The Tory Lover -- Contents

Photographs

.The Tory Lover by Sarah Orne Jewett

Chapter VIII
THE MAJOR'S HOSPITALITIES

"But see how merciful Heaven sends relief in the greatest distresses, for now comes Don Gayferos!"

     The Haggens house, with its square chimneys, and a broad middle-aged look of comfort, like those who were sheltered under its roof, stood facing the whole southern country just where the two roads joined from the upper settlements. A double stream of travel and traffic flowed steadily by this well-known corner, toward the upper and lower landings of the tide river. From the huge square stone that floored a pointed porch of severely classic design could be seen a fine sweep of land from the Butler's Hill on the left, over the high oak woods of a second height to the deep pasture valleys. Major Hight's new house and huge sentinel pines stood on a ridge beyond, with the river itself showing a gleam of silver here and there all along the low lands toward Portsmouth. Across the country westward was the top of Garrison Hill at Dover; to the south was the dark pine-forested region of the Rocky Hills. It was a wide and splendid prospect even on a bleak autumn day, and Major Haggens, the socially minded master of the house, was trying hard to enjoy it as he sat in the morning wind, wrapped in his red cloak and longing for proper companionship. He cast imploring glances across the way to the habitation of his only near neighbor, Mr. Rogers, but he could see the old gentleman sitting fast asleep at that ridiculous hour of the morning, behind a closed window. There was no one to be seen up the road, where Mr. Jenkins's place of business was apt to attract the idle, especially in the harvest time of his famous early apples. These were dull days; before the war there were few mornings of the year when the broad space before the major's house lacked either carriages or foot-travelers for half an hour. In winter the two roads were blocked as far as a man could see with the long processions of ox teams laden with heavy timber, which had come from fifty or even a hundred miles back in the north country. There were hundreds of trees standing yet in the great forests of the White Hills that were marked with the deeply cut King's arrow, but the winter snows of many years to come were likely to find these timber pines for the King's shipyards still standing.

     The busy, quick-enriching days of the past seemed to be gone forever, and poverty and uncertainty had replaced them. There was no such market anywhere for Berwick timber as England had always been; the Berwick merchants would be prosperous no more; the town must live long now upon their hoarded gains, and then seek for some other means of living. The gay-hearted old major looked downcast, and gave a deep sigh. He had no such remembrance of the earlier wars, when Old England and New England had fought together against a common enemy. Those battles had been exciting enough, and a short and evident path to glory, where his fellow colonists had felt something of the happy certainties of the Old Testament Jews, and went out boldly to hew Agag in pieces and to smite the Amalekites hip and thigh. It appeared now as if, with all its hardships, war had been a not unwelcome relief to a dull level of prosperity and the narrowness of a domestic horizon. War gave a man the pleasures of travel, it was a man's natural business and outlet of energy; but war with moral enemies, and for opinion's sake, lacked the old color, and made the faces of those who stayed at home grow sullen. They were backbiting Hamilton in many a pious household, that morning, for giving a farewell feast to Paul Jones. 'T was all of a piece with Roundhead days, and christening a child by such names as must have depressed Praise-God Barebones, and little Hate-Evil Kilgore who was a neighbor of the major's, down the Landing hill.

     The major's sound but lately unpracticed head was a little heavy from the last night's supper, and the world seemed to him badly out of joint. He was a patriot at heart, but one who stood among the moderates. He seemed uneasy in his wooden armchair, and pushed the ferule of his stout old ivory-handled cane angrily into a crevice below one of the Corinthian pillars of the porch. His tall sister, who, by virtue of two years' precedence in age, resolutely maintained the position of superior officer, had already once or twice opened the door behind to advise him to come in out of the cold wind; the chill might very well send him an attack of gout in the stomach.

     "I've got no gout to send, nor any stomach to send it to," returned the major angrily. "What's the use of a stomach, when a man can get nothing decent to put into it, and has not even a dog to keep him company? I'd welcome even a tax gatherer!" The great door was shut again with decision enough to clack the oval brass knocker, and the major finished some protests against fate deep in his own disparaged interior, and punctuated his inarticulate grumbles by angry bobs of the head. He was really too cold, but he would not submit to Nancy, or let her think that she could rule him, as she seemed to wish.

     Suddenly there was something moving down at the end of the street; it came up quickly over the slope into the full appearance of a horse and rider, and hope filled the major's once sorrowful mind.

     "Jack Hamilton, by zounds!" laughed the old gentleman. "He's late on his way up country. I'll stretch a point: we'll make it an hour earlier, and have our toddy now; it must be after ten."

     Hamilton presently declared that he was too much belated; he must go to the far regions of Tow-wow, where he owned great tracts of woodland; he really must not vex his conscience by loitering.

     "Here, you, Cuffee! here, 'Pollo, you lazy dog!" the major called, merely turning his head, so that his voice might reach round the house through the long yard to his barns; and after a moment's consideration, Hamilton dismounted unwillingly. The gay creature he had ridden sidled away, and whinnied fretfully, as if she also objected to such an interruption of their plans.

