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A Landlocked Sailor
Sarah Orne Jewett
One morning early in June Doctor Hallett, a young assistant surgeon in the navy, took it into his head to go trouting. It was his second day of leave after a long sea-service, from which he had come straight inland to his old home. On this first morning of the visit he had happened to wake very early and find the sky overcast and the wind in the south, and yielded at once before a temptation to leave an affectionate household sound asleep, except the old coachman at the stable, who was always stirring with the first birds. It took only a moment to choose the best rod that was left in a boyish den above the carriage-house, then there was a hurried breakfast to be stolen, and off the Doctor tramped gayly to find his favorite haunt, the Dale Brook, and follow it up among the hills.
Nothing better can fall to the lot of a busy, much-companioned man than just such a chance of being alone in a piece of well-known country long unvisited. It was some years since John Hallett had followed the Dale Brook before, but neither appeared to have changed. The brook had often suffered in its conditions from drought and freshets, and so had the man, but both were in good condition on that June day; the Doctor at least had that comfortable sense of existence and continuance which made him, for the moment, know and understand himself. One possesses very seldom this unaffected sense of self, the rarely felt self-acquaintance that fell upon us first at the first conscious step we took out of infancy. Solitary and undisturbed, we are now and then aware of ourselves: not the person the world takes us to be, not the ideal person our hopes and ambitions are trying to evolve, but the real man. This is the clear self-consciousness that mirrors the surroundings of a happy solitude. One might say that such moments as these, such closeness to nature, are like a Sunday rest to all one's activities. "In it thou shalt do no work;" in it alone one may "listen to the voices" and receive what nature has to give and what man himself is hardly ever fit to receive.
The fern-filled crevices of the ledges were familiar to the young surgeon's feet. He wandered slowly up the great wooded slopes where the brook came swiftly down, turning now and then to look through the branches where there was a glimpse of the lower country, and toiled hastily across teasing bits of swamp where the alders were tangled overhead and the light was dim and the brook shallowed out into black mud and bright green grass and sopping clods of moss. Now and then the sun almost shone out and quickly clouded over again: it was a perfect morning for fishing. The brook was full and clear, and deep by its flashing falls, where bubbles floated long and trout were hiding. There was a scent of new checkerberry leaves and bay on the high land, and of sweet-flag and mint in the swamps; overhead the cat-birds and yellow-hammers scolded together like disagreeing neighbors. Beyond the first long slope and the boggy strip of upland was a breadth of high, uneven farming country, where the best reaches of the little stream wound their crooked way; beyond this again rose the higher hills. The fisherman began to notice the pleasant weight of his basket as he tramped ahead towards the best pools of all, for although it was a good bit of distance even in his light-footed boyish days, he always made a point of going up to the very source of the brook in a cleft between the hills, -- a tiny pond full of springs and shaded by noble oaks.
The strip of country which was about to be crossed was mostly taken up by sheep-pastures and tillage. At the edge of the woods, when Doctor Hallett was just pushing his grumbling way through a clump of alders and birches which fringed the brook in a fashion most provoking to the calmest angler, he heard the bushes cracking and rustling not very far off, and supposed his neighbor to be a wandering cow, but presently, just at the edge of the open pasture, he caught sight of the head and shoulders of a man. One is fiercely jealous by instinct of a rival fisherman. He hitched at his shoulder-strap with satisfaction at the weight of eight or ten good trout which the basket held, -- they were safe enough at any rate; then the holiday surgeon stopped short and looked sharply at his antagonist, whose figure was unexpected enough but quite familiar. For one dark instant he was puzzled to recall the man's name; there was no rod in his hand.
"Holloa, Mike!" he shouted the next moment, -- having rustled no bushes himself, out of respect to silence-loving trout, -- "Holloa, Mike! How in the world do you happen to be here?"
