William Henry Winslow.

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

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"We have had a perfectly lovely time," sang
the girls in chorus.

"Jack, hitch up!"

"Everything is right, I reckon, sir!"

Delano walked around the horses. Jack held
the leaders, the inside passengers exchanged seats
with the outside ones, the ladies were helped to
their places, and the gentlemen climbed nimbly
aboard. Delano gathered up the reins and took
his seat. Jack made a spring into place and blew
his horn, and the jovial party rolled towards the
north, leaving the sea to beat itself weary and level
upon the white shore.

How happy they were ! How sweet life seemed !
How little they thought of labor and economy ! O,
golden days of youth and hope, how soon you pass
into memory ! What struggles, victories, defeats,
happiness, misery, hope and despair the riper years

The girls sang several ballads appropriate to
the occasion, and the gentlemen responded with
college and boating songs. The horses pranced
along the road ; the horn sounded sweetly across
the moors ; repartees and joyous laughter alterna-
ted, and everyone seemed contented and happy.
Certainly, it was a very congenial party, and a
unique experience to several persons.

The cottages along the streets were still bril-
liantly lighted, exhibiting the usual charming in-
terior pictures ; the piazzas contained many quiet


groups and sly couples in the shadows ; bicyclists
flitted here and there like fireflies, tinkling warning
bells; acquaintances and lovers wandered arm in
arm here and there, and the general quiet told
that the children had been put away to sleep.

The immense dome of the great Methodist
Tabernacle cast a black shadow upon the hundreds
of seats below, where preaching, lectures and music
usually attracted thousands, and Trinity Park
around it was full of sweet odors from its many

The coach rolled on, attracting less attention
now ; went around the Highlands, giving the riders
a glimpse of the Baptist Tabernacle in the oak
grove ; met the rising night air out of the south-
west ; passed slowly beneath the trees through the
shadows of the avenue, and drew up before the
main entrance of the hotel, where a little bustle
among the loungers manifested a sleepy interest
in the excursionists. The riders dismounted with
jests and laughter, thanked Delano cordially for
his generosity, and mingled with their friends in
and around the hotel, and the team was taken to
the stables.


Delano went to his room and, finding the
captain upon the porch smoking, invited him in,
gave him an easy-chair, and told him about the
moon light ride.

" Been on a tally-ho ride to the South Beach,
have you? Well, that's mighty fine. I wish I was
young myself," said the captain earnestly.

" You aren't old. Captain," said Delano. ** Do
you remember the other night we had a discussion
about the loss of the Portland, and the probability
of receiving news from some of her people by a
sea message in a bottle .?"

"Aye, aye ! that I do ; and I've thought con-
siderably of your ideas about altered relations and
property complications. You haven't heard any-
thing about her, have you ?"

" No ; but I have found a bottle upon the
shore, which contains a piece of paper with writing
upon it."

" You don't say so } You aint joking ? Let us
overhaul it, and see if it isn't some funny business."


Delano took the round porter bottle out of his
overcoat pocket and handed it to the captain.

"By Jupiter! that looks genuine," he ex-
claimed, eyeing the bottle all over, and holding it
up to the light.

Delano drew the piece of paper from the bot-
tle and spread it out upon the table.

The captain put on his glasses, looked it over
carefully, held it up to the lamp and ejaculated,
"Spanish, By Thunder!" and proceeded to read
and translate it slowly :

" Schooner Cisneros,

Gulf Stream, Lat. 44** N.

Nov. 27, 18 — .

"Vessel is dismasted — full of water — driving
before a hurricane — seas breaking over — we are
lost — crew is Floyd, Lookup, Solana, Galvez, Ca-
brera, de Castro, Santillo and myself. Captain
Ayllon — mostly Minorcans from Mayport, Fla. —
Whoever finds — report. Go to sound on coast of
Maine — west side — great hole in ledge — see
arrows in ledge pointing towards it — a cross on
face of cliff to the north — find cave in north wall
closed by stone and cement — valuable informa-
tion. An island lies in mouth of sound — two
islands outside with narrow passage between —
Mercy Lord — must hurry — sinking!"

Captain Oliver had been to sea from boyhood
and had learned several foreign languages. " Ano-


ther vessel lost," said he, *'and all hands gone to
Davy Jones' Locker. It isn't the Portland either."

