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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Heart's Highway: A Romance Of Virginia In The Seventeenth Century - Chapter 9
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The Heart's Highway: A Romance Of Virginia In The Seventeenth Century - Chapter 9 Post by :robparnell Category :Long Stories Author :Mary E Wilkins Freeman Date :May 2012 Read :2859

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The Heart's Highway: A Romance Of Virginia In The Seventeenth Century - Chapter 9

CHAPTER IX

I know not how Capt. Calvin Tabor managed his part to tranship those goods without discovery, but he had a shrewd head, and no doubt the captain of the Earl of Fairfax another, and by eight o'clock that May day the Golden Horn lay at her wharf discharging her cargo right lustily with such openness of zeal and shouts of encouragement and groans of labour 'twas enough to acquaint all the colony. And straightway to the great house they brought my Lady Culpeper's fallals, and clamped them in the hall where we were all at supper. Mistress Mary sprang to her feet, and ran to them and bent over them. "What are these?" she said, all in a quiver.

"The goods which you ordered, madam," spoke up one of the sailors, with a grin which he had copied from Captain Tabor, and pulled a forelock and ducked his head.

"The goods," said she, speaking faintly, for hers was rather the headlong course of enthusiasm than the secret windings of diplomacy.

"Art thou gone daft, sweetheart? The goods of which you gave the list this morning, which have but now come in on the Golden Horn," spake up Catherine, sharply. I marvelled as I heard her whether it be ease or tenderness of conscience which can appease a woman with the letter and not the substance of the truth, for I am confident that her keeping to the outward show of honesty in her life was no small comfort to Catherine Cavendish.

Madam Cavendish was at table that night, though moving with grimaces from the stiffness of her rheumatic joints, and she ordered that the sailors be given cider, the which they drank with some haste, and were gone. Then Madam Cavendish asked Mistress Mary, with her wonderful keenness of gaze, which I never saw excelled, "Are those the goods which you ordered by the Golden Horn?" But I answered for her, knowing that Madam Cavendish would pardon such presumption from me. "Madam, those are the goods. I have it from Capt. Calvin Tabor himself." I spoke with no roundings nor glossings of subterfuge, having ever held that all the excuse for a lie was its boldness in a good cause, and believing in slaying a commandment like an enemy with a clean cut of the sword.

Mistress Mary gave a little gasp, and looked at me, and looked at her sister Catherine, and well I knew it was on the tip of her tongue to out with the whole to her grandmother. And so she would doubtless have done had not her wonderment and suspicion that maybe in some wise Catherine had conspired to buy for her in England the goods of which she had cheated herself, and the terror of doing harm to her sister and me. But never saw I a maid go so white and red and make the strife within her so evident.

We were well-nigh through supper when the goods arrived, and Madam Cavendish ordered some of the slaves to open the cases, which they did forthwith, and all my Lady Culpeper's finery was displayed.

Never saw I such a rich assortment, and calling to mind my Lady Culpeper's thin and sour visage, I wondered within myself whether such fine feathers might in her case suffice to make a fine bird, though some of them were for her daughter Cate, who was fair enough. Nothing would do but Mistress Mary, with her lovely face still strange to see with her consternation of puzzlement, should severally display every piece to her grandmother, and hold against her complexion the rich stuffs to see if the colours suited her. Madam Cavendish was pleased to express her satisfaction with them all, though with some demur at the extravagance. "'Tis rich enough a wardrobe for my Lady Culpeper," said she, at which innocent shrewdness I was driven to hard straits to keep my face grave, but Mistress Catherine was looking on with a countenance as calm as the moon which was just then rising.

Madam Cavendish was pleased especially with one gown of a sky colour, shot with silver threads, and ordered that Mistress Mary should wear it to the ball which was to be given at the governor's house the next night.

When I heard that I started, and Catherine shot a pale glance of consternation at me, but Mistress Mary flushed rosy-red with rebellion.

"I have no desire to attend my Lord Culpeper's ball, madam," said she.

