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Sarah Orne Jewett
KATE LANCASTER and I spent the greater part of that summer at the Shore House, out-of-doors. We often made long expeditions out into the suburbs of Deephaven, sometimes being gone all day and sometimes taking a long afternoon stroll and coming home early in the evening, hungry as hunters and laden with treasure, whether we had been through the pine woods inland or along shore, whether we had met old friends or made some desirable new acquaintances. We had a fashion of calling at the farm-houses, and by the end of the season we knew as many people as if we had lived in Deephaven all our days. We used to ask for a drink of water; this was our unfailing introduction, and afterward there were many interesting subjects which one could introduce, and we could always give the latest news at the shore. It was amusing to see the curiosity which we aroused. Many of the people came into Deephaven only on special occasions, and I must confess that at first we were often naughty enough to wait until we had been severely cross-questioned before we gave a definite account of ourselves. Kate was very clever at making unsatisfactory answers, when she cared to do so. We did not understand, for some time, with what a keen sense of enjoyment many of those people made the acquaintance of an entirely new person who cordially gave the full particulars about herself; but we soon learned to call this by another name than impertinence.
I think there were no points of interest in that region which we did not visit with conscientious faithfulness. There were cliffs and pebble-beaches, the long sands and the short sands; there were Black Rock and Roaring Rock, High Point and East Point, and Spouting Rock; we went to see where a ship had been driven ashore in the night, all hands being lost and not a piece of her left larger than an ax-handle; we visited the spot where a ship had come ashore in the fog, and been left high and dry on the edge of the marsh when the tide went out; we saw where the brig Methuselah had been wrecked, and the shore had been golden with her cargo of lemons and oranges, which one might carry away by the wherry-full.
Inland there were not many noted localities, but we used to enjoy the woods, and our explorations among the farms, immensely. To the westward the land was better and the people well-to-do; but we went oftenest toward the hills and among the poorer people. The land was uneven and full of ledges, and the people worked hard for their living, at most laying aside only a few dollars each year. Some of the more enterprising young people went away to work in shops and factories; but the custom was by no means universal, and the people had a hungry, discouraged look. It is all very well to say that they knew nothing better, that it was the only life of which they knew anything; there was too often a look of disappointment in their faces, and sooner or later we heard or guessed many stories: that this young man had wished for an education, but there had been no money to spare for books or schooling; and that one had meant to learn a trade, but there must be some one to help his father with the farm work, and there was no money to hire a man to work in his place if he went away. The older people had a hard look, as if they had always to be on the alert, and must fight hard for their place in the world. One could only forgive and pity their petty sharpness, which showed itself in trifling bargains, when one understood how much a single dollar seemed where dollars came so rarely. We used to pity the young girls so much. It was plain that those who knew how much easier and pleasanter our lives were could not help envying us.
There was a high hill half a dozen miles from Deephaven which was known in its region as "the mountain." It was the highest land anywhere near us, and having been told that there was a fine view from the top, one day we went there with Tommy Dockum for escort. We overtook Mr. Lorimer, the minister, on his way to make parochial visitations on some members of his parish who lived far from church, and to our delight he proposed to go with us instead. It was a great satisfaction to have him for a guide, for he knew both the country and the people more intimately than any one else. It was a long climb to the top of the hill, but not a hard one. The sky was clear and there was a fresh wind, though we had left none at all at the sea-level. After lunch, Kate and I spread our shawls over a fine cushion of mountain-cranberry, and had a long talk with Mr. Lorimer about ancient and modern Deephaven. He always seemed as much pleased with our enthusiasm for the town as if it had been a personal favor and compliment to himself. I remember how far we could see, that day, and how we looked toward the far-away blue mountains, and then out over the ocean. Deephaven looked insignificant from that height and distance, and indeed the country seemed to be mostly covered with the pointed tops of pines and spruces, and there were long tracts of maple and beech woods with their coloring of lighter, fresher green.
"Suppose we go down, now," said Mr. Lorimer, long before Kate and I had meant to propose such a thing; and our feeling was that of dismay. "I should like to take you to make a call with me. Did you ever hear of old Mrs. Bonny?"
"No," said we, and cheerfully gathered our wraps and baskets; and when Tommy finally came panting up the hill after we had begun to think that our shoutings and whistling were useless, we sent him down to the horses, and went down ourselves by another path. It led us a long distance through a grove of young beeches; the last year's whitish leaves lay thick on the ground, and the new leaves made so close a roof overhead that the light was strangely purple, as if it had come through a great church window of stained glass. After this we went through some hemlock growth, where, on the lower branches, the pale green of the new shoots and the dark green of the old made an exquisite contrast each to the other. Finally we came out at Mrs. Bonny's. Mr. Lorimer had told us something about her on the way down, saying in the first place that she was one of the queerest characters he knew. Her husband used to be a charcoal-burner and basket-maker, and she used to sell butter and berries and eggs and choke-pears preserved in molasses. She always came down to Deephaven on a little black horse, with her goods in baskets and bags which were fastened to the saddle in a mysterious way. She had the reputation of not being a neat housekeeper, and none of the wise women of the town would touch her butter especially, so it was always a joke when she coaxed a new resident or a strange shipmaster into buying her wares; but the old woman always managed to jog home without the freight she had brought. "She must be very old, now," said Mr. Lorimer; "I have not seen her in a long time. It cannot be possible that her horse is still alive!" And we all laughed when we saw Mrs. Bonny's steed at a little distance, for the shaggy old creature was covered with mud, pine-needles, and dead leaves, with half the last year's burdock-burs in all Deephaven snarled into his mane and tail and sprinkled over his fur, which looked nearly as long as a buffalo's. He had hurt his leg, and his kind mistress had tied it up with a piece of faded red calico and an end of ragged rope. He gave us a civil neigh, and looked at us curiously. Then an impertinent little yellow and white dog, with one ear standing up straight and the other flopping over, began to bark with all his might; but he retreated when he saw Kate's great dog, which was walking solemnly by her side and did not deign to notice him. Just now Mrs. Bonny appeared at the door of the house, shading her eyes with her hand, to see who was coming. "Landy!" said she, "if it an't old Parson Lorimer! And who be these with ye?"
