The Duke of Stockbridge: A Romance of Shays' Rebellion

by Edward Bellamy

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There had been considerable discussion during the week as to whether Squire Woodbridge, in view of the public humiliation which had been put upon him, would expose himself to the curious gaze of the community by coming to meeting the present Sunday. It had been the more prevalent opinion that he would find in the low condition of Mrs. Woodbridge, who was hovering between life and death, a reason which would serve as an excuse for not "attending on the stated ordinances of the gospel," the present Sabbath. But now from those whose position enabled them to command a view of the front door of the meeting-house, rose a sibilant whisper, distinct above the noise of boots and shoes upon the uncarpeted aisles:

"Here he comes! Here comes Squire."

There were several gentlemen in Stockbridge who, by virtue of a liberal profession or present or past official dignities, had a claim, always rigorously enforced and scrupulously conceded, to the title of Esquire, but when "The Squire," was spoken of, it was always Jahleel Woodbridge whom the speaker had in mind. Decidedly, those who thought he would not dare to appear in public had mistaken his temper. His face, always that of a full-blooded man, was redder than common, in fact, contrasted with the white powder of his wig, it seemed almost purple, but that was the only sign he gave that he was conscious of the people's looks. He wore a long-skirted, straight-cut coat of fine blue cloth with brass buttons; a brown waistcoat, and small clothes, satin hose with ruffled white shirt and cuffs. Under one arm he carried his three-cornered hat and under the other his gold-headed cane, and walked with his usual firm, heavy, full-bodied step; the step of a man who is not afraid of making a noise, and expects that people will look at him. There was not the slightest deflection from the old-time arrogance in the stiff carriage of the head and eyes, nor anything whatever to show that he considered himself one jot or tittle less the autocrat of Stockbridge, than on the Sunday a week ago. Walking the whole length of the meeting-house, he opened the door of the big square pew at the right hand of the pulpit, considered the first in honor, and the only part of the interior of the meeting-house, save the pulpit and sounding-board, which was painted. One by one the numerous children who called him father, passed before him into the pew. Then he closed the door and sat down facing the congregation, and slowly and deliberately looked at the people. As his glance traveled steadily along the lines of seats, the starers left off staring and looked down abashed. After he had thus reviewed the seats below, he turned his eyes upward and proceeded to scan the galleries with the same effect.

So strong was the impression made by this unruffled and authoritative demeanor, that the people were fain to scratch their heads and look at one another in vacant questioning, as if doubtful if they had not dreamed all this, about the great man's being put down by Perez Hamlin, insulted by the mob, and reduced even now to such powerlessness that he owed the protection of his sick wife to the favor of the threadbare Continental captain up there in the gallery. To those conscious of having had a part in these doings, there was a disagreeably vivid suggestion of the stocks and whipping post in the Squire's haughty stare, against which even a sense of their numbers failed to reassure them. Of course the revolt had gained far too great headway to be now suppressed by anybody's personal prestige, by the frowns and stares of any number of Squire Woodbridges, but, nevertheless, the impression which even after the events of the last week, he was still able to make upon the people, by his mere manner, was striking testimony to their inveterate habit of awe toward him, as the embodiment of secular authority in their midst.

Perez had been too long absent from home, and differed too much in habits of thought, to fully understand the sentiments of the peasants round him for the Squire, and in truth his attention was diverted from that gentleman ere he had time to fully observe the effect of his entrance. For he had scarcely reached his pew, when Squire and Deacon Timothy Edwards came up the aisle, followed by his family. Desire wore a blue silk skirt and close-fitting bodice, with a white lace kerchief tucked in about her shoulders, and the same blue plumed hat of soft Leghorn straw, in which we have seen her before, the wide brim falling lower on one side than the other, over her dark curls. As she swept up the aisle between the rows of farmers and farmers' wives, the contrast between their coarse, ill-fitting and sad-colored homespun, and her rich and tasteful robes, was not more striking than the difference between the delicate distinction of her features and their hard, rough faces, weather-beaten and wrinkled with toil and exposure, or sallow and hollow cheeked with care and trouble. She looked like one of a different order of beings, and indeed, it is nothing more than truth to say that such was exactly the opinion which Miss Desire herself entertained. The eyes of admiration with which the girls leaning over the gallery followed her up the aisle, were quite without a spark of jealousy, for they knew that their rustic sweethearts would no more think of loving her than of wasting their passion on the moon. She was meat for their betters, for some great gentleman from New York or Boston, all in lace and ruffles, some judge or senator, or, greater still, maybe some minister.

