All My Sad
Captains by Sarah Orne Jewett
Mrs. Peter Lunn was a plump little woman who bobbed her head like a
pigeon when she walked. Her best dress was a handsome, if not new,
black silk which Captain Lunn, her lamented husband, had bought many
years before in the port of Bristol. The decline of shipping interests
had cost this worthy shipmaster not only the better part of his small
fortune, but also his health and spirits; and he had died a poor man at
last, after a long and trying illness. Such a lingering disorder, with
its hopes and despairs, rarely affords the same poor compensations to a
man that it does to a woman; the claims upon public interest and
consideration, the dignity of being assailed by any ailment out of the
common courseall these things are to a man but the details of his
general ignominy and impatience.
Captain Peter Lunn may have indulged in no sense of his own
consequence and uniqueness as an invalid; but his wife bore herself as
a woman should who was the heroine in so sad a drama, and she went and
came across the provincial stage, knowing that her audience was made up
of nearly the whole population of that little seaside town. When the
curtain had fallen at last, and the old friendsseafaring men and
others and their wiveshad come home from Captain Lunn's funeral, and
had spoken their friendly thoughts, and reviewed his symptoms for what
seemed to them to be the last time, everybody was conscious of a real
anxiety. The future of the captain's widow was sadly uncertain, for
every one was aware that Mrs. Lunn could now depend upon only a scant
provision. She was much younger than her husband, having been a second
wife, and she was thrifty and ingenious; but her outlook was
acknowledged to be anything but cheerful. In truth, the honest grief
that she displayed in the early days of her loss was sure to be better
understood with the ancient proverb in mind, that a lean sorrow is
hardest to bear.
To everybody's surprise, however, this able woman succeeded in
keeping the old Lunn house painted to the proper perfection of
whiteness; there never were any loose bricks to be seen on the tops of
her chimneys. The relics of the days of her prosperity kept an air of
comfortable continuance in the days of her adversity. The best black
silk held its own nobly, and the shining roundness of its handsome
folds aided her in looking prosperous and fit for all social occasions.
She lived alone, and was a busy and unprocrastinating housekeeper. She
may have made less raspberry jam than in her earlier days, but it was
always pound for pound; while her sponge-cake was never degraded in its
ingredients from the royal standard of twelve eggs. The honest English
and French stuffs that had been used in the furnishing of the captain's
house so many years before faded a little as the years passed by, but
they never wore out. Yet one cannot keep the same money in one's purse,
if one is never so thrifty, and so Mrs. Lunn came at last to feel heavy
at heart and deeply troubled. To use the common phrase of her
neighbors, it was high time for her to make a change. She had now been
living alone for four years, and it must be confessed that all those
friends who had admired her self-respect and self-dependence began to
take a keener interest than ever in her plans and behavior.
The first indication of Mrs. Lunn's new purpose in life was her
mournful allusion to those responsibilities which so severely tax the
incompetence of a lone woman. She felt obliged to ask advice of a
friend; in fact, she asked the advice of three friends, and each
responded with a cordiality delightful to describe. It happened that
there were no less than three retired shipmasters in the old seaport
town of Longport who felt the justice of our heroine's claims upon
society. She was not only an extremely pleasing person, but she had the
wisdom to conceal from Captain Asa Shaw that she had taken any one for
an intimate counselor but himself; and the same secrecy was observed
out of deference to the feelings and pride of Captain Crowe and Captain
Witherspoon. The deplored necessity of re-shingling her roof was the
great case in which she threw herself upon their advice and assistance.
Now, if it had been the new planking of a deck, or the selection and
stepping of a mast, the counsel of two of these captains would have
been more likely to avail a helpless lady. They were elderly men, and
had spent so much of their lives at sea that they were not very well
informed about shingling their own houses, having left this to their
wives, or agents, or some other land-fast persons. They recognized the
truth that it would not do to let the project be publicly known, for
fear of undue advantage being taken over an unprotected woman; but each
found his opportunity to acquire information, and to impart it in
secret to Mrs. Lunn. It sometimes occurred to the good woman that she
had been unwise in setting all her captains upon the same course,
especially as she really thought that the old cedar shingles might
last, with judicious patching, for two or three years more. But, in
spite of this weakness of tactics, she was equal to her small campaign.
It now becomes necessary that the reader should have some closer
acquaintance with the captains themselves; and to that end confession
must be made of the author's belief in a theory of psychological
misfits, or the occasional occupation of large-sized material bodies by
small-sized spiritual tenants, and the opposite of this, by which small
shapes of clay are sometimes animated in the noblest way by lofty
souls. This was the case with Captain Witherspoon, who, not being much
above five feet in height, bore himself like a giant, and carried a
cane that was far too tall for him. Not so Captain Crowe, who, being
considerably over six feet, was small-voiced and easily embarrassed,
besides being so unconscious of the strength and size of his great body
that he usually bore the mark of a blow on his forehead, to show that
he had lately attempted to go through a door that was too low. He
accounted for himself only as far as his eyes, and in groping between
decks, or under garret or storehouse eaves, the poor man was constantly
exposing the superfluous portion of his frame to severe usage. His hats
were always more or less damaged. He was altogether unaware of the
natural dignity of his appearance, and bore himself with great honesty
and simplicity, as became a small and timid person. But little Captain
Witherspoon had a heart of fire. He spoke in a loud and hearty voice.
