The Duke of Stockbridge

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There was great distress among the workmen on account of the stoppage of the works by reason of the hard times, but Hubbard, as well as most of the men, still remained in West Stockbridge, simply because there was no encouragement to go elsewhere. Abner groaned. More blood-suckers. I got em fer pay in the army. Times wuz good long in the war. A feller could git baout what he assed fer his crops an he could git any wages he assed. Yer see guvment wuz a printin money fass. Soon ez the war wuz over they stopped a printin bills and immejetly the hard times come.

Bosting is too fer orf fer this caounty, nor Hampshire nuther, tew git no considerashin. I callate to be in the jail or poorhouse, afore spring. I callate them bills wuz all on em debts what the govment owed tew me fur a fightin. Did you hang the justices? During this talk, Elnathan had risen and gone feebly out.

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Poor Reub! The Tories wuz right, arter all, I guess. As he ended speaking, a medium sized man, with a pasty white, freckled complexion, bristly red hair, a retreating forehead and small, sharp eyes, came forward from the dark corner near the door. His thin lips writhed in a mocking smile, as he stood confronting Peleg and Abner, and looking first at one and then at the other:. Times be changed. Let by gones be by gones.

Ye confiscated my house and tuk my crops fer yer derned army. Pooty nigh all on ye, as fit agen the King, is beggars naow, or next door tew it. Everybudy hez a kick fer a soldier. Look at you fellers as wuz a huntin me. An thar be ye, Peleg. Wal Peleg, they dew say, ez the neighbors sends ye in things. Jabez looked from one to the other till he had sufficiently enjoyed their discomfiture and then he continued:. The silence was first broken by Ezra Phelps, who said quietly:. Some says the King is callatin to try to git the colonies back agin fore long. This was the signal for a general break-up.

Meshech was left to snore upon the barroom floor and grope his way outdoors as best he might, when he should return to his senses.

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For doors were not locked in Stockbridge in those days. Perez Hamlin was coming home. The day following the conversation in the barroom of Stockbridge tavern, which I have briefly sketched in the last chapter, about an hour after noon, a horseman might have been seen approaching the village of Great Barrington, on the road from Sheffield.

He wore the buff and blue uniform of a captain in the late Continental army, and strapped to the saddle was a steel hilted sword which had apparently experienced a good many hard knocks. The lack of any other baggage to speak of, as well as the frayed and stained condition of his uniform, indicated that however rich the rider might be in glory, he was tolerably destitute of more palpable forms of wealth.

Poverty, in fact, had been the chief reason that had prevented Captain Hamlin from returning home before. The close of the war had found him serving under General Greene in South Carolina, and on the disbandment of the troops he had been left without means of support. Since then he had been slowly working his way homewards, stopping a few months wherever employment or hospitality offered. What with the lack and insecurity of mails, and his frequent movements, he had not heard from home for two or three years, though he had written.

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But in those days, when the constant exchange of bulletins of health and business between friends, which burdens modern mail bags, was out of the question, the fact perhaps developed a more robust quality of faith in the well-being of the absent than is known in these timid and anxious days. Certain it is that as the soldier rides along, the smiles that from time to time chase each other across his bronzed face, indicate that gay and tender anticipations of the meeting now only a few hours away, leave no room in his mind for gloomy conjectures of possible disaster.

It is nine years since he parted with his father and mother; and his brother Reub he has not seen since the morning in , when Perez, accepting a commission, had gone south with General Greene, and Reub had left for home with Abner and Fennell, and a lot of others whose time had expired. He smiles now as he thinks how he never really knew what it was to enjoy the fighting until he got the lad off home, so that he had not to worry about his being hit every time there was any shooting going on. Coming into Great Barrington, he asked the first man he met where the tavern was.

Perez laughed, and riding up to the tavern end of the jail, dismounted, and going into the barroom, ordered a plate of pork and beans. Feeling in excellent humor he fell to conversing over his modest meal with the landlord, a big, beefy man, who evidently liked to hear himself talk, and in a gross sort of way, appeared to be rather good natured. I tell you it makes business lively fer the lawyers an sheriffs. Why, man alive, the Common Pleas never had ez much business ez this time. Has there been a riot or a rebellion in the county? What have they all done?

