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An older damsel of some twenty years, leaned on the father's shoulder, looking with a smile into the avaricious little countenance below. This elder sister was the enviable owner of golden hair, if hair is ever golden out of poetry, blue eyes, and a face full of all-gentle feelings; but Nannie Phillips would win no admiration from the strong-minded clan, for deep thought had never traced a line on her features, and the soft curve of her mouth had never been straightened with that magnificent self-reliance so in vogue now-a-days.
Opposite this group, thrown carelessly back in another ponderous chair, with hands clasped behind his head, was the first-born of the family, at once its pride and reproach. He bore in appearance more of the Cavalier than Roundhead. His curly hair defied the law that forbade flowing locks to young gallants; and his ruddy complexion was the envy of his father's fair flock. There was resistless persuasion in his dark eyes, a single glance from which had made many a tender heart beat hard against the slender bodice of its owner; though, to be sure, the young man seldom deigned more than a passing glance, even to the reigning belles of the day. To say the truth, their quiet manners and simple souls were not to his taste, except in the case of Nannie, whom he thought almost an angel well he might, for, from his very cradle she had held. the shield of her potent entreaty betwixt him and the punishments due his offences: and then he delighted even in Nannie's reproofs; her censure was more palatable than another's praise.
This enticing personage, who figured on the town-register as Mark Phillips, was not yet graduated from the University. There were shrewd suspicions that he was only permitted to remain a member of that august body out of complaisance toward his family; for though the perfection of his recitations was unquestionable, it was a profound mystery to his co-students when, or where, or how, his exercises were prepared. Perhaps his knowledge was hereditary, as his progenitors had been learned men, on whose intellects such a dead weight of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew rested, that their mother tongue was greatly impeded thereby. At all events, Mark was never seen poring over dull text-books, or laboring among the dry bones of the past, while, if we were to judge from the frequency of admonitions, administered by the high-priests of education, our hero was studious in devising mischief.
Indeed, at the very moment you are invited to turn your quizzing-glasses upon him, he was reflecting that whether the Puritan creed were, or were not, a summary of all truth, it was undeniable that he inclined vastly more toward evil than toward holiness. Something, just then, brought to his mind Timothy, who seems to have profited so largely by the graces of his grand-mother Lois, and his mother Eunice; but though Mark would willingly have compared his own ancestry with Timothy's, he could not perceive that their abundant deeds of righteousness had wrought any pious
inclinations in himself. He was not vicious, according to the present standard of vice. His fastidious taste would ill have brooked the companionship of the vile, and his admiration for whatever was beautiful in creation, or noble in human actions, saved him from crime. But in the indulgence of a genuine love of fun, he far overstept the boundaries of Pilgrim propriety, and in the wilfulness of his temper, rebelled against reasonable restraints.
The book being presently closed, little Esther was chattering about the garden Luther described to his boy, and wondering whether Johnny ever obtained the fine things it held, when a servant announced Sir Henry Ludlow. Esther, set aside as if she were the merest chattel, withdrew indignantly behind the orb of a table which stood folded in a corner, presenting its round face directly toward the centre of the room. From this fortress she cast such comic looks of anger on the intruder, that Mark, who was much of her mind, in regard to their visitor, could only keep a sober countenance by moving out of sight, a compliment the wild little creature did not fail to appreciate.
Mr. Phillips received his guest with all the cordiality that ceremonial age permitted. Mark, with a polar iciness Boreas himself could not have surpassed. Hospitality and hauteur were alike lost on Sir Henry, who only took notice of the glad light sparkling in Nannie's eyes; that was a tribute his self-love could not withstand; so he placed himself beside her, bestowing those kindly words and trifling cares a woman prizes above all else, till her brother, burning with rage, almost cursed the English knight, who was so appropriating his sensitive plant, his own gentle Nannie.
So there they sat in the early twilight; but notwithstanding every soothing influence of time and place was around them, love and hate, and selfish passion, were driving restlessly through their hearts love bewildering the soul of one with her intoxicating draughts, making thought and feeling concentrate in an intense dream of human sympathy; hate made the blood of another leap hot through his veins; selfishness was darkening the spirit of a third, storing up memories which perchance, in after years, should shut out the loveliness of earth and the serenity of heaven.
