A Gambrel Roof

How pleasant! This old house looks down
Upon a shady little town,
Whose great good luck has been to stay
Just outside of the modern way
Of tiresome strut and show.
The elm-trees overhead have seen
Two hundred new-born summers green
Up to their tops for sunshine climb ;
And, since the old Colonial time,
The road has wound just so:
This way through Salem Village; that,
Along the Plains (the place is flat,
And names itself so); toward the tide
Of sea-fed creeks, past Rial Side,
And round by Folly Hill,
Whose sunken cellar now is all
Memorial of a stately hall,
Where yule-logs roared, and red wine flowed;
From its lost garden to the road
A gold bloom trickles still:
Woad-waxen gold, — a foreign weed,
Spoiling the fields for useful seed,
Yet something to recall the day
When we were under royal sway,
And paid our taxes well.
And from that memory, as a thread,
The shuttle of my rhyme is fed.
Upon this ancient gambrel roof
The warp was spun; behold the woof,
And all there is to tell.
About a hundred years ago,
When Danvers roadsides were aglow
With cardinal flowers and golden-rod, —
Months ere in Lexington the sod
Was dewed with soldiers’ blood;
Though warlike rumors filled the air,
And red-coats loitered here and there,
Eye-sores to every yeoman free, —
When from the White Hills to the sea
Swelled Revolution’s bud;
In this old house, even then not new,
A Continental Colonel true
Dwelt, with a blithe and willful wife,
The sparkle on his cup of life :
A man of sober mood,
He felt the strife before it came,
Within him, like a welding flame,
That nerve and sinew changed to steel;
And, at the opening cannon-peal,
Ready for fight he stood.
Cheap was the draught, beyond a doubt,
The mother country served us out;
And many a housewife raised a wail,
Hearing of fragrant chest and bale
To thirstless mermaids poured.
And Mistress Audrey’s ease was hard,
When her tall Colonel down the yard
Called, “ Wife, be sure you drink no tea ! ”
For best Imperial, prime Bohea,
Were in her cupboard stored, —
Young Hyson, too, the finest brand;
And here the good wife made a stand :
“ Now, Colonel, well enough you know,
Our tea was paid for long ago,
Before this cargo came,
With threepence duty on the pound;
It, won’t be wasted, I’ll be bound !
I’ve asked a friend or two to sup,
And not to offer them a cup
Would be a stingy shame.”
Into his face the quick blood flew.
“ Wife, I have promised, so must you,
None shall drink tea inside my house.
Your gossips elsewhere must carouse.”
The lady curtsied low :
“ Husband, your word is law,” she said;
But archly turned her well-set head
With roguish poise toward this old roof,
Soon as she heard his martial hoof
Along the highway go.
“ Late dusk will fall ere he comes back.
Quick, Dill! ” Whereat a figure black
A strange, grotesque, swift shadow made
Between the silent elm-trees’ shade,
Where all was grass and sun.
Then maid and mistress passed within
The pantry, hung with glittering tin,
Tiptoeing every sanded floor,
Till, at the china-closet door,
They saw their work begun.
The egg-shell porcelain, crystal-fine,
Was polished to its utmost shine:
The silver tea-spoons gleamed as bright,
Upon the damask napkin white :
And many a knowing smile
Flashed from the fair face to the black,
Across the kitchen chimney-back,
While syllabubs and custards grew
To comely shape betwixt the two;
And cakes, a toothsome pile.
But lightly dined the dame, that day.
Her guests, in Sunday-best array,
Came, and not one arrived too soon,
In the first slant of afternoon :
An hour or two they sat,
In the low-studded western room,
Where hollyhocks threw rosy bloom
On sampler framed, and quaint Dutch tile :
They knit; they sewed long seams; the while
Chatting of this and that:
Of horrors scarcely died away
From memory of the heads grown gray
On neighboring farms: how wizard John
And Indian Tituba went on,
When sorcerers were believed;
How Parson Parris tried to make
Poor Mary Sibley’s conjuring-cake
The leaven of that black witchcraft-curse,
That grew and spread, from bad to worse,
And even the elect deceived;
Of apparitions at Cape Ann,
And spectral fights, — the story ran;
Of pirate-gold in Saugus’ caves;
Sea-serpents off Nahant, the waves
Lashing with fearsome trail;
Of armies flashing in the air
Auroral swords; prefiguring there
Some dreadful conflict, bloodshed, death.
And needles stopped, and well nigh breath,
As eerier grew the tale.
Dame Audrey said, “ The sun gets low :
Good neighbors mine, before you go,
Come to the housetop, pray, with me !
A goodly prospect you shall see,
I promise, spread around.
If we must part ere day decline,
And if no hospitable sign
Appear, of China’s cheering drink,
Not niggardly your hostess think !
We all are patriots sound.”
They followed her with puzzled air;
But saw, upon the topmost stair,
Within the railed walk, dark-faced Dill
Guarding the supper-board, as still
As solid ebony.
“ A goodly prospect, as I said,
You here may see before you spread.
Upon a house is not within it:
But now we must not waste a minute;
Neighbors, sit down to tea ! ”
How madam then her ruse explained,
What mirth arose as sunset waned,
In the close covert of these trees,
No leaf told the reporter-breeze :
But when the twilight fell,
And hoof-beats rang down Salem road,
And up the yard the Colonel strode,
No soul beside the dame and Dill
Stirred in the mansion dim and still:
The game was played out well.
Let whoso chooses, settle blame
Betwixt the Colonel and his dame,
Or dame, and country. That the view
Is from this housetop fine, is true,
And needs but visual proof.
And if a woman’s will found way
Years since, up here, its pranks to play,
Under mansards the sport goes on.
Moral of all here said or done :
I like a gambrel roof.
Lucy Larcom.