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Before we begin, it's ConTENT Cradock, not CONtent. It's a distinction that has to be made because modern net-fiends aren't inclined to contentment.

Our dedication assures us that there's no doubt about where our author's influence lies:


The Memory of my father






The title page contains a few lines from James Russell Lowell's “An Ode For The Fourth Of July, 1876”...

“They steered by stars the elder shipmen knew,
And laid their courses where the currents draw
Of ancient wisdom channelled deep in law.
The undaunted few
Who changed the Old World for the New.”

...which is pretty high-minded talk for something that's being sold as a love triangle. The chapter headings are also epigraphed like crazy, again with lines from Lowell, so we're already breathing rarified air before the story even starts. Anyway, Chapter 1...

There was a wayward softness mingled with the salt breath of the sea as it sighed over the flats that lay along the riverside, but the melting snow had left enough of its chill in the air to make this caressing warmth a suggestion rather than a presence. Even in the sunlight, a certain mistiness hung over the distant water like the veil of Spring which the laughing Summer would soon push aside.

The spire of the church and the smoke of chimneys rose from the town that clustered about the river's mouth, and now and then floated from its streets the sound of martial music, but in a solemn cadence which denoted that the strife was over and that there remained only rest. Content bent her head to catch the rhythmic beats as they came fitfully to her ears. .The door-yards about were empty, the dust settled undisturbed on the highway in front of her; everybody but herself had gone to the town yonder. It was a day of sorrow, yet of the subdued glory of a final consummation, — the day of the funeral of John Winthrop, late governor of the Colony of Massachusetts. (pp. 1-2)

John Winthrop, the man whose “city upon a hill” sermon gave Ronald Reagan something to believe in (or at least quote endlessly), died on March 26, 1649, and as we're told, the story begins at the tail end of six days' mourning. (Counts on fingers) April 1st, continuity cops.

At least we're not wasting much time introducing our title character, who is shaking off the type of downer six days of eulogizing can induce in a young woman of twenty. “It was in the very air, the sweetness of this unrestraint, and in unconscious yielding to its influence, Content had left her wheel in the midst of her spinning, and loitered at the door to catch the warmth of the sunlight and the rise and fall of the distant strains.” But make sure don't linger long, you indolent thing, because there's lots and lots of work to be done, and anyway, you should be sad for the deceased and fearful for the future just like your neighbors.

She was just getting up from her wheel and readying another log for the fire when she heard a knock at the door.

As she crossed the large room, whose corners had grown a little obscure, to the broad hearth where the fire was lower but glowing still, without a preliminary knock the outside door opened and a man stood on the threshold. Behind him, the last rays of the western sun threw his figure into prominence but rendered his face almost invisible to Content as she paused in the middle of the room, while they fell caressingly upon her slenderness, and the severe simplicity of her gray gown and white neckerchief. She had turned up this gray gown that it might not be injured by contact with the wood-pile, and the snowy petticoat showed underneath it; her strong young arms clasped the rough bark of the hewn wood, and her large, thick-lashed, blue eyes, which were always unusually wide open, giving her habitually an almost startled expression at variance with the calmness of her demeanor, were fixed upon the entering stranger. Beyond him, just outside of the door, was another figure, that of a younger man, his features too in a half shadow, from which he gazed, with a sudden thrill of emotion, at the fair vision of the girl. There was a moment's pause, due to the surprise of all three, and then the older visitor bowed low, and said in a musical voice, and with a singularly distinct and almost studied enunciation : “Pardon, young Mistress Cradock, — for I perceive by a certain air and resemblance not to be belied that it is to her I speak, — but ere I go further in apology, let me relieve thee of thy burden!” and he stepped quickly forward. “It is the immediate wrong that should be the first righted, after all,” he added, as he took the heavy log from her arms with a courtliness that bespoke familiarity with a world larger than that of the colony. The younger man had come hastily nearer, as if he, too, would be of assistance, but the other put him aside.

