William Henry Winslow.

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

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"Homeward bound at last," said the captain,
slapping his knee ; " I've shaped a course to Mon-
hegan, which we will coast along and then run
to Portland. I wonder how Alice is getting on.?"

"All right, of course, old man. My friends
must have departed from Capawock by this time,"
replied Delano.

" No doubt. This first week of October will
find few summer birds there. They begin the
flight with the snipe and yellow-legs, though the
autumn months are very mild and agreeable."

The easterly breeze freshened after sunset,
a club -topsail and spinnaker were carried all
night, Matinic Island was passed at a distance,



THE SEA LETTER 251

Monhegan was approached near enough to see the
fine hght-house and open harbor, and the anchor
was dropped inside the Portland breakwater late in
the evening. They were off again at daylight be-
fore a strong northeaster, which hurried the yacht
to Thatcher's Island before dark; passed the twin
lights of Baker's Island into quaint Marblehead
for late supper, and anchored in the old berth op-
posite the Corinthian club-house. Two fine days
had favored the voyagers greatly; the next morn-
ing opened with a southeast gale and rain, and
confined them to the cabin and cockpit all day.

Delano was sorry the cruise was so near its
end. He lay back upon the cushions and listened
to the patter of the rain and the whistling wind in
the rigging, with a sense of enjoyment and person-
al comfort not often experienced in a howling gale.
The marine glasses hung in their leather case at his
feet; the barometer above marked 29.8; the ther-
mometer, 58°; the fog-horn, charts and flags
were in the bunk above him, and the swinging-
lamp was turned low. The captain was asleep;
the companionway dripped a little water upon the
steps below; heavy coats, oil-clothes and rubber-
boots lay handy, and the table was buttoned up
beneath the deck. Delano saw all these, with the
bright beams and gilt mouldings around him, and
his apprehension was dulled, or the cigar, that had
burned to ashes next his lips, filled his mind with
nicotic fancies and he dreamed.



252 THE SEA LETTER

He was awakened by the sharp tones of Me-
rangue in the companionway, " She is dragging,
Sir!" He sat up and rubbed his eyes. The cap-
tain sat opposite to him putting on oil-skins and
rubber boots. He did the same thing mechani-
cally. There was music in the air; the wind was
playing a string-band concert upon the rigging;
the chain-cable was twanging bass across the wire
bobstay, and Merangue was giving the yacht more
scope.

''What's the matter, Captain? What are you
going to do?" asked Delano, smiling though his
teeth were rattling.

"Do? Let go the heavy anchor, of course.
I can't sleep comfortably with only one hook in the
mud, and it blowing great guns like this."

" That's what's the matter with me — only I
was asleep on watch. I s'pose I'll have to be
court-martialed."

The captain looked at his messmate sharply a
moment and went upon deck and forward, where
Merangue was handling chain and Bobby held the
lantern. Phew! how it blew, and how searching the
rain down the neck and between the buttons. The
yacht was sheered a little by the rudder and the
starboard anchor dropped ; the cables were veered
to twenty and thirty fathoms respectively; the
topmast was housed, the awning furled, and the
yacht hung well on the triangle, but there could be
no more rest that night. Vessels were dragging



THE SEA LETTER 253

all over the harbor; many times, it was only by
pushing and hauling, sheering by the rudder, and
shooting under a piece of the staysail, that they
avoided being wrecked by drifting, unmanageable
craft. Bob made coffee and set out lunch, and
they ate, smoked, told stories and watched, with a
head above the companion slide most of the time,
and all hands making sudden rushes when danger
threatened. Daylight revealed a multitude of
stranded and more or less battered vessels, but
Orinda was uninjured.

"This don't amount to nothing like a Vineyard
blow, Delano," remarked the captain.

"No; but if the wind had been northeast,
we'd have had a picnic. I dragged in the harbor
once with three anchors down, and kept half afloat
and half under water, having brought up with a
fluke under a rock, when I was within forty feet
of the shore."

"Rather narrow sea-room, eh? " said the cap-
tain.

"Yes, and we had a half day's work unhook-
ing the anchor."

The sea was heavy upon the south shore of
the Neck and the surf was magnificent. It was
smoother the next day ; the yacht made a pleas-
ant run to Boston, and her last gun was fired, as
she dropped anchor off the Boston Yacht Club.
The precious chest and baggage accompanied our
friends to the hotel; the crew was paid off next



254 THE SEA LETTER

morning with a liberal bonus, and the yacht was
delivered to her keepers at the yard, where she
was immediately unloaded, stripped and covered.
There she may be seen — or others like her — any
winter, high upon her blocks and cradle — a verit-
able marine chrysalis.

