|Return to The Tory Lover -- Contents .|
The Tory Lover by Sarah Orne Jewett
THE MILL PRISON
"Lackyng[e,] my love, I goe from place to place."
"'Twixt every prayer he says, he names you once
As others drop a bead."
One morning late in spring the yellow primroses were still abloom on the high moorlands above Plymouth; the chilly sea wind was blowing hard, and the bright sunshine gave little warmth, even in a sheltered place. The yard of the great Mill Prison was well defended by its high stockade, but the wind struck a strong wing into it in passing, and set many a poor half-clad man to shivering. The dreary place was crowded with sailors taken from American ships: some forlorn faces were bleached by long captivity, and others were still round and ruddy from recent seafaring. There was a constant clack of sharp, angry voices. Outside the gate was a group of idle sightseers staring in, as if these poor Yankees were a menagerie of outlandish beasts; now and then some compassionate man would toss a shilling between the bars, to be pitifully scrambled for, or beckon to a prisoner who looked more suffering than the rest. Even a southwesterly gale hardly served to lighten the heavy air of such a crowded place, and nearly every one looked distressed; the small-pox had blighted many a face, so that the whole company wore a piteous look, though each new day still brought new hopes of liberty.
There were small groups of men sitting close together. Some were playing at games with pebbles and little sticks, their draughts board or fox-and-geese lines being scratched upon the hard trodden ground. Some were writing letters, and wondering how to make sure of sending them across the sea. There were only two or three books to be seen in hand; most of the prisoners were wearily doing nothing at all.
In one corner, a little apart from the rest, sat a poor young captain who had lost his first command, a small trading vessel on the way to France. He looked very downcast, and was writing slowly, a long and hopeless letter to his wife.
"I now regret that I had not taken your advice and Mother's and remained at home instead of being a prisoner here," he had already written, and the stiff, painfully shaped words looked large and small by turns through his great tears. "I was five days in the prison ship. I am in sorrow our government cares but little for hir subjects. They have nothing allowed them but what the British government gives them. Shameful, - all other nations feels for their subjects except our Country. There is no exchange of prisoners. It is intirely uncertain when I return perhaps not during the war. I live but very poor, every thing is high. I hope you have surmounted your difficulties and our child has come a Comfort to imploy your fond attention. It is hard the loss of my ship and difficult to bare. God bless you all. My situation is not so bad but it might be worse. This goes by a cartel would to God I could go with it but that happiness is denied me. It would pain your tender heart to view the distressed seamen crowded in this filthy prison, there is kind friends howiver in every place and some hours passed very pleasant in spite of every lack some says the gallows or the East Indias will be our dreadful destiny. 't would break a stone's heart to see good men go so hungry we must go barefoot when our shoes is done. Some eats the grass in the yard and picks up old bones, and all runs to snatch the stumps of our cabbage the cooks throws out. some makes a good soup they say from snails a decent sort that hives about the walls, but I have not come to this I could not go it. They says we may be scattered on the King's ships. I hear the bells in Plymouth Town and Dock pray God 't is for no victory - no I hear in closing 't is only their new Lord Mayor coming in" -
As this was finished there was another man waiting close by, who caught impatiently at the thrice-watered ink, and looked suspiciously to see if any still remained.
"Harbert said 's how I should have it next," grumbled the fellow prisoner, "if so be you've left me any. Who'll car' our letters to the cartel? They want to send a list o' those that's dead out o' the Dolton, an' I give my promise to draw up the names."
There were many faces missing now from the crew of the Dolton brigantine, taken nearly a year and a half before, but there were still a good number of her men left in the prison. Others had come from the Blenheim or the Fancy; some from the Lexington; and the newest resident was a man off The Yankee Hero, who had spent some time after his capture as sailor on a British man-of-war. He was a friendly person, and had brought much welcome news, being also so strong and well fed that he was a pleasant sight to see. Just now he sat with Charles Herbert, of Newbury, in Massachusetts, whom they all called the scribe. For once this poor captive wore a bright, eager look on his scarred face, as he listened to the newcomer's talk of affairs; they had been near neighbors at home. The younger man had been in prison these many months. He was so lucky as to possess a clumsy knife, which was as great a treasure as his cherished bottle of ink, and was busy making a little box of cedar wood and fitting it neatly together with pegs. Since he had suffered the terrible attack of small-pox which had left his face in ruins, and given him a look of age at twenty, his eyesight had begun to fail; he was even now groping over the ground, to find one of the tiny dowels that belonged to his handiwork.
