William Henry Winslow.

The sea letter : a mystery of Martha's Vineyard online

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cant glances. The hermit looked at the cross with
an expression both trustful and ecstatic, and they
all remained silent awhile. The west wind rustled
the trees upon the mountain side; gray clouds
swept in fanciful forms across the sky; the waves
murmured along the shore, and they stood upon
the barren ledge in the shade of the trees, contem-
plating mysteries, and awed by the supernatural.

''Cuckoo! cuckoo!" came from the forest
behind and startled them from their reverie.

"It is my daughter calling," said the hermit in
answer to their inquiring looks. ''She is a regular
wood nymph and wild as a deer. Her mother is
often with us, though not in the flesh — she died
years ago — and Belita keeps our house. Come in
and see the cabin." He opened a narrow door on
the south side and they entered the log-house,
which had a roof of poles covered by spruce boughs;
a board floor, and one small window in the west
side closed by white muslin. The logs had been
partly hewed and fitted closely together, so that
chinking was not necessary. The bunks were
built across one end. A plain board table, a
bench, a stool, a chair, an oil-stove, some tin-ware
and a few porcelain dishes, completed the furnish-
ings. A gold watch and some clothing hung
against the wall ; a double-barreled gun stood in
one corner, some fragments of coarse food lay up-



1/6 THE SEA LETTER

on a shelf, and a lot of old papers and books were
scattered around the only room in the building.

They sat down, and the hermit got out what he
called his '' Spiritual chart," which represented
the coarse topography of the region and a sketch
of the surface marks upon the ledge. The arrows
pointed about north towards a round depression in
the ledge not far from the foot of the precipice
bearing the figure of the cross. They all went out
and walked over the surface of rock until they
came to a pile of broken stones around a cave,
which extended into the ridge and downward about
ten feet. Its upper walls appeared to have been
formed by nature and were brown and mossy, but
the lower part showed marks of the drill and re-
cent fractures. The fragments of stone around
the entrance had evidently been removed from be-
low by breaking and blasting. Indeed, a box
nearby held sledges, picks, shovels, drills, a quan-
tity of oakum, a funnel, a powder flask, pieces of
fuse, and some sticks of dynamite. The walls were
discolored by smoke and dirt, and the rock was so
dense, it had required great labor to penetrate its
mass. Nothing, except a hope of great reward,
and a firm belief in success, could sustain a man
in the tedious process of tunneling into it.

"Here," said the hermit, swinging his right
arm, "is my field of labor; in the bowels of the
earth, lie treasures beyond estimation. The spirits
say so, and they know all the secrets. By special



THE SEA LETTER 177

dispensation, I have been chosen worthy to recover
this wealth, and I shall again enjoy the luxuries
and social grandeur belonging to me by right of
inheritance."

The yachtsmen listened and looked around
them with curiosity and awe. The hermit's earnest
confidence in his mission, his refined and gentle-
manly manner, his foreign accent, the evidence of
great labor performed, and the union of material-
ism and spiritualism in the undertaking, impressed
them deeply, disarmed their criticism, and awaken-
ed respect for, and partial belief in, the hermit's
claims.

They had come hundreds of miles through faith
in the sea letter; followed its directions closely ;
found the ledge, the cliff, the cross and the cave
exactly as described, and could not but believe, they
would find something valuable in the cell in the
north wall of the cavern. This was a reasonable
conclusion, and, to increase their faith, they had
encountered another person, who had not been in
communication with any of the ship-wrecked crew,
nor with any living person cognizant of the facts,
in possession of a knowledge of the signs and the
location of the buried treasure, which he had de-
rived from occult sources that he called spiritual
and others supernatural.

Greatly astonished at this confirmation of their
evidence and at the success of their exploration
thus far, they saw themselves confronted by ad-



1/8 THE SEA LETTER

verse conditions, which were as unexpected as
novel. The hermit had no legal claim to the land,
nor to the contents of the cave, but he was upon
the spot working and watching, and believed he
had a right of eminent domain confided to him by
the spirits. What man would dare question such
a title 1 How could they, late comers, dispossess
this industrious, vigilant servant of the spirits }
One thing gave them hope: the hermit, though
guided to the cave, had not been instructed as to
the exact position of the treasure, and had spent
his strength in efforts to penetrate deeper into its
bottom. If he could be encouraged to continue in
this direction awhile, and his spiritual aids did not
reveal the little cell in the north wall, they might
hit upon some plan to complete their task.

