Exclusive Outtake: From Christina Baker Kline’s New Novel
From A Piece of the World
Christina Baker Kline’s A Piece of the World is the story of Christina Olson, the unlikely anti-muse of painter Andrew Wyeth, and the cranky mutual respect they developed as neighbors in rural Maine. What follows is the story of Olson’s ancestor, a discrete passage that Baker Kline ultimately left out of the novel, but stands on its own as heartfelt tale of American immigration.
February 1890. The bleak heart of a Maine winter. On Hathorn Point, above Kissing Cove, where the St. George River flows into the Atlantic Ocean, a storm sweeps in, sending the temperature plummeting. Wind whips up the hill, strafing the white clapboard house at the top. In the kitchen, a retired sea captain and his wife and daughter pull on wool socks and leather boots and hurry to feed the animals in the barn. To be outside for more than a few minutes is to risk freezing to death. Returning to the warm kitchen, they carry firewood from the attached shed and stack it beside the hearth, pull the doors shut tightly behind them, line windowsills and doorframes with blankets.
Far below them, in the St. George River channel, the roiling sea hardens, quickly and almost imperceptibly, into a bumpy sheet of ice.
A young Swedish sailor wakes to silence. All the sounds of a ship in the ocean are absent: the slap of water against the hull, the creak of boards shifting and settling in the waves, the giant bird’s-wing flap of the sail.
Johan sniffs the air. Exhales. His breath is fog, dense and opaque. He blinks: even in the depths of the ship, he can see bright whiteness through the cracks. It is tempting to turn over in his cocoon of blankets and burrow deeper.
What would he be doing now if he’d stayed in the small village of Gallinge, where he was born? Little imagination is required for this exercise, but it comforts him to picture it. There is Birgid, with her wide blue eyes and straw-colored hair, lingering near the dock at the end of the day, waiting for him when the fishing vessels come in. Pale fingers like taper candles, her breasts small globes—entire worlds—under the cotton ticking of her bodice… For years this memory has lulled him to sleep on his hard narrow cot, distracted him from seasickness (which still plagues him, after all these years), tamped down the fear that swells in his chest on every trip. He is 27 years old and has been working on boats since he was 12, and it never gets easier.
In these daydreams Johan chooses not to dwell on other aspects of life in Gallinge. The squalid, low-ceilinged two-room hut his family of ten shared with a cow, their surest hedge against starvation. His father, a drunkard with two moods, brooding and raging, who terrorized Johan and his seven younger siblings and worked occasionally at a peat farm as a day laborer when he was desperate enough. Constant stomach-churning hunger. More than once he avoided jail by eluding police on a long chase through cobbled streets after stealing a rasher of pork, a jug of maple syrup.
From an early age, Johan knew there wasn’t much of a future for him in Gallinge; no jobs, none he was qualified for even in the big city of Göteborg, sixty miles away. Though a quick study, he’d never paid much attention in school, knew how to read only the simplest stories. Never learned a trade. He’d taught himself to knit so he could help his piteous God-fearing Ma, who earned a few coins making scarves and mittens and hats, but that was no job for a man, was it?
So when he heard about a trading ship bound for New York, he rose in the dark to be the first at the dock at Göteborg Harbor.
“Fifteen years old, eh.” The captain spit on the cobblestones. “Too young to leave mama.”
Johan didn’t understand much English, but mama he knew. “She won’t miss me,” he said. “One fewer mouth to feed, a few more coins for the rest. Sick babies.” The youngest, his brother Sven, dead a month before, not even a year old. Johan would’ve told the captain this if he’d trusted himself not to cry.
The captain listened to a rough translation, shrugged. Det är ditt liv, antar jag. It’s your life, I suppose.
