William Henry Winslow.

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

. (page 13 of 18)
Online LibraryWilliam Henry WinslowThe sea letter : a mystery of Martha's Vineyard → online text (page 13 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


be sure of a prize one minute, and have her turn a
bend in the channel and disappear. I've built lots
of castles with the prize-money I never got."

" I suppose so — counting the eggs before you
found the nest," said Delano smiling.

"I am glad you missed the Cisneros, Captain,
because, if you had not, you might not be here to-
night. She had two beautiful brass 24-pounder
howitzers and plenty of small arms," said Ay lion.

"Was she a naval vessel or a privateer.?"

"Neither, I believe."

"Then she was a pirate."



THE SEA LETTER 233

" Not exactly — only private property the own-
ers intended to keep."

*'It is piracy to arm a private vessel without
Governmental authority."

" I reckon the captain would have had papers,
if he had been caught — but he did not calculate
on being captured — alive."

" I should have been delighted to have met
him and his vessel," asserted the captain.

**I was notpermitted togo with father often —
mother would have been too lonely, but the spring
I was 1 8 years old, the mansion was closed, mother
and I went on board the schooner and sailed away
out of sight of land, and we did not see it again
for three weeks. Then rocky shores, high land,
and an old castle appeared, which father pointed out
upon the chart, as Cape St. Vincent, Portugal, and
we were astounded at the information vouchsafed,
that we were going through the Straits of Gib-
raltar to mother's old home in Minorca. I was so
delighted, I hugged and kissed old blackbeard,
though he smelled of tobacco and rum, and mother
wept quietly for joy because she would see some
of her childhood friends, the scenes of her youth
and her parent's graves by the sea.

"We had excellent views of Gibraltar, the
mountains and coast beyond to Cape Gata, and
the city of Cartagena, where we took in water,
and, passing in sight of the island of Majorca,
dropped anchor in Port Mahon, Minorca, in the



234 THE SEA LETTER

shadow of vine-clad hills and the towering battle-
ments of the fortifications.

'^Though an American by birth and resi-
dence, I seemed to have known only the fringe of
my country, and my exultation was great that I
could claim heritage through my parents in the
glorious Kingdom of Spain. The quaint houses,
walled gardens, profusion of flowers, picturesque
costumes, sunny skies and soft airs of the little is-
land in the blue Mediterranean, were constant
sources of pleasure to us, and mother's health im-
proved rapidly in the home environment. I was
awakened to a broader life and an ambition for ex-
traordinary achievements, and pursued my studies
ardently with an old pensioner of the University of
Madrid. We were so contented and happy that
we merely wondered, when the Cisneros did not
return on time, but letters explained the delay, and
it was two years before she pushed her bowsprit
into port and showed us the stars and stripes above
the taffrail.

^'My kind rough father was as glad to see us,
as we were to greet him ; he told us all the news of
the plantation and the country, and we embarked and
sailed for the United States. We stopped, how-
ever, at Cadiz and father took us to Madrid, where
he wished to examine the archives in reference to
the title to our estate, which had been a grant
from King Charles V to our ancestors for ser-



THE SEA LETTER 235

vices rendered the Crown, during the wars with
France and England.

''We were amazed in the two cities at the
magnificent buildings, the multitude of people, the
splendid uniforms of the soldiers, the gay dresses
of the women, and the politeness, gayety, noise
and music of the streets, and it all seemed a dream
after our return to the vessel. If you have never
seen a Spanish city, go and look at St. Augustine
and Havana.

'*We made a quick run across the ocean in
the northeast trade winds, called at Porto Rico for
water, but did not visit San Juan because of Quar-
antine, and entered the St. Johns River and anchor-
ed in front of our plantation, just as a wild norther
swept down from the snow fields and blackened the
early fruit and vegetables with its frigid breath.

''I had never before realized what pioneers
we were, and how narrow and uncouth our life was
in comparison with that in a city. My education
spoiled me for a planter, but circumstances pre-
vented my being anything else for many years.

