THE next morning Miss Hamilton came down dressed in her riding gear, to find her host already in the saddle and armed with a stout hunting crop, which he flourished emphatically as he gave some directions to his groom. The day was fine and clear after a rainy night, with a hearty fragrance of the showery summer fields blowing through the Bristol streets.
They were quick outside the town on the road to Bath. Mary found herself well mounted, though a little too safely for her liking. Her horse was heavy of build, being used to the burden of a somewhat ponderous master ; but the lighter weight and easy prompting hand of a young girl soon made him like a brave colt again.
The old merchant looked on with approval at such pretty skill and acquaintance with horsemanship as his companion showed at the outset of their journey; and presently, when both the good horses had finished their discreet frolic and settled to sober travel, he fell into easy discourse, and showed the fair rider all the varied interests of the way. It was a busy thoroughfare, and this honored citizen was smiled at and handsomely saluted by many acquaintances, noble and humble. Mr. Davis was stingy of holidays, even in these dull times, but all the gallantry he had ever possessed was glowing in his heart as he rode soberly along in such pleasant company.
The dreary suspense and anxiety of six long weeks at sea were like a halfforgotten dream in the girl’s own mind ; at last she could set forth about her business. The sorrows of seafaring were now at an end ; she was in England at last, and the very heart of the mother country seemed to welcome her; yet a young heart like Mary Hamilton’s must needs feel a twinge of pain at the height of her morning’s happiness. The fields and hedges, the bright foxglove and green ivy, the larks and blackbirds and quiet robins, the soft air against her cheeks, — each called up some far-inherited memory, some instinct of old relationship. All her elders in Berwick still called England home, and her thrilled heart had come to know the reason why.
Roger Wallingford had been in England. She suddenly understood this new reason why he could find it so hard to go to sea in the Ranger to attack these shores, and why he had always protested against taking part in the war. England was no longer an angry, contemptuous enemy, tyrannous and exacting, and determined to withhold the right of liberty from her own growing colonies. All those sad, unwelcome prejudices faded away, and Mary could only see white clouds in a soft sky above the hazy distance, and hear the English birds singing, and meet the honest English faces, like old friends, as she rode along the road. There was some witchery that bewildered her; ’t was like some angry quarrel sprung up between mother and child while they were at a distance from each other, that must be quick forgotten when they came face to face. There was indeed some magic touch upon her : the girl’s heart was beating fast; she was half afraid that she had misunderstood everything in blaming old England so much, and even stole a quick glance at her companion to see if he could have guessed her strange thoughts.
“ ’T is a pretty morning,” said Mr. Davis kindly, seeing that she looked his way. “ We shall reach Bath in proper season,” and he let his horse come to a slow walk.
Whether it was the fresh air of the summer day, very strengthening to one who had been long at sea, or whether it was the justice of their errand itself, the weakness of this happy moment quickly passed, and Miss Hamilton’s hand eagerly sought for a packet in the bosom of her gown, to see if it were safe. The reason for being on this side the sea was the hope that an anxious errand could be well done. She thought now of Master Sullivan on his bleak New England hillside ; of the far blue mountains of the north country, and the outlook that was clearer and wider than this hazy landscape along the Avon ; she looked down at the tame English river, and only remembered the wide stream at home that ran from the mountains straight to sea, — how it roared and droned over the great rocky fall near the master’s own house, and sounded like the calling sea itself in his ears.
“ You may see Bath now, there in the valley,” said Mr. Davis, pointing with his big hand and the hunting crop. “ ’T is as fine a ride from Bristol to Bath as any you may have in England.” They stopped their horses, a little short of breath, and looked down the rich wooded country to the bright-town below.
“ ’T is a fine ride indeed,” said Mary, patting her horse’s neck, and thinking, with uncontrollable wistfulness, of the slenderer and less discreet young Duke at home, and of the old coachman and his black helpers as they always stood by the stable, eager to watch her, with loud cautions, as she rode away. ’T was a sharp touch of homesickness, and she turned her head so that she could hide her face from sight.
“ I ’ll change with you, my dear, as we ride toward home ; I see you are so competent a rider,” offered Mr. Davis heartily. “ Lightfoot is a steady beast, though I must own you found him otherwise this morning; this chestnut is younger and freer-gaited.” He had a strange sense, as he spoke, that Mary was no longer in good spirits. Perhaps the heavy horse had tired her strength, though Lightfoot was as good a creature as any in Bristol, and much admired for his noble appearance.
Mary eagerly protested, and patted the old horse with still greater friendliness and approval as they went riding on toward the town. The alderman sighed at the very sight of her youth and freshness ; ’t would be pleasant to have such a daughter for his own. A man likes young company as he grows older ; though the alderman might be growing clumsy on his own legs, the good horse under him made him feel like a lad of twenty. ’T was a fine day to ride out from Bristol, and the weather of the best. Mr. Davis began to mind him of an errand of business to Westbury on Trym, beyond the Clifton Downs, where, on the morrow, he could show Miss Hamilton still finer prospects than these.
They stopped at last before a handsome lodging in the middle of the town of Bath. Mr. George Fairfax was a Virginian, of old Lord Bryan Fairfax’s near kindred, a man of great wealth, and a hearty Loyalist; his mother, a Carey of Hampton, had been well known to Madam Wallingford in their early years. He was at home this day, and came out at once to receive his guests with fine hospitality, being on excellent terms of friendship with the old merchant. They greeted each other with great respect before Miss Hamilton’s presence was explained; and then Mr. Fairfax’s smiling face was at once clouded. He had been the hope and stay of so many distressed persons, in these anxious days of war, that he could only sigh as he listened. It was evident enough that, however charming this new sufferer and applicant might be, their host could but regret her errand. Yet one might well take pleasure in her lovely face, even if she must be disappointed, as most ladies were, in the hope of receiving an instant and ample pension from the ministers of his Majesty George the Third.
