Lost Lover by Sarah Orne Jewett
For a great many years it had been understood in Longfield that Miss
Horatia Dane once had a lover, and that he had been lost at sea. By
little and little, in one way and another, her acquaintances had found
out or made up the whole story; and Miss Dane stood in the position,
not of an unmarried woman exactly, but rather of having spent most of
her life in a long and lonely widowhood. She looked like a person with
a history, strangers often said (as if we each did not have a history);
and her own unbroken reserve about this romance of hers gave everybody
the more respect for it.
The Longfield people paid willing deference to Miss Dane: her family
had always been one that could be liked and respected, and she was the
last that was left in the old home of which she was so fond. This was a
high, square house, with a row of pointed windows in its roof, a peaked
porch in front, with some lilac-bushes around it; and down by the road
was a long, orderly procession of poplars, like a row of sentinels
standing guard. She had lived here alone since her father's death,
twenty years before. She was a kind, just woman, whose pleasures were
of a stately and sober sort; and she seemed not unhappy in her
loneliness, though she sometimes said gravely that she was the last of
her family, as if the fact had a great sadness for her.
She had some middle-aged and elderly cousins living at a distance,
and they came occasionally to see her; but there had been no young
people staying in the house for many years until this summer, when the
daughter of her youngest cousin had written to ask if she might come to
make a visit. She was a motherless girl of twenty, both older and
younger than her years. Her father and brother, who were civil
engineers, had taken some work upon the line of a railway in the far
Western country. Nelly had made many long journeys with them before and
since she had left school, and she had meant to follow them now, after
she had spent a fortnight with the old cousin whom she had not seen
since her childhood. Her father had laughed at the visit as a freak,
and had warned her of the dulness and primness of Longfield; but the
result was that the girl found herself very happy in the comfortable
home. She was still her own free, unfettered, lucky, and sunshiny self;
and the old house was so much pleasanter for the girlish face and life,
that Miss Horatia had, at first timidly and then most heartily, begged
her to stay for the whole summer, or even the autumn, until her father
was ready to come East. The name of Dane was very dear to Miss Horatia,
and she grew fonder of her guest. When the village-people saw her
glance at the girl affectionately, as they sat together in the
family-pew of a Sunday, or saw them walking together after tea, they
said it was a good thing for Miss Horatia; how bright she looked; and
no doubt she would leave all her money to Nelly Dane, if she played her
But we will do Nelly justice, and say that she was not mercenary:
she would have scorned such a thought. She had grown to have a great
love for her cousin Horatia, and she liked to please her. She idealized
her, I have no doubt; and her repression, her grave courtesy and rare
words of approval, had a great fascination for a girl who had just been
used to people who chattered, and were upon most intimate terms with
you directly, and could forget you with equal ease. And Nelly liked
having so admiring and easily pleased an audience as Miss Dane and her
old servant Melissa. She liked to be queen of her company: she had so
many gay, bright stories of what had happened to herself and her
friends. Besides, she was clever with her needle, and had all those
practical gifts which elderly women approve so heartily in girls. They
liked her pretty clothes; she was sensible and economical and busy;
they praised her to each other and to the world, and even stubborn old
Andrew, the man, to whom Miss Horatia herself spoke with deference,
would do any thing she asked. Nelly would by no means choose so dull a
life as this for the rest of her days; but she enjoyed it immensely for
the time being. She instinctively avoided all that would shock the
grave dignity and old-school ideas of Miss Dane; and somehow she never
had felt happier or better satisfied with life. I think it was because
she was her best and most lady-like self. It was not long before she
knew the village-people almost as well as Miss Dane did, and she became
a very great favorite, as a girl so easily can who is good-natured and
pretty, and well versed in city fashions; who has that tact and
cleverness that come to such a nature from going about the world and
knowing many people.
She had not been in Longfield many weeks before she heard something
of Miss Dane's love-story; for one of her new friends said, in a
confidential moment, Does your cousin ever speak to you about the
young man to whom she was engaged to be married? And Nelly answered,
No, with great wonder, and not without regret at her own ignorance.
After this she kept her eyes and ears open for whatever news of this
lover's existence might be found.