"This is Miss Kate Lancaster, of Boston, Miss Katherine Brandon's niece, and her friend, Miss Denis."
"Pleased to see ye," said the old woman; "walk in, and lay off your things;" and we followed her into the house. I wish you could have seen her: she wore a man's coat, cut off so that it made an odd short jacket, and a pair of men's boots, much the worse for wear; also, some short skirts, beside two or three aprons, the inner one being a dress apron, as she took off the outer ones and threw them into a corner; and on her head was a tight cap with strings to tie under her chin. I thought it was a night-cap and that she had forgotten to take it off, and dreaded her mortification if she should suddenly become conscious of it; but I need not have troubled myself, for while we were with her she pulled it on and tied it tighter, as if she considered it ornamental.
There were only two rooms in the house; we went into the kitchen, which was occupied by a flock of hens and one turkey. The latter was evidently undergoing a course of medical treatment behind the stove, and was allowed to stay with us, while the hens were remorselessly hustled out with a hemlock broom. They all congregated on the door-step, apparently wishing to hear everything that was said.
"Ben up on the mountain?" asked our hostess. "Real sightly place. Goin' to be a master lot o' rosbries; get any down to the shore sence I quit comin'?"
"Oh yes," said Mr. Lorimer, "but we miss seeing you."
"I s'pose so," said Mrs. Bonny, smoothing her apron complacently, "but I'm getting old, and I tell 'em I'm goin' to take my comfort; sence 'he' died, I don't put myself out no great; I've got money enough to keep me long 's I live. Beckett's folks goes down often, and I sends by them for what store stuff I want."
"How are you now?" asked the minister; "I think I heard you were sick in the spring."
"Stirrin," I'm obliged to ye. I wasn't laid up long, and I was so 's I could get about, most of the time. I've got the best bitters ye ever see, good for the spring of the year. S'pose yer sister, Miss Lorimer, wouldn't like some? she used to be weakly lookin'." But her brother refused the offer, saying that she had not been so well for many years.
"Do you often get out to church nowadays, Mrs. Bonny? I believe Mr. Reid preaches in the school-house sometimes, down by the great ledge; doesn't he?"
"Well, yes, he does; but I don't know as I get much of any good. Parson Reid, he's a worthy creatur', but he never seems to have nothin' to say about fore-ordination and them p'ints. Old Parson Padelford was the man! I used to set under his preachin' a good deal; I had an aunt living down to East Parish. He'd get worked up, and he'd shut up the Bible and preach the hair off your head, 'long at the end of the sermon. Couldn't understand more nor a quarter part what he said," said Mrs. Bonny admiringly. "Well, we were a-speaking about the meeting over to the ledge; I don't know 's I like them people any to speak of. They had a great revival over there in the fall, and one Sunday I thought 's how I'd go; and when I got there, who should be a-prayin' but old Ben Patey, -- he always lays out to get converted, -- and he kep' it up diligent till I couldn't stand it no longer; and by and by says he, 'I've been a wanderer;' and I up and says, 'Yes, you have, I'll back ye up on that, Ben; ye've wandered around my wood-lot and spoilt half the likely young oaks and ashes I've got, a-stealing your basket-stuff;' and the folks laughed out loud, and up he got and cleared. He's an awful old thief, and he's no idea of ever being anything else. I wa'n't a-goin' to set there and hear him makin' b'lieve to the Lord. If anybody's heart is in it, I an't a-goin' to hender 'em; I'm a professor, and I an't ashamed of it, weekdays nor Sundays neither. I can't bear to see folks so pious to meeting, and cheat yer eye-teeth out Monday morning. Well there! we an't none of us perfect; even old Parson Moody was round-shouldered, they say."
"You were speaking of the Becketts just now," said Mr. Lorimer (after we had stopped laughing, and Mrs. Bonny had settled her big steel-bowed spectacles, and sat looking at him with an expression of extreme wisdom. One might have ventured to call her "peart," I think). "How do they get on? I am seldom in this region nowadays, since Mr. Reid has taken it under his charge."
"They get along, somehow or 'nother," replied Mrs. Bonny; "they've got the best farm this side of the ledge, but they're dreadful lazy and shiftless, them young folks. Old Mis' Hate-evil Beckett was tellin' me the other day -- she that was Samanthy Barnes, you know -- that one of the boys got fighting, the other side of the mountain, and come home with his nose broke and a piece o' one ear bit off. I forget which ear it was. Their mother is a real clever, willin' woman, and she takes it to heart, but it's no use for her to say anything. Mis' Hate-evil Beckett, says she, 'It does make my man feel dreadful to see his brother's folks carry on so.' 'But there,' says I, 'Mis' Beckett, it's just such things as we read of; Scriptur' is fulfilled: In the larter days there shall be disobedient children.'"
This application of the text was too much for us, but Mrs. Bonny looked serious, and we did not like to laugh. Two or three of the exiled fowls had crept slyly in, dodging underneath our chairs, and had perched themselves behind the stove. They were long-legged, half-grown creatures, and just at this minute one rash young rooster made a manful attempt to crow. "Do tell!" said his mistress, who rose in great wrath, "you needn't be so forth-putting, as I knows on!" After this we were urged to stay and have some supper. Mrs. Bonny assured us she could pick a likely young hen in no time, fry her with a bit of pork, and get us up "a good meat tea;" but we had to disappoint her, as we had some distance to walk to the house where we had left our horses, and a long drive home.
Kate asked if she would be kind enough to lend us a tumbler (for ours was in the basket, which was given into Tommy's charge). We were thirsty, and would like to go back to the spring and get some water.
