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Hawthorne on the Isles of Shoals

September 1852
Edited and published by Sophia Hawthorne (1868)


September 8th.--Last evening we could hear the roaring of the beaches at Hampton and Rye, nine miles off. The surf likewise swelled against the rocky shores of the island, though there was little or no wind, and, except for the swell, the surface was smooth. The sheep bleated loudly; and all these tokens, according to Mr. Laighton, foreboded a storm to windward. This morning, nevertheless, there were no further signs of it; it is sunny and calm, or only the slightest breeze from the westward; a haze sleeping along the shore, betokening a warm day; the surface of the sea streaked with smoothness, and gentle ruffles of wind. It has been the hottest day that I have known here, and probably one of the hottest of the season ashore; and the land is now imperceptible in the haze.

Smith's monument is about seven feet high, and probably ten or twelve in diameter at its base. It is a cairn, or mere heap of stones, thrown together as they came to hand, though with some selection of large and flat ones towards the base, and with smaller ones thrown in. At the foundation, there are large rocks, naturally imbedded in the earth. I see no reason to disbelieve that a part of this monument may have been erected by Captain Smith, although subsequent visitors may have added to it. Laighton says it is known to have stood upwards of a hundred years. It is a work of considerable labor, and would more likely have been erected by one who supposed himself the first discoverer of the island than by anybody afterwards for mere amusement. I observed in some places, towards the base, that the lichens had grown from one stone to another; and there is nothing in the appearance of the monument that controverts the supposition of its antiquity. It is an irregular circle, somewhat decreasing towards the top. Few of the stones, except at the base, are bigger than a man could easily lift,--many of them are not more than a foot across. It stands towards the southern part of the island; and all the other islands are visible from it, Smutty Nose, Star Island, and White Island,--on which is the light-house,--much of Laighton's island (the proper name of which is Hog, though latterly called Appledore), and Duck Island, which looks like a mere reef of rocks, and about a mile farther into the ocean, easterly of Hog Island.

Laighton's Hotel, together with the house in which his son-in-law resides, which was likewise built by Laighton, and stands about fifty yards from the hotel, occupies the middle of a shallow valley, which passes though the island from east to west. Looking from the veranda, you have the ocean opening towards the east, and the bay towards Rye Beach and Portsmouth on the west. In the same storm that overthrew Minot's Light, a year or two ago, a great wave passed entirely through this valley; and Laighton describes it, when it came in from the sea, as toppling over to the height of the cupola of his hotel. It roared and whitened though, from sea to sea, twenty feet abreast, rolling along huge rocks in its passage. It passed beneath his veranda, which stands on posts, and probably filled the valley completely. Would I had been here to see!

The day has been exceedingly hot. Since dinner, the Spy has arrived from Portsmouth, with a party of half a dozen or more men and women and children, apparently from the interior of New Hampshire. I am rather sorry to receive these strangers into the quiet life that we are leading here; for we had grown quite to feel ourselves at home, and the two young ladies, Mr. Thaxter, his wife and sister, and myself, met at meal-times like one family. The young ladies gathered shells, arranged them, laughed gently, sang, and did other pretty things in a young-lady-like way. These new-comers are people of uncouth voices and loud laughter, and behave themselves as if they were trying to turn their expedition to as much account as possible in the way of enjoyment.

John's boat, the regular passenger-boat, is now coming in, and probably brings the mail.

In the afternoon, while some of the new-comers were fishing off the rocks, west of the hotel, a shark came close in shore. Hearing their outcries, I looked out of my chamber window, and saw the dorsal fin and the fluke of his tail stuck up out of the water, as he moved to and fro. He must have been eight or ten feet long. He had probably followed the small fish into the bay, and got bewildered, and, at one time, he was almost aground.

Oscar, Mr. Laighton's son, ran down with a gun, and fired at the shark, which was then not more than ten yards from the shore. He aimed, according to his father's directions, just below the junction of the dorsal fin with the body; but the gun was loaded only with shot, and seemed to produce no effect. Oscar had another shot at him afterwards; the shark floundered a little in the water, but finally got off and disappeared, probably without very serious damage. He came so near the shore that he might have been touched with a boat-hook.


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