At last it happened one day that she had a good chance for a
friendly talk with Melissa; for who should know about the family
affairs better than she? Miss Horatia had taken her second-best
parasol, with a deep fringe, and had gone majestically down the street
to do some morning errands which she could trust to no one. Melissa was
shelling peas at the shady kitchen-doorstep, and Nelly came strolling
round from the garden, along the clean-swept flag-stones, and sat down
to help her. Melissa moved along, with a grim smile, to make room for
her. You needn't bother yourself, said she: I've nothing else to do.
You'll green your fingers all over. But she was evidently pleased to
My fingers will wash, said Nelly, and I've nothing else to do
either. Please push the basket this way a little, or I shall scatter
the pods, and then you will scold. She went to work busily, while she
tried to think of the best way to find out the story she wished to
There! said Melissa, I never told Miss H'ratia to get some
citron, and I settled yesterday to make some pound-cake this forenoon
after I got dinner along a piece. She's most out o' mustard too; she's
set about having mustard to eat with her beef, just as the old colonel
was before her. I never saw any other folks eat mustard with their
roast beef; but every family has their own tricks. I tied a thread
round my left-hand little finger purpose to remember that citron before
she came down this morning. I hope I ain't losing my fac'lties. It was
seldom that Melissa was so talkative as this at first. She was clearly
in a talkative mood.
Melissa, asked Nelly, with great bravery, after a minute or two of
silence, who was it that my cousin Horatia was going to many? It's odd
that I shouldn't know; but I don't remember father's ever speaking of
it, and I shouldn't think of asking her.
I s'pose it'll seem strange to you, said Melissa, beginning to
shell the peas a great deal faster, but, as many years as I have lived
in this house with her,her mother, the old lady, fetched me up,I
never knew Miss H'ratia to say a word about him. But there! she knows I
know, and we've got an understanding on many things we never talk over
as some folks would. I've heard about it from other folks. She was
visiting her great-aunt in Salem when she met with him. His name was
Carrick, and it was presumed they was going to be married when he came
home from the voyage he was lost on. He had the promise of going out
master of a new ship. They didn't keep company long: it was made up of
a sudden, and folks here didn't get hold of the story till some time
after. I've heard some that ought to know say it was only talk, and
they never were engaged to be married no more than I am.
You say he was lost at sea? asked Nelly.
The ship never was heard from. They supposed she was run down in
the night out in the South Seas somewhere. It was a good while before
they gave up expecting news; but none ever come. I think she set every
thing by him, and took it very hard losing of him. But there! she'd
never say a word. You're the freest-spoken Dane I ever saw; but you may
take it from 'our mother's folks. I know he gave her that whale's tooth
with the ship drawn on it that's on the mantel-piece in her room. She
may have a sight of other keepsakes, for all I know; but it ain't
likely. And here there was a pause, in which Nelly grew sorrowful as
she thought of the long waiting for tidings of the missing ship, and of
her cousin's solitary life. It was very odd to think of prim Miss
Horatia's being in love with a sailor. There was a young lieutenant in
the navy whom Nelly herself liked dearly, and he had gone away on a
long voyage. Perhaps she's been just as well off, said Melissa.
She's dreadful set, y'r cousin H'ratia is, and sailors is
high-tempered men. I've heard it hinted that he was a fast fellow; and
if a woman's got a good home like this, and's able to do for herself,
she'd better stay there. I ain't going to give up a certainty for an
uncertainty,that's what I always tell 'em, added Melissa,
with great decision, as if she were besieged by lovers; but Nelly
smiled inwardly as she thought of the courage it would take to support
any one who wished to offer her companion his heart and hand. It would
need desperate energy to scale the walls of that garrison.
