Friday, June 8, 2012

Tangier Island Virginia

By J. W. Church

Waterfront at Tangier Island
Far out in Chesapeake Bay lies Tangier Island, the home of the quaint­est and most isolated community in the United States. For more than two centu­ries the Tangier men have sailed their heavily laden craft across the bay to the coast villages on the eastern shore of Maryland, during the fishing season, taciturnly marketed their catch of oys­ters, crabs, and fish, to sail unsmilingly out again to their mysterious island hid­den somewhere beyond the western sky­line.

All along the mainland shores the oystermen and villagers told us - often with portentous nods and lowered voices - that "them Tangiermen is mighty cur'us folk," or "there's queer goins-on over yonder on Tangier." But not a man of them will say he has ever visited the island. Hints of inhospitality, and worse, were frequent, the facts being as elusive as the intimation was definite, and our desire being keenly spurred by the mystery of it all, I presented the letter we bore to a prominent oysterman of Crisfield, who sent us over in one of his oyster-boats. Even he, after dealing with the Tangiermen for twenty years, could tell us little.

"There's a Captain Peter Crockett who keeps a store out there. Look him up and tell him I sent you. I reckon you gentlemen will get along all right, but be careful. They're sure a strange lot."

The big oyster-boat was skippered by Captain Harry, who has sailed the Ches­apeake for a score of years. To our questions he responded expansively con­cerning all things on, beneath, or above the waters, save only that strange com­munity somewhere out ahead of us. Of that he seemed to know no more than any of the others.

Thar's yore island," said he, at the end of an hour, looking up from the magnificent shad he was cleaning for our noonday dinner. Dead ahead along, a thin line of land lay rim-like along the gray horizon. Captain Harry threw the finished shad to the fisherman who offi­ciated as cook, and climbed into the tiny wheel-house. "Reckon I'd better take 'er," he said. "We're in pretty shoal water from now on."

A moment later our keel bumped over the crown of a sand-bar and we jumped up in alarm. "That's nothin'," laughed the skipper. "I take soundin's that away. It's easier than heavin' a lead."


Captain Peter Crockett's Store at Tangier Island
For two miles he dodged over and around the bars, often scraping the weeded bottom, even though we drew but three feet aft. Steadily the island grew clearer to view; the white spire of a church stood out definitely against the lowering sky, rising above tree masses that half hid a cluster of white cottages. From either end of the village ran far reaches of low marshland, broken in two or three places by small clumps of trees that sheltered a house or two, arid at the end were long spits of glistening white sand.

With Tangier still a long mile away, Captain Harry ran his boat firmly aground and stopped the engine. "Best we can do," he explained, and nearer than I expected. She'll be off in an hour with the tide, and it saves droppin' anchor." He launched a wobbly, flat-bottomed dingy, and himself undertook our transportation across the last pro­tecting mile of shoals. There was a nar­row, twisting channel somewhere there­abouts and twice we crossed it, but only a Tangierman could have followed its tortuous way.

Captain Harry landed us on a sort of point at one end of the obviously pictur­esque waterfront in a pouring rain, and we ran to shelter. But we did not run far. The charm of the place was too instant, too arresting. From the point we rounded a group of weather-beaten fish-houses that spoke vividly of Volen­dam, and caught our first near view of Tangier.

"Marken!" exclaimed Ellis, who knows his Holland.

To one side was the shore-line with its fishing-craft of strange sorts; to the other a row of small, fresh-painted cottages, enclosed in whitewashed picket fences. Between the houses one caught glimpses of green meadows that were miracu­lously dotted with the sharply canted masts of fishing-boats. A later inspec­tion of the meadow revealed the network of small canals, "the horse and buggy of the island," as one of the Tangiermen aptly put it. But we were looking ahead along a broad footpath that fronted the picket fences and lost itself beyond the church in a group of cottages under high cottonwoods. It was all so fresh, so still and wholly inviting, even through the haze of rain that again we thought of Holland.

