From The Youth's Companion Vol. 74 No. 1 (January 4, 1900)
Anne Seabright and her friend Mercy French were sitting in Anne's room one Saturday afternoon in May. It was many years ago, before the Revolution, before meeting-houses were churches; in the days of tithing-men and candles and pewter plates and warming-pans; when the country was young and not fully on its feet, although its inhabitants were firmly enough set upon theirs, and progressing with emphasis in the narrow way, as they understood it.
Anne was sixteen years old, and as her mother was dead, her father's sole house-keeper; and all her work was over until Monday morning. Her father was a deacon of the church, and one of the strictest of the strict in his observance of the Sabbath, keeping Saturday as a day of holy preparation, and having no work done in his house after high noon, whereas many in the village were content to settle down after sunset into the Sabbath peace and calm. On Anne's spotless pantry shelves stood loaves of rye and Indian bread, a dish of baked beans and a bowl of mush; for no fire could be made for cooking purposes until Monday, not even in cold weather. All winter long, Anne and her father lived from Saturday noon until Monday morning on cold victuals, although on a very bitter day Anne sometimes thawed out the frozen mush upon the hearth.
That afternoon all the house was in the most spotless order. The kitchen floor had been scoured and then sanded in a most beautiful pattern. The brasses shone like gold, and the beds were made in smooth mounds, covered with gay quilts. Anne drew a sigh of relief — and no wonder — when she sat down in her chamber to have a little quiet talk with Mercy French.
“There is a deal of work for you to set the house in order with no maid-servant,” Mercy said, sympathetically. She was a pretty, gentle girl, with her brown hair in soft ringlets under a fine muslin cap with blue ribbons. Mercy was clad much more finely and gaily than Anne; her flowered chintz gown and wrought lace tucker made her a bird of quite another feather from her friend, in her sad-colored sack and petticoat, with her hair tucked away under the plainest cap imaginable. Anne looked wistfully at her; then the color blazed in her cheeks, her black eyes flashed, and she tossed her head.
“There is a deal for me to do, Mercy French,” said she; “but that is nothing, if —”
“Why, what troubles you, sweetheart?” asked Mercy, wonderingly.
Anne jumped up, separated a chintz curtain which hung across a wall of her chamber, and pulled forcibly from the pegs another sad-colored gown almost identical with the one she wore, except that it was quite fresh and of a somewhat finer texture, and the soberest hood which could be evolved by Puritan brain-skill to cover a Puritan head. “There,” said she, “how would you feel if you were obliged to set forth on the Sabbath day to the meeting-house, clad in such fashion, Mercy French?”
Mercy looked at her pitifully. “Your father will permit you to have nothing finer?” said she.
Anne gave the garments a vicious toss on to the bed. “No,” said she. She stood eying them ruefully. “I asked my father but yesterday,” she went on to say, in her voice at once sorrowful and defiant, “why, if the Lord did not approve of gay colors for His children, He so clad the flowers of the field? I bade him look at the bushes with the red blossoms, which line the meeting-road, and the little flowers like buttons of gold which are sprinkled over all the fields, and the bright green of the grass, and I asked again why did not the Lord make them come up of a sad color, if that were so pleasing to Him.”
“What did he say?” Mercy asked, eagerly.
“He spoke of the daughters of Zion mincing, with stretched-forth necks, and their chains and bonnets and mantles and crisping-pins,” replied Anne, “and made no answer to my question at all. But to-morrow all the violets will be in flower, and the white alder and cherry, and the others will go to meeting clad like them. You will wear your fine French calico, and your hat with ribbon streamers and your red shoes, and I must go in these, as if I belonged in another world, and — and — Jonathan Suffield will be there —”
“But he would think you fairer than any other in any garment, Anne,” said Mercy, quickly, and the two girls blushed together.
Then Anne frowned. “But I would have him and all others appraise my looks at their full value,” said she, boldly. “He knows not how I can look were I attired as the other maids, although it may be it behooves me not to say so.”
“It is true enough, sweetheart. You would be the handsomest of us,” Mercy said, and she looked admiringly at Anne's great black eyes and clear, red cheeks.
