John Vytal_ A Tale of the Lost Colony
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Title: John Vytal: A Tale of the Lost Colony
Author: William Farquhar Payson
Release Date: December 2, 2018 [eBook #58403]
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Copyright, 1901, by Harper & Brothers.
All rights reserved.
“He was one of a lean body and visage, as ifhis eager soul, biting for anger at the clog of hisbody, desired to fret a passage through it.”
No epoch in American history is more essentiallyromantic than that in which, for a few years, lessthan one hundred colonists from England lived onthe island of Roanoke, off the coast of old Virginia.Nevertheless, although the history of our continent,from the landing of Columbus to the end of the Spanish-Americanwar, has been exhaustively exploitedin fiction, the pages dated 1587-1598 seem to havebeen left unturned. Yet the life of the Roanokecolony contained not only adventure, hazard, andprivation in a far greater degree than the maturersettlements of later years, but also an underlyingemblematical element, and in its end an insolubleriddle. In being thus both mystical and mysterious,it paramountly inspires romance.
The mystery has filled many pages of history, butalways as an enigma without solution. The fate ofthe colony is utterly unknown, historians of necessityrelegating it to the limbo of oblivion.
Bancroft, for one, concludes his account of thecolonization thus:
“The conjecture has been hazarded [by Lawson and others]that the deserted colony, neglected by their own countrymen,were hospitably adopted into the tribe of Hatteras Indians, andbecame amalgamated with the sons of the forest. This was thetradition of the natives at a later day, and was thought to be confirmedby the physical character of the tribe in which the Englishand the Indian race seemed to have been blended. Raleigh[vi]long cherished the hope of discovering some vestiges of their existence,and though he had abandoned the design of colonizingVirginia, he yet sent, at his own charge, and, it is said, at fiveseveral times, to search for his liege-men. But it was all in vain;imagination received no help in its attempts to trace the fate ofthe colony of Roanoke.”
Opposing this view, many authorities believe thata massacre occurred by which many of the Englishsuffered at the hands of hostile savages. In the ensuingstory, however, I have ventured to explainthe oblivion of the colony’s end in a way which Ibelieve has not yet been suggested.
After this preamble I hasten to assure the reader—perhapsalready surfeited with historical novels—thathe shall find scarce more of history in thewhole tale following than in the foreword just concluded.The “manners and customs” also arerigidly suppressed. I have made bold, though, touse several of the colonists’ names which have beenpreserved, but the conception of character is myown.
W. F. P.
A Tale of the Lost Colony
It is not to yesterday that we would take you now,but to a day before innumerable yesterdays, acrossthe dead sea of Time to a haven mutable yet immortal.For the Elizabethan era is essentially of thequick, although its dead have lain entombed for centuries.The world of that renascent period, alightwith the spontaneous fire of intellectual and passionatelife, shines through the space of ages as thoughthen, for the first time, it had been cast off from apregnant sun.
Overcoming the remoteness of the epoch by an appreciationof this vivid reality, we pause at the outsetnear the great south gate of London Bridge asit stood three centuries ago.
On a certain April afternoon the massive stonesand harsh outlines served to heighten by contrastthe effect of lithe grace and nonchalance apparentin the figure of a young man, who, leaninglightly against the barbacan, presented a memorablepicture of idleness and ease. Yet a fleeting expressionin the youthful face belied the indolence of attitude.For in more ways than one “Kind Kyt Marlowe”resembled the spring-tide, whose tokens ofapproach he intuitively recognized. His eyes, usuallysoft and slumberous with the light of dreams,now and again shone brilliant like black diamonds.With all his careless incontinence, he possessed alatent power, a deep, indeterminable force, portendingbroad hot days and nights of storm.
His face, mobile dark and passionate, showed analmost alarming intensity. His brow, lofty but notmassive, was surmounted by silken hair so blackas to appear almost purple in the sunlight. He woreno beard, a small mustache adding to the refinementof his features, save for the fulness of his lips, whichit could not hide. Taken as a whole, his face wasthe face of a man who had no common destiny; of aman who would drain the cup and leave no dregs, bethe draught life-elixir or poison; of a man, in short,who might all but transcend his humanity by thefulness of life within him, or be suffocated andoverwhelmed by the very superabundance of thatlife. For there are some seeming to be born witha double share of vitality, a portion far greater thanwas meant for man; and when this vitality, maturing,begins its re-creation, threatening all feeblerforms with a new revolutionary condition, then theerror is apparently discovered and the entire shareof life recalled.
Christopher Marlowe was one of these men, butas he leaned against the Southwark Gate, that afternoonin early life, looking up the High Street throughthe gathering dusk, his eyes showed little more thanthe cheerful glow of a wood-fire, the mere hint of anunrestrainable flame underlying their expression.