And so Johan set sail with the captain and his small crew across and back and around the world. He stowed his few possessions in a wooden box under his bed: a whalebone comb, bitter cream of tartar and a horsehair brush for his teeth, a painted tin soldier from a long-ago children’s set, and a small collection of rocks and minerals. He’d been ten when a kind, eccentric teacher taught him to identify and collect these specimens—to separate isometric minerals like garnet and pyrite from tetragonals like zircons and andalusite. Unlike rocks, he’d learned, which have no specific chemical composition, minerals have an ordered atomic structure. Johan was fascinated by their sharp edges and smooth surfaces, the way their many facets refracted light. His favorite, anthracite, was not actually a mineral but a sedimentary rock, a hard, compact form of coal. He loved the metallic, inky sheen of its planes, the fact that it was derived from decomposed plant and animal life from millions of years ago. He loved that it was almost pure carbon, which meant that it burned hard and bright. Even as an adult, anthracite was what he reached for when he felt anxious or seasick or lonely. Its angles and planes fit perfectly in the palm of his hand.
As months turned into years, Johan’s past began to recede. He sent money home and flirted with Birgid when he was back, but she didn’t want a husband at sea, did she? Gone half the year, no idea when he’d return. Birgid had never been anywhere and had no desire to travel. She wanted a simple life with a dependable husband who would stoke the fire first thing in the morning and cut and haul the wood in the afternoon. Who’d go to church with her on Sundays and chip the ice from the well when it froze.
In truth, the more time Johan spent away from Gallinge, the less he missed it. He didn’t miss tripping over his brothers and sisters, not to mention the cow. He didn’t miss that dingy hovel with its slop jar in the corner and the rank smell of unwashed bodies, boiled cabbages and its aftereffects. The dank confines of a ship’s belly might not have been much of an improvement, but at least you could rise from its depths onto a wide deck and gaze up at a vast sky sprinkled with stars and the yolk of a moon.
What he did miss was the countryside surrounding Gallinge, jade fir trees and lush dark dirt, lingonberries red against the snow. His sister’s fried potato cake called raggamunk, the feral smell of pumpernickel with cured salmon and soured cream. His sense memories of Birgid, preserved and sweetened like flies in honey. And though he adapted to the rhythms of life on the ocean, though he joked with his mates and came to know every inch of the ship, he never quite grew to love it. (That pervasive queasiness, for one thing, even in anticipation: waking in a sweat the night before an expedition with a mouth full of saliva and a roiling gut.)
A fellow seaman, Karl, joked that Johan was amphibian: longing for land, yet pulled toward water. He did not know whether to tuck his legs under him or retire his gills. Yes, Johan had to admit, it was true. He took to looking for signs to point him in the right direction: a clear path out of the thicket of his own ambivalence. And like anyone looking for a sign, eventually he found one.
They were bored, so bored, on board. Karl took to reading out loud in the bunks at night—he practically held them hostage. Endured howls of abuse: “Shut up, Karl, will ye? Nobody’s listening.”
“Just a story,” he’d insist. “Only one.”
Karl was the only Englishman on the ship. He told them that his Swedish mother, who worked in London as a domestic, sent him on a train every summer to visit his grandparents in Trosa, near Stockholm, to teach him manners and give herself a rest. On the schooner Karl spoke a funny patois of English and Swedish, mostly, he said, to amuse himself. He was different in other ways, too: loud, quick-witted, a spark of mischief. Bushy brown moustache and dark shiny eyes, coarse dark hair. Always with a book in his hand. He read to them in halting Swedish from The House of the Seven Gables, translating as he went, laughing, “American to English to godforsaken Swedish, this is wrong, all wrong.” The rest of them agreed, throwing soiled underclothes in his direction, a wet boot. But Karl persevered. “I’m going to teach you louts about sin and evil before it’s too late!” he shouted. “Learn from the master.”
What other dungeon is so dark as one’s own heart! What jailer so inexorable as one’s self! … The world owes all its onward impulses to men ill at ease. The happy man inevitably confines himself within its ancient limits …
These words punctured Johan’s soul, as if intended for him alone. Here he was, in a dungeon of his own devising, propelled out of Gallinge by his own dissatisfaction, uncertain of the path ahead. Ill at ease was an understatement.
Karl looked up, right into Johan’s eyes, his finger holding his place in the book. “You like this, don’t you?”
Johan flushed, mortified to be so transparent.
