William Henry Winslow.

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

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cold — come and let us sympathize with each other,
Laura." She came and Helen hugged her and
kissed her blushing face.

*' Wilson is too slow," said Vic.

*'His letter will be worth reading when it
comes," replied Helen.

Laura confessed to her afterwards in confi-
dence, that she had received a note from Delano
in which he stated he was homesick to get back to
Capawock ; but supposed it would be too late when
he reached Boston, the summer girls would all be
gone, and he would see her when she visited Ga-
brielle, in New York, during the holidays.

''A whale! a whale! there she blows!"
shouted an excited gentleman on the north piazza
pointing towards Falmouth, and everybody left
their chairs and gathered around him. A stream
of water like a jet from a garden-hose arose about



214 THE SEA LETTER

ten feet and fell in a curve into the sea. This was
repeated several times, as everyone fixed his eyes
upon the spot, v/here the leviathan of the deep was
floundering. A rounded, brown hump rose above
the surface, moved along a few yards, and sank
down out of sight; only to reappear, go through
the same movements again, and shoot the water
skyward. When all the people had seen him well
with marine glasses, he left the sound and contin-
ued the show in the afternoon at Block Island. He
came into the Sound to the westward, and finding
the water warm and shallow, and too contracted
by the shoals of the Middle Ground, Hedge Fence
and L' Homme Dieu, gave his exhibition to the
summer guests and made for the open sea, shaking
his fluke in the air, as a salute to the Gay Head
Light-keeper.

"They come in here occasionally," said the
doctor, who had rushed out of his office at the
alarm; "the landlord says, he arranges the visits
every season in order to keep the guests here
later."

"Just as others do with the sea-serpent," said
the discoverer of the whale.

"I saw a sea-serpent off Cape Neddick," ob-
served a yachtsman in the crowd.

"In your boots?" asked one.

" Through the bottom of a glass ? " questioned
another.

"No! in the ocean — It looked like a great



THE SEA LETTER 215

log, projecting at an angle ten feet above the sur-
face. It changed position so fast, I could not get
a look at it with the glasses."

"It was a sword-fish — I've seen lots of them
off Nantucket. That sloop in the Haven, with the
iron cage upon the bov^^sprit, is a sword-fisher. A
man stands in it and throws a harpoon. They
catch porpoises the same way. Whales were form-
erly harpooned from a boat, but they now shoot a
bomb-lance out of a gun. Steamers have replaced
sailing vessels, and long voyages are an exception.
One Nantucket captain was out three years, and
returned without any oil or whalebone. When
asked what was the use of such a disgraceful and
expensive voyage, he replied, ' I had a mighty good
sail, anyway.'"

The crowd listened and laughed and the ladies
returned to their rocking-chairs and fancy work.
The doctor had more leisure now and tarried with
them. Miss Dale had gone back to her school.

" With a breakwater, this would be another
Newport. It is situated in the right place for a
rendezvous when sailing east or west. Our yacht
station here would then grow into a magnificent
club-house, and we should have a crowd here all
summer," said the yactsman.

"Wouldn't that be glorious!" exclaimed
Flossie.

"Here comes Etheridge on his bike," said
Helen.



2i6 THE SEA LETTER

"Hullo! Skipper, what brings you to the
place where youth and beauty most do congregate ?"
asked the doctor; then he said aside, ''I call him
skipper since we went blue-fishing — ask him about
it."

The skipper was a good fellow, known to all
the party. They had met his charming daughters
at the Haven.

" Exercise and a new project," he replied
laughing, as he greeted the persons around with
great cordiality.

"What's up now?" asked the doctor.

"I'm going to paralyze lobsters by electiic
currents so they cannot nip when handled. Ho,
ho, ho! Ha, ha, ha !"

"The fishermen are, of course, opposed to this
innovation upon old time methods?" questioned
the doctor.

"Of course, but they'll come round — the Old
Salts Club on Main Street are discussing the mat-
ter every night. It's lucky I sprang it. They had
tired of the November storm, summer swells, street
improvements, school regulation, and disposition
of garbage, and my idea cleared the smoke in the
club-room and revived the drooping spirits of the
minority."

"You had a fine time blue-fishing, the doctor
says," observed Gabrielle ; " I long to know all
about it."

"Fine time? I should say we had — it lays



THE SEA LETTER 217

over every trip I ever made. We went off in Ike's
cat, at 3 o'clock, got around Cape Poge before
dawn, drew fresh eel-skins over the jigs, and threw
out our lines as soon as we arrived in the rips.
The boat fairly flew over the sea ; the line trailed
out astern twenty to tweny-five fathoms ; the jigs
pulled and jumped in the waves; we stood holding
tight, believing the uncertain blues could not be
there, and we could not catch them if they were.

