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The Duke of Stockbridge
by Edward Bellamy
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To alleviate the distress from the lack of circulating medium, the payment of back taxes in certain specified articles other than money was authorized, and real and personal estate at appraised value was made legal tender in actions for debt and in satisfaction for executions. An act was also passed and others were promised reducing the justly complained of costs of legal processes, and the fee tables of attorneys, sheriffs, clerks of courts and justices, for, according to the system then in vogue, most classes of judges were paid by fees from litigating parties instead of by salary. The complaint against the appropriation of so large a part of the income from the import and excise taxes to the payment of interest on the state debt was met by the appropriation of one-third of those taxes to government expenses. To be sure the Legislature had refused to provide for the emission of any more paper money, and this, in the opinion of many, was unpardonable but it had shown a disposition to make up in some degree for this failure by passing a law to establish a mint in Boston. These concessions practically cut the ground out from under the rebellion, and the practical minded people of the state, reckoning up what they had gained, wisely concluded that it would not be worth while to go to blows for the residue, especially as there was every reason to think the Legislature at the next sitting would complete the work of reform it had so well begun. A convention of the Hampshire County people at Hadley, on the second of January, gave formal expression to these views in a resolution advising all persons to lay aside arms and trust to peaceable petition for the redress of such grievances as still remained.

Indeed, even if the mass of the people had been less satisfied than they had reason to be with the Legislature's action, they had had quite enough of anarchy. The original stopping of the courts and jail deliveries, had been with their entire approval. But, as might be expected, the mobs which had done the business had been chiefly recruited from the idle and shiftless. Each village had furnished its contingent of tavern loafers, neerdowells, and returned soldiers with a distaste for industry. These fellows were all prompt to feel their importance and responsibility as champions of the people, and to a large extent had taken the domestic police as well as military affairs into their own hands. Of course it was not long before these self-elected dictators, began to indulge themselves in unwarrantable liberties with persons and property, while the vicious and criminal classes generally, taking advantage of the suspension of law, zealously made their hay while the sun shone. In fact, whatever course the government had taken, this state of things had grown so unbearable in many places that an insurrection within the insurrection, a revolt of the people against the rebels, must presently have taken place. But as may readily be supposed these rebel bands, both privates and officers, were by no means in favor of laying down their arms and thereby relapsing from their present position of importance and authority to their former state of social trash, despised by the solid citizens whom now they lorded it over. Peace, and the social insignificance it involved had no charms for them. Property for the most part they had none to lose. Largely veterans of the Revolution, for eight years more used to camp than house, the vagabond military state was congenial to them and its license sufficient reward. The course of the Shays' rebellion will not be readily comprehensible to any who leave out of sight this great multitude of returned soldiers with which the state was at the time filled, men generally destitute, unemployed and averse to labor, but inured to war, eager for its excitements, and moreover feeling themselves aggrieved by a neglectful and thankless country. And so though the mass of the people by the early part of winter had grown to be indifferent to the rebellion, if not actually in sympathy with the government, the insurgent soldiery still held together wonderfully and in a manner that would be impossible to understand without taking into account the peculiar material that composed it. Not a man of the lot took advantage of the governor's proclamation offering pardon, and instead of being intimidated by the crushing military force sent against them in January, the rebel army at the Battle of Springfield the last day of that month was the largest body of insurgents that had been assembled at any time.

The causes described which had been at work in the lower counties, to weaken popular sympathy with the insurgents, had simultaneously operated in Berkshire. The report brought back from Worcester by Abner's men, with the subsequent action of the Hadley convention in advising the laying aside of arms, had strengthened the hands of the conservatives in Stockbridge. The gentlemen of the village who had been so quiet since Perez' relentless suppression of the Woodbridge rising in September, found their voices again, and cautiously at first, but more boldly as they saw the favorable change of popular feeling, began to talk and reason with their fellow-citizens. If the insurrection had had no other effect, it had at least taught these somewhat haughty aristocrats the necessity of a conciliatory tone with the lower classes. The return home of Theodore Sedgwick in the latter part of December, gave a marked impulse to the government party, of whom he was at once recognized as the leader. He had the iron hand of Woodbridge, with a velvet glove of suavity, which the other lacked. To command seemed natural to him, but he could persuade with as much dignity as he could command, a gift at once rare and most needful in the present emergency. He it was who wore into the village the first white paper cockade which had been seen there, though within a week after, they were full as plenty as the hemlock sprigs. The news which came in the early part of January, that the government had ordered 4,400 militia under General Lincoln to march into the disaffected counties, and put down the rebellion, produced a strong impression. People who had thought stopping a court or two no great matter, and indeed quite an old fashion in Berkshire, were by no means ready to go to actually fighting the government. But still it should be noted that the majority of those who took off the green did not put on the white. The active furtherance of the government interests was left to a comparatively small party. The mass of the people contented themselves with withdrawing from open sympathy with the insurrection, and maintaining a surly neutrality. They were tired of the rebellion, without being warmly disposed toward the government. Neither the friends of government nor the insurgents who still withstood them, could presume too much on the support of this great neutral body, a fact which prevented them from immediately proceeding to extremities against each other.

It was fortunate that there was some such check on the animosity of the two factions. For the bitterness of the still unreconciled insurgents against the friends of the government was intense. They derided the white cockade as "the white feather," denounced its wearers as "Tories," every whit as bad as those who took King George's part against the people, and deserving nothing better than confiscation and hanging. Outrages committed upon the persons and families of government sympathizers in outlying settlements were daily reported. Against Sedgwick especial animosity was felt, but though he was constantly riding about the county to organize and encourage the government party, his reputation for indomitable courage, protected him from personal molestation under circumstances where another man would have been mobbed. In Stockbridge itself, there were no violent collisions of the two parties save in the case of the children, terrific snowball fights raging daily in the streets between the "Shayites" and the "Boston Army." Had Perez listened to the counsels of his followers, the exchange of hard knocks in the village would have been by no means confined to the children. But he well knew that the change in public opinion which was undermining the insurrection would only be precipitated by any violence towards the government party. Many of the men would not hear reason, however, and his attitude on this point produced angry murmurs. The men called up his failure to whip the silk stockings in September, his care for Squire Edwards' interests, and his veto of the plan for fixing prices on the goods at the store. It was declared that he was lukewarm to the cause, no better than a silk stocking himself, and that it would have been better to have had Hubbard for captain. Even Abner Rathbun, as well as Meshech Little, joined in this schism, which ended in the desertion of the most of the members of the company Perez had organized, to join Hubbard up at the iron-works. About the same time, Israel Goodrich withdrew from the committee of safety. He told Perez he was sorry to leave him, but the jig was plainly up, and he had his family to consider. If his farm was confiscated, they'd have to go on the town. "Arter all, Perez, we've made somethin by't. I hain't sorry I gone intew it. Them new laws ull be somethin of a lift; an harf a loaf be considabul better nor no bread." He advised Perez to get out of the business as quick as possible. "'Tain't no use kickin agin' the pricks," he said. Ezra, who was disgusted at the failure of the Legislature to print more bills, stuck awhile longer, and then he too withdrew. Peleg Bidwell and other men who had families or a little property at stake, rapidly dropped off. They owed it to their wives and children not to get into trouble, they said, and Perez could not blame them. And so day by day all through the month of January he saw his power melting away by a process as silent, irresistible and inevitable as the dissolving of a snow bank in spring; and he knew that if he lingered much longer in the village, the constable would come some morning and drag him ignominiously away to the lockup. It was a desperate position, and yet he was foolishly, wildly happy. Desire was not indifferent to him. That awkward meeting in the store, those moments of silent hand-clasp, with her eyes looking with such bold confession into his, had told him that the sole end and object of his strange role here in Stockbridge was gained. She loved him. Little indeed would he have recked that the role was now at an end; little would he have cared to linger an hour longer on this scene of his former fantastic fortunes, if but he could have borne her with him on his flight. How gayly he would have laughed at his enemies then. If he could but see her now, could but plead with her. Perhaps he might persuade her. But there was no opportunity. Even as far back as December, as soon as the rebellion began evidently to wane, Edwards had began to turn the cold shoulder to him on his visits to the store. He had put up with insults which had made his cheek burn, merely because at the store was his only chance of seeing Desire. But Edwards' tone to him after that meeting with her, had been such that he knew it was only by violence that he could again force an entrance over the storekeeper's threshold. The fact was, Edwards, now that the danger was over, blamed himself for an unnecessary subservience to the insurgent leader, and his mortified pride expressed itself in a special virulence toward him. There was then no chance of seeing Desire. She loved him, but he must fly and leave her. One moment he said to himself that he was the happiest of men. In the next he cursed himself as the most wretched. And so alternately smiling and cursing, he wandered about the village during those last days of January like one daft, too much absorbed in the inward struggle to be more than half conscious of his danger.



CHAPTER TWENTY-FOURTH

THE BATTLE OF WEST STOCKBRIDGE

One day, three days before the end of January, as Perez, returning from a walk, approached the guardhouse, he saw that it was in possession of Deputy Sheriff Seymour and a posse. The rebel garrison of three or four men only, having made no resistance, had been disarmed and let go. Perez turned on his heel and went home. That same afternoon about three o'clock, as he was sitting in the house, his brother Reuben, who had been on the watch, came in and said that a party of militia were approaching.

