Part 5 out of 6
Perez leaned forward toward the beautiful upward turning face.
"Whatever you want," he murmured.
"To the half of my dukedom, you must say."
"To the half of my dukedom," he repeated, in a mechanical voice, not
removing his eyes from hers.
"Do you pledge your honor?" she demanded, still retaining her
If he had known that she intended asking him to blow his own brains
out the next moment, and had expected to keep his promise, he must
needs, with her kneeling so before him, have answered "yes," and so he
did in fact reply.
"Thanks," she said, rising lightly to her feet, "you make a very good
duke indeed, and to reward you I shall not ask for anything like half
your dukedom, but only for a scrap of paper. Here is ink and paper and
a pen. Please write me a pass to go to Pittsfield. Dr. Partridge says
I must have change of air, and I don't want to be stopped by your
A ghastly pallor overspread his face. "You're not going away," he
stammered, rising slowly up.
"To be sure I am. What else should I want of the pass? Come, you're
not going to make me do all that asking over again. Please sit right
down again and write it. You know you promised on your word of honor."
She even put her hand smilingly on his shoulder, as if to push him
down, and as he yielded to the light but irresistible pressure, she
put a pen in his nerveless fingers, saying gayly:
"Just your name at the bottom, that's all. Father wrote the rest to
save you trouble. Now, please." Powerless against an imperious
magnetism which would have compelled him to sign his own death-warrant,
he scrawled the words. As she took up the precious scrap of paper, and
hid it in her bosom, the door opened, and Mrs. Edwards entered with
stately formality, and the next moment Perez found himself blunderingly
answering questions about his mother's state of health, not having the
faintest idea what he was saying. The next thing he was conscious of
was the cold frosty air on his face as he walked across the green from
the store to the guardhouse.
Scarcely had Perez left, when Edwards entered the parlor.
"Did you get it?" he asked of Desire.
"Yes, yes," cried the girl. "Oh, that horrible, horrible fellow! I am
sick with shame all through, sick! sick! But if I can only get away
out of his reach, I shall not mind. Do let Cephas harness the horse
into the chaise at once. He may change his mind. Oh, hurry, father,
do; don't, oh, don't lose a minute."
Half an hour later, Cephas, an old freedman of Edwards, drove the
chaise up to the side door, and a few bundles having been put into the
vehicle, Desire herself entered, and was driven hastily away toward
To go back to Perez, on reaching the guardhouse, coming from the
store, he went in and sat down in the headquarters room. Presently,
Abe Konkapot, who was officer of the day, entered and spoke to him.
Perez making no reply, the Indian spoke again, and then went up to him
and laid his hand on his shoulder.
"What is it?" said Perez, in a dull voice.
"What matter with you, Cap'n? Me speake tree time. You no say nothin.
You seek?" Perez looked up at him vacantly.
"He no drunk?" pursued Abe, changing from the second to the third
person in his mode of speech, as he saw the other paid no attention.
"Seem like was heap drunk, but no smell rum," and he scratched his
head in perplexity. Then he shook Perez' shoulder again. "Say, Cap'n,
what ails yer?"
"She's going away, Abe. Desire Edwards is going away," replied Perez,
looking up at the Indian in a helpless, appealing way.
"You no like have her go, Cap'n? You like better she stay? What for
let her go then?"
"I gave her a pass, Abe. She was so beautiful I couldn't help it."
Abe scratched his head.
"If she so preety, me s'pose you keep her all more for that. No let
Perez did not explain this point, but presently said:
"Abe, you may let the men go home, if you want. It's nothing to me any
more what happens here in Stockbridge. The silk stockings are welcome
to come and hang me as soon as they please," and his head dropped on
his breast like one whose life has suddenly lost its spring and
"Look a here, Cap'n," said Abe, "you say to me, Abe, stop that air
gal, fetch her back. Good. Me do it quick. Cap'n feel all right
"I can't, Abe, I can't. I promised. I gave her my word. I can't. I
wish she had asked me to cut my throat instead," and he despairingly
shook his head.
Abe regarded him with evident perplexity for some moments, and then
with an abrupt nod of the head turned and glided out of the room.
Perez, in his gloomy preoccupation did not even note his going. His
head sunk lower on his breast, and he murmured to himself wild words
of passion and despair.
"If she only knew. If she knew how I loved her. But she would not
care. She hates me. She will never come back. Oh, no, never. I shall
never see her again. This is the end. It is the end. How beautiful she
was!" and he buried his face in his arms on the table and wept
There were voices and noises about and within the guardhouse, but he
took no note of them. Some one came into the room, but he did not look
up, and for a moment Desire Edwards, for she it was, in hat and cloak,
stood looking down on him. Then she said, in a voice whose first
accent brought him to his feet as if electrified:
"No wonder you hide your head."
There was a red spot as big as a cherry in either cheek, and her eyes
scintillated with concentrated scorn and anger. Over her shoulder was
visible Abe Konkapot's swarthy face, wearing a smile of great
"I was foolish enough to think even a rebel might keep his word,"
Desire went on, in a voice trembling with indignation. "I did not
suppose even you would give me a pass and then send your footpads to
It was evident from his dazed look, that he did not follow her words.
He glanced inquiringly at Abe, who responded with lucid brevity:
"Look a' here, Cap'n, me see you feel heap bad cause gal go away. You
make fool promise; no can stop her. Me no make promise. Gal come long
in cart. Show pass. Pass good, but no good for gal to go. Tear up
pass; fetch gal back. Cap'n no break no promise, cause no stop gal.
Abe no break promise, cause no make none. Cap'n be leetle mad with Abe
for tear up pass, but heap more glad for git gal back," and having
thus succinctly stated the matter the Indian retired.
"I beg your pardon, Captain Hamlin," said Desire, with an engaging
smile. "I was too hasty. I suppose I was angry. I see you were not to
blame. If you will now please tell your men that I am not to be
interfered with again, I will make another start for Pittsfield."
"No, not again," he replied slowly.
"But you promised me," she said, with rising apprehension, nervously
clasping the edge of her cloak with her fingers as she spoke. "You
promised me on the word of a duke you know," and she made another
feeble attempt at a smile.
"I promised you," replied he, "I don't know why I was so mad. I was
bewitched. I did not break the promise, but I will not make it again.
God had pity on me, and brought you back. What have I suffered the
last hour, and shall I let you go again? Never! never! None shall
pluck you out of my hand.
"Don't let me terrify you, my darling," he went on passionately, in a
softened voice, as she changed countenance and recoiled before him in
evident fright. "I will not hurt you. I would die sooner than hurt a
hair of your head." He tried to take her hand, and then as she
snatched it away, he caught the hem of her cloak, and kneeling
quickly, raised it with a gesture of boundless tenderness and
reverence, to his lips. She had shrunk back to the wall, and looked
down on him in wide-eyed, speechless terror, evidently no longer
thinking of anything but escape.
"Oh, let me go home. Let me go home. I shall scream out if you don't
let me go," she cried.
He rose to his feet, walked quickly across the room and back, and then
having in some measure subdued his agitation, replied:
"Certainly, you shall go home. It is dark; I will go with you," and
they walked together across to the store without speaking. Returning,
Perez met Abe, and taking him by the hand, gave it a tremendous grip,
but said nothing.
Whatever resentment Squire Edwards cherished against Perez on account
of Desire's recapture and return, he was far too shrewd to allow it to
appear. He simply ignored the whole episode and was more affable than
ever. Whenever he met the young man, he had something pleasant to say,
and was always inviting him into the store to take a drop when he
passed. Meanwhile, however, so far as the latter's opportunities of
seeing or talking with Desire were concerned, she might just as well
have been in Pittsfield, so strictly did she keep the house. A week or
ten days passed thus, every day adding fuel to his impatience, and he
had already begun to entertain plans worthy of a brigand or a
kidnapper, when circumstances presented an opportunity of which he
made shrewd profit.
During the Revolutionary war it had been a frequent policy with the
town authorities to attempt to correct the high and capricious prices
of goods, always incident to war times, by establishing fixed rates
per pound, bushel, yard or quart, by which all persons should be
compelled to sell or barter their merchandise and produce. It had been
suggested in the Stockbridge Committee of Correspondence, Inspection,
and Safety that the adoption of such a tariff would tend to relieve
the present distress and promote trade. Ezra Phelps proposed the plan,
Israel Goodrich was inclined to favor it, and Perez' assent would have
settled the matter. He, it was, whom Squire Edwards approached with
vehement protestations. He might well be somewhat agitated, for being
the only merchant in town, the proposed measure was little more than a
personal discrimination against his profits, which, it must be
admitted, had been of late years pretty liberal, thanks to a dearth of
money that had made it necessary for farmers to barter produce for
tools and supplies, at rates virtually at the merchant's discretion.
If the storekeeper had been compelled to trade at the committee's
prices for awhile, it would perhaps have been little more than a rough
sort of justice; but he did not take that view. It is said that all is
fair in love and war, and this was the manner in which Perez proceeded
selfishly to avail himself of the Squire's emergency. He listened to
his protestations with a sympathetic rather than a hopeful air,
admitting that he himself would be inclined to oppose the new policy,
but remarking that the farmers and some of the committee were so set
on it that he doubted his ability to balk them. He finally remarked,
however, he might possibly do something, if Edwards, himself, would
meantime take a course calculated to placate the insurgents and disarm
their resentment. Being rather anxiously inquired of by the
storekeeper as to what he could consistently do, Perez finally
suggested that Israel Goodrich was going to have a husking in his barn
the following night, if the warm weather held; and if Desire Edwards
should attend, it would not only please the people generally, but
possibly gain over Israel, a member of the committee. Edwards made no
reply, and Perez left him to think the matter over, pretty confident
of the result.
That evening in the family circle, after a gloomy account of the
disaster threatening to engulf the family fortunes if the proposed
policy of fixing prices were carried out, Edwards spoke of Hamlin's
disposition to come to his aid, and his suggestion concerning Desire's
presence at the husking.
"These huskings are but low bussing-matches," said Mrs. Edwards with
much disgust. "Desire has never set a foot in such a place. I suspect
it is a trick of this fellow to get her in his reach."
"It may be so," said her husband, gloomily. "I thought of that myself,
but what shall we do? Shall we submit to the spoiling of our goods? We
are fallen upon evil times, and the most we can do is to choose
Desire, who had sat in stolid silence, now said in much agitation:
"I don't want to go. Please don't make me go, father. I'd rather not.
I'm afraid of him. Since that last time I'm afraid. I'd rather not."
"The child is well nigh sick with it all," said Mrs. Edwards, sitting
down by her and soothingly drawing the head of the agitated girl to
her shoulder, which set her to sobbing. It was evident that the
constant apprehensions of the past several weeks as well as her
virtual imprisonment within doors, had not only whitened her cheek but
affected her nervous tone.
Edwards paced to and fro with knitted brow. Finally he said:
"I will by no means constrain your will in this matter, Desire. I do
not understand all your woman's megrims, but your mother shall not
again reproach me with willingness to secure protection to my temporal
interests at the cost of your peace and quiet. You need not go to this
husking. No doubt I shall be able to bear whatever the Lord sends,"
and he went out.