Mr. Fairfax, with great courtesy, began to say something of his regrets and fears.
“ But we do not ask for these kind favors,” Mary interrupted him, with gentle dignity. “ You mistake our present errand, sir. Madam Wallingford is in no need of such assistance. We are provided with what money we are like to need, as our good friend here must already know. The people at home ” — and she faltered for a moment before she could go on. “ It was indeed thought best that Madam Wallingford should be absent for a time ; but she was glad to come hither for her son’s sake, who is in prison. We have come but to find him and to set him free, and we ask for your advice and help. Here is her letter,” and Miss Hamilton hesitated and blushed with what seemed to both the gentlemen a most pretty confusion. “ I ought to tell you, Mr. Fairfax— I think you should know, sir, that I am of the Patriots. My brother was with General Washington, with his own regiment, when I left home.”
Mr. George Fairfax bowed ceremoniously, but his eyes twinkled a little, and he took refuge in reading the letter. This was evidently an interesting case, but not without its difficulties.
“The young gentleman in question also appears to be a Patriot,” he said seriously, as he looked up at Mr. Davis. “ In Miss Hamilton’s presence I may drop our usual term of ‘ rebel.’ Madam Wallingford professes herself unshaken in her hereditary allegiance to the Crown; but as for this young officer, her son, I am astonished to find that he has been on board the Ranger with that Paul Jones who is the terror of our ports now, and the chief pest and scourge of our commerce here in England. ’T is a distressed parent indeed ! ”
“ You have the right of it,” said the old British merchant, with great eagerness and reproach. Mr. Davis was not a man who found it easy to take the humorous point of view. “ It seems that he was left ashore, that night of the attack upon Whitehaven, in the north, which you will well remember. He was caught by the town guard. You know we captured one of the Ranger’s men ? ’T was this same young officer, and, though badly wounded, he was ordered to the Mill Prison, and is said to have arrived in a dying state. For his mother’s sake (and her face would distress any man’s heart), I try to believe that he is yet alive and lies there in the jail; but 't is a sorry place of correction that he has come to through his own foolishness. They say he is like to have been hanged already.”
“ Good God ! what a melancholy story, and all England thinking that he deserves his fate ! ” exclaimed Fairfax. “I cannot see how anything can be done.”
“ There is but one gleam of hope,” said Mr. Davis, who had not sat among the Bristol magistrates in vain. He spoke pompously, but with some kindness for Miss Hamilton, who was listening sadly enough, the eager bravery of her face all gone ; their last words had been very hard to bear. " There is one thing to add. The story reached America, before these good friends left, that young Mr. Wallingford was suspected by many persons on board the Ranger of still holding to his early Loyalist principles. They openly accused him of an effort to betray the ship into our hands. If this is true ” —
“ It is not true! ” interrupted Miss Hamilton, and both the gentlemen looked a little startled. “ No, it is not true,” she repeated, more calmly. “ It is not a proper plea to make, if he should never be set free.”
“ We must think of his mother ; we are only reviewing the situation in our own fashion,” said the elder man, frowning a stern rebuke at her. But she would have her way.
“ Mr. Davis has been very kind in the matter,” she continued. “ When we were speaking together, last night, he told me that Lord Mount Edgecumbe was now in Bath, and would have great influence about the American prisoners.”
“ That is true,” said Mr. Fairfax politely ; “ but I do not possess the honor of his lordship’s acquaintance, and I fear that I have no means of reaching him. He is in bad health, and but lately arrived in Bath to take the waters.”
“ Miss Hamilton has brought letters ” —
“ I have some letters, given me by an old friend at home,” acknowledged Mary. “ He was very sure that they would be of use to us. Do you happen to know anything of Lord Newburgh, sir, and where he may be found ? ”
“ Lord Newburgh ? ” repeated the Virginian eagerly, with a quick shake of his head and a sudden frown, though there was again a twinkle of merriment in his eyes. Mary’s best hopes suddenly fell to the ground. She was aware as she had not been before upon how slight a foundation these best hopes might have been built. She had always looked up to Master Sullivan with veneration ; the mystery of his presence was like an enchantment to those who knew him best. But he had been a long lifetime in America ; he might have written his letters to dead men only ; they might be worth no more than those withered oak leaves of last year that were fluttering on the hedges, pierced by a new growth.
There was a pause. Mr. Fairfax’s face seemed full of pity. Miss Hamilton began to resent his open show of sympathy.
“ I am strangely inhospitable ! ” he exclaimed. “ We were so quick at our business that I forgot to offer you anything, sir, and you, Miss Hamilton, after your morning’s ride ! No, no, it is no trouble. You will excuse me for a moment ? I am like to forget my good bringing up in Virginia, and my lady is just now absent from home.”
Mr. Fairfax quickly left the room. The alderman sat there speechless, but looking satisfied and complacent. It certainly did make a man thirsty to ride abroad on a sunshiny morning, and his ears were sharp-set for the comfortable clink of glasses. The heavy tray presently arrived, and was put near him on a card table, and the old butler, with his pleasant Virginian speech, was eager in the discharge of hospitality ; Mr. Fairfax being still absent, and Mary quite at the end of her courage. She could not take the cool draught which old Peter offered her with respectful entreaties, as if he were Cæsar, their own old slave ; she tried to look at the hunting pictures on the wall, but they blurred strangely, — there was something the matter with her eyes.
“ What noble Jamaica spirits ! ” said Mr. John Davis, looking at the ceiling as his glass was being replenished. “ Did your master grow these lemons on his own plantations in Virginia ? They are of a wondrous freshness,” he added politely, to repeat his approval of such an entertainment. “ Miss Hamilton, my dear, you forget we must take the long ride back again to Bristol. I fear you make a great mistake to refuse any refreshment at our good Peter’s hands.”
