The Heart's Highway
A Romance of Virginia in the Seventeeth Century
Mary E. Wilkins
The Heart's Highway
In 1682, when I was thirty years of age and Mistress Mary Cavendish just turned of eighteen, she and I together one Sabbath morning in the month of April were riding to meeting in Jamestown. We were all alone except for the troop of black slaves straggling in the rear, blurring the road curiously with their black faces. It seldom happened that we rode in such wise, for Mistress Catherine Cavendish, the elder sister of Mistress Mary, and Madam Cavendish, her grandmother, usually rode with us—Madam Judith Cavendish, though more than seventy, sitting a horse as well as her granddaughters, and looking, when viewed from the back, as young as they, and being in that respect, as well as others, a wonder to the countryside. But it happened to-day that Madam Cavendish had a touch of the rheumatics, that being an ailment to which the swampy estate of the country rendered those of advanced years somewhat liable, and had remained at home on her plantation of Drake Hill (so named in honour of the great Sir Francis Drake, though he was long past the value of all such earthly honours). Catherine, who was a most devoted granddaughter, had remained with her—although, I suspected, with some hesitation at allowing her young sister to go alone, except for me, the slaves being accounted no more company than our shadows. Mistress Catherine Cavendish had looked at me after a fashion which I was at no loss to understand when I had stood aside to allow Mistress Mary to precede me in passing the door, but she had no cause for the look, nor for the apprehension which gave rise to it. By reason of bearing always my burthen upon my own back, I was even more mindful of it than others were who had only the sight of it, whereas I had the sore weight and the evil aspect in my inmost soul. But it was to be borne easily enough by virtue of that natural resolution of a man which can make but a featherweight of the sorest ills if it be but put in the balance against them. I was tutor to Mistress Mary Cavendish, and I had sailed from England to Virginia under circumstances of disgrace; being, indeed, a convict.
I knew exceeding well what was my befitting deportment when I set out that Sabbath morning with Mistress Mary Cavendish, and not only upon that Sabbath morning but at all other times; still I can well understand that my appearance may have belied me, since when I looked in a glass I would often wonder at the sight of my own face, which seemed younger than my years, and was strangely free from any recording lines of experiences which might have been esteemed bitter by any one who had not the pride of bearing them. When my black eyes, which had a bold daring in them, looked forth at me from the glass, and my lips smiled with a gay confidence at me, I could not but surmise that my whole face was as a mask worn unwittingly over a grave spirit. But since a man must be judged largely by his outward guise and I had that of a gay young blade, I need not have taken it amiss if Catherine Cavendish had that look in her eyes when I set forth with her young sister alone save for those dark people which some folk believed to have no souls.
I rode a pace behind Mary Cavendish, and never glanced her way, not needing to do so in order to see her, for I seemed to see her with a superior sort of vision compounded partly of memory and partly of imagination. Of the latter I had, not to boast, though it may perchance be naught to boast of, being simply a kind of higher folly, a somewhat large allowance from my childhood. But that was not to be wondered at, whether it were to my credit or otherwise, since it was inherited from ancestors of much nobler fame and worthier parts than I, one of whom, though not in the direct line, the great Edward Maria Wingfield, the president of the first council of the Dominion of Virginia, having written a book which was held to be notable. This imagination for the setting forth and adorning of all common things and happenings, and my woman's name of Maria, my whole name being Harry Maria Wingfield, through my ancestor having been a favourite of a great queen, and so called for her honour, were all my inheritance at that date, all the estates belonging to the family having become the property of my younger brother John.
But when I speak of my possessing an imagination which could gild all the common things of life, I meant not to include Mistress Mary Cavendish therein, for she needed not such gilding, being one of the most uncommon things in the earth, as uncommon as a great diamond which is rumoured to have been seen by travellers in far India. My imagination when directed toward her was exercised only with the comparing and combining of various and especial beauties of different times and circumstances, when she was attired this way or that way, or was grave or gay, or sweetly helpless and clinging or full of daring. When, riding near her, I did not look at her, she seemed all of these in one, and I was conscious of such a great dazzle forcing my averted eyes, that I seemed to be riding behind a star.
I knew full well, though, as I said before, not studying the matter, just how Mistress Mary Cavendish sat her horse, which was a noble thoroughbred from England, though the one which I rode was a nobler, she having herself selected him for my use. The horse which she rode, Merry Roger, did not belie his name, for he was full of prances and tosses of his fine head, and prickings of his dainty pointed ears, but Mistress Mary sat him as lightly and truly and unswervingly as a blossom sits a dancing bough.
That morning Mistress Mary glowed and glittered and flamed in gorgeous apparel, until she seemed to fairly overreach all the innocent young flowery beauties of the spring with one rich trill of colour, like a high note of a bird above a wide chorus of others. Mistress Mary that morning wore a tabby petticoat of a crimson colour, and a crimson satin bodice shining over her arms and shoulders like the plumage of a bird, and down her back streamed her curls, shining like gold under her gauze love-hood. I knew well how she had sat up late the night before fashioning that hood from one which her friend Cicely Hyde's grandmother had sent her from England, and I knew, the first pages of a young maid being easy to spell out, that she wondered if I, though only her tutor, approved her in it, but I gave no sign. The love-hood was made of such thin and precious stuff that the gold of her head showed through.
Mistress Mary wore a mask of black velvet to screen her face from the sun, and only her sweet forehead and her great blue eyes and the rose-leaf tip of her chin showed.
All that low, swampy country was lush and green that April morning, with patches of grass gleaming like emeralds in the wetness of sunken places and unexpected pools of marsh water gleaming out of the distances like sapphires. The blossoms thrust out toward us from every hand like insistent arms of beauty. There was a frequent bush by the wayside full of a most beautiful pink-horned flower, so exceeding sweet that it harmed the worth of its own sweetness, and its cups seemed fairly dripping with honey and were gummed together with it. There were patches of a flower of a most brilliant and wonderful blue colour, and spreads as of cloth of gold from cowslips over the lowlands. The road was miry in places, and then I would fall behind her farther still that the water and red mud splashing from beneath my horse's hoofs might not reach her. Then, finally, after I had done thus some few times, she reined in her Merry Roger, and looked over her shoulder with a flash of her blue eyes which compelled mine.
"Why do you ride so far away, Master Wingfield?" said she.
I lifted my hat and bent so low in my saddle that the feather on it grazed the red mud.
"Because I fear to splash your fine tabby petticoat, Madam," I answered.
"I care not for my fine petticoat," said she in a petulant way, like that of a spoiled child who is forbidden sweets and the moon, and questions love in consequence, yet still there was some little fear and hesitation in her tone. Mistress Mary was a most docile pupil, seeming to have great respect for my years and my learning, and was as gentle under my hand as was her Merry Roger under hers, and yet with the same sort of gentleness, which is as the pupil and not as the master decides, and let the pull of the other will be felt.
I answered not, yet kept at my distance, but at the next miry place she held in Merry Roger until I was forced to come up, and then she spoke again, and as she spoke a mock-bird was singing somewhere over on the bank of the river.
"Did you ever hear a sweeter bird's song than that, Master Wingfield?" said she, and I answered that it was very sweet, as indeed it was.
"What do you think the bird is mocking, Master Wingfield?" said she, and then I answered like a fool, for the man who meets sweetness with his own bitterness and keeps it not locked in his own soul is a fool.
"I know not," said I, "but he may be mocking the hope of the spring, and he may be mocking the hope in the heart of man. The song seems too sweet for a mock of any bird which has no thought beyond this year's nest."
I spoke thus as I would not now, when I have learned that the soul of man, like the moon, hath a face which he should keep ever turned toward the Unseen, and Mistress Mary's blue eyes, as helpless of comprehension as a flower, looked in mine.
"But there will be another spring, Master Wingfield," said she somewhat timidly, and then she added, and I knew that she was blushing under her mask at her own tenderness, "and sometimes the hopes of the heart come true."
She rode on with her head bent as one who considers deeply, but I, knowing her well, knew that the mood would soon pass, as it did. Suddenly she tossed her head and flung out her curls to the breeze, and swung Merry Roger's bridle-rein, and was away at a gallop and I after her, measuring the ground with wide paces on my tall thoroughbred. In this fashion we soon left the plodding blacks so far behind that they became a part of the distance-shadows. Then, all at once, Mistress Mary swerved off from the main road and was riding down the track leading to the plantation-wharf, whence all the tobacco was shipped for England and all the merchandise imported for household use unladen. There the way was very wet and the mire was splashed high upon Mistress Mary's fine tabby skirt, but she rode on at a reckless pace, and I also, much at a loss to know what had come to her, yet not venturing, or rather, perhaps, deigning to inquire. And then I saw what she had doubtless seen before, the masts of a ship rising straightly among the trees with that stiffness and straightness of dead wood, which is beyond that of live, unless, indeed, in a storm at sea, when the wind can so inspirit it, that I have seen a mast of pine possessed by all the rage of yielding of its hundred years on the spur of a mountain.