Soon after, Desire ceased sobbing and raised her head from her
mother's shoulder. "Mother," she said, "did you ever hear of a maiden
placed in such a case as mine?"
"No, my child. It is a new sort of affliction, and of a strange
nature. I scarcely have confidence to advise you as to your duty. You
had best seek the counsel of the Lord in prayer."
"Methinks in such matters a woman is the best judge," said the girl
"Tut, tut, Desire!"
"Nay, I meant no harm, mother," and then with a great sigh, she said:
"I will go. Poor father feels so bad."
The next evening when, dressed for the husking, she took a last look
in her mirror she was fairly scared to see how pretty she was. And yet
despite the dismay and sinking of heart with which she apprehended
Perez' attentions, she did not brush down the dark ringlets that
shadowed her temples so bewitchingly, or choose a less becoming ribbon
for her neck. That is not a woman's way. It was about seven o'clock
when she and Jonathan, who went as her escort, reached Israel
Goodrich's great barn, guided thither by the light which streamed from
the open door.
The husking was already in full blast. A dozen tallow dips, and half
as many lanterns, consisting of peaked cylinders of tin, with holes
plentifully punched in their sides for the light of the candle to
trickle through, illumined the scene. In the middle of the floor was a
pile of full a hundred bushels of ears of corn in the husk, and close
around this, their knees well thrust into the mass, sat full two-score
young men and maidens, for the most part duly paired off, save where
here and there two or three bashful youths sat together. The young men
had their coats off, and the round white arms of the girls twinkled
distractingly as with swift deft motions they freed the shining yellow
ears from their incasements and tossed them into the baskets. The
noisy rustling of the dry husks, the chatter and laughter of the merry
workers, ever and anon swelling into uproarious mirth as some
protesting maiden redeemed a red ear with a pair of red lips, made
altogether a merry medley that caused the cows and horses munching
their suppers in the neighboring stalls to turn and stare in wonder.
Some of the huskers, looking up, caught sight of Desire and Jonathan
at the door, and by a telegraphic system of whispers and nudges, the
information was presently carried to Israel Goodrich.
"Glad to see ye. Come right in," he shouted in a broad, cheery voice.
"More the merrier's, the sayin is. Glad to see ye. Glad to see ye.
Look's kinder neighborly."
As Desire entered the barn, some of the girls rose and curtsied, the
most merely looking bashful and avoiding her eye, as the rural mode of
greeting continues to be to this day. Perez was the first person whom
Desire had seen on entering the barn. Her eyes had been drawn to him
by a sort of fascination, certainly not a pleasant sort, the result of
her having thought so much about him. Nor was this fascination without
another evidence. There was a vacant stool by Perez, and as she passed
it, and he rose and bowed, she made as if she would seat herself
"Don't ye sit thar," said Israel, "that ain't nothin but a stool.
Thar's a chair furder along."
The offer to sit by Perez was almost involuntary on her part, merely a
sign of her sense of powerlessness against him. She had had the
thought that he meant to have her sit there, and in her nervously
abject mood she had not thought of resisting. Her coming to the
husking at all had been a surrender to his will, and this seemed but
an incident and consequence of that. At Israel's words she blushed
faintly, but not in a way to be compared with the red flush that swept
over Perez' face.
"Thar," said Israel, good-humoredly, as she seated herself in the
promised chair, "naow I guess we'll see the shucks begin to fly."
"For the land sakes, Miss Edwards, you ain't a gonter go ter shuckin
with them ere white hands o' yourn," exclaimed Submit Goodrich. "Lemme
git yer some mittins, an an apron tew. Deary me, yew mustn't dew the
fuss thing till yew've got an apron."
"Guess yew ain't uster huskin, or yew woulden come in yer bes gaown,"
said Israel cheerfully.
"Come naow, father," Submit expostulated, "tain't likely she's got
nothin poor nuff fer sech doins. Ez if this ere wuz Miss Edwards' bes
gaown. Yew've got a sight better'n this, hain't yew?"
Desire smiled vaguely. Meanwhile the husking had been pretty much
suspended, the huskers either staring in vacant, open mouthedness at
Desire, or communicating whispered comments to each other. And even
after she had been duly provided with mittens and apron, and begun on
the corn, the chatter and boisterous merriment which her arrival had
interrupted, did not at once resume its course. Perhaps in a more
modern assembly the constraint might have been lasting, but our
forefathers did not depend so exclusively as we upon capricious and
uncompellable moods, which, like the winds, blow whence and when they
list, for the generation of vivacity in social gatherings. For that
same end they used most commonly a force as certain as steam in its
action; an influence kept in a jug.
Submit whispered to her father, and the old man merely poured a double
portion of rum into the cider flip, with which the huskers were being
regaled, and soon all went prosperously again. For rum in those good
old days was recognized as equally the accompaniment of toil and
recreation, and therefore had a double claim to the attention of
huskers. From a sale of meeting-house pews or an ordination, to a ball
or a general training, rum was the touch of nature that made the whole
world of our forefathers kin. And if Desire did but wet her lips with
the flip to-night, it was because the company rather than the beverage
offended her taste. For even at risk of alienating the sympathies of
my teetotal readers, I must refrain from claiming for the maiden a
virtue which had not then been invented.
The appearance of Uncle Sim's black and smiling countenance, as he
entered bowing and grinning, his fiddle under his arm, was hailed with
uproar and caused a prodigious accession of activity among the
huskers, the completion of whose task would be the signal for the
dancing to begin. The red ears turned up so rapidly as to suggest the
theory that some of the youths had stuffed their pockets with a
selected lot from the domestic corn bin before coming. But though this
opinion was loudly expressed by the girls, it did not seem to excite
that indignation in their bosoms which such unblushing duplicity
should have aroused. Half a dozen lively tussles for kisses were
constantly going on in various parts of the floor and the uproar was
In the midst of the hurly-burly, Desire sat bending over the task of
which her unused fingers made slow work, replying now and then with
little forced smiles to Submit's good natured efforts to entertain
her, and paying no attention to the hilarious confusion around. She
looked for all the world to Perez like a captive queen among rude
barbarian conquerors, owing to her very humiliation, a certain
touching dignity. It repented him that he had been the means of
bringing her to the place. He could not even take any pleasure in
looking at her, because he was so angry to see the coarse stares of
admiration which the bumpkins around fixed on her. Paul Hubbard, who
sat opposite him had been particularly free with his eyes in that
direction, and all the more so after he perceived the discomfort it
occasioned Perez, toward whom since their collision concerning the
disposition to be made of the prisoners, he had cherished a bitter
animosity. The last husks were being stripped off, and Sim was already
tuning his fiddle, when Hubbard sprang to his feet with a red ear in
his hand. He threw a mocking glance toward Perez, and advanced behind
the row of huskers toward Desire. Bending over her lap, with downcast
face, she did not observe him till he laid his hand on the rich
kerchief of India silk that covered her shoulders. Looking up and
catching sight of the dark, malicious face above her, its sensual leer
interpreted by the red ear brandished before her eyes, she sprang away
with a gasp. There was not one of the girls in the room who would have
thought twice about a kiss, or a dozen of them. One of their own
number who had made a fuss about such a trifle would have been laughed
at. But somehow they did not feel inclined to laugh at Desire's terror
and repugnance. They felt that she was different from them, and the
least squeamish hoyden of the lot experienced a thrill of sympathy,
and had a sense of something tragic. And yet no one interfered.
Hubbard was but using his rights according to the ancient rules of the
game. A girl might defend herself with fists and nails from an
unwelcome suitor, but no third party could interfere. As Jonathan, who
sat some way from his sister was about to run to her aid, a stout
farmer caught him around the waist crying, good naturedly:
"Fair play youngster! fair play! No interferin!"
Perez had sprung up, looking very white, his eyes congested, his fists
clenched. As Desire threw an agonized look of appeal around the
circle, she caught sight of him. With a sudden impulse she darted to
"Oh, keep me from that man."
"Get out of the way, Hamlin," said Hubbard, rushing after his prey.
"God damn you, get out of my way. What do you mean by interfering?"
Perez scarcely looked at him, but he threw a glance around upon the
others, a glance of appeal, and said in a peculiar voice of suppressed
"For God's sake, some of you take the fellow away, or I shall kill
Instantly Israel Goodrich and half a dozen more had rushed between the
two. The twitching muscles of Perez' face and that strange tone as of
a man appealing to be saved from himself, had suddenly roused all
around from mirthful or curious contemplation of the scene to a
perception that a terrible tragedy had barely been averted.
Meanwhile the floor was being cleared of the husks and soon the merry
notes of the fiddle speedily dissipated the sobering influence of the
recent fracas. Desire danced once with her brother and once with old
Israel, who positively beamed with pleasure. But Hubbard, who was now
pretty drunk, followed her about, every now and then taking the red
ear out of his pocket and shaking it at her, so that between the
dances and after them, she took care not to be far from Perez, though
she pretended not to notice her pursuer. As for Perez, he was far
enough from taking advantage of the situation. Though his eyes
followed her everywhere, he did not approach her, and seemed very ill
at ease and dissatisfied. Finally he called Jonathan aside and told
him that the last end of a husking was often rather uproarious, and
Desire perhaps would prefer to go home early. He would, himself, see
that they reached home without molestation. Desire was glad enough to
take the hint, and glad enough, too, in view of Hubbard's
demonstration, to accept the offered escort. As the three were on the
way home, Perez finally broke the rather stiff silence by expressing
with evident distress his chagrin at the unpleasant events of the
evening; and Desire found herself replying quite as if she felt for,
and wished to lessen, his self-reproach. Then they kept silent again
till just before the store was reached, when he said:
"I see that you do not go out doors at all. I suppose you are afraid
of me. If that is the reason, I hope you will not stay in after this.
I give you my word you shall not be annoyed, and I hope you'll believe
me. Good night."
Was it Desire Edwards' voice which so kindly, almost softly, responded
to his salutations? It was she who, in astonishment, asked herself the
BRACE OF PROCLAMATIONS
Perez profited by the fact that, however a man may have abused a
woman, that is all forgotten the moment he protects her against
another man, perhaps no worse than himself. Ever so little gratitude
is fatal to resentment, and the instinct of her sex to repay
protection with esteem is so deep, that it is no wonder Desire found
her feelings toward Perez oddly revolutionized by that scene at the
husking. Try as she might to resume her former resentment, terror, and
disgust toward the young man, the effort always ended in recalling
with emotions of the liveliest thankfulness how he had stood between
her and that hateful fellow, whom otherwise she could not have
escaped. All that night she was constantly dreaming of being pursued
by ruffians and rescued by him. And the grateful sense of safety and
protection which, in her dreams, she associated with him, lingered in
her mind after she awoke in the morning, and refused to be banished.
She was half ashamed, she would not have had anybody know it, and yet
she had to own that after these weeks of constant depression and
apprehension, the change of mood was not wholly disagreeable.
