|The Tory Lover - Atlantic Contents|
THE TORY LOVER
The Atlantic Monthly Serialization
Chapters 26 - 30
May 1901 -- 87: 801-817
Paragraphs are not numbered in the Atlantic text.
1 While Wallingford coldly insisted that he should carry out the captain's instructions to the letter, the moment their boat touched the landing steps Dickson leaped over the side and ran up the pier. He had said, carelessly, that it was no use to risk several lives where one might serve; it was possible that they had been seen approaching, and he would go and play the scout, and select their buildings for firing. Both the lieutenants, Wallingford and Hall, took this breach of discipline angrily; there seemed to be an aggravating desire in Dickson's heart to put himself first now when it would count to his own gain. Their orders had been to leave the boat in his charge while the landing party was away; and in the next few moments, when he had disappeared into the narrow street that led up from the small pier, Wallingford grew uneasy, and went ashore himself. He climbed to the top of the pier, and then heard Dickson's voice calling at no great distance as if for help. As he started to run that way, he shouted to the men below to follow him.
2 His voice was lost in the noise of waves lapping and splashing about them against the pier; they heard his cry, but could not tell what it meant, or whether they should stay or go. The captain's orders had been strict that all three of the elder officers should not leave the boat at once. Young Hill, the midshipman, a fine brave fellow, now landed; but in the dim light he could see nobody, and returned. The discovery was then made that they had all their kindlings and tar in readiness, but there were no candles left in the two lanterns, and the bag of spare candles and tinder box which the midshipman had in charge was no longer to be found in the boat. It had been laid next the thwart, and in crossing some rough water might have fallen overboard, though nobody could understand the accident.
3 They could only wait now, in mortification and distress, for Wallingford's return, and some minutes passed in a grievous uncertainty.
4 The lieutenant had much resented Dickson's show of authority, and feared the ill success of his errand; although he had no liking for the man, it was no time to consider personalities; they were all on duty, and must report to their commander. It was certainly dangerous for a man to venture ashore alone, and the first distant outcry set him running at the top of his speed, expecting the landing party to follow.
5 Wallingford was light-footed, and as he ran he heard Dickson's voice once more plainly, and then all was silent. He hurried along, keeping close to the walls of warehouses, and came next into a street of common, poor dwellings of the seafaring folk. Then he stopped and listened, and whistled a call familiar enough to Dickson or any man of the Somersworth and Berwick neighborhoods, as if they had strayed from each other hunting in the old York woods. There was no answer, and he turned to go back; he must rejoin his men and attend to duty, and Dickson must take care of himself. There were dark alleys that led from this narrow thoroughfare to the water side; he heard footfalls, and again stood listening in the shelter of a deep doorway, when a group of half-dressed men burst out of a side lane, armed, and with a soldier or two among them. They ran down the street toward the shore, and took a short way round a corner. Wallingford heard a word or two which made him sure they had been given warning; it flashed through his brain that this was Dickson's business and plan for revenge. If their own men were still in the boat or near it , -- which seemed likely, since they had not followed him, -- they would be safe enough, but danger threatened them all. There was a sound of gathering voices and frightened outcries and slamming doors beyond in the town, as if the whole place were astir, and the morning light was growing fast in the sky, and making a new day in the dark little street. There was nothing for Wallingford to do but to hurry back to the boat as best he might. In some of the neighboring houses they had heard the guard go by, and sleepy heads were appearing to learn the news. The lieutenant made haste. Just as he passed the side passage whence the men had come, Dickson himself appeared through an archway just beyond, and stopped to call, "Watch! Watch! The Yankees are in the town to set it burning! Watch! Watch!" he was crying at the top of this lungs, instead of that faint "Help! Help!" which had seemed to cry for mercy in Wallingford's ears, and had enticed him into peril of his life.
6 With one bound Wallingford leaped upon the scoundrel and caught him in a mighty clutch. There was the look of a fiend in Dickson's face, in the dim light, as he turned and saw the man he hated most, and the two clinched in a fury. Then Dickson remembered the straight knife in his belt, and as they fought he twisted himself free enough to get it in his hand and strike; next moment Wallingford was flat on the cobblestones, heavily fallen with a deep cut in his shoulder.
7 There were men running their way, and Dickson fled before them. He had been badly mauled before the trick of stabbing could set him free; the breath was sobbing out of his lungs from the struggle, but he ran unhindered to the pier end, past the gaping townsfolk, and threw himself into the water, striking out for the boat, which had drawn well away from shore. There was a loud shout at his escape, but he was a good swimmer. They were watching from the boat, and when they saw that Dickson lagged, they drew nearer and dragged him in. It was all in a moment; there was firing at them now from the shore. Hall and the midshipman were at the very worst of their disappointment; they had failed in their errand; the whole thing was a fiasco, and worse.
8 Then Dickson, though sick and heavy from such an intake of salt water, managed to speak and tell them that Wallingford had waked the town, and had found the guardhouse at once; for the watch was out, and had even set upon himself as he returned. He had reconnoitred carefully and found all safe, when he heard a man behind him, and had to fight for his life. Then he heard Wallingford calling and beating upon the doors. They might know whether they had shipped a Tory, now! Dickson could speak no more, and sank down, as if he were spent indeed, into the bottom of the boat. He could tell already where every blow had struck him, and a faintness weakened his not too sturdy frame.
9 Now they could see the shipping all afire across the harbor as they drew out; the other boat's party had done their work, and it was near to broad day. Now the people were running and crying, and boats were putting out along the shore, and an alarm bell kept up an incessant ringing in the town. The Ranger's men rowed with all their might. Dickson did not even care because the captain would give the boat a rating; he had paid back old scores to the lofty young squire, his enemy and scorner; the fault of their failure would be Wallingford's. His heart was light enough; he had done his work well. If Wallingford was not already dead or bleeding to death like a pig, back there in the street, the Whitehaven folk were like to make a pretty hanging of him before sunset. There was one pity, -- he had left his knife sticking in the Tory's shoulder, and this caused a moment of sharp regret; but it was a plain sailor's knife which he had lately got by chance at Brest, and there were no witnesses to the encounter; his word was as good as Wallingford's to most men on their ship. He began to long for the moment when the captain should hear their news. "He's none so great a hero yet," thought Dickson, and groaned with pain as the boat lurched and shifted him where he lay like ballast among the unused kindlings. Wallingford had given him a fine lasting legacy of blows.
1 The poor lieutenant was soon turned over scornfully by a musket butt and the toe of a stout Whitehaven shoe. The blood was steadily running from his shoulder, and his coat was all sodden with a sticky wetness. He had struck his head as he fell, and was at this moment happily unconscious of all his woes.
2 "Let him lie, the devil!" growled a second man who came along, -- a citizen armed with a long cutlass, but stupid with fear, and resenting the loss of his morning sleep and all his peace of mind. They could see the light of the burning vessel on the roofs above. "Let's get away a bit further from the shore," said he; "there may be their whole ship's company landed and ranging the town."
3 "This damned fellow'll do nobody any mischief," agreed the soldier, and away they ran. But presently his companion stole back to find if there were anything for an honest man and a wronged one in this harmless officer's pockets. There were some letters in women's writing that could be of no use to any one, and some tobacco. "'T is the best American sort," said the old citizen, who had once been a sailor in the Virginia trade. He saw the knife sticking fast, and pulled it out; but finding it was a cheap thing enough, and disagreeable just now to have in hand, he tossed it carelessly aside. He found a purse of money in one pocket, and a handsome watch with a seal like some great gentleman's; but this was strangely hooked and ringed to the fob buttons, and the chain so strong that though a man pulled hard enough to break it, and even set his foot on the stranger's thigh to get a good purchase, the links would not give way. The citizen looked for the convenient knife again, but missed it under the shadow of the wall. There were people coming. He pocketed what he had got, and looked behind him anxiously; then he got up and ran away, only half content with the purse and good tobacco.
