Part 6 out of 6
It had been nearly midnight of the preceding evening, when Reuben
wearily and slowly making his way along the dark and difficult road,
reached Lee, and was directed at the rebel outposts to the house of
Mrs. Perry as the place which Perez occupied as a headquarters.
Although it was so late, the rebel commander, too full of anxious and
brooding thoughts to sleep, was still sitting before the smouldering
fire in the kitchen chimney when Reuben staggered in.
"Reub," he cried, starting up as he recognized his brother, "what's
the matter? Has anything happened at home?"
"Nothing bad. I've brought you news. Have you got some rum? I'm pretty
Perez found a demijohn, poured out a mug, and watched his brother with
anxious eyes as he gulped it down. Presently, a little color came back
to his white face, and he said:
"Now I feel better. It was a hard road. I felt like giving out once or
twice. But I'm all right now."
"What made you come, Reub? You're not strong yet. It might have killed
"I had to, Perez. It was life or death for you. The army at
Stockbridge are going to surprise you at sunrise. I came to warn you.
Desire Edwards brought us word."
"What!" exclaimed Perez, his face aglow. "She brought you word? Do you
"Jess hole on, and I'll tell you how it was," said Reub, with a manner
almost as full of enthusiasm as his brother's. "It was nigh bedtime,
and we were setting afore the fire a talking 'bout you, and a hopin
you'd get over the line into York; when the door opened, an in come
Desire Edwards, all dressed up in a shiny gaown, an her hair fixed, an
everything like as to a weddin. I tell yew, Perez, my eyes stood out
some. An afore we could say nothing, we wuz so flustered, she up an
says as haow she hearn them ossifers tew her haouse tellin haow they
wuz gonter s'prise ye in the mornin, an so she come ter tell us,
thinkin we mout git word ter ye."
"Did she say that, Reub? Did she say those words? Did she say that
about me? Are you sure?" interrupted Perez, in a hushed tone of
incredulous ecstasy, as he nervously gripped his brother's shoulder.
"Them wuz her words, nigh es I kin reckullec," replied Reub, "an that
'bout yew she said for sartin. She said we wuz ter sen' word ter ye,
so's ye mout git away, an then she guv me the countersign for ter say
tew the sentries, so's I could git by ter fetch ye word."
"To think of her doing all that for me, Reub. I can't believe it. It's
too much. Because you see, Reub, if she'd take all that trouble for
me, it shows--it shows--I think it must be she"--he hesitated, and
finally gulped out--"cares for me, Reub," and his eyes filled with
"Ye may say so, for sartin, Perez," replied his brother with
sympathetic enthusiasm. "A gal wouldn' dew what she did for no feller,
unless she sat store by him, naow. It's a sign fer sure."
"Reub," said Perez, in a voice uneven with suppressed emotion, "now I
know she cares for me that much, I don't mind a snap of the finger
what happens to me. If they came to hang me this minute, I should
laugh in their faces," and he sprang up and paced to and fro, with
fixed eyes and a set smile, and then, still wearing the same look came
back and sat down by his brother, and said: "I sort of hoped she cared
for me before, but it seemed most too much to believe. You don't know
how I feel, Reub. You can't think, nohow."
"Yes I can," said Reuben, quietly; "I guess ye feel suthin ez I uster
baout Jemimy, sorter light inside an so pleased like ye don't keer a
copper ef ye live or die. Yes, I know mor'n ye think I dew baout the
feelin's a feller hez long o' women, on'y ye see it didn't come ter
nothin with Jemimy, fer wen my fust crop failed, an I was tuk for
debt, Peleg got her arter all."
"I didn't think 'bout Jemimy, Reub," said Perez, softly. In the
affluence of his own happiness, he was overwhelmed with compassion for
his brother. He was stricken by the patient look upon his pale face.
"Never mind, Reub," he said. "Don't be downhearted. You and me 'll
stand by each other, an mebbe it'll be made up to ye some time," and
he laid his arm tenderly on the other's shoulder.
"I on'y spoke on't 'cause o' what ye said 'bout my not under-standin,"
said Reuben, excusing himself for having made a demand on the other's
compassion. "She never guv me no sech reasin ter think she set store
by me ez ye've hed ter night 'long o' Desire Edwards. I wuzn't a
comparin on us, nohow."
There was a space of silence finally disturbed by a noise of boots in
an adjoining room and presently Abner Rathbun stumped out. Abner had
escaped at the West Stockbridge rout and having made his way to Perez,
at Lee, had been forgiven his desertion by the latter and made his
chief lieutenant and adviser.
"Hello, Reub," he exclaimed. "Whar'd ye drop from? Heard so much
talkin, callated suthin must a happened, an turned out ter see what it
wuz. Fetched any news, hev ye Reub? Spit it aout. Guess it muss be
pooty good, or the cap'n would'n be lookin so darned pleased."
"The news I fetched is that the army in Stockbridge is going to attack
you to-morrow at dawn."
Abner's jaw fell. He looked from Reuben to Perez, whose face as he
gazed absently at the coals on the hearth still wore the smile which
had attracted his attention. This seemed to decide him, for as he
turned again to Reub, he said, shrewdly:
"Yew can't fool me with no gum-game o' that sort. I guess Perez
wouldn't be grinnin that ar way ef he callated we wuz gonter be all
chawed up afore mornin."
"Reuben tells the truth. They are going to attack us in the morning,"
said Perez, looking up. Abner stared at him a moment, and then
demanded half-sullen, half-puzzled:
"Wal, Cap'n, wat dew ye see tew larf at in that? Derned ef I see
"Your glum mug would be enough to laugh at if there was nothing else
Abner," said Perez, getting up and gayly slapping the giant on the
"I s'pose ye must hev got some plan in yer head fer gittin the best on
em," suggested Abner, at last, evidently racking his brains to suggest
a hypothesis to explain his commander's untimely levity.
"No, Abner," replied Perez, "I have not thought of any plan yet. What
do you think about the business?"
"I'm afeard thar ain't no dependin on the men fer a scrimmage. I
callate they'll scatter ez soon's the news gits raound that the white
feathers be comin, 'thout even waitin fer em tew git in sight," was
Abner's gloomy response.
"I shouldn't be at all surprised if they did. I don't believe there's
a dozen in the lot we could depend on," said Perez cheerfully.
"Wat's the matter with ye, Cap'n," burst out Abner, in desperation. "I
can't make aout wat's come over ye. Ye talk 's though ye didn' keer a
Bungtaown copper wether we fit or run, or stayed an got hung, but jess
set thar a grinnin tew yerself ez if ye'd loss yer wits."
Perez laughed again, but checking himself, replied: "I s'pose I do
seem a little queer, Abner, but you mustn't mind that. I hope I
haven't lost my wits quite. Let's see, now," he went on in a
businesslike tone, with the air of one abruptly enforcing a new
direction upon his thoughts. "We could get up the men and retreat to
the mountains by morning, but two-thirds would desert before we'd
marched two miles, and slink away home, and the worst of it is the
poor chaps would be arrested and abused when they got home."
