Nothing was heard in the room but the hurrying pen of the
Writing epistles important to go next day by the
Filled with the name and the fame of the Puritan maiden
Every sentence began or closed with the name of Priscilla,
Till the treacherous pen, to which he confided the secret,
Strove to betray it by singing and shouting the name of
Finally closing his book, with a bang of the ponderous
Sudden and loud as the sound of a soldier grounding his
Thus to the young man spake Miles Standish the Captain of
"When you have finished your work, I have something
important to tell you.
Be not however in haste; I can wait; I shall not be
Straightway Alden replied, as he folded the last of his
Pushing his papers aside, and giving respectful attention:
"Speak; for whenever you speak, I am always ready to
Always ready to hear whatever pertains to Miles Standish."
Thereupon answered the Captain, embarrassed, and culling his phrases:
"'T is not good for a man to be alone, say the Scriptures.
This I have said before, and again and again I repeat it;
Every hour in the day, I think it, and feel it, and say it.
Rose Standish died, my life has been weary and dreary;
Sick at heart have I been, beyond the healing of
Oft in my lonely hours have I thought of the maiden
She is alone in the world; her father and mother and
Died in the winter together; I saw her going and coming,
Now to the grave of the dead, and now to the bed of the
Patient, courageous, and strong, and said to myself, that
There were angels on earth, as there are angels in heaven,
Two have I seen and known;
and the angel whose name is Priscilla
Holds in my desolate life the place
which the other abandoned.
Long have I cherished the thought, but
never have dared to reveal it,
Being a coward in this, though valiant
enough for the most part.
Go to the damsel Priscilla, the
loveliest maiden of Plymouth,
Say that a blunt old Captain, a man
not of words but of actions,
Offers his hand and his heart, the
hand and heart of a soldier.
Not in these words, you know, but this
in short is my meaning;
I am a maker of war, and not a maker
You, who are bred as a scholar, can
say it in elegant language,
Such as you read in your books of the
pleadings and wooings of lovers,
Such as you think best adapted to win
the heart of a maiden."
When he had spoken, John Alden, the fair-haired, taciturn
All aghast at his words, surprised, embarrassed,
Trying to mask his dismay by treating the subject with
Trying to smile, and yet feeling his heart stand still in
Just as a timepiece stops in a house that is stricken by
Thus made answer and spake, or rather stammered than
"Such a message as that, I am sure I should mangle
and mar it;
If you would have it well done,--I am only repeating your
You must do it yourself, you must not leave it to
But with the air of a man whom nothing can turn from his
Gravely shaking his head, made answer the Captain of
"Truly the maxim is good, and I do not mean to
But we must use it discreetly, and not waste powder for
Now, as I said before, I was never a maker of phrases.
I can march up to a fortress and summon the place to surrender,
But march up to a woman with such a
proposal, I dare not.
I'm not afraid of bullets, nor shot
from the mouth of a cannon,
But of a thundering "No!"
point-blank from the mouth of a woman,
So the strong will prevailed, and Alden went
on his errand,
Out of the street of the village, and
into the paths of the forest,
Into the tranquil woods, where blue-birds and robins were
Towns in the populous trees, with hanging gardens of
Peaceful, aerial cities of joy and affection and freedom.
All around him was calm, but within him
commotion and conflict,
Love contending with friendship, and self with each
To and fro in his breast his thoughts were heaving and
As in a foundering ship, with every roll of the vessel,
Washes the bitter sea, the merciless surge of the ocean!
"Must I relinquish it all," he
cried with a wild lamentation,
"Must I relinquish it all, the
joy, the hope, the illusion?
Was it for this I have loved, and
waited, and worshipped in silence?
Was it for this I have followed the flying feet and the
Over the wintry sea, to the desolate shores of New
Truly the heart is deceitful, and out of its depths of
Rise, like an exhalation, the misty phantoms of passion;
Angels of light they seem, but are only delusions of
All is clear to me now; I feel it, I see it distinctly!
This is the hand of the Lord; it is laid upon me in anger,
For I have followed too much the heart's desires and
Worshipping Astaroth blindly, and impious idols of Baal.
This is the cross I must bear; the sin and the swift
So through the Plymouth woods John Alden went on his
Crossing the brook at the ford, where it brawled over
pebble and shallow,
Gathering still, as he went, the May-flowers blooming
Fragrant, filling the air with a strange and wonderful
Children lost in the woods, and covered with leaves in
"Puritan flowers," he said, "and the type
of Puritan maidens,
Modest and simple and sweet, the very type of Priscilla!
So I will take them to her; to Priscilla the May-flower of
Modest and simple and sweet, as a parting gift will I take
Breathing their silent farewells, as they fade and wither
Soon to be thrown away as is the heart of the giver."
So through the Plymouth woods John Alden went on his
Came to an open space, and saw the disk of the ocean,
Sailless, sombre and cold with the comfortless breath of
Saw the new-built house and people at work in a meadow;
Heard, as he drew near the door, the musical voice of
Singing the hundredth Psalm, the grand old Puritan anthem,
Music that Luther sang to the sacred words of the
Full of the breath of the Lord, consoling and comforting
Then, as he opened the door, he beheld the form of the
Seated beside her wheel, and the carded wool like a
her knee, her white hands feeding the ravenous spindle,
While with her foot on the treadle she guided the wheel in
Open wide on her lap lay the well-worn psalm-book of
Printed in Amsterdam, the words and the music together,
Rough-hewn, angular notes, like stones in the wall of a
Darkened and overhung by the running vine of the verses.
