by Sarah Orne Jewett
ONE evening, at the end of August, in Dunnet Landing, I heard Mrs.
Todd's firm footstep crossing the small front entry outside my door,
and her conventional cough which served as a herald's trumpet, or a
plain New England knock, in the harmony of our fellowship.
"Oh, please come in!" I cried, for it had been so still in the
house that I supposed my friend and hostess had gone to see one of her
neighbors. The first cold northeasterly storm of the season was blowing
hard outside. Now and then there was a dash of great raindrops and a
flick of wet lilac leaves against the window, but I could hear that the
sea was already stirred to its dark depths, and the great rollers were
coming in heavily against the shore. One might well believe that Summer
was coming to a sad end that night, in the darkness and rain and sudden
access of autumnal cold. It seemed as if there must be danger offshore
among the outer islands.
"Oh, there!" exclaimed Mrs. Todd, as she entered. "I know nothing
ain't ever happened out to Green Island since the world began, but I
always do worry about mother in these great gales. You know those tidal
waves occur sometimes down to the West Indies, and I get dwellin' on
'em so I can't set still in my chair, not knit a common row to a
stocking. William might get mooning, out in his small bo't, and not
observe how the sea was making, an' meet with some accident. Yes, I
thought i'd come in and set with you if you wa'n't busy. No, I never
feel any concern about 'em in winter 'cause then they're prepared, and
all ashore and everything snug. William ought to keep help, as I tell
him; yes, he ought to keep help."
I hastened to reassure my anxious guest by saying that Elijah
Tilley had told me in the afternoon, when I came along the shore past
the fish houses, that Johnny Bowden and the Captain were out at Green
Island; he had seen them beating up the bay, and thought they must have
put into Burnt Island cove, but one of the lobstermen brought word
later that he saw them hauling out at Green Island as he came by, and
Captain Bowden pointed ashore and shook his head to say that he did not
mean to try to get in. "The old Miranda just managed it, but she will
have to stay at home a day or two and put new patches in her sail," I
ended, not without pride in so much circumstantial evidence.
Mrs. Todd was alert in a moment. "Then they'll all have a very
pleasant evening," she assured me, apparently dismissing all fears of
tidal waves and other sea-going disasters. "I was urging Alick Bowden
to go ashore some day and see mother before cold weather. He's her own
nephew; she sets a great deal by him. And Johnny's a great chum o'
William's; don't you know the first day we had Johnny out 'long of us,
he took an' give William his money to keep for him that he'd been
a-savin', and William showed it to me an' was so affected, I thought he
was goin' to shed tears? 'Twas a dollar an' eighty cents; yes, they'll
have a beautiful evenin' all together, and like's not the sea'll be
flat as a doorstep come morning."
I had drawn a large wooden rocking-chair before the fire, and Mrs.
Todd was sitting there jogging herself a little, knitting fast, and
wonderfully placid of countenance. There came a fresh gust of wind and
rain, and we could feel the small wooden house rock and hear it creak
as if it were a ship at sea.
"Lord, hear the great breakers!" exclaimed Mrs. Todd. "How they
pound! — there, there! I always run of an idea that the sea knows
anger these nights and gets full o' fight. I can hear the rote o' them
old black ledges way down the thoroughfare. Calls up all those stormy
verses in the Book o' Psalms; David he knew how old sea-goin' folks
have to quake at the heart."
I thought as I had never thought before of such anxieties. The
families of sailors and coastwise adventurers by sea must always be
worrying about somebody, this side of the world or the other. There was
hardly one of Mrs. Todd's elder acquaintances, men or women, who had
not at some time or other made a sea voyage, and there was often no
news until the voyagers themselves came back to bring it.
"There's a roaring high overhead, and a roaring in the deep sea,"
said Mrs. Todd solemnly, "and they battle together nights like this.
No, I couldn't sleep; some women folks always goes right to bed an' to
sleep, so's to forget, but 'taint my way. Well, it's a blessin' we
don't all feel alike; there's hardly any of our folks at sea to worry
about, nowadays, but I can't help my feelin's, an' I got thinking of
mother all alone, if William had happened to be out lobsterin' and
couldn't make the cove gettin' back."
"They will have a pleasant evening," I repeated. "Captain Bowden is
the best of good company."
"Mother'll make him some pancakes for his supper, like's not," said
Mrs. Todd, clicking her knitting needles and giving a pull at her yarn.
Just then the old cat pushed open the unlatched door and came straight
toward her mistress's lap. She was regarded severely as she stepped
about and turned on the broad expanse, and then made herself into a
round cushion of fur, but was not openly admonished. There was another
great blast of wind overhead, and a puff of smoke came down the
"This makes me think o' the night Mis' Cap'n Tolland died," said
Mrs. Todd, half to herself. "Folks used to say these gales only blew
when somebody's a-dyin', or the devil was a-comin' for his own, but the
worst man I ever knew died a real pretty mornin' in June."
"You have never told me any ghost stories," said I; and such was
the gloomy weather and the influence of the night that I was instantly
filled with reluctance to have this suggestion followed. I had not
chosen the best of moments; just before I spoke we had begun to feel as
cheerful as possible. Mrs. Todd glanced doubtfully at the cat and then
at me, with a strange absent look, and I was really afraid that she was
going to tell me something that would haunt my thoughts on every dark
stormy night as long as I lived.
"Never mind now; tell me to-morrow by daylight, Mrs. Todd," I
hastened to say, but she still looked at me full of doubt and
"Ghost stories!" she answered. "Yes, I don't know but I've heard a
plenty of 'em first an' last. I was just sayin' to myself that this is
like the night Mis' Cap'n Tolland died. 'Twas the great line storm in
September all of thirty, or maybe forty, year ago. I ain't one that
keeps much account o' time."
"Tolland? That's a name I have never heard in Dunnet," I said.