“Nay, nay,” he said, “I am thy elder, and should be the earlier in a service that has its rewards. In truth,” he went on to Content, “the April evening hath a chill that makes the replenishing of a fire a grateful task to even a weary wayfarer,” and, bending over, he laid the log within the red glow of the chimney place. As he did so, the leaping flame lighted up his face with sudden brilliancy, and Content marked for the first time what manner of man he was who had thus entered unannounced. He was of about fifty years of age, with strong well-moulded features, keen eyes with a restless light in their depths, a deep frown between the heavy eyebrows, thick hair streaked with gray, and certain lines about the eyes and mouth which might denote qualities at odds with peace and serenity. But the mouth was fine, and the smile that hovered about it, as he stood upright and turned to Content, was very sweet. Again his face withdrew into partial shadow, though the firelight leaped up and flickered over all three of the figures, but it was as if in that instant in which he had bent over the red heart of the flame, the human being had been suddenly revealed to the watching eye, and, instinctively, Content felt that she had read his character then, and that she trusted it. (pp. 3-6)

Sufferin' cats, that dialogue! No, no, I promised that I wouldn't go there unless it was absolutely called for. It's just that sometimes you go in expecting something, and it still hits you like a bucket of icewater when it finally hits you.

The older man introduces himself as an old friend of Constant's father, and having just arrived in town, he'd been assured that “thy father's latch-string hath been out for me,” so he stuck his head in, and the rest of the body just followed. He hadn't been warned, however, that his friend's daughter would be tending the place. With that type of reassurance, such as it is, Content straightens herself out and snaps into hostess mode, pulling a chair by the fire for the guest. The younger man is still modestly standing off to one side, obviously hoping for a brokered introduction to “the flower-like fairness” of the young woman. Finally the older man introduces him as Resolved Archer of Plymouth, who makes it clear (in a very respectful way, of course) that he hopes to be a friend instead of just a friend of a friend. Yes, Resolved Archer. Let's get it out of our systems now. And people busted Frank Zappa's chops for Dweezil and Moon Unit...

But lo, here comes the gathering dusk.

Mistress Content, with the slightest possible flush, stooped to pick up a splinter of wood to light her candle; but Archer had forestalled her, and now, as he stood by her side holding the burning brand to the somewhat reticent wick, Content was conscious of what might have grown into an alarming confusion, had she not recognized and dismissed it in time. He was very tall, and the little torch in his hand illuminated his face as the firelight had done the other in a way to bring out a hint of resemblance between them and to exaggerate it. He had the same resolute chin, keen eyes, and youthful intensity of expression; but the restlessness was not there, nor the marks which told of contest. Just now his eyes wandered from the immediate business of the moment to the warm pallor of Content's cheek, her soft uncurled hair, and the dark lashes and white lids, which were all that he could see of the demurely drooped eyes. It was but a moment that the two stood thus. The stranger at the hearth sighed and looked up; the candlewick caught, and the brand was tossed back into the flame. Content lighted a second candle and placed one on the table by the window. (pp. 8-9)

As a post-Freudian reader, it doesn't take that much imagination to drag some unforeseen implications out of all this “lighting her wick” talk. If Archer had missed the wick the first few times, we would've been in big trouble.

Stop snickering. The old man's talking again.

“It is a great man that was buried to-day,” he said abruptly, turning back into the room; “that hath joined the church triumphant, and left the church militant — the ranks militant, I would say!” he spoke with sudden fire, “since a church is something limited and walled in, and an army is like a sea and may cover the land ! He was a great man,” he added more quietly, “and he is dead; and though there be spiritual sons of Anak with us still, we are but a few people and this is a new country;” his voice fell into momentary sadness and then rose with startling force, as he stepped forward and laid his hand upon Archer's shoulder, “wherefore it becometh us to fight — to fight that we may possess!” he exclaimed; “to withstand, to repel, to be clothed with armor, to carry the shield, to wear the helmet of salvation, and bear the sword of the spirit —“ he paused.

“And to have our feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace,” said Content, in low, thrilled tones, her starry eyes fixed on his with a divine enthusiasm. She was moved, stirred, exalted by the fervor of the man, and spoke almost involuntarily.