4 An old woman, and a girl with her, were peeping through the dirty panes of a poor, narrow house close by; and now, seeing that there was such a pretty gentleman in distress, and that the citizen, whom they knew and treasured a grudge against, had been frightened away, they came out to drag him into shelter. Just as they stepped forth together on the street, however, a squad of soldiers, coming up at double-quick, captured this easy prisoner, whose heart was beating yet. One of them put the hanging watch into his own pocket, unseen, -- oddly enough, it came easily into his hand; and after some consideration of so grave a matter of military necessity, two of them lifted Wallingford, and finding him both long and heavy called a third to help, and turned back to carry him to the guard-house. By the time they reached the door a good quarter part of the townsfolk seemed to be following in procession, with angry shouts, and tearful voices of women begging to know if their husbands or lovers had been seen in danger; and there were loud threats, too, meant for the shaming of the silent figure carried by stout yeomen of the guard.
5 After some hours Wallingford waked, wretched with the smart of his wounds, and dazed by the first sight of his strange lodging in the town jail. There were no friends to succor him; he had not even the resource of being mistaken for a Tory and a friend of the Crown. There were at least three strutting heroes showing themselves in different quarters of the town, that evening, who claimed the honor of giving such a dangerous pirate his deathblow.
6 Some days passed before the officer in charge of this frightened seaport (stricken with sincere dismay, and apprehensive of still greater disaster from such stealthy neighbors on the sea) could receive the answer to his report sent to headquarters. Wallingford felt more and more the despair of his situation. The orders came at last that, as soon as he could be moved, he should be sent to join his fellow rebels in the old Mill Prison at Plymouth. The Whitehaven citizens should not risk or invite any attempt at his rescue by his stay. But, far from regretting his presence, there were even those who lamented his departure; who would have willingly bought new ribbons to their bonnets to go and see such a rogue hanged, wounded shoulder and all, on a convenient hill and proper gallows outside the town.
7 None of the heavy-laden barley ships or colliers dared to come or go. The fishing boats that ventured out to their business came home in a flutter at the sight of a strange sail; and presently Whitehaven was aghast at the news of the robbery of all my Lady Selkirk's plate, and the astonishing capture of his Majesty's guardship Drake out of Carrickfergus, and six merchantmen taken beside in the Irish Sea, -- three of them sunk, and three of them sent down as prizes to French ports. The quicker such a prisoner left this part of the realm, the better for Whitehaven. The sheriff and a strong guard waited next morning at the door of the jail, and Wallingford, taken from his hard bed, was set on a steady horse to begin the long southward journey, and be handed on from jail to jail. The fresh air of the spring morning, after the close odors of his prison, at first revived him. Even the pain of his wound was forgotten, and he took the change gladly, not knowing whither he went or what the journey was meant to bring him.
8 At first they climbed long hills in sight of the sea. Notwithstanding all his impatience of the sordid jealousies and discomforts of life on board the Ranger, Roger Wallingford turned his weak and painful body more than once, trying to catch a last glimpse of the tall masts of the brave, fleet little ship. A remembrance of the good-fellowship of his friends aboard seemed to make a man forget everything else, and to put warmth in his heart, though the chill wind on the raise blew through his very bones. For the first time he had been treated as a man among men on board the Ranger. In early youth the heir of a rich man could not but be exposed to the flatteries of those who sought his father's favors, and of late his property and influence counted [to] the Loyalists far more than any of that counsel out of his own heart for which some of them had begged obsequiously. Now he had come face to face with life as plain men knew it, and his sentiment of sympathy had grown and doubled in the hard process. He winced at the remembrance of that self-confidence he had so cherished in earlier years. He had come near to falling an easy prey to those who called him Sir Roger, and were but serving their own selfish ends; who cared little for either Old England or New, and still less for their King. There was no such thing as a neutral, either; a man was one thing or the other. And now his head grew light and dizzy, while one of those sudden visions of Mary Hamilton's face, the brave sweetness of her living eyes as if they were close to his own, made him forget the confused thoughts of the moment before.
9 The quick bracing of the morning air was too much for the prisoner; he felt more and more as if he were dreaming. There was a strange longing in his heart to be back in the shelter and quiet of the jail itself; there began to be a dull roaring in his ears. Like a sharp pain there came to him the thought of home, of his mother's looks and her smile as she stood watching at the window when he came riding home. He was not riding home now: the thought of it choked his throat. He remembered his mother as he had proudly seen her once in her black satin gown and her best lace and diamonds, at the great feast for Governor Hutchinson's birthday, in the Province House, -- by far the first, to his young eyes, of the fine distinguished ladies who were there. How frail and slender she stood among them! But now a wretched weakness mastered him; he was afraid to think where he might be going. They could not know how ill and helpless he was, these stout men of his guard, who sometimes watched him angrily, and then fell to talking together in low voices. The chill of the mountain cloud they were riding into seemed to have got to his heart. Again his brain failed him, and then grew frightfully clear again; then he began to fall asleep in the saddle, and to know that he slept, jolting and swaying as they began to ride faster. The horse was a steady, plodding creature, whose old sides felt warm and comfortable to the dreaming rider. He wished, ever so dimly, that if he fell they would leave him there by the road and let him sleep. He lost a stirrup now, and it struck his ankle sharply to remind him, but there was no use to try to get it again; then everything turned black.
10 One of the soldiers caught the horse just as the prisoner's head began to drag along the frozen road.
11 "His wound's a-bleeding bad. Look-a-here!" he shouted to the others, who were riding on, their horses pressing each other close, and their cloaks held over their faces in the cold mountain wind. "Here, ahoy! our man's dead, lads! The blood's trailed out o' him all along the road!"
12 "He's cheated justice, then, curse him!" said the officer smartly, looking down from his horse; but the old corporal who had fought at Quebec with Wolfe, and knew soldiering by heart, though he was low on the ladder of promotion by reason of an unconquerable love of brandy, -- the old corporal dropped on his knees, and felt Wallingford's heart beating small and quick inside the wet, stained coat, and then took off his own ragged riding cloak to wrap him from the cold.
13 "Poor lad!" he said compassionately. "I think he's fell among thieves, somehow, by t' looks of him; 't is an honest face of a young gentleman 's iver I see. There's nowt for 't but a litter now, an' t' get some grog down his starved throat. I misdoubt he's dead as t' stones in road ere we get to Kendal!"
14 "Get him ahorse again!" jeered another man. "If we had some alegar now, we mought fetch him to! Say, whaar er ye boun', ye are sae dond out in reed wescut an' lace?" and he pushed Wallingford's limp, heavy body with an impatient foot; but the prisoner made no answer.
1 There were several low buildings to the east of Colonel Hamilton's house, where various domestic affairs were established; the last of these had the large spinning room in its second story, and stood four-square to the breezes. Here were the wool and flax wheels and the loom, with all their implements; and here Peggy reigned over her handmaidens, one warm spring afternoon, with something less than her accustomed severity. She had just been declaring, in a general way, that the idle clack of foolish tongues distressed her ears more than the noise of the loom and wheels together.
2 There was an outside stairway, and the coveted seat of those maids who were sewing was on the broad doorstep at the stairhead. You could look up the wide fields to the long row of elms by General Goodwin's, and see what might pass by on the Portsmouth road; you could also command the long green lane that led downhill toward the great house, also the shipyard, and, beyond that, a long stretch of the river itself. A young man must be wary in his approach who was not descried afar by the sentinels of this pretty garrison. On a perfectly silent afternoon in May, the whole world, clouds and all, appeared to be fast asleep; but something might happen at any moment, and it behooved Hannah Neal and Phebe Hodgdon to be on the watch.
3 They sat side by side on the doorstep, each reluctantly top-sewing a new linen sheet; two other girls were spinning flax within the room, and old Peggy herself was at the loom, weaving with steady diligence. As she sat there, treading and reaching at her work, with quick click-clacks of the shuttle and a fine persistence of awkward energy, she could see across the river to Madam Wallingford's house, with its high elms and rows of shuttered windows. Between her heart and old Susan's there was a bond of lifelong friendship; they seldom met, owing to their respective responsibilities; they even went to different places of worship on Sunday; but they always took a vast and silent comfort in looking for each other's light at night.
