Elsie at Nantucket by Martha Finley
"Where the broad ocean leans against the land." --Goldsmith.
Elsie felt somewhat apprehensive that this early laying aside of her mourning for their father might not meet the approval of her older son and daughters; but it gave them pleasure; one and all were delighted to see her resume the dress of the happy days when he was with them.
Zoe, too, was very much pleased. "Mamma," she said, "you do look so young and lovely in white; and it was so nice in you to begin wearing it again on the anniversary of our wedding-day. Just think, it's a whole year to-day since Edward and I were married. How fast time flies!"
"Yes," Elsie said; "it seems a very little while since I was as young and light-hearted as you are now, and now I am a grandmother."
"But still happy; are you not, mamma? you always seem so to me."
"Yes, my child; I have a very peaceful, happy life. I miss my husband, but I know the separation is only for a short time, and that he is supremely blessed. And with my beloved father and dear children about me, heart and hands are full--delightfully full--leaving no room for sadness and repining." This little talk was on the veranda, as the two stood there for a moment apart from the others. Zoe was looking quite bride-like in a white India mull, much trimmed with rich lace, her fair neck and arms adorned with a set of beautiful pearls, just presented her by Edward in commemoration of the day.
She called Elsie's attention to them. "See, mamma, what my husband has given me in memory of the day. Are they not magnificent?"
"It is a very fine set," Elsie answered, with a smile, glancing admiringly at the jewels and from them to the blooming face of the wearer. "A most suitable gift for his little wife."
"He's so good to me, mamma," Zoe said, with warmth. "I love him better every day we live together, and couldn't think of leaving him behind alone, when you all go off to Nantucket. I do hope he'll be able to find somebody to take his place; but if he isn't I shall stay here with him."
"That is quite right, dear child; I am very glad you love him so dearly," Elsie said, with a very pleased look; "but I hope your affection will not be put to so severe a test; we have heard of a very suitable person, though it is still uncertain whether his services can be secured. We shall probably know to-morrow."
"Perhaps sooner than that," Mr. Dinsmore said, approaching them just in time to hear his daughter's last sentence; "Edward has gone to have an interview with him, and hopes for a definite reply to his proposition. Ah, here he comes now!" as Edward was seen to turn in at the great gates and come up the avenue at a gentle trot. It was too warm for a gallop.
As he drew near he took off his hat and waved it in triumph round his head. "Success, good friends!" he cried, reining in his steed at the veranda steps. Then, as he threw the reins to a servant and sprang to the ground, "Zoe, my darling, you can go on with your packing; we may confidently expect to be able to sail with the rest."
"Oh delightful!" she exclaimed, dancing about as gleefully as if she had been a maiden of eight or ten instead of a woman just closing the first year of her married life.
Everybody sympathized in her joy; everybody was glad that she and Edward were to be of their party.
All the older ones were very busy for the next few days, no one finding time for rest and quiet chat except the captain and Violet, who keenly enjoyed a monopoly of each other's society during not a few hours of every day; Mrs. Dinsmore and Elsie having undertaken to attend to all that would naturally have fallen to Violet's share in making ready for the summer's jaunt had she been in robust health. Bob and Betty Johnson, to whom the Oaks had been home for many years, and who had just graduated from school, came home in the midst of the bustle of preparation, and were highly delighted by an invitation to join the Nantucket party.
No untoward event occurred to cause disappointment or delay; all were ready in due season, and the yacht set sail at the appointed time, with a full list of passengers, carrying plenty of luggage, and with fair winds and sunny skies.
They were favored with exceptionally fine weather all the way, and seas so smooth that scarce a touch of sea-sickness was felt by any, from the oldest to the youngest.
They entered Nantucket harbor one lovely summer morning, with a delicious breeze blowing from the sea, the waves rippling and dancing in the sunlight, and the pretty town seated like a queen on the surrounding heights that slope gently up from the water.
They were all gathered on deck, eager for a first glimpse of the place.
Most of them spoke admiringly of it, but Zoe said, "It's pretty enough, but too much of a town for me. I'm glad we are not to stay in it. 'Sconset is a smaller place, isn't it, captain?"
