John R. Musick.

The Real America in Romance, Volume 6; a Century Too Soon (A Story online

. (page 12 of 20)
Online LibraryJohn R. MusickThe Real America in Romance, Volume 6; a Century Too Soon (A Story → online text (page 12 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


to blame for this."

"No, no, blame not yourself. I it was who insisted on going."

She rapidly grew worse, and John Stevens saw that she must die.
Occasionally she fell asleep, and then he thought how beautiful she was.
Once she murmured his name and sweetly smiled. She awoke and was very
weak. Raising her eyes, she saw him at her side, and with that same
happy smile on her face, she said:

"Oh, I had such a delightful dream. It may be wicked; but it was
delightful. I dreamed that I was she."

"Who?"

"Your wife - "

"Blanche!"

"Kiss me, brother - I am going - rapidly going."

He entwined his arms about the being who, for fifteen years, had been
his only companion, and pressed his lips to hers.

"Blanche, Blanche, you must not die; for my sake live."

"No, no; I will soon be gone; then you will be all alone. Don't leave me
until all is over."

"I shall not, Blanche; I shall not," cried Stevens, holding her tightly
clasped in his strong arms.

"It may be wrong - but we have been here so long - meet me in heaven,
brother."

"God grant that I may, poor girl."

"Pray with me."

He knelt at her side, and the lips of both moved in prayer. When he
rose, she laid her little hand, all purple with fever, in his and said:

"Brother - when I am gone, bury me in that beautiful valley near the
spring, where the wild flowers grow close by the white stone. On the
stone write: 'Here lies my beloved sister, Blanche Holmes.'"

An hour later John Stevens knelt beside a corpse. The gentle spirit had
flown.

Midnight - and the castaway, despairing, half-crazed with grief, still
knelt by the dead body, tearing his hair, and groaning:

"Alone - left alone!"


CHAPTER XIV.

THE TREASURE SHIP.

"O gentle wind ('tis thus she sings)
That blowest to the west,
Oh, couldst thou waft me on thy wings
To the land that I love best,
How swiftly o'er the-ocean's foam,
Like a sea-bird I would sail."
- PRINGLE.

When the heart is full, there seems some relief in pouring out the story
of woe into a sympathetic ear; but when one is alone, with no human
being to listen or sympathize, grief is a hundredfold greater.

Day dawned and found John Stevens still kneeling by the side of the cold
form of the only being who had shared his unhappy lot. How seldom we
realize the worth of companions or friends until they are forever gone,
and then, as if to mock our grief, each kind act, each little delicate
attention seems to start out as if emblazoned on stone before us. At
last the broken-hearted castaway rose and with folded arms gazed on the
dead face, still beautiful and holy even in death.

"Blanche, Blanche, must I give you up, you who have so long cheered my
lonely life? Must I never listen to the sweet music of your
voice again?"

John roused himself at last from the feeling of despair and, taking the
best boards left from the wreck, constructed a neat coffin. He dug the
grave at the white stone as she had directed and laid her to rest. No
one but God listened to him as he read the solemn and impressive burial
service, according to the established church. No one but God saw those
tears flow in silence as he gazed for the last time on her face. Then,
fastening down the lid, he covered the coffin over with boards and began
slowly and mournfully shovelling the earth upon it. He heaped up the
earth and placed the soft green, sod over the mound. Then he cut the
inscription on the stone as she had requested at the head of the
grave, adding:

"Sweet sister, rest in peace, until Christ comes to claim his own, when
there will be a crown given you which outshines the sun." To go about
his daily routine of life, to feel that heavy aching load on his heart
crushing and consuming him, made his existence almost unbearable.

He lost all interest in the little field, the tame goats and birds, and
for two or three days even neglected to take food himself. An appalling
silence had fallen upon the island. He seemed to still hear her voice
in the house and about it, and when he closed his eyes in sleep, after
being utterly exhausted, he saw her sweet face bending over him and felt
the sunshine of her smile on him. It was so hard to realize that she was
gone, and he could scarcely believe that he would not find her down on
the beach gathering shells, as he had so often seen her.

Frequently when alone in the cabin he would start, half expecting to see
her enter with her cheering smile; but she was gone forever; her sweet
smiles and cheering voice would no more be heard on earth.

