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[Illustration: "The Old Captains"]





The Riverside Press Cambridge















- - -



The wooded hills and pastures of eastern Massachusetts are so close to
Boston that from upper windows of the city, looking westward, you can
see the tops of pine-trees and orchard-boughs on the high horizon.
There is a rustic environment on the landward side; there are old
farmhouses at the back of Milton Hill and beyond Belmont which look as
unchanged by the besieging suburbs of a great city as if they were
forty miles from even its borders. Now and then, in Boston streets,
you can see an old farmer in his sleigh or farm wagon as if you saw
him in a Berkshire village. He seems neither to look up at the towers
nor down at any fashionable citizens, but goes his way alike
unconscious of seeing or being seen.

On a certain day a man came driving along Beacon Street, who looked
bent in the shoulders, as if his worn fur cap were too heavy for head
and shoulders both. This type of the ancient New England farmer in
winter twitched the reins occasionally, like an old woman, to urge the
steady white horse that plodded along as unmindful of his master's
suggestions as of the silver-mounted harnesses that passed them by.
Both horse and driver appeared to be conscious of sufficient wisdom,
and even worth, for the duties of life; but all this placidity and
self-assurance were in sharp contrast to the eager excitement of a
pretty, red-cheeked girl who sat at the driver's side. She was as
sensitive to every new impression as they were dull. Her face bloomed
out of a round white hood in such charming fashion that those who
began to smile at an out-of-date equipage were interrupted by a second
and stronger instinct, and paid the homage that one must always pay to

It was a bitter cold morning. The great sleighbells on the horse's
shaggy neck jangled along the street, and seemed to still themselves
as they came among the group of vehicles that were climbing the long
hill by the Common.

As the sleigh passed a clubhouse that stands high on the slope, a
young man who stood idly behind one of the large windows made a
hurried step forward, and his sober face relaxed into a broad,
delighted smile; then he turned quickly, and presently appearing at
the outer door, scurried down the long flight of steps to the street,
fastening the top buttons of his overcoat by the way. The old sleigh,
with its worn buffalo skin hanging unevenly over the back, was only a
short distance up the street, but its pursuer found trouble in gaining
much upon the steady gait of the white horse. He ran two or three
steps now and then, and was almost close enough to speak as he drew
near to the pavement by the State House. The pretty girl was looking
up with wonder and delight, but in another moment they went briskly
on, and it was not until a long pause had to be made at the blocked
crossing of Tremont Street that the chase was ended.

The wonders of a first visit to Boston were happily continued to Miss
Nancy Gale in the sudden appearance at her side of a handsome young
gentleman. She put out a most cordial and warm hand from her fitch
muff, and her acquaintance noticed with pleasure the white knitted
mitten that protected it from the weather. He had not yet found time
to miss the gloves left behind at the club, but the warm little mitten
was very comfortable to his fingers.

"I was just thinking - I hoped I should see you, when I was starting to
come in this morning," she said, with an eager look of pleasure; then,
growing shy after the unconscious joy of the first moment, "Boston is
a pretty big place, isn't it?"

"We all think so," said Tom Aldis with fine candor. "It seems odd to
see you here."

"Uncle Ezra, this is Mr. Aldis that I have been telling you about, who
was down at our place so long in the fall," explained Nancy, turning
to look appealingly at her stern companion. "Mr. Aldis had to remain
with a friend who had sprained his ankle. Is Mr. Carew quite well
now?" she turned again to ask.

"Oh yes," answered Tom. "I saw him last week; he's in New York this
winter. But where are you staying, Nancy?" he asked eagerly, with a
hopeful glance at uncle Ezra. "I should like to take you somewhere
this afternoon. This is your first visit, isn't it? Couldn't you go to
see Rip Van Winkle to-morrow? It's the very best thing there is just
now. Jefferson's playing this week."

"Our folks ain't in the habit of attending theatres, sir," said uncle
Ezra, checking this innocent plan as effectually as an untracked
horse-car was stopping traffic in the narrow street. He looked over
his shoulder to see if there were any room to turn, but was

Tom Aldis gave a glance, also, and was happily reassured; the street
was getting fuller behind them every moment. "I beg you to excuse me,
sir," he said gallantly to the old man. "Do you think of anything else
that Miss Gale ought to see? There is the Art Museum, if she hasn't
been there already; all the pictures and statues and Egyptian things,
you know."