She had quite a debate with herself as to whether it would be
consistent with her dignity to accept Perez' assurance that she would
not be annoyed, and go out to walk. Without fully determining the
question, she concluded to go anyway, and a beginning having been thus
made, she thereafter resumed her old habit of long daily walks, to the
rapid improvement of her health and spirits. For some days she did not
chance to meet Perez at all, and it annoyed the high-spirited girl to
find that she kept thinking of him, and wondering where she would meet
him, and what he would say or do, and how she ought to appear. And yet
it was perfectly natural that such should be the case. Thanks to his
persecution, he had preoccupied her mind with his personality for so
long a time that it was impossible the new phase of her relations
toward him should not strongly affect her fancy. The first time they
actually did meet, she found herself quite agitated. Her heart beat
oddly when she saw him coming, and if possible she would have turned
aside to avoid him. But he merely bowed and passed on with a word of
greeting. After that he met her oftener, but never presumed to stop--
or say more than "Good morning," or "Good afternoon," the result of
which was that, after having at first welcomed this formality as a
relief, after awhile she came to think it a little overstrained. It
looked as if he thought that she was childishly afraid of him. That
seemed absurd. One day, as they met, and with his usual courteously
curt salutation he was passing by, she observed that it was delightful
weather. As her eye caught his start of surprise, and the expression
of almost overpowering pleasure that passed over his face at her
words, she blushed. She unquestionably blushed and hurried on,
scarcely waiting for his reply. Some days later, as she was taking a
favorite walk over a path among the thickets on the slope of Laurel
Hill, whence the hazy Indian Summer landscape could be seen to
perfection beneath the thin but wonderfully bland sunshine of
November, she again met him face to face. Perhaps it was the color in
her cheeks which reminded him to say:
"You don't look as if you needed to go to Pittsfield for your health
"No," she said, smiling. "When I found I could not go, I concluded I
would get well here."
"I suppose you are very angry with me for stopping you that night,
though it was not I that did it."
"If I were angry, I should not dare tell you, for fear of bringing
down your vengeance on me."
"But are you angry?" he asked anxiously.
"I told you I did not dare say," she replied, smiling at him with an
"Please forgive me for it," he said, not jestingly or lightly, but in
deepest earnest, with a look almost of tears in his eyes. She wondered
she had never before noticed what beautiful blue eyes they were. She
rather liked the sensation of having him look at her so.
"Won't you stop me if I try to go again?" she demanded, with an
audacious impulse. But she repented her boldness as the passion leaped
back into his eyes, and hers fell before it.
"I can't say that," he said. "God knows I will stop you so long as I
have power, and when I can no longer stop you, the wheels of your
carriage shall pass over my body. I will not let you go."
It was strange that the desperate resolution and the inexorable set of
his jaws, which, as he had made a similar declaration on the night of
her recapture, had caused her heart to sink, now produced a sensation
of rather pleasant excitement. Instead of blanching with fear or
revolting in defiance, she replied, with a bewitching air of mock
"Dear me, what a terrible fellow!" and, with a toss of the head, went
on her way, leaving him puzzling his heavy masculine wits over the
fact that she no longer seemed a particle afraid of him.
The Laurel Hill walk, as I observed before, was an old favorite with
Desire, and in her present frame of mind it seemed no sufficient reason
to forsake it, that after this she often met Perez there. It is a
pleasant excitement, playing with lions or other formidable things.
Especially when one has long been in terror of them, the newly gained
sense of fearlessness is highly exhilarating. Desire enjoyed playing
with her lion, calming and exciting him, making his eyes now half fill
with tears, and now flash with passion. The romantic novelty of the
situation, which might have terrified a more timid maiden, began to be
its most attractive feature to her. Besides, he was really very
good-looking, come to observe him closely. How foolish it had been of
her to be so frightened of him at first! The recollection of her former
terror actually amused her; as if it were not easy enough to manage
such a fellow. She had not been in such high spirits for a long time.
She began to think that instead of being a hateful, terrible,
revolting tragedy, the rebellion was rather jolly, providentially
adapted, apparently, for the amusement of young ladies doomed to pass
the winter in dismal country towns. One day her mother, commenting on
the fact that the patrol and pass system of the insurgents had been
somewhat relaxed, suggested that Desire might go to Pittsfield. But
she said she did not care to go now. The fact was she preferred to
play with her lion, though she did not mention that reason to her
mother. When from time to time she heard of the fear and apprehension
with which the gentlemen's families in town regarded Perez, she even
owned to being a little complacent over the fact that this lawless
dictator was her humble adorer. She finally went so far as
occasionally to ask him as a favor to have this or that done about the
village. It was such fun to feel that through him she could govern the
community. One afternoon, being in a particularly gracious mood, she
took a pink ribbon from her neck, knotted it about the hilt of his
sword as an ornament.
The hillside path among the laurel thickets where they so often
chanced to meet, was a lonely spot, beyond the reach of spectators or
eavesdroppers; but, while their meetings were thus secret, nothing
could be more discreet than the way she managed them. She kept him so
well in hand that he did not even dare to speak of the love of which
his whole manner was eloquent. Since she had ceased to fear him, he
had ceased to be at all fear-inspiring. The rude lover whose lawless
attempts had formerly put her in such fear, was now respectful to the
point of reverence, and almost timid in his fear of offending her. The
least sign of anything like tenderness on her part sufficed to stir
him with a passion of humility which in turn touched her more deeply
sometimes than she would have liked to admit. Now that she had come to
see how the poor fellow loved her, she could not cherish the least
anger with him for what he had done to her.
Sometimes she led him on to speak of himself and his present position,
and he would tell her of his dream and hope, in this present period of
anarchy to make himself a name. She was somewhat impressed by his
talk, though she would not tell him so. She had heard enough political
discussion at her father's and uncle's tables to know that the future
political constitution and government of the colonies were wholly
unsettled, and that even a royal and aristocratic form, with
Washington, or some foreign princeling, at the head, was advocated by
many. Especially here in Massachusetts, just now, almost anything was
possible. And so when he said one day, "They call me Duke of
Stockbridge in jest, but it may be in earnest yet," she did not laugh,
but owned to herself that the tall, handsome fellow would look every
inch a duke, if he only had some better clothes. She did not let him
tell her in so many words that the motive of his ambition was to win
her, but she knew it well enough, and the thought did not excite her
indignation, though she knew it ought to.
The nearest she would let him come to talking love to her, was to talk
of their childhood and how he had adored her then. Her own remembrance
of those days of budding girlhood was dim, but he seemed to remember
everything about her, and she could but be touched as he reminded her
of scores of little incidents and scenes and words which had quite
escaped her memory. The doting tenderness which his tone sometimes
took on as he dwelt on these reminiscences, made her heart beat rather
fast, and in her embarrassment she had some ado to make light of the
But now Indian Summer, by whose grace the warm weather had been extended
nearly through November, came abruptly to a close. New England weather
was as barbarous in its sudden changes then as now. One day was warm
and pleasant, the next a foot of snow covered the ground and the next
after that the thermometer, had there been one at that date in Berkshire,
would have recorded zero. The Sunday before Thanksgiving was bitterly
cold, "tejus weather" in the farmer's phrase. There was of course no
stove or other heater in the meeting-house and the temperature within
differed very slightly from that without, a circumstance aggravated by
the fact that furs were as yet almost unknown in the wardrobes even of
the wealthiest of the people. A small tippet of Desire's, sent from
England, was the only thing of the kind in Stockbridge. Parson West
wore his gown and bands outside an overcoat and turned his notes with
thick woolen mittens, now and then giving a brisk rub to his ears. Like
so many clouds of incense rose the breath of the auditors, as they
shivered on their hard board seats. The wintry wind blew in gusts
through the plentifully broken window panes--for glass was as brittle
then as now and costlier to replace,--and every now and then sifted a
whiff of snow down the backs of the sitters in the gallery. Fathers and
mothers essayed to still their little one's chattering teeth by taking
them in their laps and holding them tight, and where a woman was
provided with the luxury of a foot-stove or hot-stone, children were
squatted round it in the bottom of the pew quarreling with each other
to get their tingling toes upon it. A dreadful sound of coughing rose
from the audience, mingled with sneezing from such as were now first
taking their all-winter colds and diversified from time to time by the
wail of some child too miserable and desperate to have any fear of the
parental knuckles before its face.
Struggling with these noises and sometimes wholly lost to those in the
back part of the house, when some tremendous gust of wind shook and
strained the building, the voice of Parson West flowed on and on. He
was demonstrating that seeing it was evident some souls would be lost
it must be for the glory of God that they should be lost, and such
being the case all true saints must and should rejoice in the fact,
and praise God for it. But in order that their approval of the Divine
decree in this matter should be genuine and sincere it must be purely
disinterested, and therefore they must be willing, if God in his
inscrutable wisdom should so will, to be themselves among the lost and
forever to hate and blaspheme him in hell, because thus would his
glory be served. The parson warmly urged that all who believed
themselves to have been born again, should constantly inquire of their
own souls whether they were so resigned, for if they did not feel that
they were, it was to be feared they were still dead in trespasses and
The sermon ended, the parson proceeded to read the annual Thanksgiving
Day proclamation of the governor. To this magic formula, which
annually evoked from the great brick oven stuffed turkey, chicken pie,
mince pie and plum pudding galore, the children listened with faces of
mingled awe and delight, forgetful of their aching toes. The mothers
smiled at the children, while the sheepish grins and glances exchanged
between the youth and maidens in their opposite galleries, showed them
not unmindful of the usual Thanksgiving ball, and, generally speaking,
it is to be feared the thoughts of the congregation were quite
diverted, for the time being, from the spiritual exercise suggested by
the parson. But now the people lift faces of surprise to the pulpit,
for instead of the benediction the parson begins to read yet another
proclamation. It is no less than an offer by His Excellency, the
Governor and the honorable Council, of pardon to those concerned in
the late risings against the courts provided they take the oath of
allegiance to the state before the first of January, with the warning
that all not availing themselves in time of this offer will be subject
to arrest without bail at the governor's discretion, under the recent
act suspending the Habeas corpus. Added to which is a recital of the
special act of the Legislature, that all persons who do not at once
disperse upon reading of the riot act are to receive thirty-nine
lashes and one year's imprisonment, with thirty-nine more lashes at
the end of each three months of that period.
There was little enough Thanksgiving look on the people's faces by the
time the parson had made an end, and it is to be feared that in many a
heart the echo of the closing formula, "God save the Commonwealth,"
was something like "May the devil take it."
"Pardon fer wot I sh'd like ter know," blurted out Abner on the
meeting-house steps. "I dunno nothin baout the res' on ye, but I
hain't done nothin I'm shamed on."
And Israel Goodrich, too, said: "Ef he's gonter go ter pardinin us for
lettin them poor dyin critters outer jail tew Barrington t'other day,
he's jess got the shoe onter the wrong foot. It's them as put em in
needs the pardinin cordin tew my noshin."
"An I guess we don' want no pardon fer stoppin courts nuther. Ef the
Lord pardons us fer not hangin the jedges an lawyers, it'll be more'n
I look fer," observed Peleg Bidwell.
"Here comes the Duke," said another. "Wat dew yew say ter this ere
"The more paper government wastes on proclamations, the less it'll
have left for cartridges," he replied.
There was a laugh at this, but it was rather grim sort of talk, and a
good many of the farmers got into their sleighs and drove away with
very sober faces.
"It is the beginning of the end," said Squire Edwards, in high good
humor, as he sat in his parlor that evening. "From my seat I could see
the people. They were like frightened sheep. The rebellion is knocked
on the head. The governor won't have to call out a soldier. You see
the scoundrels have bad consciences, and that makes cowards of them.
