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"Call It Square."


1913 text from reference (15) in the Bibliography

It is remarkable what large sized romances small bits of territory are capable of producing under favorable conditions. Though containing but ten or twelve acres, Rattlesnake Island forms the scene of quite an interesting episode along this line.

The island lies about two miles to the northeast of Put-in-Bay. Its surface, partially covered with forest fringe and red cedar, is broken by outcropping beds of limestone. In shape it is elongated with a hump in the middle, and two islets - mere dots - at the tail end, known as the “rattles.” Viewed from a distance, a lively imagination may readily resolve this dark couchant body of land outlined against the turquoise blue of Erie into a gigantic rattlesnake, with head erect and rattles in working order. From its peculiar formation the island is generally sup- posed to have derived its name, though some assert that the appellation was bestowed in consequence of the illimitable quantities of rattlesnakes which rendezvoused in and among the creviced and broken rocks. From these fastnesses they were wont to wriggle forth into aggressive prominence, hissing and clicking their spite, and whipping the earth and surrounding vegetation, until everything looked blue. Many “vets” were numbered among the reptilian hosts, regular old sockers with whole strings of ratt1es. So thick were they, it is avowed - that a man couldn't walk without treading upon three of four of the “varmints” at every step - this in the halcyon days of yore. At a later date the enterprising community of snakes here represented materially lessened in numbers, until comparatively few remain to adorn the spot named in their honor.

An able accessory in the dispersion of this reptile colony was undoubtedly vested in the brawn and muscle of the proprietor, whom for convenience we will call “Hank Smith,” who with his family located on the island. Old Hank wasn't afraid of rattlesnakes, evidently, and prided himself manifestly on owning and occupying with his household gods a whole island, which, if not very big, was at least far enough removed from adjacent isles to afford ample seclusion. So at least he imagined, and so in reality it might have proven but for the obtrusive fact that the old codger possessed several comely daughters, and since “love laughs at locksmiths,” traverses distances immeasurable and achieves impossibilities of all sorts, this blind but ever active imp was not long in finding his way to Rattlesnake Island.

Celia, the eldest, was an attractive maiden with eyes that matched the color of the sea and sky and hair a fluff of golden brown. She was lithe and active, free and fearless, revelling like a duck in adventures on the water. She was an expert at fishing and fowling, could manipulate a pair of oars with admirable skill, and with a light skiff was accustomed to cross frequently the two mile stretch that intervened between Rattlesnake and Put-in-Bay.

At the latter place she speedily became the attraction of a youthful fisherman who crossed her path - whom we will call Tom Taylor. After this there was no more peace for Rattlesnake. From time to time it was haunted by a spectral sail which circled about the island, edging nearer and nearer at each cruise, until one day it lay beached close by the “grout” house of Hank Smith. At beck of the little winged god, Tom Taylor and his boat had followed the charmer to her rocky retreat. This being his first experience in courtship, however, Tom proved a bit fresh and his bashfulness was excruciating. His feeble advances were regarded with apparent disfavor, the coy maiden turning a deaf ear to his importunities, until in black despair he shook the dust of Rattlesnake from his feet. The spectral sail retreated over the water, returning no more that season to haunt the mirrored coves of the little, lone isle.

Tom Taylor “darned” and “gol-darned” his luck and the girl, and wished himself and her in - well, in a clime too hot for health and comfort.

Having thus abandoned schemes matrimonial, he returned to his work of inveigling into nets of tarred twine the unsuspecting finny tribes, an occupation with which he was more familiar than that of love-making.

One early spring day, some months following the collapse of Tom's love affair, a terrible squall, such as sometimes swoops down unannounced upon the islands, struck Put-in-Bay with a force that twisted limbs from the trees and sent the tumbled seas spouting up the rocks.

Looking from her window, an old woman who occupied a cottage on East Point thought she espied a small boat far out on the lake driving eastward before the gale. From a shelf she snatched a pair of marine glasses, through which she took a second observation. Yes, the boat was evidently drifting at the mercy of the wind and current. Not an oar was in motion. Only single occupant could be discerned and that was a female. With breathless haste the old woman rushed to a little cove where stood a fish shanty.