When I saw the mast I knew that the ship belonging to Madam Cavendish, which was called "The Golden Horn," and had upon the bow the likeness of a gilt-horn, running over with fruit and flowers, had arrived. It was by this ship that Madam Cavendish sent the tobacco raised upon the plantation of Drake Hill to England.
But even then I knew not what had so stirred Mistress Mary that she had left her sober churchward road upon the Sabbath day, and judged that it must be the desire to see "The Golden Horn" fresh from her voyage, nor did I dream what she purposed doing.
Toward the end of the rolling road the wetness increased; there were little pools left from the recedence of the salt tide, and the wild breath of it was in our faces. Then we heard voices singing together in a sailor-song which had a refrain not quite suited to the day, according to common opinions, having a refrain about a lad who sailed away on bounding billow and left poor Jane to wear the willow; but what's a lass's tears of brine to the Spanish Main and a flask of wine?
As we came up to the ship lying in her dock, we saw sailors on deck grouped around a cask of that same wine which they had taken the freedom to broach, in order to celebrate their safe arrival in port, though it was none of theirs. The sight aroused my anger, but Mary Cavendish did not seem to see any occasion for wrath. She sat her prancing horse, her head up, and her curls streaming like a flag of gold, and there was a blue flash in her eyes, of which I knew the meaning. The blood of her great ancestor, the sea king, Thomas Cavendish, who was second only to Sir Francis Drake, was astir within her. She sat there with the salt sea wind in her nostrils, and her hair flung upon it like a pennant of victory, and looked at the ship wet with the ocean surges, the sails stiff with the rime of salt, and the group of English sailors on the deck, and those old ancestral instincts which constitute the memory of the blood awoke. She was in that instant as she sat there almost as truly that ardent Suffolkshire lad, Thomas Cavendish, ready to ride to the death the white plungers of the sea, and send the Spanish Armada to the bottom, as Mary Cavendish of Drake Hill, the fairest maid of her time in the Colony of Virginia.
Then as suddenly that mood left her, as she sat there, the sailors having risen, and standing staring with shamefaced respect, and covertly wiping with the hairy backs of hands their mouths red with wine. But the captain, one Calvin Tabor, stood before them with more assurance, as if he had some warrant for allowing such license among his men; he himself seemed not to have been drinking. Mistress Mary regarded them, holding in Merry Roger with her firm little hand, with the calm grace of a queen, although she was so young, and all the wild fire was gone from her blue eyes. All this time, I being as close to her side as might be, in case of any rudeness of the men, though that was not likely, they being a picked crew of Suffolkshire men, and having as yet not tasted more wine than would make them unquestioning of strange happenings, and render them readily acquiescent to all counter currents of fate.
They had ceased their song and stood with heavy eyes sheepishly averted in their honest red English faces, but Captain Calvin Tabor spoke, bowing low, yet, as I said before, with assured eyes.
"I have the honour to salute you, Mistress," he spoke with a grace somewhat beyond his calling. He was a young man, as fair as a Dutchman and a giant in stature. He bore himself also curiously for one of his calling, bowing as steadily as a cavalier, with no trembling of the knees when he recovered, and carrying his right arm as if it would grasp sword rather than cutlass if the need arose.
"God be praised! I see that you have brought 'The Golden Horn' safely to port," said Mistress Mary with a stately sweetness that covered to me, who knew her voice and its every note so well, an exultant ring.
"Yes, praised be God, Mistress Cavendish," answered Captain Tabor, "and with fine head winds to swell the sails and no pirates."
"And is my new scarlet cloak safe?" cried Mistress Mary, "and my tabby petticoats and my blue brocade bodice, and my stockings and my satin shoes, and laces?"
Mistress Mary spoke with that sweetness of maiden vanity which calls for tender leniency and admiration from a man instead of contempt. And it may easily chance that he may be as filled with vain delight as she, and picture to himself as plainly her appearance in those new fallalls.
I wondered somewhat at the length of the list, as not only Mistress Mary's wardrobe, but those of her grandmother and sister and many of the household supplies, had to be purchased with the proceeds of the tobacco, and that brought but scanty returns of late years, owing to the Navigation Act, which many esteemed a most unjust measure, and scrupled not to say so, being secure in the New World, where disloyalty against kings could flourish without so much danger of the daring tongue silenced at Tyburn.
It had been a hard task for many planters to purchase the necessaries of life with the profits of their tobacco crop, since the trade with the Netherlands was prohibited by His Most Gracious Majesty, King Charles II, for the supply being limited to the English market, had so exceeded the demand that it brought but a beggarly price per pound. Therefore, I wondered, knowing that many of those articles of women's attire mentioned by Mistress Mary were of great value, and brought great sums in London, and knowing, too, that the maid, though innocently fond of such things, to which she had, moreover, the natural right of youth and beauty such as hers, which should have all the silks and jewels of earth, and no questioning, for its adorning, was not given to selfish appropriation for her own needs, but rather considered those of others first. However, Mistress Mary had some property in her own right, she being the daughter of a second wife, who had died possessed of a small plantation called Laurel Creek, which was a mile distant from Drake Hill, farther inland, having no ship dock and employing this. Mistress Mary might have sent some of her own tobacco crop to England wherewith to purchase finery for herself. Still I wondered, and I wondered still more when Mistress Mary, albeit the Lord's Day, and the penalty for such labour being even for them of high degree not light, should propose, as she did, that the goods be then and there unladen. Then I ventured to address her, riding close to her side, that the captain and the sailors should not hear, and think that I held her in slight respect and treated her like a child, since I presumed to call her to account for aught she chose to do.
"Madam," said I as low as might be, "do you remember the day?"
"And wherefore should I not?" asked she with a toss of her gold locks and a pout of her red lips which was childishness and wilfulness itself, but there went along with it a glance of her eyes which puzzled me, for suddenly a sterner and older spirit of resolve seemed to look out of them into mine. "Think you I am in my dotage, Master Wingfield, that I remember not the day?" said she, "and think you that I am going deaf that I hear not the church bells?"
"If we miss the service for the unlading of the goods, and it be discovered, it may go amiss with us," said I.
"Are you then afraid, Master Wingfield?" asked she with a glance of scorn, and a blush of shame at her own words, for she knew that they were false.
I felt the blood rush to my face, and I reined back my horse, and said no more.
"I pray you have the goods that you know of unladen at once, Captain Tabor," said she, and she made a motion that would have been a stamp had she stood.
Calvin Tabor laughed, and cast a glance of merry malice at me, and bowed low as he replied:
"The goods shall be unladen within the hour, Mistress," said he, "and if you and the gentleman would rather not tarry to see them for fear of discovery—"
"We shall remain," said Mistress Mary, interrupting peremptorily.
"Then," said Captain Calvin Tabor with altogether too much of freedom as I judged, "in case you be brought to account for the work upon the Sabbath, 'The Golden Horn' hath wings for such a wind as prevails to-day as will outspeed all pursuers, even should they borrow wings of the cherubim in the churchyard."
I was glad that Mistress Mary did not, for all her youthfulness of temper, laugh in return, but answered him with a grave dignity as if she herself felt that he had exceeded his privilege.
"I pray you order the goods unladen at once, Captain Tabor," she repeated. Then the captain coloured, for he was quick-witted to scent a rebuff, though he laughed again in his dare-devil fashion as he turned to the sailors and shouted out the order, and straightway the sailors so swarmed hither and thither upon the deck that they seemed five times as many as before, and then we heard the hatches flung back with claps like guns.
We sat there and waited, and the bell over in Jamestown rang and the long notes died away with sweet echoes as if from distant heights. All around us the rank, woody growth was full of murmurs and movements of life, and perfumes from unseen blossoms disturbed one's thoughts with sweet insistence at every gust of wind, and always one heard the lapping of the sea-water through all its countless ways, for well it loves this country of Virginia and steals upon it, like a lover who will not be gainsaid, through meadows and thick woods and coarse swamps, until it is hard sometimes to say, when the tide be in, whether it be land or sea, and we who dwell therein might well account ourselves in a Venice of the New World.