The door was opened wide, and Mr. Fairfax made a handsome, middle-aged gentleman precede him into the room.
“ I was afraid that I should miss this noble friend,” he said gayly ; “ he might have been taking advantage of so fine a morning, like yourselves. Here is my Lord Newburgh, Miss Hamilton ; this is Lord Newburgh himself for you ! You may have heard of Mr. Alderman Davis, of Bristol, my lord ? I have told you already that Miss Hamilton brings you a letter, and that she hopes for your interest with ray Lord Mount Edgecumbe. My dear Miss Hamilton, this gives me great pleasure ! When you said that you had such a letter, I was sure at last that there was one thing I could do for you.”
Lord Newburgh gravely saluted these new acquaintances, taking quick notice of the lady’s charm, and smiling over his shoulder at Mr. Fairfax’s excited manner. He waved his hand in kind protest to check Peter’s officious approach with the tray of glasses.
“ So you have a letter for me, from America, Miss Hamilton ? ” he asked bluntly ; and she put it into his hand.
Lord Newburgh gave a curious look at the carefully written address, and turned the folded sheet to see the seal. Then he flushed like a man in anger and bit his lip as he looked at the seal again, and started back as he stood close by the window, so that they all saw him. Then he tore open Master Sullivan’s letter.
“It is dated this very last month ! ” he cried. “ My God! do you mean to tell me that this man is still alive? ”
“What man? ” asked Mr. Fairfax and Mr. Davis, with eager curiosity, seeing such astonishment upon his face ; but Lord Newburgh made them no answer until he had read the letter and carefully folded it again. They saw his hands tremble. He stood looking blankly at the two men and Miss Hamilton, as if he were in doubt what to say.
“ ’T is like one risen from the dead,” he told them presently, “ but what is written here is proof enough for me. There are some things which cannot be spoken of even after all these years, but I can say this : ’t was a friend of my poor father, Charles Ratcliffe, and of his brother, Darwentwater, — one of their unlucky company sixty years ago. There are high reasons, and of state too, why beyond this I must still keep silence. Great heavens, what a page of history is here ! ” and he opened the letter to look at it once more.
“ Mount Edgecumbe will not believe me,” he said, as if to himself. “ Well, at least he knows something of those old days, too ; he will be ready to do what he can for such a petitioner as this, but we must be careful. I should like to speak with Miss Hamilton alone, if you will leave us here together, gentlemen,” said Lord Newburgh, with quiet authority ; and Mr. Fairfax and the alderman, disappointed, but with ready courtesy, left them alone in the room.
“ Do you know the writer of this letter, madam ? ” demanded Lord Newburgh ; and he was so well aware of the girl’s beauty that, while he spoke, his eyes scarcely left her face. “ ’T is true he speaks your name here and with affection, but I cannot think his history is well known.”
Mary smiled then, and answered gently to her lifelong acquaintance with the master and her deep love for him, but that his early life was a matter of conjecture to those who had longest been his neighbors. Lord Newburgh saw with approval that she herself knew something more than she was ready to confess.
“ He has followed the great Example, — he has given his life for his friend,” said Lord Newburgh, who showed himself much moved, when she had finished speaking. “ They should know of this among our friends in France ; by God’s truth, the King himself should know but for his present advisers ! I must say no more ; you can see how this strange news has shaken me. He asks a thing difficult enough ; he has broken his long silence for no light reason. But Mount Edgecumbe will feel as I do, — whatever he asks should be promised him; and Mount Edgecumbe has power in Plymouth ; even with Barrington reigning in the War Office he is not likely to be refused, though’t is a narrow soul, and we can give no reasons such as make our own way plain. Your man shan’t stay in the Mill Prison, I can promise you that, Ranger or no Ranger ! ”
Lord Newburgh smiled now at Miss Hamilton, as if to bring a look of pleasure to so sweet a face, and she could not but smile back at him.
“ I shall do my part of this business at once,” he said, rising. " I passed Mount Edgecumbe on my way here ; he ’ll swear roundly at such a request. He fears that his great oaks must go down, and his temper is none of the best. The earl is an old sailor, my dear Miss Hamilton, and has a sailor’s good heart, but this will stagger him well. You say that Madam Wallingford, the young man’s mother, is now in Bristol? ” and again he looked at the letter. “ Stay ; before I speak with the earl I should like to hear more of these interesting circumstances. I must say that my own sympathies are mainly with your party in the colonies. I believe that the King has been made a tool of by some of his ministers. But I should not say this if you are one of the Loyalist refugees. Why, no, my dear ! ” He checked himself, laughing. “ ’T is a strange confusion. I cannot think you are for both hound and hare ! ”
It was near an hour later when Mr. Fairfax fumbled at the latch to see if he might be of service, and was politely though not too warmly requested to enter. Mr. John Davis had grown fretful at their long delay, but Miss Hamilton and Lord Newburgh were still deep in their conversation. The young lady herself had been close to her brother’s confidence, and was not ignorant of causes in this matter of the war. Lord Newburgh struck his fist to the table with emphatic disapproval, as he rose, and told the two gentlemen who entered that he had learned at last what all England ought to know, — the true state of affairs in America.
The Virginia Loyalist looked disturbed, and showed some indifference to this bold announcement.
“ Come, Fairfax,” cried the guest gayly, “ I shall have arguments enough for ye now! I can take the Patriot side with intelligence, instead of what you have persisted in calling my ignorant prejudice.”
“ ’T is your new teacher, then, and not your reasoning powers,” retorted Fairfax ; and they both fell to laughing, while Mary fell to blushing and looking more charming than before.
“Well, Miss Hamilton, and is your business forwarded ? Then we must be off; the day is well squandered already,” said John Davis.