"'T is there by your knee; the rags of your trouser leg was over it," said Titcomb, the new man-of-war's man, as he reached for the bit of wood.
"Who's thisnew plant o' grace, comin' out o' hospit'l?" he asked suddenly, looking over Herbert's shoulder, with the peg in his fingers. "'T is a stranger to me, and with the air of a gentleman, though he lops about trying his sea legs, like an eel on 's tail."
"No place for gentlemen here, God help him!" said the young scribe sadly, trying to clear his dull eyes with a ragged sleeve as he turned to look. "No, I don't know who it is. I did hear yisterday that there was an officer fetched here in the night, from the nor'ard, under guard, and like to be soon hanged. Some one off of a Yankee privateer, they said, that went in and burnt the shipping of a port beyond Wales. I overheared the sentinels havin' some talk about him last night. I expect 't was that old business of the Ranger, and nothin' new."
There was a rough scuffling game going on in the prison yard, which made all the sick and disabled men shrink back against the walls, out of danger. The stranger came feebly from point to point, as the game left space, toward the sunny side where the two Newbury men were sitting. As they made room for him, they saw that he was dressed in the remains of a torn, weather-stained uniform; his arm was in a sling, and his shoulder fast bound with dirty bandages.
"You're a new bird in this pretty cage," said poor Herbert, smiling pleasantly. He was a fellow of sympathetic heart, and always very friendly with newcomers.
The stranger returned his greeting, with a distressed glance toward their noisy companions, and seated himself heavily on the ground, leaning back against the palisade. The tumult and apparent danger of finding himself trodden underfoot vexed and confused him in his weakness; presently he grew faint, and his head dropped on his breast. His last thought was a wish to be back in the wretched barracks, where at least it was quiet. At that moment two men pushed their way out of the middle of a quarreling group of playmates, and ran toward him.
"'T ain't never you, sir!" cried one.
"'T is Mr. Roger Wallingford, too! Don't you think I've got sense enough to know?" scolded the other, both speaking at once, in tones which conveyed much pity and astonishment to the Newbury men's ears.
"By God! it is, an' he's a dyin' man!"
Gideon Warren was a Berwick sailor of the old stock, who had known the lieutenant from a child, and was himself born and reared by the river. "What've them devils used him such a way for?" he demanded angrily. "He looks as ancient as the old judge, his father, done, the week afore he died. What sort of a uniform's this he's got on him?"
The other men looked on, and, any excitement being delightful in so dull a place, a crowd gathered about them quickly, pushing and jostling, and demanding to know what had happened. Warren, a heavily built, kind-faced old mariner, had fallen on his knees and taken the sick man's head on his own ample shoulder, with all the gentleness of a woman. There was more than one old Berwick neighbor standing near. The general racket of noise began to be hushed.
"Git him some water, can't ye?" commanded Warren. "I misdoubt we've got no sperits for him. Stand to t' other side, there, some on ye caw-handed cutters, an' keep the sun off'n him!"
"'T ain't no British fightin' gear, nor French neither, that's on him," said Ichabod Lord, as he leaned forward to get a better view of the red waistcoat, and, above all, the gilt buttons of the new prisoner's coat.
"'T is an officer from one o' our own Congress ships; they'd keep such news from us here, any way they could," said young Earl angrily.
"Looks to me different," said the Newbury man who was with Herbert. "No, I'll begretch it's anything more'n some livery wear and relic o' fashion. 'T is some poor chap they've cotched out'n some lord's house; he mought be American-born, an' they took him to be spyin' on 'em."
