The Duke of Stockbridge/Chapter 9
As soon as the Stockbridge battalion had arrived on the green at Great Barrington, and broken ranks, Perez had directed Abner to pass the word to all who had friends in the jail, and presently a party of forty or fifty men was following him, as he led the way toward that building, accompanied by Prudence, who had not dismounted. The rest of them could attend to the stopping of the court. His concern was with the rescue of his brother. But he had not traversed over half the distance when the cry arose:
"They're stoning the judges!"
Thus recalled to his responsibilities as leader of at least a part of the mob, he had turned, and followed by a dozen men, had hurried back to the rescue, arriving in the nick of time. Standing in the open door of the house to which the justices had retired, the rescued sheriff just behind him in the hall, he called out:
"Stand back! Stand back! What more do you want, men? The court is stopped."
But the people murmured. The Great Barrington men did not know Perez, and were not ready to accept his dictation.
"We've stopped court to-day, sartin," said one, "but wot's to hender they're holden of it to-morrer, or ez soon's we be gone, an hevin every one on us in jail?"
"What do you want, then?" asked Perez.
"We want some sartainty baout it."
"They've got tew 'gree not ter hold no more courts till the laws be changed," were replies that seemed to voice the sentiments of the crowd.
"Leave it to me, and I'll get you what you want," said Perez, and he went down the corridor to the kitchen at the back of the house, where the sheriff had told him he would find the justices. Although the room had been apparently chosen because it was the farthest removed from the public, the mob had already found out their retreat, and a nose was flattened against each pane of the windows. Tall men peered in over short men's shoulders, and cudgels were displayed in a way not at all reassuring to the inmates.
Their honors by no means wore the unruffled and remotely superior aspect of a few minutes before. It must be frankly confessed, as regards the honorable Justices Goodrich of Pittsfield, Barker of Cheshire, and Whiting of Great Barrington, that they looked decidedly scared, as in fact, they had some right to be. It might have been supposed, indeed, that the valor of the entire quorum had gone into its fourth member, Justice Elijah Dwight, who, at the moment Perez entered the room, was being withheld by the combined strength of his agonized wife and daughter from sallying forth with a rusty Queen's arm to defend his mansion. His wig was disarranged with the struggle, and the powder shaken from it streaked a countenance, scholarly enough in repose no doubt, but just now purple with the three-fold wrath of one outraged in the combined characters of householder, host, and magistrate.
"Your honors," said Perez, "the people will not be satisfied without your written promise to hold no more courts till their grievances are redressed. I will do what I can to protect you, but my power is slight."
"Who is this fellow who speaks for the rabble?" demanded Dwight.
"My name is Hamlin."
"You are a disgrace to the uniform you wear. Do you know you have incurred the penalties of high treason?" exclaimed the justice.
"This is not the first time I have incurred those penalties in behalf of my oppressed countrymen, as that same uniform shows," retorted the other. "But it is not now a question of the penalties I have incurred, but how are you to escape the wrath of the people," he continued sharply.
"I shall live to see you hung, drawn and quartered for treason, you rascal," roared Dwight.
"Nay, sir. Do but think this man holds your life in his hands. Entreat him civilly," expostulated Madam Dwight.
"He means not so, sir," she added, turning to Perez.
"The fellers wanter know why in time that ere 'greement ain't signed. We can't keep em back much longer," Abner cried, rushing to the door of the kitchen a moment, and hurrying back to his post.
"Where are writing materials?" asked Justice Goodrich, nervously, as a stone broke through one of the window panes and fell on the table.
"I will bring them," said the young lady, Dwight's daughter.
"Do make haste, Miss," urged Justice Barker. "The mob is even now forcing an entrance."
"I forbid you to bring them. Remain here," thundered Dwight.
The girl paused, irresolute, pale and terrified.
"Go, Eliza," said her mother. "Disobey your father and save his life."
She went, and in a moment returned with the articles. Perez wrote two lines, and read them.
"'We promise not to act under our commissions until the grievances of which the people complain are redressed.' Now sign that, and quickly, or it will be too late."
"Do you order us to sign?" said Barker, apparently willing to find in this appearance of duress an excuse for yielding.
"Not at all," replied Perez. "If you think you can make better terms with the people for yourselves, you are welcome to try. I should judge from the racket that they're on the point of coming in."
There was a hoarse howl from without, and Justices Goodrich, Barker and Whiting simultaneously grabbed for the pen. Their names were affixed in a trice.
"Will your honor sign?" said Perez to Dwight, who stood before the fireplace, silently regarding the proceedings. His first ebullition of rage had passed, and he appeared entirely calm.
"My associates may do as they please," he replied with dignity, "but it shall never be said that Elijah Dwight surrendered to a mob the commission which he received from his excellency, the governor, and their honors, the councillors of the Commonwealth."
"I admire your courage, sir, but I cannot answer for the consequences of your refusal," said Perez.
