight more in there, hived in together to keep warm. I car'd 'em up some new fish that night; they seemed short of provisions. We hadn't been out fishing as much as common, and they hadn't dared to be round the fish-houses much, for, a fellow who came in on a coaster had a dog, and he used to chase 'em. Hard chance they had, and lots of 'em died, I guess; but there seems to be some survivin' relatives, an' al'ays just so hungry! I used to feed them some when I was ashore. I think likely you've heard that a cat will fetch you bad luck; but I don't know 's that made much difference to me. I kind of like to keep on the right side of 'em, too; if ever I have a bad dream there's sure to be a cat in it; but I was brought up to be clever to dumb beasts, an' I guess it's my natur'. Except fish," said Danny after a minute's thought; "but then, it never seems like they had feelin's like creatur's that live ashore;" and we all laughed heartily and felt well acquainted.

      "I s'pose you misses will laugh if I tell ye I kept a kitty once myself." This was said rather shyly, and there was evidently a story, so we were much interested, and Kate said, "Please tell us about it; was it at sea?"

      "Yes, it was at sea; leastways, on a coaster. I got her in a sing'lar kind of way: it was one afternoon we were lying alongside Charlestown bridge, and I heard a young cat screeching real pitiful; and after I looked all round, I see her in the water clutching on to the pier of the bridge, and some little divils of boys were heaving rocks down at her. I got into the schooner's tag-boat, quick, I tell ye, and pushed off for her, 'n she let go just as I got there, 'n I guess you never saw a more miser'ble-looking creatur' than I fished out of the water. Cold weather it was. Her leg was hurt, and her eye, and I thought first I'd drop her overboard again, and then I didn't, and I took her aboard the schooner and put her by the stove. I thought she might as well die where it was warm. She eat a little mite of chowder before night, but she was very slim; but next morning, when I went to see if she was dead, she fell to licking my finger, and she did purr away like a dolphin. One of her eyes was out, where a stone had took her, and she never got any use of it, but she used to look at you so clever with the other, and she got well of her lame foot after a while. I got to be ter'ble fond of her. She was just the knowingest thing you ever saw, and she used to sleep alongside of me in my bunk, and like as not she would go on deck with me when it was my watch. I was coasting then for a year and eight months, and I kept her all the time. We used to be in harbor consider'ble, and about eight o'clock in the forenoon I used to drop a line and catch her a couple of cunners. Now, it is cur'us that she used to know when I was fishing for her. She would pounce on them fish and carry them off and growl, and she knew when I got a bite, -- she'd watch the line; but when we were mackereling she never give us any trouble. She would never lift a paw to touch any of our fish. She didn't have the thieving ways common to most cats. She used to set round on deck in fair weather, and when the wind blew she al'ays kept herself below. Sometimes when we were in port she would go ashore a while, and fetch back a bird or a mouse, but she wouldn't eat it till she come and showed it to me. She never wanted to stop long ashore, though I never shut her up; I always give her her liberty. I got a good deal of joking about her from the fellows, but she was a sight of company. I don' know as I ever had anything like me as much as she did. Not to say as I ever had much of any trouble with anybody, ashore or afloat. I'm a still kind of fellow for all I look so rough.

      "But then, I han't had a home, what I call a home, since I was going on nine year old."

      "How has that happened?" inquired Kate.

      "Well, mother, she died, and I was bound out to a man in the tanning trade, and I hated him, and I hated the trade; and when I was a little bigger I ran away, and I've followed the sea ever since. I wasn't much use to him, I guess; leastways, he never took the trouble to hunt me up.

      "About the best place I ever was in was a hospital. It was in foreign parts. Ye see I'm crippled some? I fell from way up the mainmast rigging, and I struck my shoulder and broke my leg and banged myself all up. It was to a nuns' hospital where they took me. All of the nuns were Catholics, and they wore big white things on their heads. I don't suppose you ever saw any. Have you? Well, now, that's queer! When I was first there I was scared of them; they were real ladies, and I wasn't used to being in a house, any way. One of them, that took care of me most of the time, why, she would even set up half the night with me, and I couldn't begin to tell you how good-natured she was, an' she'd look real sorry too. I used to be ugly, I ached so, along in the first of my being there, but I spoke of it when I was coming away, and she said it was all right. She used to feed me, that lady did; and there were some days I couldn't lift my head, and she would rise it on her arm. She give me a little mite of a book, when I come away. I'm not much of a hand at reading, but I always kept it on account of her. She was so pleased when I got so 's to set up in a chair and look out of the window. She wasn't much of a hand to talk English. I did feel bad to come away from there; I 'most wished I could be sick a while longer. I never said much of anything either, and I don't know but she thought it was queer, but I am a dreadful clumsy man to say anything, and I got flustered. I don't know 's I mind telling you; I was most a-crying. I used to think I'd lay by some money and ship for there and carry her something real pretty. But I don't rank able-bodied seaman like I used, and it's as much as I can do to get a berth on a coaster; I suppose I might go as cook. I liked to have died with my hurt at that hospital, but when I was getting well it made me think of when I was a mite of a chap to home before mother died, to be laying there in a clean bed with somebody to do for me. Guess you think I'm a master hand to spin long yarns; somehow it comes easy to talk to-day."

