William Henry Winslow.

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

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ship-building materials from excessive taxation,
our sails would now whiten every sea."

*' And they have bungled the fishery
question too. New England has been euchred
by the Provinces, " added Atkins.

" O, there were other fish to fry, " said
Sanders, and the allusion to the Maine senator
caused a laugh.

A mist had crept over the island from the
south, the headlands were hidden, and a fog-horn
was groaning hideously.

. *' The first fog this summer, " remarked Mrs.

'' We have less fog than the main shore, "
said Dr. Kenelm, the house physician, standing
near. '' This sandy soil does not hold water and
becomes heated rapidly. The heat is radiated
upwards and added to that of the sun's rays, and
the temperature of the air is raised and the vapor
absorbed. Then an almost imperceptible change
in the direction of the wind, or an increase in its
movement, drives the banks away. There is a
legend that Old Squant, an Indian spirit 'up
island' causes the fogs by smoking his pipe."

" What a scientific explanation ! " exclaimed
Miss Helen Purdy, a Wellesley graduate, who wore
glasses, and had been nick-named " Goggles " by
Miss May Henderson.

"How comical!" said May giggling.


"A paradox! A dry seaside resort — and a para-
gon to maintain it!" cried Mr. Thompson with

The mist was lifting already, but a dense bank
rested upon the sea and the horn was still roaring.

Some vessels crept cautiously into the harbor,
glad to anchor for the night, as the wind was
going into the southeast and the sky thickening.

''The shallows and the Gulf Stream elevate
the temperature of our bathing places and the sea
promotes equability, " said Mr. Etheridge. ''Cape
Cod and Nantucket divert the arctic current south,
and Vineyard and Long Island sounds are warmer
than the outside waters. The average temperature
of the water is 65°, and the air 6']'' , during the
summer. While much cooler in the summer, the
winter climate is about the same as that of

"I should like to have some of that charm-
ing equabihty now," remarked Miss Victoria
McDonald, the perspiration starting over her face,
as she moved her chair out of the sun.

" Sunshine and ozonized air destroy the detri-
tus of life and starve microbes," added the doctor.
"Children thrive here, and the average of life on
the island is fifty-seven years. Man is best in
the country. Conflicts with nature and simple
sports develop the body, and the nervous system is
strong because not overwhelmed by sensations."


There was considerable noise. Children
were rnnning around the piazzas with tin horses
and wagons, trains of cars, and tricycles; some
little girls were playing games of '' Ring around
rosy" and "Copenhagen," and the lads on the lawn
were practicing bicycle tricks.

''One would judge from observation around us.
Doctor, the younger generation was beginning
life correctly," observed Mrs. Ward.

Just then, Mabel, her little daughter, patted
the head of Miss Dodge's terrier and screamed
as he bit her finger, and Tingeling Chase, a chubby
child of four years, rolled down the hotel steps
with his express-wagon.

There was commotion and commiseration
and the doctor repaired the damages.

" How dare you bite anyone, Zip.'* You bad,
bad dog! I never knew him to do such a thing
before," said Miss Dodge apologetically.

''Why don't you thrash the vicious brute.''"
said Mr. Thompson angrily.

" I never did and I don't like to begin,"ans-
wered Miss Dodge, as she gathered her pet in her
lap, kissed him, and told him to go to sleep.

The people about the hotel were interested in
dogs, as well as afflicted by them. Sympathetic
and curious ladies discussed their appearance,
breed and sagacity with considerable interest, and
many became acquainted and friendly through this


lowly animal, which stands next to woman in man's
estimation and above man in woman's.

^'There are so many children romping around
the hotel, one might as well be in a lunatic asylum.
I like hotels where they refuse children," declared
Miss Dodge spitefully.

"Well, thank goodness! they are few, and for
my part, I prefer children to dogs," retorted Mrs.

"What kind of a creature is Miss Dodge?"
asked Delano of Gabrielle.

" She is an artist, or tries to be so considered.
She has her own boat and goes off sketching as far
as Katama. You should see her water-colors of
marshes, bulrushes and boats."

" Um ! the artless and artful often take to

" The kodak is good enough for me," declared
Miss Florence Hastings, a sentimental, impulsive
young lady yet in her teens.

" Do you develop and mount ? " asked Prof.

" No, I don't like to stain my fingers."

" I hope the gentlemen will not smoke upon
our side of the piazza, " remarked Mrs. Phelps.

