Elsie at Nantucket by Martha Finley
"Sudden they see from midst of all the main The surging waters like a mountain rise, And the great sea, puff'd up with proud disdain To swell above the measure of his guise, As threatening to devour all that his power despise." --Spenser.
What with bathing, driving, and wandering about on foot over the lovely moors, time flew fast to our 'Sconseters.
It was their purpose to visit every point of interest on the island, and to try all its typical amusements. They made frequent visits to Nantucket Town, particularly that the children might take their swimming lessons in the quiet water of its harbor; also repeated such drives and rambles as they found exceptionably enjoyable.
Max wanted to try camping out for a few weeks in company with Harold and Herbert Travilla and Bob Johnson, but preferred to wait until his father should leave them, not feeling willing to miss the rare pleasure of his society. And the other lads, quite fond of the captain themselves, did not object to waiting.
In the mean time they went blue-fishing (trying it by both accepted modes--the "heave and haul" from a rowboat or at anchor, and trolling from a yacht under full sail), hunting, eel-bobbing, and perch-fishing.
The ladies sometimes went with them on their fishing excursions; Zoe and Betty oftener than any of the others. Lulu went, too, whenever she was permitted, which was usually when her father made one of the party.
"We haven't been on a 'squantum' yet," remarked Betty, one evening, addressing the company in general; "suppose we try that to-morrow."
"Suppose you first tell us what a 'squantum' is," said Mrs. Dinsmore.
"Oh, Aunt Rose, don't you know that that is the Nantucket name for a picnic?"
"I acknowledge my ignorance," laughed the older lady; "I did not know it till this moment."
"Well, auntie, it's one of those typical things that every conscientious summer visitor here feels called upon to do as a regular part of the Nantucket curriculum. How many of us are agreed to go?" glancing about from one to another.
Not a dissenting voice was raised, and Betty proceeded to unfold her plans. Vehicles sufficient for the transportation of the whole party were to be provided, baskets of provisions also; they would take an early start, drive to some pleasant spot near the beach or one of the ponds, and make a day of it--sailing, or rather rowing about the pond, fishing in it, cooking and eating what they caught (fish were said to be so delicious just out of the water and cooked over the coals in the open air), and lounging on the grass, drinking in at the same time the sweet, pure air and the beauties of nature as seen upon Nantucket moors and hills, and in glimpses of the surrounding sea.
"Really, Betty, you grow quite eloquent," laughed her brother; "Nantucket has inspired you."
"I think it sounds ever so nice," said little Grace. "Won't you go and take us, papa?"
"Yes, if Mamma Vi will go along," he answered, with an affectionate look at his young wife; "we can't go without her, can we, Gracie?"
"Oh, no, indeed! but you will go, mamma, won't you?"
"If your papa chooses to take me," Violet said, in a sprightly tone. "I think it would be very pleasant, but I cannot either go or stay unless he does; for I am quite resolved to spend every one of the few days he will be here, close at his side."
"And as all the rest of us desire the pleasure of his company," said her mother, "his decision must guide ours."
"There, now, captain," cried Betty, "you see it all rests with you; so please say yes, and let us begin our preparations."
"Yes, Miss Betty; I certainly cannot be so gallant as to refuse such a request from such a quarter, especially when I see that all interested in the decision hope I will not."
That settled the matter. Preparations were at once set on foot: the young men started in search of the necessary conveyances, the ladies ordered the provisions, inquiries were made in regard to different localities, and a spot on the banks of Sachacha Pond, where stood a small deserted old house, was selected as their objective point.
They started directly after breakfast, and had a delightful drive over the moors and fenceless fields, around the hills and tiny emerald lakes bordered with beautiful wild shrubbery, bright with golden rod, wild roses, and field lilies. Here and there among the heather grew creeping mealberry vines, with bright red fruit-like beads, and huckleberry bushes that tempted our pleasure-seekers to alight again and again to gather and eat of their fruit.
Everybody was in most amiable mood, and the male members of the party indulgently assisted the ladies, and lifted the children in and out that they might gather floral treasures for themselves, or alighted to gather for them again and again.