We had not gone fifty feet before the empty footpath (which turned out to be the main and only street of the village) began to come to life. From the door- ways of all the cottages came wide-eyed, silent children to gaze wonderingly at the sight of strangers and to follow us re­spectfully on our way. Behind them in the doorways were the fisher-folk and their women, equally amazed, curious, and silent.

Determined to win at least their toler­ance, if we could, we spoke a greeting to all we met and were answered always gravely, unsmilingly, but without shy­ness or unfriendliness. Quickly it be­came plain that they liked it, and later, when they found us inclined to conver­sation, they came out to the gates on the chance of a word from us. The pro­cession of children, most of the boys wearing blue overalls, and several the cast-off rubber boots of their much more elders, grew as we proceeded, but its respectful silence was unbroken.

Tree lined street on Tangier Island
The pathway made a sharp turn around the church and we were in the main part of the village. The street, lined on both sides with whitewashed picket fences, was a well-trodden dirt walk about six feet wide that stretched away for half a mile to the other end of the village. Overhead the green boughs of the trees arched across the walk, and upon each side were close-set rows of speckless cottages fronted by prim lawns, flower-beds, and occasional fruit-trees. A few of the yards had no lawns, but were level - floored with hard - packed earth and were swept clean. The sweep­ing is literal, for we saw it done next day. Still other yards were solidly paved with oyster-shells, their insides up, and they glistened dazzlingly in the sun that followed the shower.

While we were gaining our first im­pression of the Tangier fishermen and their homes, on our way to Captain Peter's store under guidance of the chil­dren, Ellis pointed over a fence. Di­rectly in front of a cottage were three marble tombstones at the head of graves, covered with cleanly whitewashed ce­ment. I looked ahead and saw that this was no exception. In almost every home the living and the dead shared the little family property. Here was a newly built cottage, over which a broad cotton­ wood threw its protecting shade. At its foot was a single tiny grave, pathetically fresh and new - a sad beginning for the young family. A few steps beyond was a much older house, its yard almost en­tirely given over by the living to their dead. More than a score of graves were here, some of them weather-beaten by the storms of nearly two centuries.

The rain ceased before we reached Captain Peter's store, and the brilliant afternoon sun burst through the low, scurrying clouds overhead. Its rays sparkled from a myriad raindrops still clinging to the massed, dripping leaves of the great trees lining the tiny street, their interlacing branches forming a wonderful pleached aisle into which the sunlight filtered in vivid splashes. Beneath our feet, the gleaming white of thousands of bits of shell caught a glow of gold from the sunshine, the rain pools dotted along the path, mirroring every image on their clear, trembling surfaces.

"There's Captain Peter's," said a pink-cheeked little girl in gingham and braids, and dropped back into the crowd of wondering youngsters behind us. She had pointed to a one-story frame house whose broad, low piazza reached to the street line.

Only a few men were inside - for the fishing-boats had not yet come in from the day's work - and these silently, rather questioningly, returned our greet­ings. Captain Peter, owner of the store and a nabob of the island, referred us briefly to Captain Ed Crockett, who, he said, sometimes took in strangers. Then there had been other visitors. We were not the first discoverers of Tangier, after all. We made diligent inquiry on this point a little later. Oh yes, there was a drummer or two every few months, and once in a while a ministerial visitor to the Methodist parsonage. Artist? No, there had never been an artist, only a lady. We thought with wonder of the sensation a well-dressed city woman would make. As we left the store, a rather ill-kempt man, whose face and physique were in marked contrast to the clean-cut, powerful Tangiermen we had seen, told us he was the doctor; that he boarded at Captain Ed's, and would show us the way. No, he was not a native of the island. It had never, he believed, produced a professional man. In any case, it didn't need many - just a doctor and a minister. There had never been any lawyers or bankers.

