The Duke of Stockbridge/Chapter 13

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The Duke of Stockbridge by Edward Bellamy
CHAPTER THIRTEENTH
A PRAISE MEETING

As a fever awakes to virulent activity the germs of disease in the body, so revolution in the political system develops the latent elements of anarchy. It is a test of the condition of the system. The same political shock which throws an ill-constituted and unsound government into a condition of chaos, is felt in a politically vigorous and healthful commonwealth, as only a slight disturbance of the ordinary functions. The promptness with which the village of Stockbridge relapsed into its ordinary mode of life after the revolt and revolution of Tuesday, was striking testimony to the soundness and vitality which a democratic form of government and a popular sense of responsibility impart to a body politic. On Tuesday the armed uprising of the people had taken place; on Wednesday there was considerable effervescence of spirits, though no violence; on Thursday there was still a number of loutish fellows loafing about the streets, wearing, however, an appearance of being disappointed that there was no more excitement, and no prospect of anything special turning up. Friday and Saturday, apparently disgusted at finding rebellion such a failure in elements of recreation, these had gone back to their farm-work and chores, and the village had returned to its normal quiet without even any more serenades to the silk stockings, to enliven the evenings.

A foreigner, who had chanced to be passing through Southern Berkshire at this time, would have deemed an informant practicing on his credulity who should have assured him that everywhere throughout these quiet and industrious communities, the entire governmental machinery was prostrate, that not a local magistrate undertook to sit, not a constable ventured to attempt an arrest, not a sheriff dared to serve a process or make an execution, or a tax-collector distrain for taxes. And yet such was the sober truth, for Stockbridge was in no respect peculiarly situated, and in many of the towns around, especially in Sheffield, Egremont, Great Barrington, and Sandisfield, an even larger proportion of the people were open sympathizers with the rebellion than in the former village.

In these modern days, restaurants, barrooms, and saloons, and similar places of resort, are chiefly thronged on Saturday evening, when the labors of the week being ended, the worker, in whatever field, finds himself at once in need of convivial relaxation, and disposed thereto by the exhilaration of a prospective holiday. Necessarily, however, Saturday evening could not be thus celebrated in a community which regarded it in the light of holy time, and, accordingly in Stockbridge, as elsewhere in New England at that day, Friday and Sunday evenings were by way of eminence the convivial occasions of the week. One of the consequences of this arrangement was that a "blue Saturday" as well as the modern "blue Monday," found place in the workingman's calendar. But the voice of the temperance lecturer was not yet heard in the land, and headaches were still looked upon as Providential mysteries.

The Friday following the "goings on at Barrington," the tavern was filled by about the same crowd which had been present the Friday evening preceding, and of whose conversation on that occasion, some account was given. But the temper of the gathering a week before had been gloomy, foreboding, hopeless and well-nigh desperate; to-night, it was jubilant.

"It's the Lord's doin's, an marvellous in our eyes, an that's all I kin say about it," declared Israel Goodrich, his rosy face beaming with benevolent satisfaction, beneath its crown of white hair. "Jess think whar we wuz a week ago, an whar we be naow. By gosh who'd a thought it? If one on ye had a tole me las' Friday night, what was a comin raound inside of a week, I should a said he wuz stark starin mad."

"We mout a knowed somethin wuz a gonter happin," said Abner. "It's allers darkest jess afore dawn, an 'twas dark nuff tew cut las' Friday."

"I declar for't," said Peleg Bidwell, "seem's though I never did feel quite so down-hearted like ez I did las' Friday night, wen we wuz a talkin it over. I'd hed a bad day on't. Sol Gleason'd been a sassin of me, an I dassn't say a word, fer fear he'd send me to jail, fer owin him, an wen I got home She wuz a cryin, fer Gleason'd been thar, an I dunno what he'd said tew her, and then Klector Williams he told me he'd hev tew sell the furnicher fer taxes, an by gosh, takin the hull together seemed 's though thar warn't no place fer a poor man in this ere world, and I didn' keer ef I lived much longer or not. An naow! Wal thay ain't no use o' tellin ye what ye know. I seen Gleason on the street yisday, an he looked like a whipped cur. He hed his tail atween his legs, I tell yew. I reckon he thort I wuz gonter lick him. It wuz 'Good mornin, Peleg,' ez sweet's sugar, an he didn't hev nothing tew say baout what I wuz a owin him, no; nor he didn't ass me nothin baout wy I hedn't been tew work fer him sence Tewsday."

