AT this moment the drawing-room was lively enough, whatever anxieties might have been known under the elms, and two deep-arched windows on either side of the great fireplace were filled with ladies who looked on at the dancing. This fine group of elderly gentlewomen, dressed in the highest French fashion of five years back, sat together, with nodding turbans and swaying fans, and faced the doorway as Mary Hamilton came in. They had begun to comment upon her absence, but something could be forgiven a young hostess who might be having a thoughtful eye to her trays of refreshment.
There were ladies of every age in this large evening company, and plenty of elderly gentlemen, although it might be thought dull for want of beaux. In the smaller northwest parlor, and easily seen and heard through the open door, was a smiling posse of boys, the escorts of their mothers or pretty sisters, — half-grown young persons, who were at one moment in devoted attendance, sobered with a dread of being mistaken for anything but men of forty, and at the next chuckling and pushing one another with a distinct air of schoolboy indifference. They gave little promise of ever rivaling their elders in any distinction of looks or behavior ; but while the ladies now and then bestowed a withering glance, the men, recognizing that there mast be lapses in the process of development, seemed to view these future citizens with a kinder tolerance. There was still an anxious look on many faces, as if this, show of finery and gayety were out of keeping with the country’s sad distresses. Though Hamilton, like Nero, fiddled while Rome was burning, everybody had come to look on : the surrender of Burgoyne had put new heart into everybody, and the evening was a pleasant relief to the dark apprehension and cheerless economies of many lives. Most persons were rich in anticipation of the success of Paul Jones’s enterprise ; as if he were a sort of lucky lottery in which every one was sure of a handsome prize. The winning of large prize money in the capture of richly laden British vessels had already been a very heartening incident of this most difficult and dreary time of war.
When Mary Hamilton came in, there happened to be a pause between the dances, and an instant murmur of delight ran from chair to chair of those who were seated about the room. She had looked pale and downcast in the early evening, but was rosy-cheeked now, and there was a new light in her eyes ; it seemed as if the charm of her beauty had never shone so bright. She crossed the open space of the floor, unconscious as a child, and Captain Paul Jones stepped out to meet her. The pink brocaded flowers of her shimmering satin gown bloomed the better for the evening air, and a fall of splendid lace of a light, frosty pattern only half hid her white throat. It was her brother’s pleasure to command such marvels of French gowns, and to send orders by his captains for Mary’s adorning ; she was part of the splendor of his house, moreover, and his heart was filled with perfect satisfaction as she went down the room.
The simpler figures of the first dances were over, the country dances and reels, and now Mr. Lord and Betsey Wyat took their places with Mary and the captain, and made their courtesies at the beginning of an old French dance of great elegance which was known to be the favorite of Judge Chadbourne. They stood before him in a pretty row, like courtiers who would offer pleasure to their rightful king, and made their obeisance, all living color and fine clothes and affectionate intent. The captain was scarcely so tall as his partner, but gallant enough in his uniform, and took his steps with beautiful grace and the least fling of carelessness, while Mr. John Lord moved with the precision of a French abbé, always responsible for outward decorum whatever might be the fire within his heart.
The captain was taking his fill of pleasure for once; he had danced many a time with Mary Hamilton, that spring, in the great houses of Portsmouth and York, and still oftener here in Berwick, where he had never felt his hostess so charming or so approachable as to-night. At last, when the music stopped, they left the room together, while their companions were still blushing at so much applause, and went out through the crowded hall. There was a cry of admiration as they passed among the guests; they were carried on the swift current of this evident delight and their own excitement. It is easy for any girl to make a hero of a gallant sailor, —for any girl who is wholly a patriot at heart to do honor to the cordial ally of her country.
They walked together out of the south door, where Mary had so lately entered alone, and went across the broad terrace to the balustrade which overhung the steep bank of the river. Mary Hamilton was most exquisite to see in the moonlight; her dress softened and shimmered the more, and her eyes had a brightness now that was lost in the lighted room. The captain was always a man of impulse ; in one moment more he could have dared to kiss the face that shone, eager, warm, and blooming like a flower, close to his own. He was not unskilled in love-making, but he had never been so fettered by the spell of love itself or the royalty of beauty as he was that night.
“This air is very sweet after an arduous day,” said he, looking up for an instant through the elm boughs to the moon.
“ You must be much fatigued, Sir Captain,” said Mary kindly ; she looked at the moon longer than he, but looked at him at last.
“ 1 No, noble mistress, ’t is fresh morning with me,’ ” he answered gently, and added the rest of the lovely words under his breath, as if he said them only to himself.
“ I think that you will never have any mistress save Glory,” said Mary. She knew The Tempest, too ; but this brave little man, this world-circling sailor, what Calibans and Ariels might he not have known !
“ This is my last night on land,” he answered, with affecting directness. “ Will you bid me go my lonely way unblest, or shall I dare to say what is in my heart now, my dear and noble mistress ? ”
Mary looked at him with most straightforward earnestness as he spoke; there was so great a force in her shining eyes that this time it was his own that turned away.
“ Will you do a great kindness, if I ask you now ?” she begged him ; and he promised with his hand upon his heart.
“ You sail to-morrow ? ”
“ Yes, and your image shall go always with me, and smile at me in a thousand gloomy hours. I am often a sad and lonely man upon the sea.”
“ There has been talk of Mr. Wallingford’s taking the last commission.”
“ How have you learned what only a few trusted men were told ? ” the captain demanded fiercely, forgetting his play of lover in a jealous guarding of high affairs.
“I know, and by no man’s wrongful betraying. I give you my deepest proof of friendship now,” said the eager girl, “ I ask now if you will befriend our neighbor, my dear friend and playmate in childhood. He has been much misjudged and has come to stand in danger, with his dear mother whom I love almost as my own.”
“ Not your young rascal of a Tory ! ” the captain interrupted, in a towering rage. “ I know him to be a rascal and a spy, madam ! ”
“ A loyal gentleman I believe him in my heart,” said Mary proudly, but she took a step backward as they faced each other, — “a loyal gentleman who will serve our cause with entire devotion since he gives his word. His hesitations have been the fault of his advisers, old men who cannot but hold to early prejudice and narrow views. With you at sea, his own right instincts must be confirmed; he will serve his country well. I come to you to beg from my very heart that you will stand his friend.”
