He was in a hurry for two reasons to get the reins in his hands again. In the first place, for the very natural and obvious reason that he grudged every moment of immunity from punishment enjoyed by men who had put him to such an open shame. The other and less obvious reason was the expected return of Squire Sedgwick from Boston. Sedgwick had been gone a week. He might be absent a week or two weeks more, but he might return any day. One thing was evident to Jahleel Woodbridge. Before this man returned, of whose growing and rival influence he had already so much reason to be jealous, he must have put an end to anarchy in Stockbridge, and once more stand at the head of its government. Sedgwick had warned him of the explosive state of popular feeling: he had resented that warning, and the event had proved his rival right. The only thing now left him was to show Sedgwick that if he had not been able to foresee the rebellion, he had been able to suppress it. Nevertheless he would proceed cautiously.
The red flag of the sheriff had for some weeks waved from the gable end of a small house on the main street, owned by a Baptist cobbler, one David Joy. There were quite a number of Baptists among the Welsh iron-workers at West Stockbridge, and some Methodists, but none of either heresy save David in Stockbridge, which, with this exception was, as a parish, a Congregational lamb without blemish. No wonder then that David was a thorn in the side to the authorities of the church, nor was he less despised by the common people. There was not a drunken loafer in town who did not pride himself upon the fact that, though he might be a drunkard, he was at least no Baptist, but belonged to the "Standing Order." Meshech Little, himself, who believed and practiced the doctrine of total immersion in rum, had no charity for one who believed in total immersion in water.
The date which had been set for the sale of David's goods and house, chanced to be the very Monday following the Sunday with whose religious services and other events the previous chapters have been concerned. It seemed to Squire Woodbridge that David's case would be an excellent one with which to inaugurate once more the reign of law. Owing to the social isolation and unpopularity of the man, the proceedings against him would be likely to excite very little sympathy or agitation of any kind, and having thus got the machinery of the law once more into operation, it would be easy enough to proceed thereafter, without fear or favor, against all classes of debtors and evil-doers in the good old way. Moreover, it had long been the intention of those having the interest of Zion at heart to "freeze out" David by this very process, and to that end considerable sanctified shrewdness had been expended in getting him into debt. So that by enforcing the sale in his case, two birds would, so to speak, be killed with one stone, and the political and spiritual interests of the parish be coincidently furthered, making it altogether an undertaking on which the blessing of Heaven might be reasonably looked for.
At three o'clock in the afternoon the sale took place. Everything worked as the Squire had expected. It being the general popular supposition that there were to be no more sheriffs' sales, there were no persons present at the auction save the officers of the law and the gentlemen who were to bid. Only here and there an astonished face peered out of a window at the proceedings, and a knot of loafers, who had been boozing away the afternoon, stood staring in the door of the tavern. That was all. There was no crowd, and no attempt at interruption. But the news that a man had been sold out for debt spread fast, and by sunset, when the men and boys came home from their farm-work or mechanical occupations, numerous groups of excited talkers had gathered in the streets. There was a very full meeting that night at the tavern.
"I declar for't," said Israel Goodrich, with an air of mingled disappointment and wrath, "I be reel put aout, an disappinted like. I dunno what tew make on't. I callated the trouble wuz all over, an times wuz gonter be good and folks live kinder neighbourly 'thout no more suein an jailin, an sellin aout, same ez long from '74 tew '80. I reckoned sure nuff them times wuz come 'round agin, an here they've gone an kicked the pot over, an the fat's in the fire agin, bad's ever."
"Darn em. Gosh darn em, I say," exclaimed Abner. "Didn't they git our idee what we wuz arter wen we stopped the courts? Did they think we wuz a foolin baout it? That's what I want some feller tew tell me. Did they think we wuz a foolin?"
Abner's usually good humoured face was darkly flushed, and there was an ugly gleam in his eye as he spoke.
"We wuz so quiet like las' week, they callated we'd jess hed our fling an got over it. I guess that wuz haow it wuz," said Peleg Bidwell.
"Did they think we'd been five year a gittin our dander up an would git over it in a week?" demanded Abner, glaring round. "If t'wuz caze we wuz tew quiet, we'll make racket nuff to suit em arter this, hey, boys? If racket's the ony thing they kin understan, they shall hev a plenty on't."
"Israel thought it wuz kingdom come already," said Paul Hubbard, who had hurried down from the iron-works with a gang of his myrmidons, on receipt of the news. "He thought the silk stockings was goin to give right in as sweet as sugar. Not by a darned sight. No sir. They ain't going to let go so easy. They ain't none o' that sort. They mean to have the old times back again, and they'll have em back, too, unless you wake up and show em you're in earnest."
"Not yit awhile, by the everlastin Jocks," shouted Abner. "Ef thar's any vartue in gunpowder them times shan't come back," and there was an answering yell that shook the room.
"That's the talk, Abner. Give us yer paw," said Paul, delighted to find the people working up to his own pitch of bitter and unrelenting animosity against the gentlemen. "That's the talk, but it'll take more'n talk. Look here men, three out of four of you have done enough already to get a dozen lashes on his bare back, if the silk stockings get on top again. It's all in a nutshell. If we don't keep them under they'll keep us under. We've just got to take hold and raise the devil with them. If we don't give them the devil, they'll give us the devil. Take your choice. It's one or the other."
There was a chorus of exclamations.
"That's so." "By gosh we're in for't, an we might's well go ahead." "Ye're right, Paul." "We'll git aout the hoss-fiddles an give em some mewsic." "We'll raise devil nuff fer em ter night." "Come on fellers." "Les give em a bonfire."
There was a general movement of the men out of the barroom, all talking together, clamorously suggesting plans, or merely, as in the case of the younger men and boys, venting their excitement in hoots and catcalls. It was a close dark night, obscure enough to make cowards brave, and the crowd that surged out of the tavern were by no means cowards, but angry and resolute men, whose exasperation at the action of the authorities, was sharpened and pointed by well-founded apprehensions of the personal consequences to themselves which that action threatened if not resisted. Some one's suggestion that they should begin by putting David Joy and his family back into their house, was received with acclamation and they were forthwith fetched from a neighboring shed, under which they had encamped for the night, and without much ceremony thrust into their former residence and ordered to stay there. For though in this case David happened to be identified with their own cause, it went against their grain to help a Baptist.
"Now, boys, les go an see Iry Seymour," said Abner, and with a yell, the crowd rushed off in the direction of the deputy sheriff's house.
Their blood was up, and it was perhaps well for that official that he did not wait to be interviewed. As the crowd surged up before the house, a man's figure was seen dimly flitting across the field behind, having apparently emerged from the back door. There was a yell "There goes Iry," and half the mob took after him, but, thanks to the darkness, the nimble-footed sheriff made good his escape, and his pursuers presently returned, breathless, but in high good humor over the novel sport, protesting that they laughed so hard they couldn't run.
The only other important demonstration by the mob that evening, was the tearing up of the fence in front of Squire Woodbridge's house and the construction of an immense bonfire in the street out of the fragments, the conflagration proceeding to the accompaniment of an obligato on the horse-fiddles.
So it came to pass that, as sometimes happens in such cases, Squire Woodbridge's first attempt to get the reins of the runaway team into his hands, had the effect of startling the horses into a more headlong gallop than ever.
If the events of the night, superadded to the armed revolt of the week before, left any doubt in the most sanguine mind that the present disturbances were no mere local and trifling irritations, but a general rebellion, the news which was in the village early the following morning, must have dispelled it. This news was that the week before, an armed mob of several hundred had stopped the courts at their meeting in Worcester and forced an adjournment for two months; that the entire state, except the district close around Boston, was in a ferment; that the people were everywhere arming and drilling and fully determined that no more courts should sit till the distresses of the times had been remedied. As yet the state authorities had taken no action looking toward the suppression of the insurrection, in which, indeed, the great majority of the population appeared actively or sympathetically engaged. The messenger reported that in the lower counties a sprig of hemlock in the hat, had been adopted as the badge of the insurgents, and that the towns through which he had ridden seemed to have fairly turned green, so universally did men, women and children wear the hemlock. The news had not been an hour in Stockbridge before every person on the streets had a bit of hemlock in their hat or hair. I say every person upon the street, for those who belonged to the anti-popular or court party, took good care to keep within doors that morning.
"I'm glad to see the hemlock, agin," said Israel Goodrich. "The old pine tree flag wuz a good flag to fight under. There wuz good blood spilt under it in the old colony days. Thar wuz better times in this 'ere province o' Massachusetts Bay, under the pine tree flag, than this dum Continental striped rag hez ever fetched, or ever will, I reckon."
The dismay which the news of the extent and apparent irresistibleness of the rebellion produced among those attached to the court party in Stockbridge, corresponded to the exultation to which the people gave themselves up. Nor did the populace lose any time in giving expression to their bolder temper by overt acts. About nine o'clock in the morning, Deputy Sheriff Seymour, who had not ventured to return to his house, was found concealed in the corn-bin of a barn near the burying-ground. A crowd instantly collected and dragged the terrified man from his concealment. Some one yelled:
"Ride him on a rail," and the suggestion finding an echo in the popular breast, a three-cornered fence rail was thrust between his legs, and lifted on men's shoulders. Astride of this sharp-backed steed, holding on with his hands for dear life, lest he should fall off and break his neck, he was carried, through the main streets of the village, followed by a howling crowd, and pelted with apples by the boys, while the windows of the houses along the way were full of laughing women. Having graced the popular holiday by this involuntary exhibition of himself, Seymour was let go without suffering any further violence, the crowd appearing boisterously jocose rather than embittered in temper. Master Hopkins, a young man who had recently entered Squire Sedgwick's office to study law, was next pounced upon, having indiscreetly ventured on the street, and treated to a similar free ride, which was protracted until the youth purchased surcease by consenting to wear a sprig of hemlock in his hat.
About the middle of the forenoon Squire Woodbridge, Deacon Nash, Dr. Partridge, with Squire Edwards and several other gentlemen were sitting in the back room of the store. It was a gloomy council. Woodbridge quaffed his glass of rum in short, quick unenjoying gulps, and said not a word. The others from time to time dropped a phrase or two expressive of the worst apprehensions as to what the mob might do, and entire discouragement as to the possibility of doing anything to restrain them. Suddenly, young Jonathan Edwards, who was in the outer room tending store, cried out:
"Father, the mob is coming. Shall I shut the door?"
