Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett

Part 3 out of 3

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.3 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

begun to clear away off the land. In the narrow field I noticed
some stout stakes, apparently planted at random in the grass and
among the hills of potatoes, but carefully painted yellow and white
to match the house, a neat sharp-edged little dwelling, which
looked strangely modern for its owner. I should have much
sooner believed that the smart young wholesale egg merchant of the
Landing was its occupant than Mr. Tilley, since a man's house is
really but his larger body, and expresses in a way his nature and

I went up the field, following the smooth little path to the
side door. As for using the front door, that was a matter of great
ceremony; the long grass grew close against the high stone step,
and a snowberry bush leaned over it, top-heavy with the weight of
a morning-glory vine that had managed to take what the fishermen
might call a half hitch about the door-knob. Elijah Tilley came to
the side door to receive me; he was knitting a blue yarn stocking
without looking on, and was warmly dressed for the season in a
thick blue flannel shirt with white crockery buttons, a faded
waistcoat and trousers heavily patched at the knees. These were
not his fishing clothes. There was something delightful in the
grasp of his hand, warm and clean, as if it never touched anything
but the comfortable woolen yarn, instead of cold sea water and
slippery fish.

"What are the painted stakes for, down in the field?" I
hastened to ask, and he came out a step or two along the path to
see; and looked at the stakes as if his attention were called to
them for the first time.

"Folks laughed at me when I first bought this place an' come
here to live," he explained. "They said 'twa'n't no kind of a
field privilege at all; no place to raise anything, all full o'
stones. I was aware 'twas good land, an' I worked some on it--odd
times when I didn't have nothin' else on hand--till I cleared them
loose stones all out. You never see a prettier piece than 'tis
now; now did ye? Well, as for them painted marks, them's my buoys.
I struck on to some heavy rocks that didn't show none, but a plow'd
be liable to ground on 'em, an' so I ketched holt an' buoyed 'em
same's you see. They don't trouble me no more'n if they wa'n't

"You haven't been to sea for nothing," I said laughing.

"One trade helps another," said Elijah with an amiable smile.
"Come right in an' set down. Come in an' rest ye," he exclaimed,
and led the way into his comfortable kitchen. The sunshine poured
in at the two further windows, and a cat was curled up sound asleep
on the table that stood between them. There was a new-looking
light oilcloth of a tiled pattern on the floor, and a crockery
teapot, large for a household of only one person, stood on the
bright stove. I ventured to say that somebody must be a very good

"That's me," acknowledged the old fisherman with frankness.
"There ain't nobody here but me. I try to keep things looking
right, same's poor dear left 'em. You set down here in this chair,
then you can look off an' see the water. None on 'em
thought I was goin' to get along alone, no way, but I wa'n't goin'
to have my house turned upsi' down an' all changed about; no, not
to please nobody. I was the only one knew just how she liked to
have things set, poor dear, an' I said I was goin' to make shift,
and I have made shift. I'd rather tough it out alone." And he
sighed heavily, as if to sigh were his familiar consolation.

We were both silent for a minute; the old man looked out the
window, as if he had forgotten I was there.

"You must miss her very much?" I said at last.

"I do miss her," he answered, and sighed again. "Folks all
kep' repeatin' that time would ease me, but I can't find it does.
No, I miss her just the same every day."

"How long is it since she died?" I asked.

"Eight year now, come the first of October. It don't seem
near so long. I've got a sister that comes and stops 'long o' me
a little spell, spring an' fall, an' odd times if I send after her.
I ain't near so good a hand to sew as I be to knit, and she's very
quick to set everything to rights. She's a married woman with a
family; her son's folks lives at home, an' I can't make no great
claim on her time. But it makes me a kind o' good excuse, when I
do send, to help her a little; she ain't none too well off. Poor
dear always liked her, and we used to contrive our ways together.
'Tis full as easy to be alone. I set here an' think it all over,
an' think considerable when the weather's bad to go outside. I get
so some days it feels as if poor dear might step right back into
this kitchen. I keep a-watchin' them doors as if she might step in
to ary one. Yes, ma'am, I keep a-lookin' off an' droppin' o' my
stitches; that's just how it seems. I can't git over losin' of her
no way nor no how. Yes, ma'am, that's just how it seems to me."

I did not say anything, and he did not look up.

