The Duke of Stockbridge: A Romance of Shays' Rebellion

by Edward Bellamy

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Dr. Partridge lived at this time on the hill north of the village, and not very far from the parsonage, which made it convenient for him to report promptly to Parson West, when any of his patients had reached that point where spiritual must be substituted for medical ministrations. It was about ten o'clock by the silver dialed clock in the living room of the doctor's house, when Prudence Fennell knocked at the open kitchen door.

"What do you want, child?" said Mrs. Partridge, who was in the kitchen trying to instruct a negro girl how to use her broom of twigs so as to distribute the silver sand upon the floor in the complex wavy figures, which were the pride of the housewife of that day.

"Please, marm, father's sick, and Mis Hamlin thinks he ought to have the doctor."

"Your father and Mrs. Hamlin? Who is your father, pray?"

"I'm Prudence Fennell, marm, and father's George Fennell. He's one of them that were fetched from Barrington jail yesterday, and he's sick. He's at Mis Hamlin's, please marm."

"Surely, by that he must be one of the debtors. The sheriff is more like to come for them than the doctor. They will be back in jail in a few days, no doubt," said Mrs. Partridge, sharply.

"No one will be so cruel. Father is so sick. If you could see him, you would not say so. They shall not take him to jail again. If Mr. Seymour comes after him, I'll tear his eyes out. I'll kill him."

"What a little tiger it is!" said Mrs. Partridge, regarding with astonishment the child's blazing eyes and panting bosom, while peering over her mistress's shoulders, the negro girl was turning up the whites of her eyes at the display. "There, there, child, I meant nothing. If he is sick, maybe they will leave him. I know naught of such things. But this Perez Hamlin will be hung of a surety, and the rest be put in the stocks and well whipt."

"He will not be hung. No one will dare to touch him," cried Prudence, becoming excited again. "He is the best man in the world. He fetched my father out of jail."

"Nay, but if you are so spunky to say 'no' to your betters, 'tis time you went. I know not what we are in the way to, when a chit of a maid shall set me right," said Mrs. Partridge, bristling up, and turning disdainfully away.

But her indignation, at once forgotten in terror lest the doctor might not come to her father, Prudence came after her and caught her sleeve, and said with tones of entreaty, supported by eyes full of tears:

"Please, marm, don't mind what I said. Box my ears, marm, but please let doctor come. Father coughs so bad."

"I will tell him, and he will do as he sees fit," said Mrs. Partridge, stiffly, "and now run home, and do not put me out with your sauce again."

An hour or two later, the doctor's chaise stopped at the Hamlins. Doctors, as well as other people, were plainer-spoken in those days, especially in dealing with the poor. Dr. Partridge was a kind-hearted man, but it did not occur to him as it does to his successors of our day, to mince matters with patients, and cheer them up with hopeful generalities, reserving the bitter truths to whisper in the ears of their friends outside the door. After a look and a few words, he said to Fennell:

"I can do you no good."

"Shall I die?" asked the sick man, faintly.

"You may live a few weeks, but not longer. The disease has taken too strong a hold."

Fennell looked around the room. Prudence was not present.

"Don't tell Prudy," he said.

As to Reuben, who was already looking much brighter than the preceding night, the doctor said:

"He may get well," and left a little medicine.

Perez, who had been in the room, followed him out of doors.

"Do you think my brother will get well?" he asked.

"I think so, if he does not have to go back to jail."

"He will not go back unless I go with him," said Perez.

"Well, I think it most likely you will," replied the doctor dryly. "On the whole, I should say his prospect of long life was better than yours, if I am speaking to Perez Hamlin, the mob captain."

"You mean I shall be hung?"

"And drawn and quartered," amended the doctor, grimly. "That is the penalty for treason, I believe."

"Perhaps," said Perez. "We shall see. There will be fighting before hanging. At any rate, if I'm hung, it will be as long as it's short, for Reub would have died if I hadn't got him out of jail."

The doctor gathered up the reins.

"I want to thank you for coming," said Perez. "You know, I s'pose, that we are very poor, and can't promise much pay."

"If you'll see that your mob doesn't give me such a serenade as it did Squire Woodbridge last night, I'll call it square," said the doctor, and drove off.

Now, Meshech Little, the carpenter, had gone home and to bed towering drunk the night before, after taking part as a leading performer in the aforesaid serenade to the Squire. His sleep had been exceedingly dense, and in the morning when it became time for him to go to his work, it was only after repeated callings and shakings, that Mrs. Little was able to elicit the first sign of wakefulness.

