THE JERSEY COAST.

Why is it that every one who visits New Jersey comes away with an
ecstatic impression of Jersey girls that he never can forget? Lovely
they are, it is true, but not more beautiful than other fair ones of
America; affable, gentle, graceful, sprightly–but these qualities are
common in our angel-favored country. Yet no one that has been blessed
with their company can forget them, but carries for ever in his heart
the image of one, if not two or three, Jersey girls.

These reflections were suggested to the writer by the recollection of
his first trip, many years ago, to the Jersey coast. The summer had been
oppressively hot, and being detained in town during the fore part of
August, he was glad to avail himself of the first chance to escape from
the city and betake himself to the cool, invigorating breezes of the
seashore. Not knowing precisely what route to follow, he trusted himself
on board the train without any definite destination, and, upon inquiry,
was informed that a good place for bay-shooting was at Tommy Cook’s,
near the coast, and about four miles from one of the last stations on
the road, where, under the charge of the Quaker host, considerable
comfort could be had.

To Cook’s, therefore, upon reaching the station, the writer told the
driver of what seemed to be a mongrel public coach, that he wanted to
go; but in thoughtlessness, never conceiving that there could be two
Cooks, he omitted the Tommy that should have preceded the direction. His
surprise was by no means moderate to find, upon reaching his
destination, the supposed Quaker host slightly inebriated, dancing a
solitary hornpipe to an admiring circle. Thinking perhaps that that was
the custom of Jersey Quakers–for the State is exceptional in certain
things–he took a glass of bad whiskey with the jovial landlord, made
proposals, much to every one’s surprise, to go shooting the day
following, and retired early.

Next morning a short walk dissipated all idea of finding game, and
having made the discovery that he was still fifteen miles from the
proper shooting-ground on the beach, he returned to the house, and in
order to enjoy a few hours ere the wagon for his further transportation
would be ready, joined a bathing party. It was quite a sociable affair;
both sexes, dressed in their bathing clothes–the girls without
shoes–crowded down in the bottom of an open wagon. But surely it is not
fair to tell how one of the flannel-encased nymphs nearly fell from the
wagon, and was caught in the arms of the writer, who had jumped out for
the purpose; nor how the rest drove off to leave them; nor how he bore
his lovely burden–plastic grace and beauty personified–bravely in
pursuit; nor how his foot chanced to trip–accidentally, of course–and
they fell and rolled in the sand together. If he would tell, he could
not; words do not exist for the purpose. Try, male reader, to carry one
hundred and twenty pounds of essential loveliness with only a single
flannel garment to protect it; feel it give to your pressure; clasp its
exquisite but yielding contour; press it to your heart, and then in an
ecstasy roll over and over with it in the sand. Having done so, endeavor
to describe the sensation, or forget that particular girl in a
life-time.

The road to the beach lay through a village formerly known by the
euphonious and distinctive title of Crab Town–a village of a thousand
inhabitants. It was evening ere Crab Town was reached, and just beyond,
the driver came upon a bevy of female acquaintances. In a moment the
suggestion was made that they should ride; after a little demur they
accepted, and were crowded in. The stage was not large, but there would
have been room if they had been twice as numerous; they filled every
seat, and every lap besides.

There are days in one’s lifetime that should be celebrated as
anniversaries; and if any gentleman has carried in his arms, and rolled
in the sand, one charming Jersey girl in the morning, and has had
another equally charming sit on his lap in the evening, he may look upon
that day as never likely to repeat itself.

There was a hum of pleasant voices–words like, “Oh! Deb, we should not
have got in;” “Why, Mary, we may as well ride–it’s all in our way.”
“Now, Lib, don’t say I’m married.” “Well, your husband is a good way
off.” But who could attend to what is occurring around him when seated
in the dark with a lovely angel in his lap? So situated, the ride
appeared very short, and the next mile, which was as far as our
delightful freight would go, was passed seemingly in about a minute and
a half, decidedly the fastest time on record. At the end of it, on a
suggestion from the driver, who lived in that section and knew the
country, toll was taken of their rosy lips as passage-money. Jersey is a
glorious place.

Passing Charley’s, as he is generally called, the son of the old man,
who for years was famous as the first hunter in that land, we turned off
beyond, down the beach. The bay between the mainland and the sand-bar,
known everywhere as “The Beach,” was narrow, widening slowly as we
advanced, until, at the end of our seven miles’ journey, it was nearly
three miles across. There was little vegetation beside salt grass and
bay-berry bushes; but of the animal kingdom the only
representatives–the mosquitoes–were thicker than the mind of man can
conceive; they rose in crowds, pursuing us fiercely, covering the horses
in an unbroken mass, settling upon ourselves, flying into our eyes,
crawling upon our necks, stinging through our clothes, and filling the
air. Although small, they were hungry beyond belief, and, following
their prey relentlessly, compelled us to fight them off with bushes of
bayberry for our lives.

Mosquitoes are found plentifully at our summer watering-places, and
still more numerously in the wild woods, grow abundantly in Canada, and
are over-plentiful at Lake Superior; but nowhere are they so merciless,
fierce, and numerous, as, on occasions, at the New Jersey beach. They
are a beautiful little creature, delicate, graceful, and elegant, but
obtrusive in their attentions; although the ardent lover was anxious to
be bitten by the same mosquito that had bitten his lady-love, that their
blood might mingle in the same body.

One good effect they had, however, was to compel the driver to urge on
his weary team, and leave him no time to gossip at Jakey’s Tavern, over
the beach party that was to be held there next day. A beach party is
another delightful institution of the Jerseyites, and consists of a
congregation of the youths of both sexes, especially the female,
collected from the main shore, and meeting on the beach for a frolic, a
dance, and a bath. As it rarely breaks up till daylight, the pleasantest
intimacies are sometimes formed, and soft words uttered that could not
be wrung from blushing beauty in broad day.

The establishment of the “old man”–the sporting “old man,” not the
political one–since he has been gathered to his forefathers, is kept up
by his son-in-law, usually known by the abbreviation–Bill. It is not an
elegant place; sportsmen do not demand elegance, and willingly sleep,
if not in the same room, in chambers that lead into one another; but it
is situated within a hundred yards of the best shooting ground, and is
as well kept as any other tavern on the beach. Sportsmen do not mind
waiting their turn to use the solitary wash basin, drawing water from
the hogshead, or wiping on the same towel, but are thankful for good
food, and the luxury of a well filled ice-house.

