William Henry Winslow.

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

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The inside passengers were partly outside
through the windows half the time, exchanging
jokes and keeping up a running conversation with
those above them. Ripples of laughter were
frequent as the near-by babble of the surf upon
the sand, and it was certain all enjoyed the unique
experience immensely.

The red lights of West Chop and East Chop
and the flicker of Nobska across the Sound had
been seen and commented upon, as they rode over
the Highlands. The white lights of Cape Poge
and Edgartown were visible across the water to the
eastward, and upon the glassy sea, were vessels
with white sails shining in the moonlight and
hanging motionless except for the slight move-



THE SEA LETTER 59

ments caused by the ground swell. The Cottage
City Golf Club house and extensive grounds lay
on the rio^ht hand.

'' The Goddess of Love shines upon us in the
West — there is Venus," remarked Atkins.

*' Well, we all love each other, don't we girls t "
asserted rather than asked Thompson, laughing.

No answer except suppressed giggles, and
the girls looked at each other until at last Vic.
broke the awful silence by saying, '^ We may
possibly like each other, but as for love, that is
entirely a different matter."

The coach rolled onwards, with the surf
and sand dunes on the left hand, and Lake Senge-
kontacket, where moonbeams were quivering, on
the right, and rumbled across the bridge over the
inlet towards the south.

" Those little houses by the water's edge
are gunning camps. There are some goose and
duck shooting on the lakes and South shore, and
many good fellows belong to the clubs," remarked
Mac.

*' Yes, and quail and rabbit shooting inland,"
added Atkins.

" Well, I should like to see game somewhere.
I've carried a gun all over the South and never
could fill a game-bag. One must go back miles
from the railroad even in Montana, to find any-
thing to shoot better than a train-robber,"



6o THE SEA LETTER

They were now approaching Edgartown and
Atkins pointed to some great white buildings and
said, '* Those houses were built with whale oil.
The inhabitants used to fit out many whaling ves-
sels, and they brought back wealth from the five
oceans. The men were much of the time at sea ;
some returned, some did not. * There she blows,'
and 'Give me your flipper,' were familiar expres-
sions, and captains and widows were numerous.
They have all gone aloft now, and the moonlight
streams over their marble stones in the ceme-
tery yonder."

Everyone gazed upon the graves and May sang
" The Watch Below : "

" Hark! to the steady tread
Of the watch along the deck.
Good sailor men are overhead
To guard from gale and wreck.

"Turn in to sleep and rest
And let the wild winds blow ;
No care shall vex the breast
Of the tired watch below.

"The voyage '11 soon be over,
And the boatswain's whistle still —
They'll sleep 'neath grass and clover
With shipmates on the hill."



THE SEA LETTER 6i

A feeble applause broke the solemn silence of
the night. Laura sighed, and Flossie wiped away
a tear.

They went on past Katama, the roar of the
breakers increased, the horn was blown frequently,
the coach stopped upon the bank above the shore,
the riders dismounted and the horses were left in
Jack's care.

The party stood upon the broad boulevard of
hardened sand and watched the great waves break
and foam at their feet. A band of silvery light
extended over billows of inky hue far towards the
horizon. The moonlight drenched the whole shore
with radiance, and cast long shadows of their forms
behind them, as they separated in couples and wan-
dered along the sands.

Delano and Laura sauntered up the beach;
picked up pieces of seaweed, little shells and pecu-
liar stones, and admired the stars, the breakers and
each other. Thompson and Gabrielle hesitated a
moment, and then followed along slowly behind
them. Gabrielle looked very charming in the
moonlight, as one might imagine Diana herself
would have appeared had an artist ever caught
that mythical personage. She was observant, quiet
and self-possessed, and conversed with her com-
panion as she would have done in a drawing-room.
She listened to Thompson's remarks upon Con-
chology, as they picked up various specimens, and



62 THE SEA LETTER

led him on by questions about their anatomy which
surprised him.

Delano was amused, as they wandered nearer,
at their conversation and the earnest discussion
about univalves and bivalves, clam, scallop and
whelk shells, which he and Laura were glancing
at curiously and pitching into the surf.

The surf roared along the shore like angry
lions and was heard all over the island.

A great wreck upon the beach loomed in the
west, with shining sides above black shadows. The
Surf House was resplendent with light, and strains
of music were wafted on the air from the band
upon the piazza. It was a time for sentiment and
romance, and Delano took Laura's hand in his and
walked far up the shore. Gabrielle looked after
them thoughtfully, but did not follow. She was
neither Laura's guardian, nor his fiancee, and she
had no apprehension nor apparent curiosity.