Squire Edwards cried "Yes," and hastily went out to assist, but Dr. Partridge, with more presence of mind than the others seemed to possess at that moment, laid his hand on the storekeeper's arm, saying:
"Better not shut the door. They will tear the house down if you do. Resistance is out of the question."
In another moment a boisterous crowd of men, their faces flushed with drink, all wearing sprigs of hemlock in their hats, came pouring up the steps and filled the store, those who could not enter thronging the piazza and grinning in at the windows. Edwards and the other gentlemen stood at bay at the back end of the store, in front of the liquor hogsheads. Their bearing was that of men who expected personal violence, but in a justifiable agitation did not forget their personal dignity. But the expression on the face of Abner, who was the leader of the gang, was less one of exasperation than of sardonic humor.
"Good mornin," he said.
"Good morning, Abner," replied Edwards, propitiatingly.
"It's a good mornin and it's good news ez is come to taown. I s'pose ye hearn it a' ready. I thort so. Ye look ez ef ye hed. But we didn' come tew talk 'baout that. Thar wuz a leetle misunderstandin yisdy 'baout selling aout David. He ain't nothin but a skunk of a Baptis, an ef Iry hed put him in the stocks or licked him 'twould a sarved him right. But ye see some of the boys hev got a noshin agin heven any more fellers sole aout fer debt, an we've been a explainin our idee to Iry this mornin. I callate he's got it through his head, Iry hez. Ye see ef neighbors be gonter live together peaceable they've jess got ter unnerstan each other. What do yew s'pose Iry said? He said Squire thar tole him to sell David aout. In course we didn' b'leeve that. Squire ain't no gol darned fool, ez that would make him aout ter be. He knowd the men ez stopped the courts las' week wouldn' be afeard o' stoppin a sherriff. He knows the folks be in arnest 'baout hevin an eend on sewin an sellin an sendin tew jail. Squire knows, an ye all know that thar'll be fightin fore thar's any more sellin."
Abner had grown excited as he spoke, and the peculiar twinkle in his eye had given place to a wrathy glare as he uttered the last words, but this passed, and it was with his former sardonic grin that he added:
"But Iry didn' save his hide by tryin tew lay it orf ontew Squire an I guess he won't try no more sellin aout right away, not ef Goramity tole him tew."
"Yer gab's runnin away with yer. Git to yer p'int, Abner," said Peleg Bidwell.
"Lemme 'lone I'm comin 'roun," replied Abner. "Ye wuz over't the sale yisdy, warn't ye, Squire?" he said, addressing Edwards.
"Wal, ye see, when we come tew put back David's folks intew the haouse his woman missed the clock, and somebody said ez haow ye'd took et."
"I bid it in," said Edwards.
"I s'pose ye clean furgut t'wuz the on'y clock she hed," suggested Abner with a bland air of accounting for the other's conduct on the most favorable supposition.
Edwards, making no reply save to grow rather red, Abner continued:
"In course ye furgut it, that's what I tole the fellers, for ye wouldn't go and take the on'y clock a poor man hed wen ye've got a plenty, 'nless ye furgut. Ye see we knowed ye'd wanter send it right back soon ez ye thort o' that, and so we jess called in for't, callaten tew save ye the trouble."
"But—but I bought it," stammered Edwards.
"Sartin, sartin," said Abner. "Jess what I sed, ye bought it caze ye clean furgut it wuz David's on'y one, an he poor an yew rich. Crypus! Squire, ye hain't got no call tew explain it tew us. Ye see we knows yer ways Squire. We knows how apt ye be tew furgit jiss that way. We kin make allowances fer ye."
Edwards' forehead was crimson.
"There's the clock," he said, pointing to it where it lay on the counter. Abner took it up and put it under his arm, saying:
"David 'll be 'bliged to ye, Squire, when I tell him how cheerful ye sent it back. Some o' the fellers," he pursued with an affectation of a confidential tone, "some o' the fellers said mebbe ye wouldn't send it back cheerful. They said ye'd got no more compassion fer the poor than a flint stun. They said, them fellers did, that ye'd never in yer life let up on a man as owed ye, an would take a feller's last drop o' blood sooner'n lose a penny debt. They said, them fellers did, that yer hands, wite ez they looks, wuz red with the blood o' them that ye'd sent to die in jail."
Abner's voice had risen to a tremendous crescendo of indignation, and he seemed on the point of quite forgetting his ironical affectation, when, with an effort which added to the effect, he checked himself and resuming his former tone and grin, he added:
"I argyed with them fellers ez said them things bout ye. I tole em haow it couldn't be so, caze ye wuz a deakin, an hed family prayers, and could pray mos' ez long ez parson. But I couldn't do nothin with em, they wuz so sot. Wy them fellers akchilly said ye took this ere clock a knowin that it wuz David's on'y one, wen ye hed a plenty o' yer own tew. Jess think o' that Squire. What a hoggish old hunks they took ye fer, didn't they, naow?" Edwards glared at his tormentor with a countenance red and white with speechless rage, but Abner appeared as unconscious of anything peculiar in his manner as he did of the snickers of the men behind him. Having concluded his remarks he blandly bade the gentlemen good morning and left the store, followed by his gang, the suppressed risibilities of the party finding expression in long continued and uproarious laughter, as soon as they reached the outer air. After leaving the store they called on all the gentlemen who had bidden in anything at yesterday's sale, one after another, and reclaimed every article and returned it to David.
If any of the court party had flattered themselves that this mob, like that of the week before, would, after making an uproar for a day or two, disappear and leave the community in quiet, they were destined to disappointment. The popular exasperation and apprehension which the Squire's ill-starred attempt to regain authority had produced, gave to the elements of anarchy in the village a new cohesive force and impulse, while, thanks to the news of the spread and success of the rebellion elsewhere, the lawless were encouraged by entire confidence of impunity. From this day, in fact, it might be said that anarchy was organized in the village.
There were two main elements in the mob. One, the most dangerous, and the real element of strength in it, was composed of a score or two of men whom the stoppage of the courts had come too late to help. Their property all gone, they had been reduced to the condition of loafers, without stake in the community. Having no farms of their own to work on, and the demand for laborers being limited, they had nothing to do all day but to lounge around the tavern, drinking when they could get drinks, sneering at the silk stockings, and debating how further to discomfit them. The other element of the mob, the most mischievous, although not so seriously formidable, was composed of boys and half-grown youths, who less out of malice against the court party, than out of mere love of frolic, availed themselves to the utmost of the opportunity to play off pranks on the richer class of citizens. Bands of them ranged the streets from twilight till midnight, robbing orchards, building bonfires out of fences, opening barns and letting the cows into the gardens, stealing the horses for midnight races, afterwards leaving them to find their way home as they could, tying strings across the streets to trip wayfarers up, stoning windows, and generally making life a burden for their victims by an ingenious variety of petty outrages. Nor were the persons even of the unpopular class always spared. In the daytime it was tolerably safe for one of them to go abroad, but after dark, let him beware of unripe apples and overripe eggs. For the most part the silk stockings kept their houses in the evening, as much for their own protection as for that of their families, and the more prudent of them sat in the dark until bedtime, owing to the fact that lighted windows were a favorite mark with the boys.
The mob had dubbed itself "The Regulators," a title well enough deserved, indeed, by the extent to which they undertook to reorganize the property interests of the community. For the theory of the reclamation of property carried out in the case of the goods of David Joy, by no means stopped there. It was presently given an ex-post facto application, and made to cover articles of property which had changed hands at Sheriff's sales not only since but also previous to the stoppage of the courts. Wherever, in fact, a horse or a cart, a harness, a yoke of oxen or a piece of furniture had passed from the ownership of a poor man to the possession of a rich man and one of the court party, the original owner now reclaimed it, if so disposed, and so effectual was the mob terrorism in the village that such a claim was, generally, with better or worse grace yielded to.
Nor was the application of this doctrine of the restitution of all things even confined to personal property. Many of the richer class of citizens occupied houses acquired by harsh foreclosures since the dearth of circulating medium had placed debtors at the mercy of creditors. A few questions as to when they were thinking of moving out, with an intimation that the neighbors were ready to assist them, if it appeared necessary, was generally hint enough to secure a prompt vacating of the premises, though now and then when the occupants were unusually obstinate and refused to "take a joke" there were rather rough proceedings. Among those thus ejected was Solomon Gleason, the schoolmaster, who had been living in the house which George Fennel had formerly owned. In this case, however, the house remained vacant, George being too sick to be moved.
When Friday night came round again, there was a tremendous carouse at the tavern, in the midst of which Widow Bingham, rendered desperate by the demands for rum, demands which she did not dare to refuse for fear of provoking the mob to gut her establishment, finally exclaimed:
"Why don' ye go over't the store an let Squire Edwards stan treat awhile? What's the use o' making me dew it all? He's got better likker nor I hev an more on't, an he ain't a poor lone widder nuther, without noboddy ter stan up fer her," and the widow pointed her appeal by beginning to cry, which, as she was a buxom well-favored woman, made a decided impression on the crowd.
Abner, who was drunk as a king, instantly declared that "By the everlastin Jehu" he'd break the head o' the "fuss dum Nimshi" that asked for another drink, which brought the potations of the company to a sudden check. Presently Meshech Little observed:
"Come long fellersh, lesh go t' the store. Whosh fraid? I ain't." There was a chorus of thick-tongued protestations of equal valor, and the crowd reeled out after Meshech. Abner was left alone with the widow.
"I'm reel beholden to ye Abner Rathbun, fer stannin up fer me," said she warmly, "an Seliny Bingham ain't one tew ferget a favor nuther."
"I'd a smashed the snout o' the fuss one on em ez assed fer more. I'd a knocked his lights outer him, I don' keer who twuz," declared Abner, his valor still further inflamed by the gratitude which sparkled from the widow's fine eyes.
