The Tory Lover -- Contents
 
 
 

The Tory Lover by Sarah Orne Jewett
.Chapter XXXVII
THE BOTTOM OF THESE MISERIES

"Let us pray that our unconscious benefactions outweigh our unconscious cruelties!"
 

     The order for Lieutenant Wallingford's release was soon in hand, but the long journey across country from Bristol to Plymouth seemed almost as long as all the time spent in crossing the sea. From the morning hour when the two elder ladies had watched Miss Hamilton and her kind old cavalier ride away down the narrow Bristol street, with a stout man servant well mounted behind them, until the day they were in sight of Plymouth Hoe, each minute seemed slower than the last. It was a pretty journey from inn to inn, and the alderman lent himself gayly to such unwonted holidays, while Mary's heart grew lighter on the way, and a bright, impatient happiness began to bloom afresh in her cheeks and to shine in her eyes.

     They reached Plymouth town at nightfall, and Mary was for taking fresh horses and riding on to the Mill Prison. For once her face was dark with anger when the landlord argued against such haste. He was for their taking supper, and assured the travelers that not even the mayor of Plymouth himself could knock at the jail gate by night and think to have it opened.

     Miss Hamilton turned from such officious speech with proud indifference, and looked expectantly at her companion.

     "It is not every night they will have a pardon to consider," she said in a low voice to Mr. Davis. "We carry a letter from my Lord Mount Edgecumbe to the governor of the prison. We must first get speech with the guard, and then I have no fear."

     The innkeeper looked provoked and wagged his head; he had already given orders for a bountiful supper, and was not going to let a rich Bristol merchant and two persons beside ride away without paying for it.

     "We shall not be long away," said Mary, pleading. If she had known of the supper, she would have added that they might bring back another and a hungrier guest than they to sit at table. The alderman was irresolute; he was ready to succor a distressed prisoner, being a good Christian; but he was hungry now, and they had been riding all day at a quicker pace than he might have followed if alone. His man servant, just come into the inn parlor to wait for orders, stole a meaning glance at him; and they were two against one.

     "No, no, my dear; 't is a good bit further, and most likely we should have our ride in vain. I know the rules of such places, from our Bristol laws at home. The governor will most likely be here in the town. Rest you now, and let us make a good supper, and start again betimes in the morning." Then, seeing how disappointed and even determined her face grew, and that she looked very tired, "I am an old man, you must remember," he added kindly. "I fear that I am spent to-night, and can do no more without resting."

     She was silent then, and crossed the room to stand by the window. There was a voice in her heart that begged her to persist, to go on alone, if need be, and not let herself be hindered in her quest. It was still light out of doors; the long twilight of the English summer was making this last step of her great adventure a possibility. She sighed; the voice within still warned and pleaded with her. "Who are you?" the girl said wonderingly. "Who are you that comes and helps me? You are not my own thought, but some one wiser than I, who would be my friend!" It was as if some unseen ministering spirit were face to face with her, bringing this insistent thought that she hardly dared refuse to take for guidance.

     She gazed out of the window. Sunset clouds were brightening the whole sky; an afterglow was on the moorland hills eastward above the town. She could hear the roar of the ocean not far away; there were cheerful voices coming up the street, and the citizens were all abroad with their comfortable pipes and chatter.

     "Get me a fresh horse and a man to follow," said Miss Hamilton, turning again to face the room. The landlord himself was laying the white cloth for supper. Matthew, their old groom, was stiffly kneeling and pulling off his master's riding boots, and they all three looked at her in dismay.

     "Our own horses are done, miss," said Matthew, with decision.

     "I have none I can let you to-night from my stable," the landlord seconded. "There was a review to-day of our raw recruits for America, and I had to empty every stall. The three best horses are returned with saddle galls from their clumsy ignorance," he protested boldly.

     Mary glanced at Mr. Davis, and was still unconvinced; but all her determination was lost when she saw that the old man was really fatigued. Well, it was only one night more, and she must not insist. Perhaps they were right, and her ride would be in vain. At least she could send a messenger; and to this proposal the landlord readily acceded, since, useless or not, it would be a shilling in his pocket, and a slow boy could carry the letter which the young lady made such haste to write.

     She stopped more than once, with trembling fingers and trembling heart. "Dearest Roger," and the written words made her blush crimson and hold her face closer to the paper. "Dearest Roger, I would that I might come to you to-night; but they say it is impossible. Your mother is in Bristol, and awaits you there. Mr. John Davis has brought me hither to the Crown Inn. In the morning we shall open the prison door for you. Oh, my dear Roger, to think that I shall see you at last!"