"You must get up," she expostulated. "Sun's half way daown the west post, an ye know how mad Deacon Nash'll be ef ye don' git don shinglin his barn tidday." After a series of heartrending groans and yawns, Meshech, who had tumbled on the bed in his clothes, got up and stood stretching and rubbing his eyes in the middle of the floor.

"By gosh, it's kinder tough," he said, "I wuz jess a dreamin ez I wuz latherin deakin. I'd jess swotted him one in the snout wen ye woke me, an naow, by gorry, I've got tew go an work fer the critter."

"An ye better hurry, tew," urged his wife anxiously. "Ye know ye didn't dew the fuss thing all day yis'dy."

"Whar wuz I yis'dy?" asked Meshech, in whose confused faculties the only distinct recollection was that he had been drunk.

"Ye went daown tew Barrington 'long with the crowd."

Meshech was in the act of ducking his head in a bucket of water, standing on a bench by the door, but at his wife's words he became suddenly motionless as a statue, his nose close to the water. Then he straightened sharply up and stared at her, the working of his eyes showing that he was gathering up tangled skeins of recollection.

"Wal, I swow," he finally ejaculated, with an astonished drawl, "ef I hadn't a furgut the hull dum performance, an here I wuz a gittin up an goin to work jess ez if court hadn't been stopped. Gosh, Sally, I guess I be my own man tidday, ef I hev got a bad tas in my mouth. Gorry, it's lucky I thort afore I wet my hed. I couldn't a gone tew sleep agin," and Meshech turned toward the bed, with apparent intention of resuming his slumbers.

But Mrs. Little, though she knew there had been serious disturbances the preceding day, could by no means bring her mind to believe that the entire system of law and public authority had been thus suddenly and completely overthrown, and she yet again adjured her husband, this time by a more dreadful name, to betake himself to labor.

"Ef ye don' go to work, Meshech, Squire Woodbridge 'll hev ye in the stocks fer gittin drunk. Deakin kin git ye put in any time he wants ter complain on ye. Ye better not rile him."

But at this Meshech, instead of being impressed, burst into a loud haw haw.

"Yes'dy mornin ye could a scart me outer a week's growth a talkin baout Squire, but, gol, ye'll have ter try suthen else naow. Wy don' ye know we wuz a serenadin Squire with a hoss-fiddle till ten o'clock las' night, an he didn' das show his nose outer doors.

"Gosh!" he continued, getting into bed and turning over toward the wall, "I'd giv considabul, ef I could dream I wuz lickin Squire. Mebbe I kin. Don' ye wake me up agin Sally," and presently his regular snoring proclaimed that he had departed to the free hunting grounds of dreamland in pursuit of his desired game.

Now Meshech's was merely a representative case. He was by no means the only workingman who that morning kept his bed warm to an unaccustomed hour. Except such as had farms of their own to work on, or work for themselves to do, there was scarcely any one in Stockbridge who went to work. A large part of the labor by which the industries of the community had been carried on, had been that of debtors working out their debts at such allowance for wages as their creditor-employers chose to make them. If they complained that it was too small, they had, indeed, their choice to go to jail in preference to taking it, but no third alternative was before them. Of these coolies, as we should call them in these days, only a few who were either very timid, or ignorant of the full effect of yesterday's doings, went to their usual tasks.

Besides the coolies, there was a small number of laborers who commanded actual wages in produce or in money. Although there was no reason in yesterday's proceedings, why these should not go to work as usual, yet the spirit of revolt that was in the air, and the vague impression of impending changes that were to indefinitely better the condition of the poor, had so far affected them also, that the most took this day as a holiday, with a hazy but pleasing notion that it was the beginning of unlimited holidays.

All this idle element naturally drifted into the streets, and collected in particular force on the green and about the tavern. By afternoon, these groups, reenforced by those who had been busy at home during the morning, began to assume the dimensions of a crowd. Widow Bingham, at the tavern, had deemed it expedient to keep the right side of the lawless element by a rather free extension of credit at the bar, and there was a good deal of hilarity, which, together with the atmosphere of excitement created by the recent stirring events, made it seem quite like a gala occasion. Women and girls were there in considerable numbers, the latter wearing their ribbons, and walking about in groups together, or listening to their sweethearts, as each explained to a credulous auditor, how yesterday's great events had hinged entirely on the narrator's individual presence and prowess.