"For my sake sign, sir," urged Madam Dwight.
"Oh, sign, papa. They will kill you," cried Eliza.
"Methinks, it is but proper prudence, to seem to yield for the time being," said Goodrich.
"'Tis no more than the justices at Northampton have done," added Barker.
"I need not remind your honor that a pledge given under duress, is not binding," said Whiting.
But Dwight waved them away, saying merely, "I know my duty."
Suddenly Eliza Dwight stepped to the table and wrote something at the bottom of the agreement, and giving the paper to Perez said something to him in a low voice. But her father's keen eye had noted the act, and he said angrily:
"Child, have you dared to write my name?"
"Nay, father, I have not," replied the girl.
Even as she spoke there were confused cries, heavy falls, and a rush in the hall, and instantly the room was filled with men, their faces flushed with excitement and drink. The guard had been overpowered.
"Whar's that paper?"
"Hain't they signed?"
"We'll make ye sign, dum quick."
"We're a gonter tie ye up an give it to ye on the bare back."
"We'll give ye a dose o' yer own med'cin."
"I don' wanter hurt ye, sis, but ye muss git aout o' the way," said a burly fellow to Eliza, who, with her mother, had thrown herself between the mob and Justice Dwight, his undaunted aspect appearing to excite the special animosity of the rabble. The other three justices were huddled in the furthest corner.
"It's all right, men, it's all right. No need of any more words. Here's the paper," said Perez, authoritatively. A man caught it from his hand and gave it to another, saying,
"Here, Pete, ye kin read. Wot does it say?" Pete took the document in both hands, grasping it with unnecessary firmness, as if he depended in some degree on physical force to overcome the difficulties of decipherment, and proceeded slowly and with tremendous frowns to spell it out.
"Wot be them?" demanded one of the crowd.
"That means taxes, 'n loryers, 'n debts, 'n all that. I've hearn the word afore," exclaimed another. "G'long Pete."
"Grievunces," proceeded the reader, "of-wich-the-people-complain."
"That's dern good. In course we complains."
"Is that writ so, Pete?"
"G'long, Pete, that ere's good."
"Complains," began the reader again.
"Go back tew the beginnin Pete, I los' the hang on't."
"Yes, go back a leetle, Pete. It be mos'z long ez a sermon."
"Shell I begin tew the beginnin?"
"Yes, begin tew the beginnin agin, so's we'll all on us git the hang."
"We--promise--not-tew-ak--under--our-commishins,--until--the--g--r-- grievunces--of--wich--the--people--complain,--are--r--e--d--r-- redressed."
"That's same ez 'bolished."
"Here be the names," pursued Pete.
"He's the feller ez loss his hat."
"It's false," exclaimed Dwight, "my name's not there!"
But few, if any, heard or heeded his words, for at the moment Pete pronounced the last name, Perez shouted:
"Now, men, we've done this job, let's go to the jail and let out the debtors, come on," and suiting action to word he rushed out, and was followed pell-mell by the yelling crowd, all their truculent enthusiasm instantly diverted into this new channel.
The four justices, and the wife and daughter of Dwight, alone remained in the room. Even the people who had been staring in, with their noses flattened against the window panes, had rushed away to the new point of interest. Dwight stood steadfastly looking at his daughter, with a stern and Rhadamanthine gaze, in which, nevertheless, grief and reproachful surprise, not less than indignation, were expressed. The girl shrinking behind her mother, seemed more in terror than when the mob had burst into the room.
"And so my daughter has disobeyed her father, has told him a lie, and has disgraced him," said the justice, slowly and calmly, but in tones that bore a crushing weight of reproof. "Add, sir, at least, that she has also saved his life," interposed one of the other justices.
"Oh, don't talk to me so, papa," cried the girl sobbing. "I didn't write your name, papa, I truly didn't."
"Do not add to your sin, by denials, my daughter. Did the fellow not read my name?" Dwight regarded her as he said this, as if he were somewhat disgusted at such persistent falsehood, and the others looked a little as if their sympathy with the girl had received a slight shock.
"But, papa, won't you believe me," sobbed the girl, clinging to her mother as not daring to approach him to whom she appealed. "I only wrote my own name."
"Your name, Eliza, but he read mine."
"Yes, but the pen was bad, you see, and my name looks so like yours, when it's writ carelessly, and the 'a' is a little quirked, and I wrote it carelessly, papa. Please forgive me. I didn't want to have you killed, and I quirked the 'a' a little."
The Rhadamanthine frown on Dwight's face yielded to a very composite expression, a look in which chagrin, tenderness, and a barely perceptible trace of amusement mingled. The girl instantly had her arms around his neck, and was crying violently on his shoulder, though she knew she was forgiven. He put his hand a moment gently on her head, and then unloosed her arms, saying, dryly,
"That will do, dear, go to your mother now. I shall see that you have better instruction in writing."
That was the only rebuke he ever gave her.