The Rebels; or, Boston before the Revolution/Chapter IX
He would have you believe
That a mouse, yoked to a pea-pod, may draw
His goods about the world.
While the current of domestic happiness was gliding along thus smoothly, the tide of public indignation was rising higher and higher. The evening after the one we have just described, the cargo of paper arrived, bearing the stamp, which Doctor Warren styled the accursed seal of American slavery. The Lieutenant-Governor, fearing the tremendous excitement that was every where ready to burst forth, ordered the vessel to unload at Fort William, and the hateful freight to be guarded with the whole force of the garrison. The avarice which grasped at so many and such incongruous offices, the support he was known to give to the impolitic system of taxation, and the suspicion that he would attempt to force the distribution of stamps, rendered him an object of uncommon detestation. He seldom appeared in the street without receiving some open insult; and there is no name connected with those times, handed down to us with so much bitterness. Nor did that respect for the clergy, which has always characterized New England, prevent frequent rudeness to Doctor Byles. His aristocratic manners, his attachment to the crown, and his friendship for the Chief Justice, all combined to render him odious to the populace. Young and old, wise and simple, thoughtless and considerate, all took a deep interest in the aspect of the times; and though no politician could foresee one half of the important consequences which were to spring from that eventful crisis, yet even then, there was a fearful looking forward in the minds of many. Those whose keen perceptions enabled them to appreciate the vast importance of one single step, deliberated with cautious wisdom, and resolved with daring intrepidity; while those those who were guided by them, employed themselves in ten thousand petty stratagems, to thwart and vex their oppressors. Mr. Townsend was well known to be a tory in his predilections, though, "like the big-headed boy at Tatawa, he never took an active part;" and the young whigs, willing to tantalize a man who could weep over the loss of a penny in real betterness of spirit, resolved to carry into execution a plan, which had more of frolic than malice in its design.
It was a tremendously stormy night, when, after a long and earnest conversation with Mr. Wilson, who had lately been his frequent guest, the old man retired to his miserable bed, totally unaware of the mischief in store for him. The rain poured in torrents; the darkness was almost tangible in its density; and the lightning flashed across the sky, as if the fallen spirits were brandishing their flaming swords in defiance of that heaven from which they had been expelled forever. The winds roared, and the thunders rolled and crashed, as if the chariots of Gabriel were rushing on to the combat, and his trumpets hurling back the challenge. Every peal knocked hard at the heart of that selfish old man; and unable to compose himself, he arose and crept timidly into the chamber of his guest. Mr. Wilson, more inured to danger, thought only of a comfortable sleep, and had just succeeded in removing his bed to a corner which secured him from the drenching rain. The terrors of the poor wretch subsided in the presence of his fearless companion, and with drowzy indistinctness, he was just saying, "Noah, and all them criters in the ark, must have had a dreadful time o'nt, if it poured worse than it does to-night; and what a heap of provender they must have devoured in forty days"---when he was alarmed by loud and repeated knocks at the street door. Wondering for what purpose any one could visit that unfrequented house on such a merciless night, Mr. Wilson hastily arranged his dress, and obeyed the summons.
"Is this Mr. Townsend's house?" inquired the stranger
"It is, sir."
"Is he living?"
"He is, sir."
"I am glad of it; I was afraid I should arrive too late," replied the physician.
"Wilson! Wilson!" cried the old man, who had groped his way to the head of the stairs. "Who is there? are robbers breaking in? bolt---bolt the door! and take my gun that's at the foot of the stairs. Don't stand in the wind with your candle.---There, it is blown out now. Light it quick! light it quick."
The light was hastily struck; but before Mr. Wilson could assure the miser that the gentleman was well known to him, he was startled by a second knock.
"There is another one," exclaimed the old man. "Do get a light quick, and see to my gun."
Suspicions were again quieted by recognising the second intruder as Governor Hutchinson.
"Gentlemen, may I ask what drove you out on such a night?" inquired Wilson.
"Why, Mr. Townsend's dangerous sickness to be sure," answered both at once; "but do make a fire--- we are perishing with wet and cold."
Mr. Wilson brought forward some wood; but before he could kindle it, Mr. Townsend was again calling him in the feeble tones of a cracked voice trembling with fear.
"Go to your friend," said the physician. "His sickness probably deranges him."
"Am I dreaming, or am I not?" thought Wilson, as he listened to the last observation.