"Lemme mix ye a leetle rum 'n sugar, Abner. It'll dew ye good," said the widow. "I hope ye didn' take none o' that to yerself what I said tew the res' on em. I'm sure I don' grudge ye a drop ye've ever hed, caze I know ye be a nice stiddy man, an I feels safer like wen ye be raoun. Thar naow, jess try that an see ef it's mixed right."
Abner did try that, and more subsequently and sweet smiles and honeyed words therewith, the upshot of all which was the tacit conclusion that evening of a treaty of alliance, the tacitly understood conditions being that Abner should stand by the widow and see she was not put upon, in return for which the widow would see that he was not left thirsty, and if this understanding was sealed with a kiss snatched by one of the contracting parties as the other leaned too far over the bar with the fourth tumbler of rum and sugar, why it was all the more likely to be faithfully observed. That the widow was a fine woman Abner had previously observed, but any natural feeling which this observation might have excited had been kept in check by the consciousness of a long unsettled score. The woman was merged in the landlady, the sex in the creditor. Seeing that there is no more ecstatic experience known to the soul than the melting of awe into a tenderer sentiment, it will not be wondered at that Abner lingered over his twofold inebriation till at nine o'clock the widow said that she must really shut up the tavern.
His surprise was great on passing the store to see it still lit up, and a crowd of men inside, while from the apartments occupied by the Edwards family came the tinkling of Desire's piano. Going in, he found the store filled with drunken men, and the back room crowded with drinkers, whom young Jonathan Edwards was serving with liquor, while the Squire was walking about with a worn and anxious face, seeing that there was no stealing of his goods. As he saw Abner he said, making a pitiable attempt to affect a little dignity:
"I've been treating the men to a little liquor, but it's rather late, and I should like to get them out. You have some control over them, I believe. May I ask you to send them out?"
In the pressure of the present emergency, the poor man appeared to have forgotten the insults which Abner had heaped upon him a few days before, and Abner himself, who was in high good humor, and really felt almost sorry for the proud man before him, replied:
"Sartin, Sartin. I'll git em aout, but what's the peeanner agoin fer?"
"The men thought they would like to hear it, and my daughter was kind enough to play a little for them," said Edwards, his face flushing again, even after the mortifications of the evening, at the necessity of thus confessing his powerlessness to resist the most insulting demands of the rabble.
Abner passed through the door in the back room of the store, which opened into the living-room, a richly carpeted apartment, with fine oaken furniture imported from England. The parlor beyond was even more expensively furnished and decorated. Flat on his back, in the middle of the parlor carpet, was stretched Meshech Little, dead drunk. In nearly every chair was a barefooted, coatless lout, drunk and snoring with his hat over his eyes, and his legs stretched out, or vacantly staring with open mouth at Desire, who, with a face like ashes and the air of an automaton, was playing the piano.
PLOTS AND COUNTERPLOTS
On the day following, which was Saturday, at about three o'clock in the afternoon, Perez Hamlin was at work in the yard behind the house, shoeing his horse in preparation for the start west the next week. Horse shoeing was an accomplishment he had acquired in the army, and he had no shillings to waste in hiring others to do anything he could do himself. As he let the last hoof out from between his knees, and stood up, he saw Israel Goodrich and Ezra Phelps coming across the yard toward him. Ezra wore his working suit, sprinkled with the meal dust of his gristmill, and Israel had on a long blue-woolen farmer's smock, reaching to his knees, and carried in his hand a hickory-handled whip with a long lash, indicating that he had come in his cart, which he had presumably left hitched to the rail fence in front of the house. After breaking ground by a few comments on the points of Perez' horse, Israel opened the subject of the visit, as follows:
"Ye see, Perez, I wuz over't Mill-Holler arter a grist o' buckwheat, an me 'n Ezry got ter talkin baout the way things wuz goin in the village. I s'pose ye've hearn o' the goins on."
"Very little, indeed," said Perez. "I have scarcely been out of the yard this week, I've been hard at work. But I've heard considerable racket nights."
"Wal," said Israel, "the long an short on't is the fellers be raisin the old Harry, an it's time somebody said whoa. I've been a talkin tew Abner baout it, an so's Ezry, but Abner ain't the same feller he wuz. He's tight mos' o' the time naow, an he says he don' keer a darn haow bad they treats the silk stockins. Turn abaout's fair play, he says, an he on'y larfed w'en I tole him some o' the mischief the fellers wuz up tew. An you said, Ezry, he talked jess so to yew."
"Sartin, he did," said Ezra. "Ye see," he continued to Perez, "me an Isr'el be men o' prop'ty, an we jined the folks agin' the courts caze we seen they wuz bein 'bused. Thar warn't no sense in makin folks pay debts w'en ther warn't no money in cirk'lashun to pay em. 'Twuz jess like makin them ere chil'ren of Isr'el make bricks 'thout no straw. I allers said, an I allers will say," and the glitter that came into Ezra's eye indicated that he felt the inspiring bound of his hobby beneath him, "ef govment makes folks pay ther debts, govment's baoun ter see they hez sunthin tew pay em with. I callate that's plain ez a pike-staff. An it's jess so with taxes. Ef govment—"
"Sartin, sartin," interrupted Israel, quietly choking him off, "but less stick tew what we wuz a sayin, Ezry. Things be a goin tew fur, ye see, Perez. We tuk part with the poor folks w'en they wuz bein 'bused, but I declar' for't 't looks though we'd hefter take part with the silk stockins pootty soon, at the rate things be agoin. It's a reg'lar see-saw. Fust the rich folks eend wuz up too fur, and naow et's t'other way."
"They be a burnin fences ev'ry night," said Ezra, "an they'll have the hull town afire one o' these days. I don' b'lieve in destroyin prop'ty. Thar ain't no sense in that. That air Paul Hubbard's wuss 'n Abner. Abner he jess larfs an don' keer, but Paul he's thet riled agin the silk stockins that he seems farly crazy. He's daown from the iron-works with his gang ev'ry night, eggin on the fellers tew burn fences, an stone houses, an he wuz akchilly tryin tew git the boys tew tar and feather Squire, t'uther night. They didn't quite dasst dew that, but thar ain't no tellin what they'll come tew yit."
"Ye see, Perez," said Israel, at last getting to the point, "we callate yew mout dew suthin to kinder stop em ef ye'd take a holt. Abner 'l hear ter ye, an all on em would. I don' see's nobody else in taown kin dew nothin. Ezry an me wuz a talkin baout ye overt' the mill, an Ezry says, 'Le's gwover ter see him.' I says, 'Git right inter my cart, an we'll go,' an so here we be."
"I can't very well mix in, you see," replied Perez, "for I'm going to leave town for good the first of the week."
"Whar be ye goin?"
"I'm going to take father and mother and Reuben over the York line, to New Lebanon, and then I'm going on to the Chenango purchase to clear a farm and settle with them."
"Sho! I wanter know," exclaimed Israel, scratching his head. "Wal, I swow," he added, thoughtfully, "I don't blame ye a mite, arter all. This ere state o' Massachusetts Bay, ain't no place fer a poor man, sence the war, an ye'll find lots o' Stockbridge folks outter Chenango. They's a lot moved out thar."
"Ef I war ten year younger I'd go long with ye," said Ezra, "darned ef I wouldn't. I callate thar muss be a right good chance fer a gristmill out thar."
"Wal, Ezry," said Israel, after a pause, "I don' see but wat we've hed our trouble fer nothin, an I declar I dunno wat's gonter be did. The silk stockins be a tryin tew fetch back the ole times, an the people be a raisin Cain, an wat's a gonter come on't Goramity on'y knows. Come 'long, Ezry," and the two old men went sorrowfully away.
It seems that Israel and Ezra were not the only persons in Stockbridge whose minds turned to Perez as the only available force which could restrain the mob, and end the reign of lawlessness in the village. Scarcely had those worthies departed when Dr. Partridge rode around into the back yard and approached the young man.
"I come to you," he said, without any preliminary beating about the bush, "as the recognized leader of the people in this insurrection, to demand of you, as an honest fellow, that you do something to stop the outrages of your gang."
"If I was their leader the other day, I am so no longer," replied Perez, coldly. "They are not my followers. It is none of my business what they do."
"Yes, it is," said Dr. Partridge, sharply. "You can't throw off the responsibility that way. But for you, the rebellion here in Stockbridge would never have gained headway. You can't drop the business now and wash your hands of it."
"I don't care to wash my hands of it," replied Perez, sternly. "I don't know what the men have done of late for I have stayed at home, but no doubt the men who suffer from their doings, deserve it all, and more too. Even if I were to stay in Stockbridge, I see no reason why I should interfere. The people have a right to avenge their wrongs. But I am going away the coming week. My only concern in the rebellion was the release of my brother, and now I propose to take him and my father and mother out of this accursed Commonwealth, and leave you whose oppression and cruelties have provoked the rebellion, to deal with it."
"Do you consider that an honorable course, Captain Hamlin?" The young man's face flushed, and he answered angrily:
"Shall I stay here to protect men who the moment they are able will throw my brother into jail and send me to the gallows? Have you, sir, the assurance to tell me that is my duty?"
The doctor for a moment found it difficult to reply to this, and Perez went on, with increasing bitterness:
"You have sown the wind, you are reaping the whirlwind. Why should I interfere? You have had no pity on the poor, why should they have pity on you? Instead of having the face to ask me to stay here and protect you, rather be thankful that I am willing to go and leave unavenged the wrongs which my father's family has suffered at your hands. Be careful how you hinder my going." The doctor, apparently inferring from the bitter tone of the young man, and the hard, steely gleam in his blue eyes, that perhaps there was something to be considered in his last words turned his horse's head, without a word, and went away like the two envoys who had preceded him.
The doctor was disappointed. Without knowing much of Perez, he had gained a strong impression from what little he had seen of him, that he was of a frank, impulsive temperament, sudden and fierce in quarrel, perhaps, but incapable of a brooding revengefulness, and most unlikely to cherish continued animosity toward enemies who were at his mercy. And as I would not have the reader do the young man injustice in his mind, I hasten to say that the doctor's view of his character was not far out of the way. The hard complacency with which he just now regarded the calamities of the gentlemen of the town, had its origin in the constant and bitter brooding of the week past over Desire's treatment of him. The sense of being looked down on by her, as a fine lady, and his respectful passion despised, had been teaching him the past few days a bitterness of caste jealousy, which had never before been known to his genial temper. He was trying to forget his love for her, in hatred for her class. He was getting to feel toward the silk stockings a little as Paul Hubbard did.