4 It was Peggy's habit to sing softly at her work; once in a while, in her gentlest mood, she chanted aloud a snatch of some old song. There was never but one song for a day, to be repeated over and over; and the better she was pleased with her conditions, the sadder was her strain. Now and then her old voice, weak and uncertain, but still unexpectedly beautiful, came back again so clear and true that the chattering girls themselves were hushed into listening. To-day the peace in her heart was such that she had been singing over and over, with plaintive cadences, a most mournful quatrain of ancient lines set to a still more ancient tune. It must have touched the chords of some inherited memory.
"O Death, rock me asleep,"
sang Peggy dolefully.
"O Death, rock me asleep,
Bring me to quiet rest;
Let pass my weary, guiltless ghost
Out of my care-full breast!"
5 The girls had seldom heard their old tyrant forget herself and them so completely in her singing; they gave each other a sympathetic glance as she continued; the noisy shuttle subdued itself to the time and tune, and made a rude accompaniment. One might have the same feeling in listening to a thrush at nightfall as to such a natural song as this. At last her poignancy of feeling grew too great for even the singer herself, and she drew away from the spell of the music, as if she approached too near the sad reality of its first occasion.
6 "My grandmother was said to have the best voice in these Piscataqua plantations, when she was young," announced Peggy, with the tone of a friend. "My mother had a pretty voice, too, but 't was a small voice, like mine. I'm good as dumb beside either of them, but there isn't no tune I ever heard that I can't follow in my own head as true as a bird. This one was a verse my grandmother knew, -- some days I think she sings right on inside of me, -- but I forget the story of the song: she knew the old story of everything." Peggy was modest, but she had held her audience for once, and knew it.
7 She now stopped to tie a careful weaver's knot in the warp, and adjust some difficulty of her pattern. Hitty Warren, who was spinning by the door, trilled out a gay strain, as if by way of relief to the gloom of a song which, however moving and beautiful, could not fail to make the heart grow sad.
"I have a house and lands in Kent,"
protested Hitty's light young caroling voice,
"And if you'll love me, love me now,
Two pence ha'penny is my rent,
And I cannot come every day to woo!"
Whereupon Hannah Neal and Phebe, who sang a capital clear second, joined in with approval and alacrity to sing the chorus: --
"Two pence ha'penny is my rent,
And I cannot come every day to woo!"
8 They kept it going over and over, like blackbirds, and Peggy clacked her shuttle in time to this measure, but she did not offer to join them; perhaps she had felt, too, some dim foreboding, that her own song comforted. The air had suddenly grown full of springtime calls and cries, as if there were some subtle disturbance; the birds were in busy flight; and one could hear faint shouts from the old Vineyard and the neighboring falls, where men and boys were at the salmon fishing.
9 At last the girls were done singing; they had called no audience out of the empty green fields. They began to lag in their work, and sat whispering and chuckling a little about their own affairs. Peggy stopped the loom and regarded them angrily, but they took no notice. All four had their heads close together now over a piece of gossip; she turned on her narrow perch and faced them. Their young hands were idle in their laps.
10 "Go to your wheel, Hitty Warren, and to your work, the pack of you! I begretch the time you waste, and the meals you eat in laziness, you foolish hussies!" cried Peggy, with distinctness. "Look at the house so short of both sheeting and table gear since the colonel took his great boatload of what we had in use to send to the army! If it wa'n't for me having forethought to hide a couple o' heaping armfuls of our best Russian for the canopy beds, we'd been bare enough, and had to content the gentlefolk with unbleached webs. And all our grand holland sheets, only in wear four years, and just coming to their softness, all gone now to be torn in strips for those that's wounded; all spoilt like common workhouse stuff for those that never slept out o' their own clothes. 'T was a sad waste, but we must work hard now to plenish us," she gravely reproached them.
11 "Miss Mary is as bad as the Colonel," insisted Hannah Neal, the more demure of the seamstresses, who had promptly fallen to work again. The handsome master of the house could do no wrong in the eyes of his admiring maids. They missed his kind and serious face, even if sometimes he did not speak or look when he passed them at their sewing or churning.
12 "A man knows nowt o' linen: he might think a gre't sheet like this sewed its whole long self together," said Phebe Hodgdon ruefully, as she pushed a slow needle through the hard selvages.
13 "To work with ye!" commanded Peggy more firmly. "My eye's upon ye!" And Hitty sighed loud and drearily; the afternoon sun was hot in the spinning room, and the loom began its incessant noise again.
14 At that moment the girls on the doorstep cheerfully took notice of two manly figures that were coming quickly along the footpath of the spring pasture next above the Hamilton lands on the riverside. They stooped to drink at the spring in the pasture corner, and came on together, until one of them stood still and gave a loud cry. The two sewing girls beckoned their friends of the spinning to behold this pleasing sight. Perhaps some of the lads they knew were on their way from the Upper Landing to Pound Hill farms; these river footpaths had already won some of the rights of immemorial usage, and many foot travelers passed by Hamilton's to the lower part of the town. A man could go on foot to Rice's Ferry through such byways across field and pasture as fast as a fleet horse could travel by the winding old Portsmouth road.
15 The two hurrying figures were strangers, and they came to the knoll above the shipyard. They were both waving their hats now, and shouting to the few old men at work below on the river bank.
16 Peggy was only aware of a daring persistence in idleness, and again began to chide, just as all the girls dropped their work and clattered down the outer stair, and left her bereft of any audience at all. She hurried to the door in time to see their petticoats flutter away, and then herself caught sight of the excited messengers. There was a noise of voices in the distance, and some workmen from the wharves and warehouses were running up the green slopes.
17 "There's news come!" exclaimed Peggy, forgetting her own weaving as she stumbled over the pile of new linen on the stair landing, and hurried after the girls. News was apt to come up the river rather than down, but there was no time to consider. Some ill might have befallen Colonel Hamilton himself, -- he had been long enough away; and the day before there had been rumors of great battles to the southward, in New Jersey.
18 The messengers stood side by side with an air of importance.
19 "Our side have beat the British, but there's a mort o' men killed and taken. John Ricker's dead, and Billy Lord's among the missing, and young Hodgdon's dead, the widow's son; and there's word come to Dover that the Ranger has made awful havoc along the British coast, and sent a fortin' o' prizes back to France. There's trouble 'mongst her crew, and young Wallingford's deserted after he done his best to betray the ship."
20 The heralds recited their tale as they had told it over and over at every stopping place for miles back, prompting each other at every sentence. From unseen sources a surprising crowd of men and women had suddenly gathered about them. Some of these wept aloud now, and others shouted their eager questions louder and louder. It was like a tiny babel that had been brought together by a whirlwind out of the quiet air.
21 "They say Wallingford's tried to give the Ranger into the enemy's hands, and got captured for his pains. Some thinks they've hung him for a spy. He's been watching his chance all along to play the traitor," said one news-bringer triumphantly, as if he had kept the best news till the last.
22 "'T is false!" cried a clear young voice behind them.
23 They turned to front the unexpected presence of Miss Hamilton.
24 "Who dared to say this?" She stood a little beyond the crowd, and looked with blazing eyes straight at the two flushed faces of the rustic heralds.
25 "Go tell your sad news, if you must," she said sternly, "but do not repeat that Roger Wallingford is a traitor to his oath. We must all know him better who have known him at all. He may have met misfortune at the hand of God, but the crime of treachery has not been his, and you should know it, -- you who speak, and every man here who listens!"
26 There fell a silence upon the company; but when the young mistress of the house turned away, there rose a half-unwilling murmur of applause. Old Peggy hastened to her side; but Miss Hamilton waved her back, and, with drooping head and a white face, went on slowly and passed alone into the great house.
27 The messengers were impatient to go their ways among the Old Fields farms, and went hurrying down toward the brook and round the head of the cove, and up the hill again through the oak pasture toward the houses at Pound Hill. They were followed along the footpath by men and boys, and women too, who were eager to see how the people there, old Widow Ricker especially, would take the news of a son's captivity or death. The very torch of war seemed to flame along the footpath, on that spring afternoon.