"I git feelin' so sometimes I have to lay everything by an' go
out door. She was a sweet pretty creatur' long's she lived," the
old man added mournfully. "There's that little rockin' chair o'
her'n, I set an' notice it an' think how strange 'tis a creatur'
like her should be gone an' that chair be here right in its old

"I wish I had known her; Mrs. Todd told me about your wife one
day," I said.

"You'd have liked to come and see her; all the folks did,"
said poor Elijah. "She'd been so pleased to hear everything and
see somebody new that took such an int'rest. She had a kind o'
gift to make it pleasant for folks. I guess likely Almiry Todd
told you she was a pretty woman, especially in her young days; late
years, too, she kep' her looks and come to be so pleasant
lookin'. There, 'tain't so much matter, I shall be done afore a
great while. No; I sha'n't trouble the fish a great sight more."

The old widower sat with his head bowed over his knitting, as
if he were hastily shortening the very thread of time. The minutes
went slowly by. He stopped his work and clasped his hands firmly
together. I saw he had forgotten his guest, and I kept the
afternoon watch with him. At last he looked up as if but a moment
had passed of his continual loneliness.

"Yes, ma'am, I'm one that has seen trouble," he said, and
began to knit again.

The visible tribute of his careful housekeeping, and the clean
bright room which had once enshrined his wife, and now enshrined
her memory, was very moving to me; he had no thought for any one
else or for any other place. I began to see her myself in her
home,--a delicate-looking, faded little woman, who leaned upon his
rough strength and affectionate heart, who was always watching for
his boat out of this very window, and who always opened the door
and welcomed him when he came home.

"I used to laugh at her, poor dear," said Elijah, as if he
read my thought. "I used to make light of her timid notions. She
used to be fearful when I was out in bad weather or baffled about
gittin' ashore. She used to say the time seemed long to her, but
I've found out all about it now. I used to be dreadful thoughtless
when I was a young man and the fish was bitin' well. I'd stay out
late some o' them days, an' I expect she'd watch an' watch an' lose
heart a-waitin'. My heart alive! what a supper she'd git, an' be
right there watchin' from the door, with somethin' over her head if
'twas cold, waitin' to hear all about it as I come up the field.
Lord, how I think o' all them little things!"

"This was what she called the best room; in this way," he said
presently, laying his knitting on the table, and leading the way
across the front entry and unlocking a door, which he threw open
with an air of pride. The best room seemed to me a much sadder and
more empty place than the kitchen; its conventionalities lacked the
simple perfection of the humbler room and failed on the side of
poor ambition; it was only when one remembered what patient saving,
and what high respect for society in the abstract go to such
furnishing that the little parlor was interesting at all. I could
imagine the great day of certain purchases, the bewildering shops
of the next large town, the aspiring anxious woman, the clumsy sea-
tanned man in his best clothes, so eager to be pleased, but at ease
only when they were safe back in the sailboat again, going down the
bay with their precious freight, the hoarded money all spent and
nothing to think of but tiller and sail. I looked at the unworn
carpet, the glass vases on the mantelpiece with their prim
bunches of bleached swamp grass and dusty marsh rosemary, and I
could read the history of Mrs. Tilley's best room from its very

"You see for yourself what beautiful rugs she could make; now
I'm going to show you her best tea things she thought so much of,"
said the master of the house, opening the door of a shallow
cupboard. "That's real chiny, all of it on those two shelves," he
told me proudly. "I bought it all myself, when we was first
married, in the port of Bordeaux. There never was one single piece
of it broke until-- Well, I used to say, long as she lived, there
never was a piece broke, but long at the last I noticed she'd look
kind o' distressed, an' I thought 'twas 'count o' me boastin'.
When they asked if they should use it when the folks was here to
supper, time o' her funeral, I knew she'd want to have everything
nice, and I said 'certain.' Some o' the women they come runnin' to
me an' called me, while they was takin' of the chiny down, an'
showed me there was one o' the cups broke an' the pieces wropped in
paper and pushed way back here, corner o' the shelf. They didn't
want me to go an' think they done it. Poor dear! I had to put
right out o' the house when I see that. I knowed in one minute how
'twas. We'd got so used to sayin' 'twas all there just's I fetched
it home, an' so when she broke that cup somehow or 'nother she
couldn't frame no words to come an' tell me. She couldn't think
'twould vex me, 'twas her own hurt pride. I guess there wa'n't no
other secret ever lay between us."

