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Title: By The Sea - 1887
Author: Chaplin, Heman White
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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By Heman White Chaplin


On the southeastern coast of Massachusetts is a small village with
which I was once familiarly acquainted. It differs little in its general
aspect from other hamlets scattered along that shore. It has its one
long, straggling street, plain and homelike, from which at two or three
different points a winding lane leads off and ends abruptly in the

Fifty years ago the village had a business activity of its own. There
still remain the vestiges of a wharf at a point where once was a
hammering ship-yard. Here and there, in bare fields along the sea,
are the ruins of vats and windmills,--picturesque remains of ancient

There is no visible sign left now of the noisy life of the ship-yards,
except a marble stone beneath a willow in the burying-ground on the
hill, which laments the untimely death of a youth of nineteen, killed in
1830 in the launching of a brig. But traces of the salt-works everywhere
remain, in frequent sheds and small barns which are wet and dry, as
the saying is, all the time, and will not hold paint. They are built of

There were a good many of the people of the village and its adjoining
country who interested me very greatly. I am going to tell you a simple
event which happened in one of its families, deeply affecting its little

James Parsons was a man perhaps sixty years of age, strongly built,
gray-haired, cleanshaven except for the conventional seaman’s fringe of
beard below the chin, and always exquisitely neat. Whether you met him
in his best suit, on Sunday morning, or in his old clothes, going to
his oyster-beds or his cranberry-marsh, it was always the same. He was
usually in his shirt-sleeves in summer. His white cotton shirt, with
its easy collar and wristbands, seemed always to have just come from the
ironing-board. “It ain’t no trouble at all to keep James clean,” I have
heard Mrs. Parsons say, in her funny little way; “he picks his way round
for all the world just like a pussycat, and never gets no spots on him,

You saw at once, upon the slightest acquaintance with James, that while
he was of the same general civilization as his neighbors, he was of
a different type. In his narrowness, there was a peculiar breadth and
vigor which characterized him. He had about him the atmosphere of a
wider ocean.

His early reminiscences were all of that picturesque and adventurous
life which prevailed along our coasts to within forty years, and his
conversation was suggestive of it He held a silver medal from the Humane
Society for conspicuous bravery in the rescue of the crew of a ship
stranded in winter in a storm of sleet off Post Hill Bar. He had a
war-hatchet, for which he had negotiated face to face with a naked
cannibal in the South Sea. He was familiar with the Hoogly.

His language savored always of the sea. His hens “turned in,” at night.
He was full of sayings and formulas of a maritime nature; there was
one which always seemed to me to have something of a weird and mystic
character: “South moon brings high water on Coast Island Bar.” In
describing the transactions of domestic life, he used words more
properly applicable to the movements of large ships. He would speak of a
saucepan as if it weighed a hundred tons. He never tossed or threw even
the slightest object; he hove it. “Why, father!” said Mrs. Parsons,
surprised at seeing him for a moment untidy; “what have you ben doing?
Your boots and trousers-legs is all white!” “Yes,” said Mr. Parsons,
apologetically, looking down upon his dusty garments, “I just took that
bucket of ashes and hove ‘em into the henhouse.”

The word “heave,” in fact, was always upon his tongue. It applied to
everything. “How was this road straightened out?” I asked him one day;
“did the town vote to do it?” “No, no,” he said quickly; “there was n’t
never no vote. The se-lec’men just come along one day, and got us all
together, and hove in and hove out; and we altered our fences to suit.”

I remember hearing him testify as a witness to a will. It appeared
that the testator was sick in bed when he signed the instrument. He was
suffering greatly, and when he was to sign, it was necessary to lift him
with the ex-tremest care, to turn him to the light-stand. “State what
was done next,” the lawyer asked of James. “Captain Frost was laying on
his left side,” said James. “Two of us took a holt of him and rolled him

He had probably not the least suspicion that his language had a maritime
flavor. I asked him one night, as we coasted along toward home, “What do
seafaring men call the track of light that the moon makes on the water?
They must have some name for it” “No, no,” he said, “they don’t have no
name for it; they just call it ‘the wake of the moon.’”

James’s learning had been chiefly gained from the outside world and not
from books. I have heard him lay it down as a fact that the word “Bible”
 had its etymology from the word “by-bill” (hand-bill). “It was writ,”
 he said, “in small parcels, and they was passed around by them that writ
‘em, like by-bills; and so when they hove it all into one, they called
it the Bible.’”

But while James had little learning himself, he appreciated it highly in
others. I had occasion to ask him once why it was that the son of one
of his neighbors, in closing up his father’s estate, had not settled his
accounts regularly in the probate court. “Oh, I know how that was,” he
replied; “he settled ‘em the other way. You see, he went to the college
at Woonsocket, and he learned there how to settle accounts the other
way: and that’s the way he settled ‘em.” And then he added, “When Alvin
left the college, they giv’ him a book that tells how to do all kinds
of business, and what you want to do so’s to make money; and Alvin has
always followed them rules. The consequence is, he’s made money, and
what he ‘s made, he ‘s kep’ it. I suppose he’s worth not less than
sixteen hundred dollars.”

Sometimes he would venture a remark of a gallant nature. “They don’t
generally git the lights in the hall so as to suit me,” he once said.
“I don’t want it too light, because then it hurts my eyes; but I want it
light enough so as ‘t I can see the women!”

James was a large, strong man, but Mrs. Parsons, although she was little
and slight, and was always ailing, constantly assumed the rôle of her
husband’s nurse and protector, not only in household matters, but in
other affairs of life. Whenever she had visitors,--and she and James
were hospitable in the extreme,--she was pretty sure to end up, sooner
or later, if James were present, with some droll criticism of him, as
much to his delight as to hers.

