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The Heart's Highway

A Romance of Virginia in the Seventeeth Century


Mary E. Wilkins



The Heart's Highway


In 1682, when I was thirty years of age and Mistress Mary Cavendish
just turned of eighteen, she and I together one Sabbath morning in
the month of April were riding to meeting in Jamestown. We were all
alone except for the troop of black slaves straggling in the rear,
blurring the road curiously with their black faces. It seldom
happened that we rode in such wise, for Mistress Catherine
Cavendish, the elder sister of Mistress Mary, and Madam Cavendish,
her grandmother, usually rode with us - Madam Judith Cavendish,
though more than seventy, sitting a horse as well as her
granddaughters, and looking, when viewed from the back, as young as
they, and being in that respect, as well as others, a wonder to the
countryside. But it happened to-day that Madam Cavendish had a touch
of the rheumatics, that being an ailment to which the swampy estate
of the country rendered those of advanced years somewhat liable, and
had remained at home on her plantation of Drake Hill (so named in
honour of the great Sir Francis Drake, though he was long past the
value of all such earthly honours). Catherine, who was a most
devoted granddaughter, had remained with her - although, I
suspected, with some hesitation at allowing her young sister to go
alone, except for me, the slaves being accounted no more company
than our shadows. Mistress Catherine Cavendish had looked at me
after a fashion which I was at no loss to understand when I had
stood aside to allow Mistress Mary to precede me in passing the
door, but she had no cause for the look, nor for the apprehension
which gave rise to it. By reason of bearing always my burthen upon
my own back, I was even more mindful of it than others were who had
only the sight of it, whereas I had the sore weight and the evil
aspect in my inmost soul. But it was to be borne easily enough by
virtue of that natural resolution of a man which can make but a
featherweight of the sorest ills if it be but put in the balance
against them. I was tutor to Mistress Mary Cavendish, and I had
sailed from England to Virginia under circumstances of disgrace;
being, indeed, a convict.

I knew exceeding well what was my befitting deportment when I set
out that Sabbath morning with Mistress Mary Cavendish, and not only
upon that Sabbath morning but at all other times; still I can well
understand that my appearance may have belied me, since when I
looked in a glass I would often wonder at the sight of my own face,
which seemed younger than my years, and was strangely free from any
recording lines of experiences which might have been esteemed bitter
by any one who had not the pride of bearing them. When my black
eyes, which had a bold daring in them, looked forth at me from the
glass, and my lips smiled with a gay confidence at me, I could not
but surmise that my whole face was as a mask worn unwittingly over a
grave spirit. But since a man must be judged largely by his outward
guise and I had that of a gay young blade, I need not have taken it
amiss if Catherine Cavendish had that look in her eyes when I set
forth with her young sister alone save for those dark people which
some folk believed to have no souls.

I rode a pace behind Mary Cavendish, and never glanced her way, not
needing to do so in order to see her, for I seemed to see her with a
superior sort of vision compounded partly of memory and partly of
imagination. Of the latter I had, not to boast, though it may
perchance be naught to boast of, being simply a kind of higher
folly, a somewhat large allowance from my childhood. But that was
not to be wondered at, whether it were to my credit or otherwise,
since it was inherited from ancestors of much nobler fame and
worthier parts than I, one of whom, though not in the direct line,
the great Edward Maria Wingfield, the president of the first council
of the Dominion of Virginia, having written a book which was held to
be notable. This imagination for the setting forth and adorning of
all common things and happenings, and my woman's name of Maria, my
whole name being Harry Maria Wingfield, through my ancestor having
been a favourite of a great queen, and so called for her honour,
were all my inheritance at that date, all the estates belonging to
the family having become the property of my younger brother John.

