St. Botolphs had been a bustling, prosperous river port in the days of the Massachusetts clipper fleets. It is currently, however, kept alive by a few small industries and by summer visitors. It is a moribund port town with a tourist center of antique stores, gift shops, and tearooms quaintly decorated with the handcrafted artifacts of an older seafaring and agricultural United States.
Leander Wapshot’s home, West Farm, cluttered with the memories and the possessions of dead and gone Wapshots, is an image of a good past and an uncertain present. The Wapshots, like the village, have come down in the world. The older generations of the family’s men were seafaring wanderers in their youth, and they came back to St. Botolphs with their manhood seasoned by the hardships and perils of their calling and with their wits sharpened by the strategies of trade in foreign ports. The ancestral Wapshot men had memories of lovely, naked brown women in the islands of the Pacific. Leander has never known adventure in far places or a sultry paradise of love. Failing fortunes and changing times have beached him inland; he is a spiritual castaway on the shores of Wapshot tradition and dependent on Cousin Honora’s charity.
Nominally, Leander is the head of the family, but the real power is Cousin Honora, a matriarch who speaks and acts with the authority of one who holds the purse strings. In her eccentric way, she regards Leander and herself as the holders of a family trust, Leander because he has fathered two sons, herself because she controls the fortune, which she intends to pass on to the boys when they marry and produce sons of their own. Meanwhile, she pays the bills and bullies Leander. He has never been provident, and now he is old. A man should be useful for something, however, so Cousin Honora bought the Topaze, a battered old launch that Leander ferries daily between Travertine and the amusement park at Nangasakit across the bay. In Honora’s opinion, the Topaze keeps Leander out of other mischief and satisfies his taste for romance and nonsense. Leander’s wife, Sarah, is a brisk, practical woman who indulges her husband, looks after her sons, and, as president of the Women’s...
(The entire section is 908 words.)