THE NET-WEAVER

Scarcely had Hope doffed her wet garments, and wrung the water from
her hair, before she was summoned to the presence of her lady mother.
It was a pleasant group, that of the accomplished family in the
large hall, around which hung old portraits brought from England;
the demi-armor still worn by the gentlemen of the day; the knightly
sword, and shapely steel corslet; trophies of the hunt, and implements
of the chase; belts of wampum, and models of birch canoes; bows and
flint-tipped arrows. It was a silvan, stately room, such as taste,
enterprise and thrift only could furnish forth in a family struggling
to overcome the barbarisms of a new world.

In a stiff, high-backed chair, with cushions at her feet, sat the
elegant matron of the household; her handsome daughters, each with
book, music or broidery in hand, were gathered near her person, as if
the companionship were mutually pleasant.

In the embrasure of the window, looking out upon the Pool, with the
long reach of ocean in the distance, sat Sir Richard Vines himself,
the perfection of manly grace and noble bearing, but now his brow was
slightly contracted, and an uneasy flush was upon his cheek.

As little Hope entered the room, he held out his hand to her; she
sprung forward and threw her arms about his neck. The knight returned
her caress, and patting her cheek tenderly, said:

“Go to your mother, child.”

Hope had nearly crossed the room in obedience, when she suddenly turned
round, saying, petulantly:

“She must not talk to me, papa; I am in a bad humor, and can not bear
it.”

Mistress Vines answered, with unwonted sternness:

“Come hither, Hope, and seat yourself upon the cushion. You must leave
off these ways.”

The little lady walked to the side of the room, where, leaning her
shoulder against a pilaster, she crossed one foot over the other, and
bent her head, saying:

“I will stand here, please, mamma; I hate to sit down.”

“I prefer you should sit,” persisted Mistress Vines.

“Indeed, I can not, mamma. I feel as if I should choke, tightened up in
one of those chairs. Indeed, I can not sit down, mamma.”

The sisters could not refrain from a slight titter, which was
instantly checked, for the parents were both severely grave, and Miss
Bloomfield, the governess, shook her little decorous head till every
cork-screw curl upon it was whirling and jerking in a perfect storm of
reprehension.

Before, however, a word had been spoken, Hope suddenly recovered her
native vivacity. She eyed the group with a comical shake of the head,
and burst into one of her merry laughs. Coming forward, she knelt upon
the cushion at her mother’s feet, and tossing back her hair till it
enshrouded her like a vail, she cried:

“I know all you will say to the bad girl; I will be mamma, and
reprimand Hope. Listen!

“Hope, you are too idle, and too wild–no better than a wild Indian.
You are a very unmaidenly girl, fit for nothing good. Why do you not
sit bolt upright in high-backed chairs, as your sisters do? Look at
them! How nice they are! Not a hair of the head out of place. Hear them
make ugly sounds on a hollow board! See how ashamed they are of you,
Hope! You are a grief to us all, Hope, indeed you are. To-day John
Bonyton pulled you out of the water like a fish. You are a trial and a
plague, Hope!”

Here she kissed the hand of Mistress Vines, which had been tenderly
laid upon her head, and then once more threw herself into her father’s
arms, and burst into a wild torrent of sobs and tears.

The family were used to these sudden transitions of feeling upon her
part, but this seemed a mood so much more painful than ordinary, that
all were shocked.

“Do not let my cold, still sisters look at me, papa,” whispered Hope.
Then, lifting up her head, she added, solemnly:

“Papa, you will soon have no little Hope.”

The knight shuddered, and pressed the poor child more tenderly to his
heart.

“Tell me why, little daughter!”

“Every little while, dear father, I see poor, pale-faced Hope standing
before me, looking sad, and oh! so weary, and wringing her hands.”

Mr. Vines certainly felt a cold chill run over him at this description.
She went on.

“This morning I saw Hope seated on the ledge yonder, her hands to her
face, and she weeping, weeping. Mistress Bonyton, too, told me that
this little purple spot upon my shoulder, which you used to kiss, papa,
when I was a little girl, is the devil’s mark, and called me a witch.”

Sir Richard arose hastily from his seat and whispered a few words in
the ear of his wife. A new cause for anxiety had been suggested by the
words of Mistress Bonyton, for at that time the old world was convulsed
by stories of possession and witchcraft, and it was no light thing to
have the aspersion cast upon an individual that he or she might be a
witch.