Home of Joshua Thomas, the prophet of Tangier Island
Cap'n Ed Crockett's place was a neat two-story house with an ornate but com­fortable veranda. The front hall was bare, except for a small deal table bear­ing a wash-bowl and pitcher, and the stairs were uncarpeted. We knocked. A door opened and a tall, spare, gray-haired and mustached man, in a reefer and rubber hip-boots, appeared and looked us over. Apparently we did not look like "drummers," and he seemed in some doubt. As persuasively as I could I explained our desire to remain on the island for a day or two, offered literal evidence that I, at least, was soaked to the skin, and craved his hospitality. Would he put us up? After a long, silent inspection he "reckoned he might," and without another word led us above to a bare but cheerful and very clean room, containing chiefly two old - fashioned wooden bedsteads and a stack of crazy-quilts.

An hour later, in clothes dried at the kitchen fire, we had settled ourselves in the sitting-room with its sheet-iron stove, knotty sofa, ancient bureau, and "Storm off the Coast of Maine" chro­mos of half a century ago. Then Cap­tain Ed appeared, and we won him. Within the hour he was giving us a much-desired version of the story of Tangier.

"No, sir," he said -  and his speech was neither of the North nor the South, but had something in it of both, besides characteristics strange to either - "thar ain't never been no hist'ry story of Tan­gier ever writ as I knows of, 'cept one my father, Thomas Crockett, writ nigh fifty year ago. He called it "Facts and Fun," and he sent out and had it made into a book by a printer. There was a hull box of 'em clutterin' roun' here for years, but the wimmin-folks said the Fac's might be all right, but the Fun wa'n't, and one day they tore 'em all up. I ain't seen one for years.

"You gentlemen ain't never heard how Tangier got settled? It were by a man from the Eastern Shore settlements, back in 1707 - more'n two hundred years ago. The island were the home of a tribe of Indians, and this here man, Post, got the idee of raisin' stock on it. So he runs over and tells the In­dians that the colonists are goin' to come out and massacree them and they'd better get outen the way. That scared the Indians, all right, and they sailed over to the western shore of Virginny. But before they went, Post said, as the island wasn't goin' to be any more use to 'em, he'd buy it off them. The chief agreed, so Post gave him two old overcoats, and the island was his. Then he brung over five families and a passel o' horses and cows." The Captain stopped to relight a cigar from our stock.

"Were the Crocketts in the first lot?" asked Ellis.

"They war, sir. They an' the Dises an' the Pruitts. Then the livestock began to die off fast, and the other two families went back to the mainland. But we stayed on, and in a few years thar was a right  smart settlement, mebbe thirty or forty people."

"Have others been coming over since?" I asked, for we seemed face to face with a striking case of inbreeding.

"Wall, a few now and then," said the Captain. "Once in a while one of our boys goes over to the Eastern Shore for a wife but most generally we Tangier folk kinda like to flock to ourselves.

"Thar's nigh five hundred Crocketts on Tangier to-day," added the Captain, in effective illumination, a note of pride in his voice.

"And - and the other old families?" I ventured. "Have they done as well?"

"Thar ain't as many as there be Crocketts," he said, reflectively, "but - let's see. Thar's fourteen hundred all told on the island, countin' in the chil­dren, an' a third of them's Crocketts. The other four families would be nigh six hundred altogether, and that 'd leave about three hundred for the rest. Yes, sir, I reckon that's about right."

My thoughts went back to the suc­cession of graves we had passed, and now I wondered if we would not find a densely populated asylum for defectives tucked away somewhere on Tangier.

"You've a remarkably healthy-look­ing lot of children here, Captain," said Ellis, who was evidently thinking in the same channel. "I don't suppose you have much sickness on the island, or - or insanity, or anything of that sort?"

"Thar never was a doctor here till '89," was the reply. "Most of us lives till we're 'bout ready to blow away. Co'se thar's some ailin' off an' on, but mostly it's old age or child-bearin'." He chuckled. "Thar's always been consid­erable of the latter hereabouts. At that, it's a poor place for a doctor - with only fourteen hundred of us."