I waited and listened while the sailors unloaded the goods with many a shout and repeated loud commands from the captain, and Mistress Mary kept her eyes turned away from my face and watched persistently the unlading, and had seemingly no more thought of me than of one of the swamp trees for some time. Then all at once she turned toward me, though still her eyes evaded mine.
"Why do you not go to church, Master Wingfield?" said she in a sweet, sharp voice.
"I go when you go, Madam," said I.
"You have no need to wait for me," said she. "I prefer that you should not wait for me."
I made no reply, but reined in my horse, which was somewhat restive with his head in a cloud of early flies.
"Do you not hear me, Master Wingfield?" said she. "Why do you not proceed to church and leave me to follow when I am ready?"
She had never spoken to me in such manner before, and she dared not look at me as she spoke.
"I go when you go, Madam," said I again.
Then, suddenly, with an impulse half of mischief and half of anger, she lashed out with her riding whip at my restive horse, and he sprang, and I had much ado to keep him from bolting. He danced to all the trees and bushes, and she had to pull Merry Roger sharply to one side, but finally I got the mastery of him, and rode close to her again.
"Madam," said I, "I forbid you to do that again," and as I spoke I saw her little fingers twitch on her whip, but she dared not raise it. She laughed as a child will who knows she is at fault and is scared by her consciousness of guilt and would conceal it by a bravado of merriment; then she said in the sweetest, wheedling tone that I had ever heard from her, and I had known her from her childhood:
"But, Master Wingfield, 'tis broad daylight and there are no Indians hereabouts, and if there were, here are all these English sailors and Captain Tabor. Why need you stay? Indeed, I shall be quite safe—and hear, that must be the last stroke of the bell?"
But I was not to be moved by wheedling. I repeated again that I should remain where she was. Then she, grown suddenly stern again, withdrew a little from me, and made no further efforts to get rid of me, but sat still watching the unlading with a gravity which gave me a vague uneasiness. I began to have a feeling that here was more than appeared on the surface, and my suspicion grew as I watched the sailors lift those boxes which were supposed to contain Mistress Mary's finery. In the first place there were enough of them to contain the wardrobe of a lady in waiting, in the second place they were of curious shape for such purposes, in the third place 'twas all those lusty English sailors could do to lift them.
"They be the heaviest furbelows that ever maiden wore," I thought as I watched them strain at the cases, both hauling and pulling, with many men to the ends to get them through the hatch, then ease them to the deck, with regard to the nipping of fingers. I noted, too, an order given somewhat privately by Captain Tabor to put out the pipes, and noted that not one man but had stowed his away.
There was a bridle-path leading through the woods to Laurel Creek, and by that way to my consternation Mistress Mary ordered the sailors to carry the cases. 'Twas two miles inland, and I marvelled much to hear her, for even should nearly all the crew go, the load would be a grievous one, it seemed to me. But to my mind Captain Calvin Tabor behaved as if the order was one which he expected, neither did the sailors grumble, but straightway loaded themselves with the case raised upon a species of hurdles which must have been provided for the purpose, and proceeded down the bridle-path, singing to keep up their hearts another song even more at odds with the day than the first. The captain marched at the head of the sailors, and Mistress Mary and I followed slowly through the narrow aisle of green. I rode ahead, and often pulled my horse to one side, pressing his body hard against the trees that I might hold back a branch which would have caught her headgear. All the way we never spoke. When we reached Laurel Creek, Mistress Mary drew the key from her pocket, which showed to me that the visit had been planned should the ship have arrived. She unlocked the door, and the sailors, no longer singing, for they were well-nigh spent by the journey under the heavy burdens, deposited the cases in the great room. Laurel Creek had belonged to Mistress Mary's maternal grandfather, Colonel Edmond Lane, and had not been inhabited this many a year, not since Mary was a baby in arms. The old furniture still stood in the accustomed places, looking desolate with that peculiar desolateness of lifeless things which have been associated with man. The house at Laurel Creek was a fine mansion, finer than Drake Hill, and the hall made me think of England. Great oak chests stood against the walls, hung with rusting swords and armour and empty powder-horns. A carven seat was beside the cold hearth, and in a corner was a tall spinning-wheel, and the carven stair led in a spiral ascent of mystery to the shadows above.
When the cases were all deposited in the great room, Mistress Mary held a short conference apart with Captain Calvin Tabor, and I saw some gold pass from her hand to his. Then she thanked him and the sailors for their trouble very prettily in that way she had which would have made every one as willing to die for her as to carry heavy weights. Then we all filed out from the house, and Mistress Mary locked the door, and bade good-bye to Captain Tabor; then he and his men took again the bridle-path back to the ship, and she and I proceeded churchward on the highway.
When we were once alone together I spurred my horse up to hers and caught her bridle and rode alongside and spoke to her as if all the past were naught, and I with the rights to which I had been born. It had come to that pass with me in those days that all the pride I had left was that of humility, but even that I was ready to give up for her if necessary.
"Tell me, Madam," said I, "what was in those cases?"
"Have I not told you?" said she, and I knew that she whitened under her mask.
"There is more than woman's finery in those cases, which weigh like lead," said I. "What do they contain?"
Mistress Mary had, after all, little of the feminine power of subterfuge in her. If she tried it, it was, as in this case, too transparent. Straight to the point she went with perfect frankness of daring and rebellion as a boy might.
"It requires not much wit, methinks, Master Wingfield, to see that," said she. Then she laughed. "Lord, how the poor sailor-men toiled to lift my gauzes and feathers and ribbons!" said she. Then her blue eyes looked at me through her mask with indescribable daring and defiance.
"Well, and what will you do?" said she. "You are a gentleman in spite—you are a gentleman, you cannot betray me to my hurt, and you cannot command me like a child, for I am a child no longer, and I will not tell you what those cases contain."
"You shall tell me," said I.
"Make me if you can," said she.
"Tell me what those cases contain," said I.
Then she collapsed all at once as only the citadel of a woman's will can do through some inner weakness.
"Guns and powder and shot and partizans," said she. Then she added, like one who would fain readjust herself upon the heights of her own resolution by a good excuse for having fallen—"Fie, why should I not have told you, Master Wingfield? You cannot betray me, for you are a gentleman, and I am not a child."
"Why have you had guns and ammunition brought from England?" I asked; but in the shock of the discovery I had loosened my grasp of her bridle and she was off, and in a minute we were in Jamestown, and could not disturb the Sabbath quiet by talk or ride too fast.
We were a good hour and a half late, but there was to my mind enough of preaching yet for my soul's good, for I thought not much of Parson Downs nor his sermons, but I dreaded for Mistress Mary that which might come from her tardiness and her Sabbath-breaking, if that were discovered. I dismounted, and assisted Mistress Mary to the horse block, and off came her black velvet mask, and she clapped a pretty hand to her hair and shook her skirts and wiped off a mud splash. Then up the aisle she went, and I after her and all the people staring.
I can see that church as well to-day as if I were this moment there. Heavily sweet with honey and almond scent it was, as well as sweet herbs and musk, which the ladies had on their handkerchiefs, for it was like a bower with flowers. Great pink boughs arched overhead, and the altar was as white as snow with blossoms. Up the aisle she flashed, and none but Mary Cavendish could have made that little journey under the eyes of the governor in his pew and the governor's lady and all the burgesses, and the churchwarden half starting up as if to exercise his authority, and the parson swelling with a vast expanse of sable robes over the Book, with no abashedness and yet no boldness nor unmaidenly forwardness. There was an innocent gayety on her face like a child's, and an entire confidence in good will and loving charity for her tardiness which disarmed all. She looked out from that gauze love-hood of hers as she came up the aisle, and the governor, who had a harsh face enough ordinarily, beamed mildly indulgent. His lady eyed her with a sort of pleasant and reminiscent wonder, though she was a haughty dame. The churchwarden settled back, and as for Parson Downs, his great, red face curved in a smile, and his eyes twinkled under their heavy overhang of florid brow, and then he declaimed in a hoarser and louder shout than ever to cover the fact of his wandering attention. And young Sir Humphrey Hyde, sitting between his mother, Lady Betty, and his sister, Cicely, turned as pale as death when he saw her enter, and kept so, with frequent covert glances at her from time to time, and I saw him, and knew that he knew about Mistress Mary's furbelow boxes.
