The Duke of Stockbridge/Chapter 22

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The Duke of Stockbridge by Edward Bellamy
CHAPTER TWENTY-SECOND
BRACE OF PROCLAMATIONS

Perez profited by the fact that, however a man may have abused a woman, that is all forgotten the moment he protects her against another man, perhaps no worse than himself. Ever so little gratitude is fatal to resentment, and the instinct of her sex to repay protection with esteem is so deep, that it is no wonder Desire found her feelings toward Perez oddly revolutionized by that scene at the husking. Try as she might to resume her former resentment, terror, and disgust toward the young man, the effort always ended in recalling with emotions of the liveliest thankfulness how he had stood between her and that hateful fellow, whom otherwise she could not have escaped. All that night she was constantly dreaming of being pursued by ruffians and rescued by him. And the grateful sense of safety and protection which, in her dreams, she associated with him, lingered in her mind after she awoke in the morning, and refused to be banished. She was half ashamed, she would not have had anybody know it, and yet she had to own that after these weeks of constant depression and apprehension, the change of mood was not wholly disagreeable.

She had quite a debate with herself as to whether it would be consistent with her dignity to accept Perez' assurance that she would not be annoyed, and go out to walk. Without fully determining the question, she concluded to go anyway, and a beginning having been thus made, she thereafter resumed her old habit of long daily walks, to the rapid improvement of her health and spirits. For some days she did not chance to meet Perez at all, and it annoyed the high-spirited girl to find that she kept thinking of him, and wondering where she would meet him, and what he would say or do, and how she ought to appear. And yet it was perfectly natural that such should be the case. Thanks to his persecution, he had preoccupied her mind with his personality for so long a time that it was impossible the new phase of her relations toward him should not strongly affect her fancy. The first time they actually did meet, she found herself quite agitated. Her heart beat oddly when she saw him coming, and if possible she would have turned aside to avoid him. But he merely bowed and passed on with a word of greeting. After that he met her oftener, but never presumed to stop-- or say more than "Good morning," or "Good afternoon," the result of which was that, after having at first welcomed this formality as a relief, after awhile she came to think it a little overstrained. It looked as if he thought that she was childishly afraid of him. That seemed absurd. One day, as they met, and with his usual courteously curt salutation he was passing by, she observed that it was delightful weather. As her eye caught his start of surprise, and the expression of almost overpowering pleasure that passed over his face at her words, she blushed. She unquestionably blushed and hurried on, scarcely waiting for his reply. Some days later, as she was taking a favorite walk over a path among the thickets on the slope of Laurel Hill, whence the hazy Indian Summer landscape could be seen to perfection beneath the thin but wonderfully bland sunshine of November, she again met him face to face. Perhaps it was the color in her cheeks which reminded him to say:

"You don't look as if you needed to go to Pittsfield for your health now."

"No," she said, smiling. "When I found I could not go, I concluded I would get well here."

"I suppose you are very angry with me for stopping you that night, though it was not I that did it."

"If I were angry, I should not dare tell you, for fear of bringing down your vengeance on me."

"But are you angry?" he asked anxiously.

"I told you I did not dare say," she replied, smiling at him with an indomitable air.

"Please forgive me for it," he said, not jestingly or lightly, but in deepest earnest, with a look almost of tears in his eyes. She wondered she had never before noticed what beautiful blue eyes they were. She rather liked the sensation of having him look at her so.

"Won't you stop me if I try to go again?" she demanded, with an audacious impulse. But she repented her boldness as the passion leaped back into his eyes, and hers fell before it.

"I can't say that," he said. "God knows I will stop you so long as I have power, and when I can no longer stop you, the wheels of your carriage shall pass over my body. I will not let you go."

It was strange that the desperate resolution and the inexorable set of his jaws, which, as he had made a similar declaration on the night of her recapture, had caused her heart to sink, now produced a sensation of rather pleasant excitement. Instead of blanching with fear or revolting in defiance, she replied, with a bewitching air of mock terror:

"Dear me, what a terrible fellow!" and, with a toss of the head, went on her way, leaving him puzzling his heavy masculine wits over the fact that she no longer seemed a particle afraid of him.