Tombstones in yard of Tangier Island home
The entrance of Mrs. Crockett, whose sturdy health was declared by every line of her ample figure, with a reminder to the Captain of "them eysters" (the women of Tangier have oddities of ac­cent that the men do not), turned us to exploration. Cameras in hand, we sallied forth, and, as before, were the spectacular center of curious interest. The children had been on the watch for us and they soon collected in droves to discover what we were going to do. Ellis's camera, with its hood and reflect­ing mirrors, was a source of intense, though silent delight. At his suggestion they formed in a long file, and one by one looked into the camera, seeing for the first time in their lives the familiar objects about them pictured in minia­ture on the ground glass. At first we were a bit dubious about taking the vil­lagers, but no one dodged us, and when we began asking them to pose they obeyed eagerly but unsmilingly, and without a word or question. In their own way they enjoyed it, yet the only one of them all who asked the ubiquitous "Mister, take my picture?" was the one negro on the island, evidently a privi­leged person.

The one street ended in a narrow dike that ran out beyond the cottages and lost itself in an inlet. From here the village lay flat before us, marvelously trim and bright in the evening sunlight. To either side of the dike the little canals cut the meadow into strips and were dotted with fishing-craft, generally hull-down in the rank marsh grass. To the west rose another low ridge with a thin­ner row of homes, and between ran the narrow dikes with old split bridges over the canals, and at one place a crude but efficient miniature drawbridge that worked by hand. It needed only wind­mills to be entirely an American Hol­land. The women wore sun-bonnets in­stead of caps, when they wore any head covering. There is no modern millinery on Tangier that we could discover.

We found ourselves at the upper end of the village, near the place we had landed, and facing a two-story house with rather a larger lawn than the others, and no graves. This aroused our curiosity, and we turned to our faithful bodyguard.

"The minister's house," was the an­swer. "That's him in the garden."

The minister was busy spading up a flower-bed with the active assistance of a flock of chickens, but he came to the fence at once to greet us. The charge was new to him, he having been here only a few months. He had come from Minnesota for the customary four-years' term enjoined by the Methodist Conference, in whose charge the religious life of the island lies. Certainly he found it pleasant. The church was amazingly strong; its congregation extraordinarily devoted. It was indeed a fertile field, and his chickens were doing remarkably well. On the whole, a very pleasant existence - a little out of the world (they had been frozen in for seven weeks last winter), but what of that? Visitors were few at all times and his people were quite content among themselves. We liked the minister.

Some of the 500 Crockett's on Tangier Island
The church is the only social center on the island, if one excepts Captain Peter's store, where the Tangiermen gather without their women-folk. Its members and adherents embrace virtually every adult in the settlement, and the Sunday-school is attended by all of the six hun­dred children and many of their elders. As fishing is the sole industry of the island, so is religion, of the sternest and most uncompromising sort, the only intellectual stimulus or recreation. No alcoholic drinks, playing-cards, dancing, or frivolous amusements are tolerated or apparently desired by the fisher-folk of Tangier. Life is too serious a matter for such things.

Naturally, the minister is a benevo­lent despot whose word is law. Apropos, a characteristic story was told us and later confirmed:

The Tangiermen seem never to have taken any interest in either state or national politics until after the Civil War. There has never been more than one or two negros there - the one we saw was preparing to leave for a (to him) less lonely abode, and as the island has never had any local government of any sort, and had been all but forgotten by Virginia, politics meant nothing to them. When at last the Tangiermen did take to the ballot, they voted solidly Republican in an overwhelmingly Democratic state. The reason, we discovered, was that their ministers had been almost all Northern men of Republican persuasion.

There came a time in later years when a close state election made the Democratic State Committee turn with concern to consideration of the three hun­dred odd votes to be contributed against them on the island. So, selecting with what must have been rare skill two fluent speakers, they dispatched them at the last minute to Tangier. The two arrived on the eve of the election, and their ora­tory - doubtless the first of its kind ever heard there - so impressed the simple Tangiermen that they went to the polls a unanimous Democracy. Secure in the belief of their victory, the two poli­ticians sailed away before sundown, intent upon gaining the mainland that night.

