Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1274
Kate Lancaster’s grandaunt, Katherine Brandon, had died, leaving to Kate’s mother a charming old house and the family estate, including wharf rights, at Deephaven, a quaint sea town that had known better days. Since Kate’s family was scattering for the summer, she asked Helen Denis, a friend, to spend the season with her in the old house on the Maine coast. They took two maids with them who came from that part of New England, and they left Boston without regret.
Riding with them in the stagecoach from the railway station was a large, weather-beaten but good-natured woman who turned out to be Mrs. Kew, the wife of the lighthouse keeper. She was a keenly observant person but so warmhearted that the girls knew that she meant her invitation to visit the Light, and by the end of the summer, they knew that wherever she was, there was always a home and a heart for them.
Grandaunt Brandon’s house was a sedate and imposing one, full of furnishings brought home by generations of seagoing ancestors. Its closets were filled with china, and its walls were covered by family portraits. The girls rummaged the place from cellar to attic until they felt that they knew Katherine Brandon as well as if she were still alive. Then they started to learn their way around the shore, out to the lighthouse, through the town, and out into the country.
People who had known Katherine Brandon and Kate’s mother felt themselves the girls’ friends by inheritance, and the girls were never lonely. Those people had held Katherine Brandon in great respect and with fond admiration. The girls tried to do nothing to hurt the Brandon name. Through Widow Jim Patton, they realized that Kate’s aunt had been a thoughtful, generous soul, who remembered in her will her less fortunate neighbors.
To the girls, it seemed as though the clocks had stopped long ago in Deephaven and that the people continued repeating whatever they had been doing at that time in the past. Even their faces looked like those of colonial times. The people attached a great deal of importance to the tone of their society, handed down from the fabulous times of Governor Chantrey, a rich shipowner and an East India merchant. Now there were few descendants of the old families left; these were treated almost with reverence by the others. Even the simple fishermen felt an unreasoning pride in living in Deephaven. There were no foreigners, and there were no industries to draw people in from out of town.
The Carews and the Lorimers, old friends of Katherine Brandon, became friends of Kate and Helen. Mr. Dick Carew had been an East India merchant. Mr. Lorimer was the minister. The ladies were of the old order, inordinately proud of their mementos of the old days and always happy to tell reminiscences of earlier times.
Naturally, in a seacoast town, there were also sailors, all of whom were called captain by the time they reached a certain age. When attacks of rheumatism did not keep them home, they gathered on the wharves. Huddled close together, for many had grown deaf, they repeated the tales of their distant voyages. The girls noticed that silence fell when anyone approached the group, but on one occasion they hid close by to hear the old men’s yarns.
Singly the old mariners were pleased to have a new audience, and before long, Kate and Helen were friendly with many of the old men. While some of them told stories of marine superstitions and adventures, others told supernatural tales that they swore were true. Captain Lent related the story of Peletiah Daw, to whom he had been bound out in his youth. Old Peletiah put more store by his wild nephew Ben than he did by his own sons. One night, when Peletiah was old and feeble, he cried out and begged his sons to cut down Ben, whom he had seen hanging from a yardarm. The sons thought their father was delirious, but a short time later, a sailor came to tell them that Ben had died of a fever. Peletiah called the man a liar, but the sailor held to his story before the women. Outside, he told the sons that Ben had been hanged from the yardarm, just as the old man had said, and on the day Peletiah had cried out.
Kate and Helen came to know Danny, a silent, weather-beaten fisherman who spent most of his time cleaning fish but who told them shyly about a pet cat he owned. Another good friend was Captain Sands, who kept in a warehouse all the souvenirs of his sea voyages that his wife refused to have cluttering her house.
When they took Mrs. Kew with them to a circus in nearby Denby, they all had a hilarious time, although the circus turned out to be a droopy and dispirited performance. Their high spirits were dampened for a while when Mrs. Kew recognized the fat lady as a girl who had once been her neighbor in Vermont.
The girls learned to know people all over the countryside as far as their horses would carry them. The person they liked best was Mrs. Bonny, who they thought looked so wild and unconventional that they always felt they were talking to a good-natured Indian.
One family along the coast was so forlorn that the thought of them preyed on the girls’ minds all summer. Neither the father nor the mother had health, and there were several little children with whom they had made friends. Early in the fall, Kate and Helen went back along the coast to see them. Receiving no answer, they were standing undecided at the door when some neighbors came up to say that the mother had died a short time before. The father, after drinking heavily, was now lying dead, and the children had been parceled out as best they could be. Not daring to go to the funeral, the girls watched it from a distance. They felt that their everyday world was very close to the boundary of death.
Still closer to that boundary was Miss Chauncey of East Parish, a town even smaller and more forgotten than Deephaven. She was an aristocratic and splendid-looking old lady who had been mildly insane but harmless for years. Hers had been a rich and happy childhood until her father lost his fortune during the embargo early in the century. It was said that a sailor to whom he had broken a promise cursed her father and his family. One brother killed himself, another died insane. Miss Chauncey herself had been so ill that her guardian sold all her household goods to pay her hospital bills. Suddenly she became well, her mind unclouded. No one had told her that her house furnishings had been sold. Her shock at seeing the bare house unbalanced her mind again, but she remained harmless. She refused to leave the house, and she never seemed to realize that it was bleak and empty. She was still an elegant woman, possessed of unusual worldly advantages; she lived, however, without seeing the poverty of her surroundings. Although she had no idea of time, she always knew when Sunday came. She read the Bible beautifully. Faith sustained her.
By fall, Kate and Helen had become so attached to their friends in Deephaven that they postponed their return to Boston as long as possible. Helen thought that, though they might never return, they would always remember their completely happy summer in that old-fashioned village.