"That's sartin so, Cap'n," said Abner, his anxiety for Perez' sanity
"It's a shame to retreat, too, with such a position to defend. Why,
Abner, just look at it. The snow is three to four feet deep in the
fields and woods, and the enemy can only come in on the road. That
road is just like a causeway through a swamp or a bridge. They can't
go off it without snowshoes. With half a company that I could depend
on, I'd defend it against a regiment. If I wanted breastworks all I've
got to do is to dig paths in the snow. I could hold Lee till the snow
melts or till they took it by zig-zags and parallels through the
drifts. But there's no use talking about any such thing, for there's
no fight left in the men, not a bit. If they had ever so little grit
left, we might hold out long enough at least to get some sort of fair
terms, but, Lord they haven't. They'll just run like sheep."
"Ef we on'y hed a cannon naow, ef 'twan't but a three-pounder!" said
Abner, pathetically. "We could jess sot it in the middle of the road,
and all creation couldn't get intew Lee. Yew an I could stop em alone
then. Gosh naow wat wouldn't I give fer a cannon the size o' Mis
Perry's yarn-beam thar. Ef the white feathers seen a gun the size o'
that p'inted at em an a feller behind it with a hot coal, I callate
they'd be durn glad tew 'gree tew a fa'r settlement. But Lordomassy,
gosh knows we hain't got no cannon, and we can't make one."
"I don't know about that, Abner," replied Perez, deliberately. His
glance had followed Abner's to the loom standing in the back of the
kitchen, and as he answered his lieutenant he was fixedly regarding
the very yarn-beam to which the other had alluded, a round, smooth,
dark colored wooden roller, five or six feet long and eight or ten
But perhaps it will be better to let Dr. Partridge tell the rest of
the story as he related it nearly three weeks later for the amusement
of Desire during her convalescence from the cold and fever through
which he had brought her.
"It was pitch dark when we left Stockbridge," said the doctor, "and
allowing a good hour for the march owing to the state of the road, the
General calculated we should reach Lee about dawn and catch the
rascals taking their beauty sleep. It was excessively cold and our
fingers began to grow numb very soon, and if anybody touched the iron
part of his gun without the mittens he would leave a piece of skin
behind. But you see we had just heard of General Lincoln's thirty-mile
night march from Hadley to Petersham in even worse weather, and for
the credit of Berkshire, we had to keep on if we froze to death. We
met nobody until we were within half a mile of Lee. Then we overhauled
one of the rebel sentries, and captured him, though not till he had
let off his gun. Then we heard the drum beating in the town. There was
nothing to do but to hurry on as fast as we could. And so we did for
about ten minutes more when somebody said, 'There they are.' Sure
enough, about twenty rods off, where the road enters the village was a
black mass of men occupying its entire breadth with a man on horseback
in front whom I took for Hamlin. We kept on a little longer and then
the General ordered us to halt, and Squire Woodbridge rode forward
within easy speaking distance of the rebels and began to read the riot
act. But he had no sooner begun than Hamlin made a gesture, and a drum
struck up lustily among the rebels, drowning the Squire's voice.
Nevertheless he made an end of the reading so that we might proceed
legally and thereupon the General ordered the men to fix bayonets and
gave the order to march. Then it seemed that the rebels were about to
retire, for their line fell back a little and already our men had
given a cheer when a sharp-eyed fellow in the front rank sang out:
"'They've got a cannon!' And when we looked, sure enough the slight
falling back of the rebels we had noted, had only been to uncover a
piece of artillery which was planted squarely in the middle of the
road, pointing directly at us. A man with a smoking brazier of coals
stood by the breech, and another, whom by his size I took to be Abner
Rathbun, with a pair of tongs held a bright coal which he had taken
from it. It being yet rather dark, though close on sunrise, we could
plainly see the redness of the coal the fellow held in the tongs above
the touchhole of the gun, and ticklish near, it seemed, I can say. I
know not to this day, and others say the same, whether any one gave
the order to halt or not, but it is certain we stopped square, nor
were those behind at all disposed to push forward such as were in
front, for there is this about cannon balls that is different from
musket balls. The front rank serves the rear rank as a shield from the
bullets, but the cannon ball plows the whole length of the file and
kills those behind as readily as those before. And, moreover, we had
as soon expected to see the devil in horns and tail leading the
rebels, as this cannon, for no one supposed there was a piece of
artillery in all Berkshire. You must know the place we were in, was,
moreover, as bad as could be; for we could only march by the road, by
reason of the deep snow on either hand, which was like walls shutting
us in, and leaving room for no more than eight men to go abreast. If
the cannon were loaded with a ball, it must needs cut a swathe like a
scythe from the first man to the last, and if it were loaded with
small balls, all of us who were near the front must needs go down at
once. The General asked counsel of us who were riding with him at the
front what had best be done, whereupon Squire Sedgwick advised that
half a dozen of us with horses should put spurs to them and dash
suddenly upon the cannon and take it. 'Ten to one,' he said, 'the
rascal with the tongs will not dare touch off the gun, and if he does,
why, 'tis but one shot.' But this seemed to us all a foolhardy thing;
for, though there were but one shot, who could tell whom it might hit?
It might be one of us as well as another. Your uncle Jahleel, as it
seemed, lest any should deem Squire Sedgwick braver than he, declared
that he was ready, but the others of us, by no means fell in with the
notion and General Patterson said flatly that he was responsible for
all our lives and would permit no such madness. And then, as no one
had any other plan to propose, we were in a quandary, and I noted that
each one had his eyes, as it were, fastened immovably upon the cannon
and the glowing coal which the fellow held in the tongs. For, in order
to keep it clear of ash, he kept waving it to and fro, and once or
twice when he brought it perilously close to the touchhole, I give you
my word I began to think in a moment of all the things I had done in
my life. And I remember, too, that if one of us was speaking when the
fellow made as if he would touch off the gun, there was an
interruption of a moment in his speech, ere he went on again. It must
be that not only civilians like myself, but men of war also do find a
certain discomposing effect in the stare of a cannon. Meanwhile the
wind drew through the narrow path wherein we stood, with vehemence,
and, whereas we had barely kept our blood in motion by our laboring
through the snow, now that we stood still, we seemed freezing. Our
horses shivered and set their ears back with the cold, but it was
notable how quietly the men stood packed in the road behind us, though
they must have been well nigh frost-bitten. No doubt they were
absorbed in watching the fellow swinging the coal as we were. But if
we did not advance, we must retreat, that was plain. We could not stay
where we were. It was, I fancy, because no one could bring himself to
propose such an ignoble issue to our enterprise, that we were for a
little space all dumb.
"Then it was when the General could no longer have put off giving the
order to right about march, that Hamlin tied a white rag to his sword
and rode toward us holding it aloft. When he had come about half way,
he cried out:
"'Will your commander and Dr. Partridge, if he be among you, ride out
to meet me? I would have a parley.'
"Why he pitched on me I know not, save that, wanting a witness, he
chose me as being a little more friendly to him than most of the
Stockbridge gentlemen. When we had ridden forward, he saluted us with
great cordiality and good humor, as if forsooth, instead of being
within an ace of murdering us all, he had but been trying us with a
"'I see,' said he to the general, 'that your fellows like not the look
of my artillery, and I blame them not, for it will be a nasty business
in that narrow lane if we have to let drive, as assuredly we shall do
if you come another foot further. But it may be we can settle our
difference without bloodshed. My men have fled together to me to be
protected from arrest and prosecution, for what they have heretofore
done, not because they intend further to attack the government. I will
agree that they shall disperse and go quietly to their homes, provided
you give me your word that they shall not be arrested or injured by
your men, and will promise to use your utmost influence to secure them
from any arrest hereafter, and that at any rate they shall have trial
before a jury of their neighbors.'
