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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Duke Of Stockbridge: A Romance Of Shays' Rebellion - Chapter 24. The Battle Of West Stockbridge
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The Duke Of Stockbridge: A Romance Of Shays' Rebellion - Chapter 24. The Battle Of West Stockbridge Post by :karma69_us Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bellamy Date :May 2012 Read :3590

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The Duke Of Stockbridge: A Romance Of Shays' Rebellion - Chapter 24. The Battle Of West Stockbridge


One day, three days before the end of January, as Perez, returning from a walk, approached the guardhouse, he saw that it was in possession of Deputy Sheriff Seymour and a posse. The rebel garrison of three or four men only, having made no resistance, had been disarmed and let go. Perez turned on his heel and went home. That same afternoon about three o'clock, as he was sitting in the house, his brother Reuben, who had been on the watch, came in and said that a party of militia were approaching.

"I've saddled your horse, Perez, and hitched him to the fence. You've got a good start, but it won't do to wait a minute." Then Perez rose up, bade his father and mother and brother good-bye, and went out and mounted his horse. The militia were visible descending the hill at the north of the village, several furlongs off. Perez turned his horse in the opposite direction, and galloped down to the green. He rode up in front of the store, flung himself from his horse, ran up the steps and went in. Dr. Partridge was in the store talking to Edwards, and Jonathan was also there. As Perez burst in, pale, excited, yet determined, the two gentlemen sprang to their feet and Jonathan edged toward a gun that stood in the corner. Edwards, as if apprehending his visitor's purpose, stepped between him and the door of the living- rooms. But Perez' air was beseeching, not threatening, almost abject, indeed.

"I am flying from the town," he said. "The hue and cry is out after me. I beg you to let me have a moment's speech with Miss Desire."

"You impudent rascal," cried Edwards. "What do you mean by this. If you do not instantly go, I will arrest you myself. See my daughter, forsooth! Get out of here, fellow!" and he made a threatening step forward, and then fell back again, for though Perez' attitude of appeal was unchanged, he looked terribly excited and pertinacious.

"Only a word," he cried, his pleading eyes fixed on the storekeeper's angry ones. "A sight of her, that's all I ask, sir. You shall stand between us. Do you think I would harm her? Think, sir, I did not treat you ill when I was master. I did not deny you what you asked."

There was something more terrifying in the almost whining appeal of Perez' voice than the most violent threat could be, so intense was the repressed emotion it indicated. But as Edwards' forbidding and angry face plainly indicated that his words were having no effect, this accent of abjectness suddenly broke off in a tremendous cry:

"Great God, I must see her!"

Edwards was plainly very much frightened, but he did not yield.

"You shall not," he replied between his teeth. "Jonathan! Dr. Partridge! Will you see him murder me?"

Jonathan, gun in hand, pluckily rallied behind his father, while the doctor laid his hand soothingly on Perez' shoulder, who did not notice him. But at that moment the door into the living-rooms was flung open, and Desire and her mother came in. The loud voices had evidently attracted their attention and excited their apprehensions, but from the start which Desire gave as she saw Perez, it was evident she had not guessed he was there. At sight of her, his tense attitude and expression instantly softened, and it was plain that he no longer saw or took account of any one in the room but the girl.

"Desire," he said, "I came to see you. The militia are out after me at last, and I am flying for my life. I couldn't go without seeing you again."

Without giving Desire a chance to reply, which indeed she was much too confused and embarrassed to do, her mother interposed.

"Mr. Edwards," she exclaimed indignantly, "can't you put the fellow out? I'm sure you'll help, Doctor. This is an outrage. I never heard of such a thing. Are we not safe in our own house from this impudent loafer?" Perez had not minded the men, but even in his desperation, Mrs. Edwards somewhat intimidated him, and he fell back a step, and his eye became unsteady. Dr. Partridge walked to the window, looked out, and then turning around, said coolly:

"I suppose it is our duty to arrest you, Hamlin, and hand you over to the militia, but hang me if I wish you any harm. The militia are just turning into the green, and if you expect to get away, you have not a second to lose."

"Run! Run!" cried Desire, speaking for the first time.

Perez glanced out at the window and saw his pursuers not ten rods off.

"I will go," he said, looking at Desire. "I will escape, since you tell me to, but I will come again some day," and opening the door and rushing out, he leaped on his horse and galloped away on the road to Lee, the baffled militiamen satisfying themselves with yelling and firing one or two vain shots after him.

