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Thursday, May 31, 2012

On Location: Scenes from To Have and to Hold

To Have and to Hold by Mary Johnston was my favorite of the four titles in the inaugural line-up of the Legacy Vintage Collection. I love reading about colonial America, and though I only live 90 minutes from the historic Jamestown Settlement, I hadn't been since I was a kid, and after reading To Have and to Hold, I really wanted to visit again so I could envision the story better.

To Have and to Hold is the story of Captain Ralph Percy, a veteran of the Low Country Wars who was rewarded for his service to the king with land in Virginia, as so many of the cavaliers were. Ralph settles in on a tobacco plantation not far from Jamestown, and is content to live the life of a gentleman farmer and a member of the House of Burgesses, and a bachelor . . . until a bride ship arrives in Jamestown's harbor and he meets Jocelyn Leigh. Ralph first spies his future wife sitting in church. These are shots of the replica of the church that was standing in Jamestown in 1621, when our story takes place.

As I gazed with all my eyes, I found more than grace and beauty in that wonderful face; I found pride, wit, fire, determination, and finally, shame and anger. For, feeling my eyes upon her, she looked up and met what she must have thought the impudent stare of an appraiser. Her face, which had been without color, pale and clear like the sky about the evening star, went crimson in a moment. She bit her lip and shot at me one withering glance, then dropped her eyelids and hid the lightning. When I looked at her again, covertly, and from under my hand raised as though to push back my hair, she was pale once more, and her dark eyes were fixed upon the water and the green trees without the window.

Ralph recognizes right away that Jocelyn is not like the other women from the ship. Everything from her manners to her dress to her regal air indicate that she was noble-born. She's also attracting quite a bit of attention from the single men who have arrived from the surrounding farms in search of a wife. Intrigued by her and compelled by a feeling he doesn't understand yet, Ralph does something he never thought he'd do: propose marriage. Jocelyn's no fool and she sees how the other men respect Ralph and she senses the honor in him and accepts his proposal. So they marry on the green outside the church and head back to Ralph's plantation to make their home.

Ralph is fairly well-off for an early colonial planter, and though his home is comfortable and more spacious than most, it would seem pretty spartan by today's standards. Ralph and Jocelyn probably made their home in a house that looked similar to this one.

Though the Percys spend most of their time on the plantation, they do travel into town, and on the first of these occasions since their marriage, they arrive to find the town in a tizzy and the residents streaming into the protective walls of the fort, preparing to defend themselves:

A man came panting down the street. "Captain Ralph Percy!" he cried. "My master said it was your horse coming across the neck. The Governor commands your attendance at once, sir."

"Where is the Governor? Where are all the people?" I demanded.

"At the fort. They are all at the fort or on the bank below. Oh, sirs, a woeful day for us all!"

"A woeful day!" I exclaimed. "What's the matter?"

"They are at the guns!" he quavered. "Alackaday! What can a few sakers and demiculverins do against them?"

"Against whom?" I cried.

"They are giving out pikes and cutlasses! Woe's me, the sight of naked steel hath ever made me sick!"

I drew my dagger, and flashed it before him. "Does it make you sick?" I asked. "You shall be sicker yet, if you do not speak to some purpose." 

Did I mention Ralph Percy has little tolerance for cowardly behavior? Turns out a warship has been spotted off the point, making its way from the Chesapeake Bay up the James River to Jamestown. The fort has a few guns, but a couple of demi-culverins are no match for the guns of a mighty Spanish Man-of-War. As the colonists watch anxiously for the ship to appear around the spit of land sheltering the harbor, they prepare to meet their foe: 

In ten minutes' time the women were in line ready to load the muskets, the children sheltered as best they might be, the men in ranks, the gunners at their guns, and the flag up. I had run it up with my own hand, and as I stood beneath the folds Master Sparrow and my wife came to my side.

"The women are over there," I said to the latter, "where you had best betake yourself."

"I prefer to stay here," she answered. "I am not afraid." Her color was high, and she held her head up. "My father fought the Armada," she said. "Get me a sword from that man who is giving them out."

Did I mention Jocelyn was tough? And she has to be, for though the ship turns out not to be Spanish after all, and the colonists can breathe easy knowing an English ship has arrived, that ship carries the man Jocelyn fled from in England, the man she was being forced to marry: Lord Carnal. And he is none too pleased to find Jocelyn wed to someone else. Turns out, Jocelyn was a ward of the king and in marrying her, Ralph has unknowingly committed treason. Lord Carnal demands that Ralph renounce his marriage and hand Jocelyn over. But Ralph has grown attached to his wife and he vows to fight to keep her. As one of King James's favored friends, Lord Carnal calls upon the monarch to annul Ralph and Jocelyn's marriage, but he grows impatient waiting for an answer from across the sea, and sets about a trap to separate the lovers for good. What follows is the adventure of a lifetime as Ralph and Jocelyn flee for their lives, battling the wilderness, slipping through Indian territory (check out the typical Algonquian longhouse pics), and fighting the king's men, Indians, and even pirates!

To Have and to Hold was originally published as a serial in a magazine, and when it was published in book form in 1900, it became the bestselling book of that year. I love it because it's not only romantic, it's also rich in history, with a gripping story that incorporates historical figures like John Rolfe, still grieving the death of his wife Rebecca (Pocahontas), and her brother Nantauquas, trying to balance the line between his white friends and his Indian family as tensions rise with the tribes. The story is set against the backdrop of the escalation of the Anglo-Powhatan Wars under the leadership of the late Chief Powhatan's brother, Opechancanough. The story's exciting and terrible conclusion plays out during the Indian Massacre of 1622, in which one quarter of the Jamestown colonists were killed. Since the story was originally published as a serial, you can expect lots of twists and turns and cliffhanger chapter endings! The writing itself is a little elevated and stylized with period dialect, but it reads beautifully and the descriptions of colonial Virginia are both gritty and gorgeous.

Oh, and Ralph Percy is to. die. for. I'm leaving you with a shot of the statue of Captain John Smith that looks out over the river at Jamestown. This is pretty typical attire for well-to-do English gentlemen soldiers in the early 1600s, and I like to visualize Captain Ralph Percy like this. Strong, noble, honorable, and incredibly brave; a man of action, a man of reason . . . and a bit of a secret romantic. It may take some time for him to admit his feelings, but it's well worth the wait; Ralph makes some truly swoon-worthy declarations to the woman who claims his heart.

The author led a pretty interesting life, too; check out L.R. Blizzard's article on Mary Johnston. And if you want to check out To Have and to Hold, you can download our enhanced ebook, featuring an introduction and a glossary and more than 30 full color images, for just $1.99!