His glance fell on her with burning intensity; he threw his head back with a gesture almost of anger, caught his breath to speak, and then paused suddenly, while the deep glow of his eyes grew brighter and the stern lines of his mouth relaxed as he looked at her in her sweet, soft-hued beauty, but with something indomitable after all in the clear note of her security. (pp. 10-11)

He was about to continue, but Mr. and Mrs. Cradock entered the room, and here comes the big reveal: “'I did think,' said the Puritan householder, as he stepped forward with hand outstretched, 'that should the Lord lead him ever again across this threshold, my voice should be the first to give a welcome to Roger Williams!'”

And that's where I figure out this book is a setter of traps for smug jerks like me, because after all that smirky, dirty thinking about wicks, the stranger in the room turns out to be the noted theologian who was a big proponent of religious tolerance at the time where it wasn't what the cool kids were doing, and also came up with the idea of the separation of church and state. As he conceived it—as if we really need to explain this—the “wall of separation” meant that civil authority shouldn't enforce ecclesiastical authority In other words, lock them up for killing and stealing, but nobody should do thirty days in the county jail for an idolatry rap. Naturally, this put him at odds with the Church of England, but he was fine with that, since like many Puritans, he didn't consider it a proper church anyway.

Anyway, while the greetings were going around, Content was in an internal tailspin from the things she said and what they meant in relation to this man. “Was this that disturber of the peace, that stumbling block and cause of offence, who yet was dear to the hearts of the best men of the colony?” Then Williams mentions to her father “I have had a foretaste of thy welcome, friend Cradock, in the readiness of thy daughter to admit us to the warmth of thy hearthstone. Methinks her disposition savors somewhat of thine own in a readiness to turn theory into practice.” As she leaves the room to help her mother prepare dinner, Master Cradock ruefully muses on how her “quick wit” isn't always tempered with grace, then turns the topic to Williams' new colony of Providence (yes, the one in Rhode Island). He's obviously skeptical of the theory of keeping the church out of the courtroom: “And is it not difficult to keep peace in your borders? Doth not the law of the members war often against the law of the body politic?” Williams responds, in effect, that he would rather take a pinch of contention over a bushel of persecution, which doesn't reassure his friend, who'd rather not have either. “Archer sat quietly by, as befitted a young man in the company of his elders, attentive to the matter in hand, but not inattentive to the possible re-entrance of Mistress Content.”

While Cradock doesn't like the idea of “continual ferment,” he's not going to let a difference in opinion kill a friendship.

“Why do I seek to show thee thy error?” he said, with a slight relaxing of the sternness of his features; “though that thou art in error, I plainly perceive. Wiser men than I have dealt with thee to no purpose. And thou hast a certain measure in thy discourse and a spirit that is at variance with thy precepts, that taketh the words out of the mouth of a man who hath thirsted for thy bodily presence, and hath mourned openly the day that the secular welfare of this commonwealth made thee an exile from its borders!” His voice shook with controlled feeling; there was a pathos in the tenderness underlying the unyielded convictions of his faith that was not lost on either of the listeners. Archer's eyes shone with the enthusiasm of his youth, as he looked up at the tall, grave man whose great stature and massive features made him seem literally an upholder of the public weal.

Williams sprang from his chair. “And I,” he said in his deep, sweet voice, laying his hand on the other's arm, “who have sought thy doorway, as the weary hart the waterbrook, for the love I bear thee — thou, who art as my brother, do I not hear in thy speech again the word that hath ever to my ears seemed good, though it fitted not with my intention or my firm conviction?” (pp. 16-17)

To boil it down into Campbell's Condensed Cream of Conversation, “I don't really like what you're saying, but it's good to be able to hear you say it again.” Of course, with the “frozen exterior of Puritan existence,” it only makes sense to bury strong feelings under (here's that phrase again) a verbal thicket.

Oy, this dialogue. I'm going to have a steep adjustment phase if this keeps up. It makes one long for Alf's cockney again. After all, I got meself to fink abart....

Next: We're walking and we're talking. Because there is a romance at the base of this avalanche, y'know, and that's what goes on in these types of stories.


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