It required long months before he could settle down to that life of
loneliness. Hitherto he had not lived the life of a Crusoe or Selkirk;
but now he was destined to know what real solitude was. John Stevens at
last began to take some interest in his domestic affairs. He sadly
missed the thousand little attentions which feminine instincts suggested
for his comfort; but anon he became accustomed to being alone. He grew
morose and melancholy, even wicked, for at times he blamed Providence,
first for casting him away on this lonely island, and lastly for taking
from him the companion he had failed to appreciate, until he felt her
loss; but soon he turned to God and prayed for light.

He read the Bible and from this living fountain of consolation drank
deep draughts of that which, to his starving soul, was the elixir of
life. Strange as it may seem, in the first ebullition of his grief, John
Stevens seemed to forget his wife and children. So long had he been from
them, that they had lost their place in his thoughts. Time, the great
healer of all wounds, the great reconciler to all fates, the great
arbitrator of all disputes, had almost lost to him those tenderest ties
which had lacerated his poor heart.

To the fatalist, John Stevens would seem to be one of those unfortunate
beings doomed to be made the sport of a capricious fortune. His domestic
relations in Virginia were a strange intermixture of good and bad. His
business had been decidedly prosperous, he had married into a
respectable family, and his wife was popular. His children were
beautiful and healthy; but his wife was extravagant and foolish and had
swept away his fortune faster than he could accumulate it. Then his
voyage and shipwreck seemed the hand of fate. His father had been a
sailor by profession and had never been shipwrecked, while he, on his
first voyage, was cast away upon an unknown island. Fate gave him at
first a companion and, just as he began to appreciate her, snatched
her away.

At last he became reconciled even to live and die alone on that
island - to die without a friend to close his eyes, or to soothe his
pillow. Horrible as the fate might seem, he was reconciled. No human
hand would give him Christian burial, and the vultures which soared
about the island might pluck out his eyes even before life was extinct.
With this dread on his mind, he shot the vultures whenever he saw them,
and almost drove them from the island.

Three years had lapsed since poor Blanche had been laid in her grave,
and John was morose, silent and moody, but reconciled. It was eighteen
years since he had been cast away, and he had about abandoned all
thought of again seeing any other land save this.

Among other things saved from the wreck was a quantity of tobacco seed,
and, as tobacco was then thought to be an indispensable article, he
planted some and grew his own. He fashioned pipes from the roots of
trees, as the Indians did, and his pipe became his greatest solace
in solitude.

One night, a little more than three years after he had been left alone,
he was lying on his well-worn mattress, smoking his evening pipe, when
there came on the air far out to sea a heavy "Boom!"

The trumpet of doom would not have astonished him more. At first he
could scarcely believe his ears. Starting up, he sat on the side of his
bed listening.

"Boom!"

A second report, more heavy than the first, shook the air.

"God in heaven! can it be cannon?" cried Stevens. He leaped to his feet,
pulled on his rude shoes and seized his musket.

"Boom! Boom! Boom!"

Three more shots from the sea rang on the air, and there could now be no
doubt that a ship was near the island. The hope which suddenly started
up in his heart almost overcame him, and he clung to the door
for support.

Only for an instant did he linger thus, then he rushed to the headland
from whence his tattered flag had floated all these years. The moon was
shining brightly from a cloudless sky, and his vision swept the ocean
far beyond the dangerous reefs which formed a natural guard about the
island. There he saw a sight calculated to startle him. A large Spanish
galleon was coming directly toward the island, pursued by a vessel which
from the first he surmised to be a pirate. Even as he looked, he saw the
flash of a gun and imagined he could hear the crash of the iron ball
striking into the side of the fugitive ship. He heard the cry of dread
from the poor wretches on board, as the pirate drew nearer. On the
still evening air came wild shouts of the buccaneers as they fired shot
after shot at the prize.

John Stevens was greatly excited. Here was an opportunity to escape or
be slain, either preferable to living on this terrible island alone.

The Spanish galleon was being driven directly through the only gap in
the reefs to the island. Like a bird chased by a vulture she sought any
shelter. She returned the fire as well as she could; but was no match
for the well-equipped and daring pirate.