But when I speak of my possessing an imagination which could gild
all the common things of life, I meant not to include Mistress Mary
Cavendish therein, for she needed not such gilding, being one of the
most uncommon things in the earth, as uncommon as a great diamond
which is rumoured to have been seen by travellers in far India. My
imagination when directed toward her was exercised only with the
comparing and combining of various and especial beauties of
different times and circumstances, when she was attired this way or
that way, or was grave or gay, or sweetly helpless and clinging or
full of daring. When, riding near her, I did not look at her, she
seemed all of these in one, and I was conscious of such a great
dazzle forcing my averted eyes, that I seemed to be riding behind a

I knew full well, though, as I said before, not studying the matter,
just how Mistress Mary Cavendish sat her horse, which was a noble
thoroughbred from England, though the one which I rode was a nobler,
she having herself selected him for my use. The horse which she
rode, Merry Roger, did not belie his name, for he was full of
prances and tosses of his fine head, and prickings of his dainty
pointed ears, but Mistress Mary sat him as lightly and truly and
unswervingly as a blossom sits a dancing bough.

That morning Mistress Mary glowed and glittered and flamed in
gorgeous apparel, until she seemed to fairly overreach all the
innocent young flowery beauties of the spring with one rich trill of
colour, like a high note of a bird above a wide chorus of others.
Mistress Mary that morning wore a tabby petticoat of a crimson
colour, and a crimson satin bodice shining over her arms and
shoulders like the plumage of a bird, and down her back streamed her
curls, shining like gold under her gauze love-hood. I knew well how
she had sat up late the night before fashioning that hood from one
which her friend Cicely Hyde's grandmother had sent her from
England, and I knew, the first pages of a young maid being easy to
spell out, that she wondered if I, though only her tutor, approved
her in it, but I gave no sign. The love-hood was made of such thin
and precious stuff that the gold of her head showed through.

Mistress Mary wore a mask of black velvet to screen her face from
the sun, and only her sweet forehead and her great blue eyes and the
rose-leaf tip of her chin showed.

All that low, swampy country was lush and green that April morning,
with patches of grass gleaming like emeralds in the wetness of
sunken places and unexpected pools of marsh water gleaming out of
the distances like sapphires. The blossoms thrust out toward us from
every hand like insistent arms of beauty. There was a frequent bush
by the wayside full of a most beautiful pink-horned flower, so
exceeding sweet that it harmed the worth of its own sweetness, and
its cups seemed fairly dripping with honey and were gummed together
with it. There were patches of a flower of a most brilliant and
wonderful blue colour, and spreads as of cloth of gold from cowslips
over the lowlands. The road was miry in places, and then I would
fall behind her farther still that the water and red mud splashing
from beneath my horse's hoofs might not reach her. Then, finally,
after I had done thus some few times, she reined in her Merry Roger,
and looked over her shoulder with a flash of her blue eyes which
compelled mine.

"Why do you ride so far away, Master Wingfield?" said she.

I lifted my hat and bent so low in my saddle that the feather on it
grazed the red mud.

"Because I fear to splash your fine tabby petticoat, Madam," I

"I care not for my fine petticoat," said she in a petulant way, like
that of a spoiled child who is forbidden sweets and the moon, and
questions love in consequence, yet still there was some little fear
and hesitation in her tone. Mistress Mary was a most docile pupil,
seeming to have great respect for my years and my learning, and was
as gentle under my hand as was her Merry Roger under hers, and yet
with the same sort of gentleness, which is as the pupil and not as
the master decides, and let the pull of the other will be felt.

I answered not, yet kept at my distance, but at the next miry place
she held in Merry Roger until I was forced to come up, and then she
spoke again, and as she spoke a mock-bird was singing somewhere over
on the bank of the river.

"Did you ever hear a sweeter bird's song than that, Master
Wingfield?" said she, and I answered that it was very sweet, as
indeed it was.

"What do you think the bird is mocking, Master Wingfield?" said she,
and then I answered like a fool, for the man who meets sweetness
with his own bitterness and keeps it not locked in his own soul is a

"I know not," said I, "but he may be mocking the hope of the spring,
and he may be mocking the hope in the heart of man. The song seems
too sweet for a mock of any bird which has no thought beyond this
year's nest."

I spoke thus as I would not now, when I have learned that the soul
of man, like the moon, hath a face which he should keep ever turned
toward the Unseen, and Mistress Mary's blue eyes, as helpless of
comprehension as a flower, looked in mine.

"But there will be another spring, Master Wingfield," said she
somewhat timidly, and then she added, and I knew that she was
blushing under her mask at her own tenderness, "and sometimes the
hopes of the heart come true."