After the haw-haw over Peleg's description had subsided, he added, with a grin,

"Klector Williams he hain't thort tew call baout them taxes, sence Tewsday, nuther. Hev any on ye seen nothin on him?"

"He hain't skurcely been outer his haouse," said Obadiah Weeks. "I on'y see him onct. It was arter dark, an he wuz a slippin over't the store arter his tod."

"I guess it muss be considabul like a funeral over't the store, nights," observed Abner, grinning. "Gosh I sh'd like ter peek in an see em a talkin on it over. Wal, turn about's fair play. They don' feel no wuss nor we did."

"Won't thar be no more klectin taxes?" inquired Laban Jones.

"I guess thar won't be much more klectin roun' here 'nless the klector hez a couple o' rigiments o' melishy tew help him dew it," replied Abner.

"I dunno, baout that," said Ezra Phelps. "Thar's more'n one way ter skin a cat."

"Thar ain't no way o' skinnin this ere cat 'cept with bagonets," said Abner, decidedly, and a general murmur expressed the opinion that so far as the present company was concerned government would have to practice some preliminary phlebotomy on their persons before they would submit to any further bleeding of their purses by the tax-collector. Nothing pleased Ezra more than to get placed thus argumentatively at bay, with the entire company against him, and then discomfit them all at a stroke. The general expression of dissent with which his previous remark was received, seemed actually to please him. He stood looking at Abner for a moment, without speaking, a complacent smile just curving his lips, and the sparkle of the intellectual combatant in his eye. To persons of Ezra's disputatious and speculative temper, such moments, in which they gloat over their victim as he stands within the very jaws of the logic trap which they are about to spring, are no doubt, the most delightful of life.

"Don't yew be in sech a hurry, Abner," he finally ejaculated. "Would ye mind payin yer taxes ef govment giv ye the money ter pay em with?"

"No. In course I wouldn't."

"Ezzackly. Course ye wouldn't. Ye'd be dum unreas'nable ef ye did. Wal, naow I callate that air's jess what govment's gonter dew, ez soon ez it gits the news from Northampton and Barrington. It's gonter print a stack o' bills, an git em inter cirk'lashun, an then we'll all on us hev suthin tew pay fer taxes, an not mind it a bit; yis, an pay all the debts that's a owin, tew."

"I hain't no objeckshun ter that," admitted Abner, frankly.

"Of course ye hain't," said Ezra. "Nobody hain't. Ye see ye spoke tew quick, Abner. All the kentry wants is bills, a hull slew on em, lots on em, an then the courts kin go on, an debts an taxes kin be paid, an everything'll be all right. I ain't one o' them ez goes agin' payin debts an taxes. I says let em be paid, ev'ry shillin, on'y let govment print nuff bills fer folks tew pay em with."

"I callate a couple o' wagon loads o' new bills would pay orf ev'ry morgidge, an mos' o' the debts, in Berkshire," said Israel, reflectively.

"Sartinly, sartinly," exclaimed Ezra. "That would be plenty. It don' cost nothin tew print em, an they'd pacify this ere caounty a dum sight quicker nor no two rigiments, nor no ten, nuther."

"That air's what I believe in," said Israel, beamingly, "peaceable ways o' settlin the trouble; bills instid o' bagonets. The beauty on't so fer is that thar hain't been no sheddin o' blood, nor no vi'lence tew speak of, ceppin a leetle shovin daown tew Barrington, an I hope thar won't be."

