The Atlantic Monthly/Volume 1/Number 1/Sally Parson's Duty
SALLY PARSONS'S DUTY.
The sun that shines on eastern Massachusetts, specially on buttercups and dandelions, and providentially on potatoes, looks down on no greener fields in these days than it saw in the spring of 1775, fenced in and fenced off by the zigzag snake-fences of 'Zekiel Parsons's farm.
"About this time," as almanacs say, young orchards were misty with buds, red maples on the highway shone in the clear light, and a row of bright tin pans at the shed door of the farm-house testified to a sturdy arm and skilful hand within,—arm and hand both belonging to no less a person than Miss Sally, 'Zekiel Parsons's only daughter, and the prettiest girl in Westbury; a short, sturdy, rosy little maid, with hair like a ripe chestnut shell, bright blue eyes full of mischief, and such a sunny, healthy, common-sense character, one is almost afraid to tell of it, it is so out of date now.
But of what use is it to describe her? How can I impress upon moderns how enlivening and refreshing was her aspect, as she spun, or scoured pans, in a linsey-woolsey petticoat and white short gown, wearing her pretty curls in a crop? George Tucker knew it all without telling; and so did half a dozen of the Westbury boys, who haunted the picket fence round 'Zekiel's garden every moonlight night in summer, or scraped their feet by the half hour together on his door-step in winter evenings. Sally was a belle; she knew it and liked it, as every honest girl does;—and she would have been a belle without the aid of her father's wide farm and pine-tree shillings; for she was fresh and lovely, with a spice of coquetry, but a true woman's heart beneath it all.
It was very hard to discover whom Sally Parsons favored among her numerous beaux. Her father seriously inclined to George Tucker; not because he was rich,—for 'Zekiel had not arrived at fashionable principles,—but because he was honest, kind-hearted, and reliable; but as yet Sally showed no decided preference; time and the hour were near, but not in sight.
One Sunday night, early in April, after the nine o'clock bell had scattered Sally's admirers far and wide, and old 'Zekiel sat by the chimney corner, watching his sister, Aunt Poll, rake up the rest of the hickory log in the ashes, while he rubbed away sturdily at his feet, holding in one hand the blue yarn stockings, "wrought by no hand, as you may guess," but that of Sally; the talk, that had momentarily died away, began again, and with a glance at Long Snapps,—a lank, shrewd-faced old sailor, who, to use his own speech, had "cast anchor 'longside of an old ship-met fur a spell, bein' bound fur his own cabin up in Lenox,"—'Zekiel spoke after this wise:—
"I expect, Long, you sailors hev a drefful hard, onsartain time navigatin', don't ye?"
"Well, skipper! that are depen's on folks. I don't calk'late to hev no sort of a hard time, ef I don't get riled with it; but these times I doo rile easy."
"What onsettles ye, Snapps?"
"Well, there's a squall to wind'ard, skipper; 'ta'n't no cat's-paw neither; good no-no-east, ef it's a flaw. And you landlubbers are a-goin' to leeward, some on ye."
"You don't say! what be you a hintin' at?"
"Well, there's a reel blow down to Bostin, Zekle; there's no more gettin' out o' harbour with our old sloop; she's ben an' gone, an' got some 'tarnal lawyer's job spliced to her bows, an' she's laid up to dry; but that's a pesky small part o' judgment. Bostin's full o' them Britishers, sech as scomfishkated the Susan Jane, cos our skipper done suthin' he hedn't oughter, or didn't do suthin' he hed oughter; and I tell yew the end o' things is nigh about comin' on here!"
Sally, in the chimney corner, heard Long Snapps with open eyes, and hitching her wooden chair nearer, inquired solemnly,—
"What do you mean, Mister Snapps? Is the end of the world comin' here?"