At this moment the sharp whiz of an arrow passed the lattice. Hope
darted from the room, and seated herself at an upper loop-hole, where
she could see without being seen. She watched John Bonyton where hour
after hour he traversed the slip of sand which separated the Pool from
the ocean, ever and anon sending uneasy glances toward the mansion.

Day after day passed, and Hope went no more abroad, nor did she send
any token to her impatient lover. Day after day John Bonyton wandered
along the shore, as if its impatient turbulence best responded to the
wild passions that consumed him. The dirge of the sea, creeping amid
the weeds that cushioned the rocks, and then hurrying from point to
point in stifled sobs–anon lifting incoherent voices to storm the ear
of night–responded to some unknown depth within, and soothed while it
deepened his emotions.

Could the unhappy youth have looked within the bower of Hope, he would
have seen her seated upon the floor, her intense eyes following his
slightest movement, and she weeping bitterly. She refused food, and
nothing could tempt her from her covert.

At length Samoset, chief of the neighboring tribe of Indians, desired
to see her. He brought her a beautiful osier basket, in which was
hidden a wood-pigeon. Hope lifted the bird from its cluster of leaves
and found the blood trickling from its breast, and a small arrow still
in the wound. She recoiled with pity, and cast reproachful eyes upon
the chief. Samoset pointed to Bonyton pacing the beach, and sternly
showed the arrow in the breast of the dove. He whispered a word or two
in her ear and turned away, followed by Hope.

No sooner did John Bonyton perceive the figure of Hope moving slowly
toward the woods, than he followed in her footsteps. Seating herself
upon her favorite ledge of rocks, she awaited his coming. The youth was
greatly shocked at the change both in her manner and looks, and he cast
himself at her feet and pressed both her hands within his own.

“Poor, dear Hope!” he murmured.

She looked sadly in his face–a look of silent, helpless reproach more
emphatic than words. At length she said, in a voice scarcely above a
whisper:

“It seems very strange to me, dear John, how people can get along in
this world, and why they are put here to be made so miserable. And so
you will go away, John Bonyton–go, and we shall never meet again.”

The young man smoothed back the hair which had blown across the face
of the speaker, and the passive manner so unlike Hope’s old self,
emboldened him to lay her pale cheek upon his shoulder, and he answered:

“I will not be gone long, Hope; the time will soon pass away.”

“But what shall I do, with nobody to understand me? And, besides this,
John Bonyton who goes away will not be the John Bonyton that comes
back.”

“Why not, little Hope?”

“Why not? How can you ask, when nothing is to-day what it was
yesterday?”

He made the usual protestations of never-changing devotion, which she
broke short with her old impetuosity, waving her hand for him to be
silent, when a twig snapped near by, and John Bonyton sprung to his
feet.

“It is Acashee,” said Hope, coldly. “She is always in your path.”

Again all was silent save the wood-robin, which sung upon a branch
overhead, and Hope resumed:

“Do not go, John Bonyton. Do not enter the ship that will bear you
away, for I shall never see you again. You may come back–but _my_ John
Bonyton will return no more.”

The youth smiled fondly, for Hope had never before shown him such
favor. The mournful tenderness of her looks and words thrilled him with
rapture, and he replied:

“I shall return ten times more worthy of you, Hope.”

Hope started, turned pale, and withdrew her hand from his grasp.

“I said you would change, and you boast that you will.”

“Only to be better, nobler, more worthy of your love.”

She looked dreamily into his face and murmured:

“And I? I shall be the same–”

“Surely, dear Hope. Lovely and beautiful. Always growing dear to my
heart.”

She shook her head, and in the same dreamy way went on:

“When the sun goes down I am never quite sure it will come up again;
and when it does it has not the same look. The same cloud never
returns; the withered blossom does not bloom again; no face wears twice
the same look; the smile of yesterday is not that of to-day.”

“But the heart, little Hope, the heart is the same.”

“No, no, no! least of all. That goes on and adds or loses and the eye
tells of its altered beatings. No, John Bonyton, I shall never see
_you_ again. See how changed we two are since we last met. Look upon
the rock yonder jutting over the sea. What do you behold?”