John's whole sympathies were with the unfortunate Spaniards. Their
vessel evidently drew considerable water, for entering the gap in the
reef, the tide being low, it stranded. The pirate, being much lighter
draft, came nearer and poured in her volleys thick and fast. They were
so near to the headland that John Stevens, a spellbound spectator, heard
the iron balls and shot tearing into her timbers. With his glass he
could even see her deck strewn with dead and dying.

The foremast of the galleon was cut through and fell, and the ship's
rudder was shot away. The Spaniards, evidently bewildered, lowered
boats, abandoned the galleon and pulled toward a rocky promontory two
miles to the south.

Their enemies saw them and, manning boats, headed them off, killing or
capturing every one. The captured men were taken aboard the
victorious ship.

While these startling scenes were being enacted, a great change had come
over the sky. The tide began to rise and floated the galleon clear of
the sand, and it drifted into the little bay not a mile from John's
house. The sky was obscured with clouds and one of those tropical
hurricanes called squalls swept over the island and sea. It struck the
pirate broadside, and John Stevens last saw the vessel amid a mountain
of waves and spray struggling to right itself. It probably went down, as
he never saw or heard of it more.

For hours the amazed castaway stood in the pelting rain and howling
wind, with the roaring sea below him. Was it all a dream, or was this
only another freak of capricious fate, which doomed him to eternal
misery. The storm roared and the hungry sea swallowed up the pirate.

Why could not one have been spared? Even a pirate would have made a
companion; but fate had roused his hopes only to dash them to the
earth again.

It was pitch dark save when a flash of lightning illuminated the
heavens. John Stevens turned slowly about to retrace his steps homeward,
half believing it was some terrible dream which had brought him from his
bed into the pelting storm, when by the aid of a flash of lightning he
saw the Spanish galleon, which had been again stranded within a hundred
yards of the beach. The single flash of lightning revealed only her deck
and rigging; not a soul was to be seen on board the ship; but the sight
of the vessel roused the castaway. In eighteen years this had been the
only sign of civilization which had greeted his vision, and he was
nearly frantic with delight.

Some one might be on board. Some skulkers from the cannon-balls of the
pirates might have sought safety in the hold of the galleon, and he
would find them. His heart was full to overflowing. He even began to
hope that the ship could be gotten off the bar, and could make a voyage
to some land of civilization. Though the ship was between the dangerous
reefs and the sea, partially protected by a small land-locked bay, yet
the surf was so high that it was madness to think of reaching the vessel
that night. He built a fire on shore and all night long heaped on wood
in the hope of attracting attention of those on board.

Morning dawned, and he saw the galleon with her head high in the air and
her stern low in the sand and water. The tide had gone out, and not more
than one hundred yards of water lay between him and the ship. John
stripped off his clothes and swam to the wreck.

After no little difficulty he climbed up the mizzen chains.

A silence of death reigned over the ship, and when he had gained the
deck a terrible sight met his view. Five men and one boy, the victims of
the pirate's guns, lay dead on the deck, which was badly splintered with
balls and shot.

The ship was wonderfully well preserved, the chief damage it received
being from the cannon of the enemy.

John called again and again but no voice responded. The grim silence of
death was about the ship. He found a boat in fair condition, lowered it
and, putting the dead Spaniards into it, pulled ashore, where he gave
the dead a decent burial on the sands, too high up for the tide to
reach them.

Having accomplished this sad rite, he cried from the fulness of his
soul:

"Oh, that there had been but one, only one saved, with whom I might
converse!"

John Stevens, however, was a practical sort of a fellow, and, instead of
repining over his sad fate, he determined to bring away everything
valuable on board. Consequently he launched the boat, pulled to the
wreck and went aboard. Had he been able to get the ship afloat, a
carpenter might have repaired it so that a voyage could have been made;
but the strength and skill of a hundred men could not have moved it from
the sands in which it was so deeply imbedded. The vessel had been
steered through the reefs and almost into the bay when deserted. John
loaded his boat with muskets, several chests and casks, which contained
food and wine. There was also a powder-horn, some kegs of powder, a fire
shovel, tongs, two brass kettles, a copper pot for chocolate, and a
gridiron. These and some loose clothes belonging to the sailors formed
the first cargo taken ashore.

