William Henry Winslow.

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

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and the gaff and jibtopsail set, she fairly leaped
over the tide-rips and billows of Broad Sound to-
ward the northeast. All watched the yacht's move-
ments with pleasure and interest, as they talked
of the shoals and reefs that threaten vessels bound
to Boston, and of wrecks upon "The Graves" and
"Brewsters." The bell and whistling buoys sound-
ed ominous, but the course was clear and Nahant
was soon abeam, a picture of gray and green on a
blue back-ground of sky and sea. Two hours from
the start Orinda was off the Beacon and Marble-
head Light, where she met a cloud of yachts com-
ing around the point, and they saw that races were


in progress. There were forty or fifty white-winged
beauties flying over the courses, some upon the
starboard tack, some upon the port, and some
reaching and running for marks and stakeboats,
and Delano tacked and sped along with the lead-
ers towards Egg Rock.

It was a lovely racing day, the sea was moder-
ate, the sun shining golden, the wind westerly and
too strong for all sail; but some yachts dragged
their lee rails under water, and others flew along un-
der single reefs. The exhibition of many beauti-
ful yachts, striving for victory and exemplifying
every point of sailing ; the sparkling spray; the
dainty dash of waves from Orinda's bow, and the
exquisite scenery along shore from Marblehead to
Nahant, gave a picture of genuine yachting, and
excited the liveliest interest and enthusiasm.

The race went along rapidly, and the yachts
were soon headed towards the point and around
into the harbor past the Judges' Boat, where the
Judges stood, watch in hand, taking the time of
crossing the line abreast of the Corinthian Club

Orinda was anchored in midchannel beyond,
and her crew watched the finish and gun-fire for
the ''Firsts" with keen delight. The harbor was
crowded with pleasure boats and yachts of all di-
mensions and description ; a great multitude of
well-dressed people occupied the two club-houses,
the lawns, landings and hillsides of the Neck ; the


Corinthian band was playing in the stand out upon
the rocky point, and the sky was flecked by rain-
bows of colored flags and signals of bunting upon
the vessels and buildings.

The racers anchored inside the line ; the great
fleet of marine birds folded its wings; decks were
swept ; ropes coiled and faked down ; supper was
served upon deck or below, and quiet reigned
awhile. The moon rose full and silvered the rip-
pling water ; yachts full of merrymakers were every-
where, and many sweet singers and musicians
were abroad. The windows and houses reflected
the numerous lights around; the club-house was
brilliant with colored Chinese lanterns and bursting
with music, and the sound of the surf was like the
humming of bees. The happy yachtsmen and
their friends listened and contributed to the music,
stories, shouts and general jollification, while the
fireworks upon the yachts and along the shore
paled the moonlight, and added brilliant hued stars
to the heavenly constellations.

The fun, noise and splendor continued until
midnight, when pandemonium burst open, as the
silvery sound of eight- bells was repeated by the
yachts around. Horns, whistles, bells, banjos, gui-
tars, flutes, bugles and drums, broke out in a din
that drowned all else and made early sleepers
weary. Then catcalls, baseball slang and golf talk,
mingled in the turmoil. But it became quieter, as
the knowledge that it was the Sabbath came to one


and another, or persons ceased from exhaustion
and sleepiness, though occasional shouts, horn- blasts
and laughter punctured the silence and pierced the
ears of the lighter sleepers.

Delano and the captain spent part of the
evening at the club; partook of the excellent re-
past set out for members and their guests, and
scrambled over the Neck looking at the illumina-
tions of the cottages. Then struggling through
the clouds of lawn, muslin, challie and silk on the
piazzas at the Corinthian, they found a quiet cor-
ner where they could see the people, the fireworks
and the moonlit harbor, and have a quiet smoke.
The captain was dazzled and delighted, and said
it reminded him of naval receptions in foreign
countries; but Delano, though pleased by the ex-
hibition, could not suppress a feeling of loneliness
and thoughts of the dear ones at Capawock.