After a long effort, he succeeded in convincing Mr. Townsend that he knew the gentlemen below, and that it was perfectly safe for him to come down. Thus encouraged, the old man ventured into the room; but all thoughts of robbers vanished from his mind, the moment he saw three sticks of wood cheerfully blazing in his fireplace.
"I have told you a hundred times, Wilson, that I never burn more than one stick at a time," said he, as he demolished the first hospitable fire that had been seen there for years.
"We are surprised to find you able to leave your chamber, Mr. Townsend," said Doctor Ruggles.
"I don't know what right you had to expect otherwise," rejoined he, looking round upon them with a vacant stare, and then stooping to feel if the lock of his chest was perfectly secure.
The two gentlemen cast a look of surprise at each other, and the Lieutenant Governor said, "Has he been long deranged?"
"There is more knocking, Wilson. Give me my gun. Hand it quick! quick!" exclaimed the terrified wretch.
The gun was speedily handed, but before Wilson could open the door, Doctor Byles entered. Hastily shaking the rain from his hat, he inquired, "Is he living, sir?"
Beginning to comprehend the joke, Mr. Wilson burst into a loud laugh, as he said, "He is alive and well, sir." Another look of wonder passed between the gentlemen, as they bowed to Doctor Byles, and made room for him before the fire.
The trembling old miser had ensconced himself in a corner of the room, with one foot on his money chest, and his gun braced firmly on his shoulder, as if resolved to fight for his treasure to the last moment of his life.
"Did you say Mr. Townsend was really well, sir?" asked Dr. Byles.
"I did, sir; and now will you tell me how you were all brought here to night?"
"I was called up at midnight, and told that Mr. Townsend was in great distress of mind, and needed my aid to set the joints of a broken spirit."
"And I," said Governor Hutchinson," was summoned to attend his death-bed, if I wished to hear some very important communications."
"My visit is of course explained," said the physician. "Some one has made this world of mischief for a joke."
"It is all a trick, do you see," said Townsend, venturing forward; "and I trust you are not going to ask a copper, seeing I never sent for you."
It is a hard case for doctor or patient to ride from Boston to Roxbury such a confounded stormy night," said the physician. "However I will be content, if you will give us shelter until morning."
"Yes, we must all remain to-night," said Doctor Byles, "and our horses must not stand in that open shed."
This suggestion was answered by a deep groan from the miser. "Oh, dear!" said he, "it is enough to cost a man a fortune to live in such troublesome times."
Without noticing his murmurs, Wilson procured a lanthorn, and placed the horses in as comfortable a situation as the dilapidated state of the barn would admit.
"Oh, I can't afford it. This will be the ruin of me;--- and to have that candle burning in the lanthorn too. Oh, it will ruin me. There is no use in having a light to talk by," said Mr. Townsend, when his companion returned.
Without interrupting him, Wilson, with blunt hospitality, apologized for the state of the house, and offered whatever it contained for their refreshment. The offer was accepted; and, notwithstanding the old gentleman's contrary orders, such food as the house afforded, was soon arranged before them.
The remains of a miserable soup were placed on the table in a small earthern pan; a pitcher of water on one corner; a few dried crusts of bread on the other; three wooden plates, and a few broken knives and forks, composed the whole apparatus for their frugal meal.
For a while the miser sat muttering between his teeth, that he wished it might bode good, having three men come in one night to tell him he was dying. He had heard his mother tell about folks being warned of their end; but when he saw the keen appetites, before which his worldly goods were fast disappearing, he sobbed aloud.
Governor Hutchinson, almost forgetting his vexation in the amusement of the scene, promised their bill of fare should be paid the ensuing day. "N w have you not a little brandy to wash down this excellent supper?" added he.
"No, I don't keep such things; but that soup is nice and warming."
"There is not enough of it to warm two ounces of blood," rejoined the physician. "You look as if you needed stimulus yourself. Are you sure you are not consumptive, Mr. Townsend?"
"He looks at the food we eat, as if he thought us fearfully consumptive ," said Doctor Byles.
The miser stared at his remark, and replied, "Why the truth is, I have been een jest sick these many years."
"It seems you are in jest sick to-night; and that we are in jest fools," observed Doctor Byles. "However, I believe I understand the nature of this mischievous frolic. What are your politics, Mr. Townsend?"
The miser looked around the company, and unable to determine what answer would eventually be the safest, he hesitatingly replied, "I trust my heart is on the right side."
