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The Tory Lover by Sarah Orne Jewett

Chapter XLII


"The Runlet of Brandy was a loving Runlet and floated after us out of pure pity."

     Just before nightfall, that same day, two travel-worn men came riding along a country road toward Old Passage, the ancient ferrying-place where travelers from the south and west of England might cross over into Wales. From an immemorial stream of travel and the wear of weather, the road-bed was worn, like a swift stream's channel, deep below the level of the country. One of the riders kept glancing timidly at the bushy banks above his head, as if he feared to see a soldier in the thicket peering down; his companion sat straight in his saddle, and took no notice of anything but his horse and the slippery road. It had been showery all the afternoon, and they were both spattered with mud from cap to stirrup.

     As they came northward, side by side, to the top of a little hill, the anxious rider gave a sigh of relief, and his horse, which limped badly and bore the marks of having been on his knees, whinnied as if in sympathy. The wide gray waters of the Severn were spread to east and west; the headland before them fell off like a cliff. Below, to the westward, the land was edged by a long line of dike which walled the sea floods away from some low meadows that stretched far along the coast. Over the water were drifting low clouds of fog and rain, but there was a dull gleam of red on the western sky like a winter sunset, and the wind was blowing. At the road's end, just before them, was a group of gray stone buildings perched on the high headland above the Severn, like a monastery or place of military defense.

     As the travelers road up to the Passage Inn, the inn yard, with all its stables and outhouses, looked deserted; the sunset gust struck a last whip of rain at the tired men. The taller of the two called impatiently for a hostler before he got stiffly to the ground, and stamped his feet as he stood by his horse. It was a poor tired country nag, with a kind eye, that began to seek some fondling from her rider, as if she harbored no ill will in spite of hardships. The young man patted and stroked the poor creature, which presently dropped her head low, and steamed, as if it were winter weather, high into the cool air.

     The small kitchen windows were dimly lighted; there was a fire burning within, but the whole place looked unfriendly, with its dark stone walls and heavily slated roof. The waters below were almost empty of shipping, as if there were a storm coming, but as the rider looked he saw a small craft creeping up close by the shore; she was like a French fishing boat, and had her sweeps out. The wind was dead against her out of the east, and her evident effort added to the desolateness of the whole scene. The impatient traveler shouted again, with a strong, honest voice that prevailed against both wind and weather, so that one of the stable doors was flung open and a man came out; far inside the dark place glowed an early lantern, and the horses turned their heads that way, eager for supper and warm bedding. There seemed to be plenty of room within; there was no sound of stamping hoofs, or a squeal from crowded horses that nipped their fellows to get more comfort for themselves. Business was evidently at a low ebb.

     "Rub them down as if they were the best racers in England; give them the best feed you dare as soon as they cool, - full oats and scant hay and a handful of corn: they have served us well," said Wallingford, with great earnestness. "I shall look to them myself in an hour or two, and you shall have your own pay. The roan's knees need to be tight-bandaged. Come, Hammet, will you not alight?" he urged his comrade, who, through weariness or uncertainty, still sat, with drooping head and shoulders, on his poor horse. "Shake the mud off you. Here, I'll help you, then, if your wound hurts again," as the man gave a groan in trying to dismount. "After the first wrench 't is easy enough. Come, you'll be none the worse for your cropper into soft clay!" He laughed cheerfully as they crossed the yard toward a door to which the hostler pointed them.

     The mistress of the inn, a sharp-looking, almost pretty woman, suddenly flung her door open, and came out on the step to bid them good-evening in a civil tone, and in the same breath, as she recognized their forlorn appearance, to bid them begone. Her house was like to be full, that night, of gentlefolk and others who had already bespoken lodging, and she had ceased to take in common wayfarers since trade was so meagre in these hard times, and she had been set upon by soldiers and fined for harboring a pack of rascals who had landed their run goods from France and housed them unbeknownst in her hay barn. They could see for themselves that she had taken down the tavern sign, and was no more bound to entertain them than any other decent widow woman would be along the road.