**We landed the next morning, set our old
servants to work, and soon had the household af-
fairs running as usual. There was a little more
forest cleared, a few more pickaninnies, and — my
school-mate had gone North to college. I was an-
noyed she should go away so far and I not be told
of it. I had often brought her brown hair, blue-
eyes, and sweet face before my mind's eye in com-



236 THE SEA LETTER

parison with the coquettish, blaek-eyed beauties
of Spain, and never without preferring my coun-
try woman. InteUigence, purity and amiabihty
shone in her bright eyes, and, when she smiled her
face was hke a saint's. I had thought of meet-
ing and greeting her on the home coming, and
relating to her all my experiences and adventures,
and to find her gone and my generous intentions
thwarted choked me with vexation and disappoint-
ment. I must have betrayed my feelings to her
mother, as she read me several letters from Margery,
but did not ask me to write her, though I did after
awhile, because I could not otherwise endure her
absence. The mother wished not to influence me
because of the difference in our social positions —
a consideration I did not then understand and now
condemn. Margery answered my letter, and we
continued a friendly correspondence until her re-
turn home.

"I remember well when she came, a sweet
girl graduate, a year after my arrival from Europe.
I drove my pair of bays to the road-wagon up to
the ferry and waited with her mother. The boat
came over, I caught a glimpse of a bright face,
brown boots, a cloud of challie, and a chip hat with
a scarlet wing, and Margery was smothered in her
mother's arms. I lifted my hat and was chagrined
at not being noticed, until her mother said, *Mr.
Ayllon, Margery,' when she stared, took my



THE SEA LETTER 237

hand and dropped it quickly, saying, ' Oh ! how you
have changed.'

*' I had thought out this meeting beforehand
and wondered, if I ought not to kiss her ; but,
when I saw her, I would as soon have ventured to
kiss one of the Imperial family, and I could only
mutter, 'Howdy.'

'*! paid a great deal of attention to the road
and horses going back, and caught but little of the
rattling conversation upon the back seat. Only a
few commonplace remarks passed between us, and
I landed my passengers in style at the cottage and
left them with a stiff bow. I did not know what
was the matter as well as I do now, neither did
Margery, but the constraint caused by education
and altered conditions wore away gradually, and
she became a favorite with everybody.

*' My father was too restless to remain long at
home, and I was obliged to keep accounts and as-
sist the overseer in managing the plantation. I
rode to the different fields, set the gangs to work,
watched the seeding, cultivating and harvesting,
and selected the markets. At the end of two
years, I understood farming fairly well, and, when
the overseer was killed by the bursting of his gun
while hunting, I assumed direction of affairs, in-
stalled his wife as our housekeeper to relieve my
mother, and the next year Margery and I were
married.



238 THE SEA LETTER

"You will find the record of the important
event in the old cathedral at St. Augustine, where
a retinue of our servants, an escort of neighbors,
and the crew of the Cisneros, were present at the
ceremony, and took part in the feasting and fes-
tivities at the plantation during the whole week.
Father remained at home the entire month, talked
to me about his private affairs and the family his-
tory, and gave his reasons for believing there
would be a war between the South and North. He
cautioned me to take no part in it, because it
would be my duty to protect the women and our
home under all circumstances. He declared his
intention to deed the estate, some family jewels and
a fortune to Margery, that they might be preserv-
ed in possession of a neutral. He had her give
him a gold eagle and a kiss for consideration,
which he wrote in the deed at ;^io,oio. He told
me he would keep the valuables in a safe place ;
sailed away to St. Augustine to execute the papers,
and we never saw him again.

"War was declared soon after his departure,
and he sent word he was going to the West Indies to
await events. We learned that he went to the
North on a secret mission for the Confederate
Government, pretended to be engaged in the fisher-
ies, made a rendezvous at Vineyard Haven
awhile, and ran the blockade regularly, carrying
provisions and equipments into Sapelo J^and St.
Andrew's Sounds.



THE SEA LETTER 2sg

"One of the crew sent word to his wife, later,
that they had been obhged by the Revenue Cut-
ters of Massachusetts, whose officers had become
suspicious, to find a hiding place among the islands
of the Maine coast. Then we heard the Cisneros
had arrived at Havana with a full cargo of cotton
worth nearly two dollars a pound — and nothing
more for a long time.