My profession has been that of a tutor, and it thus befell that I was under the necessity of learning as much as I was able, and even going out of my way to seek those lessons at which all the pages of life are open for us, and even, as it were, turning over wayside stones, and looking under wayside weeds in the search for them; and it scarcely ever chanced that I did not get some slight savour of knowledge therefrom, though I was far enough from the full solution of the problems. And through these lessons I seemed to gain some increase of wisdom not only of the matters of which the lessons themselves treated, such as the courses of the stars and planets, the roots of herbs, and Latin verbs and algebraic quantities, and evil and good, but of their bearing upon the human heart. That I have ever held to be the most important knowledge of all, and the only reason for the setting of those lessons which must pass like all things mortal, and can only live in so far as they have turned that part of the scholar, which has hold of immortality, this or that way.
I know not how it may be with other men, but of one branch of knowledge, which pertains directly to the human heart, and, when it be what its name indicates, to its eternal life, I gained no insight whatever from my books and my lessons, nor from my observance of its workings in those around me, and that was the passion of love. Of that I truly could learn naught except by turning my reflections toward my own heart.
And I know not how this also may be with other men, but love with me had a beginning, though not an end and never shall have, and a completeness of growth which makes it visible to my thought like the shape of an angel. I have loved not in one way, but in every way which the heart of man could conceive. There is no tone of love which the heart holds for the striking which I have not heard like a bell through my furthermost silences. I can truly say that when I rode to church with Mary Cavendish that morning in April, though I loved in my whole life her and her alone, and was a most solitary man as far as friends and kinsfolk went, yet not one in the whole Kingdom of Virginia had fuller knowledge of love in all its shades of meaning than I. For I had loved Mary Cavendish like a father and like a lover, like a friend and a brother, like a slave and like a master, and such love I had for her that I could see her good beyond her pain, and would have had the courage to bear her pain, though God knows her every pang was my twenty. And it had been thus with me near sixteen years, since I was fourteen and she was a little maid of two, and I lived neighbour to her in Suffolkshire. I can see myself at fourteen and laugh at the picture. All of us have our phases of comedy, our seasons when we are out of perspective and approach the grotesque and furnish our own jesters for our after lives.
At fourteen I was as ungainly a lad, with as helpless a sprawl of legs and arms and as staring and shamefaced a surprise at my suddenly realised height of growth, when jostled by a girl or a younger lad, and utter discomfiture before an unexpected deepness of tone when essaying a polite response to an inquiry of his elders, as was ever seen in England. And I remember that I bore myself with a wary outlook for affronts to my newly fledging dignity, and concealed all that was stirring in me to new life, whether of nobility or natural emotion, as if it were a dire shame, and whenever I had it in my heart to be tender, was so brusque that I seemed to have been provided by nature with an armour of roughness like a hedgehog. But, perhaps, I had some small excuse for this, though, after all, it is a question in my mind as to what excuse there may be for any man outside the motives of his own deeds, and I care not to dwell unduly, even to my own consideration, upon those disadvantages of life which may come to a man without his cognisance and are to be borne like any fortune of war. But I had a mother who had small affection for me, and that was not so unnatural nor so much to her discredit as it may sound, since she, poor thing, had been forced into a marriage with my father when she was long in love with her cousin. Then my father having died at sea the year after I was born, and her cousin, who was a younger son, having come into the estates through the deaths of both his brothers of small-pox in one week, she married her first love in less than six months, and no discredit to her, for women are weak when they love, and she had doubtless been sorely tried. They told me that my poor father was a true man and gallant soldier, and my old nurse used to talk to me of him, and I used to go by myself to think of him, and my eyes would get red when I was but a little boy with reflecting upon my mother with her new husband and her beautiful little boy, my brother John, a year younger than I, and how my own poor father was forgotten. But there was no discredit to my mother, who was only a weak and gentle woman and was tasting happiness after disappointment and sorrow, in being borne so far out by the tide of it that she lost sight, as it were, of her old shores. My mind was never against my mother for her lack of love for me. But it is not hard to be lenient toward a lack of love toward one's self, especially remembering, as I do, myself, and my fine, ruddy-faced, loud-voiced stepfather and my brother John.
A woman, by reason of her great tenderness of heart which makes her suffer overmuch for those she loves, has not the strength to bear the pain of loving more than one or two so entirely, and my mother's whole heart was fixed with an anxious strain of loving care upon my stepfather and my brother. I have seen her sit hours by a window as pale as a statue while my stepfather was away, for those were troublous times in England, and he in the thick of it. When I was a lad of six or thereabouts they were bringing the king back to his own, and some of the loyal ones were in danger of losing their heads along his proposed line of march. And I have known her to hang whole nights over my brother's bed if he had but a tickling in the throat; and what could one poor woman do more?
She was as slender as a reed in this marshy country of Virginia, and her voice was a sweet whisper, like the voice of one in a wind, and she had a curious gracefulness of leaning toward one she loved when in his presence, as if, whether she would or no, her heart of affection swayed her body toward him. Always, in thinking of my mother, I see her leaning with that true line of love toward my stepfather or my brother John, her fair hair drooping over her delicate cheeks, her blue eyes wistful with the longing to give more and more for their happiness. My brother John looked like my mother, being, in fact, almost feminine in his appearance, though not in his character. He had the same fair face, perhaps more clearly and less softly cut, and the same long, silky wave of fair hair, but the expression of his eyes was different, and in character he was different. As for me, I was like my poor father, so like that, as I grew older, I seemed his very double, as my old nurse used to tell me. Perhaps that may have accounted for the quick glance, which seemed almost of fear, which my mother used to give me sometimes when I entered a room where she sat at her embroidery-work. My mother dearly loved fine embroideries and laces, and in thinking of her I can no more separate her from them than I can a flower from its scalloped setting of petals.
I used to slink away as soon as possible when my mother turned her startled blue eyes upon me in such wise, that she might regain her peace, and sometimes I used to send my brother John to her on some errand, if I could manage it, knowing that he could soon drive me from her mind. One learns early such little tricks with women; they are such tender things, and it stirs one's heart to impatience to see them troubled. However, I will not deny that I may have been at times disturbed with some bitterness and jealousy at the sight of my brother and my stepfather having that which I naturally craved, for the heart of a little lad is a hungry thing for love, and has pangs of nature which will not be stilled, though they are to be borne like all else of pain on earth. But after I saw Mary Cavendish all that passed, for I got, through loving so entirely, such knowledge of love in others that I saw that the excuse of love, for its weaknesses and its own crimes even, is such as to pass understanding. Looking at my mother caressing my brother instead of myself, I entered so fully into her own spirit of tenderness that I no longer rebelled nor wondered. The knowledge of the weakness of one's own heart goes far to set one at rights with all others.
When I first saw Mary Cavendish she was, as I said before, a little baby maid of two and I a loutish lad of fourteen, and I was going through the park of Cavendish Hall, which lay next ours, one morning in May, when all the hedges were white and pink, and the blue was full of wings and songs. Cavendish Hall had been vacant, save for a caretaker, that many a day. Francis Cavendish, the owner, had been for years in India, but he had lately died, and now the younger brother, Geoffry, Mary's father, had come home from America to take possession of the estate, and he brought with him his daughter Catherine by a former marriage, a maid a year older than I; his second wife, a delicate lady scarce more than a girl, and his little daughter Mary.
And they had left to come thither two fine estates in Virginia—namely these two: Laurel Creek, which was Mary's mother's in her own right, and Drake Hill; and the second wife had come with some misgiving and attended by a whole troop of black slaves, which made all our country fall agog at once with awe and ridicule and admiration. I was myself full of interest in this unwonted folk, and prone to linger about the park for a sight, and maybe a chance word with them, having ever from a child had a desire to look farther into that which has been hitherto unknown, whether it be in books or in the world at large. My lessons had been learned that morning, as was easily done, for I was accounted quick in learning, though no more so than others, did they put themselves to it with the same wish to have it over. My tutor also was not one to linger unduly at the task of teaching, since he was given to rambling about by himself with a book under one arm and a fish-pole over shoulder; a scholar of gentle, melancholy moving through the world, with such frequent pauses of abstraction that I used often to wonder if he rightfully knew himself whither he was bound.