At length they reached their destination, left their conveyances, spread an awning above the green grass that grew luxuriantly about the old house, deposited their baskets of provisions and extra wraps underneath it, put the horses into a barn near at hand, and strolled down to the pond.
A whaleboat, large enough to hold the entire company, was presently hired; all embarked; it moved slowly out into the lake; all who cared to fish were supplied with tackle and bait, and the sport began.
Elsie, Violet, and Grace declined to take part in it, but Zoe, Betty, and Lulu were very eager and excited, sending forth shouts of triumph or of merriment as they drew one victim after another from the water; for the fish seemed eager to take the bait, and were caught in such numbers that soon the word was given that quite enough were now on hand, and the boat was headed for the shore.
A fire was made in the sand, and while some broiled the fish and made coffee, others spread a snowy cloth upon the grass, and placed on it bread and butter, cold biscuits, sandwiches, pickles, cakes, jellies, canned fruits, and other delicacies.
It was a feast fit for a king, and all the more enjoyable that the sea air and pleasant exercise had sharpened the appetites of the fortunate partakers.
Then, the meal disposed of, how deliciously restful it was to lounge upon the grass, chatting, singing, or silently musing with the sweet, bracing air all about them, the pretty sheet of still water almost at their feet, while away beyond it and the dividing strip of sand the ocean waves tossed and rolled, showing here and there a white, slowly moving sail.
So thoroughly did they enjoy it all that they lingered till the sun, nearing the western horizon, reminded them that the day was waning.
The drive home was not the least enjoyable part of the day. They took it in leisurely fashion, by a different route from the one they had taken in the morning, and with frequent haltings to gather berries, mosses, lichens, grasses, and strange beautiful flowers; or to gaze with delighted eyes upon the bare brown hills purpling in the light of the setting sun, and the rapidly darkening vales; Sankaty lighthouse, with the sea rolling beyond, on the one hand, and on the other the quieter waters of the harbor, with the white houses and spires of Nantucket Town half encircling it.
They had enjoyed their "squantum," marred by no mishap, no untoward event, so much that it was unanimously agreed to repeat the experiment, merely substituting some other spot for the one visited that day.
But their next excursion was to Wanwinet, situate on a narrow neck of land that, jutting out into the sea, forms the head of the harbor; Nantucket Town standing at the opposite end, some half dozen miles away.
Summer visitors to the latter place usually go to Wanwinet by boat, up the harbor, taking their choice between a sailboat and a tiny steamer which plies regularly back and forth during the season; but our 'Sconset party drove across the moors, sometimes losing their way among the hills, dales, and ponds, but rather enjoying that as a prolongation of the pleasure of the drive, and spite of the detention reached their destination in good season to partake of the dinner of all obtainable luxuries of the sea, served up in every possible form, which is usually considered the roam object of a trip to Wanwinet.
They found the dinner--served in a large open pavilion, whence they might gaze out over the dancing, glittering waves of the harbor, and watch the white sails come and go, while eating--quite as good as they had been led to expect.
After dinner they wandered along the beach, picking up shells and any curious things they could find--now on the Atlantic side, now on the shore of the harbor.
Then a boat was chartered for a sail of a couple of hours, and then followed the drive home to 'Sconset by a different course from that of the morning, and varied by the gradually fading light of the setting sun and succeeding twilight casting weird shadows here and there among the hills and vales.
The captain predicted a storm for the following day, and though the others could see no sign of its approach, it was upon them before they rose the next morning, raining heavily, while the wind blew a gale.
There was no getting out for sitting on the beach, bathing, or rambling about, and they were at close quarters in the cottages.
They whiled away the time with books, games, and conversation.
They were speaking of the residents of the island--their correct speech, intelligence, uprightness, and honesty.
"I wonder if there was ever a crime committed here?" Elsie said, half inquiringly. "And if there is a jail on the island?"