The Laurel Hill walk, as I observed before, was an old favorite with Desire, and in her present frame of mind it seemed no sufficient reason to forsake it, that after this she often met Perez there. It is a pleasant excitement, playing with lions or other formidable things. Especially when one has long been in terror of them, the newly gained sense of fearlessness is highly exhilarating. Desire enjoyed playing with her lion, calming and exciting him, making his eyes now half fill with tears, and now flash with passion. The romantic novelty of the situation, which might have terrified a more timid maiden, began to be its most attractive feature to her. Besides, he was really very good-looking, come to observe him closely. How foolish it had been of her to be so frightened of him at first! The recollection of her former terror actually amused her; as if it were not easy enough to manage such a fellow. She had not been in such high spirits for a long time. She began to think that instead of being a hateful, terrible, revolting tragedy, the rebellion was rather jolly, providentially adapted, apparently, for the amusement of young ladies doomed to pass the winter in dismal country towns. One day her mother, commenting on the fact that the patrol and pass system of the insurgents had been somewhat relaxed, suggested that Desire might go to Pittsfield. But she said she did not care to go now. The fact was she preferred to play with her lion, though she did not mention that reason to her mother. When from time to time she heard of the fear and apprehension with which the gentlemen's families in town regarded Perez, she even owned to being a little complacent over the fact that this lawless dictator was her humble adorer. She finally went so far as occasionally to ask him as a favor to have this or that done about the village. It was such fun to feel that through him she could govern the community. One afternoon, being in a particularly gracious mood, she took a pink ribbon from her neck, knotted it about the hilt of his sword as an ornament.

The hillside path among the laurel thickets where they so often chanced to meet, was a lonely spot, beyond the reach of spectators or eavesdroppers; but, while their meetings were thus secret, nothing could be more discreet than the way she managed them. She kept him so well in hand that he did not even dare to speak of the love of which his whole manner was eloquent. Since she had ceased to fear him, he had ceased to be at all fear-inspiring. The rude lover whose lawless attempts had formerly put her in such fear, was now respectful to the point of reverence, and almost timid in his fear of offending her. The least sign of anything like tenderness on her part sufficed to stir him with a passion of humility which in turn touched her more deeply sometimes than she would have liked to admit. Now that she had come to see how the poor fellow loved her, she could not cherish the least anger with him for what he had done to her.

Sometimes she led him on to speak of himself and his present position, and he would tell her of his dream and hope, in this present period of anarchy to make himself a name. She was somewhat impressed by his talk, though she would not tell him so. She had heard enough political discussion at her father's and uncle's tables to know that the future political constitution and government of the colonies were wholly unsettled, and that even a royal and aristocratic form, with Washington, or some foreign princeling, at the head, was advocated by many. Especially here in Massachusetts, just now, almost anything was possible. And so when he said one day, "They call me Duke of Stockbridge in jest, but it may be in earnest yet," she did not laugh, but owned to herself that the tall, handsome fellow would look every inch a duke, if he only had some better clothes. She did not let him tell her in so many words that the motive of his ambition was to win her, but she knew it well enough, and the thought did not excite her indignation, though she knew it ought to.

The nearest she would let him come to talking love to her, was to talk of their childhood and how he had adored her then. Her own remembrance of those days of budding girlhood was dim, but he seemed to remember everything about her, and she could but be touched as he reminded her of scores of little incidents and scenes and words which had quite escaped her memory. The doting tenderness which his tone sometimes took on as he dwelt on these reminiscences, made her heart beat rather fast, and in her embarrassment she had some ado to make light of the subject.