"Much smaller," he answered; "quite small enough to suit even so great a lover of solitude as yourself, Mrs. Travilla."
"Oh, you needn't laugh at me," she retorted; "one needn't be a great lover of solitude to care for no more society than is afforded by this crowd. But I want to be close by the bounding sea, and this town is shut off from that by its harbor."
"Where is the harbor, papa?" asked little Grace.
"All around us, my child; we are in it."
"Are we?" she asked, "I think it looks just like the sea; what's the matter with it, Aunt Zoe?"
"Nothing, only it's too quiet; the great waves don't come rolling in and breaking along the shore. I heard your father say so; it's here they have the still bathing."
"Oh, yes, and papa is going to teach us to swim!" exclaimed Lulu; "I'm so glad, for I like to learn how to do everything."
"That's right," her father said, with an approving smile; "learn all you can, for 'knowledge is power.'"
They landed, the gentlemen presently secured a sufficient number of hacks to comfortably accommodate the entire party, and after a cursory view of the town, in a drive through several of its more important streets, they started on the road to 'Sconset.
They found it, though a lonely, by no means an unpleasant, drive--a road marked out only by rows of parallel ruts across wild moorlands, where the ground was level or slightly rolling, with now and then some gentle elevation, or a far-off glimpse of harbor or sea, or a lonely farmhouse. The wastes were treeless, save for the presence of a few stunted jack-pines; but these gave out a sweet scent, mingling pleasantly with the smell of the salt-sea air; and there were wild roses and other flowering shrubs, thistles and tiger-lilies and other wild flowers, beautiful enough to tempt our travellers to alight occasionally to gather them.
'Sconset was reached at length, three adjacent cottages found ready and waiting for their occupancy, and they took possession.
The cottages stood on a high bluff overlooking miles of sea, between which and the foot of the cliff stretched a low sandy beach a hundred yards or more in width, and gained by flights of wooden stairs.
The cottages faced inland, and had each a little back yard, grassy, and showing a few flowers, that reached to within a few yards of the edge of the bluff. The houses were tiny, built low and strong, that they might resist the fierce winds of winter in that exposed position, and shingled all over to keep out the spray from the waves, which would penetrate any other covering.
Dinner was engaged for our entire party at one of the hotels, of which there were two; but as it yet wanted more than an hour of the time set for the meal, all who were not too tired sallied forth to explore the hamlet and its environs.
They found it to consist of about two hundred cottages, similar to those they had engaged for the season, each in a little enclosure. They were built along three narrow streets or lanes running parallel with the edge of the bluff, and stood in groups of twos or threes, separated by narrow cross-lanes, giving every one free access to the town pump, the only source of fresh-water supply in the place.
The children were particularly interested in the cottage of Captain Baxter, with its famous ship's figure-head in the yard.
Back of the original 'Sconset, on the slight ascent toward Nantucket Town, stood a few more pretentious cottages, built as summer residences by the rich men of the island, retired sea captains, and merchants; this was the one broad street, and here were the two hotels, the Atlantic House and the Ocean View House.
Then on the bluff south of the old village, called Sunset Heights, there were some half dozen cottages; a few on the bluff north of it, also.
The town explored and dinner eaten, of course the next thing was to repair to the beach to watch the rush and tumble of the restless waves, fast chasing each other in, and the dash of the spray as they broke along the shore.
There was little else to see, for the bathing hour was long past; but that was quite enough.
Soon, however, nearly every one of the party began to feel unaccountably sleepy. Some returned to the cottages for the indulgence of their desire for slumber, and others, spreading cloaks and shawls upon the sand, enjoyed a delicious rest, warmed by the sun and fanned by the sea breeze.
For a day or two they did little but sleep and eat, and sleep and eat again, enjoying it immensely, too, and growing fat and strong.
After that they woke to new life, made inquiries in regard to all the sights and amusements the island afforded, and began availing themselves of their opportunities, as if it were the business of life.
When it was for a long drive to some notable point, all went together, chartering several vehicles for their conveyance; at other times they not unfrequently broke up into smaller parties, some preferring one sort of sport, some another.
"How many of us are going to bathe to-day?" Mr. Dinsmore asked, the second morning after their arrival.
