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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Lady Of The Aroostook - Chapter 2
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The Lady Of The Aroostook - Chapter 2 Post by :kristoff Category :Long Stories Author :William Dean Howells Date :May 2012 Read :1895

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The Lady Of The Aroostook - Chapter 2


Lydia and her grandfather reached Boston at four o'clock, and the old man made a bargain, as he fancied, with an expressman to carry her baggage across the city to the wharf at which the Aroostook lay. The expressman civilly offered to take their small parcels without charge, and deliver them with the trunk and large bag; but as he could not check them all her grandfather judged it safest not to part with them, and he and Lydia crowded into the horse-car with their arms and hands full. The conductor obliged him to give up the largest of these burdens, and hung the old-fashioned oil-cloth sack on the handle of the brake behind, where Mr. Latham with keen anxiety, and Lydia with shame, watched it as it swayed back and forth with the motion of the car and threatened to break loose from its hand-straps and dash its bloated bulk to the ground. The old man called out to the conductor to be sure and stop in Scollay's Square, and the people, who had already stared uncomfortably at Lydia's bundles, all smiled. Her grandfather was going to repeat his direction as the conductor made no sign of having heard it, when his neighbor said kindly, "The car always stops in Scollay's Square."

"Then why couldn't he say so?" retorted the old man, in his high nasal key; and now the people laughed outright. He had the nervous restlessness of age when out of its wonted place: he could not remain quiet in the car, for counting and securing his parcels; when they reached Scollay's Square, and were to change cars, he ran to the car they were to take, though there was abundant time, and sat down breathless from his effort. He was eager then that they should not be carried too far, and was constantly turning to look out of the window to ascertain their whereabouts. His vigilance ended in their getting aboard the East Boston ferry-boat in the car, and hardly getting ashore before the boat started. They now gathered up their burdens once more, and walked toward the wharf they were seeking, past those squalid streets which open upon the docks. At the corners they entangled themselves in knots of truck-teams and hucksters' wagons and horse-cars; once they brought the traffic of the neighborhood to a stand-still by the thoroughness of their inability and confusion. They wandered down the wrong wharf amidst the slime cast up by the fishing craft moored in the dock below, and made their way over heaps of chains and cordage, and through the hand-carts pushed hither and thither with their loads of fish, and so struggled back to the avenue which ran along the top of all the wharves. The water of the docks was of a livid turbidity, which teemed with the gelatinous globes of the sun-fish; and people were rowing about there in pleasure-boats, and sailors on floats were painting the hulls of the black ships. The faces of the men they met were red and sunburned mostly,--not with the sunburn of the fields, but of the sea; these men lurched in their gait with an uncouth heaviness, yet gave them way kindly enough; but certain dull-eyed, frowzy-headed women seemed to push purposely against her grandfather, and one of them swore at Lydia for taking up all the sidewalk with her bundles. There were such dull eyes and slattern heads at the open windows of the shabby houses; and there were gaunt, bold-faced young girls who strolled up and down the pavements, bonnetless and hatless, and chatted into the windows, and joked with other such girls whom they met. Suddenly a wild outcry rose from the swarming children up one of the intersecting streets, where a woman was beating a small boy over the head with a heavy stick: the boy fell howling and writhing to the ground, and the cruel blows still rained upon him, till another woman darted from an open door and caught the child up with one hand, and with the other wrenched the stick away and flung it into the street. No words passed, and there was nothing to show whose child the victim was; the first woman walked off, and while the boy rubbed his head and arms, and screamed with the pain, the other children, whose sports had been scarcely interrupted, were shouting and laughing all about him again.

"Grandfather," said Lydia faintly, "let us go down here, and rest a moment in the shade. I'm almost worn out." She pointed to the open and quiet space at the side of the lofty granite warehouse which they had reached.

"Well, I guess I'll set down a minute, too," said her grandfather. "Lyddy," he added, as they released their aching arms from their bags and bundles, and sank upon the broad threshold of a door which seemed to have been shut ever since the decay of the India trade, "I don't believe but what it would have be'n about as cheap in the end to come down in a hack. But I acted for what I thought was the best. I supposed we'd be'n there before now, and the idea of givin' a dollar for ridin' about ten minutes did seem sinful. I ain't noways afraid the ship will sail without you. Don't you fret any. I don't seem to know rightly just where I am, but after we've rested a spell I'll leave you here, and inquire round. It's a real quiet place, and I guess your things will be safe."