"I've saddled your horse, Perez, and hitched him to the fence. You've got a good start, but it won't do to wait a minute." Then Perez rose up, bade his father and mother and brother good-bye, and went out and mounted his horse. The militia were visible descending the hill at the north of the village, several furlongs off. Perez turned his horse in the opposite direction, and galloped down to the green. He rode up in front of the store, flung himself from his horse, ran up the steps and went in. Dr. Partridge was in the store talking to Edwards, and Jonathan was also there. As Perez burst in, pale, excited, yet determined, the two gentlemen sprang to their feet and Jonathan edged toward a gun that stood in the corner. Edwards, as if apprehending his visitor's purpose, stepped between him and the door of the living- rooms. But Perez' air was beseeching, not threatening, almost abject, indeed.

"I am flying from the town," he said. "The hue and cry is out after me. I beg you to let me have a moment's speech with Miss Desire."

"You impudent rascal," cried Edwards. "What do you mean by this. If you do not instantly go, I will arrest you myself. See my daughter, forsooth! Get out of here, fellow!" and he made a threatening step forward, and then fell back again, for though Perez' attitude of appeal was unchanged, he looked terribly excited and pertinacious.

"Only a word," he cried, his pleading eyes fixed on the storekeeper's angry ones. "A sight of her, that's all I ask, sir. You shall stand between us. Do you think I would harm her? Think, sir, I did not treat you ill when I was master. I did not deny you what you asked."

There was something more terrifying in the almost whining appeal of Perez' voice than the most violent threat could be, so intense was the repressed emotion it indicated. But as Edwards' forbidding and angry face plainly indicated that his words were having no effect, this accent of abjectness suddenly broke off in a tremendous cry:

"Great God, I must see her!"

Edwards was plainly very much frightened, but he did not yield.

"You shall not," he replied between his teeth. "Jonathan! Dr. Partridge! Will you see him murder me?"

Jonathan, gun in hand, pluckily rallied behind his father, while the doctor laid his hand soothingly on Perez' shoulder, who did not notice him. But at that moment the door into the living-rooms was flung open, and Desire and her mother came in. The loud voices had evidently attracted their attention and excited their apprehensions, but from the start which Desire gave as she saw Perez, it was evident she had not guessed he was there. At sight of her, his tense attitude and expression instantly softened, and it was plain that he no longer saw or took account of any one in the room but the girl.

"Desire," he said, "I came to see you. The militia are out after me at last, and I am flying for my life. I couldn't go without seeing you again."

Without giving Desire a chance to reply, which indeed she was much too confused and embarrassed to do, her mother interposed.

"Mr. Edwards," she exclaimed indignantly, "can't you put the fellow out? I'm sure you'll help, Doctor. This is an outrage. I never heard of such a thing. Are we not safe in our own house from this impudent loafer?" Perez had not minded the men, but even in his desperation, Mrs. Edwards somewhat intimidated him, and he fell back a step, and his eye became unsteady. Dr. Partridge walked to the window, looked out, and then turning around, said coolly:

"I suppose it is our duty to arrest you, Hamlin, and hand you over to the militia, but hang me if I wish you any harm. The militia are just turning into the green, and if you expect to get away, you have not a second to lose."

"Run! Run!" cried Desire, speaking for the first time.

Perez glanced out at the window and saw his pursuers not ten rods off.

"I will go," he said, looking at Desire. "I will escape, since you tell me to, but I will come again some day," and opening the door and rushing out, he leaped on his horse and galloped away on the road to Lee, the baffled militiamen satisfying themselves with yelling and firing one or two vain shots after him.

Sedgwick, aware that in the ticklish state of public opinion, the government party could not afford to provide the malcontents with any martyrs, had postponed the attempt to arrest Perez until affairs were fully ripe for it. The militia company of Captain Stoddard had been quietly reorganized, so that the very night of Perez' flight, patrols were established, and a regular military occupation of the town began. The larger part of the old company having gone over to the insurgents, the depleted ranks had been filled out by the enlistment as privates of the gentlemen of the village. The two Dwights, Drs. Sergeant and Partridge, Deacons Nash and Edwards, and many other silk stockinged magnates carried muskets, and a dozen gentlemen besides had organized themselves into a party of cavalry, with Sedgwick himself as captain. Even then the difficulty in finding men enough to fill out the company was so great that lads of sixteen and seventeen, gentlemen's sons, were placed in line with the gray fathers of the settlement. There was need indeed of every musket that could be mustered, for up at West Stockbridge, only an hour's march away, Paul Hubbard had a hundred and fifty men about him, from whom a raid might at any moment be expected.

But Stockbridge was now to become the center of military operations, not only for its own protection, but for that of the surrounding country. Hampshire County, as well as the eastern counties, had been called on for quotas to swell General Lincoln's army, but upon Berkshire no requisition had been made. The peculiar reputation of that county for an independent and insubordinate temper, afforded little reason to hope such a requisition would be regarded if made. And indeed the county promptly showed itself quite equal to the independent role which the Governor's course conceded to it. An effective plan for the suppression of the rebellion in the county had been concerted between Sedgwick and the leading men of the other towns. It had been agreed upon to raise five hundred men, and concentrate them at Stockbridge, using that town as a base of operations against the rebel bands in Southern Berkshire. Captain Stoddard's company had scarcely taken military possession of Stockbridge, when it was reenforced by companies from Pittsfield, Great Barrington, Sheffield, Lanesboro, Lee and Lenox. It was under escort of the Pittsfield company, that Jahleel Woodbridge returned to Stockbridge, after an absence of nearly four months. General Patterson, one of the major-generals of militia in the county, and an officer of revolutionary service, assumed command of the battalion, and promptly gave it something to do.

Far from appearing daunted by the presence of so large a body of militia in Stockbridge, Hubbard's force at the ironworks had increased to two hundred men who boldly threatened to come down and clean out Patterson's "Tories," a feat to which, if joined by some of the smaller insurgent bands in the neighborhood, they might ere long be equal. For this Patterson wisely decided not to wait. And so at noon of one of the first days of February, about three hundred of the government troops, with half a dozen rounds of cartridges per man, set out to attack Hubbard's camp.

There had been tearful farewells in the gentlemen's households that morning. Most had sent forth father and sons together to the fray and some families there were which had three generations in the ranks. For this was the gentlemen's war. The mass of the people held sullenly aloof and left them to fight it out. It was all that could be expected of themselves if they did not actively join the other side. There were more friends of theirs with Hubbard than with Patterson, and the temper in which they viewed the preparations to march against the rebels was so unmistakably ugly that as a protection to the families and property in the village one company had to be left behind in Stockbridge. It was a muggy overcast day, a poor day to give men stomach for fighting; drum and fife were silent that the enemy might have no unnecessary warning of their coming; and so with an ill-wishing community behind their backs and the foe in front, the troops set out under circumstances as depressing as could well occur. And as they went, mothers and daughters and wives climbed to upper windows and looked out toward the western mountain up whose face the column stretched, straining their ears for the sound of shots with a more quaking apprehension than if their own bosoms had been their marks. It is bad enough to send friends to far-off wars, sad enough waiting for the slow tidings, but there is something yet more poignant in seeing loved ones go out to battle almost within sight of home.

The word was that Hubbard was encamped at a point where the road running directly west over the mountain to West Stockbridge met two other roads coming in from northerly and southerly directions. Accordingly, in the hope of catching the insurgents in a trap the government force was divided into three companies. One pushed straight up the mountain by the direct road, while the others made respectively a northern and a southern detour around the mountain intending to strike the other two roads and thus come in on Hubbard's flanks while he was engaged in front. The center company did not set out till a little after the other two, so as to give them a start. When it finally began to climb the mountain Sedgwick with his cavalry rode ahead. A few rods behind them came a score or two of infantry as a sort of advance guard, the rest of the company being some distance in the rear. The gentlemen in that little party of horsemen had nearly all seen service in the late war and knew what fighting meant, but that was a war against their country's foes, invaders from over the sea, not like this, against their neighbors. They had no taste for the job before them, resolute as they were to perform it. The men they were going to meet had most of them smelled powder, and knew how to fight. They were angry and desperate and the conflict would be bloody and of no certain issue. So far as they knew, it would be the first actual collision of the insurrection, for the news of the battle at Springfield had not yet reached them. No wonder they should ride along soberly and engrossed in thought.

Suddenly a man stepped out from the woods into the road and firing his musket at them turned and ran. Thinking to capture him the gentlemen spurred their horses forward at a gallop. Other shots were fired around them, indicating clearly that they had come upon the picket line of the enemy. But their blood was up and they rode on pell-mell after the fugitive sentry. There was a turn in the road a short distance ahead. As they dashed around it, now close behind the flying man, they found themselves in the clearing at the crossing of the roads. Why do they rein in their plunging steeds so suddenly? Well they may! Not six rods off the entire rebel line of two hundred men is drawn up. They hear Hubbard give the order "Present!" and the muskets of the men rise to their cheeks.

"We're dead men. God help my wife!" says Colonel Elijah Williams, who rides at Sedgwick's side. Advance or retreat is alike impossible and the forthcoming volley can not fail to annihilate them.

"Leave it to me," says Sedgwick, quietly, and the next instant he is galloping quite alone toward the line of levelled guns. Seeing but one man coming the rebels withhold their fire. Reining up his horse within a yard of the muzzles of the guns he says in a loud, clear, authoritative voice:

"What are you doing here, men? Laban Jones, Abner Rathbun, Meshech Little, do you want to hang for murder? Throw down your arms. You're surrounded on three sides. You can't escape. Throw down your arms and I'll see you're not harmed. Throw away your guns. If one of them should go off by accident in your hands, you couldn't be saved from the gallows."