Within an angle of the L shaped dock several boats lay moored, and two fishermen attired in yellow oil skins and sou’ westers were coal tarring twine over a smoking kettle. One of these individuals proved to be our friend Tom Taylor. Tom took the marine glasses proffered by the scared old woman, and through them examined the drifting boat.

“Blast my buttons, if it ain't a woman!” he exclaimed. With two or three long strides he reached and began un- fastening a boat.

“What you goin' to do?” demanded his companion.

“Going to pick up that skiff; come on, Jim.”

Jim demurred, urging that no boat could live long in such a sea, and that it was foolhardy to venture.

Tom, however, would take no denial, and with serious misgivings Jim was finally persuaded to take a hand at the oars. Under the double pull the boat plunged into the boiling surf. It was a hard struggle and many times the boat barely escaped swamping in the heavy sea that struck her, but at last the castaway was overtaken. As they approached, the woman stretched appealing hands toward them and Tom turned in his seat to get a square look at her.

“Great Scott!” The beaded perspiration on his brow now began streaming down his cheeks. It was Celia, she who had so cruelly jilted him. But all differences were forgotten when life and death hung poised in the balance. The drifting boat was nearly filled with water and it seemed as if every sea would submerge it, but the boat and Celia were both rescued and landed upon the lee side of a projecting headland. Celia was drenched through and through. Her hair hung in strings, her clothing clung closely about her, and altogether she looked as picturesque as a ducked hen.

“You may thank Tom here for your salvation,” remarked Jim, turning to the fair but dilapidated Celia.

“I never see a woman yit that, I thought more of than I do of my own individual self, an' if Tom hadn't shamed me out, I expect he'd awent alone and you’d both gone to Davy Jones.”

Now that they had reached land, the rough old fisherman had removed his boots and was draining off the water that had collected in them.

The girl made no reply, but from under dripping locks she beamed upon Tom a smile, the most heartsome and approving that he had ever received.

In answer to anxious questions Celia explained that when midway between the two islands a rowlock had become detached and fallen overboard, rendering the oars useless, and being overtaken by the squall she had drifted until discovered and rescued.

Celia found shelter with some friends at Put-in-Bay until the next morning, when the gale having died, she was restored to her anxious parents by Tom Taylor in person. She was not much worse for the wetting and scare received and was appropriately subdued in manner, treating Tom with uniform kindness and evidently regarding him as a hero.

Old Hank received him with effusive demonstrations and insisted upon his remaining for the day as an honored guest, placing before him in the way of entertainment the best that his larder afforded.

Celia behaved beautifully and it will hardly be necessary to tell of all the little flirtations successfully prosecuted by the young couple during that brief day.

In the evening as Tom was about taking his departure, his host clapped him on the shoulder and said:

“Young man, if it hadn't been for you my girl would now be drifting down Lake Erie a corpse instead of sitting here. You’ve saved her life and now I don't know how I am to pay you for the trouble, unless you're willin’ to take her.”

A wave of scarlet suddenly swept over Tom's face, extending clear to the roots of his red hair, while the girl looked the picture of confusion.

“Why, Dad!” she exclaimed.

Tom succeeded after a mighty effort in gaining his composure, and after clearing his throat said that if the old man was “willin’” and the girl was “willin’” he guessed he'd call it “square.” The girl nodded; the old man said “all right,” and promised to throw in the boat as a part of the bargain. So before the ice fields blocked the island passages there was a wedding on Rattlesnake and Tom bore away his bride in triumph.

One by one old Hank Smith was robbed of his daughters and he eventually left the island himself, and another  “Family Robinson” who succeeded him now occupies the place.

Tom Taylor multiplied and increased as years swept on and now rejoices, with his “better half,” in an ample share of this world’s emoluments.

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Revised: 21 Jul 2008 07:50:13.

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