The Duke of Stockbridge: A Romance of Shays' Rebellion

by Edward Bellamy

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As Desire entered the headquarters room, which Parson West had barely left, Perez was sitting at a table with his back to the door. He turned at the noise of her entrance and seeing who it was gave a great start. Then he rose slowly to his feet and confronted her. It was the first time he had seen her since that Sunday when she cut him dead before all the people, coming out of meeting. For a moment the two stood motionless gazing at each other. Then she came quickly up to him and laid her hand upon his arm. Her dark eyes were full of terrified appeal.

"What are you going to do to my father?" she cried in poignant tones. After a pause he repeated stammeringly, as if he had not quite taken in the idea.

"Your father?"

"Yes, my father! What are you going to do to him?" she repeated more insistently.

His vacant answer had been no affectation. Her beauty, her distress, the touch of her hand on his arm, her warm breath on his cheek, her face so near to his, left him capable in that moment of but one thought, and that was that he loved her wildly, with a love which it had been madness for him to think he could ever overcome or forget. But it was not with soft and melting emotions, but rather in great bitterness, that he owned the mastery of the passion which he had tried so hard to throw off. He knew that if she despised him before, she must hate and loathe him now. Knowing this it gave him a cruel pleasure to crush her, and to make her tears flow, and even while his glowing eyes devoured her face he answered her in a hard, relentless voice.

"What am I going to do with your father? I am going to whip him with the others."

She started back, stung into sudden defiance, her eyes flashing, her bosom tumultuously heaving.

"You will not! You dare not!"

He shrugged his shoulders and replied coldly:

"If you are so sure of that, why did you come to me?"

"Oh, but you will not! You will not!" she cried again, her terror returning with a rush of tears.

Weeping she was even more beautiful than before. But conscious of her loathing her beauty only caused him an intolerable ache. In the self-despite of an embittered hopeless love he gloated over her despair, even while every nerve thrilled with wildering passion. She caught that look, at once so passionate and so bitter, and perhaps by her woman's instinct interpreting it aright, turned away as in despair, and with her head bent in hopeless grief walked slowly across the room, laid her hand on the latch and there paused. After a moment she turned her head quickly and looked at him, as he stood gazing after her, and shuddered perceptibly. Her left hand, which hung at her side, clenched convulsively. Then after another moment she removed her hand from the latch and came back a few steps toward him and said:

"You kissed me once. Would you like to do it now? You may if you will let my father go."

His gaze, before so glowing, actually dropped in confession before her cold, hard eyes, and for a moment it seemed as if such supreme and icy indifference had been able quite to chill his ardor. But as he lifted his eyes again, and looked upon her, the temptation of so much submissive beauty proved too great. He snatched her in his arms and covered her lips and cheeks and temples with burning kisses, for one alone of which he would have deemed it cheap to give his life if he could not have won it otherwise. He kissed her, passive and unresisting as a statue, till in very pity he was fain to let her go. Even then she did not start away, but standing there before him, pallid, rigid, with compressed lips and clenched hands, said faintly:

"You will release my father?" He bowed his head, unable to speak, and she went out.

The people whispered to each other as she passed through the crowd, that she had failed in her mission, she looked so white and anguish-stricken. And when she reached home and throwing herself into a chair, covered her face with her hands, her mother said:

"The Lord's will be done. You have failed."

"No, mother, I have not failed. Father will be released, but I had liefer have borne the whipping for him."

But that was all she said, nor did she tell any one at what price she had delivered him.

Desire had scarcely gone when the door opened and Hubbard and Abner came in. Perez was sitting staring at the wall in a daze.

"Little Pete's come, and the people want to know when the whipping's going to begin. Shall I bring em out?" said Hubbard.

"I've made up my mind that it will be better to have no whipping," replied Perez, quietly.

"The devil, you have!" exclaimed Hubbard, in high dudgeon.

"I knowd haow 'twoud be w'en I see that air Edwards gal goin in. Ef I'd been on guard, she'd never a got in," said Abner, gloomily.

"Who'd have supposed Hamlin was such a milksop as to mind a girl's bawling?" said Hubbard, scornfully.

"The fellers is kinder sot on seein the silk stockins licked, now ye've got em inter the noshin on't, an I dunno haow they'll take it ter be disappointed," continued Abner.

There was a shout of many voices from before the house.

"Bring em out! Bring out the silk stockins."