In addition to the general directions heretofore given, it may be well
in this connexion to describe more particularly the mode of killing
bay-snipe. A number of imitation birds, usually called stools, are cut
from wood, and painted to resemble the various species; they have a long
stick, or leg, inserted into the lower part of the body, and a
sufficient number to constitute a large flock are set up in shallow
water, or upon some bar where the birds are accustomed to feed. They are
made from thin wood, or even from tin, and are headed various ways so as
to show in all directions; the coarsest and least perfect imitations
will answer.

The most remarkable trait of the shore birds, or bay-snipe, is their
gregarious nature and sociability. A flock flying high in air,
apparently intent upon some settled course, will, the moment they see
another flock feeding, turn and join it. Their natural history, or the
object which they evidently have in thus joining forces, does not seem
to be understood; but the baymen, by imitation-birds and calls, take
advantage of this instinct. Farther south, along the shores of Florida
and Texas, these snipe collect in crowds; and either this is the first
step towards that purpose, or they are merely attracted by the feeding
birds to a promising place for a plentiful repast.

Although ordinarily they will come to the stools of themselves, if they
happen to be at a distance flying fast and high, the gunner must trust
to the shrillness of his whistle and the perfection of his call, to
attract their attention. If they turn towards the decoys and answer the
whistle–which they will do at an immense distance–they are almost sure
to come straight on, and their confidence once gained, rarely wavers.

There is a common expression among the baymen, that birds have a trade,
or are trading up and down over a certain course, by which they mean
that they fly backward and forward at regular hours, and to and from
regular places. Snipe that are thus engaged trading are not only in the
finest condition, but come to the decoys, or stool, as it is termed, the
most readily. They are probably stopping on the meadows, and fly to
their feeding-grounds in the morning and back at night. The great
migratory bodies, which frequently stretch in broken lines almost across
the horizon, and which are pursuing their steady course to their
southern homes, rarely heed the whistle, or turn to the silly flock that
is eating while it should be travelling.

The best days are those with a cloudy sky, and a south-westerly wind. On
such occasions the birds often come in myriads, delighting the
sportsman’s heart, testing his nerves, and filling his bag to
repletion. When the object is to kill the greatest number possible, they
are permitted to alight among the stools and collect together before the
gun is fired; then the first discharge is followed rapidly by the
second, which tears among their thinned ranks as they rise; and, if
there be a second gun, by the third and fourth barrel, till frequently
all are killed. The scientific and sportsmanlike mode is to fire before
they alight, selecting two or three together and firing at the foremost.

It is a glorious thing to see a flock of marlin or willet, or perhaps
the chief of all, the sickle-bills, swerve from their course away up in
the heavens, and after a moment’s uncertainty reply to the sportsman’s
deceitful call and turn towards his false copies of themselves. As they
approach, the rich sienna brown of the marlin and curlew seems to color
the sky and reflect a ruddy hue upon surrounding objects; or the black
and white of the barred wings of the willet makes them resemble birds
hewn from veined marble. The sportsman’s heart leaps to his throat, as
crouching down with straining eye and nerve, grasping his faithful gun,
he awaits with eager anxiety the proper moment; then, rising ere they
are aware of the danger, he selects the spot where their crowding bodies
and jostling wings shut out the clouds beyond, and pours in his first
most deadly barrel; and quickly bringing to bear the other as best he
may among the now frightened creatures as they dart about, he delivers
it before he has noticed how many fell to the first. Dropping back to
his position of concealment, he recommences whistling, and the poor
things, forgetting their fright and anxious to know why their friends
alighted amid a roar like thunder, return to the fatal spot, and again
give the fortunate sportsman a chance for his reloaded gun.

It was for such glorious sport as this, with fair promise of
success–for the flight was on, as the saying is, when the snipe are
moving–that I prepared myself the next morning. Rising at earliest
daybreak, a friend, the gunner, and myself sallied out to the blind, and
having set out our stools, possessed our souls in patience for what
might follow. A blind is another ingenious invention of the devil–as
personified by a bayman, in pursuit of wild fowl–and is constructed by
planting bushes thickly in a circle round a bench. Seated upon this
bench and concealed from the suspicious eyes of the snipe by the dense
foliage of the bayberry bushes, the sportsman, in comparative comfort,
awaits his prey. In less civilized localities he hides himself among the
long sedge grass, or scoops out a hole in the sand and lies at length
upon a waterproof blanket.

The wind had hauled, in nautical language, to the south’ard and
west’ard, and the sun’s rays driving aside the hazy clouds, illuminated
the eastern sky with fiery glory. The land and water, dim with the heavy
night fog, stretched out in broad, undefined outline, and the heavens
seemed close down upon the earth. Through the hazy atmosphere and
sluggish darkness the rays of light penetrated slowly, bringing out
feature after feature of the landscape, lighting the tops of distant
hills, and revealing the fleecy coursers of the sky.

Amid the fading darkness we soon heard the welcome cry of the bay-snipe
pursuing his course, guided by light that had not yet reached our
portion of the earth’s surface. Instantly we responded with a vigor and
rapidity on behalf of each, that must have impressed the travelling
birds with the belief that we constituted an immense flock. Again and
again, long before our straining eyes could catch the outline of their
forms, came the answering cry. Our eagerness increased with the
approaching sound, until from out the dim air rushed a glorious flock of
marbled willet, and swooping down to our stools dropped their long legs
to alight–we feeling as though little shining goddesses were descending
upon us.

Without pausing to discuss their angelic character, but mercilessly
bringing our double-barrels to bear upon the crowded ranks, we poured in
a destructive broadside that hurled a dozen upon the bloodied sand.
Startled at the fearful report and its terrible consequences, they rose,
darting and crossing in their alarm, and fled at full speed; but hearing
again the familiar call, after flying a few hundred yards, they turned
and came once more straight for the decoys. Then my friend thought
highly of me and my breech-loading gun, for ere he had reloaded I had
discharged my two barrels three times, adding six birds to those
already upon the sand. Eighteen willet from the first flock, and ere the
sun was fairly up, gave us a good start; and after the birds were
gathered, the favorable send-off was duly celebrated in a few drops of
water with enough spirit to take the danger out.

