|The Tory Lover -- Contents
.The Tory Lover by Sarah Orne Jewett
BROTHER AND SISTER
"All thoughts, all passions, all delights,
Whatever stirs this mortal frame,
All are but ministers of Love,
And feed his sacred flame."
That same afternoon of the first of November, one might have thought that the adventurers on board the Ranger had taken all the pleasant weather away with them, and all the pleasure and interest of life; only endurance and the bleak chilliness of autumn seemed to be left ashore. The wind changed into the east as night drew on, and a cold fog, gathered along the coast, came drifting up the river with the tide, until rain began to fall with the early dark. The poplars and elms looked shrunken about the gardens at Hamilton's, and the house but ill lighted. The great rooms themselves were cold and empty.
Colonel Hamilton, gloomy with further bad news from the army on Long Island, sat alone reviewing some accounts, shaking his head over a great ledger which had been brought up from the counting-house, and lay before him on a table in the west room. The large Russian stove was lighted for the first time that year, and the tiny grate glowed bright in its tall prison-like front, which was as slow to give out any heat as a New England winter to give place to spring. The pair of candles gave a dull yellow light, and the very air of the west room looked misty about them in a sort of halo, as Mary Hamilton opened the door. She was rosy with color from an afternoon ride, while her brother looked tired and dull. All the long day she had been so much in his anxious thoughts that he glanced over his shoulder with apprehension. In spite of his grave face and unyielding temper, he had a quick imagination, and, for the few persons whom he loved, a most tender heart.
To his blank surprise, his young sister had never worn a more spirited or cheerful look. She was no lovelorn maiden, and had come to him for neither pity nor anxious confidence. She came instead to stand close beside him, with a firm warm hand on his shoulder, and smiling looked into his upturned face.
"Well, sir, have you made the most of a bad day?" she asked, in the tone of comradeship which always went straight to Hamilton's heart, and made him feel like a lover. "They must have had a good offshore wind for many hours," she added before he could answer. "The Ranger must be safe off the coast by this time, and out of this hindering fog."
"She must indeed," answered Hamilton, lending himself comfortably to her mood. "The wind was free all day out of the northwest until this easterly chill at sundown. They will not like to drift in a long calm and easterly fog."
"Come, you look miserable here; you are pale with cold yourself, Jack," she urged kindly. "Let us poke this slow contrivance for a fire! I like to see a broad blaze. Cæsar kept me a fine hoard of pitch-pine roots when they cleared that thicket of the upper pasture, and I made a noble heat with them just now in my own room. I told him to look after your stove here, but he was sulky; he seems to think 't is a volcano in a box, and may wreck the house and all his happiness. See, it was full of ashes at the draught. Sir, may I ask what you are laughing at?"
"I thought you would be like Niobe, all tears," he answered boldly, giving her a half amused, half curious glance. "And here you praise the wind that blows your lover seaward, and make yourself snug ashore."
The firelight flashed in Mary's face at that moment, and something else flashed back to meet it. She was kneeling close to the small iron door, as if she were before a confessional; but she looked over her shoulder for a moment with a quick smile that had great sweetness and power to charm.
"Let us be happy together, my dear," she said. "They go to serve our country; it should be a day for high hopes, and not for mourning. I look for great gallantry on board the Ranger!"
She stood facing her brother a moment later, and looked straight in his face, as if she had no fears of any curious gaze, simply unconscious of self, as if no great shock had touched her heart in either new-found happiness or sense of loss. It seemed as if her cheerful self-possession were putting a bar to all confidence.
"I cannot understand you!" he exclaimed sharply.
"You are cold and tired, my poor old man! Come, I shall have no more figuring," and she slid away the ledger beyond his reach on the smooth polished oak of the table top. "Let us make a bit of hot drink for so cold a man!" and was swiftly gone across the hall to the great kitchen, leaving the doors wide open behind her. It seemed warmer at once, and presently the sound of laughter and a coaxing voice made Hamilton's heart a little gayer. Old Peggy and her young mistress were in the midst of a lively encounter, and presently a noise of open war made him cross the hall with boyish eagerness to see the fray.
Peggy was having a glorious moment of proud resistance, and did not deign to notice the spectator. The combatants stood facing each other in front of the huge fireplace, where there was a high heap of ashes and but faint glow of fire. The old woman's voice was harsh, and she looked pale and desperate; there was always a black day for the household after such a masterpiece of a feast as Peggy had set before her master's guests the night before. The fire of energy was low in her gaunt frame, except for a saving spark that still moved the engines of her tongue. She stood like a thin old Boadicea with arms akimbo, and Mary Hamilton faced her all abloom, with a face full of laughter, and in exactly the same attitude; it was a pleasing sight to Hamilton at the door of the side hall. The usually populous kitchen was deserted of all Peggy's minions except Cæsar, and there were no signs of any preliminaries of even the latest supper.
