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We've moved onto the “burning, glowing beauty” of New England summers as Chapter 7 opens, and Content and her brother Timothy have taken their chores to the open air. However, in Timothy's case, he's performing imaginary chores. Instead of playing with Transformers, or some other bizarre nonsense of the post-millenial here and now, Timothy is shoeing an imaginary horse. As the narrator reminds us, even that type of idle playacting is borderline degenerate. Silly Timothy! Don't you know only girls are supposed to imagine being useful? Pardon me while I shoot some sense into you with my imaginary ray gun. Pew pew pew.

Anyway, my grandmother always said there's nothing quite as entertaining as watching kids play, and apparently Content agrees.

The imaginary horse was a restless brute, and Timothy, planting his short legs well apart, braced himself for the arduous task of keeping him quiet with one hand, while he heated his implements with the other.

“Whoa, whoa! Have a care with thy hind feet,” he exhorted ; “'tis for thy good, I tell thee. Softly, now!”

“It is the flies that makes him restless this hot day,” said Content, smiling.

“If thou wouldst but wave this branch to keep them off, the job would be an easier one,” said Timothy, promptly taking advantage of her awakened interest, — it was not too often that his elders joined in his plays, — and he handed her a little twig, which she waved once or twice in indolent acquiescence.

“Now, stand!” he went on resolutely, while he heated a bit of stick upon a convenient boulder. “Nay, toss not thy head and neigh!—the iron is well-nigh hot. Thou shalt pay me well, neighbor,” he continued to the horse's owner, who stood not far from them, in what must have been a negligent attitude, since he took no pains to control his animal, “an thou teach him not to stand better.”

“He hath a fine black mane and tail,” said Content, admiringly. Timothy paused long enough to cast a judicial glance into space.

“Well enough, well enough,” he admitted grudgingly; “but 'tis a horse's hoofs that I think the most on,” and he dropped the bridle, and struck mighty blows upon his primitive anvil. There was no sound under the trees, save the murmur of insects, and now and then a shout, tempered by distance, from the nearest haying field there was no sight but grass and trees, and the child of serious deportment, and the fair young girl with smiling lips, waving, at careless intervals, a leafy twig; but, in the blessed light of imagination, there was active, stirring excitement, satisfying labor, and deserved success. Horse, neighbor, hammer, anvil, bridle, and forge were visible enough to the participants, yet the only bit of realism was the hot air that brooded over the earth, and might have been breathed forth from the open door of a veritable furnace.

“Is thy horse not shod yet, sweetheart?” asked Content, dropping the twig, and rising to her feet; “or shall I frighten him with this wave of my white apron?” and she shook some bits of thread from her dress. “Methinks I can minister no longer to his comfort and thy convenience.” (pp. 126-8)

As she says this, who should show up but Degory Copton (yes, Degory...and no I've never seen that name in the wild, either), who is very happy to offer Timothy tips in imaginary horsemanship. Since it looks it's clabberin' up for rain, Content asks Copton if he thinks she can make it to Salome's before the bottom falls out. Well, she actually says “Shall I go hence to Mistress Salome's without a wetting?” but I wouldn't dare lay a line like that on you without a little advance work. “'By the feel of the air, and the looks of such things as be visible, I think there be things invisible at hand,' he remarked with the obscurity of the prophet. 'An you want my advice, Mistress Content, you will bide, and leave Mistress Salome alone till another day.'” But no, she's just not seeing it his way, so away she scoots, but not before Copton puts a tale of vague portents in her head.

“I am telling thee about the ship, Master Blacksmith,” said Copton, undisturbed by criticism, “a ship that was sent out by our neighbors of New Haven Colony — and when I tell thee they sent it out, be sure all things were done with an eye on Holy Writ even to the tassels of the tabernacle.”

“The tabernacle of the Most High,” observed Timothy, with the utmost gravity of comment.

“Even so. She set sail in January, as they tell me, in the bitter cold — and cold is cold on a ship's deck, with seventy souls aboard; and since then nor word nor message has come from her to those who sent her forth, until —” Copton paused. The girl's eyes were fixed on his face with startled attention; Timothy was lending his ears with critical seriousness; a light-minded grasshopper chirped loudly at their feet.

“Until?” repeated Content.

“Until last month, — a warm day in June, — when those who were looking saw her coming up New Haven harbor, with one officer aboard. No sailors to cast the anchor, or reef the sails, nor yet no passengers to wave a greeting nor,” his voice dropped a tone lower, “a farewell; no man at the helm, and yet she sailed steadily into the harbor with one officer on her deck.” Content moved a little restlessly, the monotony of the recital jarred on her nerves. “And the officer was leaning on his sword, and gave no word of command, only, they do say, as saw, that he looked heavily, as one in sorrow, towards the shore. And then, in sight of them all, she sank,— sank as though she was gripped fast from beneath, and the water went over her, and the harbor was empty as before.”