She stood waiting for assurance: there was a lovely smile on her face; it would be like refusing some easy benefaction to a child. Mary Hamilton knew her country’s troubles, great and small; she had listened to the most serious plans and secret conferences at her brother’s side : but the captain forgot all this, and only hated to crush so innocent a childish hope. He also moved a step backward, with an impatient gesture ; she did not know what she was asking; then, still looking at her, he drew nearer than before. The captain was a man of quick decisions. He put his arm about her as if she were a child indeed. She shrank from this, but stood still and waited for him to speak.
“ My dear,” he said, speaking eagerly, so that she must listen and would not draw away, “my dear, you ask an almost impossible thing ; you should see that a suspected man were better left ashore, on such a voyage as this. Do you not discern that he may even turn my crew against me ? He has been the young squire and benefactor of a good third of my men, and can you not see that I must always be on my guard ? ”
“ But we must not distrust his word,” begged Mary again, a little shaken.
“ I have followed the sea, boy and man, since I was twelve years old. I have been a seafarer all my days,” said Paul Jones. “ I know all the sad experiences of human nature that a man may learn. I trust no man in war and danger and these days of self-advancement, so far that I am not always on the alert against treachery. Too many have failed me whom I counted my sure friends. I am going out now, only half trusted here at home, to the coasts where treason can hurt me most. I myself am still a suspected and envied man by those beneath me. I am given only this poor ship, after many generous promises. I fear a curse goes with it.”
“ You shall have my prayers,” faltered Mary, with a quivering lip. The bitterness of his speech moved her deepest feelings ; she was overstrung, and she was but a girl, and they stood in the moonlight together.
“ Do not ask me again what I must only deny you, even in this happy moment of nearness,” he said sadly, and watched her face fall and all the light go out of it. He knew all that she knew, and even more, of Wallingford’s dangerous position, and pitied her for a single moment with all the pity that belonged to his heart. A lonely man, solitary in his very nature, and always foreboding with a kind of hopelessness the sorrows that must fall to him by reason of an unkindness that his nature stirred in the hearts of his fellows, his very soul had lain bare to her trusting look.
He stood there for one moment selfarraigned before Mary Hamilton, and knowing that what he lacked was love. He was the captain of the Ranger; it was true that Glory was his mistress. In that moment the heavens had opened, and his own hand had shut the gates.
The smile came back to Mary’s face, so strange a flash of tenderness had brightened his own. When that unforgettable light went out, she did not know that all the jealousy of a lonely heart began to burn within him.
“ I have changed my mind. I will take your friend,” he said suddenly, with a new tone of authority and coldness. “ And I will endeavor to remember that he is your friend. May I win your faith and patience, ’t is a hard ploy.”
Then Mary, of her own accord, put her hand into the captain’s, and he bent and kissed it.
“I shall watch a star in the sky for you every night,” she told him, “ and say my prayers for the Ranger till you come sailing home.”
“ God grant I may tread the deck of another and a better ship,” said the captain hastily. Now he was himself again, and again they both heard the music in the house.
“ Will you keep this ring for me, and give me yours ? ” he asked. “ ’T will be but a talisman to keep me to my best. I am humble, and I ask no more.”
“No,” said the girl, whose awakened feeling assured her of his own. She was light-headed with happiness; she could have thrown herself into the arms of such a hero, — of a man so noble, who had done a hard and unwelcome thing for her poor asking. She had failed to do him rightful honor until now. and this beautiful kindness was his revenge. “ No,” she entreated him, “ not your own ring ; you have done too much for me; but if you wish it, I shall give you mine. ’T is but a poor ring when you have done so great a kindness.”
She gave it as a child might give away a treasure ; not as a woman gives, who loves and gives a ring for token. The captain sighed ; being no victor after all, his face grew sombre. He must try what a great conqueror might do when he came back next year with Glory all his own ; and yet again he lingered to plead with her once more.
“ Dear Mary,” he said, as he lifted her hand again, “ you will not forget me ? I shall be far from this to-morrow night, and yon will remember that a wanderer like me must sometimes be cruel to his own heart, and cold to the one woman he truly loves.”
Something stirred now in Mary Hamilton’s heart that had always slept before, and, frightened and disturbed, she drew her hand away. She was like a snared bird that he could have pinched to death a moment before; now a fury of disappointment possessed him, for she was as far away as if she had flown into the open sky beyond his reach.
“ Glory is your mistress; it is Glory whom you must win,” she whispered, thinking to comfort him.
“ When I come back,” he said sadly, “ if I come back, I hope that you will have a welcome for me.” He spoke formally now, and there was a haggard look upon his face. There had come into his heart a strange longing to forget ambition. The thought of his past had strangely afflicted him in that clear moment of life and vision; but the light faded, the dark current of his life flowed on, and there was no reflection upon it of Mary Hamilton’s sweet eyes. “ If I carry that cursed young Tory away to sea,” he said to himself, “ I shall know where he is ; not here, at any rate, to have this angel for his asking ! ”
They were on their way to the house again.
“ Alas,” said Paul Jones once more, with a sad bitterness in his voice, “ a home like this can never be for me: the Fates are my enemies ; let us hope ’t is for the happiness of others that they lure me on ! ”
Mary cast a piteous, appealing glance at this lonely hero. He was no more the Sea Wolf or the chief among pleasure-makers ashore, but an unloved, unloving man, conscious of heavy burdens and vexed by his very dreams. At least he could remember this last kindness and her grateful heart.
Colonel Hamilton was standing in the wide hall with a group of friends about him. Old Cæsar and his underservants were busy with some heavy-laden silver trays. The captain approached his host with outstretched hands, to speak his farewells.
“ I must be off, gentlemen. I must take my boat,” said he, in a manly tone that was heard and repeated along the rooms. It brought many of the company to their feet and to surround him, with a new sense of his high commission and authority. “ I ask again for your kind wishes, Colonel Hamilton, and yours, Mr. Justice, and for your blessing on my voyage, reverend sir ; ” and saluting those of the elder ladies who had been most kind, and kissing his hand to some younger friends and partners of the dance, he turned to go. Then, with his fine laced hat in hand, the captain waved for silence and hushed the friendly voices that would speak a last word of confidence in his high success.