"Yes, mother," Edward answered; "there is a jail, but so little use for it that they think it hardly worth while to keep it in decent repair. I heard that a man was once put in for petty theft, and that after being there a few days he sent word to the authorities that if they didn't repair it so that the sheep couldn't break in on him, he wouldn't stay."
There was a general laugh; then Edward resumed: "There has been one murder on the island, as I have been informed. A mulatto woman was the criminal, a white woman the victim, the motive revenge; the colored woman was in debt to the white one, who kept a little store, and, enraged at repeated duns, went to her house and beat her over the head with some heavy weapon--I think I was told a whale's tooth.
"The victim lingered for some little time, but eventually died of her wounds, and the other was tried for murder.
"It is said the sheriff was extremely uneasy lest she should be found guilty of murder in the first degree, and he should have the unpleasant job of hanging her; but the verdict was manslaughter, the sentence imprisonment for life.
"So she was consigned to jail, but very soon allowed to go out occasionally to do a day's work."
"Oh, Uncle Edward, is she alive now?" Gracie asked, with a look of alarm.
"Yes, I am told she is disabled by disease, and lives in the poorhouse. But you need not be frightened, little girlie; she is not at all likely to come to 'Sconset, and if she does we will take good care that she is not allowed to harm you."
"And I don't suppose she'd want to either, unless we had done something to make her angry," said Lulu.
"But we are going to Nantucket Town to stay a while when we leave 'Sconset," remarked Grace uneasily.
"But that woman will not come near you, daughter; you need, not have the least fear of it," the captain said, drawing his little girl to his knee with a tender caress.
"Ah," said Mr. Dinsmore, "I heard the other day of a curiosity at Nantucket which we must try to see while there. I think the story connected with it will particularly interest you ladies and the little girls."
"Oh, grandpa, tell it!" cried Rosie; "please do; a story is just what we want this dull day."
The others joined in the request, and Mr. Dinsmore kindly complied, all gathering closely about him, anxious to catch every word.
"The story is this: Nearly a hundred years ago there lived in Nantucket a sea-captain named Coffin, who had a little daughter of whom he was very fond."
Gracie glanced up smilingly into her father's face and nestled closer to him.
"Just as I am of mine," said his answering look and smile as he drew her closer still.
But Mr. Dinsmore's story was going on.
"It was Captain Coffin's custom to bring home some very desirable gift to his little girl whenever he returned from a voyage. At one time, when about to sail for the other side of the Atlantic, he said to her that he was determined on this voyage to find and bring home to her something that no other little girl ever had or ever could have."
"Oh, grandpa, what could that be?" exclaimed little Walter.
"Wait a moment and you shall hear," was the reply.
"What the captain brought on coming back was a wax baby, a very life-like representation of an infant six months old. He said it was a wax cast of the Dauphin of France, that poor unfortunate son of Louis XVI. and Marie Antoinette; that he had found it in a convent, and paid for it a sum of money so enormous that he would never tell any one, not even his wife, how large it was."
"But it isn't in existence now, at this late day, surely?" Mrs. Dinsmore remarked inquiringly, as her husband paused in his narrative.
"It is claimed that it is by those who have such a thing in possession, and I presume they tell the truth. It has always been preserved with extreme care as a great curiosity.
"The little girl to whom it was given by her father lived to grow up, but has been dead many years. Shortly before her death she gave it to a friend, and it has been in that family for over forty years."
"And is it on exhibition, papa?" asked Elsie.
"Only to such as are fortunate enough to get an introduction to the lady owner through some friend of hers; so I understand; but photographs have been taken and are for sale in the stores."
"Oh, I hope we will get to see it!" exclaimed Lulu eagerly.
"As far as I'm concerned, I'm bound to manage it somehow," said Betty.
"How much I should like to know what was really the true story of that poor unfortunate child," said Elsie, reflectively, and sighing as she spoke.
"It--like the story of the Man in the Iron Mask--is a mystery that will never be satisfactorily cleared up until the Judgment Day," remarked her father.
"Oh, do tell us about it," the children cried in eager chorus.