Delano and the captain arrived at Capawock
the next afternoon ; most of the hotels and cottages
had closed their doors and windows with unsightly
boards and shutters, and people were scarce in the
streets. Alice and Lucy gave them warm welcome.
Delano took up his old quarters in the front room,
and placed the chest upon a table preparatory to an
investigation of its contents — a task they had of-
ten thought over and postponed, because of the
necessity of tools, labor and security. Mrs. Oliver
considered the sea-chest a relic of Delano's yacht-
ing outfit and laughed at its salty appearance.
That night they began upon the double lock and
in half an hour raised the lid. A hot, spicy odor
filled the room. The contents were hidden beneath
pampas grass and banana leaves; then came a
piece of canvass, covering a bundle of papers, a
cigar box, aud two corded bags full and heavy.
They opened the smaller bag and were astonished
and gratified at the golden outpour of American
eagles to the number of one thousand. The larger
bag held a mixture of English sovereigns, French
napoleons and Spanish pesetas, amounting by cal-



THE SEA LETTER 255

culation to twenty thousand dollars, which, with
the American money, made the snug sum of ^30,-
000.

^^ No7i nobis sohimj' muttered Delano.

"What do you say?" asked the captain.

"Not for us alone."

"Whose then.''" demanded the captain some-
what fiercely.

" I do not know — we shall, perhaps, find out
from the papers."

"'Finders are keepers' amongst the boys,
and, if this is a pirate's hoard, we've a right to
keep it."

There was a mournful whistle in the chimney
and the old house shook and snapped loudly. The
wind was rising and the harbor looked as black as
ink. Delano arose, pulled all the shades down
closely, and locked the door before replying.

"Granted — but — " a brilliant hght filled the
room, a terrific peal of thunder shook the house,
and the air smelled sulphurous.

Delano sprang from his chair, pale and fright-
ened.

"The Devil is getting into the chimney again,"
said the captain, lighting his pipe, which had gone
out during his intense interest over the gold.

"Caesar! that w^^ heavy — must have struck
near here," said Delano.

"Probably; we'll get some cold weather after
this," replied the captain coolly.



256 THE SEA LETTER

They put the money back in the bags and
opened the box, which was bradded, as if full of
cigars. Instead, there was a lot of Confederate
bills stuffed in around articles of jewelry that were
wrapped separately in silk : a brooch set with dia-
monds and pearls ; a pair of diamond earrings, and
a pair with reddish jade pendants; a belt-buckle
with diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires;
a bracelet in the form of a serpent, with ruby eyes
and emerald scales, and rings, pins, chains, buck-
les, combs and other articles of pure gold not es-
pecially valuable.

The moment Delano saw the serpent brace-
let, he seized and examined it with great eagerness.
There was no mistaking its unique design and
workmanship. The captain gloated over the treas-
ures and admired everything.

They wrapped up the jewelry, as they found
it, and were crowding in the Confederate bills,
when Delano noticed a hundred dollar bill with a
peculiar back. There was a moonlight landscape
and a grave with a cross at the head, inscribed,
"In Memoriam." The foot-stone read, *'C. S. A.;"
a draped flag of Dixie rested with the staff against
the cross, and beneath the picture there was print-
ed,



THE SEA LETTER 257

"Representing nothing on God's earth now,
And naught in the waters below it —
As the pledge of a nation that's dead

and gone,
Keep it, dear friend, and show it."

They examined it with curiosity and surprise.
It was evidence the owner of the chest knew the
Confederate promises to pay were worthless and
had used them for packing. They were memen-
toes of that hopeless struggle of a heroic minority
of the people against a wealthy and powerful ma-
jority.

" Shin plasters ! " ejaculated the captain scorn-
fully.

"Promises to pay, with nothing but hope in
the treasury," remarked Delano.

Lastly, they removed the wrinkled wrapper
from the bundle of papers, untied the yellow cigar
ribbons that bound them and spread them out up-
on the table. It was seen at once that all the
documents except one were in the Spanish lang-
uage. The captain glanced over them with a smile
of gratified pride, and suddenly exclaimed,
"Ayllon, as I live! Look here! a warranty deed
from Juan Ayllon and Catalina, his wife, to Marg-
aret Reed Ayllon, her heirs and assigns forever;
executed at St. Ausgustine, Florida, December
24th., i860, giving her the great plantation at St.
John's Bluff, and all the personal and mixed pro-



258 THE SEA LETTER

perty, including twenty negroes, mentioned by
name."