The green peas were all shelled presently, and Melissa said gravely
that she should have to be lazy now until it was time to put in the
meat. She wasn't used to being helped, unless there was extra work, and
she calculated to have one piece of work join on to another. However,
it was no account, and she was obliged for the company; and Nelly
laughed merrily as she stood washing her hands in the shining old
copper basin at the sink. The sun would not be round that side of the
house for a long time yet, and the pink and blue morning-glories were
still in their full bloom and freshness. They grew over the window,
twined on strings exactly the same distance apart. There was a box
crowded full of green houseleeks down at the side of the door: they
were straying over the edge, and Melissa stooped stiffly down with an
air of disapproval at their untidiness. They straggle all over every
thing, said she, and they're no kind of use, only Miss's mother she
set every thing by 'em. She fetched 'em from home with her when she was
married, her mother kep' a box, and they came from England. Folks used
to say they was good for bee-stings. Then she went into the inner
kitchen, and Nelly went slowly away along the flag-stones to the garden
from whence she had come. The garden-gate opened with a tired creak,
and shut with a clack; and she noticed how smooth and shiny the wood
was where the touch of so many hands had worn it. There was a great
pleasure to this girl in finding herself among such old and well-worn
things. She had been for a long time in cities or at the West; and
among the old fashions and ancient possessions of Long-field it seemed
to her that every thing had its story, and she liked the quietness and
unchangeableness with which life seemed to go on from year to year. She
had seen many a dainty or gorgeous garden, but never one that she had
liked so well as this, with its herb-bed and its broken rows of
currant-bushes, its tall stalks of white lilies and its wandering
rose-bushes and honeysuckles, that had bloomed beside the straight
paths for so many more summers than she herself had lived. She picked a
little nosegay of late red roses, and carried it into the house to put
on the parlor-table. The wide hall-door was standing open, with its
green outer blinds closed, and the old hall was dim and cool. Miss
Horatia did not like a glare of sunlight, and she abhorred flies with
her whole heart. Nelly could hardly see her way through the rooms, it
had been so bright out of doors; but she brought the tall
champagne-glass of water from the dining-room and put the flowers in
their place. Then she looked at two silhouettes which stood on the
mantel in carved ebony frames. They were portraits of an uncle of Miss
Dane and his wife. Miss Dane had thought Nelly looked like this uncle
the evening before. She could not see the likeness herself; but the
pictures suggested something else, and she turned suddenly, and went
hurrying up the stairs to Miss Horatia's own room, where she remembered
to have seen a group of silhouettes fastened to the wall. There were
seven or eight, and she looked at the young men among them most
carefully; but they were all marked with the name of Dane: they were
Miss Horatia's brothers, and our friend hung them on their little brass
hooks again with a feeling of disappointment. Perhaps her cousin had a
quaint miniature of the lover, painted on ivory, and shut in a worn red
morocco case; she hoped she should get a sight of it some day. This
story of the lost sailor had a wonderful charm for the girl. Miss
Horatia had never been so interesting to her before. How she must have
mourned for the lover, and missed him, and hoped there would yet be
news from the ship! Nelly thought she would tell her her own little
love-story some day, though there was not much to tell yet, in spite of
there being so much to think about. She built a little castle in Spain
as she sat in the front-window-seat of the upper hall, and dreamed
pleasant stories for herself until the sharp noise of the
front-gate-latch waked her; and she looked out through the blind to see
her cousin coming up the walk.
Miss Horatia looked hot and tired, and her thoughts were not of any
fashion of romance. It is going to be very warm, said she. I have
been worrying ever since I have been gone, because I forgot to ask
Andrew to pick those white currants for the minister's wife. I promised
that she should have them early this morning. Would you go out to the
kitchen, and ask Melissa to step in for a moment, my dear?
Melissa was picking over red currants to make a pie, and rose from
her chair with a little unwillingness. I guess they could wait until
afternoon, said she, as she came back. Miss H'ratia's in a fret
because she forgot about sending some white currants to the minister's.
I told her that Andrew had gone to have the horses shod, and wouldn't
be back till near noon. I don't see why part of the folks in the world
should kill themselves trying to suit the rest. As long as I haven't
got any citron for the cake, I suppose I might go out and pick 'em,
added Melissa ungraciously. I'll get some to set away for tea anyhow.