But now Indian Summer, by whose grace the warm weather had been extended nearly through November, came abruptly to a close. New England weather was as barbarous in its sudden changes then as now. One day was warm and pleasant, the next a foot of snow covered the ground and the next after that the thermometer, had there been one at that date in Berkshire, would have recorded zero. The Sunday before Thanksgiving was bitterly cold, "tejus weather" in the farmer's phrase. There was of course no stove or other heater in the meeting-house and the temperature within differed very slightly from that without, a circumstance aggravated by the fact that furs were as yet almost unknown in the wardrobes even of the wealthiest of the people. A small tippet of Desire's, sent from England, was the only thing of the kind in Stockbridge. Parson West wore his gown and bands outside an overcoat and turned his notes with thick woolen mittens, now and then giving a brisk rub to his ears. Like so many clouds of incense rose the breath of the auditors, as they shivered on their hard board seats. The wintry wind blew in gusts through the plentifully broken window panes--for glass was as brittle then as now and costlier to replace,--and every now and then sifted a whiff of snow down the backs of the sitters in the gallery. Fathers and mothers essayed to still their little one's chattering teeth by taking them in their laps and holding them tight, and where a woman was provided with the luxury of a foot-stove or hot-stone, children were squatted round it in the bottom of the pew quarreling with each other to get their tingling toes upon it. A dreadful sound of coughing rose from the audience, mingled with sneezing from such as were now first taking their all-winter colds and diversified from time to time by the wail of some child too miserable and desperate to have any fear of the parental knuckles before its face.

Struggling with these noises and sometimes wholly lost to those in the back part of the house, when some tremendous gust of wind shook and strained the building, the voice of Parson West flowed on and on. He was demonstrating that seeing it was evident some souls would be lost it must be for the glory of God that they should be lost, and such being the case all true saints must and should rejoice in the fact, and praise God for it. But in order that their approval of the Divine decree in this matter should be genuine and sincere it must be purely disinterested, and therefore they must be willing, if God in his inscrutable wisdom should so will, to be themselves among the lost and forever to hate and blaspheme him in hell, because thus would his glory be served. The parson warmly urged that all who believed themselves to have been born again, should constantly inquire of their own souls whether they were so resigned, for if they did not feel that they were, it was to be feared they were still dead in trespasses and sins.

The sermon ended, the parson proceeded to read the annual Thanksgiving Day proclamation of the governor. To this magic formula, which annually evoked from the great brick oven stuffed turkey, chicken pie, mince pie and plum pudding galore, the children listened with faces of mingled awe and delight, forgetful of their aching toes. The mothers smiled at the children, while the sheepish grins and glances exchanged between the youth and maidens in their opposite galleries, showed them not unmindful of the usual Thanksgiving ball, and, generally speaking, it is to be feared the thoughts of the congregation were quite diverted, for the time being, from the spiritual exercise suggested by the parson. But now the people lift faces of surprise to the pulpit, for instead of the benediction the parson begins to read yet another proclamation. It is no less than an offer by His Excellency, the Governor and the honorable Council, of pardon to those concerned in the late risings against the courts provided they take the oath of allegiance to the state before the first of January, with the warning that all not availing themselves in time of this offer will be subject to arrest without bail at the governor's discretion, under the recent act suspending the Habeas corpus. Added to which is a recital of the special act of the Legislature, that all persons who do not at once disperse upon reading of the riot act are to receive thirty-nine lashes and one year's imprisonment, with thirty-nine more lashes at the end of each three months of that period.

There was little enough Thanksgiving look on the people's faces by the time the parson had made an end, and it is to be feared that in many a heart the echo of the closing formula, "God save the Commonwealth," was something like "May the devil take it."

"Pardon fer wot I sh'd like ter know," blurted out Abner on the meeting-house steps. "I dunno nothin baout the res' on ye, but I hain't done nothin I'm shamed on."

And Israel Goodrich, too, said: "Ef he's gonter go ter pardinin us for lettin them poor dyin critters outer jail tew Barrington t'other day, he's jess got the shoe onter the wrong foot. It's them as put em in needs the pardinin cordin tew my noshin."

"An I guess we don' want no pardon fer stoppin courts nuther. Ef the Lord pardons us fer not hangin the jedges an lawyers, it'll be more'n I look fer," observed Peleg Bidwell.

"Here comes the Duke," said another. "Wat dew yew say ter this ere proclamashin, Cap'n?"

Perez laughed.

"The more paper government wastes on proclamations, the less it'll have left for cartridges," he replied.