"I for one, if you will bear me company and look out for my safety," said his wife.
"Most assuredly I will," he answered. "And you too, Elsie?" turning to his daughter.
"Yes, sir," she said, "if you think you can be burdened with the care of two."
"No, mother," spoke up Edward, quickly; "you and Zoe will be my charge, of course."
"Ridiculous, Ned! of course, Harold and I will take care of mamma," exclaimed Herbert. "You will have enough to do to look out for your wife's safety."
(The yacht had touched at Cape May and taken the two college students aboard there.)
"I shall be well taken care of," their mother said, laughingly, with an affectionate glance from one to another of her three tall sons; "but I should like one of you to take charge of Rosie, another of Walter; and, in fact, I don't think I need anything for myself but a strong hold of the rope to insure my safety."
"You shall have more!" exclaimed father and sons in a breath; "the surf is heavy here, and we cannot risk your precious life."
Mr. Dinsmore added, "None of you ladies ought to stay in very long, and we will take you in turn."
"Papa, may I go in?" asked Lulu, eagerly.
"Yes; I'll take you in," the captain answered; "but the waves are so boisterous that I doubt if you will care to repeat the experiment. Max, I see, is waiting his chance to ask the same question," he added, with a fatherly smile directed to the boy; "you may go in too, of course, my son, if you will promise to hold on to the rope. I cannot think that otherwise you would be safe in that boiling surf."
"But I can swim, papa," said Max; "and won't you let me go with you out beyond the surf, where the water is more quiet?"
"Why yes, you shall," the captain replied, with a look of pleasure; "I did not know that you had learned to swim."
"I don't want to go in," said timid little Grace, as if half fearful it might be required of her. "Mamma is not going, and can't I stay with her, papa?"
"Certainly, daughter," was the kind reply. "I suppose you feel afraid of those dashing waves, and I should never think of forcing you in among them against your will."
Betty Johnson now announced her intention to join the bathers. "It's the first chance I've ever had," she remarked, "and I shan't throw it away. I'll hold on to the rope, and if I'm in any danger I suppose Bob, or some of the rest of you, will come to my assistance?"
"Of course we will!" all the gentlemen said, her brother adding, "And if there's a good chance, I'll take you over to Nantucket Town, where there's still-bathing, and teach you to swim."
"Just what I should like," she said. "I have a great desire to add that to the already large number of my accomplishments."
Miss Betty was a very lively, in fact, quite wild, young lady, whose great desire was for fun and frolic; to have, as she expressed it, "a jolly good time" wherever she went.
The captain drew out his watch. "About time to don the bathing-suits," he said; "I understand that eleven o'clock is the hour, and it wants but fifteen minutes of it."
Grandma Elsie had kindly seen to it that each little girl--that is, Captain Raymond's two and her own Rosie--was provided with a pretty, neatly-fitting, and becoming bathing dress.
Violet helped Lulu to put her's on, and, surveying her with a smile of gratified motherly pride, told her she looked very well in it, and that she hoped she would enjoy her bath.
"Thank you," said Lulu; "but why don't you go in too, Mamma Vi?"
"Only because I don't feel strong enough to stand up against those heavy waves," Violet answered. "But I am going down to the beach to watch you all, and see that you don't drown," she added, sportively.
"Oh Lu, aren't you afraid to go in?" asked little Grace, half shuddering at the very thought.
"Why no, Gracie; I've bathed in the sea before; I went in a good many times last summer; don't you remember?"
"Yes; but the waves there weren't half so big and strong."
"No; but I'll have a rope and papa, too, to hold to; so why need I be afraid?" laughed Lulu.
"Mamma is, I think," said Grace, looking doubtfully at her.
"Oh no, dear," said Violet; "I should not be at all afraid to go in if I were as strong as usual; but being weak, I know that buffeting with those great waves would do me more harm than good."
Their cottages being so near the beach, our party all assumed their bathing suits before descending to it. They went down, this first time, all in one company, forming quite a procession; Mr. and Mrs. Dinsmore heading it, and Violet and Grace, as mere spectators, bringing up the rear.
