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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Heart's Highway: A Romance Of Virginia In The Seventeenth Century - Chapter 17
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The Heart's Highway: A Romance Of Virginia In The Seventeenth Century - Chapter 17 Post by :Slic47 Category :Long Stories Author :Mary E Wilkins Freeman Date :May 2012 Read :1234

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The Heart's Highway: A Romance Of Virginia In The Seventeenth Century - Chapter 17

CHAPTER XVII

Mary Cavendish raised her voice high until it seemed to me like a silver trumpet, and cried out with a wave of her white arm to them all: "On to Laurel Creek, I pray you! Oh, I pray you, good people, on to Laurel Creek, and cut down my tobacco for the sake of Virginia and the honour of the Colony."

It needed but a puff of any wind of human will to send that fiery mob leaping in a new direction. Straightway, they shouted with one accord: "To Laurel Creek, to Laurel Creek! Down with the tobacco, down with the governor, down with the king! To Laurel Creek!" and forged ahead, turning to the left instead of the right, as had been ordered, and Mary was swept along with them, and Catherine would have been crushed, had not a horseman, whom I did not recognise, caught her up on the saddle with him with a wonderful swing of a long, lithe arm, and then galloped after, and as for myself and Captain Jaynes, and Sir Humphrey, and others of the burgesses, whom I had best not call by name, we went too, since we might as well have tried to hold the current of the James River, as that headlong company.

But as soon as might be, I shouted out to Sir Humphrey above the din that our first duty must be to save Mary and Catherine. And he answered back in a hoarse shout, "Oh, for God's sake, ride fast, Harry, for should the militia come, what would happen to them?"

But I needed no urging. I know not whom I rode down, I trust not any, but I know not; I got before them all in some wise, Sir Humphrey following close behind, and Ralph Drake also, swearing that he knew not what possessed the jades to meddle in such matters, and shouting to the rabble to stop, but he might as well have shouted to the wind. And by that time there were more than a hundred of us, though whence they had come, I know not.

We gentlemen kept together in some wise, and gradually gained on Mary, who had had the start, and there were some seven of us, one of the Barrys, Sir Humphrey Hyde, Ralph Drake, Parson Downs, in such guise for a parson that no one would have known him, booted and spurred, and riding harder than any by virtue of his best horse in the Colony, myself, and two of the burgesses. We seven gaining on the rabble, in spite of the fact that many of them were mounted upon Major Robert Beverly's best horses, through their having less knowledge of horsemanship, closed around Mary Cavendish on Merry Roger, clearing the ground with long galloping bounds, and Catherine with the strange horseman was somewhat behind.

As we came up with Mary, she looked at us over her shoulder with a brightness of triumph and withal something of merriment, like a child successful in mischief, and laughed, and waved her hand in which, as I live, she held a sword which had long graced the hall at Drake Hill, and I believe she meditated cutting the tobacco herself.

Then a great cheer went up for her, in which we, in spite of our misgivings, joined. Something so wonderful and innocent there was in the fresh enthusiasm of the maid. Then again her sweet voice rang out:

"Down with the tobacco, gentlemen of Virginia, and down with all tyranny. Remember Nathaniel Bacon, remember Nathaniel Bacon!"

Then we all caught up that last cry of hers, and the air rang with "Remember Nathaniel Bacon!"

But as soon as might be, I rode close enough to speak with Mary Cavendish, and Sir Humphrey, who was on the other side, each with our jealousy lost sight of, in our concern for her.

"Child, thou must turn and go home," I said, and I fear my voice lost its firmness, for I was half mad with admiration, and love, and apprehension for her.

Then Sir Humphrey echoed me.

"The militia will be upon us presently," he shouted in her ear above the din. "Ride home as fast as you may."

She looked from one to the other of us, and laughed gayly and shook her head, and her golden curls flew to the wind, and she touched Merry Roger with her whip and he bounded ahead, and we had all we could do to keep pace, he being fresh. Then Parson Downs pelted to her side and besought her to turn, and so did Captain Jaynes, though he was half laughing with delight at her spirit, and his bright eyes viewed her in such wise that I could scarce keep my fingers from his throat. But Mary Cavendish would hear to none, and no way there was of turning her, lest we dragged her from her saddle.