     "Keep her here; I shall not stop long," said the colonel to a black namesake of the great god Apollo, who was the first to arrive, and, although breathless, began to walk to and fro sentry fashion, as if by automatic impulse. The already heated young mare was nosing his shoulder with an air of intimacy, and nipping at the edge of his frayed hat.

     "You'll be just far enough from both dinner and breakfast now," insisted the major, stamping along through the handsome cold hall of the house, with its elaborate panelings of clear, unpainted pine. "You'll get to Tow-wow, or Lebanon, as the new folks want to call it, all the sooner for this delay. You've pounded the first wind out of that colt already; you'd have had her sobbing on Plaisted's Hill. What we can't find in eatables we'll make up in drinkables. Nancy, Nancy, where's my spirit case? You're so precise I never can find anything where I leave it!"

     "The case is on the top of the sideboard, directly in the middle, brother Tilly," said Miss Nancy, politely coming out of the room on the right, and looking after him, with her knitting in hand.

     Mr. Hamilton turned, and she dropped a somewhat informal curtsy. She wore a plain turban which gave her a severe but most distinguished air. Miss Haggens was quite the great lady, and even more French in her appearance than the major himself.

     "I was sorry to miss the gayeties last night," she said. "The major is boyish enough for anything, and can answer every beck and call, but I felt that I must not venture. I was sorry when it proved so fine an evening."

     "No becks and calls to answer in these days," insisted the busy host. "'T would do you good, Nancy, as it did all the rest of us. Let's have it in the breakfast-room; I left a good fire there. If there's no hot water, I'll heat some quick enough in a porringer."

     Hamilton, following, seated himself slowly in an armchair by the fireplace. The processes of hospitality would be swifter if quietly acquiesced in, and now that the slim decanter of Santa Cruz was opened the odor was not unwelcome. He had been busy enough since daybreak, but wore an amused look, though somewhat tired and worried, as the major flew about like a captive bumblebee. Miss Nancy's prim turban got shifted over one ear, and one white and two black handmaidens joined her in the course of such important affairs. At last the major reappeared, victorious and irate, with a steaming porringer which had just begun to heat in the kitchen fireplace, and splashed it all the way along the floor. He went down stiffly on his knees in the breakfast-room to blow the coals, with such mighty puffs that a film of ashes at once covered the water and retarded its rise of temperature. Miss Nancy and Colonel Hamilton looked at each other across his broad back and laughed.

     "There, there, major! The steam's rising, and 't will do already," urged the colonel. "I'd rather not take my drink too hot, and go out again to face the wind."

     "I felt the wind myself," acknowledged the major, looking up pleasantly. "My fore door, where I like to sit, is well sheltered, but I felt the wind." Miss Nancy so far descended from her usual lofty dignity as to make a little face, which Hamilton, being a man, did not exactly understand.

     "I like to have the water boiling hot; then you can let it cool away, and the flavor's well brought out," explained the major. Phbe, the old slave woman who looked over his shoulder, now pronounced with satisfaction that the water was minnying, with the steam all in it, to which her master agreed. Miss Nancy put out a strong hand and helped him to his feet.

     "You've set your turban all awry, sister," the major remarked politely by way of revenge, and the little company burst into a hearty laugh. Miss Nancy produced a gay china plate of pound cakes from the cupboard, and sat by in silence, discreetly knitting, until the toddy was not only made, but half gone down the gentlemen's throats.

     "And so Roger Wallingford's gone to sea, and those who would burn him in his house for a Tory are robbed of a great pleasure," she said at last. "I wonder what their feelings are to-day! My heart aches for his mother; 't will be a deathblow to all her pride."

     "It will indeed," said Hamilton seriously.

     "I was sore afraid of his joining the other side only yesterday," said the major, "but this news has lain heavy as lead on me all the morning. There are those aboard the Ranger who will only have him for a spy. I heard a whisper of this last night, before we parted. I was even glad to think that the poor boy has plenty of old family friends in England, who can serve him if worst comes to worst."

     "'T was in my mind, too," agreed the colonel. "John Lord was hinting at trouble, in my counting-room, this morning early. I fancied him more than half glad on his own account that Wallingford is gone; the lads have looked upon each other as rivals, and I have suspected that 't was Roger who was leading in the race." The colonel's wind-freshened cheeks brightened still more as he spoke, and looked up with an expectant smile at Miss Nancy, who did not reply except by giving two or three solemn nods of her turbaned head.