James sometimes liked to affect a certain harshness of demeanor; but the
disguise was a transparent one. How well do I remember the time--oh,
so long ago!--when for some reason or other I happened to have his boat
instead of my own, one day, with one of the boys of the village, to go
to Matamet, twelve miles off, to visit certain lobster-pots which we had
set. We were delayed there by breaking our boom, in jibing. We should
have been at home at noon; at seven in the evening we were not yet in
sight. When we got in, rather crestfallen at our disaster, particularly
as the boat was wanted for the next day, James met us at the pier. We
were boys then, and his tongue was free. As he stood there on the shore,
bare-headed, hastily summoned from his house, with his hair blowing in
the wind, waving his hands and addressing first us and then a knot of
men who stood smoking by, no words of censure were too harsh, no
comment on our carelessness too cutting, no laments too keen over the
irreparable loss of that particular boom. The next time I could take my
own boat, if I were going to get cast away. And I remember well how he
ended his tirade. “I did n’t care nothing about you two,” he said. “If
you want to git drownded, git drownded; it ain’t nothing to me. All I
was afraid of was that you ‘d gone and capsized my boat, and would
n’t never turn up to tell where you sunk her. But as for you--” and he
laughed a laugh of heartless indifference.

But ten minutes later, and right before his face, at his own front gate,
Mrs. Parsons betrayed him. “I never see father so worried,” she said,
“sence the time he heard about Thomas; why, he ‘s spent the whole
afternoon as nervous as a hawk, going up on the hill with his
spy-glass; and I don’t feel so sure but what he was crying. He said he
did n’t care nothing about the boat,--‘What ‘s that old boat!’ says he;
but if you boys was drownded out of her, he would n’t never git over
it.” At which James, being so unmasked, laughed in a shamefaced way,
and shook us by the shoulders. He had a son who carried on some sort
of half-maritime business on one of the wharves, in the city, and lived
over his shop. When James went at intervals to visit him, he made his
way at once from the railway station to the nearest wharf; then he
followed the line of the water around to the shop. Where jib-booms
project out over the sidewalk, one feels so thoroughly at home! From the
shop he would make short adventurous excursions up Commercial Street and
State Street, sometimes going no farther than the nautical-instrument
store on the corner of Broad Street, sometimes venturing to Washington
Street, or even moving for a short distance up or down in the current of
that gay thoroughfare. He loved to comment satirically on the city, with
a broad humorous sense of his own strangeness there. “The city folks
don’t seem to have nothing to do,” he said. “They seem to be all out,
walking up and down the streets. Come noon, I thought there’d be some
let-up for dinner; but they did n’t seem to want nothing to eat; they
kep’ right on walking.”

I must not leave James Parsons without telling you of two whale’s teeth
which stand on his parlor mantel-piece; he ornamented them himself,
copying the designs from cheap foreign prints. One of them is what he
calls “the meeting-house.” It is the high altar of the Cathedral of
Seville. On the other is “the wild-beast tamer.” A man with a feeble,
wishy-washy expression holds by each hand a fierce, but subjugated
tiger. His legs dangle loosely in the air. There is nothing to suggest
what upholds him in his mighty contest.


Now we must turn from James Parsons to a man of a different type, or
rather of a different variety of the same type; for they descend
alike from original founders of the town, and, like most of their
fellow-townsmen, are both of unqualified Pilgrim stock.

To get to Captain Joseph Pelham’s house, you have to drive along a range
of hills for some miles, skirting the sea; then you come, half-way, to a
bright modern village with trees along the main street, with houses and
fences kept painted up, for the most part, but here and there relieved
by an unpainted dwelling of a past generation.

Here you have an option. You may either pursue your road through the
high-lying prosperous street, with peeps of salt water to the right,
or you may turn sharply off at a little store and descend to the lower
road. It is always a struggle to choose.

The road to the beach descends a sharp, gravelly hill, and crosses a
bridge. Then you come out on a waste of salt-marsh, threaded by the
creek, broken by wild, fantastic sand-hills, grown over by beach-grass
which will cut your fingers like a knife. You drive close along
the white, precipitous beach; you pass the long, shaky pier, with
half-decayed fish-houses at the other end, and picturesque heaps of
fish-cars, seines, and barrels. Then the road, following the shore a
little longer, climbs the hill and enters the woods. Two miles more and
you come out to fields with mossy fences, and occasional houses.

The houses begin to be more frequent. All at once you enter the main
street of W------.

In a moment you see that you have come into a new atmosphere. There is a
large modern church among the older ones. There are large, fine houses,
some old-fashioned, others new. By some miraculous intervention Queen
Anne has not as yet made her appearance. There are handsome, well-filled
stores, going into no little refinement in stock. There is, of course,
a small brick library, built by the bounty of a New Yorker who was born
here. There is a brick national bank, and a face brick block occupied
above by Freemasons, orders of Red Men, Knights Templars, and the Pool
of Siloam Lodge, I. O. O. F., and below by a savings bank and a local
marine insurance company.

It is here that we shall find Captain Joseph Pelham. If a stranger has
occasion to inquire for the leading men of the place he is always first
referred to him. It is he who heads every list and is the chairman
of every meeting. When a certain public man, commanding but a small
following here, appeared, upon his campaign tour, and found no one
to escort him to the platform and preside, so that he was obliged to
justify his appearance here by the Scripture passage, “They that are
whole need not a physician, but they that are sick;” at the moment
of entering the hall, closely packed with curious opponents, disposed
perhaps to be derisive when the situation for the visitor was
embarrassing in the extreme,--it was Captain Joseph Pelham who, though
the bitterest opponent of them all, rose from his seat, gave the speaker
his arm, escorted him to the platform, presented him with grave courtesy
to the audience, and sat beside him through the entire discourse.

While Captain Pelham continued to go to sea, and after that, until he
was made president of the insurance company, he lived a mile or two out
of the town, in a house he had inherited. It is picturesquely situated,
on a bare hill, with a wide view of the inland and the ocean. As
you look down from its south windows, the cluster of houses nestling
together at the shore below stand sharply out against the water. It is
one of those white houses common in our older towns,--two-storied, long
on the street, with the front door in the middle. Of the interior it is
enough to say that its owner had sailed for thirty years to Hong-Kong,
Calcutta and Madras. It had a prevailing odor of teak and lacquer. In
the front hall was a vast china cane-holder; a turretted Calcutta hat
hung on the hat-tree; a heavy, varnished Chinese umbrella stood in a
corner; a long and handsome settee from Java stood against the wall.
In the parlors, on either hand, were Chinese tables shutting up like
telescopes, elaborate rattan chairs of different kinds, and numberless
other things of this sort, which had plainly been honestly come by, and
not bought.

