|The Tory Lover -- Contents|
The Tory Lover by Sarah Orne Jewett
THE CAPTAIN SPEAKS
"The Hous of Fame to descrive, -
Thou shalt see me go as blyve
Unto the next laure I see
And kisse it, for it is thy tree."
At this moment the drawing-room was lively enough, whatever anxieties might have been known under the elms, and two deep-arched windows on either side of the great fireplace were filled with ladies who looked on at the dancing. A fine group of elderly gentlewomen, dressed in the highest French fashion of five years back, sat together, with nodding turbans and swaying fans, and faced the doorway as Miss Hamilton came in. They had begun to comment upon her absence, but something could be forgiven a young hostess who might be having a thoughtful eye to her trays of refreshment.
There was still an anxious look on many faces, as if this show of finery and gayety were out of keeping with the country's sad distresses. Though Hamilton, like Nero, fiddled while Rome was burning, everybody had come to look on: the surrender of Burgoyne had put new heart into everybody, and the evening was a pleasant relief to the dark apprehension and cheerless economies of many lives. Most persons were rich in anticipation of the success of Paul Jones's enterprise; as if he were a sort of lucky lottery in which every one was sure of a handsome prize. The winning of large prize money in the capture of richly laden British vessels had already been a very heartening incident of this most difficult and dreary time of war.
When Mary Hamilton came in, there happened to be a pause between the dances, and an instant murmur of delight ran from chair to chair of those who were seated about the room. She had looked pale and downcast in the early evening, but was rosy-cheeked now, and there was a new light in her eyes; it seemed as if the charm of her beauty had never shone so bright. She crossed the open space of the floor, unconscious as a child, and Captain Paul Jones stepped out to meet her. The pink brocaded flowers of her shimmering satin gown bloomed the better for the evening air, and a fall of splendid lace of a light, frosty pattern only half hid her white throat. It was her brother's pleasure to command such marvels of French gowns, and to send orders by his captains for Mary's adorning; she was part of the splendor of his house, moreover, and his heart was filled with perfect satisfaction as she went down the room.
The simpler figures of the first dances were over, the country dances and reels, and now Mr. Lord and Miss Betsey Wyat took their places with Mary and the captain, and made their courtesies at the beginning of an old French dance of great elegance which was known to be the favorite of the old Judge. They stood before him in a pretty row, like courtiers who would offer pleasure to their rightful king, and made their obeisance, all living color and fine clothes and affectionate intent. The captain was scarcely so tall as his partner, but gallant enough in his uniform, and took his steps with beautiful grace and the least fling of carelessness, while Mr. John Lord moved with the precision of a French abbé, always responsible for outward decorum whatever might be the fire within his heart.
The captain was taking his fill of pleasure for once; he had danced many a time with Mary Hamilton, that spring, in the great houses of Portsmouth and York, and still oftener here in Berwick, where he had never felt his hostess so charming or so approachable as to-night. At last, when the music stopped, they left the room together, while their companions were still blushing at so much applause, and went out through the crowded hall. There was a cry of admiration as they passed among the guests; they were carried on the swift current of this evident delight and their own excitement. It is easy for any girl to make a hero of a gallant sailor, - for any girl who is wholly a patriot at heart to do honor to the cordial ally of her country.
They walked together out of the south door, where Mary had so lately entered alone, and went across the broad terrace to the balustrade which overhung the steep bank of the river. Mary Hamilton was most exquisite to see in the moonlight; her dress softened and shimmered the more, and her eyes had a brightness now that was lost in the lighted room. The captain was always a man of impulse; in one moment more he could have dared to kiss the face that shone, eager, warm, and blooming like a flower, close to his own. He was not unskilled in love-making, but he had never been so fettered by the spell of love itself or the royalty of beauty as he was that night.
"This air is very sweet after an arduous day," said he, looking up for an instant through the elm boughs to the moon.
"You must be much fatigued, Sir Captain," said Mary kindly; she looked at the moon longer than he, but looked at him at last.
"'No, noble mistress, 't is fresh morning with me,'" he answered gently, and added the rest of the lovely words under his breath, as if he said them only to himself.
"I think that you will never have any mistress save Glory," said Mary. She knew The Tempest, too; but this brave little man, this world-circling sailor, what Calibans and Ariels might he not have known!
"This is my last night on land," he answered, with affecting directness. "Will you bid me go my lonely way unblest, or shall I dare to say what is in my heart now, my dear and noble mistress?"
Mary looked at him with most straightforward earnestness as he spoke; there was so great a force in her shining eyes that this time it was his own that turned away.
"Will you do a great kindness, if I ask you now?" she begged him; and he promised with his hand upon his heart.