28 The makers of the linen sheets might have been the sewers of a shroud, as they came ruefully back to their places by the spinning-room door, and let the salt tears down fall upon their unwilling seams. Poor Billy Lord and Humphrey Hodgdon were old friends, and Corporal Ricker was a handsome man, and the gallant leader of many a corn-husking. The clack of Peggy's shuttle sounded like the ticking clock of Fate.
29 "My God! my God!" said the old woman who had driven the weeping maids so heartlessly to their work again. The slow tears of age were blinding her own eyes; she could not see to weave, and must fain yield herself to idleness. Those poor boys gone, and Madam's son a prisoner, or worse, in England! She looked at the house on the other side of the river, dark and sombre against the bright sky. "I'll go and send Miss Mary over; she should be there now. I'll go myself over to Susan."
30 "Fold up your stents; for me, I can weave no more," she said sorrowfully. "'T is like the day of a funeral." And the maids, still weeping, put their linen by, and stood the two flax wheels in their places, back against the wall.
1 That evening, in Hamilton House, Mary felt like a creature caged against its will; she was full of fears for others and reproaches for herself, and went restlessly from window to window and from room to room. There was no doubt that a great crisis had come. The May sun set among heavy clouds, and the large rooms grew dim and chilly. The house was silent, but on the river shores there were groups of men and boys gathering, and now and then strange figures appeared, as if the news had brought them hastily from a distance. Peggy had gone early across the river, and now returned late from her friendly errand, dressed in a prim bonnet and cloak that were made for Sunday wear, and gave her the look of a dignitary in humble disguise, so used to command was she, and so equipped by nature for the rule of others.
2 Peggy found her young mistress white and wan in the northwest parlor, and knew that she had been anxiously watching Madam Wallingford's house. She turned as the old housekeeper came in, and listened with patience as, with rare tact, this good creature avoided the immediate subject of their thoughts, and at first proceeded to blame the maids for running out and leaving the doors flying, when she had bidden them mind the house.
3 "The twilight lasts very late to-night, yet you have been long away," said Mary, when she had finished.
4 "'T is a new-moon night, and all the sky is lit," exclaimed Peggy seriously. "'T will soon be dark enough." Then she came close to Mary, and began to whisper what she really had to say.
5 "'T is the only thing to do, as you told me before I went. Cæsar abased himself to row me over, and took time enough about it, I vowed him. I thought once he'd fotched himself to the door of an apoplexy, he puffed an' blowed so hard; but I quick found out what was in his piecemeal mind, an' then I heared folks talking on t' other bank. The great fightin' folks that stayed at home from the war is all ablaze against Mr. Roger; they say they won't have no such a Tory hive in the neighborhood no longer! 'Poor Madam! poor Madam!' says I in my mind, and I wrung my hands a-hearin' of it. Cæsar felt so bad when he was tellin' of me, the tears was a-runnin' down his foolish ol' black face. He's got proper feelings, if he is so consequential. Likes to strut better 'n to work, I tell 'em, but he's got proper feelin's; I shan't never doubt that no more," asserted Peggy, with emphatic approval.
6 "Yes," assented Mary impatiently, "Cæsar is a good man, but he is only one. What shall we do now?" Her voice was full of quivering appeal; she had been very long alone with her distressful thoughts.
7 Peggy's cheeks looked pink as a girl's in her deep bonnet, and her old eyes glittered with excitement.
8 "You must go straight away and fetch Madam here," she said. "I'd brought her back with me if it had been seemly; but when I so advised, Susan'd hear none o' me, 'count o' fearin' to alarm her lady. 'Keep her safe an' mistaken for one hour, will ye, so 's to scare her life out later on!' says I; but Susan was never one to see things their proper size. If they know Madam's fled, 't will be all the better. I want to feel she's safe here, myself; they won't damage the colonel's house, for his sake or your'n neither; they'd know better than to come botherin' round my doors. I'll put on my big caldron and get some water het, and treat 'em same fashion 's they did in old Indian times!" cried Peggy, in a fury. "I did hear some men say they believed she'd gone to Porchmouth a'ready; and when they axed me if 't was true, I nodded and let 'em think so."
9 Mary listened silently; this excited talk made her know the truth of some fast-gathering danger. She herself had a part to play now.
10 "I shall go at once," she insisted. "Will you bespeak a boat?"
11 "Everything's all ready, darlin'," said the good soul affectionately, as if she wished to further some girlish pleasure. "Yes, I've done all I could out o' door. The best boat's out an' layin' aside the gre't warehouse. Cæsar's stopped down there to mind it, though he begun to fuss about his supper; and there's all our own men ready to row ye over. I told 'em you was promised to the Miss Lords at the Upper Landing for a card party; I've let on to no uneasiness. You'll consider well your part; for me there's enough to do, -- the best chamber warmed aright for Madam, for one thing; an' Phebe's up there now, gettin' over a good smart scoldin' I give her. I'll make a nice gruel with raisins an' a taste o' brandy, or a glass o' port juice, an' have 'em ready; 't will keep poor Madam from a chill. You'll both need comfort ere you sleep," she muttered to herself.
12 "I wonder if she will consent to come? She is a very brave woman," said Mary doubtfully.
13 "Darlin', listen to me: she must come," replied Peggy, "an' you must tell her so. You do your part, an' I'll be waitin' here till you get back."
14 The large boat which was Hamilton's river coach and four in peaceful times lay waiting in the shadow of the warehouse to do its errand. The four rowers were in their places: Peggy may have had a sage desire to keep them out of mischief. They were not a vigorous crew, by reason of age; else they would have been, like other good men, with the army. With her usual sense of propriety and effect, Peggy had ordered out the best red cushions and tasseled draperies for the seats. In summer, the best boat spread a fine red and green canopy when it carried the master and mistress down to Portsmouth on the ebb tide. The old boatmen had mounted their livery, such was Peggy's insistence and unaccountable desire for display. A plainer craft, rowed by a single pair of oars, was enough for any errand at nightfall, and the old fellows grumbled and shivered ostentatiously in the spring dampness.
15 Old Cæsar handed Miss Hamilton into her boat with all the more deference. She was wrapped in a cloak of crimson damask, with a hood to it, which her brother loved to see her wear in their gayer days. She took her place silently in the stern, and sat erect there; the men stole a glance at her now and then, and tugged willingly enough at their oars. There were many persons watching them as they went up the stream.
16 "'T will be a hard pinch to land ye proper at the upper wharves," said the head boatman. "The tide's far out, miss."
17 "I go to Madam Wallingford's," said Mary; and in the dusk she saw them cast sidewise glances at each other, while their oars lost stroke and fouled. They had thought it well that there should be a card party, and their young mistress out of sight and hearing, if the threats meant anything and there should be trouble that night alongshore. Miss Hamilton said nothing further, -- she was usually most friendly in her speech with these old servants; but she thanked them in a gentle tone as she landed, and bade them be ready at any moment for her return. They looked at her with wonder, and swore under their breaths for mere astonishment, as she disappeared from their sight with hurrying steps, along the winding way that led up to the large house on the hill.
17A As Mary passed the old boathouse, and again as she came near the storehouses just beyond, she could see shadowy moving figures like ghosts, that were gone again in an instant out of sight, crouching to the ground or dodging behind the buildings as they saw her pass. Once she heard a voice close under the bank below the road; but it ceased suddenly, as if some one had given warning. Every dark corner was a hiding place, but the girl felt no fear now that there was something to be done.
17B There was no light in the lower story of the great house, but in Madam Wallingford's chamber the firelight was shining, and by turns it darkened and brightened the windows. For the first time Mary felt weak at heart, but there was that within her which could drive out all fear or sense of danger. As she stood on the broad doorsteps, waiting and looking riverward, she smiled to see that Peggy had lighted their own house as if for some high festival. It had a look of cheerfulness and security there beyond the elms; she gave a sigh of relief that was like a first acknowledgment of fear. She did not remember that one person might have come safely from the boat, where two could not go back.