Karl just grinned. “I knew you weren’t like the rest of these hooligans,” he said, and went back to reading.
In late January, after a month at sea, they docked in New York harbor. On the first night Karl persuaded Johan to venture out to a bar.
New York had always frightened Johan a little. It was never quiet, it seemed, nor truly dark. The streets were full of drunken, marauding sailors. Johan didn’t even want to drink—his legs were wobbly, and alcohol only made seasickness worse. Closing his eyes on a street corner, he curled his toes against the cobblestones and could feel the water churning beneath him. He listened to the chatter around him on all sides—cacophonous tongues; wasn’t this what Ma said Gomorrah was like? So many voices, so many languages. He thought of Gallinge, its streets silent at 8 p.m., not a soul outside, most already asleep.
Like many sailors, Johan sought adventure but craved the familiar. On board the schooner this oxymoronic state was easy enough to maintain: the cast of characters small, the walls unchanging; the outside world, in all its bewildering excess, rolling by at a distance. Up close, now, New York was vast and disorienting and cold, and all he wanted was to return to his nest and go to sleep.
But Karl was having none of it. “Sleep is for babies. You’re staying with me.” He reached over with both hands and turned up Johan’s thick wool collar. “Besides, you’ll regret it if you go back. Everybody needs stories to tell.”
They trudged through the slush. Walked for blocks and blocks. The falling snow was God spitting at them, Karl said, taunting them to find a drink. Finally—“There.” He pointed toward a set of glowing windows in the distance, as welcome as a lighthouse beacon. When Karl opened the heavy door they stepped into a saloon filled with sailors.
Johan shrunk back. But Karl nudged him forward, his flat hand guiding him toward the bar. “An ale for my friend here, and one for me,” Karl told the bartender, and Johan nodded. Ale he knew. “Friend” too. They stamped snow off leather boots, shook damp wool caps, waited for the warmth to penetrate as they settled on two stools. Karl, as was his inclination, struck up a conversation with the man next to him.
“John Maloney. Captain. The Silver Spray,” the man grunted, holding out a meaty paw.
Karl shook it. “Karl Butler. And Johan Olauson, not so good with the English. From the godforsaken land of ludefisk and lufsa.”
John Maloney reached over to shake Johan’s hand. It was like grasping a pork loin. “Sweden, eh? Cold over there.” He laughed. “I’m not one to talk. I’m from Maine. You know it?”
Johan shook his head uncertainly.
“Beautiful place. Damn cold, though, this time of year.”
Karl started talking about all the warm places he’d been: the West Indies, Belize, Portugal, and then he and the captain were off and running. Johan understood every fourth or fifth word. Dark-eyed, dark-haired girls in dresses that showed their limbs, brown-sugar sand, brandy and rum and oranges… The words washed over Johan, a warm thrum. The bar was foggy with tobacco smoke and the conversation around him a stew of sound. He looked around for someone, anyone, from the boat he might converse with, but couldn’t see beyond the crush of bodies close to the bar.
Warm now, he shrugged off his coat, lifted the glass to his lips. The ale was cold, a welcome change from the piss-warm brew they kept in barrels onboard. It must have been stored in an ice house. Ice—this word he knew. “Ice,” he mouthed to himself.
“What’s that?” the captain said, leaning in.
Johan waved a horizontal hand at the two of them—don’t mind me, keep talking, I’m fine here.
But Karl leaned forward. “Captain Maloney is looking for crew,” he said in Swedish. “Had to jettison some drunkards. Needs to deliver fuel wood to lime kilns up north.” He chugged his beer and set it down. “Nathaniel Hawthorne lived in Maine, did you know that?”
“I’m going to Thomaston,” Maloney said.
“Thomaston.” Karl rolled his eyes. “Vart i helvete som är. Ändå är han erbjuder en vacker slant.” Wherever the hell that is. Still, he’s offering a pretty penny.
For a moment Johan wasn’t sure what Karl was saying. And then he got it. The realization propelled him upright on his stool. Karl switched boats like an acrobat switches ropes, but Johan had always been on the same crew. To abandon his schooner, his bunk and mates, the ease of camaraderie and routine—not to mention a common language—was almost unthinkable.