"All of you older ones have certainly some knowledge of the French Revolution, in which Louis XVI. and his beautiful queen lost their lives?" Mr. Dinsmore said, glancing about upon his grandchildren; "and have not forgotten that two children survived them--one sometimes called Louis XVII., as his father's lawful successor to the throne, and a daughter older than the boy.
"These children remained in the hands of their cruel foes for some time after the beheading of their royal parents. The girl was finally restored to her mother's relatives, the royal family of Austria; but the boy, who was most inhumanly treated by his jailer, was supposed to have died in consequence of that brutal abuse, having first been reduced by it to a state of extreme bodily and mental weakness.
"That story (of the death of the poor little dauphin, I mean, not of the cruel treatment to which he was subjected) has, however, been contradicted by another; and I suppose it will never be made certain in this world which was the true account.
"The dauphin was born in 1785, his parents were beheaded in 1793; so that he must have been about eight years old at the time of their death.
"In 1795 a French man and woman, directly from France, appeared in Albany, New York, having in charge a girl and boy; the latter about nine years old, and feeble in body and mind.
"The woman had also a number of articles of dress which she said had belonged to Marie Antoinette, who had given them to her on the scaffold.
"That same year two Frenchmen came to Ticonderoga, visited the Indians in that vicinity, and placed with them such a boy as the one seen at Albany--of the same age, condition of mind and body, etc.
"He was adopted by an Iroquois chief named Williams, and given the name of Eleazer Williams.
"He gradually recovered his health, and at length the shock of a sudden fall into the lake so far restored his memory that he recollected some scenes in his early life in the palaces of France. One thing he recalled was being with a richly dressed lady whom he addressed as 'mamma.'
"Some time later--I cannot now recall the exact date--a Frenchman died in New Orleans (Beranger was his name), who confessed on his death-bed that he had brought the dauphin to this country and placed him with the Indians of Northern New York. He stated that he had taken an oath of secrecy, for the protection of the lad, but could not die without confessing the truth."
"I'm inclined to think the story of the dauphin's death in France was not true," remarked Betty.
"Didn't Beranger's confession arouse inquiry, grandpa?" asked Zoe. "And did Eleazer Williams hear of it?"
"I think I may say yes to both your queries," Mr. Dinsmore answered. "Eleazer's story was published in the newspapers some years ago, and I remember he was spoken of as a very good Christian man, a missionary among the Indians; it was brought out in book form also under the title 'The Lost Prince: A Life of Eleazer Williams.'
"Eleazer himself stated that in 1848 he had an interview, on board a steamer from Buffalo, with the Prince de Joinville, who then told him he was the son of Louis XVI. and Marie Antoinette, and tried to induce him to sign away his right to the throne of France, and that he refused to do so.
"In his published statement he said he thought the Prince would not deny having made that communication. But the Prince did deny that, though he acknowledged that the interview had taken place."
"Did Eleazer ever try to get the throne, grandpa?" asked Max.
"No, he never urged his claim; and I dare say was happier as an obscure Indian missionary than he would have been as King of France. He died at the age of seventy."
"Poor Marie Antoinette!" sighed Elsie; "I never could read her story without tears, and the very thought of her sorrows and sufferings makes my heart ache."
"I don't think I ever read it," said Zoe, "though I have a general idea what it was."
"We have Abbott's life of her at Ion," said Elsie. "I'll get it for you when we go home."
Harold stepped to the window. "It is raining very little now, if at all," he said, "and the sea must be in a fine rage; let us go and have a look at it"
"Oh, yes, let's go!" cried Betty, springing to her feet; "but I'm afraid we've missed the finest of it, for the wind isn't blowing half so hard as it was an hour ago."
"Don't be discouraged," said Captain Raymond, sportively; "the waves are often higher than ever after the wind has subsided."
"Oh, papa, may I go too?" Grace said, in a pleading tone.
"Yes; if you put on your waterproof cloak and overshoes it will not hurt you to be out for a short time," answered the indulgent father. "Lulu, don't go without yours."