*' The rock is very hard," remarked Delano,
examining a fragment.

"Yes, I am obliged to sharpen my tools very
often," replied the hermit. " The cement the pir-
ates laid over the chest is harder than the rock it-
self."

"Cement.? Why, these fragments and frac-
tures show you are working in the primitive rock."

The hermit smiled and said, "You may think
so, but their cement was of Egyptian origin, and
had the power of internal crystallization after a lapse
of time. Don't you see the discoloration made by
percolating water, while the mass was contracting
and solidifying?"




The Last of the Pokanoket Indians at Gay Head



THE SEA LETTER 179

" Perhaps — How deep do you expect to blast ? "

*' My instructions are to go about four feet
down and six inches horizontally towards the
north."

Delano was disturbed — the spirits were not
far astray — but asked, *'Why did you commence
in the bottom of the cave?" It was a risky ques-
tion, but he wished to learn just how much the her-
mit and his spiritual guides knew.

'' Because that is where the arrows point, and
the cement showed cracks in the juncture with the
rock."

Delano felt relieved ; the man was controlled
by reason, and was not entirely under spiritual es-
pionage. He would continue the laborious blast-
ing in the bottom of the cave.

"May I ask your name, sir.'*" said Delano,
suddenly turning towards the hermit.

" Certainly ; it is Lucas Ayllon, of St. Augus-
tine, Florida and yours ?"

(" Caesar ! the name in our sea letter," whis-
pered Delano aside to the captain.) "Is Thomas
Delano, of New York ; my friend is Captain George
Oliver, of Capawock." They shook hands all round
and smiled pleasantly.

"We are on a yachting cruise along the coast,
and find this region so beautiful and agreeable, we
have determined not to proceed any farther east,"
remarked Delano carelessly. He thought it better



i8o THE SEA LETTER

to explain their presence in such an out-of-the-way
place.

♦'An exceedingly pleasant pastime," said Mr.
Ayllon, who relaxed his watchful attention of them
and became more at ease. He thought gentlemen
of means and leisure only went yachting, and they
would not break their oaths, nor interfere with his
undertaking.

"We must go now, and should be glad to have
you visit our camp, sir," said Delano graciously.

"We should be pleased to show you the yacht,
sir," added the captain.

Ayllon thanked them and said, "You must
visit me again, gentlemen — You are welcome to
our finest blackberries."

They saluted him as they rowed away, and he
took off his hat and stood on the shore watching
them. The madcap daughter had kept away, bat
they caught a glimpse of her in a tree just beyond
the cabin, where she had been observing all their
movements during the interview.



CHAPTER XIV.



Mr. Ayllon went down to the camp one after-
noon in his boat soon after their visit, remained to
supper, and returned to his cabin at dark. The
gentlemen were agreeably surprised to find him
well educated, witty and philosophical. Every-
thing was serene, except when they discussed
spiritualism; then their guest became excited, il-
logical and intolerant, and made statements widely
at variance with knowledge and experience. He
was a firm believer in spiritism and every kind of
spiritual manifestations, and had an intimate ac-
quaintance with mediums and believers in B — ,
where he had spent considerable time. His guid-
ing spirit was that of a deceased citizen of the
place, and he had only to go into a trance, when he
could commune with spirits, receive knowledge
about the outside world, and influence persons to
assist him in his affairs. His trust never failed;
his faith was sublime; he did not doubt for a mo-
ment the active interest in him of angelic hosts.

The officers rowed over after blackberries



1 82 THE SEA LETTER

and assisted Ayllon with his work, in order to de-
cide how to get into the cave and remove the treas-
ure undiscovered; as they were now convinced it
was securely hidden in the north wall. The blasting
was not done in a systematic manner, and it was
apparent Ayllon was not inured to hard manual
labor. Delano induced him to drill deeper and
explode large charges, and helped erect a winch
upon timbers across the north side of the opening
to hoist out the broken stone. This was protected
by a screen of tree poles, which leaned against
the timbers above, and rested upon the bottom of
the cave outside the place of explosion. It pro-
tected the winch from injury, hid the north wall,
and left an enclosed place behind large enough for
several persons to stand. Delano and the cap-
tain worked several hours a day with Ayllon, taking
advantage of every opportunity to examine the hid-
den wall. They scraped the dirt and vegetation
from its face, and searched by the light of matches
for cracks and cemented stones. They were
obliged to push aside several poles to get in, and
to replace them quickly when Ayllon or his daugh-
ter approached. One only dared enter, the other
remained outside to watch and warn. Once Ayllon
made a detour from the cabin to the shore and
returned unexpectedly by the cave, where the cap-
tain stood back to him, the poles pushed aside, and
Delano behind them with a lighted match. The
captain heard a footfall and gave a low hiss ; De-



THE SEA LETTER 183

lano came out of the opening, lighting a cigar,
pushed back the poles, and said coolly to Ayllon,
*^ Windy day, isn't it?"