They looked much and talked little until
eight-bells, midnight, sounded, when they went
down to the landing-stage, Delano gave a call up-
on his silver whistle, Orinda's boat came and took
them on board, and they turned in immediately,
after arranging for Bob and Merangue to stand
anchor-watch alternately every two hours until
morning. Such was the finish of the gala day,
and one of the successful races of the Marblehead

The next morning the yacht was got under
way in a stiff easterly breeze, and threw the


sparkling spray over them in a dead beat to wind-
ward. The fine scenery of the North shore rend-
ered them obhvious to ahttle wetting and tumbhng
about, and they anchored before sunset among the
fishermen and fish odors in the harbor of Glouces-
ter. The yacht was away at daylight, passed
inside Thatcher's Island and around Cape Ann,
with its seaside homes from Rockport to Halibut
Point, dashed through the Isles of Shoals, sailed up
the Piscataqua River, and anchored in Pepperell's
Cove before the village of Kittery.

It began soon to blow heavily from the north-
east, rain fell in torrents, and the four voyagers,
confident of their own comfort and safety, smoked
and spun yarns all the evening.

*' It is lucky we came here instead of remain-
ing in Gosport Harbor at the Shoals," remarked

''There is no luck in it. You mean we show-
ed good judgment coming here. A small craft
should be in a safe, land-locked harbor every night,"
growled the captain.

The gale blew itself out by daylight; many
vessels had crept in, guided by the foghorn and
lights, and the sea was heavy, but the captain
made sail and ran up to Cape Porpoise, where he
confessed before two days that luck had saved
them from destruction.

The northeast wind had commenced to blow
again; the inshore current was running strong;


the sea was rising fast, and the sky and barometer
foretold bad weather. The narrow, obscure en-
trance to Cape Porpoise harbor appeared a wall of
woolly foam ; the flag in the rigging for a pilot
attracted no attention at the light-house; Eldridge's
Coast Pilot warned of the many dangers, and night
was coming fast. They turned away from the en-
trance with dispair and foreboding.

"We must try Stage Harbor, though I do not
like its looks, for darkness is upon us," said the
captain decidedly.

"All right, Captain," replied Delano, and
they tacked ship.

''What is that? " cried Delano, pointing sea-
ward. *'A dory! Glory! a belated fisherman
bound home. He can pilot us in."

The captain whistled and shifted the helm a

"Can you take us into Cape Porpoise.''"
shouted Delano, to the lone fisherman curled up in

"Aye! aye ! foller right along arter me — I'm
going in," was the cheering and cheerful reply.

Sail was shortened, the dory was followed,
and, in ten minutes, Orinda was swinging to a
mooring safe inside the narrow harbor. The fish-
erman pulled alongside.

" Bless you. Captain ! you have saved us from
disaster. What shall I pay you ?" said Delano.


"Nothin'; I don't charge nothin' fur helpin'
a fellar bein' in distress," replied the kind old

*'We are greatly obliged. Here take this,"
and Delano handed him a silver dollar.

"Thank yer. Captain. I'll bring yer a good
cod to-morror. I thought you mighty curragus to
beat up shore in a nor' caster and night comin' on.
Thought you wus goin' inter Stage Harbor. Knew
what yer wanted the minute yer kept off. Wall,
must be goin' hum to clean my fish," and the
grizzly-bearded, weather-beaten, old salt sailed far-
ther up the channel.

A thick mist and pitch darkness soon spread
over the landscape; it began to rain heavily, and
the wind blew a strong gale from the northeast,
which lasted thirty-six hours.

" Do you think Orinda would have weathered
the gale .? " asked Delano of the captain at the end
of the second day.

The captain shook his head slowly and re-
plied, " I've got nothing to say against luck any-
more, sir. It was a narrow squeak."

The third day, after awalkto Kennebunkport,
a pleasant run was made to Portland ; the fourth
day, the yacht picked the way among the lovely
isles of Casco Bay out to sea by Mark Island mon-
ument, and, passing inside Seguin Island and by
the turbulent currents off the Kennebec River,


entered Booth Bay and anchored above Squirrel
Island in the snug harbor of Townsend.

Away Orinda crept next morning to the east
in the glow of sunrise, with all sail set and colors
flying. Storm signals were up from Hatteras to
Eastport, and a fisherman had seen a sun-dog the
day previous. But the yachtsmen disregarded the
warnings, breakfasted off Pemaquid Point, shot
seal in Davis Straits and saluted the light-keeper at
White Head, as they entered Penobscot, one of the
most beautiful bays in the world. They ran gaily
past Owl's Head, as its lights flashed out upon the
water, and anchored in front of Rockland.