But my mother was fond of him and so was my brother John, and as for my stepfather, Col. John Chelmsford, he had too weighty matters upon his mind, matters which pertained to Church and State and life and death, to think much about tutors. I myself was not averse to Master Snowdon, though he was to my mind, which was ever fain to seize knowledge as a man and a soldier should, by the forelock instead of dallying, too mild and deprecatory, thereby, perhaps, letting the best of her elude him. Still Master Snowdon was accounted, and was, a learned man, though scarcely knowing what he knew and easily shaken by any bout of even my boyish argument, until, I think, he was in some terror of me, and like one set free when he had heard my last page construed, and was off with his fish-pole and his book to the green side of some quiet pool. So I, with my book-lesson done, but my mind still athirst for more knowledge, and, maybe, curious, for all thirst is not for the noblest ends, crawled through a gap in the snowy May hedge, and was slinking across the park of Cavendish Hall with long, loose-jointed lopes like a stray puppy, and maybe with some sense of being where I should not, though I could not have rightly told why, since there were no warnings up against trespassers, and I had no designs upon any hare nor deer.
Be that as it may, I was going along in such fashion through the greenness of the park, so deep with rich lights and shadows on it that May morning that it seemed like plunging thought-high in a green sea, when suddenly I stopped and my heart leapt, for there sat in the grass before me, clutching some of it with a tiny hand like a pink pearl, the sweetest little maid that ever this world held. All in white she was, and of a stuff so thin that her baby curves of innocence showed through it, and the little smock slipped low down over her rosy shoulders, and her little toes curled pink in the green of the grass, for she had no shoes on, having run away, before she was dressed, by some oversight of her black nurse, and down from her head, over all her tiny body, hiding all save the merest glimmer of the loveliness of her face, fell the most wonderful shower of gold locks that ever a baby of only two years old possessed. She sat there with the sunlight glancing on her through a rift in the trees, all in a web of gold, floating and flying on the May wind, and for a minute, I, being well instructed in such lore, thought she was no mortal child, but something more, as she was indeed, but in another sense.
I stood there, and looked and looked, and she still pulled up tiny handfuls of the green grass, and never turned nor knew me near, when suddenly there burst with a speed like a storm, and a storm indeed it was of brute life, with loud stamps of a very fury of sound which shook the earth as with a mighty tread of thunder, out of a thicker part of the wood, a great black stallion on a morning gallop with all the freedom of the spring and youth firing his blood, and one step more and his iron hoofs would have crushed the child. But I was first. I flung myself upon her and threw her like a feather to one side, and that was the last I knew for a while. When I knew myself again there was a mighty pain in my shoulder, which seemed to be the centre of my whole existence by reason of it, and there was the feel of baby kisses on my lips. The courage of her blood was in that tiny maid. She had no thought of flight nor tears, though she knew not but that black thunderbolt would return, and she knew not what my ghastly silence meant. She had crept close to me, though she might well have been bruised, such a tender thing she was, by the rough fling I had given her, and was trying to kiss me awake as she did her father. And I, rude boy, all unversed in grace and tenderness, and hitherto all unsought of love, felt her soft lips on mine, and, looking, saw that baby face all clouded about with gold, and I loved her forever.
I knew not how to talk to a little petted treasure of life like that, and I dared not speak, but I looked at her, and she seemed not to be afraid, but laughed with a merriment of triumph at seeing me awake, and something she said in the sweetest tongue of the world, which I yet made poor shift to understand, for her baby speech, besides its incompleteness, had also a long-drawn sweetness like the slow trickle of honey, which she had caught from those black people which she had about her since her birth.
I had great ado to move, though my shoulder was not disjointed, only sorely bruised, but finally I was on my feet again, though standing rather weakly, and with an ear alert for the return of that wild, careering brute, and the little maid was close at my side, with one rosy set of fingers clinging around two of my rough brown ones with that sweet tenacity of a baby grasp which can hold the strongest thing on earth.
And she kept on jabbering with that slow murmur of sweetness, and I stood looking down at her, catching my breath with the pain in my shoulder, though it was out of my thoughts with this new love of her, and then came my father, Col. John Chelmsford, and Capt. Geoffry Cavendish, walking through the park in deep converse, and came upon us, and stopped and stared, as well they might.
Capt. Geoffry Cavendish was a gaunt man with the hectic colour of a fever, which he had caught in the new country, still in the hollows of his cheeks. He was quite young, with sudden alertnesses of glances in bright black eyes like the new colours in jewels when the light shifts. His daughter has the same, though her eyes are blue. Moreover, through having been in the royal navy before he got a wound which incapacitated him from further service, and was indeed in time the cause of his death, he had acquired a swift suppleness of silent movement, which his daughter has inherited also.
When he came upon us he stared for but one second, then came that black flash into his eyes, and out curved an arm, and the little maid was on her father's shoulder, and he was questioning me with something of mistrust. I was a gentleman born and bred, but my clothes sat but roughly and indifferently on me, partly through lack of oversight and partly from that rude tumble I had gotten. Indeed, my breeches and my coat were something torn by it. Then, too, I had doubtless a look of ghastliness and astonishment that might well have awaked suspicion, and Capt. Geoffry Cavendish had never spoken with me in the short time since his return. "Who may you be?" he asked, and his voice hesitated between hostility and friendliness, and my stepfather answered for me with a slight forward thrust of his shoulders which might have indicated shame, or impatience, or both. "'Tis Master Harry Maria Wingfield," answered he; then in the same breath, "How came you here, sir?"
I answered, seeing no reason why I should not, though I felt my voice shake, being still unsteady with the pain, and told the truth, that I had come thither to see if, perchance, I could get a glimpse of some of the black folk. At that Captain Cavendish laughed good-humouredly, being used to the excitement his black troop caused and amused at it, and called out merrily that I was about to be gratified, and indeed at that moment came running, with fat lunges, as it were, of tremulous speed, a great black woman in pursuit of the little maid, and heaved her high to her dark wave of bosom with hoarse chuckles and cooings of love and delight and white rollings of terrified eyes at her master if, perchance, he might be wroth at her carelessness.
He only laughed, and brushed his dark beard against the tender roses of the little maid as he gave her up, but my stepfather, who, though not ill-natured, often conceived the necessity of ill-nature, was not so easily satisfied. He stood looking sternly at my white face and my weak yielding of body at the bend of the knees, and suddenly he caught me heavily by my bruised shoulder. "What means all this, sirrah?" he cried out, but then I sank away before him, for the pain was greater than I could bear.
When I came to myself my waistcoat was off, and both men looking at my shoulder, which the horse's hoof must have barely grazed, though no more, or I should have been in a worse plight. Still the shoulder was a sorry sight enough, and the great black woman with the little fair baby in her arms stood aloof looking at it with ready tears, and the baby herself made round eyes like stars, though she knew not half what it meant. I felt the hot red of shame go over me at my weakness at a little pain, after the first shock was over, and I presumably steeled to bear it like a man, and I struggled to my feet, pulling my waistcoat together and looking, I will venture, much like a sulky and ill-conditioned lad.
"What means that hurt on your shoulder, Harry?" asked my stepfather, Col. John Chelmsford, and his voice was kind enough then. "I would not have laid such a heavy hand on thy shoulder had I known of it," he added. My stepfather had never aught against me that I wot of, having simply naught for me, and a man cannot in justice be held to account for the limitations of his affections, especially toward a rival's son. He spoke with all kindness, and his great ruddy face had a heavy gleam of pity for my hurt, but I answered not one word. "How came it so, Harry?" he asked again with growing wonder at my silence, but I would not reply.
Then Captain Cavendish also addressed me. "You need have no fear, however you came by the hurt, my lad," he said, and I verily believe he thought I had somehow caught the hurt while poaching on his preserves. I stood before them quite still, with my knees stiff enough now, and I think the colour came back in my face by reason of the resistance of my spirit.
"Harry, how got you that wound on your shoulder? Answer me, sir," said Colonel Chelmsford, his voice gathering wrath anew. But I remained silent. I do not, to this day, know why, except that to tell of any service rendered has always seemed to me to attaint the honour of the teller, and how much more when it was a service toward that little maid! So I kept my silence.
Then my stepfather's face blazed high, and his mouth straightened and widened, and his grasp tightened on a riding-whip which he carried, for he had left his horse grazing a few yards away. "How came you by it, sir?" he demanded, and his voice was thick. Then, when I would not reply, he raised the whip, and swung it over my shoulders, but I caught it with my sound arm ere it fell, and at the same time the little maid, Mary Cavendish, set up a piteous wail of fear in her nurse's arms.
"I pray you, sir, do not frighten her," I said, "but wait till she be gone." And then I waved the black woman to carry her away, and with my lame arm. When she had fled with the child's soft wail floating back, I turned to my stepfather, Col. John Chelmsford, and he, holding fiercely to the whip which I relinquished, still eyed me with doubt.
