|The Tory Lover -- Contents|
.The Tory Lover by Sarah Orne Jewett
IT IS THE SOUL THAT SEES
"When good and faire in one person meet - "
Every-day life at Colonel Hamilton's house went on with as steady current as the great river that passed its walls. The raising of men and money for a distressed army, with what survived of his duties toward a great shipping business, kept Hamilton himself ceaselessly busy. Often there came an anxious company of citizens riding down the lane to consult upon public affairs; there was an increasing number of guests of humbler condition who sought a rich man's house to plead their poverty. The winter looked long and resourceless to these troubled souls. There were old mothers, who had been left on lonely farms when their sons had gone to war. There was a continued asking of unanswerable questions about the soldiers' return, while younger women came, pale and desperate, with little troops of children pulling at their skirts. When one appealing group left the door, another might be seen coming to take its place. The improvident suffered first and made loudest complaint; later there were discoveries of want that had been too uncomplainingly borne. The well-to-do families of Berwick were sometimes brought to straits themselves, in their effort to succor their poorer neighbors.
Mary Hamilton looked graver and older. All the bright elation of her heart had gone, as if a long arctic night were setting in instead of a plain New England winter, with its lengthening days and bright January sun at no great distance. She could not put Madam Wallingford's sorrow out of mind; she was thankful to be so busy in the great house, like a new Dorcas with her gifts of garments, but the shadow of war seemed more and more to give these days a deeper darkness.
There was no snow on the ground, so late in the sad year; there was still a touch of faded greenness on the fields. One afternoon Mary came across the flag-stoned court toward the stables, tempted by the milder air to take a holiday, though the vane still held by the northwest. That great wind was not dead, but only drowsy in the early afternoon, and now and then a breath of it swept down the country.
Old Peggy had followed her young mistress to the door, and still stood there watching with affectionate eyes.
"My poor darlin'!" said the good soul to herself, and Mary turned to look back at her with a smile. She thought Peggy was at her usual grumbling.
"Bless ye, we've all got to have patience!" said the old housekeeper, again looking wistfully at the girl, whose tired face had touched her very heart. As if this quick wave of unwonted feeling were spread to all the air about, Mary's own eyes filled with tears; she tried to go on, and then turned and ran back. She put her arms round Peggy, there in the doorway.
"I am only going for a ride. Kiss me, Peggy, - kiss me just as you did when I was a little girl; things do worry me so. Oh, Peggy dear, you don't know; I can't tell anybody!"
"There, there, darlin', somebody'll see you! Don't you go to huggin' this dry old thrashin' o' straw; no, don't you take notice 'bout an old withered corn shuck like me!" she protested, but her face shone with tenderness. "Go have your ride, an' I'm goin' to make ye a pretty cake; 't will be all nice and crusty; I was goin' to make you one, anyway. I tell ye things is all comin' right in the end. There, le' me button your little cape!" And so they parted.
Peggy marched back into the great kitchen without her accustomed looks of disapproval at the maids, and dropped into the corner of the settle next the fire. She put out her lame foot in its shuffling shoe, and looked at it as if there were no other object of commiseration in the world.
"'T is a shame to be wearin' out, so fine made as I was. The Lord give me a good smart body, but 't is beginnin' to fail an' go," said the old woman impatiently. "Once 't would ha' took twice yisterday's work to tire foot or back o' me."
"I'm dreadful spent myself, bein' up 'arly an' late. We car'ied an upstropelous sight o' dishes to an' fro. Don't see no vally in feedin' a whole neighborhood, when best part on 'em 's only too lazy to provide theirselves," murmured one of the younger handmaidens, who was languidly scouring a great pewter platter. Whereat Peggy rose in her wrath, and set the complainer a stint of afternoon work sufficient to cast a heavy shadow over the freshest spirit of industry.
The mistress of these had gone her way to the long stables, where a saddle was being put on her favorite horse, and stood in the wide doorway looking down the river. The tide was out; the last brown leaves of the poplars were flying off some close lower branches; there was a touch of north in the wind, but the sun was clear and bright for the time of year. Mary was dressed in a warm habit of green cloth, with a close hood like a child's tied under her chin; the long skirt was full of sharp creases where it had lain all summer in one of the brass-nailed East Indian chests, and a fragrance of camphor and Eastern spices blew out as the heavy folds came to the air. The old coachman was busy with the last girth, and soothed the young horse as he circled about the floor; then, with a last fond stroke of a shining shoulder, he gave Mary his hand, and mounted her light as a feather to the saddle.
