IN THE OLD HOME.
"Here, Miss Ruth, I has a cordial for ye. Drink it, honey," said Phillis as Ruth sank into a chair.
"Don't be down-hearted, Miss Ruth; old Pomp will take keer of ye."
"I do not doubt it. You and Phillis have always been good to me, and now I have something to say to both of you. Would you like to be free, Pompey?"
"Would I like to be free, Miss Ruth?" the negro asked, hardly knowing what to make of the question.
"Yes, would you like to be free, to own yourself, to come and go as you please?"
"'Deed I would, Miss Ruth. Massa and missus was always very good to old Pomp, but 'pears I would like to be myself."
She rose and took Pompey and Phillis by their hands.
"Your old master has given you both to me, and now I give you to yourselves. You are both free now and forever," said Ruth.
"Free! Miss Ruth! Did you say we is free?"
"Yes, you are no longer slaves; you can go and come, now and always; you are your own."
"Oh, Miss Ruth, old Pomp never will leave ye, never. Old Pomp free! 'Pears like de New Jerusalem has come," said the negro, sinking upon his knees, kissing her hand and bathing it with tears.
"Oh, Miss Ruth, honey, I has held ye in my arms when ye was a little baby, toted ye in de garding when de flowers was bloomin', rocked ye to sleep when ye was pinin'; I've seen ye grow to be a woman, and now ye is my missus tellin' me I'm free. I'll cook de chicken and de johnny-cake for ye till I can't cook no more," said Phillis, clasping Ruth in her arms, with tears rolling down her cheeks and laughter bubbling from her lips.
The foresight that had seen the probable departure of the British troops was forecasting the immediate future; that the interval before the arrival of General Washington's army would be one of peril, from vagabonds, camp-followers, and the ragamuffins enlisted by Creen Brush, commissioned by General Howe to organize a battalion of Tories. Through the day the British regiments were sullenly taking their departure. Pompey informed Ruth that the vagabonds had begun to plunder the stores and break into houses.
"Dey won't git into dis yeer house, honey. I'se got de water b'ilin' hot in de kitchen for 'em," said Phillis.
Ruth did not doubt a mansion like hers would attract the villains, and determined to defend herself against all intruders. General Howe was going on shipboard; no longer would she recognize his authority or that of any subordinate officer. Years before, her father had been member of a battalion of horsemen. The pistols he carried then were in a closet. Pompey brought them, fixed the flints, oiled the locks, and found a horn of powder, but no bullets.
"Perhaps it is just as well, Pompey, for if I were to have a bullet, I might kill somebody, and I would not like to do that," she said.
"If ye are goin' to shoot, better shoot to kill, Miss Ruth," said Pompey.
"I never have fired a pistol, Pompey; how do you do it?"
"I'll show ye, missus," said the negro, putting some powder in the pan and cocking the pistol.
"Now, Miss Ruth, you jes' pull de trigger and it will flash."
They were in the kitchen. Ruth pointed the weapon toward the fireplace and pulled the trigger. There was a flash and a bang.
"O Lord! Missus!" shouted Phillis, dropping on the floor.
"'Pears, Miss Ruth, like she's been loaded all dese years," said Pompey, his eyeballs rolling in astonishment.
"It appears I have found out how to fire," said Ruth, laughing. "But how do you load it?" she asked.
Pompey poured a charge of powder into his hand, emptied it into the barrel, and rammed it down with a wad of paper.
"We haven't any bullets, but we can use gravel-stones or dried peas or a tallow candle. I've seen a candle fired right through a board, Miss Ruth," he said.
"We'll load them with powder now; perhaps we shan't need anything else," Ruth replied.
In the gathering darkness Phillis saw a redcoat reconnoitring the grounds. He rapped upon the door leading to the kitchen. She did not unloose the chain, but opened it sufficiently wide to talk with the fellow.
"What d'ye want?" she asked.
"I want to come in."
"What d'ye want to come in for?"
"To see if ye have anything belonging to the king. People have seized the king's property and taken it into their houses."
"We haven't anything belonging to King George."
"Open the door or I'll break it down."
"Go away. Dere can't no lobster come into dis yeer kitchen," said Phillis, attempting to close the door. But she saw the muzzle of a gun thrust into the opening. Her hands grasped it. One vigorous pull and it was hers, and the villain was fleeing.
"I'se got it! I'se got de villin's gun. Wid de pistils, de musket, and de b'ilin' water we'll fight 'em!" she shouted.
Ruth, keeping watch, saw a squad of men. One of them rattled the knocker.
"What do you wish?" she asked, raising a window.
"I am commissioned to search for property belonging to the crown."
"Who are you?"
"I am a lieutenant in the command of Colonel Brush."
"I do not recognize your authority, neither that of Colonel Brush nor General Howe, who has taken his departure."
"I shall be under the necessity of entering by force if you do not open the door."
"You will do so at your peril."
"Break down the door, men!"
The soldiers pounded with the butts of their muskets, but the panels did not yield.
"Smash a window!"