"Yes, dear," said Mrs. Bonny, "I've got a glass, if it's so 's I can find it;" and she pulled a chair under the little cupboard over the fire-place, mounted it, and opened the door. Several things fell out at her, and after taking a careful survey she went in, head and shoulders, until I thought that she would disappear altogether; but soon she came back, and reaching in took out one treasure after another, putting them on the mantelpiece or dropping them on the floor. There were some bunches of dried herbs, a tin horn, a lump of tallow in a broken plate, a newspaper, and an old boot, with a number of turkey wings tied together, several bottles, and a steel trap, and finally, such a tumbler! which she produced with triumph, before stepping down. She poured out of it on the table a mixture of old buttons and squash-seeds, besides a lump of beeswax which she said she had lost, and now pocketed with satisfaction. She wiped the tumbler on her apron and handed it to Kate, but we were not so thirsty as we had been, though we thanked her and went down to the spring, coming back as soon as possible, for we could not lose a bit of the conversation.
There was a beautiful view from the door-step and we stopped a minute there. "Real sightly, an't it?" said Mrs. Bonny. "But you ought to be here and look across the woods some morning just at sun-up. Why, the sky is all yaller and red, and them low lands topped with fog! Yes, it's nice weather, good growin' weather, this week. Corn and all the rest of the trade looks first-rate. I call it a forrard season. It's just such weather as we read of, an't it?"
"I don't remember where, just at this moment," said Mr. Lorimer.
"Why, in the almanac, bless ye!" said she with a tone of pity in her grum voice; could it be possible he didn't know -- the Deephaven minister!
We asked her to come and see us. She said she had always thought she'd get a chance sometime to see Miss Katherine Brandon's house. She should be pleased to call, and she didn't know but she should be down to the shore before very long. She was 'shamed to look so shif'less that day, but she had some good clothes in a chist in the bedroom, and a boughten bonnet with a nice cypress veil, which she had when "he" died. She calculated they would do, though they might be old-fashioned, some. She seemed greatly pleased at Mr. Lorimer's having taken the trouble to come to see her. All those people had a great reverence for "the minister." We were urged to come again in "rosbry" time, which was near at hand, and she gave us messages for some of her old customers and acquaintances. "I believe some of those old creaturs will never die," said she; "why, they're getting to be ter'ble old, an't they, Mr. Lorimer? There! ye've done me a sight of good, and I wish I could ha' found the Bible, to hear ye read a psalm." When Mr. Lorimer shook hands with her, at leaving, she made him a most reverential courtesy. He was the greatest man she knew; and once during the call, when he was speaking of serious things in his simple, earnest way, she had so devout a look, and seemed so interested, that Kate and I, and Mr. Lorimer himself, caught a new, fresh meaning in the familiar words he spoke.
Living there in the lonely clearing, deep in the woods and far from any neighbor, she knew herbs and trees and the harmless wild creatures who lived among them, by heart; and she had an amazing store of tradition and superstition, which made her so entertaining to us that we went to see her many times before we came away in the autumn. We went with her to find some pitcher-plants, one day, and it was wonderful how much she knew about the woods, what keen observation she had. There was something so wild and unconventional about Mrs. Bonny that it was like taking an afternoon walk with a good-natured Indian. We used to carry her offerings of tobacco, for she was a great smoker, and advised us to try it, if ever we should be troubled with nerves, or narves, as she pronounced the name of that affliction.
When we had first come to Deephaven we drove one day to "the great cliff," which was seven or eight miles distant from the town. The coast for several miles was rocky, and there were few places where a boat could put in, so there were no fishermen in the region, and the farms were scattered wide apart. The place where we left our horse was a lonely little farm-house, looking more like a small, unpainted country school-house than anything else, and seeing us seemed to be a perfect godsend to the people, with whom we had a long talk before we started for the cliff, which was beyond a half-mile or more of rocks and bayberry bushes which they called the pasture. The house was nearer the sea than this; the cliff was farther down the shore; a bold, craggy place it was, the land rising higher and higher, and finally we stood at the edge of the rocks and looked down nearly a hundred feet at the sea, dashing its white spray high over the ledges that quiet day. What could it be in winter, when there was a storm and the great waves came thundering in?
When we came back early in the afternoon to the house, we succeeded in making friends with the children, and gave them some candy and the rest of our lunch, which luckily had been even more abundant than usual. They looked thin and pitiful, but even in that lonely place, where they so seldom saw a stranger or even a neighbor, they showed that there was an evident effort to make them look like other children, and they were neatly dressed, though there could be no mistake about their being very poor. One forlorn little soul, with honest gray eyes and a sweet, shy smile, showed us a string of beads which she wore round her neck; there were perhaps two dozen of them, blue and white, on a bit of twine, and they were the dearest things in all her world. When we came away we were very glad that we could give the man more than he asked us for taking care of the horse while we had been gone; and his thanks touched us.
"I hope ye may never know what it is to earn every dollar as hard as I have. I never earned any money as easy as this before. I don't feel as if I ought to take it. I've done the best I could," said the man, with the tears coming into his eyes and a huskiness in his voice, "I've done the best I could, and I 'm willin' and my woman is, but everything seems to have been ag'in us; we never seem to get forehanded. It looks sometimes as if the Lord had forgot us, but my woman, she never wants me to say that; she says he 'ain't, and that we might be worse off, but I do' know. I haven't had my health; that's hendered me most. But my oldest boy, he's getting ahead some. He pushed off this spring, and he works in a box-shop to Boston; he sent me ten dollars a spell ago, and his mother a shawl. I don't see how he done it, but he's smart, if he only keeps his chance." This seemed to be the only bright spot in their lives; and we admired the shawl, and sat down in the house a while with the mother, who seemed patient and tired, and evidently took great delight in talking about what one should wear. Kate and I thought and spoke often of these people afterward, and when one day we met the man in Deephaven we sent some things to the children and his wife, and begged him to come to the house whenever he came to town; but we never saw him again.