The minister, visiting a neighboring island, returned later in the day and learned what had transpired. In high wrath, his good Republican soul utterly shocked at the backsliding of his flock, he seized the first available banner (his wife's red-flannel petticoat) and, climbing the steeple of the church, nailed it to the spire. Then grasping the bell-rope, he sent peal after peal of quick alarms ringing across the still marshlands, bringing the entire population to him on a run. From the church steps he poured denunciation upon the recreants then led the way to the polling-place. The ballot-box was opened, the debasing Democratic votes strewn to the four winds, and replaced with perfectly good Republican ones. These went to the mainland for the official count, and they were counted, too.

As one of the Tangiermen, who would really like to be a Democrat, told me rather mournfully, "Tangier has gone Republican ever since."

The sole representatives of state and county authority on the island are a jus­tice of the peace and a deputy-sheriff. For the latter there is absolutely no official employment, and for the former little more than an occasional transfer of property to attest. Entirely without any local government for more than two centuries, Tangier is and has always been singularly free from crime or mis­demeanor. Twice in its history, it is true - but let Captain Ed tell it as he told it to us around the sheet-iron stove that evening. We turned the subject to law.

"Thar ain't been more'n twice when it was needed that I know of," said the Captain, "an' then we made enough to fit."

"But I hear you have a town consta­ble," I persisted.

"Wall, I reckon we keep him to look after what strangers come ashore," was the reply. When that had been allowed to soak in a little, he told us the real story of the constable.

"A few years ago," he said, "things come to an awful pass here. There got to be a regular spell o' swearin', an' it wa'n't only on the boats, but right on the street within hearin' of the childer. So thirty of us met right here in this room an' formed a Law an' Order League, an' we pledged our sacred lives an' property to put a stop to this wickedness. I told them that a man could be fined five dollars for swearin' in any state in the Union, an' it ought to be the same here. So that's what we decided to do, an' we told Bud Connerton, the deputy-sheriff, to give every man who swore a fair warning, and the next time to fine him five dollars."

"Did he make any arrests?" encour­aged Ellis.

"Forty-three the fust week," said the Captain, "an' none since. The boys soon decided that swearin' was too ex­pensive to be careless about."

"How about strangers?" I asked.

Captain Ed eyed me suspiciously. "We warn them twice," he said. "We've only had to fine one. Bud, he's great on doin' his duty."

As every effect must have its cause, we sought the underlying inspiration for the amazing simplicity, rigorous moral­ity, and intense religious devotion so variously apparent among the people of Tangier. The almost absolute isolation of two centuries and the stern influence of the old-time Methodism had obvi­ously been contributing influences, but without something more intimately personal it seemed that either or both of those might easily have resulted in what we really expected to find, a community morally and mentally weakened by in­breeding, and made sullen and inhos­pitable by their self-chosen immolation.

The convincing and conclusive answer was "Joshua Thomas." Without know­ing of him one does not know Tangier. He is called "The Prophet of the Isles," and his deeds are a sacred tradition in every island home.

Born on the Eastern Shore in 1776, young Joshua was about five years old when his family moved to Tangier. His father died soon afterward and his mother became the wife of a dissolute member of the Pruitt clan. The step­father's dissipation brought such depths of sorrow and wretchedness to the family during Joshua's boyhood that there grew in the lad a stern hatred of all forms of self-indulgence. In those days the island was the place of the annual Methodist camp-meeting, and the young fisherman, now intensely devout, felt a call and be­came an "exhorter" of extraordinary power. He could read only the simplest words in the Bible, but he pored over it nightly and developed a gift of simple, moving speech that lifted him to amaz­ing influence. That he possessed also to a great degree the gift of prophecy is undoubted. Scores of instances were told us, every Tangierman to whom we mentioned Father Thomas reverently adding his favorite story. Absolutely without fear, he dominated the life and thought of the island for half a century and left his imprint indelibly upon his people. His fearlessness is vividly illus­trated in one incident that they often tell. It is Captain Ed's favorite.