His air, evincing not the slightest perturbation or anxiety on his own part, but carrying it as if they only were in peril, startled and filled them with inquietude. His evident conviction that there was more peril at their end of the guns than at his, impressed them. They lowered their muskets, some threw them down. The line wavered.

"He lies. Shoot him! Fire! Damn you, fire!" yelled Hubbard in a panic.

"The first man that fires hangs for murder!" thundered Sedgwick. "Throw down your arms and you shall not be harmed."

"Kin yew say that for sartin, Squire?" asked Laban, hesitatingly.

"No, he lies. Our only chance is to fight!" yelled Hubbard, frantically. "Shoot him, I tell you."

But at this critical moment when the result of Sedgwick's daring experiment was still in doubt, the issue was determined by the appearance of the laggard infantry at the mouth of the Stockbridge road, while simultaneously shots resounding from the north and south showed that the flanking companies were closing in.

"We're surrounded! Run for your lives!" was shouted on every side, and the line broke in confusion.

"Arrest that man!" said Sedgwick, pointing to Hubbard, and instantly Laban Jones and others of his former followers had seized him. Many, throwing down their arms, thronged around Sedgwick as if for protection, while the rest fled in confusion, plunging into the woods to avoid the troops who were now advancing in plain sight on all three roads. A few scattered shots were exchanged between the fugitives and the militia, and the almost bloodless conflict was over.

"Who'd have thought they were such a set of cowards?" said a young militia officer, contemptuously.

"They are not cowards," replied Sedgwick reprovingly. "They're the same men who fought at Bennington, but it takes away their courage to feel they're arrayed against their own neighbors and the law of the land."

"You'd have had your stomach full of fighting, young man," added Colonel Williams, "if Squire Sedgwick had not taken them just as he did. Squire," he added, "my wife shall thank you that she's not a widow, when we get back to Stockbridge. I honor your courage, sir. The credit of this day is yours."

Those standing around joining heartily in this tribute, Sedgwick replied quietly:

"You magnify the matter over much, gentlemen. I knew the men I was dealing with. If I could get near enough to fix them with my eye before they began to shoot I knew it would be easy to turn their minds."

The reentry of the militia into Stockbridge was made with screaming fifes, and resounding drums, while nearly one hundred prisoners graced the triumph of the victors. The poor fellows looked glum enough, as they had reason to do. They had scorned the clemency of the government and been taken with arms in their hands. Imprisonment and stripes was the least they could expect, while the leaders were in imminent danger of the gallows. But considerations other than those of strict justice according to law determined their fate, and made their suspense of short duration. It was well enough to use threats to intimidate rebels, but in an insurrection with which so large a proportion of the people sympathized partly or fully, severity to the conquered would have been a fatal policy. As a merely practical point, moreover, there was not jail room in Stockbridge for the prisoners. They must be either forthwith killed or set free. The upshot of it was that excepting Hubbard and two or three more they were offered release that very afternoon, upon taking the oath of allegiance to the state. The poor fellows eagerly accepted the terms. A line of them being formed they passed one by one before Justice Woodbridge, with uplifted hand took the oath, slunk away home, free men, but very much crestfallen. As if to add a climax to the exultation of the government party, news was received, during the evening, of the rout of the rebels under Shays at Springfield, in their attack on the militia defending the arsenal there, the last day of January.

Now it must be understood that not alone in Captain Stoddard's Stockbridge company had gentlemen filled up the places of the disaffected farmers in the ranks, but such was equally the case with the companies which had come in from the other towns, the consequence of which was that the present muster represented the wealth, the culture, and aristocracy of all Berkshire. There are far more people in Berkshire now than then; far more aggregate wealth, and far more aggregate culture, but with the decay of the aristocratic form of society which prevailed in the day of which I write, passed away the elements of such a gathering as this, which stands unique in the social history of Stockbridge. The families of the county gentry here represented, though generally living at a day or two's journey apart, were more intimate with each other than with the farmer folk, directly surrounded by whom, they lived. They met now like members of one family, the sense of unity heightened by the present necessity of defending the interests of their order, sword in hand, against the rabble. The gentlemen's families of Stockbridge had opened wide their doors to these gallant and genial defenders, whose presence in their households, far from being regarded as a burden, required by the public necessity, was rather a social treat of rare and welcome character; and, unless tradition deceives, more than one happy match was the issue of the intimacies formed between the fair daughters of Stockbridge and the knights who had come to their rescue.

Previous to the conflict at West Stockbridge and the news of the battle at Springfield, the seriousness of the situation availed indeed to put some check upon the spirits of the young people. But no sooner had it become apparent that the suppression of the rebellion was not likely to involve serious bloodshed than there was such a general ebullition of fun and amusement as might be expected from the collection of such a band of spirited youths. Not to speak of dances, teas, and indoor entertainments, gay sleighing parties, out to the scene of "battle" of West Stockbridge, as it was jokingly called, were of daily occurrence, and every evening Mahkeenac's shining face was covered with bands of merry skaters, and screaming, laughing sledge-loads of youths and damsels went whizzing down Long Hill to the no small jeopardy of their own lives and limbs, to say nothing of such luckless wayfarers as might be in their path. To provide partners for so many gentlemen the cradle was almost robbed, and many a farmer's daughter of Shayite proclivities found herself, not unwillingly, conscripted to supply the dearth of gentlemen's daughters, and provided with an opportunity for contrasting the merits of silk-stockinged and worsted-stockinged adorers, an experience possibly not redounding to their after contentment in the station to which Providence had called them.

But even with these conscripts there was still such an excess of beaux that every girl had half a dozen. As for Desire Edwards, she had the whole army. If I have hitherto spoken of her in a manner as if she were the only "young lady" in Stockbridge, that is no more than the impression which she gave. Although there were several families in the village which had a claim to equal gentility, their daughters somehow felt that they failed to make good that claim in Desire's presence. They owned, though they found less flattering terms in which to express it, the same air of distinction and dainty aloofness about her, which the farmers' daughters, too humble for jealousy, so admiringly admitted. The young militia officers and gentlemen privates found her adorable, and the three or four young men whom Squire Edwards took into his house, as his share in quartering the troops, were the objects of the most rancorous envy of the entire army. These favored youths had too much appreciation of their fortune to be absent from their quarters save when military duty required, and what with the obligation of entertaining and being entertained by them, and keeping in play the numerous callers who dropped in from other quarters in the evening, Desire had mighty little time to herself. It was of course very exciting for her and very agreeable to be the sole queen of so gallant and devoted a court. She enjoyed it as any sprightly, beautiful girl fond of society and well nigh starved for it might be expected to. Provided here so unexpectedly in remote winter-bound Stockbridge, it was like a table spread in the wilderness, whereof the Psalmist speaks.

And in this whirl of gayety, did she quite forget Perez, did she so soon forget the secret flame she had cherished for the Shayite captain? Be sure she had not forgotten, but she would have been willing to give anything in the world if she could.

After the conventual seclusion and mental vacancy of the preceding months, the sudden, almost instantaneous change in her surroundings, had been like a burst of air and sunlight which dissipates the soporific atmosphere of a sleeping-room. It had brought back her thoughts and feelings all at once to their normal standards, making her recollection of that infatuation seem like a fantastic, grotesque dream; unreal, impossible, yet shamefully real. Every time she entered her chamber, and her eye caught sight of the little hole in the curtain whence she had spied upon Perez, shame and self-contempt overcame her like a flood. How could she, how ever could she be left to do such a thing! What would the obsequious, admiring gallants she had left in her parlor say if they but knew what that little pin-hole in her curtain reminded her of? She could not believe it possible herself that the girl whose fine-cut haughty beauty confronted her gaze from the mirror could have so lost her self-respect, could have actually—Oh! and tears of self-despite would rush into her eyes as her remorseless memory set before her those scenes. And had she been utterly beside herself that day in the store, when she gave him that look and that hand-clasp? But for that the only fruit of her folly would have been the loss of her own self-respect, but now she was guilty toward him. This wretched business was dead earnest to him, if not to her. With what a pang of self-contemptuous self-reproach she recalled his white, anguished face as he rushed into the store to bid her farewell when the soldiers were coming to take him. If he at first, by his persecution of her, had left her with a right to complain, she had given him such a right by that glance. She writhed as she admitted to herself that by that she had given him a sort of claim on her.

The village gossip about Perez' infatuation for her, although of her own weakness none guessed, had naturally come to the ears of the visitors, and some of the young men at Edwards' good naturedly chaffed her about it, speaking of it as an amusing joke. She had to bear this without wincing, and worse still, she had to play the hypocrite so far as to reply in the same jesting tone, joining in turning the laugh on the poor, shabby mob captain, when she knew in her heart it ought to be turned against her.

There was nothing else she could do, of course. She could not confess to these gay bantering young gentlemen the incredible weakness of which she had been guilty. But if the self-contempt of the doer can avenge a wrong done to another, Perez was amply avenged for this. And the worst of it was that the thought that she had wronged him here also, and meanly taken advantage of him, added to that horrid sense of his claim on her. He began to occupy her mind to a morbid and most painful extent, really much affecting her enjoyment. His sad and shabby figure, with its mutely reproachful face, haunted her. All that might have been to his disadvantage compared with the refined and cultivated circle about her, was overcome by the pathos and dignity with which her sense of having done him wrong invested him. Such was her unenviable state of mind, when one evening, a week or ten days after the affair at West Stockbridge, one of the young men at the house said to her gayly:

"May I hope, Miss Edwards, not to be wholly forgotten if I should fall on the gory field to-morrow?"