The French cups with their gay sprigs of pink and blue, the
best tumblers, an old flowered bowl and tea caddy, and a japanned
waiter or two adorned the shelves. These, with a few
daguerreotypes in a little square pile, had the closet to
themselves, and I was conscious of much pleasure in seeing them.
One is shown over many a house in these days where the interest may
be more complex, but not more definite.

"Those were her best things, poor dear," said Elijah as he
locked the door again. "She told me that last summer before she
was taken away that she couldn't think o' anything more she wanted,
there was everything in the house, an' all her rooms was furnished
pretty. I was goin' over to the Port, an' inquired for errands.
I used to ask her to say what she wanted, cost or no cost--she was
a very reasonable woman, an' 'twas the place where she done all but
her extra shopping. It kind o' chilled me up when she spoke so

"You don't go out fishing after Christmas?" I asked, as we
came back to the bright kitchen.

"No; I take stiddy to my knitting after January sets in," said
the old seafarer. "'Tain't worth while, fish make off into deeper
water an' you can't stand no such perishin' for the sake o'
what you get. I leave out a few traps in sheltered coves an' do a
little lobsterin' on fair days. The young fellows braves it out,
some on 'em; but, for me, I lay in my winter's yarn an' set here
where 'tis warm, an' knit an' take my comfort. Mother learnt me
once when I was a lad; she was a beautiful knitter herself. I was
laid up with a bad knee, an' she said 'twould take up my time an'
help her; we was a large family. They'll buy all the folks can do
down here to Addicks' store. They say our Dunnet stockin's is
gettin' to be celebrated up to Boston,--good quality o' wool an'
even knittin' or somethin'. I've always been called a pretty hand
to do nettin', but seines is master cheap to what they used to be
when they was all hand worked. I change off to nettin' long
towards spring, and I piece up my trawls and lines and get my
fishin' stuff to rights. Lobster pots they require attention, but
I make 'em up in spring weather when it's warm there in the barn.
No; I ain't one o' them that likes to set an' do nothin'."

"You see the rugs, poor dear did them; she wa'n't very partial
to knittin'," old Elijah went on, after he had counted his
stitches. "Our rugs is beginnin' to show wear, but I can't master
none o' them womanish tricks. My sister, she tinkers 'em up. She
said last time she was here that she guessed they'd last my time."

"The old ones are always the prettiest," I said.

"You ain't referrin' to the braided ones now?" answered Mr.
Tilley. "You see ours is braided for the most part, an' their good
looks is all in the beginnin'. Poor dear used to say they made an
easier floor. I go shufflin' round the house same's if 'twas a
bo't, and I always used to be stubbin' up the corners o' the hooked
kind. Her an' me was always havin' our jokes together same's a boy
an' girl. Outsiders never'd know nothin' about it to see us. She
had nice manners with all, but to me there was nobody so
entertainin'. She'd take off anybody's natural talk winter
evenin's when we set here alone, so you'd think 'twas them a-
speakin'. There, there!"

I saw that he had dropped a stitch again, and was snarling the
blue yarn round his clumsy fingers. He handled it and threw it off
at arm's length as if it were a cod line; and frowned impatiently,
but I saw a tear shining on his cheek.

I said that I must be going, it was growing late, and asked if
I might come again, and if he would take me out to the fishing
grounds someday.

"Yes, come any time you want to," said my host, "'tain't so
pleasant as when poor dear was here. Oh, I didn't want to lose her
an' she didn't want to go, but it had to be. Such things ain't for
us to say; there's no yes an' no to it."

"You find Almiry Todd one o' the best o' women?" said Mr.
Tilley as we parted. He was standing in the doorway and I had
started off down the narrow green field. "No, there ain't a better
hearted woman in the State o' Maine. I've known her from a girl.
She's had the best o' mothers. You tell her I'm liable to fetch
her up a couple or three nice good mackerel early tomorrow," he
said. "Now don't let it slip your mind. Poor dear, she always
thought a sight o' Almiry, and she used to remind me there was
nobody to fish for her; but I don't rec'lect it as I ought to. I
see you drop a line yourself very handy now an' then."