Next he brought off several barrels of flour, a cask of liquor and some
tools, axes, spades, shovels and saws. Every implement that might be
useful to him was taken ashore and stowed away. Then he began to search
the lower part.

He had been for a week working on the wreck carrying off every
conceivable object which might be of any possible use. He found the
ship's books; but, owing to his ignorance of Spanish, he was unable to
read them.

The name on the stern of the vessel was St. Jago, therefore he reasoned
that it must be a West Indian vessel. How the idea entered his mind,
Stevens never knew. It came suddenly, as an inspiration, that the
galleon must be a Spanish treasure ship. One day, while in the captain's
cabin, he found a narrow door opening from it. It was securely locked,
and though he searched everywhere for keys and found many, none would
fit the lock. At last he seized an iron crowbar, with which he forced
the door off its hinges. Before him was a curious sort of compartment
like a vault, the inside of which was lined with sheet iron. There lay
before him several large, long boxes made of strong wood. He wondered
what they contained. He cleared away every obstacle to the nearest box,
and saw a lock and padlock and a handle at each end, all carved as
things were carved in that age, when art rendered the commonest metals
precious. John seized the handles and strove to lift the box; but it was
impossible.

"What can it contain, that is so heavy?" he thought. He sought to open
it; but lock and padlock were closed, and these faithful guardians
seemed unwilling to surrender their trust. Stevens inserted the sharp
end of the crowbar between the box and the lid and, bearing down with
all his strength, burst open the fastenings. Hinges and lock yielded in
their turn, holding in their grasp fragments of the boards, and with a
crash he threw off the lid, and all was open.

John Stevens found a tanned fawn-skin spread as a covering over the
contents and he tore it off. He started up with a yell and closed his
eyes involuntarily. Then he opened them and stood motionless with
amazement.

Three compartments divided the coffer. In the first blazed piles of
golden coin. In the second bars of unpolished gold were ranged. In the
third lay countless fortunes of diamonds, pearls and rubies, into which
he dived his hands as eagerly as a starving man would plunge into food.

After having touched, felt and examined these treasures, John Stevens
rushed through the ship like a madman. He leaped upon the deck, from
whence he could behold the sea. He was alone. Alone with this
countless - this unheard-of wealth. Was he awake, or was it but a dream?
Before him lay the treasures torn from Mexico, Darien and Peru. They
were his - he was alone.

Alas, he was alone! What use would those millions be to him on this
island? The reaction came, and, falling on his knees, he cried:

"O God, why is such a fate mine?"

Hours afterward he recovered enough to remove the gold and jewels from
the treasure ship to his home on the island. With more jewels than a
king, he lived the lonely life of a hermit and a pauper, dreading to
die, lest the vultures pluck out his eyes.


CHAPTER XV.

THE ANGEL OF DELIVERANCE.

Strange that when nature loved to trace
As if for God a dwelling place,
And every charm of grace hath mixed
Within the paradise she fixed,
There man, enamoured of distress,
Should mar it into wilderness.
- BYRON.

On the restoration of monarchy in England, in 1660, the Connecticut
colonists entertained serious fears regarding the future. Their sturdy
republicanism and independent action in the past might be mortally
offensive to the new monarch. The general assembly of Connecticut,
therefore, resolved to make a formal acknowledgment of their alliance to
the crown and ask the king for a charter. A petition was accordingly
framed and signed in May, 1661, and Governor John Winthrop bore it to
England. He was a son of Winthrop of Massachusetts, and was a man of
rare attainments and courtly manners. He was then about forty-five
years of age.

Winthrop was but coolly received at first, for he and his people were
regarded as enemies of the crown. But he persevered, and the
good-natured monarch at last chatted freely with him about America, its
soil, productions, the Indians and the settlers, yet he hesitated to
promise a charter. Winthrop, it is said, finally drew from his pocket a
gold ring of great value, which the king's father had given to the
governor's grandfather, and presented it to his majesty with a request
that he would accept it as a memorial of the unfortunate monarch and a
token of Winthrop's esteem for and loyalty to King Charles, before whom
he stood as a faithful and loving subject. The king's heart was touched.
Turning to Lord Clarendon, who was present, the monarch asked:

"Do you advise me to grant a charter to this good gentleman and his
people?"