"We were distressed at the absence of father
and the schooner, and anxious over the war in our
vicinity. Gunboats came over the bar and up the
river, shelling the banks and dragging for torpe-
does; transport steamers loaded with soldiers fol-
lowed them ; Jacksonville was captured and garri-
soned ; the upper reaches of the river were patrolled,
shelled and cleared of Confederate boats, and
squads of soldiers and sailors foraged along the
banks, seized potatoes, pigs and chickens and shot
the cattle. I had to submit for the safety of the
women, but the negroes and natives ambushed,
captured and killed some of the robbers all along
the river. One afternoon, a fine schooner-rigged
gunboat anchored in front of our plantation, and
sent some men ashore to get milk and eggs. The
officer in command was polite enough and paid for
the supplies, but we did not like to accept his
money. Some of our negroes carried news of
the vessel's arrival to a camp of our army, and, in
spite of my protests, the colonel planted a battery
of guns upon the bluff in front of our house at



240 THE SEA LETTER

night, and opened fire at daylight, with grape and
cannister upon the vessel.

^^Caramba\ but she slipped her cable and
steamed out of there quickly, with splinters flying
and bloody men along the deck; then she opened
her battery upon the bluff, dismounted the guns,
tore great holes through the forest, riddled our
buildings and set them on fire, and sent a landing-
party to finish the terrible work. When the first
shell went roaring and crashing through the trees,
the terrified field-hands fled back into the woods
and ran for miles ; several house-servants helped
me harness our best horses and turn the others
loose; the carriage and wagons were loaded with
the people and all the provisions, house goods and
valuables they could carry, and we drove furiously
away from our burning homes amid shrieking,
bursting shells and splintering, falling trees. This
was war — destroying both the guilty and the in-
nocent.

"We pulled up the panting, lathered horses
at a ravine about five miles back from the river
and held a counsel. The women had made no
trouble nor sign of distress until then, but Margery
was now crying hysterically and her mother was
comforting her ; and my mother, who had been fail-
ing in health steadily since her return from Minor-
ca, was leaning back in the carriage upon some
pillows, looking very pale and weak. I cheered
them all with brave words, got water from the run



THE SEA LETTER 241

to bathe face and hands, gave everybody a drink of
scuppernong wine, and we rested awhile and list-
ened to the heavy cannonading behind us.

"I had built a log hunting-cabin farther down
the road, and after the horses had cooled and re-
covered their wind, we drove leisurely to it, un-
loaded our precious freight, and soon had the
family housed and comfortable. All went well
except with mother, who became weaker in spite
of hot applications and plenty of stimulants, and,
in the early morning, my precious mother died —
weakly pressing my hand."

Ayllon stopped and sobbed a few minutes,
while Delano and the captain sniffed and swallow-
ed, and walked across the room and looked out of
the window.

"Though overwhelmed by grief, my duty to
the living could not be neglected, and I took a
wagon and one negro and drove back to the plan-
tation. The gunboat had departed, but what a
scene of desolation and blackened ruin met my
eyes ! I shuddered and went to work to avoid fall-
ing into despair. We found some boards of the
gardenfence andmadearude coffin, usingafewtools
scattered under the shed ; dug a grave near a bunch
of pampas grass beneath a great pine ; gathered
the tools, farming implements and other useful
things and locked them in one of the abandoned
cabins ; opened a potato-bank and loaded the wag-
on; caught most of the chickens; gathered an



242 THE SEA LETTER

armful of flowers, and returned to the hunting-
lodge and scene of sorrow. We buried mother in
the afternoon upon the bluff overlooking the river;
covered her rude coffin and grave with flowers:
placed a wooden cross at the head, and wept,
black and white together, with a common sorrow.
''Our plantation was not molested any more;
a few slaves returned to their homes and gathered
the crops ; we lived at the camp and superintend-
ed the farm-work by the river, and sold our pro-
duce at good prices to the northern invaders. The
Declaration of Emancipation by President Lincoln
made our negroes restless and independent, since
we could not punish them as formerly; but enough
remained obedient and faithful to the family to
enable me to carry on the plantation until it was
confiscated and sold, as the property of a rebel, by
the U. S. Government, and I was legally dispos-
sessed. It was a cruel blow, but I prevailed upon
the owner to keep my mother's grave sacred and
inviolate, and he employed me to continue my care
of the whole property until he took possession in
1 8 — . That year our first child was born and we
named her Laura after Margery's mother, her
grandmother, who would not permit any black
mammy to take the place of her mother or herself.
"The hundred acres about the camp were not
a part of the plantation and remained fortunately
in my possession. I cleared enough to furnish a
comfortable living for the family and few negroes