The youth followed the wavy line of the small, pale hand, and said,
with a smile:

“I see the bright sunshine there, and the sea-birds dip their wings
into the sea.”

She still pointed with a sad smile.

“You see nothing more! I see little Hope standing there leaning over
the water; she is pale and thin, and her hair has become a shroud.”

The youth burst into tears, and clasped her wildly in his arms. At this
moment there was a cry as of the loon, and Hope faintly answered it.
She knew Acashee had witnessed the scene, and an angry flush overspread
her face. With a sudden spring she descended the ledge, and returned to
the house.

Among the Indian maidens was a bold, handsome girl, a little older
than Hope, who was her constant and favored companion, and having more
intelligence and tact than usually falls to the primitive maidens
of the forest, Acashee, or the Spider, (literally net-weaver, or
snare-builder,) had contrived to divest herself of the usual toils and
drudgeries of her sex in a savage condition.

Acashee was the daughter of Samoset, of the Kennebec tribe–the Indian
who went to and remained three years in England, where he shared the
royal favor of Elizabeth, whose accomplished courtiers vied with each
other in lavishing attentions upon a man who presented a new and
generous type of the race, undebauched by the vices of civilization.

Shakespeare without doubt received many a poetic hint from the
noble savage, and most certainly owed to him the story of the
Tempest, and the fable of the Pucks, or as the Indians called them
Puck-wud-jees–being literally wood-fairies.

The courage and address of Acashee had rendered her the friend and
companion of her father, and his attendant upon many a long and
perilous march. Among savage tribes intelligence of a strange or
interesting character is conveyed by fleet runners, who go from
tribe to tribe after the manner of the Highland clans so graphically
described by Walter Scott in the “speed, Malise, speed” of his spirited
poem. Accordingly, Samoset was one of the first to reach the sea-shore,
and look with wonder upon the ship which had come like a rare bird,
or superior agent, from the spirit-land. He it was who, fifteen years
afterward, hailed the Pilgrims at Plymouth with the words: “Welcome,
Englishmen.”

Samoset had been of great service to the colony upon the Saco river,
and Sir Richard Vines and family had not failed to treat his daughter
Acashee with much consideration. Little Hope more especially singled
her out as her favorite friend and companion. She liked her for her
beauty, her courage, her strength and activity, combined with an easy
gayety rare in the children of the wood, and almost unknown among the
anxious and over-taxed pilgrims to the new world.

The artful savage maiden, acute and penetrating, had not failed to
perceive the peculiar characteristics of Hope, and had not failed to
turn them to account in her own way. She played her game in a manner
worthy of her name, of Net-weaver, in the best sense, Spider in its
worst. She hinted to the melancholy and superstitious Pilgrim settlers,
doubts of her state as a true human being, for the Indians believed in
the incarnation of certain malignant beings, no less than the ascetic
whites.

To the Indians of the many tribes with whom she and her father were in
constant intercourse, she enlarged upon Hope’s gifts as a wonderful
medicine-woman, and it was she who had more than once induced them to
make attempts to abduct her for purposes of divination.

While our poor Hope was thus constantly under the eye of her wily and
malignant companion, she was a source, also, of much solicitude on the
part of the parents, who began to feel painfully that evil and cruel
thoughts were rife in the minds of their neighbors regarding her, which
might end in some tragedy even more distressing than the fate of Sir
Walter Raleigh, with whom Hope was so fond of associating herself.

Mistress Vines was a cheerful, active, dignified woman, or she would
have been sore distressed as the conviction grew upon her that all was
not quite right with little Hope. In high courtly or civilized society
her peculiarities would not have been observed–the pressure of the
same serving to keep its members in equal balance; but in an experience
admitting of greater latitude, it became evident that she, the product
of a civilized, but bred amidst a primitive, race, had inherited the
graces of the one, and absorbed the wild freedom of the other.

Having once obtained the key to the formation of her mind, all its
manifestations were complete and harmonious. The study of a book was
irksome to her, but that which she learned from the utterance of the
human tongue never escaped her memory.

There was a preternatural directness in all the elements of her mind–a
wild, vivid adherence to truth under every aspect, which rendered any
modification of it, under any circumstances, impossible to her; hence
it was followed without the power to anticipate results. It might have
been genius–for nothing was impossible to her; and yet, according to
ordinary calculations, little was attainable. She would say, “I know it
is thus and thus,” but the why it was so it was impossible for her to
define.