The good priest was unconscious of mental tempests around him, as he discoursed with Sir Henry of England and America, of Saint James's court, and villas rising from the wilderness like work of magic. Indeed, how little do any understand of the real life even of those who sit beside the same board, or at the same hearthstone!
We clasp the hand of some cherished friend, talking of scenes or deeds amidst which we have moved. But what is of deeper import, finds no voice. We know not the temptations yielded to, or overcome; the brilliant anticipations crushed; the friendships repulsed; the stern warfare of right and wrong, within the breast of the loved companion.
Sir Henry spoke of his own estate, Ludlow Castle, in Dorset
shire. He turned toward Nannie as he descanted with pride on its old oaks, its lawns, its herds of deer, its aviaries, its studs of horses, and all the appurtenances of aristocratic rank in the old country. Of these things Nannie had rather less knowledge than falls to the share of Yankee girls at the present day; some brother, uncle, or cousin of whom, has surely crossed the sea, and received an apotheosis from placing his hands on the bordering hedges of dukedoms.
Perhaps the speaker was wondering how so fair a lily would bear its head, transplanted among gaudier flowers of his native soil; perhaps he was comparing her natural grace with the high-born stateliness more familiar to his eye. Nannie thought only of scenes through which her beloved had roamed, and oblivious of the Trimountain city, she was breathing airs of Dorsetshire amid widespread parks. Sir Henry could read the wanderings of her fancy in her innocent face clearly as if she had traced them on her ivory tablets, and was so interested in the perusal, that Mr. Phillips was obliged to ask the second time, if the Quakers had not created great tumult in the vicinity of Ludlow Castle, about the time of his departure from home. His inattention was out of no disrespect to the minister, but he had not yet passed his twenty-fifth birthday, and still took some interest in a heart unconsciously betraying its emotions: probably ere he had doubled his years, he cared no
more for a damsel's blushes than for the idle wind.'
At the repetition of the question, he seemed somewhat discomforted, though Mark, who watched him narrowly, could see no cause for disturbance in so simple an inquiry. He quickly recovered himself, however, and replied that the Quakers had, for a certainty, made many proselytes in his father's neighborhood.
The clergyman demanded if that marvellous prophetess, Mistress Hutchinson, had not arisen out of Dorsetshire: and again Mark perceived the same embarrassment of manner while he answered in the affirmative. Mr. Phillips then canvassed the tenets and customs of the Quakers, demonstrating their sinfulness so plainly, that Esther crept from her retreat, and climbed into Mark's arms, to ask the foolish child's question, whether it was the wicked Quakers who made the earthquakes she read about. He was assuring her of his belief in the correctness of her proposition, when one Wendall, a college-friend, was ushered into the room.
After the new-comer had paid due reverence to the master of the mansion and his lovely daughter, he said to Mark that a ship with dismantled masts, was entering the harbor, and he was on his way to ascertain whence it came. Mark instantly rose to accompany his friend; and Sir Henry also took leave, proposing, somewhat to the displeasure of the young men, to share their walk.
When they reached the wharf, the ship was still at a distance, and Mark, throwing himself upon the grass, yielded to the influences of the vernal evening. Sir Henry leaned against a tree, engrossed in thought. His meditations were surely not of the
landscape - he never cared for such uncultured scenes. Perhaps Nannie was his theme; perhaps some less pleasant subject, for his brow grew very dark. Wendall, poising himself on the extremity of the wharf, skipped pebbles over the water, evidently in that delicious state wherein one thinks of nothing.
A June evening in New-England! Would an idea of its loveliness might be imparted! Its spicy air makes true the fabled breezes of Ceylon; its skies are tinted with the dreamiest of hues, through which the stars look softly down: and on this particular night, the moon was lifting her pleasant face from the waves eastward, where, as Mark fancied, she had been frolicking with the Naiads; or where, as one imagined, who, with a deeper heart from the deck of that ship, watched her rising, she had been filling her horn with precious gifts for those she loved, and, therefore, was her face all aglow with joy.