To tell the whole truth, however, the admiring attention which her own sex accorded to Desire on Sundays, was rather owing to the ever varying attractions of her toilet, than to her personal charms. If any of the damsels of Stockbridge who went to bed without their supper Sunday night, because they couldn't remember the text of the sermon, had been allowed to substitute an account of Desire Edwards' toilet, it is certain they would not have missed an item. It was the chief boast of Mercy Scott, the Stockbridge seamstress, that Desire trusted her new gowns to her instead of sending to New York for them. From the glow of pride and importance on Miss Mercy's rather dried-up features, when Desire wore a new gown for the first time to church, it was perfectly evident that she looked upon herself as the contributor of the central feature of the day's services. At the quilting and apple paring bees held about the time of such a new gown, Miss Mercy was the center of interest, and no other gossip was started till she had completed her confidences as to the material, cost, cut and fit of the foreshadowed garment. It was with glistening eyes and fingers that forgot their needles, that these wives and daughters of poor hard-working farmers, drank in the details about rich eastern silks and fabrics of gorgeous tints and airy textures, their own coarse, butternut homespun quite forgotten in imagined splendors. In their rapt attention there was no tinge of envy, for such things were too far above their reach to be once thought of in connection with themselves. It was upon the fit of Desire's dresses, however, that Miss Mercy, with the instinct of the artist, grew most impassioned.

"'Tain't no credit to me a fittin her," she would sometimes protest. "Thar's some figgers you can't fetch cloth tew, nohow. But, deary me, lands sakes alive, the cloth seems tew love her, it clings to her so nateral. An tain't no wonder ef it doos. I never see sech a figger. Why her----." But Miss Mercy's audiences at such times were exclusively composed of ladies. She had no inflamable masculine imaginations to consider.

It was a very noticeable circumstance on the present Sunday, that all the persons in the meeting-house who looked at Desire as she walked up the aisle, proceeded immediately afterwards to screw around their necks and stare at Perez, thereby betraying that the sight of the one had immediately suggested the other to their minds.

The Edwards seat was the second in dignity in the meeting-house, being the one on the left of the pulpit, and ranking with that of the Sedgwicks, although as between the several leading pews the distinction was not considered so decided as to be odious. Having ushered his family to their place, Squire Edwards took his own official seat as deacon, beside Deacon Nash, behind the railing, below the pulpit and facing the people.

And now Parson West comes up the aisle in flowing gown and bands, his three-cornered hat under his arm, and climbs the steps into the lofty pulpit, sets the hour glass up in view, and the service begins. There is singing, a short prayer, and again singing, and then the entire congregation rises, the seats are fastened up that none may sit, and the long prayer begins, and goes on and on for nearly an hour. Then there is another psalm, and then the sermon begins. Up at Pittsfield to-day, you may be very sure that Parson Allen is giving his people a rousing discourse on the times, wherein the sin of rebellion is treated without gloves, and the duty of citizens to submit to the powers that be, and to maintain lawful authority even to the shedding of blood, are vigorously set forth. But Parson West is not a political parson, and there is not a word in his sermon which his hearers, watchful for anything of the kind, can construe into a reference to the existing events of the past week. It is his practice to keep several sermons on hand, and this might just as well have been prepared a thousand years before. It was upon the subject of the deplorable consequences of neglecting the baptism of infants.

If a parent truly gave up a child in baptism, it would be accepted and saved, whether it died in infancy or lived to pass through the mental exercises of an adult convert. But on the other hand, if that duty was purposely neglected, or if baptism was unaccompanied by a proper frame of mind in the parent, there was no reason or hint from revelation to believe that the child was saved. Considering that the infant was justly liable to eternal suffering on account of Adam's sin, it was impossible for the human mind to see how God could be just and yet the justifier of an unbaptized infant. But it was not for the human mind to limit infinite mercy and wisdom, and possibly in His secret councils God had devised a way of salvation even for so desperate a case. So that while hope was not absolutely forbidden to parents who had neglected the baptism of their infants, confidence would be most wicked and presumptuous.

