American History and Genealogy Project


Rosalind of Squam Island

Rosalind Clough paused a moment on the broad steps of the great, white house. She was a demure little maid with wide brown eyes, the white cap on her dark curls giving her face an almost Puritanical severity. There was something sweet and winsome about the face, although the mouth was drawn with grave lines of anxiety.

Before her in the fast-deepening twilight lay the broad expanse of the Sheepscot River, quivering at its western verge with flashes of crimson and gold. One by one the lights twinkled forth in the houses of the hamlet of Wiscasset across the river. High above her on the white edge of the last cloud, that was resisting the advance of night, glimmered the first great star.

But peaceful as was the scene and all her surroundings there was little quiet or rest in the troubled girlish mind. Far across the water he whom Rosalind loved best, her father, Capt. Clough, had been drawn by strange and riotous currents into the very depths of a whirlpool. In a way Rosalind had been aware of her father's interest in the events that had shaken the French nation. For many years he had voyaged thither, and his name was well known, along the quays of Havre and in the great merchant-houses of Paris, as that of a man of honor, whose word was as good as gold, one who could be trusted in all places and at all times a true American.

Often in the quiet evenings of early fall, or when the snow fell softly about the mansion on Squam Island, he would tell singular tales as his family gathered about the cheery blaze. The names of Louis, the weakling king, of the traitorous Duke of Orleans, of Danton and Marat, the wicked, reckless leaders of the revolution, had become household words to the children of the brave captain. But there was always one story that Rosalind would always draw closer to hear, for her father's voice grew gentler in tone and lingered with a sympathetic cadence whenever he spoke the name of the beautiful, ill fated French queen, Marie Antoinette.

Marie Antoinette, what marvelous visions that name evoked in the girlish mind! Marie Antoinette, haughty, wondrous fair, every inch a queen; Marie Antoinette in her sweet matron hood, loving wife and fond mother in the stately old palace at Versailles; Marie Antoinette facing that blood-thirsty mob in the Tuileries, calm with the calmness of utter despair; Marie Antoinette in those last sad chapters, bereft of all that life held dear, standing in the dread shadow of the guillotine, always a beautiful, pathetic figure, a royal, noble woman to the end.

Capt. Clough had been in France that fatal July day when the shouldering fury of the Paris mob had burst into flame, and, urged to insurrection, had stormed the old Bastille and captured the prison. During the terrible summer of 1792 he had seen the excited populace, swearing, howling, cursing and fighting, massacre the brave Swiss guards and thrust the royal family into a dungeon. Before he reached his quiet Maine home, for passage was slow in those days, France had become a republic. Before be again set foot in the streets of Paris, they had literally flowed red with blood, and Louis XVI had met his fate on the guillotine. Capt. Clough's letters home touched the hearts of his readers, for through his friendship with the loyalists, he had become familiar with the pitiful suffering of the royal family. "The luxuriant hair of Marie Antoinette turned white in a single night," he wrote his daughter.

Many times Rosalind had stolen out alone in the early twilight to watch for a vessel that did not come. Capt. Clough's family had been expecting his return from France through many long autumn days. Knowing as they did of the turbulent times in France, and of how little account was the life of one who sympathized with the royal cause during the Reign of Terror, their minds were filled with anxiety. The mother was a dignified, matronly woman loving her children in her own quiet way; the father, clever sailor and business man though he was, had the mystic nature of a student and a dreamer, which his daughter had inherited. There was thus a strong chain of sympathy between them, a sort of mental telepathy that bound them to each other with a tie that distance could not break. Sometimes Rosalind would say at the breakfast table, "I shall hear from my father today,'' and in almost every instance the letter would arrive before night-fall. Occasionally she would cry out anxiously, "I am afraid my father is ill," and the next word received would tell of some indisposition. Neither tried to explain this strange sympathy, for it had existed so long it had become a part of their everyday lives. Naturally this time of suspense had borne heavily on Rosalind and somewhat saddened her.

At last a letter had come to the uneasy watchers telling a strange tale of happenings across the sea. Capt. Clough wrote of the relentless hounding of royal sympathizers by Robespierre; how a word or a whisper in the morning had sent many an innocent man to his death before night; how all day the death carts rattled through the streets, as Robespierre from an upper window watched "the cursed aristocrats'' and mocked at their pain; and how it was rumored that she, the noble, the royal woman, must meet the fate of her murdered husband.