Sedgwick, aware that in the ticklish state of public opinion, the government party could not afford to provide the malcontents with any martyrs, had postponed the attempt to arrest Perez until affairs were fully ripe for it. The militia company of Captain Stoddard had been quietly reorganized, so that the very night of Perez' flight, patrols were established, and a regular military occupation of the town began. The larger part of the old company having gone over to the insurgents, the depleted ranks had been filled out by the enlistment as privates of the gentlemen of the village. The two Dwights, Drs. Sergeant and Partridge, Deacons Nash and Edwards, and many other silk stockinged magnates carried muskets, and a dozen gentlemen besides had organized themselves into a party of cavalry, with Sedgwick himself as captain. Even then the difficulty in finding men enough to fill out the company was so great that lads of sixteen and seventeen, gentlemen's sons, were placed in line with the gray fathers of the settlement. There was need indeed of every musket that could be mustered, for up at West Stockbridge, only an hour's march away, Paul Hubbard had a hundred and fifty men about him, from whom a raid might at any moment be expected.

But Stockbridge was now to become the center of military operations, not only for its own protection, but for that of the surrounding country. Hampshire County, as well as the eastern counties, had been called on for quotas to swell General Lincoln's army, but upon Berkshire no requisition had been made. The peculiar reputation of that county for an independent and insubordinate temper, afforded little reason to hope such a requisition would be regarded if made. And indeed the county promptly showed itself quite equal to the independent role which the Governor's course conceded to it. An effective plan for the suppression of the rebellion in the county had been concerted between Sedgwick and the leading men of the other towns. It had been agreed upon to raise five hundred men, and concentrate them at Stockbridge, using that town as a base of operations against the rebel bands in Southern Berkshire. Captain Stoddard's company had scarcely taken military possession of Stockbridge, when it was reenforced by companies from Pittsfield, Great Barrington, Sheffield, Lanesboro, Lee and Lenox. It was under escort of the Pittsfield company, that Jahleel Woodbridge returned to Stockbridge, after an absence of nearly four months. General Patterson, one of the major-generals of militia in the county, and an officer of revolutionary service, assumed command of the battalion, and promptly gave it something to do.

Far from appearing daunted by the presence of so large a body of militia in Stockbridge, Hubbard's force at the ironworks had increased to two hundred men who boldly threatened to come down and clean out Patterson's "Tories," a feat to which, if joined by some of the smaller insurgent bands in the neighborhood, they might ere long be equal. For this Patterson wisely decided not to wait. And so at noon of one of the first days of February, about three hundred of the government troops, with half a dozen rounds of cartridges per man, set out to attack Hubbard's camp.

There had been tearful farewells in the gentlemen's households that morning. Most had sent forth father and sons together to the fray and some families there were which had three generations in the ranks. For this was the gentlemen's war. The mass of the people held sullenly aloof and left them to fight it out. It was all that could be expected of themselves if they did not actively join the other side. There were more friends of theirs with Hubbard than with Patterson, and the temper in which they viewed the preparations to march against the rebels was so unmistakably ugly that as a protection to the families and property in the village one company had to be left behind in Stockbridge. It was a muggy overcast day, a poor day to give men stomach for fighting; drum and fife were silent that the enemy might have no unnecessary warning of their coming; and so with an ill-wishing community behind their backs and the foe in front, the troops set out under circumstances as depressing as could well occur. And as they went, mothers and daughters and wives climbed to upper windows and looked out toward the western mountain up whose face the column stretched, straining their ears for the sound of shots with a more quaking apprehension than if their own bosoms had been their marks. It is bad enough to send friends to far-off wars, sad enough waiting for the slow tidings, but there is something yet more poignant in seeing loved ones go out to battle almost within sight of home.