"Lord Culpeper is the representative of his Majesty here in Virginia," said Madam Cavendish, with a high head, "and no granddaughter of mine absents herself with my approval. To the ball you go, madam, and in that sky-coloured gown, and no more words. Things have come to a pretty pass." So saying, she rose and, leaning heavily on her stick, with her black maid propping her, she went out. Then turned Mistress Mary imperiously to us and demanded to know the meaning of it all. "Whence came these goods?" said she to Catherine.

"On the Golden Horn, sweetheart; 'tis the list you gave this morning," replied Catherine, without a change in the fair resolve of her face.

"Pish!" cried Mary Cavendish. "The list I gave this morning was my Lady Culpeper's, and you know it. Whence came these?" and she spurned at a heap of the rich gleaming things with the toe of her tiny foot.

"I tell you, sweetheart, on the Golden Horn," replied Catherine. Then she turned to me in a rage. "The truth I will have," she cried out. "Whence came these goods?"

"On the Golden Horn, madam," I said.

She stamped her foot, and her voice rang so shrill that the black slaves, carrying out the dishes, rolled alarmed eyes at her. "Think you I will be treated like a child?" she cried out. "What means all this?"

Then close to her went Catherine, and flung an arm around her, and leaned her smooth, fair head against her sister's tossing golden one. "For the sake of those you love and who love thee, sweetheart," she whispered.

But Mistress Mary pushed her away and looked at her angrily. "Well, what am I to do for their sakes?" she demanded.

"Seek to know no more than this. The goods came on the Golden Horn but now, and 'tis the list you gave this morning."

"But it was not my list, and I deceived my grandmother, and I will go to her now and out with the truth. Think you I will have such a falsehood on my soul?"

Catherine leaned closer to her and whispered, and Mary gave a quick, wild glance at me, but I know not what she said. "I pray thee seek to know no more than that the goods came but now in a boat from the Golden Horn, and 'tis the list you gave this morning," said Catherine aloud.

"They are not mine by right, and well you know it." Then a thought struck me, and I said with emphasis, "Madam, yours by right they are and shall be, and I pray you to have no more concern in the matter."

Then so saying, I hastened out and went through the moonlight to the wharf to seek Captain Tabor and the captain of the Earl of Fairfax, who had come with his goods to see to their safety. Both men were pacing back and forth, smoking long pipes, and Captain Watson, of the Earl of Fairfax, a small and eager-spoken man, turned on me the minute I came within hearing. "Where be my Lady Culpeper's goods?" said he; "'tis time they were here and I on my way to the ship. Devil take me if I run such a risk again for any man."

Then I made my errand known. I had some fifty pounds saved up from the wreck of my fortunes; 'twas a third more than the goods were worth. Would he but take it, pay the London merchant who had furnished them, and have the remainder for his trouble?

"Trouble, trouble!" he shouted out, "trouble! By all the foul fiends, man, what am I to say to my Lady Culpeper? Have you ever had speech with her that you propose such a game with her?"

Captain Tabor burst out with a loud guffaw of laughter. "You have not seen the maid for whom you run the risk, Dick," said he. "'Tis the fairest--"

"What care I for fair maids?" demanded the other. "Have I not a wife and seven little ones in old England? What think you a dimple or a bright eye hath of weight with me?"

"Time was, Dick," laughed Captain Tabor.

"Time that was no longer is," answered the other, crossly; then to me, "Send down my goods by some of those black fellows, and no more parleying, sir."

"But, sir," I said, "'twill be a good fifteen pound for Mistress Watson and the little ones when the merchant be paid."

"Go to," he growled out, "what will that avail if I be put in prison? What am I to say to my Lady Culpeper for the non-deliverment of her goods? Answer me that." Then came Captain Tabor to my aid with his merry shrewdness. "'Tis as easy as the nose on thy face, Dick," said he. "Say but to my lady that you have searched and the goods be not in the hold of the Earl of Fairfax, and must have miscarried, as faith they have, and say that next voyage you will deliver them and hold thyself responsible for the cost, as you well can afford with Master Wingfield's money."

"Hast ever heard my Lady Culpeper's tongue?" demanded the other. "'Tis easy to advise. Would you face her thyself without the goods in hand, Calvin Tabor?"