"There is a plot afoot," wrote Capt. Clough, "to rescue the queen from the guillotine. I scarce dare think, much less write of it to you, my dear ones, for every day I see men hurried to death without even a prayer, for less than this. But that you may be prepared in some measure for what may follow, I will write briefly concerning our hazardous undertaking.
Friends of the unhappy queen have spoken in private to friends of mine, and they in turn to me. My ship lies in the port at any moment ready for sailing. I await the word. Methinks I need say no more, my loved ones, for I write in haste and with a troubled heart. Well you know my sympathy has always been with her, even though I am an American born citizen, and in America we know no king but God. My wife, prepare you the house, not as for a royal guest, but I say to you, for a broken-hearted woman. Wait and watch and pray, my dear ones, for me and for her gracious and deeply-wronged majesty, Marie Antoinette."

It was of this letter Rosalind was thinking as she scanned the river with anxious eyes. For days there had been stir and excitement in the great house on Squam Island. Every nook and corner had been cleaned and polished, and cleaned and polished again. On this night, and for many nights before, all had been in readiness for the strange guest. The brightest fires roared their cheeriest welcome, the larder groaned with its goodly store. But days and nights had come and gone with unrewarded vigil.

Striving to throw off the vague unrest and dread that possessed her, Rosalind hastened down the path to the shore. She had felt all day a subdued excitement, a premonition. As she followed the long path she seemed lifted out of herself. It was the hour when Capt. Clough loved to draw his daughter's arm through his own and lead her down to the shore. All the cares, the anxieties, the sorrows of the past few weeks, fell from her like a cloak, and she lived again the hours when they had paced the beach together, when he had taught her the lore of the waters, and of the heavens, and led her with him along a pathway of stars. She loved to think, as she followed the path, that Mars shone as redly for him far away on the high seas as it did for her; that he, too, could see Vega's brightness, Venus's beauty, and the shimmering swarm of the Pleiades.

Rosalind paced slowly back and forth on the beach. The damp wind on her face revived the memory of an hour that was gone; the fascination of the night was upon her. As she turned seaward, the darkness blotted even the horizon from view. The girl stood staring into the blackness.

Then the vision came to her. Earth and sea and sky seemed to flash before her. Every tree, every bush on the opposite shore, every bend in the river burst plainly on her view. The glare pierced and tore the dusk like a flash of lightning. She closed her eyes, opened them, stared like one in a dream. On the broad current of the stream she beheld the masts, the deck, and hull of a vessel, and although it was like a barque of silver on water of crystal, she knew it was her father's own ship illumined with a strange and startling brightness. She saw the busy sailors, the captain on the deck, even beheld her father throw back his head in the old, familiar way; saw and recognized every detail of sail and mast and spar. And then she saw Her, the Woman. She was floating rather than walking upon that silvered deck, beautiful in countenance and form, tall, regal in carriage, richly gowned, with powdered hair and a face that held one spellbound, so filled was it with youth and grace. Rosalind saw her stretch out her hands with a sudden, beseeching gesture, as if pleading for release; then raise her eyes to Heaven with, a wonderful look of peace. The girl strove to move, to speak, but could make neither motion nor sound. Even as she struggled with the torpor that benumbed her, the brightness faded, there was darkness over island and sea, and the vision was gone.

Half an hour later Madam Clough, sitting by the glowing fire, was roused from her sad musings by the sound of swift steps in the hall. The door was flung open to admit Rosalind looking like a wraith of the night with her hair blown about her wide eyes and pallid face.

"Mother! Mother!'' she cried, "My father is well. He will return. But she-she-Marie Antoinette, is dead!"

Winter had cast its pall over the earth before Captain Clough sailed up the Sheepscot River to his home on Squam Island; and he brought beautifully carved furniture, draperies of velvet and silk, magnificent paper hangings, and even gowns of costly brocade, which the friends of Marie Antoinette had placed on board his vessel in the far-away French waters that their loved queen might have fitting surroundings in her exile. He told of the discovery of the plot on the eve of its consummation; of the message, concealed and sent in a bouquet to the queen, and discovered by her jailers; of her swift execution; of the imprisonment of her true and faithful friends; of his own hairbreadth escape, and of the blood-curdling shouts of the mob, when it stormed through the streets bearing Marie Antoinette to her untimely doom. The night on which

Rosalind Clough had seen the strange vision was that of October 16, 1793, the date of the queen's execution.

Maude Clark Gay

Source: Maine My State, The Maine Writers Research Club, The Journal Print Shop, Lewiston, Maine, 1919

Back to AHGP

Copyright August @2011 - 2024 Copyright ©2000-2006  Founded April 8, 2000. Debbie Axtman,  Jim Powell, Jr., Ginger Cisewski, and  Brenda Hare, for
the exclusive use and benefit of The American History and Genealogy Project. All rights reserved.