18 Again she struck the heavy knocker, and this time heard Rodney's anxious voice within, whispering to ask whether she were friend or foe before he timidly unbarred the door.
19 "They tell me there is some danger of a mob, my child." Madam Wallingford spoke calmly, as if this were some ordinary news. Mary had found her sitting by the fire, and kissed her cheek without speaking. The room was so quiet, and its lady looked so frail and patient, unconscious that danger hemmed them in on every side.
20 "I fear that this house may be burnt and robbed, like the Salem houses," she said. "Poor Rodney and the women are afraid, too. I saw that they were in a great fright, and forced the truth from them. I think my troubles have robbed me of all my strength. I do not know what I must do. I feel very old, Mary, and my strength fails me," she faltered. "I need my son -- I have had dreadful news" --
21 "I have come to take you home with me to-night, dear," answered Mary. "Come, I shall wrap you in my warm red cloak; the night is chilly. These are Peggy's orders, and we must follow them. She would not have you frighted ever so little, if there is any danger. She is making you some hot drink this very minute, and I have brought our steady boat with the four old rowers. They are waiting for us below."
22 "Good Peggy!" exclaimed Madam Wallingford, who saw the bright smile that lighted Mary's face, and was rallying all her force. "She was here herself this afternoon; I wish that I had seen her. We shall not obey her this once; you see that I cannot go. If there is an attack, I must be here to meet it, -- the men may hear to reason; if there is no real danger, I am safe to stay," and she cast a fond look about the room.
23 Mary saw it with compassion; at the same moment she heard cries outside, as if some fresh recruits were welcomed to the gathering fray.
24 "My safety and the safety of our house lies in my staying here," said the lady, sitting straight in her great chair. "I am not easily made afraid; it is only that my strength failed me at the first. If God sends ruin and death this night, I can but meet it. I shall not go away. You were a dear child to come; you must make my kind excuses to Peggy. Go, now, my dear, and Rodney shall put you in your boat." There was a proud look on Madam Wallingford's face as she spoke.
25 "I shall stay with you," answered Mary. "Alas, I think it is too late for either of us to go," she added, as her quick ears were aware of strange noises without the house. There was a sharp rapping sound of stones striking the walls, and a pane of glass fell shattering into the room.
26 "In Salem they took an old man from his dying bed, and destroyed his habitation. He had been a judge and a good citizen. If these be our own neighbors who think me dangerous, I must follow their bidding; if they be strangers, we must be in danger. I wish that you had not come, Mary!"
27 Mary was already at the window; the shutters were pushed back, and the sweet night air blew through the broken pane upon her face. The heavy sliding shutter caught as she tried to stir it, and she saw that the moving crowd had come close about the house. At the sight of her figure they gave an angry roar; there were musket shots and a great racket of noise. "Come out, come out," they cried, "and take the oath!"
28 "So the mob has come already," said Madam Wallingford calmly, and rose from her seat. "Then I must go down. Is it a great company?"
29 "I could not have believed so many men were left," answered Mary bitterly. "They should be fighting other battles!" she protested, trembling with sudden rage. "Where go you, Madam?" for Madam Wallingford was hurrying from the room. As she threw open the door, all the frightened people of the household were huddled close outside; they fell upon their knees about her and burst into loud lamentations. They pressed as near their mistress as they could; it was old Rodney and Susan who had kept the others from bursting into the room.
30 "Silence among ye!" said Madam Wallingford. "I shall do what I can, my poor people. I am going down to speak to these foolish men."
31 "They have come to rob us and murder us!" wailed the women.
32 "Rodney, you will go before me and unbar the door!" commanded the mistress. "Susan shall stay here. Quiet this childishness! I would not have such people as these think that we lack courage."
33 She went down the wide staircase as if she were a queen, and Mary her maid of honor. Rodney was for hanging back from those who pounded to demand entrance, and needed an angry gesture before he took the great bar down and flung the door wide open. Then Madam Wallingford stepped forward as if to greet her guests with dignity, and Mary was only a step behind. There was a bonfire lit before the house, and all the portraits along the paneled hall seemed to come alive in the blazing light that shone in, and to stand behind the two women like a guard.
34 "What do you wish to say to me?" asked Madam Wallingford.
35 "The oath! the oath!" they cried, "or get you hence!" and there was a shaking of firebrands, and the heads pressed closer about the door.
36 "You are Sons of Liberty, and yet you forbid liberty to others," said the old gentlewoman, in her clear voice. "I have wronged none of you." For very sight of her age and bravery, and because she was so great a lady, they fell silent; and then a heavy stone, thrown from the edge of the crowd, struck the lintel of the door, beside her.
37 "Is there no man among you whom you will choose to speak fairly with me, to tell your errand and whence you come?"
38 "We are some of us from Christian Shore, and some are Dover men, and some of us are men of your own town," answered a pale, elderly man, with the face of a fanatic; he had been a preacher of wild doctrines in the countryside, and was ever a disturber of peace. "We want no Royalists among us, we want no abettors of George the Third; there's a bill now to proscribe ye and stop your luxury and pride. We want no traitors and spies, neither, to betray the cause of the oppressed. You and your son have played a deep game; he has betrayed our cause, and the penalty must fall."
39 There was a shout of approval; the mob was only too ready to pour into the house.
40 "My son has put his name to your oath, and you know that he has not broken it, if some of you are indeed men of our own town," said the mother proudly, and they all heard her speak. "I can promise that this is true. Cannot you wait to hear the truth about him, or is it only to rob us and make a night of revel you have come? Do not pay sin with sin, if you must hold those to be sinners who are Loyalists like me!"
41 "Burn the old nest!" cried an impatient voice. "She may be hiding some King's men, -- who knows? Stop her prating, and let's to business; we are done with their royalties," and the crowd pushed hard. They forced the two women and old Rodney back into the hall; and at the sound of heavy treading, all the women on the stair above fell to shrieking.
42 Mary put herself before Madam Wallingford for safety's sake, and held up her hand. "Stop, stop!" she begged them. "Let me first take my friend away. I am Mary Hamilton, and you all know my brother. I ask you in his name to let us go in peace."
43 Her sorrowful face and her beauty for one instant held some of them irresolute, but from the back of the crowd a great pressure urged the rest forward. There was a little hush, and one man cried, "Yes, let them go!" but the wild and lawless, who were for crowding in, would not have it so. It was a terrible moment, like the sight of coming Death. There was a crash; the women were overpowered and flung back against the wall.
44 Suddenly there was a new confusion, a heavier din, and some unexpected obstacle to this onset; all at once a loud, familiar voice went to Mary's heart. She was crouching with her arms close about her old friend, to shield her from bruises and rough handling as the men pushed by; in the same moment there were loud outcries of alarm without. What happened next in the hall seemed like the hand of Heaven upon their enemies. Old Major Tilly Haggens was there in the midst, with others behind him, dealing stout blows among those who would sack the house. Outside on their horses were Judge Chadbourne and General Goodwin, who had ridden straight into the mob, and with them a little troop of such authorities as could be gathered, constables and tithing men; and old Elder Shackley in his scarlet cloak, Parson Pike and Mr. Rollins, his chief parishioner, were all there, too. They rode among the brawling men as if they were but bushes, and turned their good horses before the house. The crowd quick lost its solid look; it now had to confront those who were not defenseless.
45 "We are Patriots and Sons of Liberty, all of us who are here!" shouted the minister, in a fine, clear voice. "We are none of us, old or young, for the King, but we will not see a Christian gentlewoman and kind neighbor made to suffer in such wise as this. Nor shall you do vengeance upon her son until there is final proof of his guilt."
46 "We can beat these old parsons!" shouted an angry voice. "To it, lads! We are three to their one!" But the elderly men on horseback held their own; most of them were taught in the old school of fighting, and had their ancient swords well in hand, ready for use with all manly courage. Major Tilly Haggens still fought as a foot soldier in the hall; his famous iron fist was doing work worthy of those younger days when he was called the best boxer and wrestler in the plantations. He came forth now, sweeping the most persistent before him out of the house.