Our second excursion was made just before we left Deephaven, late in October. We knew the coast-road would be bad, after the fall rains, and took Leander, the eldest of the Dockum boys, with us. We enjoyed the drive that morning, in spite of the rough road. The air was warm, and sweet with the smell of bayberry bushes and pitch-pines and the delicious saltness of the sea, which was not far from us all the way. It was a perfect autumn day. Sometimes we crossed pebble beaches, and then went farther inland, through woods, and up and down steep little hills, and over shaky bridges which crossed narrow salt creeks in the marsh lands. There was a little excitement about the drive and an exhilaration in the air; we laughed at jokes forgotten the next minute, and sang, and were jolly enough. Leander, who had never happened to see us in exactly this hilarious state of mind before, seemed surprised and interested, and became unusually talkative, telling us a great many edifying particulars about the people whose houses we passed, and who owned every wood-lot along the road. "Do you see that house over on the p'int?" he asked; "an old fellow lives there that's part lost his mind. He had a son who was drowned off Cod Rock, fishing, much as twenty-five years ago, and he's worn a deep path out to the end of the p'int, where he goes out every hand's turn o' the day to see if he can't see the boat coming in;" and Leander looked round to see if we were not amused, and seemed puzzled because we didn't laugh. Happily, his next story was funny.
When we reached the house, to our surprise there was no one in sight and the place looked deserted. We left the wagon, and while Leander went toward the barn, which stood at a little distance, Kate and I went to the house and knocked. I opened the door a little way and said "Hallo!" Nobody answered. The people could not have moved away, for there were some chairs standing outside the door, and as I looked in I saw the bunches of herbs hanging up and a trace of corn, and the furniture was all there. It was a great disappointment, for we had counted upon seeing the children again. Leander said there was nobody at the barn, and that they must have gone to a funeral; he couldn't think of anything else. Just then we saw some people coming up the road, and we thought at first that they were the man and his wife coming back, but they proved to be strangers, and we eagerly asked what had become of the family.
"They're dead, both on 'em. His wife, she died about nine weeks ago last Sunday, and he died day before yesterday. Funeral's going to be this afternoon. Thought ye were some of her folks from up-country, when we were coming along," said the man.
"Guess they won't come nigh," said the woman, scornfully; "'fraid they'd have to help provide for the children. I was sister to him, and I've got to take the three least ones."
"Did you say he was going to be buried this afternoon?" asked Kate slowly: we were both more startled than I can tell.
"Yes," said the man, who seemed much better-natured than his wife; she appeared like a person whose only aim in life was to have things over with; "yes, we're going to bury him at two o'clock. They had a master sight o' trouble, first and last."
Leander had said not a word all this time. He had known the man, and had expected to spend the day with him and get him to go on two miles farther, to help bargain for a dory. He asked, in a disappointed way, "what had carried him off so sudden."
"Drink," said the woman, relentlessly. "He 'ain't ben good for nothing sence his wife died; she was took with a fever along in the first of August, and never got up from it -- poor, shif'less thing, any way!"
"Now don't be hard on the dead, Marthy," said her husband; "I guess they done the best they could."
And Kate said, "Did you say he was your brother?"
"Yes, I was sister to him," said the woman promptly, with perfect unconsciousness of Kate's meaning.
"And what will become of those poor children?"
"I've got the three youngest over to my place to take care on, and the two next them has been put out to some folks over toward the cove. I dare say like 's not they'll be sent back."
"They're clever child'n, I guess," said the man, who spoke as if this were the first time he had dared take their part. "Don't be ha'sh, Marthy;" and then she turned round and looked at him with utter contempt.
"I can't stand it to hear men folks talking on what they don't know nothing about," said she. "The ways of Providence is dreadful myster'ous," she went on, with a whine, instead of the sharp tone of voice which we had heard before. "We've had a hard row, and we've just got our own children off our hands and able to do for themselves, and now here are these three to be fetched up."
"But perhaps they'll be a help to you; they seemed to be nice little things," said Kate. "I saw them in the summer, and they seemed to be good children, and it is dreadfully hard for them to be left alone. It's not their fault, you know. We brought over something for them; will you be kind enough to take the basket when you go home?"
"Thank ye, I'm sure," said the aunt, relenting slightly. "You can speak to my man about it, and he'll give it to somebody that's going by. I've got to walk in the procession. They'll be obliged, I 'm sure. I s'pose you're the young ladies that come to the cliff right after the Fourth o' July, an't you? I should be pleased to have you call and see the child'n, if you're over this way again. I heard 'em talk about you last time I was over here. Won't ye step into the house and see him? He looks real nateral," she added; but we said "No, thank you."
Leander told us he believed he wouldn't bother about the dory that day, and that he should be there at the house, whenever we were ready. He evidently meant to help at the funeral, and considered it a piece of good luck that he had happened to arrive in time. We spoke to the man about the things we had brought for the children, which seemed to delight him, poor soul, and we felt sure he would be kind to them. His wife shouted to him from a window of the house that he'd better not loiter round or they wouldn't be half ready when the folks began to come. And we said good-by to him, and went away.
"What a pitiful ending it is to those humble lives!" said Kate.
We supposed the funeral would be all over with when we returned to the house from a stroll over the pastures, but found we were mistaken. There were several men standing around the door, looking solemn and important, and by and by one of them came over to where we had seated ourselves on a low rock, and we found out a little more of the sad story. We liked this man, there was so much pity in his face and voice. "He was a real willin', honest man," said our new friend, "but he used to be sickly, and seemed to have no luck, though for a year or two he got along some better. When his wife died he was sore afflicted, and couldn't get over it, and he didn't know what to do or what was goin' to become of 'em, with winter comin' on, and -- well -- I may 's well tell ye: he took to drink, and it killed him right off. I came over two or three times and made some gruel and fixed him up 's well 's I could, and the little gals done the best they could, but he faded right out, and didn't know anything the last time I see him; and he died Sunday mornin' when the tide began to ebb. I always set a good deal by John; we used to play together down to the cove; that's where he was raised, and my folks lived there too. I've got one o' the little gals. I always knowed him and his wife."