"Then you haven't looked well about the old part o' the buryin'
ground, no'theast corner," replied Mrs. Todd. "All their women folks
lies there; the sea's got most o' the men. They were a known family o'
shipmasters in early times. Mother had a mate, Ellen Tolland, that she
mourns to this day; died right in her bloom with quick consumption, but
the rest o' that family was all boys but one, and older than she, an'
they lived hard seafarin' lives an' all died hard. They were called
very smart seamen. I've heard that when the youngest went into one o'
the old shippin' houses in Boston, the head o' the firm called out to
him: 'Did you say Tolland from Dunnet? That's recommendation enough for
any vessel!' There was some o' them old shipmasters as tough as iron,
an' they had the name o' usin' their crews very severe, but there
wa'n't a man that wouldn't rather sign with 'em an' take his chances,
than with the slack ones that didn't know how to meet accidents."
There was so long a pause, and Mrs. Todd still looked so
absent-minded, that I was afraid she and the cat were growing drowsy
together before the fire, and I should have no reminiscences at all.
The wind struck the house again, so that we both started in our chairs
and Mrs. Todd gave a curious, startled look at me. The cat lifted her
head and listened too, in the silence that followed, while after the
wind sank we were more conscious than ever of the awful roar of the
sea. The house jarred now and then, in a strange, disturbing way.
"Yes, they'll have a beautiful evening out to the island," said
Mrs. Todd again; but she did not say it gayly. I had not seen her
before in her weaker moments.
"Who was Mrs. Captain Tolland?" I asked eagerly, to change the
current of our thoughts.
"I never knew her maiden name; if I ever heard it, I've gone an'
forgot; 'twould mean nothing to me," answered Mrs. Todd.
"She was a foreigner, an' he met with her out in the Island o'
Jamaica. They said she'd been left a widow with property. Land knows
what become of it; she was French born, an' her first husband was a
Portugee, or somethin'."
I kept silence now, a poor and insufficient question being worse
"Cap'n John Tolland was the least smartest of any of 'em, but he
was full smart enough, an' commanded a good brig at the time, in the
sugar trade; he'd taken out a cargo o' pine lumber to the islands from
somewheres up the river, an' had been headin' for home in the port o'
Kingston, an' had gone ashore that afternoon for his papers, an'
remained afterwards 'long of three friends o' his, all shipmasters.
They was havin' their suppers together in a tavern; 'twas late in the
evenin' an' they was more lively than usual, an' felt boyish; and over
opposite was another house full o' company, real bright and pleasant
lookin', with a lot o' lights, an' they heard somebody singin' very
pretty to a guitar. They wa'n't in no go-to-meetin' condition, an' one
of 'em, he slapped the table an' said, 'Le''s go over 'n' hear that
lady sing!' an' over they all went, good honest sailors, but three
sheets in the wind, and stepped in as if they was invited, an' made
their bows inside the door, an' asked if they could hear the music;
they were all respectable well-dressed men. They saw the woman that had
the guitar, an' there was a company a-listenin', regular highbinders
all of 'em; an' there was a long table all spread out with big
candlesticks like little trees o' light, and a sight o' glass an'
silver ware; an' part o' the men was young officers in uniform, an' the
colored folks was steppin' round servin' 'em, an' they had the lady
singin'. 'Twas a wasteful scene, an' a loud talkin' company, an' though
they was three sheets in the wind themselves there wa'n't one o' them
cap'ns but had sense to perceive it. The others had pushed back their
chairs, an' their decanters an' glasses was standin' thick about, an'
they was teasin' the one that was singin' as if they'd just got her in
to amuse 'em. But they quieted down; one o' the young officers had
beautiful manners, an' invited the four cap'ns to join 'em, very
polite; 'twas a kind of public house, and after they'd all heard
another song, he come to consult with 'em whether they wouldn't git up
and dance a hornpipe or somethin' to the lady's music.
They was all elderly men an' shipmasters, and owned property; two
of 'em was church members in good standin'," continued Mrs. Todd
loftily, "an' they wouldn't lend theirselves to no such kick-shows as
that, an' spite o' bein' three sheets in the wind, as I have once
observed, they waved aside the tumblers of wine the young officer was
pourin' out for 'em so freehanded, and said they should rather be
excused. An' when they all rose, still very dignified, as I've been
well informed, and made their partin' bows and was goin' out, them
young sports got round 'em an' tried to prevent 'em, and they had to
push an' strive considerable, but out they come. There was this Cap'n
Tolland and two Cap'n Bowdens, and the fourth was my own father." (Mrs.
Todd spoke slowly, as if to impress the value of her authority.) "Two
of them was very religious, upright men, but they would have their
night off sometimes, all o' them old-fashioned cap'ns, when they was
free of business and ready to leave port.
"An' they went back to their tavern an' got their bills paid, an'
set down kind o' mad with everybody by the front window, mistrusting
some o' their tavern charges, like's not, by that time, an' when they
got tempered down, they watched the house over across, where the party
"There was a kind of a grove o' trees between the house an' the
road, an' they heard the guitar a-goin' an' a-stoppin' short by turns,
and pretty soon somebody began to screech, an' they saw a white dress
come runnin' out through the bushes, an' tumbled over each other in
their haste to offer help; an' out she come, with the guitar, cryin'
into the street, and they just walked off four square with her amongst
'em, down toward the wharves where they felt more to home. They
couldn't make out at first what 'twas she spoke, — Cap'n Lorenzo
Bowden was well acquainted in Havre an' Bordeaux, an' spoke a poor
quality o' French, an' she knew a little mite o' English, but not much;
and they come somehow or other to discern that she was in real
distress. Her husband and her children had died o' yellow fever; they'd
all come up to Kingston from one o' the far Wind'ard Islands to get
passage on a steamer to France, an' a negro had stole their money off
her husband while he lay sick o' the fever, an' she had been befriended
some, but the folks that knew about her had died too; it had been a
dreadful run o' the fever that season, an' she fell at last to playin'
an' singin' for hire, and for what money they'd throw to her round them
'Twas a real hard case, an' when them cap'ns made out about it,
there wa'n't one that meant to take leave without helpin' of her. They
was pretty mellow, an' whatever they might lack o' prudence they more'n
made up with charity: they didn't want to see nobody abused, an' she
was sort of a pretty woman, an' they stopped in the street then an'
there an' drew lots who should take her aboard, bein' all bound home.