47 "I'll learn ye to strike a poor lame old man like me! Ye are no honest Patriots, but a pack of thieves and blackguards! The worst pest of these colonies!" he cried, with sound blows to right and left for emphasis. He laid out one foe after another on the soft grass as on a bed, until there was no one left to vanquish, and his own scant breath had nearly left his body. The trampling horses had helped their riders' work, and were now for neighing and rearing and taking to their heels. The town constable was bawling his official threats, as he held one of the weaker assailants by the collar and pounded the poor repentant creature's back. It had suddenly turned to a scene of plain comedy, and the mob was nothing but a rabble of men and boys, all running for shelter, such as could still run, and disappearing down toward the river shore.
48 The old judge got stiffly from his tall Narragansett pacer, and came into the hall.
49 "Madam Wallingford's friends stop here to-night," he told the old servant, who appeared from some dark corner. Poor Rodney was changed to such an ashen color that he looked very strange, and as if he had rubbed phosphorus to his frightened eyes. "You may tell your mistress and Miss Hamilton that there is no more danger for the present," added the judge. "I shall set a watch about the house till daylight."
50 Major Haggens was panting for breath, and leaned his great weight heavily against the wainscoting. "I am near an apoplexy," he groaned faintly. "Rodney, I hope I killed some of those divils! You may bring me a little water, and qualify it with some of Madam's French brandy of the paler sort. Stay; you must help me get to the dining parlor myself, and I'll consider the spirit-case. Too violent a portion would be my death; 't would make a poor angel of me, Rodney!"
51 Early in the morning, Judge Chadbourne and his neighbor Squire Hill, a wise and prudent man, went out to take the morning air before the house. They were presently summoned by Madam Wallingford, and spoke with her in her chamber. The broken glass of the window still glistened on the floor; even at sunrise the day was so mild that there was no chill, but the guests were struck by something desolate in the room, even before they caught sight of their lady's face.
52 "I must go away, my good friends," she declared quietly, after she had thanked them for their service. "I must not put my friends in peril," she added, "but I am sure of your kind advice in my sad situation."
53 "We wait upon you to say that it would be best, Madam," said the judge plainly. "I hear that New Hampshire as well as Massachusetts has an act of great severity in consideration against the presence or return of Loyalists, and I fear that you would run too much risk by staying here. If you should be proscribed and your estates confiscated, as I fear may be done in any case, you are putting your son's welfare in peril as well as your own. If he still be living now, though misfortunes have overtaken him, and he has kept faith, as we who know him must still believe, these estates which you hold for him in trust are not in danger; if the facts are otherwise" -- and the old justice looked at her, but could not find it in his heart to go on.
54 Madam Wallingford sat pondering, with her eyes fixed upon his face, and was for some time lost in the gravest thoughts.
55 "What is this oath?" she asked at last, and her cheeks whitened as she put the question.
56 The judge turned to Mr. Hill, and, without speaking, that gentleman took a folded paper from among some documents which he wore in his pocket, and rose to hand it to the lady.
57 "Will you read it to me?" she asked again; and he read the familiar oath of allegiance in a steady voice, and not without approval in his tone: --
58 "I do acknowledge the United States of America to be free, independent and sovereign states, and declare that the people thereof owe no allegiance or obedience to George the Third, King of Great Britain; and I renounce, refuse and abjure any allegiance or obedience to him; and I do swear that I will, to the utmost of my power, support, maintain and defend the said United States against the Said King George the Third, his heirs and successors, and his or their abettors, assistants and adherents, and will serve the said United States in the office . . . which I now hold, with fidelity, according to the best of my skill and understanding."
59 As he finished he looked at the listener for assent, as was his habit, and Judge Chadbourne half rose, in his eagerness; everything was so simple and so easy if she would take the oath. She was but a woman, -- the oath was made for men; but she was a great landholder, and all the country looked to her. She was the almoner of her own wealth and her husband's, and 't were better if she stood here in her lot and place.
60 "I cannot sign this," she said abruptly. "Is that the oath that Roger, my son, has taken?"
61 "The same, Madam," answered Mr. Hill, with a disappointed look upon his face, and there was silence in the room.
62 "I must make me ready to go," said Madam Wallingford at last, and the tears stood deep in her eyes. "But if my son gave his word, he will keep his word. I shall leave my trust and all his fortunes in your hands, and you may choose some worthy gentleman from this side of the river to stand with you. The papers must be drawn in Portsmouth. I shall send a rider down at once with a message, and by night I shall be ready to go myself to town. I must ask if you and your colleagues will meet me there at my house. . . . You must both carry my kind farewells to my Barvick friends. As for me," -- and her voice broke for the first time, -- "I am but a poor remainder of the past that cannot stand against a mighty current of change. I knew last night that it would come to this. I am an old woman to be turned out of my home, and yet I tell you the truth, that I go gladly, since the only thing I can hope for now is to find my son. You see I am grown frail and old, but there is something in my heart that makes me hope. . . . I have no trace of my son, but he was left near to death, and must now be among enemies by reason of having been upon the ship. No, no, I shall not sign your oath; take it away with you, good friends!" she cried bitterly. Then she put out her weak hands to them, and a pathetic, broken look came upon her face.
63 "'T was most brotherly, what you did for me last night, dear friends. You must thank the other gentlemen who were with you. I ask your affectionate remembrance in the sad days that come; you shall never fail of my prayers."
64 And so they left her standing in the early sunshine of her chamber, and went away sorrowful.
65 An hour later Mary Hamilton came in, bright and young. She was dressed and ready to go home, and came to stand by her old friend, who was already at her business, with many papers spread about.
66 "Mary, my child," said Madam Wallingford, taking her hand and trembling a little, "I am going away. There is new trouble, and I have no choice. You must stay with me this last day and help me; I have no one to look to but you."
67 "But you can look to me, dear lady." Mary spoke cheerfully, not understanding to the full, yet being sure that she should fail in no service. There was a noble pride of courage in her heart, a gratitude because they were both safe and well, and the spring sun shining, after such a night. God gives nothing better than the power to serve those whom we love; the bitterest pain is to be useless, to know that we fail to carry to their lives what their dear presence brings to our own. Mary laid her hand on her friend's shoulder. "Can I write for you just now?" she asked.
68 "I am going to England," explained Madam Wallingford quietly. "Judge Chadbourne and Mr. Hill both told me that I must go away. I shall speak only of Halifax to my household, but my heart is full of the thought of England, where I must find my poor son. I should die of even a month's waiting and uncertainty; it seems a lifetime since the news came yesterday. I must go to find Roger!"
69 All the bright, determined eagerness forsook Mary Hamilton's face. It was not that the thought of exile was new or strange, but this poor wistful figure before her, with its frayed thread of vitality and thin shoulders bent down as if with a weight of sorrow, seemed to forbid even the hard risks of seafaring. The girl gave a cry of protest, as if she felt the sharp pain of a sudden blow.
70 "I have always been well enough on the sea. I do not dread the voyage so much. I am a good sailor," insisted Madam Wallingford, with a smile, as if she must comfort a weaker heart than her own. "My plans are easily made, as it happens; one of my own vessels was about to sail for West Indian ports. It is thought a useless venture by many, but the captain is an impatient soul, and an excellent seaman. He shall take us to Halifax, Susan and me. I thought at first to go alone; but Susan has been long with me, and can be of great use when we are once ashore. She is in sad estate on the ocean, poor creature, and when we went to England last I thought never to distress her so much again."
71 There was a shining light on the girl's face as she listened.
72 "I shall go with you, not Susan," she said. "Even with her it would be like letting you go alone. I am strong, and a good sailor. We must leave her here to take care of your house, as I shall leave Peggy."
73 Madam Wallingford looked at Mary Hamilton with deep love, but she lifted her hand forbiddingly.
74 "No, no, dear child," she whispered, "I shall not think of it."
75 "There may be better news," said Mary hopefully.
76 "There will be no news, and I grudge every hour that is wasted," said the mother, with strange fretfulness. "I have friends in England, as you know. If I once reach an English port, the way will be easy. When prison doors shut they do not open of themselves, in these days, but I have some friends in mind who would have power to help me. I shall take passage from Halifax for Bristol, if I can; if no better vessel offers, I shall push on in the Golden Dolphin rather than court delay."