"Bless your pooty little figger-head, Sally! I don't know as 'tis, but suthin' nigh about as bad is a-comin. Them Britishers is sot out for to hev us under hatches, or else walk the plank; and they're darned mistook, ef they think men is a-goin' to be steered blind, and can't blow up the cap'en no rate. There a'n't no man in Ameriky but what's got suthin' to fight for, afore he'll gin in to sech tyrints; and it'll come to fightin', yet, afore long!"
"Oh my! oh goody! the land's sakes! yew don't mean ter say that, Long?" wofully screeched Aunt Poll, whose ideas of war were derived in great measure from the tattered copy of Josephus extant in the Parsons family; and who was at present calculating the probable effect of a battering-ram on their back buttery, and thinking how horrid it would be to eat up Uncle 'Zekiel in case of famine,—even after long courses of rats and dogs.
"Well, I dew, Aunt Poll; there'll be some poppin' an' stickin' done in these parts, afore long!"
"The Lord deliver us! an' the rest on't!" devoutly ejaculated Poll, whose piety exceeded her memory; whereat 'Zekiel, pulling on the other blue stocking that had hung suspended in his fingers, while the sailor discoursed, exhorted a little himself.
"Well, the Lord don't deliver nobody, without they wriggle for themselves pretty consider'ble well fust. This a'n't the newest news to me; I've been expectin' on't a long spell, an' I've talked consider'ble with Westbury folks about it; and there a'n't nobody much, round about here, but what'll stand out agin the Britishers, exceptin' Tucker's folks; they're desp'rit for Church an' King; they tell as ef the Lord gin the king a special license to set up in a big chair an' rewl creation; an' they think it's perticular sin to speak as though he could go 'skew anyhow. Now I believe the Lord lets folks find out what He does, out o' Scriptur; and I han't found nothin' yet to tell about kings bein' better than their neighbours, and it don't look as ef this king was so clever as common. I s'pose you ha'n't heerd what our Colony Congress is a-doin', hev ye, Snapps?"
"Well, no, I ha'n't. They was a-layin' to, last I heerd, so's to settle their course, I 'xpect they've heaved up an' let go by this, but I han't seen no signals."
"Dear me!" interrupted Sally, "a real war coming! and I a'n't any thing but a woman!"
Her cheeks and eyes glowed with fervent feeling, as she said this; and the old sailor, turning round, surveyed her with a grin of honest admiration.
"Well said, gal! but you're out o' your reckonin', ef you think women a'n't nothin' in war-time. I tell _yew_, them is the craft that sails afore the wind, and does the signallin' to all the fleet. When gals is full-rigged an' tonguey, they're reg'lar press-gangs to twist young fellers round, an' make 'em sail under the right colors. Stick to the ship, Miss Sally; give a heave at the windlass now'n then, an' don't let nary one o' them fellers that comes a buzzin' round you the hull time turn his back on Yankee Doodle; an' you won't never hanker to be a man, ef 'tis war-time!"
Sally's eyes burned bluer than before. "Thank you kindly, Mister Snapps. I'm obleeged to you for putting the good thought into my head. (If I don't pester George Tucker! the plaguy Tory!)"
This parenthesis was mental, and Sally went off to bed with a busy brain; but the sleep of youth and health quieted it; and if she dreamed of George Tucker in regimentals, I am afraid they were of flagrant militia scarlet;—the buff and blue were not distinctive yet. However, for the next week Sally heard enough revolutionary doctrine to revive her Sunday-night enthusiasm; the flame of "successful rebellion" had spread; the country began to stir and hum ominously; people assembled in groups, on corners, by church steps, around tavern-doors, with faces full of portent and expectance; ploughs stood idly in the fields; and the raw-boned horses, that should of right have dragged the reluctant share through heavy clay and abounding stones, now, bestridden by breathless couriers, scoured the country hither and yon, with news, messages, and orders from those who had taken the right to order out of the hands of sleek and positive officials.
Nor were Westbury people the last to wake up in the general réveille. Everybody in the pretty, tranquil village, tranquil now no more, declared themselves openly on one side or the other;—Peter Tucker and his son George for the king, of course; and this open avowal caused a sufficiently pungent scene in Miss Sally Parsons's keeping-room the very next Sunday night, when the aforesaid George, in company with several of his peers, visited the farm-house for the laudable purpose of "sparkin'" Miss Sally.
