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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Heart's Highway: A Romance Of Virginia In The Seventeenth Century - Chapter 7
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The Heart's Highway: A Romance Of Virginia In The Seventeenth Century - Chapter 7 Post by :tracey Category :Long Stories Author :Mary E Wilkins Freeman Date :May 2012 Read :1381

Click below to download : The Heart's Highway: A Romance Of Virginia In The Seventeenth Century - Chapter 7 (Format : PDF)

The Heart's Highway: A Romance Of Virginia In The Seventeenth Century - Chapter 7

CHAPTER VII

Mistress Catherine and I returned together to Drake Hill, she bearing herself with a sharp and anxious conciliation, and I with little to say in response, and walking behind her, though she moved more and more slowly that I might gain her side.

We were not yet in sight of Drake Hill, but the morning smoke from the slave cabins had begun to thrust itself athwart the honeyed sweetness of blossoms, and the salt freshness of the breath of the tidal river, as the homely ways of life will ever do athwart the beauty and inspiration of it, maybe to the making of its true harmony, when of a sudden we both stopped and listened. Mistress Catherine turned palely to me, and I dare say the thought of Indians was in her mind, though they had long been quiet, then her face relaxed and she smiled.

"'Tis the first day of May," said she. "And they are going to set up the May-pole in Jarvis Field."

This did they every May of late, because some of the governors and some of the people had kept to those prejudices against the May revelries which had existed before the Restoration, and frowned upon the May-pole set up in the Jamestown green as if it had been, as the Roundheads used to claim, the veritable heathen god Baal.

Jarvis Field was a green tract, clear of trees, not far from us, and presently we met the merry company proceeding thither. First came a great rollicking posse of lads and lasses linked hand in hand, all crowned with flowers, and bearing green and blossomy boughs over shoulder. And these were so swift with the wild spirit and jollity of the day that they must needs come in advance, even before the horses which dragged the May-pole. Six of them there were, so bedecked with ribbons and green garlands that I marvelled they could see the road and were not wild with fear. But they seemed to enter into the spirit of it all, and stepped highly and daintily with proud archings of necks and tossings of green plumed heads, and behind them the May-pole rasped and bumped and grated, the trunk of a mighty oak yet bristling with green, like the stubble of a shaggy beard of virility. And after the May-pole came surely the queerest company of morris dancers that ever the world saw, except those of which I have heard tell which danced in Herefordshire in the reign of King James, those being composed of ten men whose ages made up the sum of twelve hundred years. These, while not so ancient as that, were still of the oldest men to be come at who could move without crutches and whose estate was not of too much dignity for such sports. And Maid Marion was the oldest and smallest of them all, riding her hobby-horse, dressed in a yellow petticoat and a crimson stomacher, with a great wig of yellow flax hanging down under her gilt crown, and a painted mask to hide her white beard. And after Maid Marion came dancing, with stiff struts and gambols, old men as gayly attired as might be, with garlands of peach-blossoms on their gray heads, bearing gad-sticks of peeled willow-boughs wound with cowslips, and ringing bells and blowing horns with all their might. And after them trooped young men and maids, all flinging their heels aloft and waving with green and flowers, and shouting and singing till it seemed the whole colony was up and mad.

Mistress Catherine and I stood well to one side to let them pass by, but when the morris dancers reached us, and caught sight of Catherine in her green robes standing among the green bushes, above which her fair face looked, half with dismay, half with a quick leap of sympathy with the merriment, for there was in this girl a strange spirit of misrule beneath all her quiet, and I verily believe that, had she but let loose the leash in which she held herself, would have joined those dancing and singing lasses and been outdone by none, there was a sudden halt; then, before I knew what was to happen, around her leapt a laughing score of them, shouting that here was the true Maid Marion, and that old John Lubberkin could now resign his post. Then off the hobbyhorse they tumbled him, and the lads and lasses gathering around her, and the graybeards standing aloof with some chagrin, would, I believe, in spite of me, since they outnumbered me vastly, have forced Catherine into that rude pageant as Maid Marion. But while I was thrusting them aside, holding myself before her as firmly as I might, there came a quick clatter of hoofs, and Mistress Mary had dashed alongside on Merry Roger. She scattered the merry revellers right and left, calling out to her sister to go homeward with a laugh. "Fie on thee, Catherine!" she cried out. "If thou art abroad on a May morning dressed like the queen of it, what blame can there be to these good folk for giving thee thy queendom?"

Catherine did not move to go when the people drew away from her, but rather stood looking at them with that lurking fire in her eyes and a flush on her fair cheeks. Mistress Mary sat on her horse, curbing him with her little hand, and her golden curls floated around her like a cloud, for she had ridden forth without her hood on hearing the sound of the horns and bells, eager to see the show like any child, and the merrymakers stared at her, grinning with uncouth delight and never any resentment. There was that in Mary Cavendish's look, when she chose to have it so, that could, I verily believe, have swayed an army, so full of utter good-will and lovingkindness it was, and, more than that, of such confidence in theirs in return that it would have taken not only knaves, but knaves with no conceit of themselves, to have forsworn her good opinion of them. Suddenly there rose a great shout and such a volley of cheering and hallooing as can come only from English throats. A tall lad cast a great wreath over Mistress Mary's own head, and cried out with a shout that here, here was Maid Marion. And scores of voices echoed his with "Maid Marion, Marion!" And then, to my great astonishment and dismay, for a man is with no enemy so much at a loss as with a laughing one, since it wrongs his own bravery to meet smiles with blows, they gave forth that I was Robin Hood; that the convict tutor, Harry Wingfield, was Robin Hood!

