The Revenge Of Josiah Breeze
Category: TALES OF PURITAN LAND
Source: Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land
Two thousand Cape Cod fishermen had gone to join the colonial army, and
in their absence the British ships had run in shore to land crews on
mischievous errands. No man, woman, or child on the Cape but hated the
troops and sailors of King George, and would do anything to work them
harm. When the Somerset was wrecked off Truro, in 1778, the crew were
helped ashore, 'tis true, but they were straightway marched to prison,
and it was thought that no other frigate would venture near the shifting
dunes where she had laid her skeleton, as many a good ship had done
before and has done since. It was November, and ugly weather was shutting
in, when a three-decker, that had been tacking off shore and that flew
the red flag, was seen to yaw wildly while reefing sail and drift toward
land with a broken tiller. No warning signal was raised on the bluffs;
not a hand was stirred to rescue. Those who saw the accident watched with
sullen satisfaction the on-coming of the vessel, nor did they cease to
look for disaster when the ship anchored and stowed sail.
Ezekiel and Josiah Breeze, father and son, stood at the door of their
cottage and watched her peril until three lights twinkling faintly
through the gray of driving snow were all that showed where the enemy
lay, straining at her cables and tossing on a wrathful sea. They stood
long in silence, but at last the boy exclaimed, I'm going to the ship.
If you stir from here, you're no son of mine, said Ezekiel.
But she's in danger, dad.
As she oughter be. By mornin' she'll be strewed along the shore and not
a spar to mark where she's a-swingin' now.
And the men?
It's a jedgment, boy.
The lad remembered how the sailors of the Ajax had come ashore to burn
the homes of peaceful fishermen and farmers; how women had been insulted;
how his friends and mates had been cut down at Long Island with British
lead and steel; how, when he ran to warn away a red-faced fellow that was
robbing his garden, the man had struck him on the shoulder with a
cutlass. He had sworn then to be revenged. But to let a host go down to
death and never lift a helping hand--was that a fair revenge? I've got
to go, dad, he burst forth. Tomorrow morning there'll be five hundred
faces turned up on the beach, covered with ice and staring at the sky,
and five hundred mothers in England will wonder when they're goin' to see
those faces again. If ever they looked at me the sight of 'em would never
go out of my eyes. I'd be harnted by 'em, awake and asleep. And to-morrow
is Thanksgiving. I've got to go, dad, and I will. So speaking, he rushed
away and was swallowed in the gloom.
The man stared after him; then, with a revulsion of feeling, he cried,
You're right, 'Siah. I'll go with you. But had he called in tones of
thunder he would not have been heard in the roar of the wind and crash of
the surf. As he reached the shore he saw faintly on the phosphorescent
foam a something that climbed a hill of water; it was lost over its crest
and reappeared on the wave beyond; it showed for a moment on the third
wave, then it vanished in the night. Josiah! It was a long, querulous
cry. No answer. In half an hour a thing rode by the watcher on the sands
and fell with a crash beside him--a boat bottom up: his son's.
Next day broke clear, with new snow on the ground. In his house at
Provincetown, Captain Breeze was astir betimes, for his son Ezekiel, his
grandson Josiah, and all other relatives who were not at the front with
Washington were coming for the family reunion. Plump turkeys were ready
for the roasting, great loaves of bread and cake stood beside the oven,
redoubtable pies of pumpkin and apple filled the air with maddening
odors. The people gathered and chattered around his cheery fire of the
damage that the storm had done, when Ezekiel stumbled in, his brown face
haggard, his lips working, and a tremor in his hands. He said, Josiah!
in a thick voice, then leaned his arms against the chimney and pressed
his face upon them. Among fishermen whose lives are in daily peril the
understanding of misfortune is quick, and the old man put his hand on the
shoulder of his son and bent his head. The day of joy was become a day of
gloom. As the news went out, the house began to fill with sympathizing
friends, and there was talking in low voices through the rooms, when a
cry of surprise was heard outside. A ship, cased in tons of ice, was
forging up the harbor, her decks swarming with blue jackets, some of whom
were beating off the frozen masses from lower spars and rigging. She
followed the channel so steadily, it was plain to be seen that a wise
hand was at her helm; her anchor ran out and she swung on the tide. The
Ajax, as I'm a sinner! exclaimed a sailor on shore. A boat put off from
her, and people angrily collected at the wharf, with talk of getting out
their guns, when a boyish figure arose in the stern, and was greeted with
a shout of surprise and welcome.
The boat touched the beach, Josiah Breeze leaped out of it, and in
another minute his father had him in a bear's embrace, making no attempt
to stop the tears that welled out of his eyes. An officer had followed
Josiah on shore, and going to the group he said, That boy is one to be
proud of. He put out in a sea that few men could face, to save an enemy's
ship and pilot it into the harbor. I could do no less than bring him
back. There was praise and laughter and clasping of hands, and when the
Thanksgiving dinner was placed, smoking, on the board, the commander of
H. M. S. Ajax was among the jolliest of the guests at Captain Breeze's
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