“It is surely no sin to look as fair as one can,” said Anne. “Suppose the cherry-trees should hold back their flowers because they deemed it a sin to be so beautiful?” Anne gazed at the sad-colored heap of raiment on her bed, and tears came into her eyes. “I may be guilty of vanity and a rebellious heart,” said she; “but I cannot help it when I think of going to meeting in that fashion, when you and Submit and Love will look so different.”
“Love has a new damask petticoat,” said Mercy, commiseratingly but injudiciously.
Anne's black eyes flashed with sudden decision. She tossed her head again, like a spirited colt. “Wait a moment,” said she, and ran out of the room and into the spare chamber. She came back with a quantity of gorgeous apparel over her arms — blue brocade glistening here and there with silver threads, and a foam of yellow lace. She looked over it, flushed and daring.
Mercy French gasped. “Why, Anne! Why, Anne!” was all she could say.
Anne looked at her, half in terror, half in triumph. “They were my mother's; they have been kept in the oak chest all these years. I am going to wear them,” she said.
“Anne Seabright, you won't dare!”
“Yes, I will dare!”
Anne slipped down her sad-colored petticoat as she spoke, and threw off her sober sack. She was in that spread of gorgeous plumage with the speed of practice, and stood before her awed and admiring friend, a wondrously fine and brilliant figure in her hooped petticoat of glistening blue brocade and lace-trimmed sack.
“You are not going to wear it to meeting?” gasped Mercy French.
“But your father?”
Anne nodded again and set her red lips firmly. Mercy turned pale; this spirit of rebellion was past her imagination. She was a true and docile daughter of a hard and rigorous age.
“Has Tabitha Crabb aught to wear yet?” asked Anne, suddenly, with apparent inconsequence.
“No. Her gown is not decent for meeting. Mother said so but this morning,” replied Mercy, faintly. “Why, Anne?”
Anne looked at the heap of raiment on the bed. “Nothing,” said she.
Presently Mercy French went home in a tremor. She felt almost as she might have done had her friend meditated a single-handed onslaught upon the Indians. Deacon Zenas Seabright's reputation for rigor in the matter of female dress was wide-spread. Not a gaily attired dame who went to meeting but realized that she walked up the aisle under the disapproving fire of a pair of eyes in the deacon's pew. The minister, Parson Sears himself, was not so exacting, but the parson had a young and pretty wife.
The next day was as beautiful a Sabbath as ever dawned upon New England. The trees plumed the hillsides with blossoms, and the little brook which ran beside the road below Deacon Seabright's house was like a jewelled ribbon beneath the gold-green droop of newly-leaved boughs. The birds were in full chorus; there was an even tide of silvery sound, with now and then a single note fluting above it. Cocks crowed, the brook gurgled over its stony bed, the new leaves rustled; then all at once a strange noise, like a very hollowing out of sound, was heard. Abraham Dodd was blowing the conch-shell for meeting.
Then the Puritan folk appeared on the meeting-road, the women gaily bedizened, most of them, and the men in scarlet and green waistcoats, in spite of their declamation against such vanities — except Deacon Zenas Seabright. His waistcoat was of the soberest drab which a sober fancy ever evolved. At the first note of the conch-shell he was at his house door with his old gray horse, waiting for Anne. There was a pillion on the horse's back. There was only a half-mile to go to meeting, and the deacon would have walked rather than put his beast to the burden upon a Sabbath, had it not been for his rheumatism, which had smitten him sorely during the damp spring weather.
He sat stiffly in the saddle when Anne, in all her forbidden bravery, came out, and he did not, both by reason of his lame shoulder and his abstraction in religious meditation upon the holy day, turn his head. Anne climbed up on the pillion behind her father, and the gray horse started off with his meetingward jog.
When they came out on the road and joined the decorous procession of meeting-folks, all the people stared, as well they might, at Anne perched behind her father, glittering in blue and silver, fluttering with yellow lace, a blue ribbon on her hat blowing on the spring breeze, with her black locks no longer bound around her head in sober bands, but twisted in long curls. Anne's cheeks were red. She held up her head proudly, and nobody knew how her heart failed her.