“Kom igen, varför inte?,” Karl said. Come on, why not? He lifted his arms wide. “Vad har vi att förlora?” What do we have to lose?
Usually people with Karl’s assemblage of traits—confidence and gregariousness, easy familiarity with strangers, a shrewd gaze and quick smile—made Johan feel invisible, but Karl had the opposite effect on him: he made him feel seen.
Weaving down the dark street with Karl’s arm around his shoulder a few hours later, after the bar closed, Johan felt the dizzying stirring of change. Yes, he was going to do it. He was twenty seven, after all, and unencumbered, accountable to no one. Though the idea terrified him, he knew that this might be his only chance to resist the pull of the familiar. And Karl would be there. Really, what did he have to lose?
The snow falling around them was softer now, a downy blanket, and Johan leaned into his friend for warmth and stability. He was so tired he could lie down right there on the sidewalk and go to sleep. Karl swayed against him, tipping both of them a little, his arm tightening around his shoulder. Johan laughed—“Enkelt, fella”—easy—and all of a sudden felt himself pushed around a corner, shoved against a building. It was so dark he couldn’t see a thing. He felt Karl’s breath on his neck, the bristle of his moustache, Karl’s rough hand pulling up his shirt, cold against his abdomen, resting on his belt.
“Du vill ha det också,” Karl whispered. You want it too. He pressed against his body, the full twinned length.
Johan—woozy, drunk, confused—froze. What was happening? Karl’s mouth found his, open, warm lips and searching tongue, and Johan’s mind reeled. He surged forward, not sure whether to push Karl off or succumb to the embrace. In a short minute the hot blood in his head would melt any last shred of…
And then, with a sudden surge of clarity, he knew. As clearly as he had seen the choice between safety and adventure, he saw that he didn’t have the stomach for this. He wasn’t sure what he felt, but he knew that the rickety persona he was attempting to construct would collapse altogether under the weight of… of what? Of fear and shame and taboo. He put his hand over Karl’s. “Nej.”
Karl’s hand on his stomach trembled. His shoulders tensed. Then his hand moved again. “Johan–”
“Nej, nej, säger jag.” No, no, I say.
Karl stood back. Wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Du säkert?” You sure?
Johan nodded. His eyes had grown accustomed to the dark; fat white flakes fell so slowly it was as if time were suspended. With both hands Karl yanked his collar up so it stood in two points around his face. Johan could feel his eyes on his, studying him, dark and shiny as coal. As anthracite. He looked at the ground, at the trail of their intermingled footsteps in the foamy snow. As Karl stepped away, Johan watched his boots pivot and disappear.
Johan leaned back against the wall and shut his eyes, feeling the warmth of his own exhalation on his face. When he got back to the schooner, Karl’s bunk was cleared out. There was no note. On Johan’s bed was the dog-eared copy of House of the Seven Gables. The next day Johan found The Silver Spray and signed on. Two days later he was carrying fuel wood and coal to the lime kilns in Thomaston. He would never set eyes on Karl again.
Merciless moon. It grew fuller each night, sloshing light across the ice-slippery deck, shiny as a rink. The sky dribbled snow, too chilly for big flakes. Frigid air found any slice of exposed skin: the back of Johan’s long neck, his bony wrists, a patch of ankle. Had he ever been this cold? If so he couldn’t remember it.
The Silver Spray was fairly small. Only two masts with four-cornered sails. Maloney was a good captain, firm and jovial in just the right amounts, and the two other crewmen were friendly enough. An experienced sailor needs few words; the tasks on board require little language, and Johan got by with pantomime and gesture. He was a quick study. Alone on deck at night, he went through the same checklist he performed on the Swedish schooner. Maloney shadowed him the first few days, observing him closely, and then relaxed. Johan could tell he was pleased.
On the evening of the eighth day, Johan completed the check and they dropped anchor. He crawled into his narrow cot below deck and pulled the wool blankets and furs around him. He’d grown accustomed to the smell of his unwashed body, salt and dirt, perspiration and grime, and now he found it vaguely comforting, like a child inhaling the scent of a beloved threadbare blanket. Drawing his knees to his chest and wrapping his arms around himself, he burrowed in like a hibernating mammal.