And now myriads of swallows made their appearance, skimming close along
the water, but in one steady course, as though they were going out for
the day, and would not be back till night-fall. They were followed by
scattering snipe that furnished neat but easy shooting till six o’clock,
when the regular flight began with a splendid flock of marlin that came
rapidly from the south’ard, and after hovering over the stools and
giving us one chance, returned for two more favors from the
breech-loader, and left sixteen of their number.

Sportsmen of any experience know that nothing is easier than to select
from a flock a single bird with each barrel; but in bay-shooting, a man
who claims to excel, must kill several with the first barrel, and one,
at least, with the second. If, however, to the ordinary excitement be
added the natural emulation arising from the presence of several
sportsmen in the same stand, the foregoing desirable result is not
always attained. If, therefore, the reader shrewdly suspects we should
have killed more birds than we did, let him place himself in a similar
position, and record his success.

Shore birds of the various species, beginning with the magnificent
sickle-bill, and including the wary jack-curlew, the noisy, larger
yellow-legs or yelper, and the smaller one, down to the pretty
simple-hearted dowitcher, went to make up our morning’s bag. The
scorching sun when it hung high over our heads stopped the flight, and,
aided by venomous mosquitoes, drove us to the shelter of the house, and
turned our thoughts towards dinner.

The stands being convenient to the tavern, we had run in and snatched a
hasty breakfast, but now collected to clean guns, load cartridges, and
talk over results. The breech-loader being at that time something of a
novelty, attracted considerable attention, and was accused of that
defect popularly attributed to it, of not shooting strongly. As there
were several expensive guns present–among them one of William Moore–in
all of which the owners had great faith, the question was soon tested
and settled to the satisfaction of the most sceptical.

That being concluded, black-breast, or bull-head plover, was the
occasion of a terrible contest over the entire plover family–some of
the sportsmen insisting there were three, others four or five well-known
kinds. They all agreed as to there being the grass-plover, the
bull-head, and the golden-plover; but some claimed in addition, the
frost bird and the red-backed plover. At last one burst forth:

“There is Barnwell; he ought to know: what does he say?”

As they turned inquiringly, feeling the momentous nature of the
occasion, and that now was the chance to establish my reputation for
ever, with an air of deep learning, I commenced:

“In the first place, you are mistaken in including among plovers the
grass or grey-plover, as it is commonly called; it is not a plover at
all—-”

“Oh! that is nonsense,” they burst forth unanimously; “you don’t know
what you’re talking about.”

Never was a growing reputation more suddenly nipped. Instantly reduced
to a state of meekness, and only too glad to save a shred of character,
I mildly suggested that Giraud’s work on the birds of Long Island was in
my valise, and probably contained the desired information.

“Well,” said one, “let’s hear what he says.”

So I procured the book and read as follows:

“‘TRINGA BARTRAMIA–WILSON.
BARTRAM’S SANDPIPER.

Bartram’s Sandpiper, Tringa Bartramia, Wil. Amer. Orn.
_Totanus Bartramius_ Bonap. Syn.

_Totanus Bartramius_ Bartram Tatler, Su. & Rich. Bartramian
Tatler, Nutt. Man.

Bartramian Sandpiper. _Totanus Bartramius_ Aud. Orn.
Biog.’

“After giving the specific character, and a spirited account of the
well-known manner of shooting them from a wagon, which is not followed
with any other bird, as you well know, he proceeds as follows:

“‘In Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and on the Shinnecock and
Hempstead Plains, Long Island, it is common, where it is known by the
name of “gray,” “grass,” “field,” or “upland” plover. It is very wary,
and difficult to be approached. On the ground it has an erect and
graceful gait. When alarmed it runs rapidly for a short distance before
taking wing, uttering a whistling note as it rises; its flight is rapid,
frequently going out of sight before alighting. It usually keeps on the
open, dry grounds–feeding on grasshoppers, insects, and seeds. In the
month of August it is generally in fine condition; and highly prized as
game. When feeding, for greater security, this species scatter about;
the instant the alarm is given, all move off. In the latter part of
August it migrates southward, and, it is said, performs the journey at
night. Stragglers frequently remain behind until late in September.’”

“It is evident he knew the bird,” replied one of the objectors; “but as
he calls it by six or seven names–the English ones being both
sand-piper and tatler–he evidently did not know what it should be
called.”

“That is the way with naturalists,” replied another; “they each give a
name to a species, but in this case all agree that it is not a plover.
What is the name plover derived from?”

“It comes from the French word _Pluvier_, rain-bird, because it
generally flies during a rain. But naturalists found distinctions more
upon the shape of bill and claws than on the habits of any species.
According to them, plovers proper have no hind toe, or, at most, only a
knob in its place.”

“Do you know what Frank Forester says on the subject?”

Feeling my reputation rising a little, I resumed: “He confuses
frost-bird and grass-plover, quoting Audubon as his authority; but he
points out the distinctive peculiarity of the plover.”

“If he thinks a grass-plover and a frost-bird are alike, he knows very
little of his subject. Why, the frost-bird stools admirably, while the
plover never stools at all.”

“Not so fast! Frank Forester was a splendid writer, and upon matters
with which he was familiar he was thorough. He has conferred an immense
favor upon the American sporting world; but where he had not personal
experience–and no one can know everything–he had to rely upon others.
He has done as much to correct and elevate sportsmanship in this
country, to introduce a proper vocabulary, and to enforce obedience to
gentlemanly rules, as any man possibly could. As a body, we owe it to
him that we are sportsmen, and not pot-hunters. Probably in some places
the grass-plover is called a frost-bird.”

“I have more faith in Giraud, and would like to hear what he can tell us
about the golden-plover, unless he says that is a sandpiper also.”

“He begins with a description of the black-bellied plover, which is
known to us as bull-head, the _charadrius helveticus_, and then
describes the American golden-plover, or _charadrius pluvialis_, and
uses these words: ‘It is better known to our gunners by the name of
frost-bird, so called from being more plentiful during the early frosts
of autumn, at which season it is generally in fine condition, and
exceedingly well flavored.’ Then follow the ring-plover, or
ring-neck–_charadrius semipalmatus_, Wilson’s plover; the
piping-plover, or beach-bird–_charadrius melodius_; and the kildeer
plover–_charadrius vociferus_, these being all the varieties of
American plover.”

