Read CHAPTER XIII  - SOUTHPORT ISLAND of Uncle Terry A Story of the Maine Coast , free online book, by Charles Clark Munn, on

In summer Southport Island, as yet untainted by the tide of outing travel, was a spot to inspire dreams, poetry, and canvases covered with ocean lore. Its many coves and inlets where the tides ebbed and flowed among the weed-covered rocks; its bold cliffs, sea washed, and above which the white gulls and fish-hawks circled; the deep thickets of spruce through which the ocean winds murmured, and where great beds of ferns and clusters of red bunch-berries grew, were one and all left undisturbed, week in, week out.

At the Cape, where Uncle Terry, Aunt Lissy, and Telly lived their simple home life, and Bascom, the storekeeper and postmaster, talked unceasingly when he could find a listener, and Deacon Oaks wondered why “the grace o’ God hadn’t freed the land from stuns,” no one ever came to disturb its quietude. Every morning Uncle Terry, often accompanied by Telly in a calico dress and sunbonnet, rowed out to pull his lobster traps, and after dinner harnessed and drove to the head of the island to meet the mail boat, then at eventide, after lighting his pipe and the lighthouse lamp at about the same time, generally strolled over to Bascom’s to have a chat, while Telly made a call on the “Widder Leach,” a misanthropic but pious protegee of hers, and Aunt Lissy read the “Boston Journal.” Once in about three weeks, according to weather, the monotony of the village was disturbed by the arrival of the small schooner owned jointly by Uncle Terry, Oaks, and Bascom, and which plied between the Cape and Boston. Once in two weeks services were held as usual in the little brown church, and as often the lighthouse tender called and left coal and oil for Uncle Terry. Regularly on Thursday evenings the few piously inclined, led by Deacon Oaks, gathered in the church to sing hymns they repeated fifty-two times each year, listen to a prayer by Oaks, that seldom varied in a single sentence, and heard Auntie Leach thank the Lord for his “many mercies,” though what they were in her case it would be hard to tell, unless being permitted to live alone and work hard to live at all was a mercy. The scattered islanders and the handful whose dwellings comprised the Cape worked hard, lived frugally, and were unconscious that all around them was a rocky shore whose cliffs and inlets and beaches were so many poems of picturesque and charming scenery.

This was Southport in summer, but in winter when the little harbor at the Cape was ice-bound, the winding road to the head of the island buried beneath drifts, and the people often for weeks at a time absolutely cut off from communication with the rest of the world, it was a place cheerless in its desolation. Like so many woodchucks then, the residents kept within doors, or only stirred out to cut wood, fodder the stock, and shovel paths so that the children could go to school. The days were short and the evenings long, and to get together and spend hours in labored conversation the only pastime. It was one of those long evenings, and when Aunt Lissy and Telly were at a neighbor’s, and Uncle Terry, left to himself, was reading every line, including the advertisements, in the last “Boston Journal,” that the following met his eye:

Wanted.-Information that will lead to the discovery of an heir to the estate of one Eric Peterson, a land-owner and shipbuilder of Stockholm, Sweden, whose son, with his wife, child, and crew, were known to have been wrecked on the coast of Maine, in March, 187-. Nothing has ever been heard of said Peterson or his wife, but the child may have been saved. Any one having information that will lead to the discovery of this child will be amply rewarded by communicating with

Nicholas Frye,
- Pemberton square, Boston. Attorney at Law.

“Wal, I’ll be everlastin’ly gol darned!” he exclaimed after he had read it for the third time. “If this don’t beat all natur, I’m a goat.”

It was fortunate he was alone, for it gave him time to think the matter over, and after half an hour of astonishment he decided to say nothing to his wife or Telly.

“I’ll jis’ breathe easy an’ sag up,” he said to himself, “same as though I was crossin’ thin ice, an’ if nothin’ comes on’t nobody’ll be the worse for worryin’.”

Then he cut the slip out and hid it in his black leather wallet, and then wisely cut out the entire page and burned it.

“Wimmin are sich curis creeters they’d be sure to want to know what I’d cut out o’ that page,” he said to himself, “an’ never rest till I told ’em.”