"He's terrible fresh!" said the old master of horse, as he drew the riding skirt in place with a careful touch. "Have a care, missy!"
Mary thanked the old man with a gentle smile, and took heed that the horse walked quietly away. When she turned the corner beyond the shipyard she dropped the curb rein, and the strong young creature flew straight away like an arrow from the bowstring. "Mind your first wind, now. 'T is a good thing to keep!" said the rider gayly, and leaned forward, as they slackened pace for a moment on the pitch of the hill, to pat the horse's neck and toss a handful of flying mane back to its place. Until the first pleasure and impulse of speed were past there was no time to think, or even to remember any trouble of mind. For the first time in many days all the motive power of life did not seem to come from herself.
The fields of Berwick were already beginning to wear that look of hand-shaped smoothness which belongs only to long-tilled lands in an old country. The first colonists and pilgrims of a hundred and fifty years before might now return to find their dreams had borne fair fruit in this likeness to England, that had come upon a landscape hard wrung from the wilderness. The long slopes, the gently rounded knolls that seemed to gather and to hold the wintry sunshine, the bushy field corners and hedgerows of wild cherry that crossed the shoulders of the higher hills, would be pleasant to those homesick English eyes in the new country they had toiled so hard to win. The river that made its way by shelter and covert of the hilly country of field and pasture, - the river must for many a year have been looked at wistfully, because it was the only road home. Portsmouth might have been all for this world, while Plymouth was all for the next; but the Berwick farms were made by home-makers, neither easy to transplant in the first place, nor easy now to uproot again.
The northern mountains were as blue as if it were a day in spring. They looked as if the warm mist of April hung over them; as if they were the outposts of another world, whose climate and cares were of another and gentler sort, and there was no more fretting or losing, and no more war either by land or sea.
The road was up and down all the way over the hills, winding and turning among the upper farms that lay along the riverside above the Salmon Fall. Now and then a wood road or footpath shortened the way, dark under the black hemlocks, and sunshiny again past the old garrison houses. Goodwins, Plaisteds, Spencers, Keays, and Wentworths had all sent their captives through the winter snows to Canada, in the old French and Indian wars, and had stood in their lot and place for many a generation to suffer attacks by savage stealth at their quiet ploughing, or confront an army's strength and fury of firebrand and organized assault.
There was the ford to cross at Wooster's River, - that noisy stream which can never be silent, as if the horror of a great battle fought upon its bank could never be told. Here there was always a good modern moment of excitement: the young horse must whirl about and rear, and show horror in his turn, as if the ghosts of Hertel and his French and Indians stood upon the historic spot of their victory over the poor settlers; finally the Duke stepped trembling into the bright shallow water, and then stopped midway with perfect composure, for a drink. Then they journeyed up the steep battleground, and presently caught the sound of roaring water at the Great Falls, heavy with the latter rains.
On the crest of the hill Mary overtook a woman, who was wearily carrying a child that looked large enough to walk alone; but his cheeks were streaked with tears, and there were no shoes on his little feet to tread the frozen road: only some worn rags wrapped them clumsily about. Mary held back her horse, and reached down for the poor little thing, to take him before her on the saddle. The child twisted determinedly in her arms to get a look at her face, and then cuddled against his new friend with great content. He took fast hold of the right arm which held him, and looked proudly down at his mother, who, relieved of her extra burden, stepped briskly alongside.
"Goin' up country to stay with my folks," she answered Mary's question of her journey. "Ain't nothin' else I can do; my man's with the army at Valley Forge. 'God forbid you're any poorer than I be!' he last sent me word. 'I've got no pay and no clothes to speak of, an' here's winter comin' right on.' This mornin' I looked round the house an' see how bare it was, an' I locked the door an' left it. The baby cried good after his cat, but I couldn't lug 'em both. She's a pretty creatur' an' smart. I don't know but she'll make out; there's plenty o' squirrels. Cats is better off than women folks."