She rode on with her head bent as one who considers deeply, but I,
knowing her well, knew that the mood would soon pass, as it did.
Suddenly she tossed her head and flung out her curls to the breeze,
and swung Merry Roger's bridle-rein, and was away at a gallop and I
after her, measuring the ground with wide paces on my tall
thoroughbred. In this fashion we soon left the plodding blacks so
far behind that they became a part of the distance-shadows. Then,
all at once, Mistress Mary swerved off from the main road and was
riding down the track leading to the plantation-wharf, whence all
the tobacco was shipped for England and all the merchandise imported
for household use unladen. There the way was very wet and the mire
was splashed high upon Mistress Mary's fine tabby skirt, but she
rode on at a reckless pace, and I also, much at a loss to know what
had come to her, yet not venturing, or rather, perhaps, deigning to
inquire. And then I saw what she had doubtless seen before, the
masts of a ship rising straightly among the trees with that
stiffness and straightness of dead wood, which is beyond that of
live, unless, indeed, in a storm at sea, when the wind can so
inspirit it, that I have seen a mast of pine possessed by all the
rage of yielding of its hundred years on the spur of a mountain.

When I saw the mast I knew that the ship belonging to Madam
Cavendish, which was called "The Golden Horn," and had upon the bow
the likeness of a gilt-horn, running over with fruit and flowers,
had arrived. It was by this ship that Madam Cavendish sent the
tobacco raised upon the plantation of Drake Hill to England.

But even then I knew not what had so stirred Mistress Mary that she
had left her sober churchward road upon the Sabbath day, and judged
that it must be the desire to see "The Golden Horn" fresh from her
voyage, nor did I dream what she purposed doing.

Toward the end of the rolling road the wetness increased; there were
little pools left from the recedence of the salt tide, and the wild
breath of it was in our faces. Then we heard voices singing together
in a sailor-song which had a refrain not quite suited to the day,
according to common opinions, having a refrain about a lad who
sailed away on bounding billow and left poor Jane to wear the
willow; but what's a lass's tears of brine to the Spanish Main and a
flask of wine?

As we came up to the ship lying in her dock, we saw sailors on deck
grouped around a cask of that same wine which they had taken the
freedom to broach, in order to celebrate their safe arrival in port,
though it was none of theirs. The sight aroused my anger, but Mary
Cavendish did not seem to see any occasion for wrath. She sat her
prancing horse, her head up, and her curls streaming like a flag of
gold, and there was a blue flash in her eyes, of which I knew the
meaning. The blood of her great ancestor, the sea king, Thomas
Cavendish, who was second only to Sir Francis Drake, was astir
within her. She sat there with the salt sea wind in her nostrils,
and her hair flung upon it like a pennant of victory, and looked at
the ship wet with the ocean surges, the sails stiff with the rime of
salt, and the group of English sailors on the deck, and those old
ancestral instincts which constitute the memory of the blood awoke.
She was in that instant as she sat there almost as truly that ardent
Suffolkshire lad, Thomas Cavendish, ready to ride to the death the
white plungers of the sea, and send the Spanish Armada to the
bottom, as Mary Cavendish of Drake Hill, the fairest maid of her
time in the Colony of Virginia.

Then as suddenly that mood left her, as she sat there, the sailors
having risen, and standing staring with shamefaced respect, and
covertly wiping with the hairy backs of hands their mouths red with
wine. But the captain, one Calvin Tabor, stood before them with more
assurance, as if he had some warrant for allowing such license among
his men; he himself seemed not to have been drinking. Mistress Mary
regarded them, holding in Merry Roger with her firm little hand,
with the calm grace of a queen, although she was so young, and all
the wild fire was gone from her blue eyes. All this time, I being as
close to her side as might be, in case of any rudeness of the men,
though that was not likely, they being a picked crew of Suffolkshire
men, and having as yet not tasted more wine than would make them
unquestioning of strange happenings, and render them readily
acquiescent to all counter currents of fate.

They had ceased their song and stood with heavy eyes sheepishly
averted in their honest red English faces, but Captain Calvin Tabor
spoke, bowing low, yet, as I said before, with assured eyes.