"Faith, and I'd face a dozen like her for fifteen pound," declared Captain Tabor. Then, with another great laugh. "I have it; send thy mate, send thy deaf mate, Jack Tarbox, man."

"But she will demand to see the captain."

"Faith, and the captain will be on board the Earl of Fairfax seeing to a leak which she hath sprung, and cannot leave her," said Tabor.

"But in two days' time the governor sails in my ship for England."

"Think ye the governor will concern himself about my lady's adornments when he be headed for England and out of reach of her complaints?"

"But how to dodge her for so long?"

"Dick," said the other, solemnly, "much I have it in mind that a case of fever will break out upon the Earl of Fairfax by to-morrow or next day."

"Then think you that my lady will allow her lord the governor to sail?"

"Dick," laughed Captain Tabor, "governors be great men and you but a poor sailor, but when it comes to coin in wifely value, thy weight in the heart of thy good Bridget would send the governor of Virginia higher than thy masthead. None but my Lady Culpeper need have hint of the fever."

"I have a sailor ailing," said the other, doubtfully, "but he hath no sign of fever."

"'Tis enough," cried the other, gayly. "His fever will rage in twelve hours enough to heat the 'tween decks."

"But," said Captain Watson, speaking angrily, and yet with a certain timidity, as men will do before a scoffing friend and their own accusing conscience, "you ask me to forswear myself."

"Nay, that I will not," cried the other. "By the Lord, I forgot thy conscience, good Dick. Well, I have enough from my ancestors of Plymouth to forswear and forswear again, and yet have some to spare. I--I will go to my Lady Culpeper with the tale and save thy soul thy scruples, and thy ears the melody of her tongue. I will acquaint her with the miscarriage of the goods, and whisper of the sick sailor, and all thou hast to do is to loiter about Jamestown, keeping thy Bridget well in mind the while, and load thy ship with the produce of the soil which the beggars of Virginia give of their loyalty to His Majesty King Charles, and then to take on board my Lord Culpeper and set sail."

"'Tis a fearful risk," groaned the other, "though I am a poor man, and I will admit that my Bridget--"

"'Tis a fearful risk for you, Captain Tabor, and through you for my mistress," I interrupted, for I did not half like the plan.

"Our ships lay alongside, and I am hailed by a brother mariner in distress both at the prospect of the displeasure of a great and noble lady and the suspicion of his honesty; but for that latter will I vouch with my own, and, if needs be, will give surety that the list of goods which she ordered shall be delivered next voyage," said Calvin Tabor.

"Her tongue, you know not her tongue," groaned the other.

"Even that will I dare for thee, Dick, for thee and that fair little maid who is dabbling her pretty fingers in that flaming pudding with which only the tough ones of a man should meddle," said Captain Tabor. "And as for risk for me, my sailormen be as much in the toils for Sabbath-breaking as their captain, should yesterday's work leak out; and not a man of them knoweth the contents of those cases, though, faith, and I heard them marvelling among themselves at the weight of feathers and silken petticoats, and I made port in the night-time before, and not a soul knew of it nor the unlading, save those which be bound to keep the secret for their own necks, and, and--well, Captain Tabor be not averse to somewhat of risk; it gives a savour to life." So saying, he rolled his bright-blue eyes at me and Captain Watson with such utter good-nature and dare-deviltry as I have never seen equalled.

It was finally agreed that Captain Tabor's plan should be carried out, and I wended my way back to Drake Hill with a feeling of triumph, to which I of late years had been a stranger. I know of nothing in the poor life of a man equal to that great delight of being of service to one beloved.

I reflected with such ever-increasing joy that it finally became an ecstasy, and I could almost, it seemed, see the colours of it in my path; how, had it not been for me, Mary Cavendish might have been in sore straits; and I verily believe I was as happy for the time as if she had been my promised sweetheart and was as proud of myself.