“ I shall first take Miss Hamilton to our good housekeeper for a dish of tea before she rides home,” protested the host kindly. “ I am grieved that my lady is not here; but our housekeeper, Mrs. Mullet, can offer the dish of tea, if so stern a Boston Patriot does not forbid. You will try the Jamaica spirits again yourself, sir ? A second glass is always better than the first, Mr. Alderman ! ”
“ I shall speak with my friends as to these Plymouth affairs, and do my best for you,” Lord Newburgh kindly assured Miss Hamilton, as they parted. “ You shall see me in Bristol to-morrow. Ah, this letter ! ” and he spoke in a low voice. “ It touches my heart to think that you know So well our sad inheritance. My poor father and poor Darwentwater ! Every one here knows their melancholy fate, their ‘ sad honors of the axe and block; ’ but there were things covered in those days that are secrets still in England. He speaks of the Newgate supper to me ! . . . ’ T was he himself who saved . . . and only a lad ”... But Mary could not hear the rest.
“ I must see you again,” he continued, aloud. “ I shall have a thousand questions to put to you, and many messages for your old Master Sullivan (God bless him!) when you return. I offer you my friendship for his sake,” and Lord Newburgh stood with bared head beside the horse when Miss Hamilton was mounted. “ We have pleasant Dilston Hall to our home no more these many years; we Ratcliffes are all done, but at Slindon you shall be very welcome. I shall wait upon Madam Wallingford to-morrow, and bring her what good comfort I can.”
The alderman was warmed by Mr. Fairfax’s hospitalities, and rode beside his young guest as proudly as if he were the lord mayor on high holiday. The streets of Bath were crowded with idle gentlefolk ; ’t was a lovely day, and many people of fashion were taking the air as well as the famous waters. 'T was a fine sight for a New England girl, and Mary herself was beheld with an admiration that was by no means silent. Their horses’ feet clacked sharply on the cobblestones, as if eager to shorten the homeward road, and the young rider sat as light as her heart was, now the errand was done. ’T was a pretty thing, her unconsciousness of all admiration ; she might have been flitting along a shady road under the pines at home, startling the brown rabbits, and keeping a steady hand on the black Duke’s rein to be ready for sudden freaks. She did not see that all along by the pump room they were watching her as she passed. She was taking good news to Bristol, that Lord Newburgh had given his word of honor that Roger Wallingford should be pardoned and set free. Was not his mother a great lady, and heartily loyal to the Crown ? Was there not talk of his having been suspected of the same principles on board the American privateer ? It must be confessed that Lord Newburgh’s face had taken on a look of amused assurance when these facts were somewhat unwillingly disclosed; they were the last points in the lieutenant’s history which Mary herself would have willingly consented to use, even as a means of deliverance from captivity, but they had won an easy promise of freedom.
“ She ’s a rebel indeed, but God bless me, I don’t blame her ! ” laughed the noble lord, as he reflected upon their conversation. It was not in his loyal heart to forget his heritage. Whatever might fall out in the matter of those distressed seamen who now suffered in the Mill Prison, no man could fail of pleasure in doing service for such sweet eyes as Miss Mary Hamilton’s. There were some private reasons why he could go boldly to ask this great favor, and Lord Mount Edgecumbe was as good as master of the town of Plymouth, both by land and sea, and responsible for her concerns.
“ I ’ll make him ride with me to Bristol to-morrow to see these ladies,” said Lord Newburgh from a generous heart. “ ’T will be a sweet reward, he may take my word for it! ”
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 believe that I am well 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 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 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 earlier 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 are 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. Let us go in at once. I wish we had brought more wine and food to these poor fellows ! ” 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 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 came in. 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, 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 entered. 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 afraid 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 papers, 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 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 into Roger Wallingford’s face and tell him that he was free. On the end of the governor’s writing table lay the note she had written with such a happy heart only the night before.
The town of Bristol was crowded with Loyalist refugees : some who had fled the colonies for honest love of their King, and some who believed that when the King’s troops had put down the rebellion they should be well rewarded for holding to his cause. They were most of them cut off from what estates they may have had, and were begging for pensions from a government that seemed cruelly indifferent. Their sad faces fairly shadowed the Bristol streets, while many of them idled the day through, discussing their prospects with one another, and killing time that might have been lived to some profit. The disappointment of their hope was unexpected, and an England that showed them neither sympathy nor honor when they landed on her shores, glowing with self-sacrifice, was but a sad astonishment. England, their own mother country, seemed fallen into a querulous dotage, with her King’s ministers so pompous in their stupid ignorance and self-consequence, and her best statesmen fighting hard to be heard. It was an age of gamester heroes and of reckless living; a poor page of English history was unfolded before their wistful eyes. These honest Loyalists were made to know the mortified feelings of country gentlefolk come unheralded to a city house that was busy with its splendors on a feast day, and impatient of what was inopportune. Worse than this, though Judge Curwen and other loyal Americans of his company were still hopeful of consideration, and of being warmly received by England as her own true children, they were oftener held guilty of the vexing behavior of their brothers, those rebels against English authority whom they had left behind.
Something to Mary’s wonder, Madam Wallingford would have few of them to friend. She was too great a person at home to consent even now to any social familiarity on the score of political sympathies. She was known to have brought much money, and it was made easy for her to share this with one and another distressed acquaintance or friend’s friend ; but while this was done with generosity, she showed herself more and more impatient of their arguments, even of those plaints which were always ready, and the story of such grievances as had led them into exile.