      "What became of your cat?" asked Kate, after a pause, during which our friend sliced away at the porgies.

      "I never rightfully knew; it was in Salem harbor, and a windy night. I was on deck consider'ble, for the schooner pitched lively, and once or twice she dragged her anchor. I never saw the kitty after she eat her supper. I remember I gave her some milk -- I used to buy her a pint once in a while for a treat; I don't know but she might have gone off on a cake of ice, but it did seem as if she had too much sense for that. Most likely she missed her footing, and fell overboard in the dark. She was marked real pretty, black and white, and kep' herself just as clean! She knew as well as could be when foul weather was coming; she would bother round and act queer; but when the sun was out she would sit round on deck as pleased as a queen. There! I feel bad sometimes when I think of her, and I never went into Salem since without kind of hoping I should see her. I don't know but if I was a-going to begin my life over again, I'd settle down ashore and have a snug little house and farm it.

      But I guess I shall do better at fishing. Give me a trig-built fore-and-aft schooner painted up nice, with a stripe on her, and clean sails, and a fresh wind with the sun a-shining, and I feel first-rate."

      "Do you believe that codfish swallow stones before a storm?" asked Kate. I had been thinking about the lonely fisherman in a sentimental way, and so irrelevant a question shocked me. "I saw he felt slightly embarrassed at having talked about his affairs so much," Kate told me afterward, "and I thought we should leave him feeling more at his ease if we talked about fish for a while." And sure enough he did seem relieved, and gave us his opinion about the codfish at once, adding that he never cared much for cod any way; folks up country bought 'em a good deal, he heard. Give him a haddock right out of the water for his dinner!

      "I never can remember," said Kate, "whether it is cod or haddock that have a black stripe along their sides" --

      "Oh, those are haddock," said I; "they say that the devil caught a haddock once, and it slipped through his fingers and got scorched; so all the haddock had the same mark afterward."

      "Well, now, how did you know that old story?" said Danny, laughing heartily; "ye mustn't believe all the old stories ye hear, mind ye!"

      "Oh, no," said we.

      "Hullo! There's Jim Toggerson's boat close in shore. She sets low in the water, so he's done well. He's been out deep-sea fishing since yesterday." Our friend pushed the porgies back into a corner, stuck his knife into a beam, and we hastened down to the shore. Kate and I sat on the pebbles, and he went out to the moorings in a dirty dory to help unload the fish.

      We afterward saw a great deal of Danny, as all the men called him. But though Kate and I tried our best and used our utmost skill and tact to make him tell us more about himself, he never did. But perhaps there was nothing more to be told.

      The day we left Deephaven we went down to the shore to say good-by to him, and to some other friends, and he said, "Goin', are ye? Well, I'm sorry; ye treated me first-rate; the Lord bless ye!" and then was so much mortified at his speech that he turned and fled round the corner of the fish-house.

      It is bewildering to try to write one's impressions of Deephaven, there is so much to be said. Beside the quaintness and unworldliness of the people, there was the delight we had in our housekeeping, in that fascinating old Shore House. I think it did Kate and me much good in more ways than one. I have the good fortune and the misfortune to belong to the navy, -- that is, my father does, -- and I have lived the consequent unsettled life. The thought of Deephaven brings up long, quiet summer days, and reading aloud on the rocks by the sea, the fresh salt air, and gorgeous sunsets; the wail of the Sunday psalm-singing; the yellow lichen that grew over the trees, the houses, and the stone wall; our importance as members of society, and how kind every one was to us both. By and by the Deephaven warehouses will fall and be used for firewood by the fisher-people, and the wharves will be worn away by the tides. The few old gentlefolks who still linger will be dead; and I wonder if some day Kate Lancaster and I shall not go down to Deephaven for the sake of old times, and read the epitaphs in the burying-ground, look out to sea, and talk quietly about the girls who were so happy there one summer long before. I should like to walk along the beach at sunset, and watch the color of the marshes and the sea change as the light of the sky goes out. It would make the old days come back vividly. We should see the roofs and chimneys of the village, and the great Chantrey elms look black against the sky. A little later the marsh fog would show faintly white, and we should feel it deliciously cold and wet against our hands and faces; when we looked up, there would be a star, the crickets would chirp loudly, perhaps some late sea-birds would fly inland. Turning, we could see the light-house lamp shine out over the water, and the great sea would move and speak to us lazily in its idle, high-tide sleep.

Sarah O. Jewett.