Bill could stand it no longer; but rising as the book was closed, burst
forth at once:

“Those writers are queer fellows; they put the oddest, hardest, longest
names to birds that ever I heard. Who would have thought of their
calling a two-penny beach-bird, a radish mellow-deuce! What I have to
say is–we baymen will never learn these new-fangled names.”

“That is exactly the trouble,” I replied. “You baymen will, in different
sections of the country, call the same bird by various names, till no
one can tell what you are talking about; and the man of science has to
step in and dig up a third name, usually some Latin affair, which nobody
will accept. Thus it is that the older frost-birds, which, strange to
say, invariably arrive before the young, are known as golden-plover, and
their progeny as frost-birds.”

“Speaking of the seasons,” replied Bill, evasively, “have you noticed
that they are changing every year? The springs are later than they used
to be. In old times the English snipe arrived from the south early in
March; now they hardly come till June; so, the ducks come later and stay
later. The springs are colder, and the autumns warmer, than when I was
young, and the bay-snipe appear in September instead of August, as it
once was.”

“As to the English snipe you are undoubtedly correct, but this is due
probably to their increasing scarcity; and although we have no spring,
and the summer extends frequently into September, this appears to result
from the changes in climate effected by clearing the woods. As the
forests are cut down, the cold winds of spring, and the burning suns of
summer, produce a greater effect, and each in its turn lasts longer.
Altogether, however, our seasons seem to be moderating.”

At this interesting point in our discussion, some one discovered by the
aid of a telescope that a flock of willet had settled on the sand-bank
among the stools. The announcement was followed by a general seizure of
weapons and rush for the blinds. My friend and myself hastened to the
little boat, used in floating quietly down upon ducks, and called a
“sneak box,” and embarking, glided silently towards our stand. The tide
had left bare a long bank of sand, upon which was collected a glorious
flock, or, more properly speaking, two flocks united, one of marlin and
the other of willet.

All unconscious of approaching danger, the pretty creatures were busily
engaged, some in feeding, others in washing–dipping under and throwing
the water over their graceful bodies–others in running actively about,
or jumping up and taking short flights to dry their wings. A happy
murmur ran through the flock, and so innocent and beautiful were they
that we remained watching them in silent admiration, unwilling to
disturb the romance of the charming scene. The rich brown feathers of
the imposing marlin formed an exquisite contrast to the white and black
of the elegant willet, as the different species mixed unreservedly
together.

They did not exhibit the slightest alarm when our boat, after we had
ceased rowing, was borne towards them by the wind, and allowed us to
approach till it grounded on the flat. Having feasted our eyes on the
magnificent spectacle, we at last gave the word to fire. At the report
they rose wildly, and receiving the second discharge, made the best of
their way to safer quarters. Both barrels of my friend’s gun missed
fire, and we gathered only seven birds, as the flock, although numbering
at least seventy birds, was widely scattered and offered a poor mark.

No sooner were we again ensconced in our blind, than the exhilarating
sport of the morning was renewed–sport such as only those who have
tried it can appreciate–sport that makes the heart beat and the nerves
tingle–sport that overweighs humanity and compels the remorseless
slaughter of these beautiful birds. Flock after flock, seen at great
distance, and watched in their approach through changing hopes and
fears, or darting unexpectedly from over our heads and first noticed
when rushing with extended wings down to our stools, presented their
crowded ranks to our delighted gaze. From the very clouds, would come
the shrill whistle of the yelper, or from the horizon, the long shriek
of the willet, or nearer at hand would be heard the plaintive note of
the gentle dowitcher; they appeared from all quarters, sailing low along
the water or pitching directly down from out the sky.

Towards evening the flight diminished, and when the horn announced that
supper was ready, the different parties met once more at the house to
compare notes and relate adventures. All had met with excellent success,
but our stand carried off the palm.

“Bill,” commenced some unhappy person, after we had left the close, hot
dining-room, “why do you not enlarge your house?”

“Bill is waiting for another wreck,” was the volunteer response; “the
whole coast is fed, clothed, and sheltered by the wrecks. The house is
built from the remnants of unfortunate ships, as you perceive by the
name-boards of the Arion, Pilgrim, Samuel Willets, J. Harthorn, and
Johanna, that form so conspicuous a part of the front under the porch.
When a vessel is driven ashore, and the crew and passengers who are not
quite dead are disposed of by the aid of a stone in the corner of a
handkerchief, which makes an unsuspicious bruise, the prize is fought
for by the natives, and not only the cargo, but the very ribs and planks
of the vessel appropriated.”

“Now that’s not fair,” replied Bill, aroused; “no man, except my
father-in-law, has done more to save drowning men than I have. I tell
you it’s an awful sight to see the poor creatures clinging to the
rigging and bowsprit, to see them washed off before your eyes, sometimes
close to you, without your being able to help them, and their dead
bodies thrown up by the waves on the sand. You don’t feel like stealing
or murder at such times; and besides, I never knew a dead man come
ashore that had anything in his pockets.”

A peal of laughter greeted this naïve remark, together with the ready
response: “Bill, you were too late; some Barnegat pirate had been before
you.”

“No, the Barnegat pirates are kinder than the Government. We do our best
to save the poor fellows, but the Government puts men in charge of their
station houses that know nothing about their business. My father-in-law
was the first man that threw a line with the cannon over a ship, and he
was presented with a medal by the Humane Society. He never was paid a
dollar for taking charge of the station, the life-boat, and the cannon.
Since he died I kept it for five years, and was paid two years; now men
are selected for their politics. One lives back on the main land two
miles from his station-house, another never fired a gun, and a third
never rowed a boat. The last got a crew of us together once to go out to
a ship in the life-boat and undertook to steer, but we told him not one
of us would go unless he stayed on shore. It is a dangerous thing to
have a green hand at the helm, or even at an oar, in times like that.”

“How far can you reach a ship with the cannon?” we inquired.

“The line, you know, is fastened to the ball with a short wire, so that
it won’t burn off, and is coiled up beside the gun, and of course it
keeps the ball back, and then people forget we always have to fire
against the wind, as vessels are never wrecked with the wind off shore;
so although the guns are expected to carry five hundred yards, they will
not carry more than one hundred and eighty. That is enough, though, if
they only have the right sort of men to manage them; but how is a
landsman to tell whether he must use the cannon or is safe in going off
in the boat? In one case, while the station-master was trying to drag
his cannon down to a ship, a party of us took a common boat and landed
her crew and passengers before he arrived. I don’t care about the pay,
for I kept it three years without; but I hate to see lives sacrificed
for politics. Would you like to see the medal they gave to the old man?”