77 Mary stood smiling into her face.
78 "No, no, my dear," said Madam Wallingford again, and drew the girl closer. "I cannot let you think of such a thing. 'Tis your young heart that speaks, and not your wise reflection. For your brother's sake I could not let you go, still less for your own; 't would make you seem a traitor to your cause. You must stand in your own place."
79 "My brother is away with his troop. He begged me to leave everything here, and go farther up the country. The burning of Falmouth made him uneasy, and ever since he does not like my staying alone in our house," insisted Mary.
80 "There is knowledge enough of the riches of this river, among seamen of the English ports," acknowledged Madam Wallingford. "In Portsmouth there are many friends of England who will not be molested, though all our leaders are gone. Still I know that an attack upon our region has long been feared," she ended wistfully.
81 "I told my brother that I should not leave home until there was really such danger; we should always have warning if the enemy came on the coast. If they burnt our house or plundered it, then I should go farther up the country. I told Jack," continued Mary, with flushing cheeks, "that I did not mean to leave you; and he knew I meant it, but he was impatient, too. 'I have well-grown timber that will build a dozen houses,' he answered me, and was rough-spoken as to the house, much as he loves it, -- 'but I shall not have one moment's peace while I think you are here alone. Yes, you must always look to Madam Wallingford,' he said more than once."
82 "Go now, my dear child; send me Susan, who is no doubt dallying in the kitchen!" commanded the mistress abruptly. "I must not lose a minute of this day. You must do as your brother bade you; but as for doing the thing which would vex him above everything else, -- I cannot listen to more words. I see that you are for going home this morning; can you soon return to me, when you have ordered your affairs? You can help me in many small matters, and we shall be together to the last. I could not take you with me, darling," she said affectionately. "'T was my love for you -- no, I ought to say 't was my own poor selfishness -- that tempted my heart for the moment. Now we must think of it no more, either of us. You have no fellowship with those to whom I go; you are no Loyalist," and she even laughed as she spoke. "God bless you for such dear kindness, Mary. I think I love you far too much to let you go with me."
83 Mary's face was turned away, and she made no answer; then she left her friend's side, wondering at the firm decision and strong authority which had returned in this time of sorrow and danger. It frightened her, this flaring up of what had seemed such a failing light of life. It was perhaps wasting to no purpose the little strength that remained.
84 She stood at the window to look down the river, and saw the trampled ground below; it seemed as if last night's peril were but the peril of a dream. The fruit trees were coming into bloom: a young cherry tree, not far away, was white like a little bride, and the pear trees were ready to follow; their buds were big, and the white petals showing. It was high water; the tide had just turned toward the ebb, and there were boats going down the river to Portsmouth, in the usual fashion, to return with the flood. There was a large gundelow among them, with its tall lateen sail curved to the morning breeze. Of late the river had sometimes looked forsaken, so many men were gone to war, and this year the fields would again be half tilled at best, by boys and women. To country eyes, there was a piteous lack of the pleasant hopefulness of new-ploughed land on the river farms.
85 "There are many boats going down to-day," reported Mary, in her usual tone; "they will be for telling the news of last night at the wharves in Portsmouth. There will be a fine, busy crowd on the Parade."
86 Then she sighed heavily; she was in the valley of decision; she felt as if she were near to tearing herself from this dear landscape and from home, -- that she was on the brink of a great change. She could not but shrink from such a change and loss.
87 She returned from her outlook to Madam Wallingford's side.
88 "I must not interrupt your business. I will not press you, either, against your will. I shall soon come back, and then you will let me help you and stay with you, as you said. When will your brig be ready?"
89 "She is ready to sail now, and only waits her clearing papers; the captain was here yesterday morning. She is the Golden Dolphin, as I have already told you, and has often lain here at our river wharves; a very good, clean vessel, with two lodgings for passengers. I have sent word that I shall come on board to-morrow; she waits in the stream by Badger's Island."
90 "And you must go from here" --
91 "To-night. I have already ordered my provision for the voyage. Rodney went down on the gundelow before you were awake, and he will know very well what to do; this afternoon I shall send down many other things by boat."
92 "I was awake," said Mary softly, "but I hoped that you were resting" --
93 "If the seas are calm, as may happen, I shall not go to Halifax," confessed the other; "I shall push on for Bristol. Our cousin Davis is there, and the Russells, and many other friends. The brig is timber-laden; if we should be captured" --
94 "By which side?" laughed Mary, and a sad gleam of answering humor flitted over Madam Wallingford's face.
95 "Oh, we forget that my poor child may be dead already!" she cried, with sharp agony, next moment. "I think and think of his hurting wounds. No pity will be shown a man whom they take to be a spy!" and she was shaken by a most piteous outburst of tears.
96 Then Mary, as if the heart in her own young breast were made of love alone, tried to comfort Madam Wallingford. It was neither the first time nor the last.
1 The bright day had clouded over, and come to a wet and windy spring night. It was past eight o'clock; the darkness had early fallen. There was a sense of comfort in a dry roof and warm shelter, as if it were winter weather, and Master Sullivan and old Margery had drawn close to their warm fireplace. The master was in a gay mood and talkative, and his wife was at her usual business of spinning, stepping to and fro at a large whirring wheel. To spin soft wool was a better trade for evening than the clacking insistence of the little wheel with its more demanding flax. Margery was in her best mood, and made a most receptive and admiring audience.
2 "Well, may God keep us!" she exclaimed at the end of the story. "'T was as big a row as when the galleries fell in Smock Alley theatre. I often heard of that from my poor father."
3 Master Sullivan was pleased by his success; Margery was not always so easy to amuse, but he was in no mind for a conflict. Something had made his heart ache that day, and now her love and approval easily rescued him from his own thought; so he went on, as if his fortunes depended upon Margery's favor and frankly expressed amusement:
4 "One night there was a long-legged apprintice boy to a French upholsterer: this was in London, and I a lad myself stolen over there from Paris with a message for Charles Ratcliffe. He had great leanings toward the stage, this poor boy, and for the pride of his heart got the chance to play the ghost in Hamlet at Covent Garden. Well, 't was then indeed you might see him at the heighth of life and paradin' in his pasteboard armor. 'Mark me!' says he, with a voice as if you'd thump the sides of a cask. 'I'll mark you!' cries his master from the pit, and he le'pt on the stage and was after the boy to kill him; and all the lads were there le'pt after him to take his part; and they held off the master, and set the ghost in his place again, the poor fellow; and they said he did his part fine, and creeped every skin that was there. He'd a great night; never mind the beating that fell to him afterward!"
5 The delighted listener shook with silent laughter.
6 "'T was like the time poor Denny Delane was in Dublin. I was there but the one winter myself," continued the master. "He came of a fine family, but got stage-struck, and left Trinity College behind him like a bird's nest. Every woman in Dublin, old and young, was crazy after him. There were plays bespoke, and the fashion there every night, all sparked with diamonds, and every officer in his fine uniform. There was great dressing with the men as you'd never see them now: my Lord Howth got a fancy he'd dress like a coachman, wig and all; and Lord Trimlestown was always in scarlet when he went abroad, and my Lord Gormanstown in blue. Oh, but they were the pictures coming in their coaches! You wouldn't see any officer out of his uniform, or a doctor wanting his lace ruffles! 'T was my foolish young self borrowed all the lace from my poor mother that she'd lend me, and I but a boy; and then I'd go help myself out of her boxes, when she'd gone to mass. She'd a great deal of beautiful lace, and knew every thread of it by heart. I've a little piece yet that was sewed under a waistcoat. Go get it now, and we'll look at it; 't is laid safe in that second book from the end of the shelf. You may give it to the little lady, when I'm gone, for a remembrance; 't is the only -- ah, well; I've nothing else in the world but my own poor self that was ever belonging to my dear mother!"