"Yes, poor fellows!" said Delano sadly.
''Probably in a storm like we had last week. Their
sweethearts and wives will watch in vain for their

"They have gotten through their mourning
long ago, to judge by the looks of this paper. It
must be many years old."

" Minorcans t Where do they come from } "

" I think from the island of Minorca in the
Mediterranean Sea. The inhabitants are mostly
Spanish, and they speak that language. There
was a small colony of them at Mayport, or a place
called Fort San Mateo, on the right bank at the
mouth of the St. Johns River, Florida.

"This river was named St. John the Baptist, in
1525, by Gordillo and Quexos, who landed near St.
Augustine and led an exploring expedition along
the coast. The latter seized the country for Spain,
but no permanent settlement was made. In 1 562,
Ribaut entered the river with a colony of French
Huguenots, renamed it * La Riviere de Mai '
(River of May), whence Mayport took its name,
and claimed the territory. Fort Caroline was built
in 1564, by the French, at St. John's Bluff, some
miles up river from the coast. In 1565, St.
Augustine was founded by Menendes, and he made
an unsuccessful attack upon Fort Caroline. The
fleet met with many disasters ; the Spanish and


French soldiers, both aided by native Indians,
fought up and down the coast for two hundred
miles, but finally, Menendes captured Fort Caroline
and murdered all who surrendered. This left the
coast under Spanish rule, but, in 1568, Gourges
landed with a French force, captured the fort, hung
all the garrison in revenge for Menendes' perfidy
in killing prisoners of war, and destroyed the for-
tification. Other Spaniards came later and settled
along the shore, and a long struggle ensued between
Spain and England for possession.

''During English predominance and peace, in
1767, an English Dr. Turnbull established an In-
digo Plantation near Mosquito Inlet, on the main-
land and shore of Mosquito Lagoon, at a place called
New Smyrna, and colonized it by bringing over
1500 Minorcans. The enterprise was a failure,
and the foreigners soon scattered up along the
coast and increased the population. In 1 865, there
were many descendants of these people along the
river and at Mayport.

** Captain Ayllon says, ' Schooner Cisneros,'
possibly a smuggler between Florida and Cuba.
There was plenty of smuggling down there. The
coast of Florida is a network of channels between
islands and keys, and it is most difficult to navigate
them, or to catch a vessel once she gets inside.
During the Civil War, I often chased vessels into
an inlet and lost them, when I felt sure they were
my prizes. They would down sail and row and


pole into a gap in the bank, where they were
securely hidden by the trees. The fishermen there
loaded with mullet, red-snapper, grouper and pom-
pano, and took them to Havana, where they brought
good prices."

" Did they return in ballast V^

" No sirree ! not when aguadiente, tobacco
and sugar paid such good profits. Two to one,
that craft was a smuggler."

The old skipper puffed away at his pipe, as
he looked over the last letter from the sea care-

Delano lighted another cigar and said, " You
seem very well posted on the history of Florida,

" I was always fond of history, and don't read
much of anything else these times. I was on the
St. Johns River, on a U. S. Gunboat during the
Civil War, and often ashore at Mayport. It was
a great country for oysters, fish and game — I
wonder if this schooner is the one we chased so
often on the blockade ? "

" I suppose, in the morning, we had better
inform the reporters about the message in the

" Not by a jug full ! We should he harried
to death by them, and give away a valuable secret.
There is something extraordinary in the hole in
the ledge, and we must find out what it is our-
selves before we give it away."


*' Do you suppose we could find the locality
from the slight description ? "

" Of course, we could ; we can go into every
sound on the Maine coast if necessary, but a good
chart will shorten the trip."

" What shall we tell our friends ? They'll all
be after me the first thing in the morning."

" Tell them the first part of the message only
— they'll not miss the other half."

"All right. Let me write it down now."
The captain translated the letter again ; Delano
wrote the whole of it on one piece of paper, and
the first part on another slip, and put them care-
fully away in his pocket-book, hiding the original
writing in a secret compartment.

"It is two-bells in the midwatch," (i a. m.)
said the Captain, " and I think I'll turn in."

Delano was astonished to find it was so late.
He arose and said, " Come in after breakfast,

"Aye! aye! and I'll bring along my charts
of the coast — Good-night ! "

" All right ! Good morning you mean."

"No sir! not till sunrise."