'' Suddenly a tug, a straightening of the line,
almost pulls you over the stern ; it cuts and swishes
right and left, slackens for a moment, then becomes
taut as a bow-string. You pull hard and cut your
tender hands ; you draw in steadily and strongly
and the great fish springs above the foam-capped
waves, shakes his head sideways viciously to dis-
lodge the torturing hook, and plunges deeply into
the briny blue again, jerking furiously. Your hands
are sore, your arms stretched, your necktie is awry,
perspiration runs over your face and neck, but you
will conquer or die. Nearer he comes, his eyes
glaring, his mouth open, his body panting, and his
resistance more a dead weight than in the early
struggles. You become too confident and favor your
sore hands ; the fish dashes away with a slack and
tangled line ; he springs above the tide like a flash
of silvery light ; he dives down, down to the dark
bottom ; he rushes hither and thither in zigzags ;
he sulks, and seems to pull a hundred pounds.
You grasp the line firmer though it hurts, draw



21 8 THE SEA LETTER

him steadily nearer, and he dives beneath the
boat, but you turn his course, drag him alongside,
and land him upon the slippery floor.

"Caesar! what a blue gray villian! How his
eyes flash defiance, his jaws snap and show his
teeth, and his tail hammers the plank! Weighs
ten pounds if an ounce — you sink fatigued upon
the seat — victory is yours.

"A moment before you have thought of noth-
ing but fish and sea. The skipper slaps you on
the back and says, *Well done for a landlubber!'
and brings you backto conciousness of other things.
You notice Ike smoking his pipe, holding the tiller
carelessly and watching the sail and rough water,
and wonder at his coolness. The other landlubber
— your doctor — is toiling over his line ; he pulls and
hauls and tangles it awkwardly; he sways and
staggers, as the boat pitches ; he chews his tongue
and watches the swishing, jerking line eagerly,
determined to land that fish or perish. The fish
plays the usual tricks, yields to the steady strain,
then dashes ahead through a white-cap, leaps into
sight, dislodges the cruel hook, flips his tail in de-
rision, and returns to his relations below. A dis-
gusted, demoralized, despairing look clouds your
friend's countenance — he has lost his first case — -
he glances towards the skipper with a deprecatory
expression, and hears him say, 'There are as good
fish in the sea as ever were caught,' with silent
contempt.



THE SEA LETTER 219

"He draws in his line, spits upon the bait,
glances around the boat resignedly, and throws
his hook far astern. A fish takes it, his face
brightens, his arms work nervously, he pulls hard,
and lifts his silver majesty over the rail, dripping,
flapping and rebellious.

"'Bravo!' I cry, 'that matches mine to an
ounce — two families will be well fed to-morrow.'
I unhook my prize, coil the line and cast astern
again, taking a position of expectant attention.
Ike rushes the boat into rougher water and a school
of fish; the boat dashes, slaps, sheers and plunges,
throwing spray all over us ; the fish grab the bait
fiercely and we land them quickly ; the lines are
shortened to lessen the victim's play; we soon fill
the tub with a pile of sea beauties, weighing from
three to twelve pounds, and reel up our lines, fa-
tigued and satisfied.

"Breakfast, did you say? It is nine o'clock,
and we had been so excited it had been forgotten.
The nibbled hardtack during the sail over had sus-
tained us. Now we haul out the baskets, anchor
in quiet water, start the oil-stove, fry blue-fish
steaks, make delicious coffee, and have a feast more
relished than one at Delmonico's.

"Catching is not all of fishing.
Eating is part of one's life;
Fishing and catching and eating.
Sleeping and marrying a wife.



220 THE SEA LETTER

''We laid around deck smoking, talking and
watching the fleet of cat-boats that went skimming,
darting and jumping over the turbulent rips and
mimic seas like a flock of gulls. The boats were
sailed with consummate skill; the women aboard,
dressed in a variety of costumes, gave color to the
scene, and their quick, graceful movements in
handling the lines and conquering the lusty blues
evoked surprise and admiration. Cries of disap-
pointment, joy and victory, mingled with chaffing,
warnings to keep off, and cordial greeting. Sev-
eral boats anchored near shore to get breakfast, or
to ease the qualms of sensitive stomachs; others
ran farther east and anchored upon rocky bottom to
fish for black bass, tautog, scuppog, weak fish, hake
and cod; but, as the schools of blue-fish rushed
away in search of herring — for they are wild
rovers along the coast — the boats drew together,
slacked off their sheets, made comparison of their
catches, and related the experiences of the morn-
ingwith many a jibe and jest — for all had made
good hauls.