There was much deference and courtesy in the young man's behavior to
his senior. Uncle Ezra responded by a less suspicious look at him, but
seemed to be considering this new proposition before he spoke. Uncle
Ezra was evidently of the opinion that while it might be a misfortune
to be an old man, it was a fault to be a young one and good looking
where girls were concerned. "Miss Gale's father and mother showed me
so much kindness," Tom explained, seizing his moment of advantage, "I
should like to be of some use: it may not be convenient for you to
come into town again in this cold weather."

"Our folks have plenty to do all the time, that's a fact,"
acknowledged uncle Ezra less grimly, while Nancy managed to show the
light of a very knowing little smile. "I don't know but she'd like to
have a city man show her about, anyways. 'T ain't but four miles an' a
half out to our place, the way we come, but while this weather holds I
don't calculate to get into Boston more 'n once a week. I fetch all my
stuff in to the Quincy Market myself, an' I've got to come in day
after to-morrow mornin', but not till late, with a barrel o' nice
winter pears I've been a-savin'. I can set the barrel right for'ard in
the sleigh here, and I do' know but I can fetch Nancy as well as not.
But how'd ye get home, Nancy? Could ye walk over to our place from the
Milton depot, or couldn't ye?"

"Why, of course I could!" answered his niece, with a joy calmed by

"'T ain't but a mile an' three quarters; 't won't hurt a State 'o
Maine girl," said the old man, smiling under his great cap, so that
his cold, shrewd eyes suddenly grew blue and boyish. "I know all about
ye now, Mr. Aldis; I used to be well acquainted with your grandfather.
Much obliged to you. Yes, I'll fetch Nancy. I'll leave her right up
there to the Missionary Building, corner o' Somerset Street. She can
wait in the bookstore; it's liable to be open early. After I get
through business to-day, I'm goin' to leave the hoss, an' let her see
Faneuil Hall, an' the market o' course, and I don't know but we shall
stop in to the Old South Church; or you can show her that, an' tell
her about any other curiosities, if we don't have time."

Nancy looked radiant, and Tom Aldis accepted his trust with
satisfaction. At that moment the blockade was over and teams began to

"Not if it rains!" said uncle Ezra, speaking distinctly over his
shoulder as they started. "Otherwise expect her about eight or a
little" - but the last of the sentence was lost.

Nancy looked back and nodded from the tangle to Tom, who stood on the
curbstone with his hands in his pockets. Her white hood bobbed out of
sight the next moment in School Street behind a great dray.

"Good gracious! eight o'clock!" said Tom, a little daunted, as he
walked quickly up the street. As he passed the Missionary Building and
the bookstore, he laughed aloud; but as he came near the clubhouse
again, in this victorious retreat, he looked up at a window of one of
the pleasant old houses, and then obeyed the beckoning nod of an
elderly relative who seemed to have been watching for his return.

"Tom," said she, as he entered the library, "I insist upon it that I
am not curious by nature or by habit, but what in the world made you
chase that funny old horse and sleigh?"

"A pretty girl," said Tom frankly.


The second morning after this unexpected interview was sunshiny
enough, and as cold as January could make it. Tom Aldis, being young
and gay, was apt to keep late hours at this season, and the night
before had been the night of a Harvard assembly. He was the
kindest-hearted fellow in the world, but it was impossible not to feel
a little glum and sleepy as he hurried toward the Missionary Building.
The sharp air had urged uncle Ezra's white horse beyond his customary
pace, so that the old sleigh was already waiting, and uncle Ezra
himself was flapping his chilled arms and tramping to and fro

"Cold mornin'!" he said. "She's waitin' for you in there. I wanted to
be sure you'd come. Now I'll be off. I've got them pears well covered,
but I expect they may be touched. Nancy counted on comin', an' I'd
just as soon she'd have a nice time. Her cousin's folks'll see her to
the depot," he added as he drove away, and Tom nodded reassuringly
from the bookstore door.

Nancy looked up eagerly from beside a counter full of gayly bound
books, and gave him a speechless and grateful good-morning.