We responded in the affirmative; and he soon produced a silver medal,
with an inscription on one side recording the circumstances, and on the
other an embossed picture of a ship in distress, a cannon from which the
ball and rope attached had been discharged and were visible in mid air,
several men standing around the gun, and a life-boat climbing the seas.

“But, Bill, tell us about the Barnegat pirates leading a lame horse with
a lantern tied to his neck over the sand hills in imitation of a ship’s
light, and thus inveigling vessels ashore.”

“I can only say I have never heard of it. As quick as a vessel comes
ashore, the insurance agent is telegraphed for, and he takes charge of
everything. Why, we even buy the wrecks and pay well for them, too. Now
and then something is washed up like that coal in front of the house,
but it is not often.”

“What do you mean by the stations?”

“They are houses built by the Government and placed at regular distances
along the beach. The gun, and rope, and life-boat, and life-car, and all
other things that are needed in case of shipwreck, are kept in them.
Then there is a stove and coal ready to make a fire, for if a poor
wretch got ashore in mid-winter he would soon freeze if he couldn’t get
to a fire. And if the man who has charge of the station lives two miles
off across a bay that he can’t cross in a bad storm, what can the poor
half-drowned fellows do, if they are too much benumbed to break open the
door? I’d stave it in for them pretty quick if I was there, law or no
law.”

“It is a shame that a matter like that should not be free from
politics.”

“So it was once,” Bill went on fluently; for on this subject he felt
that his family had a right to be eloquent; “at one time some department
had it in charge that never would either appoint or remove a man on
political account; but that is all changed now, and the men are expected
to go out with every administration, and shipwrecked passengers die
while political favorites draw the two hundred dollars a year pay for
the station-master.”

“Now, Bill, stop your talk about the public wrongs, and tell us
something more interesting. Have you ever heard one of Bill’s ghost
stories?” This inquiry was addressed to the public.

Bill’s face lengthened; he sat silently nursing his leg and smoking his
brierwood pipe, while a shadow seemed to settle on his countenance.
“Come, Bill,” we responded, “let’s have the story.”

Bill answered not, and the shadow deepened, and the smoke was puffed in
heavier masses from his lips.

“Bill is afraid; he don’t like ghosts, and don’t dare to talk of them.”

“I am not easily skeered,” he answered at last; “but if you had seen
what I have on this shore, you would not talk so easy about it. ‘Lige,
do you remember the time we saw that ship? There had been a heavy storm,
and when we got up next day early, there lay a vessel on the beach; she
must have been most everlastingly a harpin’ it.”

“What is that?” was asked wonderingly, on the utterance of this peculiar
expression.

“Why, she had come clear in over the bar, and must have been going some
to do that; for there she lay, bow on, with her bowsprit sticking way up
ashore, just below the station yonder. Her masts were standing, and we
clapped on our clothes and started for the beach. The wind was blowin’
hard, and the sand and drizzle driving in our faces as we walked over,
and we kept our heads down most of the time. When we got to the
sand-hills we looked up, and the ship was gone. I thought that likely
enough, for she must have broken up and gone to pieces soon in that
surf, so we hurried along as fast as we could; and sure enough, when we
rounded the point, the little cove in which she lay was full of truck.
‘Lige was there, and he saw it as plain as I did. The water was full of
drift-boxes, barrels, planks, and all sorts of things, pitching and
rolling about; and some of them had been carried up onto the sand and
were strewed about in all directions.

“It was early, and the day was misty, but, we could see plain enough,
and we saw all that stuff knocking about as plain as I see you now.
There was a big timber in my way–a stick–well, thirty feet long and
two feet or two and a half square, so that I had to raise my foot high
to clear it; I stepped one leg over, and drew the other along to feel
it, but it didn’t touch anything; then I stopped and looked down–there
was no timber there; I looked back towards the sea–the drift had
disappeared, the barrels and boxes and truck of one sort or another was
gone. There was nothing on shore nor in the water. Now you may laugh,
but ‘Lige knows whether what I’ve told you is true.”

“Bill, that is a pretty good story, but it is not the one I meant,”
persisted the individual who had commenced the attack.

“Well, another time, Zeph and I were at work getting the copper bolts
out of an old wreck, when we happened to look up and saw two carriages
coming along, up the beach. I spoke to Zeph about it, but as they came
along slowly, we went on with our work, and when we looked up again
there was only one. That came on closer and closer till I could tell the
horses; they were two bays of squire Jones’ down at the inlet; they
drove right on towards us till they were so near that I did not like to
stare the people in the face, and looked down again to my work. There
were two men, and I saw them so plain that I should know ’em anywhere.
Well, I raised my head a second after, and they were gone; and there
never had been any wagon, for Zeph and I hunted all over the beach to
find the tracks in the sand.”

“I guess that was another misty day, and you hadn’t had your
eye-opener,” was the appreciative response.

“No, it was three o’clock in the day, and bright sunshine; but at that
time, as near as can be, Tommy Smith was drowned down at the inlet, and
the very next day at the very same hour, the ‘Squire’s wagon did come up
the beach, with the same two men driving, and the body in a box in the
back part.”

“Now, Bill,” continued the persistent individual, “this is all very
well, but it is not the story. Come, out with it; you know what I mean.”

Bill fell silent, again looking off into the distance as though he saw
something that others could not see; he pulled away nervously on his
pipe, which had gone out, but answered not.

“Bill’s afraid;” was the tantalizing suggestion.

“There’s Sam,” said Bill suddenly; “he’s not afeard of man or devil; ask
him what he saw.”

The person referred to was a large, broad-shouldered, pleasant-faced
man, with a clear blue eye that looked as though it would not quail
easily, and he responded at once:

“I never saw anything; but one night when I was coming by the cove where
the Johanna was cast away, and where three hundred bodies were picked up
and buried, I heard a loud scream. It sounded like a woman’s voice, and
was repeated three or four times; but I couldn’t find anything, although
I spent an hour hunting among the sand-hills, and it was bright
moonlight. It may have been some sort of animal, but I don’t know
exactly what.”