“ I am too ill and sad to listen to these things,” she said often, even to her friends the Pepperrells, who came from London to visit her. “ I only know my country’s troubles through my own sorrow.” She begged them at last to find poor Roger’s grave, so she might go there to pray for him : ’t was all that she could do. " Oh no,” she would say mournfully to those who looked for her assent to their own views of the great situation, “ do not expect me to understand you. I am only a mother, and all my life is done ! ”
The Bristol streets were busy as Miss Hamilton came walking through the town, and the bells were ringing for a holiday. She was deep in anxious thought, and kept steadily on her way toward the abbey church, without even a glance at a tradesman’s window or a look at the people she met. Life was filled with new anxieties. Since the day when they had left Plymouth they could find no trace of Roger Wallingford, beyond the certainty that he had made his escape with some fellow prisoners through a tunnel which they had been for many days digging under the prison wall. There had been a light near the opening in the field outside, and a guard set, but six men had gone out of the narrow hole and crawled away. It was a windy night, and the lantern light and shadows wavered on the ground to hide them. Two were shot and killed, but two were captured and brought back at once, while another was shot and got away, stumbling and falling often, and bleeding like a slaughtered creature, as the watch could see next morning by daylight. This poor fellow had escaped to the moors ; there was a pool of blood in a place where he must have hidden for some hours among the furze bushes. There was so large a bounty paid for any escaped traitors and felons like these, who might be brought back alive to the Mill Prison, that the poor moorland folk back of Plymouth were ever on the quest. Roger Wallingford might have been that bleeding man. They would not dare to keep together ; his companion might have left him dying or dead somewhere in the lonely waste country that stretched miles away above the prison. His fate was sure if he should be captured ; he was not a man to yield his life too easily. There were some carefully worded notices posted, — broadsides which might easily reach the eyes of such fugitives if they ventured into any of the Devon towns near by ; but they might well have starved to death by this time in the deserts of Dartmoor. One sailor beside the lieutenant had succeeded in making his escape.
Mary Hamilton had left her lady pale and in tears that morning, and all her affectionate solicitude had been in vain.
There was some relief in finding herself afoot in the fresh air. For the first time she wondered if they must yield all their hopes and think of going home. It must be so if they should come to know that Roger was really dead, and her heart stopped as if with a sudden shock. Alas, next moment she remembered that for poor Madam Wallingford there was no safe return; her son was not yet disproven of Tory crimes. If there were any chance of sailing, the poor lady was far too ill and feeble in these last days. The summer, the little that was left of it, looked long and dreary; the days were already growing short. There had not come a word from home since they sailed.
There was no longer much use in riding abroad on futile quests, and in these last days most persons had ceased to ask if there were any news of the lieutenant. Week after week had gone by, and his mother’s proud courage was gone, while her bodily strength was fast failing. Lord Newburgh and Mr. Fairfax, even the great Lord Mount Edgecumbe himself, had shown very great kindness in so difficult a matter, and Mary never let them go away unthanked for any favors which it could only be a happiness for any man to bestow. The gift and spell of beauty were always hers, and a heart that was always ready to show both gratitude and affection. She might not speak these things, but she was instant in giving the sweetest recognition to the smallest service that she might discover.
The abbey church of Augustine was cool and dim as Mary Hamilton went in, with a drooping head and a heavy heart. Her courage had never before seemed so utterly to fail. She had passed two forlorn Royalists at the gatehouse who were talking of their pensions, and heard one of them say, “ If I were safe home again I’d never leave it, principles or no principles ! ” and the words rang dull and heavy in her ears. She sat down on an old stone bench in the side aisle ; the light came sifting down to the worn stone pavement, but she was in shadow, behind a great pillar that stood like a monstrous tree to hold the lofty roof.
There was no one in sight. The lonely girl looked up at a familiar old Jacobean monument on the wall, with the primly ruffed father and mother kneeling side by side with clasped hands, and their children kneeling in a row behind them down to the very least, in a pious little succession. They were all together there in comfortable safety, and many ancient mural tablets covered the walls about them with the names and virtues of soldiers and sailors, priests and noblemen, and gallant gentlemen of old England with their children and their good wives.
“ They have all won through,” whispered Mary to herself. " They have all fought the long battle and have carried care like me, and they have all won through. I shall not be a coward, either,” and her young heart rose ; but still the tears kept coming, and she sat bowed in the shadow and could not lift her head, which until lately had faced the sun like a flower. She sat there, at last, not thinking of her present troubles, but of home : of old Peggy, and the young maids who often sang at their pleasant work ; the great river at full tide, with its wooded shores and all its points and bays ; the fishing weirs in the distance ; the slow, swaying flight of the eagles and the straight course of the herons overhead. She thought of the large, quiet house facing southward, and its rows of elms, and the slender poplars going down the garden terraces ; she even heard the drone of the river falls ; she saw the house standing empty, the wide doors all shut to their old hospitality. A sense of awful distance fell upon her heart. The responsibility and hopelessness of her errand were too heavy on her young heart. She covered her face and bent still lower, but she could not stop her tears.
There came the sound of footsteps up the nave of the abbey: it might be the old verger in his rusty gown, or some sightseer stopping here and there to read an inscription. Poor Mary’s tears would have their way : to one of her deep nature weeping was sad enough in itself; to cry for sorrow’s sake was no common sorrow. She was safe in her dim corner, and thought little of being seen ; she was only a poor girl in sore trouble, with her head sunk in her hands, who could not in any way concern a stranger. The wandering footsteps stopped near by, instead of going on and entering the choir. She noticed then, in a dull way, the light echo of their sound among the arches overhead.
“ My God ! ” said a man’s voice, as if in great dismay.
The speaker stepped quickly to Mary’s side, and laid his hand gently on her shoulder. She looked up into the face of Captain Paul Jones of the Ranger.
The captain’s eyes were full of tears; ’t was no sign that he lacked manliness. To find Miss Hamilton in England, to find her alone and in piteous despair, was the opportunity of his own heart. He could not but be startled into wondering silence ; the event was too astonishing even for one so equal to emergencies; but he at once stood ready, with beating heart and sure sense of a man’s abundant strength, to shelter her and to fight against the thing that troubled her, whatever it might be. Presently he seated himself by Mary’s side, and took her hand in his and held it fast, still without speaking. She was the better for such friendliness, and yet wept the more for his very sympathy.
