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The Tory Lover by Sarah Orne Jewett
THE SAILING OF THE RANGER
"Go you with your Don Quixote to your adventures, and leave us to our ill fortunes! God will better them for us if we deserve it!"
It was a gray, cold morning, windy and wet after the mild southerly airs of the night before. When the day broke and the heavy clouds changed to a paler hue, there were already many persons to be seen waiting on the Portsmouth wharves. There was a subdued excitement as the crowd gathered, and the hull and heavy spars of the Ranger out in the gray river were hardly imposing enough to be the centre of such general interest. She might have been one of the less noticeable merchantmen of that busy port, well used to its tugging tides and racing currents, and looked like a clumsy trading-vessel, until one came near enough to see that she was built with a gun deck, and that her ports were the many shrewd eyes of a warship, bent upon aggression as well as defense.
At that early hour there was a continual coming and going between the frigate and the shore, and an ever increasing cluster of boats surrounded her. There was loud shouting on the river and from the pier heads, and now and then a round of cheers from some excited portion of the admiring multitude. There were sad partings between the sailors and their wives and mothers at the water's edge, and there were sudden gusts of laughter among the idle lookers-on. The people had come out of the houses on Badger's Island, while from Newington and upper Kittery the wherries were coming down in a hurry, most of them strongly rowed by women with the short cross-handed stroke that jerked such boats steadily ahead against the wind, or through any river tide or set of current. The old market women bound for the Spring Market in Portsmouth, with their autumn freight of geese and chickens and high-priced eggs, rested on their crossed oars, and waited in midstream to see what came of this great excitement. Though they might be late to catch the best of their early traffic, some of them drove a thriving trade, and their hard red apples were tossed from boat to boat by rollicking customers, while those that missed their aim went bobbing, gay and shining on the cold water, out to sea.
The tide had now turned, and the noise of voices grew louder; there was a cold waft of air from the rising northerly wind, and suddenly everybody heard a shrill whistle on the ship and a cheer, and there was a yell from the tangled boats, before those on shore could see that the Ranger's men were lying out along the yards, and her sails were being spread. Then there were cheers indeed; then there were handkerchiefs and hats a-waving; then every boy and every man who wished in his heart to go and fight Great Britain on her own coasts split his throat with trying to cheer louder than the rest, while even those who had counseled prudence and delay felt the natural joy of seeing a great ship spread her wings to go to sea.
Almost every man and woman who looked on knew some lad or man who was sailing, and now there was great shouting and running near the slip where a last boat was putting off in haste. There was a young man aboard her, and many persons of dignity and position were bidding him farewell. The cheering grew louder; at that moment the slow bells began to ring in St. John's steeple and the old North Church; there was not a man who knew his story who did not honor young Mr. Wallingford for his bold and manly step. Word had been passed that he had taken a commission and was sailing with the rest, but few believed it. He was bound by family ties, he was endangering all future inheritance from old Loyalist relatives who would rather see him in jail than bent upon this thing: the only son of his mother, and she a Tory widow, there were reasons enough to keep any hero back upon the narrow neutral ground that still remained. And Roger Wallingford was not a hero, - only a plain gentleman, with a good heart and steady sense of honor.
He talked soberly with his old friends, and listened to Mr. Langdon's instructions and messages to France, and put some thick letters safely into the pockets of his uniform, which, having been made on a venture, with those for other officers, fitted him but awkwardly. As he stood in the boat nearing the frigate's side, there could hardly be a more gallant-looking fellow of his age. There was in his face all the high breeding and character of his house, with much personal courage and youthful expectancy. A handsome sword that had been his grandfather's hung heavy from the belt that dragged at his thin waist, and furrowed deep the stiff new cloth of his coat. More than one rough-cheeked market woman, in that bitter morning air, felt an unwonted slackening in her throat, and could not speak, but blessed him over and over in her warm heart, as her tears sprung quick to blur this last sight of young Wallingford going to the wars. Here was a chapter of romance, though some things in the great struggle with England were prosaic enough; there was as much rebellion now against raising men and money as there had ever been against the Stamp Act or the hated duties. The states were trying to excuse themselves, and to extort from one another; the selfish and cold-hearted are ever to be pushed forward to their public duties, and here in Portsmouth the patriots had many a day grown faint-hearted with despair.
