Sarah Orne Jewett
Old Captain Sands was one of the most prominent citizens of Deephaven, and a very good friend of Kate's and mine. We often met him, and grew much interested in him before we knew him well. He had a reputation in town for being peculiar and somewhat visionary; but every one seemed to like him, and at last one morning, when we happened to be on our way to the wharves, we stopped at the door of an old warehouse which we had never seen opened before. Captain Sands sat just inside, smoking his pipe, and we said good morning, and asked him if he did not think there was a fog coming in by and by. We had thought a little of going out to the lighthouse. The cap'n rose slowly, and came out so that he could see farther round to the east. "There's some scud coming a'ready," said he. "None to speak of yet, I don't know 's you can see it, - yes, you're right; there's a heavy bank of fog lyin' off, but it won't be in under two or three hours yet, unless the wind backs round more and freshens up. Weren't thinking of going out, were ye?"
"A little," said Kate, "but we had nearly given it up. We are getting to be very weather-wise, and we pride ourselves on being quick at seeing fogs." At which the cap'n smiled and said we were consider'ble young to know much about weather, but it looked well that we took some interest in it; most young people were fools about weather, and would just as soon set off to go anywhere right under the edge of a thunder-shower. "Come in and set down, won't ye?" he added; "it ain't much of a place; I've got a lot of old stuff stowed away here that the women-folks don't want up to the house. I'm a great hand for keeping things." And he looked round fondly at the contents of the wide low room. "I come down here once in a while and let in the sun, and sometimes I want to hunt up something or 'nother; kind of stow-away place, ye see." And then he laughed apologetically, rubbing his hands together, and looking out to sea again as if he wished to appear unconcerned; yet we saw that he wondered if we thought it ridiculous for a man of his age to have treasured up so much trumpery in that cobwebby place. There were some whole oars and the sail of his boat and two or three killicks and painters, not to forget a heap of worn-out oars and sails in one corner and a sailor's hammock slung across the beam overhead, and there were some sailor's chests and the capstan of a ship and innumerable boxes which all seemed to be stuffed full, besides no end of things lying on the floor and packed away on shelves and hanging to rusty big-headed nails in the wall. I saw some great lumps of coral, and large, rough shells, a great hornet's nest, and a monstrous lobster-shell. The cap'n had cobbled and tied up some remarkable old chairs for the accommodation of himself and his friends.
"What a nice place!" said Kate in a frank, delighted way which could not have failed to be gratifying.
"Well, no," said the cap'n with his slow smile, "it ain't what you'd rightly call 'nice,' as I know of: it ain't never been cleared out all at once since I began putting in. There's nothing that's worth anything, either, to anybody but me. Wife, she's said to me a hundred times, 'Why don't you overhaul them old things and burn 'em?' She's al'ays at me about letting the property, as if it were a corner-lot in Broadway. That's all women-folks know about business!" And here the captain caught himself tripping, and looked uneasy for a minute. "I suppose I might have let it for a fish-house, but it's most too far from the shore to be handy - and - well - there are some things here that I set a good deal by."
"Isn't that a sword-fish's sword in that piece of wood?" Kate asked presently; and was answered that it was found broken off as we saw it, in the hull of a wreck that went ashore on Blue P'int when the captain was a young man, and he had sawed it out and kept it ever since, - fifty-nine years. Of course we went closer to look at it, and we both felt a great sympathy for this friend of ours, because we have the same fashion of keeping worthless treasures, and we understood perfectly how dear such things may be.
"Do you mind if we look round a little?" I asked doubtfully, for I knew how I should hate having strangers look over my own treasury. But Captain Sands looked pleased at our interest, and said cheerfully that we might overhaul as much as we chose. Kate discovered first an old battered wooden figure-head of a ship, - a woman's head with long curly hair falling over the shoulders. The paint was almost gone, and the dust covered most of what was left: still there was a wonderful spirit and grace, and a wild, weird beauty which attracted us exceedingly; but the captain could only tell us that it had belonged to the wreck of a Danish brig which had been driven on the reef where the lighthouse stands now, and his father had found this on the long sands a day or two afterward. "That was a dreadful storm," said the captain. "I've heard the old folks tell about it; it was when I was only a year or two old. There were three merchantmen wrecked within five miles of Deephaven. This one was all stove to splinters, and they used to say she had treasure aboard. When I was small I used to have a great idea of going out there to the rocks at low water and trying to find some gold, but I never made out no great." And he smiled indulgently at the thought of his youthful dream.
"Kate," said I, "do you see what beauties these Turk's-head knots are?" We had been taking a course of first lessons in knots from Danny, and had followed by learning some charmingly intricate ones from Captain Lant, the stranded mariner who lived on a farm two miles or so inland. Kate came over to look at the Turk's-heads, which were at either end of the rope handles of a little dark-blue chest.
Captain Sands turned in his chair and nodded approval. "That's a neat piece of work, and it was a first-rate seaman who did it; he's dead and gone years ago, poor young fellow; and I-talian he was, who sailed on the Ranger three or four long voyages. He fell from the mast-head on the voyage home from Callao. Cap'n Manning and old Mr. Lorimer, they owned the Ranger, and when she come into port and they got the news they took it as much to heart as if he'd been some relation. He was smart as a whip, and had a way with him, and the pleasantest kind of a voice; you couldn't help liking him. They found out that he had a mother alive in Port Mahon, and they sent his pay and some money he had in the bank at Riverport out to her by a ship that was going to the Mediterranean. He had some clothes in his chest, and they sold those and sent her the money, - all but some trinkets they supposed he was keeping for her; I rec'lect he used to speak consider'ble about his mother. I shipped one v'y'ge with him before the mast, before I went out mate of the Daylight. I happened to be in port the time the Ranger got in, an' I see this chist lying round in Cap'n Manning's storehouse, and I offered to give him what it was worth; but we was good friends, and he told me take it if I wanted it, it was no use to him, and I've kept it ever since.