Such was the book from whose pages she sang the old
She, the Puritan girl, in the solitude of the forest,
Making the humble house and the modest apparel of
Beautiful with her beauty, and rich with the wealth of her
Over him rushed, like a wind that is keen and cold and
Thoughts of what might have been, and the
weight and woe of his errand;
All the dreams that had faded, and all
the hopes that had vanished,
All his life henceforth a dreary and
Haunted by vain regrets, and pallid,
Still he said to himself, and almost
fiercely he said it,
"Let not him that putteth his hand to the plough look
Though the ploughshare cut through the flowers of life to
Though it pass o'er the graves of the dead and the hearths
of the living,
It is the will of the Lord; and his mercy
endureth for ever!"
So he entered the house: and the hum
of the wheel and the singing
Suddenly ceased; for Priscilla,
aroused by his step on the threshold,
Rose as he entered, and gave him her
hand, in signal of welcome,
Saying, "I knew it was you, when I heard your step in
For I was thinking of you, as I sat there singing and
Awkward and dumb with delight, that a thought of him had
Thus in the sacred psalm, that came from the heart of the
Silent before her he stood, and gave her the flowers for
Finding no words for his thought. He remembered that day
in the winter,
After the first great snow, when he broke a path from the
Reeling and plunging along through the drifts that encumbered
Stamping the snow from his feet as he entered the house,
Laughed at his snowy locks, and gave him a seat by the
Grateful and pleased to know he had thought of her in the
Had he but spoken then! perhaps not in vain had he spoken;
Now it was all too late; the golden moment had vanished!
So he stood there abashed, and gave her the flowers for an
Then they sat down and talked of the birds
and the beautiful Spring-time,
Talked of their friends at home, and
the Mayflower that sailed on the morrow.
"I have been thinking all
day," said gently the Puritan maiden,
"Dreaming all night, and thinking
all day, of the hedge-rows of England,--
They are in blossom now, and the country is all like a
Thinking of lanes and fields, and the song of the lark and
Seeing the village street, and familiar faces of neighbors
Going about as of old, and stopping to gossip together,
And, at the end of the street, the village church, with
Climbing the old gray tower, and the quiet graves in the
Kind are the people I live with, and dear to me my
Still my heart is so sad, that I wish myself back in Old
You will say it is wrong, but I cannot help
it: I almost
Wish myself back in Old England, I
feel so lonely and wretched."
Thereupon answered the
youth:--"Indeed I do not condemn you;
Stouter hearts than a woman's have
quailed in this terrible winter.
Yours is tender and trusting, and
needs a stronger to lean on;
So I have come to you now, with an
offer and proffer of marriage
Made by a good man and true, Miles
Standish the Captain of Plymouth!"
Thus he delivered his message, the
dexterous writer of letters,--
Did not embellish the theme, nor array
it in beautiful phrases,
But came straight to the point, and blurted
it out like a schoolboy;
Even the Captain himself could hardly
have said it more bluntly.
Mute with amazement and sorrow,
Priscilla the Puritan maiden
Looked into Alden's face, her eyes
dilated with wonder,
Feeling his words like a blow, that stunned her and
rendered her speechless;
Till at length she exclaimed, interrupting the ominous
"If the great Captain of Plymouth is so
very eager to wed me,
Why does he not come
himself, and take the trouble to woo me?
If I am not worth the
wooing, I surely am not worth the winning!"
Then John Alden began
explaining and smoothing the matter,
Making it worse as he went,
by saying the Captain was busy,--
Had no time for such
things;--such things! the words grating harshly
Fell on the ear of
Priscilla; and swift as a flash she made answer:
"Has he no time for
such things, as you call it, before he is married,
Would he be likely to find
it, or make it, after the wedding?
That is the way with you
men; you don't understand us, you cannot.
When you have made up your minds, after thinking of this
one and that one,
Choosing, selecting, rejecting, comparing one with
Then you make known your desire, with abrupt and sudden
And are offended and hurt, and indignant perhaps, that a
Does not respond at once to a love that she never
Does not attain at a bound the height to which you have
This is not right nor just: for surely a woman's affection
Is not a thing to be asked for, and had for only the
When one is truly in love, one not only says it, but shows
Had he but waited awhile, had he only showed that he loved me,
Even this Captain of
yours--who knows?--at last might have won me,
Old and rough as he is; but
now it never can happen."
Still John Alden went on, unheeding
the words of Priscilla,
Urging the suit of his friend,
explaining, persuading, expanding;
Spoke of his courage and
skill, and of all his battles in Flanders,
How with the people of God he had chosen to suffer
How, in return for his zeal, they had made him Captain of
He was a gentleman born, could trace his pedigree plainly
Back to Hugh Standish of Duxbury Hall, in Lancashire,
Who was the son of Ralph, and the grandson of Thurston de
Heir unto vast estates, of which he was basely defrauded,
Still bore the family arms, and had for his crest a cock
Combed and wattled gules, and all the rest of the blazon.
He was a man of honor, of noble and generous nature;
Though he was rough, he was kindly; she knew how during
He had attended the sick, with a hand as gentle as
Somewhat hasty and hot, he could not deny it, and
Stern as a soldier might be, but hearty, and placable
Not to be laughed at and scorned, because he was little of
For he was great of heart, magnanimous, courtly, courageous;
Any woman in Plymouth, nay,
any woman in England,
Might be happy and proud to
be called the wife of Miles Standish!
But as he warmed and
glowed, in his simple and eloquent language,
Quite forgetful of self,
and full of the praise of his rival,
Archly the maiden smiled,
and, with eyes over-running with laughter,
Said, in a tremulous voice,
"Why don't you speak for yourself, John?"