“ Many friends of his and mine who are assembled here should know that your neighbor, Mr. Wallingford, sails with me in the morning. I count my crew well, now, from your noble river! Farewell, dear ladies ; farewell, my good friends and gentlemen.”
There was a sudden shout in the hushed house, and a loud murmur of talk among the guests, and Hamilton himself stepped forward and began to speak excitedly ; but the captain stayed for neither question nor answer, and they saw him go away hurriedly, bowing stiffly to either hand on his way toward the door. Mary had been standing there, with a proud smile and gentle dignity in her look of attendance, since they had come in together, and he stopped one moment more to take her hand with a low and formal bow, to lift it to his lips, and give one quick regretful look in her happy face. Then Hamilton and some of the younger men followed him down through the gardens to the boat landing. The fleet tide of the river was setting seaward ; the captain’s boat swept quickly out from shore, and the oars flashed away in the moonlight. There were ladies on the terrace, and on the broad lookout of the housetop, within the high railing; there were rounds upon rounds of cheers from the men who stood on the shore, black and white together. The captain turned once when he was well out into the river bay and waved his hand. It was as if the spectators were standing on the edge of a great future, to bid a hero hail and farewell.
The whole countryside was awake and busy in the moonlight. So late at night as this there were lights still shining in one low farmhouse after another, as the captain went away. The large new boat of the Ranger was rowed by man-of-war’s men in trim rig, who were leaving their homes on the river shores for perhaps the last time ; a second boat was to join them at Stiles’s Cove, heaped with sea chests and sailors’ kits. The great stream lay shining and still under the moon, a glorious track of light lay ready to lead them on, and the dark pines stood high on the eastern shore to watch them pass. The little captain, wrapped in his boat cloak, sat thoughtful and gloomy at the stern. The gold lace glittered on his hat, and the new flag trailed aft. This was the first reach of a voyage that would go down in history. He was not familiar with many of his men, but in this hour he saw their young faces before him, and remembered his own going from home. The Scottish bay of Carsethorn, the laird’s house at Arbigland, the heights of the Cumberland coast, rose again to the vision of a hopeful young adventurer to Virginia and the southern seas.
They could still hear the music, faint and far away; perhaps the girls were dancing again, and not weeping for poor Jack, the sailor; but as the men pulled at their oars, light in the channel’s flow, and looked back at the bright house, they saw a fire shining on the shore at Hamilton’s. Word had been passed that the captain was going down; the crowd had gathered again; they were cheering like mad, and the boys in the boat yelled themselves hoarse, while some one drifting in a skiff near by fired a heavy pistol, which roused all the river birds and echoed in the river pines from shore to shore. Huzza ! they were bringing refuse from the shipyard now, and piling it on the flame ! The bonfire towered high, and lighted the shipping and the reefed sails of the gundelows. The steep roof of the house with its high dormer windows, the leafless elms, were all like glowing gold against the blue height of the sky. The eagles waked, and flew crying above the river in the strange light. Somebody was swinging a lantern from the roof of Hamilton house, and then there came a light to an upper window that had been dark before, and another, and another, till all the great house was lit and seemed to tower into the skies. The boat’s crew leaned upon their oars, drifting and losing way as they tried to shout back. It cheered their brave hearts, and sent them gayly on their dark journey; a moment before they had thought heavily that some could play and dance ashore while others must go off into the night, leaving all but the thought of Glory behind them.
The whole river country was up. The old Piscataqua plantations had not been so stirred since the news came, many months before, of the peril of Boston and the fight at Lexington, when a company had started from Saco and marched across country, gathering like a rolling snowball on its way, and with Eben Sullivan and Nathan Lord’s Berwick company had reached the great Bunker Hill fight in good season. Captain Moulton’s company had taken the post road out of old York to join them; there was running to and fro in the country then, and a frenzy of haste, of bawling orders, of piteous leavetakings, of noisy drums and fifes and all the confusion of war. But this was felt to be almost as great a moment, and to mark a still bolder challenge to the foreign foe. There were bonfires on all the river points, and hardly a farmer whose beacon did not answer to his neighbor’s. There were shadowy groups of women standing on the high banks against the dim sky, and crying shrill farewells to the boys in the boats : “ God speed the Ranger ! God bless you, Captain Paul! ” and one voice after another took up the cry. “ Good-by, boys ! Good-by, boys ! ” they heard the girls calling after them all down the river, and saw new firelights brighten as they came.
The boat now felt the swift seagoing current more and more ; they had passed High Point and the Devil’s Reach and the old Hodgdon Farm and the mouth of Dover River, and at Hodgdon’s Landing they had taken off young Ichabod Lord with his little chest, and his mother’s tears wet upon his coat; they swept faster still down past Dover Point and the mouth of Great Bay, where a new current caught them again like a mill race. The fires were bright along the Kittery shore, and the sound of old Portsmouth bells came up along the water, and soon they saw the lights at Rice’s Ferry and all the leafless forest of idle shipping, and came at last to the dark crank-looking hull of the Ranger lying in midstream.
It was a gray, cold morning, windy and wet after the mild southerly airs of the night before. When the day broke and the heavy clouds changed to a paler hue, there were already many persons to be seen waiting on the Portsmouth wharves. There was a subdued excitement as the crowd gathered, and the hull and heavy spars of the Ranger out in the gray river were hardly imposing enough to be the centre of such general interest. She might have been one of the less noticeable merchantmen of that busy port, well used to its tugging tides and racing currents, and looked like a clumsy trading vessel, until one came near enough to see that she was built with a gun deck, and that her ports were the many shrewd eyes of a warship, bent upon aggression as well as defense.