He was called The Captain by his townsfolk, while other shipmasters,
active or retired, were given their full and distinctive names of
Captain Crowe, Captain Eli Proudfit, or Captain Asa Shaw, as the case
Captain Asa Shaw was another aspirant for the hand of Mrs. Maria
Lunn. He had a great deal more money than his rivals, and was the owner
of a tugboat, which brought a good addition to his income, since
Longport was at the mouth of a river on which there was still
considerable traffic. He lacked the dignity and elegance of leisure
which belonged to Captains Crowe and Witherspoon, but the fact was
patent that he was a younger man than they by half a dozen years. He
was not a member of one of the old Longport families, and belonged to a
less eminent social level. His straight-forwardness of behavior and
excellent business position were his chief claims, besides the fact
that he was not only rich, but growing richer every day. His drawbacks
were the carping relatives of his late wife, and his four unruly
children. Captain Crowe felt himself assured of success in his suit,
because he was by no means a poor man, and because he owned the best
house in town, over which any woman might be proud to reign as
mistress; but he had the defect of owing a home to two maiden sisters
who were envious and uneasy at the very suggestion of his marrying
again. They constantly deplored the loss of their sister-in-law, and
paid assiduous and open respect to her memory in every possible way. It
seemed certain that as long as they could continue the captain's habit
of visiting her grave, in their company, on pleasant Sundays, he was in
little danger of providing a successor to reign over them. They had
been very critical and hard-hearted to the meek little woman while she
was alive, and their later conduct may possibly have been moved by
As for the third admirer of Mrs. Lunn, Captain Witherspoon, he was
an unencumbered bachelor who had always dreamed of marrying, but had
never wished to marry any one in particular until Maria Lunn had
engaged his late-blossoming affections. He had only a slender estate,
but was sure that if they had been able to get along apart, they could
get on all the better together. His lonely habitation was with a deaf,
widowed cousin; his hopes were great that he was near to having that
happy home of his own of which he had dreamed on land and sea ever
since he was a boy. He was young at heart, and an ardent lover, this
red-faced little old captain, who walked in the Longport streets as if
he were another Lord Nelson, afraid of nobody, and equal to his
To him, who had long admired her in secret, Maria Lunn's confidence
in regard to the renewing of her cedar shingles had been a golden joy.
He could hardly help singing as he walked, at this proof of her
confidence and esteem, and the mellowing effect of an eleven o'clock
glass of refreshment put his willing tongue in daily danger of telling
his hopes to a mixed but assuredly interested company. As he walked by
the Lunn house, on his way to and from the harbor side, he looked at it
with a feeling of relationship and love; he admired the clean white
curtains at the windows, he envied the plump tortoise-shell cat on the
side doorstep; if he saw the composed and pleasant face of Maria
glancing up from her sewing, he swept his hat through the air with as
gallant a bow as Longport had ever seen, and blushed with joy and
pride. Maria Lunn owned to herself that she liked him best, as far as
he himself was concerned; while she invariably settled it with her
judicious affections that she must never think of encouraging the
captain, who, like herself, was too poor already. Put to the final
test, he was found wanting; he was no man of business, and had lost
both his own patrimony and early savings in disastrous shipping
enterprises, and still liked to throw down his money to any one who was
willing to pick it up. But sometimes, when she saw him pass with a
little troop of children at his heels, on their happy way to the
candy-shop at the corner, she could not forbear a sigh, or to say to
herself, with a smile, that the little man was good-hearted, or that
there was nobody who made himself better company; perhaps he would stop
in for a minute as he came up the street again at noon. Her sewing was
not making, but mending, in these days; and the more she had to mend,
the more she sat by one of her front windows, where the light was good.
One evening toward the end of summer there came a loud rap at the
knocker of Mrs. Lunn's front door. It was the summons of Captain Asa
Shaw, who sought a quiet haven from the discomforts of the society of
his sisters-in-law and his notoriously ill-bred children. Captain Shaw
was prosperous, if not happy; he had been figuring up accounts that
rainy afternoon, and found himself in good case. He looked burly and
commonplace and insistent as he stood on the front doorstep, and
thought Mrs. Lunn was long in coming. At the same moment when she had
just made her appearance with a set smile, and a little extra color in
her cheeks, from having hastily taken off her apron and tossed it into
the sitting-room closet, and smoothed her satin-like black hair on the
way, there was another loud rap on the smaller side-door knocker.
There must be somebody wanting to speak with me on an errand, she
prettily apologized, as she offered Captain Shaw the best
rocking-chair. The side door opened into a tiny entry-way at the other
end of the room, and she unfastened the bolt impatiently. Oh, walk
right in, Cap'n Crowe! she was presently heard to exclaim; but there
was a note of embarrassment in her tone, and a look of provocation on
her face, as the big shipmaster lumbered after her into the
sitting-room. Captain Shaw had taken the large chair, and the newcomer
was but poorly accommodated on a smaller one with a cane seat. The
walls of the old Lunn house were low, and his head seemed in danger of
knocking itself; he was clumsier and bigger than ever in this moment of
dismay. His sisters had worn his patience past endurance, and he had it
in mind to come to a distinct understanding with Mrs. Lunn that very
Captain Shaw was in his every-day clothes, which lost him a point in
Mrs. Lunn's observant eyes; but Captain Crowe had paid her the honor of
putting on his best coat for this evening visit. She thought at first
that he had even changed his shirt, but upon reflection remembered that
this could not be taken as a special recognition of her charms, it
being Wednesday night. On the wharves, or in a down-town office, the
two men were by way of being good friends, but at this moment great
Captain Crowe openly despised his social inferior, and after a formal
recognition of his unwelcome presence ignored him with unusual bravery,
and addressed Mrs. Lunn with grave politeness. He was dimly conscious
of the younger and lesser man's being for some unexplainable reason a
formidable rival, and tried blunderingly to show the degree of intimacy
which existed between himself and the lady.