“And what of the seventy souls?” inquired Timothy.

Copton looked over to the horizon, and back again to Timothy.

“Them as careth for souls, be it for good or bad,” he answered, “they be the ones that know.”

Content stood upon her feet, and picking up her sunbonnet put it on her head.

“I like not tales of phantom ships,” she said. (pp. 131-2)

Too late for that, sweetie. Now that you've heard that story, you can't unhear it. Timothy, of course, ate that stuff up with a spoon, but Content really had to scoot down the road now. And sure enough, the clouds started gathering once she was on the familiar path, which really helped Copton's tale get inside her head. “She was lightly dressed; she felt singularly frail and alone; and the clouds held vague threats of destruction.”

The gale blew up so quickly that she almost didn't notice Stukely, the wayward cavalier, coming in the other direction. When he spotted her, he managed the same courtly shtick that he laid on her on the day at the meeting-house, only not so much, since his frippery and finery was getting tossed about by the inclement weather. Alack! My dainty velvet is squashed like a field of wheat in the wake of advancing French forces... Soon they find themselves in Salome's house. She's singing a familiar air at the spinning wheel...well, familiar to Stukely, anyway, who begins to sing along as the room grows darker, lit by vivid flashes of lightning. Well, that can't be good.

Salome knows the young man—she knows everybody, of course—and gives Content (and us) a proper introduction: “'Mistress Content Cradock, let me present to thee young Mr. Cyprian Stukely,' said Salome, with a change to her grand manner, which, with all its dignity, seldom lost entirely a tinge of irony, 'late of our mother country beyond seas, now testing the slender resources of those her children who have been cast out to seek otherwheres their bed and board.'” Cyprian. Woof. The name sounds like a medication you put on bug bites.

Stukley, thus presented, wastes no time laying on the charm with a trowel until Salome reminds him how well idle flattery goes over in Puritanland. Content, reminded of what turned her off about his tone the last time they met, isn't taking any lip today, but as we'll see, the needler is about to get the needle.

“I stand reproved,” he said with a gesture of affected humility. “This is not the place, I see, to shout the praises of thy country and mine. It becomes not the stranger to cherish allegiance to the sovereign to whom thy rulers also owe fealty!” Content listened with kindling eyes. Her antagonism to this young trifler revived with new force. She recalled her last meeting with him; and the man who had been her companion then seemed the more earnest and the more purposeful by contrast.

“And thou wouldst have us lift up our voices to lament that the measure they meted to us hath been meted to them again?” she demanded, her voice raised that it might be heard above the sound of the noisy rain. “And that the strong hand hath curbed the passionate strokes of oppression?”

“And thou, too, fair mistress!” exclaimed Stukely, turning towards her, while Salome watched her with the smile a mother yields the precociousness of her child. “What can a man do but strike his colors in the presence of such odds? But verily this is an iron country! I expected not to hear the sweet lips of its daughters uttering approval of murder.”

“I approve no murder,” asserted Content, her cheeks flushing crimson. “I would Charles Stuart were alive again; but I see not that God hath made one law for the oppressed and yet another for the oppressor.”

“The sweet lips of the daughters of New England are seldom found without an answer, Master Stukely,” observed Salome, dryly. “It is well for thee to remember that there be here few voices without signification.'

“Small wonder,” he answered with deliberate utterance, “that there be some who, affrighted by the rigors of argument falling from a woman's lips, however fair, seek peace where soft voices raise not the cry of rebellion.”

The room was nearly dark, for the tempest was at its height, and the silence that ensued was shattered by a crash of thunder. Content turned, half in affright, towards Salome, and the superb disdain in her white face, startlingly visible in the shadow, banished her own apprehension with a shock of surprise. It was as if she had not even heard the thunder; her shining eyes were fixed on Stukely, whose own eyes showed anger, though his lips kept their careless smile.

“Yes, it is well,” she said slowly, as the thunder died away; “we have no place for cowards here.”

Content saw that there was a feeling on the part of the speaker that the words did not express, and the moment that followed seemed to her tense with something beside the power of the storm.