Not one woman whom she passed, not one young maid of her mates, was half as gaily attired as she, the daughter of Deacon Seabright, riding behind her unconscious father, her blue draperies flouncing out on either side of his sober figure. People wondered immeasurably, and thought that either the deacon or his daughter must have gone mad.
Mercy French, in her pretty calico, going up the road with her father and mother and sisters, was very pale, and dared not look at her friend beyond the first hurried glance. When they arrived at the meeting-house, and Deacon Seabright drew rein at the horse-block, Anne slid easily off her pillion and was in the meeting-house door before he had time to turn his head on his rheumatic neck.
Anne went up the aisle and took her place in her pew well toward the front, in full view of the pulpit. She looked up when she was seated, and saw the parson's eyes rolling over the pulpit at her with an involuntary amazement, although he should have been above all notice of aught beside the pious consideration of the day. Anne knew that every pair of eyes in the meeting-house was fastened upon her. Her cheeks burned, her heart beat fast, but she sat with her head erect, her hands folded in her blue brocade lap.
Her father entered and took his seat under the pulpit in the deacon's pew, and did not turn his head in her direction for some time, being devoutly intent upon the parson, waiting for the opening of the service and the giving out of the hymn. Deacon Zenas Seabright was not wont to allow his mind to be distracted by the contemplation of anything which pertained to his daily life or his carnal affections, during divine worship. He looked a typical specimen of a stanch Puritan as he sat there, one who ran his race the more vigorously and unswervingly because it was set in such a narrow way.
Anne did not dare glance at her father, but if his eyes should turn upon her she was sure to know it without looking. As she sat there in her forbidden finery, while her spirit did not quail, her wonder at her temerity grew. Mercy French sat near, and her gentle face was quite pale. She glanced alternately at Anne and the deacon.
But the deacon did not look at his recreant daughter until the parson began to read the long hymn from Ainsworth; then he raised his eyes from his book, and saw his daughter. Once and once again, and yet again, did the deacon stare, and even childishly rubbed his eyes for very bewilderment to be sure that he saw aright — that that bedizened damsel sitting in his pew was indeed his Anne. But when he was sure that his eyes did not deceive him, there was no further hesitation.
Up rose Deacon Zenas Seabright, as relentless as any father of old Sparta, strode down the aisle to his daughter, grasped her firmly by her lace-draped shoulder, and said, loud enough to be heard all over the meeting-house, quite drowning out the parson's rendering of “Ainsworth,” “Home with ye, and change this ungodly attire for something more befitting the Sabbath day and the house of God!”
But Deacon Zenas Seabright had to deal with another spirit as resolute as his own, although it was younger. Anne's cheeks were burning, her red lips trembling, but she spoke quite clearly: “I cannot, father, for I have given away all my other gowns to the poor, as enjoined upon us in holy writ.” And indeed at that very moment Tabitha Crabb was sitting in the poor-seat clad in Anne's sad-colored meeting-gown, and by her side a little old pauper widow by the name of Charity Snell, in her everyday one.
Deacon Seabright was speechless for one second, staring with a lightning flash of blue eyes which was possibly not actuated by wholly sanctified wrath at Anne. Then he spoke.
“Then leave the house of God, go home, and seek your own closet for prayer and repentance!” he said.
Anne rose at once, and ballooned down the aisle in her gorgeous blue-hooped petticoat, in full sight of all the gaping and breathless congregation. Nothing like it had ever happened before in that meeting-house. Mercy French was crying softly, with her mother's hand on hers to comfort her, and young Jonathan Suffield, his eyes flashing with indignation, half started from his seat as Anne passed him. As Anne went by the stack of muskets in the centre of the meeting-house, her hooped petticoat jostled one and threw it over with a loud crash, and that broke the hush of consternation. The minister went on with “Ainsworth,” and Anne was outside in the May morning with this stanza ringing in her ears:
All they that doe upon me look
A scoff at me doe make;
They with the lip do make-a-mow,
The head they scornful shake.