"Well, Good-night! then," and they parted
laughing, and the captain dragged his slippers and
himself out of the room. Delano undressed
leisurely, put his vest with the precious pocket-
book under his pillow, and got into bed. He
rolled and tossed and thought for a long time,


and, finally, sank into a troubled sleep, and
dreamed of a demon in a bottle, and Gabrielle and
Laura fencing with golf sticks until they broke
it, and the demon came and sat upon his breast.
He gasped for breath, clutched at his aching
chest to throw off the incubus, and awoke pant-
ing and terrified — a victim of nicotine poison.

" What a fool to smoke so much last night,"
he muttered, and the wind in the chimney seemed
to repeat, " foo-oo-ool foo-oo-ool."

The next morning all the friends had gather-
ed upon the piazza and Delano was chaffed about
his late rising.

" Have you seen the doctor this morning.
Miss Dale V^ he asked carelessly.

" No," she replied, slightly disturbed.

" Tell him we shall not need his microscope."

*' Oh ! then you have succeeded in reading
the letter in the bottle ? " asked several eagerly.

" Yes."

" O, tell us ! Tell us what it says ! " deman-
ded several of the girls in chorus. The doctor
joined them just then and asked the news. Delano
read the prepared half of the letter, commented
with the curious and sympathetic upon the mes-
sage, and refused to exhibit the original paper at
that time. It was so damaged, he desired to dry
and preserve it. Only the doctor asked was that
all, and seemed disappointed at not having an
opportunity to examine the original.


" Spanish, was it ? I know a little of that
language," said Miss Dale.

Delano was glad the captain had advised
secrecy, and he had kept the paper from general
examination. It was necessary for success in
finding the cave and controlling its secrets, that
he and the captain should be cautious and confide
in no one.

**Well, I may let some of you Latinists try
your skill in translating it some time," said Delano
politely, never intending to do so, however, until it
had served his purpose.

The guests around the hotel considered the
matter from various standpoints, and found amuse-
ment all the forenoon. It was not long before
the ubiquitous reporter called upon Delano and
then telephoned a scoop to his journal, and the
afternoon papers came down on the evening train
and boat with half a column of interesting matter.

Mrs. Conant did not like the notoriety it gave
Laura, and Delano disavowed giving the reporter
anything about her. He declared he had gather-
ed up all the gossip about the piazzas and arranged
it to suit his sensational object.

" Laura is still a child, and we have a sacred
duty to perform in completing her education and
insuring her future position in life," said Mrs.
Conant quietly.


Delano noticed in his embarrassment a pecu-
liar earnestness in her speech which awakened his

" I suppose it must be a solemn task to guide
a child from infancy to adult life," said he.

" You may well believe it ; especially, when
a child is as lively and mischievous as a coon-

" The quiet manners and sedate lives of you
and your husband do not evidence any riotous

"But Laura" — then Mrs. Conant bit her lip
and turned her head away — "You know," she
continued, " children are not always like their

Mrs. Conant was one of those quiet, sensible,
methodical, affectionate women, who are such
treasures at home and such agreeable companions
in society. She had medium height, roundish
head and face, regular features, soft black eyes,
and black hair twisted into a heavy coil. Mr.
Conant resembled his wife in features and char-
acter, as married persons often do, when they
have lived together in harmony for many years.
Their lives had been a true and agreeable comrade-
ship, which is after all the real touchstone of per-
fect marriage. They had lived long in the
quiet town of Essex, where he had conducted a
large dry-goods store, and she had kept their


pretty home and brought up Laura as the Hght of
the household.

Just then Laura rushed into the group upon
the piazza and said eagerly, '* Mother, come down
to the bathing-beach and see the fun. Professor
Thornton is going to teach some of the girls to
swim and others to perform swimming tricks."

"Are you going in this morning. Miss
Laura?" asked Delano. "Cert., and so is Gab-
rielle and the rest of our set. Would you take
ma in charge t I must fly."

" Thank you ; I am sorry, but I have an
important engagement."

" So am I — Are you going out with the
tally-ho again V

" Not to-day."

" Didn't we have a jolly time .-^ "

"Very jolly," said he smiling. Then she
caught a glance from his merry eyes and blushed
a little, and he knew she had suddenly remember-
ed the walk and its consequences. Her mother
looked and listened and said nothing. Laura had
not told her, and had resolved not to — it was such
a trifling gallantry after all.