" What is the use of being capricious .'' " said
Mrs. Palmer. . " Smoking in our presence was
once a favor. Now it is assumed as a right.
We are ourselves to blame for it. We sit in
the hall-office among the men knitting and


reading, while they contaminate the whole

" Yes, too much foreign influence. Men
smoke everywhere except in church, and get up
' Smokers, ' where they narcotize themselves under
a pretence of literary entertainment. Dr. Kenelm
says, ' Many diseases are caused by tobacco, and it
never benefits anyone.' "

'^ Then the doctor is a crank and doesn't
smoke, " broke in a gray-beard sitting not far

" It must have been very interesting around
here a thousand years ago, when the Norsemen
cruised along the coast in their open boats, and
frio^htened the Indians ^with their coats of mail
and rude arms," remarked Lieut. Ferguson. *' I
am told they called Martha's Vineyard, ' Strau-
mey' ; No Man's Land, ' Norseman's Land' ; West
Chop, ' Vest Kop' ; East Chop, ' Ost Kop' , and
Nantucket, ' Nankition ' ; but I think the histori-
cal evidence is rather defective, though the Old
Mill (or fort) at Newport is a monument of
their presence and daring navigating."

" We are certain Capt. Gosnold, an English
explorer, visited this region and seized Nantucket,
Martha's Vineyard and the chain of islands
between Vineyard Sound and Buzzard's Bay, and
established a colony upon Cuttyhunk, in 1602.
Did you ever hear the Indian names of the chain,
which he called the Elizabeth Islands in honor of


the English Queen ? They have been strung into
rhyme by an unknown poet :

'' * Naushon, Nonamesset,
Uncatena and Wepecket,
Nashawena, Pasque(inese),
Cuttyhunk and Penekese ' — "
and Gabrielle ceased her recital and blushed as
her friends applauded heartily.

^' The chain reminds me of an index finger
with its three phalanges and metacarpal bone
pointing towards Block Island. The isles are four
to seven miles from Martha's Vineyard and thirty
to forty from Nantucket, " added Thompson, who
was forever usins^ anatomical illustrations.

'' Then the pious Mahew came, wandered
among the Indian mounds, meditated upon the
shell-heaps and spear and arrow heads mingled
with the remains of mastodons, and brought the
wild men of the woods into the church and the
wild lands of Martha's Vineyard under cultivation,"
asserted Miss Purdy modestly.

*' If you enjoy historical reminiscences, I
would ask you to remember : Thomas Mahew
lived at (Jeen Hollow on Green Harbor, now
called Edgartown, where his house still holds
together. The head of Lake Waquataqua, once
the head of the harbor, where Scotland Springs
supply the city water, was a Pocket of Water.
A man named Holmes was killed there by Indians,
and the whole harbor took the name of Holmes


Hole, which has been changed to Vineyard Haven.
Dover Bluffs received the better designation, Gay
Head. Oak Bluffs bear the less interesting name
of Cottage City, and the Haven, known long ago
as Nobnorket, has become a village of Tisbury.

" This island was the Indian's Nope, also,
Capawock; a Dutch Captain Block claimed it as
Martin Wyngaard's Island, but Captain Gosnold
had long before honored his daughter Martha and
recognized its vines by naming it Martha's Vine-

Thus declared Victoria with precision and
gravity, while her friends listened attentively and
broke into exclamations of approval as she finished.

" I supposed I was among Yankee girls with a
reasonable amount of education," commented the
Lieut., ''but I have run against a section of the
Sorosis, or an entire brigade of Bluestockings."

Everyone laughed and the doctor said,
"What can you expect, Lieut., when many of our
young ladies go through high school and graduate
at college?"

'T ought to be prepared for anything these
times, but I've been so long at sea, I forgot our
ladies were brilliant as well as beautiful,"

The older girls bowed, the younger beamed
upon him, and the mothers smoothed their dresses
and nodded.

This sprig of the favorite service of Uncle
Sam had made a good impression.


^' What a beautiful yacht!" cried Flossie, as a
natty schooner came out of the fog with a rush,
made a turn in front of the N. Y. Yacht Club
wharf, dropped her head sails and came to anchor.

" It seems to be the Walrus," said a gentle-
man on the south piazza, looking through his
marine glasses. "Newport cannot hold Lamson
this fine sailing weather."

"He is probably on a cruise to Bar Harbor.
Captain Oliver said, ' Yachts will be coming and
going all the season,' " exclaimed Babson, a New
York broker.