The captain waited until her passion of tears had spent itself. It was a pity she could not watch his compassionate face; all that was best and kindest in the man was there to see, with a grave look born of conflict and many grievous disappointments. To see Paul Jones now, one could not but believe him capable of the sternest self-command; he had at least the unassuming and quiet pride of a man who knows no master save himself. His eyes were full of womanly tenderness as he looked down at the pathetic bowed head beside him. Next moment they had a keen brightness as he caught sight of a tablet on the abbey wall to some Bristol hero long dead, — the gallant servant, through many perils by sea and land, of Anne his Queen : ’t was a record that the captain’s heart could perfectly understand.
“ Calm yourself now, my dearest girl,” he said at last, with gentle authority. “ I must not stay long beside you ; I am always in danger here. I was not unknown in Bristol as a younger man.”
Mary lifted her head ; for a moment the sight of his face helped to put her own miseries quite out of mind. Her ready sympathy was quickly enough roused when she saw how Paul Jones had changed. He had grown much older ; years might have passed instead of months since that last evening he had spent in America, when she had seen him go away with his men by moonlight down the river. More than ever now he might easily win the admiration of a woman’s heart! She had half forgotten the charm of his voice, the simple directness of his eyes and their strange light, with something in his behavior that men called arrogance and willful rivalry, and women recognized as a natural royalty and irresistible, compelling power. To men he was too imperious, to women all gentleness and courtesy.
“ You are in disguise ! ” she exclaimed, amazed at his courage. “ How do you dare, even you, to be here in Bristol in broad day ? ” and she found herself smiling, in spite of her unchecked tears. The captain held a rough woolen cap in his hand; he was dressed in that poor garb of the hungry Spanish sailor of Quiberon, which had so often done him good service.
“Tell me what has brought you here,” he answered her. “That is by far the greatest wonder. I am no fit figure to sit beside you, but ’t is the hand of God that has brought us here together. Heaven forbid that you should ever shed such bitter tears again ! ” he said devoutly, and sat gazing at her like a man in a daydream.
“ Sometimes God wills that we shall be sorry-hearted ; but when he sends the comfort of a friend, God himself can do no more,” answered the girl, and there fell a silence between them. There was a sparrow flying to and fro among the pillars, and chirping gayly under the high roof, — a tiny far-fallen note, and full of busy cheer. The late summer sunshine lay along the floor of that ancient house of God where Mary and the captain sat alone together, and there seemed to be no other soul in the place.
Her face was shining brighter and brighter ; at last, at last she could know the truth, and hear what had happened at Whitehaven, and ask for help where help could be surely given.
“ But why are you here ? You must indeed be bold, my lord captain ! ” she ventured again, in something very like the old gay manner that he knew; yet she still looked very white, except for her tear-stained eyes. “There were new tales of your seafaring told in the town only yesterday. I believe they are expecting you in every corner of England at once, and every flock of their shipping is dreading a sight of the Sea Wolf.”
“ I do my own errands, — that is all,” replied the captain soberly. “ My poor Ranger is lying now in the port of Brest. I am much hampered by enemies, but I shall presently break their nets. ... I was for a look at their shipping here, and how well they can defend it. There is an able, well-manned fish boat out of Roscoff, on the Breton coast, which serves me well on these expeditions. I have a plan, later, for doing great mischief to their Baltic fleet. I had to bring with me the worst of my ship’s company ; ’t is my only discomfort,” said Paul Jones, with bitterness. “ I have suffered far too much,” and he sighed heavily and changed his tone. “ I believe now that God’s providence has brought me to your side; such happiness as this makes up for everything. You remember that I have been a sailor all my life,” he continued, as if he could not trust himself to speak with true feeling. “ I have been acquainted since childhood with these English ports.”
“ You did not know that I had come to Bristol ? ” said Mary. “ Oh yes, we have been here these many weeks now,” and she also sighed.
“ How should I know?” asked Paul Jones impatiently. “ I am overwhelmed by such an amazing discovery. I could burst into tears ; I am near to being unmanned, though you do not suspect it. Think, dear, think what it is to me ! I have no discretion, either, when I babble my most secret affairs aloud, and hardly know what I am saying. I must leave you in a few short moments. What has brought you here ? Tell me the truth, and how I may safely manage to see you once again. If you were only in France, with my dear ladies there! They would love and cherish you with all their kind hearts. ’T is the Duchess of Chartres who has been my good angel since I came to France, and another most exquisite being whom I first met at her house, — a royal princess, too. Oh, I have much to tell you ! Their generous friendship and perfect sympathy alone have kept me from sinking down. I have suffered unbelievable torture from the jealousy and ignorance of men who should have known their business better, and given me every aid.”
“I am thankful you have such friends as these ladies,” said Mary, with great sweetness. “ I am sure that you also have been a friend to them. Some knowledge of your difficulties had reached us before we left home ; but, as you know, intercourse is now much interrupted, and we were often uncertain of what had passed at such a distance. We hear nothing from home, either,” she added mournfully. “ We are in great distress of mind ; you could see that I was not very cheerful. ... I fear in my heart that poor Madam Wallingford will die.”
“ Madam Wallingford! ” repeated the captain. “ You cannot mean that she is here ! ” he exclaimed, with blank astonishment. His tone was full of reproach, and even resentment. “ Poor lady ! I own that I have had her in my thoughts, and could not but pity her natural distress,” he added, with some restraint, and then burst forth into excited speech: “ There is no need that they should make a tool of you, — you who are a Patriot and Hamilton’s own sister ! This is arrant foolishness ! ”
He sprang to his feet, and stood before Miss Hamilton, with his eyes fixed angrily upon her face. “ If I could tell you everything ! Oh, I am outdone with this ! ” he cried, with a gesture of contempt.
