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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sample Sunday: To Have and to Hold

A scene from chapter three, the aftermath of the arrival of a ship carrying brides for the new colony of Virginia, in which a few would-be husbands get carried away, and Captain Ralph Percy comes to the rescue of the beautiful woman he's had his eye on:

At the far end of the meadow, near to the fort, I met young Hamor, alone, flushed, and hurrying back to the more populous part of the field.

"Not yet mated?" I asked. "Where are the maids' eyes?"

He answered, with an angry laugh. "If they're all like the sample I've just left, I'll buy me a woman from the Paspaheghs!"

I smiled. "So your wooing has not prospered?"

His vanity took fire. "I have not wooed in earnest," he said carelessly, and hitched forward his cloak of sky-blue taffeta with an air. "I sheered off quickly enough, I warrant you, when I found the nature of the commodity I had to deal with."

"Ah!" I said. "When I left the crowd they were going very fast. You had best hurry, if you wish to secure a bargain."

"I'm off," he answered; then, jerking his thumb over his shoulder, "If you keep on to the river and that clump of cedars, you will find Termagant in ruff and farthingale."

When he was gone, I stood still for a while and watched the slow sweep of a buzzard high in the blue, after which I unsheathed my dagger, and with it tried to scrape the dried mud from my boots. Succeeding but indifferently, I put the blade up, stared again at the sky, drew a long breath, and marched upon the covert of cedars indicated by Hamor.

As I neared it, I heard at first only the wash of the river; but presently there came to my ears the sound of a man's voice, and then a woman's angry "Begone, sir!"

"Kiss and be friends," said the man.

The sound that followed being something of the loudest for even the most hearty salutation, I was not surprised, on parting the bushes, to find the man nursing his cheek, and the maid her hand.

"You shall pay well for that, you sweet vixen!" he cried, and caught her by both wrists.

She struggled fiercely, bending her head this way and that, but his hot lips had touched her face before I could come between.

When I had knocked him down he lay where he fell, dazed by the blow, and blinked up at me with his small ferret eyes. I knew him to be one Edward Sharpless, and I knew no good of him. He had been a lawyer in England. He lay on the very brink of the stream, with one arm touching the water. Flesh and blood could not resist it, so, assisted by the toe of my boot, he took a cold bath to cool his hot blood.

When he had clambered out and had gone away, cursing, I turned to face her. She stood against the trunk of a great cedar, her head thrown back, a spot of angry crimson in each cheek, one small hand clenched at her throat. I had heard her laugh as Sharpless touched the water, but now there was only defiance in her face. As we gazed at each other, a burst of laughter came to us from the meadow behind. I looked over my shoulder, and beheld young Hamor—probably disappointed of a wife—with Giles Allen and Wynne, returning to his abandoned quarry. She saw, too, for the crimson spread and deepened and her bosom heaved. Her dark eyes, glancing here and there like those of a hunted creature, met my own.

"Madam," I said, "will you marry me?"

She looked at me strangely. "Do you live here?" she asked at last, with a disdainful wave of her hand toward the town.

"No, madam," I answered. "I live up river, in Weyanoke Hundred, some miles from here."

"Then, in God's name, let us be gone!" she cried, with sudden passion.

I bowed low, and advanced to kiss her hand.

The fingertips which she slowly and reluctantly resigned to me were icy, and the look with which she favored me was not such a one as poets feign for like occasions. I shrugged the shoulders of my spirit, but said nothing. So, hand in hand, though at arms' length, we passed from the shade of the cedars into the open meadow, where we presently met Hamor and his party. They would have barred the way, laughing and making unsavory jests, but I drew her closer to me and laid my hand upon my sword. They stood aside, for I was the best swordsman in Virginia.

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To Have and to Hold by Mary Johnston
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