" There will be a grand time here when the
whole fleet arrives; this hotel gives the members
of the club and their guests a hop, I believe."

"Yes, and the fleet responds with an illumina-
tion and fire-works."

"The perch are biting lively just now. Will
you go fishing with me to-morrow, Wilson.?" asked

" I guess so. Where are you going and
what time will you start.''"

" Out to Chappaquonsett — and at seven
o'clock. Fish bite best in the early morning."

"They'll not bite for me that early. I came
here for rest and recreation. Say eight and Fll
meet you at breakfast."

"Very well, sleepy-head. Let it be eight


One man was nodding over his newspaper,
another rocking his httle girl, and another watch-
ing some ladies over the way.

There was a restful appearance about the
hotel, and the gentle zephyrs from the sea barely
lifted the leaves on the trees, or made the callas
nod to the roses.


Delano had sent his baggage to the old
mansion and made a pleasant call upon the Olivers
before dinner, and he left his friends to their
afternoon siestas and went over to unpack and
arrange things in the room, which Mrs. Oliver had
prepared for his use. He preferred the spacious
apartment and homelike privileges here, and did
not consider it a severe affhction to go to the
hotel for meals. This plan gave greater freedom
and enabled him to get rid of bores.

There was a profusion of old-fashioned flowers
around the house. Asters, geraniums, hollyhocks,
sweet William, tiger-lilies and poppies, nodded in
the breeze ; varieties of brillant colored nasturtiums
with great green leaves covered the stone walls;
callas, yuccas and sunflowers grew in sheltered
corners; coleus and box-bordered beds and walks,
and a velvety lawn extended under the trees to the
beach where sail-boats danced at anchor. A well-
curb with block and rope, and several small build-
ings, shingled like the house, stood behind and
aside as if embarrassed.


Entering the house by the front door, one
found a narrow hall extending back to the dining
room ; the parlor on the left was Delano's bed-
chamber, with a pantry behind it ; the sitting-room
was on the right, with a bed-room adjoining ;
and a dining-room filled the remainder of the lower
floor across the rear, having a kitchen in an L.
The ceilings were covered by the original plaster
and many patches ; the walls showed modern paper
with strange patterns in the old deep layers ; the
simple mantels were marbleized in black ; and
shades, carpets, rag-rugs, and antique and modern
furniture completed the furnishings. A gun hung
over the mantel in the sitting-room ; and several
whale's teeth, a sheet of whalebone, pieces of coral,
and curious shells, occupied shelves and closets.
Pictures of ships, sailing in smooth harbors or
battling with terrific seas, hung in the larger wall
spaces, amid patterns in hair, pen sketches, sea-
mosses and photographs in little frames. Papers,
magazines and books were scattered over the
tables and sofa, and Bowditch's Navigator and
the Holy Bible lay together.

Delano's room had few ornaments, and he
arranged his traps and clothing as he wished,
while the captain talked with him about a yachting
cruise they had made the previous summer in
Long Island Sound. They spoke of wreckers,
smugglers, tories, traitors and Indians, who had
been upon the island in early times. The captain


told of Cousins, who sat upon the shore and fired
at H. M. Ship Nimrod, in 1776, and of a rusty
round-shot which he had found in the garden,
and declared the old mansion would tell thrilling
stories could it speak in language, as it did to the
eye and imagination.

The wind shifted around from the western
side of the compass after dark, with much light-
ning and distant thunder, and stopped and began
to blow from the northeast. There was a leaden
bank behind it ; the long puffs alternating with
short lulls indicated a rising gale ; gray clouds
and scud crept across the moon and zenith ; the
thermometer fell ten degrees, and the barometer
stood at 28. 6 in. The black water of the harbor,
lighted by white-caps and lightning flashes, re-
sembled teeth in a countenance turgid with anger.
The harbor was rapidly filling with vessels, and the
noise of slatting canvas, and rumble of cables,
following plunging anchors, mingled with the claps
of thunder. Old Boreas had come out of his cave
for mischief.

" As he puffed his cheeks and pursed his lips.

And blew and blew and blew."