At that early hour there was a continual coming and going between the frigate and the shore, and an ever increasing cluster of boats surrounded her. There was loud shouting on the river and from the pier heads, and now and then a round of cheers from some excited portion of the admiring multitude. There were sad partings between the sailors and their wives and mothers at the water’s edge, and there were sudden gusts of laughter among the idle lookers-on. The people had come out of their houses on Badger’s Island, while from Newington and upper Kittery the wherries were coming down in a hurry, most of them strongly rowed by women with the short cross-handed stroke that jerked such boats steadily ahead against the wind, or through any river tide or set of current. The old market women bound for the Spring Market in Portsmouth, with their autumn freight of geese and chickens and high-priced eggs, rested on their crossed oars, and waited in midstream to see what came of this great excitement. Though they might be late to catch the best of their early traffic, some of them drove a thriving trade, and their hard red apples were tossed from boat to boat by rollicking customers, while those that missed their aim went bobbing, gay and shining on the cold water, out to sea.
The tide had now turned, and the noise of voices grew louder; there was a cold waft of air from the rising northerly wind, and suddenly everybody heard a shrill whistle on the ship and a cheer, and there was a yell from the tangled boats, before those on shore could see that the Ranger’s men were lying out along the yards, and her sails were being spread. Then there were cheers indeed ; then there were handkerchiefs and hats a-waving; then every boy and every man who wished in his heart to go and fight Great Britain on her own coasts split his throat with trying to cheer louder than the rest, while even those who had counseled prudence and delay felt the natural joy of seeing a great ship spread her wings to go to sea.
Almost every man and woman who looked on knew some lad or man who was sailing, and now there was great shouting and running near the slip where a last boat was putting off in haste. There was a young man aboard her, and many persons of dignity and position were bidding him farewell. The cheering grew louder; at that moment the slow bells began to ring in St. John’s steeple and the old North Church; there was not a man who knew his story who did not honor young Mr. Wallingford for his bold and manly step. Word had been passed that he had taken a commission and was sailing with the rest, but few believed it. He was bound by family ties, he was endangering all future inheritance from old Loyalist relatives who would rather see him in jail than bent upon this thing : the only son of his mother, and she a Tory widow, there were reasons enough to keep any hero back upon the narrow neutral ground that still remained. And Roger Wallingford was not a hero,— only a plain gentleman, with a good heart and steady sense of honor.
He talked soberly with his old friends, and listened to Mr. Langdon’s instructions and messages to France, and put some thick letters safely into the pockets of his uniform, which, having been made on a venture, with those for other officers, fitted him but awkwardly. As he stood in the boat nearing the frigate’s side, there could hardly be a more gallant-looking fellow of his age. There was in his face all the high breeding and character of his house, with much personal courage and youthful expectancy. A handsome sword that had been his grandfather’s hung heavy from the belt that dragged at his thin waist, and furrowed deep the stiff new cloth of his coat. More than one rough-cheeked market woman, in that bitter morning air, felt an unwonted slackening in her throat, and could not speak, but blessed him over and over in her warm heart, as her tears sprung quick to blur this last sight of young Wallingford going to the wars. Here was a chapter of romance, though some things in the great struggle with England were prosaic enough ; there was as much rebellion now against raising men and money as there had ever been against the Stamp Act or the hated duties. The states were trying to excuse themselves, and to extort from one another ; the selfish and cold-hearted are ever to be pushed forward to their public duties, and here in Portsmouth the patriots had many a day grown fainthearted with despair.
The anchor broke ground at last; the Ranger swung free and began to drift; the creak of the cables and the chanty that helped to wind them mingled now with the noise of church bells and the firing of guns on the forts at Newcastle. As Wallingford went up the vessel’s side and stepped to the deck, it happened that the Ranger fired her own parting gun, and the powder smoke blew thick in his face. When it cleared away he saw the captain close beside him, and made his proper salute. Then he turned quickly for a last glimpse of his friends ; the boat was still close under the quarter, and they waved to him and shouted last words that he could not hear. They had been his father’s friends, every one, — they wished to be going too, those good gentlemen; it was a splendid errand, and they were all brave men.
“ Mr. Langdon and his friends bade me say to you and to Lieutenant Simpson that they meant to come aboard again, sir ; they were sorry to be too late ; they would have me take breakfast and wait while they finished these last dispatches which they send you for Mr. Franklin and Mr. Adams. I was late from home ; it has been a sudden start for me,” said the young man impulsively. “ I thank you for your welcome message, which I got at two o’clock by the courier,” he added, with a wistful appeal in the friendliness of his tone, as one gentleman might speak with another in such case.
“ I had further business with them ! ” exclaimed the superior officer. “ They owed it to me to board me long ago, instead of dallying with your breakfast. Damn your breakfast,Mr. Wallingford! ” he said angrily, and turned his back. “ I left them and the shore at three in the morning; I have been at my affairs all night. Go below, sir ! ” he commanded the new lieutenant fiercely. “ Now you have no gray-headed pomposities to wait upon and admire you, you had best begin to learn something of your duties. Get you down and fall to work, sir! Go to Simpson for orders ! ”
Wallingford looked like an icicle under the droop of the great mainsail; he gazed with wonder and pity at the piqued and wearied little man ; then his face grew crimson, and, saluting the captain stiffly, he went at once below. There was many a friendly greeting and warm handshake waiting for him between decks, but these could please him little just then ; he made his way to the narrow cabin, cluttered and piled high with his sea kit and hasty provisionings, and sat there in the dim light until rightmindedness prevailed. When he came on deck again, they were going out of the lower harbor, with a following wind, straight to sea. He may have gone below a boy, but he came on deck a man.
Sir William Pepperrell’s stately gambrel-roofed house, with the deer park and gardens and row of already decaying warehouses, looked drowsy with age on Kittery Point, and opposite, hiding away in Little Harbor, was the rambling, huge old mansion of the Wentworths, with its fine council chamber and handsome rooms where he had danced many a night with the pretty Portsmouth girls. All Roger Wallingford’s youth and pleasantries were left behind him now; the summer nights were ended; the winter feasts, if there were any that dreary year, must go on without him. The Isles of Shoals lay ahead like pieces of frozen drift in the early morning light, and the great sea stretched away to the horizon, bleak and cold and far, a stormy road to France.
The ship, heading out into the waste of water, took a steady movement between wind and wave, and a swinging gait that seemed to deny at every moment the possibility of return. The gray shore sank and narrowed to a line behind her. At last the long blue hill in Northwood and the three hills of Agamenticus were seen like islands, and long before noon these also had sunk behind the waves, and the Ranger was well at sea.