Then, if you met the Captain’s favor, he would show you with becoming
pride some family relics, and tell you about them. They came mostly
from his paternal grandfather, who was a shipmaster too, had commanded a
privateer in the Revolution, and made a fortune. There were a number
of pieces of handsome furniture,--these you could see for yourself What
would be shown you, with a half-diffident air, would be: a silver mug;
two Revere tablespoons; a few tiny teaspoons marked F.; a handsome sword
and scabbard; a yellow satin waistcoat and small-clothes; portraits,
not artistic, but effective, of his grandfather, in a velvet coat and
knee-breeches, with a long spyglass in his hand, and of his grandmother,
a strong, matter-of-fact looking woman, handsomely dressed.

But the thing which the Captain secretly treasured most, but brought out
last, was his grandmother’s Dutch Bible. It is a curious old book; you
can see it still if you wish. It has an elaborate frontispiece. Sixteen
cuts of leading incidents in Scripture history conduct you by gentle
stages, from Eden, through the offering of Isaac, to the close of the
Evangelists, and surround Dr. Martin Luther, who, in a gown, holds back
the curtains of a pillared alcove, to show you, through two windows, an
Old and a New Testament landscape, and a lady sitting beneath a canopy,
with an open volume. The covers are of thick bevelled board covered with
leather. There was once a heavy clasp. The edges are richly gilded, and
figures are pricked in the gilding. It is very handsomely printed.
It was in the possession, in 1760, of a young New England girl, the
Captain’s grandmother. There is a story about it,--a story too long to
tell here. Suffice it to say that the Captain’s ancestor, who settled
early in New England, came from Leyden shortly after Mr. John Robinson.
A hundred years later and more, in the oddest way, an acquaintance
sprang up with certain Dutch connections, and in the course of it this
Bible, then new and elegant, found its way over the sea as a gift to
young Mistress Preston. In New England, and as a relic of the early
ties of our people with Holland, momentarily renewed after a century had
passed away, it is probably unique. It was a last farewell from Holland
to her English children, before she parted company with them forever.

I have told you about this house, as I recall it, although Captain
Pelham had now ceased to live there, because it was there alone that he
seemed completely at home. Furnished as it was from the four quarters
of the globe, everything seemed to fit in with his ways. He supplemented
the Chinese tables, and they supplemented him. But when he ceased to
go to sea, in late middle life, and settled down at home upon his
competency, and began a little later to become interested in public
matters; when he was at last made president of the insurance company,
a director in the bank, and a trustee in the savings bank, and when
affairs were left more and more to his control, it became convenient for
him to get into town; and his wife and daughter were perhaps ambitious
for the change.

So he had sold his house by the sea, and had bought a large and somewhat
pretentious one on the main street, with a cast-iron summer arbor, and
a bay-window closed in for a conservatory. He had furnished it from the
city with new Brussels carpet, with a parlor set, a sitting-room set,
a dining-room set, and chamber sets; and the antique things which had
given his former home an air of charming picturesqueness were for the
most part tucked away in unnoticed corners.

The Captain never seemed to me to have become quite naturalized in his
new home. He never belonged to the furniture, or the furniture to him.
The place where you saw him best in these later days was in the office
of his insurance company, or in the little business-room of one of the
banks, surrounded by a knot of more substantial townsmen, or talking
patiently with some small farmer or seafaring man seeking for insurance
or a loan. One of the most marked features of his character was a
certain patience and considerateness which made all borrowers apply by
preference to him. He would sit down at his little table with a plain
man whose affairs were in disorder, and listen with close attention
to his application for a loan. Somehow the man would find himself
disclosing all the particulars of his distress. Then Captain Pelham, in
his quiet way, would go over the whole matter with him; would plan
with him on his concerns; would try to see if it were not possible to
postpone a little the payment of debts and to hasten the collection of
claims; to get a part of the money for a short time from a son in Boston
or a married daughter in New Bedford; and so, by pulling and hauling, to
weather the Cape.

I must say a word about his position in town matters. He had been at sea
the greater part of the time from sixteen to fifty-two. During that time
he had had absolutely no concern with political affairs. He had never
voted: for he had never, as it had happened, been ashore at the time of
an election. And yet before he had been at home six years he was one
of the selectmen of the town and overseer of the poor, and had
become familiar with the details of Massachusetts town government,
superficially so simple, in fact so complex. It was a large town, of no
small wealth. Lying as it did along the seaboard, where havoc was always
being made by disasters of the sea, there was not only a larger number
than in an inland town of persons actually quartered in the poorhouse,
but there were many broken families who had to be helped in their own
homes. And it was to me an interesting fact that in dealing with two
score households of this class, Captain Pel-ham, who had spent most of
his time at sea, was able to display the utmost tact and judgment. He
applied to their affairs that same plain kindliness and sound sense
which he showed in the matter of discounts at the bank.

While the friendships of Captain Pelham were chiefly in his own town,
his acquaintance was not confined to it. In his own quiet, unpretending
way he was something of a man of the world. He was known in the marine
insurance offices in the large cities. He had been familiar all his
life with large affairs; he had commanded valuable ships, loaded with
fortunes in teas and silks, in the days when an India captain was a


You will ask me why it is that I have been telling you about these men,
and what it is that connects them.

It was now ten years since Captain Pelham’s only son, himself at
twenty-two the master of a vessel, had married a daughter of James
Parsons,--a tall, impulsive, and warm-hearted girl,--one of those girls
to whom children always cling. Both James Parsons’s daughters had proved
attractive and had married well. It had been a disappointment in Captain
Pelham’s household, perhaps, that this son, their especial pride, should
not have married into one of the wealthy families in his own village. At
first there had been a little visiting to and fro; it had lasted but a
little time, and then the two households had settled down, as the way is
in the country, to follow each its own natural course of living. George
Pelham’s wife had always lived in an odd little house, all doors and
windows, near by her father, in her native village.

It was from Porto Cabello that that message came,--yellow fever--a short
sickness--a burial in a stranger’s grave. George Pelham’s wife had been
for two or three years of less than her usual strength. It was not long
after that news came,--came so suddenly, with no warning,--that she
began to fade away; and after ten months she died.

I remember seeing her a week or two before her death. Her bed had
been set up in her little parlor for the convenience of those who were
attending upon her. She lay on her back, bolstered up. The paleness of
her face was intensified by her coal-black hair, lying back heavy on
the pillow. Her hands were thin and transparent, and I remember well the
straining look in her eyes as she talked with me about the boy whom she
was going to leave.