"Harry, why will you not tell?" he said, but I shook my head, waiting for him to strike, for I was but a boy, and it had been so before, and perhaps more justly.
"Let the lad go, Chelmsford," cried Captain Cavendish. "I'll warrant he has done no harm." But my stepfather would not heed him.
"Answer me, Harry," said he. Then, when I would not, down came the riding-whip, but only thrice, and not hard. "Now go you home," said my stepfather, "and show your mother the hurt, however you came by it, and have her put some of the cooling lotion on a linen cloth to it." Then he and Captain Cavendish went their ways, and I went toward home, creeping through the gap in the May hedge. But I did not go far, having no mind to show my hurt, though I knew well that my mother, being a woman and soft toward all wounds, would make much of it, and maybe of me on its account. But I was not of a mind to purchase affection by complaints of bodily ills, so I lay down under the hedge in the soft grass, keeping my bruised shoulder uppermost, and remained there thinking of the little maid, till finally the pain easing somewhat, I fell asleep, and was presently awakened by a soft touch on my sore shoulder, which caused me to wince and start up with wide eyes, and there was Catherine Cavendish.
Catherine Cavendish I had seen afar, though not to speak with her, and she being a year my senior and not then a beauty, and I being, moreover, of an age to look at a girl and look away again to my own affairs, I had thought no more of her, but I knew her at once. She was, as I said before, not a beauty at that time, being one of those maids which, like some flowers, are slow of bloom. She had grown so fast and far that she had outspeeded her grace. She was full of triangles instead of curves; her shyness was so intense that it became aggressiveness. The greenness and sallowness of immaturity that come before the perfection of bloom were on her face, and her eyes either shrank before one or else gleamed fiercely with the impulse of concealment. There is in all youth and imperfection a stage wherein it turns at bay to protect its helplessness with a vain show of inadequate claws and teeth, and Catherine Cavendish had reached it, and I also, in my different estate as a boy.
Catherine towered over me with her slender height, her sallow hair falling in silky ringlets over her dull cheeks, and when she spoke her voice rang sharp where mine would have growled with hoarseness.
"Why did you not tell?" said she sharply, and I stared up at her speechless, for I saw that she knew.
"Why did you not tell, and why were you whipped for it?" she demanded again. Then, when I did not answer: "I saw it all. I hid behind a tree for fear of the stallion. The child would have been killed but for you. Why were you whipped for a thing like that?" Then all at once, before I could answer, had I been minded to do so, she burst out almost with violence with a brilliant red, surging up from the cords of her thin neck, over her whole face. "Never mind, I like you for it. I would not have told. I will never tell as long as I live, and I have brought some lotion of cream and healing herbs, and a linen cloth, and I will bind up your shoulder for you."
With that, down she was on her knees, though I strove half rudely to prevent her, and was binding up my shoulder with a wonderful deftness of her long fingers.
When she had done she sprang to her feet with a curious multifold undoubling motion by reason of her great height and lack of practice with it, and I lumbered heavily to mine, and she asked me again with a sharpness that seemed almost venomous, so charged with curiosity it was, though she had just expressed her approbation of me:
"Why did you not tell?"
But I did not answer her that. I only thanked her, or tried to thank her, I dare say in such surly fashion that it was more like a rebuff; then I was off, but I felt her standing there close to the white-blooming hedge, staring after me with that inscrutable look of an immature girl who questions doubly all she sees, beginning with herself.
Although I was heir to a large estate, I had not much gold and silver nor many treasures in my possession. I never knew rightly why; but my mother, having control until I was come of age, and having, indeed, the whole property at her disposal, doubtless considered it best that the wealth should accumulate rather than be frittered away in trifles which could be of but passing moment to a boy. But I was well equipped enough as regarded comforts, and, as I said before, my education was well looked after. Through never having much regard for such small matters, it used to gall me not at all that my half-brother, who was younger and such a fair lad that he became them like a girl, should go clad in silks and velvets and laces, with a ready jingle of money in his purse and plenty of sweets and trinkets to command. But after I saw that little maid it went somewhat hard with me that I had no bravery of apparel to catch her sweet eyes and cause her to laugh and point with delight, as I have often seen her do, at the glitter of a loop of gold or a jewelled button or a flash of crimson sheen from a fold of velvet, for she always dearly loved such pretty things. And it went hard with me that I had not the wherewithal to sometimes purchase a comfit to thrust into her little hand, reaching of her nature for sweets like the hands of all young things. Often I saw my brother John win her notice in such wise, for he, though he cared in general but little for small folk, was ravished by her, as indeed was every one who saw her. And once my brother John gave her a ribbon stiff with threads of gold which pleased her mightily at the time, though, the day after, I saw it gleaming from the wet of the park grass, whither she had flung it, for the caprices of a baby are beyond those of the wind, being indeed human inclination without rudder nor compass. Then I did an ungallant and ungenerous thing, for which I have always held myself in light esteem: I gathered up that ribbon and carried it to my brother and told him where I had found it, but all to small purpose as regarded my jealousy, as he scarce gave it a thought, and the next day gave the little maid a silver button, which she treasured longer. As for me, I having no ribbons nor sweets nor silver buttons to give her, was fain to search the woods and fields and the seashore for those small treasures, without money and without price, with which nature is lavish toward the poor who love her and attend her carefully, such as the first flowers of the season, nuts and seed-vessels, and sometimes an empty bird's nest and a stray bright feather and bits of bright stones, which might, for her baby fancy, be as good as my brother's gold and silver, and shells, and red and russet moss. All these I offered her from time to time as reverently and shyly as any true lover; though she was but a baby tugging with a sweet angle of opposition at her black nurse's hand and I near a man grown, and though I had naught to hope for save a fleeting grasp of her rosy fingers and a wavering smile from her sweet lips and eyes, ere she flung the offering away with innocent inconstancy.
Her father, Capt. Geoffry Cavendish, seemed to regard my devotion to his daughter with a certain amusement and good-will; indeed, I used to fancy that he had a liking for me, and would go out of his way to say a pleasant word, but once it happened that I took his kindness in ill part, and still consider that I was justified in so doing.
A gentleman should not have pity thrust upon him unless he himself, by his complaints, seems to sue for it, and that was ever far from me, and I was already, although so young, as sensitive to all slights upon my dignity as any full-grown man. So when, one day, lying at full length upon the grass under a reddening oak with a book under my eyes and my pocket full of nuts if, perchance, my little sweetheart should come that way with her black nurse, I heard suddenly Captain Cavendish's voice ring out loud and clear, as it always did, from his practice on the quarter-deck, with something like an oath as of righteous indignation to the effect that it was a damned shame for the heir and the eldest son, and a lad with a head of a scholar and the arm of a soldier, to be thrust aside so and made so little of. Then another voice, smoothly sliding, as if to make no friction with the other's opinions, asked of whom he spoke, and that smoothly sliding voice I recognised as Mr. Abbot's, the attorney's, and Captain Cavendish replied in a fashion which astonished me, for I had no idea to whom he had referred—"Harry Maria Wingfield, the eldest son and heir of as fine and gallant a gentleman as ever trod English soil, who is treated like the son of a scullion by those who owe him most, and 'tis a damned shame and I care not who hears me."
Then, before I had as yet fairly my wits about me, Mr. Abbot spoke again in that voice of his which I so hated in my boyish downrightness and scorn of all policy that it may have led me to an unjust estimate of all men of his profession. "But Col. John Chelmsford hath no meaning to deal otherwise than fairly by the boy, and neither, unless I greatly mistake, hath his wife." And this he said as if both Colonel Chelmsford and my mother were at his elbow, and for that manner of speaking I have ever had contempt, preferring downright scurrility, and Captain Cavendish replied with his quick agility of wrath, as precipitate toward judgment as a sailor to the masthead in a storm:
"And what if she be? The more shame to them that they have not enough wit to see what they do! I tell thee this poor Harry hath a harder time of it than any slave on my plantation in Virginia, I—"
But then I was on my feet, and, facing them both with my head flung back and my face, I dare say, red and white with wrath, and demanding hotly what that might be to them, and if my treatment at the hands of my stepfather and my own mother was not between them and me, and none else, and, boy as I was, I felt as tall as Captain Cavendish as I stood there. Captain Cavendish stared a moment and reddened and frowned, and then his gaunt face widened with his ever ready laugh which made it passing sweet for a man.