They, in common with others who had nothing to do but look on, found it an amusing scene; there was a great variety of costume, some neat, well-fitting, and modest; some quite immodestly scant; some bright and new; some faded and old. There was, however, but little freshness and beauty in any of them when they came out of the water.
Violet and Grace found a seat under an awning. Max came running up to them.
"Papa is going in with Lulu first," he said; "then he will bring her out and take me with him for a swim beyond the breakers. I'll just wait here with you till my turn comes."
"See, see, they're in the water!" cried Grace; "and oh, what a big, big wave that is coming! There, it would have knocked Lulu down if papa hadn't had fast hold of her."
"Yes; it knocked a good many others down," laughed Max; "just hear how they are screeching and screaming."
"But laughing, too," said Violet, "as if they find it fine sport."
"Who is that man sitting on that bench nearest the water, and looking just ready to run and help if anybody needs it?" asked Grace.
"Oh, that's Captain Gorham," said Max. "and to run and help if he's needed is exactly what he's there for. And I presume he always does it; for they say no bather was ever drowned here."
Ten or fifteen minutes later a little dripping figure left the water, and came running toward them.
"Why, it's Lulu," Gracie said, as it drew near, calling out to Max that papa was ready for him.
Max was off like a shot in the direction of the water, and Lulu shouted to her sister, "Oh Gracie, it's such fun! I wish you had gone, too."
Violet hastened to throw a waterproof cloak about Lulu's shoulders, and bade her hurry to the house, rub hard with a coarse towel, and put on dry clothing.
"I will go with you," she added, "if you wish."
"Oh no, thank you, Mamma Vi," Lulu answered, in a lively, happy tone. "I can do it all quite well myself, and it must be fun for you to sit here and watch the bathers."
"Well, dear, rub till you are in a glow," Violet said, as the little girl sped on her way.
"Oh mamma, see, see!" cried Grace, more than half frightened at the sight; "papa has gone away, way out, and Maxie with him. Oh, aren't you afraid they will drown?"
"No, Gracie dear; I think we may safely trust your father's prudence and skill as a swimmer," Violet answered. "Ah, there come Grandma Rose and my mother; but Zoe and Betty seem to be enjoying it too much to leave yet."
"Mamma, let's stay here till our people all come out; papa and Maxie, any way" Grace said, persuasively.
"Yes; we will if you wish," said Violet. "I was just thinking I must go in to see how baby is doing; but here comes Dinah, bringing her to me."
There was no accident that day, and everybody was enthusiastic in praise of the bathing. Zoe and Betty would have liked to stay in the water much longer than their escorts deemed prudent, but yielded to their better judgment.
The next morning there was a division of their forces: the Dinsmores, Mrs. Elsie Travilla, Rosie, and Walter, and the Raymonds taking an early start for Nantucket Town, the others remaining behind to enjoy a repetition of the surf bath at 'Sconset.
The Nantucket party drove directly to the bathing house of the town, and the little girls took their first lesson in swimming. They all thought it "very nice," even Grace soon forgetting her timidity in the quiet water and with her father to take care of her.
After that they went about the town visiting places of note--the Athenaeum, the oldest house, dating back more than a hundred years, no longer habitable, but kept as a relic of olden times, so important that a visit to it is a part of the regular curriculum of the summer sojourner in Nantucket; then to the news-room, where they wrote their names in the "Visitors' Book;" then to the stores to view, among other things, the antique furniture and old crockery on exhibition there and for sale.
Many of these stores, situate in wide, handsome streets, were quite city-like in size and in their display of goods.
Dinner at one of the hotels was next in order; after that a delightful sail on the harbor, then around Brant Point and over the bar out into the sea.
Here the boat new before the wind, dancing and rocking on the waves to the intense delight of the older children; but Gracie was afraid till her father took her in his arms and held her fast, assuring her they were in no danger.
As she had unbounded confidence in "papa's" word, and believed he knew all about the sea, this quieted her fears and made the rest of the sail as thoroughly enjoyable to her as it was to the others.
The drive back to 'Sconset, with the full moon shining on moor and sea, was scarcely less delightful. They reached their cottage home full of enthusiasm over the day's experiences, ready to do ample justice to a substantial supper, and then for a long delicious night's sleep.