Tales of the Chesapeake
The Project Gutenberg eBook, Tales of the Chesapeake, by George AlfredTownsend
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Title: Tales of the Chesapeake
Author: George Alfred Townsend
Release Date: April 5, 2006 [eBook #18126]
Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1
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TALES OF THE CHESAPEAKE
GEO. ALFRED TOWNSEND
AMERICAN NEWS COMPANY,
39 AND 41 Chambers Street.
Geo. Alfred Townsend.
TO MY FATHER,
REV. STEPHEN TOWNSEND, M.D., PH.D.,
WHOSE ANCESTORS EXPLORED THE CHESAPEAKE BAY IN 1623,
AND WERE SETTLED ON THE POCOMOKE RIVER ALMOST
TWO HUNDRED YEARS, NEAR HIS BIRTHPLACE;
THE AFFECTION OF
HIS ONLY SURVIVING SON.
Of the following pieces, two, "Kidnapped," and "Dominion over theFish," have been published in Chambers's Journal, London. The poem"Herman of Bohemia Manor" is new. All the compositions illustrate thesame general locality.
THE EASTERN SHORE OF MARYLAND.
And the debate of public men,
I said aloud, "Oh! if there were
Some place to make me young awhile,
I would go there, I would go there,
And if it were a many a mile!"
Then something cried—perhaps my map,
That not in vain I oft invoke—
"Go seek again your mother's lap,
The dear old soil that gave you sap,
And see the land of Pocomoke!"
My foot on that old shore was set,
Though prodigal in wandering,
Arose; and with a tingled cheek,
Like some late wild duck on the wing,
I started down the Chesapeake.
The morning sunlight, silvery calm,
From basking shores of woodland broke,
And capes and inlets breathing balm,
And lovely islands clothed in palm,
Closed round the sound of Pocomoke.
The long canoes were oystering,
And moving barges played the seine
Along the beaches of Tangiers;
I heard the British drums again
As in their predatory years,
When Kedge's Straits the Tories swept,
And Ross's camp-fires hid in smoke.
They plundered all the coasts except
The camp the Island Parson kept
For praying men of Pocomoke.
Onancock Creek and Pungoteague,
The world and wars behind us stop.
On God's frontiers we seem to be
As at Rehoboth wharf we drop,
And see the Kirk of Mackemie:
The first he was to teach the creed
The rugged Scotch will ne'er revoke;
His slaves he made to work and read,
Nor powers Episcopal to heed,
That held the glebes on Pocomoke.
The grim predestinarian,
Whose soul expands to mountain views;
And Wesley's tenets, like a tide,
These level shores with love suffuse,
Where'er his patient preachers ride.
The landscape quivered with the swells
And felt the steamer's paddle stroke,
That tossed the hollow gum-tree shells,
As if some puffing craft of hell's
The fisher chased in Pocomoke.
And in the tides grow giant groves.
The water shines like ebony,
And odors resinous ascend
From many an old balsamic tree,
Whose roots the terrapin befriend;
The great ball cypress, fringed with beard,
Presides above the water oak,
As doth its shingles, well revered,
O'er many a happy home endeared
To thousands far from Pocomoke.
Like that old Socrates they slew;
The piny forests moan and moan,
And in the marshy splutter docks,
As if they grazed on sky alone,
Rove airily the herds of ox.
Then, like a narrow strait of light,
The banks draw close, the long trees yoke,
And strong old manses on the height
Stand overhead, as to invite
To good old cheer on Pocomoke.
To trap the perch that gambol by;
In coves of creek the saw-mills sing,
And trim the spar and hew the mast;
And the gaunt loons dart on the wing,
To see the steamer looming past.
Now timber shores and massive piles
Repel our hull with friendly stroke,
And guide us up the long defiles,
Till after many fairy miles
We reach the head of Pocomoke.
To this old loamy cul-de-sac?
Spread on the level river shore,
Beneath the bending willow-trees
And speckled trunks of sycamore,
All moist with airs of rival seas?