*'Yes," replied Ayllon, unsuspiciously; "these
southwesters are severe along the coast."

"And generally blow up a rain," added the
captain.

They discovered Belita, on another occasion,
looking down upon them from the top of the cliff,
but she could not see what they were doing. They
brought a candle, finally, inspected the wall closely,
and inserted the point of a knife in suspicious
places. Gray cement crumbled here and there,
and, at last, Delano found and traced an irregular
line up and across. His heart palpitated, his
arm fell shaking, he presented a pale face at the
door, and said in a whisper, "Captain, I have
found it. See!"

The captain sprang in and quickly verified
the statement. There, indeed, one part of the
wall was artificial, and gave a hollow sound when
struck. Ayllon and his child were behind the
cabin sharpening a drill, and Delano continued his
efforts until he had gone entirely around a roughly
outlined door about tv/o feet square, while the cap-
tain watched him and the cabin. Then he took
the vegetable scrapings and dirt and rubbed them
over the knife marks, replaced the poles, and con-
tinued to drill in the bottom of the cave.



1 84 THE SEA LETTER

Ayllon invited them one evening to a spiritual
seance, and, as they were curious and skeptical,
and wished to please him, they were at the cabin
soon after seven, where they met Belita face to
face for the first time. She was a petite brunette,
with regular features, slender form and childish
manners. Her eyes were constantly in motion;
her hands and feet were always busy ; she could
not sit quietly a minute, and her unrest was a gen-
eral spasmodic action like St. Vitus Dance. Her
speech came quickly, her answers to questions
were jerky, and her boldness and impudence were
surprising. Though she was about seventeen
years old, she had not been to school; her little
education had been acquired through a housekeep-
er and her father. She wore a tattered woolen
dress with high neck and short skirt; her hair
hung loose in a soiled red ribbon, and her feet
were covered by gray stockings and heavy shoes.
After they had been introduced, she sat down and
blurted out, ^' What you come for } "

''To spend the evening with your father,"
replied Delano.

"He doesn't want you," she said quickly.

"Belita, be quiet! I invited the gentlemen,"
said Ayllon.

She pouted and kept muttering, " I don't like
you." This antipathy continued, and they recog-
nized the feeble condition of her intellect, but who



THE SEA LETTER 185

can say she had not an instinctive warning their
presence boded evil to her father?

It was a pleasant, starlight night and they sat
upon a bench out side the cabin and smoked and
talked for an hour, while the girl shifted around
and made- her presence known like a cross little
dog in cold weather. Then they went into the
cabin and sat around the table, " to commune with
the departed," said Ayllon.

Their hands were joined in the usual circle
and Ayllon asked, "Are there any spirits present?"

Many distinct raps responded from the table,
wall and floor, and caused the visitors to move un-
easily in their seats.

"Who comes first?" he demanded, and sever-
al raps followed. "The chief?" Two raps were
heard. "That means no," explained Ayllon, "My
wife?" Two raps. "My father?" Three decid-
ed raps were heard, followed by others all over the
room. "That means yes. It is my father's spirit,"
said the host.

"What do you wish. Father?" The silence
was unbroken save by the quick breathing of the
guests, and a "to whoo! to whoo!" of a distant
owl, which rather intensified than relieved their
suspense.

"We must spell it out," said Ayllon: " a-b-c-
d-e-f-g-h-i-j-k-1-m — , three distinct raps for m, the
first letter. A-b-c-d-e — , three raps for e, the
second letter. A-b-c-d — , three raps for d, the



1 86 THE SEA LETTER

third letter. Med — Do you wish a medium?"
asked Ayllon.