The sun-dog was a day too early. It rained
and blew a little next day, but they sailed up the
Western bay, getting water-colored views of Cam-
den mountains and Northport camp-ground on the
left, and a chain of fine islands on the right, and
dropped anchor at B — , vv^here Passagassawakeag
River mingles its trout waters with the sea.

B — is an ancient place which was settled by
Irishmen, who assembled around its frog-pond and
fought for acreage. It was formerly renowned for
its fishing-fleet, ship-building, fertile farms, sup-
plies of produce, and strong belief in spiritualism.
Believers in occult science held at one period the
balance of power in politicSj and elected city officers
by nominating spiritualists of the minority party.
Social circles were devoted to spirit-rapping, table-
tipping, receiving messages, trances, dark seances,


hand-grasping circles, emotional singing, weird
manifestations, and heavenly communications.
Men and women of hysterical temperament had
their individuality temporarily effaced and
their minds subordinated to those of Indian chiefs
and princesses, who had left their wigwams in the
"Happy Hunting Ground," and returned to earth
with secrets from beyond the veil. These came
from the lips of the white mediums in so called
Indian language, which was readily translated in-
to English by those possessed. The presence of
Indian spirits at a seance was a trump card for the
hostess who received, and was, compared to hav-
ing pale-faced spirits, like wearing diamonds where
the gems were scarce.

Educated and uneducated persons there con-
sulted mediums before starting upon a journey,
hunting for lost things, making an investment, or
consenting to matrimony; and mediums took an
active part (for fees) in the medical treatment of
disease; in fact, took charge of patients and dic-
tated the remedies to be administered, to the great
disgust and indignation of the regular profession.
Indicating places to strike veins of water, mines of
valuable ore, and buried treasures of famous
pirates, furnished lucrative employment for many
mediums, and set their patrons to digging, blast-
ing and speculating under secret oaths on moonless
nights. The craze spread all over New England. The
surface of that pretty country was defaced ; groves


were cut down, points disappeared, great excava-
tions were made, solid ledges were shattered, and
over all an uncanny, supernatural mystery rested
in a halo of exaggeration, curiosity and fear. Chil-
dren were afraid of darkness — of seeing things at
night; wanderers abroad after sunset saw sheeted
ghosts in wash-clothes and sheep pastures, and
families were terrorized by unaccountable noises
about their dwellings. So excited and nervously
overwrought were many persons, that ill-balanced
intellects gave way, the Insane Asylums received
unusual accessions, and the number of suicides was
largely augmented.

Limitation of spiritual development, disap-
pointment, deception, and exposure of frauds,
brought a more reasonable state of mind in the
followers and fanatics after awhile, and many re-
turned to scientific analysis of phenomena and to
the bosom of the church. But there are ardent
believers in Spiritualism still, and one is liable to
meet them, and to learn of their divinations and
digging in out of the way places, just as the voy-
agers did, which will be exposed farther along.

Orinda left the little city of B — , one morning
at eight o'clock, passed Turtle Head into the East-
ern bay in an hour, caught a glimpse of Castine,
rounded Cape Rosier and sailed through pictur-
esque Eggemoggin Reach before dinner. A dash
across Union Hall Bay and a rush through York
Narrows, brought the voyagers in sight of the


rounded cones of Mount Desert, which can never
be mistaken for any other land upon the coast. It
contrasts the sandy beach and dangerous precipice,
sunny valleys and dark forests, and purple heights
and satin clouds. It is royal in its apparel and
regal in its stateliness. Here, the mountains do
homage to Amphitrite, and her mermaids sing in
the caves of the overhanging cliffs.

The captain, piloted by Merangue, steered
along the shingle beach, around the bell buoy off
the Nubble, across the bar between Great Cran-
berry Island and the Stone Wall, and anchored near
the wharf in Southwest Harbor. Here they
were at last, ready to prosecute the search direct-
ed by the sea letter. They could see the narrow
passage between the Cranberry Isles, and Green-
ings Island in the entrance to Somes Sound.


Delano let the crew go ashore during the
evening, and had a long conversation with the
captain about future proceedings. They decided
to remain at anchor a few days and ramble over
the island like any tourists, in order to allay sus-
spicion ; and it was wise, because the fishy eyes of
the natives watched their movements, and they
were discussed every night at the grocery near the

Therefore, next day, they drove around the
shore of the harbor to the Stone Wall, examined
the hotels on King's Point, showed great interest
in the cottages and saleable house lots, and com-
missioned the driver to find out prices. The next
time, they drove over the hills, examined the shore
line, and selected a little cove beyond a small
mountain, as a suitable place for their rendezvous.
They drove to Somesville one day, made a careful
study of the hills and valleys along the Sound, and
had dinner. Somesville dinners were famous
among tourists.