A bayonet was thrust through a pane, and the glass rattled to the ground; the butt of a musket smashed the sash, and a pair of hands grasped the window-sill. Memory recalled a day when two soldiers assaulted her; from that hour a redcoat had been hateful. She seized one of the pistols. Remembering what Pompey had said, she picked the lighted candle from its socket and thrust it into the weapon. The ruffian was astride the window-sill. There was a flash, a loud report, and he dropped with a thud to the ground.
From the balcony came a flood of boiling water upon the astonished ruffians.
"I'll give it to ye, b'ilin' hot!" shouted Phillis. The ruffians saw the muzzle of a gun pointed towards them from the window, and the stalwart form of Pompey as he raised it to take aim. The astonished villains fled, leaving Ruth, Pompey, and Phillis victors in the encounter.
* * * * *
Morning dawned fair and beautiful. The robins and bluebirds were singing in the garden. Ruth heard again the beating of drums, the blast of bugles. General Washington was entering the town. By his side rode Major Robert Walden.
What surprise! A white handkerchief was waving from the balcony of the Newville home. She was there, more beautiful and queenly than ever before! Not an alien, not an exile, but loyal to liberty, to him! He must leap from his saddle and clasp her in his arms! No. He must accompany his great commander in the triumphal entry. That accomplished, then the unspeakable joy.
* * * * *
There came an evening when the Newville home was aglow with lights, and Pompey was bowing low to General and Mrs. Washington, Generals Greene, Putnam, Thomas, to colonels, majors, captains, councilors, the selectmen of the town, Reverend Doctor Cooper, Colonel Henry and Lucy Knox, Captain and Mrs. Brandon, Berinthia, Abraham Duncan, Major Tom Brandon, Rachel Walden; young ladies in the bloom of maidenhood, matronly mothers, fathers resolute of countenance,—all rejoicing that the redcoats were gone.
Down from the chamber, passing the old clock on the stairs, came Major Robert Walden, in bright, new uniform, and Ruth Newville in satin, white and pure.
Reverend Doctor Cooper spoke of the bravery of the bridegroom in battle, the manliness of character that fitted him for fighting the battle of life. Tears came to many eyes as he pictured the love of a maiden who rescued her beloved, swept by life's ebbing tide far out towards a shoreless sea.
They who stood around beheld the countenance of the bride transfigured as she pronounced the words, "to love, to honor, and cherish him."
Amid the general joy, one heart alone felt a momentary pang. Never might Rachel whisper such words to him whose last thought had been of her, who had given his life that liberty might live.
Once more food was to be had from the marketmen around Faneuil Hall—joints of beef, pigs, sausages, chickens, turkeys, vegetables and fruit, brought in by the farmers of Braintree, Dedham, and Roxbury. Fishermen once more could sail down the harbor, drop their lines for cod and mackerel on the fishing ground beyond the Outer Brewster, and return to the town without molestation from a meddling town major.
With joyful countenance and conscious dignity, Pompey perambulated the market, inspecting what the hucksters had for sale.
"I want de juiciest j'int, de tenderest, fattest turkey, de freshest eggs right from de nest, 'cause de 'casion is to be Missus Ruth's weddin' dinner," he said.
Many banquets had Phillis prepared, but never one like the dinner for Miss Ruth on her wedding day.
"I've roasted de turkey and sparrib for Massa Ginerel Howe and Massa Ginerel Clinton, but dey ain't of no 'count 'side Massa Major Walden and Massa Ginerel Washington, 'cause dey drive de redcoats out of Boston. Miss Ruth fired de pistil and I scaldid dem with de b'ilin' water. He! he! he!" she laughed.
It was a pleasure to stuff the turkey, to turn the joint of beef roasting on the spit, mix the plums in the pudding, and mould the mince pies for Ruth and her friends.
"Miss Ruth told me to go free, and now she's Missus Ruth Walden. He! he! he!"
The laughter bubbled from her lips.
It was a joyful party that sat down to the dinner. The toasts drunk were not the health of George III. and Sophia Charlotte, but the health of General George Washington, the Continental Congress, Major Robert Walden, and, more heartily than any other, long life and happiness to Ruth Newville Walden.
* * * * *
Years have gone by,—years of sorrow, privation, and suffering to those who, through their loyalty to King George, and their inability to discern the signs of the times, have been exiles from the land that gave them birth, whose property has been seized by the Great and General Court of Massachusetts. The days are long to Mary Shrimpton in the little cabin at Halifax. The great estates once owned by her father are no longer his. Her once beautiful home has been sold to the highest bidder. Only with her spinning-wheel can she keep the wolf from the cabin door. Parliament has been talking of doing something for the refugees in Nova Scotia, but the commoners and lords are three thousand miles away, and the people of England are groaning under the burden incurred by the fruitless attempt to subdue the Colonies. The struggle is over. Lord Cornwallis has surrendered his army to General Washington at Yorktown, and commissioners are negotiating a peace. Through the years Abel Shrimpton, unreconciled to life's changes, has been cursing Samuel Adams and John Hancock for having led the people to rebel against the king, not seeing that Divine Providence was using them as instruments to bring about a new era in human affairs. When the curses are loudest and most vehement, Mary's gentle hand pats his lips, smooths the gray hairs from the wrinkled brow, and calms his troubled spirit. Pansies bloom beneath the latticed windows of her cabin home. Morning-glories twine around it. Swallows twitter their joy, and build their nests beneath the eves. Motherly hens cluck to their broods in the dooryard. The fare upon the table within the cabin is frugal, but there is always a bit of bread or a herring for a wandering exile. When women pine for their old homes, when homesickness becomes a disease, it is Mary Shrimpton who cheers the fainting hearts. As she sits by her wheel, she sings the song sung by the blind old harper Carolan, who, though long separated from his true love, yet recognized her by the touch of her gentle hand:—
"True love can ne'er forget. Fondly as when we met, Dearest, I love thee yet, My darling one."