The Haggens house, with its square chimneys, and a broad middle-aged look of comfort, like those who were sheltered under its roof, stood facing the whole southern country just where the two roads joined from the upper settlements. A double stream of travel and traffic flowed steadily by this well-known corner, toward the upper and lower landings of the tide river. From the huge square stone that floored a pointed porch of severely classic design could be seen a fine sweep of land from the Butlers’ Hill on the left, over the high oak woods of a second height to the deep pasture valleys. Major Hight’s new house and huge sentinel pines stood on a ridge beyond, with the river itself showing a gleam of silver here and there all along the low lands toward Portsmouth. Across the country westward was the top of Garrison Hill at Dover, and the blue heights of Deerfield and Nottingham ; to the south was the dark pine-forested region of the Rocky Hills. It was a wide and splendid prospect even on a bleak autumn day, and Major Haggens, the socially minded master of the house, was trying hard to enjoy it as he sat in the morning wind wrapped in his red cloak, and longing for proper companionship. He cast imploring glances across the way to the habitation of his only near neighbor, Mr. Rogers, but he could see the old gentleman sitting fast asleep at that ridiculous hour of the morning, behind a closed window. There was no one to be seen up the road, where Mr. Jenkins’s place of business was apt to attract the idle, especially in the harvest time of his famous early apples. These were dull days; before the war there were few mornings of the year when the broad space before the major’s house lacked either carriages or travelers for half an hour. In winter the two roads were blocked as far as a man could see with the long processions of ox teams laden with heavy timber, which had come from fifty or even a hundred miles back in the north country. There were hundreds of trees standing yet in the great forests of the White Hills that were marked with the deeply cut King’s arrow, but the winter snows of many years to come were likely to find these timber pines for the King’s shipyards still standing.
The busy, quick-enriching days of the past seemed to be gone forever, and poverty and uncertainty had replaced them. There was no such market anywhere for Berwick timber as England had always been ; the Berwick merchants would be prosperous no more; the town must live long now upon their hoarded gains, and then seek for some other means of living. The gay-hearted old major looked downcast, and gave a deep sigh. He had no such remembrance of the earlier wars, when Old England and New England had fought together against a common enemy. Those battles had been exciting enough, and a short and evident path to glory, where his fellow colonists had felt something of the happy certainties of the Old Testament Jews, and went out boldly to hew Agag in pieces and to smite the Amalekites hip and thigh. It appeared now as if, with all its hardships, war had been a not unwelcome relief to a dull level of prosperity and the narrowness of a domestic horizon. War gave a man the pleasures of travel, it was a man’s natural business and outlet of energy; but war with moral enemies, and for opinion’s sake, lacked the old color, and made the faces of those who stayed at home grow sullen. They were backbiting Hamilton in many a pious household, that morning, for giving a parting feast to Paul Jones. ’T was all of a piece with Roundhead days, and christening a child by such names as must have depressed Praise-God Barebones, and little Hate-Evil Kilgore who was a neighbor of the major’s, down the Landing hill.
The major’s sound but lately unpracticed head was a little heavy from the last night’s supper, and the world seemed to him badly out of joint. He was a patriot at heart, but one who stood among the moderates. He seemed uneasy in his wooden armchair, and pushed his stout old ivory-headed cane angrily into a crevice below one of the Corinthian pillars of the porch. His tall sister, who, by virtue of two years’ precedence in age, resolutely maintained the position of superior officer, had already once or twice opened the door behind to advise him to come in out of the cold wind; the chill might very well send him an attack of gout in the stomach.
“ I’ve got no gout to send, nor any stomach to send it to,” returned the major angrily. " What’s the use of a stomach, when a man can buy nothing decent to put in it, and has not even a dog to keep him company ? I’d welcome even a tax gatherer ! ” The great door was shut again with decision enough to clack the oval brass knocker, and the major finished some protests against fate deep in his own disparaged interior, and punctuated his inarticulate grumbles by angry bobs of the head. He was really too cold, but he would not submit to Nancy, or let her think that she could rule him, as she seemed to wish.
Suddenly there was something moving down at the end of the street; it came up quickly over the slope into the full appearance of a horse and rider, and hope filled the major’s once sorrowful mind. “Jack Hamilton, by zounds!” laughed the old gentleman. “ He’s late on his way up country. I 'll stretch a point: we ’ll make it an hour earlier, and have our toddy now ; it must be after ten.”
Hamilton presently declared that he was too much belated; he must go to the far regions of Tow-wow, where he owned great tracts of land; he really must not vex his conscience enough to dismount.
“ Here, you, Cuffee ! here, ’Polio, you lazy dog! ” the major called, merely turning his head, so that his voice might better reach round the house through the long yard to his barns; and after a moment’s consideration, Hamilton threw his leg over the saddle and dismounted unwillingly. The gay creature he had ridden sidled away, and whinnied fretfully, as if she also objected to such an interruption of their plans.
“ Keep her here; I shall not stop long,” said the colonel to a black namesake of the great god Apollo, who was the first to arrive, and, although breathless, had begun to walk to and fro sentry fashion, as if by automatic impulse. The already heated young mare was nosing his shoulder with an air of intimacy, and nipping at the edge of his frayed hat.
“ You ’ll be just far enough from both dinner and breakfast now,” insisted the major, stamping along through the handsome cold hall of the house, with its elaborate panelings of clear, unpainted pine. “ You ’ll get to Tow-wow, or Lebanon, as the good folks want to call it, all the sooner for this delay. You’ve pounded the first wind out of that colt already ; you’d have had her sobbing on Plaisted’s Hill. What we can’t find in eatables we ’ll make up in drinkables. Nancy, Nancy, where’s my spirit case? You ’re so precise I never can find anything where I leave it! ”
“ The case is on the top of the sideboard, directly in the middle, brother Tilly,” said Miss Nancy, politely coming out of the room on the right, and looking after him, with her knitting in hand.
Mr. Hamilton turned, and she dropped a somewhat informal curtsy. She wore a plain turban twisted high, which gave her a severe but most distinguished air. Miss Haggens was quite the great lady, and even more French in her appearance than the major himself.