Again I rode close and spoke so that no one beside her could hear.

"Go home, I pray you, if you love me," I said.

But she looked at me with a proud defiance, and such a spirit of a man that I marvelled at her.

"'Tis no time to talk of love, sir," said she. "When a people strike for liberty, they stop not for honey nor kisses."

Then she cried again, "Remember Nathaniel Bacon!" And again that wild shout echoed her silver voice.

But then I spoke again, catching her bridle rein as I rode.

"Then go, if not because you love me, because I love thee," I said close to her ear with her golden hair blowing athwart my face.

"I obey not the man who loves me, but the man who weds me, and that you will not do, because you hold your pride dearer than love," said she.

"Nay, because I hold thee dearer than my love," said I.

"'Tis a false principle you act upon, and love is before all else, even that which may harm it, and thou knowest not the heart of a woman if thou dost love one, sir," said she. Then she gave a quick glance at my face, so close to hers in the midst of that hurrying throng, and her blue eyes gleamed into mine, and she said, with a bright blush over her cheeks and forehead and neck, but proudly as if she defied even her maiden shame in the cause of love, "But thou shalt yet know one, Harry."

Then, as if she had said too much, she pulled her bridle loose from my detaining hand with a quick jerk, and touched her horse, and we were on that hard gallop to Locust Creek.

Locust Creek was not a large plantation, but the fields of tobacco were well set, and it was some task to cut them. Captain Jaynes essayed to form the cutters into ranks, but with no avail, though he galloped back and forth, shouting like a madman. Every man set to work for himself, and it was again bedlam broke loose as at the other plantation. Then indeed for the first time I saw Mary Cavendish shrink a little, as if she were somewhat intimidated by the fire which she had lighted, and she resisted not, when Sir Humphrey, and her Cousin Ralph and I, urged her into the house. And as she entered, there was Catherine, having been brought thither by that stranger who had disappeared. And we shut the door upon both women, and then felt freer in our minds. Capt. Noel Jaynes swore 'twas a jade fit to lead an army, then inquired what in hell brought her thither, and why women were to the front in all our Virginian wars, whether they wore white aprons or not?

As he spoke Ralph Drake shouted out with a great laugh, that maybe 'twas for the purpose of carrying the men, and pointed, and there was one of the black wenches bringing Nick Barry, who else had fallen, upon her back to the field. Then she set him down in the tobacco and gave him a knife, and he went to cutting, having just enough wit to do that for which his mind had been headed, and naught else.

The mob took a fancy to that new cry of Mary Cavendish's, and every now and then the field rang with it. "Remember Nathaniel Bacon, remember Nathaniel Bacon!" It had a curious effect, through starting in a distant quarter, where some of the fiercest of the workers were grouped, then coming nearer and nearer, till the whole field rang with that wide overspread of human voice, above the juicy slashing of the tobacco plants.

We had been at work some little time when a tall woman in black on a black horse came up at a steady amble, her horse being old. She dismounted near me and her horse went to nibbling the low-hanging boughs of a locust nearby, and the moon shone full on her face, and I saw she was the Widow Tabitha Story, with that curious patch on her forehead. Down to the tobacco she bent and went to work stiffly with unaccustomed hands to such work, and then again rang that cry of "Remember Nathaniel Bacon!" And when she heard that, up she reared herself, and raised such a shrill response of "Remember Nathaniel Bacon!" in a high-sobbing voice, as I never heard.

And after that for a minute the field seemed to fairly howl with that cry of following, and memory for the dead hero, always Madam Tabitha Story's voice in the lead, shrieking over it like a cat's.

"Lord, have mercy on us," said Parson Downs at my elbow. "She will have all England upon us, and wherefore could not the women have kept out of this stew?"

With that he went over to the widow and strove to quiet her, but she only shrieked with more fury, with Mistresses Longman and Allgood to aid her, and then--came in a mad rush upon us of horse and foot, the militia, under Capt. Robert Waller.

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