"Oh, Peggy, what a cross old thing you are!" sighed Mary, at the end of Peggy's remarks upon the text of there being nobody in the house to do anything save herself. "I should really love to stay and have a good battle to warm us up, except that we should both be near to weeping when it was done, and you would be sorrier than you need, and cook something much too nice for supper, tired as you are." Then she dropped her hands and relaxed her mocking pose. "Come, Peggy dear, the colonel's here, and he's ridden the whole length of Beech Ridge and the Tow-wow woods since morning with his surveyors; he's very cold and down-hearted, and I only want a spatter of mulled wine for him. Come, find me a little skillet and we'll heat it here on the coals. See, they're winking bright under that hill of ashes. Where are all the maids?"
"In their beds, I suppose, black and white alike, and getting their first sleep like ladies," grumbled Peggy. "I told them the master would be late, and would sup at Pine Hill, as he said this morning. 'T is no matter about me; Cæsar and me, we're old and tough," and the stern features relaxed a little. "Why didn't you tell me 't was for the master, an' he'd no supper after such a day, with the clock far past seven, and you yourself with nothing but bread and milk to stay you? Truth to tell, I was asleep in the corner of the settle here, and a spark's burnt me a hole in this good apron and spoilt my temper. You have too much patience with poor old Peggy," she muttered, bending over the ashes and raking them open to their bright life with her hard brown hand.
Mary stood watching her for a moment; a quick change came over her face, and she turned away silently, and went toward the window as if to look up the river.
"What was you designin' to get for supper?" old Cæsar humbly inquired at this auspicious moment. "I mought be a-layin' of the table." But Peggy did not notice him. He was still in a place of safety behind the settle, his gray head just appearing over the high back.
"We might finish the pigeon pie," the young mistress suggested; "the colonel will like a bit of cheese afterward and plenty of bread. Mind, Peggy, 't is only a cold supper!"
"Was you es-pectin' any of the quality aside yo'selves, missy?" politely demanded Cæsar, in the simple exercise of his duty.
"Don't you keep a-askin' questions; 't ain't no way to converse with human creatur's!" said Peggy severely.
"Laws, Peggy, I feels an int'rist!" said poor Cæsar humbly.
"No, you don't neither; you're full to bu'stin' of cur'osity, an' it's a fault that grows by feedin' of it. Let your mind dwell on that, now, next Sabbath mornin' up in your gallery, 'stid o' rollin' your eyes at the meetin' folks an' whisp'rin' with Cato Lord!" and Peggy laughed in spite of herself. "Come out from there, an' fetch me some dry pine chips, if 't won't demean your dignity. I'll ax you some questions you don't know no answers to, if you be an Afriky potentate!"
The master of the house had tiptoed back across the hall like a pleased schoolboy, and was busy with the ledger when his sister came back, a few minutes later, with a steaming porringer. She proceeded to mix a most fragrant potion in a large gayly flowered glass, while Hamilton described his morning entertainment by the major; then an old dog came loitering in, and watched his master enviously, as he drank, and stirred again, and praised the warm drink, and grew every moment more cheerful.
Mary Hamilton stood leaning against the Russian stove. "It is just getting warm now, this dull old idol of yours," she said, "and we cannot cool it before spring. We'll sit in the dining parlor to-night after supper; you shall smoke your pipe there, and I can see the good firelight. We are lonesome after a gay day and night like yesterday; we have had no word of gossip yet about our ball. I have many things to tell you."
Hamilton nodded amiably; the color had come back into his face, and driven away the worn and worried look that had fallen on him before his time. He had made so light of care that care made light of him, and was beginning to weigh his spirit down early in middle life.
"I came across the river at the Great Falls," he said, not without effort, and looking at his young sister, "the roads were so heavy through the woods by Cranberry Meadow."
"So you didn't stop to give Granny Sullivan the money?" asked Mary, as if she were disappointed.
"Yes, on my way this morning. She knew more about last night than I could sweep together to tell her if I had stayed an hour."
"The birds tell granny everything," said Mary, laughing. "She gave me a handsome scolding the other day because Peggy's rack of spiced hams had fallen in the ashes that very morning. How was the master?"
"Very absent-minded, and reading his Horace as if the old poet were new. He did not even look up while she thanked me for the money the judge had sent. 'I'm knitting every minute I'm not working or eating, for my poor lame lad Jamie,' she said. 'Now, he has nothing to do but read his law books, an' tell others what's in them, and grow rich! 'T is all because his father's such a gentleman!'"