"The divil may fly away wit' me if it ain't the Docther," said Mike, coming straight through the brushwood as if it were tall grass. "God bless you, sir; is it yourself, sir? I heard long ago that this was your own country and your folks lived down below there, but I thought you were on the say. Well, well, Docther, I was often hoping for the day I'd see you again. Any luck, sir?" and the Doctor swung round his creel in silence.
"Faix, they did all be waiting for you then," said Mike handsomely, shaking his officer's hand in a warm, determined grasp, and looking at him with delighted eyes. "There do be plinty folks thramps up the old brook and goes home as impty as they comes. Dic'ration Day there wa'n't a b'y in the country that wa'n't fishing in it, and -- well, you've got a thrick with the throut; that's plain, Docther."
"Those can find who know where to look," said the Surgeon, not displeased by such flattery, and they turned and walked side by side into the shade of some little pines. The sun was high and the morning was getting late, and the angler had begun to lose the first zest of pleasure.
Three years before, just when he was last ordered to sea, Doctor Hallett had been stationed at one of the marine hospitals, where Mike Dillon was brought one day with half a dozen bones broken and generally out of repair by means of a fall and bad crushing under a broken hoisting apparatus on board ship. They had known each other before as surgeon and patient on a long cruise, and it fell to Doctor Hallett's lot to mend him and patch him and pull him through his smart touch of surgical fever and at last send him out, a crippled man, into a careless world. He was pale with hospital bleach, and as weak as he was stout with rapid building up, -- discharged for good, of course, and appealingly cheerful as they said good-by. The Doctor remembered well how he had wondered what the poor, good-natured, great fellow was going to do. He might turn into a shoemaker; but one couldn't force one's self to speak of it, for Dillon had the spirit of a rover. After the very best that could be done for him, one of his legs was a good deal shorter than the other. The Surgeon looked now to see how he managed with walking, and was pleased to notice that he seemed to be put to less inconvenience than had been feared.
"Mike," said he after they had recovered from a seizure of awkwardness born of mingled strangeness and old familiarity, -- Mike, you look as if you had turned into a farmer and got landlocked."
"Wasn't I born a farmer then, faith!" answered Mike. "County Wexford, sir, parish o' Duncannon. The first thing I remember, Docther, was riding home top of a barrow o' little pertaties and me father trundling me, God rest him! No, I wa'n't born on the say, sir," said Mike sweetly, "I'm a Wexford boy."
The former patient was something well above six feet in height if he stood on his long leg. There was the look of an old-fashioned New England farmer, like a kind of veneer, over his Irish sailorhood. Conformity and ready-made clothes were to blame for it. The Doctor stretched himself like a dog in the sun; the breeze sung in the pines and shone on the young birch leaves. "Oh, how good it is to feel the steady ground under you," he said. "Come, speak out, Dillon. You know I'm interested in your case. I should have as soon expected to meet old Parlow in a prayer-meeting as to come across you here in a pasture." Old Parlow was a hospital nurse.
"Sure he might forget himself an' talk very strange to the audience, sir," chuckled Mike. "He'd the most bad words of any man I ever talked with, but he'd a very tender hand with the sick. Parlow was like a mother to me some o' thim bad nights. He's dead, sir."
"Is Parlow dead?" exclaimed the Doctor.
"He is that indeed," answered Dillon with considerable solemnity. "I do be wondering sometimes if they've got it settled where they'd send him, -- there was good in Parlow, -- but I suppose he'll be after getting his orders to one place or the other by now. Were you back at the old hospit'l lately, sir?"
"No," said the Doctor, "not for more than three years. I'm just in from Valparaiso."