"You sail to-morrow?"
"Yes, and your image shall go always with me, and smile at me in a thousand gloomy hours. I am often a sad and lonely man upon the sea."
"There has been talk of Mr. Wallingford's taking the last commission."
"How have you learned what only a few trusted men were told?" the captain demanded fiercely, forgetting his play of lover in a jealous guarding of high affairs.
"I know, and by no man's wrongful betraying. I give you my deepest proof of friendship now," said the eager girl. "I ask now if you will befriend our neighbor, my dear friend and playmate in childhood. He has been much misjudged and has come to stand in danger, with his dear mother whom I love almost as my own."
"Not your young rascal of a Tory!" the captain interrupted, in a towering rage. "I know him to be a rascal and a spy, madam!"
"A loyal gentleman I believe him in my heart," said Mary proudly, but she took a step backward as they faced each other, - "a loyal gentleman who will serve our cause with entire devotion since he gives his word. His hesitations have been the fault of his advisers, old men who cannot but hold to early prejudice and narrow views. With you at sea, his own right instincts must be confirmed; he will serve his country well. I come to you to beg from my very heart that you will stand his friend."
She stood waiting for assurance: there was a lovely smile on her face; it would be like refusing some easy benefaction to a child. Mary Hamilton knew her country's troubles, great and small; she had listened to the most serious plans and secret conferences at her brother's side: but the captain forgot all this, and only hated to crush so innocent a childish hope. He also moved a step backward, with an impatient gesture; she did not know what she was asking; then, still looking at her, he drew nearer than before. The captain was a man of quick decisions. He put his arm about her as if she were a child indeed. She shrank from this, but stood still and waited for him to speak.
"My dear," he said, speaking eagerly, so that she must listen and would not draw away, "my dear, you ask an almost impossible thing; you should see that a suspected man were better left ashore, on such a voyage as this. Do you not discern that he may even turn my crew against me? He has been the young squire and benefactor of a good third of my men, and can you not see that I must always be on my guard?"
"But we must not distrust his word," begged Mary again, a little shaken.
"I have followed the sea, boy and man, since I was twelve years old. I have been a seafarer all my days," said Paul Jones. "I know all the sad experiences of human nature that a man may learn. I trust no man in war and danger and these days of self-advancement, so far that I am not always on the alert against treachery. Too many have failed me whom I counted my sure friends. I am going out now, only half trusted here at home, to the coasts where treason can hurt me most. I myself am still a suspected and envied man by those beneath me. I am given only this poor ship, after many generous promises. I fear a curse goes with it."
"You shall have our hopes and prayers," faltered Mary, with a quivering lip. The bitterness of his speech moved her deepest feelings; she was overstrung, and she was but a girl, and they stood in the moonlight together.
"Do not ask me again what I must only deny you, even in this happy moment of nearness," he said sadly, and watched her face fall and all the light go out of it. He knew all that she knew, and even more, of Wallingford's dangerous position, and pitied her for a single moment with all the pity that belonged to his heart. A lonely man, solitary in his very nature, and always forboding with a kind of hopelessness the sorrows that must fall to him by reason of an unkindness that his nature stirred in the hearts of his fellows, his very soul had lain bare to her trusting look.
He stood there for one moment self-arraigned before Mary Hamilton, and knowing that what he lacked was love. He was the captain of the Ranger; it was true that Glory was his mistress. In that moment the heavens had opened, and his own hand had shut the gates.
The smile came back to Mary's face, so strange a flash of tenderness had brightened his own. When that unforgettable light went out, she did not know that all the jealousy of a lonely heart began to burn within him.
"I have changed my mind. I will take your friend," he said suddenly, with a new tone of authority and coldness. "And I shall endeavor to remember that he is your friend. May I win your faith and patience, 't is a hard ploy."
Then Mary, of her own accord, put her hand into the captain's and he bent and kissed it.
"I shall watch a star in the sky for you every night," she told him, "and say my prayers for the Ranger till you come sailing home."
"God grant I may tread the deck of another and a better ship," said the captain hastily. Now he was himself again, and again they both heard the music in the house.
"Will you keep this ring for me, and give me yours?" he asked. "'T will be but a talisman to keep me to my best. I am humble, and I ask no more."
"No," said the girl, whose awakened feeling assured her of his own. She was light-headed with happiness; she could have thrown herself into the arms of such a hero, - of a man so noble, who had done a hard and unwelcome thing for her poor asking. She had failed to do him rightful honor until now, and this beautiful kindness was his revenge. "No," she entreated him, "not your own ring; you have done too much for me; but if you wish it, I shall give you mine. 'T is but a poor ring when you have done so great a kindness."