Tom Brandon said he would be true to her. The war is over; surely if living he will come. Though the thick fog at times drifts in from the sea, shutting out the landscape and all surrounding objects, though the rain patters on the roof, and the days are dark and dreary, her face is calm and serene, glorified by a steadfast faith and changeless love.
The time has been long to the occupants of the cottage across the way. Though little gold is left in the purse, there is ever room for hungry refugees at the table of the king's former commissioner of imposts. The locks beneath his tie wig are whiter than they were, the furrows on his brow have deepened. Officers of the army and navy in Halifax, once guests in his home on the slope of Beacon Hill, sometimes call upon him, but the great world has passed him by. Old friends, fellow exiles, at times gather at his fireside, talk of other days, and of what Parliament may possibly do for them.
Time has left its mark upon the face of her who sits by his side. The soft, brown hair has changed to gray. Plans of other days have not come to pass. Disappointment and grief have quenched ambitious fire. Father and mother are separated from a daughter beloved. How could Ruth ever become a rebel, disloyal to her rightful sovereign? What possessed her to turn her back upon Lord Upperton, upon the opportunity to become a peeress of the realm? Oh, the misery that has come from such waywardness! What has become of her? Will they ever again see her?
* * * * *
With the flag of the new nation—the banner of crimson stripes and fadeless stars—flying at her masthead, the ship Berinthia Brandon, Major Tom Brandon owner, comes proudly sailing into Halifax harbor. The anchor dropped, he makes his way to the vine-clad cabin, listens a moment by the latticed window to hear a sweet voice singing words that thrill him.
"Dearest, I love thee yet, My darling one."
He lifts the latch. There is a cry of delight, and Mary springs to his arms.
"I said I would come, and I am here."
"I knew you would, Tom. Ever since a ship arrived bringing the news from Yorktown that Cornwallis had surrendered, I have been expecting you."
"How do you do, father?" said Major Tom, holding out his hand to Mr. Shrimpton.
"I ain't your father," the surly reply.
"But you are to be, as soon as I can find a minister. The past is past. I've come to take you and Mary to your old home. When it was sold, I bought it; you are to go back to it and live there. It is to be our home."
There is astonishment upon the cold, hard face, which relaxes its sternness; the chin quivers, the lips tremble, tears roll down the cheeks of the gray-haired exile. Through the years he has nursed his hate. But there is no sword so sharp, no weapon so keen to pierce the hardened human heart, as kindness. He has hated Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Tom Brandon; and this is Tom's revenge. His old home to be his own once more! No longer an exile! To sit once more by the old fireside, through the kindness of him whom he had turned from his door! His head drops upon his breast; he sobs like a child, but reaches out his arms to them.
"Take her, Tom. I've hated you, but God bless you; you were right, and I was wrong."
No longer hard-hearted, cold, and animated by hate, but as a little child he enters the doorway leading to the Kingdom of Heaven.
* * * * *
A man of stalwart frame, a woman radiant and beautiful, with a little boy and girl, are standing by the door of the humble home across the way; fellow-passengers with Major Tom on the Berinthia Brandon. Mr. Newville opens the door in answer to the knock, to be clasped in the arms of Ruth. Great the surprise, unspeakable the joy, of father, mother, and daughter, meeting once more, welcoming a worthy son, taking prattling grandchildren to their arms.
"We have come for you, and we are all going home together. You will find everything just as it was when you left," said Ruth.
* * * * *
Once more there were happy homes in Boston,—that upon Copp's Hill, where Berinthia and Abraham Duncan cared for the father and mother; that where Tom and Mary Shrimpton-Brandon made the passing days pleasant to Abel Shrimpton, loyal no longer to King George, but to the flag of the future republic; and that other home, where Major Robert Walden and his loving wife, with queenly grace, dispensed unstinted hospitality, not only to those distinguished among their fellow-men, but to the poor and needy, impoverished by the long and weary struggle for independence of the mother land. Abel Shrimpton and Theodore Newville were no longer exiles, but citizens, acknowledging cheerful allegiance to the flag of the confederation, through the fealty to liberty by the Daughters of the Revolution.
Minor changes have been made to correct typesetters' errors; otherwise, every effort has been made to remain true to the author's words and intent.