"I have the honour to salute you, Mistress," he spoke with a grace
somewhat beyond his calling. He was a young man, as fair as a
Dutchman and a giant in stature. He bore himself also curiously for
one of his calling, bowing as steadily as a cavalier, with no
trembling of the knees when he recovered, and carrying his right arm
as if it would grasp sword rather than cutlass if the need arose.

"God be praised! I see that you have brought 'The Golden Horn'
safely to port," said Mistress Mary with a stately sweetness that
covered to me, who knew her voice and its every note so well, an
exultant ring.

"Yes, praised be God, Mistress Cavendish," answered Captain Tabor,
"and with fine head winds to swell the sails and no pirates."

"And is my new scarlet cloak safe?" cried Mistress Mary, "and my
tabby petticoats and my blue brocade bodice, and my stockings and my
satin shoes, and laces?"

Mistress Mary spoke with that sweetness of maiden vanity which calls
for tender leniency and admiration from a man instead of contempt.
And it may easily chance that he may be as filled with vain delight
as she, and picture to himself as plainly her appearance in those
new fallalls.

I wondered somewhat at the length of the list, as not only Mistress
Mary's wardrobe, but those of her grandmother and sister and many of
the household supplies, had to be purchased with the proceeds of the
tobacco, and that brought but scanty returns of late years, owing to
the Navigation Act, which many esteemed a most unjust measure, and
scrupled not to say so, being secure in the New World, where
disloyalty against kings could flourish without so much danger of
the daring tongue silenced at Tyburn.

It had been a hard task for many planters to purchase the
necessaries of life with the profits of their tobacco crop, since
the trade with the Netherlands was prohibited by His Most Gracious
Majesty, King Charles II, for the supply being limited to the
English market, had so exceeded the demand that it brought but a
beggarly price per pound. Therefore, I wondered, knowing that many
of those articles of women's attire mentioned by Mistress Mary were
of great value, and brought great sums in London, and knowing, too,
that the maid, though innocently fond of such things, to which she
had, moreover, the natural right of youth and beauty such as hers,
which should have all the silks and jewels of earth, and no
questioning, for its adorning, was not given to selfish
appropriation for her own needs, but rather considered those of
others first. However, Mistress Mary had some property in her own
right, she being the daughter of a second wife, who had died
possessed of a small plantation called Laurel Creek, which was a
mile distant from Drake Hill, farther inland, having no ship dock
and employing this. Mistress Mary might have sent some of her own
tobacco crop to England wherewith to purchase finery for herself.
Still I wondered, and I wondered still more when Mistress Mary,
albeit the Lord's Day, and the penalty for such labour being even
for them of high degree not light, should propose, as she did, that
the goods be then and there unladen. Then I ventured to address her,
riding close to her side, that the captain and the sailors should
not hear, and think that I held her in slight respect and treated
her like a child, since I presumed to call her to account for aught
she chose to do.

"Madam," said I as low as might be, "do you remember the day?"

"And wherefore should I not?" asked she with a toss of her gold
locks and a pout of her red lips which was childishness and
wilfulness itself, but there went along with it a glance of her eyes
which puzzled me, for suddenly a sterner and older spirit of resolve
seemed to look out of them into mine. "Think you I am in my dotage,
Master Wingfield, that I remember not the day?" said she, "and think
you that I am going deaf that I hear not the church bells?"

"If we miss the service for the unlading of the goods, and it be
discovered, it may go amiss with us," said I.

"Are you then afraid, Master Wingfield?" asked she with a glance of
scorn, and a blush of shame at her own words, for she knew that they
were false.

I felt the blood rush to my face, and I reined back my horse, and
said no more.

"I pray you have the goods that you know of unladen at once, Captain
Tabor," said she, and she made a motion that would have been a stamp
had she stood.

Calvin Tabor laughed, and cast a glance of merry malice at me, and
bowed low as he replied:

"The goods shall be unladen within the hour, Mistress," said he,
"and if you and the gentleman would rather not tarry to see them for
fear of discovery - "

"We shall remain," said Mistress Mary, interrupting peremptorily.

"Then," said Captain Calvin Tabor with altogether too much of
freedom as I judged, "in case you be brought to account for the work
upon the Sabbath, 'The Golden Horn' hath wings for such a wind as
prevails to-day as will outspeed all pursuers, even should they
borrow wings of the cherubim in the churchyard."