"The General is a shrewd bargainer, I make no doubt, for though I knew
he was delighted out of measure to find any honorable escape from the
predicament in which we were, he pulled a long face, and after some
thought, said that he would grant the conditions, provided the rebels
also surrendered their arms, and took the oath of allegiance to the
state. At this Hamlin laughed a little.
"'I see, sir, we are but wasting time,' he said, with a mighty
indifferent air. 'You have got the boot on the wrong foot. It is we
who are granting you terms, not you us. You may thank your stars I
don't require your men to surrender their arms. Look you, sir, my men
will not give up their guns, or take any oath but go as free as yours,
with your promise of protection hereafter. If you agree to those
terms, you may come into Lee, and we will disperse. If not let us lose
no more time waiting, but have at it.'
"It was something to make one's blood run cold, to hear the fellow
talk so quietly about murdering us. The General hemmed and hawed a
little, and made a show of talking aside with me, and presently said
that to avoid shedding the blood of the misguided men on the other
side, he would consent to the terms, but he added, the artillery must
at any rate be surrendered.
"'It is private property,' said Hamlin.
"'It is forfeited to its owner by its use against the government,'
replied the General sturdily.
"'I will not stickle for the gun,' said Hamlin, 'but will leave you to
settle that with the owner,' and, as he spoke, he looked as if he were
inwardly amused over something.
"Thereupon we separated. The announcement of the terms was received by
our men with a cheer, for they had made up their minds that there was
nothing before them but a march back to Stockbridge in the face of the
wind and to meet the ridicule of the populace. As we now approached
the cannon at quick-step Abner Rathbun came around and stood in front
of it, so we did not see it till we were close upon it. He was
grinning from ear to ear. The road just behind was packed with rebels
all likewise on the broad grin, as if at some prodigious jest. As we
came up Hamlin said to the General:
"'Sir, I now deliver over to you the artillery, that is if you can
settle it with Mrs. Perry. Abner stand aside.'
"Rathbun did so and what we saw was a yarn-beam mounted on a pair of
oxcart wheels with the tongue of the cart resting on the ground
As was remarked in the last chapter, it was some three weeks after the
famous encounter at Lee that Dr. Partridge entertained Desire one
afternoon with the account of the affair which I have transcribed for
the information of my readers. The interval between the night before
the Lee expedition, when she had taken her sickness, and the sunny
afternoon of expiring February, when she sat listening to the doctor's
story, had for her been only a blank of sickness, but in the community
around, it had been a time of anxiety, of embitterment, and of
critical change. The gay and brilliant court, of which she had for a
brief period been the center, had long ago vanished. Hamlin's band at
Lee had been the last considerable force of rebels embodied in
Southern Berkshire, and a few days after its dispersal the companies
from other towns left Stockbridge to return home, leaving the
protection of the village to the home company. Close on this followed
the arrival at Pittsfield of General Lincoln with a body of troops
called into Berkshire by the invitation of General Patterson, to the
disgust of some gentlemen who thought the county quite capable of
attending to its own affairs. These forces had completed the
pacification of Northern Berkshire, where, among the mountain
fastnesses rebel bands had till then maintained themselves, so that
now the entire county was subdued and the insurrection, so far as
concerned any overt manifestation, was at an end. In Stockbridge
Tax-collector Williams once more went his rounds. Deputy Sheriff
Seymour's red flag floated again from the gable ends of the houses
whence the mob had torn it last September, foreclosure sales were made,
processes were served, debtors taken to jail, and the almost forgotten
sound of the lash was once more heard on the green of Saturday afternoons
as the constable executed Squire Woodbridge's sentences at the reerected
whipping-post and stocks. Sedgwick's return to Boston to his seat in
the Legislature early in February, had left Woodbridge to resume
unimpeded his ancient autocracy in the village, and with as many
grudges as that gentleman had to pay off, it may well be supposed the
constable had no sinecure. The victims of justice were almost
exclusively those who had been concerned in the late rebellion. For
although the various amnesties, as well as the express stipulations
under which a large number had surrendered, protected most of the
insurgents from penalties for their political crimes, still
misdemeanors and petty offenses against property and persons during
the late disturbances were chargeable against most of them, and tried
before a magistrate whom, like Woodbridge, they had mobbed. A charge
was as good as a proof.
Nor if they appealed to a jury, was their chance much better, for the
Legislature coming together again in February, had excluded former
rebels from the jury box for three years, binding them to keep the
peace for the same time, and depriving them of the elective franchise
in all forms for a year, while on the other hand complete indemnity
was granted to the friends of government for all offences against
property or persons, which they might have committed in suppressing
the rebellion. Without here controverting the necessity of these
measures, it is easy to realize the state of hopeless discouragement
to which they reduced the class exposed to their effect. Originally
driven into the rebellion by the pressure of a poverty which made them
the virtual serfs of the gentlemen, they now found themselves not only
forced to resume their former position in that respect, but were in
addition, deprived of the ordinary civil rights and guarantees of
citizens. In desperation many fled over the border into New York and
Connecticut, and joined bands of similar refugees which were camped
there. Others, weaker spirited, or bound by ties they could not or
would not break, remained at home, seeking to propitiate their masters
by a contrite and circumspect demeanor, or sullenly enduring whatever
was put upon them. A large number prepared to emigrate to homes in the
West as soon as spring opened the roads.
Of the chief abettors of Perez, the fortunes may be briefly told.
Jabez Flint had sold all he had and escaped to Nova Scotia to join one
of the numerous colonies of deported Tories which had been formed
there. Jabez was down on his luck.
"I've hed enough o' rebellin," he declared. "I've tried both sides
on't. In the fust rebellion I wuz agin' the rebels, an the rebels
licked. This ere time I tuk sides agin' the govment, an the govment
hez licked. I'm like a feller ez is fust kicked behind an then in the
stummick. I be done on both sides, like a pancake."
Israel Goodrich and Ezra Phelps, being excepted from the amnesties as
members of the rebel committee, had only escaped jailing because, as
men of some substance they had been able to give large bonds to await
the further disposition of the Boston government.
"I didn' mind so much 'bout that," said Israel, "but what come kinder
tough on me wuz a seein them poor white-livered pulin chaps tew my
house tuk back ter jail."
For the debtors whom the mob had released from Great Barrington jail,
including those to whom Israel had given asylum, had now been
recaptured and returned to the charge of Cephas Bement and his pretty
wife. Reuben Hamlin had been taken with the rest, though his stay in
jail this time did not promise to be a long one, for he had overdone
his feeble strength in that night walk through the snow to Lee, and
since then had declined rapidly. He was so far gone that it would
scarcely have been thought worth while to take him to jail if he could
have remained at home. But as the sheriff had now sold the Hamlin
house at auction, and Elnathan and his wife had been separated and
boarded out as paupers, this was out of the question.