All were eager for the sight; there was a moment of hasty preparation, and they trooped out and stood upon the edge of the high bank at the back of their cottages gazing upon the sea in its, to most of them, new and terrible aspect; from shore to horizon it was one mass of seething, boiling waters; far out in the distance the huge waves reared their great foam-crested fronts and rushed furiously toward the shore, rapidly chasing each other in till with a tremendous crash and roar they broke upon the beach, sending up showers of spray, and depositing great flakes of foam which the wind sent scudding over the sand; and each, as it retreated, was instantly followed by another and another in unbroken, endless succession.
Half a mile or more south of 'Sconset there is a shoal (locally called "the rips") where wind and tide occasionally, coming in opposition, cause a fierce battle of the waves, a sight well worth a good deal of exertion to behold.
"Wind and tide are having it out on the rips," the captain presently remarked. "Let us go down to the beach and get the best view we can of the conflict."
"Papa, may we go too?" asked Lulu, as the older people hastily made a move toward the stairway that led to the beach; "oh, do please let us!"
Grace did not speak, but her eyes lifted to his, pleaded as earnestly as Lulu's tongue. He hesitated for an instant, then stooped, took Grace in his arms, and saying to Lulu, "Yes, come along; it is too grand a sight for me to let you miss it," hurried after the others.
Violet had not come out with the rest, her attention being taken up with her babe just at that time, and he would give her the sight afterward on taking the children in.
On they went over the wet sands--Mr. Dinsmore and his wife, Edward and his, Betty holding on to Harold's arm, Rose and Walter helped along by Herbert and Bob.
To Max Raymond's great content and a little to the discomfiture of her sons, who so delighted in waiting upon and in every way caring for her, Elsie had chosen him for her companion and escort, and with Lulu they hastened after the others and just ahead of the captain and Grace, who brought up the rear.
The thunder of the surf prevented any attempt at conversation, but now and then there was a little scream, ending with a shout of laughter from one or another of the feminine part of the procession, as they were overtaken by the edge of a wave and their shoes filled with the foam, their skirts wetted by it. Not a very serious matter, as all had learned ere this, as salt water does not cause one to take cold.
Arrived at the spot from where the very best view of the conflict could be had, they stood long gazing upon it, awestruck and fascinated by the terrific grandeur of the scene. I can best describe it in the words of a fellow-author far more gifted in that line than I.
"Yonder comes shoreward a great wave, towering above all its brethren. Onward it comes, swift as a race-horse, graceful as a great ship, bearing right down upon us. It strikes 'The Rips,' and is there itself struck by a wave approaching from another direction. The two converge in their advance, and are dashed together--embrace each other like two angry giants, each striving to mount upon the shoulder of the other and crush its antagonist with its ponderous bulk. Swift as thought they mount higher and higher, in fierce, mad struggle, until their force is expended; their tops quiver, tremble, and burst into one great mass of white, gleaming foam; and the whole body of the united wave, with a mighty bound, hurls itself upon the shore and is broken into a flood of seething waters--crushed to death in its own fury.
"All over the shoal the waves leap up in pinnacles, in volcanic points, sharp as stalagmites, and in this form run hither and yon in all possible directions, colliding with and crashing against others of equal fury and greatness--a very carnival of wild and drunken waves; the waters hurled upward in huge masses of white. Sometimes they unite more gently, and together sweep grandly and gracefully along parallel with the shore; and the cavernous hollows stretch out from the shore so that you look into the trough of the sea and realize what a terrible depth it is. The roar, meanwhile, is horrible. You are stunned by it as by the roar of a great waterfall. You see a wave of unusual magnitude rolling in from far beyond the wild revelry of waters on 'The Rips.' It leaps into the arena as if fresh and eager for the fray, clutches another Bacchanal like itself, and the two towering floods rush swiftly toward the shore. Instinctively you run backward to escape what seems an impending destruction. Very likely a sheet of foam is dashed all around you, shoe-deep, but you are safe--only the foam hisses away in impotent rage. The sea has its bounds; 'hitherto shalt thou come, but no farther.'"[A]
[Footnote A: A. Judd Northrup, in "Sconset Cottage Life."]