There were three other youths there, besides George; all stout for the Continental side of the question, and full of eager but restrained zeal; ready to take up arms at a moment's notice; equally ready to wait for the ripened time. Of such men were those armies made up that endured with a woman's patience and fought with a man's fury, righting a great wrong as much by moral as by physical strength, and going to death for the right, when death, pitiless and inevitable, stared them in the face.
Long Snapps had been, in his own phrase, "weather-bound" at Westbury, and was there still, safe in the chimney-corner, his shrewd face puckered with thought and care, his steady old heart full of resolute bravery, and longing for the time to come; flint and steel ready to strike fire on the slightest collision. On the other side of the hearth from Snapps sat Zekle in his butternut-colored Sunday suit; the four young men ranged in a grim row of high-backed wooden chairs; Sally, blooming as the roses on her chintz gown, occupying one end of the settle, while Aunt Poll filled the rest of that institution with her ample quilted petticoat and paduasoy cloak, trying hard to keep her hands still, in their unaccustomed idleness,—nay, if it must be told, surreptitiously keeping up a knitting with the fingers, in lieu of the accustomed needles and yarn.
An awful silence reigned after the preliminary bows and scrapes had been achieved,—first broken by George Tucker, who drew from under his chair a small basket of red-cheeked apples and handed them to Aunt Poll.
"Well, now, George Tucker!" exclaimed the benign spinster, "you dew beat all for sass out o' season! Kep 'em down sullar, I expect?"
"Yes'm, our sullar's very dry."
"Well, it hed oughter. What kind be they?"
"English pippins, ma'am."
"Dew tell! be you a-goin to hev one, Sally?"
"No, Aunt Poll! I don't want any thin' English 'round!"
The three young men grinned and chuckled. George Tucker turned red.
"Hooray for you, Sally!" sung out old Snapps. "You're a three-decker, ef ever there was 'un!"
Again George reddened, fidgeted on his chair, and at last said, in a disturbed, but quite distinct voice,—
"I think the apples are good, Miss Sally, if the name don't suit you."
"The name's too bad to be good, sir!" retorted Sally, with a decided sniff and toss of the head. Old Zekle gave a low laugh and interfered.
"You see, George Tucker, these here times is curus! It wakes up the wimmen folks to hev no tea, nor no prospects of peace an' quiet, so's to make butter an' set hens."
"Oh, father!" burst out Sally, "do you think that's all that ails women? I wouldn't care if I eat samp forever, and had nothing but saxifrax tea; but I can't stand by cool, and see men driven like dumb beasts by another man, if he has got a crown, and never be let speak for themselves!"
Sally's logic was rather confused, but George got at the idea as fast as was necessary.
"If 'twas a common man, Miss Sally; but a king's set up on high by the Lord, and we ought to obey what He sets over us."
"I don't see where in Scriptur you get that idee, George," retorted Zekle.
"Well, it says in one place you're to obey them that has the rule over you, sir."
"So it do; but ef the king ha'n't got no rewl over us, (an' it looks mighty like it jes' now,) why, I don't see's we're bound to mind him!"
This astute little sophism confounded poor George for a minute, during which Sally began to giggle violently, and flirt in her rustic fashion with the three rebels in a row. At length George, recovering his poise and clear-sightedness, resumed,—
"But he did rule over us, Mister Parsons, and I can't see how it's right to rebel."
