The Tory Lover -- Contents

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The Tory Lover by Sarah Orne Jewett
Chapter V
THE CHALLENGE

 
    "Thou source of all my bliss and all my woe."
 

     An hour later there was a soft night wind blowing through the garden trees, flavored with the salt scent of the tide and the fragrance of the upland pastures and pine woods. Mary Hamilton came alone to a great arched window of the drawing-room. The lights were bright, the house looked eager for its gayeties, and there was a steady sound of voices at the supper, but she put them all behind her with impatience. She stood hesitating for a moment, and then sat down on the broad window seat to breathe the pleasant air. Betsey Wyat in the north parlor was softly touching the notes of some old country song on the spinet.

     The young mistress of the house leaned her head wearily on her hand as she looked down the garden terraces to the river. She wished the long evening were at an end, but she must somehow manage to go through its perils and further all the difficult gayeties of the hour. She looked back once into the handsome empty room, and turned again toward the quiet garden. Below, on the second terrace, it was dark with shadows; there were some huge plants of box that stood solid and black, while the rosebushes and young peach-trees were but a gray mist of twigs. At the end of the terrace were some thick lilacs with a few leaves still clinging in the mild weather to shelter a man who stood there, watching Mary Hamilton as she watched the shadows and the brightening river.

     There was the sharp crying of a violin from the slaves' dwellings over beyond the house. It was plain to any person of experience that the brief time of rest and informality after the evening feast would soon be over, and that the dancing was about to begin. The call of the fiddle seemed to have been heard not only through the house, but in all its neighborhood. There were voices coming down the hill and a rowboat rounding the point with a merry party. From the rooms above, gay voices helped to break the silence, while the last touches were being given to high-dressed heads and gay-colored evening gowns. But Mary Hamilton did not move until she saw a tall figure step out from among the lilacs into the white moonlight and come quickly along the lower terrace and up the steps toward the window where she was sitting. It was Mr. Roger Wallingford.

     "I must speak with you," said he, forgetting to speak softly in his eagerness. "I waited for a minute to be sure there was nobody with you; I am in no trim to make one of your gay company to-night. Quick, Mary; I must speak to you alone!"

     The girl had started as one does when a face comes suddenly out of the dark. She stood up and pushed away the curtain for a moment and looked behind her, then shrank into a deep alcove at the side, within the arch. She stepped forward next moment, and held the window-sill with one hand as if she feared to let go her hold. The young man bent his head and kissed her tense fingers.

     "I cannot talk with you now. You are sure to be found here; I hoped that you were still in Portsmouth. Go, - it is your only safety to go away!" she protested.

     "What has happened? Oh, come out to me for a moment, Mary," he answered, speaking quietly enough, but with much insistence in his imploring tone. "I must see you to-night; it is my only chance."

     She nodded and warned him back, and tossed aside the curtain, turning again toward the lighted room, where sudden footsteps had startled her.

     There were several guests coming in, a little perplexed, to seek their hostess, but the slight figure of Captain Paul Jones in his brilliant uniform was first at hand. The fair head turned toward him not without eagerness, and the watcher outside saw his lady smile and go readily away. It was hard enough to have patience outside in the moonlight night, until the first country dances could reach their weary end. He stood for a moment full in the light that shone from the window, his heart beating within him in heavy strokes, and then, as if there were no need of prudence, went straight along the terrace to the broad grassy court at the house's front. There was a white balustrade along the farther side, at the steep edge of the bank, and he passed the end of it and went a few steps down. The river shone below under the elms, the tide was just at the beginning of its full flood, there was a short hour at best before the ebb. Roger Wallingford folded his arms, and stood waiting with what plain patience he could gather. The shrill music jarred harshly upon his ear.

     The dancing went on; there were gay girls enough, but little Betsey Wyat, that dear and happy heart, had only solemn old Jack Hamilton to her partner, and pretty Martha Hill was coquetting with the venerable judge. These were also the works of war, and some of the poor lads who had left their ladies, to fight for the rights of the colonies, would never again tread a measure in the great room at Hamilton's. Perhaps Roger Wallingford himself might not take his place at the dancing any more. He walked to and fro with his eyes ever upon the doorway, and two by two the company came in turn to stand there and to look out upon the broad river and the moon. The fiddles had a trivial sound, and the slow night breeze and the heavy monotone of the falls mocked at them, while from far down the river there came a cry of herons disturbed in their early sleep about the fishing weirs, and the mocking laughter of a loon. Nature seemed to be looking on contemptuously at the silly pleasantries of men. Nature was aware of graver things than fiddles and the dance; it seemed that night as if the time for such childish follies had passed forever from the earth.

     There must have been many a moment when Mary Hamilton could have slipped away, and a cold impatience vexed the watcher's heart. At last, looking up toward the bright house, his eyes were held by a light figure that was coming round from the courtyard that lay between the house and its long row of outbuildings. He was quickly up the bank, but the figure had already flitted across the open space a little way beyond.

     "Roger!" he heard her call to him. "Where are you?" and he hurried along the bank to meet her.

     "Let us go farther down," she said sharply; "they may find us if they come straying out between the dances to see the moon;" and she passed him quickly, running down the bank and out beyond the edge of the elm-trees' shadow to the great rock that broke the curving shore. Here she stood and faced him, against the wide background of the river; her dress glimmered strangely white, and he could see the bright paste buckle in one of her dancing-shoes as the moonlight touched her. He came a step nearer, perplexed by such silence and unwonted coldness, but waited for her to speak, though he had begged this moment for his own errand.