"I don't know about that," said Paul Hubbard. "Not that I want to see any killing, but there are some silk stockings in this here town that would look mighty well sticking through the stocks, an there are some white skins that ought to know how a whip feels, jist so the men that own em might see how the medicine tastes they've been giving us so many years."

There was a general murmur indicating approval of this sentiment, and several "that's sos" were heard, but Israel said, as he patted Hubbard paternally on the back:

"Let bygones be bygones, Paul. Them things be all over naow, an I callate thar won't be no more busin of poor folks. The lyin an the lamb be a gonter lie down together arter this, 'cordin tew scripter. I declar, it seems jiss like the good ole times 'long from '74 to '80, wen thar warn't no courts in Berkshire. Wen I wuz a tellin ye baout them times 'tother night, I swow I didn't callate ye'd ever have a chance to see em fer yerselves, leastways, not till ye got ter Heavin, an I guess that's a slim chance with most on ye. Jess think on't, boys. Thar ain't been nary sheriff's sale, nor a man tuk ter jail this hull week."

"Iry Seymour wuz a gonter sell aout Elnathan Hamlin this week, but somehow he hain't got tew it," said Abner, dryly. "I callate he heard some news from Barrington baout Tuesday."

"Iry mout's well give up his comishin ez depity sheriff an try ter git inter some honest trade," remarked Israel.

"Whar does Squire Woodbridge keep hisself these days? I hain't seen him skurcely this week," said Ezra Phelps.

"Yew don' genally see much of a rooster the week arter another rooster's gin him a darnation lickin on his own dung hill, an that's wat's the matter with Squire," replied Abner. Shifting his quid of tobacco to the other side of the mouth and expectorating across half the room into the chimney place he continued, reflectively:

"By gosh, I don' blame him, nuther. It muss come kinder tough fer a feller ez hez lorded it over Stockbridge fer nigh twenty year tew git put daown afore the hull village the way Perez put him daown Tuesday. Ef I wuz Squire, I shouldn't never wan ter show myself agin roun' here."

"I be kinder sorry fer him," said Israel Goodrich. "I declar for't if I ain't. It muss be kinder tough tew git took daown so, specially fer sech a dreffle proud man."

"I hain't sot eyes on him on'y once sence Tewsday," said Peleg. "He looked right straight through me 'z ef he didn' see nothin. He didn' seem ter notice nobody ez he went along the street."

"By gosh, he'd notice ye quick nuff ef he could put ye in the stocks," observed Abner, grimly. "I tell yew he ain't furgut one on us that went daown ter Barrington, nor one on us ez wuz a serenadin him t'other night. Yew jess let Squire git his grip onto this ere taown agin ez he uster hev it an the constable an the whippin post won't hev no rest till he's paid orf his grudge agin' every one on us. An ef yew dunno that, yew dunno Squire Woodbridge."

The silence which followed indicated that the hearers did know the Squire well enough to appreciate the force of Abner's remarks, and that the contingencies which they suggested were inducive of serious reflections. It was Jabez Flint, the Tory, who effected a diversion by observing dryly,

"Yes, ef Squire gits his grip agin, some on us will git darnation sore backs, but he's lost it, an he ain't a gonter git it agin ez long ez we fellers keeps ourn. On'y 'twont dew ter hev no foolin, tain't no child's play we're at."

"I know one thing dum well" said Obadiah Weeks, "and that is I wouldn' like tew be in Cap'n Hamlin's shoes ef Squire sh'd git top agin. Jehosaphat, though, wouldn' he jess go fer the Cap'n. I guess he'd give him ten lashes ev'ry day fer a month an make him set in the stocks with pepper 'n salt rubbed in his back 'tween times, an then hev him hung ter wind up with, an he wouldn' be half sassified then."

"Warn't that the gol-darndest though, baout that Edwards gal agoin tew ass Perez to git the mewsic stopped? By gosh, I can't git over that," exclaimed Peleg, grinning from ear to ear. "I was a lyin awake las' night and I got ter thinkin bout it, an I begun snickering so's She waked up, and She says, 'Peleg,' seshee 'what in time be yew a snickerin at?' and I says I wuz a snickerin tew think o' that air stuck up leetle gal o' Squire Edwards daown on her knees tew Perez, a cryin an a assin him ef he wouldn' please hev the racket stopped. Yew sed she wuz ontew her knees, didn't yew, Obadiah?"