THE SEA LETTER 243

who remained faithful, sold most of the horses and
vehicles and invested the proceeds at a high rate
of interest, and began to enjoy life again with my
loved ones. Margery and her mother, however,
were discontented over our isolation in the woods,
and the absence of all those amenities of social
life found in town. They crossed bridges before
they came to them, or, in other words, foresaw the
deprivations and tribulations of Laura should she
remain in the wilderness. The dear child was so
happy with the buds and blossoms, the butterflies,
birds, kittens, chickens, dogs and horses, and so
healthy and robust from her free out-of-door life,
that I ridiculed their notions and put away any
thought of change. But a little sister came poor
and puny, full of cries and temper, and Margery's
recovery was unpromising and slow. Our distance
from medicines and medical aid, and the paucity of
delicacies and variety of food so necessary in the
ahmentation of whimsical and suffering invalids,
gave cogency to the arguments for removal and
set me to thinking seriously about it.

"It seemed desirable for the women and
children, and would afford me opportunities for
intellectual activity and development not possible
in the woods. I rented the farm to my best ne-
groes and moved to St. Augustine, which my
ancestors had assisted in founding, and took resi-
dence in one of the old Spanish houses, having
barred windows, balconies and walled garden,



244 THE SEA LETTER

situated in one of the narrow streets. The city
was in a modern turmoil of splendid improvement,
thronged with gay people throughout the winter,
and we were excited and delighted by the new life

and its festivities.

"I had read some law and become a legal
arbiter for my few acquaintances along the river,
and I wrote fairly well; therefore, I secured a
position with a law-firm to do writing for a moder-
ate compensation, a desk and the use of the library
in the office, and began work much more congen-
ial than farming. Time slipped away pleasantly
then ; I was admitted to practice before the courts,
and increased my income considerably. I had
searched the archives and there was not any record
of a deed from my father to Margery, and I de-
cided there was no hope of regaining the estate.

"One day I took Margery and the baby,
Belita, around to Jacksonville upon an excursion
steamer, leaving Laura with the servants, and re-
turned in the evening. We found the house in a
turmoil, the servants wringing their hands and
crying, and Laura gone. Margery screamed and
fainted, and we were busy restoring and comfort-
ing her awhile; we notified the police, visited all
the houses for squares around, and kept a crowd
of people searching the alleys, streets and country
roads all night and next day. Messages were tele-
graphed in all directions, describing the child and
her dress; the Indian camps were searched; the



THE SEA LETTER 245

harbor was dragged; vessels were examined, and
everything reasonable done, but not a trace could
we find of our darling — every clew ended in dis-
appointment. Advertisements brought no answers,
and our moderate reward went unclaimed."

Ayllon covered his face with his only useful
hand and wept silently, the captain groaned aloud,
and Delano, with tears in his eyes, placed his hand
upon the sufferer's head and said, "My dear Ayllon,
do not grieve so; it will hinder your recovery. We
sympathize with you from the bottom of our
hearts."

The poor man gradually recovered control of
his emotions and continued: ''The conviction was
forced upon us that our child had been kidnapped
or drowned, and, though we did not cease to hope
for her recovery, our souls were full of despair.
The shock killed Margery. She had been delicate
since the birth of Belita, and faded away like a
frost-bhghted hly — neither the best attendance,
nor my tender love could stay the destroyer — her
heart was broken — and she died. Excuse — me —
gentlemen — I — cannot — finish my story — now — ."

•5f * -x- * *

''Our kind friend at the Bluff generously
granted me permission to bury my beloved by my
mother's side, and there we laid her and our hearts
with her. Since that time, I have been a home-
less wanderer with poor Belita — and, now, she is



246 THE SEA LETTER

at rest, thank God ! and I, the last of a doomed
family linger. Oh! why did you not let me die?"

Ayllon paused and struggled to control his
emotions; the captain walked the floor uneasily, as
if ready to shout his orders aloft, and Delano cried,
''Can God send such afflictions upon His own, and
not arouse our doubts of His goodness and mercy?"

''I thought I should lose my mind for awhile,"
continued the stricken man^ "but I fought against
hallucinations for dear Belita's sake, and wander-
ed over America led by whims and fancies. An
Indian woman, a sorceress of the Everglades, told
me she saw my father in a terrible storm, my
mother in a beautiful country, spirits hovering
around me, and a cloud of disaster threatening. I
would have a great sickness, recover and find a
fortune — my latter days would be full of peace and
happiness. At a spiritual seance, in New York, a
medium represented my father's spirit-^he had
been free for many years — he wished me to go to
the coast of Maine and seek valuable things — he
would tell me when to stop — my mother and Mar-
gery were in the spirit land — he had seen and
talked with them — they attended me frequently —
Laura was not there.