     "What do you want, Roger?" she asked impatiently; but the young man could not see that she was pressing both hands against her heart. She was out of breath and excited as she never had been before, but she stood there insistent as he, and held herself remote in dignity from their every-day ease and life-long habit of companionship.

     "Oh, Mary!" said young Roger, his voice breaking with the uncertainty of his sorrow, "have you no kind word for me? I have had a terrible day in Portsmouth, and I came to tell you;" but still she did not speak, and he hung his head.

     "Forgive me, dear," he said, "I do not understand you; but whatever it is, forgive me, so we may be friends again."

     "I forgive you," said the girl. "How is it with your own conscience; can you find it so easy to forgive yourself?"

     "I am ashamed of nothing," said Wallingford, and he lifted his handsome head proudly and gazed at her in wonder. "But tell me my fault, and I shall do my best to mend. Perhaps a man in such love and trouble as I" -

     "You shall not speak to me of love," said Mary Hamilton, drawing back; then she came nearer with a reckless step, as if to show him how little she thought of his presence. "You are bringing sorrow and danger to those who should count upon your manliness. In another hour your mother's house may be in flames. Do not speak to me of your poor scruples any more; and as for love" -

     "But it is all I have to say!" pleaded the young man. "It is all my life and thought! I do not know what you mean by these wild tales of danger. I am not going to be driven away from my rights; I must stand my own ground."

     "Give me some proof that you are your county's friend and not her foe. I am tired of the old arguments! I am the last to have you cry upon patriotism because you are afraid. I cannot tell you all I know, but, indeed, there is danger; I beg you to declare yourself now; this very night! Oh, Roger, it is the only way!" and Mary could speak no more. She was trembling with fright and passion; something shook her so that she could hardly give sound to her voice; all her usual steadiness was gone.

     "My love has come to be the whole of life," said Roger Wallingford slowly. "I am here to show you how much I love you, though you think that I have been putting you to shame. All day I have been closeted with Mr. Langdon and his officers in Portsmouth. I have told them the truth, that my heart and my principles were all against this war, and I would not be driven by any man living; but I have come to see that since there is a war and a division my place is with my countrymen. Listen, dear! I shall take your challenge since you throw it down," and his face grew hard and pale. "I am going to sail on board the Ranger, and she sails to-morrow. There was a commission still in Mr. Langdon's hands, and he gave it me, though your noble captain took it upon himself to object. I have been ready to give it up at every step when I was alone again, riding home from Portsmouth; I could not beg any man's permission, and we parted in a heat. Now I go to say farewell to my poor mother, and I fear 't will break her heart. I can even make my peace with the commander, if it is your pleasure. Will this prove to you that I am a true American? I came to tell you this."

     "To-morrow, to sail on board the Ranger," she repeated under her breath. She gave a strange sigh of relief, and looked up at the lighted house as if she were dreaming. Then a thought came over her and turned her sick with dread. If Paul Jones should refuse; if he should say that he dared not risk the presence of a man who was believed to be so close to the Tory plots! The very necessities of danger must hold her resolute while she shrank, womanlike, from the harsh immediateness of decision. For if Paul Jones should refuse this officer, and being in power should turn him back at the very last, there lay ready the awful opportunity of the mob, and Roger Wallingford was a ruined man and an exile from that time.

     "You shall not give one thought to that adventurer!" cried the angry lover, whose quick instinct knew where Mary's thoughts had gone. "He has boldness enough, but only for his own advance. He makes light jokes of those" -

     "Stop; I must hear no more!" said the young queen coldly. "It would ill befit you now. Farewell for the present; I go to speak with the captain. I have duties to my guests;" but the tears shone in her eyes. She was for flitting past him like a fawn, as they climbed the high bank together. The pebbles rattled down under their hurrying feet, and the dry elm twigs snapped as if with fire, but Wallingford kept close at her side.

     "Oh, my darling!" he said, and his changed voice easily enough touched her heart and made her stand still. "Do not forgive me, then, until you have better reason to trust me. Only do not say that I must never speak. We may be together now for the last time; I may never see you again."

     "If you can bear you like a man, if you can take a man's brave part" - and again her voice fell silent.

     "Then I may come?"

     "Then you may come, Mr. Wallingford," she answered proudly.

     For one moment his heart was warm with the happiness of hope, - she herself stood irresolute, - but they heard heavy footsteps, and she was gone from his vision like a flash of light.

     Then the pain and seizure of his fate were upon him, the break with his old life and all its conditions. Love would now walk ever by his side, though Mary Hamilton herself had gone. She had not even given him her dear hand at parting.


NOTES

"Thou source of all my bliss and all my woe": The line is from Oliver Goldsmith (c. 1730-1774) "The Deserted Village, "(1770).

Dear charming nymph, neglected and decried,
My shame in crowds, my solitary pride;
Thou source of all my bliss, and all my woe,
That found'st me poor at first, and keep'st me so;

     (Research: Gabe Heller)
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plants of box: Box border is a hedge of a blooming box hedge, native to the Mediterranean region. The wood is useful for carving. (Source: Britannica Online).
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laughter of a loon: The loon is fish-eating bird of the northern hemisphere, noted for a call that sounds like a human laugh.
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bright paste buckle: A paste buckle would be made of a hard, brilliant glass with high lead content.
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The Tory Lover -- Contents

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