|The Tory Lover -- Contents
The Tory Lover by Sarah Orne Jewett
NOW ARE WE FRIENDS AGAIN?
"My altar holds a constant flame."
Some dreary days, and even weeks, passed by, and one evening Wallingford passed the captain's cabin on his way to his own. It had lately been rough, windy weather in the harbor, but that night the Ranger was on an even keel, and as steady as if she were a well-built house on shore.
The door was open. "Is that you, Mr. Wallingford? Come in, will you?" The captain gave his invitation the air of a command.
Wallingford obeyed, but stood reluctant before his superior.
"I thought afterward that you had gone off in something of a flurry, that night we dined together, and you have avoided any conversation with me since my return from Paris. I don't like your looks now. Has anything come between us? Do you repent your confidence?"
"No, I do not repent it," said the lieutenant slowly.
"Something has touched your happiness. Come, out with it! We were like brothers then. The steward caught us hand in hand; it is long since I have had so happy an evening. I am grateful for such friendship as you showed me, when we were together that night. God knows I have felt the lack of friendship these many days past. Come, sir, what's your grievance with me?"
"It is nothing that I should tell you. You must excuse me, sir."
The captain looked at him steadily. "Had I some part in it? Then you are unjust not to speak."
There was great kindness, and even solicitude, in Paul Jones's tone. Wallingford was moved. It was easier to find fault with the captain when his eyes were not upon one; they had great power over a man.
"Come, my dear fellow," he said again, "speak to me with frankness; you have no sincerer friend than I."
"It was the sight of the ring on your finger, then. I do not think you meant to taunt me, but to see it was enough to rob me of my hope, sir: that was all."
The captain colored and looked distressed; then he covered his eyes, with an impatient gesture. He had not a guilty air, or even an air of provocation; it struck Wallingford at the moment that he wore no look, either, of triumphant happiness, such as befitted the accepted lover of Mary Hamilton.
"You knew the ring?" asked the captain, looking up, after some moments of perplexing silence.
"I have always known it," answered Roger Wallingford; "we were very old friends. Of late I had been gathering hope, and now, sir, it seems that I must wish another man the joy I lived but to gain."
"Sit ye down," said the captain. "I thought once that I might gather hope, too. No man could wish for greater happiness on earth than the love of such a lady: we are agreed to that."
Then he was silent again. The beauty of Mary Hamilton seemed once more before his eyes, as if the dim-lighted cabin and the close-set timbers of the ship were all away, and he stood again on the terrace above the river with the pleading girl. She had promised that she would set a star in the sky for him; he should go back, one day, and lay his victories at her feet. How could a man tell if she really loved this young Wallingford? In the natural jealousy of that last moment when they were together, he had felt a fierce delight in bringing Wallingford away; she was far too good for him, - or for any man, when one came to that! Yet he had come himself to love the boy. If, through much suffering, the captain had not stood, that day, at the very height of his own character, with the endeavor to summon all his powers for a new effort, the scale at this moment would have turned.
"My dear lad, she is not mine," he said frankly. "God knows I wish it might be otherwise! You forget I am a sailor." He laughed a little, and then grew serious. "'T is her ring, indeed, and she gave it me, but 't was a gift of friendship. See, I can kiss it on my finger with you looking on, and pray God aloud to bless the lovely giver. 'T will hold me to my best, and all the saints know how I stand in need of such a talisman!"
"You do not mean it, sir?" faltered Roger. "Can you mean that" -
"Now are we friends again? Yes, I mean it! Let us be friends, Wallingford. No, no, there need be nothing said. I own that I have had my hopes, but Miss Hamilton gave me no promise. If you go home before me, or without me, as well may happen, you shall carry back the ring. Ah no, for 't is my charm against despair!" he said. "I am sore vexed; I am too often the prey of my vulgar temper, but God knows I am sore vexed. Let us be friends. I must have some honest man believe in me, among these tricksters." The captain now bent to his writing, as if he could trust himself to say no more, and waved the lieutenant to be gone. "God help me, and I'll win her yet!" he cried next moment, when he was alone again, and lifted his face as if Heaven must listen to the vow. "Women like her are blessed with wondrous deep affections rather than quick passion," he said again softly. "'T is heaven itself within a heart like that, but Love is yet asleep."
The lights of Nantes and the lanterns of the shipping were all mirrored in the Loire, that night; there was a soft noise of the river current about the ship. The stars shone thick in the sky; they were not looking down on so happy a lover the world over as Roger Wallingford. He stood by the mainmast in the cold night air, the sudden turn of things bewildering his brain, his strong young heart beating but unsteadily. Alas, it was weeks ago that a single, stiffly phrased letter had gone home to his mother, and Mary's own letter was at the bottom of the sea. There was a swift homeward-bound brig just weighing anchor that had ventured to sea in spite of foes, and taken all the letters from the Ranger, and now it might be weeks before he could write again. Oh, distance, distance! how cruel are the long miles of sea that separate those who love, and long to be together!
Later that night, before they turned in, the officers and crew beheld Captain Paul Jones and his lately estranged lieutenant pacing the deck together. They were looked upon with pleasure by some who honored them both, but next day a new whispering was set forward; there was need of suspicion, since this new alliance might mean concerted betrayal, and Paul Jones himself was not above being won over to the Tories, being but an adventurer on his own account. Dickson was as busy as the devil in a gale of wind. His own plots had so far come to naught; he had not set these officers to hate each other, or forced them to compass each other's downfall. On the contrary, they had never really been fast friends until now.
The only thing was to rouse public opinion against them both. It were easy enough: he had promised to meet again the man whom he had met in the tavern the day before, - that messenger of Thornton, who had given hints of great reward if any one would give certain information which was already in Dickson's keeping. That night he shook his fist at the two figures that paced the quarterdeck.
"One of you came out of pride and ambition," he muttered, "and the other to please his lady! We men are here for our own rights, and to show that the colonies mean business!"
My altar holds a constant flame: From Annie Fields, "The Offering" in The Singing Shepherd (1895). The poem opens:
MY altar holds a constant flame
There eager, day by day,
I lay my offering; all the same
In dust it drifts away.
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The Tory Lover -- Contents