"Do you hear that?" demanded Hubbard, triumphantly. "I tell you, Hamlin," he went on in a bolder tone, "you can't stop this thing, whether you want to, or not, and if you know what's best for you, you won't try. I tell you that crowd won't stand any fooling. They're mad, and they're drunk, and they're bound to see a silk stocking whipped for once in their lives, and by God they shall see it, too, for all you or any other man. If you won't order em brought out, I will," and he went out.

Without a word, Perez took his pistols from the table, and followed him, and Abner, who seemed irresolute and demoralized, came slowly after. The report that Perez, in a sudden whim, now proposed to deprive them of the treat he had promised them, had produced on the drunken and excited crowd, all the effect which Hubbard had counted on, and as Perez reached the front door of the house, a mass of men with brandished clubs and muskets, were pressing around it, and the sentinel, hesitating and frightened, in another moment would have given way and let them into the building. As Perez, a pistol in either hand, appeared on the threshold, the crowd recoiled a little.

"Stand back," he said. "If any one of you tries to enter, I'll blow his brains out. The men in here, are my prisoners, not yours. I took them when most of you were snoring in bed, and I'll do what I please with them. As for Hubbard and these West Stockbridge men, who make so much noise, this is none of their business, anyway. If they don't like the way we manage here in Stockbridge, let them go home."

As he finished speaking, Abner shouldered his way by him, from within, and stepped out between him and the crowd. Deliberately taking off his coat and laying it down, and pitching his hat after it, he drawlingly observed:

"Look a here, fellers. I be ez disapp'inted ez any on ye, not ter see them fellers licked. But ye see, 'twuz the Cap'n that saved my back, an it don't nohow lie in my mouth no more'n doos yourn to call names naow he's tuk a noshin tew save theirn. So naow, Cap'n," he continued, as he drew his immense bulk squarely up, "I guess you won't need them shooters. I'll break ther necks ez fass ez they come on."

But they didn't come on. Perez' determined attitude and words, especially his appeal to local prejudice, perhaps the most universal and virulent of all human instincts, would have of themselves suffered to check and divide the onset, and Abner's business-like proposal quite ended the demonstration.

A couple of hours later, when the people had largely gone home to dinner, the prisoners were quietly set free, and went to their homes without attracting special attention. About twilight a carriage rolled away from before Squire Woodbridge's door, and took the road to Pittsfield. The next day it was known all over the village that the Squire had left town, without giving out definitely when he would return.

"Squire's kinder obstinit, but arter all he knows w'en he's licked," observed Abner, which was substantially the view generally taken of the magnate's retirement from the field.

That night, Perez set a guard of a dozen men at the Fennell house, to secure the town military stores against any possibility of recapture by another silk stocking conspiracy, and to still further protect the community against any violent enterprise, he organized a regular patrol for the night. If any of the disaffected party were desperate enough still to cherish the hope of restoring their fortunes by force, it must needs have died in their breasts, as looking forth from their bedroom windows, that night, they caught the gleam of the moonlight upon the bayonet of the passing sentinel. But there was no need of such a reminder. Decidedly, the spirit of the court party was broken. Had their leaders actually undergone the whipping they had so narrowly escaped, they would have scarcely been more impressed with the abject and powerless situation in which they were left by the miscarriage of their plot. The quasi military occupation of the town, the night after the attempted revolution, was indeed welcomed by them and their terrified families as some guarantee of order. So entirely had the revolution of the past twenty-four hours changed their attitude toward Perez, that they now looked on him as their saviour from the mob, and only possible protector against indefinite lengths of lawlessness. It was among them, rather than among the people, that the knowledge of his intended speedy departure for New York, now produced the liveliest apprehensions. And the most timid of the popular party were not more relieved than they, when the next day it became known that he had declared his resolve to give up going west, and remain in Stockbridge for the present.

It would sound much better if I could make out that this abrupt change in his plans was on account of concern for the welfare of the community, but such was not the case. His motive was wholly selfish. The key to it was the discovery that as responsible chief of the mob, holding the fate and fortunes of her friends in his power, he had a hold on Desire. Unwilling brides were not the most unhappy wives. Yes, even to that height had his hopes suddenly risen from the very dust in which they had lain quite dead a few hours ago. As the poor ex-captain and farmer she had held him afar off in supercilious scoorn; as the chief of the insurgents she had come to him in tears and entreaty, had laid her hand on his arm, had even given him her lips. With that scene in the guardhouse to look back on, what might he not dare to hope.