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"What, didn't you know? General Patterson is fearful the Capuan delights of Stockbridge will sap our martial vigor, and is going to lead us against the foe in his lair at dawn to-morrow."

"Where is his lair this time?" asked Desire, carelessly.

"We've heard that two or three hundred of the rascals have collected out here at Lee to stop a petty court, and we're going to capture them."

"By the way, too, Miss Edwards," broke in another, "your admirer, Hamlin, is at the head of them, and I've no doubt his real design is to make a dash on Stockbridge, and carry you off from the midst of your faithful knights. He'll have a chance to repent of his presumption to-morrow. Squire Woodbridge told me this afternoon that if he does not have him triced up to the whipping-post in two hours after we bring him in, it will be because he is no justice of the quorum. It's plain the Squire has no liking for the fellow."

"I hope there'll be a little more fun this time than there was last week. I'm sick of these battles without any fighting," doughtily remarked a very young man.

"I'm afraid your blood-thirstiness won't be gratified this time," answered the first speaker. "The General means to surprise them and take every man-jack of them prisoner before they're fairly waked up. We shall be back to breakfast to receive your congratulations, Miss Edwards."

But Miss Edwards had left the room.



CHAPTER TWENTY-FIFTH

A GAME OF BLUFF

Had Perez Hamlin been her sweetheart, her brother, her dearest friend, the announcement that he was to be captured and brought to Stockbridge for punishment would not have come upon her with a greater effect of consternation. After hearing that news it would have been impossible for her to have retained her composure sufficiently to have avoided remark had she remained in the parlor. But there were other reasons why she had fled to the seclusion of her chamber. It was necessary that she should think of some plan to evade the humiliation of being confronted by him, of being reminded by his presence, by his looks, and maybe his words even, of the weak folly of which she was so cruelly ashamed, and which she was trying to forget about. Desperately, she resolved to make some excuse to fly to Pittsfield, to be away from home when Perez was brought in. But no, she could think of no excuse, not even the wildest pretense for thus precipitately leaving a house full of guests, and taking a journey by dangerous roads to make an uninvited visit. Perez must be warned, he must escape, he must not be captured. Thus only could she see any way to evade meeting him. But how could word be got to him? They marched at dawn. There were but a few hours. There was his family. Surely, if they were warned, they would find a way of communicating with him. She had heard that he had a brother. Whatever she did she must do quickly, before she was missed from the parlor and her mother came to her door to ask if she were sick. There was no time to change her dress, or even her shoes. Throwing a big shawl over her head, which quite concealed her figure, she noiselessly made her way downstairs, and out into the snowy street, passing, as she went, close under the lighted windows of the parlor, whence came the sound of the voices and laughter of guests who, no doubt, were already wondering at her absence.

Thanks to the amount of travel of late weeks, the snow in the street had been trodden to a passable condition. But blinded by the darkness every now and then, with a gasp and a flounder, she would step out of the path into the deep snow on either side, and once hearing a sleigh coming along, she had to plunge into a drift nearly as high as her waist, and stand there till the vehicle had passed, with the snow freezing her ankles, and also ruining, as she well knew, her lovely morocco shoes. Suddenly a tall figure loomed up close before her, there was a rattle of accoutrements, and a rough voice said sharply:

"Halt!"

She stopped, all in a tremble. She had quite forgotten that the streets were now-a-days guarded by regular lines of sentries.

"Advance and give the countersign," said the soldier.

At first she gave herself quite up for lost. Then she remembered that by the merest chance in the world she knew the countersign for that night. The officer of the day had playfully asked her to name it, and in honor of the patriotic citizens of the capital who had lent to the empty treasury the money needed to equip and supply the force of militia the governor had ordered out, she had given "The Merchants of Boston." Scarcely believing that so simple a formula could remove this formidable obstacle from her path, she repeated it in a tremulous voice. "Pass on," said the sentry, and the way was clear. Now turning out of the main street, she made her way slowly and pantingly, rather wading than walking up the less trodden lane leading to the Hamlins' house, through whose windows shines the flickering light of the fire on the hearth within, the only species of evening illumination afforded in those days save in the households of the rich.

She pulls the latchstring and enters. The miserable fittings of the great kitchen denote extreme poverty, but the great fire of logs in the chimney is such as the richest, in these days of wasted forests, cannot afford, and the ruddy light illumines the room as all the candles in Stockbridge scarcely could do. Before it sit Elnathan and his wife and Reuben. The shawl which Desire wears is thickly flecked with the snow, through which she has stumbled, and instinctively her first motion on entering the room is to open and shake it, thereby revealing to the eyes of the astonished family the toilet of a fashionable beauty. Her hair is built up over a toupee with a charming effect of stateliness, the dusting of powder upon the dark strands bringing out the rich bloom of her brunette complexion. The shoulders gleam through the meshes of the square of ancient yellow lace that covers them, while the curves of the full young figure and the white roundness of the arms, left bare by the elbow sleeves, are set off in charming contrast by the stiff folds of the figured crimson brocade.

"Miss Edwards!" murmurs Mrs. Hamlin, as Elnathan and Reuben gape in speechless bewilderment.

"Yes, it is I," replied Desire, coming forward a few steps, but still keeping in the back of the room. "I came to tell you that the army is going to march at dawn to-morrow to Lee, to take your son, and all who are with him prisoners, and bring them back here to be punished." There was a moment's silence, then Mrs. Hamlin said:

"How do you know it?"

"I was told so ten minutes since by the officers at my father's house," replied Desire.

"And why do you tell us?" asked Mrs. Hamlin again, regarding her keenly from beneath her bushy grey eyebrows, and speaking with a certain slight hardness of tone, as if half suspicious of a warning from such a source.

"I thought if I told you in time, you might get some word to him so he could get away. The countersign is 'The Merchants of Boston.'"

Mrs. Hamlin's face suddenly changed its expression, and she answered slowly, in a tone of intense, suppressed feeling:

"And so you left them gay gentlemen, and waded through the snow all alone half a mile way out here, all in your pretty clothes, so that no harm might come to my boy. God bless you, my child! God bless you with his choicest blessings, my sweet young lady! My son does well to worship the ground you walk on."

It was an odd sensation, but as the gray-haired woman was speaking, her face aglow with tenderness, and her eyes wet with a mother's gratitude, Desire could not help half wishing she had deserved the words, even though that wish implied her being really in love with this woman's son. It was not without emotion, and eyes to which a responsive wetness had sprung that she exclaimed, with a gesture of deprecation:

"No, no, do not thank me. If you knew all, you would not thank me. I am not so good as you think," and, throwing the door open she sprang out into the snow.

When she reentered the parlor at home, the silver-dialed clock, high upon the wall, accused her of only an hour's absence, and since nobody but herself knew that her feet were quite wet through, there were no explanations to make. But for the first time she wearied a little of her courtiers. She found their compliments insipid and her repartees were slow. Her thoughts were wandering to that poor home where all undeservedly she had been received as an angel of light; and her anxieties were with the messenger stumbling along the half broken road to Lee to carry the warning. When, at last, Squire Edwards proposed that all should fill their punch-glasses and drain to the success of the morrow's expedition, she set down hers untasted, passing off her omission with some excuse. That night toward morning, though it was yet pitch dark, she was awakened by the noise of opening doors and men's boots, and loud talk; and afterwards hearing a heavy, jarring sound, she looked out the window and descried in the road, a long black column moving rapidly along, noiseless save for now and then a hoarse word of command. It was the expedition setting out for Lee. The impressiveness of this silent, formidable departure gave her a new sense of the responsibility she had taken on herself in frustrating the design of so many grave and weighty men, and interfering with issues of life and death. And then for the first time a dreadful thought occurred to her. What if after all there should be a battle? She had only thought of giving Perez warning, so he might fly with his men, but what if he should take advantage of it to prepare an ambush and fight? She had not thought of that. Jonathan was with the expedition. What if she should prove to be the murderer of her brother? What had she done? Sick at heart, she lay awake trembling till dawn. Then she got up and dressed, and waited about miserably, till toward eight o'clock the news of the result came. Then she laughed till she cried and ended by saying that she would go to bed, for she thought she was going to be sick. And she was right. Her mother wondered how she could have taken such a terrible cold.

But leaving Dr. Partridge to cure her cold with calomel and laudanum, after the manner of the day, let us inquire in a historical spirit what it was in the news of the result at Lee which should cause a young woman to laugh so immoderately.

It had been nearly midnight of the preceding evening, when Reuben wearily and slowly making his way along the dark and difficult road, reached Lee, and was directed at the rebel outposts to the house of Mrs. Perry as the place which Perez occupied as a headquarters. Although it was so late, the rebel commander, too full of anxious and brooding thoughts to sleep, was still sitting before the smouldering fire in the kitchen chimney when Reuben staggered in.

"Reub," he cried, starting up as he recognized his brother, "what's the matter? Has anything happened at home?"

"Nothing bad. I've brought you news. Have you got some rum? I'm pretty tired."