This had in her case a most singular appropriateness.
The meeting-house was set on a cleared space sloping sharply to the southward, but stretching in a level for several rods upon the north, until it reached the wooded side of a long hill. Beyond the southern slope yet another hill arose — quite a miniature mountain, standing out boldly against the sky, but destitute of trees, fringed against the blue with the waving of young grass and a low mist of green bushes. Anne hurried across the northern level, and climbed the wooded side of the northern hill. She was not half-way up, when she stopped and threw herself down under a great, spreading pine-tree. She was almost exhausted by excitement and the rapid pace at which she had come. She lay face down in the pine-needles, and wept as if her heart would break. She was torn with a sense of injustice, and the same spirit of revolution which had driven her ancestors from Leyden to the shores of a New World was awake in her. Why should she not go dressed as she pleased? Why should she not worship in such apparel as she pleased, as long as her heart was right?
But withal there was a sore pricking of conscience which would not be stilled. Deacon Zenas had been a good father to her, and had done his best for her welfare since her mother died. Had she done right in disobeying him, in order to carry out her convictions, and very probably to gratify her vanity? Anne lay there and wept, and the soughing of the great pine was in her ears, and her gorgeous blue brocade was crushed into the pine-needles and young wintergreen leaves, and the three hours' sermon went on down in the meeting-house, and something strange and alarming was brewing on the opposite southern hill.
All at once, with that suddenness of impulse which has no ostensible cause, but sometimes seems to have been scented in some subtle and unexplained manner by the nerves, the watch-dogs of danger to the flesh, she stopped weeping and sat up straight, with her eyes upon the meeting-house below, and the rise of the hill from the valley beyond. There was a flowering laurel-bush in front of her, and she was quite concealed, although she could see plainly through its network of speckled blossoms and glossy leaves.
She saw something which drove from her mind all such petty tribulations as being sent home from meeting in the face and eyes of all the congregation because of forbidden furbelows. She saw a dark figure steal cautiously from behind the cover of the bushes on the crest of the southern hill, and stand peering down upon the meeting-house on the level below. Then she saw a plumed head rise above bushes — then another and another, and a head erected itself from the grass, where its owner was lying concealed like a venomous snake.
“Indians!” thought Anne, with a great qualm of horror. There was yet some danger from the savages on the frontiers of New England, and now and then a war-party threatened some unsuspecting settlement. Still everything had been peaceful for a long time. There had been a treaty, and some apprehended no further trouble. The muskets were still carried to meeting on a Sabbath, and were stacked in the middle of the house, ready to be seized at a moment's notice; but no sentry was posted outside.
Anne knew that there could be but one meaning to attribute to such movements as those of the Indians; they would never lurk about in that fashion unless with hostile intent. They were meditating a descent upon the meeting-house and the devoted and unsuspicious worshippers. Anne stared a second, gasping. Then one thought took shape in her brain: Somehow she must warn them, down there in the meeting-house. Her father was there, and Mercy French, and Jonathan Suffield; they and many others, all her dear neighbors and friends, would fall by the Indian tomahawks or be taken prisoners. Somehow she must warn them; but how?
Anne was a quick-witted girl, and her wits were sharpened by her life in a dangerous period of history. She at once began to act upon their suggestions. She had not risen to her feet, even in her first start of alarm. Now she crept off down the hill on her hands and knees, as warily as if she had been an Indian herself. Her blue brocade caught upon the briers, and she pulled it loose frantically, leaving long ribbons behind, and her rich laces were almost torn from her neck and sleeves. At last she reached the foot of the northern hill.
Then another difficulty confronted her. Could she run that distance without cover to the meeting-house, without being espied by the watchful savages, and ensuring her own destruction and precipitating the attack? She paused for a second, hesitating, and in that minute the gurgle of the little brook which flowed near her father's house, and crossed the open farther to the east, caught her ear, and her mind was made up. The brook flowed close under the meeting-house on the east — so close that there had been in early spring, when the stream was swollen by melting snows, considerable danger to the structure. Not as much forethought as usual had the people of the settlement shown in the site of their meeting-house, commanded by two hills, and on the shore of a treacherous brook; but the brook was now a godsend.