An' the lot fell to Cap'n Jonathan Bowden who did act discouraged; his
vessel had but small accommodations, though he could stow a big
freight, an' she was a dreadful slow sailer through bein' square as a
box, an' his first wife, that was livin' then, was a dreadful jealous
woman. He threw himself right onto the mercy o' Cap'n Tolland."
Mrs. Todd indulged herself for a short time in a season of calm
"I always thought they'd have done better, and more reasonable, to
give her some money to pay her passage home to France, or wherever she
may have wanted to go," she continued.
I nodded and looked for the rest of the story.
"Father told mother," said Mrs. Todd confidentially, "that Cap'n
Jonathan Bowden an' Cap'n John Tolland had both taken a little more
than usual; I wouldn't have you think, either, that they both wasn't
the best o' men, an' they was solemn as owls, and argued the matter
between 'em, an' waved aside the other two when they tried to put their
oars in. An' spite o' Cap'n Tolland's bein' a settled old bachelor they
fixed it that he was to take the prize on his brig; she was a fast
sailer, and there was a good spare cabin or two where he'd sometimes
carried passengers, but he'd filled 'em with bags o' sugar on his own
account an' was loaded very heavy beside. He said he'd shift the sugar
an' get along somehow, an' the last the other three cap'ns saw of the
party was Cap'n John handing the lady into his bo't, guitar and all,
an' off they all set tow'ds their ships with their men rowin' 'em in
the bright moonlight down to Port Royal where the anchorage was, an'
where they all lay' goin' out with the tide an' mornin' wind at break
o' day. An' the others thought they heard music of the guitar, two o'
the bo'ts kept well together, but it may have come from another
"Well; and then?" I asked eagerly after a pause. Mrs. Todd was
almost laughing aloud over her knitting and nodding emphatically. We
had forgotten all about the noise of the wind and sea.
"Lord bless you! he come sailing into Portland with his sugar, all
in good time, an' they stepped right afore a justice o' the peace, and
Cap'n John Tolland come paradin' home to Dunnet Landin' a married man.
He owned one o' them thin, narrow-lookin' houses with one room each
side o' the front door, and two slim black spruces spindlin' up against
the front windows to make it gloomy inside. There was no horse nor
cattle of course, though he owned pasture land, an' you could see rifts
o' light right through the barn as you drove by. And there was a good
excellent kitchen, but his sister reigned over that; she had a right to
two rooms, and took the kitchen an' a bedroom that led out of it; an'
bein' given no rights in the kitchen had angered the cap'n so they
weren't on no kind o' speakin' terms. He preferred his old brig for
comfort, but now and then, between voyages he'd come home for a few
days, just to show he was master over his part o' the house, and show
Eliza she couldn't commit no trespass.
"They stayed a little while; 'twas pretty spring weather, an' I
used to see Cap'n John rollin' by with his arms full o' bundles from
the store, lookin' as pleased and important as a boy; an' then they
went right off to sea again, an' was gone a good many months. Next time
he left her to live there alone, after they'd stopped at home together
some weeks, an' they said she suffered from bein' at sea, but some said
that the owners wouldn't have a woman aboard. 'Twas before father was
lost on that last voyage of his, an' he said mother went up once or
twice to see them. Father said there wa'n't a mite o' harm in her, but
somehow or other a sight o' prejudice arose; it may have been caused by
the remarks of Eliza an' her feelin's tow'ds her brother. Even my
mother had no regard for Eliza Tolland. But mother asked the cap'n's
wife to come with her one evenin' to a social circle that was down to
the meetin'-house vestry, so she'd get acquainted a little, an' she
appeared very pretty until they started to have some singin' to the
melodeon. Mari' Harris an' one o' the younger Caplin girls undertook to
sing a duet, an' they sort o' flatted, an' she put her hands right up
to her ears, and give a little squeal, an' went quick as could be an'
give 'em the right notes, for she could read the music like plain
print, an' made 'em try it over again. She was real willin' an'
pleasant, but that didn't suit, an' she made faces when they got it
wrong. An' then there fell a dead calm, an' we was all settin' round
prim as dishes, an' my mother, that never expects ill feelin', asked
her if she wouldn't sing somethin', an up she got, — poor creatur', it
all seems so different to me now, — an' sung a lovely little song
standin' in the floor; it seemed to have something gay about it that
kept a-repeatin', an' nobody could help keepin' time, an' all of a
sudden she looked round at the tables and caught up a tin plate that
somebody'd fetched a Washin'ton pie in, an' she begun to drum on it
with her fingers like one o' them tambourines, an' went right on
singin' faster an' faster, and next minute she begun to dance a little
pretty dance between the verses, just as light and pleasant as a child.
You couldn't help seein' how pretty 'twas; we all got to trottin' a
foot, an' some o' the men clapped their hands quite loud, a-keepin'
time, 'twas so catchin', an' seemed so natural to her. There wa'n't one
of 'em but enjoyed it; she just tried to do her part, an' some urged
her on, till she stopped with a little twirl of her skirts an' went to
her place again by mother. And I can see mother now, reachin' over an'
smilin' an' pattin' her hand.
"But next day there was an awful scandal goin' in the parish, an'
Mari' Harris reproached my mother to her face, an' I never wanted to
see her since, but I've had to a good many times. I said Mis' Tolland
didn't intend no impropriety, — I reminded her of David's dancin'
before the Lord; but she said such a man as David never would have
thought o' dancin' right there in the Orthodox vestry, and she felt I
spoke with irreverence.
"And next sunday Mis' Tolland come walkin' into our meeting, but I
must say she acted like a cat in a strange garret, and went right out
down the aisle with her head in air, from the pew Deacon Caplin had
showed her into. 'Twas just in the beginning of the long prayer. I wish
she'd stayed through, whatever her reasons were. Whether she'd expected
somethin' different, or misunderstood some o' the pastor's remarks, or
what 'twas, I don't really feel able to explain, but she kind o'
declared war, at least folks thought so, an' war 'twas from that time.
I see she was cryin', or had been, as she passed by me; perhaps bein'
in meetin' was what had power to make her feel homesick and strange.
"Cap'n John Tolland was away fittin' out; that next week he come
home to see her and say farewell. He was lost with his ship in the
Straits of Malacca, and she lived there alone in the old house a few
months longer till she died. He left her well off; 'twas said he hid
his money about the house and she knew where 'twas. Oh, I expect you've
heard that story told over an' over twenty times, since you've been
here at the Landin'?"