" Well, I will accompany you to-day, my dear,
but you had better give me your jewelry ; I would
not have you lose your bracelet for the world,"
said Mrs. Conant.

" That is a unique and valuable bracelet,
Mrs. Conant," said Delano, as Laura slipped it


off her wrist and tossed it into her mother's lap,
with her breast-pin, watch and chain. He took
it in his hand and admired the pecuhar colored
enamel of the serpent's scales, changing from
white to yellow, orange, brown and black ; exam-
ined the lifelike coils, the fierce ruby eyes and
the twist of the tail around the neck to complete
the circle, and handed it to Mrs. Conant saying,
" I think I have never seen a more exquisite piece
of workmanship. Was it purchased in this
country ? " "

" I do not know ; it is an heirloom, and there
is another like it, but it is not in our possession."
Laura had withdrawn a little to chatter to some
girls. " When we received it, there was a note
written in Spanish enclosed in its velvet case."

*' How very singular ! then you are of Spanish
descent ! "

" Come Mamma, come ! we are waiting ! "
called Laura, running up to her.

*^ I suppose I shall have to go, if you will
excuse me," said Mrs. Conant smiling.

" Certainly. You are very excusable," re-
plied Delano.

" I wish you could go," said Laura appeal-

" Sorry, but it is impossible — Good morn-
ing ! "

" Bye, bye," and they separated.


Delano hastened towards the old mansion,
and the ladies, to the beach. On the way, he saw
Gabrielle dressed in white challie with pink
flowers, tan shoes, and chip hat covered with roses,
set jauntily over her lovely auburn hair twisted in
figure eight. She nodded to him under her blue
parasol, and he could not resist going over to
greet her and walk a little way. She was frank
and sprightly as ever.

*' Everyone travels the same way to-day.
Do you bathe this morning ? " said he.

''Yes; I cannot bear to lose one day — it is
so delicious and healthful. If I do, I will reproach
myself when I return home, and not be able to
stand the winter's dissipation."

" That is right. Get all the salty sea and
ozone you can ; they are real vitalizers of the
system. You seem to have little time for a rock-
ing-chair and fancy work."

" Yes ; and I lament the summer so nearly
gone and so little done."

'' You will get through with your athletic
craze after a while, and enjoy some comfort in
reminiscences, as I do now."

" But you indulge often 1 "

'' Yes, but seldom as a task. My natural
inclination leads me to enjoy out-of-doors, and I
use athletic sports only when they agree with


" That is a new idea. Have I wearied and
worried myself following them ? "

" It seems so. You should not engage posi-
tively to do anything, nor force yourself, if you
feel any physical or mental disinclination."

** That seems like a good rule of action. I got
awfully used up at Bar Harbor last summer. You
know the dear little Canoe Club on Bar Island .?
We girls used to take a bark apiece and paddle
from it around Great Porcupine Island every day.
I used to come back so tired, I could not write
decently. I was afraid to go there again, and came
here for rest and a greater variety of exercise,
but I guess I have been over-training again."

" One would think so, to see your tan and
muscle. I must leave you here — Good morning."

"I am sorry — Au revoir.''

" What an intelligent and splendid creature
she is," thought Delano, as he gazed after her and
noted her graceful walk and proud demeanor.
'' How sweetly deferential she is to my opinions.
A man ought to be very happy with such a woman
for his wife," and he sighed. Gabrielle looked
back, saw him observing her, and waved her hand.
He answered by lifting his hat.

These young people were drifting together,
or was Gabrielle merely playing him to kill, as the
fisherman plays the hooked salmon in the rapids t
He seemed awake to a realizing sense of her attrac-
tions and would have followed her to the beach,


had he given way to his first impulse ; but he had
told Laura he had an engagement, and, if he should
go, it would require embarrassing explanations.
Besides, what would the captain think of his longer
tarrying ? No, he would meet the captain, though
he felt a strong disposition to do otherwise, and
somehow felt that Laura was to blame. He was
what an Islander would call, "poke hooked," a
fisherman's expression for a fish that has swallowed
the hook — sure to be caught.

But was he though ? He still thought much of
Laura. Such little things turn the course of a life.
If Delano had directed his steps to the beach and
seen Gabrielle again in her beauty and bath, no
doubt he would have surrendered his heart to her
imperious control. But he did not. He delayed
his submission to her in order to be loyal to Laura.