Miss Dane had a letter to write after she had rested from her walk;
and Nelly soon left her in the dark parlor, and went back to the
sunshiny garden to help Melissa, who seemed to be taking life with more
than her usual disapproval. She was sheltered by an enormous gingham
I set out to free my mind to your cousin H'ratia this morning,
said she, as Nelly crouched down at the opposite side of the bush where
she was picking; but we can't agree on that p'int, and it's no use. I
don't say nothing. You might's well ask the moon to face about and
travel the other way as to try to change Miss H'ratia's mind. I ain't
going to argue it with her: it ain't my place; I know that as well as
anybody. She'd run her feet off for the minister's folks any day; and,
though I do say he's a fair preacher, they haven't got a speck o'
consideration nor fac'lty; they think the world was made for them, but
I think likely they'll find out it wasn't; most folks do. When he first
was settled here, I had a fit o' sickness, and he come to see me when I
was getting over the worst of it. He did the best he could, I always
took it very kind of him; but he made a prayer, and he kep' sayin'
'this aged handmaid,' I should think, a dozen times. Aged handmaid!
said Melissa scornfully: I don't call myself aged yet, and that was
more than ten years ago. I never made pretensions to being younger than
I am; but you'd 'a' thought I was a topplin' old creatur' going on a
Nelly laughed; Melissa looked cross, and moved on to the next
currant-bush. So that's why you don't like the minister? But the
question did not seem to please.
I hope I never should be set against a preacher by such as that.
And Nelly hastened to change the subject; but there was to be a last
word: I like to see a minister that's solid minister right straight
through, not one of these veneered folks. But old Parson Croden spoilt
me for setting under any other preaching.
I wonder, said Nelly, after a little, if Cousin Horatia has any
picture of that Captain Carrick.
He wasn't captain, said Melissa. I never heard that it was any
more than they talked of giving him a ship next voyage.
And you never saw him? He never came here to see her?
Bless you, no! She met with him at Salem, where she was spending
the winter, and he went right away to sea. I've heard a good deal more
about it of late years than I ever did at the time. I suppose the Salem
folks talked about it enough. All I know is, there was other good
matches that offered to her since, and couldn't get her; and I suppose
it was on account of her heart's being buried in the deep with him.
And this unexpected bit of sentiment, spoken in Melissa's grummest
tone, seemed so funny to her young companion, that she bent very low to
pick from a currant-twig close to the ground, and could not ask any
more questions for some time.
I have seen her a sight o' times when I knew she was thinking about
him, Melissa went on presently, this time with a tenderness in her
voice that touched Nelly's heart. She's been dreadful lonesome. She
and the old colonel, her father, wasn't much company to each other, and
she always kep' every thing to herself. The only time she ever said a
word to me was one night six or seven years ago this Christmas. They
got up a Christmas-tree in the vestry, and she went, and I did too; I
guess everybody in the whole church and parish that could crawl turned
out to go. The children they made a dreadful racket. I'd ha' got my
ears took off if I had been so forth-putting when I was little. I was
looking round for Miss H'ratia 'long at the last of the evening, and
somebody said they'd seen her go home. I hurried, and I couldn't see
any light in the house; and I was afraid she was sick or something. She
come and let me in, and I see she had been a-cryin'. I says, 'Have you
heard any bad news?' But she says, 'No,' and began to cry again, real
pitiful. 'I never felt so lonesome in my life,' says she, 'as I did
down there. It's a dreadful thing to be left all alone in the world.' I
did feel for her; but I couldn't seem to say a word. I put some
pine-chips I had handy for morning on the kitchen-fire, and I made her
up a cup o' good hot tea quick's I could, and took it to her; and I
guess she felt better. She never went to bed till three o'clock that
night. I couldn't shut my eyes till I heard her come upstairs. There! I
set every thing by Miss H'ratia. I haven't got no folks either. I was
left an orphan over to Deerfield, where Miss's mother come from, and
she took me out o' the town-farm to bring up. I remember, when I come
here, I was so small I had a box to stand up on when I helped wash the
dishes. There's nothing I ain't had to make me comfortable, and I do
just as I'm a mind to, and call in extra help every day of the week if
I give the word; but I've had my lonesome times, and I guess Miss
Nelly was very much touched by this bit of a story, it was a new
idea to her that Melissa should have so much affection and be so
sympathetic. People never will get over being surprised that
chestnut-burrs are not as rough inside as they are outside, and the
girl's heart warmed toward the old woman who had spoken with such
unlooked-for sentiment and pathos. Melissa went to the house with her
basket, and Nelly also went in, but only to put on another hat, and see
if it were straight, in a minute spent before the old mirror, and then
she hurried down the long elm-shaded street to buy a pound of citron
for the cake. She left it on the kitchen-table when she came back, and
nobody ever said any thing about it; only there were two delicious
pound-cakesa heart and a roundon a little blue china plate beside
Nelly's plate at tea.
