Read CHAPTER I - A WAIF OF THE SEA of Uncle Terry A Story of the Maine Coast , free online book, by Charles Clark Munn, on

“It’s goin’ to be a nasty night,” said Uncle Terry, coming in from the shed and dumping an armful of wood in the box behind the kitchen stove, “an’ the combers is just a-humpin’ over White Hoss Ledge, an’ the spray’s flyin’ half way up the lighthouse.”

“The Lord-a-massy help any poor soul that goes ashore to-night,” responded a portly, white-haired woman beside the stove, as a monster wave made the little dwelling tremble.

Uncle Terry took off his dripping sou’wester and coat, and, hanging them over the wood box, went to the sink and began pumping a basin of water.

“Better have some warm, Silas,” said the woman, taking the steaming kettle from the stove and following him; “it’s more comfortin’.”

When he had washed, and combed his scanty gray locks and beard at a small mirror, he stood for a moment beside the stove. His weather-beaten face that evinced character, so pronounced were its features, wore a smile, and his deep-set gray eyes emitted a twinkle.

“Supper ’most ready, Lissy?” he asked, eyeing a pot on the stove that gave out an appetizing odor. “I’m hungry ’nough to eat a mule with the harness on!”

“’Twill be in a minit,” was the reply. “Better go into t’other room where Telly’s settin’ the table.”

Uncle Terry obeyed, and, finding a bright fire burning there, stood back to it, smiling affectionately at a young girl busy beside the table. She had an oval face, a rather thin and delicate nose, small sweet mouth, and eyes that were big, blue, and appealing. A wealth of light hair was coiled on the back of her head, and her form was full and rounded.

“It’s blowing hard to-night, father, isn’t it?” she observed. “I can feel the waves shake the house.” Then, not waiting for an answer, she stepped to a closet, and bringing a short gray coat and felt slippers, pushed an arm-chair to the fire, and placing the slippers beside it, held the coat ready for him to put it on.

“You might as well be comfortable,” she added; “you haven’t got to go out again, have you?”

The man seated himself, and drawing off his wet boots and putting on his slippers, opened his hands toward the blaze and observed: “You and Lissy’s bound to cosset me, so bimeby I won’t stir out ’cept the sun shines.”

Silas Terry, or Uncle Terry, as everybody on Southport Island called him, was, and for thirty years had been, the keeper of “The Cape” light, situated on the outermost point of the island. To this he added the daily duty of mail carrier to the head of the island, eight miles distant, and there connecting with a small steamer plying between the Maine coast islands and a shore port. He also, in common with other of the islanders, tilled a little land and kept a few traps set for lobsters. He was an honest, kind-hearted, and fairly well-read man, whose odd sayings and quaint phrases were proverbial. With his wife, whom everybody called Aunt Lissy, and adopted daughter Telly, he lived in a neat white house close to the Cape light and, as he put it, “his latch-string was allus out.”

Uncle Terry had a history, and not the least interesting episode in it was the entrance into his life of this same fair and blue-eyed girl. Perhaps his own graphic description will best tell the tale:

“It was ‘bout the last o’ March, nigh onto eighteen year ago, and durin’ one o’ the worst blows I ever rec’clect since I kep’ the light, that one mornin’ I spied a vessel hard an’ fast on White Hoss Ledge, ‘bout half a mile off the pint. It had been snowin’ some an’ froze on the windows o’ the light, so mebbe she didn’t see it ’fore she fetched up all standin’. The seas was poundin’ her like great guns, an’ in her riggin’ I could see the poor devils half hid in snow an’ ice. Thar wa’n’t no hope for ’em, for no dory could ‘a’ lived a moment in that awful gale, and thar wa’n’t no lifeboat here. Lissy an’ me made haste to build a fire on the pint, to show the poor critturs we had feelin’ for ‘em, an’ then we just stood an’ waited an’ watched for ’em to go down. It might ‘a’ been an hour, there’s no tellin’, when I saw a big bundle tossin’ light, an’ comin’ ashore. I ran over to the cove where I keep my boats, and grabbed a piece o’ rope an’ boat hook, and made ready. The Lord must ‘a’ steered that bundle, for it kept workin’ along, headin’ for a bit o’ beach just by the pint. I had a rope round my waist, an’ Lissy held onto the end, an’ when the bundle struck I made fast with the boat hook and the next comber tumbled me end over, bundle an’ all, up onto the sand. I grabbed at it, an’ ’fore the next one come, had it high an’ dry out o’ the way.

