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Oldport Days Thomas Wentworth Higginson

The Haunted Window

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"Is that a Bavarian cloak?" said I, trying to be cool and judicial.

Here broke in the eldest boy, named John, aged ten, a native American, and a sailor already, whom I had twice fished up from a capsized punt. "Mother ain't a Bavarian," quoth the young salt. "Father's a Bavarian; mother's a Portegee. Portegees wear them hoods."

"I am a Portuguese, sir, from Fayal," said the woman, prolonging with sweet intonation the soft name of her birthplace. "This is my capote, she added, taking up with pride the uncouth costume, while the children gathered round, as if its vast folds came rarely into sight.

"It has not been unfolded for a year," she said. As she spoke, she dropped it with a cry, and a little mouse sprang from the skirts, and whisked away into some corner. We found that the little animal had made its abode in the heavy woollen, of which three or four thicknesses had been eaten through, and then matted together into the softest of nests. This contained, moreover, a small family of mouselets, who certainly had not taken part in any midnight masquerade. The secret seemed more remote than ever, for I knew that there was no other Portuguese family in the town, and there was no confounding this peculiar local costume with any other.

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Returning to Severance's chamber, I said nothing of all this. He was, by an odd coincidence, looking over a portfolio of Fayal sketches made by himself during his late voyage. Among them were a dozen studies of just such capotes as I had seen,--some in profile, completely screening the wearer, others disclosing women's faces, old or young. He seemed to wish to put them away, however, when I came in. Really, the plot seemed to thicken; and it was a little provoking to understand it no better, when all the materials seemed close to one's hands.

A day or two later, I was summoned to Boston. Returning thence by the stage-coach, we drove from Tiverton, the whole length of the island, under one of those wild and wonderful skies which give, better than anything in nature, the effect of a field of battle. The heavens were filled with ten thousand separate masses of cloud, varying in shade from palest gray to iron-black, borne rapidly to and fro by upper and lower currents of opposing wind. They seemed to be charging, retreating, breaking, recombining, with puffs of what seemed smoke, and a few wan sunbeams sometimes striking through for fire. Wherever the eye turned, there appeared some flying fragment not seen before; and yet in an hour this noiseless Antietam grew still, and a settled leaden film overspread the sky, yielding only to some level lines of light where the sun went down. Perhaps our driver was looking toward the sky more than to his own affairs, for, just as all this ended a wheel gave out, and we had to stop in Portsmouth for repairs. By the time we were again in motion, the changing wind had brought up a final thunder-storm, which broke upon us ere we reached our homes. It was rather an uncommon thing, so late in the season; for the lightning, like other brilliant visitors, usually appears in Oldport during only a month or two of every year.

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Oldport Days
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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