“ I was sorry to miss the gayeties last night,” she said. “The major is boyish enough for anything, and can answer every beck and call, but I felt that I must not venture. I was sorry when it proved so fine an evening.”
“ No becks and calls to answer in these days,” insisted the busy host. “ ’T would do you good, Nancy, as it did all the rest of us. Let’s have it in the breakfast room ; I left a good fire there. If there’s no hot water, I ’ll heat some quick enough in a porringer.”
Hamilton, following, seated himself slowly in an armchair by the fireplace. The processes of hospitality would be swifter if quietly acquiesced in, and now that the slim decanter of Santa Cruz was opened the odor was not unwelcome. He had been busy enough since daybreak, but wore an amused look, though somewhat tired and worried, as the major flew about like a captive bumblebee. Miss Nancy’s prim turban got shifted over one ear, and one white and two black handmaidens joined her in the course of such important affairs. At last the major reappeared, victorious and irate, with a steaming porringer which had just begun to heat in the kitchen fireplace, and splashed it all the way along the floor. He went down stiffly on his knees in the breakfast room to blow the coals, with such mighty puffs that a film of ashes at once covered the water and retarded its rise of temperature all the more. Miss Nancy and Colonel Hamilton looked at each other across his broad back and laughed.
“ There, there, major ! The steam’s rising, and’t will do already,” urged the colonel. “ I’d rather not take my drink too hot, and go out again to face the wind.”
“I felt the wind myself,” acknowledged the major, looking up pleasantly. “ My fore door, where I like to sit, is well sheltered, but I felt the wind.” Miss Nancy so far descended from her usual lofty dignity as to make a little face, which Hamilton, being a man, did not exactly understand.
“ I like to have the water boiling hot; then you can let it cool away, and the flavor’s brought out,” explained the major. Phœbe, the old slave woman who looked over his shoulder, now pronounced with satisfaction that the water was minnying, with the steam all in it, to which her master agreed. Miss Nancy put out a strong hand and helped him to his feet.
“You’ve set your turban all awry, sister,” the major remarked politely by way of revenge, and the little company burst into a hearty laugh. Miss Nancy produced a gay china plate of pound cakes from the cupboard, and sat by in silence, discreetly knitting, until the toddy was not only made, but half gone down the gentlemen’s throats.
“And so Roger Wallingford’s gone to sea, and those who would burn him in his house for a Tory are robbed of a great pleasure,” she said at last. “ I wonder what their feelings are to-day ! My heart aches for his mother; ’t will be a deathblow to all her pride.”
“ It will indeed,” said Hamilton seriously.
“ I was sore afraid of his joining the other side only yesterday,” said the major, “but this news has lain heavy as lead on me all the morning. There are those aboard the Ranger who will only have him for a spy. I heard a whisper of this last night, before we parted. I was even glad to think that the poor boy has plenty of old family friends in England, who can serve him if worst comes to worst.”
“ ’T was in my mind, too,” agreed the colonel. “ John Lord was hinting at trouble, in my countingroom, this morning early. I fancied him more than half glad on his own account that Wallingford is gone; the lads have looked upon each other as rivals, and I have suspected that’t was Roger who was leading in the race.” The colonel’s wind-freshened cheeks brightened still more as he spoke, and looked up with an expectant smile at Miss Nancy, who did not reply except by giving two or three solemn nods of her turbaned head.
“ Everybody loves the boy,” she said presently, “but’t is of his dear mother I am thinking most. ’T is a sad heart alone in her great house to front the winter weather. She told me last week that she had a mind not to make the usual change to her house in town, There were like to be disturbances, and she had no mind for anything but quiet. I shall write, myself, to her young cousins in Boston, or to the Sherburnes, who are near friends, and beg them to visit her ; ’t is none so cheerful in Boston either, now. We were always together in our youth, but age makes us poor winter comrades. Sit ye down,” said Miss Nancy Haggens affectionately, as Hamilton rose and put by his empty glass. “ And how is our dear Mary ? ” she asked, as she rose also, finding him determined. There was an eager look in the old lady’s eyes.
“ I have not seen my sister,” answered Hamilton, looking grave. “ I was very early by the riverside with my old brig Pactolus going downstream, and everything and everybody tardy. I shall lay her up for the winter by Christian Shore; but, as things look now, I fear ’t is the last voyage of the good old vessel. I stood and watched her away, and when she made the turn past High Point it seemed as if her old topmasts were looking back at me wishfully above the woods.”
The major made a sound which was meant for sympathy ; he was very warm and peaceful again before the fire.
“ My sister will not be long seeking such a friend as you,” said Hamilton, with sudden change of tone, and looking at Miss Nancy with an unwonted show of sentiment and concern in his usually impassive face. “ I slept but little last night, and my fears, small and great, did not sleep at all. ’T is heavy news from the army, and I am perplexed as to Mary’s real feelings. The captain counts upon success ; as for the step that Roger Wallingford has taken, it has no doubt averted a very real danger of the moment.”
“ She must go at once to see his mother. I wish that she might go to-day. You may tell Mary this, with the love of an old friend,” said Miss Nancy warningly. “ Mary has great reserve of feeling with all her pretty frankness. But young hearts are not easy reading.”
“ I must be gone all day,” said Hamilton gravely.
For once the major listened and had no opinion ready. All the troubles of life had been lifted in the exercise of such instant hospitality.
“ We must leave all to Time,” he announced cheerfully. “No man regrets more than I our country’s sad situation. And mark ye both : the captain of the Ranger s got all the makings of a hero. Lord bless me,” he exclaimed as he followed Hamilton along the hall, “ I could have shed tears as I caught his fire, with thinking I was too old and heavy to ship with him myself ! I might be useful yet with his raw marines and in the land attacks. I felt last night, as our talk went on, that I should be as good for soldiering as ever.”
“ Brother Tilly ! ” Miss Nancy was crying from the breakfast room in despair. “ Oh, don’t go out into the wind, and you so warm with your toddy ! Wait, I command you, Tilly ! Phœbe ’s coming with your hat and cloak ! ” But the old campaigner was already out beyond the lilacs in the front yard, with the rising northwester lifting his gray locks.