When about half-way to Drake Hill I heard afar off a great din of bells and horns and voices, which presently came nearer. Then the road was filled up with the dancing May revellers, and verily I wondered not so much at those decrees against such practices before the Restoration, for it was as if the savages which they do say are underneath the outer gloss of the best of us had broke loose, and I wondered if it might not be like those mad and unlawful orgies which it was said the god Pan led himself in person through Thessalian groves. Those honest country maids, who in the morning had advanced with rustic but innocent freedom, with their glossy heads crowned with flowers, and those lusty youths, who were indeed something boisterous, yet still held in a tight rein by decency, had seemingly changed their very natures, or rather, perhaps, had come to that pass when their natures could be no longer concealed. Along the road in the white moonlight they stamped as wantonly as any herd of kine; youths and maids with arms about each other, and all with faces flushed with ale-drinking, and the maids with tossing hair and draggled coats, and all the fresh garlands withered or scattered. And the old graybeard who was Maid Marion was riotously drunk, and borne aloft with mad and feeble gesturings on the shoulders of two staggering young men, and after him came the aged morris dancers, only upheld from collapse in the mire by mutual upholdings, until they seemed like some monstrous animal moving with uncouth sprawls of legs as multifold as a centipede, and wavering drunkenly from one side of the road to the other, lurching into the dewy bushes, then recovering by the joint effort of the whole.

I stood well back to let them pass, being in that mood of self-importance, by reason of my love and the service rendered by it, that I could have seen the whole posse led to the whipping-block with a relish, when suddenly from their tipsy throats came a shout of such import that my heart stood still. "Down with the king!" hallooed one mad reveller, in a voice of such thickness that the whole sentence seemed one word; then the others took it up, until verily it seemed to me that their heads were not worth a farthing. Then, "Down with the governor! down with Lord Culpeper!" shouted that same thick voice of the man who was leading the wild crew like a bell-wether. He forged ahead, something more steady on his legs, but all the madder of his wits for that, with an arm around the waist of a buxom lass on either side, and all three dancing in time. Then all the rest echoed that shout of "Down with the governor!" Then out he burst again with, "Down, down with the tobacco, down with the tobacco!" But the volley of that echo was cut short by five horsemen galloping after the throng and scattering them to the right and left. Then a great voice of authority, set out with the strangest oaths which ever an imagination of evil compassed, called out to them to be still if they valued their heads, and cursed them all for drunken fools, and as he spoke he lashed with his whip from side to side, and his face gleamed with wrath like a demon's in the full light, and I saw he was Captain Noel Jaynes, and well understood how he had made a name for himself on the high seas. After him rode the brothers, Nicholas and Richard Barry, two great men, sticking to their saddles like rocks, with fair locks alike on the head of each flung out on the wind, and then came Ralph Drake rising in his stirrups and laughing wildly, and last Parson Downs, but only last because the road was blocked, for verily I thought his plunging horse would have all before him under his feet. They were all past me in a trice like a dream, the May revellers scattering and hastening forward with shrieks of terror and shouts of rage and peals of defiant laughter, and Captain Jaynes' voice, like a trumpet, overbearing everything, and shouts from the Barry brothers echoing him, and now and then coming the deep rumble of expostulations from the parson's great chest, and Ralph Drake's peals of horse-laughter, and I was left to consider what a tinder-box this Colony of Virginia was, and how ready to leap to flame at a spark even when seemingly most at peace, and to regard with more and more anxiety Mary Cavendish's part in this brewing tumult.

After the shouting and hallooing throng had passed I walked along slowly, reflecting, as I have said, when I saw in the road before me two advancing--a woman, and a man leading a horse by the bridle, and it was Mary Cavendish and Sir Humphrey Hyde.

And when I came up with them they stopped, and Humphrey addressed me rudely enough, but as one gentleman might another when he was angered with him, and not contemptuously, for that was never the lad's way with me. "Master Wingfield," he said, standing before me and holding his champing horse hard by the bits, "I pray you have the grace to explain this matter of the goods."

I saw that Mistress Mary had been acquainting him with what had passed and her puzzlement over it.

"There is naught to explain, Sir Humphrey," said I. "'Tis very simple: Mistress Mary hath the goods for which she sent to England."

"Master Wingfield, you know those are my Lady Culpeper's goods, and I have no right to them," cried Mary. But I bowed and said, "Madam, the goods are yours, and not Lady Culpeper's."