Woman of Tangier Island
In 1812, when the British fleet was on its way up the Chesapeake Bay to storm Baltimore, it dropped anchor off Tan­gier, and several thousand of the troops were sent ashore for field-drill. Landing at one end of the island, they marched upon the village in a body. In the line of their march were the laboriously cul­tivated cornfields of the islanders, which, besides fish, were their chief food-supply. The terrified natives gathered in the street bewailing the oncoming destruc­tion, but Father Thomas alone went out to meet it. When he faced the army he simply raised his hand - and the army was halted. He warned them that they must not trample the corn of his people, for it was all that lay between them and want. It was not a plea, but a com­mand, and behind it lay a strangely per­fect faith. The word was passed back from company to company, and when those twelve thousand men passed and repassed through the fields, not a hill was found destroyed.

When the British admiral heard of this, he sent word to Father Thomas, asking him to preach to his men, and the following day saw the twelve thousand British soldiers drawn up on the beach, and, facing them, the rude, barefooted preacher standing between officers with drawn swords. Fearless as ever, he preached peace and sought to turn the invaders from their attack upon Balti­more. They were in the wrong, he said, and God would bring destruction upon them. Thereupon he launched into a vivid and detailed prophecy of the Brit­ish defeat, frankly claiming divine inspi­ration, and begged them to turn from a purpose that would make widows and orphans of thousands of their wives and children, before it was too late.

He was allowed to make this extraor­dinary address to the end, and a sense of impending disaster went with many of the men to their ships. A few weeks later the shattered remnant of the defeated British army sailed past the island on its way to the sea, but it stopped long enough to allow a visit to the prophet.

"We kept thinking of your words through it all," was the message, "and somehow we knew that it would be as you said."

There were many stories told of mirac­ulous healings by the prayers of Joshua, and one, an odd parallel to the New Testament story, of his having cleansed the camp-meeting ground of money-get­ting peddlers and tricksters by exhorta­tion. The parallel, however, seemed to have escaped the islanders.

The ministers sent by the Methodist Conference come, reign for their brief term, and go, but their names and deeds rest lightly in the memories of Tangier compared with those of the prophet, though he died sixty years ago. His body lies on a small neighboring island, where he rounded out his long mission. His tombstone bears the following epi­taph, written by himself:

Come, all my friends, as you pass by,
Behold the place where I. do lie.
As you are now; so once was I.
Remember, you are born to die.

After supper, a smoke, and a further illuminating chat with our gruffly genial host, Ellis and I strolled out for a glimpse of the island by moonlight. We longed for a hillock, an elevation of any sort from which we might look down upon the quiet white village, wrapped about by dark waters and bathed in the clear moonlight of a perfect night.

It was only a little after eight o'clock, but the village was almost asleep. Here and there a gleam of mellow lamplight shone through an open window, and twice we passed young couples, seated on or near the white cement graves in the yards in front of their homes. Nowhere was a mother's voice singing or crooning to be heard, though many times during our stay we both verged near to imper­tinence in our surreptitious attempts to discover even a hymn tune being hummed over a baby or a wash-tub. We were finally forced to the conclusion that the melody of the human voice, as well instrumental music, must be taboo except at Sabbath worship. As a matter of fact, we did not hear a song sung or a tune whistled during our stay on Tan­gier.