I was glad that Mistress Mary did not, for all her youthfulness of
temper, laugh in return, but answered him with a grave dignity as if
she herself felt that he had exceeded his privilege.

"I pray you order the goods unladen at once, Captain Tabor," she
repeated. Then the captain coloured, for he was quick-witted to
scent a rebuff, though he laughed again in his dare-devil fashion as
he turned to the sailors and shouted out the order, and straightway
the sailors so swarmed hither and thither upon the deck that they
seemed five times as many as before, and then we heard the hatches
flung back with claps like guns.

We sat there and waited, and the bell over in Jamestown rang and the
long notes died away with sweet echoes as if from distant heights.
All around us the rank, woody growth was full of murmurs and
movements of life, and perfumes from unseen blossoms disturbed one's
thoughts with sweet insistence at every gust of wind, and always one
heard the lapping of the sea-water through all its countless ways,
for well it loves this country of Virginia and steals upon it, like
a lover who will not be gainsaid, through meadows and thick woods
and coarse swamps, until it is hard sometimes to say, when the tide
be in, whether it be land or sea, and we who dwell therein might
well account ourselves in a Venice of the New World.

I waited and listened while the sailors unloaded the goods with many
a shout and repeated loud commands from the captain, and Mistress
Mary kept her eyes turned away from my face and watched persistently
the unlading, and had seemingly no more thought of me than of one of
the swamp trees for some time. Then all at once she turned toward
me, though still her eyes evaded mine.

"Why do you not go to church, Master Wingfield?" said she in a
sweet, sharp voice.

"I go when you go, Madam," said I.

"You have no need to wait for me," said she. "I prefer that you
should not wait for me."

I made no reply, but reined in my horse, which was somewhat restive
with his head in a cloud of early flies.

"Do you not hear me, Master Wingfield?" said she. "Why do you not
proceed to church and leave me to follow when I am ready?"

She had never spoken to me in such manner before, and she dared not
look at me as she spoke.

"I go when you go, Madam," said I again.

Then, suddenly, with an impulse half of mischief and half of anger,
she lashed out with her riding whip at my restive horse, and he
sprang, and I had much ado to keep him from bolting. He danced to
all the trees and bushes, and she had to pull Merry Roger sharply to
one side, but finally I got the mastery of him, and rode close to
her again.

"Madam," said I, "I forbid you to do that again," and as I spoke I
saw her little fingers twitch on her whip, but she dared not raise
it. She laughed as a child will who knows she is at fault and is
scared by her consciousness of guilt and would conceal it by a
bravado of merriment; then she said in the sweetest, wheedling tone
that I had ever heard from her, and I had known her from her

"But, Master Wingfield, 'tis broad daylight and there are no Indians
hereabouts, and if there were, here are all these English sailors
and Captain Tabor. Why need you stay? Indeed, I shall be quite
safe - and hear, that must be the last stroke of the bell?"

But I was not to be moved by wheedling. I repeated again that I
should remain where she was. Then she, grown suddenly stern again,
withdrew a little from me, and made no further efforts to get rid of
me, but sat still watching the unlading with a gravity which gave me
a vague uneasiness. I began to have a feeling that here was more
than appeared on the surface, and my suspicion grew as I watched the
sailors lift those boxes which were supposed to contain Mistress
Mary's finery. In the first place there were enough of them to
contain the wardrobe of a lady in waiting, in the second place they
were of curious shape for such purposes, in the third place 'twas
all those lusty English sailors could do to lift them.

"They be the heaviest furbelows that ever maiden wore," I thought as
I watched them strain at the cases, both hauling and pulling, with
many men to the ends to get them through the hatch, then ease them
to the deck, with regard to the nipping of fingers. I noted, too, an
order given somewhat privately by Captain Tabor to put out the
pipes, and noted that not one man but had stowed his away.

There was a bridle-path leading through the woods to Laurel Creek,
and by that way to my consternation Mistress Mary ordered the
sailors to carry the cases. 'Twas two miles inland, and I marvelled
much to hear her, for even should nearly all the crew go, the load
would be a grievous one, it seemed to me. But to my mind Captain
Calvin Tabor behaved as if the order was one which he expected,
neither did the sailors grumble, but straightway loaded themselves

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