Probably one of this generation of New Englanders, who could have been placed in Stockbridge the day following, would have deemed it a very quiet Sabbath indeed. But what, by our lax modern standards seem very venial sins of Sabbath-breaking, if indeed any such sins be now recognized at all, to that generation were heinous and heaven-daring. The conduct of certain reckless individuals that Sabbath, did more to shock the public mind than perhaps anything that had hitherto occurred in the course of the revolt. For instance, divers young men were seen openly walking about the streets with their sweethearts during meeting-time, laughing and talking in a noisy manner, and evidently bent merely on pleasure. It was credibly reported that one man, without any attempt at concealment, rode down to Great Barrington to make a visit of recreation upon his friends. Several other persons, presumably for similar profane purposes, walked out to Lee and Lenox furnaces, to the prodigious scandal of the dwellers along those roads. As if this were not enough iniquity for one day, there were whispers that Abner Rathbun and Meshech Little had gone a fishing. This rumor was not, indeed, fully substantiated, but the mere fact that it found circulation and some to credit it, is in itself striking evidence of the agitated and abnormal condition of the public mind.
Toward sunset, the news reached Stockbridge of yet another rebel victory in the lower counties. The Monday preceding, 300 armed farmers had marched into the town of Concord, and prevented the sitting of the courts of Middlesex county. The weakness of the government was shown by the fact that, although ample warning of the intentions of the rebels had been given, no opposition to them was attempted. The governor had, indeed, at first ordered the militia to arms, but through apprehension of their unfaithfulness had subsequently countermanded the order. The fact that the rebellion had manifested such strength and boldness within a few hours' march of Boston, the capital of the state, was an important element in the elation which the tidings produced among the people. It showed that the western counties were not alone engaged in the insurrection, but that the people all over the state were making common cause against the courts and the party that upheld them.
The jubilation produced by this intelligence, combining with the usual reaction at sunset after the repression of the day, caused that evening a general pandemonium of tin-pans, bonfires, mischief of all sorts, and the usual concomitant of unlimited drunkenness. In the midst of the uproar, Mrs. Jahleel Woodbridge, Squire Edward's sister, died. The violence of the mob was such, however, that Edwards did not dare to avail himself of even this excuse for refusing to furnish liquor to the crowd.
The funeral took place Tuesday. It was the largest and most imposing that had taken place in the village for a long time. The prominence of both the families concerned, procured the attendance of all the gentry of Southern Berkshire. I employ an English phrase to describe a class for which, in our modern democratic New England, there is no counterpart. The Stoddards, Littles, and Wendells, of Pittsfield, were represented. Colonel Ashley was there from Sheffield, Justices Dwight and Whiting from Great Barrington, and Barker from Lanesborough, with many more. The carriages, some of them bearing coats of arms upon their panels, made a fine array, which, not less than the richly attired dames and gentlemen who descended from them, impressed a temporary awe upon even the most seditious and democratically inclined of the staring populace. The six pall-bearers, adorned with scarves, and mourning rings, were Chief Justice Dwight, Colonel Elijah Williams of West Stockbridge, the founder and owner of the iron-works there, Dr. Sergeant of Stockbridge, Captain Solomon Stoddard, commander of the Stockbridge militia, Oliver Wendell of Pittsfield, and Henry W. Dwight of Stockbridge, the county treasurer. There were not in Stockbridge alone enough families to have furnished six pall-bearers of satisfactory social rank. For while all men of liberal education or profession, or such as held prominent offices were recognized as gentlemen in sharp distinction from the common people, yet the generality of even these were looked far down upon by the county families of long pedigree and large estate. The Partridges, Dr. Sergeant, the Dwights, the Williamses, the Stoddards, and of course his brother-in-law Edwards, were the only men in Stockbridge whom Woodbridge regarded as belonging to his own caste. Even Theodore Sedgwick, despite his high public offices, he affected to consider entitled to social equality chiefly by virtue of his having married a Dwight.
After the funeral exercises, Squire Woodbridge managed to whisper a few words in the ear of a dozen or so of the gentlemen present, the tenor of which, to the great surprise of those addressed, was a request that they would call on him that evening after dark, taking care to come alone, and attract as little attention as possible. Each one supposed himself to have been alone invited, and on being met at the door by Squire Woodbridge and ushered into the study, was surprised to find the room full of gentlemen. Drs. Partridge and Sergeant and Squire Edwards were there, Captain Stoddard, Sheriff Seymour, Tax-collector Williams, Solomon Gleason, John Bacon, Esquire, General Pepoon and numerous other lawyers, County Treasurer Dwight, Deacon Nash, Ephraim Williams, Esquire, Sedgwick's law-partner, Captain Jones, the militia commissary of Stockbridge, at whose house the town stock of arms and ammunition was stored, and some other gentlemen.
When all had assembled, Woodbridge, having satisfied himself there were no spies lurking about the garden, and that the gathering of gentlemen had not attracted attention to the house, proceeded to close the blinds of the study windows and draw the curtains. He then drew a piece of printed paper from his pocket, opened it, and broached the matter in hand to the wondering company, as follows:
"The awful suggestions with which the recent visitation of God has invested my house for the time being, has enabled us to meet to-night without danger that our deliberations will be interrupted, either by the curiosity or the violence of the rabble. For this one night, the first for many weeks, they have left me in peace, and I deem it is no desecration of the beloved memory of my departed companion, that we should avail ourselves of so melancholy an opportunity to take counsel for the restoration of law and order in this sorely troubled community. I have this day received from his excellency, the governor, and the honorable council at Boston, a proclamation, directed to all justices, sheriffs, jurors, and citizens, authorizing and strictly commanding them to suppress, by force of arms, all riotous proceedings, and to apprehend the rioters. I have called you privately together, that we might arrange for concerted action to these ends." In a low voice, so that no chance listener from without might catch its tenor, the Squire then proceeded to read Governor Bowdoin's proclamation, closing with that time-honored and impressive formula, "God save the Commonwealth of Massachusetts." Captain Stoddard was first to break the silence which followed the reading of the document.
"I, for one, am ready to fight the mob to-morrow, but how are we to go about it. There are ten men for the mob to one against it. What can we do?"
"How many men in your company could be depended on to fight the mob, if it came to blows?" asked Woodbridge.
"I'm afraid not over twenty or thirty. Three-quarters are for the mob."
"There are a dozen of us here, and I presume at least a score more gentlemen in town could be depended on," said Dr. Partridge.
"But that would give not over three score, and the mob could easily muster four times that," said Gleason.
"They have no leaders, though," said Bacon. "Such fellows are only dangerous when they have leaders. They could not stand before us, for methinks we are by this time become desperate men."
"You forget this Hamlin fellow will stop at nothing, and they will follow him," remarked Seymour.
"He is going to leave town this week, if he be not already gone," said Dr. Partridge.
"What?" exclaimed Woodbridge, almost with consternation.
"He is going away," repeated the doctor.
"Perhaps it would be expedient to wait till he has gone," was Gleason's prudent suggestion.
"And let the knave escape!" exclaimed Woodbridge, looking fiercely at the schoolmaster. "I would not have him get away for ten thousand pounds. I have a little reckoning to settle with him. If he is going to leave, we must not delay."
"My advices state that Squire Sedgwick will be home in a few days to attend to his cases at the October term of the Supreme Court at Barrington. His co-operation would no doubt strengthen our hands," suggested Ephraim Williams.
If the danger of Hamlin's escape had not been a sufficient motive in Woodbridge's mind for hastening matters, the possibility that his rival might return in time to share the credit of the undertaking would have been. But he merely said, coldly:
"The success of our measures will scarcely depend on the co-operation of one man more or less, and seeing that we have broached the business, as little time as possible should intervene ere its execution lest some whisper get abroad and warn the rabble, for it is clear that it is only by a surprise that we can be sure of beating them."
He then proceeded to lay before them a scheme of action which was at once so bold and so prudent that it obtained the immediate and admiring approval of all present. Just before dawn, at three o'clock in the morning of Thursday, the next day but one, that being the hour at which the village was most completely wrapped in repose, the conspirators were secretly to rendezvous at Captain Jones' house, and such as had not arms and ammunition of their own were there to be supplied from the town stock. Issuing thence and dividing into parties the arrest of Hamlin, Abner Rathbun, Peleg Bidwell, Israel Goodrich, Meshech Little, and other men regarded as leaders of the mob, was to be simultaneously effected. Strong guards were then to be posted so that when the village woke up it would be to find itself in military possession of the legal authorities. The next step would be immediately to bring the prisoners before Justice Woodbridge to be tried, the sentences to be summarily carried out at the whipping-post on the green, and the prisoners then remanded to custody to await the further action of the law before higher tribunals. It might be necessary to keep up the military occupation of the village for some time, but it was agreed among the gentlemen that the execution of the above program would be sufficient to break the spirit of the mob entirely. The excesses of the rabble during the past week had, it was believed, already done something to produce a reaction of feeling against them among their former sympathizers, and there would doubtless be plenty of recruits for the party of order as soon as it had shown itself the stronger. The intervening day, Wednesday, was to be devoted by those present to secretly warning such as were counted on to assist in the project. It was estimated that including all the able-bodied gentlemen in town as well as some of the people known to be disaffected to the mob, about seventy-five sure men could be secured for the work in hand.
Now Lu Nimham, the beautiful Indian girl whom Perez had noticed in meeting sitting beside Prudence Fennell, had another lover besides Abe Konkapot, no other in fact than Abe's own brother Jake. Abe had been to the war and Jake had not, and Lu, as might have been expected from a girl whose father and brother had fallen at White Plains in the Continental uniform, preferred the soldier lover to the other. But not so the widow Nimham, her mother, in whose eyes Jake's slightly better worldly prospects gave him the advantage. It so happened that soon after dusk, Wednesday evening, Abe, drawn by a tender inward stress betook himself to the lonely dell in the extreme west part of the village, now called Glendale, where the hut of the Nimham family stood. His discomfiture was great on finding Jake already comfortably installed in the kitchen and basking in Lu's society. He did not linger. The widow did not invite him to stop; in fact, not to put too fine a point upon it, she intimated that it would be just as well if he were to finish his call some other time. Lu indeed threw sundry tender commiserating glances in his direction, but her mother watched her like a cat, and mothers in those times were a good deal more in the way than they are nowadays.