"There was mystery, comfort and hope in
the communications. I went to Maine and felt a
strange impulse to stop at B — . I tried to leave
the city several times, but my feet dragged and I
could not. I became en rapport with a number



THE SEA LETTER 247

of spiritualists and attended their seances. My
father, mother and Margery came frequently and
conversed through mediums with me and Belita
and brought us happiness. If this is delusion, I
thought, it is sent from Heaven to protect us from
ourselves. I could get no news of Laura — they
answered, *she is not here'. We would have been
comforted, if she had been.

"I was instructed about the cave and the
treasure therein, and guided to the ledge where
you found me. Cultivation of a receptive acquies-
cence enabled both Belita and myself to become
mediums at will for our own instruction, protec-
tion and happiness, and I prosecuted the labor of
the search under spiritual guidance. I believe
this as firmly as I believe I am alive. I have not
found the treasure, but I was approaching near it,
when the unfortunate accident occurred.

'* My mother-in-law, Mrs. Reed, who was with
me until recently, said I was crazy, and went off
in a huff to California. Now I am crippled for a
time and will go south to recuperate, and return
later to get the treasure. Am I crazy.? Do I look
like a maniac? Ha! ha! ha!"

The laugh startled the listeners a little, but
they hastened to assure Ayllon he was not crazy,
and that they believed treasure had been hidden
in the cave and would be recovered some time.

This gave him great satisfaction and he said,
" Perhaps, I may find my daughter some day."



248 THE SEA LETTER

''God grant it!" exclaimed Delano earnestly.

Ayllon was exhausted by excitement and
emotion, and his friends thanked him for his story
and bade him farewell, promising to see him the
next morning.

^'Whatasad history!" said Delano sighing;
''the world seems full of tragedy."

"Yes, we know little of the sorrows of our
fellows," answered the captain, lighting his pipe.

"Did you ever hear of the Cisneros on the
blockade. Captain.?"

" Certainly ; she was chased several times, but
sailed too fast for us. I was aboard of the gunboat,
which was attacked from the Bluff, but I did not
wish to acknowledge it to Ayllon."

" Is it possible t Did you ever meet any of
the family.?"

" Yes ; before and after the fight. We left
rather suddenly, you know."

"Yes, rather suddenly," muttered Delano,
with his mind intent on something else, and they
got into the boat and rowed down to the. cutter. .



CHAPTER XIX.



It rained the next two days, and all remained
on board in the cosy cabin and under the awning
of the yacht, smoking and yarning, as only sailors
can. It was impossible to read much — there was
too much to divert attention. The two gentlemen
called upon Ayllon the third day and pursuaded
him to visit Capawock, as soon as he was able;
then, to stop at New York on his way South, and
Delano forced him to accept a loan of money,
which he said he might return when he came into
possession of his fortune. The doctor and land-
lord were paid two weeks ahead, as the former de-
clared the patient could travel safely by that time,
and the yachtsmen took leave of Ayllon with hearty
cordiality.

The yacht sailed around to Southwest Harbor
for supplies, and over to Cranberry Island Harbor,
where they examined the channel between the
islands and anchored for the night. There was a
dead calm the next morning, and all hands took a
run over the village and the islands until noon.



250 THE SEA LETTER

They got under way after lunch, sailed along the
shore of Mt. Desert to have a look into French-
man's Bay, and went out to sea around Baker's
Island. The views of Mt. Desert from outside
were exquisitely beautiful. Dark shadows filled
the ravines between the mountains and extended
to their feet in shades of purple and gray, blend-
ing with the blue evening mists and gleaming
spray. Noble villas, located upon every available
promontory, from which the evening lights were
beginning to twinkle, looked down upon the rocky
shore like robber castles on the Rhine. Delano
thought he had never seen a more beautiful picture
in nature, and he longed for brushes and palette,
that he might seize and secure its evanescent
beauties.


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 13 15 16 17 18

Online LibraryWilliam Henry WinslowThe sea letter : a mystery of Martha's Vineyard → online text (page 13 of 18)