We heard the people in the house singing China, the Deephaven funeral hymn, and the tune suited well that day, with its wailing rise and fall; it was strangely plaintive. Then the funeral exercises were over, and the man with whom we had just been speaking led to the door a horse and a rickety wagon from which the seat had been taken, and when the coffin had been put in, he led the horse down the road a little way, and we watched the mourners come out of the house two by two. We heard some one scold in a whisper because the wagon was twice as far off as it need have been; they evidently had a rigid funeral etiquette, and felt it important that everything should be carried out according to rule. We saw a forlorn-looking kitten with a bit of faded braid around its neck run across the road in terror, and presently appear again on the stone wall, where she sat looking at the people. We saw the dead man's eldest son, of whom he had told us in the summer with such pride. He had shown his respect for his father as best he could, by a black band on his hat and a pair of black cotton gloves a world too large for him. He looked very sad, and cried bitterly as he stood alone at the head of the people. His aunt was next, with a handkerchief at her eyes, fully equal to the proprieties of the occasion, though I fear her grief was not so heart-felt as her husband's, who dried his eyes with his coat-sleeve again and again. There were, perhaps, twenty of the mourners, and there was much whispering among those who walked last. The minister and some others fell into line, and the procession went slowly down the slope. A strange shadow had fallen over everything; it was like a November day, for the air felt cold and bleak. There were some great sea-fowl high in the air, fighting their way toward the sea against the wind, and giving now and then a wild, far-off, ringing cry. We could hear the dull sound of the sea, and at a little distance from the land the waves were leaping high and breaking in white foam over the isolated ledges.
The rest of the people began to walk or drive away, but Kate and I stood watching the funeral as it crept along the narrow, crooked road. We had never seen what the people called "walking funerals" until we came to Deephaven, and there was something piteous about this one; the mourners looked so few, and we could hear the rattle of the wagon-wheels. "He's gone, an't he?" said some one near us. That was it -- gone.
Before the people had entered the house there had been, I am sure, an indifferent, business-like look; but when they came out all that was changed: their faces were awed by the presence of death, and the indifference had given place to uncertainty. Their neighbor was immeasurably their superior now. Living, he had been a failure by their own low standards, but now, if he could come back, he would know secrets and be wise beyond anything they could imagine; and who could know the riches of which he might have come into possession?
We stayed a little while longer, until we had seen the last funeral-guest go away, and the door had been shut and fastened with a queer old padlock and some links of rusty chain. The door fitted loosely, and the man gave it a vindictive shake, as if he thought that the poor house had somehow been to blame, and that after a long, desperate struggle for life under its roof and among the stony fields, the family must go away defeated. It is not likely that any one else will ever go to live there. The man to whom the farm was mortgaged will add the few forlorn acres to his pasture-land, and the thistles which the man who is dead had fought so many years will march in next summer, and take unmolested possession.
I think, to-day, of that fireless, empty, forsaken house, where the winter sun shines in and creeps slowly along the floor; the bitter cold is in and around the house, and the snow has sifted in at every crack; outside it is untrodden by any living creature's footstep. The wind blows and rushes, and shakes the loose window-sashes in their frames, while the padlock knocks, knocks against the door.
The Deephaven people used to say, sometimes complacently, that certain things or certain people were "as dull as East Parish." Kate and I grew curious to see that part of the world which was considered duller than Deephaven itself; and, as upon inquiry we found that it was not out of reach, one day we went there.
It was like Deephaven, only on a smaller scale. The village, though it is a question whether that is not an exaggerated term to apply, had evidently seen better days. It was on the bank of a river, and perhaps half a mile from the sea. There were a few old houses there, some with mossy roofs and a great deal of yellow lichen on the sides of the walls next the sea; a few newer houses, belonging to fishermen; some dilapidated fish-houses, and a row of fish-flakes. Every house seemed to have a lane of its own, and all faced different ways except two fish-houses which stood amiably side by side. There was a church which we had been told was the oldest in the region. Through the windows we saw the high pulpit and sounding-board, and finally found the keys at a house near by; so we went in and looked around at our leisure. A rusty foot-stove stood in one of the old square pews, and in the gallery there was a majestic bass-viol with all its strings snapped but the largest, which gave out a doleful sound when we touched it.
After we left the church we walked along the road a little way, and came in sight of a fine old house which had apparently fallen into ruin years before. The front entrance was a fine specimen of old-fashioned workmanship, with its columns and carvings, and the fence had been a grand affair in its day, though now it could scarcely stand alone. The long range of out-buildings were falling piece by piece; one shed had been blown down entirely by a late high wind. The large windows had many panes of glass, and the great chimneys were built of the bright red bricks which used to be brought from over-seas in the days of the colonies. We noticed the gnarled lilacs in the yard, the wrinkled cinnamon roses, and a flourishing company of French pinks or "Bouncing Bets," as Kate called them.
"Suppose we go in," said I; "the door is open a little way. There surely must be some stories about its being haunted. We will ask Miss Honora." And we climbed over the boards which were put up like pasture-bars across the wide front gateway.
"We shall certainly meet a ghost," said Kate.
Just as we stood on the steps the door was pulled wide open; we started back, and, well-grown young women as we are, we have confessed since that our first impulse was to run away. On the threshold there stood a stately old woman who looked surprised at first sight of us, then quickly recovered herself and stood waiting for us to speak. She was dressed in a rusty black satin gown, with scant, short skirt and huge sleeves; on her head was a great black bonnet with a high crown and a close brim, which came far out over her face. "What is your pleasure?" said she; and we felt like two awkward children. Kate partially recovered her wits, and asked which was the nearer way to Deephaven.
"There is but one road, past the church and over the hill. It cannot be missed," and she bowed gravely when we thanked her and begged her pardon, we hardly knew why, and came away.
We looked back to see her still standing in the doorway. "Who in the world can she be?" said Kate; and we wondered and puzzled and talked over "the ghost" until we saw Miss Honora Carew, who told us that it was Miss Sally Chauncey.