She was living, as I have said, close by her father. It was natural that
in the last few days of her illness the child should be taken to her
father’s house, and when she died and the funeral was over, it was there
that he returned.

Picture now to yourself a boy toward nine years old, symmetrically made,
firm and hard. His head is round, his features are good, his hair is
fine and lies down close. He is clothed in a neat print jacket, with
a collar and a little handkerchief at the neck, and a pair of short
trousers buttoned on to the jacket. He is barefoot. He is tanned but not
burnt. His complexion is of a rich dark brown. He is always fresh and
clean. But the great charm about him is the expression of infinite fun
and mirth that is always upon his face. Never for a moment while he is
awake is his face still. Always the same, yet always shifting, with a
thousand varying shades of roguish joy. Quick, bright, full of boyish
repartee, full of shouts and laughter. And the same incessant life which
plays upon his face shows itself in every movement of his limbs. Never
for a moment is he still unless he has some work upon his hands. He has
his little routine of tasks, regularly assigned, which he goes through
with the most amusing good-humor and attention. It is his duty to see
that the skiffs are not jammed under the wharf on the rising tide; to
sweep out the “Annie” when she comes in, and to set her cabin to rights;
to set away the dishes after meals, and to feed the chickens. Aside from
a few such tasks, his time in summer is his own. The rest of the year he
goes to the “primary,” and serves to keep the whole room in a state of
mirth. He has the happy gift that to put every one in high spirits he
has only to be present. Such an incessant flow of life you rarely see.
His manners are good, and he comes honestly by them.

There is an amusing union in him of the baby and the man. While the
children of his age at the summer hotel walk about for the most part
with their nurses, he is turned loose upon the shore, and has been,
from his cradle. He can dive and swim and paddle and float and “go
steamboat.” He can row a boat that is not too heavy, and up to the limit
of his strength he can steer a sail-boat with substantial skill. He
knows the currents, the tides, and the shoals about his shore, and the
nearer landmarks. He knows that to find the threadlike entrance to
the bay you bring the flag-staff over Cart-wright’s barn. He has vague
theories of his own as to the annual shifting of the channel. He knows
where to take the city children to look for tinkle-shells and mussels.
He knows what winds bring in the scallops from their beds. He knows
where to dig for clams, and where to tread for quahaugs without
disturbing the oysters. He has a good deal of fragmentary lore of the

Every morning you will hear his cry, a sort of yodel, or bird-call,
peculiar to him, with which he bursts forth upon the world. Then you
will hear, perhaps, loud peals of laughter at something that has excited
his sense of the absurd,--contagious laughter, full of innocent fun.

Then he will appear, perhaps, with his wooden dinner-bucket,--he is
going off with his grandfather for the day,--and will yodel to the old
man as a signal to make haste. Then you will hear him consulting with
some one upon the weather.

All this time he will be going; through various evolutions, swinging in
the hammock, sitting on the fence, opening his bucket to show you what
he has to eat, closing the bucket and sitting down upon the cover,
or turning somersaults upon the grass. Then he will encamp under an
apple-tree to wait until his grandfather appears, enlivening the time by
a score of minute excursions after hens and cats. Then he will go into
the house again, and rock while the old man finishes his coffee, sure
of a greeting, confident in a sense of entire good-fellowship, until
the meal is finished, and James Parsons is ready to take his coat and
a red-bladed oar, and set out. Then the boy is like a setter off for
a walk,--all sorts of whimsical expressions in his face, of absolute
delight; every form of extravagance in his bearing. The only trouble
is, one has to laugh too much; but with all this, something so manly, so

He is no little of a philosopher in his way. He has been a great deal
with older people, and has caught the habit of discussion of affairs, or
rather, perhaps, of unconsciously reflecting forth discussions which he
has heard. He has an infinite curiosity upon all matters of human life.
He likes, within limits, to discuss character.

In the boat his chief delights are to talk, to eat cookies, and to
steer. When it is not blowing too hard for him to stand at the tiller,
he will steer for an hour together, watching with the most constant care
the trembling of the leach.

It makes no difference to him at what hour he returns,--from oystering
or from the cranberry-bog. If it is in the middle of the afternoon, good
and well. Instantly upon landing he will collect a troop of urchins; in
an incredibly short space of time there will be a heap of little clothes
upon the bank; in a moment a procession of small naked figures will go
running down to the wharf, diving, one after the other. If distance
or tide or a calm keeps him out late, so much the better. In that case
there is the romance of coasting along the shore by night; of counting
and distinguishing the lights; of guessing the nearness to land from the
dull roar of the sea breaking on the beach. “Don’t you think,” he will
sometimes say, “that we are nearer shore than we think we are?”

It is amusing sometimes, on a distant voyage of fifteen or twenty miles,
after seed oysters, when a landing is made at some little port, to see
him drop the mariner at once and become a child, with a burning
desire to find a shop where he can buy animal-crackers. Finding such
a place,--and usually it is not difficult,--he will lay in a supply of
lions and tigers, and then go marching about with great delight, with
mockery in his eyes, keenly appreciating the satire involved in eating
the head off a cooky lion, incapable of resistance.

No picture of Joe would be complete which left out his dog. Kit was a
black, fine-haired creature, smaller than a collie, but of much the same
gentle disposition,--a present from Captain Pelham. When Kit was first
presented to the boy he domesticated himself at once, and in a week it
was impossible to tell, from his relations with the household, which was
boy and which was dog. They were both boys and they were both dogs.
Kit had an unqualified sense of being at home, and of being beloved
and indispensable. It was long before he became a sailor. When, at the
outset, it was attempted to make a man of him by taking him when they
went out to fish, the failure seemed to be complete. He was a little
sea-sick. Then he was sad, and sighed and groaned as dogs never do on
shore. He would not lie still, but was nervous and feverish. Once he
leaped out of the boat and made for shore, and had to be pursued and
rescued, exhausted and half-drowned. Still, whenever he had to be left
at home, it was a struggle every time to reconcile him and leave him.
Once he pursued a boat which he mistook for James’s along the shore of
the bay, half down to Benson’s Narrows, got involved in the creeks which
the tide was beginning to fill, and had to be brought ingloriously home
by a farmer, made fast on the top of a load of sweet, salt hay.