Something had brewed in the Caribbean
Sea, and a tropical hurricane was circling up the
coast to confound unsuspecting boatmen and ship-

The swish and whistle of the wind, the shrieks
in the chimney, the creaking and trembling of the


house, the roar of trees and surf, and the vivid
Hghtning and heavy thunder, were not conducive to
sleep, and Delano sat by the window looking out
upon the turbulent sea, and the ghostly vessels at
anchor or scudding into harbor. Suddenly he
arose, pulled down the shades and locked the door,
though doors were seldom locked and crime was
exceedingly rare upon the island. He was nerv-
ous and apprehensive, thinking of the house and
its history. The storm howled without with a
violence and a fury only experienced upon a
prairie, an island or a vessel at sea, and he was
afraid and appalled by it.

There came a loud knock upon the door,
and he trembled as he cried out huskily, " Who
is there .''"

*' It is I, the captain. Anything wanting,
sir } I thought I heard you call," came in well
known tones.

" God bless you. Captain ! come in. What
are you doing around this dreadful night V said
he, much relieved as he unlocked and opened the

" I feared some of the windows had blown in
and you might be exposed to the driving rain,"

'' No ; I could not sleep with such a racket
outside, and sat smoking and watching the scenes
when the lightning flashed. Try a cigar. Captain !"

*' No; thanks ! but if you don't mind I'll light
my pipe. I never sleep such weather."


" This must be a dreadful night at sea."

'^ Dreadful's no name for it. Many a man
will lose the number of his mess to-night, sir.
The seas and shoals show no mercy to a man who
loses his reckoning. It is better to get inside
and wait a day or two, than stay at sea and
tear a good ship in pieces. It was such a gale
as this when the Portland foundered — only snow
instead of rain — God help *em !"

" It is incredible, notwithstanding the wreck-
age and bodies which were found along the shore
of Cape Cod, that not a single word or line of
information about the cause of the calamity has
been found. We can only question the gale and
the pitiless sea."

" When a ship founders at sea, it is a sudden
affair where every effort is directed to save life;
or the final scene of a series of calamities, when
it is impossible to find time and materials to
prepare a last message, seal it securely in a
bottle, and consign it to the ocean mail. How
rare it is such a sea letter ever reaches the shore,
or is received by anyone."

" But, there is a possibility of it, and I
think sooner or later a communication, enclosed
in a bottle, will be found, perhaps upon a
foreign shore, which will convey startling
information about the ill-fated Portland, and may
disturb the relations of persons and the rights of
property. Think of the legal complications which


might arise, if the assumption had been acted
upon that the wife had died first because the
weaker, and it be learned the contrary. Or, if
a will, or directions where to find one, should be
enclosed with the last despairing Good-bye."

"Very true," said the captain gravely,
puffing his pipe.

" What can a vessel do in a gale like this } "
Delano asked anxiously.

" Lay to under reefed sail and drift. I have
done it three days with a tarpaulin in the mizzen
rigging, and nothing to eat but hardtack and salt
pork. There is great danger from colhsions.
Many captains are too stingy to burn side-lights.
There is a heavy fine for not showing the red and
green, but who can catch the beggars. You are
running free and a white cloud crosses the bow
and is out of sight in a minute. Or you notice a
lead-colored blur, think your eyes are cloudy for
lack of sleep, rub them a moment and look again
and the vessel has disappeared. How is a man
to know whether he has seen the Mary Jane, the
Flying Dutchman, or the Jolly Rogers.? "

" Speaking of the Jolly Rogers, do you suppose
smugglers and pirates ever visited this land.?" asked

" Suppose .? My grandfather told me Captain
Kidd and his crew used to land upon the island,
row their boats through the lakes, and drag them
across the intervening land from the north to the


south shore. Look at Menemsha and Nashaquitsa
and Sengecontacket and Waquataqua, on the map.
There is a tunnel under the hill near here, now
partly filled by rubbish, which grandfather said
led to a secret cave."

The captain drew his chair near to Delano,
looked around the room suspiciously and said, '' Do
you believe in ghosts, sir.?"

'' I am afraid I must in order to explain all
the curious phenomena which come to my atten-
tion," replied Delano with some trepidation.

" Well, I swan! and I do too. I never was
afraid of anything. I have wrestled with walruses ;
fought polar bears on the ice ; rowed up and lanced
a harpooned whale ; jumped overboard in a gale to
save an apprentice ; been bumped by torpedoes,
and under fire of little and big guns, but I'm
skeery about this time of night in this old house.
There's something or other disturbing things.
Lots of folks lived and died here, and it is kind of
natural some o' them should come back to see how
things are drifting. I ask your opinion because
you have more knowledge of spirits and shore

" What have you seen and heard around
here } ' '

" I noticed things I was using would get mis-
placed. I would lay down a pencil, knife, paper
or book, and it would get in some out-of-the-way
place, and I would only find it after much search-


ing. Then I heard knocks in the house in various
locahties, when all else was quiet and no wind
blowing. I wasn't scared, only uneasy, and kept
the matter to myself.