This Hamlin here will be running away to save his neck in a week, mark
"I don't believe he is a coward, father, I don't believe he'll run
away," said Desire, explosively, and then quickly rose from the chair
and turned her back, and looked out the window into the darkness.
"What do you know about him, child?" said her father, in surprise.
"I don't think he seems like one," said Desire, still with her back
turned. And then she added, more quietly: "You know he was a captain
in the army, and was in battles."
"I don't know it; nobody knows it. He says so, that's all," replied
Edwards, laughing contemptuously. "All we know about it is, he wears
an old uniform. He might have picked it up in a gutter, or stolen it
anywhere. General Pepoon thinks he stole it, and I shouldn't wonder."
"It's a lie, a wicked lie!" cried the girl, whirling around, and
confronting her father, with blazing cheeks and eyes.
She had been in a ferment ever since she had heard the proclamation
read that afternoon at meeting, and her father's words had added the
last aggravation to the already explosive state of her nerves. Squire
Edwards looked dumbfounded, and Mrs. Edwards cried in astonishment:
"Desire, child, what's all this?"
But before the girl could speak, there was an effectual diversion.
Jonathan came rushing in from outdoors, crying:
"They're burning the governor!"
"What!" gasped his father.
"They've stuffed some clothes with straw, so's to look like a man, and
put that hat of Justice Goodrich they fetched back from Barrington, on
top and they're burning it for Governor Bowdoin, on the hill," cried
Jonathan. "See there! You can see it from the window. See the light!"
Sure enough, on the summit of Laurel Hill the light of a big bonfire
shone like a beacon.
"It's just where they burned Benedict Arnold's effigy in the war,"
continued Jonathan. "There's more'n a hundred men up there. They're
awful mad with the governor. There was some powder put in the straw,
and when the fire came to't, it blew up, and the people laughed. But
Cap'n Hamlin said 'twas a pity to waste the powder. They might need it
all before this business was through with. And then they cheered
again. He meant there'd be fighting, father."
In the new excitement there was no thought of resuming the
conversation which Jonathan's advent had broken off so opportunely for
Desire, and the latter was able without further challenge to escape to
her own room. Scarcely had she reached it when there was a sound of
fife and drum, and presently a hundred men or more with hemlock in
their hats came marching by on their way from Laurel Hill, and Perez
Hamlin was riding ahead. They were singing in rude chorus one of the
popular songs of the late war, or rather of the stamp act agitation
"With the beasts of the wood, we will ramble for food,
And lodge in wild deserts and caves;
And live as poor Job on the skirts of the globe,
Before we'll submit to be slaves, brave boys,
Before we'll submit to be slaves."
Such was the rebels' response to the governor's proclamation of
mingled mercy and threats. Desire had thrown open her window at the
sound of the music, and, carried away with excitement, as Perez looked
up and bowed, she waved her handkerchief to him. Yes, Desire Edwards
actually waved her handkerchief to the captain of the mob. In the
shining winter night her act was plainly seen by the passing men, and
her parents and brother, who having first blown out the candle, were
looking out from the lower windows, were astonished beyond measure to
hear the ringing cheer which the passing throng sent up. Then Desire
cried a little and went to bed feeling very reckless.
Squire Edwards had clearly been mistaken in thinking that the
proclamation had made an end of the rebellion. Its first effect had
been rather intimidating, no doubt, but upon reflection the insurgents
found that they were more mad than scared. It was indeed just
opposition enough to exasperate those who were fully committed and
stimulate to more vigorous demonstrations; and an express from Shays
having summoned a Berkshire contingent to join in a big military
demonstration at Worcester, fifty armed men under Abner marched from
Stockbridge Thanksgiving Day amid an excitement scarcely equalled
since the day when Jahleel Woodbridge's minute men had left for
Bennington. But the return of the party about the middle of December,
threw a damper on the enthusiasm. The demonstration at Worcester had
been indeed a brilliant success in some respects. One thousand well
armed men headed by Shays himself with a full staff of officers and a
band of music had held the town for several days in full military
occupation, overawing the militia, preventing the sitting of the
courts, and even threatening to march on Boston. But on the other hand
the temper of the population had been lukewarm and often hostile. The
soldiers had been half starved through the refusal to supply
provisions and nearly frozen. Some indeed had died. In coming back a
number of the Berkshire men had been arrested and maltreated in
Northampton. Formidable military preparations were being made by the
government, and parties of Boston cavalry were scouring the eastern
counties and had taken several insurgent leaders prisoners, who would
probably be hung. The men had been demoralized by the spread of a well
substantiated report that Shays had offered to desert to the other
side if he could be assured of pardon. In the lower counties indeed
all the talk was of pardon and terms of submission. The white paper
cockade which had been adopted in contradistinction to the hemlock as
the badge of the government party, predominated in many of the towns
through which Abner's party had passed.
"That air proclamashin 's kinder skeert em more'n did us Berkshire
folks." Abner explained to a crowd at the tavern. "They all wanter be
on the hangman's side wen it comes tew the hangin. They hain't got the
pluck of a weasel, them fellers daown east hain't. This ere war'll hev
tew be fit aout in this ere caounty, I guess, ef wuss comes to wuss."
"They've got a slew o' men daown Bosting way," said a farmer. "I
callate we couldn' hole aout agin' em long ef it come tew fightin, an
they should reely tackle us."
"I dunno baout that nuther," declared Abner with a cornerwise nod of
the head. "Thar be plenty o' pesky places long the road wen it gits up
intew the mountings an is narrer and windin like. I wouldn' ass fer
more'n a kumpny tew stop a regiment in them places. I wuz talkin tew
the Duke baout that tidday. He says the hull caounty's a reglar fort,
an ef the folks 'll hang tewgether it can't be tuk by the hull res' o'
the state. We kin hole aout jist like the Green Mounting boys did agin
the Yorkers an licked em tew, and got shet of em an be indypendent
tidday, by gol, same ez Berkshire orter be."
"Trew's Gospel Abner," averred Israel Goodrich, "thar ain't no use o'
the two eends o' the state tryin tew git on tewgether. They hain't
never made aout tew gree, an I guess they never would nuther ef they
tried it a hundred year more. Darn it, the folks is differn folks
daown east o' Worcester. River folks is more like us but git daown
east o' Worcester, an I hain't no opinyun on em."
"Yer right thar Isr'el," said Abner with heartiness, "I can't bear
Bosting fellers no more'n I kin a skunk, and I kin tell em baout ez
fer orf. I dunno wat tiz baout em, but I can't git up no more feller
feelin fer em nor I kin fer Britishers. Seems though they wern't
ezzackly human, though I s'pose they be, but darn em anyhaow."
"I callate thar's suthin in the mountain air changes men," said Peleg,
"fer it's sartain we be more like the Green Mounting boys in aour
noshins an ways an we be like the Bosting chaps."
"I'd be in favor o' jinin onter Vairmount, an mebbe that'll be the
upshot on't all," observed Ezra Phelps. "Ye see Vairmount hain't a
belongin tew the cussed Continental federashin, an it hain't got none
o' them big debts ez is hangin round the necks o' the thirteen states,
and so we sh'd git rid o' the biggis part o' our taxes all kerslap.
Vairmount is an indypendent kentry, an I callate we'd better jine. Ef
they'd a made aout with that air noshin folks hed a spell ago, baout
raisin up a new state, made aout o' Hampshire caounty an a track o'
land tew the northard,'twould a been jess the sorter thing fer us
Berkshire fellers to a hitched on tew."
"I never hearn nothin baout that idea" said Peleg.
"I s'pose ye hain't," replied Ezra. "I wuz livin in Hampshire them
times, an so I wuz right in the way o' the talk. They wuz gonter call
the state New Connecticut. But the idee never come ter nothin. The war
come on an folks hed other fish ter fry."
But Israel declared that he was not in favor of joining on to
anything. Berkshire was big enough state for him, and he did not want
to see any better times than along from '74 to '80, when Berkshire
would take no orders from Boston.
All through the first half of December one heavy snow storm had
followed another. The roads about Stockbridge were often blocked for
days together. In the village the work of digging paths along the
sidewalks, between the widely-parted houses, was quite too great to be
so much as thought of, and the only way of getting about was in
sleighs, or wading mid-leg deep. Of course, for the women, this meant
virtual imprisonment to the house, save on the occasion of the Sunday
drive to meeting. In these days, even the disciplinary tedium of a
convict's imprisonment is relieved by supplies of reading matter
gathered by benevolent societies. But for the imprisoned women of whom
I write there was not even this recreation. Printing had, indeed, been
invented some hundreds of years, but it can scarcely be said that
books had been as yet, and especially the kinds of books that ladies
care to read. A bible, concordance, and perhaps a commentary, with
maybe three or four other grave volumes, formed the limit of the
average library in wealthy Berkshire families of that day.
It is needless to say then, that Desire's time hung very heavy on her
hands, despite the utmost alleviations which embroidery, piano-playing,
and cakemaking could afford. For her, isolated by social superiority,
and just now, more than ever, separated from intercourse with the lower
classes by reason of the present political animosities, there was no
participation in the sports which made the season lively for the farmers'
daughters. The moonlight sledding and skating expeditions, the
promiscuously packed and uproarious sleighing-parties, the candy-pulls
and "bees" of one sort and another, and all the other robust and not
over-decorous social recreations in which the rural youth and maidens of
that day delighted, were not for the storekeeper's fastidious daughter.
The gentlemen's families in town did, indeed, afford a more refined and
correspondingly duller social circle, but naturally enough in the present
state of politics, there was very little thought of jollity in that
And so, as I said, it was very dull for Desire, in fact terribly dull.
The only outside distraction all through the livelong day was the
occasional passage of a team in the road, and her mother, too, usually
occupied the chair at the only window commanding the road. And when
the aching dullness of the day was over, and the candles were lit for
the evening, and the little ones had been sent to bed, there was
nothing for her but to sit in the chimney corner, and look at the
blazing logs and brood and brood, till, at bedtime her father and
Jonathan came in from the store. Then her mother woke up, and there
was a little talk, but after that yawned the long dead night--sleep,
sleep, nothing but sleep for a heart and brain that cried out for
Up to the time when the sudden coming of the winter put an abrupt end
to her meeting with Perez, she was merely playing, or in more modern
parlance, "flirting" with him, as a princess might flirt with a
servitor. She had merely allowed his devotion to amuse her idleness.
But now, thanks to the tedium which made any mental distraction
welcome, the complexion of her thoughts concerning the young man
suffered a gradual change. Having no other resource, she gave her
fancy _carte blanche_ to amuse her, and what materials could
fancy find so effective as the exciting experiences of the last
Autumn? Sitting before the great open fireplace in the evenings, while
her mother dozed in the chimney corner, and the silence was only
broken by the purring of the cat, the crackling of the fire, the
ticking of the clock, and the low noise heard through the partition,
of men talking over their cups with her father in the back room of the
store, she fell into reveries from which she would be roused by the
thick, hot beating of her heart, or wake with cheeks dyed in blushes
at the voice of her mother. And then the long, dreamful nights. Almost
two-thirds of each twenty-four hours in this dark season belonged to
the domain of dreams. What wonder that discretion should find itself
all unable to hold its own against fancy in such a world of shadows.