There was one man in Stockbridge, however, who was more to be pitied
than Reuben. Peleg Bidwell found himself at the end of the rebellion
as at the opening of it, the debtor and thrall of Solomon Gleason,
save that his debt was greater, his means of paying it even less,
while by his insolent bearing toward Solomon during the rebellion, he
had made him not only his creditor but his enemy. The jail yawned
before Peleg, and of the jail he, as well as the people generally, had
acquired a new horror since the day when the mob had brought to light
the secrets of that habitation of cruelty. He felt that, come what
might, he could not go to a jail. And he did not. But his pretty wife
stayed at home and avoided her former acquaintances, and those who saw
her said she was pale and acted queer, and Peleg went about with a
hangdog look, and Solomon Gleason was a frequent caller, and the women
of the neighborhood whispered together.
Abner Rathbun and Meshech Little had fled across the border, and Abe
Konkapot would have done so but for the fact that he could not leave
his sweetheart Lu to be secured by his rival and brother, Jake. Jake,
having out of enmity to his brother sided with the government party,
was now in favor with the powers that were, and more preferred than
ever by Lu's mother. But Abe knew the girl liked him rather the
better, and did not let himself be discouraged. Jake, observing that
he made little progress in spite of his advantages, laid a plot
against his brother. The latter had acquired in the army a tendency to
use profane language in moments of excitement, and it was of this
weakness that Jake took advantage. Picking an opportunity when there
were witnesses, he provoked Abe to wrath, and having made him swear
profusely, went straightway to Squire Woodbridge and complained of him
for blasphemy. Abe was promptly arrested and brought before the
magistrate. The Squire, not unwilling to get a handle against so bad a
rebel, observed that it was high time for the authorities to make a
head against the tide of blasphemy which had swept over the state
since the war, and to advertise to the rabble that the statute against
profanity was not a dead letter and thereupon sentenced Abe to ten
lashes at the whipping-post, to be at once laid on, it chancing to be
a Saturday afternoon. While Abe, frantic with rage, was struggling
with the constable and his assistants, Jake ran away to the Widow
Nimham's cottage and asking Lu to go to walk, managed to bring her
across the green in time to see the sentence carried into execution.
Jake had understood what he was about. There were no doubt white girls
in Stockbridge who might have married a lover whom they had seen
publicly whipped, but for Lu, with an Indian's intense sensitiveness
to a personal indignity, it would have been impossible. Abe needed no
one to tell him that. As he was unbound and walked away from the post,
his blood-shotten eyes had taken her in standing there with Jake. He
did not even make an effort to see her afterwards and next Sunday
Jake's and Lu's banns were called in meeting. Abe had been drunk
pretty much all the time since, lying about the tavern floor. Widow
Bingham said she hadn't a heart to refuse him rum, and in truth the
poor fellow's manhood was so completely broken down, that he must have
been a resolute teetotaler, indeed, who would not have deemed it an
act of common humanity to help him temporarily to forget himself.
Such then are the events that were taking place in the community about
her while Desire was lying on her sick bed, or making her first
appearances as a convalescent downstairs. Only faint and occasional
echoes of them had reached her ears. She had been told, indeed, that
the rebellion was now all over and peace and order restored, but of
the details and incidents of the process she knew nothing. To be precise
it was during the latter part of the afternoon of the twenty-sixth day
of February, that Dr. Partridge was entertaining her as aforesaid with
his humorous version of the Lee affair. The Dr. and Mrs. Partridge had
come to tea, and to spend the evening, and just here, lest any modern
housewife should object that it is not a New England country practice
to invite company on washing-day, I would mention that in those days of
inexhaustible stores of linen, washing-day rarely came over once a
fortnight. After tea in the evening the Doctor and Squire Edwards sat
talking politics over their snuff-boxes, while Mrs. Partridge and Mrs.
Edwards discussed the difficulty of getting good help, now that the
negroes were beginning to feel the oats of their new liberty, and the
farmers' daughters, since the war and the talk about liberty and
equality, thought themselves as good as their betters. Now that the
insurrection had still further stirred up their jealousy of gentlefolk,
it was to be expected that they would be quite past getting on with at
all, and for all Mrs. Edwards could see, ladies must make up their minds
to do their own work pretty soon.
Desire sat in an armchair, her hands folded in her lap, musingly
gazing into the glowing bed of coals upon the hearth, and listening
half absently to the talk about her. She had been twice to meeting the
day before, and considered herself as now quite well, but she had not
disused the invalid's privilege of sitting silent in company.
"I marvel," said Squire Edwards, contemplatively tapping his snuff-box,
"at the working of Providence, when I consider that so lately the
Commonwealth, and especially this county, was in turmoil, the rebels
having everything their own way, and we scarcely daring to call our
souls our own, and behold them now scattered, fled over the border, in
prison, or disarmed and trembling, and the authority of law and the
courts everywhere established."
"Yes," replied the Doctor, "we have reason to be thankful indeed, and
yet I cannot help compassionating the honester among the rebels. It is
the pity of an uprising like this, that while one must needs
sympathize with the want and suffering of the rebels, it is impossible
to condemn too strongly the mad plans they urge as remedies. Ezra
Phelps was telling me the other day, that their idea, had they
succeeded, was to cause so many bills to be printed and scattered
abroad, that the poorest could get enough to pay all their debts and
taxes. Some were for repudiating public and private debts altogether,
but Ezra said that this would not be honest. He was in favor of
printing bills enough so everything could be paid. I tried to show him
that one plan was as dishonest as the other; that they might just as
well refuse payment, as pay in worthless bits of printed paper, and
that the morality of the two schemes being the same, that of refusing
outright the payment of dues, was preferable practically, because at
least, it would not further derange trade by putting a debased and
valueless currency in circulation. But I fear he did not see it at
all, if he even gave me credit for sincerity, and yet he is an honest,
well-meaning chap, and more intelligent than the common run of the
"That is the trouble nowadays," said Edwards, "these numskulls must
needs have matters of government explained to them, and pass their own
judgment on public affairs. And when they cannot understand them, then
forsooth comes a rebellion. I think none can deny seeing in these late
troubles the first fruits of those pestilent notions of equality,
whereof we heard so much from certain quarters, during the late war of
independence. I would that Mr. Jefferson and some of the other writers
of pestilent democratic rhetoric might have been here in the state the
past winter, to see the outcome of their preaching."
"It may yet prove," said Dr. Partridge, "that these troubles are to
work providentially to incline the people of this state to favor a
closer union with the rest of the continent for mutual protection, if
the forthcoming convention at Philadelphia shall devise a practicable
scheme. By reason of the preponderant strength of our Commonwealth we
have deemed ourselves less in need of such a union than are our sister
colonies, but this recent experience must teach us that even we are
not strong enough to stand alone."
"You are right there, sir," said Edwards. "It is plain that if we keep
on as we are, Massachusetts will ere long split into as many states as
we have counties, or at least into several. What have these troubles
been but a revolt of the western counties against the eastern, and had
we gentlemen gone with the rebels, the state would have been by this
time divided, and you know well," here Edwards' voice became
confidential, "we have in the main, no great cause to be beholden to
the Bostonians. They treat our western counties as if they were but
Desire's attention had lapsed as the gentlemen's talk got into the
political depths, but some time after it was again aroused by hearing
the mention of Perez Hamlin's name. The doctor was saying:
"They say he is lurking just over the York border at Lebanon. There
are four or five score ruffians with him, who breathe out threatenings
and slaughter against us Stockbridge people but I think we need lose
no sleep on that account for the knaves will scarcely care to risk
their necks on Massachusetts soil."