"I'm getting some presents for the little boys," she informed him.
"They're great hands to read. This one's all about birds, for Sam, and
I don't know but this Life o' Napoleon'll please Asa as much as
anything. When I waked up this morning I felt homesick. I couldn't see
anything out o' the window that I knew. I'm a real home body."

"I should like to send the boys a present, myself," said Tom. "What do
you think about jack-knives?"

"Asa'd rather have readin' matter; he ain't got the use for a knife
that some boys have. Why, you're real good!" said Nancy.

"And your mother, - can't I send her something that she would like?"
asked Tom kindly.

"She liked all those things that you and Mr. Carew sent at Christmas
time. We had the loveliest time opening the bundles. You oughtn't to
think o' doing anything more. I wish you'd help me pick out a nice
large-print Bible for grandma; she's always wishing for a large-print
Bible, and her eyes fail her a good deal."

Tom Aldis was not very fond of shopping, but this pious errand did not
displease him in Nancy's company. A few minutes later, when they went
out into the cold street, he felt warm and cheerful, and carried under
his arm the flat parcel which held a large-print copy of the
Scriptures and the little boys' books. Seeing Nancy again seemed to
carry his thoughts back to East Rodney, as if he had been born and
brought up there as well as she. The society and scenery of the little
coast town were so simple and definite in their elements that one
easily acquired a feeling of citizenship; it was like becoming
acquainted with a friendly individual. Tom had an intimate knowledge,
gained from several weeks' residence, with Nancy's whole world.

The long morning stretched before them like a morning in far Cathay,
and they stepped off down the street toward the Old South Church,
which had been omitted from uncle Ezra's scheme of entertainment by
reason of difficulty in leaving the horse. The discovery that the door
would not be open for nearly another hour only involved a longer walk
among the city streets, and the asking and answering of many questions
about the East Rodney neighbors, and the late autumn hunting and
fishing which, with some land interests of his father's, had first
drawn Tom to that part of the country. He had known enough of the rest
of the world to appreciate the little community of fishermen-farmers,
and while his friend Carew was but a complaining captive with a
sprained ankle, Tom Aldis entered into the spirit of rural life with
great zest; in fact he now remembered some boyish gallantries with a
little uneasiness, and looked to Nancy to befriend him. It was easy
for a man of twenty-two to arrive at an almost brotherly affection for
such a person as Nancy; she was so discreet and so sincerely

Nancy looked up at him once or twice as they walked along, and her
face glowed with happy pride. "I'd just like to have Addie Porter see
me now!" she exclaimed, and gave Tom a straightforward look to which
he promptly responded.

"Why?" he asked.

Nancy drew a long breath of relief, and began to smile.

"Oh, nothing," she answered; "only she kept telling me that you
wouldn't have much of anything to say to me, if I should happen to
meet you anywhere up to Boston. I knew better. I guess you're all
right, aren't you, about that?" She spoke with sudden impulse, but
there was something in her tone that made Tom blush a little.

"Why, yes," he answered. "What do you mean, Nancy?"

"We won't talk about it now while we're full of seeing things, but
I've got something to say by and by," said the girl soberly.

"You're very mysterious," protested Tom, taking the bundle under his
other arm, and piloting her carefully across the street.

Nancy said no more. The town was more interesting now that it seemed
to have waked up, and her eyes were too busy. Everything proved
delightful that day, from the recognition of business signs familiar
to her through newspaper advertisements, to the Great Organ, and the
thrill which her patriotic heart experienced in a second visit to
Faneuil Hall. They found the weather so mild that they pushed on to
Charlestown, and went to the top of the monument, which Tom had not
done since he was a very small boy. After this they saw what else they
could of historic Boston, on the fleetest and lightest of feet, and
talked all the way, until they were suddenly astonished to hear the
bells in all the steeples ring at noon.

"Oh dear, my nice mornin' 's all gone," said Nancy regretfully. "I
never had such a beautiful time in all my life!"

She looked quite beautiful herself as she spoke: her eyes shone with
lovely light and feeling, and her cheeks were bright with color like a
fresh-bloomed rose, but for the first time that day she was wistful
and sorry.