I just looked in to report about our little matter of business.
I've got the estimates with me, but 't will do just as well another
time, said the big mariner in his disapproving, soft voice.
Captain Shaw instinctively scuffed his feet at the sound, and even
felt for his account-book in an inside pocket to reassure himself of
his financial standing. I could buy him an' sell him twice over, he
muttered angrily, as loud as he dared.
Mrs. Lunn rose to a command of the occasion at once; there was no
sense in men of their age behaving like schoolboys. Oh, my, yes! she
hastened to say, as she rose with a simpering smile. 'T ain't as if 't
was any kind o' consequence, you know; not but what I'm just as much
Captain Crowe scowled now; this was still the affair of the
shingles, and it had been of enough consequence two days before to
protract a conversation through two long hours. He had wished ever
since that he had thought then to tell Mrs. Lunn that if she would just
say the word, she never need think of those shingles again, nor of the
cost of them. It would have been a pretty way to convey the state of
his feelings toward her; but he had lost the opportunity, it might be
forever. To use his own expression, he now put about and steered a new
I come by your house just now, he said to Captain Shaw, who still
glowered from the rocking-chair. Your young folks seemed to be havin'
a great time. Well, I like to see young folks happy. They generally
be, he chuckled maliciously; 'tis we old ones have the worst of it,
soon as they begin to want to have everything their way.
I don't allow no trouble for'ard when I'm on deck, said Shipmaster
Shaw more cheerfully; he hardly recognized the covert allusion to his
drawbacks as a suitor. I like to give 'em their liberty. To-night they
were bound on some sort of a racketthey got some other young folks
in; but gen'ally they do pretty well. I'm goin' to take my oldest boy
right into the office, first o' Januaryput him right to business. I
need more help; I've got too much now for me an' Decket to handle,
though Decket's a good accountant.
Well, I'm glad I'm out of it, said Captain Crowe. I don't want
the bother o' business. I don't need to slave.
No; you shouldn't have too much to carry at your time o' life,
rejoined his friend, in a tone that was anything but soothing; and at
this moment Maria Lunn returned with her best lamp in full brilliancy.
She had listened eagerly to their exchange of compliments, and thought
it would be wise to change the subject.
What's been goin' on down street today? she asked. I haven't had
occasion to go out, and I don't have anybody to bring me the news, as I
Here's Cap'n Shaw makin' me out to be old enough to be his
grandfather, insisted Captain Crowe, laughing gently, as if he had
taken it as a joke. Now, everybody knows I ain't but five years the
oldest. Shaw, you mustn't be settin' up for a young dandy. I've had a
good deal more sea service than you. I believe you never went out on a
long voyage round the Cape or the like o' that; those long voyages
count a man two years to one, if they're hard passages.
No; I only made some few trips; the rest you might call coastin',
said Captain Shaw handsomely. The two men felt more at ease and
reasonable with this familiar subject of experience and discussion. I
come to the conclusion I'd better stop ashore. If I could ever have
found me a smart, dependable crew, I might have followed the sea longer
than I did.
It was in the big captain's heart to say, Poor master, poor crew;
but he refrained. It had been well known that in spite of Shaw's
ability as a money-maker on shore, he was no seaman, and never had
been. Mrs. Lunn was sure to have heard his defects commented on, but
she sat by the table, smiling, and gave no sign, though Captain Crowe
looked at her eagerly for a glance of understanding and contempt.
There was a moment of silence, and nobody seemed to know what to say
next. Mrs. Maria Lunn was not a great talker in company, although so
delightful in confidence and consultation. She wished now, from the
bottom of her heart, that one of her admirers would go away; but at
this instant there was a loud tapping at a back door in the farther end
of the house.
I thought I heard somebody knocking a few minutes ago. Captain
Crowe rose like a buoy against the ceiling. Here, now, I'm goin' to
the door for you, Mis' Lunn; there may be a tramp or somethin'.
Oh, no, said the little woman, anxiously bustling past him, and
lifting the hand-lamp as she went. I guess it's only Dimmett's been
sickThe last words were nearly lost in the distance, and in the
draught a door closed after her, and the two captains were left alone.
Some minutes went by before they suddenly heard the sound of a familiar
I don't know but what I will, after all, step in an' set down for
just a minute, said the hearty voice of little Captain Witherspoon.
I'll just wash my hands here at the sink, if you'll let me, same 's I
did the other day. I shouldn't have bothered you so late about a mere
fish, but they was such prime mackerel, an' I thought like's not one of
'em would make you a breakfast.
You're always very considerate, answered Mrs. Lunn, in spite of
what she felt to be a real emergency. She was very fond of mackerel,
and these were the first of the season. Walk right in, Cap'n
Witherspoon, when you get ready. You'll find some o' your friends. 'Tis
'The Cap'n,' gentlemen, she added, in a pleased tone, as she rejoined
her earlier guests.