"It is possible," said Edwards, "that they may make some descents on
Egremont or Sheffield or other points just across the line, but they
will never venture so far inland as Stockbridge for fear of being cut
off, and if they do our militia is quite able for them. What mischief
they can do safely they will do, but nothing else for they are arrant
cowards when all's said."
The talk of the gentlemen branched off upon other topics, but Desire
did not follow it further, finding in what had just been said quite
enough to engross her thoughts. Of course there could be no real
danger that Hamlin would venture a visit to Stockbridge, since both
her father and the doctor scouted the idea; but there was in the mere
suggestion enough to be very agitating. To avoid the possibility of a
meeting with Hamlin, as well as to acquit her conscience of a goading
conviction of unfairness to him, she had already once risked
compromising herself by sending that midnight warning to Lee, nor did
she grudge the three weeks' sickness it cost her, seeing it had
succeeded. Nor was the idea of meeting him any less terrifying now.
The result of her experiences in the last few months had been that all
her old self-reliance was gone. When she recalled what she had done
and felt, and imagined what she might have gone on to do, she owned in
all humility that she could no longer take care of herself or answer
for herself. Desire Edwards was after all capable of being as big a
fool as any other girl. Especially at the thought of meeting Hamlin
again, this sense of insecurity became actual panic. It was not that
she feared her heart. She was not conscious of loving him but of
dreading him. Her imagination invested him with some strange,
irrestible magnetic power over her, the magnetism of a tremendous
passion, against which, demoralized by the memory of her former
weakness, she could not guarantee herself. And the upshot was that
just because she chanced to overhear that reference to Perez in the
gentlemen's talk, she lay awake nervous and miserable for several
hours after going to bed that night. In fact she had finally to take
herself seriously to task about the folly of scaring herself to death
about such a purely fanciful danger, before she could go to sleep.
She woke hours after with a stifled scream, for her mother was
standing in the door of the room, half dressed, the candle she held
revealing a pale and frightened face, while the words Desire heard
"Quick, get up and dress, or you'll be murdered in bed! An army of
Shayites is in the village."
"Four o'clock in the morning courage," that steadiness of nerve which
is not shaken when, suddenly roused from the relaxation and soft
languor of sleep, one is called to face pressing, deadly, and
undreamed of peril in the weird and chilling hour before dawn, was
described by Napoleon as a most rare quality among soldiers, and such
being the case it is hardly to be looked for among women. With
chattering teeth and random motions, half-distraught with incoherent
terrors, Desire made a hasty, incomplete toilet in the dark of her
freezing bedroom, and ran downstairs. In the living-room she found her
mother and the smaller children with the negro servants and Keziah
Pixley, the white domestic. Downstairs in the cellar her father and
Jonathan were at work burying the silver and other valuables, that
having been the first thought when a fugitive from the tavern where
the rebels had first halted, brought the alarm. There were no candles
lit in the living-room lest their light should attract marauders, and
the faint light of the just breaking dawn made the faces seem yet
paler and ghastlier with fear than they were. From the street without
could be heard the noise of a drum, shouts, and now and then musket
shots, and having scraped away the thick frost from one of the panes,
Desire could see parties of men with muskets going about and persons
running across the green as if for their lives. As she looked she saw
a party fire their muskets after one of these fugitives, who
straightway came back and gave himself up. In the room it was bitterly
cold, for though the ashes had been raked off the coals no wood had
been put on lest the smoke from the chimney should draw attention.
The colored servants were in a state of abject terror, but the white
"help" made no attempt to conceal her exultation. They were her
friends the Shayites, and her sweetheart she declared was among them.
He'd sent her a hint that they were coming, she volubly declared, and
yesterday when Mrs. Edwards was "so high 'n mighty with her a makin
her sweep the kitchen twicet over she was goodamiter tell her ez haow
she'd see the time she'd wisht she'd a kep the right side on her."
"I've always tried to do right by you Keziah. I don't think you have
any call to be revengeful," said the poor lady, trembling.
"Mebbe I hain't and mebbe I hev," shrilled Keziah, tossing her head
disdainfully. "I guess I know them ez loves me from them ez don't. I
s'pose ye think I dunno wat yer husbun an Jonathan be a buryin daown
"I'm sure you won't betray us, Keziah," said Mrs. Edwards. "You've had
a good place with us, Keziah. And there's that dimity dress of mine.
It's quite good yet. You could have it made over for you."
"Oh yes," replied Keziah, scornfully. "It's all well nuff ter talk
bout givin some o' yer things away wen yer likely to lose em all."
With that, turning her back upon her terrified mistress, with the air
of a queen refusing a petition, she patronizingly assured Desire that
she had met with more favor in her eyes than her mother, and she would
accordingly protect her. "Though," she added, "I guess ye won't need
my helpin for Cap'n Hamlin 'll see nobuddy teches ye cept hisself."
"Is he here?" gasped Desire, her dismay suddenly magnified into utter
"Fer sartain, my sweetheart ez sent me word 's under him," replied
A noise of voices and tramp of feet at the outside door interrupted
her. The marauders had come. The door was barred and this having been
tested, there was a hail of gunstock blows upon it with orders to open
and blasphemous threats as to the consequences of refusal. There was a
dead silence within, but for Mrs. Edwards' hollow whisper, "Don't
open." With staring eyes and mouths apart the terrified women and
children looked at one another motionless, barely daring to breathe.
But as the volley of blows and threats was renewed with access of
violence, Keziah exclaimed:
"Ef they hain't yeur frens they be mine, an I hain't gonter see em kep
aout in the cold no longer fer nobuddy," and she went to the door and
took hold of the bar.
"Don't you do it," gasped Mrs. Edwards springing forward to arrest
her. But she had done it, and instantly Meshech Little with three or
four followers burst into the room, wearing the green insignia of
rebellion in their caps and carrying muskets with bayonets fixed.
"Why didn' ye open that ar door, afore?" demanded Meshech, angrily.
"What do you want?" asked Mrs. Edwards tremblingly confronting him.
"Wat dew we want ole woman?" replied Meshech. "Wal, we want most
evrything, but I guess we kin help oursels. Hey boys?"
"Callate we kin make aout tew," echoed one of his followers, not a
Stockbridge man, and then as his eye caught Desire, as she stood pale
and beautiful, with wild eyes and disheveled hair, by her mother, he
made a dive at her saying: "Guess I'll take a kiss tew begin with."
"Let the gal 'lone," said Meshech, catching him by the shoulder.
"Hands orfen her. She's the Duke's doxy, an he'll run ye through the
body ef ye tech her."
"Gosh, she hain't, though, is she?" said the fellow, refraining from
further demonstration but regarding her admiringly. "I hearn baout
she. Likely lookin gal, tew, hain't she? On'y leetle tew black,
"Did'n ye know, ye dern fool, it's along o' her the Duke sent us here,
tew see nobuddy took nothin till he could come raoun?" said Meshech.
"But I callate the on'y way to keep other fellers from takin anything
tidday is ter take it yerself. We'll hev suthin tew drink, anyhaow.