Soon, however, the poet’s reverie was broken. Theafternoon’s bear-baiting being over, and Southwark’samphitheatre empty of its throngs, a number of theearliest to leave were now upon the High Street,known then as Long Southwark. Seeing them approachinghim on their way to London, Marloweturned and walked in the same direction.
At the sign of “The Three Bibles” books andbroadsides were for sale. It was this small, antiquatedden on London Bridge that the authorsought with the unconscious step of one who followsa familiar way.
He had but just entered the low-studded, gloomyshop, and greeted Paul Merfin, its owner, when thescabbard of a sword clanked on the threshold, and aman of great stature, accoutred as a soldier, darkenedthe doorway. With no prelude of salutation,the new-comer demanded of Merfin, in a voice of anxiety,“Tell me, hast seen—?” Then for the firsttime he became aware of Marlowe’s presence, and,lowering his heavy tones to a whisper, finished hisquery in the bookseller’s ear.
“Nay,” was Merfin’s answer, “I have seen nothingof him.”
The soldier’s face grew yet more uneasy. “Illfortune!” he exclaimed; “it is always so,” and hewould have left the shop had not Marlowe detainedhim.
“Stay,” said the poet, “I could not but hear yourquestion, for your whisper, sir, being no gentler thana March wind, nips the ear whether we will or no.So you, I take it, are that giant, Hugh Rouse, whofollows the Wolf. Of you twain I have heard much,and wondered if the tales from the South were truethat told of so great a courage. I have seen the man,show me now the master.”
“Would, sir, that I could, but I know not wherethe master is. And who, may I ask, are you, thatshow so deep an interest?”
“Not one to be feared,” returned Marlowe, smiling;“an idle poet who has sung of braver men than hiseyes have yet beheld, and would see a man still braverthan the song—Kyt Marlowe, at your service, goodmy Rouse,” and so saying, the poet, with a handthrough the big soldier’s arm, led the way from theshop out to the High Street of Southwark. “Hadyou not another comrade in the wars, a vagabondof most preposterous paunch and waddling legs?I have heard that he, too, follows milord, the Wolf.”
“There is such an one,” said Rouse, “but, alack!he also is missing. I pray you, though, call not ourleader ‘Wolf’ again; none save fools and his enemiesso name him.”
“But I have heard that he is ferocious as a wolf,lean and very gray. The sobriquet is not ill-fitting.”
“Nay,” said the soldier, “in truth it fits most aptlyin description of his looks, for though he is but five-and-thirty,his head and beard are grizzled, that beforewere black as night.”
“’Tis not strange,” observed the poet, leadinghis new acquaintance toward a favorite hostelry;“campaigning in the South ages many a man beforehis time.”
“Ay, but that is not all.”
“What more, then?”
“It is briefly told,” answered the soldier. “Hisfather was sent by her Majesty, our queen, with messagesto Henry of Navarre, in whose army we twofought side by side. The envoy and his wife, whowere passing through Paris—”
“What!” interrupted the poet, “were they his parents?I had forgot the story. It was the nightwhen Papists murdered Huguenots, the night of St.Bartholomew. An Englishman and his wife wereslain ere their son, who had come from the South towarn them, could intervene. He saw his motherstruck down, saw the sword and the bared breast inthe glare of a dozen torches, and saw his father killed,too, after a brief struggle. Then the youth, who hadcut his way nearer to the scene, found himself beseton all sides by a bristling thicket of steel that no mancould divide. He fell. The Catholics laughed andleft him for dead across the bodies of his parents.But the lad was not so easily undone. He rose,despite a wound beneath the heart, and, drippingblood, carried the two dead forms to the Seine, where,in the shadow of the Pont Neuf, he weighted his burdenswith stones and buried them beyond the reachof desecration. The tale came to me as come somany legends of the wars from nameless narrators.That youth, then, is—”
“John Vytal,” concluded the soldier, gravely.“He had fought before then at Jarnac and Moncontour;but now he warred against the Catholics withredoubled fury. ’Twas through him, I tell you, camethe victorious peace of Beaulieu and Bergerac, andthe fall of Cahors.”
“Find me this man!” The words burst from theyoung poet in a voice of eager, impetuous command.“I must see him!”
“He was to have been at the ‘Tabard’ two hourssince,” returned the soldier, despondently, “but camenot.”
“Then let us return thither and wait for him ayear, if need be. He will come at last, ’tis sure.”
The narrow way on the bridge near by was nowchoked with its evening throngs, and, as daylightbegan to fade, a babble of many tongues roseand fell in the streets of Southwark, with whichthe creaking song of tavern signs, aswing in theevening breeze, blent an invitation to innumerablestragglers from the bear-fight.
“Eh, now,” said Rouse to one of