Captain Oliver sat upon the porch smoking
his pipe and holding a long roll of charts. '' Hullo !
here you be at last ! " said he, as Delano appeared
around the corner.

" Yes, here I am and quite sorry I kept you
waiting. Captain. The ladies detained me."

'' Of course, they did ; they always do ; they
used to keep me ashore till seven-bells (i 1-30 p.m.),
when I had the mid-watch. Many a night I pushed
aside the ice-cakes with a boat hook in the Dela-
ware, at Philadelphia, while a shore boatman pulled
me off, and I got aboard ship to relieve the deck
just as the binnacle-bell and the quarter-master
made it eight-bells (12 p.m.). A close squeak
sometimes, I can tell you."

" I should say it was."

" Well, I guess we'd better get inside and to
business — we might be run afoul of here."

" You are right, as usual. Captain."

They went into Delano's room, locked the
door, spread a chart upon the table and began their


" Have you found the sound, Captain ? " asked
Delano eagerly.

<' I have hit on a number of promising places,
but from looks of the chart, it isn't going to
be such an easy job. There isn't any place looks
likely this side of Portland, and see how the remain-
der of the coast is cut up by those long, narrow-
islands and peninsulars that run northeast and

'^ Yes, very peculiar. Suppose we should de-
cide to take a cruise down-east, what kind of a
vessel would you prefer to go in, a sailing craft or
a steamer .? "

" I should favor a beamy cutter. A steamer
would attract too much attention, and not be as
roomy and comfortable for a cruise. You would
not get away till September, and the winds are
wild and the seas rough on the coast that late."

*' I have cruised as far as Eastport in a 30-
footer and found her comfortable and safe. There's
a good harbor every twenty-five miles on the Maine
coast, and a small craft ought to get in every night."

" You could run up to Boston and make a
selection from the yachts, which will be hauling
out in the yards the last of the month."

'' Yes ; I suppose you could go along with me
as Sailing Master } "

" You don't mean it ? Nothing would please
me better, Mr. Delano ; but — I'll have to have a
talk with Ahce."


The captain looked pleased at the idea of hav-
ing a wrestle with Neptune again. He had only-
been fishing in his cat-boat around Cape Poge and
No Man's Land since he had retired from the Navy
and deep-water cruising after whales ; and every-
body knows, a sailor on land is always longing for
the deep sea and a heaving deck beneath his feet
until his dying day. There would be nothing in
the contemplated cruise comparable to the priva-
tions and perils of a whaling voyage to the arctic
regions, but just enough adventure, mystery and
roughing it to suit an old sea-dog past his prime.

The captain was of medium size and very
compact build. Though sixty years old, he did not
look fifty. " No man should ever confess to being
old," said he, " who has the strength and buoyant
feelings of twenty-five." The band of iron-gray
hair and his gray side-whiskers and mustache
were kept neatly trimmed ; and the bald crown
and smoothly shaven chin added to the symmetry
of his well shaped head. His eyes were black and
penetrating, and his Roman nose denoted strength
and self-reliance. He was such a man, as always
graces the quarter-deck of a ship, and has the con-
fidence and respect of subordinates, like the captain
of an ocean-liner or an officer of the Navy.

Delano was still a member of the Marblehead
Corinthian Yacht Club ; he had owned an able
cutter and cruised along the coast from Cape Cod


to Grand Manan, and he said, " We'll go to Boston
before long, Captain."

" Aye ! aye ! Mr. Delano ; I'll obey your
orders any time, sir."

" What time can we be ready 1 "

" If we have luck, the first of September."

" Where had we better fit out } "

" In Boston, of course."

" All right ; now let us study the charts
awhile — Remember, not a word of our mission to

"What shall we say.?"

" Say, we are going to take a yachting cruise
in September."

"Aye, aye ! sir ; that's the ticket."

They spread the chart of Casco Bay on the
table and began its examination.

" ' Go to sound on coast of Maine — an island
lies in mouth of sound — two islands outside with
narrow passage between,' so say the instructions,"
said Delano, reading from his copy.

" Those are good saihng directions," commen-
ted the captain. " Strange how very few places
resemble that description. The writer may have
been deceived in some things ; the sound may have
been a river, a channel or a bay. Look at Broad
Cove at the head of New Meadows River. An

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Online LibraryWilliam Henry WinslowThe sea letter : a mystery of Martha's Vineyard → online text (page 5 of 18)