"Never one word," I insisted.
"It was a good while ago," explained Mrs. Todd, with reassurance.
"Yes, it all happened a great while ago."
At this moment, with a sudden flaw of the wind, some wet twigs
outside blew against the window panes and made a noise like a
distressed creature trying to get in. I started with sudden fear, and
so did the cat, but Mrs. Todd knitted away and did not even look over
"She was a good-looking woman; yes, I always thought Mis' Tolland
was good-looking, though she had, as was reasonable, a sort of foreign
cast, and she spoke very broken English, no better than a child. She
was always at work about her house, or settin' at a front window with
her sewing; she was a beautiful hand to embroider. Sometimes, summer
evenings, when the windows was open, she'd set an' drum on her guitar,
but I don't know as I ever heard her sing but once after the cap'n went
away. She appeared very happy about havin' him, and took on dreadful at
partin' when he was down here on the wharf, going back to Portland by
boat to take ship for that last v'y'ge. He acted kind of ashamed, Cap'n
John did; folks about here ain't so much accustomed to show their
feelings. The whistle had blown an' they was waitin' for him to get
aboard, an' he was put to it to know what to do and treated her very
affectionate in spite of all impatience; but mother happened to be
there and she went an' spoke, and I remember what a comfort she seemed
to be. Mis' Tolland clung to her then, and she wouldn't give a glance
after the boat when it had started, though the captain was very eager
a-wavin' to her. She wanted mother to come home with her an' wouldn't
let go her hand, and mother had just come in to stop all night with me
an' had plenty o' time ashore, which didn't always happen, so they
walked off together, an' 'twas some considerable time before she got
"'I want you to neighbor with that poor lonesome creatur',' says
mother to me, lookin' reproachful. 'She's a stranger in a strange
land,' says mother. 'I want you to make her have a sense that somebody
feels kind to her.'
"'Shy, since that time she flaunted out o' meetin', folks have felt
she liked other ways better'n our'n,' says I. I was provoked, because
I'd had a nice supper ready, an' mother'd let it wait so long 'twas
spoiled. 'I hope you'll like your supper!' I told her. I was dreadful
ashamed afterward of speakin' so to mother.
"'What consequence is my supper?' says she to me; mother can be
very stern, — 'or your comfort or mine, beside letting a foreign
person an' a stranger feel so desolate; she's done the best a woman
could do in her lonesome place, and she asks nothing of anybody except
a little common kindness. Think if 'twas you in a foreign land!'
"And mother set down to drink her tea, an' I set down humbled
enough over by the wall to wait till she finished. An' I did think it
all over, an' next day I never said nothin', but I put on my bonnet,
and went to see Mis' Cap'n Tolland, if 'twas only for mother's sake.
'Twas about three quarters of a mile up the road here, beyond the
schoolhouse. I forgot to tell you that the cap'n had bought out his
sister's right at three or four times what 'twas worth, to save
trouble, so they'd got clear o' her, an' I went round into the side
yard sort o' friendly an' sociable, rather than stop an' deal with the
knocker an' the front door. It looked so pleasant an' pretty I was glad
I come; she had set a little table for supper, though 'twas still
early, with a white cloth on it, right out under an old apple tree
close by the house. I noticed 'twas same as with me at home, there was
only one plate. She was just coming out with a dish; you couldn't see
the door nor the table from the road.
"In the few weeks she'd been there she'd got some bloomin' pinks
an' other flowers next the doorstep. Somehow it looked as if she'd
known how to make it homelike for the cap'n. She asked me to set down;
she was very polite, but she looked very mournful, and I spoke of
mother, an' she put down her dish and caught holt o' me with both hands
an' said my mother was an angel. When I see the tears in her eyes 'twas
all right between us, and we were always friendly after that, and
mother had us come out and make a little visit that summer; but she
come a foreigner and she went a foreigner, and never was anything but a
stranger among our folks. She taught me a sight o' things about herbs I
never knew before nor since; she was well acquainted with the virtues
o' plants. She'd act awful secret about some things too, an' used to
work charms for herself sometimes, an' some o' the neighbors told to
an' fro after she died that they knew enough not to provoke her, but
'twas all nonsense; 'tis the believin' in such things that causes 'em
to be any harm, an' so I told 'em," confided Mrs. Todd contemptuously.
"That first night I stopped to tea with her she'd cooked some eggs with
some herb or other sprinkled all through, and 'twas she that first led
me to discern mushrooms; an' she went right down on her knees in my
garden here when she saw I had my different officious herbs. Yes, 'twas
she that learned me the proper use o' parsley too; she was a beautiful
Mrs. Todd stopped talking, and rose, putting the cat gently in the
chair, while she went away to get another stick of apple-tree wood. It
was not an evening when one wished to let the fire go down, and we had
a splendid bank of bright coals. I had always wondered where Mrs. Todd
had got such an unusual knowledge of cookery, of the varieties of
mushrooms, and the use of sorrel as a vegetable, and other blessings of
that sort. I had long ago learned that she could vary her omelettes
like a child of France, which was indeed a surprise in Dunnet Landing.
All these revelations were of the deepest interest, and I was ready
with a question as soon as Mrs. Todd came in and had well settled the
fire and herself and the cat again.
"I wonder why she never went back to France, after she was left
"She come here from the French islands," explained Mrs. Todd. "I
asked her once about her folks, an' she said they were all dead; 'twas
the fever took 'em. She made this her home, lonesome as 'twas; she told
me she hadn't been in France since she was 'so small,' and measured me
off a child o' six. She'd lived right out in the country before, so
that part wa'n't unusual to her. Oh yes, there was something very
strange about her, and she hadn't been brought up in high circles nor
nothing o' that kind. I think she'd been really pleased to have the
cap'n marry her an' give her a good home, after all she'd passed
through, and leave her free with his money an' all that. An' she got
over bein' so strange-looking to me after a while, but 'twas a very
singular expression: she wore a fixed smile that wa'n't a smile; there
wa'n't no light behind it, same's a lamp can't shine if it ain't lit. I
don't know just how to express it, 'twas a sort of made countenance."
One could not help thinking of Sir Philip Sidney's phrase, "A made
countenance, between simpering and smiling."
"She took it hard, havin' the captain go off on that last voyage,"
Mrs. Todd went on. "She said somethin' told her when they was partin'
that he would never come back. He was lucky to speak a home-bound ship
this side o' the Cape o' Good Hope, an' got a chance to send her a
letter, an' that cheered her up. You often felt as if you was dealin'
with a child's mind, for all she had so much information that other
folks hadn't. I was a sight younger than I be now, and she made me
imagine new things, and I got interested watchin' her an' findin' out
what she had to say, but you couldn't get to no affectionateness with
her. I used to blame me sometimes; we used to be real good comrades
goin' off for an afternoon, but I never give her a kiss till the day
she laid in her coffin and it come to my heart there wa'n't no one else
to do it."
"And Captain Tolland died," I suggested after a while.
"Yes, the cap'n was lost," said Mrs. Todd, "and of course word
didn't come for a good while after it happened. The letter come from
the owners to my uncle, Cap'n Lorenzo Bowden, who was in charge of
Cap'n Tolland's affairs at home, and he come right up for me an' said I
must go with him to the house. I had known what it was to be a widow,
myself, for near a year, an' there was plenty o' widow women along this
coast that the sea had made desolate, but I never saw a heart break as
I did then.
"'Twas this way: we walked together along the road, me an' uncle
Lorenzo. You know how it leads straight from just above the schoolhouse
to the brook bridge, and their house was just this side o' the brook
bridge on the left hand; the cellar's there now, and a couple or three
good-sized gray birches growin' in it. And when we come near enough I
saw that the best room, this way, where she most never set, was all
lighted up, and the curtains up so that the light shone bright down the
road, and as we walked, those lights would dazzle and dazzle in my
eyes, and I could hear the guitar a-goin', an' she was singin'. She
heard our steps with her quick ears and come running to the door with
her eyes a-shinin', an' all that set look gone out of her face, an'
begun to talk French, gay as a bird, an' shook hands and behaved very
pretty an' girlish, sayin' 'twas her fete day. I didn't know what she
meant then. And she had gone an' put a wreath o' flowers on her hair
an' wore a handsome gold chain that the cap'n had given her; an' there
she was, poor creatur', makin' believe have a party all alone in her
best room; 'twas prim enough to discourage a person, with too many
chairs set close to the walls, just as the cap'n's mother had left it,
but she had put sort o' long garlands on the walls, droopin' very
graceful, and a sight of green boughs in the corners, till it looked
lovely, and all lit up with a lot o' candles."
"Oh dear!" I sighed. "Oh, Mrs. Todd, what did you do?"
"She beheld our countenances," answered Mrs. Todd solemnly. "I
expect they was telling everything plain enough, but Cap'n Lorenzo
spoke the sad words to her as if he had been her father; and she
wavered a minute and then over she went on the floor before we could
catch hold of her, and then we tried to bring her to herself and
failed, and at last we carried her upstairs, an' I told uncle to run
down and put out the lights, and then go fast as he could for Mrs.
Begg, being very experienced in sickness, an' he so did. I got off her
clothes and her poor wreath, and I cried as I done it. We both stayed
there that night, and the doctor said 'twas a shock when he come in the
morning; he'd been over to Black Island an' had to stay all night with
a very sick child."
"You said that she lived alone some time after the news came," I
reminded Mrs. Todd then.
"Oh yes, dear," answered my friend sadly, "but it wa'n't what you'd
call livin'; no, it was only dyin', though at a snail's pace. She never
went out again those few months, but for a while she could manage to
get about the house a little, and do what was needed, an' I never let
two days go by without seein' her or hearin' from her. She never took
much notice as I came an' went except to answer if I asked her
anything. Mother was the one who gave her the only comfort."
"What was that?" I asked softly.
"She said that anybody in such trouble ought to see their minister,
mother did, and one day she spoke to Mis' Tolland, and found that the
poor soul had been believin' all the time that there weren't any
priests here. We'd come to know she was a Catholic by her beads and
all, and that had set some narrow minds against her. And mother
explained it just as she would to a child; and uncle Lorenzo sent word
right off somewheres up river by a packet that was bound up the bay,
and the first o' the week a priest come by the boat, an' uncle Lorenzo
was on the wharf 'tendin' to some business; so they just come up for
me, and I walked with him to show him the house. He was a kind-hearted
old man; he looked so benevolent an' fatherly I could ha' stopped an'
told him my own troubles; yes, I was satisfied when I first saw his
face, an' when poor Mis' Tolland beheld him enter the room, she went
right down on her knees and clasped her hands together to him as if
he'd come to save her life, and he lifted her up and blessed her, an' I
left 'em together, and slipped out into the open field and walked there
in sight so if they needed to call me, and I had my own thoughts. At
last I saw him at the door; he had to catch the return boat. I meant to
walk back with him and offer him some supper, but he said no, and said
he was comin' again if needed, and signed me to go into the house to
her, and shook his head in a way that meant he understood everything. I
can see him now; he walked with a cane, rather tired and feeble; I
wished somebody would come along, so's to carry him down to the shore.
"Mis' Tolland looked up at me with a new look when I went in, an'
she even took hold o' my hand and kept it. He had put some oil on her
forehead, but nothing anybody could do would keep her alive very long;
'twas his medicine for the soul rather 'n the body. I helped her to
bed, and next morning she couldn't get up to dress her, and that was
Monday, and she began to fail, and 'twas Friday night she died." (Mrs.
Todd spoke with unusual haste and lack of detail.) "Mrs. Begg and I
watched with her, and made everything nice and proper, and after all
the ill will there was a good number gathered to the funeral. 'Twas in
Reverend Mr. Bascom's day, and he done very well in his prayer,
considering he couldn't fill in with mentioning all the near
connections by name as was his habit. He spoke very feeling about her
being a stranger and twice widowed, and all he said about her being
reared among the heathen was to observe that there might be roads
leadin' up to the New Jerusalem from various points. I says to myself
that I guessed quite a number must ha' reached there that wa'n't able
to set out from Dunnet Landin'!"
Mrs. Todd gave an odd little laugh as she bent toward the firelight
to pick up a dropped stitch in her knitting, and then I heard a
'Twas most forty years ago," she said; "most everybody's gone
a'ready that was there that day."
Suddenly Mrs. Todd gave an energetic shrug of her shoulders, and a
quick look at me, and I saw that the sails of her narrative were filled
with a fresh breeze.
"Uncle Lorenzo, Cap'n Bowden that I have referred to" —
"Certainly!" I agreed with eager expectation.
"He was the one that had been left in charge of Cap'n John
Tolland's affairs, and had now come to be of unforeseen importance.
"Mrs. Begg an' I had stayed in the house both before an' after Mis'
Tolland's decease, and she was now in haste to be gone, having affairs
to call her home; but uncle come to me as the exercises was beginning,
and said he thought I'd better remain at the house while they went to
the buryin' ground. I couldn't understand his reasons, an' I felt
disappointed, bein' as near to her as most anybody; 'twas rough
weather, so mother couldn't get in, and didn't even hear Mis' Tolland
was gone till next day. I just nodded to satisfy him, 'twa'n't no time
to discuss anything. Uncle seemed flustered; he'd gone out deep-sea
fishin' the day she died, and the storm I told you of rose very sudden,
so they got blown off way down the coast beyond Monhegan, and he'd just
got back in time to dress himself and come.
"I set there in the house after I'd watched her away down the
straight road far's I could see from the door; 'twas a little short
walkin' funeral an' a cloudy sky, so everything looked dull an' gray,
an' it crawled along all in one piece, same's walking funerals do, an'
I wondered how it ever come to the Lord's mind to let her begin down
among them gay islands all heat and sun, and end up here among the
rocks with a north wind blowin'. 'Twas a gale that begun the afternoon
before she died, and had kept blowin' off an' on ever since. I'd
thought more than once how glad I should be to get home an' out o'
sound o' them black spruces a-beatin' an' scratchin' at the front
"I set to work pretty soon to put the chairs back, an' set outdoors
some that was borrowed, an' I went out in the kitchen, an' I made up a
good fire in case somebody come an' wanted a cup o' tea; but I didn't
expect any one to travel way back to the house unless 'twas uncle
Lorenzo. 'Twas growin' so chilly that I fetched some kindlin' wood and
made fires in both the fore rooms. Then I set down an' begun to feel as
usual, and I got my knittin' out of a drawer. You can't be sorry for a
poor creatur' that's come to the end o' all her troubles; my only
discomfort was I thought I'd ought to feel worse at losin' her than I
did; I was younger then than I be now. And as I set there, I begun to
hear some long notes o' dronin' music from upstairs that chilled me to
Mrs. Todd gave a hasty glance at me.
"Quick's I could gather me, I went right upstairs to see what
'twas," she added eagerly, "an 'twas just what I might ha' known. She'd
always kept her guitar hangin' right against the wall in her room;
'twas tied by a blue ribbon, and there was a window left wide open; the
wind was veerin' a good deal, an' it slanted in and searched the room.
The strings was jarrin' yet.
"'Twas growin' pretty late in the afternoon, an' I begun to feel
lonesome as I shouldn't now, and I was disappointed at having to stay
there, the more I thought it over, but after a while I saw Cap'n
Lorenzo polin' back up the road all alone, and when he come nearer I
could see he had a bundle under his arm and had shifted his best black
clothes for his every-day ones. I run out and put some tea into the
teapot and set it back on the stove to draw, an' when he come in I
reached down a little jug o' spirits, — Cap'n Tolland had left his
house well provisioned as if his wife was goin' to put to sea same's
himself, an' there she'd gone an' left it. There was some cake that
Mis' Begg an' I had made the day before. I thought that uncle an' me
had a good right to the funeral supper, even if there wa'n't any one to
join us. I was lookin' forward to my cup o' tea; 'twas beautiful tea
out of a green lacquered chest that I've got now."
"You must have felt very tired," said I, eagerly listening.
"I was 'most beat out, with watchin' an' tendin' and all," answered
Mrs. Todd, with as much sympathy in her voice as if she were speaking
of another person. "But I called out to uncle as he came in, 'Well, I
expect it's all over now, an' we've all done what we could. I thought
we'd better have some tea or somethin' before we go home. Come right
out in the kitchen, sir,' says I, never thinking but we only had to let
the fires out and lock up everything safe an' eat our refreshment, an'
"'I want both of us to stop here to-night,' says uncle, looking at
me very important.
"'Oh, what for?' says I, kind o' fretful.
"'I've got my proper reasons,' says uncle. 'I'll see you well
satisfied, Almira. Your tongue ain't so easy-goin' as some o' the women
folks, an' there's property here to take charge of that you don't know
nothin' at all about.'
"'What do you mean?' says I.
"'Cap'n Tolland acquainted me with his affairs; he hadn't no sort
o' confidence in nobody but me an' his wife, after he was tricked into
signin' that Portland note, an' lost money. An' she didn't know nothin'
about business; but what he didn't take to sea to be sunk with him he's
hid somewhere in this house. I expect Mis' Tolland may have told you
where she kept things?' said uncle.
"I see he was dependin' a good deal on my answer," said Mrs. Todd,
"but I had to disappoint him; no, she had never said nothin' to me.
"'Well, then, we've got to make a search,' says he, with
considerable relish; but he was all tired and worked up, and we set
down to the table, an' he had somethin', an' I took my desired cup o'
tea, and then I begun to feel more interested.
"'Where you goin' to look first?' says I, but he give me a short
look an' made no answer, and begun to mix me a very small portion out
of the jug, in another glass. I took it to please him; he said I looked
tired, speakin' real fatherly, and I did feel better for it, and we set
talkin' a few minutes, an' then he started for the cellar, carrying an
old ship's lantern he fetched out o' the stairway an' lit.
"'What are you lookin' for, some kind of a chist?' I inquired, and
he said yes. All of a sudden it come to me to ask who was the heirs;
Eliza Tolland, Cap'n John's own sister, had never demeaned herself to
come near the funeral, and uncle Lorenzo faced right about and begun to
laugh, sort o' pleased. I thought queer of it' 'twa'n't what he'd
taken, which would be nothin' to an old weathered sailor like him.
"'Who's the heir?' says I the second time.
"'Why, it's you, Almiry,' says he; and I was so took aback I set
right down on the turn o' the cellar stairs.
"'Yes, 'tis,' said uncle Lorenzo. 'I'm glad of it too. Some thought
she didn't have no sense but foreign sense, an' a poor stock o' that,
but she said you was friendly to her, an' one day after she got news of
Tolland's death, an' I had fetched up his will that left everything to
her, she said she was goin' to make a writin', so's you could have
things after she was gone, an' she give five hundred to me for bein'
executor. Square Pease fixed up the paper, an' she signed it; it's all
accordin' to law.' There, I begun to cry," said Mrs. Todd; "I couldn't
help it. I wished I had her back again to do somethin' for, an' to make
her know I felt sisterly to her more'n I'd ever showed, an' it come
over me 'twas all too late, an' I cried the more, till uncle showed
impatience, an' I got up an' stumbled along down cellar with my apern
to my eyes the greater part of the time.
"'I'm goin' to have a clean search,' says he; 'you hold the light.'
An' I held it, and he rummaged in the arches an' under the stairs, an'
over in some old closet where he reached out bottles an' stone jugs an'
canted some kags an' one or two casks, an' chuckled well when he heard
there was somethin' inside, — but there wa'n't nothin' to find but
things usual in a cellar, an' then the old lantern was givin' out an'
we come away.
"'He spoke to me of a chist, Cap'n Tolland did,' says uncle in a
whisper. 'He said a good sound chist was as safe a bank as there was,
an' I beat him out of such nonsense, 'count o' fire an' other risks.'
'There's no chist in the rooms above,' says I'; 'no, uncle, there ain't
no sea-chist, for I've been here long enough to see what there was to
be seen.' Yet he wouldn't feel contented till he'd mounted up into the
toploft; 'twas one o' them single, hip-roofed houses that don't give
proper accommodation for a real garret, like Cap'n Littlepage's down
here at the Landin'. There was broken furniture and rubbish, an' he let
down a terrible sight o' dust into the front entry, but sure enough
there wasn't no chist. I had it all to sweep up next day.
"'He must have took it away to sea,' says I to the cap'n, an' even
then he didn't want to agree, but we was both beat out. I told him
where i'd always seen Mis' Tolland get her money from, and we found
much as a hundred dollars there in an old red morocco wallet. Cap'n
John had been gone a good while a'ready, and she had spent what she
needed. 'Twas in an old desk o' his in the settin' room that we found
"At the last minute he may have taken his money to sea," I
"Oh yes," agreed Mrs. Todd. "He did take considerable to make his
venture to bring home, as was customary, an' that was drowned with him
as uncle agreed; but he had other property in shipping, and a thousand
dollars invested in Portland in a cordage shop, but 'twas about the
time shipping begun to decay, and the cordage shop failed, and in the
end I wa'n't so rich as I thought I was goin' to be for those few
minutes on the cellar stairs. There was an auction that accumulated
something. Old Mis' Tolland, the cap'n's mother, had heired some good
furniture from a sister: there was above thirty chairs in all, and
they're apt to sell well. I got over a thousand dollars when we come to
settle up, and I made uncle take his five hundred; he was getting along
in years and had met with losses in navigation, and he left it back to
me when he died, so I had a real good lift. It all lays in the bank
over to Rockland, and I draw my interest fall an' spring, with the
little Mr. Todd was able to leave me; but that's kind o' sacred money;
'twas earnt and saved with the hope o' youth, an' I'm very particular
what I spend it for. Oh yes, what with ownin' my house, I've been
enabled to get along very well, with prudence!" said Mrs. Todd
"But there was the house and land," I asked, — "what became of
that part of the property?"
Mrs. Todd looked into the fire, and a shadow of disapproval flitted
over her face.
"Poor old uncle!" she said, "he got childish about the matter. I
was hoping to sell at first, and I had an offer, but he always run of
an idea that there was more money hid away, and kept wanting me to
delay; an' he used to go up there all alone and search, and dig in the
cellar, empty an' bleak as 'twas in winter weather or any time. An'
he'd come and tell me he'd dreamed he found gold behind a stone in the
cellar wall, or somethin'. And one night we all see the light o' fire
up that way, an' the whole Landin' took the road, and run to look, and
the Tolland property was all in a light blaze. I expect the old
gentleman had dropped fire about; he said he'd been up there to see if
everything was safe in the afternoon. As for the land, 'twas so poor
that everybody used to have a joke that the Tolland boys preferred to
farm the sea instead. It's 'most all grown up to bushes now, where it
ain't poor water grass in the low places. There's some upland that has
a pretty view, after you cross the brook bridge. Years an' years after
she died, there was some o' her flowers used to come up an' bloom in
the door garden. I brought two or three that was unusual down here;
they always come up and remind me of her constant as the spring. But I
never did want to fetch home that guitar, some way or 'nother; I
wouldn't let it go at the auction, either. It was hangin' right there
in the house when the fire took place. I've got some o' her other
little things scattered about the house: that picture on the
mantelpiece belonged to her."
I had often wondered where such a picture had come from, and why
Mrs. Todd had chosen it; it was a French print of the statue of the
Empress Josephine in the Savane at old Fort Royal, in Martinique.
Mrs. Todd drew her chair closer to mine; she held the cat and her
knitting with one hand as she moved, but the cat was so warm and so
sound asleep that she only stretched a lazy paw in spite of what must
have felt like a slight earthquake. Mrs. Todd began to speak almost in
"I ain't told you all," she continued; "no, I haven't spoken of all
to but very few. The way it came was this," she said solemnly, and then
stopped to listen to the wind, and sat for a moment in deferential
silence, as if she waited for the wind to speak first. The cat suddenly
lifted her head with quick excitement and gleaming eyes, and her
mistress was leaning forward toward the fire with an arm laid on either
knee, as if they were consulting the glowing coals for some augury.
Mrs. Todd looked like an old prophetess as she sat there with the
firelight shining on her strong face; she was posed for some great
painter. The woman with the cat was as unconscious and as mysterious as
any sibyl of the Sistine Chapel.