She gave it as a child might give away a treasure; not as a woman gives, who loves and gives a ring for token. The captain sighed; being no victor after all, his face grew sombre. He must try what a great conqueror might do when he came back next year with Glory all his own; and yet again he lingered to plead with her once more.
"Dear Mary," he said, as he lifted her hand again, "you will not forget me? I shall be far from this to-morrow night, and you will remember that a wanderer like me must sometimes be cruel to his own heart, and cold to the one woman he truly loves."
Something stirred now in Mary Hamilton's breast that had always slept before, and, frightened and disturbed, she drew her hand away. She was like a snared bird that he could have pinched to death a moment before: now a fury of disappointment possessed him, for she was as far away as if she had flown into the open sky beyond his reach.
"Glory is your mistress; it is Glory whom you must win," she whispered, thinking to comfort him.
"When I come back," he said sadly, "if I come back, I hope that you will have a welcome for me." He spoke formally now, and there was a haggard look upon his face. There had come into his heart a strange longing to forget ambition. The thought of his past had strangely afflicted him in that clear moment of life and vision; but the light faded, the dark current of his life flowed on, and there was no reflection upon it of Mary Hamilton's sweet eyes. "If I carry that cursed young Tory away to sea," he said to himself, "I shall know where he is; not here, at any rate, to have this angel for his asking!"
They were on their way to the house again.
"Alas," said Paul Jones once more, with a sad bitterness in his voice, "a home like this can never be for me: the Fates are my enemies; let us hope 't is for the happiness of others that they lure me on!"
Mary cast a piteous, appealing glance at this lonely hero. He was no more the Sea Wolf or the chief among pleasure-makers ashore, but an unloved, unloving man, conscious of heavy burdens and vexed by his very dreams. At least he could remember this last kindness and her grateful heart.
Colonel Hamilton was standing in the wide hall with a group of friends about him. Old Cćsar and his underservants were busy with some heavy-laden silver trays. The captain approached his host with outstretched hands, to speak his farewells.
"I must be off, gentlemen. I must take my boat," said he, in a manly tone that was heard and repeated along the rooms. It brought many of the company to their feet and to surround him, with a new sense of his high commission and authority. "I ask again for your kind wishes, Colonel Hamilton, and yours, Mr. Justice, and for your blessing on my voyage, reverend sir;" and saluting those of the elder ladies who had been most kind, and kissing his hand to some younger friends and partners of the dance, he turned to go. Then, with his fine laced hat in hand, the captain waved for silence and hushed the friendly voices that would speak a last word of confidence in his high success.
"These friends of his and mine who are assembled here should know that your neighbor, Mr. Wallingford, sails with me in the morning. I count my crew well, now, from your noble river! Farewell, dear ladies; farewell, my good friends and gentlemen."
There was a sudden shout in the hushed house, and a loud murmur of talk among the guests, and Hamilton himself stepped forward and began to speak excitedly; but the captain stayed for neither question nor answer, and they saw him go away hurriedly, bowing stiffly to either hand on his way toward the door. Mary had been standing there, with a proud smile and gentle dignity in her look of attendance, since they had come in together, and he stopped one moment more to take her hand with a low and formal bow, to lift it to his lips, and give one quick regretful look at her happy face. Then Hamilton and some of the younger men followed him down through the gardens to the boat landing. The fleet tide of the river was setting seaward; the captain's boat swept quickly out from shore, and the oars flashed away in the moonlight. There were ladies on the terrace, and on the broad lookout of the housetop within the high railing; there were rounds upon rounds of cheers from the men who stood on the shore, black and white together. The captain turned once when he was well out into the river bay and waved his hand. It was as if the spectators were standing on the edge of a great future, to bid a hero hail and farewell.
The whole countryside was awake and busy in the moonlight. So late at night as this there were lights still shining in one low farmhouse after another, as the captain went away. The large new boat of the Ranger was rowed by man-of-war's men in trim rig, who were leaving their homes on the river shores for perhaps the last time; a second boat was to join them at Stiles's Cove, heaped with sea chests and sailors' bags. The great stream lay shining and still under the moon, a glorious track of light lay ready to lead them on, and the dark pines stood high on the eastern shore to watch them pass. The little captain, wrapped in his boat cloak, sat thoughtful and gloomy at the stern. The gold lace glittered on his hat, and the new flag trailed aft. This was the first reach of a voyage that would go down in history. He was not familiar with many of his men, but in this hour he saw their young faces before him, and remembered his own going from home. The Scottish bay of Carsethorn, the laird's house at Arbigland, the far heights of the Cumberland coast, rose again to the vision of a hopeful young adventurer to Virginia and the southern seas.