" By Jove ! that was before war was declared — ■
and she and her husband were non-combatants.
You can testify to that, Captain, for you know the
circumstances connected with the attack upon the
Ottawa."

"Jerusha! how things come around. Let me
see — um — properly signed, executed, witnessed
and stamped, and — never put on record. Seems to
me, that it can be recorded now, and her heirs — her
husband — recover his own again. The Govern-
ment would be obliged to set aside its condemna-
tion and sale, and indemnify the innocent buyer
for his improvements. These other papers are all
signed Juan Ayllon."

" Captain ; the chest and contents undoubted-
ly belonged to Ayllon' s father, Juan — that was
his name, and his wife's was Catalina — and Lucas
married Margery Reed. We have found the own-
er!"

*' O, belay your imagination ! It would be
just my luck. It wouldn't be the first time my
pot has been bottom up, when it rained porridge, "
growled the captain, and he looked disgusted.

"What is this great piece of sheepskin, cover-
ed by ponderous waxen seals, stamped in numer-
ous places, and bearing a red, black and golden
coat of arms — two lions, two castles and a crown .?"



THE SEA LETTER 259

The captain scrutinized the manuscript care-
fully and answered, " It is a royal grant of three
thousand acres of land upon the river St. John the
Baptist, in the Island of Florida, America, by
Charles V., King of Spain, to Lucas Vasquez de
Ayllon, his heirs and assigns, forever, for long and
faithful services rendered the Crown and the
Kingdom."

*' Glorious! Ayllon told us his name was
Lucas, and he informed me confidentially that he
was Duke of Balearica. What is the date of
the grant.'*"

"It is May 31st., 1525."

"Then the property has been in the family
continuously, and this is the oldest title in the
United States."

"Exactly! and the Ayllon title is good, be-
cause, notwithstanding the various owners of
Florida in the turbulent times ending with the war
of 1 81 2-1 5, Spain held peaceful and undisputed
possession of that country, when she ceded it to
the United States, in 18 19."

"There can be no doubt about it, because Juan
would not have taken the trouble to execute a deed
for property that he did not own."

The men looked over the royal document
awhile, then at each other and smiled.

"Here is a memoradum of the bags and con-
tents, a descriptive list of the jewelry, the names
of the papers enclosed, and this large envelope,



26o THE SEA LETTER

marked/Important ; ' shall we break the seal?"
said the captain.

"Why not? Since we have burglarized the
house, we may as well open a closet."

The captain broke the seal and tore open the
envelope. It contained two papers : one was the
last will and testament of Juan Ayllon, short and
simple, bequeathing all his property, real, personal
and mixed, to Margaret Reed Ayllon. It was
dated and executed at the same time as the before
mentioned deed to her. The other was a list and
description of his assets, including the chest and
one half interest in the schooner Cisneros, with an
appended explanation of matters both important
and mysterious. Passing over the enumeration,
he had written :

"I hope to retain possession of the money,
jewelry and other property contained in this chest,
which are the accumulation of years of toil and
danger, that I may spend my old age in peace and
comfort upon the plantation. The advent of this
unjust war with its uncertainties, made it neces-
sary I should keep the chest on board the schooner,
or deposit it in some place remote from home.
The Cisneros narrowly escaped capture off Edisto
Inlet, the last time we ran the blockade, and, the
next voyage I made north, I took the advice of one
of my crew, who had been a smuggler of Cuban
products into New England, and deposited the
treasure chest in a cellar, from which a subterran-



THE SEA LETTER 261

ean passage led to the shore. Here it remained
safely, while we ran the blockade several times,
taking in provisions, clothing, ammunition, &c.,
and bringing away cotton, turpentine and resin.
Disguised as a fisherman, we went into and out of
Vineyard Haven many times unmolested ; but our
quiet exclusiveness, and our ignorance of the
Georges and Grand Banks unwittingly revealed to
visitors and islanders, excited curiosity and sus-
picion, and we took our treasure on board one
stormy night and sailed away to the coast of Maine.
We were caught on a lee shore off two islands and
thought we were lost; but, when we were expect-
ing every moment to be dashed upon the rocks,
an opening in the wall appeared, we were buried
in foam and hurled upon boisterous seas through
without striking. We almost flew by a green is-
land into quiet water, anchored securely under the
lee of the land, and thanked God for our miraculous
preservation!"