There was the lightest rustling of half-grown foliage, as if the leaflets called upon each other to rejoice over the young Summer, and lull her to repose with gentlest music; while, to honor the new-born, the fire-flies gave a grand illumination, their tiny rockets flitting about the coast like a shower of stars.
Birds in languishing tones summoned their mates to the trystingplace, and frogs rang their exquisite bells in all the hollows. Along the shore tripped the light-footed waves, moving to the sound of their own melody; and every new chord of harmony soothed Mark's fiery spirit, till the dark figure against the tree was quite forgotten.
To Zelda upon the vessel's deck, the same music brought a wild excitement. She knew not why, but an enchantment of the time; sparkling billows in the ship's wake; moon-light over those bold shores, and wooded islands of the harbor; odorous breezes from off land; all touched the springs of her being, till tears hung on her long lashes. There was romance in her lonely coming, poetry in the hour; and romance and poetry were one with her soul.
At last the ship was safely moored. Torch-lights flitted about its deck, and emigrant groups gazed upon the dim outlines of their future homes. Mark and Sir Henry had gone down to the wharf to inspect more nearly the newly-arrived.
'A queer specimen that,' said Wendall, shrugging his shoulders; 'I would n't trust my corporeal system in her for a sail through a dry-dock!'
Don't you see,' (Mark spoke scarcely above his breath,) 'do n't you see she has brought over her patron saint? I'd navigate the Euxine on a single plank under such protection.'
Following the glance of his friend's eye, Wendall perceived the fair Icelander, apart from her fellow-travellers, gazing toward the open sea, and looking, in her motionless attitude, much as a kind genius might. He was about to echo Mark's admiration, when, with a sudden start, he exclaimed:
By all saints and goddesses! I see a ghost standing at her side! In the name of goodness
His companion angrily cut short his speech. 'Peace! fool: it is only the light mist of night.'
Wendall proceeded: 'I tell you, I would not touch the hem of her garment for the world's wealth! She is set apart, sacrificed, consecrated, given over, or whatever you call it, to some dismal fate!'
'Ay,' Phillips coolly rejoined, 'maintain respectful distance. She may be Circe herself, bringing us enchantments.'
Shrinking from his tone of contempt, Wendall rallied courage to turn again toward the figure that riveted Mark's attention. But though the apparition was now fled from her company, he doubted not the reality of what he had seen. Visions were frequent in those days when witches infested the air, for less harmless purposes than to sweep the cobwebs from the sky;' and every child trembled in its little cot at the noise of their brutal laughter.
To Mark, these strange sights and sounds appeared to have no existence, except in the credulity of those who witnessed them, so that now he easily resolved the fantastic shape he had certainly observed, into a smoke-cloud, or wreath of vapor, to which the imagination, drunken with wine of the season, had given other form.
Zelda seemed unconscious of any salutation she had received; for she still, with rapt expression, gazed toward the silver-shining ocean, dotted with its fair islands; and though unseen by those who observed her, tears still glistened on her cheeks.
And Mark contemplated her with increased interest. Who could she be so regal in form, so intent upon the majestic night about whom even the vapors hovered?
All this while it was longer than I have been telling of it - Sir Henry had stood as if transfixed, with a Puritan cloak muffling his face, and a broad-brimmed hat drawn over his eyes. You could, therefore, divine nothing from his physiognomy; but his form would hardly have retained so rigid a posture, or his regards have been bent so fixedly on that English vessel, unless he had seen something of personal import to him.
Conspicuous among the colonists loitering about the decks in every variety of grouping, was a somewhat stately woman, attired in a garb more quaint and sad-colored, even, than the robes of the Roundheads. A band of youthful people, evidently her own children, was clustered about her, habited in like manner; and upon the eldest of these, a young woman of brilliant brunette style, Sir Henry's looks were concentrated.
To tell how he should be so interested in this family of newcomers, I must refer you to the glens of Dorsetshire, whither we will journey in the next chapter.
POETA NASCITUR NON FIT.
A MAN cannot make himself a poet,
No mor'n a sheep can make himself a go-at.