Hello, ole cock," he added as Edwards, coming up from down cellar,
entered the room. "Ye be jess'n time. Come on, give us some rum," and
neither daring nor able to make resistance, the storekeeper was
hustled into the store. Keziah's sweetheart had remained behind. In
the midst of their mutual endearments, she had found opportunity to
whisper to him something, of which Mrs. Edwards caught the words,
"cellar, nuff tew buy us a farm an a haouse," and guessed the drift.
As Keziah and her young man, who responded to her suggestion with
alacrity, were moving toward the cellar door, Mrs. Edwards barred
their way. The fellow was about to lay hands on her, when one of the
drinkers, coming back from the store, yelled: "Look out, thar's the
cap'n," and Perez entered.
SOME REAL FIGHTING
At sight of his commander the soldier who had been about to lay hands
on Mrs. Edwards to thrust her out of his path to the cellar, giving
over his design, slunk into the store to join his comrades there, and
was followed by the faithful Keziah. Mrs. Edwards, who had faced the
ruffian only in the courage of desperation, sank trembling upon a
settle, and the children throwing themselves upon her, bawled in
concert. Without bestowing so much as a glance on any other object in
the room Perez crossed it to where Desire stood, and taking her
nerveless hand in both his, devoured her face with glowing eyes. She
did not flush or show any confusion; neither did she try to get away.
She stood as if fascinated, unresponsive but unresisting.
"Were you frightened?" he asked.
"Yes," she replied in a mechanical tone corresponding with her
"Didn't you know I was here? I told you I would come back for you, and
I have come. You have been sick. I heard of it. Are you well now?"
"Reuben told me you came on foot through the snow to bring word so he
might warn me the night before the Lee battle. Was it that made you
"What is that, Desire? What do you mean about sending him warning?"
cried Mrs. Edwards amazedly. Desire made no reply but Perez did:
"It is thanks to her I was not caught in my bed by your men that
morning. It is thanks to her I am not in jail today, disgraced by the
lash and waiting for the hangman. Oh my dear, how glad I am to owe it
to you," and he caught the end of one of the long strands of jetty
hair that fell down her neck and touched it to his lips.
"You are crazy, fellow!" cried Mrs. Edwards, and starting forward and
grasping Desire by the arm she demanded, "What does this wild talk
mean? There is no truth in it, is there?"
"Yes," said the girl in the same dead, mechanical voice, without
turning her eyes to her mother or even raising them.
Mrs. Edwards opened her mouth, but no sound came forth. Her
astonishment was too utter. Meanwhile Perez had passed his arm about
Desire's waist as if to claim her on her own acknowledgement. Stung by
the sight of her daughter in the very arms of the rebel captain, Mrs.
Edwards found her voice once more, righteous indignation overcoming
her first unmingled consternation.
"Out upon you for a shameless hussy. Oh, that a daughter of mine
should come to this! Do you dare tell me you love this scoundrel?"
"No," answered the girl.
"What?" faltered Perez, his arm involuntarily dropping from her waist.
For all reply she rushed to her mother and threw herself on her bosom,
sobbing hysterically. For once at least in their lives Mrs. Edwards'
and Perez Hamlin's eyes met with an expression of perfect sympathy,
the sympathy of a common bewilderment. Then Mrs. Edwards tried to
loosen Desire's convulsive clasp about her neck, but the girl held her
"Oh, don't, mother, don't."
For several moments Perez stood motionless just where Desire had left
him, looking after her stupefied. The pupils of his eyes alternately
dilated and contracted, his mouth opened and closed; he passed his
hand over his forehead. Then he went up to her and stood over her as
she clung to her mother, but seemed no more decided as to what he
could do or say further.
But just then there was a diversion. Meshech and his followers who had
passed through from the living-room into the store in search of rum
had thrown open the outside door, and a gang of their comrades had
poured in to assist in the onset upon the liquor barrels. The spigots
had all been set running, or knocked out entirely, and yet
comparatively little of the fiery fluid was wasted, so many mugs,
hats, caps, and all sorts of receptacles were extended to catch the
flow. Some who could not find any sort of a vessel, actually lay under
the stream and let it pour into their mouths, or lapped it up as it
ran on the floor. Meanwhile the store was being depleted of other than
the drinkable property. The contents of the shelves and boxes were
littered on the floor, and the rebels were busy swapping their old
hats, boots and mittens for new ones, or filling their pockets with
tobacco, tea or sugar, while some of the more foresighted were making
piles of selected goods to carry away. But whatever might be the
momentary occupation of the marauders, all were drunk, excessively yet
buoyantly drunk, drunk with that peculiarly penetrating and tenacious
intoxication which results from drinking in the morning on an empty
stomach, a time when liquor seems to pervade all the interstices of
the system and lap each particular fibre and tissue in a special and
independent intoxication on its own account. Several fellows,
including Meshech, had been standing for a few moments in the door
leading from the store into the living-room, grinningly observing the
little drama which the reader has been following. As Desire broke away
from Perez and rushed to her mother, Meshech exclaimed:
"Wy in time did'n yer hole ontew her, Cap'n? I'd like ter seen her git
away from me."
"Or me nuther," seconded the fellow next him.
Perez paid no heed to this remonstrance, and probably did not hear it
at all, but Mrs. Edwards looked up. In her bewilderment and distress
over Desire the thought of her husband and Jonathan had been driven
from her mind. The sight of Meshech recalled it.
"What have you done with my husband?" she demanded anxiously.
"He's all right. He an the young cub be jess a gonter take a leetle
walk with us fellers 'cross the border," replied Meschech jocularly.
"What are you going to take them away for? What are you going to do to
them?" cried Mrs. Edwards.
"Oh, ye need'n be skeert," Meshech reassured her. "He'll hev good
kumpny. Squire Woodbridge an Ginral Ashley an Doctor Sergeant, Cap'n
Jones an schoolmaster Gleason, an a slew more o' the silk stockins be
a goin' tew."
"Are you going to murder them?" exclaimed the frantic woman.
"Wal," drawled Meshech, "that depends. Ef govment hangs any o' our
fellers wat they've got in jail, we're gonter hang yewr husban' an the
res' on em, sure's taxes. Ef none o' aourn ain't hurt, we shan't hurt
none o' yourn. We take em fer kinder hostiges, ye see, ole lady."
"Where have you got my husband? I must go to him. God help us!"
ejaculated Mrs. Edwards; and loosing herself from her daughter, now in
turn forgotten in anxiety for husband and son, the poor woman hurried
past Meshech through the confused store and so out of the house.
At the same moment the drum at the tavern began to beat the recall to
the plundering parties of insurgents scattered over the village, and
the men poured out of the store.
Save for the presence of the smaller children and the negro servants
cowering in a corner, Desire and Perez were left alone in the room.
With no refuge to fly to, she stood where her mother had left her,
just before Perez, with face averted, trembling, motionless, like a
timid bird which seeing no escape struggles no longer, but waits for
its captor's hand to close upon it. But in his nonplused, piteously
perplexed face, you would have vainly looked for the hardened and
remorseless expression appropriate to his part. The roll of the rebel
drum kept on.
"See here, Cap'n," said Abner Rathbun, suddenly appearing at the
outside door of the living-room, "we've got the hostiges together, an
we'd better be a gittin along, for the 'larm's gone ter Pittsfield an
all roun' an we'll hev the milishy ontew us in no time. An besides
that the fellers tew the tavern be a gittin so drunk, some on em can't
walk a' ready."