If Captain Witherspoon had also indulged a hope of finding his love
alone, he made no sign; it would be beneath so valiant and gallant a
man to show defeat. He shook hands with both his friends as if he had
not seen them for a fortnight, and then drew one of the Windsor chairs
forward, forcing the two companions into something like a social
What's the news? he demanded. Anything heard from the new
minister yet, Crowe? I suppose, though, the ladies are likely to hear
of those matters first.
Mrs. Lunn was grateful to this promoter of friendly intercourse.
Yes, sir, she answered quickly; I was told, just before tea, that he
had written to Deacon Torby that he felt moved to accept the call.
Her eyes shone with pleasure at having this piece of news. She had
been thinking a great deal about it just before the two captains came
in, but their mutual dismay had been such an infliction that for once
she had been in danger of forgetting her best resources. Now, with the
interest of these parishioners in their new minister, the propriety,
not to say the enjoyment, of the rest of the evening was secure.
Captain Witherspoon went away earliest, as cheerfully as he had come;
and Captain Shaw rose and followed him for the sake of having company
along the street. Captain Crowe lingered a few moments, so obtrusively
that he seemed to fill the whole sitting-room, while he talked about
unimportant matters; and at last Mrs. Lunn knocked a large flat book
off the end of the sofa for no other reason than to tell him that it
was one of Captain Witherspoon's old log-books which she had taken
great pleasure in reading. She did not explain that it was asked for
because of other records; her late husband had also been in
commandone voyageof the ship Mary Susan.
Captain Crowe went grumbling away down the street. I've seen his
plaguy logs; and what she can find, I don't see. There ain't nothin' to
a page but his figures, and what men were sick, and how the seas run,
an' 'So ends the day.' It was a terrible indication of rivalry that
the captain felt at liberty to bring his confounded fish to any door he
chose; and his very willingness to depart early and leave the field
might prove him to possess a happy certainty, Captain Crowe was so
jealous that he almost forgot to play his role of lover.
As for Mrs. Lunn herself, she blew out the best lamp at once, so
that it would burn another night, and sat and pondered over her future.
'T was real awkward to have 'em all call together; but I guess I
passed it off pretty well, she consoled herself, casting an
absent-minded glance at her little blurred mirror with the gilded
wheat-sheaf at the top.
Everybody's after her; I've got to look sharp, said Captain Asa
Shaw to himself that night. I guess I'd better give her to understand
what I'm worth.
Both o' them old sea-dogs is steerin' for the same port as I be.
I'll cut 'em out, if only for the name of itsee if I don't! Captain
Crowe muttered, as he smoked his evening pipe, puffing away with a
great draught that made the tobacco glow and almost flare.
I care a world more about poor Maria than anybody else does, said
warm-hearted little Captain Witherspoon, making himself as tall as he
could as he walked his bedroom deck to and fro.
Down behind the old Witherspoon warehouse, built by the captain's
father when the shipping interests of Longport were at their height of
prosperity, there was a pleasant spot where one might sometimes sit in
the cool of the afternoon. There were some decaying sticks of huge oak
timber, stout and short, which served well for benches; the gray,
rain-gnawed wall of the old warehouse, with its overhanging second
story, was at the back; and in front was the wharf, still well graveled
except where tenacious, wiry weeds and thin grass had sprouted, and
been sunburned into sparse hay. There were some places, alas! where the
planking had rotted away, and one could look down through and see the
clear, green water underneath, and the black, sea-worn piles with their
fringes of barnacles and seaweed. Captain Crowe gave a deep sigh as he
sat heavily down on a stick of timber; then he heard a noise above, and
looked up, to see at first only the rusty windlass under the high
gable, with its end of frayed rope flying loose; then one of the wooden
shutters was suddenly flung open, and swung to again, and fastened.
Captain Crowe was sure now that he should gain a companion. Captain
Witherspoon was in the habit of airing the empty warehouse once a
weekWednesdays, if pleasant; it was nearly all the active business he
had left; and this was Thursday, but Wednesday had been rainy.
Presently the Captain appeared at the basement doorway, just behind
where his friend was sitting. The door was seldom opened, but the owner
of the property professed himself forgetful about letting in as much
fresh air there as he did above, and announced that he should leave it
open for half an hour. The two men moved a little way along the oak
stick to be out of the cool draught which blew from the cellar-like
place, empty save for the storage of some old fragments of vessels or
warehouse gear. There was a musty odor of the innumerable drops of
molasses which must have leaked into the hard earth there for half a
century; there was still a fragrance of damp Liverpool salt, a reminder
of even the dyestuffs and pepper and rich spices that had been stowed
away. The two elderly men were carried back to the past by these
familiar, ancient odors; they turned and sniffed once or twice with
satisfaction, but neither spoke. Before them the great, empty harbor
spread its lovely, shining levels in the low afternoon light. There
were a few ephemeral pleasure-boats, but no merchantmen riding at
anchor, no lines of masts along the wharves, with great wrappings of
furled sails on the yards; there were no sounds of mallets on the
ships' sides, or of the voices of men, busy with unlading, or moving
the landed cargoes. The old warehouses were all shuttered and
padlocked, as far as the two men could see.
Looks lonesomer than ever, don't it? said Captain Crowe,
pensively. I vow it's a shame to see such a harbor as this, an' think
o' all the back country, an' how things were goin' on here in our young
'Tis sad, sir, sad, growled brave little Captain Witherspoon.