"Indeed, I know her, poor old soul!" said Miss Honora; "she has the saddest story I know. She is the last survivor of one of the most aristocratic old colonial families. The Chaunceys were of great renown until early in the present century, and then their fortunes changed. They had always been rich and well-educated, and I suppose nobody ever had a gayer, happier time than Miss Sally did in her girlhood, for they entertained a great deal of company and lived in fine style; but her father was unfortunate in business, and at last was utterly ruined at the time of the embargo; then he became partially insane, and died after many years of poverty. I have often heard a tradition that a sailor to whom he had broken a promise had cursed him, and that none of the family had died in their beds or had any good luck since. The East Parish people seem to believe in it, and it is certainly strange what terrible sorrow has come to the Chaunceys. One of Miss Sally's brothers, a fine young navy officer, who was at home on leave, asked her one day if she could get on without him, and she said yes, thinking he meant to go back to sea; but in a few minutes she heard the noise of a pistol in his room, and hurried in to find him lying dead on the floor. Then there was another brother who was insane, and who became so violent that he was chained for years in one of the upper chambers, a dangerous prisoner. I have heard his horrid cries myself, when I was a young girl," said Miss Honora, with a shiver.
"Miss Sally is insane, and has been for many years, and this seems to me the saddest part of the story. When she first lost her reason she was sent to a hospital, for there was no one who could take care of her. The mania was so acute that no one had the slightest thought that she would recover or even live long. Her guardian sold the furniture and pictures and china, almost everything but clothing, to pay the bills at the hospital, until the house was fairly empty; and then one spring day, I remember it well, she came home in her right mind, and, without a thought of what was awaiting her, ran eagerly into her home. It was a terrible shock, and she never has recovered from it, though after a long illness her insanity took a mild form, and she has always been perfectly harmless. She has been alone many years, and no one can persuade her to leave the old house, where she seems to be contented and does not realize her troubles; though she lives mostly in the past, and has little idea of the present, except in her house affairs, which seem pitiful to me, for I remember the housekeeping of the Chaunceys when I was a child. I have always been to see her, and she usually knows me, though I have been but seldom of late years. She is several years older than I. The town makes her an allowance every year, and she has some friends who take care that she does not suffer, though her wants are few. She is an elegant woman still, and some day, if you like, I will give you something to carry to her, and a message, if I can think of one, and you must go to make her a call. I hope she will happen to be talkative, for I am sure you would enjoy her. For many years she did not like to see strangers, but some one has told me lately that she seems to be pleased if people go to see her."
You may be sure it was not many days before Kate and I claimed the basket and the message, and went again to East Parish. We boldly lifted the great brass knocker, and were dismayed because nobody answered. While we waited, a girl came up the walk and said that Miss Sally lived up-stairs, and she would speak to her if we liked. "Sometimes she don't have sense enough to know what the knocker means," we were told. There was evidently no romance about Miss Sally to our new acquaintance.
"Do you think," said I, "that we might go in and look around the lower rooms? Perhaps she will refuse to see us."
"Yes, indeed," said the girl, "only run the minute I speak; you'll have time enough, for she walks slow and is a little deaf."
So we went into the great hall with its wide staircase and handsome cornices and paneling, and then into the large parlor on the right, and through it to a smaller room looking out on the garden, which sloped down to the river. Both rooms had fine carved mantels, with Dutch-tiled fire-places, and in the cornices we saw the fastenings where pictures had hung -- old portraits, perhaps. And what had become of them? The girl did not know: the house had been the same ever since she could remember, only it would all fall through into the cellar soon. But the old lady was proud as Lucifer, and wouldn't hear of moving out.
The floor in the room toward the river was so broken that it was not safe, and we came back through the hall and opened the door at the foot of the stairs. "Guess you won't want to stop long there," said the girl. Three old hens and a rooster marched toward us with great solemnity when we looked in. The cobwebs hung in the room, as they often do in old barns, in long, gray festoons; the lilacs outside grew close against the two windows where the shutters were not drawn, and the light in the room was greenish and dim.
Then we took our places on the threshold and the girl went up-stairs and announced us to Miss Sally, and in a few minutes we heard her come along the hall.
"Sophia," said she, "where are the gentry waiting?" and just then she came in sight round the turn of the staircase. She wore the same great black bonnet and satin gown, and looked more old-fashioned and ghostly than before. She was not tall, but very erect, in spite of her great age, and her eyes seemed to "look through you" in an uncanny way. She slowly descended the stairs and came toward us with a courteous greeting, and when we had introduced ourselves as Miss Carew's friends she gave us each her hand in a most cordial way and said she was pleased to see us. She bowed us into the parlor and brought us two rickety, straight-backed chairs, which with an old table were all the furniture there was in the room. " Sit ye down," said she, herself taking a place in the window-seat. I have seen few more elegant women than Miss Chauncey. Thoroughly at her ease, she had the manner of a lady of the olden times, using the quaint fashion of speech which she had been taught in her girlhood. The long words and ceremonious phrases suited her extremely well. Her hands were delicately shaped, and she folded them in her lap as no doubt she had learned to do at boarding-school so many years before. She asked Kate and me if we knew any young ladies at that school in Boston, saying that most of her intimate friends had left when she did, but some of the younger ones were there still.
She asked for the Carews and Mr. Lorimer, and when Kate told her that she was Miss Brandon's niece and asked if she had not known her, she said, "Certainly, my dear; we were intimate friends at one time, but I have seen her little of late."
"Do you not know that she is dead?" asked Kate.
"Ah, they say every one is 'dead' nowadays. I do not comprehend the silly idea!" said the old lady impatiently. "It is an excuse, I suppose; she could come to see me if she chose, but she was always a ceremonious body, and I go abroad but seldom now; so perhaps she waits my visit. I will not speak uncourteously, and you must remember me to her kindly."