Even before he fully rouses to consciousness, before he opens his eyes, Johan is aware of a vast stillness. He waits as his eyes adjust to the gloom, then wills himself awake. In one quick movement he flings the covers back and reaches for his trousers, trying not to think, not to absorb the cold. Pulls a salt-stiffened sweater over his heat, yanks off the wool cap he slept in, runs forked fingers through his lank hair, pushes the cap back on, over his ears.
It’s barely light. The other two crewmen are still asleep. He hoists himself up the stairs like a chimpanzee, arms on the rails. On the deck a sheen of fog makes it feel like he’s walking through a cloud.
Captain Maloney is there already, gazing out at the whiteness. He turns around. “Olauson.”
The captain shakes his head. “Stuck in the ice,” he says. “Stranded.”
Johan struggles to find words. “We are where?”
“Well, that’s the irony. Only six miles from Thomaston.” The captain points into the fog, toward nothing Johan can see. “We’re at Hathorn Point. My home is right over that hill.”
They must abandon ship. There is no option; the ice grew around them in the night. They wait a few days for the ice to thicken before packing their belongings and venturing down a rickety ladder. Take toddler steps toward shore as the new ice bruises under their feet, creating spiderweb fissures. No fog, now; Johan sees evergreens, spiky and sharp, in the distance.
Johan follows the captain and crew up a rocky beach sugared with snow and across a barren field. The other two sailors are from these parts; they’ll be on their way. But he has nowhere to go.
“You’ll stay with me until the thaw,” the Captain says, matter-of-fact. “That old boat ain’t going nowhere. Neither are you.”
“And who is this?” the Captain’s wife says, greeting her husband at the door as if he’d left on an errand an hour before. She’s a ruddy, broad-faced, round-shouldered woman, with a bosom that seems of a piece with her middle. Johan looks back and forth between them. They could be siblings.
“Hullo, Mrs. Maloney,” the Captain says.
“Hullo, Captain,” she says with obvious fondness, a smile spreading down from her eyes to her mouth, which opens to reveal little yellow-corn teeth.
“Swedish lad,” the Captain says. “Olauson. Doesn’t speak much English.”
“How’m I supposed to communicate with him? Smoke signals?”
“Pleasure to meet,” Johan says.
“What’d I tell ya?” the Captain nods at his wife.
She rolls her eyes. “All right, come in the house before you catch your death.”
And like that, he’s in. Mrs. Maloney leads him up the stairs and opens the first door on the right. “You can stay here,” she says. It’s a small room, with only a narrow bed and a mirrored dresser, but it’s kingly to Johan, who has never slept in a room on his own in his life. When she leaves, shutting the door behind her—saying she’ll boil water for his bath in a tub downstairs, have a rest now, it’ll be awhile—he goes to the window and lifts the lace curtain. A white house on a distant hill is the only other building in sight. Three full stories with a commanding view of the cove. Who lives in such a dwelling?
Dropping the curtain, Johan turns to inspect the room and catches his own reflection in the large oval mirror above the oak dresser. It’s been years since he’s seen himself clearly; washrooms on the schooners provided only a convex disk of tin for shaving. He is a good-looking man, or so his mama said—and his sisters, when they were trying to heave him out of the house on a Friday night. He thinks he resembles a horse: large, pale-lashed eyes, a sloping, prominent nose ending in flared nostrils, a mane of coarse, honeyed hair. His body, too, is equine—muscle quivering under skin stretched thin, veins visible on his calves.
Sitting on the bed, he bounces a little, marveling at the coils in the mattress and the vivid colors, blue and pink and green, of the patchwork quilt pulled tight around the frame. He digs his fingers into the soft blue wool of the knitted blanket folded at the bottom. Then he stretches out, the full length of him, careful in his grimy clothes not to move around too much, lest he leave a stain. He leans his head back on the soft lumpy bulk of a down pillow and closes his eyes. The happy man inevitably confines himself…
What is happiness, then? Is this it? He doesn’t know, but is glad enough to have a chance to find out.