"There don't everythin' come jest square about seein' things," interposed Long Snapps; "folks hed better steer by facts sometimes, than by yarns. It's jest like v'yagin'; yew do'no' sumtimes what's to pay with a compass; it'll go all p'ints to once; mebbe somebody's got a hatchet near by, or some lubber's throwed a chain down by the binnacle, or some darned thing's got inside on't, or it's shipped a sea an' got rusted; but there's allers the Dipper an' the North Star; they're allers true to their bearin's, and you can't go to Davy Jones's locker for want of a light'us so long's they're ahead. I calk'late its jes' so about this king-talk; orders is very well when they a'n't agin common sense an' the rights o' natur; but you see, George Tucker, folks will go 'cordin to natur an' reason, ef there's forty parlamints an' kings in tow. Natur's jest like a no'west squall; you can't do nothin' but tack ag'inst it; and no men is goin' to stan' still and see the wind taken out o' their sails, an' their liberty flung to sharks, without one mutiny to know why!"
"No!" burst out Sally, who had stopped flirting, and been listening with soul and body to Long; "and no man, that is a man, will go against the right and the truth just because the wrong is strongest!"
This little feminine insult was too much for George Tucker, particularly as he had not the least idea how its utterance burned Sally's lips, and made her heart ache. He got up from his chair with a very bitter look on his handsome face.
"I see," said he, quite coldly, "I am likely to be scarce welcome here. I believe the king is my master, made so by the Lord, and I think it is my honest duty to obey him. It hurts me to part otherwise than kind with friends; but I wish you a good night, and better judgment."
There was something so manly in George's speech, that, but for its final fling and personality, every man in the room would have crowded round him to shake hands; but what man ever coolly heard his judgment impeached?
Sally swallowed a great round sob; but being, like all women, an actress in her way, bowed as calmly to Mr. George as if he only said adieu, after an ordinary call.
Aunt Poll snuffled, and followed George to the door; Uncle Zekle drew himself up straight, and looked after him, his clear blue eyes sparkling with two rays,—one of honest patriotic wrath, one of affection and regret for George; while Long, from the corner, eyed all with a serpent's wisdom in his gaze, oracularly uttering, as the door shut,—
"Well, that 'are feller is good grit!"
"All the worse for us!" growled Eliashib Sparks, the biggest of the three, surprising Sally into a little hysterical laugh, and surprised himself still more at this unexpected sequence to his remark.
"Pooty bad! George is a clever fellow!" ejaculated Zekle. "He han't got the rights on't, but I think he'll come round by'n by."
"I do'no'," said Long, meditatively; "he's pooty stiff, that 'are feller. He's sot on dooty, I see; an' that means suthin', when a man that oughter be called a man sez it. Wimmin-folks, now, don't sail on that tack. When a gal sets to talkin' about her dooty, it's allers suthin' she wants ter do and han't got no grand excuse for't. Ye never see a woman't didn't get married for dooty yet; there a'n't nary one on 'em darst to say they wanted ter."
"Oh! Mister Long!" exclaimed Sally.
"Well, Sally, it's nigh about so; you han't lived a hunderd year. Some o' these days you'll get to know yer dooty."
Sally turned red, and the three young men sniggered. Forgive the word, gentle and fair readers! it means what I mean, and no other word expresses it; let us be graphic and die!
Just then the meeting-house bell rang for nine o'clock; and every man got up from his seat, like a son of Anak, bowed, scraped, cleared his throat to say "Goodnight," did say something like it, and left.
"Well, Sally, I swear you're good at signallin'," broke out Long, as soon as the youths were fairly out of sight and sound; "you hev done it for George Tucker!"
Sally gave no answer, but a brand from the back-log fell, blazed up in a shaft of rosy flame, and showed a suspicious glitter on the girl's round, wholesome cheek. Aunt Poll had gone to bed; Zekle was going the nightly rounds of his barns, to see to the stock; Long Snapps was aware of opportunity, the secret of success.
"Sally," said he, "is that feller sparkin' you?"
Sally laughed a little, and something, perhaps the blaze, reddened her face.
"I don't know," said the pretty hypocrite, demurely.
"H'm! well, I do," answered Long; "and you a'n't never goin' to take up with a Tory? don't think it's yer dooty, hey?"
"No indeed!" flashed Sally. "Do you think I'd marry a Britisher? I'd run away and live with the Indians first."