"Tush, lad," he cried out, "and had I known how fit thou were to fight thy own battles I had not taken up the cudgels for thee, and I crave thy pardon. I had not perceived that thy sword-arm was grown, and henceforth thou shall cross with thy adversaries for all me." Then he laughed again, and I stared at him still grimly but softened, and he and Mr. Abbot moved on, but the attorney, in passing, laid his great white hand on my black mane of hair as if he would bless me, and I shrank away from under it, and when he said in that voice of his, "'Tis a gallant lad and one to do good service for his king and country," I would that he had struck me that I might have justly hit back.
When they had passed back on the turf I lay with my boyish heart in a rage with the insults, both of pity and of praise, which had been offered me; for why should pity be offered unless there be the weakness of betrayal of suffering to warrant it, and why should there be praise unless there be craving for it, through the weakness of wronged conceit? Be that as it may, my book no longer interested me, and finally I rose up and went away after having deposited all my nuts on the grass in the hope that the little maid might chance that way and espy them.
It was both a great and a sad day for me when I came to go to Cambridge, great because of my desire for knowledge and the sight of the world which has ever been strong within me, and, being so strong, should have led to more; and sad because of my leaving the little maid without a chance of seeing her for so long a time. She was then six years old, and a wonder both in beauty and mind to all who beheld her. I saw much more of her in those days, for my mother, whose heart had always been sore for a little girl, was often with Captain Cavendish's wife, for the sake of the child, though the two women were not of the best accord one with another. Often would I notice that my mother caressed the child, with only a side attention for her mother, though that was well disguised by her soft grace of manner, which seemed to include all present in a room, and I also noticed that Madam Rosamond Cavendish's sweet mouth would be set in a straight line with inward dissent at some remark of the other woman's.
Madam Rosamond Cavendish was, I suppose, a beauty, though after a strange and curious fashion, being seemingly dependent upon those around her for it, as a chameleon is dependent for his colour upon his surroundings. I have seen Madam Cavendish, when praised by one she loved, or approached by the little maid, her daughter, with an outstretch of fair little arms and a coercion of dimples toward kisses, flash into such radiance of loveliness that, boy as I was, I was dazzled by her. Then, on the other hand, I have seen her as dully opaque of any meaning of beauty as one could well be. But she loved Captain Cavendish well, and I wot he never saw her but with that wondrous charm, since whenever he cast his eyes upon her it must have been to awaken both reflection and true life of joy in her face. She was so small and exceeding slim that she seemed no more than a child, and she was not strong, having a quick cough ready at every breath of wind, and she rode nor walked like our English women, but lay about on cushions in the sun. Still, when she moved, it was with such a vitality of grace and such readiness that no one, I suspect, knew how frail she was until she sickened and died the second year of my stay in Cambridge. When I returned home I found in her stead Madam Judith Cavendish, the mother of Captain Cavendish, who had come from Huntingdonshire. She was at that time well turned of threescore, but a woman who was, as she had always been, a power over those about her. She looked her age, too, except for her figure, for her hair was snowy white, and the lines of her face fixed beyond influence of further smiles or tears. My imagination has always been a mighty factor in my estimation of the characters of others, and I have often wondered how true to facts I might be, but verily it seemed to me that after Madam Cavendish arrived at Cavendish Court the influence of that great strength of character, which, when it exists in a woman, intimidates every man, no matter who he may be, made itself evident in the very king's highway approaching Cavendish Court, and increased as the distance diminished, according to some of my mathematical rules.
There were in her no change and shifting to new lights of beauty or otherwise at the estimation of those around her; she rather controlled, as it were, all the domestic winds. Captain Cavendish bowed before his superior on his own deck, though I believe there was much love betwixt them, and, as for the little maid, she tempered the wilfulness which was then growing with her growth by outward meekness at least. I used to think her somewhat afraid of her grandmother, and disposed to cling for protection and mother-love to her elder sister Catherine. Catherine, in those two years, had blossomed out her beauty; her sallowness and green pallor had become bloom, though not rosy, rather an ineffable clear white like a lily. Her eyes, at once shy and antagonistic, had become as steady as stars in their estimation of self and others, and all her slender height was as well in her power of graceful guidance as the height of a young oak tree. Catherine, in those days, paid very little heed to me, for her one year of superior age seemed then threefold to both of us, except as she was jealously watchful that I win not too much of the love of her little sister. I have never seen such love from elder to younger as there was from Catherine Cavendish to her half-sister Mary after the little one had lost her mother. And all that the little maid did, whether of work or play, was with an eye toward the other's approbation, especially after the advent of her grandmother. Catherine had lovers, but she would have none of them. It seemed as if the maternal love of which most maids feel the unknown and unspelled yearning, and which, perchance, may draw them all unwittingly to wedlock, had seized upon Catherine Cavendish, and she had, as it were, fulfilled it by proxy by this love of her young sister, and so had her heart made cold toward all lovers. Be that as it may, though she was much sought after by more than one of high degree, she remained as she was.
For the last part of my stay at Cambridge I saw but little of her, and not so much as I would fain have done of her sister. I was past the boyish liberty of lying in wait in the park for a glimpse of her; she was not of an age for me to pay my court, and there was little intimacy betwixt my mother and Madam Cavendish. But I can truly say that never for one minute did I lose the consciousness of her in the world with me, and that at a time when my love might well be a somewhat anomalous and sexless thing, since she was grown a little past my first conception of love toward her, and had not yet reached my second.
But oh, the glimpses I used to catch of her at that time, slim-legged and swift, and shrilly sweet of voice as a lark, and as shyly a-flutter at the motion of a hand toward her, or else seated prim as any grown maiden, with grave eyes of attention upon her task of sampler or linen stitching!
My heart used to leap in a fashion that none would have believed nor understood, at the blue gleam of her gown and the gold gleam of her little head through the trees of the park, or through the oaken shadows of the hall at Cavendish Court during my scant visits there. No maid of my own age drew, for one moment, my heart away from her. She had no rivals except my books, for I was ever an eager scholar, though it might have been otherwise had the state of the country been different. I can imagine that I might in some severe stress have had my mind, being a hot-headed youth, diverted by the feel of the sword-hilt. But just then the king sat on his throne, and there was naught to disturb the public peace except his multiplicity of loves, which aroused discussion, which salted society with keenest relish, but went no farther.
I took high honours at Cambridge, though no higher than I should have done, and so no pride and no modesty in the owning and telling; and then I came home, and my mother greeted me something more warmly than she was wont, and my stepfather, Col. John Chelmsford, took me by the hand, and my brother John played me at cards that night, and won, as he mostly did. John was at that time also in Cambridge, but only in his second year, being, although of quicker grasp upon circumstances to his own gain than I, yet not so alert at book-lore; but he had grown a handsome man, as fair as a woman, yet bold as any cavalier that ever drew sword—the kind to win a woman by his own strength and her own arts.
The night after I returned, there was a ball at Cavendish Court, the first since the death of Madam Rosamond, and my brother and I went, and my stepfather and my mother, though she loved not Madam Cavendish.
And Mary Cavendish, at that time ten years old, was standing, when I first entered, with a piece of blue-green tapestry work at her back, clad in a little straight white gown and little satin shoes, and a wreath of roses on her head, from whence the golden locks flowed over her gentle cheeks, delicately rounded between the baby and maiden curves, with her little hands clasped before her; and her blue eyes, now downcast, now uplifted with utmost confidence in the love of all who saw her. And close by her stood her sister Catherine, coldly sweet in a splendid spread of glittering brocade, holding her head, crowned with flowers and plumes, as still and stately as if there were for her in all the world no wind of passion; and my brother John looked at her, and I knew he loved her, and marvelled what would come of it, though they danced often together.
The ball went on till the east was red, and the cocks crew, and all the birds woke in a tumult, and then that happened which changed my whole life.
Three weeks from that day I set sail for the New World—a convict. I will not now say how nor why; and on the same ship sailed Capt. Geoffry Cavendish, his mother Madam Judith Cavendish, his daughter Catherine, and the little maid Mary.
And on the long voyage Captain Cavendish's old wound broke out anew, and he died and was buried at sea, and I, when I arrived in this kingdom of Virginia, with the dire uncertainty and hardship of the convict before me, yet with strength and readiness to bear it, was taken as a tutor by Madam Judith Cavendish for her granddaughter Mary, being by education well fitted for such a post, and she herself knowing her other reasons for so doing. And so it happened that Mistress Mary Cavendish and I rode to meeting in Jamestown that Sabbath in April of 1682.
