|The Tory Lover -- Contents
.The Tory Lover by Sarah Orne Jewett
AGAINST WIND AND TIDE
"Whose daughters ye are as long as ye do well and are not afraid with any amazement."
Late the next afternoon Mary Hamilton appeared at the north door of the house, and went quickly down the steep garden side toward the water. In the shallow slip between two large wharves lay some idle rowboats, which belonged to workmen who came every morning from up and down the river. The day's short hurry was nearly over; there was still a noise of heavy adzes hewing at a solid piece of oak timber, but a group of men had begun to cluster about a storehouse door to talk over the day's news.
The tide was going out, and a birch canoe which the young mistress had bespoken was already left high on the shore. She gave no anxious glance for her boatman, but got into a stranded skiff, and, reaching with a strong hand, caught the canoe and dragged it down along the slippery mud until she had it well afloat; then, stepping lightly aboard, took up her carved paddle, and looked before her to mark her course across the swift current. Wind and current and tide were all going seaward together with a determined rush.
There was a heavy gundalow floating down the stream toward the lower warehouse, to be loaded with potatoes for the Portsmouth market, and this was coming across the slip. The men on board gave a warning cry as they caught sight of a slender figure in the fragile craft; but Mary only laughed, and, with sufficient strength to court the emergency, struck her paddle deep into the water and shot out into the channel right across their bow. The current served well to keep her out of reach; the men had been holding back their clumsy great boat lest it should pass the wharf. One of them ran forward anxiously with his long sweep, as if he expected to see the canoe in distress like a drowning fly; but Miss Hamilton, without looking back, was pushing on across the river to gain the eddy on the farther side.
"She might ha' held back a minute; she was liable to be catched an' ploughed right under! A gal's just young enough to do that; men that's met danger don't see no sport in them tricks," grumbled the boatman.
"Some fools would ha' tried to run astarn," said old Mr. Philpot, his companion, "an' the suck o' the water would ha' catched 'em side up ag'in' us; no, she knowed what she was about. Kind of scairt me, though. Look at her set her paddle, strong as a man! Lord, she's a beauty, an' 's good 's they make 'em!"
"Folks all thinks, down our way, she'll take it master hard the way young Wallin'ford went off, 'thout note or warnin'. They've b'en a-hoverin' round all ready to fall to love-makin', till this objection got roused 'bout his favorin' the Tories. There'd b'en trouble a'ready if he'd stayed to home. I misdoubt they'd smoked him out within half a week's time. Some o' them fellows that hangs about Dover Landin' and Christian Shore was bent on it, an' they'd had some better men 'long of 'em."
"Then 't would have been as black a wrong as ever was done on this river!" exclaimed the elder man indignantly, looking back over his shoulder toward the long house of the Wallingfords, that stood peaceful in the autumn sunshine high above the river. "They've been good folks in all their ginerations. The lad was young, an' hadn't formed his mind. As for Madam, - why, women folks is natural Tories; they hold by the past, same as men are fain to reach out and want change. She's feeble and fearful since the judge was taken away, an' can't grope out to nothin' new. I heared tell that one o' her own brothers is different from the rest as all holds by the King, an' has given as much as any man in Boston to carry on this war. There ain't no Loyalist inside my skin, but I despise to see a low lot o' fools think smart o' theirselves for bein' sassy to their betters."
The other man looked a little crestfallen. "There's those as has it that the cap'n o' the Ranger wouldn't let nobody look at young miss whilst he was by," he hastened to say. "Folks say they're good as promised an' have changed rings. I al'ays heared he was a gre't man for the ladies; loves 'em an' leaves 'em. I knowed men that had sailed with him in times past, an' they said he kept the highest company in every port. But if all tales is true" -
"Mostly they ain't," retorted old Mr. Philpot scornfully.
"I don't know nothin' 't all about it; that's what folks say," answered his mate. "He's got the look of a bold commander, anyway, and a voice an' eye that would wile a bird from a bush." But at this moment the gundalow bumped heavily against the wharf, and there was no more time for general conversation.
Mary Hamilton paddled steadily up river in the smooth water of the eddy, now and then working hard to get round some rocky point that bit into the hurrying stream. The wind was driving the ebbing tide before it, so that the water had fallen quickly, and sometimes the still dripping boughs of overhanging alders and oaks swept the canoe from end to end, and spattered the kneeling girl with a cold shower by way of greeting. Sometimes a musquash splashed into the water or scuttled into his chilly hole under the bank, clattering an untidy heap of empty mussel shells as he went. All the shy little beasts, weasels and minks and squirrels, made haste to disappear before this harmless voyager, and came back again as she passed. The great fishhawks and crows sailed high overhead, secure but curious, and harder for civilization to dispossess of their rights than wild creatures that lived aground.
The air was dry and sweet, as if snow were coming, and all the falling leaves were down. Here and there might linger a tuft of latest frost flowers in a sheltered place, and the witch-hazel in the thickets was still sprinkled with bright bloom. Mary stopped once under the shore where a bough of this strange, spring-in-autumn flower grew over the water, and broke some twigs to lay gently before her in the canoe. The old Indian, last descendant of the chief Passaconaway, who had made the light craft and taught her to guide it, had taught her many other things of his wild and wise inheritance. This flower of mystery brought up deep associations with that gentle-hearted old friend, the child of savagery and a shadowy past.
The river broadened now at Madam's Cove. There was a great roaring in the main channel beyond, where the river was vexed by rocky falls; inside the cove there was little water left except in the straight channel that led to the landing-place and quaint heavy-timbered boat-house. From the shore a grassy avenue went winding up to the house above. Against the northwestern sky the old home of the Wallingfords looked sad and lonely; its windows were like anxious eyes that followed the river's course toward a dark sea where its master had gone adventuring.