Three raps came quickly, followed by many,
and there was no doubt of the answer. ^'I am
ready." said Ayllon, and his face flushed, his fea-
tures became quiet, and the skin translucent. It
resembled a face modeled in porcelain, but mind
showed like the light of a taper through the mask
of mortality. He stood up erect and rigid, his eyes
were closed, his lips only moved, and he began to
voice his father's thoughts:

"Mortals in burdensome flesh, you seek vain
things and are beset by shadows. Spirits of evil
are abroad and good angels hover around to help
you. You think you wander and work alone upon
the earth, but spirits of the departed are continu-
ally present to guide and protect you. I see a
mortal approaching the Stygian river, who will
soon cross with Charon and join our heavenly host.
It has been decreed by higher power, and we bow
in adoration of Infinity. Yet a little while and
you shall have your heavenly reward.

"Beware! the stranger within your sphere.
Trust not the sauve speaker of platitudes, the pol-
ished manners of society. I see a storm cloud
gathering ; the lightning is lurid beyond ; the thun-
der makes the earth tremble. It bodes good and
evil. I know not its rewards and punishments. It
will seriously affect the family of Ayllon, already



THE SEA LETTER 187

so cruelly oppressed by fate. Youth will triumph;
wealth increase ; age sink to an honored grave.

" The wind sighs in the forest ; the brook bab-
bles over the pebbles ; the waves beat upon the
shore, and the world rolls on among clouds and
fiery nebulas obedient to the King of Heaven."

Ayllon's voice died away to a whisper; his
face twitched convulsively ; his eyes opened with a
vacant stare that fled before the light of con-
sciousness, and the silence was broken only by
heart throbs and labored breathing. The visitors
were deeply impressed by the spirit's communica-
tion, which was full of poesy and prophesy. They
fell into the rapture of believers; seemed to feel
the presence of angels, and to hear a rustling of
wings; wondered who was descending into the
shadow of death ; recognized the warning against
themselves and their mission; thought they could
explain the threatening cloud ; questioned who was
to be rewarded, and were carried away by emotion
into a dreamy contemplation of nature, angels and
Heaven.

*'Are spirits present.?" asked Ay lion again.
A storm of raps sounded all over the cabin and
awoke them from their reverie.

''What do they wish V Tumultuous raps and
trembling movements of the furniture responded.
The girl closed her eyes and became convulsed;
her muscles jerked frightfully and threw her arms



1 88 THE SEA LETTER

and head about ; her face took on an ecstatic look;
the motions ceased, and she began to speak.

" I come sweet BeHta from the Spirit land be-
yond the stars to comfort my dearest ones and
lighten their sorrows. I sit daily with you at table,
and rejoice to see you keep my seat vacant. I bless
your food and watch that you are well supplied.
Spirits attend you during the labors of the day and
slumbers of the night, and the good work in the
cave, which is to glorify the dead and raise up the
living, goes on under spiritual aid and blessing.

" Though my earthly body rests by the rushing
river St. Johns, beneath plumes of pampas grass
and the feathery tufts of long leaved pines, my
spirit braves the rigors of a ruder clime, and com-
munes with my other self, my heart's love, my lord.
I bring heart's ease to you, and to that other bud of
my soul, wandering up and down the earth moth-
erless. Listen to the heavenly music; see the
bright, angelic forms around you; feel the brush
of wings upon your cheek, and the touch of angel
fingers upon your hand. Doubt no longer, way-
farers of earth! Behold! Christ has opened the
door of Heaven. 'Come unto me all ye that labor
and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.'"

The young medium became agitated, yawned,
sighed deeply, opened her eyes, and collapsed into
her chair in a way that showed much exhaustion.
Absolute silence reigned awhile, bright hopes il-



THE SEA LETTER 189

luminated the countenances of the mediums, and
their friends were overcome by many emotions.

"Would you gentlemen like to ask any ques-
tions?" inquired the host.

** Whose spirit talked through your daughter?"
asked the captain.

**It was my wife, who died many years ago,
and is buried at St. John's Bluff, by the river St.
Johns in Florida," answered Ayllon.

*'That is near Fort Caroline, is it not?"

"Yes, onaplantation that lies along the bank,"
said he, with some surprise at the captain's know-
ledge.

"I know the Bluff very well," said the cap-
tain.

"Will the spirits tell me where Gabrielle
Palmer is?" asked Delano in some trepidation,
though he had recovered from his emotional dis-
turbance.

Ayllon took a double slate, put a pencil be-
tween its leaves, closed it and handed it to Delano,
telling him to grasp it firmly with both hands. He
did as directed. In a moment, he heard a light
scratching, as if made by a pencil, during a period
of twenty seconds, then he was told to open and
read. He saw written plainly within, "Gabrielle
Palmer is at Watch Hill."