We laughed together like the best of friends, and I spoke
again about the fishing grounds, and confessed that I had no fancy
for a southerly breeze and a ground swell.

"Nor me neither," said the old fisherman. "Nobody likes 'em,
say what they may. Poor dear was disobliged by the mere sight of
a bo't. Almiry's got the best o' mothers, I expect you know; Mis'
Blackett out to Green Island; and we was always plannin' to go out
when summer come; but there, I couldn't pick no day's weather that
seemed to suit her just right. I never set out to worry her
neither, 'twa'n't no kind o' use; she was so pleasant we couldn't
have no fret nor trouble. 'Twas never 'you dear an' you darlin''
afore folks, an' 'you divil' behind the door!"

As I looked back from the lower end of the field I saw him
still standing, a lonely figure in the doorway. "Poor dear," I
repeated to myself half aloud; "I wonder where she is and what she
knows of the little world she left. I wonder what she has been
doing these eight years!"

I gave the message about the mackerel to Mrs. Todd.

"Been visitin' with 'Lijah?" she asked with interest. "I
expect you had kind of a dull session; he ain't the talkin' kind;
dwellin' so much long o' fish seems to make 'em lose the gift o'
speech." But when I told her that Mr. Tilley had been talking to
me that day, she interrupted me quickly.

"Then 'twas all about his wife, an' he can't say nothin' too
pleasant neither. She was modest with strangers, but there ain't
one o' her old friends can ever make up her loss. For me, I don't
want to go there no more. There's some folks you miss and some
folks you don't, when they're gone, but there ain't hardly a day I
don't think o' dear Sarah Tilley. She was always right there; yes,
you knew just where to find her like a plain flower. 'Lijah's
worthy enough; I do esteem 'Lijah, but he's a ploddin' man."


The Backward View

AT LAST IT WAS the time of late summer, when the house was cool and
damp in the morning, and all the light seemed to come through green
leaves; but at the first step out of doors the sunshine always laid
a warm hand on my shoulder, and the clear, high sky seemed to lift
quickly as I looked at it. There was no autumnal mist on the
coast, nor any August fog; instead of these, the sea, the sky, all
the long shore line and the inland hills, with every bush of bay
and every fir-top, gained a deeper color and a sharper clearness.
There was something shining in the air, and a kind of lustre on the
water and the pasture grass,--a northern look that, except at this
moment of the year, one must go far to seek. The sunshine of a
northern summer was coming to its lovely end.

The days were few then at Dunnet Landing, and I let each of
them slip away unwillingly as a miser spends his coins. I wished
to have one of my first weeks back again, with those long hours
when nothing happened except the growth of herbs and the course of
the sun. Once I had not even known where to go for a walk; now
there were many delightful things to be done and done again, as if
I were in London. I felt hurried and full of pleasant engagements,
and the days flew by like a handful of flowers flung to the sea

At last I had to say good-by to all my Dunnet Landing friends,
and my homelike place in the little house, and return to the world
in which I feared to find myself a foreigner. There may be
restrictions to such a summer's happiness, but the ease that
belongs to simplicity is charming enough to make up for whatever a
simple life may lack, and the gifts of peace are not for those who
live in the thick of battle.

I was to take the small unpunctual steamer that went down the
bay in the afternoon, and I sat for a while by my window looking
out on the green herb garden, with regret for company. Mrs. Todd
had hardly spoken all day except in the briefest and most
disapproving way; it was as if we were on the edge of a quarrel.
It seemed impossible to take my departure with anything like
composure. At last I heard a footstep, and looked up to find that
Mrs. Todd was standing at the door.

"I've seen to everything now," she told me in an unusually
loud and business-like voice. "Your trunks are on the w'arf by
this time. Cap'n Bowden he come and took 'em down himself,
an' is going to see that they're safe aboard. Yes, I've seen to
all your 'rangements," she repeated in a gentler tone. "These
things I've left on the kitchen table you'll want to carry by hand;
the basket needn't be returned. I guess I shall walk over towards
the Port now an' inquire how old Mis' Edward Caplin is."

I glanced at my friend's face, and saw a look that touched me
to the heart. I had been sorry enough before to go away.