*' An angel must have steered that craft," said
Delano.

"Yes;" observed the captain, "the very straits
we examined between the two Cranberries; the in-
side island was Greening's, and the schooner was
driven up Somes Sound, where she found shelter
in the cove where Orinda lay. They had no chart
of the coast, I suppose, and blundered into the on-
ly place of safety."



262 THE SEA LETTER

"That must have been the case, Juan did not
dare venture into any large town, where he could
purchase one. He did not mention any names
of the place in the sea letter — only gave a peculiar
and accurate description of the locality to indicate
where his treasure was hidden."

" He navigated in the old way, by seeing,
sounding and sense. Did you ever think how ex-
pert the ancient mariners were, in finding their
way safely over the world with nothing but a com-
pass and dipsy (deep-sea) lead } "

"No; I should be lost without a chart."

"A chart isn't much account, when the lights
are out and the buoys removed, as was the case in
the South during the civil war. The leadsman in
the chains, casting the lead, was a better guide
then than the man in the chart room," said the
captain, and he continued to translate and read
aloud.

"We remained in our snug retreat for several
days repairing damages; discovered the cavern in
the ledge upon the western shore, and enlarged a
pocket in its north wall where I deposited the chest.
The opening was closed loosely by stones and dirt
and remained unmolested, while we made several
voyages along the coast and to the West Indies ;
but I am going now for greater security to cement
the stones and make them look like the natural
wall. The war may continue for years ; I may be
obliged to leave the chest hidden until peace is de-



THE SEA LETTER 263

clared, and my status as a citizen is determined by
the side that wins. I may be lost at sea, or killed
in battle. God grant! this may fall into honest
hands, if any accident should prevent my return.
The finder will see that Margery and my son,
Lucas, receive their own, according to my last will
and testament.

''I had expected to record my deed, and de-
posit my will with Colonel Buffington, at St. Au-
gustine, before Fort Sumter was fired upon; but
he had gone to join his regiment under General
Beauregard, and I put to sea for fear of capture,
and, in order, to land my cargo from Cuba. Since
then, business in Florida has been in chaos, and
any attempt to perfect my plans would have been
futile and dangerous.

"In case my affairs fall to the administration
of strangers, I desire it known, that my men own
one half of the schooner Cisneros, share and share
alike, and each member of her crew has received
his part of the earnings at the expiration of each
voyage; therefore, they have no claim upon this
treasure. May God protect us and the family
heritage !

Capt. Juan Ayllon."



"Witness, John Floyd,
Mayport, Fla."



264 THE SEA LETTER

''Is there nothing more?" asked Delano with
trembnng voice and excited manner.

"Nothing!" exclaimed the captain, looking
hard at the papers and smoking rapidly.

They spread the documents out upon the
table, turned them over and over, and looked long
and carefully at the headings, forms, signatures
and seals. They had extracted all the meaning
from them, and they bundled them and returned
them with the box and bags to the chest and
closed it.

The captain walked up and down the room
and muttered, " I thought we had found a fortune,
but we have only struck a — "

"Trust!" added Delano; "we are the stran-
gers to whom the administration has fallen — the
'honest hands' — and robbers withal. We deceived
Ayllon and stole the treasure, which he was seek-
ing under guidance of the spirits of his relatives.
But our interference was justified by the circum-
stances and the sea letter, and, certainly, provi-
dential for Ayllon and his property. Now, we
must guard these valuables and deliver them to
the owner, who can be none other than our friend,
Lucas Ayllon."

"It goes against my grain, but that's right,
and there's my hand on it," said the captain, and
the two excited men shook hands, and talked and
smoked over ways and means until near morning.

The next day, Delano wrote to Ayllon :



THE SEA LETTER 265

E , Mass., Oct. loth., 18 — .

"My dear Ayllon,

"I have decided to remain here awhile, and
we wish you to come on, as soon as the doctor
can spare you. This is a healthy and delightful
place, and you will recover rapidly, where climatic
influences are aided by our sympathetic and social
companionship.

*^We have very important news concerning
your property and family interests, which I dare
not communicate to you by letter. Until we greet
you face to face, we shall pray for your health and
happiness. The captain joins me in kind regards
to you and the doctor.