"Pooty good! pooty good! you're calk'lating to make George into a rebel, I 'xpect?"
Long was looking into the fire when he said this; he did not see Sally's look of rage and amazement at his unpleasant penetration.
"I'm sure I don't care what George Tucker thinks," said she, with a toss of her curly head.
"H'm!" uttered Long, meditatively, "lucky! I 'xpect he carries too many guns to be steered by a woman; 'tis a kinder pity you a'n't a man, Sally; mebbe you'd argufy him round then; it's plain as the Gulf you can't crook his v'yage; he's too stiff for wimmin-folks, that is a fact!"
Oh, Long Snapps! Long Snapps! how many wives, in how many ports, went to the knowledge of feminine nature that dictated that speech? Sally set her lips. From that hour George Tucker was a doomed man; but she said nothing more audible than "Goodnight." Long looked at her, as she lit the tallow dip by the fire, and chuckled when he heard her shut the milk-room door in the safe distance. He was satisfied.
The next afternoon, Sally was weeding onions in the garden;—heroines did, in those days;—the currant-bushes had but just leafed out; so George Tucker, going by, saw her; and she, who had seen him coming before she began to weed, accidentally of course, looked up and gave him a very bright smile. That was the first spider-thread, and the fly stepped into it with such a thrill!
Of course he stopped, and said,—
"What a pleasant day!"—the saving phrase of life. Then Sally said something he couldn't hear, and he leaped the low fence without being asked, rather than request her to raise her voice; he was so considerate! Next he remembered, just as he turned to go away, that there were some white violets down in the meadow, that Sally always liked. Couldn't she spend time to walk down there across lots and get some? Sally thought the onions could not be left. Truth to tell, her heart was in her mouth. She had been playing with edge-tools; but just then she smelt a whiff of smoke from Long Snapps's pipe, and the resolve of last night came back; her face relented, and George, seeing it, used his utmost persuasiveness; so the result was, that Sally washed her hands at the well, and away they went, in the most serene silence, over fences, grass-lots, and ditches, through bits of woodland, and fields of winter-green, till they reached the edge of the great meadow, and sat down on a log to rest. It was rather a good place for that purpose. An old pine had fallen at the feet of a majestic cluster of its brethren, so close that the broad column of one made a natural back to part of the seat. The ground was warm, dry sand, strown with the fine dead leaves of past seasons, brown and aromatic. A light south wind woke the voices of every bough above, and the melancholy susurrus rose and fell in delicate cadences; while beyond the green meadow, Westbury River, a good-sized brook, babbled and danced as if there were no pine-tree laments in the world.
I believe the air, and the odor, and the crying wind drove the violets quite out of both the two heads that drooped silently over that pine log. If Sally had been nervous or poetical, she would have been glad to recollect them; but no such morbidness invaded her healthy soul. She sat quite still till George said, in a suppressed and rather broken tone,—
"I was sorry to vex you last night, Sally! I could not be sorry for any thing else."
"You did grieve me very much, Mister George," said Sally, affecting a little distance in her address, but sufficiently tender in manner.
"Well, I suppose you don't see it the way I do," returned George; "and I am very sorry, for I had rather please you than any body else."
This was especially tender, and he possessed himself of Sally's little red hand, unaware or careless that it smelt of onions; but it was withdrawn very decidedly.
"I think you take a strange way of showing your liking!" sniffed the damsel.
George sat astounded. Another tiny spider-thread stopped the fly; a subtle ray of blue sped sideways out of Sally's eye, that meant,—"I don't object to be liked."
"I wish with all my heart I knew any good way to please you," he fervently ejaculated.
"I should think any way to please people was a good way," retorted Sally, saying more with her eyes than with her voice,—so much more, that in fact this fly was fast. A little puff of wind blew off Sally's bonnet; she looked shy, flushed, lovely. George stood up on his feet, and took his hat off.
"Sally!" said he, in the deepest notes of his full, manly voice, "I love you very much indeed; will you be my wife?"