What wonder that when, after meeting on Sundays she met Perez as she
was stepping into her father's sleigh at the meeting-house door, she
should feel too confused fairly to look him in the face, much as she
had thought all through the week before of that opportunity of meeting
One day it chanced that Mrs. Edwards who was sitting by the window,
"Here comes that Hamlin fellow."
Desire sprang up with such an appearance of agitation that her mother
"Don't be scared, child. He won't come in here. It's only into the
store he's coming."
She naturally presumed that it was terror which occasioned her
daughter's perturbation. What would have been her astonishment if she
could have followed the girl as she presently went up to her room, and
seen her cowering there by the window in the cold for a full half-hour,
so that she might through a rent in the curtain have a glimpse of Perez
as he left the store! I am not sure that I even do right in telling the
reader of this. Indeed her own pride did so revolt against her weakness
that she tingled scarcely less with shame than with cold as she knelt
there. Once or twice she did actually rise up and leave the window, and
start to go downstairs, saying that she was glad she had not seen him
yet, for she could still draw back with some self-respect. But even as
she was thus in the act of retiring, some noise of boots in the store
below suggesting that now he might be going out, brought her hurriedly
back to the window. And when at last he did go, in her eagerness to see
him, she forgot all about her scruples. Her heart sprang into her throat
as she caught sight of him. She could have cried at a fleck in the
miserable glass which spoiled her view. Then when he turned and looked
up, a wave of color rushed all over her face, and she jumped back in
such fear at the thought he might see her, although she was well hidden,
that he had passed out of sight ere she dared look out again. But that
upward glance and the eager look in his eyes consoled her for the loss.
Had he not looked up, she would no doubt have yielded to a revulsion of
self-contempt for her weakness, which would have been a damper on her
growing infatuation. But that glance had made her foolishly, glowingly
elated, and disposed to make light of the reproaches of her pride.
"I suppose you were waiting for that Hamlin fellow to go away, before
coming down," said her mother as Desire re-entered the living-room.
The girl started and averted her face with a guilty terror, saying
faintly, "What?" How did her mother know? Her fears were relieved,
though not her embarrassment, as her mother added:
"You needn't have been so much frightened, although I really can't
blame you for it, after all you've been through at his hands. Still he
would scarcely dare, with all his impudence, to try to force a way in
here. You would have been quite safe, had you staid downstairs."
The good lady could not understand why, in spite of this reassurance,
Desire should thereafter persist, as she did, in retiring to her own
room whenever Hamlin came into the store. As the better informed
reader will infer from this fact the girl's infatuation was on the
increase. She had become quite shameless and hardened about using her
point of espionage to see, without being seen, the lover who so
occupied her thoughts. The only events of the slow, dull days for her
were now his visits to the store. She no longer started back when, in
going, his eager glance rose to her window, but panting, yet secure
behind her covert, looked into his eyes and scanned his expression.
Sometimes a quick rush of tears would rob her of her vision as she
read in the sad hunger of those eyes how he longed for a glimpse of
her face. But for very shame's sake she would have pulled the curtains
up. It was so unfair of her, she thought self-reproachfully, to sate
her own eyes while cheating his. She knew well enough that all which
brought him to the store so often was the hope of seeing and speaking
with her. And finally, about the middle of January, she made a
desperate resolution that he should. For several days she managed to
occupy her mother's usual seat by the window commanding the approach
to the store, and finally was rewarded by seeing Hamlin go in. She
said nothing at first, but soon remarked carelessly:
"I wonder if father hasn't got some other dimity in the store."
"Perhaps. I think not, though," replied Mrs. Edwards. Desire leaned
back in her chair, stifled a yawn and presently said:
"I believe I'll just run in and ask him before I get any further on
this." She rose up leisurely, stole a glance at the mirror in passing
--how pale she was--opened the connecting door and went into the
She saw Perez, out of the corner of her eye, the instant she opened
the door. But not taking any notice of him, in fact holding her head
very stiffly, and walking unusually fast, she went across to her
father and asked him about the dimity. Receiving his reply she turned,
still without looking at Perez, and began mechanically to go back. So
nervous and cowardly had she been made by the excessive preoccupation
of her mind with him, that she actually had not the self-possession to
carry out her boldly begun project of speaking to him, now that he was
so near. It seemed as if she were actually afraid of looking at him.
But when he said in a rather hurt tone, "Good afternoon, Miss
Edwards," she stopped, and turned abruptly toward him and without
speaking held out her hand. He had not ventured to offer his, but he
now took hers. Her face was red enough now, and what he saw in her
eyes made him forget everything else. They stood for several seconds
in this intensely awkward way, speechless, for she had not even
answered his greeting. Squire Edwards, in the act of putting back the
roll of dimity on the shelf, was staring over his shoulder at them,
astounded. She knew her father was looking at them, but she did not
care. She felt at that moment that she did not care who looked on or
"How cold the weather is!" she said, dreamily.
"Yes, very," replied Perez.
"I hope it will be warmer, soon, don't you?" she murmered.
Then she seemed to come to herself, slowly withdrew her hand from his,
and walked slowly into the living-room and shut the door, and went
upstairs to her chamber. As soon as Hamlin had gone Edwards came in
and spoke with some indignation of his presumption.
"If he had not let go her hand, I should have taken him by the
shoulder in another second," he said angrily.
"Whatever made her shake hands with him?" demanded Mrs. Edwards.
"I suppose she thought she had to, or he would be murdering us all.
The girl acted very properly, and would not have noticed him if he had
not stopped her. But by the Providence of God matters now wear a
better look. This fellow is no longer to be greatly feared. The rebels
lose ground daily in town as well as in the county and state, and this
Hamlin is losing control even over his own sort. If he does not leave
the village he will be arrested soon. There is no need that we should
humble ourselves before him any longer."
All of which was quite true. For while we have been following the
dreams of a fancy-fevered girl, secluded in her snow-bound home among
the hills of Berkshire, the scenes have shifted swiftly in the great
drama of the rebellion, and a total change has come over the condition
and prospects of the revolt. The policy of conciliation pursued by the
state government had borne its fruit, better and more speedy fruit
than any other policy could have borne. Any other would have plunged
the state into bloody war and been of doubtful final issue. The credit
for its adoption is due primarily to the popular form of the
government which made it impossible for the authorities to act save in
accordance with popular sentiment. There was no force save the
militia, and for their use the approval of the two houses of the
Legislature was needful. The conservative and aristocratic Senate
might alone have favored a harsh course, but it could do nothing
without the House, which fully sympathized with the people. The result
was a compromise by which the Legislature at its extra session, ending
the middle of November, passed laws giving the people the most of what
they demanded, and then threatened them with the heavy arm of the law
if they did not thereafter conduct themselves peaceably.
To alleviate the distress from the lack of circulating medium, the
payment of back taxes in certain specified articles other than money
was authorized, and real and personal estate at appraised value was
made legal tender in actions for debt and in satisfaction for
executions. An act was also passed and others were promised reducing
the justly complained of costs of legal processes, and the fee tables
of attorneys, sheriffs, clerks of courts and justices, for, according
to the system then in vogue, most classes of judges were paid by fees
from litigating parties instead of by salary. The complaint against
the appropriation of so large a part of the income from the import and
excise taxes to the payment of interest on the state debt was met by
the appropriation of one-third of those taxes to government expenses.
To be sure the Legislature had refused to provide for the emission of
any more paper money, and this, in the opinion of many, was
unpardonable but it had shown a disposition to make up in some degree
for this failure by passing a law to establish a mint in Boston. These
concessions practically cut the ground out from under the rebellion,
and the practical minded people of the state, reckoning up what they
had gained, wisely concluded that it would not be worth while to go to
blows for the residue, especially as there was every reason to think
the Legislature at the next sitting would complete the work of reform
it had so well begun. A convention of the Hampshire County people at
Hadley, on the second of January, gave formal expression to these
views in a resolution advising all persons to lay aside arms and trust
to peaceable petition for the redress of such grievances as still
Indeed, even if the mass of the people had been less satisfied than
they had reason to be with the Legislature's action, they had had
quite enough of anarchy. The original stopping of the courts and jail
deliveries, had been with their entire approval. But, as might be
expected, the mobs which had done the business had been chiefly
recruited from the idle and shiftless. Each village had furnished its
contingent of tavern loafers, neerdowells, and returned soldiers with
a distaste for industry. These fellows were all prompt to feel their
importance and responsibility as champions of the people, and to a
large extent had taken the domestic police as well as military affairs
into their own hands. Of course it was not long before these self-elected
dictators, began to indulge themselves in unwarrantable liberties with
persons and property, while the vicious and criminal classes generally,
taking advantage of the suspension of law, zealously made their hay
while the sun shone. In fact, whatever course the government had taken,
this state of things had grown so unbearable in many places that an
insurrection within the insurrection, a revolt of the people against
the rebels, must presently have taken place. But as may readily be
supposed these rebel bands, both privates and officers, were by no
means in favor of laying down their arms and thereby relapsing from
their present position of importance and authority to their former
state of social trash, despised by the solid citizens whom now they
lorded it over. Peace, and the social insignificance it involved had
no charms for them. Property for the most part they had none to lose.
Largely veterans of the Revolution, for eight years more used to camp
than house, the vagabond military state was congenial to them and its
license sufficient reward. The course of the Shays' rebellion will not
be readily comprehensible to any who leave out of sight this great
multitude of returned soldiers with which the state was at the time
filled, men generally destitute, unemployed and averse to labor, but
inured to war, eager for its excitements, and moreover feeling
themselves aggrieved by a neglectful and thankless country. And so
though the mass of the people by the early part of winter had grown
to be indifferent to the rebellion, if not actually in sympathy with
the government, the insurgent soldiery still held together wonderfully
and in a manner that would be impossible to understand without taking
into account the peculiar material that composed it. Not a man of the
lot took advantage of the governor's proclamation offering pardon, and
instead of being intimidated by the crushing military force sent against
them in January, the rebel army at the Battle of Springfield the last
day of that month was the largest body of insurgents that had been
assembled at any time.
The causes described which had been at work in the lower counties, to
weaken popular sympathy with the insurgents, had simultaneously
operated in Berkshire. The report brought back from Worcester by
Abner's men, with the subsequent action of the Hadley convention in
advising the laying aside of arms, had strengthened the hands of the
conservatives in Stockbridge. The gentlemen of the village who had
been so quiet since Perez' relentless suppression of the Woodbridge
rising in September, found their voices again, and cautiously at
first, but more boldly as they saw the favorable change of popular
feeling, began to talk and reason with their fellow-citizens. If the
insurrection had had no other effect, it had at least taught these
somewhat haughty aristocrats the necessity of a conciliatory tone with
the lower classes. The return home of Theodore Sedgwick in the latter
part of December, gave a marked impulse to the government party, of
whom he was at once recognized as the leader. He had the iron hand of
Woodbridge, with a velvet glove of suavity, which the other lacked. To
command seemed natural to him, but he could persuade with as much
dignity as he could command, a gift at once rare and most needful in
the present emergency. He it was who wore into the village the first
white paper cockade which had been seen there, though within a week
after, they were full as plenty as the hemlock sprigs. The news which
came in the early part of January, that the government had ordered
4,400 militia under General Lincoln to march into the disaffected
counties, and put down the rebellion, produced a strong impression.