“Bill’s adventure happened in the same neighborhood, so let’s have it,”
continued the persistent man.




“As Sam says,” commenced Bill, at last, “the Johanna went ashore one
awful north-easter in winter about six miles above here, near Old
Jackey’s tavern; she broke up before we could do anything for her, and
three hundred men, women, and children–for she was an emigrant
ship–were washed ashore during the following week; most of them had
been drifted by the set of the tide into the cove, and they were buried
there; so you see it ain’t a nice place of a dark night.

“I was driving down the beach about a year after she was lost, with my
old jagger wagon, and a heavy load on of groceries and stores of one
kind or other. It was about one o’clock at night, mighty cold, but
bright moonlight; and I was coming along by the corner of the fence, you
know, just above Jackey’s, when the mare stopped short. Now, she was
just the best beast to drive you ever saw. I could drive her into the
bay or right over into the ocean, and she was never skeered at anything.
But this time, she come right back in the shafts and began to tremble
all over; I gave her a touch of the whip, and she was just as full of
spirit as a horse need be, but she only reared up and snorted and
trembled worse than ever. So I knew something must be wrong, and looked
ahead pretty sharp; and there, sure enough, right across the road, lay a
man. Jackey was a little too fond of rum at that time, and I made up my
mind he had got drunk and tumbled down on his way home; it was cold, and
I didn’t want to get out of the wagon where I was nicely tucked in, and
thought I would drive round out of the road and wake him up with my whip
as I passed. I tried to pull the mare off to one side to go by, but she
only reared and snorted and trembled, so that I was afraid she would
fall. She had a tender mouth, but although I pulled my best I could not
budge her; at last, getting mad, I laid the gad over her just as hard as
I could draw it. Instead of obeying the rein, however, she plunged
straight on, made a tremendous leap over the body, and dragged the
wagon after her. I pulled her in all I knew how, and no mistake; but it
was no use, and I felt the front wheels strike, lift, and go over him,
and then the hind wheels, but I couldn’t stop her. That was a heavy
load, and enough to crush any one, and as soon as I could fetch the mare
down–for she had started to run–I jumped out quick enough then, you
may bet your life. I tied her up to the fence, although she was still so
uneasy I daresen’t hardly leave her, and hurried back to see if I could
do anything for Jackey. Would you believe it, there was nothing there! I
tell you I felt the wagon go over him, and what’s more, I looked down as
I passed and saw his clothes and his hair straggling out over the snow,
for he had no hat on; though I noticed at the time that I didn’t see any
flesh, but supposed his face was turned from me. There was no rise in
the ground and not a cloud in the sky; the moon was nearly full, and
there wasn’t any man, and never had been any man there; but whatever
there was, the mare saw it as plain as I did.”

“Now let’s turn in,” said a sleepy individual, who had first been
nodding over Bill’s statement of public wrongs, and had taken several
short naps in the course of his ghost story; “and as there was something
said yesterday about a smoke driving away mosquitoes, for heaven’s sake
let’s make a big one; the infernal pests kept me awake all last night.”

This was excellent advice, and not only was an entire newspaper consumed
in our common sleeping apartment, but a quantity of powder was squibbed
off, till the place smelt like the antechamber of Tartarus. The
mosquitoes were expelled or silenced at the cost of a slight suffocation
to ourselves, but we gained several hours sleep till the smoke escaped
and allowed the villains to return to their prey.

One sporting day resembles another in its essential features, although
not often so entirely as with the Englishman, who, having devoted his
life to woodcock shooting, and being called upon to relate his
experiences, replied that he had shot woodcock for forty years, but
never noticed anything worth recording. Our next day, however, was
enlivened by sport of an unexpected kind. We had heard there was some
dispute about the ownership of the stands; in fact, that the one
occupied by my friend and myself belonged to the Ortleys, a family
represented as decidedly uninviting; while both Bill and the Ortleys
claimed that, where another party was located.

In the disputed stand were Bill, a New York gentleman, who, as events
proved, seemed to be something of an athlete, and a sedate,
unimpassionable Jersey lawyer of considerable eminence. Elijah was with
us, when two villanous, red-haired, freckle-skinned objects presented
themselves, and, after some preliminary remarks and a refusal on their
part of a friendly glass, which is a desperate sign in a Jerseyman,
mildly suggested that they would like a little remuneration for the use
of the stand. As their suggestion was moderate, reasonable, and just,
and they undoubtedly owned the land, we complied, and beheld them
proceed, to Elijah’s great delight, for the same purpose towards the
other stand. Elijah prophetically announced they would probably get more
than they demanded.

The other stand was distant about a hundred yards, in full view, and we
perceived at once that a commotion was caused by the unexpected arrival.
The athletic man was shortly seen outside the blind, flinging his arms
wildly about in front of the two Ortley brothers, and, as we were
afterwards informed, offering to fight either or both of them. Matters
then seemed to progress more favorably, till suddenly Bill and the
younger Ortley emerged, locked in an unfriendly embrace, and commenced
dragging each other round the sand-bank, while the demonstrative
sportsman was seen dancing actively in front of the other Ortley, and
preventing his interference.

Of course we dropped our guns and hastened across the shallow,
intervening water, having just time to perceive that Bill had thrown his
adversary and remained on top. The first words we heard were: “Take him
off! Oh, my God! take him off. Enough, enough, take him off,” from the
one on the ground, whose eye–the only vulnerable part to uninstructed
anger–Bill was busily endeavoring to gouge out, while the other shouted
frantically: “He is killing my brother; let me get to him; he is gouging
his eye out. He will kill him, he will kill him.”

“Never mind,” answered the athletic man, swinging his arms ominously,
and dexterously interposing between the victim and his brother,
whenever the latter attempted to dodge past him. “Let him be killed, it
would serve him right; he came over here for a fight, and he shall have
enough of it if both of his eyes are gouged out.”

Elijah arrived in time to prevent the latter catastrophe, and being of a
peaceable and humane disposition, pulled off his brother before anything
more serious than a little scratching had occurred. In fact, there is no
position in which ignorance renders a person more pitiably inefficient,
than in fighting; and, while a skilful man could have killed his
opponent during the time Bill had enjoyed, the latter had really
effected nothing worth mentioning. The ugly wretch was awfully
frightened, however; his face being ghostly pale, streaked with bloody
red, and he commenced whining at once:

“I am nothing but a boy, only twenty-two last spring, and he’s a man
grown.”