"I'll ride there some day and get her, if I can, and keep her until you come home," offered Mary kindly.
"Rich folks like you can do everything," said the woman bitterly, with a look at the beautiful horse which easily outstepped her.
"Alas, we can't do everything!" said Mary sadly; and there was something in her voice which touched the complainer's heart.
"I guess you would if you could," she answered simply; and then Mary's own heart was warmed again.
The road still led northward along the high uplands above the river; all the northern hills and the mountains of Ossipee looked dark now, in a solemn row. Mary turned her horse into a narrow track off the highroad, and leaned over to give the comforted child into his mother's arms. He slipped to ground of his own accord, and trotted gayly along.
"Look at them pore little feet! I wisht he had some shoes; he can't git fur afore he'll be cryin' again for me to take an' car' him," said the mother ruefully. "You see them furthest peaks? I've got to git there somehow 'n other, with this lo'd on my back an' that pore baby. But I know folks on the road; pore 's they be, they'll take me in, if I can hold out to do the travelin'. War's hard on pore folks. We've got a good little farm, an' my man didn't want to leave it. He held out 'count o' me till the bounty tempted him. We couldn't be no porer than we be, now I tell ye!"
"Go to the store on the hill and get some shoes for the baby," said Mary eagerly, as if to try to cheer her fellow traveler. "Get some warm little shoes, and tell the storekeeper 't was I who bade you come." And so they parted; but Mary's head drooped sorrowfully as she rode among the gray birches, on her shorter way to the high slopes of Pine Hill.
This piece of country had, years before, furnished some of the noblest masts that were ever landed on English shores. The ruined stump of that great pine which was the wonder of the King's dockyards, and had loaded one of the old mastships with its tons of timber, could still be seen, though shrunken and soft with moss. A fox, large in his new winter fur, went sneaking across the way; and the young horse pranced gayly at the sight of him, while Mary noticed his track and the way it led, for her brother's sake, and turned aside across the half-wooded pasture, until she had a sportsman's satisfaction in seeing the fox make toward a rough, ledgy bit of ground, and warm thicket of underbrush at a spring head. This would be good news for poor old Jack, who might take no time for hunting, but could dream of it any night after supper, like a happy dog before his own fire.
On the heights of the great ridge some of the elder generation of trees were still standing, left because they were crooked and unfit for the mastships' cargoes. They were monarchs of the whole landscape, and waved their long boughs in the wintry wind. Mary Hamilton had known them in her earliest childhood, and looked toward them now with happy recognition, as if within their hard seasoned shapes their hearts were conscious of other existences, and affection like her own. She stopped the fleet horse on the top of the hill, and laid her hand upon the bark of a huge pine; then she looked off at the lower country. The sight of it was a challenge to adventure; a great horizon sets the boundaries of the inner life of man wider to match itself, and something that had bound the girl's heart too closely seemed to slip easily away.
She smiled and took a long breath, and, turning, rode down the rough pasture again, and along the field toward the river. Her heavy riding dress filled and flew with the cold northwest wind, and a bright color came back to her cheeks. To stand on the bleak height had freed her spirit, and sent her back to the lower countries of life happier than she came: it was said long ago that one may not sweep away a fog, but one may climb the hills of life and look over it altogether.
She leaped the horse lightly over some bars that gave a surly sort of entrance to a poor-looking farm, and rode toward the low house. Suddenly from behind a thorn bush there appeared a strange figure, short-skirted and bent almost double under a stack of dry beanstalks. The bearer seemed to have uprooted her clumsy burden in a fury. She tramped along, while the horse took to shying at the sight, and had to be pacified with much firmness and patience.
The bean stack at last ceased its angry progress, and stood still.
"What's all that thromping? Keep away wit' yourself, then, whoiver ye are! I can only see the ground by me two feet. Ye'll not ride over me; keep back now till I'm gone!" screamed the shrill voice of an old woman.
"It is I, Mary Hamilton," said the girl, laughing. "You've frightened the Duke almost to death, Mrs. Sullivan! I can hold him, but do let me get by before you bob at him again."
There was a scornful laugh out of the moving ambush.