People who had thought stopping a court or two no great matter, and
indeed quite an old fashion in Berkshire, were by no means ready to go
to actually fighting the government. But still it should be noted that
the majority of those who took off the green did not put on the white.
The active furtherance of the government interests was left to a
comparatively small party. The mass of the people contented themselves
with withdrawing from open sympathy with the insurrection, and
maintaining a surly neutrality. They were tired of the rebellion,
without being warmly disposed toward the government. Neither the
friends of government nor the insurgents who still withstood them,
could presume too much on the support of this great neutral body, a
fact which prevented them from immediately proceeding to extremities
against each other.
It was fortunate that there was some such check on the animosity of
the two factions. For the bitterness of the still unreconciled
insurgents against the friends of the government was intense. They
derided the white cockade as "the white feather," denounced its
wearers as "Tories," every whit as bad as those who took King George's
part against the people, and deserving nothing better than
confiscation and hanging. Outrages committed upon the persons and
families of government sympathizers in outlying settlements were daily
reported. Against Sedgwick especial animosity was felt, but though he
was constantly riding about the county to organize and encourage the
government party, his reputation for indomitable courage, protected
him from personal molestation under circumstances where another man
would have been mobbed. In Stockbridge itself, there were no violent
collisions of the two parties save in the case of the children,
terrific snowball fights raging daily in the streets between the
"Shayites" and the "Boston Army." Had Perez listened to the counsels
of his followers, the exchange of hard knocks in the village would
have been by no means confined to the children. But he well knew that
the change in public opinion which was undermining the insurrection
would only be precipitated by any violence towards the government
party. Many of the men would not hear reason, however, and his
attitude on this point produced angry murmurs. The men called up his
failure to whip the silk stockings in September, his care for Squire
Edwards' interests, and his veto of the plan for fixing prices on the
goods at the store. It was declared that he was lukewarm to the cause,
no better than a silk stocking himself, and that it would have been
better to have had Hubbard for captain. Even Abner Rathbun, as well as
Meshech Little, joined in this schism, which ended in the desertion of
the most of the members of the company Perez had organized, to join
Hubbard up at the iron-works. About the same time, Israel Goodrich
withdrew from the committee of safety. He told Perez he was sorry to
leave him, but the jig was plainly up, and he had his family to
consider. If his farm was confiscated, they'd have to go on the town.
"Arter all, Perez, we've made somethin by't. I hain't sorry I gone
intew it. Them new laws ull be somethin of a lift; an harf a loaf be
considabul better nor no bread." He advised Perez to get out of the
business as quick as possible. "'Tain't no use kickin agin' the
pricks," he said. Ezra, who was disgusted at the failure of the
Legislature to print more bills, stuck awhile longer, and then he too
withdrew. Peleg Bidwell and other men who had families or a little
property at stake, rapidly dropped off. They owed it to their wives
and children not to get into trouble, they said, and Perez could not
blame them. And so day by day all through the month of January he saw
his power melting away by a process as silent, irresistible and
inevitable as the dissolving of a snow bank in spring; and he knew
that if he lingered much longer in the village, the constable would
come some morning and drag him ignominiously away to the lockup. It
was a desperate position, and yet he was foolishly, wildly happy.
Desire was not indifferent to him. That awkward meeting in the store,
those moments of silent hand-clasp, with her eyes looking with such
bold confession into his, had told him that the sole end and object of
his strange role here in Stockbridge was gained. She loved him. Little
indeed would he have recked that the role was now at an end; little
would he have cared to linger an hour longer on this scene of his
former fantastic fortunes, if but he could have borne her with him on
his flight. How gayly he would have laughed at his enemies then. If he
could but see her now, could but plead with her. Perhaps he might
persuade her. But there was no opportunity. Even as far back as
December, as soon as the rebellion began evidently to wane, Edwards
had began to turn the cold shoulder to him on his visits to the store.
He had put up with insults which had made his cheek burn, merely
because at the store was his only chance of seeing Desire. But
Edwards' tone to him after that meeting with her, had been such that
he knew it was only by violence that he could again force an entrance
over the storekeeper's threshold. The fact was, Edwards, now that the
danger was over, blamed himself for an unnecessary subservience to the
insurgent leader, and his mortified pride expressed itself in a
special virulence toward him. There was then no chance of seeing
Desire. She loved him, but he must fly and leave her. One moment he
said to himself that he was the happiest of men. In the next he cursed
himself as the most wretched. And so alternately smiling and cursing,
he wandered about the village during those last days of January like
one daft, too much absorbed in the inward struggle to be more than
half conscious of his danger.
THE BATTLE OF WEST STOCKBRIDGE
One day, three days before the end of January, as Perez, returning
from a walk, approached the guardhouse, he saw that it was in
possession of Deputy Sheriff Seymour and a posse. The rebel garrison
of three or four men only, having made no resistance, had been
disarmed and let go. Perez turned on his heel and went home. That same
afternoon about three o'clock, as he was sitting in the house, his
brother Reuben, who had been on the watch, came in and said that a
party of militia were approaching.
"I've saddled your horse, Perez, and hitched him to the fence. You've
got a good start, but it won't do to wait a minute." Then Perez rose
up, bade his father and mother and brother good-bye, and went out and
mounted his horse. The militia were visible descending the hill at the
north of the village, several furlongs off. Perez turned his horse in
the opposite direction, and galloped down to the green. He rode up in
front of the store, flung himself from his horse, ran up the steps and
went in. Dr. Partridge was in the store talking to Edwards, and
Jonathan was also there. As Perez burst in, pale, excited, yet
determined, the two gentlemen sprang to their feet and Jonathan edged
toward a gun that stood in the corner. Edwards, as if apprehending his
visitor's purpose, stepped between him and the door of the living-
rooms. But Perez' air was beseeching, not threatening, almost abject,
"I am flying from the town," he said. "The hue and cry is out after
me. I beg you to let me have a moment's speech with Miss Desire."
"You impudent rascal," cried Edwards. "What do you mean by this. If
you do not instantly go, I will arrest you myself. See my daughter,
forsooth! Get out of here, fellow!" and he made a threatening step
forward, and then fell back again, for though Perez' attitude of
appeal was unchanged, he looked terribly excited and pertinacious.
"Only a word," he cried, his pleading eyes fixed on the storekeeper's
angry ones. "A sight of her, that's all I ask, sir. You shall stand
between us. Do you think I would harm her? Think, sir, I did not treat
you ill when I was master. I did not deny you what you asked."
There was something more terrifying in the almost whining appeal of
Perez' voice than the most violent threat could be, so intense was the
repressed emotion it indicated. But as Edwards' forbidding and angry
face plainly indicated that his words were having no effect, this
accent of abjectness suddenly broke off in a tremendous cry:
"Great God, I must see her!"
Edwards was plainly very much frightened, but he did not yield.
"You shall not," he replied between his teeth. "Jonathan! Dr.
Partridge! Will you see him murder me?"
Jonathan, gun in hand, pluckily rallied behind his father, while the
doctor laid his hand soothingly on Perez' shoulder, who did not notice
him. But at that moment the door into the living-rooms was flung open,
and Desire and her mother came in. The loud voices had evidently
attracted their attention and excited their apprehensions, but from
the start which Desire gave as she saw Perez, it was evident she had
not guessed he was there. At sight of her, his tense attitude and
expression instantly softened, and it was plain that he no longer saw
or took account of any one in the room but the girl.
"Desire," he said, "I came to see you. The militia are out after me at
last, and I am flying for my life. I couldn't go without seeing you
Without giving Desire a chance to reply, which indeed she was much too
confused and embarrassed to do, her mother interposed.
"Mr. Edwards," she exclaimed indignantly, "can't you put the fellow
out? I'm sure you'll help, Doctor. This is an outrage. I never heard
of such a thing. Are we not safe in our own house from this impudent
loafer?" Perez had not minded the men, but even in his desperation,
Mrs. Edwards somewhat intimidated him, and he fell back a step, and
his eye became unsteady. Dr. Partridge walked to the window, looked
out, and then turning around, said coolly:
"I suppose it is our duty to arrest you, Hamlin, and hand you over to
the militia, but hang me if I wish you any harm. The militia are just
turning into the green, and if you expect to get away, you have not a
second to lose."
"Run! Run!" cried Desire, speaking for the first time.
Perez glanced out at the window and saw his pursuers not ten rods off.
"I will go," he said, looking at Desire. "I will escape, since you
tell me to, but I will come again some day," and opening the door and
rushing out, he leaped on his horse and galloped away on the road to
Lee, the baffled militiamen satisfying themselves with yelling and
firing one or two vain shots after him.
Sedgwick, aware that in the ticklish state of public opinion, the
government party could not afford to provide the malcontents with any
martyrs, had postponed the attempt to arrest Perez until affairs were
fully ripe for it. The militia company of Captain Stoddard had been
quietly reorganized, so that the very night of Perez' flight, patrols
were established, and a regular military occupation of the town began.
The larger part of the old company having gone over to the insurgents,
the depleted ranks had been filled out by the enlistment as privates
of the gentlemen of the village. The two Dwights, Drs. Sergeant and
Partridge, Deacons Nash and Edwards, and many other silk stockinged
magnates carried muskets, and a dozen gentlemen besides had organized
themselves into a party of cavalry, with Sedgwick himself as captain.
Even then the difficulty in finding men enough to fill out the company
was so great that lads of sixteen and seventeen, gentlemen's sons,
were placed in line with the gray fathers of the settlement. There was
need indeed of every musket that could be mustered, for up at West
Stockbridge, only an hour's march away, Paul Hubbard had a hundred and
fifty men about him, from whom a raid might at any moment be expected.
But Stockbridge was now to become the center of military operations,
not only for its own protection, but for that of the surrounding
country. Hampshire County, as well as the eastern counties, had been
called on for quotas to swell General Lincoln's army, but upon
Berkshire no requisition had been made. The peculiar reputation of
that county for an independent and insubordinate temper, afforded
little reason to hope such a requisition would be regarded if made.
And indeed the county promptly showed itself quite equal to the
independent role which the Governor's course conceded to it. An
effective plan for the suppression of the rebellion in the county had
been concerted between Sedgwick and the leading men of the other
towns. It had been agreed upon to raise five hundred men, and
concentrate them at Stockbridge, using that town as a base of
operations against the rebel bands in Southern Berkshire. Captain
Stoddard's company had scarcely taken military possession of
Stockbridge, when it was reenforced by companies from Pittsfield,
Great Barrington, Sheffield, Lanesboro, Lee and Lenox. It was under
escort of the Pittsfield company, that Jahleel Woodbridge returned to
Stockbridge, after an absence of nearly four months. General
Patterson, one of the major-generals of militia in the county, and an
officer of revolutionary service, assumed command of the battalion,
and promptly gave it something to do.