     She railed away, uncontradicted; but there was a pleasant smile on Wallingford's handsome face that seemed to increase rather than diminish at her flow of words, until at last she smiled in return, though half against her will. The poor fellow looked pale and tired: he was some gentleman in distress; she had seen his like before.

     "We must trouble you for supper and a fire," he said to the landlady. "I want some brandy at once for my comrade, and while you get supper we can take some sleep. We have been riding all day. There will be a gentleman to meet me here by and by out of Bristol," and he took advantage of her stepping aside a little to bow politely to her and make her precede him into the kitchen. There was a quiet authority in his behavior which could not but be admired; the good woman took notice that the face of her guest was white with fatigue, and even a little tremulous in spite of his calmness.

     "If he's a hunted man, I'll hide him safe," she now said to herself. It was not the habit of Old Passage Inn to ask curious questions of its guests, or why they sometimes came at evening, and kept watch for boats that ran in from mid-channel and took them off by night. This looked like a gentleman, indeed, who would be as likely to leave two gold pieces on the table as one.

     "I have supper to get for a couple o' thieves (by t' looks of 'em) that was here last night waiting for some one who didn't come, - a noisy lot, too; to-night they'll get warning to go elsewhere," she said, in a loud tone. "I shall serve them first, and bid them begone. And I expect some gentlefolk, too. There's a fire lit for 'em now in my best room; it was damp there, and they'd ill mix with t' rest. 'T is old Mr. Alderman Davis a-comin' out o' Bristol, one o' their great merchants, and like to be their next lord mayor, so folks says. He's not been this way before these three years," she said, with importance.

     "Let me know when he comes!" cried Wallingford eagerly, as he stood by the fireplace. There was a flush of color in his cheeks now, and he turned to his companion, who had sunk into a corner of the settle. "Thank God, Hammet," he exclaimed, "we're safe! The end of all our troubles has come at last!"

     The innkeeper saw that he was much moved; something about him had quickly touched her sympathy. She could not have told why she shared his evident gratitude, or why the inn should be his place of refuge, but if he were waiting for Mr. Davis, there was no fault to find.

     "You'll sleep a good pair of hours without knowing it, the two of you," she grumbled good-naturedly. "Throw off your muddy gear there, and be off out o' my way, now, an' I'll do the best I can. Take the left-hand chamber at the stairhead; there's a couple o' beds. I've two suppers to get before the tide turns to the ebb. The packet folks'll soon be coming; an' those fellows that wait for their mate that's on a fishing smack, - I may want help with 'em, if they're 's bad 's they look. Yes, I'll call ye, sir, if Mr. Davis comes; but he may be kept, the weather is so bad."

     Hammet had drunk the brandy thirstily, and was already cowering as if with an ague over the fire. Wallingford spoke to him twice before he moved. The landlady watched them curiously from the stair-foot, as they went up, to see that they found the right room.

     "'T is one o' the nights when every strayaway in England is like to come clacking at my door," she said, not without satisfaction, as she made a desperate onset at her long evening's work.

     "A pair o' runaways!" she muttered again; "but the tall lad can't help princeing it in his drover's clothes. I'll tell the stable to deny they're here, if any troopers come. I'll help 'em safe off the land or into Bristol, whether Mr. Alderman Davis risks his old bones by night or not. A little more mercy in this world ain't goin' to hurt it!"


THE PASSAGE INN: The Passage Inn stands today on the Severn, near Aust.  See Severn in Places.  In the opening of this chapter, Jewett borrows from her 1895 story, "A Dark Night," re-using parts of her descriptions in the same words.
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TheRunlet of Brandy was a loving Runlet and floated after us out of pure pity: From Act II of The Tempest (1670) not by Shakespeare, but from a later adaptation by Sir William Davenant (1605-1668) and John Dryden (1631-1700).  (Research: Gabe Heller)
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pack of rascals ... run goods from France: These are smugglers; their run goods are avoiding English taxes.
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