Deephaven and Selected Stories & Sketches - Part 7

Part 7

"One day he set father to putting some cherries into a bar'l of rum, and went off down to his wharf to see to the loading of a vessel, and afore he come back father found he'd got hold of the wrong bar'l, and had sp'ilt a bar'l of the best Holland gin; he tried to get the cherries out, but that wasn't any use, and he was dreadful afraid of Uncle Matthew, and he run away, and never was heard of from that time out.

They supposed he'd run away to sea, as he had a leaning that way, but n.o.body ever knew for certain; and his mother she 'most mourned herself to death. Gran'ther told me that it got so at last that if they could only know for sure that he was dead it was all they would ask. But it went on four years, and gran'ther got used to it some; though grandmother never would give up. And one morning early, before day, she waked him up, and says she, 'We're going to hear from Matthew. Get up quick and go down to the store!' 'Nonsense,' says he. 'I've seen him,'

says grandmother, 'and he's coming home. He looks older, but just the same other ways, and he's got long hair, like a horse's mane, all down over his shoulders.' 'Well, let the dead rest,' says gran'ther; 'you've thought about the boy till your head is turned.' 'I tell you I saw Matthew himself,' says she, 'and I want you to go right down to see if there isn't a letter.' And she kept at him till he saddled the horse, and he got down to the store before it was opened in the morning, and he had to wait round, and when the man came over to unlock it he was 'most ashamed to tell what his errand was, for he had been so many times, and everybody supposed the boy was dead. When he asked for a letter, the man said there was none there, and asked if he was expecting any particular one. He didn't get many letters, I s'pose; all his folks lived about here, and people didn't write any to speak of in those days. Gran'ther said he thought he wouldn't make such a fool of himself again, but he didn't say anything, and he waited round awhile, talking to one and another who came up, and by and by says the store-keeper, who was reading a newspaper that had just come, 'Here's some news for you, Sands, I do believe! There are three vessels come into Boston harbor that have been out whaling and sealing in the South Seas for three or four years, and your son Matthew's name is down on the list of the crew.' 'I tell ye,' says gran'ther, 'I took that paper, and I got on my horse and put for home, and your grandmother she hailed me, and she said, "You've heard, haven't you?" before I told her a word.'

"Gran'ther he got his breakfast and started right off for Boston, and got there early the second day, and went right down on the wharves.

Somebody lent him a boat, and he went out to where there were two sealers laying off riding at anchor, and he asked a sailor if Matthew was aboard. 'Ay, ay,' says the sailor, 'he's down below.' And he sung out for him, and when he come up out of the hold his hair was long, down over his shoulders like a horse's mane, just as his mother saw it in the dream. Gran'ther he didn't know what to say,--it scared him,--and he asked how it happened; and father told how they'd been off sealing in the South Seas, and he and another man had lived alone on an island for months, and the whole crew had grown wild in their ways of living, being off so long, and for one thing had gone without caps and let their hair grow. The rest of the men had been ash.o.r.e and got fixed up smart, but he had been busy, and had put it off till that morning; he was just going ash.o.r.e then. Father was all struck up when he heard about the dream, and said his mind had been dwellin' on his mother and going home, and he come down to let her see him just as he was and she said it was the same way he looked in the dream. He never would have his hair cut--father wouldn't--and wore it in a queue. I remember seeing him with it when I was a boy; but his second wife didn't like the looks of it, and she come up behind him one day and cut it off with the scissors. He was terrible worked up about it. I never see father so mad as he was that day. Now this is just as true as the Bible," said Captain Sands. "I haven't put a word to it, and gran'ther al'ays told a story just as it was. That woman saw her son; but if you ask me what kind of eyesight it was, I can't tell you, nor n.o.body else."

Later that evening Kate and I drifted into a long talk about the captain's stories and these mysterious powers of which we know so little. It was somewhat chilly in the house, and we had kindled a fire in the fireplace, which at first made a blaze which lighted the old room royally, and then quieted down into red coals and lazy puffs of smoke.

We had carried the lights away, and sat with our feet on the fender, and Kate's great dog was lying between us on the rug. I remember that evening so well; we could see the stars through the window plainer and plainer as the fire went down, and we could hear the noise of the sea.

"Do you remember in the old myth of Demeter and Persephone," Kate asked me, "where Demeter takes care of the child and gives it ambrosia and hides it in fire, because she loves it and wishes to make it immortal, and to give it eternal youth; and then the mother finds it out and cries in terror to hinder her, and the G.o.ddess angrily throws the child down and rushes away? And he had to share the common destiny of mankind, though he always had some wonderful inscrutable grace and wisdom, because a G.o.ddess had loved him and held him in her arms. I always thought that part of the story beautiful where Demeter throws off her disguise and is no longer an old woman, and the great house is filled with brightness like lightning, and she rushes out through the halls with her yellow hair waving over her shoulders, and the people would give anything to bring her back again, and to undo their mistake. I knew it almost all by heart once," said Kate, "and I am always finding a new meaning in it. I was just thinking that it may be that we all have given to us more or less of another nature, as the child had whom Demeter wished to make like the G.o.ds. I believe old Captain Sands is right, and we have these instincts which defy all our wisdom and for which we never can frame any laws. We may laugh at them, but we are always meeting them, and one cannot help knowing that it has been the same through all history. They are powers which are imperfectly developed in this life, but one cannot help the thought that the mystery of this world may be the commonplace of the next."

