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Fourteen

“Can you drive a car, Rosalie?” The old lady asked one day when spring was on them.

“I can drive a light truck,” said Rosalie. “I’ve often driven the light fish-truck. Two or three times I’ve tried a car, it’s just about the same. Why?”

“Oh you might be walking the roads sometime, and get a pick-up, and the driver fall ill, and you could bring him home.”

Rosalie laughed, “You do imagine funny situations, Little Old Lady.”

It was after all the gardens and shrubs were weeded—Spring came in early April that year—that the little old lady sprang her surprise. One day an agent arrived with a new Ford sedan and a license, and an operator’s license made out in the name of Miss Stella Star, “It’s mine, I bought it, I can afford it; you can drive it, and while you’re here we’ll tour around a bit, and I’II see again what this tiny bit of the world looks like before I die.”

They did; the little old lady hired a man to weed her garden and tend the stock, and they drove together over the whole peninsula in trips that lasted from two to ten days. They put up at the best hotels. “It’s a little like me and Mat, being grand when we went ashore from the Arethusa,” the little old lady explained. Rosalie had never been in a hotel before, but nobody would have guessed it. She was well dressed, she had a flair for putting her clothes on properly, and she had natural dignity.

The little old lady wanted to look at all the bays and basins and harbours. One day when they were driving along a bit of desolate coast, she said to Rosalie, “Do you see that big island, and the little island nearby with the fixed light? That’s where the Ardmore went ashore. That was fifty years ago. All my life, Rosalie, was lived long before you were born.”

They drove out on long rocky headlands, and looked at the lighthouses and waited till sunset and watched the great yellow rays revolve.

“It’s wonderful how men progress, Rosalie. Three hundred years ago, there wasn’t a light on this coast, nor a chart worth starting a fire in Hell. The world’s getting on, Rosalie. It’s no longer a world of charms and guesses and miracles. No one any longer steers south till the butter’s gone and then west to hit Trinidad.”

From headland to headland they drove. “There’s coffin’s Island,” the old lady would cry, “there’s Bacaro and there’s Little Hope, and there far up to the eastward is a flash of Green Island off Ironbound.”

One day they drove down the rocky ridge past Champlain’s Mansions to look out through the Gut through which the old barque Arethusa and the new ship Arethusa had passed on their outward and homeward voyages. Out through the Gut they looked far over the yellow Bay where the tides churn and rush more fiercely than any in all the world. Here the old lady stayed a long time dreaming. “I should like to see a tall full-rigged ship come in again through the Gut, coming home after five years at sea, with the sailors on the yards furling the sails and tying down the gaskets. But now it is nothing but fishing boats with diesel engines, and an odd steamer. Ah well, machines now help men, and they hardly know how to swing a brace or sway down on a halyard. Well, perhaps it’s all for the best. I mustn’t get weepy; I never was much of a crier, Rosalie.”

Then after a pause, she said; “Now I must do it, now I must show you my home village, and the house where I was born, if it is still standing. It is only a few miles from here.”

Thither they drove over the hilly road, across the bridge that straddled a fierce muddy river, over more hills till suddenly coming down a curved hill of especial steepness, they dropped as magic into the heart of a little white drowsy village. It was mid-afternoon and warm; nobody seemed to stir. “Stop on the bridge, I want to look at the river”, said the little old lady. The tide was out and the strip of fresh water between the wide mud banks was only a shallow ribbon that caught the blue of the sky.

“It is just as I thought. It is very small. There, do you see, there were the shipyards. The rotten posts are still standing, and that brown building was the forge, where they forged out the anchors and ships irons. There on the hill is the cemetery where father and mother lie buried, and there far up river are the little huts of the Indian Reservation. Poor dying Micmacs! We had a Micmac with us once on the Arethusa. Now drive up the hill and see if the house is still there.” It was not, it had either been burned or demolished, and a little hotel for tourists stood on its site. “Gone, better so. Here I was born nearly eighty years ago, perhaps the important young lady of the place, and today not a soul knows me. We are soon forgotten, Rosalie.”

They drove slowly back to the bridge. A very old coloured man was staring idly down at the eels that swarmed and played at the foot of the bridge’s abutments. “Why,” cried the old lady, “it’s John, it’s John, the cook on the barque Arethusa. John come here.” John ambled over leaning on his cane.

“John, don’t you remember me?”

“I can’t say as how I rightly does Missus. You see I’se gettin’ old and my eyes is dim.”

“Don’t you remember, John, you were cook on the barque Arethusa.”

The music of that word caught his ear, “Arethusa, Arethusa” he muttered. “I bin cooks on so many vessels, I gets them all mixed up. My brains is all mixed up like hash these days.”

“But you must remember big Mat Decker, the master of the Arethusa.”

“Oh sure,” said the negro, scratching his grey curls and anxious to please as negroes always are. “Sure I remember big Mat, big Mat, oh yes I remember big Mat, he big man.”

“And don’t you remember me? I was a little girl here when you were a boy, don’t you remember me? I was Mat’s wife, I was the woman that brought the Arethusa home.”

“Sure Missus, I remember you. You had pigtails, maybe now. Arethusa, Arethusa, I bin cooks on so many ships I’se all clear twisted up.”

The little old lady pulled out a ten dollar bill. “Here, John,” she said, “buy yourself two bottles of rum and a pound of tobacco, that’s what sailors like.”

“Thank-you kindly, Missus, thank you,” said the old negro, “but I don’t drink rum no more, I’se a free-will Baptist now.”

“Let’s get on, Rosalie; you see it’s always sad to come back after a long time to the place of your birth.”

Then when they arrived home in the little yellow house the little old lady made another astonishing move. She sent to the near-by little city and instructed her lawyer and an official of the trust company to pay her a visit at her expense. They came quickly since she was a wealthy client, and they had learned that they could not trifle with the little old lady’s demands. On their arrival, she spoke to them in tones she had used when in command of the Arethusa. “You see this young woman here, her name formerly was Rosalie—but for good and sufficient reasons she has changed it to Stella Star. You will see, Mister Lawyer that the change is made legal and with haste. I will pay you a fat fee in accordance with the speed of your action.”

The lawyer nodded approval. “It can be done, and it will be done quickly.”

“You will also see and know, both of you, that I am well and in my right mind, and that this young girl has asked for nothing and has exerted no influence upon me. You can swear to that in a court of law?” They nodded approval. Now look at her closely, so that you will not mis­take her for someone else.”

They did as they were bid.

“She is not hard to look at,” said the lawyer.

Rosalie laughed. She did not know what the little old lady was up to, but she asked no questions. Rosalie throughout her life was very good at minding her own business.

The little old lady then withdrew with the lawyer into the privacy of her own bedroom. Witnesses were fetched from the straggling village, and the little old lady re-wrote her will.

Rosalie laughed and chatted with the trust company man in the kitchen. He was a dried-up little man, but he had an eye for beauty. “If you ever come to the city,” said he, “I wish you would give me a ring, and have dinner with me.”

“Thank you”, said Rosalie, “I’m nearly always hungry.”

“You will of course keep the trust company informed of your address,” said he, guessing what was in the wind.

“Of course,” said Rosalie. “Why not?”

Four years later, in fact just after Rosalie’s graduation, the little old lady died and the will revealed that Rosalie was her sole heir.

 

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Fourteen by Dalhousie University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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