They were sitting together in a little open space at the woodland's edge where some fine sheer turf was just then well shaded, and near by were plenty of juniper and lambkill-laurel and low blueberry bushes. Just at the Doctor's back was a high-standing, fragile old pine-stump, where a great tree must have been cut in winter when the snow lay deep. He lay back against a knee of it with his feet stretched out over the soft grass, while Mike Dillon sat erect at his side, looking down affectionately now and then, and amusing himself by pulling great pieces off the powdery old wood, which sifted down, disclosing shiny black ants that hurried about in despair. Mike struck at them furiously or tossed the bits of rotten wood after a stray bird or butterfly, sprinkling his companion with brown and gray crumbs and chips and pieces of red-topped moss. Both the men had a comfortable, boyish feeling, but they were silent for a time; there may have been some sense of superior rank and old naval regulations, but the business of the man-of-war's man with the stump and the butterflies went steadily on.
"I suppose this was all pasture once," said the Surgeon at last, for all these birches and young stuff have come up within a few years; they ought to be cleared. This turf is the best sort; good sheep-pasture, isn't it, through all this region?"
"You're right there, sir," said Dillon, clearing his throat deliberately, as if there were need of further comment and explanation, but he said nothing more.
"This must have been an enormous white pine," said the Doctor. "It's a very old stump and all worn away by weather, but it must he a good four feet across now at the butt."
"Pretty close to it," said Dillon, turning to regard the ruin. "I does be minding some old story they tell about this stump; 'twas a known tree at any rate."
"How far do you live from here?" inquired the Doctor by way of leading question.
"In the old Dale place itself, sir, or up to Dillon's, as they say now," answered Dillon proudly." I was walking me finces, having a little spare time."
"Good for you," said Doctor Hallett with large sympathy; but there was a pause in the conversation, and presently he went on:
"I left the old Minerva in Brooklyn only yesterday; she's likely to be there all summer. I think she's worse below decks than they were ready to believe."
"She'd more leaks than a basket this spring four years ago when I was aboard of her," asserted Dillon. "The innocint inspictors was ch'ated in a lot of copper sh'athing, and there was black-hearted conthractors retired from business soon after to live 'asy on their means." Dillon spoke with an air of complete assurance. "There was rats in her the size of dogs, though, an' we knew by that she'd float longer, or we'd all gone ashore together. I always remimbered those rats for the biggest I was ever acquainted with. Anybody does be having great knowledge of rats that stays long in the service. My wife 'on't believe me when I speak of the size of them."
"Your wife?" interrupted the Surgeon with renewed interest. "I know all about those rats, but I never heard of your being married."
"Well, now I'm feeling homesick for the old days from seeing you, sir, I'm as well to be telling you honest, sir, but 'tis true for me I'm well married and settled since I was to the hospit'l," answered Mike with an air of pride. "Look here, Docther, let me pit the fish out here a bit further in the cool bushes. They're fine trout, an' it's growing warm." He got to his feet a little clumsily, took the basket from beneath a clump of juniper, and carried it down towards the brook, where he could be heard tearing off handfuls of birch leaves to cover them, and letting the young tree-tops swish back. The Doctor got his match-box out and a handful of cigars. When Mike returned he sat down a trifle further away than at first, so that he and the Doctor faced each other. The Doctor suddenly became aware that he personified for the moment all the delights of sea-going friendship, that he was a kind of embodiment of the service. Mike was looking squarely in his face and had lost all self-consciousness; they were only two sailors together.
"I ain't seen a navy man this long time to have a word with," said Dillon. "I does be thinking of the b'ys a good deal, sir. No, keep it yoursilf, Docther; you'll want to be smoking a bit as you're going home, an' I've got me pipe in me pocket'll do for me. I don't know did you happen to see the old crew of the Lion was paid off last week, home from Gibraltar? I gets what I can on the papers, but that's not much," and Mike gave a sigh. "I was born a farmer, but I never thought I'd die one, sir."
The tobacco was well lighted; the desired moment for the narrative of Mike's adventures seemed to have come.