Are these old men who gravely bow,
As if a stranger all awoke,
The same who heard my parents vow,
—Ah well! in simpler days than now—
To love and serve by Pocomoke?
These rugged ponies, lean and spruce?
Are these the steers of Accomac
That do the negro's drone obey?
The things of childhood all come back:
The wonder tales of mother day!
The jail, the inn, the ivy vines
That yon old English churchside cloak,
Wherein we read the stately lines
Of Addison, writ in his signs,
Above the dead of Pocomoke.
And think it listless and asleep;
But I have seen the world enough
To think its grandeur something dull.
And here were men of sterling stuff,
In their own era wonderful:
Young Luther Martin's wayward race,
And William Winder's core of oak,
The lion heart of Samuel Chase,
And great Decatur's royal face,
And Henry Wise of Pocomoke.
And weary out of strife and art,
Oh! could we bring to these still shores
The peace they have who harbor here,
And rest upon our echoing oars,
And float adown this tranquil sphere,
Then might yon stars shine down on me,
With all the hope those lovers spoke,
Who walked these tranquil streets I see
And thought God's love nowhere so free
Nor life so good as Pocomoke.
The night before Christmas, frosty moonlight, the outcast preachercame down to the island shore and raised his hands to the stars.
"O God! whose word I so long preached in meekness and sincerity," hecried, "have mercy on my child and its mother, who are poor as wereThine own this morning, eighteen hundred and forty years ago!"
The moonlight scarcely fretted the soft expanse of Chincoteague Bay.There seemed a slender hand of silver reaching down from the sky totremble on the long chords of the water, lying there in light andshade, like a harp. The drowsy dash of the low surf on the bar beyondthe inlet was harsh to this still and shallow haven for wreckers andoystermen. It was very far from any busy city or hive of men, betweenthe ocean and the sandy peninsula of Maryland.
But no land is so remote that it may not have its banished men. Theoutcast preacher had committed the one deadly sin acknowledged amongstthose wild wreckers and watermen. It was not that he had knocked adrowning man in the head, nor shown a false signal along the shore todecoy a vessel into the breakers, nor darkened the lighthouse lamp.These things had been done, but not by him.
He had married out of his race. His wife was crossed with despisedblood.
"What do you seek, preacher?" exclaimed a gruff, hard voice. "Has theCanaanite woman driven you out from your hut this sharp weather, inthe night?"
"No," answered the outcast preacher. "My heart has sent me forth tobeg the service of your oyster-tongs, that I may dip a peck ofoysters from the cove. We are almost starved."
"And rightly starved, O psalm-singer! You were doing well. Preaching,ha! ha! Preaching the miracle of the God in the manger, the baby ofthe maid. You prayed and travelled for the good of Christians. Thetime came when you practised that gospel. You married the daughter ofa slave. Then they cast you off. They outlawed you. You were mademeaner, Levin Purnell, than the Jew of Chincoteague!"
The speaker was a bearded, swarthy, low-set man, who looked out fromthe cabin of a pungy boat. His words rang in the cold air likedropping icicles articulate.
"I know you, Issachar," exclaimed the outcast preacher. "They say thatyou are hard and avaricious. Your people were bond slaves once toevery nation. This is the birth night of my faith. In the name ofJoseph, who fed your brethren when they were starving, with theirfather, for corn, give me a few oysters, that we may live, and notdie!"
The Jew felt the supplication. He was reminded of Christmas eve. Thepoorest family on Chincoteague had bought his liquor that night for acarouse, or brought from the distant court-house town something forthe children's stockings. Before him was one whose service had beenthat powerful religion, shivering in the light of its natal star onthe loneliest sea-shore of the Atlantic. He had harmed no man, yet allshunned him, because he had loved, and honored his love with areligious rite, instead of profaning it, like others of his race.
"Take my tongs," replied the Jew. "Dip yonder! It will be your onlyChristmas gift."
"Peace to thee on earth and good-will to thee from men!" answered theoutcast.
The preacher raised the long-handled rakes,