Perez found a demijohn, poured out a mug, and watched his brother with anxious eyes as he gulped it down. Presently, a little color came back to his white face, and he said:

"Now I feel better. It was a hard road. I felt like giving out once or twice. But I'm all right now."

"What made you come, Reub? You're not strong yet. It might have killed you."

"I had to, Perez. It was life or death for you. The army at Stockbridge are going to surprise you at sunrise. I came to warn you. Desire Edwards brought us word."

"What!" exclaimed Perez, his face aglow. "She brought you word? Do you mean that?"

"Jess hole on, and I'll tell you how it was," said Reub, with a manner almost as full of enthusiasm as his brother's. "It was nigh bedtime, and we were setting afore the fire a talking 'bout you, and a hopin you'd get over the line into York; when the door opened, an in come Desire Edwards, all dressed up in a shiny gaown, an her hair fixed, an everything like as to a weddin. I tell yew, Perez, my eyes stood out some. An afore we could say nothing, we wuz so flustered, she up an says as haow she hearn them ossifers tew her haouse tellin haow they wuz gonter s'prise ye in the mornin, an so she come ter tell us, thinkin we mout git word ter ye."

"Did she say that, Reub? Did she say those words? Did she say that about me? Are you sure?" interrupted Perez, in a hushed tone of incredulous ecstasy, as he nervously gripped his brother's shoulder.

"Them wuz her words, nigh es I kin reckullec," replied Reub, "an that 'bout yew she said for sartin. She said we wuz ter sen' word ter ye, so's ye mout git away, an then she guv me the countersign for ter say tew the sentries, so's I could git by ter fetch ye word."

"To think of her doing all that for me, Reub. I can't believe it. It's too much. Because you see, Reub, if she'd take all that trouble for me, it shows—it shows—I think it must be she"—he hesitated, and finally gulped out—"cares for me, Reub," and his eyes filled with tears.

"Ye may say so, for sartin, Perez," replied his brother with sympathetic enthusiasm. "A gal wouldn' dew what she did for no feller, unless she sat store by him, naow. It's a sign fer sure."

"Reub," said Perez, in a voice uneven with suppressed emotion, "now I know she cares for me that much, I don't mind a snap of the finger what happens to me. If they came to hang me this minute, I should laugh in their faces," and he sprang up and paced to and fro, with fixed eyes and a set smile, and then, still wearing the same look came back and sat down by his brother, and said: "I sort of hoped she cared for me before, but it seemed most too much to believe. You don't know how I feel, Reub. You can't think, nohow."

"Yes I can," said Reuben, quietly; "I guess ye feel suthin ez I uster baout Jemimy, sorter light inside an so pleased like ye don't keer a copper ef ye live or die. Yes, I know mor'n ye think I dew baout the feelin's a feller hez long o' women, on'y ye see it didn't come ter nothin with Jemimy, fer wen my fust crop failed, an I was tuk for debt, Peleg got her arter all."

"I didn't think 'bout Jemimy, Reub," said Perez, softly. In the affluence of his own happiness, he was overwhelmed with compassion for his brother. He was stricken by the patient look upon his pale face. "Never mind, Reub," he said. "Don't be downhearted. You and me 'll stand by each other, an mebbe it'll be made up to ye some time," and he laid his arm tenderly on the other's shoulder.

"I on'y spoke on't 'cause o' what ye said 'bout my not under-standin," said Reuben, excusing himself for having made a demand on the other's compassion. "She never guv me no sech reasin ter think she set store by me ez ye've hed ter night 'long o' Desire Edwards. I wuzn't a comparin on us, nohow."

There was a space of silence finally disturbed by a noise of boots in an adjoining room and presently Abner Rathbun stumped out. Abner had escaped at the West Stockbridge rout and having made his way to Perez, at Lee, had been forgiven his desertion by the latter and made his chief lieutenant and adviser.

"Hello, Reub," he exclaimed. "Whar'd ye drop from? Heard so much talkin, callated suthin must a happened, an turned out ter see what it wuz. Fetched any news, hev ye Reub? Spit it aout. Guess it muss be pooty good, or the cap'n would'n be lookin so darned pleased."

"The news I fetched is that the army in Stockbridge is going to attack you to-morrow at dawn."

Abner's jaw fell. He looked from Reuben to Perez, whose face as he gazed absently at the coals on the hearth still wore the smile which had attracted his attention. This seemed to decide him, for as he turned again to Reub, he said, shrewdly:

"Yew can't fool me with no gum-game o' that sort. I guess Perez wouldn't be grinnin that ar way ef he callated we wuz gonter be all chawed up afore mornin."

"Reuben tells the truth. They are going to attack us in the morning," said Perez, looking up. Abner stared at him a moment, and then demanded half-sullen, half-puzzled:

"Wal, Cap'n, wat dew ye see tew larf at in that? Derned ef I see nothin funny."

"Your glum mug would be enough to laugh at if there was nothing else Abner," said Perez, getting up and gayly slapping the giant on the shoulder.

"I s'pose ye must hev got some plan in yer head fer gittin the best on em," suggested Abner, at last, evidently racking his brains to suggest a hypothesis to explain his commander's untimely levity.

"No, Abner," replied Perez, "I have not thought of any plan yet. What do you think about the business?"

"I'm afeard thar ain't no dependin on the men fer a scrimmage. I callate they'll scatter ez soon's the news gits raound that the white feathers be comin, 'thout even waitin fer em tew git in sight," was Abner's gloomy response.

"I shouldn't be at all surprised if they did. I don't believe there's a dozen in the lot we could depend on," said Perez cheerfully.

"Wat's the matter with ye, Cap'n," burst out Abner, in desperation. "I can't make aout wat's come over ye. Ye talk 's though ye didn' keer a Bungtaown copper wether we fit or run, or stayed an got hung, but jess set thar a grinnin tew yerself ez if ye'd loss yer wits."

Perez laughed again, but checking himself, replied: "I s'pose I do seem a little queer, Abner, but you mustn't mind that. I hope I haven't lost my wits quite. Let's see, now," he went on in a businesslike tone, with the air of one abruptly enforcing a new direction upon his thoughts. "We could get up the men and retreat to the mountains by morning, but two-thirds would desert before we'd marched two miles, and slink away home, and the worst of it is the poor chaps would be arrested and abused when they got home."

"That's sartin so, Cap'n," said Abner, his anxiety for Perez' sanity evidently diminishing.

"It's a shame to retreat, too, with such a position to defend. Why, Abner, just look at it. The snow is three to four feet deep in the fields and woods, and the enemy can only come in on the road. That road is just like a causeway through a swamp or a bridge. They can't go off it without snowshoes. With half a company that I could depend on, I'd defend it against a regiment. If I wanted breastworks all I've got to do is to dig paths in the snow. I could hold Lee till the snow melts or till they took it by zig-zags and parallels through the drifts. But there's no use talking about any such thing, for there's no fight left in the men, not a bit. If they had ever so little grit left, we might hold out long enough at least to get some sort of fair terms, but, Lord they haven't. They'll just run like sheep."

"Ef we on'y hed a cannon naow, ef 'twan't but a three-pounder!" said Abner, pathetically. "We could jess sot it in the middle of the road, and all creation couldn't get intew Lee. Yew an I could stop em alone then. Gosh naow wat wouldn't I give fer a cannon the size o' Mis Perry's yarn-beam thar. Ef the white feathers seen a gun the size o' that p'inted at em an a feller behind it with a hot coal, I callate they'd be durn glad tew 'gree tew a fa'r settlement. But Lordomassy, gosh knows we hain't got no cannon, and we can't make one."

"I don't know about that, Abner," replied Perez, deliberately. His glance had followed Abner's to the loom standing in the back of the kitchen, and as he answered his lieutenant he was fixedly regarding the very yarn-beam to which the other had alluded, a round, smooth, dark colored wooden roller, five or six feet long and eight or ten inches through.

But perhaps it will be better to let Dr. Partridge tell the rest of the story as he related it nearly three weeks later for the amusement of Desire during her convalescence from the cold and fever through which he had brought her.