"God bless us! I'll have to tell you all," said Mike; "'tis a great story for a sayman that was always glad to be off shore. Whin I got left out o' hospit'l that time by yourself and Parlow I felt grand to be going; yourself knows how I'd been t'asing as if for me liberty out of jail, for all I had great kindness from every one there. I was none too strong, sir; there was no stringth in me legs, an' they so surprised with being mismated altogether. Aff I wint wit' me bowld air, but I didn't get far down the road on me leg that's too short an' me leg that's too long till I felt as if the two of 'em was punching through at me shoulders an' a great pain grinding in me back, so I had to go sit down in the side o' the road. I tried would I lay down, an' I tried would I sit up, an' I couldn't contint myself wit' neither one till I cried me heart out there in the dead leaves, an' a bird come an' lighted on a bush and made me swear wit' her little song that begun new every time and stopped short in the middle. I'd been light-hearted as a b'y, faith I had, for all me hurts, an' now me life was broke in two for me, an' I looked at me legs an' says I, 'Where'll you go now, Mickey lad, an' what'll you do whin you get there? You've got thim two damn legs an' a stiffness in your lift elbow; an' just feel o' your poor back and your side how they ache,' says I to myself, making the worst of everything. 'You're no sailor now,' says I, an' 'on't be a sailor again while the world lives, an' that's the only fag ind of a trade you've got. Look at that now for you,' says I."
"Poor fellow!" said the Doctor.
"I thought the sky'd turned dark, I did indeed, sir," said Mike; "I wished I was back in the old hospit'l; I thought I'd creep back and beg lodgings for what work I'd do about the place, an' then I minded how old Parlow'd lift me in his arrums and I knew I'd no stringth to do that for a sick man nor anything else, and I'd got sick of the smell of the medicines, besides being ashamed to go back to it after me coming away so bold. I'd been allowed a taste of somethin' to stringthen me by Parlow when I was l'aving, and my heart was wake in me wit wanting more. I felt in me pocket for an ould knife Parlow gave me, mine being lost in the pocket of me bloody clothes the time I got hurted. I couldn't count the times I'd cursed Parlow as well as I knew how an' he paying me back the same way, but I cried for him thin wit' the knife in me hand for company an' I in the side of the bushes by the fince. I never blamed any man since if I saw him a coward. 'Twas intirely from walking the first mile away from the hospit'l whin I'd only been loafin' round the garden of it before."
"You had to start some time or other," said the Surgeon kindly. "I remember it was a good day a little too warm perhaps. Picked up your strength pretty fast, didn't you, Dillon?"
"I'll tell you the truth, Docther: it wasn't the week's ind before I wouldn't take a bould word from anny one. My head was as high as ever, and I feeling pretty well and 'ating like the birdie that pays the rint, an' me pains didn't trouble me where me bones was minded. The weather was fine and smiling, and I kept on through idleness far up the country. Says I to myself, 'We'll take a hand wit' the planting for a while.' I heard great tark in the towns that help was very scarce on the farms, and I thought I'd go footing it along as slow as I liked and see all the places, and pick me a nice, 'asy corner where I'd stay for a while an' hear from me pinsion. I'd plinty of money first, thanks be to me frinds, to go in the cars, but 'twas fine to be out and always hungry, so I took time enough to fill me up, but I never could, sir, and I thought I'd get me poor legs used to travelling together. The green fields looked fine to me, I'd been so long at sea. I got lodgings handy to the road all the while, and I'd sometimes get a lift in a team from pity on me legs an' love for me buttons, and so I worked mesilf along, and I was very proud-feeling at first, but at the end I came to want, and I couldn't suit anybody's needs on the road. I'd no chance wit' the farmers, you'll see; they'd look me over, for all I was sure I could plant and hoe wit' any man, and they'd till me I might go to the women folks and get me dinner, or else they'd say I might get out of it an' they wanted no tramps. So the weather come hot an' I got surly an' was as bad as troops on the march with rags and dirt after I'd had two weeks more travel. I'd spint me money, Lord knew whin I'd have me pinsion, and everywhere I wint 'twas full before I come; an' I wont tark all day Docther, but I'd fallen in great trouble. How'd I got there I d'know, an' how'd I get back I d'know, an' so I lost heart altogether or I was ready to fight the whole road by turns. Now I'm goin' to tell you me story --"
"Take a cigar; your pipe's out now, Dillon," said the Doctor encouragingly, and Dillon looked doubtful for a moment, then laid his pipe on the grass beside him, turned the cigar in his fingers, and after a moment of reflection cheerfully accepted a light.