" Words cannot do justice to this beautiful
scene," said Delano, as he swept his hand around.

" It is, indeed, very lovely," said Laura.

'' How lucky, to have such a fine evening."
■ *'Yes, fortune favors the brave."

"We are not so very brave, are we V

"Yes, anyone is brave who drives four horses."

"Ha! ha! I never thought of such a thing."

" Girls do — they often think more than men
give them credit for."



THE SEA LETTER 63

" Do they? What were you thinking of just
now ? "

**How quickly you turned the horses out for
that crippled blind man, who sells corn-bars."

'^Why shouldn't I?"

*' Of course you should ; but a girl would have
driven over him. She would not have seen, thought
and acted quick enough."

'* You malign your sex. I was riding a bike
in circles behind the monument one evening just
at dusk, and a girl scorcher was coming down the
hill from the wharf at lightning speed. She saw
me come out from behind the monument not ten
feet away and right across her track. I was para-
lized and hadn't time to do anything, expecting an
awful disaster. Quick as a flash, she gave a little
scream, a twist of the handlebars, and flew by me
without touching wheels. I was perfectly aston-
ished at her self-possession, quick apprehension
and action. If she had been a man scorcher, we
should both have been destroyed."

^' Oh ! that was you, was it, Mr. Delano } I did
not know you in the dark."

"And you were the scorcher } Gracious! but
you had nerve — you saved our wheels, to say
nothing of our lives."

'' Well, perhaps, we are smart ; though Madam
Salchi thought I was not, when at her school; the
girls all got better marks than I did."

" In what studies .'' "



64 THE SEA LElTER

" O, mathematics and German."

" How did you get along in music and

French ? "

" Just lovely — I liked them so much."

''It's easily explained: it is a matter of tem-
perament. Your temperament is better suited to
these studies, than to the abstractions of mathe-
matics and the rude tones of German."

" Thanks : Gabrielle was brilliant in both
those hard studies."

" What of that } She is a different tempera-
ment ; she is patient and persistent, and never
rests until she conquers. You are impatient and
easily discouraged over difficulties ; the musical
notes and the sweet French words please you, and
you learn them easily."

" What a funny notion ! you seem to know all
about girls,"

They were still picking up pebbles and shells.
Suddenly Delano stopped and said, "What's
that V — and picked up a bottle — "A bottle !
Gracious ! some news from a sinking ship, possibly
— and a letter inside!"

" Oh ! let me see ! " cried Laura.

Delano cut away a cork covered with rope-
yarns and tar, and pulled out a piece of soiled paper.
They tried to read the writing on it, but could not,
because it was almost defaced by moisture and
dirt.



THE SEA LETTER 65

" We shall have to wait until we get back to
the coach-lamp," said he, and he put the paper back
into the bottle, replaced the damaged cork, and
carried it under his arm.

" How queer we should find this," said Laura.

"Providence must have directed us this way,"
said he soberly.

" I hope so." They walked along in silence,
then Laura said, " I wish you'd talk some."

"Why .? that's a queer request."

" O, you explain things so that I can under-
stand."

"You are a good listener and it is easy to
talk to you," and Delano looked in her dark eyes
which sought his trustfully.

" That is because I am only a girl," and she
returned his gaze shyly.

" Only a girl .? You will have to consider your-
self a woman soon ; " and his eyes ran caressingly
over her beautiful figure and the long shadow upon
the sand. " See what a tall shadow you make."

She looked and replied, "I am always going
to remain a young lady. I am going to stay with
papa and mama."

" But they may die and leave you alone in the
world."

"Then I might" —

" Might what 1 " and he took her arm gently
and looked in her face.



66 THE SEA LETTER

"Then I might" — He suddenly bent for-
ward and kissed her — '' might love someone ! "

He could not resist her naivete and beauty.
She looked at him startled and exclaimed, " Why
Mr. Delano! You are saucy! You took my breath
away. What would mother say .? "

" She may not know it."

" But the others .? "

'' No one noticed it; we are so far away."

"Are you sure .'* "

" Sure ! look back."

"Then let us return. How dare you kiss me
without permission '} What is the use of chaperons
anyhow ? "

" For thoughtless persons. I could not resist
the witchery of your beauty and the splendor of
this moonlight."

" I am angry at you. No man ever kissed
me except papa."

" I ask your pardon. I am proud to be the
second. Do not be angry, please. I will ask per-
mission next time."

" You had better."