Mary stood on land, looking back the way she had come; her heart was beating fast, but it was not from any effort of fighting against wind or tide. She did not know why she began to remember with strange vividness the solemn pageant of Judge Wallingford's funeral, which had followed the water highway from Portsmouth, one summer evening, on the flood tide. It was only six years before, when she was already the young and anxious mistress of her brother's house, careful and troubled about many things like Martha, in spite of her gentler name. She had looked out of an upper window to see the black procession of boats with slow-moving oars come curving and winding across the bay; the muffled black of mourning trailed from the sides; there were soldiers of the judge's regiment, sitting straight in their bright uniforms, for pallbearers, and they sounded a solemn tap of drum as they came.
They drew nearer: the large coffin with its tasseled pall, the long train of boats which followed filled with sorrowing friends, - the President of the Province and many of the chief men, - had all passed slowly by.
The tears rushed to Mary's eyes, that day, when she saw her brother's serious young head among the elder gentlemen, and close beside him was the fair tear-reddened face and blond uncovered hair of the fatherless son. Roger Wallingford was but a boy then; his father had been the kind friend and generous founder of all her brother's fortunes. She remembered how she had thanked him from a grateful heart, and meant to be unsparing in her service and unfailing in duty toward the good man's widow and son. They had read prayers for him in the Queen's Chapel at Portsmouth; they were but bringing him to his own plot of ground in Somersworth, at eventide, and Mary Hamilton prayed for him out of a full heart as his funeral went by. The color came in her young cheeks at the remembrance. What had she dared to do, what responsibility had she not taken upon her now? She was but an ignorant girl, and driven by the whip of Fate. A strange enthusiasm, for which she could not in this dark moment defend herself, had led her on. It was like the moment of helpless agony that comes with a bad dream.
She turned again and faced the house; and the house, like a great conscious creature on the hillside, seemed to wait for her quietly and with patience. She was standing on Wallingford's ground, and bent upon a most difficult errand. There was neither any wish for escape, in her heart, nor any thought of it, and yet for one moment she trembled as if the wind shook her as it shook the naked trees. Then she went her way, young and strong-footed, up the long slope. It was one of the strange symbolic correspondences of life that her path led steadily up the hill.
The great door of the house opened wide before her, as if the whole future must have room to enter; old Rodney, the chief house servant, stood within, as if he had been watching for succor. In the spacious hall the portraits looked proud and serene, as if they were still capable of all hospitalities save that of speech.
"Will you say that Miss Hamilton waits upon Madam Wallingford?" said Mary; and the white-headed old man bowed with much ceremony, and went up the broad stairway, still nodding, and pausing once, with his hand on the high banister, to look back at so spirited and beautiful a guest. A faithful heart ached within him to see her look so young, so fresh-blooming, so untouched by sorrow, and to think of his stricken mistress. Yet she had come into the chilly house like a brave, warm reassurance, and all Rodney's resentment was swift to fade. The quick instincts of his race were confronted by something that had power to master them; he comprehended the truth because it was a simple truth and his was a simple heart.
He disappeared at the turn of the staircase into the upper hall, and Mary took a few impatient steps to and fro. On the great moose antlers was flung some of the young master's riding gear; there was his rack of whips below, and a pair of leather gloves with his own firm grasp still showing in the rounded fingers. There were his rods and guns; even his old dog leash and the silver whistle. She knew them all as well as he, with their significance of past activities and the joys of life and combat. They made their owner seem so close at hand, and the pleasures of his youth all snatched away. Oh, what a sharp longing for the old lively companionship was in her heart! It was like knowing that poor Roger was dead instead of gone away to sea. He would come no more in the winter evenings to tell his hunter's tales of what had happened at the lakes, or to plan a snowshoe journey up the country. Mary stamped her foot impatiently; was she going to fall into helpless weakness now, when she had most need to be quiet and to keep her steadiness? Old Rodney was stepping carefully down the steps again; she wore a paler look than when they had parted. Somehow, she felt like a stranger in the familiar house. Once Rodney would have been a mere reflection of his mistress's ready welcome, but now he came close to Miss Hamilton's side and spoke in an anxious whisper.
"You'll be monst'ous gentle to her dis day, young mistis?" he asked pleadingly. "Oh yis, mistis; her heart's done broke!"
Then he shuffled away to the dining-room to move the tankards on the great sideboard. One could feel everything, but an old black man, born in the jungle and stolen by a slaver's crew, knew when he had said enough.
Working replica of a gundalow
at Strawbery Banke Museum, 2003.
Photo by Terry Heller
"Whose daughters ye are...": See 1 Peter 3:6. (Research: Gabe Heller)
[ Back ]
musquash: a muskrat.
[ Back ]
frost flowers ... witch-hazel: Frost flowers is a common name for Asters. Witch-hazel is a fall-blooming shrub with thin-petalled yellow flowers, the bark of which is used in a soothing but astringent lotion. (Research assistance: Gabe Heller).
[ Back ]
solemn pageant of Judge Wallingford's funeral: We are told this took place 6 years before the date of the story which is 1777. Judge Thomas Wallingford died in 1771 (See People List). The provincial governor (sometimes called the president) of Maine (1769-1774) was Thomas Hutchinson.
[ Back ]
like Martha, in spite of her gentler name: See Luke 10 and John 11. Martha is the busier and seemingly less patient of the sisters in Luke; in John, we are told Martha and Mary are sisters of Lazarus, the man whom Jesus raises from the dead.
[ Back ]
|The Tory Lover -- Contents