He took off his straw hat and fanned his face with it, while Lydia leaned her head against the door frame and closed her eyes. Presently she heard the trampling of feet going by, but she did not open her eyes till the feet paused in a hesitating way, and a voice asked her grandfather, in the firm, neat tone which she had heard summer boarders from Boston use, "Is the young lady ill?" She now looked up, and blushed like fire to see two handsome young men regarding her with frank compassion.

"No," said her grandfather; "a little beat out, that's all. We've been trying to find Lucas Wharf, and we don't seem somehow just to hit on it."

"This is Lucas Wharf," said the young man. He made an instinctive gesture of salutation toward his hat, with the hand in which he held a cigar; he put the cigar into his mouth as he turned from them, and the smoke drifted fragrantly back to Lydia as he tramped steadily and strongly on down the wharf, shoulder to shoulder with his companion.

"Well, I declare for't, so it is," said her grandfather, getting stiffly to his feet and retiring a few paces to gain a view of the building at the base of which they had been sitting. "Why, I might known it by this buildin'! But where's the Aroostook, if this is Lucas Wharf?" He looked wistfully in the direction the young men had taken, but they were already too far to call after.

"Grandfather," said the girl, "do I look pale?"

"Well, you don't now," answered the old man, simply. "You've got a good color now."

"What right had he," she demanded, "to speak to you about me?"

"I d'know but what you did look rather pale, as you set there with your head leaned back. I d'know as I noticed much."

"He took us for two beggars,--two tramps!" she exclaimed, "sitting here with our bundles scattered round us!"

The old man did not respond to this conjecture; it probably involved matters beyond his emotional reach, though he might have understood them when he was younger. He stood a moment with his mouth puckered to a whistle, but made no sound, and retired a step or two farther from the building and looked up at it again. Then he went toward the dock and looked down into its turbid waters, and returned again with a face of hopeless perplexity. "This is Lucas Wharf, and no mistake," he said. "I know the place first-rate, now. But what I can't make out is, What's got the Aroostook?"

A man turned the corner of the warehouse from the street above, and came briskly down towards them, with his hat off, and rubbing his head and face with a circular application of a red silk handkerchief. He was dressed in a suit of blue flannel, very neat and shapely, and across his ample waistcoat stretched a gold watch chain; in his left hand he carried a white Panama hat. He was short and stout; his round florid face was full of a sort of prompt kindness; his small blue eyes twinkled under shaggy brows whose sandy color had not yet taken the grizzled tone of his close-clipped hair and beard. From his clean wristbands his hands came out, plump and large; stiff, wiry hairs stood up on their backs, and under these various designs in tattooing showed their purple.

Lydia's grandfather stepped out to meet and halt this stranger, as he drew near, glancing quickly from the girl to the old man, and then at their bundles. "Can you tell me where a ship named the Aroostook is, that was layin' at this wharf--Lucas Wharf--a fortnight ago, and better?"

"Well, I guess I can, Mr. Latham," answered the stranger, with a quizzical smile, offering one of his stout hands to Lydia's grandfather. "You don't seem to remember your friends very well, do you?"

The old man gave a kind of crow expressive of an otherwise unutterable relief and comfort. "Well, if it ain't Captain Jenness! I be'n so turned about, I declare for't, I don't believe I'd ever known you if you hadn't spoke up. Lyddy," he cried with a child-like joy, "this is Captain Jenness!"