"It was pitch dark when we left Stockbridge," said the doctor, "and allowing a good hour for the march owing to the state of the road, the General calculated we should reach Lee about dawn and catch the rascals taking their beauty sleep. It was excessively cold and our fingers began to grow numb very soon, and if anybody touched the iron part of his gun without the mittens he would leave a piece of skin behind. But you see we had just heard of General Lincoln's thirty-mile night march from Hadley to Petersham in even worse weather, and for the credit of Berkshire, we had to keep on if we froze to death. We met nobody until we were within half a mile of Lee. Then we overhauled one of the rebel sentries, and captured him, though not till he had let off his gun. Then we heard the drum beating in the town. There was nothing to do but to hurry on as fast as we could. And so we did for about ten minutes more when somebody said, 'There they are.' Sure enough, about twenty rods off, where the road enters the village was a black mass of men occupying its entire breadth with a man on horseback in front whom I took for Hamlin. We kept on a little longer and then the General ordered us to halt, and Squire Woodbridge rode forward within easy speaking distance of the rebels and began to read the riot act. But he had no sooner begun than Hamlin made a gesture, and a drum struck up lustily among the rebels, drowning the Squire's voice. Nevertheless he made an end of the reading so that we might proceed legally and thereupon the General ordered the men to fix bayonets and gave the order to march. Then it seemed that the rebels were about to retire, for their line fell back a little and already our men had given a cheer when a sharp-eyed fellow in the front rank sang out:

"'They've got a cannon!' And when we looked, sure enough the slight falling back of the rebels we had noted, had only been to uncover a piece of artillery which was planted squarely in the middle of the road, pointing directly at us. A man with a smoking brazier of coals stood by the breech, and another, whom by his size I took to be Abner Rathbun, with a pair of tongs held a bright coal which he had taken from it. It being yet rather dark, though close on sunrise, we could plainly see the redness of the coal the fellow held in the tongs above the touchhole of the gun, and ticklish near, it seemed, I can say. I know not to this day, and others say the same, whether any one gave the order to halt or not, but it is certain we stopped square, nor were those behind at all disposed to push forward such as were in front, for there is this about cannon balls that is different from musket balls. The front rank serves the rear rank as a shield from the bullets, but the cannon ball plows the whole length of the file and kills those behind as readily as those before. And, moreover, we had as soon expected to see the devil in horns and tail leading the rebels, as this cannon, for no one supposed there was a piece of artillery in all Berkshire. You must know the place we were in, was, moreover, as bad as could be; for we could only march by the road, by reason of the deep snow on either hand, which was like walls shutting us in, and leaving room for no more than eight men to go abreast. If the cannon were loaded with a ball, it must needs cut a swathe like a scythe from the first man to the last, and if it were loaded with small balls, all of us who were near the front must needs go down at once. The General asked counsel of us who were riding with him at the front what had best be done, whereupon Squire Sedgwick advised that half a dozen of us with horses should put spurs to them and dash suddenly upon the cannon and take it. 'Ten to one,' he said, 'the rascal with the tongs will not dare touch off the gun, and if he does, why, 'tis but one shot.' But this seemed to us all a foolhardy thing; for, though there were but one shot, who could tell whom it might hit? It might be one of us as well as another. Your uncle Jahleel, as it seemed, lest any should deem Squire Sedgwick braver than he, declared that he was ready, but the others of us, by no means fell in with the notion and General Patterson said flatly that he was responsible for all our lives and would permit no such madness. And then, as no one had any other plan to propose, we were in a quandary, and I noted that each one had his eyes, as it were, fastened immovably upon the cannon and the glowing coal which the fellow held in the tongs. For, in order to keep it clear of ash, he kept waving it to and fro, and once or twice when he brought it perilously close to the touchhole, I give you my word I began to think in a moment of all the things I had done in my life. And I remember, too, that if one of us was speaking when the fellow made as if he would touch off the gun, there was an interruption of a moment in his speech, ere he went on again. It must be that not only civilians like myself, but men of war also do find a certain discomposing effect in the stare of a cannon. Meanwhile the wind drew through the narrow path wherein we stood, with vehemence, and, whereas we had barely kept our blood in motion by our laboring through the snow, now that we stood still, we seemed freezing. Our horses shivered and set their ears back with the cold, but it was notable how quietly the men stood packed in the road behind us, though they must have been well nigh frost-bitten. No doubt they were absorbed in watching the fellow swinging the coal as we were. But if we did not advance, we must retreat, that was plain. We could not stay where we were. It was, I fancy, because no one could bring himself to propose such an ignoble issue to our enterprise, that we were for a little space all dumb.

"Then it was when the General could no longer have put off giving the order to right about march, that Hamlin tied a white rag to his sword and rode toward us holding it aloft. When he had come about half way, he cried out:

"'Will your commander and Dr. Partridge, if he be among you, ride out to meet me? I would have a parley.'

"Why he pitched on me I know not, save that, wanting a witness, he chose me as being a little more friendly to him than most of the Stockbridge gentlemen. When we had ridden forward, he saluted us with great cordiality and good humor, as if forsooth, instead of being within an ace of murdering us all, he had but been trying us with a jest.

"'I see,' said he to the general, 'that your fellows like not the look of my artillery, and I blame them not, for it will be a nasty business in that narrow lane if we have to let drive, as assuredly we shall do if you come another foot further. But it may be we can settle our difference without bloodshed. My men have fled together to me to be protected from arrest and prosecution, for what they have heretofore done, not because they intend further to attack the government. I will agree that they shall disperse and go quietly to their homes, provided you give me your word that they shall not be arrested or injured by your men, and will promise to use your utmost influence to secure them from any arrest hereafter, and that at any rate they shall have trial before a jury of their neighbors.'

"The General is a shrewd bargainer, I make no doubt, for though I knew he was delighted out of measure to find any honorable escape from the predicament in which we were, he pulled a long face, and after some thought, said that he would grant the conditions, provided the rebels also surrendered their arms, and took the oath of allegiance to the state. At this Hamlin laughed a little.

"'I see, sir, we are but wasting time,' he said, with a mighty indifferent air. 'You have got the boot on the wrong foot. It is we who are granting you terms, not you us. You may thank your stars I don't require your men to surrender their arms. Look you, sir, my men will not give up their guns, or take any oath but go as free as yours, with your promise of protection hereafter. If you agree to those terms, you may come into Lee, and we will disperse. If not let us lose no more time waiting, but have at it.'

"It was something to make one's blood run cold, to hear the fellow talk so quietly about murdering us. The General hemmed and hawed a little, and made a show of talking aside with me, and presently said that to avoid shedding the blood of the misguided men on the other side, he would consent to the terms, but he added, the artillery must at any rate be surrendered.

"'It is private property,' said Hamlin.

"'It is forfeited to its owner by its use against the government,' replied the General sturdily.

"'I will not stickle for the gun,' said Hamlin, 'but will leave you to settle that with the owner,' and, as he spoke, he looked as if he were inwardly amused over something.

"Thereupon we separated. The announcement of the terms was received by our men with a cheer, for they had made up their minds that there was nothing before them but a march back to Stockbridge in the face of the wind and to meet the ridicule of the populace. As we now approached the cannon at quick-step Abner Rathbun came around and stood in front of it, so we did not see it till we were close upon it. He was grinning from ear to ear. The road just behind was packed with rebels all likewise on the broad grin, as if at some prodigious jest. As we came up Hamlin said to the General:

"'Sir, I now deliver over to you the artillery, that is if you can settle it with Mrs. Perry. Abner stand aside.'

"Rathbun did so and what we saw was a yarn-beam mounted on a pair of oxcart wheels with the tongue of the cart resting on the ground behind."



CHAPTER TWENTY-SIXTH

THE RESTORATION

As was remarked in the last chapter, it was some three weeks after the famous encounter at Lee that Dr. Partridge entertained Desire one afternoon with the account of the affair which I have transcribed for the information of my readers. The interval between the night before the Lee expedition, when she had taken her sickness, and the sunny afternoon of expiring February, when she sat listening to the doctor's story, had for her been only a blank of sickness, but in the community around, it had been a time of anxiety, of embitterment, and of critical change. The gay and brilliant court, of which she had for a brief period been the center, had long ago vanished. Hamlin's band at Lee had been the last considerable force of rebels embodied in Southern Berkshire, and a few days after its dispersal the companies from other towns left Stockbridge to return home, leaving the protection of the village to the home company. Close on this followed the arrival at Pittsfield of General Lincoln with a body of troops called into Berkshire by the invitation of General Patterson, to the disgust of some gentlemen who thought the county quite capable of attending to its own affairs. These forces had completed the pacification of Northern Berkshire, where, among the mountain fastnesses rebel bands had till then maintained themselves, so that now the entire county was subdued and the insurrection, so far as concerned any overt manifestation, was at an end. In Stockbridge Tax-collector Williams once more went his rounds. Deputy Sheriff Seymour's red flag floated again from the gable ends of the houses whence the mob had torn it last September, foreclosure sales were made, processes were served, debtors taken to jail, and the almost forgotten sound of the lash was once more heard on the green of Saturday afternoons as the constable executed Squire Woodbridge's sentences at the reerected whipping-post and stocks. Sedgwick's return to Boston to his seat in the Legislature early in February, had left Woodbridge to resume unimpeded his ancient autocracy in the village, and with as many grudges as that gentleman had to pay off, it may well be supposed the constable had no sinecure. The victims of justice were almost exclusively those who had been concerned in the late rebellion. For although the various amnesties, as well as the express stipulations under which a large number had surrendered, protected most of the insurgents from penalties for their political crimes, still misdemeanors and petty offenses against property and persons during the late disturbances were chargeable against most of them, and tried before a magistrate whom, like Woodbridge, they had mobbed. A charge was as good as a proof.

Nor if they appealed to a jury, was their chance much better, for the Legislature coming together again in February, had excluded former rebels from the jury box for three years, binding them to keep the peace for the same time, and depriving them of the elective franchise in all forms for a year, while on the other hand complete indemnity was granted to the friends of government for all offences against property or persons, which they might have committed in suppressing the rebellion. Without here controverting the necessity of these measures, it is easy to realize the state of hopeless discouragement to which they reduced the class exposed to their effect. Originally driven into the rebellion by the pressure of a poverty which made them the virtual serfs of the gentlemen, they now found themselves not only forced to resume their former position in that respect, but were in addition, deprived of the ordinary civil rights and guarantees of citizens. In desperation many fled over the border into New York and Connecticut, and joined bands of similar refugees which were camped there. Others, weaker spirited, or bound by ties they could not or would not break, remained at home, seeking to propitiate their masters by a contrite and circumspect demeanor, or sullenly enduring whatever was put upon them. A large number prepared to emigrate to homes in the West as soon as spring opened the roads.