“Did it ever occur to you, my husband,” asked Mistress Vines, “that
there is something in the look of poor little Hope strangely like our
brother Raleigh?”

“Often, often, sweetheart; nor is it strange. Do not be distressed
about Hope; she is as God has given her to us, and in his good time
he will clear away those shadows which obscure the brightness of the
spirit he has made. Take heart, good dame.”

“She is good and beautiful in spite of all,” rejoined the wife, eying
her daughter tenderly. “Shall we ever send her to England?”

“Thy heart yearns for the mother-land, sweetheart?”

“Nay, my dear, good husband, I am more than content. I live not for
England, but for thee and our little ones.”

And she leaned both hands clasped upon his shoulder, in a most tender,
wifely way.

“If thou art truly content, sweet heart,”–and in saying this he
separated the words, as if the better to express the deep sentiment of
the love he bore her–“I rejoice, deeply rejoice, for old England is
verging upon critical times; and even here, men and women are not quite
safe from evil tongues and evil designs!”

He drew her nearer to his breast as he said this, for there were
surmises and rumors which he did not name to his lovely wife.

It was evident to both parents that Hope must be left to her own
existence, and suffered to enjoy it in her own way; nor was this by
any means a limited or degraded one. Her exquisite organization, her
perfect health and vivid vitality, were combined with a degree of hardy
activity astonishing in one so delicately made.

As a child, the Indians had treated Hope with a deference and
tenderness that implied a doubt whether a creature so fair and
diminutive could master the rude encounters of life; but as she grew
in years, and they saw her small feet so active, and her tiny wrath so
ready to wreak itself, their admiration knew no bounds. They delighted
to become her instructors in all wildwood games and primitive exploits,
and so apt a pupil did they find her that she seemed to their simple
observation a prodigy of cleverness rather than one whose mental
organization was a subject of doubt or anxiety.

She was expert at the bow and arrow, could swim like a duck, and
come out of the water and shake the drops from her long hair without
that shrunken, _soused-over_ look so common to women who breast the
waters. She was fond of the Indian mode of dress, rarely being willing
to conform to the usages prevalent at the time. She was fond of all
ornaments that left her movements unimpeded, but refused the use of
braid, bodkin, or fillet to curb the redundancy of her locks.

None of these things were lost upon the artful Acashee, who, in turn,
teased or flattered Hope, as might best subserve the great purpose of
her life, which was to separate her from John Bonyton, for whom she had
conceived a passion the more profound for the obstacles which promised
to defeat its gratification.

Hope was well aware of the arts of the girl; but she liked her bold,
fearless ways, and her untiring activity. With senses as keen as those
of the young savage, she detected her hanging like a shadow over her
own pathway, and knew that John Bonyton in the chase of the wild deer,
and spearing salmon far up the Falls of the Saco, was often confronted
by her rival, and was not unwilling to loiter in the presence of the
bright, handsome savage.

On the morning of the day when our story opens, when Hope was found
quarreling so vehemently with her lover for having saved her from a
long sleep under the sea, the two girls, as was their wont, had met
upon a point of land a few miles distant from the Pool, designing to
follow the beautiful winding of the Saco up to the Falls, and watch the
salmon, like golden ingots, “shoot” the cataract.

Standing upon this promontory, Hope’s dreamy eyes wandered over the
landscape, drinking in its beauty, as her kinsman Raleigh might have
done in one of his poetic moods. Acashee, on the contrary, practiced
all the subtle arts of her nature, and all the coquetries of a wildwood
beauty, to interest the heart of John Bonyton. Aroused at length from
her reverie, Hope saw the flashing eyes of Bonyton resting admiringly,
as she thought, upon her companion. With a wild impulse of undefined
jealousy and rage, she threw aside her bow and arrows, and cast herself
into the sea.

She was rescued, as we have seen, by the athletic youth, greatly to the
discomfiture of the impulsive child. Severe and biting reproaches were
exchanged subsequently between the two girls, in which the red maiden
betrayed a readiness and spirit as unexpected as it was fearful. Hope
was not lacking in her vocabulary of spleen, and she turned her head
scoffingly, crying:

“You are a long-legged, big, black-bodied spider, and that is what your
name means.”