How little do we know what is good for us! As he beat an ignominious retreat, pursued by the scornful laughter of his brother, Abe certainly had apparent reason to be down on his luck. Nevertheless the fact that he was cut out that particular evening proved to be one of the clearest streaks of luck that had ever occurred in his career, and a good many others besides he had equal reason ere morning dawned to be thankful for it. The matter fell out on this wise:
A couple of hours later, a little after nine in fact, the Hamlin household was about going to bed. Elnathan and Mrs. Hamlin had already retired to the small bedroom opening out of the kitchen. Reuben, George Fennell and Perez slept in the kitchen, and Prudence in the loft above. The two invalids were already abed, and the girl was just giving the last attentions for the night to her father before climbing to her pallet. Perez sat at the other end of the great room before the open chimney, gazing into the embers of the fire. The family was to start for New York the next morning, and as this last night in the old homestead was closing in the young man had enough sad matter to occupy his thoughts. Her loving cares completed, Prudence came and stood silently by his side. Taking note of her friendly presence, after awhile he put out his hand without looking up and took hers as it hung by her side. He had taken quite a liking to the sweet-tempered little lassie, and had felt particularly kindly towards her since her well-meaning, if rather inadequate effort to console him that Sunday behind the barn.
"You're a good little girl, Prudy," he said, "and I know you will take good care of your father. You can stay here if you want, you know, after we're gone. I don't think Solomon Gleason or the sheriff will trouble you. Or you can go to your father's old house. Obadiah says Gleason has left it. Obadiah will look after you and do any chores you may want about the house. He'll be very glad to. He thinks a good deal of you, Obadiah does. I s'pose he'll be wanting you to keep house for him when you get a little older," and he looked cheerily up at her. But evidently his little jest had struck her mind amiss. Her eyes were full of tears and the childish mouth quivered.
"Why what's the matter Prudy?" he asked in surprise.
"I wish you wouldn't talk so to me, now," she said, "as if I didn't care anything when you're all going away and have been so good to me and father. And I don't care about Obadiah either, and you needn't say so. He's just a great gumph."
At this point, the conversation was abruptly broken off by the noise of the latchstring being pulled. Both turned. Lu Nimham was standing in the doorway, her great black eyes shining in the dusk like those of a deer fascinated by the night-hunter's torch. Prudence, with a low exclamation of surprise, crossed the room to her, and Lu whispering something drew her out. Immediately, however, the white girl reappeared in the doorway, her rosy face pale, her eyes dilated, and beckoned to Perez, who in a good deal of wonderment at once obeyed the gesture. The two girls were standing by a corner of the house, out of earshot from the window of Elnathan's bedroom. Both looked very much excited, but the Indian girl was smiling as if the stimulus affected her nerves agreeably rather than otherwise. Abe Konkapot, looking rather sober, stood near by.
"Oh, what shall we do?" exclaimed Prudence in a terrified half-whisper. "She says the militia are coming to take you!"
"What is it all?" demanded Perez of the Indian girl, as he laid his hand soothingly on Prudence's shoulder.
"Jake Konkapot, he come see me tonight," said Lu, still smiling. "Jake no like Abe, cause Abe like me too. Jake he ask me if I like Abe any more after he git whip on back by constable man. I say no. Indian gal, no like marry man what been whip. Jake laugh and say I no marry Abe sure nuff, cause Abe git whip to-morrow. He no tell me what he mean till I say I give him kiss. Man all like kiss. Jake he says yes, an I give him kiss. Ugh! Arter that he say Squire an Deacon Edwards, and Deacon Nash, an Cap'n Stoddard an heap more, an Jake he go too, gonter git up arly, at tree o'clock to-morrer, with guns; make no noise go roun creepy, creepy, creepy." Here she expressed by pantomime the way a cat stealthily approaches its prey, culminating by a sudden clutch on Perez' arm that startled him, as she added explosively, "Catch you so, all abed, an Abe an Abner an heap more! Then when mornin come they whip all on yer to the whippin-post. When Jake go home I wait till mammy go sleep, slip out winder an go tell Abe so he no git whip. Then I tink come here tell Prudence, for I tink she no like you git whip."
Perez had listened with an intense interest that lost not a syllable. As the girl described the disgrace which his enemies had planned to inflict on him, if their plan succeeded, his cheek paled and his lips drew tense across his set teeth. As Prudence looked up at him there was a suppressed intensity of rage in his face which checked the ejaculations upon her lips. There was a silence of several seconds, and then he said in a low suppressed voice, hard and unnatural in tone:
"Young woman, I owe you more than if you had saved me from death." Lu smilingly nodded, evidently fully appreciating the point.
"Three o'clock, you said?" muttered Perez presently, half to himself, as the others still were silent.
"Tree 'clock, Jake say. Jake an all udder man meet to Cap'n Jones' tree 'clock to git um guns."
"It's nine now, six hours. Time enough," muttered Perez.
"Yes, there's time for you to get away," said Prudence eagerly. "You can get to York State by three o'clock, if you hurry. Oh, don't wait a minute. If they should catch you!"
He smiled grimly.
"Yes, there's time for me to get away, but there's no time for them, my sirs."
"Abe," he added, abruptly changing his tone, "you've heard what they're going to do? What are you going to do?"
"I tink me go woke up fellers. Heap time, run clean 'way 'fore tree 'clock," said the Indian. "Mlishy come tree 'clock, no find us. 'Fraid have to leave Abner. Abner heap drunk to-night. No can walk. Too big for carry. Heap sorry, but no can help it."
"But you don't want to leave home, Abe. You don't want to leave Lu here for Jake to get."
Abe shook his head gloomily.
"No use stay," he said. "If I get whip, Lu no marry me."
"Abe," said Perez, stepping up to the disconsolate Indian and clapping him sharply on the shoulder, "you were in the army. You're not afraid of fighting. We'll stay and beat these fine gentlemen at their own game. By three o'clock we'll have every one of them under guard, and, by the Lord God of Israel, by noon to-morrow, every man of them shall get ten lashes on his bare back with all Stockbridge looking on. We'll see who's whipped."
"Ha! you no run. You stay fight em. What heap more better as run. You, great brave, ha! ha!" cried Lu dancing in front of Perez and clapping her hands in noiseless ecstasy, while her splendid eyes rested on him with an admiration of which Abe might have been excusably jealous.
Her Mohegan blood was on fire at the prospect of a scrimmage, and her lover's response, if more laconic, was quite as satisfactory.
"Me no like to run. Me stay fight. Me do what you say."
"Wait here till I get my sword and pistols. We've plenty of time, but none to lose," and Perez went into the house, followed by Prudence. Mrs. Hamlin, with something hastily thrown over her nightdress, had come out of her bedroom.
"I heard voices. What is it, Perez?" she said.
"Abe has come to get me to go off on a coon hunt. He thinks he's treed several," replied Perez, strapping on his accoutrements. He had no notion of leaving his mother a prey to sleepless anxiety during his absence.
"You're not telling me the truth, Perez. Look at Prudence." The girl's face, pale as ashes and her eyes full of fear and excitement, had betrayed him, and so he had to tell her in a few words what he was going to do. The door stood open. On the threshold, as he was going out, he turned his head, and said in confident, ringing tones:
"You needn't be at all afraid. We shall certainly succeed."
No wonder the breath of the night had inspired him with such confidence. It was the night of all nights in the year which a man would choose if he were to stake his life and all on the issue of some daring stake, assured that then, if ever, he could depend to the uttermost on every atom of nerve and muscle in his body. The bare mountain peaks overhanging the village were tipped with silver by the moon, and under its light the dense forests that clothed their sides, wore the sheen of thick and glossy fur. The air was tingling with that electric stimulus which characterizes autumn evenings in New England about the time of the first frosts. A faint, sweet smell of aromatic smoke from burning pine woods somewhere off in the mountains, could barely be detected. The intense vitality of the atmosphere communicated itself to the nerves, stringing them like steel chords, and setting them vibrating with lust for action, reckless, daring emprise.
The plan which Perez had formed for forestalling his adversaries and visiting upon their own heads the fate they had prepared for him, was very simple. He proposed to go down into the village with Abe and Lu and with their assistance, to call up, without waking anybody else, some forty or fifty of the most determined fellows of the rebel party. With the aid of these, he intended as noiselessly as possible, to enter the houses of Woodbridge, Edwards, Deacon Nash, Captain Stoddard and others, and arrest them in their beds, simultaneously seizing the town stock of muskets and powder, and conveying it to a guarded place, so that when the conspirators' party assembled at three o'clock, they might find themselves at once without arms or officers, their leaders hostages in the hands of the enemy, and their design completely set at naught. Thanks to the excesses of the past week or two, there were many more than forty men in the village who, knowing that the restoration of law and order meant a sharp reckoning for them, would stop at nothing to prevent it, and Perez could thus command precisely the sort of followers he wanted for his present undertaking.
For generations after, in certain Stockbridge households, the story in grandmother's repertoire most eagerly called by the young folks on winter evenings, was about how the "Regulators" came for grandpa; how at dead of night the heavy tramp of men and the sound of rough voices in the rooms below, awoke the children sleeping overhead and froze their young blood with fear of Indians; how at last mustering courage, they crept downstairs, and peeking into the living-room saw it full of fierce men, with green boughs in their hats, the flaring candles gleaming upon their muskets and bayonets, and the drawn sword of their captain; while in the midst, half-dressed and in his nightcap, grandpa was being hustled about.