"I do, sire," Clarendon answered.

"It shall be done," said Charles, and he dismissed Winthrop with a royal
blessing.

The charter was issued on the first of May, 1662. It confirmed the
popular constitution of the colony, and contained more liberal
provisions than any yet issued by royal hands. It defined the boundaries
so as to include New Haven colony and a part of Rhode Island on the
east, and westward to the Pacific Ocean. In 1665, the New Haven colony
reluctantly gave its consent to the union; but the boundary between
Connecticut and Rhode Island remained a subject of dispute for more than
sixty years. That old charter, written on parchment, is still among the
archives in the Connecticut State Department.

While King Philip's war raged all about them, the colonists of
Connecticut did not suffer much from hostile Indians, save in some
remote settlements high up the river. They furnished their full measure
of men and supplies, and the soldiers bore a conspicuous part in that
contest between the races for supremacy; but while they were freed from
dangers and annoyances of war with the Indians, they were disturbed by
the petty tyranny of Governor Andros, who, as governor of New York,
claimed jurisdiction as far east as the Connecticut River. In 1675, he
went to the mouth of that stream with a small naval force to assert his
authority.

Captain Bull, the commander of a small fort at Saybrook, permitted him
to land; but when he began to read his commission, he ordered him to be
silent. The cowardly Andros was forced to yield to the commander's bold
spirit and, in a towering passion, returned to New York, hurling the
most bitter anathemas against Connecticut and Captain Bull.

It was more than a dozen years after this event before anything
happened to disturb the public repose of Connecticut; but as that event
belongs to another period, we will omit it for the present.

Rhode Island was favored with a charter from Parliament, granted in 1644
to Roger Williams. The charter was very liberal, and in religion and
politics the people were absolutely free. The general assembly, in a
code of laws adopted in 1647, declared that "all men might walk as their
conscience permitted them - every one in the name of his God." Almost
every religious belief might have been encountered there; "so if a man
lost his religious opinions, he might have been sure to find them in
some village in Rhode Island." Society was kept in a continual healthful
agitation, and though the disputes were sometimes stormy, they never
were brutal. There was a remarkable propriety of conduct on all
occasions, and the political agitations brought to the surface the best
men in the colony to administer public affairs.

Two years after the overthrow and execution of Charles I., 1651, the
executive council of state in England granted to William Coddington a
commission for governing the islands within the limits of the Rhode
Island charter. This threatened a dismemberment of the little empire and
its absorption by neighboring colonies. The people were greatly alarmed.
Roger Williams and John Clarke hastened to England, and with the
assistance of Sir Henry Vane, the "sheet anchor of Rhode Island, the
noble and true friend to an outcast and despised people," the commission
was recalled, and the charter given by parliament was confirmed in
October, 1652.

On the restoration of monarchy, 1660, the inhabitants sent to Charles
II. an address, in which they declared their loyalty and begged his
protection. This was followed by a petition for a new charter. The
prayer was granted, and in July, 1663, the king issued a patent highly
democratic in its general features and similar in every respect to the
one granted to Connecticut. Benedict Arnold was chosen the first
governor under the royal charter, and it continued to be the supreme law
of the land for one hundred and eighty years.

Slowly advancing with the other colonies, if she did not even keep
abreast of them, was the colony of New Jersey, from the time it first
became a permanent political organization as a British colony, with a
governor and council. Elizabethtown, which consisted only of a cluster
of half a dozen houses, was made the capital. Agents went to New England
to invite settlers, and a company from New Haven were soon settled on
the banks of the Passaic. Others followed, and when, in 1668, the first
legislative assembly met at Elizabethtown, it was largely made up of
emigrants from New England. Thus we see how early in the history of our
country, the restless tide moved westward. The fertility of the soil of
New Jersey, the salubrity of the climate, the exemption from fear of
hostile Indians, and other manifest advantages caused a rapid increase
in the population and prosperity of the province, and nothing disturbed
the general serenity of society there until in 1670, when specified
quitrents of a half-penny per acre were demanded. The people murmured.


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryJohn R. MusickThe Real America in Romance, Volume 6; a Century Too Soon (A Story → online text (page 12 of 20)