Far from appearing daunted by the presence of so large a body of
militia in Stockbridge, Hubbard's force at the ironworks had increased
to two hundred men who boldly threatened to come down and clean out
Patterson's "Tories," a feat to which, if joined by some of the
smaller insurgent bands in the neighborhood, they might ere long be
equal. For this Patterson wisely decided not to wait. And so at noon
of one of the first days of February, about three hundred of the
government troops, with half a dozen rounds of cartridges per man, set
out to attack Hubbard's camp.
There had been tearful farewells in the gentlemen's households that
morning. Most had sent forth father and sons together to the fray and
some families there were which had three generations in the ranks. For
this was the gentlemen's war. The mass of the people held sullenly
aloof and left them to fight it out. It was all that could be expected
of themselves if they did not actively join the other side. There were
more friends of theirs with Hubbard than with Patterson, and the
temper in which they viewed the preparations to march against the
rebels was so unmistakably ugly that as a protection to the families
and property in the village one company had to be left behind in
Stockbridge. It was a muggy overcast day, a poor day to give men
stomach for fighting; drum and fife were silent that the enemy might
have no unnecessary warning of their coming; and so with an ill-wishing
community behind their backs and the foe in front, the troops set out
under circumstances as depressing as could well occur. And as they went,
mothers and daughters and wives climbed to upper windows and looked out
toward the western mountain up whose face the column stretched, straining
their ears for the sound of shots with a more quaking apprehension than
if their own bosoms had been their marks. It is bad enough to send
friends to far-off wars, sad enough waiting for the slow tidings, but
there is something yet more poignant in seeing loved ones go out to
battle almost within sight of home.
The word was that Hubbard was encamped at a point where the road
running directly west over the mountain to West Stockbridge met two
other roads coming in from northerly and southerly directions.
Accordingly, in the hope of catching the insurgents in a trap the
government force was divided into three companies. One pushed straight
up the mountain by the direct road, while the others made respectively
a northern and a southern detour around the mountain intending to
strike the other two roads and thus come in on Hubbard's flanks while
he was engaged in front. The center company did not set out till a
little after the other two, so as to give them a start. When it
finally began to climb the mountain Sedgwick with his cavalry rode
ahead. A few rods behind them came a score or two of infantry as a
sort of advance guard, the rest of the company being some distance in
the rear. The gentlemen in that little party of horsemen had nearly
all seen service in the late war and knew what fighting meant, but
that was a war against their country's foes, invaders from over the
sea, not like this, against their neighbors. They had no taste for the
job before them, resolute as they were to perform it. The men they
were going to meet had most of them smelled powder, and knew how to
fight. They were angry and desperate and the conflict would be bloody
and of no certain issue. So far as they knew, it would be the first
actual collision of the insurrection, for the news of the battle at
Springfield had not yet reached them. No wonder they should ride along
soberly and engrossed in thought.
Suddenly a man stepped out from the woods into the road and firing his
musket at them turned and ran. Thinking to capture him the gentlemen
spurred their horses forward at a gallop. Other shots were fired
around them, indicating clearly that they had come upon the picket
line of the enemy. But their blood was up and they rode on pell-mell
after the fugitive sentry. There was a turn in the road a short
distance ahead. As they dashed around it, now close behind the flying
man, they found themselves in the clearing at the crossing of the
roads. Why do they rein in their plunging steeds so suddenly? Well
they may! Not six rods off the entire rebel line of two hundred men is
drawn up. They hear Hubbard give the order "Present!" and the muskets
of the men rise to their cheeks.
"We're dead men. God help my wife!" says Colonel Elijah Williams, who
rides at Sedgwick's side. Advance or retreat is alike impossible and
the forthcoming volley can not fail to annihilate them.
"Leave it to me," says Sedgwick, quietly, and the next instant he is
galloping quite alone toward the line of levelled guns. Seeing but one
man coming the rebels withhold their fire. Reining up his horse within
a yard of the muzzles of the guns he says in a loud, clear,
"What are you doing here, men? Laban Jones, Abner Rathbun, Meshech
Little, do you want to hang for murder? Throw down your arms. You're
surrounded on three sides. You can't escape. Throw down your arms and
I'll see you're not harmed. Throw away your guns. If one of them
should go off by accident in your hands, you couldn't be saved from
His air, evincing not the slightest perturbation or anxiety on his own
part, but carrying it as if they only were in peril, startled and
filled them with inquietude. His evident conviction that there was
more peril at their end of the guns than at his, impressed them. They
lowered their muskets, some threw them down. The line wavered.
"He lies. Shoot him! Fire! Damn you, fire!" yelled Hubbard in a panic.
"The first man that fires hangs for murder!" thundered Sedgwick.
"Throw down your arms and you shall not be harmed."
"Kin yew say that for sartin, Squire?" asked Laban, hesitatingly.
"No, he lies. Our only chance is to fight!" yelled Hubbard,
frantically. "Shoot him, I tell you."
But at this critical moment when the result of Sedgwick's daring
experiment was still in doubt, the issue was determined by the
appearance of the laggard infantry at the mouth of the Stockbridge
road, while simultaneously shots resounding from the north and south
showed that the flanking companies were closing in.
"We're surrounded! Run for your lives!" was shouted on every side, and
the line broke in confusion.
"Arrest that man!" said Sedgwick, pointing to Hubbard, and instantly
Laban Jones and others of his former followers had seized him. Many,
throwing down their arms, thronged around Sedgwick as if for
protection, while the rest fled in confusion, plunging into the woods
to avoid the troops who were now advancing in plain sight on all three
roads. A few scattered shots were exchanged between the fugitives and
the militia, and the almost bloodless conflict was over.
"Who'd have thought they were such a set of cowards?" said a young
militia officer, contemptuously.
"They are not cowards," replied Sedgwick reprovingly. "They're the
same men who fought at Bennington, but it takes away their courage to
feel they're arrayed against their own neighbors and the law of the
"You'd have had your stomach full of fighting, young man," added
Colonel Williams, "if Squire Sedgwick had not taken them just as he
did. Squire," he added, "my wife shall thank you that she's not a
widow, when we get back to Stockbridge. I honor your courage, sir. The
credit of this day is yours."
Those standing around joining heartily in this tribute, Sedgwick
"You magnify the matter over much, gentlemen. I knew the men I was
dealing with. If I could get near enough to fix them with my eye
before they began to shoot I knew it would be easy to turn their
The reentry of the militia into Stockbridge was made with screaming
fifes, and resounding drums, while nearly one hundred prisoners graced
the triumph of the victors. The poor fellows looked glum enough, as
they had reason to do. They had scorned the clemency of the government
and been taken with arms in their hands. Imprisonment and stripes was
the least they could expect, while the leaders were in imminent danger
of the gallows. But considerations other than those of strict justice
according to law determined their fate, and made their suspense of
short duration. It was well enough to use threats to intimidate
rebels, but in an insurrection with which so large a proportion of the
people sympathized partly or fully, severity to the conquered would
have been a fatal policy. As a merely practical point, moreover, there
was not jail room in Stockbridge for the prisoners. They must be
either forthwith killed or set free. The upshot of it was that
excepting Hubbard and two or three more they were offered release that
very afternoon, upon taking the oath of allegiance to the state. The
poor fellows eagerly accepted the terms. A line of them being formed
they passed one by one before Justice Woodbridge, with uplifted hand
took the oath, slunk away home, free men, but very much crestfallen.
As if to add a climax to the exultation of the government party, news
was received, during the evening, of the rout of the rebels under
Shays at Springfield, in their attack on the militia defending the
arsenal there, the last day of January.
Now it must be understood that not alone in Captain Stoddard's
Stockbridge company had gentlemen filled up the places of the
disaffected farmers in the ranks, but such was equally the case with
the companies which had come in from the other towns, the consequence
of which was that the present muster represented the wealth, the
culture, and aristocracy of all Berkshire. There are far more people
in Berkshire now than then; far more aggregate wealth, and far more
aggregate culture, but with the decay of the aristocratic form of
society which prevailed in the day of which I write, passed away the
elements of such a gathering as this, which stands unique in the
social history of Stockbridge. The families of the county gentry here
represented, though generally living at a day or two's journey apart,
were more intimate with each other than with the farmer folk, directly
surrounded by whom, they lived. They met now like members of one
family, the sense of unity heightened by the present necessity of
defending the interests of their order, sword in hand, against the
rabble. The gentlemen's families of Stockbridge had opened wide their
doors to these gallant and genial defenders, whose presence in their
households, far from being regarded as a burden, required by the
public necessity, was rather a social treat of rare and welcome
character; and, unless tradition deceives, more than one happy match
was the issue of the intimacies formed between the fair daughters of
Stockbridge and the knights who had come to their rescue.
Previous to the conflict at West Stockbridge and the news of the
battle at Springfield, the seriousness of the situation availed indeed
to put some check upon the spirits of the young people. But no sooner
had it become apparent that the suppression of the rebellion was not
likely to involve serious bloodshed than there was such a general
ebullition of fun and amusement as might be expected from the collection
of such a band of spirited youths. Not to speak of dances, teas, and
indoor entertainments, gay sleighing parties, out to the scene of
"battle" of West Stockbridge, as it was jokingly called, were of daily
occurrence, and every evening Mahkeenac's shining face was covered with
bands of merry skaters, and screaming, laughing sledge-loads of youths
and damsels went whizzing down Long Hill to the no small jeopardy of
their own lives and limbs, to say nothing of such luckless wayfarers
as might be in their path. To provide partners for so many gentlemen
the cradle was almost robbed, and many a farmer's daughter of Shayite
proclivities found herself, not unwillingly, conscripted to supply the
dearth of gentlemen's daughters, and provided with an opportunity for
contrasting the merits of silk-stockinged and worsted-stockinged
adorers, an experience possibly not redounding to their after
contentment in the station to which Providence had called them.
But even with these conscripts there was still such an excess of beaux
that every girl had half a dozen. As for Desire Edwards, she had the
whole army. If I have hitherto spoken of her in a manner as if she
were the only "young lady" in Stockbridge, that is no more than the
impression which she gave. Although there were several families in the
village which had a claim to equal gentility, their daughters somehow
felt that they failed to make good that claim in Desire's presence.
They owned, though they found less flattering terms in which to
express it, the same air of distinction and dainty aloofness about
her, which the farmers' daughters, too humble for jealousy, so
admiringly admitted. The young militia officers and gentlemen privates
found her adorable, and the three or four young men whom Squire
Edwards took into his house, as his share in quartering the troops,
were the objects of the most rancorous envy of the entire army. These
favored youths had too much appreciation of their fortune to be absent
from their quarters save when military duty required, and what with
the obligation of entertaining and being entertained by them, and
keeping in play the numerous callers who dropped in from other
quarters in the evening, Desire had mighty little time to herself. It
was of course very exciting for her and very agreeable to be the sole
queen of so gallant and devoted a court. She enjoyed it as any sprightly,
beautiful girl fond of society and well nigh starved for it might be
expected to. Provided here so unexpectedly in remote winter-bound
Stockbridge, it was like a table spread in the wilderness, whereof the
And in this whirl of gayety, did she quite forget Perez, did she so
soon forget the secret flame she had cherished for the Shayite
captain? Be sure she had not forgotten, but she would have been
willing to give anything in the world if she could.