Deacon Edwards fidgeted on his seat at the laxity of this doctrine as well might the son of Jonathan Edwards, and Deacon Nash, who inherited his Calvinism from a father who had moved from Westfield to Stockbridge for the express purpose of sitting under that renowned divine, seemed equally uncomfortable. Parson West, as a young man, had been notoriously affected with Arminian leanings, and although his conversion to Calvinism by Dr. Hopkins of Great Barrington, had been deemed a wonderful work of grace, a tendency to sacrifice the logical development of doctrines to the weak suggestions of the flesh, was constantly cropping out in his sermons, to the frequent grief and scandal of the deacons.

At length the service was at an end and the hum and buzz of voices rose from all parts of the house, as the people passing out of their pews met and greeted each other in the aisles. The afternoon service came in an hour and a half, and only those went home who lived close at hand or could easily make the distances in their carriages. These took with them such friends and acquaintances as they might invite. Others of the congregation spent the brief nooning in the "noon-house," a shed near by, erected for this purpose. There, or on the meeting-house steps, or maybe seated near by on the grass and using the stumps of felled trees, with which it was studded, for tables, they discussed the sermon as a relish to their lunches of doughnuts, cheese, pie and gingerbread. To converse on any other than religious subjects on the Sabbath, was a sin and a scandal which exposed the offender to church discipline, but in a public emergency like the present, when rebellion was rampant throughout the county, it was impossible that political affairs should not preoccupy the most pious minds. Talk of them the people must and did, of the stopping of the courts, the breaking of the jails, of Squire Woodbridge and Perez Hamlin, of the news from the other counties, and of what would next take place, but it was amusing to see the ingenious manner by which the speakers contrived to compound with their consciences and prevent scandal by giving a pious twist and a Sabbatical intonation to their sentences.

Among the younger people, as might be expected, there was less of this affectation. They were all discussing with eager interest something which had just happened.

"Wal, all I say is I don't want to be a lady if it makes folks so crewel an so deceitful as that," said Submit Goodrich, a black-eyed, bright cheeked wench, old Israel's youngest daughter. "To think o' her pretendin not to know him, right afore all the folks, and she on her knees to him a cryin only four days ago. I don't care if she is Squire Edwards' gal, I hain't got no opinyun o' such doin's."

Most of the girls agreed with Submit, but some of the young men were inclined to laugh at Perez, saying it was good enough for him, and that he who was nothing more than a farmer like the rest of them was served right for trying to push in among the big folks.

"I s'pose she's dretful riled to think it's all 'round bout her goin over to the Hamlins las' week an she thort she'd jess let folks see she was as proud as ever. Land! How red he was! I felt reel bad for him, and such a nice bow ez he made, jess like any gentleman!"

"I callate Jerushy wouldn't a been so hard on him," jealously snickered a young farmer sitting by the young woman who last spoke.

"No, I wouldn't," she said, turning sharply to him. "I s'pose ye thort I wasn't no judge o' hansome men, cause I let you keep kumpny with me." There was nothing more from that quarter.

But what is it they are talking about anyway? Why, simply this: In front of the meeting-house, as they came out from the service, Perez met Desire face to face. All the people were standing around, talking and waiting to see the great folks get into their carriages to drive home. Naturally, everybody looked with special interest to see the meeting of these two whose names gossip had so constantly coupled during the week. Jonathan was with Desire, and looked fiercely at Perez, but his fierceness was quite wasted. Perez did not see him. He took off his hat and bowed to her with an air of the most profound respect. She gave not the faintest sign of recognition, even to the dropping of an eyelid. The people had stopped talking and were staring. The blood rushed to Perez' forehead.

"Good day, Miss Edwards," he said, firmly and distinctly, yet respectfully, his hat still in his hand. Jonathan, in his indignation, was as red as he, but Desire could not have appeared more unconscious of being addressed had she been stone deaf as well as blind. In a moment more she had passed on and entered the carriage, and the people were left with something to talk about. Now, Captain Perez Hamlin had gone to meeting that morning as much in love with Desire Edwards as four days thinking of little else save a fair face and charming form might be expected to leave a susceptible young man, particularly when the manly passion is but the resurrection of an unforgotten love of boyhood. He walked home somewhat more angry with the same young woman than he could remember ever having been with anybody. If a benevolent fairy had asked him his dearest wish just then, it would have been that Desire Edwards might be transformed into a young gentleman for about five minutes, in order that he might impart to him the confoundedest thrashing that a young gentleman ever experienced, nor did even the consciousness that no such transformation was possible, prevent his fingers from tingling with a most ungallant aspiration to box her small ears till they were as red as his own face had been at the moment she cut him so coolly. For he was a very proud man, was Captain Perez Hamlin, with a soldier's sensitiveness to personal affronts, and none of that mean opinion of himself and his position in society which helped the farmers around to bear with equanimity the snubs of those they regarded as their natural superiors.