"How proud she is, the dear old woman!" said Mary warmly.
"Yes, and they have the sense to be proud of her," said Hamilton, settling into his chair more comfortably and putting his empty glass aside.
"I rode to the Rocky Hills myself late this afternoon. I heard that Elder Shackley had been ill. I liked the fresh wind and wet after last night's warmth and a busy morning here in the house. I meant at first to ride north to meet you; but it was better not, since you crossed at the Falls."
"I thought you would go another way," said Hamilton seriously. There were moments when he seemed old enough to be her father; there were, indeed, many years between them. "There is a sad heart and a lonely one across the river to-night, while we seem gay enough together."
Mary's face changed quickly; she stepped toward him, and seated herself on the broad arm of the chair, and drew her brother's head close against her side.
"What is it that you wish to say to me?" she asked. "I have been thinking of dear Madam Wallingford all day long," and Hamilton could feel her young heart beating quick like a bird's, close to his ear.
"She was in my mind, too. I came down that side of the river to see her, but it grew so rainy and late that I gave up my thought of stopping except to leave a message. My mare was very hot and spent," he explained, in a matter-of-fact way. "As I came toward the house I saw my lady standing at a window, and she beckoned me. She came herself to the door, and the wind blew her to and fro like a flag. She had been weeping terribly. 'I longed to see a friend,' she told me, and could say no more. . . . I feared that she might bear us much ill will."
Hamilton was so full of feeling that his own voice failed him, and Mary did not speak at first.
"Well, dear brother?" she asked a moment later, knowing that he had more to say.
"She wished to send you a message; 't was her reason for calling me in. She asked if you would not come to see her to-morrow, late in the afternoon. Earlier she has business of the estate to manage, in place of her son. There are men coming down from the Lake."
"Oh yes, yes, I shall go!" said Mary, with a sob. "Oh, I am so glad; I feared that her heart was broken, and that she would only hate us!"
"I was afraid, too," returned Hamilton, and he took his sister's hand gently in his own, and would have spoken something that she could not bear to hear.
She moved away quickly. "Come, dear man," she said, "you must throw off these muddy clothes; you are warm again now, and they will soon be calling us to supper."
He sighed, and looked at her in bewilderment as he obeyed. She had gone to the window and pushed the shutter back, and was gazing out into the dark night. He looked at her again as he was going out of the room, but still she did not speak. Was it the captain, after all, who had gone away with her heart? She had not even mentioned his name!
She was not always so silent about her lovers; they had been many, and she sometimes spoke frankly enough when he and she were alone together like this, and the troubles and veils of every-day intercourse were all put aside. But who could read a woman's heart? Certainly not a poor bachelor, who had never yet learned to read his own!
All thoughts, all passions, all delights: The opening stanza of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), "Love" (1800). (Research: Gabe Heller)
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bad news from the army on Long Island: Though there was military activity on Long Island during the fall of 1777, it is difficult to determine whether Jewett had in mind any specific bad news that Hamilton might have heard. Suggestions are welcome.
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Russian stove: In Russia, before the development of caste iron stoves, "large brick stoves formed a partition between two rooms. Because of the very long flue, which wound back and forth inside the structure, these could be heated for some hours with a small amount of light fuel" (Columbia Encyclopedia). Peter Michaud of Historic New England, which owns Hamilton House, says there is no evidence that such a stove was ever in this house. However, he points out, "It was not unusual in the 19th century to have a more efficient soap-stone or cast iron stove installed in front of an older fireplace." It is possible that Jewett saw a soap-stone stove in the Hamilton House at some time and based her inclusion of the Russian stove there on this memory.
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Niobe, all tears: In Greek mythology, Niobe was a queen of Thebes, wife of Amphion and daughter of Tantalus. Offended Apollo and Artemis by boasting that she had more children (six sons and six daughters) than Leto, mother of the two gods. In response the gods killed all Niobe's children. Zeus turned her into a perpetually weeping stone statue. (Research: Gabe Heller)
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like a thin old Boadicea with arms akimbo: Boadicea was queen of the Iceni Celts in East Anglia, 61-63 A.D. When her husband died, she took the throne. In a subsequent dispute with the Romans, and she was publicly beaten and her daughters raped. She then led a two-year uprising against the Romans, which they eventually crushed. As a result, she is a heroine of Britain. (Research: Gabe Heller; source: http://members.tripod.com/~ancient_history/boad.html).
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|The Tory Lover -- Contents