Albeit I have as faithful a respect for the customs of the Church as any man, I considered then, and consider now as well, that it was almost beyond the power of any one to observe them according to the fashion of the times and gain therefrom a full edification of the spirit.
Therefore, that April morning, though filled in my inmost heart with love and gratitude toward God, as I had always been since I had seen His handiwork in Mary Cavendish, which was my especial lesson of His grace to meward, with sweetest rhymes of joy for all my pains, and reasons for all my doubts; and though she sat beside me, so near that the rich spread of her gown was over my knee, and the shining of her beauty warm on my face, yet was I weary of the service and eager to be out. As I said before, Parson Downs was not to my mind, neither he nor his discourse. Still he spoke with a mighty energy and a conviction of the truth of his own words which would have moved his hearers to better purpose had they moved himself as regarded his daily life. But beyond a great effervescence of the spirit, which produced a high-mounting froth of piety, like the seething top of an ale-tankard, there came naught of it. Still was there in him some good, or rather some lack of ill; for he was no hypocrite, but preached openly against his own vices, then went forth to furnish new texts for his sermon, not caring who might see and judge him. A hearty man he was, who would lend his last shilling or borrow his neighbour's with equal readiness, forcing one to a certain angry liking for him because of his good-will to do that for you which you were loth to do for him. Yet if there ever was a man in harness to Satan as to the lusts of his flesh and his pride of life, it was Parson Downs, in despite of his bold curvets and prances of exhortation, which so counterfeited freedom that I doubt not that they deceived even himself; and he felt not, the while he was expanding his great front over his pulpit, and waving his hands, on one of which shone a precious red stone, the strain of his own leash. But I have ever had a scorn which I could not cry down for any man who was a slave, except by his own will.
Feeling thus, I was glad when Parson Downs was done, and letting himself down with stately jolts of ponderosity from his pulpit, and the folk were moving out of the church in a soft press of decorously veiled eagerness, with a great rustling of silks and satin, and jingling of spurs and swords, and waving of plumes, and shaking out of stronger odours of flowers and essences and spices.
And gladder still I was when astride my horse in the open, with the sweet broadside of the spring wind in my face, and all the white flowering trees and bushes bowing and singing with a thousand bird-voices, like another congregation before the Lord. I had not the honour to assist Mistress Mary to her saddle. Sir Humphrey Hyde and Ralph Drake, who was a far-off cousin of hers; and my Lord Estes, who was on a visit to his kinsman, Lord Culpeper, the Governor of Virginia; and half a score of others pressed before me, who was but the tutor, and had no right to do her such service except for lack of another at hand. And a fair sight it was for one who loved her as I, with no privilege of jealousy, and yet with it astir within him, like a thing made but of claws and fangs and stinging tongue, to see her with that crowd of gallants about her, and the other maids going their ways unattended, with faces of averted meekness, or haughty uplifts of brows and noses, as suited best their different characters. Mistress Mary was, no doubt, the fairest of them all, and yet there was more than that in the cause for her advantage over them. She kept all her admirers by the very looseness of her grasp, which gave no indication of any eagerness to hold, and thus aroused in them no fear of detention nor of wiles of beauty which should subvert their wills. And, furthermore, Mary Cavendish distributed her smiles as impartially as a flower its sweetness, to each the same, though but a scant allotment to each, as beseemed a maid. I could not, even with my outlook, observe that she favoured one more than another, unless it might have been Sir Humphrey Hyde. I knew well that there was some confidence betwixt the two, but whether it was of the nature of love I could not tell.
Sir Humphrey kept the road with us for some distance after we had left the others, gazing beside the horse-block, all equally desirous of following, but knowing well that it would not be a fair deed to the maid to attend her homeward on the Sabbath day with a whole troop of lovers. But Sir Humphrey Hyde leapt to his saddle and rode abreast with no ado, being ever minded to do what seemed good to himself, unless, indeed, his mother stood in the way of his pleasure. Sir Humphrey's mother, Lady Clarissa Hyde, was one of those unwitting tyrants which one sees among women, by reason of her exceeding delicacy and gentleness, which made it seem but the cruelty of a brute to cross her, and thus had her own way forever, and never suspected it were not always the way of others.
Sir Humphrey was a well-set young gentleman, and he was dressed in the farthest fashion. The broad back of his scarlet coat, rising to the trot of his horse, clashed through the soft gold-green mists and radiances of the spring landscape like the blare of a trumpet; his gold buttons glittered; the long plume on his hat ruffled to the wind over his fair periwig. Wigs were not so long in fashion, but Sir Humphrey was to the front in his. Mary Cavendish and Sir Humphrey rode on abreast, and I behind far enough to be cleared of the mire thrown by their horse-hoofs, and my heart was full of that demon of jealousy which possessed me in spite of my love. It is passing strange that I, though loving Mary Cavendish better than myself, and having the strength to prefer her to myself in all things, yet had not the power to do it without pain, and must hold that ravening jealousy to my breast. But not once did it get the better of me, and all the way was I, even then, thinking that Sir Humphrey Hyde might be good man and true for Mary Cavendish to wed, except for a few faults of his youth, which might be amended, and that if such be her mind I might help her to her happiness, since I knew that, for some reason, Madam Cavendish had small love for Sir Humphrey, and I knew also that I had some influence with her.
Behind us straggled the black slaves, as on our way thither, moving unhaltingly, yet with small energy, as do folk urged hither and yon only by the will of others and not by their own; but, presently, through them, scattering them to the left and right, galloped a black lad on a great horse after Sir Humphrey, with the word that his mother would have him return to the church and escort her homeward. Then Sir Humphrey turned, after a whispered word or two with Mistress Mary, and rode back to Jamestown; and the black lad, bounding in the saddle like a ball, after him.
I still kept my distance behind Mistress Mary, though often I saw her head turn, and caught a blue flash of an eye over her mask.
Then passed us, booted and spurred, for he had gotten his priestly robes off in a hurry, Parson Downs on the fastest horse in those parts, and riding like a jockey in spite of his heavy weight. His horse's head was stretched in a line with his neck, and after him rode, at near as great speed, Capt. Noel Jaynes, who, as report had it, had won wealth on the high seas in unlawful fashion. He was a gray old man, with the eye of a hot-headed boy, and a sabre-cut across his right cheek.
The parson saluted Mistress Mary as he passed, and so did Captain Jaynes, with a glance of his bright eyes at her that stirred my blood and made me ride up faster to her side.
But the two men left the road abruptly, plunging into a bridle-path at the right, and the green walls of the wood closed behind them, though one could still hear for long the galloping splash of their horse's hoofs in the miry path.
Mistress Mary turned to me, and her voice rang sharp, "'Tis a pretty parson," said she; "he is on his way to Barry Upper Branch with Captain Jaynes, and who is there doth not know 'tis for no good, and on the Sabbath day, too?"
Now Barry Upper Branch belonged to brothers of exceeding ill repute, except for their courage, which no one doubted. They had fought well against the Indians, and also against the Government with Nathaniel Bacon some half dozen years before. There had been a prize on their heads and they had been in hiding, but now lived openly on their plantation and were in full feather, and therein lay in a great measure their ill repute.
When my Lord Culpeper had arrived in Virginia, succeeding Berkeley, Jeffries, and Chichely, then returned the brothers Richard and Nicholas Barry, or Dick and Nick, as they were termed among the people; and as my Lord Culpeper was not averse to increasing his revenues, there were those who whispered, though secretly and guardedly, that the two bold brothers purchased their safety and peaceful home-dwelling.
Barry Upper Branch was a rich plantation and had come into full possession of the brothers but lately, their father, Major Barry, who had been a staunch old royalist, having died. There were acres of tobacco, and whole fields of locust for the manufacture of metheglin, and apple orchards from which cider enough to slack the thirst of the colony was made. But the brothers were far from content with such home-made liquors for their own drinking, but imported from England and the Netherlands and Spain great stores of ale and rum and wines, and held therewith high wassail with some choice and kindred spirits, especially on the Sabbath.
Not a woman was there at Barry Upper Branch, except for slaves, and such stories were told as might cause a modest maid to hesitate to speak of the place; but Mary Cavendish was as yet but a child in her understanding of certain things. Her blue eyes fixed me with the brave indignation of a boy as she went on, "'Tis a pretty parson," said she again, "and it would be the tavern, just as openly, were it on a week day."