“It’s allus been a puzzle to me just why I did it, for I was wet through an’ most froze, an’ what I’d pulled out looked like a feather bed tied round with a cord, but I out with my knife an’ cut the cords, an’ thar in the middle o’ two feather beds was a box, an’ in the box a baby alive an’ squallin’!

“I didn’t stop to take the rope off my waist, but grabbed the box an’ ran for the house with Lissy after me. We had a fire in the stove, an’ Lissy warmed a blanket and wrapped the poor thing up an’ held it over the stove an’ kissed it and took on just as wimmin will. When I see it was safe I cut for the pint, thinkin’ to wave my hat an’ show ’em we had saved the baby, but a squall o’ snow had struck in an’ when it let up the vessel was gone. Thar was bits o’ wreck cum ashore, pieces o’ spars, a boat all stove in, an’ the like, an’ a wooden shoe. In the box the baby was in was two little blankets, an’, tied in a bit o’ cloth, two rings an’ a locket with two picters in it, an’ a paper was pinned to the baby’s clothes with furrin writin’ on it. It said the baby’s name was Etelka Peterson, an’ ‘To God I commend my child,’ an’ signed, ’A despairin’ mother.’ From bits o’ the wreck we learned the vessel was from Stockholm, an’ named ‘Peterson.’

“The paper was sech a heart-techin’ appeal, an’ as we’d just buried our only child, a six-year-old gal, we was glad to adopt this ‘un an’ bring her up. In due course o’ time I made a report o’ the wreck to the Lighthouse Board, an’ that we had saved one life, a gal baby, an’ give all the facts. Nothin’ ever came on’t, though, an’ we was glad thar didn’t. We kep’ the little gal, an’ she wa’n’t long in growin’ into our feelin’s, an’ the older she growed, the more we thought o’ her.”

Of course the history of Uncle Terry’s protegee was known to every resident of the island, and as she grew into girlhood and attended school at the Cape-as the little village a quarter mile back of the point was called-until she matured into a young lady, every one came to feel that, in a way, she belonged to the kindly lighthouse keeper and his wife Melissa.

To them she was all that a devoted daughter could be, and when school days were over she became Uncle Terry’s almost constant companion. On pleasant days she went with him to attend his traps, and on his daily drive to the head of the island. She was welcome in every house and well beloved by all those simple, kindly people, who felt an unusual interest in her existence. Of tender heart and timid nature, her appealing eyes won the love of young and old. On Sunday evenings she was always one of the small congregation that gathered to hold simple services in the little church at the Cape-a square one-story building that never knew paint or shutters.

Of beaux she hardly knew the meaning, and it must be said the few young men who remained on the island after reaching the age of courtship were neither in garb nor manners such as would attract a girl like Telly.

One special talent she was gifted with and that the ability to draw and paint well. Even as a child at school she would draw pictures on a slate that were surprising, and when older, and she obtained materials, she worked until she became, in a way, quite an artist. As Uncle Terry put it, “Makin’ picters comes nat’rl to the gal.”

She had never received even the first lessons in that charming art, but for all that every room in the house had dozens of her efforts, large and small, hanging on the walls, and in the oddest frames. Some were of strips of thin board covered with little shells or dried moss, and others of rustic handiwork and mounted with fir cones.

There was but one shadow in her life and that the fact that no one of the relatives she imagined she must have in far-off Sweden ever made any effort to learn the fate of her parents, who she knew had gone down so near her home. The story of her rescue with all its pitiful details was familiar to her and in her room were treasured all the odd bits of wreckage: the locket that contained her parents’ pictures; the two rings; the last message of her mother; and even the wooden shoe that had floated ashore. How many times she had looked at those two pictured faces, one a reflection of her own, how many tears she had shed in secret over them, and how, year after year, she wondered if ever in her life some relative would be known to her, no one, not even her foster-parents, ever knew. Neither did they know how many times she had tried to imagine the moment when her despairing mother, with death near, and with prayers and tears, had cast her adrift, hoping that the one little life most dear to that mother might be saved. The fatal reef where those parents had gone down also held for her a weird fascination, and at times the voice of the ocean seemed like the despairing cries of mortals. One picture, and it was her best, was a view of the wreck, as near as Uncle Terry could describe it, with human forms clinging to the ice-clad rigging and tempestuous seas leaping over them. The subject held an uncanny influence over her, and she had spent months on the picture. But this shadow of her life she kept carefully guarded from all.