The word was that Hubbard was encamped at a point where the road running directly west over the mountain to West Stockbridge met two other roads coming in from northerly and southerly directions. Accordingly, in the hope of catching the insurgents in a trap the government force was divided into three companies. One pushed straight up the mountain by the direct road, while the others made respectively a northern and a southern detour around the mountain intending to strike the other two roads and thus come in on Hubbard's flanks while he was engaged in front. The center company did not set out till a little after the other two, so as to give them a start. When it finally began to climb the mountain Sedgwick with his cavalry rode ahead. A few rods behind them came a score or two of infantry as a sort of advance guard, the rest of the company being some distance in the rear. The gentlemen in that little party of horsemen had nearly all seen service in the late war and knew what fighting meant, but that was a war against their country's foes, invaders from over the sea, not like this, against their neighbors. They had no taste for the job before them, resolute as they were to perform it. The men they were going to meet had most of them smelled powder, and knew how to fight. They were angry and desperate and the conflict would be bloody and of no certain issue. So far as they knew, it would be the first actual collision of the insurrection, for the news of the battle at Springfield had not yet reached them. No wonder they should ride along soberly and engrossed in thought.

Suddenly a man stepped out from the woods into the road and firing his musket at them turned and ran. Thinking to capture him the gentlemen spurred their horses forward at a gallop. Other shots were fired around them, indicating clearly that they had come upon the picket line of the enemy. But their blood was up and they rode on pell-mell after the fugitive sentry. There was a turn in the road a short distance ahead. As they dashed around it, now close behind the flying man, they found themselves in the clearing at the crossing of the roads. Why do they rein in their plunging steeds so suddenly? Well they may! Not six rods off the entire rebel line of two hundred men is drawn up. They hear Hubbard give the order "Present!" and the muskets of the men rise to their cheeks.

"We're dead men. God help my wife!" says Colonel Elijah Williams, who rides at Sedgwick's side. Advance or retreat is alike impossible and the forthcoming volley can not fail to annihilate them.

"Leave it to me," says Sedgwick, quietly, and the next instant he is galloping quite alone toward the line of levelled guns. Seeing but one man coming the rebels withhold their fire. Reining up his horse within a yard of the muzzles of the guns he says in a loud, clear, authoritative voice:

"What are you doing here, men? Laban Jones, Abner Rathbun, Meshech Little, do you want to hang for murder? Throw down your arms. You're surrounded on three sides. You can't escape. Throw down your arms and I'll see you're not harmed. Throw away your guns. If one of them should go off by accident in your hands, you couldn't be saved from the gallows."

His air, evincing not the slightest perturbation or anxiety on his own part, but carrying it as if they only were in peril, startled and filled them with inquietude. His evident conviction that there was more peril at their end of the guns than at his, impressed them. They lowered their muskets, some threw them down. The line wavered.

"He lies. Shoot him! Fire! Damn you, fire!" yelled Hubbard in a panic.

"The first man that fires hangs for murder!" thundered Sedgwick. "Throw down your arms and you shall not be harmed."

"Kin yew say that for sartin, Squire?" asked Laban, hesitatingly.

"No, he lies. Our only chance is to fight!" yelled Hubbard, frantically. "Shoot him, I tell you."

But at this critical moment when the result of Sedgwick's daring experiment was still in doubt, the issue was determined by the appearance of the laggard infantry at the mouth of the Stockbridge road, while simultaneously shots resounding from the north and south showed that the flanking companies were closing in.

"We're surrounded! Run for your lives!" was shouted on every side, and the line broke in confusion.

"Arrest that man!" said Sedgwick, pointing to Hubbard, and instantly Laban Jones and others of his former followers had seized him. Many, throwing down their arms, thronged around Sedgwick as if for protection, while the rest fled in confusion, plunging into the woods to avoid the troops who were now advancing in plain sight on all three roads. A few scattered shots were exchanged between the fugitives and the militia, and the almost bloodless conflict was over.

"Who'd have thought they were such a set of cowards?" said a young militia officer, contemptuously.

"They are not cowards," replied Sedgwick reprovingly. "They're the same men who fought at Bennington, but it takes away their courage to feel they're arrayed against their own neighbors and the law of the land."

"You'd have had your stomach full of fighting, young man," added Colonel Williams, "if Squire Sedgwick had not taken them just as he did. Squire," he added, "my wife shall thank you that she's not a widow, when we get back to Stockbridge. I honor your courage, sir. The credit of this day is yours."

Those standing around joining heartily in this tribute, Sedgwick replied quietly:

"You magnify the matter over much, gentlemen. I knew the men I was dealing with. If I could get near enough to fix them with my eye before they began to shoot I knew it would be easy to turn their minds."