Leaving these details to the imagination, suffice it to say that Perez' plan, clearly-conceived and executed with prompt, relentless vigor, was perfectly successful, and so noiselessly carried out, that excepting those families whose heads were arrested by the soldiers, the village as a whole, had no suspicion that anything in particular was going on, until waking up the next morning, the people found squads of armed men on guard at the street corners, and sentinels pacing up and down before the Fennell house, that building left vacant by Gleason's ejection, having been selected by Perez for the storage of his prisoners and the stores he had confiscated. As the people ran together on the green, to learn the reason of these strange appearances, and the story passed from lip to lip what had been the plot against their newly-acquired liberties, and the persons of their leaders, and by what a narrow chance, and by whose bold action the trouble had been averted, the sensation was prodigious. The tendency of public opinion which had been inclining to sympathize a little with the abuse the silk stockings had been undergoing the past week, was instantly reversed, now that the so near success of their plot once more made them objects of terror. The exasperation was far more general and profound than had been excited by the previous attempt to restore the old order of things, in the case of the sale of David Joy's house. This was more serious business. Every man who had been connected with the rebellion, felt in imagination the lash on his back, and white faces were plenty among the stoutest of them. And what they felt for themselves, you may be sure their wives and children and friends felt for them, with even greater intensity. As now and then the wife or child of one of the prisoners in the guard house, with anxious face, timidly passed through the throng, on the way to make inquiries concerning the welfare of the husband or father, black looks and muttered curses followed them, and the rude gibes with which the sentinels responded to their anxious, tearful questionings, were received with hoarse laughter by the crowd.
As Perez, coming forth for some purpose, appeared at the door of the Fennell house, there was a great shout of acclamation, the popular ratification of the night's work. But an even more convincing demonstration of approval awaited him. As he began to make his way through the throng, Submit Goodrich, Old Israel's buxom, black-eyed daughter, confronted him, saying:
"My old daddy'd a been in the stocks by this time if it hadn't been for you, so there," and throwing her arms around his neck she gave him a resounding smack on the lips. Meshech Little's wife followed suit, and then Peleg Bidwell's and a lot of other women of the people, amid the uproarious plaudits of the crowd, which became deafening as Resignation Ann Poor, Zadkiel's wife, elbowed her way through the pack and clasping the helpless Perez against her bony breast in a genuine bear's hug, gave him a kiss like a file.
"Well, I never," ejaculated Prudence Fennell, who was bringing some breakfast to Perez, and had observed all this kissing with a rather sour expression.
Unluckily for her, Submit overheard the words.
"You never, didn't you? an livin in the same haouse long with him too? Wal it's time you did," she exclaimed loudly, and seizing the struggling girl she thrust her before Perez, holding down her hands so that she could not cover her furiously blushing face, and amid the boisterous laughter of the bystanders she was kissed also, a proceeding which evidently pleased Obadiah Weeks, who stood near, as little as the other part had pleased Prudence. As Submit released her and she rushed away, Obadiah followed her.
"Haow'd ye like it?" he said, with a sickly grin of jealous irony. "I see ye didn' cover yer face very tight, he! he! Took keer to leave a hole, he! he!"
The girl turned on him like a flash and gave him a resounding slap on the cheek.
"Take that, you great gumph!" she exclaimed.
"Wha'd ye wanter hit a feller fer?" whined Obadiah, rubbing the smitten locality. "Gol darn it, I hain't done nothin to ye. Ye didn' slap him wen he kissed ye, darn him. Guess t'ain't the fuss time he's done it, nuther."
Prudence turned her back to him and walked off, but Obadiah, his bashfulness for the moment quite forgotten in his jealous rage, followed her long enough to add:
"Oh ye needn' think I hain't seen ye settin yer cap fer him all 'long, an he ole nuff tew be yer dad. S'pose ye thort ye'd git him, bein in the same haouse long with him, but ye hain't made aout. He's goin tew York an he don' keer no more baout yew nor the dirt unner his feet. He ez good's tole me so."
"Thar comes Abner Rathbun," said some one in the group around Perez. With heavy eyes, testifying to his debauch over night, and a generally crestfallen appearance, the giant was approaching from the tavern, where he had presumably been bracing up with a little morning flip.
"A nice sorter man you be Abner, fer yer neighbors to be a trustin ter look aout fer things," said an old farmer, sarcastically.
"Ef 't hadn't been fer Cap'n Hamlin thar, the constable would 'a waked ye up this mornin with the eend of a gad," said another.
"You'll have to take in your horns a little, after this, Abner. It won't do to be putting on any more airs," remarked a third.
"Go ahead," said Abner, ruefully, "I hain't got nothin ter say. Ye kin sass me all ye wanter. Every one on ye kin take yer hack at me. I'm kinder sorry thar ain't any on ye big nuff ter kick me, fer I orter be kicked."
"Never mind, Abner," said Perez, pitying his humiliated condition. "Anybody may get too much flip now and then. We missed you, but we managed to get through with the job all right."
"Cap'n," said Abner, "I was bleeged ter ye w'en ye pulled them two Britshers or'fer me tew Stillwater, but that ain't a sarcumstance to the way I be bleeged to ye this mornin, fer it's all your doins, and no thanks ter me, that I ain't gittin ten lashes this very minute, with all the women a snickerin at the size o' my back. I hev been kinder cocky, an I hev put on some airs, ez these fellers says, fer I callated ye'd kinder washed yer hands o' this business, an leff me tew be capin, but arter this ye'll fine Abner Rathbun knows his place."
"You were quite right about it, Abner. I have washed my hands of the business. I am going to take my folks out to York State. I meant to start this morning. If the silk stockings had waited till to-night they wouldn't have found me in their way."
"I callate twuz Providenshil they did'n wait, fer we'd 'a been gone suckers sure ez ye hedn't been on hand to dew wat ye did," said one of the men. "Thar ain't another man in town ez could a did it, or would dast try."
"But ye ain't callatin ter go arter this be ye, Perez?" said Abner.
"This makes no difference. I expect to get off to-morrow," replied Perez.
"Ye shan't go, not ef I hold ye," cried Mrs. Poor, edging up to him as if about to secure his person on the spot.
"Ef ye go the res' on us mout 's well go with ye, fer the silk stockins 'll hev it all ther own way then," remarked a farmer, gloomily.
"I don't think the silk stockings will try any more tricks right off," said Perez, grimly. "I propose to give em a lesson this morning, which they'll be likely to remember for one while."
"What be ye a gonter dew to em?" asked Abner, eagerly.
"Well," said Perez, deliberately, as every eye rested on him. "You see they had set their minds on havin some whipping done this morning, and I don't propose to have em disappointed. I'm going to do to them as they would have done to us. The whipping will come off as soon as Abe can find Little Pete to handle the gad. I sent him off some time ago. I don' see what's keeping him."
His manner was as quiet and matter-of-course as if he were proposing the most ordinary sort of forenoon occupation, and when he finished speaking he walked away without so much as a glance around to see how the people took it. It was nevertheless quite worth observing, the fascinated stare with which they looked after him, and then turned to fix on each other. It was Abner who, after several moments of dead silence, said in an awed voice, like a loud whisper:
"He's a gonter whip em." And Obadiah almost devoutly murmured, "By Gosh!"
The men who stood around, were intensely angry with the prisoners, for their plot to arrest and whip them, but the idea of retaliating in kind, by whipping the prisoners themselves, had not for an instant occurred to the boldest. The prisoners were gentlemen, and the idea of whipping a gentleman just as if he were one of themselves, was something the most lawless of them had never entertained. Education, precedent, and innate caste sentiment had alike precluded the idea. But after the first sensation of bewilderment had passed, it was evident that the shock which the popular mind had received from Perez' words, was not wholly disagreeable, but rather suggestive of a certain shuddering delight. The introspective gleam which shone in everybody's eye, betrayed the half-scared pleasure with which each in his own mind was turning over the daring imagination.
"Wy not, arter all?" said Meshech Little, hesitatingly, as if his logic didn't convince himself. "They wuz gonter lick us. They'd a had us licked by this time. It's tit for tat."
"I s'pose Goramity made our backs as well as theirn," observed Abner. "The on'y odds is in the kind o' coats we wears. Ourn ain't so fine ez theirn, but it's the back an not the coat that gits licked. Arter Pete has tuk orf ther coats thar won't be no odds."
The chuckle with which this was received, showed how fast the people were yielding to the awful charm of the thought.
"Dew yew s'pose Cap'n really dass dew it?" asked Obadiah.
"Dew it? Yes he'll dew it, you better b'lieve. Did yer see the set of his jaw w'en he wuz talkin so quiet-like baout lickin em? I wuz in the army with Perez, an I know his ways. W'en he sets his jaw that air way I don' keer to git in his way, big ez I be. He'll dew it ef he doos it with his own hands. He's pison proud, Perez is, an I guess the idee they wuz callatin tew hev him licked, hez kinder riled him."
As the people talked, their hearts began to burn. The more they thought of it, the more the idea fascinated them. Jests and hilarious comments, which betrayed a temper of delighted expectancy, soon began to be bandied about.
In ten minutes more, this very crowd which had received in shocked silence the first suggestion of whipping the gentlemen, had so set their fancy on that diversion that it would have been hard balking them. It must be remembered that this was a hundred years ago. The weekly spectacle of the cruel punishment of the lash, and the scarcely less painful and disgraceful infliction of the stocks and the pillory left in their minds no possibility for any revolt of mere humane sentiment against the proposed doings, such as a modern assembly would experience. To men and women who had learned from childhood to find a certain brutish titillation in beholding the public humiliation and physical anguish of their acquaintances and fellow-townsmen, the prospect of seeing the scourge actually applied to the backs of envied and hated social superiors, could not be otherwise than delightfully agitating.
Nor were there lacking supplies of Dutch courage for the timid. Among the town stores seized and conveyed to the Fennell house the night before, had been several casks of rum. One of these had been secretly sequestrated by some of the men and hidden in a neighboring barn. The secret of its whereabouts had been, in drunken confidence, conveyed from one man to another, with the consequence that pretty much all the men were rapidly getting drunk. Shortly after Perez had communicated his intention to the people, Paul Hubbard, with thirty or forty of the iron-workers, armed with bludgeons, arrived from West Stockbridge. Some rumor of the doings of the previous night had reached there, and he had hastily rallied his myrmidons and come down, not knowing but there might be some fighting to be done.