They were walking back now, but their forms
and shadows were so blended that their friends
could not distinguish their movements.

They talked in monosyllables of insignificant
things. Delano manifested a tender solicitude for
her footsteps and her comfort. Laura rested her



THE SEA LETTER 67

arm softly within his, avoided his glances, and
seemed in haste to return.

It was trying to meet the gaze of the other
members of the party, who had remained more to-
gether, and they did not escape suspicious glances
and curious questions; but Delano's self-possession
and good nature protected them from too close
catechising, and they were both wise enough to
keep the moon behind them and their faces in
shadow, that their features could not be scanned
closely.

The doctor and Miss Dale, who had so scan-
dalously neglected their duty, as self-appointed
chaperons usually do, had been seated upon the
sand discussing the proper situation of a school-
house, with reference to the points of the com-
pass, and the interior arrangement of seats and
blackboards. The doctor asked Laura, with a
twinkle in his gray eyes, if she had had a pleasant
ramble.

She answered quite gaily, " Of course we did :
we went nearly by Mattakeset Bay to where the
inlet opens into Katama."

" So I judged, by your diminutive size and
lost shadows. What did you find interesting,
Delano .? "

He was not inclined to make a full confession,
and answered : '' Some winrows of sand made by
the surf ; some broken timbers of wrecks ; a few
shells and pebbles, and this bottle, securely corked,



6S THE SEA LETTER

containing a piece of paper with writing upon it,
which we were not able to decipher."

" What ! A message from the sea ? The last
words of drowning men ? Let me see it ! " said the
doctor, springing to his feet.

They all gathered about Delano and began to
question him, which was a great relief to Laura,
because she saw Gabrielle was regarding her rather
critically, and she felt embarrassed. She could
not blame herself. She had been taken unawares.
Kisses upon her cheek and brow from boys and
girls, and warmer kisses from kindred and parents,
had been received, as she took a bon-bon or a hand-
shake ; but this manly kiss had drawn from her own
lips a delicate but responsive movement, in spite of
herself, against her own wish and will ; surging to
meet his, as the tide rises to the moon. She did
not blame Delano very much. But she was only a
girl from a country town, where all the proprieties
were rigidly observed, and she was more surprised
than vexed. Thinking thus, and listening to the
talk around her, this innocent bud appeared silent
and odd to Gabrielle, who wondered if Delano had
been talking love to her. Women are so quick
usually to surmise the truth. What would she
have thought had she known what had really hap-
pened ?

Mac and Flossie had been very busy catching
sea-moss, or marine algae, more beautiful than
words can describe or artist paint. Atkins and



THE SEA LETTER 69

Victoria had made a celestial map upon the sand
and were studying it intently. Thompson and
Gabrielle had just returned from their wanderings,
loaded with shells, shark-eggs, a king-crab and a
bloated starfish; and Sanders and May were com-
fortably seated upon the grassy bank, where they
had been all the time, discussing the folly of un-
necessary exertion, wet feet and scientific hobbies,
when the doctor startled everybody by his excite-
ment and actions.

*' Let us go to the coach-lamp," said Delano.

" Good ! we have had enough of the South
Beach for to-night," responded Sanders.

They all gathered around Delano and the
doctor, who endeavored by the light of the coach-
lamp to read the soiled scrawl found in the bottle.
Everyone concluded it was impossible, though it was
the opinion of several that the language was foreign,
and the writing would show plainer after the paper
had been dried.

'' Put it back in the bottle, Delano, and we
will examine it under my microscope when we get
home," said the doctor.

Delano did as advised, stowed the bottle in
the boot, and said, '' There are some bottles in the
coach that are more interesting just now, — Jack,
get out the hamper and open the ball."

"■ All right, sir ! " said Jack, pocketing his
pipe and unlocking the door.



JO THE SEA LETTER

The contents of the basket was soon arranged
upon the ground; the gentlemen spread lap-robes
and wraps; the ladies laid a table-cloth and seated
themselves, and the good things were distributed
by Delano, Jack and others. Pop went the corks.

" Mercy ! Mr. Delano, that just whizzed by my
face," said May.

" Beg pardon ! what will you have, Tashmoo
water, ginger ale or beer V

^'Tashmoo, of you please," said one. ''Gin-
ger ale and a little Tashmoo," said another. ''Gin-
ger ale straight." " Beer," etc., until all were served.

" Ladies, your good health! " said the doctor,
courteously tossing his glass.

" Your good health. Doctor."