“ Captain Paul Jones,” she said, rising quickly to confront him, “ I beg you to tell me everything, I cannot believe that Roger Wallingford is a traitor, and I love his mother almost as if she were my own. I came to England with her of my own wish and free will, and because it was my right to come. Will you tell me plainly what has happened, and why you do not take his part ? ”
The captain’s quick change from such deep sympathy as he had shown for her tears to a complete scorn of their cause could only give a sad shock to Mary Hamilton’s heart. He was no helper, after all. There came a dizzy bewilderment like a veil over her mind ; it seemed as if she felt the final blow of Fate. She had not known how far she had spent her strength, or how her very homesickness had weakened her that day.
“ I fear it is true enough that he betrayed us at Whitehaven,” said Paul Jones slowly, and not unmindful of her piteous look. “ I could not bring myself to doubt him at first; indeed, I was all for him. I believe that I trusted him above every man on board. I was his champion until I found he had been meddling with my papers, — my most secret dispatches, too; yes, I have proof of this ! And since then some of the stolen pages have found their way into our enemies’ hands. He has not only betrayed me, but his country too ; and worst of all in men’s eyes, he has sinned against the code of honor. Yet there is one thing I will and must remember: ’t is never the meanest men who serve their chosen cause as spies. The pity is that where success may be illustrious, the business asks completest sacrifice, and failure is the blackest disgrace. ’T is Wallingford’s reward. I loved him once, and now I could stand at the gallows and see him hanged ! Perhaps he would say that he acted from high motives, — ’t is ever a spy’s excuse ; but I trusted him, and he would have ruined me.”
“ I do not believe that he is guilty,” declared Mary Hamilton, with perfect calmness, though she had drawn back in horror as she heard the last words and saw such blazing anger in Paul Jones’s eyes. “ You must look elsewhere for your enemy,” she insisted, — “ for some other man whose character would not forbid such acts as these. If Roger Wallingford has broken his oath of allegiance, my faith in character is done ; but I have known him all my life, and I can answer for him. Believe me, there is some mistake.” Her eyes did not fall; as the captain held them straight and answerable with his own she met the challenge of his look, and there came a beautiful glow of pity and gentleness upon her face.
The captain gave a long sigh.
“ I am sure that you are mistaken,” she said again, quietly, since he did not speak. “We are now in great trouble, and even despair, about Mr. Wallingford, and have been able to get no word from him. We have his pardon in hand; ’t would make you wonder if I told you how it came to us. Your lieutenant was left most cruelly wounded on the shore at Whitehaven, and was like to die on the long journey to Plymouth jail where they sent him. How he has lived through all his sufferings I do not know. I have seen the Mill Prison, myself ; they would not even let us speak with those who knew him among our poor captives. The night before we reached the prison he had escaped ; there were some men shot down who were of his party. We can get no trace of him at all. Whether he is dead on the great moor, or still alive and wandering in distress, no one can tell. This does not look as if he were a spy for England ; it were easy to give himself up, and to prove such a simple thing, if only to be spared such misery. I am afraid that his mother will soon fade out of life, now that, after all these weeks, she believes him dead. She thought he would return with us, when she saw us ride away to Plymouth, and the disappointment was more than she could bear.”
The bitter memory of that morning at the Mill Prison was like a sword in Mary’s heart, and she stopped ; she had spoken quickly, and was now trembling from head to foot. “ I thought, when I saw your face, that you would know how to help us find him,” she said sorrowfully, under her breath.
“If I have been wrong,” exclaimed the captain, “ if I have been wrong, I shall give my life to make amends ! But all the proofs were there. I even found a bit of one of my own papers among his effects, — ’t was in a book he had been reading. But I hid the matter from every one on board ; I could not bear they should know it. Dickson’s word was their mainstay at first; but that counted worse than nothing to me, till there were other matters which fully upheld his account.”
“ Dickson has always been a man mistrusted and reproached,” protested Miss Hamilton, with indignation. “ There is a man for you whose character would not forbid such treachery! You must know, too, that he has a deep hatred for the Wallingfords, and would spare no pains to revenge himself.”
The captain stood doubtful and dismayed. “ I have gone over this sad matter by day and by night,” he said; “ I do not see where I could be mistaken. I went to the bottom of my evidence without regard to Dickson, and I found proof enough. I hate that man, and distrust him, yet I can find little fault with his service on the ship ; and when I have been surest of catching him in a lie, he always proves to have told the exact truth, and wears a martyr’s air, and is full of his cursed cant and talk of piety. Alas, I know not what can be done at this late day.”
“ Did you never think that Dickson could put many a proof like your bit of paper where your eyes alone could fall upon it? ” asked Mary. “ I remember well that he has tried more than once to cast blame upon others when he himself was the sinner. He has plenty of ability ; ’t is his use of it one may always fear.”
The captain moved restlessly, as if conscious of her accusation. “ Many believed Wallingford to be a Tory on the ship,” he answered. “ They were jealous and suspicious of his presence; but Dickson, who has warped Simpson’s honest mind against me, may also have set his energies to this. If we could only find Wallingford! If we could only hear his own story of that night! In all this time he should have sent some word to me. If I were free, I ’d soon know what they learned from him in the prison ; he must have spoken openly with some of the Portsmouth men who are there. What can we do ? ” the speaker ended, in a different tone altogether, making a direct appeal to Mary. “ If I have fallen a dupe to such a man as Dickson in this matter, I shall never recover from the shame. You would never forgive me. Alas, how can I ask the question that my heart prompts! You are most unhappy,” said Paul Jones, with exquisite compassion. “ Is it because of Wallingford alone ? Oh, Mary, is there no hope for me? You have had my letters ? You cannot but remember how we parted! ”
She looked at him imploringly.