"What d' you know o' them high affairs?" returned Warren with indignation. "Livery wear? You ain't never been situated where you'd be like to see none! 'T is a proper uniform, or was one, leastways; there's a passel o' anchors worked on him, and how he ever come here ain't for me to say, but 't is our young Squire Wallin'ford, son an' heir o' the best gentleman that was ever on the old Piscataqua River.["]
"When we come away, folks was all certain they had leanin's to the wrong side; his mother's folks was high among the Boston Tories," explained Ichabod Lord wonderingly. "Yet he must ha' been doin' some mischief 'long o' the Patriots, or he'd never been sent here for no rebel, - no, they'd never sent him here; this ain't where they keep none o' their crown jew'ls! Lord! I hope he ain't goin' to die afore he tells some news from the old Lower Landin' an' Pound Hill, an' how things was goin' forrard, when he left home, all up along the Witchtrot road!"
These last words came straight from the depths of an exile's heart, and nobody thought it worth while to smile at the names of his localities; there was hardly a man who was not longing for home news in the same desperate way. A jail was but a jail the world over, a place to crowd a man lower down, soul and body, and England was not likely to be anxious about luxuries for these ship's companies of rebels and pirates, the willful destroyers of her commerce; they were all thought guilty of treason, and deserved the worst of punishment.
There was a faint flicker of color now on the stranger's cheeks, and Charles Herbert had brought some water, and was fanning him with a poor fragment of headgear, while some one else rubbed his cold hands. They were all well enough used to seeing men in a swoon; the custom was to lay them close to the wall, if they were in the way, to recover themselves as best they could, but this man with the stained red waistcoat might have news to tell.
"I'll bate my head he's been on the Ranger with Paul Jones," announced Ichabod Lord solemnly, as if he were ready to suffer for his opinions. "That's what 't is; they may have all been taken, too, off the coast."
"Why, 't is the uniform of our own Congress navy, then!" exclaimed young Herbert, with his scarred cheeks gone bright crimson like a girl's, and a strange thrill in his voice. He sprang to his feet, and the men near him gave the best cheer they could muster. Poor Wallingford heard it, and stirred a little, and half opened his eyes.
"I've above two shillings here that I've airnt makin' of my workboxes: some o' you fellows run to the gates and get a decent-looking body to fetch us some brandy," begged Herbert hastily.
"I'm all right now," said Wallingford aloud; and then he saw whose stout arms were holding him, and looked into a familiar face.
"Good God! we had news at home long ago that you were dead, Warren!" he said with wide-eyed bewilderment.
"I bain't then, so now," insisted the honest Gideon indignantly, which amused the audience so that they fell to laughing and slapping one another on the shoulder.
"Well, I bain't"repeated Warren, as soon as he could be heard. "I've been here in this prison for seven months, and it's a good deal worse 'n layin' at home in Old Fields bur'in' ground, right in sight o' the river 'n all 's a-goin' on. Tell us where you come from, sir, as soon 's you feel able, and how long you are from Barvick! We get no sort of news from the folks. I expect you can't tell me whether my old mother's livin'?" The poor man tried hard to master his feelings, but his face began to twitch, and he burst out crying suddenly, like a child.
"Looks like they've all gone and forgot us," said a patient, pale-faced fellow who stood near. Wallingford was himself again now, and looked with dismay at those who looked at him. Their piteous pallor and hungry-eyed misery of appearance could give but little sense of welcome or comfortable reassurance to a new captive. He was as poor as they, and as lacking in present resource, and, being weak and worn, the very kindness and pity of the arms that held him only added to his pain.
"If I had not come the last of my way by sea," he told them, trying to speak some cheerful hope to such hopeless souls, "I might have got word to London or to Bristol, where I can count upon good friends," but some of the listeners looked incredulous and shook their heads doubtfully, while there were those who laughed bitterly as they strolled away.
"Have you any late news from Captain Paul Jones?" he asked, sitting straight now, though Warren still kept a careful arm behind him. "I was at Whitehaven with him; I belong on the frigate Ranger," and his eyes grew bright and boyish.
"They say that one of her own officers tried to betray the ship," sneered a young man, a late comer to the Mill Prison, who stood looking straight into poor Wallingford's face.
"'T was true enough, too," said Roger Wallingford frankly; "it is by no fault of mine that you see me here. God grant that such treachery made no other victim!"
"They say that the Ranger has taken a mort o' prizes, and sent them back to France," announced the Newbury sailor. "Oh, Lord, yes, she's scared 'em blue ever sense that night she went into Whitehaven! She took the Drake sloop o' war out o' Carrickfergus that very next day."