"Get out of me road, then, the two of ye!" and the bean stack moved angrily away, its transfixing pole piercing the air like a disguised unicorn. The two small feet below were well shod and sturdy like a boy's; the whole figure was so short that the dry frost-bitten vines trailed on the ground more and more, until it appeared as if the tangled mass were rolling uphill by its own volition.
Mary went on with the trembling horse. A moment later she walked quickly up the slope to the gray wooden house. There was the handsome head of a very old man, reading, close to the window, as she passed; but he did not look up until she had shut the door behind her and stood within the little room.
Then Master Sullivan, the exile, closed his book and sprang to his feet, a tall and ancient figure with the manners of a prince. He bent to kiss the hand of his guest, and looked at her silently before he spoke, with an unconscious eagerness of affection equal to her own.
"A thousand welcomes!" he said at last. "I should have seen you coming; you have had no one to serve you. I was on the Sabine farm with Horace; 't is far enough away!" he added, with a smile.
"I like to fasten my horse myself," answered Mary. "'T is best I should; he makes it a point of honor then to stand still and wait for me, and resents a stranger's hand, being young and impatient."
Mary looked bright and smiling; she threw back her close green hood, and her face bloomed out of it like a flower, as she stood before the gallant, frail old man. "There was a terrible little bean stack that came up the hill beside us," she went on, as if to amuse him, "and I heard a voice out of it, and saw two steady feet that I knew to be Mrs. Sullivan's; but my black Duke was pleased to be frightened out of his wits, and so we have all parted on bad terms, this dark day."
"She will shine upon you like a May morning when she comes in, then!" said Master Sullivan. "She's in a huge toil the day, with sure news of a great storm that's coming. 'Stay a while,' I begged her, 'stay a while, my dear; the wind is in a fury, and to-morrow'" -
"An' to-morrow indeed!" cried the master's wife, bursting in at the door, half a wild brownie and half a tame enough grandmotherly old soul. "An' to-morrow! I've heard nothing but to-morrow from ye all my life long, an' here's the hand of winter upon us again, an' thank God all me poor little crops is under cover, an' no praise to yourself."
The old man held out his slender hand; she did not take it, but her face began to shine with affection.
"Thank God, 't is yourself, Miss Mary Hamilton, my dear!" she exclaimed, dropping a curtsy. "My old gentleman here has been sorrowing for a sight of your fair face these many days. 'T is in December like this we do be sighing after the May. I don't know, have ye brought any news yet from the ship?"
"Oh no, not yet," said Mary. "No, there is no news yet from the Ranger."
"I have had good dreams of her, then," announced the old creature with triumph. "Listen: there's quarrels amongst 'em, but they'll come safe to shore, with gold in everybody's two hands."
She crossed the room, and drew her lesser wheel close to her knee and began to spin busily.
A photographic journey to Pine Hill accompanies this chapter. Following this link will show you some of what Mary sees as she travels from Hamilton House to Pine Hill to visit Master Sullivan.
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IT IS THE SOUL THAT SEES: This phrase is fairly common in religious and philosophical writing, so it is not clear that Jewett is quoting a particular source. Perhaps related to this idea is Jewett's saying in a letter of 1908 to Elizabeth McCracken: "I always insist that love isn't blind: it is only love that sees!" (Research assistance: Gabe Heller).
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"When good and faire in one person meet--": In "An Apology for Smectymnuus," a 1642 pamphlet, John Milton (1608-1674) writes: "... not to be sensible when good and fair in one person meet, argues both a gross and shallow judgment, and withal an ungentle and swainish breast." (Research: Gabe Heller)
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Dorcas with her gifts of garments: See the Acts of the Apostles 9.
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upstropelous: Mispronunciation of obstreperous (humorous or illiterate), clamorous noise or outcry especially in opposition. (Source: OED; Research: Travis Feltman)
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old French and Indian wars: See notes for Chapter 1.
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the army at Valley Forge: George Washington's Continental Army made its winter camp at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania in 1777-8.
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it was said long ago that one may not sweep away a fog, but one may climb the hills of life and look over it altogether: This saying has not been located. Assistance is welcome.
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the Sabine farm with Horace: See the first note of Chapter 17.
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brownie: an invisible benevolent goblin in Scots folklore.
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|The Tory Lover -- Contents|