His fate was in his own hands. Who could foresee the end of the epoch of revolution and anarchy upon which the state now seemed entering. These were times when the sword carved out fortunes and the soldier might command the most brilliant rewards.

No sooner then had he resolved to stay in Stockbridge, than he set about strengthening his hold on his followers, and imparting a more regular military organization to the insurgent element in the town. The Fennell house was adopted as a regular headquarters, and a young hemlock tree, by way of rebel standard, planted before the door. Night and day patrols, with regular officers of the day, were organized, and about a hundred men formed into a company and drilled daily on the green. A large proportion of them having served in the revolution, they made a very creditable appearance after a little practice. In their hats they wore jauntily hemlock plumes, and old Continental uniforms being still quite plentiful, with a little swapping and borrowing, enough army coats were picked up to clothe pretty much the entire force.

One afternoon, as the drill was going on, a traveling carriage turned in from the Boston road, drove across the green in front of the embattled line, and turning down toward the Housatonic, stopped before the Sedgwick house, and Theodore Sedgwick descended. The next day, as Perez was walking along the street, he saw Dr. Partridge, Squire Edwards, and a gentleman to him unknown, conversing. As he approached them, the doctor said, in the good-humored, yet half-mocking tone characteristic of him:

"Squire Sedgwick, let me introduce to you the Duke of Stockbridge, Captain Perez Hamlin, to whose gracious protection we of the court party, owe our lives and liberties at present."

Sedgwick scanned Perez with evident curiosity, but merely bowed without speaking, and the other passed on. Either somebody overheard the remark, or the doctor repeated it elsewhere, for within a day or two it was all over town, and henceforth, by general consent, half in jest, half in recognition of the aptness of the title under the circumstances, Perez was dubbed Duke of Stockbridge, or more briefly referred to as "The Duke."

The conversation which his passing had momentarily interrupted, was a very grave one. Sedgwick had passed through Springfield in his carriage on the twenty-seventh of September, and reported that he had found the town full of armed men. The Supreme Judicial Court of the Commonwealth was to have met on the twenty-sixth, but 1200 insurgents, under Captain Daniel Shays himself, were on hand to prevent it, and were confronted by 800 militia under General Shepard, who held the courthouse. The town was divided into hostile camps, with regular lines of sentinels. At the time Sedgwick had passed through, no actual collision had yet taken place, but should the justices persist in their intention to hold court, there would certainly be fighting, for it was justly apprehended by Shays and his lieutenants that the court intended to proceed against them for treason, and they would stop at nothing to prevent that. It was this news which Sedgwick was imparting to the two gentlemen.

"We have a big business on our hands," he said gravely, "a very big and a very delicate business. A little bungling will be enough to turn it into a civil war, with the chances all against the government."

"I don't see that the government, as yet, has done anything," said Edwards. "Do they intend to leave everything to the mob?"

"Between us, there is really nothing that can be done just now," replied Sedgwick. "The passiveness of the government results from their knowledge that the militia are not to be depended on. Why, as I passed through Springfield, I saw whole companies of militia that had been called out by the sheriff to protect the court, march, with drums beating, over to the insurgents. No, gentlemen, there is actually no force that could be confidently counted on against the mob save a regiment or two in Boston. Weakness leaves the government no choice but to adopt a policy of conciliation with the rascals, for the present, at least. His Excellency has called the Legislature in extra session the twenty-sixth, and a number of measures will at once be passed for relief. If these do not put an end to the mobs, they will, it is hoped, at least so far improve the public temper that a part of the militia will be available.

"It is a mysterious Providence, indeed," he continued, "that our state, in the infancy of its independence, is left to undergo so fearful a trial. Already there are many of the Tories who wag the head and say 'Aha, so would we have it,' averring that this insurrection is but the first fruits of our liberty, and that the rest will be like unto it."

"God grant that we may not have erred in throwing off the yoke of the King," said Edwards, gloomily. "I do confess that I have had much exercise of mind upon that point during the trials of the past weeks."

"I beg of you, sir, not to give way to such a frame," said Sedgwick earnestly, "for it is to gentlemen of your degree that the well disposed look for guidance and encouragement in these times. And yet I am constrained to admit that in Boston at no time in the late war, no, not when our fortunes were at the lowest ebb, has there been such gloom as now. And verily I could not choose but to share it, but for my belief that the convention, which is shortly to sit in Philadelphia to devise a more perfect union for the thirteen states, will pave the way for a stronger government of the continent, and one that will guarantee us not only against foreign invasion but domestic violence and insurrection also."