     "When can we have the answer back?" she asked; and the landlord told her, smiling, that it would be very late, if indeed there were any answer at all, and reminded her, with insolent patience, that he had already told her they would not open their prison gates, for Lords or Commons, to any one who came by night.

     "You may send the answer by one of your maids to the lady's room," commanded the Bristol magnate, in a tone that chased the servile smile from the innkeeper's face.
 

     When Mary waked, the morning sun was pouring in at her window, and there was no word of any answer. Old Matthew had spoken with the young messenger, and brought word that he had given the letter to one of the watch by the gate, who had taken the money, and promised to do his best to put the message into Mr. Wallingford's hands that night when they changed guard.
 

     "We might have been here last night; why, 't is but a step!" said John Davis, as they drew near the dismal prison next morning; but his young companion made no answer. He could not guess what happy fear mingled with her glad anticipation now, nor how her certainties and apprehensions were battling with each other.

     Matthew's own horse and another that he led for Mr. Wallingford were weighted with provisions, so that he trudged afoot alongside. It was easy to hear in Plymouth town how the American prisoners lacked such things, and yet Mary could hardly wait now to make the generous purchase which she had planned. She could not know all that Matthew had learned, and told his master in whispers in the stable yard.

     As they rode nearer to the prison a flaw of wind brought toward them all the horrible odors of the crowded place, like a warning of the distress and misery within. Though it was so early, there were many persons standing outside the gates: some of them were jeering at the sad spectacle, and some talking in a friendly way with the men who stood within. Happily, it was not only a few compassionate Americans who had posted themselves here to give what they could of food and succor, but among the Plymouth folk themselves many a heart was wrung with pity, and one poor old body had toiled out of the town with a basket of food to smuggle through the bars; cakes and biscuit of a humble sort enough, but well flavored with love. Mary saw her take thread and needles out of her pocket, and sit down on the ground to mend some poor rags of clothing. "My own lad went for a sailor," she said, when they thanked her and called her "mother."

     There was long delay; the guards pushed back the crowd again and again; one must stand close to see the sights within. All at once there was a cry and scuffling among the idlers, as some soldiers came riding up, one of them bringing an old horse with a man thrown across the saddle and tied down. As they loosed him he slid heavily to the ground as if he were dead, and the spectators closed about him.

     Mary Hamilton could only look on in horror and apprehension. Her companion was in the midst of the pushing crowd.

     "'T was a prisoner who escaped last night and has been retaken," he said hastily, as he returned to her side. "You may stay here with Matthew, my dear, while I take our letters and go in. I see that it is no place for you; they are like wild beasts."

     "I must go, too," said Mary; "you will not forbid me now. Good heavens!" she cried aloud. "Now that they stand away from the gate I can see within. Oh, the poor prisoners! Oh, I cannot bear their sick faces! They are starving, sir! These must be the men who had the fever you told me of. I wish we had brought more wine and food to these poor fellows! Let us go in at once," she cried again, and was in a passion of pity and terror at the sight.

     "Let us go in! Let us go in!" she begged. "Oh, you forget that they are my own countrymen! I cannot wait!"

     The guard now returned with a message, and the alderman gave his bridle to the groom. Mary was afoot sooner than he, and had run to the gate, pushing her way among the idle sightseers to the heavy grating. They were calling from both sides of the gate to old Matthew, who was standing with the horses, to come up and give them what he had brought. Mary Hamilton felt as if she were among wolves: they did not listen; they did not wait to find what she had to say. "For love of God, give me a shilling for a little 'baccy, my lady," said one voice in her ear. "I'll fetch them the 'baccy from the town, poor boys; they lack it most of anything, and he'll drink the money!" protested an old beggar woman at her side. "Go in? They'll let no ladies in!" and she gave a queer laugh. "And if you're once in, all you'll pray for is to be out again and forget the sight."
 

     The governor was in his room, which had a small grated window toward the prison yard; but there was a curtain before it, and he looked up anxiously to see if this were close drawn as his early guests entered. This task of jailer was a terrible duty for any man, and he swore under his breath at Lord Mount Edgecumbe for interfering with what at best was an impossible piece of business. If he had seen to it that they had decent supplies for the prison, and hanged a score of their purveyors and contractors, now, or had blown the whole rotten place into the air with his fleet guns, 't were a better kindness!