"Deephaven Cronies" appeared in Atlantic Monthly (36:316-329), September 1875.  Jewett reworked the story and incorporated it into Deephaven, 1877.
    [ Back ]

the conies of Scripture, a feeble folk:  See Proverbs 30:26.
    [ Back ]

Lynn: a city in northeastern Massachusetts, on Massachusetts Bay, about 18 km (11 mi) northeast of Boston, once an important shoe manufacturing center and site of the country's first ironworks (1643) (Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia).
    [ Back ]

wherries:  a small row-boat, pointed at both ends.
    [ Back ]

Littell and "the new magazine," as they called The Atlantic:  The Atlantic was founded in 1857.  Littell's Living Age was founded in 1841.
    [ Back ]

whist: any of several small-group card games.
    [ Back ]

same position that "Mrs. Betty Barker" did in Cranford:  Mrs. Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell (1810-1865) published Cranford in 1853.
    [ Back ]

what Hugh Miller justly calls "the insolence of condescension":  Probably, this refers to Hugh Miller (1802-1856) a Scottish self-taught geologist.  Assistance locating the quotation is welcome.
    [ Back ]

wide collars fastened with mourning-pins holding a lock of hair:  In the 19th-century, a mourning pin was a piece of jewelry, sometimes quite elaborate, that could be pinned to a woman's dress.  In the center would be a glass window displaying a lock of the deceased's hair.
    [ Back ]

samplers:  From the 17th to the 19th Centuries, young women made samplers to show their mastery of different types of stitches, usually using silk thread to embroider on linen squares.
    [ Back ]

Mayflower, ... the Northmen in the times of Harold Harfager: The Mayflower is best known as the ship in which the Pilgrims traveled to form their colony at Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620.  Harold Harfager / Haarfager was a ninth-century Viking who first united Norway and surrounding territory under his rule.  Jewett sketches his story in Chapter 2 of The Normans (1886).
    [ Back ]

Chaucer: Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1342-1400).
    [ Back ]

Peter and his fishermen-companions ... those who go down to the sea in ships: In Matthew 4 and Mark 1, Jesus finds Peter and Andrew fishing on the shore of the sea of Galilee and calls them to be fishers of men.  And see Psalms 107:23, for those who go down to the sea.
    [ Back ]

the high notes of Dundee:  a hymn tune from the Scottish Psalter (1615).
    [ Back ]

wail of the banshee:  a female spirit in Gaelic folklore that announces a coming death by wailing in the night.
    [ Back ]

cypress veil:  possibly a mourning veil worn over the face, with a cypress pattern on it, the cypress tree being a conventional mourning symbol.
    [ Back ]

wanderings of the children of Israel:  Moses leads the Israelites as they wander in the wilderness between Egypt and the promised land.  See Exodus.
    [ Back ]

Bristol:  A major seaport in southwestern England, at the mouth of the river Avon.
    [ Back ]

flag-bottomed chair:  chair with a seat woven of rush.
    [ Back ]

Pactolus, ... ship's husband: Pactolus was the river in which Midas purified himself to get rid of his golden curse.  (Research assistance: Gabe Heller).  Nautical references define a ship's husband as the person in charge of repairs when a ship is put into dry dock. However, in Canadian maritime law, the ship's husband is spoken of as a manager in place of the owner or owners.
    [ Back ]

Singapore:  A republic at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula.
    [ Back ]

proud as Lucifer:  Lucifer, in Christian thought, has been identified with Satan, and so appears in Milton's Paradise Lost as the proud angel who would not serve God and who led a rebellion against his creator.
    [ Back ]

the last war ... privateer: The most recent war probably was the American Civil War (1861-1865).  However, the most recent war in which privateers played a part was the War of 1812 against the British.  Privateers were privately own ships licensed by a national navy to capture and take enemy commercial ships during wartime.
    [ Back ]

Scotch mist:  Jewett's definition is good. The Oxford English Dictionary says a Scotch mist is a very wet drizzle, and that the phrase is sometimes used jokingly to refer to a soaking rain.
    [ Back ]

sexton:  person responsible for the care of a church building and property.
    [ Back ]

Young Men's Christian Association:  The YMCA was founded in London in 1844 and spread to the United States in 1851.  It's main purpose was to provide homelike Christian residences and activities for young single men working away from home.
    [ Back ]

George Washington and Benjamin Franklin:  George Washington(1732-1799), commander of the American Revolutionary Army and first president of the United States (1789-1797).  Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), like Washington is a hero of the American Revolution, but remembered for his political and diplomatic work.  He was also a scientist, inventor, and author.
    [ Back ]

Dog-fish:  small sharks that live near the shore and are thought to be destructive to fishing.
    [ Back ]

hake:  a common name for several kinds of fish, some varieties of which are not considered good food fish.
    [ Back ]

porgies:  common name for a variety of species of food fish.
    [ Back ]

Edited by Terry Heller, Coe College

Main Contents & Search