With no vessel to attend, Johan finds, the days and nights are long.
Mrs. Maloney, bless her, is impatient. It’s not easy having a rough-mannered, awkward, monosyllabic Scandinavian underfoot. “Cup!” she cries, holding it out as if to an idiot or a beggar. “Candle!” Wax dripping on her thumb. “Window!” Rapping hard on the glass. Johan stands around, equally frustrated, long arms hanging at his sides. Her pantomimes become increasingly exaggerated. “Outside, you big lug, fire-wood,” she’ll say, miming a sawing action, “See?”
Mrs. Maloney keeps a snug, cozy home, with braided rugs on the kitchen floor and mahogany chairs in the parlor. She is constantly in motion, cleaning, cooking, mending. Johan does what he can to help out, repairing three cane chairs that have lost their straw webbing, patching a crumbling wall, rising in the dark after a snowfall to clear a path to the barn, mucking out the two old horses. He fixes an old black buggy’s busted wheel, then clips a horse to it and drives into Cushing, a mile and a half away, to pick up flour and sugar and lard and whatever else the lady of the household requires.
(“More yarn!” Holding up a flap of maroon knitting suspended between two needles.)
At the general store the boy behind the counter shakes his head at Johan’s pathetic attempts to communicate. “You could learn English,” he says, ringing up the items.
Johan nods, the tips of his ears pinkening. “I am try.”
The boy hands him some change. “I mean really learn. With a teacher. Teacher—you know? My brother is a sailor, like you. Married an Italian gal a few years ago and brought her over here. She learned in a winter with the kids at the Wing School here in town.”
Johan only catches a few words, but it’s enough to get the point. “Where–”
The boy leads him to the door, points down the street. “There.” He pulls out a pocket watch. “Almost noon. Lunch time. The teacher won’t mind you stopping by.”
The teacher, Mrs. Crowley, wiry and bespectacled, is in her early 50s and has seen stranger things than this. “All right,” she sighs, “as long as you do the work.” Johan begins with a primer for five-year-olds, but within weeks he progresses enough to read simple sentences and moves up to the seven and eights. It’s a little peculiar having a grown man in the classroom, but Johan proves useful, chopping firewood and chipping ice from the walkway. Mrs. Crowley, a recent widow, seems to warm to the idea of having another adult around, especially one who hangs on her every word.
This desolate corner of Maine feels both strange and strangely familiar. So much reminds Johan of Sweden: Dalmatian-skinned birches, pipe-cleaner trees, dense clouds in a pebble-colored sky, snow and more snow. More than a few of the people he meets possess a laconic Swedish diffidence. But the saltbox houses are nothing like the thatched-roof huts in Gallinge, and the food is bland. He misses the sour tang of horseradish and pickled herring.
Soon enough the odd becomes routine. He is learning English. Finding his way. He walks the mile and a half to Cushing every weekday in all kinds of weather, sleet and fog and snowstorms that swallow the ruts in the road, almost obliterating the path, which has become so familiar he could trace it in his sleep. At the Captain’s house Mrs. Maloney packs Johan a lunch every morning, sets a plate of warm gingerbread or molasses cookies for him on the counter in the afternoon. As the language of this place takes root in Johan’s head, his shyness diminishes. People stop to talk to him on the street; the Maloneys include him in conversation. Supper at home is lively, even jovial sometimes.
Johan discovers a hole in the knitted blanket on his bed and buys a skein of blue yarn to patch it, and before long he is spending evenings after supper with the Maloneys in the living room, surrounded by baskets of yarn. Three wingback chairs pulled close around the hearth, a plate of currant bread and tumblers of whiskey on the rough bench that serves as a table, two cats purring on the rag rug—both black, Mrs. Maloney says, because a black cat in the home of a Captain’s wife protects her husband at sea. Johan and Mrs. Maloney knit sweaters and scarves and throw blankets while the Captain carves small intricate ships out of wood, adding each one to a collection on the mantelpiece above the fireplace as he finishes it.