Anne, keeping well within the shelter of the trees on the hillside, made for the brook and plunged into it, and ran, crouching low, almost with her head to the water when the growth on the banks was thin. Sometimes, however, the unpruned vines and branches quite arched over the brook, and she ran concealed under a green roof. The brook was high, being still swollen by the spring rains. As she advanced to a lower level, the water grew deeper, and it was icy cold. It was almost waist-high in places, but she pushed on, with only one thought uppermost: to reach the meeting-house before the Indians, and give the men time to seize their muskets and fasten the shutters.
As she drew nearer the meeting-house she could hear the parson's voice loud in exhortation. The windows were open. It was a very warm day, as warm as midsummer, and the sunlight lay full upon the shelterless building. When Anne reached the point nearest the meeting-house she peered cautiously out from her leafy cover. Nothing was in sight, and moreover the horse-sheds just there cut off the view from the southern hill. The parson's voice sounded louder and more fervent. Anne made a wild dash, was across the open stretch between the brook and the meeting-house, and with one fierce scramble in the window and standing before them all, a figure of desperate daring, with flying black curls, in a torn and dripping blue brocade.
“The Indians!” shrieked Anne. “The Indians! On the hill to the south! Up, up with ye! The Indians!” Then Anne promptly slammed together and fastened the shutters of the window by which she had entered, and called out to her mates, Love and Mercy and Submit, to do likewise. “Close the shutters! Quick, Mercy! Quick, Love!” she cried out, and the women with one accord began clapping to the shutters and fastening them with the strong bars, while the men seized the muskets.
When the Indians at last descended from the south hill, they found the meeting-house transformed into a blockhouse, with loopholes in the shutters for muskets, each of which spoke loudly as they drew near. It was a small body of Indians, and they retreated soon before a sally of the bravest of the young men, and farther on met a body of militia, and were dispersed with considerable slaughter.
There was no doubt that the result might have been otherwise had it not been for Anne Seabright. She, in her spoiled finery, torn and dripping, with her wild, black curls, was as much a heroine as those Puritan folk, who feared above all else that they or theirs might be unduly puffed up, would permit. Jonathan Suffield, leaning on his smoking musket, gazed at her with an admiration which had never been in his eyes before, and his admiration did not flag, for in two years more their banns were cried in that same meeting-house which Anne had saved from the Indian torches.
There was much speculation among the people as to how Anne Seabright would go clad the next Sabbath — whether her father, the deacon, in consideration of her bravery, would yield, and allow her to wear still another fine gown from her mother's stock, in place of that which she had spoiled. The deacon's wife's wardrobe had been an unusually rich one, in spite of her husband's scruples, and the inventory which had been taken at her death was still quoted admiringly by the women of the village.
But Anne's spirit of rebellion was tempered and broken by the danger which she had encountered. Fine raiment had lost much of its importance in her girlish eyes, for she had suddenly realized more fully than ever before the importance of life in comparison. She made herself a suit of sad-colored stuff and a little sober hood, and appeared therein ready for meeting the next Sabbath morning.
But Deacon Seabright had also learned a little lesson, although his conscience smote him that it might not be correctly, and he produced, with something of shamefaced apology tincturing his stern dignity of demeanor, a tucker of rich, foreign lace, an especial treasure of his dead wife's, and a pearl brooch to fasten it, and a brilliantly flowered silk apron, which he bade his daughter don, remembering that all such things were vanities, and not to be unduly esteemed.
And he reproved himself sorely for his sinful pride in Anne's appearance when she stood before him arrayed in them, and for judging in his heart that no other man had a daughter so beautiful and so brave.
But Anne, riding along on the pillion behind her father, with the note of the Sabbath conch-shell ringing in her ears, past the gorgeous laurel-bushes and the flowering fruit-trees, was much more in accord with them and all beauty of youth and spring than she had been before, for the true spirit of obedience to love, as a reason for bloom and beauty, was in her soul.