There was a laugh at this, but it was rather grim sort of talk, and a good many of the farmers got into their sleighs and drove away with very sober faces.

"It is the beginning of the end," said Squire Edwards, in high good humor, as he sat in his parlor that evening. "From my seat I could see the people. They were like frightened sheep. The rebellion is knocked on the head. The governor won't have to call out a soldier. You see the scoundrels have bad consciences, and that makes cowards of them. This Hamlin here will be running away to save his neck in a week, mark my words."

"I don't believe he is a coward, father, I don't believe he'll run away," said Desire, explosively, and then quickly rose from the chair and turned her back, and looked out the window into the darkness.

"What do you know about him, child?" said her father, in surprise.

"I don't think he seems like one," said Desire, still with her back turned. And then she added, more quietly: "You know he was a captain in the army, and was in battles."

"I don't know it; nobody knows it. He says so, that's all," replied Edwards, laughing contemptuously. "All we know about it is, he wears an old uniform. He might have picked it up in a gutter, or stolen it anywhere. General Pepoon thinks he stole it, and I shouldn't wonder."

"It's a lie, a wicked lie!" cried the girl, whirling around, and confronting her father, with blazing cheeks and eyes.

She had been in a ferment ever since she had heard the proclamation read that afternoon at meeting, and her father's words had added the last aggravation to the already explosive state of her nerves. Squire Edwards looked dumbfounded, and Mrs. Edwards cried in astonishment:

"Desire, child, what's all this?"

But before the girl could speak, there was an effectual diversion. Jonathan came rushing in from outdoors, crying:

"They're burning the governor!"

"What!" gasped his father.

"They've stuffed some clothes with straw, so's to look like a man, and put that hat of Justice Goodrich they fetched back from Barrington, on top and they're burning it for Governor Bowdoin, on the hill," cried Jonathan. "See there! You can see it from the window. See the light!"

Sure enough, on the summit of Laurel Hill the light of a big bonfire shone like a beacon.

"It's just where they burned Benedict Arnold's effigy in the war," continued Jonathan. "There's more'n a hundred men up there. They're awful mad with the governor. There was some powder put in the straw, and when the fire came to't, it blew up, and the people laughed. But Cap'n Hamlin said 'twas a pity to waste the powder. They might need it all before this business was through with. And then they cheered again. He meant there'd be fighting, father."

In the new excitement there was no thought of resuming the conversation which Jonathan's advent had broken off so opportunely for Desire, and the latter was able without further challenge to escape to her own room. Scarcely had she reached it when there was a sound of fife and drum, and presently a hundred men or more with hemlock in their hats came marching by on their way from Laurel Hill, and Perez Hamlin was riding ahead. They were singing in rude chorus one of the popular songs of the late war, or rather of the stamp act agitation preceding it:

"With the beasts of the wood, we will ramble for food,
And lodge in wild deserts and caves;
And live as poor Job on the skirts of the globe,
Before we'll submit to be slaves, brave boys,
Before we'll submit to be slaves."

Such was the rebels' response to the governor's proclamation of mingled mercy and threats. Desire had thrown open her window at the sound of the music, and, carried away with excitement, as Perez looked up and bowed, she waved her handkerchief to him. Yes, Desire Edwards actually waved her handkerchief to the captain of the mob. In the shining winter night her act was plainly seen by the passing men, and her parents and brother, who having first blown out the candle, were looking out from the lower windows, were astonished beyond measure to hear the ringing cheer which the passing throng sent up. Then Desire cried a little and went to bed feeling very reckless.

