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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Heart's Highway: A Romance Of Virginia In The Seventeenth Century - Chapter 22
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The Heart's Highway: A Romance Of Virginia In The Seventeenth Century - Chapter 22 Post by :sparrow Category :Long Stories Author :Mary E Wilkins Freeman Date :May 2012 Read :2948

Click below to download : The Heart's Highway: A Romance Of Virginia In The Seventeenth Century - Chapter 22 (Format : PDF)

The Heart's Highway: A Romance Of Virginia In The Seventeenth Century - Chapter 22

CHAPTER XXII

I truly think that if Parson Downs had informed me that I was to be put to the rack or lose my head it would not have so cut me to the heart. Something there was about a gentleman of England being set in the stocks which detracted not only from the dignity of the punishment, but that of the offence. I would not have believed they would have done that to me, and can hardly believe it now. Such a punishment had never entered into my imagination, I being a gentleman born and bred, and my crime being a grave one, whereas the stocks were commonly regarded for the common folk, who had committed petty offences, such as swearing or Sabbath-breaking. I could not for some time realise it, and lay staring at Parson Downs, while he tried to force the Burgundy upon me and stared in alarm at my paleness.

"Why, confound it, Harry," he cried, "I tell thee, lad, do not look so. Hadst thou killed Rob Waller instead of wounding him, it would have been thy life instead of thy pride thou hadst forfeited."

"I wish to God I had!" I burst out, yet dully, for still I only half realised it all.

"Nay, Harry," declared the parson, "thy life is of more moment than thy pride, and as to that, what will it hurt thee to sit in the stocks an hour or so for such a cause? 'Twill be forgot in a week's time. I pray thee have some Burgundy, Harry, 'twill put some life into thee."

"'Twill never be forgot by me," said I, and indeed it never has been, and I know not why it seemed then, and seems now, of a finer sting of bitterness than my transportation for theft.

Presently I, growing fully alive to the state of the matters, wrought up myself into such a fever of wrath and remonstrance that it was a wonder that my wounds did not open. I swore that submit to such an indignity I would not, that all the authorities in the Colony should not force me to sit in the stocks, that I would have my life first, and I looked about wildly for my own sword or pistols, and seeing them not, besought the parson for his. He strove in vain to comfort me. I was weakened by my wounds, and there was, I suppose, something of fever still lingering in my veins for all the bleeding, and for a space I was like a madman at the thought of the ignominy to which they would put me. I besought that the lieutenant-governor should be summoned and be petitioned to make my offence a capital one. I strove to rise from my couch, and the vague thought of finding a weapon and committing some crime so grave that the stocks would be out of the question as a punishment for it, was in my fevered brain.

"As well go to a branch of a locust-tree blown by the May wind with honey for all seeking noses, as to Chichely," said Parson Downs. "And as for the burgesses, they are afraid of their own necks, and some of us there be would rather have thee sit in stocks than lose thy life, for we hold thy life dear, Harry, and some punishment it must be for thee, for thou didst shoot a King's officer, though with a damned poor aim, Harry."

Then I said again, with my heart like a drum in my ears, that I wished it had been better, though naught I had against Robert Waller, and as I learned afterward he had striven all he dared for my release, but the militia, being under some suspicion themselves, had to act with caution in those days.

Presently, while the parson was yet with me, my brother John came in, and verily, for the first time, I realised that we were of one blood. Down on his knees beside me he went.

"Oh, my God, Harry," he cried, "I have done all that I could for thee, and vengeance I will have of some for this, and they shall suffer for it, that I promise thee. To fix such a penalty as this upon one of our blood!"

"John," I whispered, grasping his hand hard, "I pray thee--"

But he guessed my meaning. "Nay, Harry," he cried, "better this, for if I went back to our mother and told her that thou wert dead, after her long slight of thee and the long wrong we have all done thee, it would be a sorer fate for her than the stocks for thee."