"I wonder," said I, "why it is that one hears so much more of such things from simple country people. They believe in dreams, and they have a kind of fetichism, and believe so heartily in supernatural causes. I suppose nothing could shake Mrs. Patton's faith in warnings. There is no end of absurdity in it, and yet there is one side of such lives for which one cannot help having reverence; they live so much nearer to nature than people who are in cities, and there is a soberness about country people oftentimes that one cannot help noticing. I wonder if they are unconsciously awed by the strength and purpose in the world about them, and the mysterious creative power which is at work with them on their familiar farms. In their simple life they take their instincts for truths, and perhaps they are not always so far wrong as we imagine.

Because they are so instinctive and unreasoning they may have a more complete sympathy with Nature, and may hear her voices when wiser ears are deaf. They have much in common, after all, with the plants which grow up out of the ground and the wild creatures which depend upon their instincts wholly."

"I think," said Kate, "that the more one lives out of doors the more personality there seems to be in what we call inanimate things. The strength of the hills and the voice of the waves are no longer only grand poetical sentences, but an expression of something real, and more and more one finds G.o.d himself in the world, and believes that we may read the thoughts that He writes for us in the book of Nature." And after this we were silent for a while, and in the mean time it grew very late, and we watched the fire until there were only a few sparks left in the ashes. The stars faded away and the moon came up out of the sea, and we barred the great hall door and went up stairs to bed. The lighthouse lamp burned steadily, and it was the only light that had not been blown out in all Deephaven.

_Mrs. Bonny_

I am sure that Kate Lancaster and I must have spent by far the greater part of the summer 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 alongsh.o.r.e, 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 sh.o.r.e. 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 ash.o.r.e in the night, all hands being lost and not a piece of her left larger than an axe-handle; we visited the spot where a ship had come ash.o.r.e in the fog, and had 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 sh.o.r.e had been golden with her cargo of lemons and oranges, which one might carry away by the wherryful.

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 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 Dock.u.m for escort. We overtook Mr.

Lorimer, the minister, on his way to make parochial calls upon 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 gla.s.s. 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 b.u.t.ter and berries and eggs, and choke-pears preserved in 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 b.u.t.ter 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 s.h.a.ggy 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 drooping over, began to bark with all his might; but he retreated when he saw Kate's great dog, who 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 ain't old Parson Lorimer! And who be these with ye?"

"This is Miss Kate Lancaster of Boston, Miss Katharine 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 ap.r.o.ns, the inner one being a dress-ap.r.o.n, 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 nightcap, 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 doorstep, 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 sh.o.r.e sence I quit comin'?"

"O yes," said Mr. Lorimer, "but we miss seeing you."

"I s'pose so," said Mrs. Bonny, smoothing her ap.r.o.n 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 ill 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 foreordination 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 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 ain't a-goin' to hender 'em; I'm a professor, and I ain't ashamed of it, week-days 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 ain'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 a.s.sured 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 gla.s.s, if it's so's I can find it." And she pulled a chair under the little cupboard over the fireplace, 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 mantel-piece 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 b.u.t.tons and squash-seeds, beside a lump of beeswax which she said she had lost, and now pocketed with satisfaction. She wiped the tumbler on her ap.r.o.n 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 doorstep, and we stopped a minute there. "Real sightly, ain'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, ain'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 some time to see Miss Katharine Brandon's house. She should be pleased to call, and she didn't know but she should be down to the sh.o.r.e 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 good 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 creatur's will never die,"

said she; "why, they're getting to be ter'ble old, ain'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 all the herbs and trees and the harmless wild creatures who lived among them, by heart; and she had an amazing store of tradition and superst.i.tion, 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 p.r.o.nounced the name of that affliction.

_In Shadow_

Soon after we went to Deephaven we took a long drive one day with Mr.

Dock.u.m, the kindest and silentest of men. He had the care of the Brandon property, and had some business at that time connected with a large tract of pasture-land perhaps ten miles from town. We had heard of the coast-road which led to it, how rocky and how rough and wild it was, and when Kate heard by chance that Mr. Dock.u.m meant to go that way, she asked if we might go with him. He said he would much rather take us than "go sole alone," but he should be away until late and we must take our dinner, which we did not mind doing at all.

After we were three or four miles from Deephaven the country looked very different. The sh.o.r.e was so rocky that there were almost no places where a boat could put in, so there were no fishermen in the region, and the farms were scattered wide apart; the land was so poor that even the trees looked hungry. At the end of our drive we left the horse at a lonely little farm-house close by the sea. Mr. Dock.u.m was to walk a long way inland through the woods with a man whom he had come to meet, and he told us if we followed the sh.o.r.e westward a mile or two we should find some very high rocks, for which he knew we had a great liking. It was a delightful day to spend out of doors; there was an occasional whiff of east-wind. Seeing us seemed to be a perfect G.o.dsend to the people whose nearest neighbors lived far out of sight. We had a long talk with them before we went for our walk. The house was close by the water by a narrow cove, around which the rocks were low, but farther down the sh.o.r.e the land rose more and more, and at last we stood at the edge of the highest rocks of all and looked far down 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?

After we had explored the sh.o.r.e to our hearts' content and were tired, we rested for a while in the shadow of some gnarled pitch-pines which stood close together, as near the sea as they dared. They looked like a band of outlaws; they were such wild-looking trees. They seemed very old, and as if their savage fights with the winter winds had made them hard-hearted. And yet the little wild-flowers and the thin green gra.s.s-blades were growing fearlessly close around their feet; and there were some comfortable birds'-nests in safe corners of their rough branches.