" One night a terrible gale was raging, and I
sat in the other room looking out upon the turbu-
lent harbor as the lightning flashed, when I saw
a boat full of men approaching the landing.
The sea was breaking over the Beach road ; and
I thought no boat could live in such a gale. I
took a lantern and ran to the shore, but the
boat had disappeared in the foaming torrent. I
returned to the house much puzzled and was
looking out of the window, when I saw by the
lightning flashes the same boat carried by a
high sea across the road, swept over the marsh,
and landed safely at the base of the ridge.
Two sailors went behind the hill and the others
crouched around the boat. They seemed to be
covered by shining steel armor, and I was
greatly surprised at their appearance and miracu-
lous escape from drowning. It was uncanny
and mysterious."

Delano looked scared and arose and locked
the door.

*' Then I heard sounds within the house, and I
secured the doors, took down my gun, and
listened and watched. Though my heart was
throbbing in my ears, my forehead covered
with perspiration, and my nerves tingling from


head to heels, I heard voices above the tumult
of the storm, and would swear they were within
the house. Fearing for my loved ones, I went
up to my bed-room in the south gable, fastened
the door, and watched by its only window. The
boat still lay like a blotch against the lake, and
I perceived the men during flashes deposit a
small chest in the boat, shove off and row
quickly away towards Waquataqua. Whether
men, ghosts, or demons, I felt much relieved when
they disappeared in their spectre boat. The
armor and chest looked like business a century

The captain puffed away in silence awhile
and then said, " Now what do you think of
that, sir .?"

" I think it a very extraordinary and terri-
ble experience. Captain," replied Delano.

" Yes, and I cannot find any secret passage
into my house. I am therefore inclined to
believe the nocturnal visitors and miraculous
navigators were genuine ghosts."

A draft from the loose window-sash made
the light flicker, and the wind whistled mourn-
ful notes in the chimney.

" The devil has got into the chimney
again," growled the captain. " Ground-tackle
will not hold this weather. I have noticed
when the chimney talks, the shore is strewed with


wreckage and vessels the next morning. I believe
I will turn in now. Good-night."

" Good-night. I never heard it blow harder."
The sun was shining brightly the next
morning ; the seas were subsiding, and many
vessels were untwisting foul cables and get-
ting underway. Delano walked to the shore.
Vagrant shingles and broken limbs of trees were
in his path. The surf was hissing along the
beach. Pieces of wood, two broken ship's blocks,
an old mattress, a boat grating, a broken oar,
some dead fish, a shattered skiff and a sail-boat
full of water, were scattered along the sands.
Several small craft had sunk at their moorings ;
several battered vessels were stranded at the
head of the harbor ; the great ocean tow-boats
had guided drifting ships to the cove at Gifford's
navy yard ; and the Bethel on the margin of the
sea, and the Marine Hospital upon the hillside,
had succored many injured and half-drowned
sailors. There was activity and joy in the
harbor now, because the U. S. Signal Station
had replaced its gloomy storm flags by the
cheerful white fair-weather signal.

The northeaster had blown itself out ; the
wind had hauled around to the southeast in
a rain squall, and then into the southwest and
cleared the clouds away, and the Susie D. was
carrying water and provisions to the fleet.


Delano breakfasted at 9 o'clock and found
most of his friends at the table. They gathered
upon the piazza afterwards, discussed the storm,
and he related the dire results of the hurricane
in the Haven. Inland storms are generally so
harmless, they could hardly realize that, while
they slept, ships had been sunk, sailors swallowed
up by the sea, and the shore covered with wrecks
and wreckage. Landsmen little know that strong
winds on land are gales at sea, which cause
disaster and death.

" You kept vigil late last night, Mr. Delano, "
said Gabrielle looking at him critically.

" Yes ; I was fascinated by the storm, and
the captain came into my room and told stories.
But how do you know we were up late ? " and he
looked at her in surprise.

" I saw the light in your window and your
shadow after you drew the shade. I, too, watched
the beautiful pictures when the lightning rolled

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Online LibraryWilliam Henry WinslowThe sea letter : a mystery of Martha's Vineyard → online text (page 2 of 18)