But I pleaded with him by the common blood in our veins to save me from this ignominy, and my fever increased, and he knew not how to quiet me. Then in came Catherine Cavendish, and what she said had some weight with me.

"For shame!" she said, standing over me, with her face as white as death, but with resolution in her eyes, "for shame, Harry Wingfield! Full easy it is to be brave on the battlefield, but it takes a hero to quail not when his vanity be assailed. Have not as good men as thou, and better, sat in the stocks? And think you that it will make any difference to us, except as we suffer with you? And 'tis harder for my poor sister than for thee, but she makes no complaint, nor sheds a tear, but goes about with her face like the dead, and such a look in her eyes as never I saw there before. And she told me to say to thee that she could not come to-day, but that she would make amends, and that thou hadst no cause to overworry, and I know not what she meant, but this much I do know, a brave man is a brave man whether it be the scaffold or the stocks, and--and--thou hast gotten thyself into a fever, Harry."

With that she bade my brother John get some cool water from the jailer, and she bathed my head and arranged my bandages with that same skill which she had showed at the time when I was bruised by the mad horse, and my brother looked on as if only half pleased, yet full of pity. And Catherine, as she bathed my head, told me how Major Beverly and Sir Humphrey were yet confined on shipboard, and Dick Barry was in the prison not far from me, and Nick and Ralph Drake were in hiding, but my Lord Estes was scot-free on account of his relationship to Governor Culpeper and had been to Drake Hill, but Mary would not see him. And she said, furthermore, that her grandmother did not know that I was to be set in the stocks, and they dared not tell her, as she was grown so feeble since the riot--at one time inveighing against me for my disloyalty, and saying that I should never have Mary, though I was cleared of my disgrace and no more a convict, and at another time weeping like a child over her poor Harry, who had already suffered so much and was now in prison.

Catherine in that way, which none but a woman hath, since it pertains both to love and authority, brought me to my senses, and I grew both brave and shamed at the same time, and yet after she had gone, never was anything like the sting of that ignominy which was prepared for me on the morrow. Many a time had I seen men in the stocks, and passed them by with no ridicule, for that, it seemed to me, belonged to the same class of folk as the culprits, but with a sort of contempt which held them as less than men and below pity even. The thought that some day I, too, was to sit there, had never entered my head. I looked at my two feet upholding the coverlid, and pictured to myself how they would look protruding from the boards of the stocks. I recalled the faces of all I had ever seen therein, and wondered whether I would look like this or that one. I remembered seeing them pelted by mischievous boys, and as the dusk thickened, it seemed alive with jeering faces and my ears rang with jibes. I said to myself that now Mary Cavendish was farther from me than ever before. Some dignity of wretchedness there might be in the fate of a convict condemned unjustly, but none in the fate of a man who sat in the stocks for all the people to gaze and laugh at.

I said to myself that that cruelest fate of any--to be made ridiculous in the eyes of love--was come to me, and love henceforth was over and gone. And thinking so, those grinning and jibing faces multiplied, and the air rang with laughter, and I trow I was in a high fever all night.

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CHAPTER XXIIIThe sports and races of Royal Oak Day were to be held on the "New Field" (so called), adjoining the plantation of Barry Upper Branch. The stocks had been moved from their usual station to this place to remind the people in the midst of their gayety that the displeasure of the King was a thing to be dreaded, and that they were not their own masters, even when they made merry.On the morning of that day came my brother John's man-servant to shave and dress me, and the physician to attend to my wounds. It was a marvel that
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CHAPTER XXII lay in prison until the twenty-ninth day of May, Royal Oak Day. I know not quite how it came to pass, but none of my brother's efforts toward my release met with any success. I heard afterward some whispers as to the cause, being that so many of high degree were concerned in the riots, and that if I, a poor devil of a convict tutor, were let off too cheaply, why then the rest of them must be let loose only at a rope's end, and that it would never do to send me back to Drake Hill
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