Then she asked us about other old people in Deephaven, and about families in Boston whom she had known in her early days. I think every one of whom she spoke was dead, but we assured her that they were all well and prosperous, and we hoped we told the truth. She asked about the love-affairs of men and women who had died old and gray-headed within our remembrance; and finally she said we must pardon her for these tiresome questions, but it was so rarely she saw any one direct from Boston, of whom she could inquire concerning these old friends and relatives of her family.
Something happened after this which touched us both inexpressibly: she sat for some time watching Kate with a bewildered look, which at last faded away, a smile coming in its place. "I think you are like my mother," she said; "did any one ever say to you that you are like my mother? Will you let me see your forehead? Yes; and your hair is only a little darker." Kate had risen when Miss Chauncey did, and they stood side by side. There was a tone in the old lady's voice which brought the tears to my eyes. She stood there some minutes looking at Kate. I wonder what her thoughts were? There was a kinship, it seemed to me, not of blood, only that they both were of the same stamp and rank: Miss Chauncey of the old generation and Kate Lancaster of the new. Miss Chauncey turned to me, saying, "Look up at the portrait and you will see the likeness too, I think." But when she turned and saw the bare wainscoting of the room, she looked puzzled, and the bright flash which had lighted up her face was gone in an instant, and she sat down again in the window-seat; but we were glad that she had forgotten. Presently she said, "Pardon me, but I forget your question."
Miss Carew had told us to ask her about her school-days, as she nearly always spoke of that time to her; and, to our delight, Miss Sally told us a long story about her friends and about her "coming-out party," when boat-loads of gay young guests came down from Rivermouth, and all the gentry from Deephaven. The band from the fort played for the dancing, the garden was lighted, the card-tables were in this room, and a grand supper was served. She also remembered what some of her friends wore, and her own dress was a silver-gray brocade with rose-buds of three colors. She told us how she watched the boats go off up river in the middle of the summer night; how sweet the music sounded; how bright the moonlight was; how she wished we had been there at her party.
"I can't believe I am an old woman. It seems only yesterday," said she, thoughtfully; and then she lost the idea and talked about Kate's great-grandmother, whom she had known, and asked us how she had been this summer.
She asked us if we would like to go up-stairs where she had a fire, and we eagerly accepted, though we were not in the least cold. Ah, what a sorry place it was! She had gathered together some few pieces of her old furniture, which half filled one fine room, and here she lived. There was a tall, handsome chest of drawers, which I should have liked much to ransack. Miss Carew had told us that Miss Chauncey had large claims against the government, dating back sixty or seventy years, but nobody could ever find the papers; and I felt sure that they must be hidden away in some secret drawer. The brass handles and trimmings were blackened, and the wood looked like ebony. I wanted to climb up and look into the upper part of this antique piece of furniture, and it seemed to me I could at once put my hand on a package of "papers relating to the embargo."
On a stand near the window was an old Bible, fairly worn out with constant use. Miss Chauncey was religious; in fact, it was the only subject about which she was perfectly sane. We saw almost nothing of her insanity that day, though afterward she was different. There were days when her mind seemed clear; but sometimes she was silent, and often she would confuse Kate with old Miss Brandon, and talk to her of long-forgotten plans and people. She would rarely speak of anything more than a minute or two, and then would drift into an entirely foreign subject.
She urged us that afternoon to stay to luncheon with her; she said she could not offer us dinner, but she would give us tea and biscuit, and no doubt we should find something in Miss Carew's basket, as she was always kind in remembering her fancies. Miss Honora had told us to decline, if she asked us to stay; but I should have liked to see her sit at the head of her table, and to be a guest at such a lunch-party.
Poor creature! it was a blessed thing that her shattered reason made her unconscious of the change in her fortunes, and incapable of comparing the end of her life with its beginning. To herself she was still Miss Chauncey, a gentlewoman of high family, possessed of unusual worldly advantages. The remembrance of her cruel trials and sorrows had faded from her mind. She had no idea of the poverty of her surroundings when she paced back and forth, with stately steps, on the ruined terraces of her garden; the ranks of lilies and the conserve-roses were still in bloom for her, and the box-borders were as trimly kept as ever; and when she pointed out to us the distant steeples of Rivermouth, it was plain to see that it was still the Rivermouth of her girlhood. If the boat landing at the foot of the garden had long ago dropped into the river and gone out with the tide; if the maids and men who used to do her bidding were all out of hearing; if there had been no dinner company that day and no guests were expected for the evening, -- what did it matter? The twilight had closed around her gradually, and she was alone in her house, but she did not heed the ruin of it or the absence of her friends. On the morrow, life would again go on.
We always used to ask her to read the Bible to us, after Mr. Lorimer had told us how grand and beautiful it was to listen to her. I shall never hear some of the Psalms or some chapters of Isaiah again without being reminded of her; and I remember just now, as I write, one summer afternoon when Kate and I had lingered later than usual, and we sat in an upper room looking out on the river and the shore beyond, where the light had begun to grow golden as the day drew near sunset. Miss Sally had opened the great book at random and read slowly, "In my Father's house are many mansions;" and then, looking off for a moment at a leaf which had drifted into the window-recess, she repeated it: "In my Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you." Then she went on slowly to the end of the chapter, and with her hands clasped together on the Bible she fell into a reverie, and the tears came into our eyes as we watched her look of perfect content. Through all her clouded years the promises of God had been her only certainty.
Miss Chauncey died early in the winter after we left Deephaven, and one day when I was visiting Kate in Boston, Mr. Lorimer came to see us, and told us about her.
It seems that after much persuasion she was induced to go to spend the winter with a neighbor, her house having become uninhabitable, and she was, besides, too feeble to live alone. But her fondness for her old home was too strong, and one day she stole away from the people who took care of her, and crept in through the cellar, where she had to wade through half-frozen water, and then went up-stairs, where she seated herself at a front window and called joyfully to the people who went by, asking them to come in to see her, as she had got home again. After this she was very ill, and one day, when she was half delirious, they missed her, and found her at last sitting on her hall stairway, which she was too feeble to climb. She lived but a short time afterwards, and in her last days her mind seemed perfectly clear. She said over and over again how good God had always been to her, and she was gentle, and unwilling to be a trouble to those who had the care of her.