"I was toiling up the gravelly road below here a mile or a mile an' a half, sir," he went on, with a fresh breeze in the sails of his story. "You'll mind how there's a long hill comes up this side of the old schoolhouse, and beyant there's a little t'read of a brook that comes into this; there's trout in it too, in a place I'll be showing you where it's dammed by a tree or two across; I own woods there, sir; 'tis two miles from here, but the fish do be crowded in the wather."
"Good for you, Mike," said the Surgeon in a brotherly tone.
"Yes, sir; 'tis true for me, sir; I remimber thim old days in the hospit'l, sir. I don't be much for fishin' anyways mesilf. Well then," said Mike gallantly, "I was coming up that long hill an' I was as hungry as a saint's dog. I'd no pinny left in me pocket; 'twas noontime, an' I'd a mind if school was keeping to ask the childer at the school-house for a bite of bread an' cheese, an' I'd tell them a story to pl'ase them. 'Twas Saturday intirely an' I'd forgot it, an' the door was shut. I looked round in the grass an' I saw the crust of a piece of pie, an' I picked it up as if 'twas money and ate it down and looked everywhere for another. That part of the country is very poor-looking land, and I sat awhile on the school-house steps thinking of the size of me for a fool. I didn't know what made me go so far from the salt water, or how would I get anybody to write a letter for me or give me a cint for a card to sind to a frind that would help me out. An' where was any friend I'd write to with the ship gone to sea, yourself having sailing orders with the rest, an' Parlow having told me he was going to the old country for a holiday. I come near makin' another whillalu over meself: me head was the last ind of me to get well, there's the truth, but that was the last day it ever felt hollow on me as it did then, an' the school-house hopped up and down when I tried to look at it to keep me steady. Oh, I'm too long wit' it all, sir, but I wa'n't so bad as the first time in the bushes. 'Go wash your face,' says I, 'an' get dacint, an' go up to the top of this hill,' says I; 'there's sometimes fine land on the top of gravelly hills like this, and then, if you don't find annything, turn round an' come back'; an' so I got laughing, an' there was courage in me crust of pie that I'd found, and I stepped meself on up the hill.
"Docther Hallett," continued Mr. Dillon with much solemnity, "whin I was on the top what did I see, an' I looking ahead to seek me fortune, but a fine figur' of a woman comin' out from a little white house beyant, an' she running whooping down the road towards me, as if she was expecting the likes of me all day; but she stopped by some bars and I walked on the best I could to meet the lady and tell her I was after being there intirely and thin I saw what she was after. 'Twas not meself, but the crows that were pulling up her young corn by the roots and 'ating it. She'd run to and fro in her field like a boy, an' she yelling and shaking her apron. 'Lord be good to me,' says I, 'here's me chance! Me shirt wants buttons as bad as me inside wants bread, -- 'tis a tidy-looking house; I wish I'd pl'ase the lady.'
"'Let me do that ma'am,' says I. 'I'll stand still in the field and them little birds'll take me for a scarecrow.'"
"What did she say to that?" asked the Surgeon with interest.
"'I don't want no tramps about me place,' says she, as many another had said before her.
"'A lady like you,' says I (Dillon repeated the conversation in persuasive tones), 'oughtn't to be sp'iling her perty skin,' says I, 'out driving crows in the hot sun.' She was not young, sir, but she had good looks, an' I minded that the first thing. 'Go in, ma'am,' says I very gintle-spoken, -- 'go in, ma'am, an' rest 'asy; for here's a man, though but a poor one, 'll scare the crows in your stead an' be thankful for the kind privilege!'