“ Tell me,” said the captain. “ I must ask a question that is very hard for me. I believe that you love this unfortunate officer, and desire his safety beyond everything else. Is it not true ? ”
Mary waited only a moment before she spoke.
“Yes, it is true,” she said then. “I know now that we have always belonged to each other.”
“ Alas for my own happiness ! ” said the captain, looking at her. “ I thought when we parted that last night”— He groaned, his words faltering. “ Oh that I had only spoken ! Glory has been a jealous mistress to me, and I dared not speak ; I feared’t would cost me all her favor, if my thoughts were all for you. It seems a lifetime ago. I could throw my hope of glory down at your feet now, if it were any use. I can do nothing without love. Oh, Mary, must you tell me that it is too late ? ”
The captain’s voice made poignant outcry to the listener’s heart. The air seemed to quiver in strange waves, and the walls of the abbey seemed to sway unsteadily. The strong, determined soul before her was pleading for an impossible happiness. Even better than he could know, she knew that he lacked a woman’s constant love and upholding, and that, with all his noble powers, his life tended toward ruin and disappointment. She stood there, white and wistful ; her compassionate heart was shaken with pity for his loneliness.
There was a change on the man’s dark face ; he took one step toward her, and then was conscious of a strange separation between them. Mary did not move, she did not speak ; she stood there as a ghost might stand by night to pity the troubles of men. She knew, with a woman’s foresight, the difference it would make if she could only stand with love and patience by his side.
“ There must be some one to love you as it is in your heart to love,” she told him then. “ God bless you and give you such a happiness ! You are sure to find each other in this sad world. I know you will! I know you will! ”
One of the great bells began to ring in the tower above, and its vibrations jarred her strangely; she could hardly hinder herself now from a new outburst of tears, and could not think clearly any more, and was trembling with weakness.
“ I must go home if I can,” she whispered, but her voice was very low. “ I cannot get home alone — No, no, I must not let you be so kind ! ”
He placed her gently on the stone bench, and she leaned back heavily with his arm about her, thankful for some protecting affection in her brief bewilderment. She could not but hear his pitying, endearing words as her faintness passed ; the poor girl was so breathless and weak that she could only throw herself upon his mercy. There was even an unexpected comfort in his presence, — she had been so much alone with strangers; and she forgot everything save that he was a friend of her happier days. And as for the captain, he had held her in his arms, she had turned to him with touching readiness in her distress ; nothing could ever rob his heart of the remembrance.
He watched her with solicitude as her color came back, and lingered until he saw that she was herself again. They must part quickly, for he could not venture to be seen with her in the open streets.
“ You have convinced me that I may have been wrong about Wallingford,” he said impulsively. “ I shall now do my best to aid you and to search the matter out. I shall see you again. Your happiness will always be very dear to me. I can but thank Heaven for our being here together, though I have only added something to your pain. Perhaps these troubles may not be far from their solution, and I shall see you soon in happier hours.”
He kissed her hand and let it go ; his old hope went with it; there must be a quick ending now. A man must always resent pity for himself, but his heart was full of tenderest pity for this overburdened girl. There had been few moments of any sort of weakness in all the course of her long bravery, — he was sure enough of that, — and only loved her the more. She had been the first to show him some higher things : ’t was not alone her charm, but her character, her great power of affection, her perfect friendship, that would make him a nobler lover to his life’s end.
She watched him as he went away down the nave toward the open door; the poverty of such disguise and the poor sailor’s threadbare dress could not hide a familiar figure, but he was alert no more, and even drooped a little as he stood for one moment in the doorway. He did not once look back ; there were people in the church now, and his eyes were bent upon the ground. Then he lifted his head with all the spirit that belonged to him, stepped out boldly from the shadow into the bright daylight beyond, and was gone.
The old verger crossed over to speak with Mary; he had learned to know her by sight, as she came often to the abbey church, and guessed that she might be one of the exiles from America.
“ ’T was some poor sailor begging, I misdoubt. There’s a sight o’ beggars stranded in the town. I hope he would not make bold to vex you, my lady ? ” asked the dim-eyed old man, fumbling his snuffbox with trembling hands. “I fell asleep in the chapter room.”
“ ’T was some one I had known at home,” Miss Hamilton answered. “ He is a good man,” and she smiled a little as she spoke. It would be so easy to cause a consternation in the town. Her head was steady now, but she still sat where the captain left her.
“ ’T is a beautiful monyment, — that one,” said the verger, pointing up to the kneeling figures in their prim ruffs. ” ’T is as beautiful a monyment as any here. I’ve made bold to notice how you often sits here to view it. Some o’ your Ameriky folks was obsarvin’ as their forbears was all buried in this abbey in ancient times ; ’t would be sure to make the owd place a bit homely.”
The bells were still chiming, and there were worshipers coming in. Mary Hamilton slipped away, lest she should meet some acquaintance; she felt herself shaken as if by a tempest. Paul Jones had gone into fresh danger when he left her side ; his life was spent among risks and chances. She might have been gentler to him, and sent him away better comforted.
She walked slowly, and once stood still in the street, startled by the remembrance of her frank confession of love; the warm color rushed to her pale face. To have told the captain, when she had never told Roger himself, or his mother, or any but her own heart! Yet all her sorrows were lightened by these unconsidered words : the whole world might hear them now ; they were no secret any more.
There were busy groups of people about the taverns and tobacco shops, as if some new excitement were in the air; it might be that there was news from America. As Mary passed, she heard one man shout to another that John Paul Jones, the pirate, had been seen the day before in Bristol itself. An old sailor, just landed from a long voyage at sea, had known him as he passed. There was word, too, that the Ranger had lately been sighted again off Plymouth, and had taken two prizes in the very teeth of the King’s fleet.
Sarah Orne Jewett.
(To be continued.)