When Aunt Lissy and Telly came home he was as composed as a rock and sat quietly puffing his pipe, with his feet on top of a chair and pointing towards the fire.

“Were you lonesome, father?” asked Telly, who usually led conversation in the Terry home. “We stopped at Bascom’s, and you know he never stops talking.”

“He’s worse’n burdock burs ter git away from,” answered Uncle Terry, “an’ ye can’t be perlite ter him unless ye want t’ spend the rest o’ yer life listenin’. His tongue allus seemed ter be hung in the middle an’ wag both ways. I wasn’t lonesome,” he continued, rising and adding a few sticks to the fire, as the two women laid aside their wraps and drew chairs up; “I’ve read the paper purty well through an’ had a spell o’ livin’ over by-gones,” and then, turning to Telly and smiling, he added: “I got thinkin’ o’ the day ye came ashore, an’ mother she got that excited she sot the box ye was in on the stove an’ then put more wood in. It’s a wonder she didn’t put ye in the stove instead o’ the wood!”

As this joke was not new to the listeners, no notice was taken of it, and the three lapsed into silence.

Outside the steady boom of the surf beating on the rocks came with monotonous regularity, and inside the clock ticked. For a long time Uncle Terry sat and smoked on in silence, resuming, perhaps, his by-gones, and then said: “By the way, Telly, what’s become o’ them trinkets o’ yourn ye had on that day? It’s been so long now, ’most twenty years, I ’bout forgot ’em. I s’pose ye hain’t lost ’em, hev ye?”

“Why, no, father,” she answered, a little surprised. “I hope not. They are all in the box in my bureau, and no one ever disturbs them.”

“Ye wouldn’t mind fetchin’ ’em now, would ye, Telly?” he continued after drawing a long whiff of smoke and slowly emitting it in rings. “It’s been so many years, an’ since I got thinkin’ ’bout it I’d like to take a look at ’em, jest to remind me o’ that fortunate day ye came to us.”

The girl arose, and going upstairs, returned with a small tin box shaped like a trunk, and drawing the table up in front of Uncle Terry, set the box down upon it. It is likely that its contents were so many links that bound the two together, for as he opened it she perched herself on the arm of his chair, and leaning against his shoulder, passed one arm caressingly around his neck and watched him take out the contents.

First came a soft, fleecy baby blanket, then two little garments, once whitest muslin but now yellow with age, and then another smaller one of flannel. Pinned to this were two tiny shoes of knitted wool. In the bottom of the box was a small wooden shoe, and though clumsy in comparison, yet evidently fashioned to fit a lady’s foot. Tucked in this was a little box tied with faded ribbon, and in this were a locket and chain, two rings, and a scrap of paper. The writing on the paper, once hastily scrawled by a despairing mother’s hand, had almost faded, and inside the locket were two faces, one a man’s with strongly marked features, the other girlish with big eyes and hair in curls.

These were all the heritage of this waif of the sea who now, a fair girl with eyes and face like the woman’s picture, was leaning on the shoulder of her foster-father, and they told a pathetic tale of life and death; of romance and mystery not yet unwoven, and a story not yet told.

How many times that orphan girl had imagined what that tale might be; how often before she had examined every one of those mute tokens; how many times gazed with moist eyes at the faces in the locket; and how, as the years bearing her onward toward maturity passed, had she hoped and waited, hoping ever that some word, some whisper from that far-off land of her birth might reach her! But none ever came, and now hope was dead.

And as she looked at those mute relics which told so little and yet so much of her history, while the old man who had been all that a kind father could be to her took them out one by one, she realized more than ever before what a debt of gratitude she owed to him. When he had looked them over and put them back in the exact order in which they had been packed, he closed the box, and taking the little hand that had been caressing his face in his own wrinkled and bony one, held it for a moment. When he released it the girl stooped, and pressing her lips to his weather-browned cheek, arose and resumed her seat. Had observant eyes watched her then, they would have noticed that hers remained closed for a few moments and that two tears glistened there.

“Wal, ye better put the box away now,” said Uncle Terry at last. “I’ll jest go out an’ take a look off’n the pint and then it’ll be time to turn in.”