Another excursion took them across the island
to Bar Harbor, and along the lovely shore of Otter
Cliffs and Schooner Head ; and they climbed
Green Mountain and dined at the Summit House.
They looked down upon a map of land and
water. Forests of pine and spruce fringed the
shore and buried the ravines, and Eagle Lake lay
like a sapphire set in emerald. The mountains
fell away north into the green meadows of Eden;
the eyes ran sixty miles over woodlands, islands
and arms of the sea to the purple Camden Moun-
tains, and beyond, definite but misty, towered
Mount Katahdin, no miles distant.

Union Hill Bay lay to the west; Frenchman's
Bay, east, with Sorrento like a jewel at its throat;
Southwest Harbor and Somesville were like toy
Swiss villages, and the Sound resembled a thread of
silver in green plush. Vessels appeared like in-
sects with wings outstretched, and Cranberry
Islands reached out arms like an octopus seeking
food. Otter Cliffs, Schooner Head and Mount De-
sert shores, with beautiful villas upon every vant-
age point, were sharply outlined by the velvet sea ;
and below, almost at their feet, lay the gem of the
coast, Bar harbor.

A week had passed in exploration and obser-
vation, when the yacht was sailed into the Sound
and anchored in the cove behind the small moun-
tain. The pretty valley upon the north shore of
the promontory had a great hill on the east and


high beethng crags on the west, which shut off
observation from the harbor and main road
behind. The explorers pitched a tent in the valley
near a spring, built a stone fireplace, landed some
of their outfit, and remained ashore much of the
time, which was a great relief from their cramped
quarters upon the yacht.

Delano and the captain took the boat daily
and went along the western shore of the Sound
and examined carefully all its approaches and pre-
cipitous crags. The geological formation coin-
cided with the description in the sea letter, but the
shore was so overgrown with weeds, bushes and
trees that progress was slow and laborious. They
returned to camp with blue berries, blackberries,
clams and fish, which served to allay any curiosity
their long absences might have otherwise excited.

They landed upon the shore one morning,
where the bushes was very thick and the black-
berries large and luscious, and, as they pushed
their way inland, they were startled by the ap-
pearance of a young girl, standing upon a ledge
above them, who gave a frightened glance and
rushed back into the woods. The glimpse they
had of her black, tangled hair; restless, black
eyes ; thin, freckled face, and lithe form, clothed
in rough garments, gave them an impression of a
witch of the woods. They climbed the bank and
were suddenly confronted by a man, who carried


menacingly a large stick, and gruffly demanded
what they were doing there.

''Merely gathering blackberries," answered
Delano pleasantly.

"But you have no right to land here ; this is
God's-acre, and is in my care," said the stranger,
as he towered above them and handled the club

He was a strange character to meet in such
an out-of-the-way place, and they looked him
over critically. He stood erect about six feet;
his body was well proportioned, and his head was
covered by a panama, which he removed to wipe
his forehead — for he had evidently hurried to bar
their progress. H^is head was rather wide at the
base, full behind and over the eyes, sloped back-
ward from the frontal prominences, and rose in a
high dome above. Silvery-gray hair clustered
around his partly bald crown and hung in long
locks to his shoulders. The whiskers were the
same color, worn full, and reached the middle of
his breast, and his long mustache was nearly black.
His black eyes were shaded by thick eyelashes
and shaggy eyebrows, and seemed to look inde-
pendently each side of his aquiline nose, which
gave an impression of impertinent penetration, or
haughty defiance. The lips were full and cut
sharply as in a statue ; the ears were well-shaped,
and the rounded chin and strong neck were partly
hidden by hair.


Indeed, he was a hairy hermit; but the fine
quahty of his tattered garments, seen between the
folds of a cashm.ere dressmg-gown, which envel-
oped him from chin to toes ; the shape and fineness
of his dilapidated boots ; his fluent speech, and im-
perious self-possession, were proofs that he had
been formerly a man of ample possessions and
political importance elsewhere than in the wilder-
ness where they had found him.

"You will not go ?" asked he fiercely.