The anchor broke ground at last; the Ranger swung free and began to drift; the creak of the cables and the chanty that helped to wind them mingled now with the noise of church bells and the firing of guns on the seaward forts at Newcastle. As Wallingford went up the vessel's side and stepped to the deck, it happened that the Ranger fired her own parting gun, and the powder smoke blew thick in his face. When it cleared away he saw the captain close beside him, and made his proper salute. Then he turned quickly for a last glimpse of his friends; the boat was still close under the quarter, and they waved to him and shouted last words that he could not hear. They had been his father's friends, every one, - they wished to be going too, those good gentlemen; it was a splendid errand, and they were all brave men.
"Mr. Langdon and his friends bade me say to you and to Lieutenant Simpson that they meant to come aboard again, sir; they were sorry to be too late; they would have me take breakfast and wait while they finished these last dispatches which they send you for Mr. Franklin and Mr. Adams. I was late from home; it has been a sudden start for me," said the young man impulsively. "I thank you for your welcome message, which I got at two o'clock by the courier," he added, with a wistful appeal in the friendliness of his tone, as one gentleman might speak with another in such case.
"I had further business with them!" exclaimed the superior officer. "They owed it to me to board me long ago, instead of dallying with your breakfast. Damn your breakfast, Mr. Wallingford!" he said angrily, and turned his back. "I left them and the shore at three in the morning; I have been at my affairs all night. Go below, sir!" he commanded the new lieutenant fiercely. "Now you have no gray-headed pomposities to wait upon and admire you, you had best begin to learn something of your duties. Get you down and fall to work, sir! Go to Simpson for orders!"
Wallingford looked like an icicle under the droop of the great mainsail; he gazed with wonder and pity at the piqued and wearied little man; then his face grew crimson, and, saluting the captain stiffly, he went at once below. There was many a friendly greeting and warm handshake waiting for him between decks, but these could please him little just then; he made his way to the narrow cabin, cluttered and piled high with his sea kit and hasty provisionings, and sat there in the dim light until right-mindedness prevailed. When he came on deck again, they were going out of the lower harbor, with a following wind, straight to sea. He may have gone below a boy, but he came on deck a man.
Sir William Pepperrell's stately gambrel-roofed house, with the deer park and gardens and row of already decaying warehouses, looked drowsy with age on Kittery Point, and opposite, hiding away in Little Harbor, was the rambling, huge old mansion of the Wentworths, with its fine council chamber and handsome card-rooms, where he had danced many a night with the pretty Portsmouth girls. All Roger Wallingford's youth and pleasantries were left behind him now; the summer nights were ended; the winter feasts, if there were any that dreary year, must go on without him. The Isles of Shoals lay ahead like pieces of frozen drift in the early morning light, and the great sea stretched away to the horizon, bleak and cold and far, a stormy road to France.
The ship, heading out into the waste of water, took a steady movement between wind and wave, and a swinging gait that seemed to deny at every moment the possibility of return. The gray shore sank and narrowed to a line behind her. At last the long blue hill in Northwood and the three hills of Agamenticus were seen like islands, and long before noon these also had sunk behind the waves, and the Ranger was well at sea.
Go you with your Don Quixote to your adventures: See Miguel de Cervantes (1568-1616) Don Quixote, Part II (1615), Chapter 5. (Research: Gabe Heller).
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rowed by women: Jewett draws upon Charles H. Brewster's description of these market women in Rambles about Portsmouth, Second Series, 1869, Ramble 132. (Research: Heather Petsche.)
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the Stamp Act or the hated duties: The Stamp Act was "introduced by the British prime minister George Grenville and passed by the British Parliament in 1765 as a means of raising revenue in the American colonies. The Stamp Act required all legal documents, licenses, commercial contracts, newspapers, pamphlets, and playing cards to carry a tax stamp. The act extended to the colonies the system of stamp duties then employed in Great Britain and was intended to raise money to defray the cost of maintaining the military defenses of the colonies. Passed without debate, it aroused widespread opposition among the colonists, who argued that because they were not represented in Parliament, they could not legally be taxed without their consent." The "hated duties" included various taxes and other means by which Parliament attempted to secure greater control over the American colonies and to reduce administrative costs after the French and Indian War. (Source: Encyclopedia Britannica.)
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