We had crossed one of the many little bridges leading from the village to the dikes on the marshland, overlooking the stretch of dark grasses interlaced with strands of ribboned silver where the sheen of the moon glistened on the little canals and gleamed on the white sand beyond. It made us sigh again over the inadequacies of the camera. We re­-crossed at the upper end of the village, to find ourselves in a narrow footpath, with blossom-laden trees lending their fragrance to the keen salt air. On each side of our path were ancient houses, black and weather-beaten, and strangely contrasting with the almost Dutch-like cleanliness we had found in the village. "Looks almost like Poe," commented Ellis. A few moments later we stopped beneath the low-hanging branches of a tree to look in actual blank amazement at a God's Acre enclosed within a rotting fence. There were fully two score white marble headstones gleaming in the moon­light, but all about was neglect and de­cay. Rank weeds grew everywhere; pieces of driftwood, the odds and ends of rubbish and trash, littered the sacred spot. And silence! Not the peaceful, serene calm of the country churchyard, but just grim silence. We cut short the walk and went back to our rooms, to be told later that these were graves of those who had had no homes.

We were awakened on the morning of our last day on Tangier by a stiff nor'wester that rattled and shrieked furi­ously through the trees. Looking out to westward, we caught glimpses of a dis­tant line of frothing white-caps and a heavy sea breaking on the beach.

"What a bully day to go out with the fishing-fleet!" said Ellis, who is amphibi­ous and water-proof.

But he was to be disappointed. The fishermen were holding back. Then we knew it really was blowing. After Mrs. Crockett's customary breakfast of fried oysters and fish - a combination that formed the mainstay of dinners and suppers as well - we went out to seek excite­ment and to learn of our chances of getting back to the mainland that day.
The air was sharp and crystal clear, and the high, brilliant sun intensified all the fresh, spring colors of the island. One faced the salt wind with infinite relish.

Many of the fishermen were gathered in Captain Peter Crockett's store. Every counter, box, and barrel was occupied, and a score or two were standing motion­less except for the slow movement of whittling knives. The whittled sticks always became miniature boat models. There was strangely little talk for a store meeting, and what there was chiefly
in monosyllables. It may have been our presence, for we were still the objects of unfeigned interest and curiosity, and whatever we said was listened to with odd attention. It was remarkable, though, that despite this attitude never once was the question asked of us whence we came or what we were doing, a type of reticence rarely to be found in American villages.

Ellis's best efforts failed to develop anything remotely approaching garrulity, but he acquired a rapt audience in the discussion of picture-taking. He was playing for a picture of the crowd.

"Better take the store," I said aloud.

"Would, if I could get a good crowd on the porch," said Ellis, so as to be heard by everyone.

"All hands for'ard," boomed a voice behind me, and with one accord all rose, moved quietly to the door and ranged themselves along the front of the porch. They remained stolidly motionless until Ellis released them with, "All over. Thank you, men." Then they filed back into the store and soon were whittling away in silence.

We walked across to the wind-swept western beach with our usual troop of youngsters at our heels. The boys knew all the wild creatures of the beach and dune; beat Ellis at the standing long jump, and taught him an entirely new game of marbles. He was certainly en­joying that island. It was on this walk that we discovered the only horse on the island, a superannuated creature long past years of usefulness. That same day they were moving the post-office, and they did it in a wheelbarrow.
Back at Captain Ed.'s, three of the Crockett grandchildren had come for a visit. They were roly-poly, pink and ­white babies, from two to four years old, and they had never been photographed, we were told. Of course they were pho­tographed there and then.

"We'll send you some prints, Cap­tain," we promised.

"Be sure to address it to E. L. of T. Crockett," he said.

"E. L. of T.?" we repeated, in bewil­derment.

"Of course! There are two E. L's. I'm E. L. of Thomas, and the other's E. L. of Joshua Crockett. Thar's lots mike has to do the same thing here."

Toward nightfall the nor'wester had blown itself out, and we bade au revoir to the Tangiermen. A quaint and sturdy clan they are, to whom life is serious, and the world beyond their island a vague speculation, and, like all things vague and speculative, to be eyed with distrust. There is much of dignity in their stern attitude toward life; much sweetness in the clean simplicity of their women and their homes, and their island is a treasure trove of rare delight to a lover of the quaint and quiet charms that Tangier may justly claim.

Originally published in Harper’s Monthly Magazine in May of 1914.

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1 comment:

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