Some of the youths, the preceding night, had cut a tall sapling and set it in the middle of the green, in front of the tavern. On the top of this had been fixed the cocked hat of Justice Goodrich, brought as a trophy from Great Barrington. This was the center of interest, the focus of the crowd, a visible, palpable proof of the people's victory over the courts, which was the source of inextinguishable hilarity. It was evident, indeed, from the conversation of the children, that there existed in the minds of those of tender years, some confusion as to the previous ownership of the hat, and the circumstances connected with its acquisition by the people. Some said that it was Burgoyne's hat, and others that it was the hat of King George, himself, while the affair of the day before at Great Barrington, was variously represented as a victory over the redcoats, the Indians and the Tories. But, whatever might be the differences of opinion on these minor points, the children were uproariously agreed that there was something to be exceedingly joyful about.

Next to the hat, two uncouth-looking machines which stood on the green near the stocks, were the centers of interest. They were wooden structures, somewhat resembling saw-horses. Beside each were several boards, and close inspection would have shown that both the surface of the horses and one side of these boards, were well smeared with rosin. These were the horse-fiddles, contrived for the purpose of promoting wakefulness by night, on the part of the silk stockings. Given plenty of rosin, and a dozen stout fellows to each fiddle, drawing the boards to and fro across the backs of the horses, pressing on hard, and the resulting shrieks were something only to be imagined with the fingers in the ears. The concert given to Squire Woodbridge the night previous, had been an extemporized affair, with only one horse-fiddle, and insufficient support from other instruments. To judge from the conversation of the men and boys standing around, it was intended to-night to give the Squire a demonstration which should quite compensate him for the unsatisfactory nature of the former entertainment, and leave him in no sort of doubt as to the sentiments of the people toward the magistracy and silk stockings in general, and himself in particular. A large collection of tin-pans had been made, and the pumpkin vines of the vicinity had been dismantled for the construction of pumpkinstalk trombones, provided with which, some hundreds of small boys were to be in attendance.

Although the loud guffaws which from time to time were heard from the group of men and hobbledehoys about the horse-fiddles on the green, were evidence that the projected entertainment was not without comical features as they looked at it, the aspect of the affair as viewed by other eyes was decidedly tragical. Mrs. Woodbridge had long been sinking with consumption, and the uproar and excitement of the preceding night had left her in so prostrate a condition that Dr. Partridge had been called in. During the latter part of her aunt's sickness Desire Edwards had made a practice of running into her Uncle Jahleel's many times a day to give a sort of oversight to the housekeeping, a department in which she was decidedly more proficient than damsels of this day, of much less aristocratic pretensions, find it consistent with their dignity to be. The doctor and Desire were at this moment in the living-room, inspecting through the closed shutters the preparations on the green for the demonstration of the evening.

"Another such night will kill her, won't it, doctor?"

"I could not answer for the consequences," replied the doctor, gravely. "I could scarcely hazard giving her laudanum enough to carry her through such a racket, and without sleep she cannot live another day."

"What shall we do? What shall we do? Oh, poor Aunty! The brutes! The brutes! Look at them over there laughing their great horse laughs. I never liked to see them whipped before, when the constable whipped them, but oh I shall like to after this. I should like to see them whipped till the blood ran down," cried the girl, tears of mingled grief and anger filling her flashing eyes.

"I don't know when you are likely to have the opportunity," said the doctor, dryly. "At present they have the upper hand in town, and seem very likely to keep it. We may thank our stars if the idea of whipping some of us does not occur to them."

"My father fears that they will plunder the store and perhaps murder us, unless help comes soon."

"There is no help to come," said the doctor. "The militia are all in the mob."

"But is there nothing we can do? Must we let them murder Aunty before our eyes?"

"Perhaps," said the doctor, "if your Uncle Jahleel were to go out to the mob this evening, and entreat them civilly, and beg them to desist by reason of your aunt's sickness, they would hear to him."

"Doctor! Doctor! you don't know my uncle," cried Desire. "He would sooner have Aunt Lucy die, and die himself, and have us all killed, than stoop to ask a favor of the rabble."

"I suppose it would be hard for him," said the doctor, "and yet to save your aunt's life maybe--"

"Oh I couldn't bear to have him do it," interrupted Desire. "Poor Uncle! I'd rather go out to the mob myself than have Uncle Jahleel. It would kill him. He is so proud."