" Here's to the moon, sweet Silene ! "

" Who'll have some cheese .'' " "Is it green 1 "
"Yes, Roquefort." "Try a sardine." "Bah! I
cannot bear oil." " Take a cracker." " No, a
sandwich." " Excellent, aren't they ?" " Fine — I
like the tongue best." " Girls have tongue enough."
"For a talker, find a romantic bachelor,"

"Oh ! oh ! just hear her."

" Women can talk, but they don't meander on
sentimentally as men do." observed Gabrielle.

" I think women have little sentiment," said
Delano.

"What is that bright star overhead } " asked
Flossie.

" Aldebaran," quickly answered Vic.



THE SEA LETTER ji

" Good ! you'll learn," said Atkins.

" Flossie, eat your sandwich — this is no time
for star-gazing."

*' I never saw the stars show clearer," said
Atkins — the moon had plunged into a dense cloud
that was rising towards the zenith.

"Flossie is sentimental."

" Such a night and such a picnic ought to
make us all so," observed Thompson.

" Better stick to your dry-bone studies."

*' Look out May, don't get that sardine on my
skirt."

"The slippery thing seems alive — I can't
keep it on the bread."

" Oh ! look ! that big wave ! It must have a
mermaid under it."

^' How dark it looks towards the southeast."

"Of course, towards Africa, the 'Dark conti-
nent.'"

" Did you come from Africa, Jack .? "

" No, Missus ; I come frum ole Virginny."

Delano had found Jack, whose full name was
Jackson Lee, at Norfolk, and induced him to come
into his service before he had been ruined by nor-
thern associates.

The feast and flow of wit went on together.
Nothing equals the air of Capawock in exciting an
appetite. Sojourners there are always hungry,
though in a land of plenty. The hotel men growled
over the small profits at the end of the season ; the



72 THE SEA LETTER

members of the meat syndicate became wealthy
and built fine houses, and the grocers, art-dealers
and confectioners enlarged their stores, joined
hunting-clubs, and went yachting with State street
and Wall street brokers.

" Try a tart, Miss Dale ; the jelly is made
from beach-plums."

" Thanks ; what a pretty purple bloom they
have when ripe."

" Did you see the fish your friends caught,
Delano t Wilson had a string of perch that reached
from his chin to the ground ; " said Young.

"Is it possible ? Anything beside perch V^

"A few pickerel, and some eels, which when
split measured ten inches broad."

"A fish story!"

" No, honest Injun ! I saw them in the yard
being cleaned."

"Wish I had seen them."

" The fellows were fishing along the bank
and out in a boat all day. Came back tired out,
but very happy. They were on Chappaquonset
most of the time, but got the eels near Herring
Creek ; I had just a few moments talk with them,
as they skipped to their rooms to clean up for sup-
per."

" Well, that was luck ! we must go some day,
if they don't clean out the lake before we get ready.
Sorry they missed this, though."

" So am I."



THE SEA LETTER y^

" May n't we go fishing, Mr. Delano ? " asked
Laura.

" Perhaps so^ if you will bait your own hooks."

" There will not be much fishing then," ob-
served Sanders.

" Why not ? " asked several.

" I have noticed when girls go a fishing with
fellows, the latter have to put on all the bait and
unhook all the fish ; and these duties and other
gallant attentions take so much time, that they
don't have a chance to catch anything themselves.
If I go, I shall leave my fish-lines at home."

** Just as well, you mean thing ! " said Flossie
indignantly. You ought to esteem it a great favor
to bait a lady's hook and unhook her fish,"

" Of course, if one goes for fun simply, or is
in love with the fisher-girl but it is not fishing.
When I go fishing, I want to fish and catch some-
thing myself."

" Well, go off by yourself and be miserable ;
I'm sure we shall not care, if May does'nt. What
do you say, May .'' "

" I think Mr, Sanders is right. I expect we
are often greater nuisances than we think, and the
gentlemen are too polite to tell us."

" Of course, you would side with him," and
Flossie pouted.

"Bravo! quiet girl," said the doctor. **The
gentlemen make themselves so officious and atten-
tive that the ladies can hardly turn around without



74 THE SEA LETTER

an explanation. They cannot have anything their
way, because, forsooth, Mr. Gallant has planned it
otherwise ; so they must smother their resentment,
submit to being cotbettied, and lose much of their
enjoyment."

'' Then they ought to protest," said Vic. *' Who
told you that Doctor.?"

" I have eyes to see and ears to hear."

" We believe ourselves capable of managing
almost everything that does not require profound
knowledge or brute strength, and we do not fancy
being treated like children ; " declared Gabrielle
with spirit.