After tea Nelly and Miss Dane sat in the front-doorway,the elder
woman in a high-backed arm-chair, and the younger on the doorstep. The
tree-toads and crickets were tuning up heartily, the stars showed a
little through the trees, and the elms looked heavy and black against
the sky. The fragrance of the white lilies in the garden blew through
the hall. Miss Horatia was tapping the ends of her fingers together.
Probably she was not thinking of any thing in particular. She had had a
very peaceful day, with the exception of the currants; and they had,
after all, gone to the parsonage some time before noon. Beside this,
the minister had sent word that the delay made no trouble; for his wife
had unexpectedly gone to Downton to pass the day and night. Miss
Horatia had received the business-letter for which she had been looking
for several days; so there was nothing to regret deeply for that day,
and there seemed to be nothing for one to dread on the morrow.
Cousin Horatia, asked Nelly, are you sure you like having me
here? Are you sure I don't trouble you?
Of course not, said Miss Dane, without a bit of sentiment in her
tone: I find it very pleasant having young company, though I am used
to being alone; and I don't mind it so much as I suppose you would.
I should mind it very much, said the girl softly.
You would get used to it, as I have, said Miss Dane. Yes, dear, I
like having you here better and better. I hate to think of your going
away. And she smoothed Nelly's hair as if she thought she might have
spoken coldly at first, and wished to make up for it. This rare caress
was not without its effect.
I don't miss father and Dick so very much, owned Nelly frankly,
because I have grown used to their coming and going; but sometimes I
miss peopleCousin Horatia, did I ever say any thing to you about
I think I remember the name, answered Miss Dane.
He is in the navy, and he has gone a long voyage, andI think
every thing of him. I missed him awfully; but it is almost time to get
a letter from him.
Does your father approve of him? asked Miss Dane, with great
propriety. You are very young yet, and you must not think of such a
thing carelessly. I should be so much grieved if you threw away your
Oh! we are not really engaged, said Nelly, who felt a little
chilled. I suppose we are, too: only nobody knows yet. Yes, father
knows him as well as I do, and he is very fond of him. Of course I
should not keep it from father; but he guessed at it himself. Only it's
such a long cruise, Cousin Horatia,three years, I suppose,away off
in China and Japan.
I have known longer voyages than that, said Miss Dane, with a
quiver in her voice; and she rose suddenly, and walked away, this
grave, reserved woman, who seemed so contented and so comfortable. But,
when she came back, she asked Nelly a great deal about her lover, and
learned more of the girl's life than she ever had before. And they
talked together in the pleasantest way about this pleasant subject,
which was so close to Nelly's heart, until Melissa brought the candles
at ten o'clock, that being the hour of Miss Dane's bed-time.
But that night Miss Dane did not go to bed at ten: she sat by the
window in her room, thinking. The moon rose late; and after a little
while she blew out her candles, which were burning low. I suppose that
the years which had come and gone since the young sailor went away on
that last voyage of his had each added to her affection for him. She
was a person who clung the more fondly to youth as she left it the
This is such a natural thing: the great sorrows of our youth
sometimes become the amusements of our later years; we can only
remember them with a smile. We find that our lives look fairer to us,
and we forget what used to trouble us so much when we look back. Miss
Dane certainly had come nearer to truly loving the sailor than she had
any one else; and the more she had thought of it, the more it became
the romance of her life. She no longer asked herself, as she often had
done in middle life, whether, if he had lived and had come home, she
would have loved and married him. She had minded less and less, year by
year, knowing that her friends and neighbors thought her faithful to
the love of her youth. Poor, gay, handsome Joe Carrick! how fond he had
been of her, and how he had looked at her that day he sailed away out
of Salem Harbor on the ship Chevalier! If she had only known that she
never should see him again, poor fellow!