"We had best separate now," said Partridge in a low voice. "If the populace see but two or three of us having our heads together, they straightway imagine that we are plotting against them, and I see those fellows yonder are sending black looks this way already.

"I shall do myself the honor," he added, to Sedgwick, "to call upon you at your house for further consultation, since under the pretext of a physician's duty, I am allowed by their high mightinesses, the rabble, to go about more freely than is prudent for other gentlemen."

The next day the news from Springfield, which Sedgwick had privately brought, reached the village from other sources, together with the developments since his passage through the town. It seemed that there had indeed been no collision between the militia and the rebel force, but it was because the Supreme Court had, after demurring for two days, finally yielded to the orders of Captain Shays and adjourned, after which the rebels took triumphant possession of the courthouse. The elation which the news produced among the people was prodigious. Perez doubled the patrols, and even then had to wink at a good many acts of lawlessness at the expense of the friends of the courts. Nothing but his personal interposition prevented a drunken gang from giving Sedgwick a tin-pan serenade. As for Squire Edwards, he was glad to purchase immunity at the expense of indiscriminate treating of the crowd.

Whether the Supreme Court would attempt to hold its regular session the first week in October, at Great Barrington, was a point on which there was a diversity of opinion. Before adjourning at Springfield, it had indeed passed resolutions that it would not be expedient to go to Berkshire, but it was loudly declared by many that this was a mere trick to put the people off their guard, and prevent their assembling in arms to stop the proceedings. Accordingly, when the time came, although the justices did not put in an appearance, a mob of several hundred men did, and a very ugly mob it turned out to be, in fact the worst hitherto in the entire course of the insurrection. Finding no court to stop, and the empty jail affording no opportunity for another jail delivery, the crowd, after loafing around town for a while and getting thirsty, began to break into houses to get liquor. A beginning once made, this was found to be such an amusing recreation that it was gone into generally, and when liquor could not be found the men contented themselves with appropriating other articles. The fun growing fast and furious, they next began to hustle and stone prominent citizens known to be friendly to the courts, as well as such as objected to having their houses entered and gutted. When their victims broke away from them and fled, being too drunk to overtake them it was quite natural that they should fire their muskets after them, and if the bullets did not generally hit their marks it was merely because the hands of the marksmen were as unsteady as their legs. Some of the most prominent citizens of Great Barrington passed the day hid in outhouses and garrets, while others, mounted on fleet steeds, escaped amid a peltering of bullets, and took refuge in neighboring towns, some going as far as Pittsfield before they halted.

Squire Sedgwick chanced to be at Great Barrington, that day, at the house of his brother-in-law, Justice Dwight. As a lawyer, an aristocrat, and a member of the detested State Senate, he not only shared the general unpopularity of those classes, but as prosecuting attorney for the county, was in particularly evil odor with the lewd fellows of the baser sort, who were to-day on the rampage. When the uproar was at its height, word got around that he was in town, and immediately the mob dropped whatever was in hand, and rushed in a body toward Dwight's house. As they came in sight of the house a servant was holding Sedgwick's gray by the bridle before the gate. Fearing that their prey might yet escape them, the crowd burst into a run, brandishing cudgels, guns and pitchforks, and yelling, "Kill him," "Hang him," "Shoot him." They were not fifty yards away when Sedgwick came out and deliberately mounted his horse. The beast was a good one, and the distance was enough to make his rider's escape perfectly secure. But instead of galloping off, Sedgwick turned his horse's head toward the onrushing, hooting multitude, and rode at a gentle trot directly toward them. It seemed like madness, but the effect fully justified the cool daring that had prompted the action. With the first forward step of the animal, the moment the rider's intention became evident, the mob stopped dead, and the uproar of execrations gave place to a silence of perfect astonishment, in which you could have heard the swish of a bird's wing. As the horse's head touched the line of men, they slunk aside as if they knew not what they did, their eyes falling abashed before Sedgwick's quiet glance and air, as devoid of a trace of fear as it was of ostentatious defiance. The calm, unquestioning assumption that no one would presume to stop him, was a moral force which paralyzed the arm of the most reckless ruffian in the crowd. And so, checking his horse when he would have gone faster, his features as composed as if he were sitting in the Senate, and his bearing as cool and matter of course as if he were on a promenade, he rode through the mob, and had passed out of musket shot by the time the demoralized ruffians had begun to accuse each other of cowardice, and each one to explain what he would have done if he had been in somebody else's place, or would do again.

It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.