     "Everybody loves the boy," she said presently, "but 't is of his dear mother I am thinking most. 'T is a sad heart alone in her great house to front the winter weather. She told me last week that she had a mind not to make the usual change to her house in town. There were like to be disturbances, and she had no mind for anything but quiet. I shall write, myself, to her young cousins in Boston, or to the Sherburnes, who are near friends, and beg them to visit her; 't is none so cheerful in Boston either, now. We were always together in our youth, but age makes us poor winter comrades. Sit ye down," said Miss Nancy Haggens affectionately, as Hamilton rose and put by his empty glass. "And how is our dear Mary?" she asked, as she rose also, finding him determined. There was an eager look in the old lady's eyes.

     "I have not seen my sister," answered Hamilton, looking grave. "I was very early by the riverside with my old brig Pactolus going downstream, and everything and everybody tardy. I shall lay her up for the winter by Christian Shore; but, as things look now, I fear 't is the last voyage of the good old vessel. I stood and watched her away, and when she made the turn past Pine Point it seemed as if her old topmasts were looking back at me wishfully above the woods."

     The major made a sound which was meant for sympathy; he was very warm and peaceful now before the fire.

     "My sister will not be long seeking such a friend as you," said Hamilton, with sudden change of tone, and looking at Miss Nancy with an unwonted show of sentiment and concern in his usually impassive face. "I slept but little last night, and my fears, small and great, did not sleep at all. 'T is heavy news from the army, and I am perplexed as to Mary's real feelings. The captain counts upon success; as for the step that Roger Wallingford has taken, it has no doubt averted a very real danger of the moment."

     "She must go at once to see his mother. I wish that she might go to-day. You may tell Mary this, with the love of an old friend," said Miss Nancy warningly. "She has great reserve of feeling with all her pretty frankness. But young hearts are not easy reading."

     "I must be gone all day," said Hamilton gravely.

     For once the major listened and had no opinion ready. All the troubles of life had been lifted in the exercise of such instant hospitality.

     "We must leave all to Time," he announced cheerfully. "No man regrets more than I our country's sad situation. And mark ye both: the captain of the Ranger's got all the makings of a hero. Lord bless me," he exclaimed, as he followed Hamilton along the hall, "I could have shed tears as I caught his fire, at thinking I was too old and heavy to ship with him myself! I might be useful yet with his raw marines and in the land attacks. I felt last night, as our talk went on, that I should be as good for soldiering as ever."

     "Brother Tilly!" Miss Nancy was crying from the breakfast-room in despair. "Oh, don't go out into the wind, and you so warm with your toddy! Wait, I command you, Tilly! Phbe's coming with your hat and cloak!" But the old campaigner was already out beyond the lilacs in the front yard, with the rising northwester lifting his gray locks.


Notes

"But see how merciful Heaven sends relief in the greatest distresses, for now comes Don Gayferos!": See Don Quixote, Part II, Chapter 25.
    [ Back ]

trees marked with the deeply cut King's arrow: In Changes in the Land (1983), William Cronon says: "When Massachusetts received its new charter in 1691, a clause was inserted that reserved for the Royal Navy 'all [mast] trees of the diameter of twenty-four inches and upwards at twelve inches from the ground.' A fine of 100 per tree was to be assessed against any person 'Felling Cutting or Destroying' without royal license any such trees not already in private hands.... In 1704, royal surveyors were charged with marking all potential mast trees with a blaze shaped like a broad arrow to ensure the Crown's right to them.... These regulations were repeatedly renewed until the American Revolution; if enforced, they might conceivably have slowed the cutting of New England forests. Enforcement proved virtually impossible, however, and so the 'broad-arrow laws' came to stand more than anything else for European anxieties about deforestation. The colonists violated the laws constantly" (110-111). Witch Trot Land (1937) by Anne Mountford and Katherine Marshall gives a picture of a horizontal double ended arrow (p. 42), like this: .
    [ Back ]

Old Testament Jews ... boldly to hew Agag .. smite the Amalekites: See 1 Samuel 15 for the Amalekites and Esther 3 for the story of Haman the Agagite. (Research: Gabe Heller)
    [ Back ]

Roundhead days: Puritan partisans of the Parliament side of the English Civil War (1640-1660) against King Charles I were named for the Puritan men's fashion of wearing short hair.
    [ Back ]

Santa Cruz: Rum from Santa Cruz in Bolivia. (Research assistance: Travis Feltman)
    [ Back ]

minnying: It appears likely she describes the motion of boiling water in this way as a comparison to the appearance of water's surface when a swarm of minnows gathers.
    [ Back ]

Pactolus: Pactolus was the river in which Midas purified himself to get rid of his golden curse. Jewett uses this ship name in other texts, such as "The Village Shop" and Deephaven. A ship of this name is not known to have been among those owned by Jonathan Hamilton (Research assistance: Gabe Heller)
    [ Back ]


Photographs of "Tilly Haggens's House"
Tilly's house eventually became the home of Sarah Orne Jewett.
 See Berwick in People and Places for details.
[ Back ]

Front door step upon which Tilly sits and observes the countryside.

Tilly's house in 1996.


Still a busy crossroad in 2003.


 



 

The Tory Lover -- Contents