Acashee darted forward, seizing her by the wrist; she bent down and
looked fiercely into her eyes; grinding her teeth, she hissed with the
rage and venom of the serpent, into the ears of Hope:

“I _am_ a spider! I weave a strong web. I will snare in it the little
fly. Go to, you had a friend; now you have a foe.”

And dashing the hand from her grasp, she plunged into the forest.

Hope laughed a bitter, contemptuous laugh, and turned slowly homeward,
followed by the repentant Bonyton, to have the indignant words of the
girl and the protestations of the other overheard by the two fathers.

The voyage which it was proposed for John Bonyton to take to England
was deferred from time to time, and the young people resumed their
careless, desultory life, now in the forest and now upon the
sea–Acashee even more devoted than before in her attentions upon Hope.
It might be noticed, however, that the people of the colony were more
watchful, and even more critical, in their observance of the latter
than usual.

Often as she passed in her short velvet tunic with her white hair
floating in the wind, glances were exchanged, intermingled with now and
then an ominous and malignant frown.

While the Indians watched her slightest movement with interest akin
to awe, the less sympathetic colonists looked upon her with distrust
amounting to aversion, and many had conceived the idea that she
belonged to that dangerous class “accursed of God,” and to be destroyed
by men, as in those olden times, when the King of Israel consulted
one akin to Hope in the person of the Witch of Endor. But, as yet,
these were surmises only whispered in secret, and concealed from the
knowledge of the Governor and his friends.

The Indians of the Saco tribe, while they were more powerful than all
others of the eastern tribes, were less aggressive, also. Conscious
of their power, they cared little to molest those whom they could
easily crush, and hence they devoted themselves warmly to the white
colonists, perceiving in them at once much to excite their admiration
and stimulate their own endeavor.

Hope was from the first installed a favorite, and they watched her
slightest look or word with interest, and then, as years developed more
and more her individual characteristics, she was invested by them with
a profound awe. They had penetrated some of these marked features, even
before they were divined by her own family, and they would come long
miles to bring her some dainty gift, exquisite tiny baskets, broidered
moccasins, or shells from the sea-shore, and seating themselves upon
the mat under the broad piazza, watch her every movement, and listen to
the silvery tongue of the child with hair like the snow-flake.

Had Hope been ambitious or deceitful, she might have turned her
mysterious power over the savage mind to some account; but,
simple-hearted and truthful, she enjoyed her little triumphs without
any thought of what might lie beyond. The chief of the Saco tribe,
seeing her contempt for all household avocations, looked upon her with
wonder and delight as the incarnation of some of their own deities, who
would eventually bring great glory to the tribe.

Mistress Vines, while no one could bring the slightest charge against
her, was by no means popular with the “_elect ladies_” of the colony.
Mindful of her household, over which she presided with affectionate
dignity, and truly loving and honoring her husband, she was little
inclined to countenance any course which should create any interest
outside of the sacred relation of the family.

Thoughtful as she was tender, judicious as she was affectionate, she
was doubly happy in a husband worthy of all reverence and duty, to whom
she could refer all abstruse and vexing questions of opinion, and whose
decisions were to her wifely mind the wisest and best.

Mistress Bonyton, the mother of John, was in the habit of collecting
the principal women of the colony at her house on the Saturday of every
week, for the purposes of prayer and religious discussion.

Mistress Vines had received many invitations to join this supplicating
conclave, but from the above reasons, together with a natural vivacity
of character, which rendered gloom and pretension distasteful to her,
she had neglected to ally herself with these ascetic women in what she
regarded as an evidence of cant, and, it may be, of hypocrisy also, to
her clear, cheerful intellect.

Captain Bonyton, however, secretly gave Sir Richard a hint, in a
neighborly way, that the women felt themselves aggrieved at this
omission, and the more, hinted at dark, mysterious opinions in regard
to little Hope, which it might be well to counteract by a more familiar
intercourse of Mistress Vines with her neighbors.

Sir Richard having suggested this to his fair dame, she might have been
seen the next afternoon, fresh as a rose, and bright as the morning,
picking her way to the mansion of Mistress Bonyton.