The doctor walked across the room two or three times with knitted brow and then paused and looked with a certain critical admiration at the face of the girl to which excitement had lent an unusual brilliance.

"I will tell you," he said, "the only way I see of securing a quiet night to your aunt. Just go yourself and see this Hamlin who is the captain of the mob, and make your petition to him. I had words with him this morning. He is a well seeming fellow enough, and has a bold way of speech that liked me well i' faith, though no doubt he's a great rascal and well deserves a hanging."

He paused, for Desire was confronting him, with a look that was a peremptory interruption. Her eyes were flashing, her cheeks mantled with indignant color, and the delicate nostrils were distended with scorn.

"Me, Desire Edwards, sue for favors of this low fellow! You forget yourself strangely, Dr. Partridge."

The doctor took his hat from the table and bowed low. "I beg your pardon, Miss Desire. Possibly your aunt may live through the night, after all," and he went out of the house shrugging his shoulders.

Desire was still standing in the same attitude when a faint voice caught her ear, and stepping to a door she opened it, and asked gently, "What is it, Aunty?"

"Your uncle hasn't gone out, has he?" asked Mrs. Woodbridge, feebly.

"No, Aunty, he's in his study walking to and fro as he's been all day, you know."

"He musn't go out. I was afraid he'd gone out. Tell him I beg he will not go out. The mob will kill him."

"I don't think he will go, Aunty."

"Do you think they will make that terrible noise again tonight."

"I--I don't know. I'm afraid so, Aunt Lucy."

"Oh dear," sighed the invalid, with a moan of exhaustion, "it don't seem as if I could live through it again, I'm so weak, and so tired. You can't think, dear, how tired I am."

Desire went in and shook up the pillows, and soothed the sick woman with some little cares and then came out and shut the door. Her wide brimmed hat of fine leghorn straw with a blue ostrich plume curled around the crown, and a light cashmere shawl lay on the table. Perching the one a trifle sideways on her dark brown curls, which were gathered simply in a ribbon behind, according to the style of the day, she threw the shawl about her shoulders, and knocked at the door of her Uncle Jahleel's study, which also opened into the living-room, and was the apartment in which he held court, when acting as magistrate. In response to the knock the Squire opened the door. He looked as if he had had a fit of sickness, so deeply had the marks of chagrin and despite impressed itself on his face in the past two days.

"I'm going out for a little while," said Desire, "and you will go to Aunty, if she calls, won't you?"

Her uncle nodded and resumed his walking to and fro, and Desire, stepping out of the house by a back way, went by a path across the fields, toward Elnathan Hamlin's house.

The Hamlin house, like the houses of most of the poorer class of people, had but two rooms on the ground floor, a small bedroom and a great kitchen, in which the family lived, worked, cooked, ate and received company. There were two doors opening into the kitchen from without, the front door and the back door. On the former of these, there came a light tap. Now callers upon the Hamlins, in general, just pulled the latchstring and came in. Nobody tapped except the sheriff, the constable, the tax-collector and the parson, and the latter's calls had been rare since the family fortunes, never other than humble, had been going from bad to worse. So that it was not without some trepidation, which was shared by the family, that old Elnathan now rose from his seat by the chimney corner and went and opened the door. A clear, soft voice, with the effect of distinctness without preciseness, which betrays the cultured class, was heard by those within, asking, "Is Captain Hamlin in the house?"

"Do ye mean Perez?" parleyed Elnathan.


"I b'leve he's somewheres raound. He's aout doin up the chores, I callate. Did ye wanter see him?"

"If you please."

"Wal, come in won't ye, an sid down, an I'll go aout arter him," said Elnathan, backing in and making way for the guest to enter.

"It's the Edwards gal," he continued, in a feebly introductory manner, as Desire entered.

Mrs. Hamlin hastily let down her sleeves, and glanced, a little shamefacedly, at her linsey-woolsey short gown and coarse petticoat, and then about the room, which was a good deal cluttered up, and small blame to her, considering the sudden increase of her household cares. But it was, nevertheless, with native dignity that she greeted her guest and set her a chair, not allowing herself to be put out by the rather fastidious way in which Desire held up her skirts.