“You know boys have to be whipped to keep them in order,” was the
consolatory response; for we naturally took part with our landlord.

“Gentlemen, just look at me.”

“Don’t come so close, you’re covered with blood; keep back, keep back.”

“But look at me; he’s bigger than I am, and I am only a boy.”

“Then you shouldn’t strike a man.”

“Oh! gentlemen, I didn’t strike him first, indeed I didn’t; he struck me
when I wasn’t thinking; indeed he did.”

“Yes,” broke in his brother, who was just recovering from the spell
first put upon him by our athlete’s continual offers to accommodate him
in any way he wished. “Yes, it will be a dear blow for you; I saw you
strike him.”

“No,” said the lawyer, advancing for the first time from behind the
blind where he had been an unmoved and impartial umpire of the fray,
“you should not say that; your brother certainly struck first; I saw him
distinctly.” His manner was solemn, and convincing, and conclusive,
taken in connexion with his perfect equanimity during the affair; but,
of course, he was met by contradiction and protestation from the two
brothers. This dispute would have been endless, but at that moment a
fine flock of willets was descried advancing towards the stools.

“Down, down,” every one shouted, and, true to the bayman’s instinct,
friend and foe crowded down on the sand together, waiting breathlessly
the arrival of the birds. The latter came up handsomely, were received
with four barrels, and left several of their number as keepsakes or
peace-offerings; for, of course, anger was dissipated, and the defeated
enemy retired amid a few merry suggestions, and the excellent advice
that they had better not repeat their joke.

Such squabbles–for it can be called nothing graver–lower one’s opinion
of human kind, and it makes one ashamed to think that two men may hug
and pull one another about, and roll on the sand for fifteen minutes,
with the best will in the world to do each other all the damage
possible, and only inflict, in the feebleness of uneducated humanity, a
few miserable scratches. Any of the lower animals would, in that time,
have left serious marks of its anger; but the pitiful results of these
human efforts were, that Bill’s beard was pulled and Ortley’s face
scratched. It makes one blush to think he is a man.

As our party returned to the blind we had left, Elijah spoke, softly
ruminating aloud:

“Well, it only costs thirty-five dollars anyhow, and it was worth that.”

Our humane, peaceable friend, it seems, had been cast in a similar case,
and had to pay six cents damages and thirty-five dollars costs of court.
There is probably nothing that has so soothing and pacifying an
influence on the New Jersey mind as costs of court. The words alone act
like a charm upon a Jerseyman in the acme of frenzy, and are as
effective as a policeman in uniform. If a man commits assault and
battery, he is fined six cents damages and costs of court; if he is
guilty of trespass it is the same; if he kisses his neighbor’s wife
against her will, if he slanders a friend’s character, it is always six
cents damages and costs of court; and Jerseymen will probably expect in
the next world to get off with six cents damages and costs of court.

The shooting was excellent during the whole day, and evening found us
collected in the bar-room, well satisfied and particularly jocose over
the amusing pugilistic encounter we had witnessed. It lent point to
many a good hit at Bill’s expense; even his wife, who is a fine,
resolute-looking woman, saying that if she had seen it sooner, she would
have taken a broomstick and flogged them both. The general impression
was, she could have made her words good.

The pleasure of indulging in fun at the expense of a fellow-creature is
very great, and Bill’s adventure was certainly fair game. When our wit
was exhausted, and the craving for tobacco mollified by the steady use
of our pipes, our thoughts and voices turned to our never-wearying
passion, and one of the party commenced:

“I have shot a number of the birds you call kriekers; they are a fat
bird, but do not seem to stool. I have never before shot them, except
occasionally on the meadows.”

“They don’t stool,” said Bill, “and only utter a krieking kind of cry;
but in October they come here very thick, and we walk them up over the
meadows. Why, you can shoot a hundred a day.”

“A most excellent bird they are, too–fat and delicate. They are the
latest of the bay-snipe in returning from the summer breeding-places;
and as they rise and fly from you, they afford extremely pretty
shooting. They are sometimes called short-neck, and are, in a
gastronomic point of view, the best bay-snipe that is put upon the
table.”

“We call the bay-birds usually snipe,” said the first speaker; “but I
have been told they are not snipe at all. Refer to Giraud again and
give us the truth.”

This fell, of course, to my share, and I commenced as follows:

“I read you yesterday about the plovers, and immediately after them we
find an account of the turnstone, _strepsilas interpres_, which is
nothing else than our beautiful brant-bird or horse-foot snipe, as it is
called farther south, because it feeds on the spawn of the horse-foot.
This pretty but unfortunate bird belongs to no genus whatever, and has
been to the ornithologists a source of great tribulation. They have
sometimes considered it a sandpiper and sometimes not, so you may
probably call it what you please; and as brant-bird is a rhythmical
name, it will answer as well as _strepsilas interpres_; if you have not
a fluent tongue, perhaps somewhat better. Of the snipes, or
_scolopacidæ_, the only true representative is the dowitcher, _scolopax
noveboracensis_.

“Hold on,” shouted Bill; “say that last word over again.”

“_Noveboracensis._”

“That is only the half of it; let’s have the whole.”

“_Scolopax noveboracensis._”

“Scoly packs never borrow a census; that is a good sized name for a
little dowitch, and beats the radish altogether. Go ahead, we’ll learn
something before we get through.”

“Why, that is only Latin for New York snipe.”

“Oh, pshaw!” responded Bill, in intense disgust, “I thought it meant a
whole bookful of things.”

“The sandpipers, however, come under the family of snipes, and are
called _tringæ_. Among these are enumerated the robin-snipe and the
grass-plover, as I told you before, the black-breast, the krieker, or
short-neck, and several scarcer varieties. The yelpers and yellow-legs,
the tiny teeter, and the willet are tattlers, genus _totanus_, while the
marlin is the godwit _limosa_. The sickle-bills, jacks, and futes are
curlews, genus _numenius_.”

“And now that you have got through,” grumbled Bill again, “can you
whistle a snipe any better or shoot him any easier? Do you know why he
stools well in a south-westerly wind, why one stools better than
another, or why any of them stool at all? Do you know why he flies after
a storm, or why some go in flocks and others don’t, or why there is
usually a flight on the fifteenth and twenty-fifth of August? When books
tell us these things, I shall think more of the writers.”

