The Tory Lover -- Contents
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The Tory Lover by Sarah Orne Jewett

Chapter XL

THE WATCHER'S LIGHT

"There's no deep valley but near some great hill."
 

     Late that night Mary Hamilton sat by the window in her sleeping closet, a quaint little room that led from the stately chamber of Madam Wallingford. Past midnight, it was still warm out of doors, and the air strangely lifeless. It had been late before the maid went away and their dear charge had fallen asleep; so weak and querulous and full of despair had she been all the long day.

     The night taper was flickering in its cup of oil, but the street outside was brighter than the great room. The waning moon was just rising, and the watcher leaned back wearily against the shutter, and saw the opposite roofs slowly growing less dim. There were tall trees near by in the garden, and a breeze, that Mary could not feel where she sat, was rustling among the poplar leaves and mulberries. She heard footsteps coming up the street, and the sound startled her as if she had been sitting at her window at home, where footsteps at that time of night might mean a messenger to the house.

     The great town of Bristol lay fast asleep; it was only the watchman's tread that had startled the listener, and for a moment changed her weary thoughts. The old man went by with his clumsy lantern, but gave no cry nor told the hour until he was well into the distance.

     There was much to think about at the end of this day, which had brought an unexpected addition to her heart's regret. The remembrance of Paul Jones, his insistence upon Wallingford's treachery, a sad mystery which now might never be solved, even the abruptness of the captain's own declaration of love, and a sense of unreality that came from her own miserable weakness, - all these things were new burdens for the mind. She could not but recognize the hero in this man of great distinction, as he had stood before her, and yet his melancholy exit, with the very poverty of his dress, had somehow added to the misery of the moment. It seemed to her now as if they had met each other, that morning, with no thoughts of victory, but in the very moment of defeat. Their hopes had been so high when last they talked together. Again there came to her mind the anxiety of that bright night when she had stood pleading with Roger Wallingford on the river shore, and had thrown down her challenge at his feet. How easy and even how happy it all seemed beside these dreadful days! How little she had known then! How little she had loved then! Life had been hardly more than a play beside this; it was more dramatic than real. She had felt a remote insincerity, in those old days, in even the passionate words of the two men, and a strange barrier, like a thin wall of glass, was always between her heart and theirs. Now, indeed, she was face to face with life, she was in the middle of the great battle; now she loved Roger Wallingford, and her whole heart was forever his, whether he was somewhere in the world alive, or whether he lay starved and dead among the furze and heather on the Devon moors. She saw his white face there, as if she came upon it in the shadows of her thoughts, and gave a quick cry, such was the intensity of her grief and passion; and the frail figure stirred under its coverlet in the great room beyond, with a pitiful low moan like the faint echo of her own despair.

     The sad hour went by, and still this tired girl sat by the window, like a watcher who did not dare to forget herself in sleep. Her past life had never been so clearly spread before her, and all the pleasant old days were but a background for one straight figure: the manly, fast-growing boy whom she played with and rebuffed on equal terms; the eager-faced and boyish man whom she had begun to fear a little, and then to tease, lest she should admire too much. She remembered all his beautiful reticence and growing seriousness, the piety with which he served his widowed mother; the pleading voice, that last night of all, when she had been so slow to answer to his love. It was she herself now who could plead, and who must have patience! How hard she had been sometimes, how deaf and blind, how resistant and dull of heart! 'T was a girl's strange instinct to fly, to hide, to so defeat at first the dear pursuer of her heart's love!

     Again there was a footstep in the street. It was not the old watchman coming, for presently she heard a man's voice singing a country tune that she had known at home. He came within sight and crossed the street, and stood over the way waiting in shadow; now he went on softly with the song. It was an old Portsmouth ballad that all the river knew; the very sound of it was like a message: -

     "The mermaids they beneath the wave,
      The mermaids they o'er my sailor's grave,
      The mermaids they at the bottom of the sea,
      Are weeping their salt tears for me.

     "The morning star was shining still,
     'T was daybreak over the eastern hill" -

He began the song again, but still more softly, and then stopped.

     Mary kept silence; her heart began to beat very fast. She put her hand on the broad window-sill where the moonlight lay, and the singer saw it and came out into the street. She saw the Spanish sailor again. What had brought the captain to find her at this time of night?

     She leaned out quickly. "I am here. Can I help you? Is there any news?" she whispered, as he stood close under the window, looking up. "You are putting yourself in danger," she warned him anxiously. "I heard the people saying that you have been seen in Bristol, this morning as I came home!"

     "God be thanked that I have found you awake!" he answered eagerly, and the moon shone full upon his face, so that she could see it plain. "I feared that I should have to wait till daylight to see you. I knew no one to trust with my message, and I must run for open sea. I have learned something of our mystery at last. Go you to the inn at Old Passage to-morrow night, - do you hear me? - to the inn at Old Passage, and wait there till I come. Go at nightfall, and let yourself be unknown in the house, if you can. I think - I think we may have news from Wallingford."

     She gave a little cry, and leaned far out of the window, speaking quickly in her excitement, and begging to hear more; but the captain had vanished to the shadows whence he came. Her heart was beating so fast and hard now that she could not hear his light footsteps as he hurried away, running back to the water-side down the echoing, paved street.


Notes

There's no deep valley but near some great hill: From The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster (c. 1580-c.1635), Act 3, scene 5.

  I am arm'd 'gainst misery;
 Bent to all sways of the oppressor's will:
 There's no deep valley but near some great hill.
     (Research: Gabe Heller)
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The mermaids they beneath the wave: Though Jewett identifies this as an old Portsmouth ballad, no evidence has been found that there ever was such a ballad.  It is probable that she has made it up, though this is not her typical approach.  Folklorist Jeff Warner points out that "it is not usual for song texts to survive in oral tradition when they are structured with such an implied comma after the "they" in the first three lines.  The ‘folk' probably would have altered it."
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The Tory Lover -- Contents