Of the chief abettors of Perez, the fortunes may be briefly told. Jabez Flint had sold all he had and escaped to Nova Scotia to join one of the numerous colonies of deported Tories which had been formed there. Jabez was down on his luck.

"I've hed enough o' rebellin," he declared. "I've tried both sides on't. In the fust rebellion I wuz agin' the rebels, an the rebels licked. This ere time I tuk sides agin' the govment, an the govment hez licked. I'm like a feller ez is fust kicked behind an then in the stummick. I be done on both sides, like a pancake."

Israel Goodrich and Ezra Phelps, being excepted from the amnesties as members of the rebel committee, had only escaped jailing because, as men of some substance they had been able to give large bonds to await the further disposition of the Boston government.

"I didn' mind so much 'bout that," said Israel, "but what come kinder tough on me wuz a seein them poor white-livered pulin chaps tew my house tuk back ter jail."

For the debtors whom the mob had released from Great Barrington jail, including those to whom Israel had given asylum, had now been recaptured and returned to the charge of Cephas Bement and his pretty wife. Reuben Hamlin had been taken with the rest, though his stay in jail this time did not promise to be a long one, for he had overdone his feeble strength in that night walk through the snow to Lee, and since then had declined rapidly. He was so far gone that it would scarcely have been thought worth while to take him to jail if he could have remained at home. But as the sheriff had now sold the Hamlin house at auction, and Elnathan and his wife had been separated and boarded out as paupers, this was out of the question.

There was one man in Stockbridge, however, who was more to be pitied than Reuben. Peleg Bidwell found himself at the end of the rebellion as at the opening of it, the debtor and thrall of Solomon Gleason, save that his debt was greater, his means of paying it even less, while by his insolent bearing toward Solomon during the rebellion, he had made him not only his creditor but his enemy. The jail yawned before Peleg, and of the jail he, as well as the people generally, had acquired a new horror since the day when the mob had brought to light the secrets of that habitation of cruelty. He felt that, come what might, he could not go to a jail. And he did not. But his pretty wife stayed at home and avoided her former acquaintances, and those who saw her said she was pale and acted queer, and Peleg went about with a hangdog look, and Solomon Gleason was a frequent caller, and the women of the neighborhood whispered together.

Abner Rathbun and Meshech Little had fled across the border, and Abe Konkapot would have done so but for the fact that he could not leave his sweetheart Lu to be secured by his rival and brother, Jake. Jake, having out of enmity to his brother sided with the government party, was now in favor with the powers that were, and more preferred than ever by Lu's mother. But Abe knew the girl liked him rather the better, and did not let himself be discouraged. Jake, observing that he made little progress in spite of his advantages, laid a plot against his brother. The latter had acquired in the army a tendency to use profane language in moments of excitement, and it was of this weakness that Jake took advantage. Picking an opportunity when there were witnesses, he provoked Abe to wrath, and having made him swear profusely, went straightway to Squire Woodbridge and complained of him for blasphemy. Abe was promptly arrested and brought before the magistrate. The Squire, not unwilling to get a handle against so bad a rebel, observed that it was high time for the authorities to make a head against the tide of blasphemy which had swept over the state since the war, and to advertise to the rabble that the statute against profanity was not a dead letter and thereupon sentenced Abe to ten lashes at the whipping-post, to be at once laid on, it chancing to be a Saturday afternoon. While Abe, frantic with rage, was struggling with the constable and his assistants, Jake ran away to the Widow Nimham's cottage and asking Lu to go to walk, managed to bring her across the green in time to see the sentence carried into execution. Jake had understood what he was about. There were no doubt white girls in Stockbridge who might have married a lover whom they had seen publicly whipped, but for Lu, with an Indian's intense sensitiveness to a personal indignity, it would have been impossible. Abe needed no one to tell him that. As he was unbound and walked away from the post, his blood-shotten eyes had taken her in standing there with Jake. He did not even make an effort to see her afterwards and next Sunday Jake's and Lu's banns were called in meeting. Abe had been drunk pretty much all the time since, lying about the tavern floor. Widow Bingham said she hadn't a heart to refuse him rum, and in truth the poor fellow's manhood was so completely broken down, that he must have been a resolute teetotaler, indeed, who would not have deemed it an act of common humanity to help him temporarily to forget himself.

Such then are the events that were taking place in the community about her while Desire was lying on her sick bed, or making her first appearances as a convalescent downstairs. Only faint and occasional echoes of them had reached her ears. She had been told, indeed, that the rebellion was now all over and peace and order restored, but of the details and incidents of the process she knew nothing. To be precise it was during the latter part of the afternoon of the twenty-sixth day of February, that Dr. Partridge was entertaining her as aforesaid with his humorous version of the Lee affair. The Dr. and Mrs. Partridge had come to tea, and to spend the evening, and just here, lest any modern housewife should object that it is not a New England country practice to invite company on washing-day, I would mention that in those days of inexhaustible stores of linen, washing-day rarely came over once a fortnight. After tea in the evening the Doctor and Squire Edwards sat talking politics over their snuff-boxes, while Mrs. Partridge and Mrs. Edwards discussed the difficulty of getting good help, now that the negroes were beginning to feel the oats of their new liberty, and the farmers' daughters, since the war and the talk about liberty and equality, thought themselves as good as their betters. Now that the insurrection had still further stirred up their jealousy of gentlefolk, it was to be expected that they would be quite past getting on with at all, and for all Mrs. Edwards could see, ladies must make up their minds to do their own work pretty soon.

Desire sat in an armchair, her hands folded in her lap, musingly gazing into the glowing bed of coals upon the hearth, and listening half absently to the talk about her. She had been twice to meeting the day before, and considered herself as now quite well, but she had not disused the invalid's privilege of sitting silent in company.

"I marvel," said Squire Edwards, contemplatively tapping his snuff-box, "at the working of Providence, when I consider that so lately the Commonwealth, and especially this county, was in turmoil, the rebels having everything their own way, and we scarcely daring to call our souls our own, and behold them now scattered, fled over the border, in prison, or disarmed and trembling, and the authority of law and the courts everywhere established."

"Yes," replied the Doctor, "we have reason to be thankful indeed, and yet I cannot help compassionating the honester among the rebels. It is the pity of an uprising like this, that while one must needs sympathize with the want and suffering of the rebels, it is impossible to condemn too strongly the mad plans they urge as remedies. Ezra Phelps was telling me the other day, that their idea, had they succeeded, was to cause so many bills to be printed and scattered abroad, that the poorest could get enough to pay all their debts and taxes. Some were for repudiating public and private debts altogether, but Ezra said that this would not be honest. He was in favor of printing bills enough so everything could be paid. I tried to show him that one plan was as dishonest as the other; that they might just as well refuse payment, as pay in worthless bits of printed paper, and that the morality of the two schemes being the same, that of refusing outright the payment of dues, was preferable practically, because at least, it would not further derange trade by putting a debased and valueless currency in circulation. But I fear he did not see it at all, if he even gave me credit for sincerity, and yet he is an honest, well-meaning chap, and more intelligent than the common run of the rebels."

"That is the trouble nowadays," said Edwards, "these numskulls must needs have matters of government explained to them, and pass their own judgment on public affairs. And when they cannot understand them, then forsooth comes a rebellion. I think none can deny seeing in these late troubles the first fruits of those pestilent notions of equality, whereof we heard so much from certain quarters, during the late war of independence. I would that Mr. Jefferson and some of the other writers of pestilent democratic rhetoric might have been here in the state the past winter, to see the outcome of their preaching."

"It may yet prove," said Dr. Partridge, "that these troubles are to work providentially to incline the people of this state to favor a closer union with the rest of the continent for mutual protection, if the forthcoming convention at Philadelphia shall devise a practicable scheme. By reason of the preponderant strength of our Commonwealth we have deemed ourselves less in need of such a union than are our sister colonies, but this recent experience must teach us that even we are not strong enough to stand alone."

"You are right there, sir," said Edwards. "It is plain that if we keep on as we are, Massachusetts will ere long split into as many states as we have counties, or at least into several. What have these troubles been but a revolt of the western counties against the eastern, and had we gentlemen gone with the rebels, the state would have been by this time divided, and you know well," here Edwards' voice became confidential, "we have in the main, no great cause to be beholden to the Bostonians. They treat our western counties as if they were but provinces."

Desire's attention had lapsed as the gentlemen's talk got into the political depths, but some time after it was again aroused by hearing the mention of Perez Hamlin's name. The doctor was saying:

"They say he is lurking just over the York border at Lebanon. There are four or five score ruffians with him, who breathe out threatenings and slaughter against us Stockbridge people but I think we need lose no sleep on that account for the knaves will scarcely care to risk their necks on Massachusetts soil."

"It is possible," said Edwards, "that they may make some descents on Egremont or Sheffield or other points just across the line, but they will never venture so far inland as Stockbridge for fear of being cut off, and if they do our militia is quite able for them. What mischief they can do safely they will do, but nothing else for they are arrant cowards when all's said."