That same afternoon of the 1st of November, one might have thought that the adventurers on board the Ranger had taken all the pleasant weather away with them, and all the pleasure and interest of life ; only endurance and the bleak chilliness of autumn seemed to be left ashore. The wind changed into the east as night drew on, and a cold fog, gathered along the coast, came drifting up the river with the tide, until rain began to fall with the early dark. The poplars and elms looked shrunken about the gardens at Hamilton’s, and the house but ill lighted. The great rooms themselves were cold and empty.
Colonel Hamilton, gloomy with further bad news from the army on Long Island, sat alone reviewing some accounts, shaking his head over a great ledger which had been brought up from the countinghouse, and lay before him on a table in the west room. The large Russian stove was lighted for the first time that year, and the tiny grate glowed bright in its tall prison-like front, which was as slow to give out any heat as a New England winter to give place to spring. The pair of candles gave a dull yellow light, and the very air of the west room looked misty about them in a sort of halo, as Mary Hamilton opened the door. She was rosy with color from an afternoon ride, while her brother looked tired and dull. All the long day she had been so much in his anxious thoughts that he glanced over his shoulder with apprehension. In spite of his grave face and unyielding temper, he had a quick imagination, and, for the few persons whom he loved, a most tender heart.
To his blank surprise, his young sister had never worn a more spirited or cheerful look. She was no lovelorn maiden, and had come to him for neither pity nor anxious confidence. She came instead to stand close beside him, with a firm warm hand on his shoulder, and smiling looked into his upturned face.
“ Well, sir, have you made the most of a bad day ? ” she asked, in the tone of comradeship which always went straight to Hamilton’s heart, and made him feel like a lover. " They must have had a good offshore wind for many hours,” she added before he could answer. “ The Ranger must be well off the coast by this time, and out of this hindering fog.”
“ She must indeed,” answered Hamilton, lending himself comfortably to her mood. “ The wind was free all day out of the northwest until this easterly chill at sundown. They will not like to drift in a long calm and easterly fog.”
“ Come, you look miserable here ; you are pale with cold yourself, Jack,” she urged kindly. “ Let us poke this slow contrivance for a fire ! I like to see a broad blaze. Cæsar kept me a fine hoard of pitch - pine roots when they cleared that thicket of the upper pasture, and I made a noble beat with them just now in my own room. I told him to look after your stove here, but he was sulky; he seems to think ’t is a volcano in a box, and may wreck the house and all his happiness. See, it was full of ashes at the draught. Sir, may I ask what you are laughing at ? ”
“ I thought you would be like Niobe, all tears,” he answered boldly, giving her a half-amused, half-curious glance. “ And here you praise the wind that blows your lover seaward, and make yourself snug ashore.”
The firelight flashed in Mary’s face at that moment, and something else flashed back to meet it. She was kneeling close to the small iron door, as if she were before a confessional; but she looked over her shoulder for a moment with a quick smile that had great sweetness and power to charm.
“ Let us be happy together, my dear,” she said. “ They go to serve our country ; it should be a day for high hopes, and not for mourning. I look for great gallantry on board the Ranger ! ”
She stood facing her brother a moment later, and looked straight in his face, as if she had no fears of any curious gaze, simply unconscious of self, as if no great shock had touched her heart in either new-found happiness or sense of loss. It seemed as if her cheerful self-possession were putting a bar to all confidence.
“ I cannot understand you! ” he exclaimed sharply.
“ You are cold and tired, my poor old man ! Come, I shall have no more figuring,” and she pushed away the ledger beyond his reach on the smooth polished oak of the table top. “ Let us make a bit of hot drink for so cold a man! ” and was swiftly gone across the hall to the great kitchen, leaving the doors wide open behind her. It seemed warmer at once, and presently the sound of laughter and a coaxing voice made Hamilton’s heart a little gayer. Old Peggy and her young mistress were in the midst of a lively encounter, and presently a noise of open war made him cross the hall with boyish eagerness to see the fray.
Peggy was having a glorious moment of proud resistance, and did not deign to notice the spectator. The combatants stood facing each other in front of the huge fireplace, where there was a high heap of ashes and but faint glow of fire. The old woman’s voice was harsh, and she looked pale and desperate ; there was always a black day for the household after such a masterpiece of a feast as Peggy had set before her master’s guests the night before. The fire of energy was low in her gaunt frame, except for a saving spark that still moved the engines of her tongue. She stood like a thin old Boadicea with arms akimbo, and Mary Hamilton faced her all abloom, with a face full of laughter, and in exactly the same attitude ; it was a pleasing sight to Hamilton at the door of the side hall. The usually populous kitchen was deserted of all Peggy’s minions except Cæsar, and there were no signs of any preliminaries of even the latest supper.
“ Oh, Peggy, what a cross old thing you are! ” sighed Mary, at the end of Peggy’s remarks upon the text of there being nobody in the house to do anything save herself. “ I should really love to stay and have a good battle to warm us up, except that we should both be near to weeping when it was done, and you would be sorrier than you need, and cook something much too nice for supper, tired as you are.” Then she dropped her hands and relaxed her mocking pose. “ Come, Peggy dear, the colonel ’s here, and he’s ridden the whole length of Beech Ridge and the Tow-wow woods since morning with his surveyors ; he’s very cold and down-hearted, and I only want a spatter of hot water to mix him a posset. Come, do find me a little skillet, and we ’ll heat it here on the coals. See, they ’re winking bright under that hill of ashes. Where are all the maids ? ”
“ In their beds, I suppose, black and white alike, and getting their first sleep like ladies,” grumbled Peggy. “ I told them the master would be late, and would sup at Pine Hill, as he said this morning. ’T is no matter about me ; Cæsar and me, we ’re old and tough,” and the stern features relaxed a little. “Why did n’t you tell me’t was for the master, an’ he’d no supper after such a day, with the clock far past seven, and you yourself with nothing but bread and milk to stay you ? Truth to tell, I was asleep in the corner of the settle here, and a spark’s burnt me a hole in this good apron and spoilt my temper. You have too much patience with poor old Peggy,” she muttered, bending over the ashes and raking them open to their bright life with her hard brown hand.