The father and mother had fortunately driven on before the scene took place, and so at least he was spared the added exasperation of being condoled with on arriving at home. Prudence had stayed to the afternoon service. Toward twilight, as he was walking to and fro behind the barn, and indulging an extremely unsanctified frame of mind, she came to him and blurted out, breathlessly:

"All the girls think she was mean and wicked, and I'll never do any more work for her or Mis Woodbridge either," and before he could answer she had run back into the house with burning cheeks. He had seen that her eyes were also full of tears. It was clear she had been struggling hard between the pity which prompted her to tender some form of consolation, and her fear of speaking to him.

The dreamy habit of the mind induced by love in its first stage, often extends to the point of overspreading all the realities of life and the circumstances of the individual, with a glamour, which for the time being, disguises the hard and rigid outlines of fact. The painful shock which had so sharply ended Perez' brief delusion, that Desire might possibly accept his devotion, had at the same time roused him to a recognition of the critical position of himself and his father's family. What business had he or they lingering here in Stockbridge? Yesterday, in the vague unpractical way in which hopeful lovers do all their thinking he had thought they might remain indefinitely. Now he saw that it would be tempting Providence to postpone any further the carrying out of his original plan, of moving with them to New York State. The present insurrection might last a longer or shorter time, but there was no reason to think it would result in remedying the already desperate financial condition of the family. The house was to have been sold the past week, and doubtless would be as soon as affairs were a little quieter. Reuben was, moreover, liable to re-arrest and imprisonment on his old debt, and as for himself, he knew that his life was forfeit to the gallows for the part he had taken in the rebellion.

Once across the state line, however, they would be as safe as in Europe, for the present Union of the states was not yet formed, and the loose and nerveless bond of the old Federation, then in its last stage of decrepitude, left the states practically foreign countries to each other. His idea was then to get the family over into New York without delay, with such remnants of the farm stock as could be got together, and leaving them for the winter at New Lebanon, just the other side the border, to go on himself, meanwhile, to the western part of the state, to secure a farm in the new tracts being already opened up in that rich region, and rapidly filling with settlers. For the populating of the west, and New York was then the west, has gone on by successive waves of emigration, set in motion by periodical epochs of financial and industrial distress in the Atlantic states, and the first of these impulses, the hard times following the Revolution, was already sending thousands to seek new homes toward the setting sun.

Busy with preparations for the start, he kept close at home during the entire week following. Only once or twice did he even go down street, and then on some errand. Obadiah dropped around frequently and looked on as he worked, evidently having something on his mind. One twilight as Perez was cutting wood for the evening fire, the young man came into the back yard and opened conversation in this wise:

"Guess it's gonter rain."

"Looks a little like it," Perez assented.

Obadiah was silent a space, and ground the heel of his bare foot into the dirt.

"D'you know what's good fer warts?" he finally asked. Perez said he did not. After a pause, Obadiah remarked critically:

"Them bricks roun' the top o' the chimly be kinder loose, bean't they?" They were, and Perez freely admitted as much. Obadiah looked around for some other topic of conversation, but apparently finding none, he picked up a stone and asked with affected carelessness, as he jerked it toward the barn:

"Be ye a gonter take George Fennell 'long with ye?"

"No," said Perez. "He will not live long, I fear, and he can't be moved. I suppose some of the people will take him and Prudence in, when we go."

Obadiah said nothing, but from the change which instantly came over his manner, it was evident that the information obtained with such superfluous diplomacy was a prodigious relief to his mind. The officiousness with which he urged a handful of chestnuts on Perez, and even offered to carry in the wood for him, might moreover be construed as indicating a desire to make amends to him for unjust suspicions secretly cherished. As for asking Prudence directly whether she was expecting to go away, that would have been a piece of hardihood of which the bashful youth was quite incapable. If he could not have ascertained her intentions otherwise than by such a desperate measure, he would have waited till the Hamlins set out, and then been on hand to see for himself whether she went or not.

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