He would tease like a child to be allowed to go. He would listen with
an unsatisfied and appealing look while Joe, with an exuberant but
regretful air, explained to him in detail the reasons which made it
impossible for him to go. But in a few months, as the dog grew older,
he prevailed, and although he would generally retire into the shelter of
the cabin, he was nevertheless the boy’s almost inseparable companion
on the water as on the shore. The relation between the two was always
touching. It evidently never crossed the dog’s mind that he was not a
younger brother.

Now, to complete the picture of James Par-sons’s household, add in this
boy; for while it is but just now that he is strictly of it, he has been
for years its mirth and life.

I remember that quiet household before it knew him,--cosey, homelike,
with a pervading air even then of genial humor, but with long hours of
silence and repose,--geraniums and the click of knitting-needles in the
sitting-room; faint odors of a fragrant pipe from the shed kitchen; no
stir of boisterous fun, except when some bronzed, solemn joker, with his
wife, came in for a formal call, and solemnity gave way, by a gradual
descent, to merriment. Joe had given no new departure, only an impulse.
“James used to behave himself quite well,” Mrs. Parsons would say,
archly raising her eyebrows, “before Joe’s time; but now there ‘s two
boys of ‘em together, and the one as bad as the other, and I can’t do
nothing with ‘em. And then,”--with a mock gesture of despair,--“that


While Joe’s mother was lying ill, and after it had become certain
that she would soon leave this world forever, the question had been
freely-discussed as to what her boy’s future should be. In Captain
Joseph Pelham’s mind there was only-one answer to this question,--that
the lad should come to him. He bore the Captain’s name; he represented
the Captain’s son; he should take a place now in the Captain’s home.

It was now about three weeks since Joe’s mother had been buried. The
stone had not yet been cut and set over her grave. But the Captain
thought it time to drive over to James Parsons’s and take the boy. That
James would make any serious opposition perhaps never entered his
mind. It was a bright, charming afternoon; with his shining horse, in a
bright, well-varnished buggy, the Captain drove over the seven miles of
winding roads through the woods, and along the sea, to the village where
James Parsons lived. He tied his horse to the hitching-post in front of
the broad cottage house, went down the path to the L door, knocked, and
went in.

James was sitting in a large room which served in winter as a kitchen
and in summer as a sort of sitting-room, smoking a pipe and gazing
vacantly into the pine-branches in the open fireplace before him. He had
been out all day on his marsh, but he had been home a couple of hours.
His wife--kindly soul--received Captain Pelham at the door, wiping her
hands upon her apron, and modestly showed him into the sitting-room;
then she retired to her tasks in the shed kitchen. She moved about
mechanically for a moment; then she ran hastily out into the lean-to
wood-shed, shut the door behind her, sat down on the worn floor where
it gives way with a step to the floor of earth by the wood-pile, hid her
face in her apron, and burst into tears.

Joe was at the wharf with his comrades playing at war.

Now, if there ever was a hospitable man,--a man who gave a welcome,--a
rough but merry welcome to every one who entered his doors, it was
James Parsons. He had a homely, jocose saying that you must either
make yourself at home or go home. But on this occasion he rose with a
somewhat forced and awkward air, laid his pipe down on the mantel-piece,
and nodded to the Captain with an air of embarrassed inquiry. Then he
bethought himself, and asked the Captain to sit down. The Captain took
the nearest chair, beside the table, where Mrs. Parsons had lately been
sitting at her work. James’s chair was directly opposite. The table was
between them.

James rose and went to the mantel-piece, scratched a match upon his
boot-heel, and undertook to light his pipe. It did not light; he did not
notice it, but put the pipe in his mouth as if it were lighted.

It occurred to Captain Pelham now, for the first time, absorbed as he
had been with exclusive thoughts of the boy, that he should first say
something to this old man about the daughter whom he had lost: and he
made some expressions of sympathy. The old man nodded, but said nothing.

There was silence for two or three minutes.

The subject in order now was inevitably the boy. Captain Pelham opened
his lips to claim him; but, almost to his own surprise, he found himself
making some common remark about the affairs of the neighborhood. It came
in harsh and forced, as if it were a fragment of conversation floated in
by the breeze from the street outside. Then the Captain waited a moment,
looking out of the window.

James took his pipe from his mouth and leaned his elbows on the table.
“Why don’t you go take him?” he suddenly said: “he’s probably down to
the wharf. Ef you have got the claim to him, why don’t you go take him?
You ‘ve got your team here,--drive right down there and put him in and
drive off; if you ‘ve got the right to him, why don’t you go take him?
But ef you ‘ve come for my consent, you can set there till the chair
rots beneath you.”

With this, James rose and took the felt hat which was lying by him on
the table, and saying not another word, went out of the door. He went
down to the shore, and affected to busy himself with his boat.

There was nothing for Captain Pelham to do but to take his hat, untie
his horse, and drive home.

The Captain well knew that nobody in the world had a legal right to the
child until a guardian should be appointed. A plain and simple path was
open before him: it was his only path. James Parsons had proved wilful
and wrong-headed; there was nothing now but to take out letters as
guardian of the boy. Then James would acquiesce without a word.

Immediately after breakfast the Captain went down the street. He opened
his letters and attended to the first routine of business; then he went
across the way and up a flight of stairs to a lawyer’s office.

If you had happened to read the county papers at about this time, you
would have seen among the legal notices two petitions, identical in
form,--the one by Joseph Pelham, the other by James Parsons,--each
applying for guardianship of Joseph Pelham, the younger of that name,
with an order upon each petition for all persons interested to come
in on the first Tuesday of the following month and show cause why the
petitioner’s demand should not be granted.

The county court-house was a new brick building, of modest size, fifteen
miles from W------, and twenty miles from the village where James
Parsons lived.

There were fifteen or twenty people from different towns in attendance
when the court opened on the important first Tuesday. As one after
another transacted his affairs and went away, others would come in.
Three or four lawyers sat at tables talking with clients, or stood
about the judge’s desk. There was a sprinkling of women in new mourning.
Printed papers, filled out with names and dates,--petitions and
bonds and executors’ accounts,--were being handed in to the judge and
receiving his signature of approval.