They've taken the wrong course for the country's goodsome o' those
folks in Washington. When the worst of 'em have stuffed their own
pockets as full as they can get, p'r'aps they'll see what else can be
done, and all catch hold together and shore up the shipping int'rists.
I see every night, when I go after my paper the whole sidewalk full o'
louts that ought to be pushed off to sea with a good smart master;
they're going to the devil ashore, sir. Every way you can look at it,
shippin' 's a loss to us.
At this moment the shrill whistle of a locomotive sounded back of
the town, but the captains took no notice of it. Two idle boys suddenly
came scrambling up the broken landing-steps from the water, one of them
clutching a distressed puppy. Then another, who had stopped to fasten
the invisible boat underneath, joined them in haste, and all three fled
round the corner. The elderly seamen had watched them severely.
It used to cost but a ninepence to get a bar'l from Boston by sea,
said Captain Crowe, in a melancholy tone; and now it costs twenty-five
cents by the railroad, sir.
In reply Captain Witherspoon shook his head gloomily.
You an' I never expected to see Longport harbor look like this,
resumed Captain Crowe, giving the barren waters a long gaze, and then
leaning forward and pushing the pebbles about with his cane. I don't
know's I ever saw things look so poor along these wharves as they do
to-day. I've seen six or seven large vessels at a time waitin' out in
the stream there until they could get up to the wharves. You could
stand ashore an' hear their masters rippin' an' swearin' aboard, an'
fur's you could see from here, either way, the masts and riggin' looked
like the woods in winter-time. There used to be somethin' doin' in this
place when we was young men, Cap'n Witherspoon.
I feel it as much as anybody, acknowledged the captain. Looks to
me very much as if there was a vessel comin' up, down there over
Dimmett's P'int; she may only be runnin' in closer 'n usual on this
light sou'easterly breeze; yes, I s'pose that 's all. What do you make
her out to be, sir?
The old shipmasters bent their keen, far-sighted gaze seaward for a
moment. She ain't comin' in; she's only one o' them great schooners
runnin' west'ard. I'd as soon put to sea under a Monday's clothes-line,
for my part, said Captain Crowe.
Yes; give me a brig, sir, a good able brig, said Witherspoon
eagerly. I don't care if she's a little chunky, neither. I'd make more
money out of her than out o' any o' these gre't new-fangled things. I'd
as soon try to sail a whole lumber-yard to good advantage. Gi' me an
old-fashioned house an' an old-style vessel; there was some plan an'
reason to 'em. Now that new house of Asa Shaw's he's put so much money
inlooks as if a nor'west wind took an' hove it together. Shaw's just
the man to call for one o' them schooners we just spoke of.
The mention of this rival's name caused deep feelings in their manly
breasts. The captains felt an instant resentment of Asa Shaw's wealth
and pretensions. Neither noticed that the subject was abruptly changed
without apparent reason, when Captain Crowe asked if there was any
truth in the story that the new minister was going to take board with
the Widow Lunn.
No, sir, exclaimed Captain Witherspoon, growing red in the face,
and speaking angrily; I don't put any confidence in the story at all.
It might be of mutual advantage, his companion urged a little
maliciously. Captain Crowe had fancied that Mrs. Lunn had shown him
special favor that afternoon, and ventured to think himself secure.
The new minister's a dozen years younger than she; must be all o'
that, said the Captain, collecting himself. I called him quite a
young-lookin' man when he preached for us as a candidate. Sing'lar he
shouldn't be a married man. Generally they be.
You ain't the right one to make reflections, joked Captain Crowe,
mindful that Maria Lunn had gone so far that very day as to compliment
him upon owning the handsomest old place in town. I used to think you
was a great beau among the ladies, Witherspoon.
I never expected to die a single man, said his companion, with
You're gettin' along in years, urged Captain Crowe. You're
gettin' to where it's dangerous; a good-hearted elderly man's liable to
be snapped up by somebody he don't want. They say an old man ought to
be married, but he shouldn't get married. I don't know but it's so.
I've put away my thoughts o' youth long since, said the little
captain nobly. Though I ain't so old, sir, but what I've got some
years before me yet, unless I meet with accident; an' I'm so situated
that I never yet had to take anybody that I didn't want. But I do often
feel that there's somethin' to be said for the affections, an' I get to
feelin' lonesome winter nights, thinkin' that age is before me, an' if
I should get hove on to a sick an' dyin' bed
The captain's hearty voice failed for once; then the pleasant face
and sprightly figure of the lady of his choice seemed to interpose, and
to comfort him. Come, come! he said, ain't we gettin' into the
doldrums, Crowe? I'll just step in an' close up the warehouse; it must
be time to make for supper.
Captain Crowe walked slowly round by the warehouse lane into the
street, waiting at the door while his friend went through the old
building, carefully putting up the bars and locking the street door
upon its emptiness with a ponderous key; then the two captains walked
away together, the tall one and the short one, clicking their canes on
the flagstones. They turned up Barbadoes Street, where Mrs. Lunn lived,
and bowed to her finely as they passed.
One Sunday morning in September the second bell was just beginning
to toll, and Mrs. Lunn locked her front door, tried the great brass
latch, put the heavy key into her best silk dress pocket, and stepped
forth discreetly on her way to church. She had been away from Longport
for several weeks, having been sent for to companion the last days of a
cousin much older than herself; and her reappearance was now greeted
with much friendliness. The siege of her heart had necessarily been in
abeyance. She walked to her seat in the broad aisle with great dignity.