After the conventual seclusion and mental vacancy of the preceding
months, the sudden, almost instantaneous change in her surroundings,
had been like a burst of air and sunlight which dissipates the
soporific atmosphere of a sleeping-room. It had brought back her
thoughts and feelings all at once to their normal standards, making
her recollection of that infatuation seem like a fantastic, grotesque
dream; unreal, impossible, yet shamefully real. Every time she entered
her chamber, and her eye caught sight of the little hole in the
curtain whence she had spied upon Perez, shame and self-contempt
overcame her like a flood. How could she, how ever could she be left
to do such a thing! What would the obsequious, admiring gallants she
had left in her parlor say if they but knew what that little pin-hole
in her curtain reminded her of? She could not believe it possible
herself that the girl whose fine-cut haughty beauty confronted her
gaze from the mirror could have so lost her self-respect, could have
actually--Oh! and tears of self-despite would rush into her eyes as
her remorseless memory set before her those scenes. And had she been
utterly beside herself that day in the store, when she gave him that
look and that hand-clasp? But for that the only fruit of her folly
would have been the loss of her own self-respect, but now she was
guilty toward him. This wretched business was dead earnest to him, if
not to her. With what a pang of self-contemptuous self-reproach she
recalled his white, anguished face as he rushed into the store to bid
her farewell when the soldiers were coming to take him. If he at
first, by his persecution of her, had left her with a right to complain,
she had given him such a right by that glance. She writhed as she
admitted to herself that by that she had given him a sort of claim on
The village gossip about Perez' infatuation for her, although of her
own weakness none guessed, had naturally come to the ears of the
visitors, and some of the young men at Edwards' good naturedly chaffed
her about it, speaking of it as an amusing joke. She had to bear this
without wincing, and worse still, she had to play the hypocrite so far
as to reply in the same jesting tone, joining in turning the laugh on
the poor, shabby mob captain, when she knew in her heart it ought to
be turned against her.
There was nothing else she could do, of course. She could not confess
to these gay bantering young gentlemen the incredible weakness of
which she had been guilty. But if the self-contempt of the doer can
avenge a wrong done to another, Perez was amply avenged for this. And
the worst of it was that the thought that she had wronged him here
also, and meanly taken advantage of him, added to that horrid sense of
his claim on her. He began to occupy her mind to a morbid and most
painful extent, really much affecting her enjoyment. His sad and
shabby figure, with its mutely reproachful face, haunted her. All that
might have been to his disadvantage compared with the refined and
cultivated circle about her, was overcome by the pathos and dignity
with which her sense of having done him wrong invested him. Such was
her unenviable state of mind, when one evening, a week or ten days
after the affair at West Stockbridge, one of the young men at the
house said to her gayly:
"May I hope, Miss Edwards, not to be wholly forgotten if I should fall
on the gory field to-morrow?"
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"What, didn't you know? General Patterson is fearful the Capuan
delights of Stockbridge will sap our martial vigor, and is going to
lead us against the foe in his lair at dawn to-morrow."
"Where is his lair this time?" asked Desire, carelessly.
"We've heard that two or three hundred of the rascals have collected
out here at Lee to stop a petty court, and we're going to capture
"By the way, too, Miss Edwards," broke in another, "your admirer,
Hamlin, is at the head of them, and I've no doubt his real design is
to make a dash on Stockbridge, and carry you off from the midst of
your faithful knights. He'll have a chance to repent of his
presumption to-morrow. Squire Woodbridge told me this afternoon that
if he does not have him triced up to the whipping-post in two hours
after we bring him in, it will be because he is no justice of the
quorum. It's plain the Squire has no liking for the fellow."
"I hope there'll be a little more fun this time than there was last
week. I'm sick of these battles without any fighting," doughtily
remarked a very young man.
"I'm afraid your blood-thirstiness won't be gratified this time,"
answered the first speaker. "The General means to surprise them and
take every man-jack of them prisoner before they're fairly waked up.
We shall be back to breakfast to receive your congratulations, Miss
But Miss Edwards had left the room.
A GAME OF BLUFF
Had Perez Hamlin been her sweetheart, her brother, her dearest friend,
the announcement that he was to be captured and brought to Stockbridge
for punishment would not have come upon her with a greater effect of
consternation. After hearing that news it would have been impossible
for her to have retained her composure sufficiently to have avoided
remark had she remained in the parlor. But there were other reasons
why she had fled to the seclusion of her chamber. It was necessary
that she should think of some plan to evade the humiliation of being
confronted by him, of being reminded by his presence, by his looks,
and maybe his words even, of the weak folly of which she was so
cruelly ashamed, and which she was trying to forget about.
Desperately, she resolved to make some excuse to fly to Pittsfield, to
be away from home when Perez was brought in. But no, she could think
of no excuse, not even the wildest pretense for thus precipitately
leaving a house full of guests, and taking a journey by dangerous
roads to make an uninvited visit. Perez must be warned, he must
escape, he must not be captured. Thus only could she see any way to
evade meeting him. But how could word be got to him? They marched at
dawn. There were but a few hours. There was his family. Surely, if
they were warned, they would find a way of communicating with him. She
had heard that he had a brother. Whatever she did she must do quickly,
before she was missed from the parlor and her mother came to her door
to ask if she were sick. There was no time to change her dress, or
even her shoes. Throwing a big shawl over her head, which quite
concealed her figure, she noiselessly made her way downstairs, and out
into the snowy street, passing, as she went, close under the lighted
windows of the parlor, whence came the sound of the voices and
laughter of guests who, no doubt, were already wondering at her
Thanks to the amount of travel of late weeks, the snow in the street
had been trodden to a passable condition. But blinded by the darkness
every now and then, with a gasp and a flounder, she would step out of
the path into the deep snow on either side, and once hearing a sleigh
coming along, she had to plunge into a drift nearly as high as her
waist, and stand there till the vehicle had passed, with the snow
freezing her ankles, and also ruining, as she well knew, her lovely
morocco shoes. Suddenly a tall figure loomed up close before her,
there was a rattle of accoutrements, and a rough voice said sharply:
She stopped, all in a tremble. She had quite forgotten that the
streets were now-a-days guarded by regular lines of sentries.
"Advance and give the countersign," said the soldier.
At first she gave herself quite up for lost. Then she remembered that
by the merest chance in the world she knew the countersign for that
night. The officer of the day had playfully asked her to name it, and
in honor of the patriotic citizens of the capital who had lent to the
empty treasury the money needed to equip and supply the force of
militia the governor had ordered out, she had given "The Merchants of
Boston." Scarcely believing that so simple a formula could remove this
formidable obstacle from her path, she repeated it in a tremulous
voice. "Pass on," said the sentry, and the way was clear. Now turning
out of the main street, she made her way slowly and pantingly, rather
wading than walking up the less trodden lane leading to the Hamlins'
house, through whose windows shines the flickering light of the fire
on the hearth within, the only species of evening illumination
afforded in those days save in the households of the rich.
She pulls the latchstring and enters. The miserable fittings of the
great kitchen denote extreme poverty, but the great fire of logs in
the chimney is such as the richest, in these days of wasted forests,
cannot afford, and the ruddy light illumines the room as all the
candles in Stockbridge scarcely could do. Before it sit Elnathan and
his wife and Reuben. The shawl which Desire wears is thickly flecked
with the snow, through which she has stumbled, and instinctively her
first motion on entering the room is to open and shake it, thereby
revealing to the eyes of the astonished family the toilet of a
fashionable beauty. Her hair is built up over a toupee with a charming
effect of stateliness, the dusting of powder upon the dark strands
bringing out the rich bloom of her brunette complexion. The shoulders
gleam through the meshes of the square of ancient yellow lace that
covers them, while the curves of the full young figure and the white
roundness of the arms, left bare by the elbow sleeves, are set off in
charming contrast by the stiff folds of the figured crimson brocade.
"Miss Edwards!" murmurs Mrs. Hamlin, as Elnathan and Reuben gape in
"Yes, it is I," replied Desire, coming forward a few steps, but still
keeping in the back of the room. "I came to tell you that the army is
going to march at dawn to-morrow to Lee, to take your son, and all who
are with him prisoners, and bring them back here to be punished."
There was a moment's silence, then Mrs. Hamlin said:
"How do you know it?"
"I was told so ten minutes since by the officers at my father's
house," replied Desire.
"And why do you tell us?" asked Mrs. Hamlin again, regarding her
keenly from beneath her bushy grey eyebrows, and speaking with a
certain slight hardness of tone, as if half suspicious of a warning
from such a source.
"I thought if I told you in time, you might get some word to him so he
could get away. The countersign is 'The Merchants of Boston.'"
Mrs. Hamlin's face suddenly changed its expression, and she answered
slowly, in a tone of intense, suppressed feeling:
"And so you left them gay gentlemen, and waded through the snow all
alone half a mile way out here, all in your pretty clothes, so that no
harm might come to my boy. God bless you, my child! God bless you with
his choicest blessings, my sweet young lady! My son does well to
worship the ground you walk on."
It was an odd sensation, but as the gray-haired woman was speaking,
her face aglow with tenderness, and her eyes wet with a mother's
gratitude, Desire could not help half wishing she had deserved the
words, even though that wish implied her being really in love with
this woman's son. It was not without emotion, and eyes to which a
responsive wetness had sprung that she exclaimed, with a gesture of
"No, no, do not thank me. If you knew all, you would not thank me. I
am not so good as you think," and, throwing the door open she sprang
out into the snow.
When she reentered the parlor at home, the silver-dialed clock, high
upon the wall, accused her of only an hour's absence, and since nobody
but herself knew that her feet were quite wet through, there were no
explanations to make. But for the first time she wearied a little of
her courtiers. She found their compliments insipid and her repartees
were slow. Her thoughts were wandering to that poor home where all
undeservedly she had been received as an angel of light; and her
anxieties were with the messenger stumbling along the half broken road
to Lee to carry the warning. When, at last, Squire Edwards proposed
that all should fill their punch-glasses and drain to the success of
the morrow's expedition, she set down hers untasted, passing off her
omission with some excuse. That night toward morning, though it was
yet pitch dark, she was awakened by the noise of opening doors and
men's boots, and loud talk; and afterwards hearing a heavy, jarring
sound, she looked out the window and descried in the road, a long
black column moving rapidly along, noiseless save for now and then a
hoarse word of command. It was the expedition setting out for Lee. The
impressiveness of this silent, formidable departure gave her a new
sense of the responsibility she had taken on herself in frustrating
the design of so many grave and weighty men, and interfering with
issues of life and death. And then for the first time a dreadful
thought occurred to her. What if after all there should be a battle?
She had only thought of giving Perez warning, so he might fly with his
men, but what if he should take advantage of it to prepare an ambush
and fight? She had not thought of that. Jonathan was with the
expedition. What if she should prove to be the murderer of her
brother? What had she done? Sick at heart, she lay awake trembling
till dawn. Then she got up and dressed, and waited about miserably,
till toward eight o'clock the news of the result came. Then she
laughed till she cried and ended by saying that she would go to bed,
for she thought she was going to be sick. And she was right. Her
mother wondered how she could have taken such a terrible cold.
But leaving Dr. Partridge to cure her cold with calomel and laudanum,
after the manner of the day, let us inquire in a historical spirit
what it was in the news of the result at Lee which should cause a
young woman to laugh so immoderately.