The routine business was transacted first. It was almost noon when the
judge was at last free to attend to contested matters. There was a small
audience by that time,--only ten or a dozen people, some of whom were
waiting for train-time, while others, who had come upon their own
affairs, lingered now from curiosity.

The judge was a tall, spare, old-fashioned man; he had held the office
for above thirty years. He was a man of much native force, of sound
learning within the range of his judicial duties, and of strong
common-sense. He was often employed by Captain Pelham in his own
affairs, and more particularly in bank and insurance matters,--for the
probate judges are free to practise at the bar in matters not connected
with their judicial duties,--and Captain Pelham had always retained
him in important cases as counsel for the town. He had a large
practice throughout the county; he knew its people, their ideas, their
traditions, and their feelings. He understood their social organization
to the core.

“Now,” said the judge, laying aside some papers upon which he had been
writing, and taking off his glasses, “we will take up the two petitions
for guardianship of Joseph Pelham.”

Captain Pelham and the lawyer whom he had employed took seats at a small
table before the judge; James Parsons timidly took a seat at another.
His petition had been filled out for him by one of his neighbors: he had
no counsel.

Captain Pelham’s lawyer rose; he had been impressed by the Captain with
the importance of the matter, and he was about to make a formal opening.
But the judge interrupted him. “I think,” he said, “that we may assume
that I know in a general way about these two petitioners. I shall
assume, unless something is shown to the contrary, that they are both
men of respectable character, and have proper homes for a boy to grow up
in. And I suppose there is no controversy that Captain Pelham is a man
of some considerable means, and that the other petitioner is a man of
small property.

“Now,” he went on, leaning forward with his elbow on his desk, and
gently waving his glasses with his right hand, “did the father of this
boy ever express any wish as to what should be done with him in case his
mother should die?” Nobody answered. “It would be of no legal effect,”
 he said, “but it would have weight with me. Now, is there any evidence
as to what his mother wanted? A boy’s mother can tell best about these
things, if she is a sensible woman. Mr. Baker,” he said to Captain
Pelham’s lawyer, “have you any evidence as to what his mother wanted to
have done with him?”

Mr. Baker conversed for a moment with Captain Pelham and then called him
to the stand.

Captain Pelham testified as to his frequent visits to the boy’s mother,
and to her unbroken friendly relations with him. She had never said in
so many words what she wanted to have done for the boy, but he always
understood that she meant to have the child come to him; he could not
say, however, that she had said anything expressly to that effect.

James sat before him not many feet away, in his old-fashioned broadcloth
coat with a velvet collar. He cross-examined Captain Pelham a little.

“She did n’t never tell you,” he said, “that she was going to give you
the boy, did she?”

“No, sir;” said Captain Pelham.

“How often did your wife come over to see her?”

“I could n’t tell you, sir,” said the Captain.

“Not very often, did she?”

“I think not,” the Captain admitted.

“The boy’s mother did n’t never talk much about Mis’ Captain Pelham, did

“I don’t remember that she did.”

“She did n’t never have her over to talk with her about what she was
going to do with the boy, did she?”

“I don’t know that she did,” said the Captain. “She is here; you can ask

“You didn’t never hear of her leaving no word with Mis’ Captain Pelham
about taking care of the boy, did you?”

“I can’t say that I did,” said Captain Pelham.

The old man nodded his head with a satisfied air. His cross-examination
was done.

The Captain retired from the witness-stand; his lawyer whispered with
him a moment and then went over and whispered for two or three minutes
with Mrs. Pelham; then he said he had no more evidence to offer.

“Mr. Parsons,” said the judge, “do you wish to testify?”

James went to the witness-stand and was sworn.

“Did n’t your daughter ever talk about what she wanted done with the

“Talk about it?” said James. “Why, she didn’t talk about nothing else.
She used to have it all over every time we went in. It was all about how
mother ‘n me must do this with him and do that with him,--how he was to
go to school, what room he was going to sleep in to our house, and all

Mr. Baker desired to make no cross-examination, and James’s wife was
called, and testified in her quaint way to the same effect.

By a keen, homely instinct James had half consciously foreseen what
would be the controlling element of the case; and while he had not
formulated it to himself he had brought with him one of his neighbors,
who had watched with his daughter through the last nights of her
life. She was one of the poorest women of the village. Her husband was
shiftless, and was somewhat given to drink. She had a large family, with
little to bring them up on. Her life had been one long struggle. She was
extremely poorly dressed, and although she was neat, there was an air of
unthrift or discouragement about her dress. She wore an oversack which
evidently had originally been made for some one else; it lacked one
button. She was faded and worn and homely; but the moment she spoke
she impressed you as a woman of conscience. She had talked in the long
watches of the night with the boy’s mother, and she confirmed what James
and his wife had said. There could be no question what the mother had

Mr. Baker ventured out upon the thin ice of cross-examination.

“She must have talked about her father-in-law, Captain Pelham?” he said.

“Oh, yes,” said the woman, “often.”

“She seemed to be attached to him?”

“Yes, indeed,” said the woman, quickly; “she was always telling how good
he was to her; I have heard her say there was n’t no better man in the

“She must have talked about what he could do for the boy?”

“Yes,” said the woman. “She expected him to do for Joe.”

“Did n’t she ever say,” and the lawyer looked round at James,--“did n’t
you ever hear her say that she was worried sometimes for fear her father
would not be careful enough about the boy?”

The woman hesitated a moment. “Yes,” she said, “I have heard her say so,
but that ‘s what every mother says.”

“What reason did you ever hear her give,” the lawyer asked, “why she
would rather have him stay over there than to go and be brought up by
his grandfather Pelham?”

The woman looked around timidly at the judge. “Be I obliged to answer?”
 she said.

The judge nodded.

The woman looked toward Captain Pelham with an embarrassed air. He was
the best friend she had in the world.

“I rather not say nothing about that,” she said; “it ‘s no account,

“Oh, tell us what she said,” said Mr. Baker.

He felt that he had made some progress up to that point with his

“Well, it was n’t much,” said the woman; “it was only like this. I have
heard her say that Miss Captain Pelham was a good woman and meant to do
what was right, but she was n’t a woman that knew how to mother a little
boy.” And here the witness began to cry.

The judge moved slightly in his chair.