Mary stood watching her for a moment ; a quick change came over her face, and she turned away silently, and went toward the window as if to look up the river.
“ What was you designin’ to get for supper?” old Cæsar humbly inquired at this auspicious moment. “ I mought be a-layin’ of the table.” But Peggy did not notice him. He was still in a place of safety behind the settle, his gray head just appearing over the high back.
“We might finish the pigeon pie,” the young mistress suggested; “ the colonel will like a bit of cheese afterward and plenty of cakes. Mind, Peggy, ’t is only a cold supper ! ”
“ Was you es-pectin’ any of the quality aside yo’selves, missy ? ” politely demanded Cæsar, in the simple exercise of his duty.
“ Don’t you keep a-askin’ questions ; ’t ain’t no way to converse with human creatur’s ! ” said Peggy severely.
“ Laws, Peggy, I feels an int’rist! ” said poor Cæsar humbly.
“ No, you don’t neither; you ’re full to bu’stin’ of cur’osity, an’ it’s a fault that grows by feedin’ of it. Let your mind dwell on that, now, next Sabbath mornin’ up in your gallery, ’stid o’ rollin’ your eyes at the meetin’ folks an’ whisp’rin’ with Cato Lord ! ” and Peggy laughed in spite of herself. “Come out from there, an’ fetch me some dry pine chips, if ’t won’t demean your dignity. I ’ll ax you some questions you don’t know no answers to, if you be an Afriky potentate ! ”
The master of the house had tiptoed back across the hall like a pleased schoolboy, and was busy with the ledger when his sister came back, a few minutes later, with a steaming porringer. She proceeded to mix a most fragrant potion in a large gayly flowered glass, while Hamilton described his morning entertainment by the major; then an old dog came loitering in, and watched his master enviously, as he drank, and stirred again, and praised the warm drink, and grew every moment more cheerful.
Mary Hamilton stood leaning against the Russian stove. “ It is just getting warm now, this dull old idol of yours,” she said, “ and we cannot cool it before spring. We’ll sit in the dining room to-night after supper; you shall smoke your pipe there, and I can see the good firelight. We are lonesome after a gay day and night like yesterday ; we have had no word of gossip yet about our ball. I have many things to tell you.”
Hamilton nodded amiably; the color had come back into his face, and driven away the worn and worried look that had fallen on him before his time. He had made so light of care that care made light of him, and was beginning to weigh him down early in middle life.
“ I came across the river at the Great Falls,” he said, not without effort, and looking at his young sister, “ the roads were so heavy through the woods by Cranberry Meadow.”
“ So you did n’t stop to give Granny Sullivan the money ? ” asked Mary, as if she were disappointed.
“ Yes, on my way this morning. She knew more about last night than I could sweep together to tell her if I stayed an hour.”
“ The birds tell granny everything,” said Mary, laughing. “ She gave me a handsome scolding the other day because Peggy’s rack of spiced hams had fallen in the ashes that very morning. How was the master ? ”
“Very absent-minded, and reading his Horace as if the old poet were new. He did not even look up while she loudly thanked me for the money the judge had sent. ‘ I ’m knitting every minute I’m not working or eating, for my poor lame lad Jamie,’ she said. ‘Well, he has nothing to do but read his law books, an’ tell others what’s in ’em, and grow rich ! ’T is all because his father’s such a gentleman! ’ ”
“ How proud she is, the dear old woman ! ” said Mary warmly.
“ Yes, and they have the sense to be proud of her,” said Hamilton, settling into his chair more comfortably and putting his empty glass aside.
“ I rode to the Rocky Hills myself late this afternoon. I heard that Elder Shackley had been ill. I liked the fresh wind and wet after last night’s warmth and a busy morning here in the house. I meant at first to ride north to meet you; but it was better not, since you crossed at the Falls.”
“ I thought you would go another way,” said Hamilton seriously. There were moments when he seemed old enough to be her father ; there were, indeed, many years between them. “ There is a sad heart and a lonely one across the river to-night, while we seem gay enough together.”
Mary’s face changed quickly; she stepped toward him, and seated herself on the broad arm of the chair, and drew her brother’s head close against her side. “ What is it that you wish to say to me ? ” she asked. “ I have been thinking of dear Madam Wallingford all day long,” and Hamilton could feel her young heart beating quick like a bird’s, close to his ear.
“ She was in my mind, too. I came down that side of the river to see her, but it grew so rainy and late that I gave up my thought of stopping except to leave a message. My mare was very hot and spent,” he explained, in a matter-of-fact way. “ As I came toward the house I saw my lady standing at a window, and she beckoned me. She came herself to the door, and the wind blew her to and fro like a flag. She had been weeping terribly. ‘ I longed to see a friend,’ she told me, and could say no more. I feared that she might bear us much ill will.”
Hamilton was so full of feeling that his own voice failed him, and Mary did not speak at first.
“Well, dear brother?” she asked a moment later, knowing that he had more to say.
“ She wished to send you a message ;
’t was her reason for calling me in. She asked if you would not come to see her to-morrow, late in the afternoon. Earlier she has business of the estate to manage, in place of her son. There are men coming down from the Lake.”
“ Oh yes, yes, I shall go ! ” said Mary, with a sob. “ Oh, I am so glad ; I feared that her heart was broken, and that she would oidy hate us ! ”
“I was afraid, too,” returned Hamilton, and he took his sister’s hand gently in his own, and would have spoken something that she could not bear to hear.
She moved away quickly. “ Come, dear man,” she said, “ you must throw off these muddy clothes ; you are warm again now, and they will soon be calling us to supper.”
He sighed, and looked at her in bewilderment as he obeyed. She had gone to the window and pushed the shutter back, and was gazing out into the dark night. He looked at her again as he was going out of the room, but still she did not speak. Was it the captain, after all, who had gone away with her heart ? She had not even mentioned his name!
She was not always so silent about her lovers ; they had been many, and she sometimes spoke frankly enough when he and she were alone together like this, and the troubles and veils of every-day intercourse were all put aside. But who could read a woman’s heart? Certainly not a poor bachelor, who had never yet learned to read his own !
Sarah Orne Jewett.
(To be continued.)
- Copyright, 1900, by SARAH ORNE JEWETT.↩