"Sid down," said Elnathan "an be kinder neighborly. She wants to see Perez, mother. I dunno what baout, I'm sure. Ef he's a milkin naow I s'pose I kin spell him so's he kin come in an see what she's a wantin of him," and the old man shuffled out the back door.

Desire sat down, calm and composed outwardly, but tingling in every particle of her body with a revulsion of taste at the vulgarity of the atmosphere, which almost amounted to nausea. But it may be doubted if her dainty attire, her air of distinction, and the refined delicacy of her flower-like face, had ever appeared to more advantage than as she sat, inwardly fuming, on that rude chair, in that rude room, amid its more or less clownish inmates. Prudence was very red in the face, and confused. As housemaid in Mr. Woodbridge's family, she knew Desire well, and felt a certain sort of responsibility for her on that account. She did not know whether she ought to go and speak to her now, though Desire took no notice of her. Reuben also had risen from his chair as she came in, and still stood awkwardly leaning on the back of it, not seeming sure if he ought to sit down again or not. Fennell, too sick to care, was the only self-possessed person in the room. It was a relief to all when the noise of feet at the door indicated the return of Elnathan with Perez, but the running explanations of the former which his senile treble made quite audible through the door, were less reassuring.

"Can't make aout what in time she wants on ye. Mebbe she's tuk a shine to ye, he, he, I dunno. Ye uster be allers arter her when ye wuz a young un."

"Hush father, she'll hear," said Perez, and opening the door came into the kitchen.

Desire arose to her feet as he did so, and their eyes met. He would have known her anywhere, in spite of the nine years since he had seen her. The small oval of the sparkling gypsy face, the fine features, so mobile and piquant, he instantly recognized from the portrait painted in undying colors upon his youthful imagination.

"Are you Captain Hamlin?" she said.

"I hope you remember Perez Hamlin," he answered.

"I remember the name," she replied coldly. "I am told that you command the--the men"--she was going to say mob--"in the village."

"I believe so," he answered. He was thinking that those red lips of hers had once kissed his, that August morning when he stood on the green, ready to march with the minute men.

"My Aunt Woodbridge is very sick. If your men make a noise again in front of my uncle's house, she will die. I came to--to ask"--she had to say it--"you to prevent it."

"I will prevent it," said Perez.

Desire dropped an almost imperceptible curtsey, raised the latch of the door and went out.

All through the interview, even when she had overheard Elnathan's confidences to Perez, at the door, her cheeks had not betrayed her by a trace of unusual color, but now as she hurried home across the fields, they burned with shame, and she fairly choked to think of the vulgar familiarity to which she had submitted, and the abject attitude she had assumed to this farmer's son. She remembered well enough that childish kiss, and saw in his eyes that he remembered it. This perception had added the last touch to her humiliation.

But Perez went out and wandered into the wood-lot and sat down on a fallen tree, and stared a long time into vacancy with glowing eyes. He had dreamed of Desire a thousand times during his long absence from home, but since his return, so vehement had been the pressure of domestic troubles, so rapid the rush of events, that he had not had time to once think of her existence, up to the moment when she had confronted him there in the kitchen, in a beauty at once the same, and so much more rare, and rich and perfect, than that which had ruled his boyish dreams.

Presently he went down to the tavern. The crowd of men and boys on the green received him with quite an ovation. Shaking hands right and left with the men, he went on to the tavern, and finding Abner smoking on the bench outside the door, drew him aside and asked him to see that there was no demonstration in front of Woodbridge's that evening. Abner grumbled a little.

"O' course I'm sorry for the woman, if she's sick, but they never showed no considerashun fer our feelin's, an I don' see wy we sh'd be so durn tender o' theirn. I shouldn't be naow, arter they'd treated a brother o' mine ez they hev Reub. But ye be cap'n, Perez, an it shel be ez ye say. The boys kin try ther fiddles on Squire Edwards instid."

"No. Not there, Abner," said Perez, quickly.

"Wy not, I sh'd like ter know. His wife ain't sick, be she?"

"No, that is I don't know," said Perez, his face flushing a little with the difficulty of at once thinking of any plausible reason. "You see," he finally found words to say, "the store is so near Squire Woodbridge's, that the noise might disturb Madam Woodbridge."

"She muss hev dum sharp ears, ef she kin hear much at that distance," observed Abner, "but it shell be as ye say, Cap'n. I s'pose ye've nothin agin our givin Sheriff Seymour a little mewsick."

"As much as you please, Abner."

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.