Mr. Lorimer spoke of her simple goodness, and told us that though she had no other sense of time, and hardly knew if it were summer or winter, she was always sure when Sunday came, and always came to church when he preached at East Parish, her greatest pleasure seeming to be to give money, if there was a contribution. "She may be a lesson to us," added the old minister, reverently; "for, though bewildered in mind, bereft of riches and friends and all that makes this world dear to many of us, she was still steadfast in her simple faith, and was never heard to complain of any of the burdens which God had given her."
Sarah O. Jewett.
From a review of the current Atlantic in The Christian Union (New Outlook) 14:8 (1876), p. 150.
Miss Jewett's "Deephaven Excursions" is delightfully natural, and the editor of the magazine deserves special credit for giving publicity to this class of papers, which have nowhere else found --- perhaps not sought -- an abiding place. The inquisitive Yankee, wherever he is, should be filled with undying gratitude toward Miss Jewett for making excuses for his curiosity, and defending him from the charge of impertinence.
From Notes and Queries (London) 6 (14 October 1876), p. 377, by C. J.
At the close of this communication a quotation may appropriately be made from the September number of the Atlantic Monthly. In "Deephaven Excursions" occurs a lone funeral by the sea; and one of the neighbours of the dead man, present at the ceremony, says : --
"He faded right out, and didn't know anything the last time I see him; and he died Sunday momin', when the tide began to ebb."
"Deephaven Excursions" appeared Atlantic Monthly (38:277-290), September 1876. It was later revised for inclusion in Deephaven (1877).
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Methuselah: According to Genesis 5:25-26, Methuselah lived more than nine hundred years.
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wherry: There are various kinds of wherry; in this case the text seems to refer to a small row-boat, pointed at both ends.
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the mountain: The highest point in the South Berwick, Maine area, where Jewett lived is known as Mount Agamenticus.
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choke-pears: According to the 1913 Webster's unabridged dictionary, a kind of pear that has a rough, astringent taste, and is swallowed with difficulty, or which contracts the mucous membrane of the mouth.
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professor: one who professes belief in Christianity, a term used mainly by Protestants.
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Parson Moody: A Parson Moody appears in Jewett's The Tory Lover (1901). This parson may be based upon Samuel Moody, who was minister of the first parish at York, from 1700 to 1747, according to James Sullivan, The History of the District of Maine (238-9).
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Hate-evil Beckett: A Hate-Evil Kilgore and Praise-God Barebones appear in Chapter 8 of Jewett's The Tory Lover (1901), where the names are associated with the Puritan Revolution of Oliver Cromwell.
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there shall be disobedient children: This may refer to Ephesians 5: 7-9.
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turkey wings: sometimes used as fans.
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lump of beeswax: beeswax was used in sewing to coat thread to improve its strength and to ease drawing through multiple layers of fabric as in quilting. It also was used to stiffen thread in order to ease threading a needle.
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grum: gloomy, morose, surly, or when of the voice, gruff, harsh or deep.
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cypress veil: possibly a mourning veil worn over the face, with a cypress pattern on it, the cypress tree being a conventional mourning symbol.
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pitcher-plants: New World pitcher plants are members of the family Sarraceniaceae (order Nepenthales). These plants have unusual tubular leaves that are shaped like urns, trumpets, or small pitchers, hence the name. Insects are lured into the plant by a set of nectar-secreting glands lining the lips of the leaves. Stiff, downward-pointing hairs line the inside of the leaves and prevent the insects from climbing upward. The lower portion of the leaf is very smooth, and acts as a greased slide, and the insect slips down into the liquid pool at the bottom of the pitcher, where it drowns and is digested. (Source: Encyclopedia Britannica: Research: Chris Butler).
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Photo taken at Olbrich Botanical Garden
Fourth o' July: United States national holiday celebrating the signing of the Declaration of Independence on 4 July 1776.
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singing China, the Deephaven funeral hymn: Rebecca Wall believes this refers to Timothy Swan's tune in New England Harmony (1801). It is associated traditionally with the hymn by Isaac Watts, "Why Do We Mourn Departed Friends."
The following text is from the Cyberhymnal: http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/w/h/whydowem.htm
Why do we mourn departing friends,
Or shake at death’s alarms?
’Tis but the voice that Jesus sends
To call them to His arms.
Are we not tending upward, too,
As fast as time can move?
Nor would we wish the hours more slow
To keep us from our love.
Why should we tremble to convey
Their bodies to the tomb?
There the dear flesh of Jesus lay,
And left a long perfume.
The graves of all His saints He blessed,
And softened every bed;
Where should the dying members rest,
But with the dying Head?
Thence He arose, ascending high,
And showed our feet the way;
Up to the Lord our flesh shall fly,
At the great rising day.
Then let the last loud trumpet sound,
And bid our kindred rise;
Awake, ye nations under ground;
Ye saints, ascend the skies.
The tune may be heard at the same web site, by clicking on MIDI next to China, Timothy Swan.
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fish-flakes: a light rack or platform such as for holding fish up to dry.
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gnarled lilacs ... wrinkled cinnamon roses, ... French pinks or "Bouncing Bets": Lilac is a common garden bush with heart-shaped leaves and strong-smelling purple blossoms that blooms early in the spring. Cinnamon rose is a species of rose (R. cinnamonea). Biographer Francis Matthiessen reports that as a child, Jewett would make a coddle of cinnamon rose petals with cinnamon and brown sugar. See Chapter 1. Bouncing Bets is a popular name for the Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis), but the Oxford English Dictionary defines French pink in the United States as the cornflower, Centaurea cyanus, or a species of Armeria.
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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.
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conserve-roses ... box-borders: Conserve roses would be preserved with sugar as confections or as medicine. Box border is a hedge of a blooming box hedge, native to the Mediterranean region. The wood is useful for carving. (Source: Britannica Online).
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In my Father's house are many mansions: see John 14:2.
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