"There are some of his traps in it now, I believe; ye can look." And we took off some tangled cod-lines and opened the chest. There was only a round wooden box in the till, and in some idle hour at sea the young sailor had carved his initials and an anchor and the date on the cover. We found some sail-needles and a palm in this "kit," as the sailors call it, and a little string of buttons with some needles and yarn and thread in a neat little bag, which perhaps his mother had made for him when he started off on his first voyage. Besides these things there was only a fanciful little broken buckle, green and gilt, which he might have picked up in some foreign street, and his protection-paper carefully folded, wherein he was certified as being a citizen of the United States, with dark complexion and dark hair.
"He was one of the pleasantest fellows that ever I shipped with," said the captain, with a gruff tenderness in his voice. "Always willin' to do his work himself, and like 's not when the other fellows up the rigging were cold, or ugly about something or 'nother, he'd say something that would set them all laughing, and somehow it made you good-natured to see him round. He was brought up a Catholic, I s'pose; anyway, he had some beads, and sometimes they would joke him about 'em on board ship, but he would blaze up in a minute, ugly as a tiger. I never saw him mad about anything else, though he wouldn't stand it if anybody tried to crowd him. He fell from the main-to'-gallant yard to the deck, and was dead when they picked him up. They were off the Bermudas. I suppose he lost his balance, but I never could see how; he was sure-footed, and as quick as a cat. They said they saw him try to catch at the stay, but there was a heavy sea running, and the ship rolled just so 's to let him through between the rigging, and he struck the deck like a stone. I don't know 's that chest has been opened these ten years, - I declare it carries me back to look at those poor little traps of his. Well, it's the way of the world; we think we're somebody, and we have our day, but it isn't long afore we're forgotten."
The captain reached over for the paper, and taking out a clumsy pair of steel-bowed spectacles, read it through carefully. "I'll warrant he took good care of this," said he. "He was an I-talian, and no more of an American citizen than a Chinese; I wonder he hadn't called himself John Jones, that's the name most of the foreigners used to take when they got their papers. I remember once I was sick with a fever in Chelsea Hospital, and one morning they came bringing in the mate of a Portugee brig on a stretcher, and the surgeon asked what his name was. 'John Jones,' says he. 'O, say something else,' says the surgeon; 'we've got five John Joneses here a'ready, and it's getting to be no name at all.' Sailors are great hands for false names; they have a trick of using them when they have any money to leave ashore, for fear their shipmates will go and draw it out. I suppose there are thousands of dollars unclaimed in New York banks, where men have left it charged to their false names; then they get lost at sea or something, never go to get it, and nobody knows whose it is. They're curious folks, take 'em altogether, sailors is; specially these foreign fellows that wander about from ship to ship. They're getting to be a dreadful low set, too, of late years. It's the last thing I'd want a boy of mine to do, - ship before the mast with one of these mixed crews. It's a dog's life, anyway, and the risks and the chances against you are awful. It's a good while before you can lay up anything, unless you are part owner. I saw all the p'ints a good deal plainer after I quit followin' the sea myself, though I've always been more or less into navigation until this last war** come on. I know when I was ship's husband of the Polly and Susan there was a young man went out cap'n of her, - her last voyage, and she never was heard from. He had a wife and two or three little children, and for all he was so smart, they would have been about the same as beggars, if I hadn't happened to have his life insured the day I was having the papers made out for the ship. I happened to think of it. Five thousand dollars there was, and I sent it to the widow along with his primage. She hadn't expected nothing, or next to nothing, and she was pleased, I tell ye.""I think it was very kind in you to think of that, Captain Sands," said Kate. And the old man said, flushing a little, "Well, I'm not so smart as some of the men who started when I did, and some of 'em went ahead of me, but some of 'em didn't, after all. I've tried to be honest, and to do just about as nigh right as I could, and you know there's an old sayin' that a cripple in the right road will beat a racer in the wrong."**
killicks and painters: a killick is a small anchor, typically made of stone. A painter is a lead rope, fasted to the bow of a small boat.
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corner-lot in Broadway: By the mid-nineteenth century, Broadway was a main thoroughfare through New York City, hence a location of valuable real estate.
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Callao … Port Mahon … Riverport:
Callao is the main port in Peru: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Callao
Port Mahon is the capital of Minorca, a Spanish island in the Mediterranean Sea. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port_Mahon
There is a Riverport in Nova Scotia, and it is possible Jewett refers to this actual location. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riverport,_Nova_Scotia
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mate of the Daylight: Jewett published a short story, "The Mate of the Daylight" in 1882.
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the way of the world: Possibly an allusion to the comic play, The Way of the World (1700), by William Congreve (1670-1729).
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Chelsea Hospital: Almost certainly, he refers to the Chelsea Naval Hospital in Chelsea, MA. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chelsea_Naval_Hospital
this last war come on: Almost certainly, he refers to the American Civil War, 1861-1865.
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primage: "A commercial term signifying originally a small customary payment over and above the freight made to the master of the ship for his care and trouble." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primage
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Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, assisted by Tanner Brossart, Coe College.