"Oh, you needn't go back yet!" said Tom. "I've nothing in the world to

"Uncle Ezra thought I'd better go up to cousin Snow's in Revere
Street. I'm afraid she'll be all through dinner, but never mind. They
thought I'd better go there on mother's account; it's her cousin, but
I never saw her, at least not since I can remember. They won't like it
if I don't, you know; it wouldn't be very polite."

"All right," assented Tom with dignity. "I'll take you there at once:
perhaps we can catch a car or something."

"I'm ashamed to ask for anything more when you've been so kind," said
Nancy, after a few moments of anxious silence. "I don't know that you
can think of any good chance, but I'd give a great deal if I could
only go somewhere and see some pretty dancing. You know I'm always
dreamin' and dreamin' about pretty dancing!" and she looked eagerly at
Tom to see what he would say. "It must be goin' on somewhere in
Boston," she went on with pleading eyes. "Could you ask somebody? They
said at uncle Ezra's that if cousin Abby Snow wanted me to remain
until to-morrow it might be just as well to stay; she used to be so
well acquainted with mother. And so I thought - I might get some nice
chance to look on."

"To see some dancing," repeated Tom, mindful of his own gay evening
the night before, and of others to come, and the general impossibility
of Nancy's finding the happiness she sought. He never had been so
confronted by social barriers. As for Nancy's dancing at East Rodney,
in the schoolhouse hall or in Jacob Parker's new barn, it had been one
of the most ideal things he had ever known in his life; it would be
hard to find elsewhere such grace as hers. In seaboard towns one often
comes upon strange foreign inheritances, and the soul of a Spanish
grandmother might still survive in Nancy, as far as her light feet
were concerned. She danced like a flower in the wind. She made you
feel light of foot yourself, as if you were whirling and blowing and
waving through the air; as if you could go out dancing and dancing
over the deep blue sea water of the bay, and find floor enough to
touch and whirl upon. But Nancy had always seemed to take her gifts
for granted; she had the simplicity of genius. "I can't say now, but I
am sure to find out," said Tom Aldis definitely. "I'll try to make
some sort of plan for you. I wish we could have another dance,

"Oh, not now," answered Nancy sensibly. "It's knowing 'most all the
people that makes a party pleasant."

"My aunt would have asked you to come to luncheon to-day, but she had
to go out of town, and was afraid of not getting back in season. She
would like to see you very much. You see, I'm only a bachelor in
lodgings, this winter," explained Tom bravely.

"You've been just as good as you could be. I know all about Boston
now, almost as if I lived here. I should like to see the inside of one
of those big houses," she added softly; "they all look so noble as you
go by. I think it was very polite of your aunt; you must thank her,
Mr. Aldis."

It seemed to Tom as if his companion were building most glorious
pleasure out of very commonplace materials. All the morning she had
been as gay and busy as a brook.

By the middle of the afternoon he knocked again at cousin Snow's door
in Revere Street, and delivered an invitation. Mrs. Annesley, his
aunt, and the kindest of women, would take Nancy to an afternoon class
at Papanti's, and bring her back afterwards, if cousin Snow were
willing to spare her. Tom would wait and drive back with her in the
coupe; then he must hurry to Cambridge for a business meeting to which
he had been suddenly summoned.

Nancy was radiant when she first appeared, but a few minutes later, as
they drove away together, she began to look grave and absent. It was
only because she was so sorry to think of parting.

"I am so glad about the dancing class," said Tom. "I never should have
thought of that. They are all children, you know; but it's very
pretty, and they have all the new dances. I used to think it a horrid
penance when I was a small boy."

"I don't know why it is," said Nancy, "but the mere thought of music
and dancin' makes me feel happy. I never saw any real good dancin',
either, but I can always think what it ought to be. There's nothing so
beautiful to me as manners," she added softly, as if she whispered at
the shrine of confidence.

"My aunt thinks there are going to be some pretty figure dances
to-day," announced Tom in a matter-of-fact way. There was something
else than the dancing upon his mind. He thought that he ought to tell
Nancy of his engagement, - not that it was quite an engagement
yet, - but he could not do it just now. "What was it you were going to
tell me this morning? About Addie Porter, wasn't it?" He laughed a
little, and then colored deeply. He had been somewhat foolish in his
attentions to this young person, the beguiling village belle of East
Rodney and the adjacent coasts. She was a pretty creature and a sad
flirt, with none of the real beauty and quaint sisterly ways of Nancy.
"What was it all about?" he asked again.