"But I--I lied when I gave the list to my grandmother," she cried out, half sobbing, for she was, after all, little more than a child tiptoed to womanhood by enthusiasm.

"Madam," said I, and I bowed again. "You mistake yourself; Mistress Mary Cavendish cannot lie, and the goods are in truth yours."

She and Sir Humphrey looked at each other; then Harry made a stride forward, and forcing back his horse with one hand, grasped me with the other. "Harry, Harry," he said in a whisper. "Tell me, for God's sake, what have you done."

"The goods are Mistress Mary Cavendish's," said I. They looked at me as I have seen folk look at a page of Virgil.

"Were they, after all, not my Lady Culpeper's?" asked Sir Humphrey.

"They are Mistress Mary Cavendish's," said I.

Mary turned suddenly to Sir Humphrey. "'Tis time you were gone now, Humphrey," she said, softly. "'Twas only last night you were here, and there is need of caution, and your mother--"

But Humphrey was loth to go. "'Tis not late," he said, "and I would know more of this matter."

"You will never know more of Master Wingfield, if that is what you wait for," she returned, with a half laugh, "and, Humphrey, your sister Cicely said but this morning that your mother was over-curious. I pray you, go, and Master Wingfield will take me home. I pray you, go!"

Sir Humphrey took her hand and bent low over it, and murmured something; then, before he sprang to his saddle, he came close to me again. "Harry," he whispered, "she should not be in this business, and I would have not had it so could I have helped it, and, I pray you, have a care to her safety." This he spoke so low that Mary could not hear, and, moreover, she, with one of those sudden turns of hers that made her have as many faces of delight as a diamond in the sun, had thrown an arm around the neck of Sir Humphrey's mare, and was talking to her in such dulcet tones as her lovers would have died for the sake of hearing in their ears.

"Have no fears for her safety," I whispered back. "So far as the goods go, there is no more danger."

"What did you, Harry?"

"Sir Humphrey," I whispered back, while Mary's sweet voice in the mare's delicate ear sounded like a song, "sometimes an unguessed riddle hath less weight than a guessed one, and some fish of knowledge had best be left in the stream. I tell thee she is safe." So saying, I looked him full in his honest, boyish face, which was good to see, though sometime I wished, for the maid's sake, that it had more shrewdness of wit in it. Then he gave me a great grasp of the hand, and whispered something hoarsely. "Thou art a good fellow, Harry, in spite of, in spite of--" then he bent low over Mary's hand for the second time, and sprang to his saddle, and was off toward Jamestown on his white mare, flashing along the moonlit road like a whiter moonbeam.

Then Mary came close to me, and did what she had never before done since she was a child. She laid her little hand on my arm of her own accord. "Master Wingfield," said she, softly, "what about the goods?"

"The goods for which you sent to England are yours and in the great house," said I, and I heard my voice tremble.

She drew her hand away and stood looking at me, and her sweet forehead under her golden curls was all knitted with perplexity.

"You know, you know I--lied," she whispered like a guilty child.

"You cannot lie," I answered, "and the goods are yours."

"And not my Lady Culpeper's?"

"And not my Lady Culpeper's."

Mary continued looking at me, then all at once her forehead cleared.

"Catherine, 'twas Catherine," she cried out. "She said not, but well I know her; she would not own to it--the sweetheart. Sure a falsehood to hide a loving deed is the best truth of the world. 'Twas Catherine, 'twas Catherine, the sweetheart, the darling. She sent for naught for herself, and hath been saving for a year's time and maybe sold a ring or two. Somehow she discovered about the plot, what I had done. And she hath heard me say, that I know well, that I thought 'twas a noble list of Lady Culpeper's, and I wished I were a governor's wife or daughter, that I could have such fine things. I remember me well that I told her thus before ever the Golden Horn sailed for England, that time after Cicely Hyde slept with me and told me what she had from Cate Culpeper. A goodly portion of the goods were for Cate. 'Twas Catherine. Oh, the sweetheart, the darling! Was there ever sister like her?"

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