Sally was confounded. I rejoice to say she was quite confounded; but she was made of revolutionary stuff, and what just now interfered with her plans and schemes was the sudden discovery how very much indeed she loved George Tucker; a fact she had not left enough margin for in her plot.
But, as I said, she was made of good metal, and she answered very low,—
"I do like you, George; but I never will marry a Britisher and a Tory."
A spasm of real anguish distorted the handsome face, bent forward to listen.
"Do you mean that, Sally? Can't you love me because we don't think alike?"
Sally choked a little; her tones fell to a whisper. George had to sit down close to her to hear.
"I didn't say I didn't love you, George!"—A blissful pause of a second; then in a clear, cold voice,—"But my mind's set. I can't marry a Britisher and a Tory, if I died sayin' so."
"And I cannot turn traitor and rebel, Sally. I can not. I love you better than any thing in the world; but I can't do a wicked thing; no, not even for you."
He was pale as death. Sally's secret heart felt proud of him, and never had she been so near repenting of her work in the good cause before; but she was resolute.
"Very well!" replied she, coolly, "if you prefer the king to me, it's not my fault; when your side beats, you can take your revenge!"
The thorough injustice of this speech roused her lover's generous indignation.
"If you can think that way of me, Sally, it is better for us both to have me go! Good night!" And away strode the loyal fellow, never looking back to see his sweetheart have a good cry on the pine-log, and then an equally comfortable fit of laughter; for she knew very well how restless Mister George would be, all alone by himself, and how much it meant that they both loved each other, and both knew it.
Sally's heart was stout. A sort of Yankee Evangeline, she would not have gone after Gabriel; she would have staid at home and waited for him to the end of time; doing chores and mending meanwhile, but unmarried, in the fixed intention of being her lover's sixth wife possibly, but his wife at last.
So she went home and got supper, strained and skimmed milk, set a sponge for bread, and slept all night like a dormouse. George Tucker never went to bed.
"Hooraw!" roared Long Snapps, trundling in to dinner, the next day; "they're wakin' up down to Bostin! Good many on 'em's quit the town. Them 'are Britishers is a-gettin' up sech a breeze; an' they doo say the reg'lars is comin' out full sail, to cair' off all the amminition in these parts, fear o' mutiny 'mongst the milishy!"
"Come along!" shouted Zekle, "let 'em come! like to see 'em takin' our powder an' shot 'thout askin'! Guess they'll hear thunder, ef they stick their heads inter a hornet's nest."
"Dredful suz!" exclaimed Aunt Poll, pulling turnips out of the pot with reckless haste, and so scalding her brown fingers emphatically; "be they a-comin' here? will they fetch along the batterin' rams?"
"Thunder an' dry trees," ejaculated Zekle, "what does the woman ———"; but at that instant Long made for the door, and flung it open, thereby preventing explanations.
"Goin' to Concord, George?" shouted he to George Tucker, who in a one-horse wagon and his Sunday-best clothes was driving slowly past.
"No! goin' to Lexington, after corn. Can I do anything for you?"
"Well, no, I 'xpect not. When be you a-comin' back?"
"I don't know."
"Well, go long! good-luck to ye; keep to wind'ard o' squalls, George."
Long nodded, and George drove on. That day the whole village of Westbury was in an uproar. News had come from Boston that the British were about to send out forces to possess themselves of all the military stores in the country, and forestall rebellion by rendering it helpless. From every corner of every farm and village, young men and old mustered; from every barn, horses of all sizes and descriptions were driven out and saddled; rusty muskets, balls of all shapes and of any available metal that would melt and run, disabled broadswords, horse-pistols, blunderbusses, whatever wore any resemblance to a weapon, or could be rendered serviceable to that end,—all were hunted out, cleaned, mended, and laid ready;—an array that might have made a properly drilled and equipped army smile in contempt, but whose deficiencies were more than supplied by iron sinews, true blood, resolve and desperate courage.