Aroused by Abner's insistent words, Perez took Desire's hand, and said
"Won't you come, my darling? You shall have a woman to go with you,
and we'll be married as soon as we're over the border. I know it's
sudden, but you see I can't wait, and I thought you liked me a little.
Won't you come, now?"
"Oh, no! Oh, no! I don't want to," she said, shuddering and drawing
her hand away.
Abner was silent a moment, and then he broke out vehemently:
"Look a' here, Cap'n, we hain't got no time fer soft sawder naow, with
the milishy a comin daown on us. I kin hear em a drummin up ter Lee
a'ready, an every jiffey we stay means a man's life an hangin fer them
as is tuk. Ye've hed fuss nuff 'long o' that gal fust and last, an
this ain't no time fer ye ter put up with any more o' her tantrums."
"She don't want to come, Abner. She don't like me and I thought she
did," said Perez, turning his eyes from the girl to Abner, with an
expression of despairing, appealing helplessness, almost childlike.
"Nonsense," replied Abner, with contemptuous impatience. "She likes
ye, or she'd never a sent ye that warnin. Akshins speaks louder'n
words. She's kinder flustered an dunno her own mind, that's all. Gals
don't, genally. Ye'd be a darnation fool ter let her slip through yer
fingers naow, arter riskin yer neck an all aour necks in this ere job
jess ter git a holt of her, an a settin sech store by her ez ye allers
hev. Take a fool's advice, Cap'n. Don' waste no more talk, but jess
grab her kinder soft like, an fetch her aout ter the sleigh, willy
nilly. She'll come roun' in less 'n an hour, an thank ye for't. Gals
allers does. They likes a masterful man. There, that's the talk. Fetch
her right along."
As the last words indicated, Perez, apparently decided by Abner's
words, had thrown his arm about Desire's waist and drawing her to him
and half lifting her from her feet had begun with gentle force to bear
her away. She made no violent resistance which indeed would have been
quite vain in his powerful clasp, but burst into tears, crying
"Oh, don't! Please! Please don't! Don't! Oh, don't!" Had there been a
trace of defiance or of indignant pride in her tone, it would have been
easy for him to carry out his attempt. But of the proud, high-spirited
Desire Edwards there was no hint in the tear-glazed eyes turned up to
his in wild dismay. She was but a frightened girl quite broken up with
And yet if the thought of leaving her had been dreadful before, now
the pressure of his arm upon her pliant waist, the delicious sensation
of her weight, made it maddening, and thrilled him with all sorts of
reckless impulses. Still clasping her, he whispered hoarsely, "I love
you, I love you," as if that mighty word left nothing further needed
as excuse or explanation for his conduct. "Let me go, then, if you
love me. Let me go," she cried, frantically, catching at his plea and
turning it against him.
"Ef ye let her go, ye'll never set eyes on her agin, Cap'n," said
"I can't. I can't. Have pity on me," groaned Perez. "I can't let you
"Oh, for pity's sake, do! If you loved me, you would. Oh, you would,"
she cried again. He took her by the shoulders and held her away from
him, and looked long at her. There was something in his eyes which
awed her so that she quite forgot her former terror. Then he dropped
his hands to his side, and turned away as if he would leave her
without another word. But half way to the door he turned again and
"You know I love you now. You believe it, don't you?"
"Yes," she answered in a small, scared voice, and without another word
he went out. As he went out, Mrs. Edwards, who had been standing in
the open doorway of the store a silent spectator of the last scene,
came forward, and at sight of her Desire started from the motionless
attitude in which she had remained, and cried out, pressing her hands
to her bosom:
"Oh, mother, mother, I wish he'd taken me. He feels so bad."
"Nonsense, child," said Mrs. Edwards, in a soothing, sensible voice.
"That would have been a pretty piece of business indeed. You're all
upset, and don't know what you're saying, and no wonder, either, with
no breakfast and all this coil. There, there, mother's little girl,"
and she drew her daughter's head down on her shoulder and stroked her
hair till the nervous trembling and sobbing ceased, and raising her
head she asked:
"Where are father and Jonathan?"
"Hush! I gave one of the rebels my silver shoe-buckles, and he turned
his back while Mrs. Bingham hid them in the closet behind the chimney
at the tavern. They're safe."
The rebel column having only awaited the arrival of Perez and Abner,
at once set off at quick step on the road to Great Barrington, the
prisoners, thirty or forty in number, marching in the center. Perez
rode behind, looking neither to the right hand or the left, and taking
heed of nothing, and Abner seeing his condition, tacitly assumed
command. Two or three fellows, too utterly drunk to walk, had been
perforce left behind on the tavern floor, destined to be ignominiously
dragged off to the lockup by the citizens before the rebel force was
fairly out of sight. Two or three others nearly as drunk as those who
were left behind, but more fortunate in having friends, by dint of
leaning heavily upon a man on either side, were enabled to march. But
the pace was rapid, and at the first or second steep hill these
wretches had to be left behind unless their friends were to be
sacrificed with them. There was no danger of their freezing to death
by the wayside. The pursuing militia would come along soon enough to
prevent that, never fear.
Nor were these poor chaps the only sort of burdens that were speedily
rejected by their bearers. As the rebels marched out of Stockbridge,
nearly every man was loaded with miscellaneous plunder. Some carried
bags of flour, or flitches of bacon, some an armful of muskets, others
bundles of cloth or clothing, hanks of yarn, a string of boots and
shoes, a churn, an iron pot, a pair of bellows, a pair of brass
andirons, while one even led a calf by a halter. Some, luckier than
their fellows, carried bags from which was audible the clink of
silverware. Squire Woodbridge, lagging a little, was poked in the back
by his own gold-headed cane to remind him to mend his pace, while Dr.
Sergeant, as a special favor from one of the rebels whose wife he had
once attended, was permitted to take a drink out of his own demijohn
of rum. In their eagerness to carry away all they could, the rebels
had forgotten that loads which they could barely hold up when standing
still, would prove quite too heavy to march under, and accordingly
before the band had got out of the village the road began to be
littered with the more bulky articles of property. At the foot of the
first hill there was a big pile of them, and two miles out of
Stockbridge the rebels were reduced once more to light marching order,
and not much richer than when they entered the village an hour or two
before. Besides the hostages, they had under their escort several
sleighs containing old men, women and children, the families of
members of the band, or of sympathizers with the rebellion, who were
taking this opportunity to elude their creditors and escape out of
bondage across the New York border. As the rebels crossed Muddy Brook,
just before entering Great Barrington, Abner Rathbun came up to Perez
and said: "I don' see yer father'n mother nowhar in the sleighs."
"My father and mother?" repeated Perez vacantly.
"Yes," rejoined Abner. "Ye know ye wuz a gonter bring em back ter York
with ye, but I don' see em nowhar." Perez stared at Abner, and then
glanced vaguely at the row of sleighs in the line.
"I must have forgotten about them," he finally said.