"I guess you'll excuse me if I ain't down there to stand
around on the w'arf and see you go," she said, still trying to be
gruff. "Yes, I ought to go over and inquire for Mis' Edward
Caplin; it's her third shock, and if mother gets in on Sunday
she'll want to know just how the old lady is." With this last word
Mrs. Todd turned and left me as if with sudden thought of something
she had forgotten, so that I felt sure she was coming back, but
presently I heard her go out of the kitchen door and walk down the
path toward the gate. I could not part so; I ran after her to say
good-by, but she shook her head and waved her hand without looking
back when she heard my hurrying steps, and so went away down the

When I went in again the little house had suddenly grown
lonely, and my room looked empty as it had the day I came. I and
all my belongings had died out of it, and I knew how it would seem
when Mrs. Todd came back and found her lodger gone. So we die
before our own eyes; so we see some chapters of our lives come to
their natural end.

I found the little packages on the kitchen table. There was
a quaint West Indian basket which I knew its owner had valued, and
which I had once admired; there was an affecting provision laid
beside it for my seafaring supper, with a neatly tied bunch of
southernwood and a twig of bay, and a little old leather box which
held the coral pin that Nathan Todd brought home to give to poor

There was still an hour to wait, and I went up the hill just
above the schoolhouse and sat there thinking of things, and looking
off to sea, and watching for the boat to come in sight. I could
see Green Island, small and darkly wooded at that distance; below
me were the houses of the village with their apple-trees and bits
of garden ground. Presently, as I looked at the pastures beyond,
I caught a last glimpse of Mrs. Todd herself, walking slowly in the
footpath that led along, following the shore toward the Port. At
such a distance one can feel the large, positive qualities that
control a character. Close at hand, Mrs. Todd seemed able and
warm-hearted and quite absorbed in her bustling industries, but her
distant figure looked mateless and appealing, with something about
it that was strangely self-possessed and mysterious. Now
and then she stooped to pick something,--it might have been her
favorite pennyroyal,--and at last I lost sight of her as she slowly
crossed an open space on one of the higher points of land, and
disappeared again behind a dark clump of juniper and the pointed

As I came away on the little coastwise steamer, there was an
old sea running which made the surf leap high on all the rocky
shores. I stood on deck, looking back, and watched the busy gull an
o. Te thinkGisheorites together down the long l opts of air, thed
s palate hastiyisheopflunhe into the eavek. Thetside was ketkingikGisheopplnpty of small fish were coming with it,bunioncrioue of
the iloverf lahking of the gr atbhirso ove head and the
of their fircve bakek. The sea was full of lifesheorpir it, the-toes of the eaves flew back as if they wereowinhed-like the gull a
the sevegs, and like thmt had the fredoom of the iund. Outy in themgain chunnlo we passed e bnt- shouldeied old wishrmian foundfoor the evekingaroundamlong his obystel tapek. HeI was titling alona
with hPortboask, and thedores tessed andasake and tessed again
the steamey's eavek. I saw that it was oldElLijah Tilled, and thougo we had oe long been strangero we had come tt be
friends, and I wishew thatshe had waiendfoon one of his matds,i't
wso such hart woke ttrnow long shore throughhrough sebs and eand tel tapew lore. so we passedId wavedmby hans and rried to call to his, andhed looked uphans aswdeied my eardwelsy by a olemen nds.
The little toin, with the tall hasst of isa di ablde schongeroind telinwner bay, stood high
above thef lte sea for a fewomiuties theditdasake back into thejun fomipty of the coast, and e camgik
dislinuwis ablefroom the t her twnsh that looked as if they wery
cumablde on thefurzy- green stnsinesy of the shord.

The smallbouheriIslansy of the
bay were cvdeiedamlong thel edgs, with surf that looked as frishast the ernly gpasd; there had
been smhe days ofrgain the weeh befork, and theddarger green of thd
wso cbatdeied on all the pasturetheighek. at lookeo
like thebenginking of summera shor,n thougf the setep,aroundaand
wary in theirwointry wols, e tayhed the sebont of the yeahast thky went fedling alond the l optsain the now afternooe sunshin. Presentld tel iunebenaen tob now and he sruick ute seoward oedouible the long
shlsterong heanland of the aprk, andwWhen I looked back again, thdiIslansy and the heanland had rus togetherland Dunnet Landing and
all isa coasys were lost to sight"

Eand of
TheProjfec Gouhnberg Etexht of "Th Crou trd of thePpointe Ffir."


Book of the day: