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From the moment he appears on Rass Island, the Captain causes quite a stir. No one is quite sure who this mysterious stranger that just stepped off the ferry could possibly be. And why has he taken up residence in the old Wallace house? Curiouser and curiouser.
After this old man arrives in town, the people on Rass start circulating his backstory. Here's what we know about him, according to the gossip mill: the Captain was born Hiram Wallace, and he was quite the catch back in the day. He went off to college and came back and started setting girls' hearts on fire left and right. However, things started to go bad for the Captain when he was out on the Bay during a storm:
This, Call's grandmother said, was what Hiram Wallace had done: terrified that the lightning would strike the tall mast of his father's skipjack, he had rushed out from under his sail cover, taken an ax, and chopped the mast to the level of the deck. After the storm passed, they were sighted drifting mastless on the Bay and were towed home by an obliging neighbor. When it became apparent that the mast had been chopped down, rather than felled by lightning, Hiram Wallace became the butt of all the watermen's jokes. Not long after, he left the island for good … (5.25)
Louise might think the Captain is a German spy at first, but she soon finds out that he's Hiram Wallace in the flesh. She also becomes his friend. The Captain might not seem like the obvious choice (he is a 70-plus-year-old man), but Call and Louise spend a whole lot of time with him—after all, Call needs the father figure and Louise needs someone to listen to her.
The Captain is the only person who calls Louise by her full name: Sara Louise. While other people sort of ignore her, the Captain seems pretty in tune with what Louise is feeling and thinking. He's not embarrassed to share big moments with her, like when he finds out his house has been destroyed by the storm and Louise gives him a big, weird hug. He's cool with Louise and Call and their awkwardness. It's nice.
But, this doesn't mean knowing the Captain is all roses. He does like Caroline, too, which doesn't sit well with Louise. (Why does her sister have to ruin everything?) And, the Captain is willing to heed Caroline's advice and marry Auntie Braxton, even though Louise thinks this is a horrible idea. He also sends Caroline to music school on Auntie Braxton's dime. This is a pretty huge blow to Louise. She thought the Captain was different, but it looks like he worships Caroline just like everyone else.
In the end, Louise realizes that the Captain is indeed different than other folks on Rass. He left home in disgrace and then came back to claim what was his. He has the same love for Rass Island that Louise eventually discovers in herself, and he's also the first person to tell Louise she's strong and capable—something we readers know all along:
"You can do anything you want to. I've known that from the first day I met you—at the other end of my periscope."
"What is it you really want to do?"
I was totally blank. What was it I really wanted to do?
"Don't know?" It was almost a taunt. I was fidgeting under his gaze. "Your sister knew what she wanted, so when the chance came, she could take it."
I opened my mouth, but he waved me quiet. "You, Sara Louise. Don't tell me no one ever gave you a chance. You don't need anything given to you. You can make your own chances. But first you have to know what you're after, my dear." His tone was softening.
"When I was younger I wanted to go to boarding school in Crisfield—"
"Too late for that now."
"I—this sounds silly—but I would like to see the mountains."
"That's easy enough. Couple of hundred miles west is all." He waited, expecting more.
"I might—" the ambition began to form along with the sentence. "I want to be a doctor."
"So?" He was leaning forward, staring warmly at me. "So what's to stop you?" (17.74-85)
The Captain's life has been a bit of a mixed bag. He's been shamed, he's had adventures, and he's come home—and perhaps because of this, he knows that he and Louise are masters of their destinies. He took control of his life and came home, and now it's time for Louise to do the same thing.
You go, Captain.