As the rebels entered Great Barrington, a company of militia was drawn
up as if to defend the tavern-jail, but upon the approach of the
rebels, who were decidedly more numerous, they retired rapidly on the
road to Sheffield. Halting in front of the building, a guard was left
with the prisoners, and then the rebels swarmed into the tavern, with
the double purpose of emptying the jail of debtors, and filling
themselves with Cephas Bement's rum, for the hard tramp from
Stockbridge had sobered them and given them fresh thirst. Perez did
not go in, but sat on his horse in the road. Presently Abner came out
with a very sober face and slowly approached him. He looked around.
"What are we stopping here for, Abner?" he asked, a little peevishly.
"Wy, it's the caounty jail, ye know, an we're lettin aout the debtors.
Reub's in here, ye know."
"So he is; I'd forgotten," replied Perez, and then after a pause, "Why
don't he come out?"
"Cap'n," said Abner, taking off his cap and looking at it, as he
fingered it. "I've got kinder tough news fer ye. Reub's dead. He died
this mornin. I thort mebbe ye'd like ter see him."
"Is he in there?"
Perez got off his horse, and went in at the door, Abner leading the
way. In the barroom of the tavern there was a crowd of drinking,
carousing men, and among them a number of the white-faced debtors,
already drunk with the bumpers their deliverers were pouring down
their throats. Bement was not visible, but as Abner and Perez entered
the jail, they saw Mrs. Bement in the corridor. She was not making any
fuss or trouble at all over the breaking of the jail this time. With
apparent complaisance she was promptly opening cells, or answering
questions in response to the demands of Meshech Little and some
companions. But there was a vicious glint in her pretty blue eyes, and
she was softly singing the lugubrious hymn, beginning with the
Ye living men, come view the ground
Where ye shall shortly lie.
Abner pushed open the door of one of the cells that had been already
opened, and went in, Perez following. He knelt by the body of his
brother, and Abner turned his back. It was the same cell in which
Perez had found Reuben and George Fennell, six months before. Several
minutes passed, and neither moved. The drum began to beat without,
summoning the men to resume their march.
"Cap'n," said Abner, "we'll hev ter go. We can't do the poor chap no
good by stayin, an they can't do him no more harm."
Then Perez rose up, and leaned on Abner's shoulder, looking down on
the patient face of the dead. The first tears gathered in his eyes,
and trickled down, and he said: "I never was fair to Reub. I never
allowed enough for his losin Jemima. I was harder on him than I should
"Ye warn't noways hard on him, Perez. Ye wuz a good brother tew him. I
never hearn o' no feller hevin a better brother nor he hed in yew,"
protested Abner, in much distress.
Perez shook his head.
"I was hard on him. I never allowed as I'd ought for his losin his
girl. I'd a been kinder to him if I'd known. Ye must a thought I was
hard an unfeelin, Reub, dear, often's the time, but I didn't know, I
didn't know. We'll go now, if you want, Abner."
The rebels had not left Stockbridge a moment too soon. Captain
Stoddard was rallying his company before they had got out of the
village, and messengers had been sent to Lee, Lenox, Pittsfield, Great
Barrington, Egremont and Sheffield, to rouse the people. Within an
hour or two after the rebels had marched south, the Stockbridge and
Lenox companies were in pursuit. Among the messengers to Great
Barrington, was Peleg Bidwell. For Peleg, since he had bought his
safety by such a shameful surrender, was embittered above all against
those of his former comrades who had been too brave to yield. And
having brought word to Great Barrington, he took his place in the
ranks of the militia of that town, and though the men among whom he
stood, eyed him askance, knowing his record, not one of them was
really so eager to empty his gun into the bosom of the rebel band as
As previously stated, the Great Barrington company, in which Peleg
carried a musket, had retired toward Sheffield, when the rebels
entered the former town. At Sheffield they were joined by the large
company of that populous settlement, and Colonel Ashley of the same
village, taking command of the combined forces, ordered a march on
Great Barrington, to meet the rebels. Now Great Barrington is but four
or five miles from the New York border, while Sheffield is about six,
and as many south of Great Barrington, the road between the two towns
running nearly parallel to the state line. There was nothing to hinder
the rebels, after they had gained their main objects, the capture of
hostages and the release of the debtors, from turning west from Great
Barrington, and placing themselves in an hour's march across the town
of Egremont, beyond the reach of the militia, in neutral territory.
Becoming apprehensive that this would be their course, Colonel Ashley,
instead of keeping on the road from Sheffield to Great Barrington,
presently left it and marched his men along a back road running
northwest toward the state line in a direction that would intercept
the rebels if they struck across Egremont to New York.
He adopted, however, the precaution of leaving a party at the junction
of the main road with the road he took, so that if after all instead
of retreating westward the rebels had boldly kept on the main road to
Sheffield word might be sent after him. It so happened that this was
just what the rebels had done. Not having the fear of the Sheffield
company before their eyes, instead of trying to escape to New York by
the shortest cut, they had kept on toward Sheffield, marching south by
the main road. And not only this, but when they came to the junction
of the main road with that which Colonel Ashley had taken, and learned
by capturing the guard what plan the Colonel had devised, they became
so enraged that instead of keeping on to Sheffield and leaving the
militia to finish their wild goose chase, they turned into the back
road after them, and so the hunters became the hunted. In this way it
happened that while the militia were pressing on at full speed,
breathlessly debating their chances of heading off the flying rebels,
"bang," "bang," came a volley in their rear, and from the stragglers
who had been fired upon arose a cry, "The Shayites are after us."
It is greatly to the credit of the militia officers that the result of
this surprise was not a hopeless panic among their men. As it was, for
several minutes utter confusion reigned. Then one of the companies
took to the woods on the right, the other entering the woods on the
left, and marching back they presently came in sight of their
pursuers, still pushing on pell-mell in the road. The militia now had
every advantage, and Colonel Ashley ordered them to open fire. But the
men hesitated. There, intermingled with the rebels, their very
lineaments plainly to be seen, were the prisoners, the first gentlemen
of Stockbridge and of the county. To pour a volley in upon the rebels
would endanger the lives of the prisoners as much as those of the
enemy. Meanwhile the rebels themselves were rapidly deploying and
opening fire. The militia were in danger of losing all their
advantage, of being shot down defenseless, of perhaps losing the day,
all owing to the presence of the prisoners in the enemy's ranks. Again
Colonel Ashley gave the order to fire. Again not a man obeyed.
"We can't kill our friends," said an officer.
"God have mercy on their souls, but pour in your fire!" roared the
commander, and the volley was given. The prisoners broke from the
ranks of the enemy and ran; the firing became general. For five or ten
minutes a brisk engagement was kept up, and then the rebels broke and
fled in every direction. The Stockbridge and Lenox companies after
having followed the rebels through Great Barrington and on toward
Sheffield had also turned in after them on the back road, and coming
up behind in the nick of time had attacked their rear and caused their
Only two of the militia had been wounded, one mortally. One also of
the prisoners had proved in need of Colonel Ashley's invocation.
Solomon Gleason had fallen dead at the first volley from his friends.
It was generally supposed that his death was the result of a chance
shot, but Peleg Bidwell was never heard to express any opinion on the
subject, and Peleg was a very good marksman.
As the smoke of the last shot floated up among the tops of the gloomy
pines along the road, some thirty killed and wounded rebels lay on the
trampled and blood-stained snow. Abner Rathbun, mortally wounded,
writhed at the foot of a tree, and near by lay Perez Hamlin quite