7 The old master's voice grew very sad, and all his gayety was gone.
8 "'Deed, then, Miss Mary Hamilton'll get none of it, and you having a daughter of your own!" scolded Margery, instantly grown as fierce as he was sad. Sometimes the only way to cure the master of his dark sorrows was to make him soothe her own anger. But this night he did not laugh at her, though she quarreled with fine determination.
9 "Oh me!" groaned the master. "Oh me, the fool I was!" and he struck his knee with a hopeless hand, as he sat before the fire.
10 "God be good to us!" mourned old Margery, "and I a lone child sent to a strange country without a friend to look to me, and yourself taking notice of me on the ship; 't was the King I thought you were, and you'd rob me now of all that. Well, I was no fit wife for a great gentleman; I always said it, too. I loved you as I don't know how to love my God, but I must ask for nothing!"
11 The evening's pleasure was broken; the master could bear anything better than her poor whimpering voice.
12 "There, don't look at a poor man as if he were the front of a cathedral," he begged her, trying again to be merry. But at this moment they were both startled into silence; they both heard the heavy tread of horses before the house.
13 "Come in, come in, whoever you are!" shouted Master Sullivan, as he threw open the outer door. "Are ye lost on the road, that ye seek light and lodging here?"
14 The horses would not stand; the night was dark as a dungeon; the heavy rain blew in the old man's face. His heart beat fast at the sound of a woman's voice.
15 "By great Jupiter, and all the gods! what has brought you here, Mary Hamilton, my dear child?" he cried. "Is there some attack upon the coast? 'T is the hand of war or death has struck you!"
16 The firelight shone upon Mary's face as she entered, but the wind and rain had left no color there; it was a wan face, that masked some high resolve, and forbade either comment or contradiction. She took the chair to which the master led her, and drew a long breath, as if to assure herself of some steadiness of speech.
17 A moment later, her faithful friend, Mr. John Lord, opened the door softly, and came in also. His eyes looked troubled, but he said nothing as he stood a little way behind the others in the low room; the rain dropped heavily from his long coat to the floor. The Sullivans stood at either side the fireplace watching the pale lady who was their guest. John Sullivan himself it was who unclasped her wet riding cloak and threw it back upon the chair; within she wore a pretty gown of soft crimson silk with a golden thread in it, that had come home in one of her brother's ships from Holland. The rain had stained the breast of it where the riding cloak had blown apart; the strange living dyes of the East were brightened by the wet. The two old people started back, as if they believed that she had sought them because she was hurt to death. She lifted her hand forbiddingly; her face grew like a child's that was striving against tears.
18 "Dear friends, it is not so bad as you think; it is because I was so full of hope that I must come to you," she said to the anxious, kind old faces. There was such a sweetness in the girl's voice, and her beautiful dress was so familiar, so belonging to the old quiet times and happy hospitalities, that the two men felt a sharp pain of pity, and because there was nothing else to do they came nearer to her side. Master Sullivan looked questioningly at young Mr. Lord, but old Margery found instinctive relief in a low, droning sort of moan, which sometimes lifted into that Irish keening which is the voice of fear and sorrow. She was piling all her evening fagots at once upon the fire.
19 "Speak now!" said the master. "If my old heart knows the worst, it can begin to hope the best. What is it that could not wait for the morning of such a night as this?"
20 "There is bad news," replied Mary; "there are letters come from the Ranger. They have attacked a large seaport town on the coast of England, and spread great alarm, though their chief projects were balked. They have fought with an English frigate in the Irish Sea, and taken her captive with some rich prizes. Roger Wallingford was left ashore in Whitehaven. They believe on the ship that he tried to betray his companions and warned the town; but he was badly wounded ashore, and thrown into prison. There is a great rising of the Patriots against Madam Wallingford, who is warned to leave the country. They threatened her very life last night." Mary was standing now, and the bright firelight, sprung afresh, made her look like a red flame. The master made a strange outcry, like a call for hidden help, and looked hastily at the walls of the room about him, as if he sought some old familiar weapons.
21 "I am going away with her for a time," said Mary, speaking now without any strain or quiver in her voice. "My brother does not need me, since he is with the army, and Mr. Lord knows our business here, if any be left. Peggy can stand bravely for me in the house. Dear master!" and she came close to the old man's side; her young slender body was almost as tall as his; she put her arm about his neck and drew down his head so that he must look into her upturned face. "Dear Master," she said, in a low voice, "you told me once that you still had friends in England, if the worst should come to Roger, and I think now that the worst has come."
22 "You may bring the horses at once," said the master, turning quickly to Mr. Lord. "Stay, Margery; you must light your old lantern and give it him; and I would wrap you and hold it for him to rub them off with a wisp of thatch, and let them have a mouthful of corn to satisfy their minds."
23 Mary felt for that one moment as if Hope were like an old frail friend with eyes of living fire; she had known no other father than the master, when all was said. He put her hand gently away from her unconscious clinging hold of his shoulder, and, with a woman's care, took the wet cloak, as he placed her again in his own chair, and spread its dry inner folds to the fire, so that they might warm a little.
24 Then, without speaking, he went to the shelf of books, and took from one of them a thin packet of papers.
25 "I am an old man," he said gently. "I have been fearful of all this, and I made ready these things, since it might some day please God to let me die. I heard of the fray last night. You will find letters here that will serve you. Come, warm you now by the fire, and put them in the bosom of your gown. I think you will find them something worth; but if you keep their words in your heart or near it, 't will be far the best. And burn them quick if there is need; but you shall read them first, and send their messages by word of mouth, if need be. Listen to me now; there are a few things left for me to say."
26 Mary's face was full of a sweet relief; she did not thank him, save with one long look, and put the packet where he had bidden her. She looked into the fire as she listened to his counsels, and suddenly was afraid of tears, the errand being safely done. So she sprang to her feet.
27 "Forgive me, sir, for this new trouble!"
28 She spoke with a different impulse and recognition from any she had known before, and looked brave as a young soldier. This was a friend who knew indeed the world whither she was going.
29 "Why should you not come to me?" asked the master. "'Men were born for the aid and succor of men,'" he added, with a smile. "You have not learned your Rabelais, my little lady."
30 The horses had come up; they trod the ground outside impatiently. She knelt before the old man humbly, and he blessed her, and when she rose she kissed him like a child, and looked long in his face, and he in hers; then she put on her heavy cloak again, and went out into the rainy night.
31 Next day, in Portsmouth, Madam Wallingford, pale and stately, and Susan, resolute enough, but strangely apathetic, put off into the harbor from Langdon's wharf. They were accompanied to the shore by many friends, whose hearts were moved at so piteous a sight. When the mistress and maid were safe on the deck of the Golden Dolphin, Mary Hamilton stood there before them; the beauty of her young face was like some heavenly creature's.
32 "I know that you said last night, when I was for bidding you farewell, that you should see me again. I have been thinking all this morning that you were prevented," whispered Madam Wallingford tenderly. They were long in each other's arms. "I have a few things left to say; it is impossible to remember all proper messages, at such short warning. Let them keep the boat for Miss Hamilton, until the last moment before we sail," she said to the captain.
33 "They are heaving up the anchor now," the captain answered. "I do not like to lose this breeze to get us out of the river."
34 Mary was impatient to speak; she cast a smiling glance at Susan, who wore a timid look, not being used to plots, or to taking instructions from any but her mistress.
35 "Dear friend," cried Mary then, "you must let me have my way! I could not let you go alone. I tried to think as you bade me, but I could not. I am going with you wherever you may go: I think it is my right. You have short time now to give Susan your last charges, as I have given mine to Peggy. I stay with you, and Susan goes ashore. Please God, some short weeks or months may see us sailing home again up the river, with our errand well done!"
36 "I could not stand against them, Madam," and Susan looked more apprehensive than triumphant, though she was grateful to Heaven to be spared a voyage at sea. Her mistress was not one to have her own plans set aside. "I listened well, Madam, to all you said to Rodney and the maids. They are good girls, but they need a head over them. And I could do nothing against Miss Mary; for Peggy, that has a love for great ploys to be going on, and the world turned upside down, has backed her from the first."
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