She carried herself bravely in her high heels, and the stiffest of
stiff ruffs barricading her fair neck, and her rich brown hair drawn
back from her handsome forehead, and frizzed in a way wondrous to
behold. A little less of style, a little less of fineness, my lady,
would have better suited the austere dames who await thy coming!

They were seated in the “_fore-room_” of the house, the shutters of
which were partially closed, giving a dim, ghostly aspect to the
interior, in which were seated about twenty women, plainly dressed,
each with her hair parted at the top of the head and drawn to the back
as smooth and tight as hair could well be drawn. The elderly matrons
were seated at one side, and the younger grouped together near the
door. Fair, pale young faces were not wanting; prematurely grave, but
pure and tender.

“It is nearly upon the stroke of three, and yet she does not come.
Reach me the Bible; the Lord’s work must not wait because of his tardy
servants.”

This from Mistress Bonyton, who drew down her face ominously, and
closed with a groan.

“What think you of that child, Hope? I would have thy opinion, dame,
for I have great misgivings.”

Mistress Bonyton put her finger in the Bible, where she had found the
chapter she designed to read, and she now closed the book over it, and
standing the large volume on end, bent forward, resting her chin upon
it, she looked out of the corner of her eye at Mistress Higgins, who
had asked the question.

“I think thy thought, dame.”

The younger women started; but Mistress Higgins continued:

“I saw her even now, as I came in, worrying a snake, and truly it was a
rare sight to see the docility of the beast.”

“Whist! my lady is at the door!” exclaimed one of the younger women.

Mistress Vines entered, with her pretty, courtly manner, curtesying
right and left, after the fashion of the times, and then instinctively
seated herself beside the young matrons, who blushed and smiled at her
pleasant greeting, while the elders gravely bent their heads and pursed
up their mouths in a pious way. A silence of some minutes intervened,
for the Lady Joanna was no unimportant personage to be present, and
was well known for a smart dame, with ready wit, and sharp repartee,
and though in her absence it might be politic to treat her with
indifference or contempt, she being present altered the case; and even
Mistress Bonyton, habituated to command, and accustomed to lead off her
satellites in a free and easy manner, found herself inconveniently awed
in her presence.
“СИГМА-АЛДРИЧ РУС”, ОБЩЕСТВО С ОГРАНИЧЕННОЙ ОТВЕТСТВЕННОСТЬЮ
105062, Г МОСКВА, УЛ МАКАРЕНКО, Д 2//21, СТР 1, КВ 22
At length Mistress Bonyton, in a solemn voice, and with intermitting
groans, grasping the Bible and closing her eyes, said:

“We have appropriated this afternoon for the especial purpose of
praying for the conversion of that pleasant (groan) but ungodly (groan)
man, Sir Richard Vines.”

Mistress Vines started; her wifely face reddened with surprise, not
unmingled with anger, and she replied promptly, with her bright eyes
surveying the group:

“I thank ye, good dames, in that ye will pray for my noble lord; but,
in what way has he earned the right to be called ungodly?”

“Our occasion is for the holding forth of prayer, not to discuss carnal
questions,” responded Mistress Bonyton.

“But indeed, good dame, let me know his offenses, that I may the better
join in your prayers.”

“It is not meet that we talk,” interposed Dame Higgins; “thou art
holding a chosen vessel, gifted in prayer, from the altar.”

And at once the group arose, and each grasping the back of a chair,
which they tilted upon two legs, Mistress Bonyton opened with a violent
denunciation of the “sins of pride and haughtiness; of the hankering
after the leeks and garlics of Egypt, in the shape of Episcopacy; and
the high head which portended a fall; and the crimpings and mincings,
and titles and shows of aristocracy, a shame to the church here planted
in the wilderness.”

Mistress Vines quietly moved upon tip-toe to the door and went out,
much flushed in the face, and most certainly carrying her pretty head
quite as high as the prayer had indicated. She did not even wait for
the “amen,” but put the door between her and them, leaving Mistress
Bonyton to her invective, which they called prayer.

As she tripped along, she met Sir Richard, who smiled when he saw her
flashing eye, but he put her arm within his, smiled, and patted the
hand that lay upon his arm, for he divined the cause.

“Ay, sweetheart, they do not look upon thy husband with thine eyes,”
and stooping his head to hers he whispered, with a boyish laugh,
“heaven forefend that they should.”

Whereat she laughed, and they passed onward to their happy home.

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