My mother loved historical romance novels. These tales were the “chick-lit” of her day, usually set in an era of voluminous skirts and low, square necklines (which looked good on the cover) and centered around headstrong, resourceful heroines who caused scandals and made mistakes until circumstances or the right man came into alignment and the heroine became a part of history. Mom’s favorite writers were Norah Lofts and Anya Seton, two authors who made a point of researching the background of each book for accuracy. I know because I read every book in her collection. (This was before before YA books really came onto the scene and I will read the back of bug repellant bottles if nothing else is available.) My favorite was an Anya Seton story set in 19th century Massachusetts and it’s a little bit different from the rest. It was called, The Hearth and Eagle.
The Hearth and Eagle is (in the story) a historic tavern in Marblehead and the daughter of the tavern owner isn’t interested in history. Hesper Honeywood’s dad may be fascinated by genealogy and poetry but his daughter prefers ready bought goods to home-made and the company of a young fisherman to tales of her ancestors. Most of Hester’s life is spent trying to escape her family and the business/home that is her birthright; later, she uses the house and the balance of her energy to help others find the wisdom and the courage to endure through their own setbacks and disappointments. Hesper’s great gift is realizing that while generations arrive and depart, the home that shelters them all is a constant if cared for well. The inn, like the pre-revolutionary 17th century andirons it shelters, is the symbol of home, everlasting.
A few years before she died, my mother sent me a package of books to add to the library I was assembling. In the package was The Hearth and the Eagle. “I remember you always liked this one,” Mom wrote on an enclosed note. I was irritated at the time because I had definite ideas about which books should be on my shelves and I seldom agreed with Mom’s literary taste. The fact is, we often argued and there were times I would have been irritated if she’d found a cure for cancer. But The Hearth and Eagle stayed on my shelves and on nights like this one, I re-read it. I like to think the book is like the strong and eternal house in it’s pages. It’s abiding message of courage meant something to my mother and now it comforts me. Future generations will probably overlook it but as long as there are omnivorous readers and copy of the book exists somewhere, someone else will probably find help in this story. The Hearth and Eagle will endure.