It was a season of considerable interest in Longport, for the new
minister had that week been installed, and that day he was to preach
his first sermon. All the red East Indian scarfs and best raiment of
every sort suitable for early autumn wear had been brought out of the
camphor-chests, and there was an air of solemn festival.
Mrs. Lunn's gravity of expression was hardly borne out by her gayety
of apparel, yet there was something cheerful about her look, in spite
of her recent bereavement. The cousin who had just died had in times
past visited Longport, so that Mrs. Lunn's friends were the more ready
to express their regret. When one has passed the borders of middle
life, such losses are sadly met; they break the long trusted bonds of
old association, and remove a part of one's own life and belongings.
Old friends grow dearer as they grow fewer; those who remember us as
long as we remember ourselves become a part of ourselves at last, and
leave us much the poorer when they are taken away. Everybody felt sorry
for Mrs. Lunn, especially as it was known that this cousin had always
been as generous as her income would allow; but she was chiefly
dependent upon an annuity, and was thought to have but little to leave
Mrs. Lunn had reached home only the evening before, and, the day of
her return having been uncertain, she was welcomed by no one, and had
slipped in at her own door unnoticed in the dusk. There was a little
stir in the congregation as she passed to her pew, but, being in
affliction, she took no notice of friendly glances, and responded with
great gravity only to her neighbor in the next pew, with whom she
usually exchanged confidential whispers as late as the second sentence
of the opening prayer.
The new minister was better known to her than to any other member of
the parish; for he had been the pastor of the church to which her
lately deceased cousin belonged, and Mrs. Lunn had seen him oftener and
more intimately than ever in this last sad visit. He was a fine-looking
man, no longer young,in fact, he looked quite as old as our
heroine,and though at first the three captains alone may have
regarded him with suspicion, by the time church was over and the Rev.
Mr. Farley had passed quickly by some prominent parishioners who stood
expectant at the doors of their pews, in order to speak to Mrs. Lunn,
and lingered a few moments holding her affectionately by the handby
this time gossip was fairly kindled. Moreover, the minister had
declined Deacon Torby's invitation to dinner, and it was supposed,
though wrongly, that he had accepted Mrs. Lunn's, as they walked away
Now Mrs. Lunn was a great favorite in the social circles of
Longportnone greater; but there were other single ladies in the First
Parish, and it was something to be deeply considered whether she had
the right, with so little delay, to appropriate the only marriageable
minister who had been settled over that church and society during a
hundred and eighteen years. There was a loud buzzing of talk that
Sunday afternoon. It was impossible to gainsay the fact that if there
was a prospective engagement, Mrs. Lunn had shown her usual discretion.
The new minister had a proper income, but no house and home; while she
had a good house and home, but no income. She was called hard names,
which would have deeply wounded her, by many of her intimate friends;
but there were others who more generously took her part, though they
vigorously stated their belief that a young married pastor with a
growing family had his advantages. The worst thing seemed to be that
the Rev. Mr. Farley was beginning his pastorate under a cloud.
While all this tempest blew, and all eyes were turned her way,
friends and foes alike behaved as if not only themselves but the world
were concerned with Mrs. Maria Lunn's behavior, and as if the fate of
empires hung upon her choice of a consort. She was maligned by Captain
Crowe's two sisters for having extended encouragement to their brother,
while the near relatives of Captain Shaw told tales of her open efforts
to secure his kind attention; but in spite of all these things, and the
antagonism that was in the very air, Mrs. Lunn went serenely on her
way. She even, after a few days' seclusion, arrayed herself in her
best, and set forth to make some calls with a pleasant, unmindful
manner which puzzled her neighbors a good deal. She had, or professed
to have, some excuse for visiting each house: of one friend she asked
instructions about her duties as newly elected officer of the sewing
society, the first meeting of which had been held in her absence; and
another neighbor was kindly requested to give the latest news from an
invalid son at a distance. Mrs. Lunn did not make such a breach of good
manners as to go out making calls with no reason so soon after her
cousin's death. She appeared rather in her most friendly and neighborly
character; and furthermore gave much interesting information in regard
to the new minister, telling many pleasant things about him and his
relations to, and degree of success in, his late charge. There may or
may not have been an air of proprietorship in her manner; she was frank
and free of speech, at any rate; and so the flame of interest was
fanned ever to a brighter blaze.
The reader can hardly be expected to sympathize with the great
excitement in Longport society when it was known that the new minister
had engaged board with Mrs. Lunn for an indefinite time. There was
something very puzzling in this new development. If there was an
understanding between them, then the minister and Mrs. Lunn were
certainly somewhat indiscreet. Nobody could discredit the belief that
they had a warm interest in each other; yet those persons who felt
themselves most nearly concerned in the lady's behavior began to
indulge themselves in seeing a ray of hope.
Captain Asa Shaw had been absent for some time in New York on
business, and Captain Crowe was confined to his handsome house with a
lame ankle; but it happened that they both reappeared on the chief
business street of Longport the very same day. One might have fancied
that each wore an expression of anxiety; the truth was, they had made
vows to themselves that another twenty-four hours should not pass over
their heads before they made a bold push for the coveted prize. They
were more afraid of the minister's rivalry than they knew; but not the
least of each other's. There were angry lines down the middle of
Captain Asa Shaw's forehead as he assured himself that he would soon
put an end to the minister business, and Captain Crowe thumped his cane
emphatically as he walked along the street. Captain John Witherspoon
looked thin and eager, but a hopeful light shone in his eyes: his
choice was not from his judgment, but from his heart.
