Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
The Fair Rebecca Rawson and her Two Lovers
By John Greenleaf Whittier (18071892)
[Leaves from Margaret Smiths Journal. 1849.Prose Works. 1866.]
NEWBURY ON THE MERRIMACK, May 14, 1678.
WE were hardly on our way yesterday, from Agawam, when a dashing young gallant rode up very fast behind us. He was fairly clad in rich stuffs, and rode a nag of good mettle. He saluted us with much ease and courtliness, offering especial compliments to Rebecca, to whom he seemed well known, and who I thought was both glad and surprised at his coming. As I rode near, she said it gave her great joy to bring to each others acquaintance Sir Thomas Hale, a good friend of her fathers, and her cousin Margaret, who, like himself, was a new-comer. He replied, that he should look with favor on any one who was near to her in friendship or kindred; and, on learning my fathers name, said he had seen him at his uncles, Sir Matthew Hales, many years ago, and could vouch for him as a worthy man. After some pleasant and merry discoursing with us, he and my brother fell into converse upon the state of affairs in the Colony, the late lamentable war with the Narraganset and Pequod Indians, together with the growth of heresy and schism in the churches, which latter he did not scruple to charge upon the wicked policy of the home government in checking the wholesome severity of the laws here enacted against the schemers and ranters. I quite agree, said he, with Mr. Rawson, that they should have hanged ten where they did one. Cousin Rebecca here said she was sure her father was now glad the laws were changed, and that he had often told her that, although the condemned deserved their punishment, he was not sure that it was the best way to put down the heresy. If she was ruler, she continued, in her merry way, she would send all the schemers and ranters, and all the sour, crabbed busybodies in the churches, off to Rhode Island, where all kinds of folly, in spirituals, as well as temporals, were permitted, and one crazy head could not reproach another.
Falling back a little, and waiting for Robert Pike and Cousin Broughton to come up, I found them marvelling at the coming of the young gentleman, who it did seem had no special concernment in these parts, other than his acquaintance with Rebecca, and his desire of her company. Robert Pike, as is natural, looks upon him with no great partiality, yet he doth admit him to be well-bred, and of much and varied knowledge, acquired by far travel as well as study. I must say, I like not his confident and bold manner and bearing toward my fair cousin; and he hath more the likeness of a cast-off dangler at the court, than of a modest and seemly country gentleman, of a staid and well-ordered house. Mistress Broughton says he was not at first accredited in Boston, but that her father, and Mr. Atkinson, and the chief people there now, did hold him to be not only what he professeth, as respecteth his gentlemanly lineage, but also learned and ingenious, and well-versed in the Scriptures, and the works of godly writers, both of ancient and modern time. I noted that Robert was very silent during the rest of our journey, and seemed abashed and troubled in the presence of the gay gentleman; for, although a fair and comely youth, and of good family and estate, and accounted solid and judicious beyond his years, he does, nevertheless, much lack the ease and ready wit with which the latter commendeth himself to my sweet kinswoman.
We crossed about noon a broad stream near to the sea, very deep and miry, so that we wetted our hose and skirts somewhat; and soon, to our great joy, beheld the pleasant cleared fields and dwellings of the settlement, stretching along for a goodly distance; while, beyond all, the great ocean rolled, blue and cold, under an high easterly wind. Passing through a broad path, with well-tilled fields on each hand, where men were busy planting corn, and young maids dropping the seed, we came at length to Uncle Rawsons plantation, looking well nigh as fair and broad as the lands of Hilton Grange, with a good frame house, and large barns thereon. Turning up the lane, we were met by the housekeeper, a respectable kinswoman, who received us with great civility. Sir Thomas, although pressed to stay, excused himself for the time, promising to call on the morrow, and rode on to the ordinary. I was sadly tired with my journey, and was glad to be shown to a chamber and a comfortable bed.
I was awakened this morning by the pleasant voice of my cousin, who shared my bed. She had arisen and thrown open the window looking toward the sunrising, and the air came in soft and warm, and laden with the sweets of flowers and green-growing things. And when I had gotten myself ready, I sat with her at the window, and I think I may say it was with a feeling of praise and thanksgiving that mine eyes wandered up and down over the green meadows, and corn-fields, and orchards of my new home. Where, thought I, foolish one, be the terrors of the wilderness, which troubled thy daily thoughts and thy nightly dreams! Where be the gloomy shades, and desolate mountains, and the wild beasts, with their dismal howlings and rages! Here all looked peaceful, and bespoke comfort and contentedness. Even the great woods which climbed up the hills in the distance looked thin and soft, with their faint young leaves a yellowish-gray, intermingled with pale, silvery shades, indicating, as my cousin saith, the different kinds of trees, some of which, like the willow, do put on their leaves early, and others late, like the oak, with which the whole region aboundeth. A sweet, quiet picture it was, with a warm sun, very bright and clear, shining over it, and the great sea, glistening with the exceeding light, bounding the view of mine eyes, but bearing my thoughts, like swift ships, to the land of my birth, and so uniting, as it were, the New World with the Old. Oh, thought I, the merciful God, who reneweth the earth and maketh it glad and brave with greenery and flowers of various hues and smells, and causeth his south winds to blow and his rains to fall, that seed-time may not fail, doth even here, in the ends of his creation, prank and beautify the work of his hands, making the desert places to rejoice, and the wilderness to blossom as the rose. Verily his love is over all,the Indian heathen as well as the English Christian. And what abundant cause for thanks have I, that I have been safely landed on a shore so fair and pleasant, and enabled to open mine eyes in peace and love on so sweet a May morning! And I was minded of a verse which I learned from my dear and honored mother when a child,
When we went below, we found on the window-seat which looketh to the roadway, a great bunch of flowers of many kinds, such as I had never seen in mine own country, very fresh, and glistening with the dew. Now, when Rebecca took them up, her sister said, Nay, they are not Sir Thomass gift, for young Pike hath just left them. Whereat, as I thought, she looked vexed, and ill at ease. They are yours, then, Cousin Margaret, said she, rallying, for Robert and you did ride aside all the way from Agawam, and he scarce spake to me the day long. I see I have lost mine old lover, and my little cousin hath found a new one. I shall write Cousin Oliver all about it.Nay, said I, old lovers are better than new; but I fear my sweet cousin hath not so considered it. She blushed, and looked aside, and for some space of time I did miss her smile, and she spake little.