The reentry of the militia into Stockbridge was made with screaming fifes, and resounding drums, while nearly one hundred prisoners graced the triumph of the victors. The poor fellows looked glum enough, as they had reason to do. They had scorned the clemency of the government and been taken with arms in their hands. Imprisonment and stripes was the least they could expect, while the leaders were in imminent danger of the gallows. But considerations other than those of strict justice according to law determined their fate, and made their suspense of short duration. It was well enough to use threats to intimidate rebels, but in an insurrection with which so large a proportion of the people sympathized partly or fully, severity to the conquered would have been a fatal policy. As a merely practical point, moreover, there was not jail room in Stockbridge for the prisoners. They must be either forthwith killed or set free. The upshot of it was that excepting Hubbard and two or three more they were offered release that very afternoon, upon taking the oath of allegiance to the state. The poor fellows eagerly accepted the terms. A line of them being formed they passed one by one before Justice Woodbridge, with uplifted hand took the oath, slunk away home, free men, but very much crestfallen. As if to add a climax to the exultation of the government party, news was received, during the evening, of the rout of the rebels under Shays at Springfield, in their attack on the militia defending the arsenal there, the last day of January.

Now it must be understood that not alone in Captain Stoddard's Stockbridge company had gentlemen filled up the places of the disaffected farmers in the ranks, but such was equally the case with the companies which had come in from the other towns, the consequence of which was that the present muster represented the wealth, the culture, and aristocracy of all Berkshire. There are far more people in Berkshire now than then; far more aggregate wealth, and far more aggregate culture, but with the decay of the aristocratic form of society which prevailed in the day of which I write, passed away the elements of such a gathering as this, which stands unique in the social history of Stockbridge. The families of the county gentry here represented, though generally living at a day or two's journey apart, were more intimate with each other than with the farmer folk, directly surrounded by whom, they lived. They met now like members of one family, the sense of unity heightened by the present necessity of defending the interests of their order, sword in hand, against the rabble. The gentlemen's families of Stockbridge had opened wide their doors to these gallant and genial defenders, whose presence in their households, far from being regarded as a burden, required by the public necessity, was rather a social treat of rare and welcome character; and, unless tradition deceives, more than one happy match was the issue of the intimacies formed between the fair daughters of Stockbridge and the knights who had come to their rescue.

Previous to the conflict at West Stockbridge and the news of the battle at Springfield, the seriousness of the situation availed indeed to put some check upon the spirits of the young people. But no sooner had it become apparent that the suppression of the rebellion was not likely to involve serious bloodshed than there was such a general ebullition of fun and amusement as might be expected from the collection of such a band of spirited youths. Not to speak of dances, teas, and indoor entertainments, gay sleighing parties, out to the scene of "battle" of West Stockbridge, as it was jokingly called, were of daily occurrence, and every evening Mahkeenac's shining face was covered with bands of merry skaters, and screaming, laughing sledge-loads of youths and damsels went whizzing down Long Hill to the no small jeopardy of their own lives and limbs, to say nothing of such luckless wayfarers as might be in their path. To provide partners for so many gentlemen the cradle was almost robbed, and many a farmer's daughter of Shayite proclivities found herself, not unwillingly, conscripted to supply the dearth of gentlemen's daughters, and provided with an opportunity for contrasting the merits of silk-stockinged and worsted-stockinged adorers, an experience possibly not redounding to their after contentment in the station to which Providence had called them.

But even with these conscripts there was still such an excess of beaux that every girl had half a dozen. As for Desire Edwards, she had the whole army. If I have hitherto spoken of her in a manner as if she were the only "young lady" in Stockbridge, that is no more than the impression which she gave. Although there were several families in the village which had a claim to equal gentility, their daughters somehow felt that they failed to make good that claim in Desire's presence. They owned, though they found less flattering terms in which to express it, the same air of distinction and dainty aloofness about her, which the farmers' daughters, too humble for jealousy, so admiringly admitted. The young militia officers and gentlemen privates found her adorable, and the three or four young men whom Squire Edwards took into his house, as his share in quartering the troops, were the objects of the most rancorous envy of the entire army. These favored youths had too much appreciation of their fortune to be absent from their quarters save when military duty required, and what with the obligation of entertaining and being entertained by them, and keeping in play the numerous callers who dropped in from other quarters in the evening, Desire had mighty little time to herself. It was of course very exciting for her and very agreeable to be the sole queen of so gallant and devoted a court. She enjoyed it as any sprightly, beautiful girl fond of society and well nigh starved for it might be expected to. Provided here so unexpectedly in remote winter-bound Stockbridge, it was like a table spread in the wilderness, whereof the Psalmist speaks.