"I knew there was business afoot!" cried the lieutenant proudly; but he suddenly turned faint again, and they saw a new bright stain strike through the clumsy bandages on his shoulder.
Lackyng[e,] my love, I goe from place to place: According to Weber & Weber, the 2nd printing of the first edition differed from the first in removing the "e" and comma from this quotation. The quotation is from Edmund Spenser (1552-1599), Amoretti, Sonnet 78. It begins:
Lacking my love I go from place to place,
Like a young fawn that late hath lost the hind:
And seek each where, where last I saw her face,
Whose image yet I carry fresh in mind.
(Research: Gabe Heller)
[ Back ]
"'Twixt every prayer he says, he names you once / As others drop a bead.": From Francis Beaumont (1584-1616) and John Fletcher (1579-1625), Philaster (1608-10) Act 2 Scene 3, a speech by Bellario, trying to convince Arethusa that his master loves her:
If it be love
To forget all respect of his own friends
With thinking of your face; if it be love
To sit cross-arm'd and sigh away the day,
Mingled with starts, crying your name as loud
And hastily as men i' the streets do fire;
If it be love to weep himself away
When he but hears of any lady dead
Or kill'd, because it might have been your chance;
If, when he goes to rest (which will not be),
'Twixt every prayer he says, to name you once,
As others drop a bead, be to be in love,
Then, madam, I dare swear he loves you.
(Research: Gabe Heller)
[ Back ]
their drafts board or fox-and-geese lines: games. Drafts is also known as checkers, any of several games played on a board marked with squares, usually 8 by 8. Each player begins with an equal number of counters. Varying rules govern the movements of the counters, but the general object is for one player to capture all the counters of the other player by "jumping" them. Fox and Geese is played on a cross shaped board with lines indicating valid moves. One player has many geese, the other one fox. The fox piece may "eat" the geese by jumping over them. If the geese corner the fox so he cannot move then the "geese" player wins. If the "fox" eats enough geese that they can no longer corner him, the fox player wins. (Research: Gabe Heller)
[ Back ]
Dolton ... the Blenheim ... the Fancy ...Lexington ... the Yankee Hero: The privateer Dolton was captured by the British in December 1776. Charles Herbert published an account of this capture and of his years in the Mill Prison. Herbert's book is a probable source for much of Jewett's account of conditions and events at the Mill Prison. (See the entry on Herbert on the People list.) Of the Fancy Herbert says: "They inform us that Captain John Lee is taken in the brig Fancy, twelve guns, fitted out at Newbury, belonging to the Traceys, and forty-two of his hands came on board the Blenheim before they left her" (Chapter 6). The Lexington, a prize, was taken in April 1777. Herbert lists a number of other privateers, letter of marques, and prize ships from which crew members came to the Mill Prison.
In A Naval History of the American Revolution (1913), Gardner Allen tells the story of the privateer, Yankee Hero, Captain James Tracey, that encountered the British frigate, the Milford, in June 1776. The Yankee Hero was captured and the crew made prisoners. (pp. 149-152.)
The Blenheim almost certainly is a British warship that Herbert describes as a guard ship in Plymouth harbor, from which prisoners are usually transferred to the Mill. The Royal Navy lists the Blenheim as a 74-gun ship built in 1761 and reduced in 1801.
See also Abell on the Mill Prison.
[ Back ]
plant o' grace: This phrase is fairly common in literary and religious writing. Usually it is connected with the idea of planting the good seed from the parable of the sower in Matthew 13. The "plant of grace" grows from the good seed; that is the renewed person grows in grace as a result of hearing the gospel. A plant of grace typically brings light or hope to an otherwise dark situation. (Research: Gabe Heller)
[ Back ]
caw-handed cutters: Cutters are people who are paid to get a crew on board a ship by hook or crook. Often this involves seeing that they spend or lose or have stolen from them all their wages the first night on shore, or putting them on board by force. "Caw-handed" in thieving slang is an insult implying awkward, not dextrous. (Research: Gabe Heller)
[ Back ]
Return to The Tory Lover -- Contents