Nancy turned away quickly. "That's one thing I wanted to come to
Boston for; that's what I want to tell you. She don't really care
anything about you. She only wanted to get you away from the other
girls. I know for certain that she likes Joe Brown better than
anybody, and now she's been going with him almost all winter long. He
keeps telling round that they're going to be married in the spring;
but I thought if they were, she'd ask me to get some of her best
things while I was in Boston. I suppose she's intendin' to play with
him a while longer," said Nancy with honest scorn, "just because he
loves her well enough to wait. But don't you worry about her,
Mr. Aldis!"

"I won't indeed," answered Tom meekly, but with an unexpected feeling
of relief as if the unconscious danger had been a real one. Nancy was
very serious.

"I'm going home the first of the week," she said as they parted; but
the small hand felt colder than usual, and did not return his warm
grasp. The light in her eyes had all gone, but Tom's beamed

"I never thought of Addie Porter afterward, I'm afraid," he confessed.
"What awfully good fun we all had! I should like to go down to East
Rodney again some time."

"Oh, shan't you ever come?" cried Nancy, with a thrill in her voice
which Tom did not soon forget. He did not know that the young girl's
heart was waked, he was so busy with the affairs of his own
affections; but true friendship does not grow on every bush, in Boston
or East Rodney, and Nancy's voice and farewell look touched something
that lay very deep within his heart.

There is a little more to be told of this part of the story.
Mrs. Annesley, Tom's aunt, being a woman whose knowledge of human
nature and power of sympathy made her a woman of the world rather than
of any smaller circle, - Mrs. Annesley was delighted with Nancy's
unaffected pleasure and self-forgetful dignity of behavior at the
dancing-school. She took her back to the fine house, and they had half
an hour together there, and only parted because Nancy was to spend the
night with cousin Snow, and another old friend of her mother's was to
be asked to tea. Mrs. Annesley asked her to come to see her again,
whenever she was in Boston, and Nancy gratefully promised, but she
never came. "I'm all through with Boston for this time," she said,
with an amused smile, at parting. "I'm what one of our neighbors calls
'all flustered up,'" and she looked eagerly in her new friend's kind
eyes for sympathy. "Now that I've seen this beautiful house, and you
and Mr. Aldis, and some pretty dancin', I want to go right home where
I belong."

Tom Aldis meant to write to Nancy when his engagement came out, but he
never did; and he meant to send a long letter to her and her mother
two years later, when he and his wife were going abroad for a long
time; but he had an inborn hatred of letter-writing, and let that
occasion pass also, though when anything made him very sorry or very
glad, he had a curious habit of thinking of these East Rodney friends.
Before he went to Europe he used to send them magazines now and then,
or a roll of illustrated papers; and one day, in a bookstore, he
happened to see a fine French book with colored portraits of famous
dancers, and sent it by express to Nancy with his best remembrances.
But Tom was young and much occupied, the stream of time floated him
away from the shore of Maine, not toward it, ten or fifteen years
passed by, his brown hair began to grow gray, and he came back from
Europe after a while to a new Boston life in which reminiscences of
East Rodney seemed very remote indeed.


One summer afternoon there were two passengers, middle-aged men, on
the small steamer James Madison, which attended the comings and goings
of the great Boston steamer, and ran hither and yon on errands about
Penobscot Bay. She was puffing up a long inlet toward East Rodney
Landing, and the two strangers were observing the green shores with
great interest. Like nearly the whole stretch of the Maine coast,
there was a house on almost every point and headland; but for all
this, there were great tracts of untenanted country, dark untouched
forests of spruces and firs, and shady coves where there seemed to be
deep water and proper moorings. The two passengers were on the watch
for landings and lookouts; in short, this lovely, lonely country was
being frankly appraised at its probable value for lumbering or for
building-lots and its relation to the real estate market. Just now
there appeared to be no citizens save crows and herons, the sun was
almost down behind some high hills in the west, and the Landing was in

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Online LibrarySarah Orne JewettThe life of Nancy → online text (page 1 of 16)