“These matters are not easy to find out; even you gunners, who have been
on the bay all your lives, where your fathers lived before you, do not
know. But now tell us what other sport you have here.”

“On the mainland there are a good many English snipe in spring, while in
the fall we catch blue-fish and shoot ducks. The black ducks and teal
will soon be along; but ever since the inlet was closed, the
canvas-backs and red-heads have been scarce.”

“What do you mean by the inlet’s closing?”

“There used to be several inlets across the beach–one about ten miles
below–and then we had splendid oysters and ducks plenty. There came a
tremendous storm one winter that washed up the sand and closed the
inlet, and so it has remained ever since.”

“Can’t they be dredged out?”

“The people would pay a fortune to any man who did that, if he could
keep it open. In the fall, we go after ducks twenty miles when we want
any great shooting; but we kill a good many round here.”

“How do you catch the blue-fish that you spoke of?”

“They chase the bony-fish along the shore, and when they come close in,
you can stand on the beach, and throw the squid right among them, I took
sixteen hundred pounds in half a day.”

“Phew!” was the universal chorus.

“‘Lige was there, and he knows whether that is true. They averaged
fifteen pounds apiece. On those occasions, the only question is whether
you know how to land them, and can do it quick enough.”

“Your hands must have been cut to pieces.”

“Not at all; you’ll never cut your hands if you don’t let the line
slip.”

“Did you run up ashore with them?”

“No, I had no time for that; I landed them, hand over hand.”

“Well, after that story it’s time we went to bed; so good-night.”

During that night the mosquitoes, bad as they had been, were more
terrible than at any time previous. Favored by the late frequent rains,
they had become more numerous than had ever been known on the beach; and
being consequently compelled to subdivide to an unusual degree the
ordinarily small supply of food, they were savagely hungry. Sleep was
out of the question, and after trying all sorts of devices from
gunpowder to mosquito-nets, the party wandered out of doors, and,
scattering in search of a place of retreat, afforded an excellent
representation of unhappy ghosts on the banks of the Styx. The shore,
near the surf, and the bathing-houses had heretofore been tolerably
secure resorts, but, on this unprecedented night, a special meeting of
mosquitoes seemed to have been called in that neighborhood.

Those that tried the ground, and covered themselves carefully from head
to foot, found that the enterprising long-legs disregarded the customary
habits of their race, and consented to crawl down their sleeves, up
their pants, or through the folds of the blanket. The sand-fleas also
were numerous and lively, bounding about in an unpleasantly active way;
and where there were neither mosquitoes nor sand-fleas, the nervous
sufferer imagined every grain of stray sand that sifted in through his
clothes to be some malignant, blood-sucking, insect.

One great advantage, however, followed from this discomfort–that we
were up betimes next morning and ready for sport that soon proved equal
to any we had experienced. In fact, so steady and well sustained a
flight of large birds was extremely rare; before our arrival the
shooting had been good, and since excellent. There was a repetition to a
great extent of the day previous, in many particulars of flight, number,
and character of birds; in infinite modification of circumstance, there
was an incessant variety of bewildering sport.

No two birds ever approach the sportsman’s stand in precisely the same
way, and there is one round of deliciously torturing uncertainty; the
flock we are most certain of may turn off, the one that has passed and
been given up, may return; the bird that has been carefully covered may
escape, another that seems a hopeless chance may fall: it is these
minute differences, and this continual variety, that lend the principal
charm to the sportsman’s life.

At midday came again the congregation at the house, the discussion over
sporting topics, the joke or story, and the comparison of luck. Thus
passed the days, alike, yet different, affording undiminished pleasure,
excitement, and instruction, with sport admirably adapted to the hot
weather, when the cool, shady swamps are deserted by the woodcock. The
English snipe have not yet arrived upon the meadows, and the fall
shooting is still in prospective; the labor is easy, the body can be
kept cool by wading for dead birds, and to those who are, at the best,
not vigorous, bay-snipe shooting is a delightful resource.

Never did mortals pass a pleasanter week than that week at the beach,
and it is impossible to chronicle all the good shots, to repeat all the
amusing stories or merry jokes, or to record all the valuable
instruction; and to obtain an inkling even, the reader had better make a
firm resolve that next August will not pass over his head without his
devoting at least one week to bay-snipe shooting. When at last the time
came to part, and the baggage was packed, and the guns reluctantly
bestowed in their cases, we bade our farewell with sincere regret,
praying that often thereafter might we have such sport, and meet such
companionship.

It is a long journey to the beach, but it is a longer one back again; no
high hopes buoy up the traveller, regrets accompany him instead–no
anticipation of grand sport, but the gloomy certainty that it is over
for the year; and although the conveyance to the beach is irregular,
there is absolutely none away from it. It is true there are several
different routes to and from it, but all by private conveyance, and,
rendered by the mosquitoes nearly impracticable.

Bill harnessed his ponies–for, wonderful to say, a few horses and
cattle manage to live on the beach and sustain existence in spite of the
mosquitoes–and we stowed ourselves and our luggage in his well worn
wagon. The road lay over the barren beach, deep and heavy with sand,
and hardly distinguishable after a heavy rain; the one-story shanty,
that had been our resting-place, soon faded from view, and we had
nothing in prospect but the dreary journey home.

At the head of the beach we encountered a bathing-party, and were sorely
tempted to join the rollicking girls in a frolic among the breakers;
but, by exerting great self-denial, and shutting our eyes to their
attractions, much to my companion’s disgust, we kept on our course. We
dined at the tavern on the road, and having bade farewell to Bill, and
engaged another team, we reached Crab Town by dusk.

How changed the village seemed to us! Where was the precious and
beautiful freight that had paid us such delicious toll? Our eyes peered
up and down the road, and into the windows of the scattered houses; our
ears listened sharply for the music of merry voices and ringing
laughter; our thoughts reverted to that crowded stage, which had so
lately borne us through the village. The road was vacant and desolate;
all sound was hushed and still; graceful forms, clad in yielding
drapery, were nowhere to be seen; the dull lights in the windows
revealed nothing to our earnest gaze. Our lovely companions were
invisible, although we pursued our search persistently till late at
night, when, weary and disconsolate, we crawled up to bed in a dismal
hostelry kept by Huntsinger. Going sporting into Jersey is delightful,
but returning is sad indeed.

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