It was strange that it should be so difficultnay, impossiblefor
anybody to find an opportunity to speak with Mrs. Lunn upon this most
private and sacred of personal affairs, and that day after day went by
while the poor captains fretted and grew more and more impatient. They
had it in mind to speak at once when the time came; neither Captain
Crowe nor Captain Shaw felt that he could do himself or his feelings
any justice in a letter.
On a rainy autumn afternoon, Mrs. Lunn sat down by her front window,
and drew her wicker work-basket into her lap from the end of the narrow
table before her. She was tired, and glad to rest. She had been busy
all the morning, putting in order the rooms that were to be set apart
for the minister's sleeping-room and study. Her thoughts were evidently
pleasant as she looked out into the street for a few minutes, and then
crossed her plump hands over the work-basket. Presently, as a large,
familiar green umbrella passed her window, she caught up a bit of
sewing, and seemed to be busy with it, as some one opened her front
door and came into the little square entry without knocking.
May I take the liberty? I saw you settin' by the window this wet
day, said Captain Shaw.
Walk right in, sir; do! Mrs. Lunn fluttered a little on her perch
at the sight of him, and then settled herself quietly, as trig and
demure as ever.
I'm glad, ma'am, to find you alone. I have long had it in mind to
speak with you on a matter of interest to us both. The captain felt
more embarrassed than he had expected, but Mrs. Lunn remained tranquil,
and glanced up at him inquiringly.
It relates to the future, explained Captain Asa Shaw. I make no
doubt you have seen what my feelin's have been this good while. I can
offer you a good home, and I shall want you to have your liberty.
I enjoy a good home and my liberty now, said Mrs. Lunn stiffly,
looking straight before her.
I mean liberty to use my means, and to have plenty to do with, so
as to make you feel comfortable, explained the captain, reddening.
Mis' Lunn, I'm a straight-forward business man, and I intend business
now. I don't know any of your flowery ways of sayin' things, but there
ain't anybody in Longport I'd like better to see at the head of my
house. You and I ain't young, but we
Don't say a word, sir, protested Mrs. Lunn. You can get you just
as good housekeepers as I am. I don't feel to change my situation just
at present, sir.
Is that final? said Captain Shaw, looking crestfallen. Come now,
Maria! I'm a good-hearted man, I'm worth over forty thousand dollars,
and I'll make you a good husband, I promise. Here's the minister on
your hands, I know. I did feel all ashore when I found you'd promised
to take him in. I tried to get a chance to speak with you before you
went off, but when I come home from New York 't was the first news I
heard. I don't deem it best for you; you can't make nothin' out o' one
boarder, anyway. I tried it once myself.
Excuse me, Mr. Shaw, said Mrs. Lunn coldly; I know my own
business best. You have had my answer, sir. She added in a more
amiable tone, Not but what I feel obliged to you for payin' me the
There was a sudden loud knocking at the side door, which startled
our friends extremely. They looked at each other with apprehension;
then Mrs. Lunn slowly rose and answered the summons.
The gentle voice of the giant was heard without. Oh, Mis' Lunn,
said Captain Crowe excitedly, I saw some elegant mackerel brought
ashore, blown up from the south'ard, I expect, though so late in the
season; and I recalled that you once found some acceptable. I thought
't would help you out.
I'm obliged to you, Captain Crowe, said the mistress of the house;
and to think of your bringin' 'em yourself this drenchin' day! I take
it very neighborly, sir. Her tone was entirely different from that in
which she had conducted so decisive a conversation with the guest in
the sitting-room. They heard the front door bang just as Captain Crowe
entered with his fish.
Was that the wind sprung up so quick? he inquired, alert to any
change of weather.
I expect it was Captain Shaw, just leavin', said Mrs. Lunn
angrily. He's always full o' business, ain't he? No wonder those
children of his are without manners. There was no favor in her tone,
and the spirits of Captain Crowe were for once equal to his height.
The daylight was fading fast. The mackerel were deposited in their
proper place, and the donor was kindly bidden to come in and sit down.
Mrs. Lunn's old-fashioned sitting-room was warm and pleasant, and the
big captain felt that his moment had come; the very atmosphere was
encouraging. He was sitting in the rocking-chair, and she had taken her
place by the window. There was a pause; the captain remembered how he
had felt once in the China Seas just before a typhoon struck the ship.
Maria, he said huskily, his voice sounding as if it came from the
next room,Maria, I s'pose you know what I'm thinkin' of?
I don't, said Mrs. Lunn, with cheerful firmness. Cap'n Crowe, I
know it ain't polite to talk about your goin' when you've just come in;
but when you do go, I've got something I want to send over to your
The captain gasped; there was something in her tone that he could
not fathom. He began to speak, but his voice failed him altogether.
There she sat, perfectly self-possessed, just as she looked every day.
What are you payin' now for potatoes, sir? continued Mrs. Lunn.
Sixty cents a bushel for the last, ma'am, faltered the captain. I
wish you'd hear to me, Maria, he burst out. I wish
Now don't, cap'n, urged the pleasant little woman. I've made
other arrangements. At any rate, she added, with her voice growing
more business-like than ever,at any rate, I deem it best to wait
until the late potatoes come into market; they seem to keep better.