"Paul 'll be nigh tickled to death to hear of the whippin," said Abner, seeing him coming. "If he had his way he'd skin the silk stockins, an make whips out o' their own hides to whip em with. He don't seem to love em somehow 'nuther, wuth a darn." Nor was Paul's satisfaction at the news any less than Abner had anticipated. Presently he burst into the room in the Fennell house, which Perez had appropriated as a sort of headquarters, and wrung his rather indifferent hand with an almost tremulous delight.
"Bully for you, Hamlin, bully for you, by the Lord I didn't s'pose you had the mettle to do it. Little Pete is just the man for the business, but if he don't come, you can have one of my Welshmen. I s'pose most of the Stockbridge men wouldn't quite dare, but just wait till after the whipping. They won't be afraid of the bigwigs any longer. That'll break the charm. Little Pete's whip will do more to make us free and equal than all the swords and guns in Berkhire." And Hubbard went out exultant.
As he was leaving, he met no less an one than Parson West coming in, and wearing rather a discomfited countenance. The parson had been used, as parsons were in those days, to a good deal of deference from his flock, and the lowering looks and covered heads of the crowd about the door were disagreeable novelties. No institution in the New England of that day was, in fact, more strictly aristocratic than the pulpit. Its affiliations were wholly with the governing and wealthy classes, and its tone with the common people as arrogant and domineering as that of the magistracy itself. And though Parson West was personally a man of unusual affability toward the poor and lowly, it was impossible in a time like this that one of his class should not be regarded with suspicion and aversion by the popular party.
"I would have word with your captain," he said to the sentinel at the door.
"He's in thar," said the soldier, pointing to the door of the headquarters' room. Perez, who was walking to and fro, turned at the opening door and respectfully greeted the parson.
"Are you the captain of the armed band without?"
"You have certain gentlemen in confinement, I have heard. I came to see you on account of an extraordinary report that you had threatened to inflict a disgraceful public chastisement upon their persons. No doubt the report is erroneous. You surely could not contemplate so cruel and scandalous a proceeding?"
"The report is entirely true, reverend sir. I am but waiting for a certain Hessian drummer who will wield the lash."
"But man," exclaimed the parson, "you have forgotten that these are the first men in the county. They are gentlemen of distinguished birth and official station. You would not whip them like common offenders. It is impossible. You are beside yourself. Such a thing was never heard of. It is most criminal, most wicked. As a minister of the gospel I protest! I forbid such a thing," and the little parson fairly choked with righteous indignation.
"These men, if they had succeeded in their plan last night, would have whipped me, and a score of others to-day. Would you have protested against that?"
"That is different. They would have proceeded against you as criminals, according to law."
"No doubt they would have proceeded according to law," replied Perez, with a bitter sneer. "They have been proceeding according to law for the past six years here in Berkshire, and that's why the people are in rebellion. I'm no lawyer, but I know that Perez Hamlin is as good as Jahleel Woodbridge, whatever the parson may think, and what he would have done to me, shall be done to him."
"That is not the rule of the gospel," said the minister, taking another tack. "Christ said if any man smite you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also."
"If that is your counsel, take it to those who are likely to need it. I am going to do the smiting this time, and it's their time to do the turning. They need not trouble themselves, however. Pete will see that they get it on both sides."
"And now sir," he added, "if you would like to see the prisoners to prepare them for what's coming, you are welcome to," and opening the door of the room he told the sentinel in the corridor to let the parson into the guard room, and the silenced and horrified man of God mechanically acting upon the hint went out and left him alone.
The imagination of the reader will readily depict the state of mind in which the families of the arrested gentlemen were left after the midnight visit of Perez' band. That there was no more sleep in those households that night will be easily understood. In the Edwards family the long hours till morning passed in praying and weeping by Mrs. Edwards and Desire, and the younger children. They scarcely dared to doubt that the husband and father was destined to violence or death at the hands of these bloody and cruel men. At dawn Jonathan, who, on trying to follow his father when first arrested, had been driven back with blows, went out again, and the tidings which he brought back, that the prisoners were confined in the Fennell house and as yet had undergone no abuse, somewhat restored their agitated spirits. An hour or two later the boy came tearing into the house, with white face, clenched fists and blazing eyes.
"What is it?" cried his mother and sister, half scared to death at his looks.
"They're going,"—Jonathan choked.
"They're going to have father whipped," he finally made out to articulate.
"Whipped!" echoed Desire, faintly and uncomprehendingly.
"Yes!" cried the boy hoarsely, "like any vagabond, stripped and whipped at the whipping-post."
"What do you mean?" said Mrs. Edwards, as she took Jonathan by the shoulder.
"They're going to whip father, and uncle, and all the others," he repeated, beginning to whimper, stout boy as he was.
"Whip father? You're crazy, Jonathan, you didn't hear right. They'd never dare! It can't be! Run and find out," cried Desire, wildly.
"There ain't any use. I heard the Hamlin fellow say so himself. They're going to do it. They said it's no worse than whipping one of them, as if they were gentlemen," blubbered Jonathan.
"Oh no! no! They can't, they won't," cried the girl in an anguished voice, her eyes glazed with tears as she looked appealingly from Jonathan to her mother, in whose faces there was little enough to reassure her.
"Don't, mother, you hurt," said Jonathan, trying to twist away from the clasp which his mother had retained upon his arm, unconsciously tightening it till it was like a vise.
"Whip my husband!" said she, slowly, in a hollow tone. "Whip him!" she repeated. "Such a thing was never heard of. There must be some mistake."
"There must be. There must be," exclaimed Desire again. "It can never be. They are not so wicked. That Hamlin fellow is bad enough, but oh he isn't bad enough for that. They would not dare. God would not permit it. Some one will stop them."
"There is no one to stop them. The people are all against us. They are glad of it. They are laughing. Oh! how I hate them. Why don't God kill them?" and with a prolonged, inarticulate roar of impotent grief and indignation, the boy threw himself flat on the floor, and burying his face in his arms sobbed and rolled, and rolled and sobbed, like one in a fit.
"I will go and have speech with this Son of Belial, Hamlin. It may be the Lord will give me strength to prevail with him," said Mrs. Edwards. "And if not, they shall not put me from my husband. I will bear the stripes with him, that he may never be ashamed before the wife of his bosom," and with a calm and self-controlled demeanor, she bestirred herself to make ready to go out.
"Let me go mother," said Desire, half hesitatingly.
"It is not your place my child. I am his wife," replied Mrs. Edwards.
"Yes mother, but Desire's so pretty, and this Hamlin fellow stopped the horse-fiddles just to please her, the other time," whimpered Jonathan. "Perhaps he'd let father off if she went. Do let her go mother."
The allusion to the stopping of the horse-fiddle was Greek to Mrs. Edwards, to whose ears the story had never come. But the present was not a time for general inquiries. It sufficed that she saw the main point, the persuasive power of beauty over mankind.
"It may be that you had better go," she said. "If you fail I will go myself to my husband, and meantime I shall be in prayer, that this cup may pass from us."
Hastily the girl gathered her beautiful disheveled hair into a ribbon behind, removed the traces of tears from her wild and terror-stricken eyes, and not stopping even for her hat, in her fear that she might be too late, left the house and made her way through the throng before the Fennell house. At sight of her pallid cheeks and set lips, the ribald jeer died on the lips even of the drunken, and the people made way for her in silence. It was not that they had ever liked her, or now sympathized with her. She had always held herself too daintily aloof from speech or contact with them for that, but they guessed her errand, and had a certain rude sense of the pathos of such a humiliation for the haughty Desire Edwards.
PEREZ GETS HIS TITLE
As Desire entered the headquarters room, which Parson West had barely left, Perez was sitting at a table with his back to the door. He turned at the noise of her entrance and seeing who it was gave a great start. Then he rose slowly to his feet and confronted her. It was the first time he had seen her since that Sunday when she cut him dead before all the people, coming out of meeting. For a moment the two stood motionless gazing at each other. Then she came quickly up to him and laid her hand upon his arm. Her dark eyes were full of terrified appeal.
"What are you going to do to my father?" she cried in poignant tones. After a pause he repeated stammeringly, as if he had not quite taken in the idea.
"Yes, my father! What are you going to do to him?" she repeated more insistently.
His vacant answer had been no affectation. Her beauty, her distress, the touch of her hand on his arm, her warm breath on his cheek, her face so near to his, left him capable in that moment of but one thought, and that was that he loved her wildly, with a love which it had been madness for him to think he could ever overcome or forget. But it was not with soft and melting emotions, but rather in great bitterness, that he owned the mastery of the passion which he had tried so hard to throw off. He knew that if she despised him before, she must hate and loathe him now. Knowing this it gave him a cruel pleasure to crush her, and to make her tears flow, and even while his glowing eyes devoured her face he answered her in a hard, relentless voice.
"What am I going to do with your father? I am going to whip him with the others."
She started back, stung into sudden defiance, her eyes flashing, her bosom tumultuously heaving.
"You will not! You dare not!"
He shrugged his shoulders and replied coldly:
"If you are so sure of that, why did you come to me?"
"Oh, but you will not! You will not!" she cried again, her terror returning with a rush of tears.
Weeping she was even more beautiful than before. But conscious of her loathing her beauty only caused him an intolerable ache. In the self-despite of an embittered hopeless love he gloated over her despair, even while every nerve thrilled with wildering passion. She caught that look, at once so passionate and so bitter, and perhaps by her woman's instinct interpreting it aright, turned away as in despair, and with her head bent in hopeless grief walked slowly across the room, laid her hand on the latch and there paused. After a moment she turned her head quickly and looked at him, as he stood gazing after her, and shuddered perceptibly. Her left hand, which hung at her side, clenched convulsively. Then after another moment she removed her hand from the latch and came back a few steps toward him and said:
"You kissed me once. Would you like to do it now? You may if you will let my father go."
His gaze, before so glowing, actually dropped in confession before her cold, hard eyes, and for a moment it seemed as if such supreme and icy indifference had been able quite to chill his ardor. But as he lifted his eyes again, and looked upon her, the temptation of so much submissive beauty proved too great. He snatched her in his arms and covered her lips and cheeks and temples with burning kisses, for one alone of which he would have deemed it cheap to give his life if he could not have won it otherwise. He kissed her, passive and unresisting as a statue, till in very pity he was fain to let her go. Even then she did not start away, but standing there before him, pallid, rigid, with compressed lips and clenched hands, said faintly:
"You will release my father?" He bowed his head, unable to speak, and she went out.