Sally and Aunt Poll partook the gale of patriotism. They scoured the "ole queen's arm" to brilliancy; they ran bullets by the hour; baked bread and brewed Spring beer, with no more definite purpose than a general conviction that men must and would eat, as the men of their house certainly did, in the intervals of repairing harness, filling powder-horns and shot-belts, trotting over to the tavern after news, and coming back to retail it, till Aunt Poll began to imagine she heard the distant strokes of a battering-ram, and rushing out in terror to assure herself, discovered it to be only Sam Pequot, an old Indian, who, with the apathy of his race, was threshing in the barn.
Aunt Poll took down Josephus to refresh her memory, and actually drew a laugh from Sally's grave lips by confiding to her this extreme horror of the case; a laugh she forgave, since Sally reassured her by recommending to her notice the fact that Jerusalem had stone walls that were more difficult to climb than stone fences. As for Sally, she thought of George, all day of George, all night; and while the next day deepened toward noon, was still thinking of him, when in rushed Long Snapps, tarpaulin in hand, full of news and horror.
"I swan! we've got it now!" said he. "Them darned Britishers sot out fur Concord last night, to board our decks an' plunder the magazine; the boys heerd on't, and they was ready over to Lexin'ton, waitin' round the meetin'us; they stood to't, an' that old powder monkey Pitcairn sung out to throw down their arms, darned rebels; an' cause they didn't muster to his whistle, he let fly at 'em like split; an' there's some killed an' more wounded; pretty much all on 'em our folks, though they did giv the reg'lars one round o' ball afore they run."
"Hooray!" shouted Zekle; "that's the talk; guess they'll sing smaller next time!"
"They'll do more'n that, Zekle," responded Long; "this a'n't but the beginnin' o' sorrers, as Parson Marsh sez, sez he; there'll be a hull gulf stream o' blood, afore them darned reg'lars knows the color on't well enough to lay their course."
Sally glided past Long, and plucked him by the sleeve, unseen by the rest. He followed her into the shed. She was ghastly pale. "Long," said she, hurriedly, "did you hear who? was anybody shot?"
"Bless ye, gal! a hull school on 'em was shot; there wasn't many went to the bottom, though; han't heerd no names."
"But George?" gasped Sally; "he went to Lexington yesterday."
"Well, I am took aback!" growled Long. "I swear I never thought on't. I'll go see."
"Come back and tell me?" whispered Sally.
"Lord-a-massy, yes, child! jest as soon's I know myself trewly! but I shan't know nothin' more till sundown, I expect. Desire Trowbridge is a-ridin' post; he'll come through 'bout that time with news."
Long did not come back for several hours, some time after sundown, when he found Sally in the shed, waiting for him. She saw the news in his face. "Dead?" said she, clutching at the old sailor's hand.
"No! no! he a'n't slipt his moorins' yet, but he is badly stove about the figger-head; he's got a ball through his head somewhere, an' another in his leg; and he a'n't within hail; don't hear no speakin'-trumpets; fact is, Sally, he's in for the dockyard a good spell, ef he a'n't broke up hull and all."
"Who shot him?" whispered Sally.
"That's the best on't, gal; he's took an' tacked beautiful; he went into port at Lexin'ton yesterday, and heerin' there all sides o' the story, an' how them critters sot up for to thieve away our stores, he got kinder riled at the hull crew, like a common-sense feller, an' when Pitcairn come along, George finally struck his colors, run up a new un to the mast-head, borrered a musket, an' jined the milishy, an' got shot by them cussed reg'lars fur his pains; an ef he doos die, I'll hev a figger cut on a stun myself, to tell folks he was a rebel and an honest man arter all."
"Where is he?" asked Sally in another whisper.
"He's to the tavern there in Lexin'ton. There a'n't nobody along with him, cause his father's gone to Bostin to see 'bout not gettin' scomfishkated, or arter a protection, or sumthin."