*'Then we sailed in amongst them and told our
fish story, and they would not believe we were high
line with fifty-six fish, one weighing thirteen pounds,
until we had counted them over and weighed the
monster. The breeze was rising with the sun,
Nantucket and Cape Cod deepened the haze on the
horizon, strong puffs of wind blackened the sea in
patches, the sky was half full of gray clouds moving



THE SEA LETTER 221

rapidly, the sails began to shake and belly noisily,
the skippers glanced to the southwest anxiously,
and all of them, acting as if by common impulse,
hauled in the sheets, trimmed the sails and pointed
their boats homeward.

"It was a merry race; we were neither ahead
nor astern, but held fair speed in the middle of
the fleet, and enjoyed the good company and live-
ly pictures of our competitors. Never shall I for-
get the exhilaration and pleasure of that sail upon
the summer sea."

The narration was so interesting and enthus-
iastic that the hearers listened spell-bound.

"It was glorious, and. Etheridge does not
exaggerate," said Dr. Kenelm, after the long con-
tinued applause had ceased.

The band was playing classical rubbish —
noisy and nerve irritating — which the girls did not
fancy, and they strolled down to the wharf, where
several persons were fishing for scup, tautog and
flounder, and catching sea-robbins and sculp ins,
and others were watching them and the pleasure
craft. The harbor vv^as rippling in the breeze, per-
sons afloat were shouting and singing, the oppo-
site shore cast dark shadows, the sunlight streamed
through rifts in the gray clouds, and the buildings
along the Falmouth shore looked startlingly dis-
tinct in the clear, pearly atmosphere.

"We're goin' to hev an east'ly; I kin tell by



222 THE SEA LETTER

the loom on t'other shore," said an old man posi-
tively, who sat upon a cat-boat moored to the
wharf.

"Wall, 'tis 'bout time we had a break-up.
We've hed awful fine weather fur quite a spell,"
answered a gray-haired man, sitting and fishing
upon the edge of the wharf, backed by a basket and
surrounded by broken clam and quahaug shells, and
half a dozen shrivelled scup and sculpins which he
had caught.

" I s'pose we'll get the equinoctial gale before
long," remarked a gentleman near by, as he swung
his rod and cast his hook far out from the wharf.

"Yes; summer folks has had a good spell
o' weather: now we'll hev a nor'easter, an' a cold
one, too; then it'll clair up an' be fine nigh onto
Christmas."

"That's ginerally the sort, butyer can't count
on it alwus," added the boatman.

"Look out! James; don't ride so near the
edge!" exclaimed an anxious mother to her reck-
less boy on his bicycle.

"Don't worry, ma; I could ride along the cap-
ping, if I wanted to," replied the youngster.

"Laura, look out for the carriage!" called
Gabrielle, as a wagon, full of people, drawn by a
spirited bay horse, rushed along and turned round
almost in their midst.

"From Villa Carita, Miss B — driving," said
Flossie in a low voice, as she bowed



THE SEA LETTER 223

"Who are those ladies?" asked Helen of
Gabrielle, who had just returned the salutations of
a trap full of stylish people on the avenue.

''They are from West Chop, where there is
an unusual combination, health and wealth, cour-
tesy and exclusiveness.

"They have chosen a lovely location for their
cloistered retreat."

"Charming. Do you know, the gnarled and
twisted oaks and depressed, flattened cedars there,
remind me of a lot of witches, with dishevelled hair
and flying raiment, fleeing before a gale?"

" Yes, they have an uncanny look and influ-
ence, as if their sighing in the breeze said,

"T'll witch sweet ladies with my words and
looks.' "

"The wind-swept bluffs and scarred cliffs
have always been a favorite spot for visitors, and it
is said, the reverential cedars were once so thick
that children walked upon their tabled tops."

"The views of ship and shore, of curling
breakers and white-capped billows, of the great
blue dome and the gorgeous sunsets, astonish and
delight everyone."

" Here comes Mr. Dewey and Tom and his
dog from Innisfail," added Gabrielle.

Our summer girls exchanged nods with the
riders and acknovv^ledged their cordial greetings
with smiling faces.

"I thought they had gone." said Vic.



224 THE SEA LETTER

"They are not in a hurry. September often
has a hot spell, unbearable in the city after a sum-
mer by the seaside."