The talk of the gentlemen branched off upon other topics, but Desire did not follow it further, finding in what had just been said quite enough to engross her thoughts. Of course there could be no real danger that Hamlin would venture a visit to Stockbridge, since both her father and the doctor scouted the idea; but there was in the mere suggestion enough to be very agitating. To avoid the possibility of a meeting with Hamlin, as well as to acquit her conscience of a goading conviction of unfairness to him, she had already once risked compromising herself by sending that midnight warning to Lee, nor did she grudge the three weeks' sickness it cost her, seeing it had succeeded. Nor was the idea of meeting him any less terrifying now. The result of her experiences in the last few months had been that all her old self-reliance was gone. When she recalled what she had done and felt, and imagined what she might have gone on to do, she owned in all humility that she could no longer take care of herself or answer for herself. Desire Edwards was after all capable of being as big a fool as any other girl. Especially at the thought of meeting Hamlin again, this sense of insecurity became actual panic. It was not that she feared her heart. She was not conscious of loving him but of dreading him. Her imagination invested him with some strange, irrestible magnetic power over her, the magnetism of a tremendous passion, against which, demoralized by the memory of her former weakness, she could not guarantee herself. And the upshot was that just because she chanced to overhear that reference to Perez in the gentlemen's talk, she lay awake nervous and miserable for several hours after going to bed that night. In fact she had finally to take herself seriously to task about the folly of scaring herself to death about such a purely fanciful danger, before she could go to sleep.

She woke hours after with a stifled scream, for her mother was standing in the door of the room, half dressed, the candle she held revealing a pale and frightened face, while the words Desire heard were:

"Quick, get up and dress, or you'll be murdered in bed! An army of Shayites is in the village."

"Four o'clock in the morning courage," that steadiness of nerve which is not shaken when, suddenly roused from the relaxation and soft languor of sleep, one is called to face pressing, deadly, and undreamed of peril in the weird and chilling hour before dawn, was described by Napoleon as a most rare quality among soldiers, and such being the case it is hardly to be looked for among women. With chattering teeth and random motions, half-distraught with incoherent terrors, Desire made a hasty, incomplete toilet in the dark of her freezing bedroom, and ran downstairs. In the living-room she found her mother and the smaller children with the negro servants and Keziah Pixley, the white domestic. Downstairs in the cellar her father and Jonathan were at work burying the silver and other valuables, that having been the first thought when a fugitive from the tavern where the rebels had first halted, brought the alarm. There were no candles lit in the living-room lest their light should attract marauders, and the faint light of the just breaking dawn made the faces seem yet paler and ghastlier with fear than they were. From the street without could be heard the noise of a drum, shouts, and now and then musket shots, and having scraped away the thick frost from one of the panes, Desire could see parties of men with muskets going about and persons running across the green as if for their lives. As she looked she saw a party fire their muskets after one of these fugitives, who straightway came back and gave himself up. In the room it was bitterly cold, for though the ashes had been raked off the coals no wood had been put on lest the smoke from the chimney should draw attention.

The colored servants were in a state of abject terror, but the white "help" made no attempt to conceal her exultation. They were her friends the Shayites, and her sweetheart she declared was among them. He'd sent her a hint that they were coming, she volubly declared, and yesterday when Mrs. Edwards was "so high 'n mighty with her a makin her sweep the kitchen twicet over she was goodamiter tell her ez haow she'd see the time she'd wisht she'd a kep the right side on her."

"I've always tried to do right by you Keziah. I don't think you have any call to be revengeful," said the poor lady, trembling.

"Mebbe I hain't and mebbe I hev," shrilled Keziah, tossing her head disdainfully. "I guess I know them ez loves me from them ez don't. I s'pose ye think I dunno wat yer husbun an Jonathan be a buryin daown stairs."

"I'm sure you won't betray us, Keziah," said Mrs. Edwards. "You've had a good place with us, Keziah. And there's that dimity dress of mine. It's quite good yet. You could have it made over for you."

"Oh yes," replied Keziah, scornfully. "It's all well nuff ter talk bout givin some o' yer things away wen yer likely to lose em all."

With that, turning her back upon her terrified mistress, with the air of a queen refusing a petition, she patronizingly assured Desire that she had met with more favor in her eyes than her mother, and she would accordingly protect her. "Though," she added, "I guess ye won't need my helpin for Cap'n Hamlin 'll see nobuddy teches ye cept hisself."

"Is he here?" gasped Desire, her dismay suddenly magnified into utter panic.

"Fer sartain, my sweetheart ez sent me word 's under him," replied Keziah.

A noise of voices and tramp of feet at the outside door interrupted her. The marauders had come. The door was barred and this having been tested, there was a hail of gunstock blows upon it with orders to open and blasphemous threats as to the consequences of refusal. There was a dead silence within, but for Mrs. Edwards' hollow whisper, "Don't open." With staring eyes and mouths apart the terrified women and children looked at one another motionless, barely daring to breathe. But as the volley of blows and threats was renewed with access of violence, Keziah exclaimed:

"Ef they hain't yeur frens they be mine, an I hain't gonter see em kep aout in the cold no longer fer nobuddy," and she went to the door and took hold of the bar.

"Don't you do it," gasped Mrs. Edwards springing forward to arrest her. But she had done it, and instantly Meshech Little with three or four followers burst into the room, wearing the green insignia of rebellion in their caps and carrying muskets with bayonets fixed.

"Why didn' ye open that ar door, afore?" demanded Meshech, angrily.

"What do you want?" asked Mrs. Edwards tremblingly confronting him.

"Wat dew we want ole woman?" replied Meshech. "Wal, we want most evrything, but I guess we kin help oursels. Hey boys?"

"Callate we kin make aout tew," echoed one of his followers, not a Stockbridge man, and then as his eye caught Desire, as she stood pale and beautiful, with wild eyes and disheveled hair, by her mother, he made a dive at her saying: "Guess I'll take a kiss tew begin with."

"Let the gal 'lone," said Meshech, catching him by the shoulder. "Hands orfen her. She's the Duke's doxy, an he'll run ye through the body ef ye tech her."

"Gosh, she hain't, though, is she?" said the fellow, refraining from further demonstration but regarding her admiringly. "I hearn baout she. Likely lookin gal, tew, hain't she? On'y leetle tew black, mebbe."

"Did'n ye know, ye dern fool, it's along o' her the Duke sent us here, tew see nobuddy took nothin till he could come raoun?" said Meshech. "But I callate the on'y way to keep other fellers from takin anything tidday is ter take it yerself. We'll hev suthin tew drink, anyhaow. Hello, ole cock," he added as Edwards, coming up from down cellar, entered the room. "Ye be jess'n time. Come on, give us some rum," and neither daring nor able to make resistance, the storekeeper was hustled into the store. Keziah's sweetheart had remained behind. In the midst of their mutual endearments, she had found opportunity to whisper to him something, of which Mrs. Edwards caught the words, "cellar, nuff tew buy us a farm an a haouse," and guessed the drift. As Keziah and her young man, who responded to her suggestion with alacrity, were moving toward the cellar door, Mrs. Edwards barred their way. The fellow was about to lay hands on her, when one of the drinkers, coming back from the store, yelled: "Look out, thar's the cap'n," and Perez entered.



CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVENTH

SOME REAL FIGHTING

At sight of his commander the soldier who had been about to lay hands on Mrs. Edwards to thrust her out of his path to the cellar, giving over his design, slunk into the store to join his comrades there, and was followed by the faithful Keziah. Mrs. Edwards, who had faced the ruffian only in the courage of desperation, sank trembling upon a settle, and the children throwing themselves upon her, bawled in concert. Without bestowing so much as a glance on any other object in the room Perez crossed it to where Desire stood, and taking her nerveless hand in both his, devoured her face with glowing eyes. She did not flush or show any confusion; neither did she try to get away. She stood as if fascinated, unresponsive but unresisting.

"Were you frightened?" he asked.

"Yes," she replied in a mechanical tone corresponding with her appearance.

"Didn't you know I was here? I told you I would come back for you, and I have come. You have been sick. I heard of it. Are you well now?"

"Yes."

"Reuben told me you came on foot through the snow to bring word so he might warn me the night before the Lee battle. Was it that made you sick?"

"Yes."

"What is that, Desire? What do you mean about sending him warning?" cried Mrs. Edwards amazedly. Desire made no reply but Perez did:

"It is thanks to her I was not caught in my bed by your men that morning. It is thanks to her I am not in jail today, disgraced by the lash and waiting for the hangman. Oh my dear, how glad I am to owe it to you," and he caught the end of one of the long strands of jetty hair that fell down her neck and touched it to his lips.

"You are crazy, fellow!" cried Mrs. Edwards, and starting forward and grasping Desire by the arm she demanded, "What does this wild talk mean? There is no truth in it, is there?"

"Yes," said the girl in the same dead, mechanical voice, without turning her eyes to her mother or even raising them.

Mrs. Edwards opened her mouth, but no sound came forth. Her astonishment was too utter. Meanwhile Perez had passed his arm about Desire's waist as if to claim her on her own acknowledgement. Stung by the sight of her daughter in the very arms of the rebel captain, Mrs. Edwards found her voice once more, righteous indignation overcoming her first unmingled consternation.

"Out upon you for a shameless hussy. Oh, that a daughter of mine should come to this! Do you dare tell me you love this scoundrel?"

"No," answered the girl.

"What?" faltered Perez, his arm involuntarily dropping from her waist.

For all reply she rushed to her mother and threw herself on her bosom, sobbing hysterically. For once at least in their lives Mrs. Edwards' and Perez Hamlin's eyes met with an expression of perfect sympathy, the sympathy of a common bewilderment. Then Mrs. Edwards tried to loosen Desire's convulsive clasp about her neck, but the girl held her tightly, crying:

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