The people whispered to each other as she passed through the crowd, that she had failed in her mission, she looked so white and anguish-stricken. And when she reached home and throwing herself into a chair, covered her face with her hands, her mother said:
"The Lord's will be done. You have failed."
"No, mother, I have not failed. Father will be released, but I had liefer have borne the whipping for him."
But that was all she said, nor did she tell any one at what price she had delivered him.
Desire had scarcely gone when the door opened and Hubbard and Abner came in. Perez was sitting staring at the wall in a daze.
"Little Pete's come, and the people want to know when the whipping's going to begin. Shall I bring em out?" said Hubbard.
"I've made up my mind that it will be better to have no whipping," replied Perez, quietly.
"The devil, you have!" exclaimed Hubbard, in high dudgeon.
"I knowd haow 'twoud be w'en I see that air Edwards gal goin in. Ef I'd been on guard, she'd never a got in," said Abner, gloomily.
"Who'd have supposed Hamlin was such a milksop as to mind a girl's bawling?" said Hubbard, scornfully.
"The fellers is kinder sot on seein the silk stockins licked, now ye've got em inter the noshin on't, an I dunno haow they'll take it ter be disappointed," continued Abner.
There was a shout of many voices from before the house.
"Bring em out! Bring out the silk stockins."
"Do you hear that?" demanded Hubbard, triumphantly. "I tell you, Hamlin," he went on in a bolder tone, "you can't stop this thing, whether you want to, or not, and if you know what's best for you, you won't try. I tell you that crowd won't stand any fooling. They're mad, and they're drunk, and they're bound to see a silk stocking whipped for once in their lives, and by God they shall see it, too, for all you or any other man. If you won't order em brought out, I will," and he went out.
Without a word, Perez took his pistols from the table, and followed him, and Abner, who seemed irresolute and demoralized, came slowly after. The report that Perez, in a sudden whim, now proposed to deprive them of the treat he had promised them, had produced on the drunken and excited crowd, all the effect which Hubbard had counted on, and as Perez reached the front door of the house, a mass of men with brandished clubs and muskets, were pressing around it, and the sentinel, hesitating and frightened, in another moment would have given way and let them into the building. As Perez, a pistol in either hand, appeared on the threshold, the crowd recoiled a little.
"Stand back," he said. "If any one of you tries to enter, I'll blow his brains out. The men in here, are my prisoners, not yours. I took them when most of you were snoring in bed, and I'll do what I please with them. As for Hubbard and these West Stockbridge men, who make so much noise, this is none of their business, anyway. If they don't like the way we manage here in Stockbridge, let them go home."
As he finished speaking, Abner shouldered his way by him, from within, and stepped out between him and the crowd. Deliberately taking off his coat and laying it down, and pitching his hat after it, he drawlingly observed:
"Look a here, fellers. I be ez disapp'inted ez any on ye, not ter see them fellers licked. But ye see, 'twuz the Cap'n that saved my back, an it don't nohow lie in my mouth no more'n doos yourn to call names naow he's tuk a noshin tew save theirn. So naow, Cap'n," he continued, as he drew his immense bulk squarely up, "I guess you won't need them shooters. I'll break ther necks ez fass ez they come on."
But they didn't come on. Perez' determined attitude and words, especially his appeal to local prejudice, perhaps the most universal and virulent of all human instincts, would have of themselves suffered to check and divide the onset, and Abner's business-like proposal quite ended the demonstration.
A couple of hours later, when the people had largely gone home to dinner, the prisoners were quietly set free, and went to their homes without attracting special attention. About twilight a carriage rolled away from before Squire Woodbridge's door, and took the road to Pittsfield. The next day it was known all over the village that the Squire had left town, without giving out definitely when he would return.
"Squire's kinder obstinit, but arter all he knows w'en he's licked," observed Abner, which was substantially the view generally taken of the magnate's retirement from the field.
That night, Perez set a guard of a dozen men at the Fennell house, to secure the town military stores against any possibility of recapture by another silk stocking conspiracy, and to still further protect the community against any violent enterprise, he organized a regular patrol for the night. If any of the disaffected party were desperate enough still to cherish the hope of restoring their fortunes by force, it must needs have died in their breasts, as looking forth from their bedroom windows, that night, they caught the gleam of the moonlight upon the bayonet of the passing sentinel. But there was no need of such a reminder. Decidedly, the spirit of the court party was broken. Had their leaders actually undergone the whipping they had so narrowly escaped, they would have scarcely been more impressed with the abject and powerless situation in which they were left by the miscarriage of their plot. The quasi military occupation of the town, the night after the attempted revolution, was indeed welcomed by them and their terrified families as some guarantee of order. So entirely had the revolution of the past twenty-four hours changed their attitude toward Perez, that they now looked on him as their saviour from the mob, and only possible protector against indefinite lengths of lawlessness. It was among them, rather than among the people, that the knowledge of his intended speedy departure for New York, now produced the liveliest apprehensions. And the most timid of the popular party were not more relieved than they, when the next day it became known that he had declared his resolve to give up going west, and remain in Stockbridge for the present.
It would sound much better if I could make out that this abrupt change in his plans was on account of concern for the welfare of the community, but such was not the case. His motive was wholly selfish. The key to it was the discovery that as responsible chief of the mob, holding the fate and fortunes of her friends in his power, he had a hold on Desire. Unwilling brides were not the most unhappy wives. Yes, even to that height had his hopes suddenly risen from the very dust in which they had lain quite dead a few hours ago. As the poor ex-captain and farmer she had held him afar off in supercilious scoorn; as the chief of the insurgents she had come to him in tears and entreaty, had laid her hand on his arm, had even given him her lips. With that scene in the guardhouse to look back on, what might he not dare to hope.
His fate was in his own hands. Who could foresee the end of the epoch of revolution and anarchy upon which the state now seemed entering. These were times when the sword carved out fortunes and the soldier might command the most brilliant rewards.
No sooner then had he resolved to stay in Stockbridge, than he set about strengthening his hold on his followers, and imparting a more regular military organization to the insurgent element in the town. The Fennell house was adopted as a regular headquarters, and a young hemlock tree, by way of rebel standard, planted before the door. Night and day patrols, with regular officers of the day, were organized, and about a hundred men formed into a company and drilled daily on the green. A large proportion of them having served in the revolution, they made a very creditable appearance after a little practice. In their hats they wore jauntily hemlock plumes, and old Continental uniforms being still quite plentiful, with a little swapping and borrowing, enough army coats were picked up to clothe pretty much the entire force.
One afternoon, as the drill was going on, a traveling carriage turned in from the Boston road, drove across the green in front of the embattled line, and turning down toward the Housatonic, stopped before the Sedgwick house, and Theodore Sedgwick descended. The next day, as Perez was walking along the street, he saw Dr. Partridge, Squire Edwards, and a gentleman to him unknown, conversing. As he approached them, the doctor said, in the good-humored, yet half-mocking tone characteristic of him:
"Squire Sedgwick, let me introduce to you the Duke of Stockbridge, Captain Perez Hamlin, to whose gracious protection we of the court party, owe our lives and liberties at present."
Sedgwick scanned Perez with evident curiosity, but merely bowed without speaking, and the other passed on. Either somebody overheard the remark, or the doctor repeated it elsewhere, for within a day or two it was all over town, and henceforth, by general consent, half in jest, half in recognition of the aptness of the title under the circumstances, Perez was dubbed Duke of Stockbridge, or more briefly referred to as "The Duke."
The conversation which his passing had momentarily interrupted, was a very grave one. Sedgwick had passed through Springfield in his carriage on the twenty-seventh of September, and reported that he had found the town full of armed men. The Supreme Judicial Court of the Commonwealth was to have met on the twenty-sixth, but 1200 insurgents, under Captain Daniel Shays himself, were on hand to prevent it, and were confronted by 800 militia under General Shepard, who held the courthouse. The town was divided into hostile camps, with regular lines of sentinels. At the time Sedgwick had passed through, no actual collision had yet taken place, but should the justices persist in their intention to hold court, there would certainly be fighting, for it was justly apprehended by Shays and his lieutenants that the court intended to proceed against them for treason, and they would stop at nothing to prevent that. It was this news which Sedgwick was imparting to the two gentlemen.
"We have a big business on our hands," he said gravely, "a very big and a very delicate business. A little bungling will be enough to turn it into a civil war, with the chances all against the government."
"I don't see that the government, as yet, has done anything," said Edwards. "Do they intend to leave everything to the mob?"
"Between us, there is really nothing that can be done just now," replied Sedgwick. "The passiveness of the government results from their knowledge that the militia are not to be depended on. Why, as I passed through Springfield, I saw whole companies of militia that had been called out by the sheriff to protect the court, march, with drums beating, over to the insurgents. No, gentlemen, there is actually no force that could be confidently counted on against the mob save a regiment or two in Boston. Weakness leaves the government no choice but to adopt a policy of conciliation with the rascals, for the present, at least. His Excellency has called the Legislature in extra session the twenty-sixth, and a number of measures will at once be passed for relief. If these do not put an end to the mobs, they will, it is hoped, at least so far improve the public temper that a part of the militia will be available.
"It is a mysterious Providence, indeed," he continued, "that our state, in the infancy of its independence, is left to undergo so fearful a trial. Already there are many of the Tories who wag the head and say 'Aha, so would we have it,' averring that this insurrection is but the first fruits of our liberty, and that the rest will be like unto it."
"God grant that we may not have erred in throwing off the yoke of the King," said Edwards, gloomily. "I do confess that I have had much exercise of mind upon that point during the trials of the past weeks."
"I beg of you, sir, not to give way to such a frame," said Sedgwick earnestly, "for it is to gentlemen of your degree that the well disposed look for guidance and encouragement in these times. And yet I am constrained to admit that in Boston at no time in the late war, no, not when our fortunes were at the lowest ebb, has there been such gloom as now. And verily I could not choose but to share it, but for my belief that the convention, which is shortly to sit in Philadelphia to devise a more perfect union for the thirteen states, will pave the way for a stronger government of the continent, and one that will guarantee us not only against foreign invasion but domestic violence and insurrection also."