Squire Edwards had clearly been mistaken in thinking that the proclamation had made an end of the rebellion. Its first effect had been rather intimidating, no doubt, but upon reflection the insurgents found that they were more mad than scared. It was indeed just opposition enough to exasperate those who were fully committed and stimulate to more vigorous demonstrations; and an express from Shays having summoned a Berkshire contingent to join in a big military demonstration at Worcester, fifty armed men under Abner marched from Stockbridge Thanksgiving Day amid an excitement scarcely equalled since the day when Jahleel Woodbridge's minute men had left for Bennington. But the return of the party about the middle of December, threw a damper on the enthusiasm. The demonstration at Worcester had been indeed a brilliant success in some respects. One thousand well armed men headed by Shays himself with a full staff of officers and a band of music had held the town for several days in full military occupation, overawing the militia, preventing the sitting of the courts, and even threatening to march on Boston. But on the other hand the temper of the population had been lukewarm and often hostile. The soldiers had been half starved through the refusal to supply provisions and nearly frozen. Some indeed had died. In coming back a number of the Berkshire men had been arrested and maltreated in Northampton. Formidable military preparations were being made by the government, and parties of Boston cavalry were scouring the eastern counties and had taken several insurgent leaders prisoners, who would probably be hung. The men had been demoralized by the spread of a well substantiated report that Shays had offered to desert to the other side if he could be assured of pardon. In the lower counties indeed all the talk was of pardon and terms of submission. The white paper cockade which had been adopted in contradistinction to the hemlock as the badge of the government party, predominated in many of the towns through which Abner's party had passed.

"That air proclamashin 's kinder skeert em more'n did us Berkshire folks." Abner explained to a crowd at the tavern. "They all wanter be on the hangman's side wen it comes tew the hangin. They hain't got the pluck of a weasel, them fellers daown east hain't. This ere war'll hev tew be fit aout in this ere caounty, I guess, ef wuss comes to wuss."

"They've got a slew o' men daown Bosting way," said a farmer. "I callate we couldn' hole aout agin' em long ef it come tew fightin, an they should reely tackle us."

"I dunno baout that nuther," declared Abner with a cornerwise nod of the head. "Thar be plenty o' pesky places long the road wen it gits up intew the mountings an is narrer and windin like. I wouldn' ass fer more'n a kumpny tew stop a regiment in them places. I wuz talkin tew the Duke baout that tidday. He says the hull caounty's a reglar fort, an ef the folks 'll hang tewgether it can't be tuk by the hull res' o' the state. We kin hole aout jist like the Green Mounting boys did agin the Yorkers an licked em tew, and got shet of em an be indypendent tidday, by gol, same ez Berkshire orter be."

"Trew's Gospel Abner," averred Israel Goodrich, "thar ain't no use o' the two eends o' the state tryin tew git on tewgether. They hain't never made aout tew gree, an I guess they never would nuther ef they tried it a hundred year more. Darn it, the folks is differn folks daown east o' Worcester. River folks is more like us but git daown east o' Worcester, an I hain't no opinyun on em."

"Yer right thar Isr'el," said Abner with heartiness, "I can't bear Bosting fellers no more'n I kin a skunk, and I kin tell em baout ez fer orf. I dunno wat tiz baout em, but I can't git up no more feller feelin fer em nor I kin fer Britishers. Seems though they wern't ezzackly human, though I s'pose they be, but darn em anyhaow."

"I callate thar's suthin in the mountain air changes men," said Peleg, "fer it's sartain we be more like the Green Mounting boys in aour noshins an ways an we be like the Bosting chaps."

"I'd be in favor o' jinin onter Vairmount, an mebbe that'll be the upshot on't all," observed Ezra Phelps. "Ye see Vairmount hain't a belongin tew the cussed Continental federashin, an it hain't got none o' them big debts ez is hangin round the necks o' the thirteen states, and so we sh'd git rid o' the biggis part o' our taxes all kerslap. Vairmount is an indypendent kentry, an I callate we'd better jine. Ef they'd a made aout with that air noshin folks hed a spell ago, baout raisin up a new state, made aout o' Hampshire caounty an a track o' land tew the northard,'twould a been jess the sorter thing fer us Berkshire fellers to a hitched on tew."

"I never hearn nothin baout that idea" said Peleg.

"I s'pose ye hain't," replied Ezra. "I wuz livin in Hampshire them times, an so I wuz right in the way o' the talk. They wuz gonter call the state New Connecticut. But the idee never come ter nothin. The war come on an folks hed other fish ter fry."

But Israel declared that he was not in favor of joining on to anything. Berkshire was big enough state for him, and he did not want to see any better times than along from '74 to '80, when Berkshire would take no orders from Boston.