But, as usual, her thoughts changed their current a little at the
end of her reverie. Perhaps, after all, loneliness was not so hard to
bear as other sorrows. She had had a pleasant life, God had been very
good to her, and had spared her many trials, and granted her many
blessings. She would try and serve him better. I am an old woman now,
she said to herself. Things are better as they are; God knows best,
and I never should have liked to be interfered with.
Then she shut out the moonlight, and lighted her candles again, with
an almost guilty feeling. What should I say if Nelly sat up till
nearly midnight looking out at the moon? thought she. It is very
silly; but it is such a beautiful night. I should like to have her see
the moon shining through the tops of the trees. But Nelly was sleeping
the sleep of the just and sensible in her own room.
Next morning at breakfast Nelly was a little conscious of there
having been uncommon confidences the night before; but Miss Dane was
her usual calm and somewhat formal self, and proposed their making a
few calls after dinner, if the weather were not too hot. Nelly at once
wondered what she had better wear. There was a certain black grenadine
which Miss Horatia had noticed with approval, and she remembered that
the lower ruffle needed hemming, and made up her mind that she would
devote most of the time before dinner to that and to some other
repairs. So, after breakfast was over, she brought the dress
downstairs, with her work-box, and settled herself in the dining-room.
Miss Dane usually sat there in the morning, it was a pleasant room, and
she could keep an unsuspected watch over the kitchen and Melissa, who
did not need watching in the least. I dare say it was for the sake of
being within the sound of a voice.
Miss Dane marched in and out that morning; she went upstairs, and
came down again, and she was busy for a while in the parlor. Nelly was
sewing steadily by a window, where one of the blinds was a little way
open, and tethered in its place by a string. She hummed a tune to
herself over and over:
What will you do, love, when I am going,
With white sails flowing, the seas beyond?
And old Melissa, going to and fro at her work in the kitchen,
grumbled out bits of an ancient psalm-tune at intervals. There seemed
to be some connection between these fragments in her mind; it was like
a ledge of rock in a pasture, that sometimes runs under the ground, and
then crops out again. I think it was the tune of Windham.
Nelly found there was a good deal to be done to the grenadine dress
when she looked it over critically, and she was very diligent. It was
quiet in and about the house for a long time, until suddenly she heard
the sound of heavy footsteps coming in from the road. The side-door was
in a little entry between the room where Nelly sat and the kitchen, and
the new-comer knocked loudly. A tramp, said Nelly to herself; while
Melissa came to open the door, wiping her hands hurriedly on her apron.
I wonder if you couldn't give me something to eat, said the man.
I suppose I could, answered Melissa. Will you step in? Beggars
were very few in Longfield, and Miss Dane never wished anybody to go
away hungry from her house. It was off the grand highway of tramps; but
they were by no means unknown.
Melissa searched among her stores, and Nelly heard her putting one
plate after another on the kitchen-table, and thought that the
breakfast promised to be a good one, if it were late.
Don't put yourself out, said the man, as he moved his chair
nearer. I put up at an old barn three or four miles above here last
night, and there didn't seem to be very good board there.
Going far? inquired Melissa concisely.
Boston, said the man. I'm a little too old to travel afoot. Now,
if I could go by water, it would seem nearer. I'm more used to the
water. This is a royal good piece o' beef. I suppose couldn't put your
hand on a mug of cider? This was said humbly; but the tone failed to
touch Melissa's heart.
No, I couldn't, said she decisively; so there was an end of that,
and the conversation seemed to flag for a time.
Presently Melissa came to speak to Miss Dane, who had just come
downstairs. Could you stay in the kitchen a few minutes? she
whispered. There's an old creatur' there that looks foreign. He came
to the door for something to eat, and I gave it to him; but he's
miser'ble looking, and I don't like to leave him alone. I'm just in the
midst o' dressing the chickens. He'll be through pretty quick,
according to the way he's eating now.