"And his mother is dead," said Sally, slowly. "Long! I must go to Lexington to-night, on the pillion, and you must go with me. Father's got too much rheumatiz to ask it of him."
"Well!" said Long, after a protracted stare at Sally,—"wimmin is the oddest craft that ever sailed. I swan, when I sight 'em I don't know a main-top-sail from a flyin' jib! Goin' to take care o' George, be ye?"
"Yes," said Sally, meekly.
Long rolled the inseparable quid in his cheek, and slyly drawled out, "W-ell, if ye must, ye must! I a'n't a-goin' ter stand in the way of yer dooty!"
Sally was too far away to hear, or she might have smiled.
Uncle Zeke and Aunt Poll were to be told and coaxed into assent;—no very hard task; for George Tucker was a favorite of 'Zekiel's, and now he had turned rebel, the only grudge he had ever owed him was removed; he was only too glad to help him in any way. Aunt Poll's sole trouble was lest Sally should take cold. The proprieties, those gods of modern social worship, as well as their progenitors, the improprieties, were unknown to these simple souls; they did things because they were right and wrong. They were not nice according to Swift's definition, nor proper in the mode of the best society, but they were good and pure; are the disciples and lecturers of the 'proper' equally so?
Sally's simple preparations were quickly made. By nine o'clock she was safe on the pillion behind Long Snapps, folded in Aunt Poll's red joseph, and provided with saddle-bags full of comforts and necessaries. The night was dark, but Sally did not feel any fear; not Tam O'Shanter's experience could have shaken the honest little creature's courage, when George filled the perspective before her. The way was lonely; the hard road echoed under the old cart-horse's hoofs; many a black and desolate tract of forest lay across their twenty miles' ride; more than once the tremulous shriek of a screech-owl smote ominously on Sally's wakeful sense, and quavered away like a dying groan; more than once a mournful whippoorwill cried out in pain and expostulation, and in the young leaves a shivering wind foreboded evil;—but they rode on. Presently Sally's drooping head rose erect; she listened; she laid her hand on the bridle. "Stop, Long!" said she. "I hear horses' feet, and shouts."
"Look here!" said Long, after a moment's listening, "there's breakers ahead, Sally; let's heave to in these 'ere piny bushes side o' the track; it's pitch dark, mebbe they'll go by."
He reined the horse from the road, and forced him into a group of young hemlocks, which hid them entirely from passers by. Just as he was well ensconced, a company of British cavalry rode up, broken and disorderly enough, cursing and swearing at the Yankees, and telling to unseen ears a bloody story of Concord and its men. Sally trembled, but it was with indignation, not fear, and as soon as the last hoof-beat died away, she urged Long forward; they regained the road, and made their way at once to George in Lexington.
Is it well to paint, even in failing words, such emotions as Sally fought with and conquered in that hour? Whoever has stood by the bed of a speechless, hopeless, unconscious human being, in whom their own soul lived and suffered, will know these pangs without my interpretation. Whoever knows them not need not so anticipate. If Sally had been less a woman, I might have had more to say; but she was only a woman, and loved George, so she went on in undisturbed self-control, and untiring exertion, to nurse him.
The doctor said he could not live; Long said he was booked for Davy Jones; the minister prayed for "our dying brother";—but Sally said he should live, and he did. After weeks of patient care he knew her; after more weeks he spoke,—words few, but precious; and when accumulating months brought to the battlefields of America redder stains than even patriotic blood had splashed upon their leaves,—when one nation began to hope, and another to fear, both hope and fear had shaken hands with Sally and said said good-bye. She was married to George Tucker, and, with the prospect of a crippled husband for life, was perfectly happy; too happy not to laugh, when, the day after their wedding, sitting on the door-sill of the old Westbury homestead, with George and Long Snapps, George said, "Would you ever have come to take care of me, Sally, if I'd 'a' been shot on the side of the reg'lars?"
Sally looked at him, and then looked away.
"I 'xpect she'd 'a' done her dooty," said Long Snapps dryly; and Sally laughed.