There was more or less rambling talk about the way the boy was allowed
to run loose on the shore, and some suggestions were made in the way of
conversational argument about his being allowed to go barefoot, and to
go in swimming when he pleased; but the judge seemed to pay very little
attention to that. “That ‘s the way we were all brought up,” he said.
“It is good for the boy; he ‘ll learn to take care of himself, and his
mother knew all about it.

“It is plain enough,” he said at last, “that there would be some
advantages to the boy in going to live with Captain Pelham; but there
is one thing that has been overlooked which would probably have been
suggested if the petitioner Parsons had had counsel. It has been assumed
that the boy would be cut loose in future from his grandfather Pelham
unless he was put under his guardianship; but that is n’t so. All his
grandparents will look out for him, and when he gets older, and wants to
go into business, here or elsewhere, Captain Pelham will look after him
just the same as if he were his guardian. The other grandfather has n’t
got the means to advance him. I am not at all afraid about that,” he
said; “the only question here is, where he shall be deposited for the
next five or six years. Either place is good enough. His father had a
right to fix it by will if he had chosen to; but he did n’t, and I think
we must consider it a matter for the women to settle: they know best
about such things. It is plain that his mother thought it would be best
for him to stay where he is, and she knew best. He ‘s wonted there, and
wants to stay.”

Then he took up his pen and wrote on Captain Pelham’s petition an order
of dismissal. On the other he filled out and signed the decree granting
guardianship to James Parsons, and approved the bond. Then he handed the
papers to the register and called the next case.

From this day on, little was seen of Captain Pelham at James’s house.
Sometimes he would stop in his buggy and take the boy off with him for
a little stay; but Joe soon wearied of formality, and grew restless
for James, for his grandmother Parsons, for the free life of the little
wharf and the shore. Life always opened fresh to him on his return.

Once and only once Captain Pelham entered James’s door-yard. James was
sitting in an armchair under an apple-tree by the well, smoking and
reading the paper. The Captain began, this time, with no introduction.

“Fred Gooding,” he said, “tells me you are talking of letting Joe go out
with Pitts in his boat You know Pitts is no fit man.”

“You tell Fred Gooding he don’t know what he ‘s talking about,” said
James, as he rose from his chair, holding the paper in his hand. “What
I told Pitts was just the contr’y,--the boy should n’t go along o’ him.”
 Then his anger began to rise. “But what right you got,” he demanded, “to
interfere? ‘T ain ‘t none of your business who I let him go along of.
It’s me that’s the boy’s guardeen.”

“Very well,” said the Captain. “Only I tell you fairly,--the first
time I get word of anything, I ‘ll go to the probate court and have you

James followed him down the path with derisive laughter. “Why don’t you
go to the probate court?” he said; “you hed great luck before!” And
as the Captain drove away, James shouted after him, “Go to the probate
court! Go to the probate court!”


There is a low, pleasant boat-shop, close on the shore of a little arm
of the sea. The tide ebbs and flows before its wide double doors, and
sometimes rises so high as to flow the sills; then you have to walk
across in front of the shop on a plank, laid upon iron ballast. There is
a little wharf or pier close at hand, the outer end of which is always
going to be repaired. There are two or three other shops near by, and
about them is the pleasant litter of a boat-yard. In the cove before
them lie at their moorings in the late afternoon a fleet of fifteen or
twenty fishing and pleasure boats, all cat-rigged, all of one general
build, wide, shoal, with one broad sail, all painted white, by the
custom of the place, and all or nearly all kept neat and clean: they are
all likely enough to be called upon now and then for sailing-parties.
Often of a bright afternoon in summer the sails will all be up, as the
boats swing at their floats: then you have all the effect of a regatta
in still life.

The shop faces down the bay of which this inlet is the foot, and as you
look out from your seat within, on a wooden stool, the great door frames
in a landscape of peaceful beauty. The opening to the sea is closed to
the view. Simply you can see the two white sand-cliffs through which
it makes. The bay is a mile in length, perhaps, and of half that width.
From its white, sandy shores rise gentle hills, bare to the sun or
covered with a low growth of woods. To the right are low-lying pastures
and marshes, with here and there a grazing cow. At the head of the
bay the valley of a stream can be faintly distinguished, while in the
distance there is a faint suggestion of a few scattered houses on the
upper waters. At one or two points masts of boats rise from the grass of
the inland, and sometimes a sail is seen threading its slow way amid the

The shop is a favorite resort. You may go there in the early morning,
in the late forenoon, or in the afternoon; whenever you go you will
find there more or less company. There is a sort of social, hospitable
atmosphere about the place which is attractive in the extreme. Sometimes
there is a good deal of conversation; sometimes there is a comfortable
silence of good-fellowship. There is more or less knitting there and
crocheting; often in the afternoon the women from near by take their
work there to enjoy the view, and the fresh air which draws up there as
nowhere else.

There is a good deal of religious discussion there, although the
atmosphere of the shop is not entirely religious, as you may see by some
of the papers lying about, and the cuts pasted up on the walls. Chief is
a picture representing a scene in the life of the prophet Jonah. Jonah
and the seamen are drawing lots to see who shall be cast over. Jonah has
just drawn the ace of spades.

There are various other pictures on the walls,--prints of famous yachts,
charts, advertisements of regattas, sailing rules of yacht-clubs.
Nowhere is the science of boat-building and boat-sailing studied with
greater closeness than in that shop. Many a successful racer has
been built there. There are models of boats pinned up against the
wall,--models which to the common eye hardly vary at all, but to a
trained perception differ widely. There are oars lying about the shop,
oil-skin suits, a compass, charts, in round tin cases, boat hardware,
and coils of new rope.

The little pier has its periods of activity and life, like the great
world outside. At three or four o’clock, in the gray dawn, fishermen
appear, singly, or two by two; there is often then a failure of wind,
and they have to get out to sea by heavy rowing or by the drift of the
tide. Then there is silence for some hours, and when the world awakes
the cove is nearly deserted. At seven o’clock begins the life of the
shop. Amateur fishermen appear,--boarders from New York or visiting sons
from Brockton. Later still, little parties come down,--a knot of
young fellows and laughing girls with bright-colored wraps, bound on a
sailing-party to Katameset, with a matron, and with some well-salted
man to steer the boat, perhaps in slippers and a dressing-gown. They
go singing out to sea. Then come a party of bathers,--ladies and little
children, with towels and blue suits, and all the paraphernalia of pails
and wooden shovels. Then will come perhaps a couple of girls, to sketch.
They will encamp anywhere upon the shore, call into their service some
small amphibious creature to tip a skiff up on its side to make an
effective scene, and proceed with the wonders of their art. Soon the
bathers return. They have been only a little way down the narrows, and
come back to dinner at one. The fishermen come in from three to four,
unless they happen to be becalmed; there is a bustle then of getting out
ice; of slitting and weighing and packing fish, and loading them into
wagons to be carted to the railway. Then there is a lull until the
sailing-parties return, perhaps at five, perhaps at six, perhaps not
until the turn of the tide or the evening breeze brings them home.