“Did you think I was afraid?” she asked Salome, half laughing, as much to break the silence as to defend herself. “Truly I think I was not altogether free from a touch of apprehension that the thunder would knock the house about our ears. But, believe me, I am not altogether a coward, though I start at such a commotion of the elements.” (pp.140-2)

At this point, Stukely turns back to flattery and their first meeting in Salem at the address of Roger Williams. Content is floored when he says that in spite of his smug, glib appearance, he respects Williams as a “man of power,” even if he doesn't agree with the ends he's pursuing. Softening under this new approach, Content observes that Williams was counting on the confusion around the Winthrop funeral to cover his tracks, combined with the colony's abiding mutual friendship borne from shared hardship and suffering. Well, except for that Anne Hathaway woman. But hush, we don't talk about her.

And that's where Stukely attempts what for him is a subtle masterstroke: “Yet it is but as an outsider that I can see the truth, alas! for it is but a meagre measure that one like myself is allowed to find!” Oh, woe, to be a lone and lonely figure in this new land! Oh, woe! Oh, alas! Oh say, who was that guy I saw you with that day in Salem? Was he your brother or something? Oh, Cyprian... (snicker...Cyprian)

The color grew a little deeper in Content's warm cheeks.

“He is not my brother,” she replied; “but young Mr. Archer of Providence, now gone to England at the behest of Mr. Williams and others.”

“Ah! if he be not your brother,” said Stukely, lightly, “then I may say that methought there was a certain truculency in his bearing that would single him out as a man meet for dealing with those who hold themselves his superiors, now in England.”

The implied criticism vexed her; but there was not the same freedom in defending Archer that there was in the case of more conspicuous men. Moreover, there had been a hint of implication in the transition from friendship on general grounds to the particular case of young Mr. Archer which had not escaped her.

“He hath been Mr. Williams' companion in adversity, as well as in such prosperity as hath been his,” she observed, while her thoughts reverted to Archer's enthusiasm with a flash of sympathy.

“And well might there be something assuming in the bearing of a stern young councillor weighted with cares of state, to the careless eyes of one who would push such heavy matters aside with a foot prone to easier paths," said Stukely, his handsome eyes seeking hers, “even had he not the added responsibility of guarding safely through the perils of Salem so precious a companion.”

The ironical tone did not please Content, though there was a scarcely disguised envy audible through the last words that it is not in the heart of woman altogether to withstand.

“There is one fashion, Mistress Salome,” she said, turning from him to their hostess, “that Mr. Stukely hath not yet caught from us of New England.”

“There is more than one," answered Salome; “but what is it that is evident to thy special observation?”

“He talks of perils where there be none; we have had them without our doors too many times to see them in the midst of safety.”

Stukely's dark cheek flushed; and for an instant the studied indifference of his manner gave way under the sting of the gently spoken words.

“Methinks it hath not been the part of Cyprian Stukely to shrink from perils, seen or unseen,” he said hotly. “But,” he added a second later, with a return to his usual manner which cost him some effort, “I should not be unwilling to dream of them if, by so doing I might win the privilege of guarding Mistress Cradock against them in any path she may choose.”

Perhaps neither of the women liked him the less for his momentary loss of temper. (pp. 146-9)

And gee, the sun is breaking through outside! Can't be symbolic, oh nooooo. Maybe if a bird landed on her shoulder with a gift certificate to Outback Steakhouse tied to its leg, I'd change my mind.

Stukely offers to walk her home, but after Salome drops a king's-corpse-sized hint that she and Content have business to attend to, he leaves well enough alone. After he's gone, the two women discuss him a bit more freely. The main question, of course, is “Who and what is he?” Who he is, Salome informs Content, is a “young English gallant” who doesn't have much use for (or in) a country without a king, but would put his life on the line on its behalf just out of habit. As for what he is, she continues, at this point he probably doesn't know either. He's a cavalier who's lost his cav, so he's got nothin' but leer.

Content brings up the ghost ship of Copton's story, which has been buzzing around in her head like a nest of hornets. “Was it a real ship — or was it —but — a — vision?” “It must be a wiser one than I to tell you whereabouts in the real a vision begins. And how should I know? Thinkest thou I saw it?” Content had never broached the subject that brought her to Salome that day—she was worried about Archer—but this reply was noncommittal enough to put her mind at rest for Archer's fate as Salome went back to her spinning and her singing:

" ' Go, Love, go! for Love is unkind.'
But Love came again,
With the rush of the rain,
On the breath of the wind."

And with the subtlety of a sledgehammer comes the cue that the central triangle is finally established. Will Content Cradock end up with the earnest, hard-working man of the people? Or the smarmy flatterer with the lace doily around his neck? Place your bets, please...

Next: Still no Archer, but plenty of slings and arrows. Cyprian. Buahahahahahahaha!


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