"'They do trouble me bad,' says she. 'I don't want you round,' says she, very plain and hearty, 'but I'm baking pies the day an I'm all alone.' then she caught herself up an' was sorry for having let on to me that she was all alone.
"'Don't mind me, ma'am,' says I; 'I'll defind you to the last drop of me blood before anny one shall lay a finger on you!' and she turned to me wit' a laugh an saw I had the right feelings, and we tarked a little more, an' she wint in the house and I drove thim crows like a crazy windmill an' watched the blue smoke coming out of the chimney, and by the time the sun got over me head she come out by the fince an' set me down a fine plate heaped up three stories high with a French roof, an' I ate every crumb that was there and set the plate down with a finer polish than was on it before. I niver thought of Parlow nor how would I get back to the hospit'l from that time."
The Doctor began to say something appreciative of the situation, but Dillon did not stop to listen.
"I got me plateful again for supper an' I thought out me course. It wa'n't best to do anything but go away out of sight that night, for fear she'd be plain with me that I couldn't stop at all, an' the gates of Heaven would be shut by me own fault. So I says good-night whin the sun dropped an' I goin' by the house, an' she come out an' offered me fifty cints for me throuble, but I says no; she'd given me in food an' kindness all the work was worth; an' so she invited me very wishful to stop an' see her if I come that road again, an' she hoped me leg would get better an' all them things. There was some navy buttons still left on me to show me trade, an' when I looked back she was lookin' after me too out o' the windy; but I wint down the road like the tramp I'd fallen to be, and when it came dark I stole back an' got into her tidy barn and I slept well there in the hay."
"Was she young?" asked the Surgeon, as if to gratify a neighborly curiosity.
"I'm afther telling you, sir, that she wasn't young. I should think she might be sixty years of age at the time or a little less, but a fine, smart lady, sir. No, she wa'n't sixty, I suppose, but she was that kind you wouldn't think how old was she, but only a fine shape of a woman, an' good-hearted looking. 'Twas your first thought of her that she was good-looking, and not old nor young."
The Surgeon could not help glancing up with a suspicious smile. Mike was not above forty and his eyes and forehead and his curly hair had not lost their boyishness, and the Doctor smiled broadly, but Mike looked serious and innocent as he proceeded.
"The next morning was Sunday you'll see, sir, from the day before having been Saturday, an' I was out very early with the sun just blazing up. ''Twill be a fine hot day,' says I, 'an' the old lady'll be vexed wit' them crows, an' she'll want to l'ave home to be goin' to church, an' there's nobody to l'ave the crows wit' but me,' an' I see two or three black old thieves in the air that minute; an' I took a turn t'rough the orchard an' come up the road, so if she was looking out she'd think I'd spint the night far beyant. An' I dealt very bowld wit' thim birds, Docther, for I could see them roosting all in the archard-edge and among the young pines overright it, one here and one there, keeping watch would I go away an' they'd all light down together. But I rose no noise; she'd had a hard day's work, the cr'atur', an' I says, 'Let her get her Sunday sleep; and whin breakfast-time arrives,' says I to my stomach that was complainin' o' me walking the field to and fro an' it empty, says I, 'she'll remimber you an' no fears o' that, me darlin'.' An' I wint on blowing a foul curse at the crows wit' me finger ends an' walkin' the field's deck till I thought she'd got a stroke or something, sir; the house looked like she was dead in it; an' of a sudden I saw the door fly open and up wint every crow into the air with a great flutter out of the trees. There wa'n't a black feather of them from the field. And she looked sharp an' saw me in the impty place, an' how the birds had all been sitting round as if they mint to pick me bones, an' I dead wit' the hunger, an' I heard her burst out laughing, an' she shut the door an' wint in. An' in a minute the smoke come out of the chimney as if 'twas the nose of a gun, an' I sat down and waited by the field side. 'Twas a good breakfast, sir. I got me willin' poor legs to carry me to it, an' 'twas by the kitchen table inside I was, sir, an' herself mindin' the crows from the door."
The story had reached a climax of triumph, and Mike and his surgeon both laughed, while the latter signified an eager desire to hear more.
"She wint to church the day, sir. I adwised her to it, the weather being fine, an' after me iligant breakfast I'd stop till night an' welcome, before I wint on, the nixt day being Monday; and she wint away down the road like a gerrl with her house-key in her pocket. I was aisier with the crows for a while at noon, the sun being very hot an' she'd locked up her well in the shed, from not being sure of me characther, so I could get no drink unless I wint far down the hill for it, an' I was most bate with the heat, I having always in the worst of times stopped off the road in the middle of the day. I'd a mind to go on, once, and l'ave the crows in to their dinner, but for the lady thrusting me, an' so I stayed on till she come hurrying home looking an' looking to see would I be still there an' everything safe. I watched through the fince and rose up as she came by. 'I was afraid you'd gone,' says she before she took thought, an' I says, 'I gave me word to a lady,' I says; 'an' [an] you've misthrusted the wrong man,' an' she was very pleasant intirely. 'Don't mind the crows anny more for a while,' says she. 'Look at thim then,' says I, an' threw one o' me stones into a tree an' up they wint with a great clack and squawking into the air. 'I'd lost half me corn but for you, sir,' says she.
"'I'd best mind 'em for a day yet,' says I; 'they've come out of the whole country into the one field,' says I. I'd respict to her being a lone woman an' very helpless wit' 'em, Docther, and havin' nobody to call on for help."
"Of course," said the Doctor gravely.
"Wit' her l'ave, thin, I made me a fine little shady hut by the field gate out of some inds of old boards, a sintry-box you might call it ashore, an' I wint on duty there, an' she give me a large hand-bell and I made a little heap of stones, and wit' me pipe an' a song I'd a fine afternoon there, an' the good company o' mesilf whilst I was making a clapper I'd often seen at home whin all the boys do be out minding the crows for the farmers, and before long I was raising a great noise with it if a crow would fly down. 'Twas that same night I got the invitation in to drink tay with herself, and I cl'aned me old clothes the best I could, though I was outrageous-like for a man-o'-war's man, I was indeed, but she was very r'asonable, and I told her me story, and other thravels of meself and frinds by land and sea; and the evening was as short as the day was long, an' she had great pity on me throubles, and I got a bottle from her for me lame legs: to rub the short one so it would grow or to reef the lingth of the long one, I forget which it was mint to do, for neither leg was the better of it. And she saw how well I could help her round the place, and that me heart was honest and me luck very bad, and I having been started at home a farmer's boy. Herself was disappointed wit' a man that had promised to come and work, and she'd all her land planted, and no courage how would she ever get through the s'ason.
"'Twas very hard for the lady, an' I'd seen it all from the beginning, and me arms were pretty good, an' the farm all being on a side hill in respict to me legs was great convanience. So she said I'd best stay till she minded up me clothes, I being a sailor and having served the country, sir, and hersilf having a young brother once that ran away to say and was lost. Betune it all we got on very well. I'm there yet, sir."
"Good harborage for you," said the Doctor warmly. He could not help thinking how much better it was for the hearty, good-natured fellow than to have drifted into the miserable idleness of a sailors' refuge to waste his days in drinking and foolishness. Dillon wore an air of authority and looked very prosperous for a country farmer and a limping, disabled man.
"How soon did you get married?" the doctor asked with interest, wishing to hear more of this seaman's pastoral.
The two men were on their feet now, but Mike had an air of wishing to make further confidence.
"Deed, then, I've been married two years and two months," said he. "I never thought I'd die on the land. We're fine and happy, sir, as the days are long, and they're very long too, this time of the year on the hills. I'd like to kape to the watch on an' off, as it is on board ship. Yes, I'm married, Docther -- you see the old lady's very sharp with the work an' 'twas very expinsive for her wit' me wages, so she made us no throuble."
"The old lady?" repeated the Doctor doubtfully, a little puzzled by Mike's tone.
"Oh, coom now, sir!" exclaimed Mr. Dillon with consternation. "Sure, Docther, 'tisn't hersilf; 'tis the niece I married, a fine, pretty girl, one that she took very small to bring up and of late years promised the farm to her if she'd get a good husband. I'm that indeed, sir, too; their only fright is I might run away to sea. And we all drives the crows together!"
The Doctor laughed until Mike began to laugh too, and went away, still smiling, to get the creel from its cool hollow. His romance had taken such a sudden and unexpected turn that the listener resorted to professional interests at last to cover his amusement.
"You might have come out of that accident a good deal worse," he said. "You've done well, Mike; nobody in the world would think of hiring you for a scarecrow now."
Mike nodded. "Come up wit' me to the house," he urged; "we'll thry the cider an' I'll drive you home in the cool of the afternoon, sir, -- 'tis too hot for you to be tramping t'rough the woods."
"All right," said Doctor Hallett, as Dillon went on ahead in the narrow sheep-path they were following. "You're a lucky fellow, Mike."
"Tis the thruth for you, I'm lucky, thin," agreed Mike, looking over his shoulder. "I've got the beautiful wife, 'tis yoursilf'll say so from having seen her, an' the Lord is good to me legs in respict to its being a hill country. The old lady's a mother to me. But I made bowld to slip away from it for a while the day; 'twas thinkin' o salt wather and the gay old times wit' the b'ys I was whin I caught sight of yourself comin' t'rough the brush."
"A Landlocked Sailor" appeared in Lippincott's Magazine (64:753-764) in November 1899, and was reprinted in Richard Cary's Uncollected Stories of Sarah Orne Jewett, on which this text is based. Apparent errors have been corrected and indicated with brackets. If you find errors or items needing annotation, please contact the site manager.
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"In it thou shalt do no work;" ... "listen to the voices": For the commandment to do no work on the seventh day, see Exodus 20. See also Leviticus 23 and Numbers 9 for discussions of keeping the Sabbath, a topic that receives a good deal of discussion especially in the Old Testament. Whether the second phrase also refers to a biblical passage is difficult to determine in a context of enjoying wild nature, where the allusion could as easily be to Ralph Waldo Emerson in "Nature" (1836) or William Wordsworth in any number of poems such as "Tintern Abbey" (1798). The bible refers often to listening to God's voice in stillness or a pastoral or private situation, as in Psalms 95 and John 10, and in the story of the transfiguration of Christ in Luke 9. Perhaps also the story of Pentecost in Acts 2 is relevant.
checkerberry leaves: checkerberry or wintergreen leaves could be used for flavoring items such as medicines and tea. They also have been chewed for their flavor.
sweet flag: Acorus calamus; a sweet-smelling wetlands plant; the underground stems were once used to make a gingery candy. Blooms April through August.
cat-birds ... yellow-hammers: The cat-bird is probably the gray catbird, named because its characteristic call note is a cat-like mew. A yellow-hammer is the golden-winged woodpecker or flicker in North America.
Dic'ration Day: Decoration Day was celebrated on May 30 to honor the dead of the American Civil War by decorating their graves. Later became Memorial Day, on which all deceased American veterans are remembered.
Wexford: Wexford is on the west coast of Ireland, south of Dublin.
in from Valparaiso: Almost certainly the Doctor refers to Valparaiso, a port in Chile.
lamb-kill: Kalmia angustifolia, a variety of laurel that is poisonous to livestock if eaten in large quantity.
Gibraltar: Town and port on the island or rock of Gibraltar at the entrance of the Mediterranean Sea.
schoolhouse: This word usually is hyphenated in this text. I have retained this inconsistency.
French roof: It seems most likely from the context that a gambrel is meant, rather than a French dormer. (Research assistance: Chris Butler).
Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe College.
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