All the time the quiet life of the boat-shop goes on,--its labor, its
discussions on politics and religion, its criticism of yachts. All
day long small boys play about the pier, race in skiffs or in such
insignificant sailing-craft as may be available, and every half-hour, at
the initiative of some infant leader, all doff their little print waists
and short trousers and “go in,” regardless of the sketchers on the

It was a bright, fresh day. The air was as clear as crystal. Joe had
been gone since dawn with Henry Price. The wind had been blowing hard
from the north for a dozen hours, and, as the saying is, had kicked up
a sea. On the shoal the waves were rolling heavily, and since three
o’clock the tide had been running against the wind, and the seas had
been broken every way. But to Henry Price, and with that boat, rough
seas, from March to November, were only what a rude mountain road would
be to you or me. If his wife, toward afternoon, shading her eyes at the
south door, ever felt anxious about him, it was a woman’s foolish fear;
it was only because she thought with concern of that--internal neuralgia
was it?--which her husband brought back from the war; which seized him
at rare intervals and enfeebled him for days. He made light of it, and
never spoke of it out of the house. There was no better boatman on that
shore. Let alone that one possibility of weakness, and the ocean had a
hard man to deal with when it dealt with him.

They had been gone all day. It had been rough, and they would come in
wet. This wind would not die down; they were sure to make a quick run,
and would be in before dark.

It was late in the afternoon. James was sitting in the shop with one or
two companions, engaged in a loud discussion. He had been discoursing
upon all his favorite themes. He had been declaiming upon the dangers
from Catholic supremacy and the subserviency of the Irish vote to the
Church of Rome, and upon the absolute necessity of the supremacy of the
Democratic party; upon the Apocalypse and the seven seals. He had
been maintaining the literal infallibility of the Scriptures, and the
necessity of treating some portions as legendary. It would be hard to
say what inconsistent views he had not set forth within the space of
the past hour; and all this with the utmost intensity, and yet with
the utmost good-humor, always ready to acknowledge a point against
himself,--the more readily if entirely fallacious,--with a burst of
hearty laughter.

At last there was a pause. Something had called out of doors the two
or three men who were within. There was nothing to disturb the peaceful
beauty of the afternoon. It was blowing hard outside, but this was a
sheltered spot, and the wind was little felt.

As James sat there silent, with no one at hand but the owner of the
shop, who was busy upon the keel of a new boat, a fisherman came in and
took a seat, with an affectation of ease and nonchalance; in a moment
another followed; two or three more came in, then others.

The carpenter stopped his work, and shading his eyes with his hand,
seemed to be looking down the bay.

There was a dead silence for a few moments. Then James spoke. But it was
not the voice of James. It was not that cheery and hearty voice which
had just been filling the shop with mirth. It was a voice harsh, forced,
mechanical,--the voice of a man paralyzed with terror.

“Why don’t you tell me?” he said; “is it Henry, or--is it the boy?”

But no one spoke.

“You don’t need to tell me nothing,” he said, in the same strange tone
of paralysis and fear, “I knowed it when Bassett first come in. I
knowed it when the rest come in and closed in round me and did n’t say

He sat still a moment. Then he rose abruptly and turned to the landward
door. He stumbled over a stool which was in his way, and would have
fallen but that one of the men sprang forward and held him. He plunged
hastily out of the door. Just outside, in the shade of a small wild
cherry-tree, was a bucket of clams which he had dug; across the bucket
was an old hoe worn down to nothing. He stopped and mechanically took up
the pail and hoe. Bassett stood by the door and looked after him as he
went along the foot-path toward his home. There was a scantling fence
close by. He went over it in his old habitual fashion: first he set over
the bucket of clams and the hoe; then one leg went over and then the
other; he sat for an instant on the top slat and then slid down. He took
up his burden and went his way over the fields. In a moment he was lost
to sight behind a bit of rising ground. Then he reappeared, making his
way over the fields at his own heavy gait, until he was lost to sight
behind a clump of trees close to his own door.

They did not find Henry and the boy that night. It was not until the
next day that the bodies were washed ashore. One of the searchers,
walking along the beach in the early dawn, found them both. He came upon
Henry first; he was lying on the sand upon his face. A little farther
on, gently swayed by the rising tide, lay Joe and his dog. Joe lay on
his side, precisely as if asleep; the dog was in his arms.

The boy lies in the burying-ground on the hill, near the stone and the
weeping-willow which mourn the youth who met his untimely death in 1830,
in the launching of the brig. There is a rose-bush at the grave, and few
bright days pass in summer that there is not a bunch of homely flowers
laid at its foot. It is the spot to which all Mrs. Parsons’s thoughts
now tend, and her perpetual pilgrimage. It is too far for her to walk
both there and back; but often a neighbor is going that way, with
a lug-wagon or an open cart or his family carriage,--it makes no
difference which,--and it is easy to get a ride. It is a good-humored
village. Everybody stands ready to do a favor, and nobody hesitates to
ask one. Often on a bright afternoon Mrs. Parsons will watch from her
front window the “teams” that pass, going to the bay. When she sees
one which is likely to go in the right direction on its return from the
bay,--everybody knows in which direction she will wish to go,--she will
run hastily to the door, and hail it.

“Whoa! Sh-h! Whoa! How d’do, Mis’ Parsons?”

“Be you going straight home when you come back? Well, then, if it won’t
really be no trouble at all, I ‘ll be at the gap when you come by; I
won’t keep you waiting a minute. It ‘s such a nice, sunshiny afternoon,
I thought I ‘d like to go up and sit awhile, and take some posies.”

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "By The Sea - 1887" ***

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