Miss Dane followed her without a word; and the man half rose, and
said, Good-morning, madam! with unusual courtesy. And, when Melissa
was out of hearing, he spoke again: I suppose you haven't any cider?
to which his hostess answered, I couldn't give you any this morning,
in a tone that left no room for argument. He looked as if he had had a
great deal too much to drink already.
How far do you call it from here to Boston? he asked, and was told
that it was eighty miles.
I'm a slow traveller, said he: sailors don't take much to
walking. Miss Dane asked him if he had been a sailor. Nothing else,
replied the man, who seemed much inclined to talk. He had been eating
like a hungry dog, as if he were half-starved,a slouching, red-faced,
untidy-looking old man, with some traces of former good looks still to
be discovered in his face. Nothing else. I ran away to sea when I was
a boy, and I followed it until I got so old they wouldn't ship me even
for cook. There was something in his being for once so
comfortableperhaps it was being with a lady like Miss Dane, who
pitied himthat lifted his thoughts a little from their usual low
level. It's drink that's been the ruin of me, said he. I ought to
have been somebody. I was nobody's fool when I was young. I got to be
mate of a first-rate ship, and there was some talk o' my being captain
before long. She was lost that voyage, and three of us were all that
was saved; we got picked up by a Chinese junk. She had the plague
aboard of her, and my mates died of it, and I was sick. It was a hell
of a place to be in. When I got ashore I shipped on an old bark that
pretended to be coming round the Cape, and she turned out to be a
pirate. I just went to the dogs, and I've been from bad to worse ever
It's never too late to mend, said Melissa, who came into the
kitchen just then for a string to tie the chickens.
Lord help us, yes, it is! said the sailor. It's easy for you to
say that. I'm too old. I ain't been master of this craft for a good
while. And he laughed at his melancholy joke.
Don't say that, said Miss Dane.
Well, now, what could an old wrack like me do to earn a living? and
who'd want me if I could? You wouldn't. I don't know when I've been
treated so decent as this before. I'm all broke down. But his tone was
no longer sincere; he had fallen back on his profession of beggar.
Couldn't you get into some asylum orthere's the Sailors' Snug
Harbor, isn't that for men like you? It seems such a pity for a man of
your years to be homeless and a wanderer. Haven't you any friends at
all? And here, suddenly, Miss Dane's face altered, and she grew very
white; something startled her. She looked as one might who saw a
No, said the man; but my folks used to be some of the best in
Salem. I haven't shown my head there this good while. I was an orphan.
My grandmother brought me up. Why, I didn't come back to the States for
thirty or forty years. Along at the first of it I used to see men in
port that I used to know; but I always dodged 'em, and I was way off in
outlandish places. I've got an awful sight to answer for. I used to
have a good wife when I was in Australia. I don't know where I haven't
been, first and last. I was always a hard fellow. I've spent as much as
a couple o' fortunes, and here I am. Devil take it!
Nelly was still sewing in the dining-room; but, soon after Miss Dane
had gone out to the kitchen, one of the doors between had slowly closed
itself with a plaintive whine. The round stone that Melissa used to
keep it open had been pushed away. Nelly was a little annoyed: she
liked to hear what was going on; but she was just then holding her work
with great care in a place that was hard to sew; so she did not move.
She heard the murmur of voices, and thought, after a while, that the
old vagabond ought to go away by this time. What could be making her
cousin Horatia talk so long with him? It was not like her at all. He
would beg for money, of course, and she hoped Miss Horatia would not
give him a single cent.
It was some time before the kitchen-door opened, and the man came
out with clumsy, stumbling steps. I'm much obliged to you, he said,
and I don't know but it is the last time I'll get treated as if I was
a gentleman. Is there any thing I could do for you round the place? he
asked hesitatingly, and as if he hoped that his offer would not be
No, answered Miss Dane. No, thank you. Good-by! and he went
I said he had been lifted a little above his low life; he fell back
again directly before he was out of the gate. I'm blessed if she
didn't give me a ten-dollar bill! said he. She must have thought it
was one. I'll get out o' call as quick as I can, hope she won't find it
out, and send anybody after me. Visions of unlimited drinks, and other
things in which the old sailor found pleasure, flitted through his
stupid mind. How the old lady stared at me once! he thought. Wonder
if she was anybody I used to know? 'Downton?' I don't know as I ever
heard of the place. And he scuffed along the dusty road; and that
night he was very drunk, and the next day he went wandering on, God
only knows where.