They could still hear the music, faint and far away; perhaps the girls were dancing again, and not weeping for poor Jack, the sailor; but as the men pulled at their oars, light in the channel's flow, and looked back at the bright house, they saw a fire shining on the shore at Hamilton's. Word had been passed that the captain was going down; the crowd had gathered again; they were cheering like mad, and the boys in the boat yelled themselves hoarse, while some one drifting in a skiff near by fired a heavy pistol, which roused all the river birds and echoed in the river pines from shore to shore. Huzza! they were bringing refuse from the shipyard now, and piling it on the flame! The bonfire towered high, and lighted the shipping and the reefed sails of the gundalows. The steep roof of the house with its high dormer windows, the leafless elms, were all like glowing gold against the blue height of the sky. The eagles waked, and flew crying above the river in the strange light. Somebody was swinging a lantern from the roof of Hamilton house, and then there came a light to an upper window that had been dark before, and another, and another, till all the great house was lit and seemed to tower into the skies. The boat's crew leaned upon their oars, drifting and losing way as they tried to shout back. It cheered their brave hearts, and sent them gayly on their dark journey; a moment before they had thought heavily that some could play and dance ashore while others must go off into the night, leaving all but the thought of Glory behind them.
The whole river country was up. The old Piscataqua plantations had not been so stirred since the news came, many months before, of the peril of Boston and the fight at Lexington, when a company had started from Saco and marched across country, gathering like a rolling snowball on its way, and with Eben Sullivan and Nathan Lord's Berwick men had reached the great Bunker Hill fight in good season. Captain Moulton's company had taken the post road out of old York to join them; there was running to and fro in the country then, and a frenzy of haste, of bawling orders, of piteous leavetakings, of noisy drums and fifes and all the confusion of war. But this was felt to be almost as great a moment, and to mark a still bolder challenge to the foreign foe. There were bonfires on all the river points, and hardly a farmer whose beacon did not answer to his neighbor's. There were shadowy groups of women standing on the high banks against the dim sky, and crying shrill farewells to the boys in the boats: "God speed the Ranger! God bless you, Captain Paul!" and one voice after another took up the cry. "Good-by, boys! Good-by, boys!" they heard the girls calling after them all down the river, and saw new firelights brighten as they came.
The boat now felt the swift seagoing current more and more; they had passed High Point and the Devil's Reach and the old Hodgdon Farm and the mouth of Dover River, and at Hodgdon's Landing they had taken off young Humphry Lord with his little chest, and his mother's tears wet upon his coat; they swept faster still down past Dover Point and the mouth of Great Bay, where a new current caught them again like a mill race. The fires were bright along the Kittery shore, and the sound of old Portsmouth bells came up along the water, and soon they saw the lights at Rice's Ferry and all the leafless forest of idle shipping, and came at last to the dark crank-looking hull of the Ranger lying in midstream. **
The Hous of Fame to descrive: from Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1342-1400), Invocation to Book 3 of The House of Fame. (Research Assistance: Gabe Heller)
[ Back ]
Nero, fiddled while Rome was burning ... the surrender of Burgoyne: The Roman Emperor Nero's playing music during a great Roman fire in July of 64 A.D. is proverbial, based on an account in Suetonius in Nero XXXVIII. Bergen Evans in Dictionary of Quotations summarizes Suetonius: Nero "set the city on fire and then 'exulting in the beauty of the flames' sang the 'Sack of Ilium' in a stage costume" (598). Tacitus and later historians believe that this account is legendary, that Nero was far from the city when the fire took place and followed good policy in dealing with the emergency upon his return.
The British general, John Burgoyne (1722-1792) was an important figure in the American Revolution. His defeat and capture on October 17, 1777 is considered a turning point in the war. See Burgoyne on the list of People.
[ Back ]
a French abbé: An abbé is a member of the French secular clergy.
[ Back ]
'No, noble mistress, 't is fresh morning with me,'... Calibans and Ariels: See William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act III scene 1, where the young lovers Miranda and Ferdinand discuss who should carry logs her father, Prospero, has ordered him to move. Caliban and Ariel are spirits that serve Prospero. Caliban is associated with deviltry and sullen disobedience, and Ariel with innocent goodness and obedience. (Research: Gabe Heller)
[ Back ]
lookout of the housetop: Evidcnce remains of a roof entrance above the south center dormer, that would allow the ladies to exit onto the roof of Hamilton House, where there would have been a railed walkway for looking down the river. This illustration of the Governor Langdon mansion in Portsmouth (from Harper's Monthly) shows such a railing above the dormer. (Research: Wendy Pirsig and Peter Michaud)
[ Back ]
Bunker Hill: See notes to Chapter 2.
[ Back ]
|The Tory Lover -- Contents|