"Yes, we will go," said Delano, looking at the
captain, and moving towards the boat.

" Nay, you shall not go!" shouted the hermit,
running around in front of them and flourishing
the stick.

"Then we will stay," replied Delano quietly,
though he felt his muscles hardening.

" You seem to be good men, and shall remain
and see my cabin and my daughter," said he, as
he threw aside the club and sprang up the decliv-
ity, beckoning them to follow, which they did
cautiously. Delano shifted his revolver into the
outside pocket of his coat. They followed him
back through bushes and trees, across a ledge, and
came in sight of a small log cabin in the edge of
the forest.

"This is my mansion," said he in a tone of
grandiloquence, with a flourish of his hand. "Here
I follow the mandates of my mission. You see
nothing — your eyes are clouded in the flesh — they


are not sharpened by spiritual intercourse — you
cannot penetrate beyond the veil. Look at your
feet ! Do you not see those arrows in the ledge all
pointing in one direction? Mark the crumbling
stone where the cement joins near the north
side. Do you not agree those arrows were chiselled
in the solid rock for a purpose.-*"

The old man grasped their arms forcibly and
traced with his long index finger the fissures upon
the surface of the great mass of trap-rock, which
had formed the flattened ridge in cooling, and had
been eroded by centuries of running water and
chemical decomposition. He was enthusiastic, ex-
cited and fierce in his language and manner; and
they were startled and anxious, as they caught
the wild gleam of his eyes and noted his swift pan-
ther-like movements.

''These are natural fissures in the ledge, and
they follow the trend of the formation," remarked
Delano mildly.

The captain looked on in silence.

" Nonsense ! young man ; they were cut by
human hands years ago. They point towards
the spot where a great treasure lies buried in the
ledge, covered by a cement so like the rock it is
difiicult to determine any difference." He turned
upon them quickly and drew a dagger from inside
his wrapper, which caused them to step back quick-
ly, and Delano to grasp his revolver. " Have no
fear," said he smiling, "I only wish to bind you to


secrecy," and he held the weapon by the blade and
presented the jewelled handle, which was in the
form of a cross, to Delano. " Take hold of the
cross and say after me, I hereby and hereon sol-
emnly swear, that I will not betray the secrets of
this place to any person, as long as the explor-
ations are in progress, so help me God!" Delano
repeated the oath. *' Now kiss the cross." He did
as requested. Then the captain passed through
the same ordeal and winked at Delano. They be-
gan to believe they were associated with a lunatic,
but they were tumbling into luck. They thought
the hermit was working out their problem, and
were anxious to know how much he knew, and
what success he had had.

''Where did you get this dagger.?" asked
Captain Oliver, as they examined its rusty blade,
and handle set with jewels.

"I found it lying in a crevice of the ledge,
covered by a flat stone, and pointed towards the
cliff yonder. Do you see anything remarkable

They looked at the perpendicular wall of rock
towering above them, discolored by lichens and
mosses, and shook their heads.

'' Do you not see high up in that smoother
part the figure of a cross .? There, where the mass
of green bulges out of a crevice, and the vines
droop from the brink of the precipice t "


Delano grasped the captain's arm nervously
and pointed to the cross. It was plain enough
after once made clear, and they were surprised
they had not seen it before, but smothered their ex-
citement at the discovery of another of the im-
portant guides mentioned in the sea letter.

" O, yes ; we see the cross now distinctly,"
said the captain — '' and the dagger was pointed
toward it ? "

"Yes," said the hermit. "I did not pick it
up immediately. It had stones placed each side
of the handle and the blade to keep it in place,
and I consulted the spirits and studied its position
some days before disturbing it. I noticed some
of the arrows pointed in the same direction, and
then I knew the cross must be a guide to the

"Treasure.'* Guide .^ What do you mean.?"
asked the captain in a tone of feigned surprise.

"Remember your oaths! There is untold
wealth buried here — gold, jewels and valuable doc-
uments — my guiding spirit says so — I am going
to find it by spiritual aid — I am working under
spiritual direction."

"Does anyone else know of this.''" asked

"Not a soul except myself, my daughter and
— the spirits."

"How long have you been here.''"

"About six months."


The captain and Delano exchanged signifi-

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Online LibraryWilliam Henry WinslowThe sea letter : a mystery of Martha's Vineyard → online text (page 9 of 18)