"I wish we could stay till October," said
Laura.

"Wouldn't it be glorious.?" added Flossie.
"You cannot play all the time, girls. Re-
member your music and language lessons. After
you are finished and polished it will be time enough
for longer vacations," said Helen.

"Finished and polished, indeed! you must
think we are furniture," said Flossie pouting.

" Auntie and I have begun packing our trunks
already," remarked May.

"Papa says, 'It's cool enough in the city now',
and we are going Monday," added Vic.

"I am sorry to hear it, but I suppose that's
the next bridge we must cross," said Gabrielle.

The girls realized for the first time that the
season was about finished, and it made them sad
and silent — they had been such a happy family.
They looked along the shores and over the blue
sea long and lovingly, turned away sighing and
silent, and went back to the hotel for supper.

A message from the U. S. Weather Bureau
the next morning announced the approach of a
storm, of rain and wind, coming up the coast from
Cape Hatteras; the ominous red repeater and the
red square with black center were flying from the
pole of the Signal Station. Most of the hotel guests



THE SEA LETTER 225

hurriedly packed their trunks and departed upon
the boats for Woods Hole and New Bedford be-
fore evening, and our summer girls joined the
hegira. At the great Southern Station, whence
the iron rails spread like spider legs all over the
country, they parted, with hugs, kisses, tears,
laughter, and vows of eternal friendship, consoled
somewhat by promises of future reunions.

A cold, northeast gale burst upon the island
that evening and kept delicate persons in doors
three days; the shores were lashed by foaming
surf; the harbor was full of storm-tossed vessels;
the streets were covered with streams and puddles
of water; the flowers and shrubs were battered
and broken ; the trees shed much of their foliage,
and dogs scuttled to the nearest shelter. A few
shrouded figures appeared now and then upon the
piazzas of the hotels; the cottages showed few
signs of life; the milk and market men came at
longer intervals; the mails ceased because the boats
could not withstand the wind and sea, and the Is-
landers took up their winter-quarters about the
kitchen stove.

This climatic disaster practically ended the
season. Day by day lonesome individuals, forlorn
couples, and family groups gathered at the wharf
amongst the bundles, boxes, trunks, baby-carriages
and bicycles, produced their season tickets, bade
farewell to acquaintances with eager friendliness
sympathized with those left behind, and exulted at



226 THE SEA LETTER

their own prospective deliverance. The steam-
boat was no longer filled to the hurricane deck by
a happy throng : there was no need of hustling a
well-dressed crowd outside the wharf gates : no mu-
sic enlivened the occasion for the band had depart-
ed ; and the hack-horses drooped their heads,
while their drivers mourned over the poor business.
The steamer seemed to sneak away ashamed of her
small load of passengers, who made a few parting
signals with handkerchiefs and hats and hastened
inside the cabins, while the abandoned ones walked
slowly and sadly up the wharf and scattered about
the town, as if returning from a funeral. There
was silence and solemnity in the streets everywhere,
compared with what had been. Most of the hotels
were closed; the gay stores were emptied of their
art-treasures; the doors and windows of cottages
were shuttered and boarded ; wind-shields were
placed about the shrubs and young trees; the
vines and flowers were shrivelled and dead ; the
parks were deserted, and only here and there a
solitary pedestrian wended his way timidly, as if
afraid of the sound of his own footsteps upon the
concrete pavement.

It was different over at the Haven, where a
pleasant New England village had attracted retired
business men and Government officers to build
permanent homes, and the population was dimin-
ished only slightly during the inclement season.




<

h
<

D

<



O






/-wi



THE SEA LETTER 227

There was life and society there all the year
round.



CHAPTER XVIII.



In a couple of weeks, Ayllon was out of dan-
ger and far advanced towards recovery, and Delano
and the captain, while smoking with him after din-
ner one day, alluded cautiously to his previous life.
He had kept silent about his personal affairs and
history during their daily intercourse, and they
were anxious to hear his story, because of his ret-
icence and mysterious occupation, and desirous to
have all the evidence possible about the treasure.

"You are not a native of Maine, I presume,
Mr. Ayllon.-*" asked Delano carelessly, as a pre-
liminary.

"No; of Florida."

. " Indeed ! Why have you wandered so far
away from the land of oranges and alligators?"

" In search of my lost child ; then the spirits
whispered in my ears constantly to go to the coast
of Maine, and I was obliged to obey."

"What spirits.?"

"My wife's and my father's — they accompan-
ied me everywhere — but I may as well tell you



THE SEA LETTER 229

everything since you know the secret of the cave
and have been so kind to me," said he in a grateful
tone of voice.