"That depends upon temperament, I am
sure many girls shrink from responsibility and pre-
fer to be managed ; while a few like yourself are
jealous of any control."

They were all listening to this controversy,
and Delano thought how aptly this last phrase ap-
plied to two of the party, Laura and Gabrielle.

•* Such espionage would be expected and accep-
ted graciously by the ladies of Europe, but in the
United States, women are so enthroned in the affec-
tions, they become queenly in their exactions."

"Did you ever hear the * Legend of Katama*
and its beautiful bay.?" asked Vic.

" No, is there an Indian legend for that place?"
asked several.

"A very natural one."



THE SEA LETTER 75

"Katama was the name of a beautiful Indian
girl, who lived on the shore of the pretty bay three
miles below Edgartown, in the village of Wintucket,
where her father, Nashamois, was chief of his tribe.
She was much sought after by young braves, but
her father had promised her to his friend, Ahquom-
pacha, chief of an allied tribe, whom she hated
intensely.

" She had not fallen in love with anyone ; but
she busied herself making ornaments, baskets and
mats for the wigwam, where she expected to live
an unhappy bride. One day she went down to
Quanomiqua in her little canoe to gather grasses,
which were there more luxuriant and beautiful than
elsewhere in Capawock. While busy assorting her
collection, a tall shadow fell upon her, and, glan-
cing backwards, she saw a handsome young Indian,
who told her he was Mattakese, chief of a neigh-
boring tribe. He was so respectful and gracious
in his demeanor, that she finally fell in love with
him and reluctantly promised to be his queen.

" She paddled back to her wigwam much trou-
bled in spirit, because she knew her tribe was at
enmity with her lover's, and her father and Ahquom-
pacha would make war upon him, should they learn
of the betrothal.

"Mattakese and his people planted maize
upon the Great Plain south and west, which is the
largest piece of level land in New England, and
excited the cupidity and envy of the neighboring



^6 THE SEA LETTER

villagers. The tribes of Pohoganot, Ahquompacha
and Nashamois conspired to make a raid and rob
the fields of their golden harvest. A moonless
night was appointed and the tribes were detailed
for the attack. Some crept along the South Beach,
some came by way of Shockamokset, and some by
Weshacket, in order to surround the plain and ren-
der escape impossible.

"Katama had heard all the plans, and she
slipped away early in her canoe to warn her lover
of the conspiracy and attack. Mattakese posted
his warriors for defence, sending the squaws and
papooses over to Chappaquiddick just after dark,
and awaited his foes. The battle was furious and
fierce, but, overwhelmed by the great number of
warriors, his braves were soon all killed or cap-
tured, and he and Katama stood at last alone upon
the shore. They cast despairing glances around,
then stepped quietly into her little canoe and pad-
dled rapidly away. In the middle of the bay,
where the swift current sw^eeps around the eastern
point, the canoe was upset by a swirl in the tide,
and the lovers found themselves in the water swim-
ming for life. They could have gained the western
shore, but they knew torture and death awaited
them by the hands of Nashamois and Ahquompa-
cha. Katama's strength failed and Mattakese
took her in his arms and kissed her, and then they
drowned and went to the Happy Hunting Ground,
united for evermore.



THE SEA LETTER 77

" Hence came the name of Katama Bay and
Mattakese below it, and it is said, the place where
they perished has ceased its turbulence and remains
a quiet pool in the midst of the current."

The listeners applauded and praised Vic hear-
tily. Gabrielle said, *' That is a sad legend,
but admirably related."

"How did you learn all that.?" asked May.

*' Wasn't it too bad they drowned.?*' sighed
Flossie.

"Served her right for wanting to marry a
foreigner," observed Sanders.

" Oh ! come off, Sanders ! You'd spoil a fune-
ral," said Thompson.

"A pretty story, prettily told," added Delano,
looking at Vic. approvingly, who answered all ques-
tions and received congratulations with a mien of
becoming humility.

The girls were busy with their bon-bons and
the gentlemen with their cigars. The roar of the
surf and the music from the Surf House band
mingled in sweet cadence, and, though it was nearly
ten, there was no chill in the night air, nor discom-
fort in sitting upon the sandy soil, which the sun
had dried to a great depth.

" It is getting late, mamma will be worried,"
said Laura, placing her hand on Delano's arm.

** I think we ought to start," added Gabrielle.

"If you are all satisfied, we will return," said


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Online LibraryWilliam Henry WinslowThe sea letter : a mystery of Martha's Vineyard → online text (page 4 of 18)