"There, that's the last struggle o' the gale," said Mrs. Todd,
nodding her head with impressive certainty and still looking into the
bright embers of the fire. "You'll see!" She gave me another quick
glance, and spoke in a low tone as if we might be overheard.
"'Twas such a gale as this the night Mis' Tolland died. She
appeared more comfortable the first o' the evenin'; and Mrs. Begg was
more spent than I, bein' older, and a beautiful nurse that was the
first to see and think of everything, but perfectly quiet an' never
asked a useless question. You remember her funeral when you first come
to the Landing? And she consented to goin' an' havin' a good sleep
while she could, and left me one o' those good little pewter lamps that
burnt whale oil an' made plenty o' light in the room, but not too
bright to be disturbin'.
"Poor Mis' Tolland had been distressed the night before, an' all
that day, but as night come on she grew more and more easy, an' was
layin' there asleep; 'twas like settin' by any sleepin' person, and I
had none but usual thoughts. When the wind lulled and the rain, I could
hear the seas, though more distant than this, and I don' know's I
observed any other sound than what the weather made; 'twas a very
solemn feelin' night. I set close by the bed; there was times she
looked to find somebody when she was awake. The light was on her face,
so I could see her plain; there was always times when she wore a look
that made her seem a stranger you'd never set eyes on before. I did
think what a world it was that her an' me should have come together so,
and she have nobody but Dunnet Landin' folks about her in her
extremity. 'You're one o' the stray ones, poor creatur',' I said. I
remember those very words passin' through my mind, but I saw reason to
be glad she had some comforts, and didn't lack friends at the last,
though she'd seen misery an' pain. I was glad she was quiet; all day
she'd been restless, and we couldn't understand what she wanted from
her French speech. We had the window open to give her air, an' now an'
then a gust would strike that guitar that was on the wall and set it
swinging by the blue ribbon, and soundin' as if somebody begun to play
it. I come near takin' it down, but you never know what'll fret a sick
person an' put 'em on the rack, an' that guitar was one o' the few
things she'd brought with her."
I nodded assent, and Mrs. Todd spoke still lower.
"I set there close by the bed; I'd been through a good deal for
some days back, and I thought I might's well be droppin' asleep too,
bein' a quick person to wake. She looked to me as if she might last a
day longer, certain, now she'd got more comfortable, but I was real
tired, an' sort o' cramped as watchers will get, an' a fretful feeling
begun to creep over me such as they often do have. If you give way,
there ain't no support for the sick person; they can't count on no
composure o' their own. Mis' Tolland moved then, a little restless, an'
I forgot me quick enough, an' begun to hum out a little part of a hymn
tune just to make her feel everything was as usual an' not wake up into
a poor uncertainty. All of a sudden she set right up in bed with her
eyes wide open, an' I stood an' put my arm behind her; she hadn't moved
like that for days. And she reached out both her arms toward the door,
an' I looked the way she was lookin', an' I see some one was standin'
there against the dark. No, 'twa'n't Mis' Begg; 'twas somebody a good
deal shorter than Mis' Begg. The lamplight struck across the room
between us. I couldn't tell the shape, but 'twas a woman's dark face
lookin' right at us; 'twa'n't but an instant I could see. I felt
dreadful cold, and my head begun to swim; I thought the light went out;
'twa'n't but an instant, as I say, an' when my sight come back I
couldn't see nothing there. I was one that didn't know what it was to
faint away, no matter what happened; time was I felt above it in
others, but 'twas somethin' that made poor human natur' quail. I saw
very plain while I could see; 'twas a pleasant enough face, shaped
somethin' like Mis' Tolland's, and a kind of expectin' look.
"No, I don't expect I was asleep," Mrs. Todd assured me quietly,
after a moment's pause, though I had not spoken. She gave a heavy sigh
before she went on. I could see that the recollection moved her in the
"I suppose if I hadn't been so spent an' quavery with long
watchin', I might have kept my head an' observed much better," she
added humbly; "but I see all I could bear. I did try to act calm, an' I
laid Mis' Tolland down on her pillow, an' I was a-shakin' as I done it.
All she did was to look up to me so satisfied and sort o' questioning,
an I looked back to her.
"'You saw her, didn't you?' she says to me, speakin' perfectly
reasonable. ''Tis my mother,' she says again, very feeble, but lookin'
straight up at me, kind of surprised with the pleasure, and smiling as
if she saw I was overcome, an' would have said more if she could, but
we had hold of hands. I see then her change was comin', but I didn't
call Mis' Begg, nor make no uproar. I felt calm then, an' lifted to
somethin' different as I never was since. She opened her eyes just as
she was goin' —
"'You saw her, didn't you?' she said the second time, an' I says,
'Yes, dear, I did; you ain't never goin' to feel strange an' lonesome
no more.' An' then in a few quiet minutes 'twas all over. I felt they'd
gone away together. No, I wa'n't alarmed afterward; 'twas just that one
moment I couldn't live under, but I never called it beyond reason I
should see the other watcher. I saw plain enough there was somebody
there with me in the room.
"'Twas just such a night as this Mis' Tolland died," repeated Mrs.
Todd, returning to her usual tone and leaning back comfortably in her
chair as she took up her knitting. "'Twas just such a night as this.
I've told the circumstances to but very few; but I don't call it beyond
reason. When folks is goin' 'tis all natural, and only common things
can jar upon the mind. You know plain enough there's somethin' beyond
this world; the doors stand wide open. 'There's somethin' of us that
must still live on; we've got to join both worlds together an' live in
one but for the other.' The doctor said that to me one day, an' I never
could forget it; he said 'twas in one o' his old doctor's books."
We sat together in silence in the warm little room; the rain
dropped heavily from the eaves, and the sea still roared, but the high
wind had done blowing. We heard the far complaining fog horn of a
steamer up the Bay.
"There goes the Boston boat out, pretty near on time," said Mrs.
Todd with satisfaction. "Sometimes these late August storms'll sound a
good deal worse than they really be. I do hate to hear the poor
steamers callin' when they're bewildered in thick nights in winter,
comin' on the coast. Yes, there goes the boat; they'll find it rough at
sea, but the storm's all over."
Sarah Orne Jewett.