But Nelly and Melissa both had heard a strange noise in the kitchen,
as if some one had fallen, and had found that Miss Horatia had fainted
dead away. It was partly the heat, she said, when she saw their anxious
faces as she came to herself; she had had a little headache all the
morning; it was very hot and close in the kitchen, and the faintness
had come upon her suddenly. They helped her walk into the cool parlor
presently, and Melissa brought her a glass of wine, and Nelly sat
beside her on a footstool as she lay on the sofa, and fanned her. Once
she held her cheek against Miss Horatia's hand for a minute, and she
will never know as long as she lives what a comfort she was that day.
Every one but Miss Dane forgot the old sailor-tramp in this
excitement that followed his visit. Do you guess already who he was?
But the certainty could not come to you with the chill and horror it
did to Miss Dane. There had been something familiar in his look and
voice from the first, and then she had suddenly known him, her lost
lover. It was an awful change that the years had made in him. He had
truly called himself a wreck: he was like some dreary wreck in its
decay and utter ruin, its miserable ugliness and worthlessness, falling
to pieces in the slow tides of a lifeless southern sea.
And he had once been her lover, Miss Dane thought many times in the
days that came after. Not that there was ever any thing asked or
promised between them, but they had liked each other dearly, and had
parted with deep sorrow. She had thought of him all these years so
tenderly; she had believed always that his love had been greater than
her own, and never once had doubted that the missing ship Chevalier had
carried with it down into the sea a heart that was true to her.
By little and little this all grew familiar, and she accustomed
herself to the knowledge of her new secret. She shuddered at the
thought of the misery of a life with him, and she thanked God for
sparing her such shame and despair. The distance between them seemed
immense. She had been a person of so much consequence among her
friends, and so dutiful and irreproachable a woman. She had not begun
to understand what dishonor is in the world; her life had been shut in
by safe and orderly surroundings. It was a strange chance that had
brought this wanderer to her door. She remembered his wretched
untidiness. She would not have liked even to touch him. She had never
imagined him grown old: he had always been young to her. It was a great
mercy he had not known her; it would have been a most miserable
position for them both; and yet she thought, with sad surprise, that
she had not known she had changed so entirely. She thought of the
different ways their roads in life had gone; she pitied him; she cried
about him more than once; and she wished that she could know he was
dead. He might have been such a brave, good man, with his strong will
and resolute courage. God forgive him for the wickedness which his
strength had been made to serve! God forgive him! said Miss Horatia
to herself sadly over and over again. She wondered if she ought to have
let him go away, and so have lost sight of him; but she could not do
any thing else. She suffered terribly on his account; she had a pity,
such as God's pity must be, for even his wilful sins.
So her romance was all over with; yet the towns-people still
whispered it to strangers, and even Melissa and Nelly never knew how
she had lost her lover in so strange and sad a way in her latest years.
Nobody noticed much change; but Melissa saw that the whale's tooth had
disappeared from its place in Miss Horatia's room, and her old friends
said to each other that she began to show her age a great deal. She
seemed really like an old woman now; she was not the woman she had been
a year ago.
This is all of the story; but I so often wish when a story comes to
an end that I knew what became of the people afterward. Shall I tell
you that Miss Horatia clings more and more fondly to her young cousin
Nelly; and that Nelly will stay with her a great deal before she
marries, and sometimes afterward, when the lieutenant goes away to sea?
Shall I say that Miss Dane seems as well satisfied and comfortable as
ever, though she acknowledges she is not so young as she used to be,
and somehow misses something out of her life? It is the contentment of
winter rather than that of summer: the flowers are out of bloom for her
now, and under the snow. And Melissa, will not she always be the same,
with a quaintness and freshness and toughness like a cedar-tree, to the
end of her days? Let us hope they will live on together and be
untroubled this long time yet, the two good women; and let us wish
Nelly much pleasure, and a sweet soberness and fearlessness as she
grows older and finds life a harder thing to understand and a graver
thing to know.