The typhoon had gone past, but the captain waited a moment, still
apprehensive. Then he took his hat, and slowly and sadly departed
without any words of farewell. In spite of his lame foot he walked some
distance beyond his own house, in a fit of absent-mindedness that was
born of deep regret. It was impossible to help respecting Mrs. Lunn's
character and ability more than ever. Oh! them ministers, them
ministers! he groaned, turning in at his high white gate between the
tall posts with their funeral urns.
Mrs. Lunn heard the door close behind Captain Crowe; then she
smoothed down her nice white apron abstractedly, and glanced out of the
window to see if he were out of sight, but she could not catch a
glimpse of the captain's broad, expressive back, to judge his feelings
or the manner in which he was taking his rebuff. She felt unexpectedly
sorry for him; it was lonely in his handsome, large house, where his
two sisters made so poor a home for him and such a good one for
It was almost dark now, and the shut windows of the room made the
afternoon seem more gloomy; the days were fast growing shorter. After
her successful conduct of the affair with her two lovers, she felt a
little lonely and uncertain. Although she had learned to dislike
Captain Shaw, and had dismissed him with no small pleasure, with
Captain Crowe it was different; he was a good, kind-hearted man, and
she had made a great effort to save his feelings.
Just then her quick ears caught the sound of a footstep in the
street. She listened intently for a moment, and then stood close to the
window, looking out. The rain was falling steadily; it streaked the
square panes in long lines, so that Mrs. Lunn's heart recognized the
approach of a friend more easily than her eyes. But the expected
umbrella tipped away on the wind as it passed, so that she could see
the large ivory handle. She lifted the sash in an instant. I wish
you'd step in just one minute, sir, if it's perfectly convenient, she
said appealingly, and then felt herself grow very red in the face as
she crossed the room and opened the door.
I'm 'most too wet to come into a lady's parlor, apologized Captain
Witherspoon gallantly. Command me, Mrs. Lunn, if there's any way I can
serve you. I expect to go down street again this evening.
Do you think you'd better, sir? gently inquired Mrs. Lunn. There
was something beautiful about the captain's rosy cheeks and his curly
gray hair. His kind blue eyes beamed at her like a boy's.
I have had some business fall to me, you see, Cap'n, she
continued, blushing still more; and I feel as if I'd better ask your
advice. My late cousin, Mrs. Hicks, has left me all her property. The
amount is very unexpected; I never looked for more than a small
remembrance. There will have to be steps taken.
Command me, madam, said the captain again, to whom it never for
one moment occurred that Mrs. Lunn was better skilled in business
matters than himself. He instantly assumed the place of protector,
which she so unaffectedly offered. For a minute he stood like an
admiral ready to do the honors of his ship; then he put out his honest
Maria, he faltered, and the walls about him seemed to flicker and
grow unsteady,Maria, I dare say it's no time to say the word just
now, but if you could feel toward me?
He never finished the sentence; he never needed to finish it. Maria
Lunn said no word in answer, but they each took a step forward. They
may not have been young, but they knew all the better how to value
About half an hour afterward, the captain appeared again in the dark
street, in all the rain, without his umbrella. As he paraded toward his
lodgings, he chanced to meet the Reverend Mr. Farley, whom he saluted
proudly. He had demurred a little at the minister's making a third in
their household; but in the brief, delightful space of their
engagement, Mrs. Lunn had laid before him her sensible plans, and
persuaded Captain Witherspoon that the ministerdear, good man! was
one who always had his head in a book when he was in the house, and
would never give a bit of trouble; and that they might as well have the
price of his board and the pleasure of his company as anybody.
Mrs. Lunn sat down to her belated and solitary supper, and made an
excellent meal. 'T will be pleasant for me to have company again, she
murmured. I think 'tis better for a person. She had a way, as many
lonely women have, of talking to herself, just for the sake of hearing
the sound of a voice. I guess Mr. Farley's situation is goin' to
please him, too, she added; I feel as if I'd done it all for the
best. Mrs. Lunn rose, and crossed the room with a youthful step, and
stood before the little looking-glass, holding her head this way and
that, like a girl; then she turned, still blushing a little, and put
away the tea-things. 'T is about time now for the Cap'n to go down
town after his newspaper, she whispered; and at that moment the
Captain opened the door.
One day, the next spring, Captain Crowe, who had always honored the
heroine of this tale for saving his self-respect, and allowing him to
affirm with solemn asseverations that though she was a prize for any
man, he never had really offered himself to Mrs. LunnCaptain Crowe
and Captain Witherspoon were sitting at the head of Long Wharf together
in the sunshine.
I've been a very fortunate man, sir, said the little captain
boldly. My own property has looked up a good deal since I was married,
what with that piece of land I sold for the new hotel, and other things
that have come to bearthis wharf property, for instance. I shall have
to lay out considerable for new plank, but I'm able to do it.
Yes, sir; things have started up in Longport a good deal this
spring; but it never is goin' to be what it was once, answered Captain
Crowe, who had grown as much older as his friend had grown younger
since the autumn, though he always looked best out of doors. Don't you
think, Captain Witherspoon, he said, changing his tone, that you
ought to consider the matter of re-shinglin' your house? You'll have to
engage men now, anyway, to do your plankin'. I know of some extra cedar
shingles that were landed yesterday from somewheres up river. Or was
Mis' Witherspoon a little over-anxious last season?
I think, with proper attention, sir, said the Captain sedately,
that the present shingles may last us a number of years yet.