"If I thought it was, I would send you to a surgeon as a curiosity," rejoined Doctor Byles. "In good truth, you look as if you had escaped from the sexton."
"Yes," said Hutchinson, "you are exceedingly thin; and since there are so many witnesses present, had you not better settle your affairs? It is well to have a will at any rate."
"So women and whigs think," replied Doctor Byles; "and the latter have had their will, at any rate, in sending us here to-night."
"Have you done aught to offend the rebels?" asked Hutchinson.
"I have already told you that I have fifteen posts," he replied; "but as for politics, I never meddle with them. I do not understand them; and they do, every mother's son of them. I see plainly how it will end,--- they will finally do as the Quakers and New Lights say they have done---put off the old man."
"Many would rejoice to take the treasure from their hands," said Hutchinson; "but I think your people would soon be glad to send a writ of trover in search of talents, learning, and goodness."
Doctor Byles bowed low, and said, "Since the storm continues too furious for us to return home, had we not better bottle off a little sleep against the exigencies of the morrow?"
No one dissented,---and Wilson, with more kindness than his growling manner indicated, prepared lodgings as comfortable as the crazy situation of the building would admit. After showing the guests to their respective rooms, he returned to his miserable companion. The old man burst into tears, and exclaimed, "Oh Wilson, they'll ruin me; four sticks of wood are burnt out; one candle is gone, and you've lit another; to-morrow's dinner is devoured; and you have broke the pitcher that I have drinked out of more than twenty years. Oh dear," added he, with a deep groan, "them horses are dreadful ravenous beasts. I never had such a costly night before. No less than two crowns are sunk this minute."
"I wish as many mitres had sunk with them," said his surly companion. "Many a shilling has the king taken out of my pocket, and never a penny did I receive from him. But be done grumbling, old man---I'm tired of it. One word whispered to Hutchinson, you know, would lay you on a bed of coals."
The miser grasped his arm with a most beseeching look, just as a lumbering vehicle rattled to the door, and a loud knock announced another arrival. A tall, robust man, with a fear-nought coat buttoned up to his throat, and his cocked-hat unlooped to defend him from the tempest, impatiently inquired whether Mr. Townsend was ready to start for Providence.
"I never thought of going there," replied the old man, stepping up to him. The stranger actually started back; and indeed the long flannel gown, the high, red night-cap, surmounted by an enormous tassel, the sharp, death-like visage, and the gun, which he held tight in his bony hand, made him seem more like one of Pluto's stray ghosts than any human figure.
"I was told to come here at two o'clock," said he, "to carry you to Providence on business that nothing in the earth, oru nder it, must hinder."
"Was it not some other Mr. Townsend?" asked Wilson.
"D---n you!" said the passionate man, "Who does not know Townsend the miser. I swear I'll be paid for my trouble."
"I tell you," replied the old man, "I won't pay a single stiver; for I never asked you to come."
The irritated man poured forth a volley of oaths, which Wilson at length stopped by offering him a handful of money, and telling him that the whigs had already sent three influential tories on errands equally fruitless.
"If that is the case," said Jehu, lowering his tone, "I will be satisfied with a moderate compensation. I am in king George's service; and I must take some of his kicks for the sake of his coppers."
The crack of the whip, and the shrill whistle, soon proclaimed his departure.
"Come, 'Squire Skin-flint," said Wilson, "you must pay me your stage-fare, before you go to bed."
"How can you say so?" responded the covetous wretch. "You will kill me, Wilson. I shall never see the sun rise at this rate."
"That is what I should call giving the devil his due," replied the ruffian. "Open your purse."
The old man hesitated; "Will you promise never to speak of the bank notes? Was that in the bargain?" said he.
"Do you think I will let go your purse-strings, now I have hold of them?" replied Wilson, with a sneer. "Besides, my oaths are brittle things; I have broken---." With a voice suddenly subdued by powerful emotion, he added, "Some have I broken, for which every farthing of your immense wealth could not atone." He leaned his head on his hand, and the old gentleman crept towards the stairs as cautiously as one that fears to wake a sleeping tiger. "Your money!" thundered Wilson, seizing his arm, and looking on him with terrible, snakelike power. The old man drew out a greasy purse, but seemed reluctant to open it. "Hutchinson sleeps above---and I have a tongue!" said his tormentor.
The required money was instantly poured upon the table, and the old man hobbled up stairs, ever and anon saying, "That man will be the ruin of me," and then sobbing in the bitterness of his heart.