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A History of the Breese Family

A Pastorale by Kathryn Grace Breese

Chapter XI

Spanish Doubloons

 

The years sped on. Harris Breese's family now counted four children who trudged away each morning to such school work as the community offered. A school had been organized and two brothers came there to conduct it. Monroe by name. John Monroe, the headmaster, was a very good man, wrote a beautiful hand, meant well, but lacked insight into child psychology. His method was to pound into little heads by force and the birch rod, if necessary, what he himself had learned, rather than to draw out of the heads of his pupils and develop what was already there.

Some of the Breese boys were quick and some slow and the slow ones had a very hard time during school session. One of them sat many hours, with folded arms, on the floor with his feet resting high up on the master's rostrum, as fit punishment for not knowing his lesson. And this cruel and inhuman treatment he never forgot. All in all, John Monroe was a hard master and the results he obtained were entirely in keeping with his stupid conception of teaching the young.

Bailey's children were all settled now and he was left alone in his home. He had lived too much in the society of women to be able to continue without them. So he took unto himself a wife for the third time, in the person of a widow by the name of Hampton and he seems to have passed the last years of his life in quiet comfort with her.

Times were hard and growing harder, when a strange coincidence came about. It was on a Sunday morning, a memorable day in Harris' life. As he was returning from some duties in the field shortly before dinner, he sprang over the fence on his way to the house. In the act of springing he looked down. Behold! A glimpse of three notches in the post nearest him. He stopped short! Reflected somewhat, looked more closely. Yes, there were surely three notches, old ones cut years ago, too. But no, every post had been dug up and he wouldn't be the laughing-stock of his neighbors by digging anymore. He sauntered on, turning the old story over in his mind which, to his surprise, began to gain credence as he went, so much so that when he reached the kitchen where his wife was busy with preparation for her Sunday dinner, he strode up to her with long steps and astonished her with these words:

"Becky, I've found the old Spaniard's money!" She began to laugh and replied.

"Oh Harris, what nonsense! You know the money isn't to be found."

"Do not be too sure, Becky, these are real old notches in the post I saw," he answered.

At this moment, his brother-in-law George dropped in with Robert Hampton who was now a stepson to old Bailey. They stopped for dinner and the stewed chicken with noodles, one of Rebecca's specialties, put them all in high good humor. The drowsy quiet of the summer day held them late at table where many confidences were exchanged though the topic of the old buried gold was not broached. All at once, Harris rose, went out into the woodshed and presently returned with a spade poised over his shoulder. His guests looked up at hi, in surprise as they heard hi, say "Com on boys, I've found the money at last, let's go and get it." There was a shout of laughter as the incredulous relatives started up from their chairs and many a joke was leveled at Harris as they followed hi, out of the house. He tramped on, in advance of the others, this time in earnest and quite oblivious of the playful sallies of his companions. They had not gone more than a quarter of a mile when Harris stopped at the spot he had noticed in the morning. Again he sprang over the fence and pointed to the post saying "Look!". George and Bob saw indeed the notches, but continued their banter as Harris set his foot on the spade and driving it about twelve inches into the soft black earth, turned it lightly over.

Ye gods! What was this? The rotting old buckskin wallet burst, and the sound of metal struck against the spade. Out rolled the shining pieces in a mass of yellow light! None of these men had ever beheld such a sum of money before. In a twinkling of an eye they were all three down on the ground gathering it up into pockets, handkerchiefs and hats, the blood tingling through the very tips of their fingers as they worked.

Having satisfied themselves that none was missing, they repaired to the house and the earnest look on their faces, which Rebecca remarked from the open door, told her that at last the old myth was no longer fiction.

Without a word they emptied the contents of their various bundles on the table. Then began the counting. Rebecca stood by and suddenly they heard from her lips strange words, unintelligible to them. "Una, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis, siete, ocho," and so on. Harris looked at her in astonishment.

"Becky, have you taken leave of your senses?" he cried.

"No, Harris, but I helped to count this money this way long before you ever knew it existed."

Presently, little piles of gold pieces stood in a row before them. Not one was missing. Such riches! What was the next step? The old robber was long since dead and the original owners, never really known, had long since disappeared. It would seem that these lucky fingers were henceforth the real possessors and after a careful consultation the division was made into three equal parts.

There was just a shadow of painful regret to be seen on Harris' countenance at the fact that he had been generous to a fault in asking his visitors who had casually strolled in that morning, to accompany hi, on so strange an expedition. And the same expression was very perceptible upon the brow of his wife. But there was no help for it now. George and Bob were part and parcel of this good luck and they must share it.

It was indeed wealth to these artless people at a time and place where money played so little a role. George's portion was the beginning of a fortune which he later accumulated and handed down to his descendants. So was Bob's.

Harris took his and laid it provisionally away and we hazard a guess that its hiding place was his own featherbed, for in those days this curious place was in fact a man's safe or strong box, nothing better being at hand. Here it lay for the present. It was no California gold mine, but it was a fine nest egg anyway and no doubt contributed to sweeter dreams that those two had had for many a long day.

When that great and new invention, the iron horse, finally did come, it struck our little cluster of people a deadly blow, from which their community never recovered. All their early hopes flew to the winds over night. It treated them, as it were, like its hated stepchild and left them entirely out of consideration, touching a point seven miles south of them and running a branch two miles west of them. Disheartened and dejected, these inhabitants saw that their existence as such was at an end. To continue to live in these grain wagons now was a thing of the past. No horse could compete with rushing stream engines.

People lost courage and the younger ones decided there was only one thing to do. Pull up stakes, as they said, and follow the railroad. So the exodus began and cheery little Paw-Paw faded away. It was only the old grandfathers who now remained in the neglected s pot. Thy could never hope to start life anew and anyway they had grown to love the place and wanted no change. But, one by one, the others left. Empty houses greeted the old settlers on all sides. Streets once so animated now were silent. The old familiar sounds of human activities ceased and grass grew undisturbed almost under the very feet of the few who were left behind.

It was a sad sight for those who had made such a promising beginning, now to outlive it and see the place dying a natural death.

The little church which had been erected after the model back home in Basking Ridge began now to show traces of decay. Its bell which had rung so cheerily called out only at intervals to the survivors, as occasional offices for the dead were being performed. The churchyard was opened from time to time to admit a newcomer whose life was over, but the long grasses hid the graves and poison ivy and hideous serpents usurped the home of these sleepers and kept visitors away.

So our little town vanished. Only the crossroads remained, and even they were still, for travel was diverted and the ancient conveyances had given way to newer and mightier forces.

We have visited this solitary site in our day and we have wandered through its silence, more musical to us than song. We stayed with an aunt who never left the place, and as a little child swung merrily back and forth on a gate leading up to her door, when the only sound to be heard was the creaking of its hinges. We have watched her raise and lower her homemade butter in a cool well, in summer time, as we stood under tall weeping willow trees our father planted long ago. We have slept through the hush of the night, with a faint sadness in our heart, and have gotten up before the break of day and have seen the red sun rise gloriously over the graves of our ancestors, in the early morning dew. No sound to greet the ear except perhaps the bussing of the locusts in the trees. Plaintive, long drawn out tunes! We never hear them, even in far away climes, but we hark back in memory to the time when this sleeping hollow was a living reality.

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