"Tell us all about it Obadiah, we wanter hear it agin," was the general demand.

"Ye see the way on't wuz this," said Obadiah, nothing loath. "She come in all a cryin an scairt like, and Perez he wuz thar an so wuz the res' o' the family, an the fuss thing she does, she gits down on the floor intew the sand with a new silk gown she hed on, and asses Perez to hev the hoss-fiddles stopped. An he said t'er fuss, as haow he wouldn't, said 'twas good nuff fur the silk stockings, and he pinted ter Reub an says for her tew see what they'd done ter his family. But she cried an tuck on, an says ez haow she wouldn't git up 'nless he'd stop the hoss-fiddles, an so he hed tew give in, an that's all I knows about it."

"Ye see Obadiah knows all baout it," said Abner. "He keeps kumpny with the Fennell gal, as is tew the Hamlins. He got it straight's a string, didn't ye, Obadiah?"

"Yes," said Obadiah, "it's all jess so. Thar ain't no mistake."

No incident of the insurrection had taken such hold on the popular imagination as the appeal of Desire Edwards to Perez for protection. It was immensely flattering to the vanity of the mob, as typifying the state of terror to which the aristocrats had been reduced, and all the louts in town felt an inch the taller, by reason of it, and walked with an additional swagger. The demand for the details of the scene between Perez and Desire was insatiable and Obadiah was called on twenty times a day to relate to gaping, grinning audiences just how she looked, what she did, and said, and what Perez said. The fact that Obadiah's positive information on the subject was limited to a few words that Prudence had dropped, made it necessary for him to depend largely on his imagination to satisfy the demands of his auditors, which accounts for the slight discrepancy between the actual facts as known to the reader and the popular version. After everybody had haw hawed and cracked his joke over Obadiah's last repetition of the anecdote, Peleg observed:

"I dunno's az a feller kin blame Perez fer givin intew her. The gal's derned hansum, though she be mos' too black complected."

"She ain't none tew black, not to my thinkin," said Widow Bingham, looking up from her knitting as she sat behind the bar,--the widow herself was a buxom brunette--"but I never did see anybuddy kerry ther nose quite so high in all my born days. She don't pay no more 'tension to common folks 'n if they wuz dirt under her feet."

"Whar's Meshech Little, ter night?" inquired Israel Goodrich, not so much interested as the younger men in the points of young women.

"He's been drunk all day," said Obadiah, who always knew everything that was going on.

"Whar'd he git the money?" asked some one.

"Meshech don' need no money tew git drunk," said Abner. "He's got a thirst ontew him as'll draw liquor aout a cask a rod orf, an the bung in, jess like the clouds draws water on a hot day. He don' need no money, Meshech don' tew git soaked."

"He hed some, he hed a shillin howsumever," said Obadiah. "Deacon Nash give it tew him fer pitchin rowen."

"I hain't been so tickled in ten year," said Israel, "ez I wuz wen Deacon come roun tidday a offerin a shillin lawful tew the fellers tew git in his rowen fer him. It must hev been like pullin teeth fer Deacon tew pay aout cash fer work seein ez he's made his debtors dew all his farmin fer him this five year, but he hed tew come tew 't, fer his rowen wuz a spilin, an nary one o' his debtors would lif a finger 'thout bein paid for 't."

"That air shillin o' Meshech's is the fuss money o' his'n I've seen fer flip in more'n a year," said Widow Bingham, "an thar be them, not a thousan mile from here, nuther, ez I could say the same on, more shame to em, for't, an I a lone widder."

The line of remark adopted by the widow, appeared to exert a depressing influence on the spirits of the company, and this, together with the information volunteered by Obadiah, that it was "arter nine," presently caused a general break-up.