||I was never one to begrudge people their memories. From a child I would listen when they spoke of the past. Mother often remarked upon it as strange in one so young. But I think I must have guessed, even then, at what is now clear to me, though I have not skill enough with words to make it plain. For I know that nothing can be so sweet as remembered joy, and nothing so bitter as despair that no longer has the power to hurt us. And to me the past seems like nothing so much as one of those shells that used to be on every mantelpiece of sea-faring families years ago along the coast of Maine.
There were two such shells in the parlor of Fortune's Folly. Rissa and Nat and I were never tired of pressing one or the other to our ears to hear how a dwindled thunder of sea still beat in each fluted pink hollow. So I say again, that is how the past seems to me--a hollow shell out of the mighty sea of Time, which each one of us may press to the ear to drown out the louder clamor of the present. Perhaps it is too childish and fanciful a notion for people to believe in, in these times. Perhaps it only comes of my being so much alone with memories that make both sweet and bitter company.
Except for the Fortune family I should have had another story to set down. Like as not I should not be putting it to paper at all, but telling it to children, and maybe grandchildren, about my own fire. For no one living, I think, but must sometimes wonder at the working out of his life, or who does not say:--"If my mother had not come knocking at such and such a door--If my father had taken the right hand road instead of the left--If the tin peddler had waited another hour to come by--If I had not worn the sprigged muslin and sash to the strawberry festival, what another sort of creature might I find myself today?" I doubt if any are too stupid or too clever as not to have wasted a thought or so in such useless pastimes. Of late years the habit has grown on me and I often go back over the events, trivial enough in themselves, that brought me here to Little Prospect and bound me from a child to the Fortunes and their proud and difficult ways.