Johan thinks of Sweden only occasionally now, and mostly with unease. To return to Gallinge would almost certainly mean being pulled back into his desperate family. There are so many of them, and their needs are so dire. What would he do for work if he returned? What is he qualified for, beyond life on the seas? The miserable subsistence of peat farming, that’s what.
As the days turn into weeks and months, Johan’s mixed and wavering feelings undergo a sedimental settling, gradually layering on top of each other until they are as solid as stone. He will not spend his life on a schooner, with its attendant boredom and queasiness and fear. He will not return to Sweden. He will find a way to stay here, right here, in this place. He will change his name and become an American citizen. All the serendipitous twists and turns his life has taken have propelled him out of one kind of story and into another—a new narrative filled with possibility. God Bless America!
In the evenings, to the click-click of knitting needles and the scrape of the paring knife, the Captain and his wife regale Johan with village lore about the house on the hill: how three Hathorn men fled north from Salem to outrun an abominable legacy—the disgrace of their connection to John Hathorne, presiding magistrate of the witch trials, and the only justice who never recanted—and bestowed their new name on this spit of land… their connection to a famous writer, Nathaniel Hawthorne; have you heard of him? (Johan nods in surprise), who wove family legends into his own stories… the successive generations who lived in the same spot… the retired sea captain, Sam Hathorn, who lives there now with his wife and spinster daughter.
Captain Sam, Mrs. Maloney says, began his life on the sea as a cabin boy. When he married a whip-smart beauty named Tryphena, he took his young bride with him on his trips around the world, transporting ice from Maine to the Philippines, Australia, Panama, the Virgin Islands, and filling the ship for the return trip with brandy, sugar, spices, and rum. Their four children, three boys and a girl, were born at sea, and they traveled the world with him until, at the height of the Civil War, Captain Sam insisted they stay home. Confederate privateers were prowling up and down the East Coast like marauding pirates, and no ship was immune.
But his caution could keep his family safe: his three boys all died young. One succumbed to scarlet fever. His four-year-old namesake, Sammy, drowned in a river one October when the captain was at sea. Fourteen years later, their teenaged son, Alvaro, working as a seaman on a schooner off the coast of Massachusetts, was swept overboard in a storm. News of his death came by telegram, blunt and impersonal. His body was never found. Weeks later Alvaro’s sea chest arrived on Hathorn Point, its top intricately carved by his hand. Tryphena, disconsolate, spent hours tracing the outlines with her fingertips, damsels in hoopskirts with revealing decolletage.
Finely attuned to her mother’s sadness, Katie—the only surviving child—stayed close to home. A shy and somewhat awkward girl, she clung to her parents, and they to her. Years went by. One by one, the few eligible bachelors in Cushing married or moved away. Now Katie is 34 years old and well past the point of meeting a man. But it’s all right; she is resigned to it. She will live in the house and take care of her parents until they are buried in the family plot between the house and the sea.
There is an expression in Cushing, Mrs. Maloney tells Johan: daughtering out. It means that no male heirs have survived to carry on the family name. Katie is the last of the Cushing Hathorns. When she dies, the Hathorn name will die with her.
Like many sailors, Johan is a superstitious man. He believes in portents and omens, refrains from whistling on board a vessel, refuses to cut his hair or trim his nails while at sea. He rubs the heads of Mrs. Maloney’s black cats to ward off danger. The fact that he is stranded in this place, at this time, strikes him as a sign he’d be a fool to ignore. Why did he arrive on this point, within a stone’s throw of a house belonging to relatives of Nathaniel Hawthorne? A house containing a spinster daughter and naming rights to the man who marries her? Frozen in place in Kissing Cove! What greater omen could there be than that?
And so it is that before even striding across the field and knocking on the Hathorns’ front door, before meeting the slim, dark-haired woman six years his senior who lives there with her parents, before setting foot across the threshold, he has devised a plan. He will change his name to John Olson, and he will marry this woman, heir to the estate. He’ll take over the farm, and the big white homestead on the hill will become the Olson House. The Hathorns will daughter out.