The captain uttered an exclamation. Delano
was visibly disturbed, but he tried again. "Where
is Laura Conant?" He used the slate as before



IQO THE SEA LETTER

and read, " Laura Conant is at her home in Con-
necticut."

"Here, Captain, you try it," he said blushing.

The captain received the slate from Ayllon,
after he had cleaned it, and asked some spirit of a
relative to communicate with him. The pencil
scratched, the slate was opened, and he read this
message :

"George, you are far away from loved ones
and in danger. Your mother cannot say, if you
will return unharmed. I feel a warning, as I did
when your father went away in the ship Orient,
which was lost with all on board. I will try and
protect you from evil. I wished to communicate with
you before, but others hindered, and you did not
know. I will be with you and yours often, my
dear son. Your good life will have its reward.
Farewell for a little while."

The captain handed Delano the slate, and, be-
fore he had finished reading the message, fell
against the table, dizzy and faint, because he rec-
ognized his mother's spirit through the communi-
cation, which contained information he had forgot-
ten, that he knew no other person present could
know except by occult power.

"It is nothing," he said, as Ayllon gave him
water and he sat up erect again ; but Delano
thought they had seen and heard enough, and
moved away from the table. This broke the circle



THE SEA LETTER 191

and spell, and the spirits ceased their manifesta-
tions and departed with a few feeble raps.

Conversation was resumed, and Belita laid
the table and served cocoa and hardtack. One
place opposite the host was vacant, and he inform-
ed them his wife's spirit occupied the seat and often
manifested herself to them. The captain asserted
he had felt a touch of wings upon his cheek, and
Delano was certain an angel's hand had grasped his
fingers. They went outside. The starry heavens
had a new appearance to them. They groped no
longer in darkness. They recognized a new re-
lation between matter and spirit and began to
realize that, around, above and beyond, there was
another sphere where angels reigned.



CHAPTER XV.



Some nights after their unique experience,
Delano, the captain and crew, manned the boat,
muffled the oars, rowed quickly along the opposite
shore, crossed the sound, and landed silently in a cove,
where the great cliff towered above them and threw
a deep gloom far out from its base. Clouds nearly
covered the sky and but few stars were visible.
Delano ordered the men to keep quiet, remain by
the boat, and be ready to push off quickly. Then
he and the captain, talking in whispers, groped
their way through the dark forest until they arrived
at the great ledge and the cave.

Delano went behind the barrier, lit a candle,
and began to chip away the cement that held the
stones in the door of the small cavern, while the
captain took a position where he could watch
Ayllon's cabin. The former had secreted the
few tools needed during the previous afternoon.
He covered the hammer with pieces of leather to
deaden the sound of the blows, and worked away



THE SEA LETTER 193

on the obstructions until his arms were weary and
perspiration ran down his face. Then he went out
to watch, and the captain reheved him, and con-
tinued to remove cement and pieces of stone until
he was tired, when they changed places again.
Thus they labored until the thin wall was entirely
removed, and they had uncovered a piece of board.
This was pried out, and there, like an o.^^ in a nest,
they saw a small, square box, bound with sheet
iron, and having rope handles, knotted and leather-
ed sailor fashion. They looked at the chest and at
each other. Both were pale, their hearts beat furi-
ously, and the candle light threw a sickly glare
around. They tried to whisper, but their dry
throats only uttered hoarse croaks.

Everything was quiet at the cabin ; the wind
sighing in the pines, and the hoot of a distant owl
broke the solemn silence of the night. They re-
moved the chest and set it upon the ledge outside
the cave ; filled the opening loosely with stone ; ex-
tinguished the candle ; put the poles back in posi-
tion, and clambered out of the cave. Then each
one took a handle of the chest and carried it quick-
ly back to the base of the cliff. Just then a shot
was fired from the cabin, and Belita in white and
Ayllon in dressing-gown, rushed across the ledge
to the cave, tarried a moment in observation, and
ran down to the usual landing by the spring.

But the boat was hidden far up the shore.
The bushes and trees around the base of the cliff



194 THE SEA LETTER

shielded the marauders, but permitted them to see
the forms of father and daughter against the sky,
as they crossed the barren ledge. Where were
their spirit guides when they needed them so much?


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Online LibraryWilliam Henry WinslowThe sea letter : a mystery of Martha's Vineyard → online text (page 10 of 18)