I felt myself white with wrath then, and was for blindly wrestling with a great fellow who was among the foremost, shaking with mirth, an oak wreath over his red curls making him look like a satyr, when Mistress Mary rode between us. "Back, Master Wingfield," said she, "I pray thee stand back." Then she looked at the folk, all smiles and ready understanding of them, until they hurrahed again and rang their bells and blew their horns, and she looked like a blossom tossed on the wave of pandemonium.

I had my hand on her bridle-rein, ready to do my best should any rudeness be offered her, when suddenly she raised her hand and made a motion, and to my utter astonishment the brawling throng, save for some on the outskirts, which quieted presently, became still. Then Mistress Mary's voice arose, clear and sweet, with a childish note of innocence in it:

"Good people," said she, "fain would I be your Maid Marion, and fain would I be your queen of May, if you would hold with me this Kingdom of Virginia against tyrants and oppressors."

I question if a dozen there grasped her meaning, but, after a second's gaping stare, such a shout went up that it seemed to make the marshes quiver. I know not what mad scheme was in the maid's head, but I verily believe that throng would have followed her wherever she led, and the tobacco plants might have been that morning cut had she so willed.

But I pulled hard at her bridle, and I forgot my customary manner with her, so full of terror for her I was. "For God's sake, child, have done," I said, and she looked at me, and there came a strange expression, which I had never seen before, into her blue eyes, half of yielding as to some strength which she feared, and half of that high enthusiasm of youth and noble sentiment which threatened to swamp her in its mighty flow as it had done her hero Bacon before her. I know not if I could have held her; it all passed in a second the while those wild huzzas continued, and the crowd pressed closer, all crowned and crested with green, like a tidal wave of spring, but another argument came to me, and that moved her. "'Tis not yourself alone, but your sister and Madam Cavendish to suffer with you," I said. Then she gave a quick glance at Catherine, who was raising her white face and trying to get near enough to speak to her, for her sister's speech had made her frantic with alarm, and hesitated. Then she laughed, and the earnest look faded from her face, and she called out with that way of hers which nobody and nothing could withstand, "Nay," she said, "wait till I be older and have as much wisdom in my head as hath the Maid Marion whom you have chosen. The one who hath seen so many Mays can best know how to queen it over them." So saying, she snatched the wreath with which they had crowned her from her head and cast it with such a sweep of grace as never I saw over the head of flax-headed and masked Maid Marion, and reined her horse back, and the crowd, with worshipful eyes of admiration of her and her sweetness and wit and beauty, gave way, and was off adown the road toward Jarvis Field, with loud clamour of bells and horns and wild dancing and wavings of their gad-sticks and green branches. Mistress Mary rode before us at a gallop, and presently we were all at the breakfast table in the great hall at Drake Hill, with foaming tankards of metheglin and dishes of honey and salmon and game in plenty. For, whatever the scarcity of the king's gold, there was not much lack of food in this rich country.

Madam Cavendish was down that morning, sitting at table with her stick beside her, her head topped with a great tower of snowy cap, her old face now ivory-yellow, but with a wonderful precision of feature, for she had been a great beauty in her day, so alert and alive with the ready comprehension of her black eyes, under slightly scowling brows, that naught escaped her that was within her reach of vision. Somewhat dull was she of hearing, but that sharpness of eye did much to atone for it. She looked up, when we entered, with such keenness that for a second my thought was that she knew all.

"What were the sounds of merrymaking down the road?" said she.

"'Twas the morris dancers and the May-pole; 'tis the first of May, as you know, madam," said Mary in her sweet voice, made clear and loud to reach her grandmother's ear; then up she went to kiss her, and the old woman eyed her with pride, which she was fain to conceal by chiding. "You will ruin your complexion if you go out in such a wind without your mask," she said, and looked at the maiden's roses and lilies with that rapture of admiration occasioned half by memory of her own charms which had faded, and half by understanding of the value of them in coin of love, which one woman can waken only in another.

For Catherine, Madam Cavendish had no glance of admiration nor word, though she had tended her faithfully all the day before and half the night, rubbing her with an effusion of herbs and oil for her rheumatic pains. Yet for her, Madam Cavendish had no love, and treated her with a stately toleration and no more. Mary understood no cause for it, and often looked, as she did then, with a distressful wonder at her grandmother when she seemed to hold her sister so slightingly.

"Here is Catherine, grandmother," said she, "and she has had a narrow escape from being pressed as Maid Marion by the morris dancers." Madam Cavendish made a slight motion, and looked not at Catherine, but turned to me with that face of anxious kindness which she wore for me alone. "Saw you aught of the Golden Horn this morning, Master Wingfield?" asked she, and I replied truthfully enough that I had not.

Then, to my dismay, she turned to Mary and inquired what were the goods which she had ordered from England, and to my greater dismay the maid, with such a light of daring and mischief in her blue eyes as I never saw, rattled off, the while Catherine and I stared aghast at her, such a list of women's folderols as I never heard, and most of them quite beyond my masculine comprehension.

Madam Cavendish nodded approvingly when she had done. "'Tis a wise choice," said she, "and as soon as the ship comes in have the goods brought here and unpacked that I may see them." With that she rose stiffly, and, beckoning Catherine, who looked as if she could scarcely stand herself, much less serve as prop for another, she went out, tapping her stick heavily on one side, on the other leaning on her granddaughter's shoulder.

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