Captain Jenness having put on his hat changed Mr. Latham's hand into his left, while he stretched his great right hand across it and took Lydia's long, slim fingers in its grasp, and looked keenly into her face. "Glad to see you, glad to see you, Miss Blood. (You see I've got your name down on my papers.) Hope you're well. Ever been a sea-voyage before? Little homesick, eh?" he asked, as she put her handkerchief to her eyes. He kept pressing Lydia's hand in the friendliest way. "Well, that's natural. And you're excited; that's natural, too. But we're not going to have any homesickness on the Aroostook, because we're going to make her home to you." At this speech all the girl's gathering forlornness broke in a sob. "That's right!" said Captain Jenness. "Bless you, I've got a girl just about your age up at Deer Isle, myself!" He dropped her hand, and put his arm across her shoulders. "Good land, I know what girls are, I hope! These your things?" He caught up the greater part of them into his capacious hands, and started off down the wharf, talking back at Lydia and her grandfather, as they followed him with the light parcels he had left them. "I hauled away from the wharf as soon as I'd stowed my cargo, and I'm at anchor out there in the stream now, waiting till I can finish up a few matters of business with the agents and get my passengers on board. When you get used to the strangeness," he said to Lydia, "you won't be a bit lonesome. Bless your heart! My wife's been with me many a voyage, and the last time I was out to Messina I had both my daughters."

At the end of the wharf, Captain Jenness stopped, and suddenly calling out, "Here!" began, as she thought, to hurl Lydia's things into the water. But when she reached the same point, she found they had all been caught, and deposited in a neat pile in a boat which lay below, where two sailors stood waiting the captain's further orders. He keenly measured the distance to the boat with his eye, and then he bade the men work round outside a schooner which lay near; and jumping on board this vessel, he helped Lydia and her grandfather down, and easily transferred them to the small boat. The men bent to their oars, and pulled swiftly out toward a ship that lay at anchor a little way off. A light breeze crept along the water, which was here blue and clear, and the grateful coolness and pleasant motion brought light into the girl's cheeks and eyes. Without knowing it she smiled. "That's right!" cried Captain Jenness, who had applauded her sob in the same terms. "_You'll like it, first-rate. Look at that ship! _That's the Aroostook. _Is she a beauty, or ain't she?"

The stately vessel stood high from the water, for Captain Jenness's cargo was light, and he was going out chiefly for a return freight. Sharp jibs and staysails cut their white outlines keenly against the afternoon blue of the summer heaven; the topsails and courses dripped, half-furled, from the yards stretching across the yellow masts that sprang so far aloft; the hull glistened black with new paint. When Lydia mounted to the deck she found it as clean scrubbed as her aunt's kitchen floor. Her glance of admiration was not lost upon Captain Jenness. "Yes, Miss Blood," said he, "one difference between an American ship and any other sort is dirt. I wish I could take you aboard an English vessel, so you could appreciate the Aroostook. But I guess you don't need it," he added, with a proud satisfaction in his laugh. "The Aroostook ain't in order yet; wait till we've been a few days at sea." The captain swept the deck with a loving eye. It was spacious and handsome, with a stretch of some forty or fifty feet between the house at the stern and the forecastle, which rose considerably higher; a low bulwark was surmounted by a heavy rail supported upon turned posts painted white. Everything, in spite of the captain's boastful detraction, was in perfect trim, at least to landfolk's eyes. "Now come into the cabin," said the captain. He gave Lydia's traps, as he called them, in charge of a boy, while he led the way below, by a narrow stairway, warning Lydia and her grandfather to look out for their heads as they followed. "There!" he said, when they had safely arrived, inviting their inspection of the place with a general glance of his own.

"What did I tell you, Lyddy?" asked her grandfather, with simple joy in the splendors about them. "Solid mahogany trimmin's everywhere." There was also a great deal of milk-white paint, with some modest touches of gilding here and there. The cabin was pleasantly lit by the long low windows which its roof rose just high enough to lift above the deck, and the fresh air entered with the slanting sun. Made fast to the floor was a heavy table, over which hung from the ceiling a swinging shelf. Around the little saloon ran lockers cushioned with red plush. At either end were four or five narrow doors, which gave into as many tiny state-rooms. The boy came with Lydia's things, and set them inside one of these doors; and when he came out again the captain pushed it open, and called them in. "Here!" said he. "Here's where my girls made themselves at home the last voyage, and I expect you'll find it pretty comfortable. They say you don't feel the motion so much,--_I don't know anything about the motion,--and in smooth weather you can have that window open sometimes, and change the air. It's light and it's large. Well, I had it fitted up for my wife; but she's got kind of on now, you know, and she don't feel much like going any more; and so I always give it to my nicest passenger." This was an unmistakable compliment, and Lydia blushed to the captain's entire content. "That's a rug she hooked," he continued, touching with his toe the carpet, rich in its artless domestic dyes as some Persian fabric, that lay before the berth. "These gimcracks belong to my girls; they left 'em." He pointed to various slight structures of card-board worked with crewel, which were tacked to the walls. "Pretty snug, eh?"