Yours truly,

Tom Delano."



CHAPTER XX.



Ayllon arrived five days later by the evening
boat, poorly clothed, pale and feeble. His friends
gave him a hearty welcome, and hurried him over
the hills in an easy surrey to their home. Mrs.
Oliver gave him a little bedroom upon the sunny
side of the house, having pretty matting, muslin
curtains and willow furniture, which brightened
his face immediately. He had never tasted fish
as delicate as the fried sole they had for supper.
He smoked his pipe out upon the homely piazza, and
rested his eyes upon the fine scenery of the oppo-
site shore and the blue water of the sound, with a
peace and contentment to which he had long been
a stranger. The balmy breeze from the Gulf
Stream was in great contrast to the frigid atmos-
phere of Mt. Desert, and he said he believed the
date of the almanac was a month ahead of the
season.

Delano had cautioned Ayllon to secrecy in re-
gard to his family history and his late adventures,
and, during walks and drives about the island,



THE SEA LETTER 267

communicated to him most of the information he
had acquired, and told him of the deeds he had
performed in solving the mystery of the sea letter.
The more he confessed, the more Ayllon's wonder
increased and the greater his anxiety became to
know the source of his knowledge; but Delano
kept the discovery of the treasure chest secret un-
til he and the captain were positively certain by
laborious examination and numerous tests, that he
was Lucas, the son and heir of Juan Ayllon.

Then, they decided to make a full confession
and to exhibit their find to him in Delano's room.

The three men smoked upon the porch after
supper, and, when darkness fell and the air became
chilly, went into the front room where Delano had
a little fire and lamps lighted. Ayllon was seated
in a great rocker with arms and cushions, and
they had conversed awhile, when Delano walked
slowly across the room and threw some yacht flags
off the chest. Ayllon's eyes followed his move-
ments and in a moment he jumped from his chair
and cried, ''My God! my father's chest! How
came this here ? Where did you get it ? Oh ! my
poor father!" and he crossed the room and drew
one hand caressingly over the rude box, looking
from Delano to the captain inquiringly and anx-
iously.

"The captain and I found it in the north wall
of the cave where you were blasting," said Delano.



26d> THE SEA LETTER

"And you stole it from me!" declared Ayllon
angrily.

"We did what your father requested," replied
Delano. "Here is his last communication with
the world, his dying message from the sea, which
we had for our instruction and authority," and he
spread out the original, water-stained, crumpled
paper with its Spanish writing upon the table.

Ayllon looked with amazement at the paper
and exclaimed, "It is my father's writing!" Then
he read it with much trouble and agitation, and
tears rolled down his cheeks, as he turned to his
companions and said, "Forgive me, gentlemen;
I am not responsible to-day."

Both men assured him of their forgiveness,
and Delano explained how he and the captain had
studied the chart, hired and sailed the yacht,
found the locality, and secured the chest, regard-
less of his claims, which they had considered more
the whims of a madman, than spiritually author-
ized. He drew forth the bundle of papers, spread
them out upon the table, and invited Ayllon' s ex-
amination. With shaking hands, alternately pale
and flushed face, and agitated manner, Ayllon
looked over the documents and translated them to
his hearers, making comments and exclamations,
and asking numerous questions. He read his
father's record of his movements twice over, as if
he thought this of more importance than all the
other papers, and folded it with a deep sigh.



THE SEA LETTER 269

"Alas! too late!" he muttered, as he finished
reading the deed and the will. His thoughts were
with his dead wife and children. ''What might
have been, had these papers been put upon record
immediately after execution.''" he asked gloomily.

He took up the memorandum of contents of
the chest, listless and indifferent to its importance,
and asked if the jewelry and money were in the
chest. Delano threw the cover back and exposed
the box and two bags. Ayllon passed his hand
carelessly over the bags and asked, "Has the
money been counted.?"

"Yes; and it agrees with the statement to a
dollar," replied Delano.

"Good!" said he, and he emptied the con-
tents of the cigar box upon the table, and unwrap-
ped and examined every precious stone and piece
of jewelry. " I have seen a few of these ornaments
worn by my mother and Margery. This bracelet
resembles one my child wore when she was lost —
a gift to Margery when we were married — an heir-
loom that has been in our family several hundred
years. Our ladies would not wear jewels in the
wilderness, and they were given in father's care


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Online LibraryWilliam Henry WinslowThe sea letter : a mystery of Martha's Vineyard → online text (page 14 of 18)