And in this whirl of gayety, did she quite forget Perez, did she so soon forget the secret flame she had cherished for the Shayite captain? Be sure she had not forgotten, but she would have been willing to give anything in the world if she could.

After the conventual seclusion and mental vacancy of the preceding months, the sudden, almost instantaneous change in her surroundings, had been like a burst of air and sunlight which dissipates the soporific atmosphere of a sleeping-room. It had brought back her thoughts and feelings all at once to their normal standards, making her recollection of that infatuation seem like a fantastic, grotesque dream; unreal, impossible, yet shamefully real. Every time she entered her chamber, and her eye caught sight of the little hole in the curtain whence she had spied upon Perez, shame and self-contempt overcame her like a flood. How could she, how ever could she be left to do such a thing! What would the obsequious, admiring gallants she had left in her parlor say if they but knew what that little pin-hole in her curtain reminded her of? She could not believe it possible herself that the girl whose fine-cut haughty beauty confronted her gaze from the mirror could have so lost her self-respect, could have actually--Oh! and tears of self-despite would rush into her eyes as her remorseless memory set before her those scenes. And had she been utterly beside herself that day in the store, when she gave him that look and that hand-clasp? But for that the only fruit of her folly would have been the loss of her own self-respect, but now she was guilty toward him. This wretched business was dead earnest to him, if not to her. With what a pang of self-contemptuous self-reproach she recalled his white, anguished face as he rushed into the store to bid her farewell when the soldiers were coming to take him. If he at first, by his persecution of her, had left her with a right to complain, she had given him such a right by that glance. She writhed as she admitted to herself that by that she had given him a sort of claim on her.

The village gossip about Perez' infatuation for her, although of her own weakness none guessed, had naturally come to the ears of the visitors, and some of the young men at Edwards' good naturedly chaffed her about it, speaking of it as an amusing joke. She had to bear this without wincing, and worse still, she had to play the hypocrite so far as to reply in the same jesting tone, joining in turning the laugh on the poor, shabby mob captain, when she knew in her heart it ought to be turned against her.

There was nothing else she could do, of course. She could not confess to these gay bantering young gentlemen the incredible weakness of which she had been guilty. But if the self-contempt of the doer can avenge a wrong done to another, Perez was amply avenged for this. And the worst of it was that the thought that she had wronged him here also, and meanly taken advantage of him, added to that horrid sense of his claim on her. He began to occupy her mind to a morbid and most painful extent, really much affecting her enjoyment. His sad and shabby figure, with its mutely reproachful face, haunted her. All that might have been to his disadvantage compared with the refined and cultivated circle about her, was overcome by the pathos and dignity with which her sense of having done him wrong invested him. Such was her unenviable state of mind, when one evening, a week or ten days after the affair at West Stockbridge, one of the young men at the house said to her gayly:

"May I hope, Miss Edwards, not to be wholly forgotten if I should fall on the gory field to-morrow?"

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"What, didn't you know? General Patterson is fearful the Capuan delights of Stockbridge will sap our martial vigor, and is going to lead us against the foe in his lair at dawn to-morrow."

"Where is his lair this time?" asked Desire, carelessly.

"We've heard that two or three hundred of the rascals have collected out here at Lee to stop a petty court, and we're going to capture them."

"By the way, too, Miss Edwards," broke in another, "your admirer, Hamlin, is at the head of them, and I've no doubt his real design is to make a dash on Stockbridge, and carry you off from the midst of your faithful knights. He'll have a chance to repent of his presumption to-morrow. Squire Woodbridge told me this afternoon that if he does not have him triced up to the whipping-post in two hours after we bring him in, it will be because he is no justice of the quorum. It's plain the Squire has no liking for the fellow."

"I hope there'll be a little more fun this time than there was last week. I'm sick of these battles without any fighting," doughtily remarked a very young man.

"I'm afraid your blood-thirstiness won't be gratified this time," answered the first speaker. "The General means to surprise them and take every man-jack of them prisoner before they're fairly waked up. We shall be back to breakfast to receive your congratulations, Miss Edwards."

But Miss Edwards had left the room.

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