" We should be delighted to hear it, wouldn't
we, Captain?"

The captain removed his pipe and said, ''Cer-
tainly; spin us the yarn Mr. Ayllon," and he be-
gan his narrative.

"I was born in 18 — , at St. John's Bluff near
the sight of Fort Caroline upon the right bank of
the St. Johns River, in Duvall County, Florida.
I became conscious earlyof swinging in a hammock
under a tree with shining green leaves and round,
golden fruit; my face was tickled by a bunch of pam-
pas grass, waved by a black woman with big eyes
and white teeth, and I slept at night by a beautiful
white faced creature, who kissed me often and
smothered me with covers. I looked from the win-
dows of a broad, low house, surrounded by piazzas,
at a great stretch of river that reflected the sun-
light and dazzled my eyes. I saw boats, sailing
craft and steamers go up and down between the
banks of gray and green. A pretty vessel with
great white sails remained at anchor several weeks
at a time before our house, and a tiny boat would
bring a rough, black-whiskered man, who embraced
my mother, and kissed and tumbled me about in
a horrible manner. My black mammy said, he was
my father, but I did not like to own him for a long
time.



230 THE SEA LETTER

*'When I became older, I learned that I was
the only child of Juan and Catalina Ayllon, a fami-
ly of Spanish descent, living upon a plantation of
three thousand acres, fronting the river and extend-
ing back along the creek into a great forest. Our
white overseer lived in a cottage upon the bluff
below our mansion, and his wife and little girl
were almost our only associates. Our slaves lived
in cabins along the creek, where there was a vine-
yard, orange grove and melon patch, and, beyond,
were great fields of corn, rice and cotton, bounded
by runs, swamps and the great pine forest.

"There were dugouts in the creek; sailboats
on the river; horses in th.Q granero, and guns and
ammunition in the houses, and I soon became ac-
quainted with the country, and had all the boat-
ing, riding, fishing and shooting any reasonable
youngster could desire. There was plenty of game
in the region then — doves, snipe, quail, marsh-hen,
curlew, duck, turkey, deer, bear and alligator —
and I was in a boat or a saddle in all weathers,
and became a good sportsman and a well develop-
ed man.

"My mother was too delicate for the annoy-
ances and austerities of plantation life in such an
isolated region, though she had numerous servants
and an ample income ; and the contentment of the
men with the bold, free life made her grieve more
over her loss of society, and sink into a fretful,
hopeless despair.



THE SEA LETTER 231

"She taught me to read and say my prayers,
then sent me to the overseer's wife, who had been
a school-teacher in the North, and I began to study
and recite regularly with her little girl, Margery.
We made rapid progress in history, geography,
mathematics and Latin, and I was obliged to les-
sen my wild ramblings in order to keep up with
my companion. I was prepared for college at
sixteen, but was destined never to enter. I learn-
ed conversational Spanish from my parents, stud-
ied its grammar and literature after I had finished
the Latin classics, and saw a little of the world by
going with my father to the West Indies and
southern ports of my country, carrying the pro-
ducts of the plantation and the fishing in the
schooner Cisneros."

Delano uttered an exclamation and met the
captain's warning glance, as he said, "Was she
the vessel that lay at anchor often in front of your
home.''"

"Yes," continued Ayllon without noticing
their disturbed manner, "my father was part own-
er and had a crew of seven men, mostly Minor-
cans, who had families and homes along the river.
They all spoke Spanish — their settlement was
often called Spanish Town — and they had some
interest in the vessel, I am certain, because we
carried some of their products and brought their
supplies, and I noticed my father always consulted
them about going and coming."



232 THE SEA LETTER

"They went fishing during the winter; sold
their catch at Cape Haytien, Matanzas and Hava-
na, and brought back aguadiente, wines, brandy,
tobacco and sugar, which was discharged into boats
at night and carried inland through the inlets and
sounds. I heard the men talking about Warsaw,
St. Andrews and Sapelo sounds, and asked, why
they went into these places instead of Jacksonville,
Brunswick and Savannah.

"They looked at each other, laughed and re-
plied, 'That would be too dead easy.'"

The captain rubbed his hands together and
said, " Difficult places, if you haven't a pilot. Tve
blockaded those channels, and chased vessels
among the islands and up the creeks until they
would dodge into some hole in the woods and be
hidden by the foliage. It was very aggravating to


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Online LibraryWilliam Henry WinslowThe sea letter : a mystery of Martha's Vineyard → online text (page 12 of 18)