"Yes," said Lydia, "it's nicer than I thought it could be, even after what grandfather said."

"Well, that's right!" exclaimed the captain. "I like your way of speaking up. I wish you could know my girls. How old are you now?"

"I'm nineteen," said Lydia.

"Why, you're just between my girls!" cried the captain. "Sally is twenty-one, and Persis is eighteen. Well, now, Miss Blood," he said, as they returned to the cabin, "you can't begin to make yourself at home too soon for me. I used to sail to Cadiz and Malaga a good deal; and when I went to see any of them Spaniards he'd say, 'This house is yours.' Well, that's what I say: This ship is yours as long as you stay in her. And I _mean it, and that's more than _they did!" Captain Jenness laughed mightily, took some of Lydia's fingers in his left hand and squeezed them, and clapped her grandfather on the shoulder with his right. Then he slipped his hand down the old man's bony arm to the elbow, and held it, while he dropped his head towards Lydia, and said, "We shall be glad to have him stay to supper, and as much longer as he likes, heh?"

"Oh, no!" said Lydia; "grandfather must go back on the six o'clock train. My aunt expects him." Her voice fell, and her face suddenly clouded.

"Good!" cried the captain. Then he pulled out his watch, and held it as far away as the chain would stretch, frowning at it with his head aslant. "Well!" he burst out. "He hasn't got any too much time on his hands." The old man gave a nervous start, and the girl trembled. "Hold on! Yes; there's time. It's only fifteen minutes after five."

"Oh, but we were more than half an hour getting down here," said Lydia, anxiously. "And grandfather doesn't know the way back. He'll be sure to get lost. I _wish we'd come in a carriage."

"Couldn't 'a' kept the carriage waitin' on expense, Lyddy," retorted her grandfather, "But I tell you," he added, with something like resolution, "if I could find a carriage anywheres near that wharf, I'd take it, just as _sure_! I wouldn't miss that train for more'n half a dollar. It would cost more than that at a hotel to-night, let alone how your aunt Maria'd feel."

"Why, look here!" said Captain Jenness, naturally appealing to the girl. "Let _me get your grandfather back. I've got to go up town again, any way, for some last things, with an express wagon, and we can ride right to the depot in that. Which depot is it?"

"Fitchburg," said the old man eagerly.

"That's right!" commented the captain. "Get you there in plenty of time, if we don't lose any now. And I'll tell you what, my little girl," he added, turning to Lydia: "if it'll be a comfort to you to ride up with us, and see your grandfather off, why come along! _My girls went with me the last time on an express wagon."

"No," answered Lydia. "I want to. But it wouldn't be any comfort. I thought that out before I left home, and I'm going to say good-by to grandfather here."

"First-rate!" said Captain Jenness, bustling towards the gangway so as to leave them alone. A sharp cry from the old man arrested him.

"Lyddy! Where's your trunks?"

"Why!" said the girl, catching her breath in dismay, "where _can they be? I forgot all about them."

"I got the checks fast enough," said the old man, "and I shan't give 'em up without I get the trunks. They'd ought to had 'em down here long ago; and now if I've got to pester round after 'em I'm sure to miss the train."

"What shall we do?" asked Lydia.

"Let's see your checks," said the captain, with an evident ease of mind that reassured her. When her grandfather had brought them with difficulty from the pocket visited last in the order of his search, and laid them in the captain's waiting palm, the latter endeavored to get them in focus. "What does it say on 'em?" he asked, handing them to Lydia. "My eyes never _did amount to anything on shore." She read aloud the name of the express stamped on them. The captain gathered them back into his hand, and slipped them into his pocket, with a nod and wink full of comfort. "I'll see to it," he said. "At any rate, this ship ain't a-going to sail without them, if she waits a week. Now, then, Mr. Latham!"