     The clerk stood waiting for orders.

     "Show them in, then, these people," he grumbled, and made a feint of being busy with some papers as Miss Hamilton and her escort appeared. The governor saw at once that the honorable Mr. Davis was a man of consequence.

     "My Lord Mount Edgecumbe writes me that you would make inquiries for a prisoner here," said the old soldier, less roughly because the second guest proved to be a lady and most fair to see. She looked very pale, and was watching him with angry eyes. As she had crossed the prison yard, she had seen fewer miseries because her tears had blinded her. There had been one imploring voice calling her by her own name. "Stop, Miss Hamilton, stop, for God's sake!" some one had cried; but the guard had kept the poor prisoners off, and an attendant hurried her along by force when she would gladly have lingered. The horror of it all was too much for her; it was the first time she had ever been in a jail.

     "I am fearful of your sad disappointment, madam," said the governor of the prison. "You wished to see Lieutenant Roger Wallingford. I grieve to say" - He spoke kindly, but looked toward Mary and stopped, and then, sighing heavily, turned his eyes toward Mr. Davis with a kind of relief.

     "He is not dead, I hope, sir?" asked the old man, for Mary could not speak. "We have the order for his release."

     "No, he is not dead to any certain knowledge," explained the governor, more slowly than before, "but he was one of a party that made their escape from this prison last night; 't was through one of their silly tunnels that they dig. They have some of them been shot down, and one, I hear, has just been taken and brought in alive; but Wallingford's name is not among any of these." He turned to some records, and then went to the grated window and looked out, but pulled the curtain across it impatiently as he came away. "You brought his pardon?" the governor then asked brusquely. "I should think he would be the last man for a pardon. Why, he was with Paul Jones, sir; but a very decent fellow, a gentleman, they tell me. I did not see him; I am not long here. This young lady had best go back to the inn," and he stole a look at Mary, who sat in despairing silence. A strange flush had replaced her first pallor. She had thought but a moment before that she should soon look again into Roger Wallingford's face and tell him that he was free. On the end of the governor's writing table lay the note that she had written with such a happy heart only the night before.


Notes

THE BOTTOM OF THESE MISERIES: from William Shakespeare, The Two Noble Kinsmen, Act 2 Scene 2:

Yet, Cosen,
Even from the bottom of these miseries,
From all that fortune can inflict upon us,
I see two comforts rysing, two meere blessings,
If the gods please: to hold here a brave patience,
And the enjoying of our greefes together.
Whilst Palamon is with me, let me perish
If I thinke this our prison.
 (Research: Gabe Heller)
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"Let us pray that our unconscious benefactions outweigh our unconscious cruelties!"Patricia Rattray notes that this reference connects with the Diary of Alice James,  recorded from 1889 until her death in 1892. 
    It appears that Jewett and James may both be quoting from another source. More information is welcome.

Alice James' entry for January 23rd, 1891 reads,

 "Let us pray that our unconscious benefactions outweigh our unconscious cruelties!"
(A Woman in Conversation with Herself: Reading the Diary of Alice James,  http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/alicejames )

Although James' diary was not published until 1934, as Alice was the sister of Henry James, he may have shared the writing with Jewett after his sister's death. James' herself seems to be adding to an original articulation of Henry Drummond's, a popular theological writer and lecturer of the time, who expounded on the ideas of natural science.

“Remove the vegetable kingdom, or interrupt the flow of its unconscious benefactions, and the whole higher life of the world ends."

Lowell Lectures on The Ascent of Man, Henry Drummond, Chapter VII, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/drummond/ascent.xi.html

Drummond lectured on the interrelation of science and religion, reflecting the ideas originally taught by Emanuel Swedenborg, that the material world was symbolic of the spiritual world and, therefore, reflected its lessons. Drummond brought attention to the continually supportive natural environment that, "we fail to praise …because its kindness is unobtrusive."

Drummond thought that the spiritual counterpart to the beneficence of nature is love, and as nature provides continual "unconscious benefactions," so do acts of love.

"In those days men were working the passage to Heaven by keeping the Ten Commandments, and the hundred and ten other commandments which they had manufactured out of them. Christ came and said, 'I will show you a more simple way. If you do one thing, you will do these hundred and ten things, without ever thinking about them. If you LOVE, you will unconsciously fulfill the whole law.'" 
    Addresses by Henry Drummond, http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/2498/pg2498.html
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Lords or Commons: The two houses of the British parliament.
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The Tory Lover -- Contents