The old man, who waited, when not directly addressed or concerned, in a sort of blank patience, suddenly started out of his daze, and following the captain too alertly up the gangway stairs drove his hat against the hatch--with a force that sent him back into Lydia's arms.

"Oh, grandfather, are you hurt?" she piteously asked, trying to pull up the hat that was jammed down over his forehead.

"Not a bit! But I guess my hat's about done for,--without I can get it pressed over; and I d'know as this kind of straw _doos press."

"First-rate!" called the captain from above. "Never mind the hat." But the girl continued fondly trying to reshape it, while the old man fidgeted anxiously, and protested that he would be sure to be left. It was like a half-shut accordion when she took it from his head; when she put it back it was like an accordion pulled out.

"All ready!" shouted Captain Jenness from the gap in the bulwark, where he stood waiting to descend into the small boat. The old man ran towards him in his senile haste, and stooped to get over the side into the boat below.

"Why, grandfather!" cried the girl in a breaking voice, full of keen, yet tender reproach.

"I declare for't," he said, scrambling back to the deck. "I 'most forgot. I be'n so put about." He took Lydia's hand loosely into his own, and bent forward to kiss her. She threw her arms round him, and while he remained looking over her shoulder, with a face of grotesque perplexity, and saying, "Don't cry, Lyddy, don't cry!" she pressed her face tighter into his withered neck, and tried to muffle her homesick sobs. The sympathies as well as the sensibilities often seem dulled by age. They have both perhaps been wrought upon too much in the course of the years, and can no longer respond to the appeal or distress which they can only dimly realize; even the heart grows old. "Don't you, don't you, Lyddy!" repeated the old man. "You mustn't. The captain's waitin'; and the cars--well, every minute I lose makes it riskier and riskier; and your aunt Maria, she's always so uneasy, you know!"

The girl was not hurt by his anxiety about himself; she was more anxious about him than about anything else. She quickly lifted her head, and drying her eyes, kissed him, forcing her lips into the smile that is more heart-breaking to see than weeping. She looked over the side, as her grandfather was handed carefully down to a seat by the two sailors in the boat, and the captain noted her resolute counterfeit of cheerfulness. "That's right!" he shouted up to her. "Just like my girls when their mother left 'em. But bless you, they soon got over it, and so'll you. Give way, men," he said, in a lower voice, and the boat shot from the ship's side toward the wharf. He turned and waved his handkerchief to Lydia, and, stimulated apparently by this, her grandfather felt in his pockets for his handkerchief; he ended after a vain search by taking off his hat and waving that.

When he put it on again, it relapsed into that likeness of a half-shut accordion from which Lydia had rescued it; but she only saw the face under it.

As the boat reached the wharf an express wagon drove down, and Lydia saw the sarcastic parley which she could not hear between the captain and the driver about the belated baggage which the latter put off. Then she saw the captain help her grandfather to the seat between himself and the driver, and the wagon rattled swiftly out of sight. One of the sailors lifted Lydia's baggage over the side of the wharf to the other in the boat, and they pulled off to the ship with it.

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The Lady Of The Aroostook - Chapter 3 The Lady Of The Aroostook - Chapter 3

The Lady Of The Aroostook - Chapter 3
CHAPTER IIILydia went back to the cabin, and presently the boy who had taken charge of her lighter luggage came dragging her trunk and bag down the gangway stairs. Neither was very large, and even a boy of fourteen who was small for his age might easily manage them. "You can stow away what's in 'em in the drawers," said the boy. "I suppose you didn't notice the drawers," he added, at her look of inquiry. He went into her room, and pushing aside the valance of the lower berth showed four deep drawers below the bed; the charming snugness of

The Lady Of The Aroostook - Chapter 1 The Lady Of The Aroostook - Chapter 1

The Lady Of The Aroostook - Chapter 1
CHAPTER IIn the best room of a farm-house on the skirts of a village in the hills of Northern Massachusetts, there sat one morning in August three people who were not strangers to the house, but who had apparently assembled in the parlor as the place most in accord with an unaccustomed finery in their dress. One was an elderly woman with a plain, honest face, as kindly in expression as she could be perfectly sure she felt, and no more; she rocked herself softly in the haircloth arm-chair, and addressed as father the old man who sat at one end