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Ye see we never git rid on em. They never gits let aout like other fellers as is in jail.

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  • Did ye hear that Zeke? The credtor buys it in fer nothin, an the feller goes to jail fer the balance. A man as has got a silver sixpence can amos buy a farm. Some folks says they orter be a law makin propty a tender fer debts on a far valiation. Finishing his dinner, Perez asked for his score, and drew a large wallet from his pocket, and took out a roll of about five thousand dollars in Continental bills.

    Gosh durn it.

    Government thought they were good enough to pay the soldiers for their blood; they ought to pay landlords for their rum. They makes em work aout ther debt and reckons ther work tew baout wat they pleases. Wal, all I says is that a feller ez hez got a good lookin gal hed better not git a owin much in these ere times.

    The landlord seemed to hesitate. Thus authorized, Bement took a bundle of keys from a hook behind the bar, and proceeded to unlock the padlock which fastened an iron bar across a heavy plank door, in the middle of one of the sides of the room. As he threw open the door, a gust of foul stenches belched forth into the room, almost nauseating Perez.

    The smell of the prison was like that of a pig sty.

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    The door had opened into a narrow corridor, dimly lit by a small square grated window at the further end, while along either side were rows of strong plank doors opening outward, and secured by heavy, oaken bars, slipped across them at the middle. The muggy dog-day had been very oppressive, even out of doors; but here in the corridor, it was intolerable. To breathe in the horrible concoction of smells, was like drinking from a sewer; the lungs, even as they involuntarily took it in, strove spasmodically to close their passages against it. It was impossible for one unaccustomed to such an atmosphere, to breathe, save by gasps.

    Bement stopped at one of the doors, and as he was raising the bar across it, he said:. He opened the door, and as the other stepped in, it was closed and barred behind him. The cell was about seven feet square and as high. The floor was a foot lower than the corridor, and correspondingly damper.

    It must have been on or below the level of the ground, and the floor, as well as the lower end of the planks which formed the walls, was black with moisture. The cell was littered with straw and every kind of indescribable filth, while the walls and ceiling were mildewed and spotted with ghastly growths of mould, feeding on the moist and filthy vapors, which were even more sickening than in the corridor.

    Full six feet from the floor, too high to look out of, was a small grated window, a foot square, through which a few feeble, dog-day sunbeams, slanting downward, made a little yellow patch upon the lower part of one of the sides of the cell. Sitting upon a pile of filthy straw, leaning back against the wall, with his face directly in this spot, one of the prisoners was half-sitting, half-lying, his eyes shut as if asleep, and a smile of perfect happiness resting on his pale and weazened face.

    Doubtless he was dreaming of the time, when, as a boy, he played all day in the shining fields, or went blackberrying in the ardent July sun. For him the river was gleaming again, turning its million glittering facets to the sun, or, maybe, his eye was delighting in the still sheen of ponds in Indian summer, as they reflected the red glory of the overhanging maple or the bordering sumach thicket. The other prisoner was kneeling on the floor before the wall, with a piece of charcoal in his hand, mumbling to himself as he busily added figures to a sum with which the surface above was already covered.

    As the door of the cell closed, he looked around from his work. So completely had their miserable condition disguised them, that Perez would not have known in the dim light of the cell that he had ever seen either before. The man who had been kneeling on the floor, after his first look of dull curiosity, began to stare fixedly at Perez, as if he were an apparition, and then rose to his feet.

    The Duke of Stockbridge

    As he did so, Perez saw that he could not be Fennell, for the latter was tall, and this man was quite short. Yes, the reclining man must be George, and now he noted as an unmistakable confirmation, a scar on one of the emaciated hands lying on his breast. A peevish expression crossed his face, and he opened his eyes, the burning, glassy eyes of the consumptive. For a few seconds he looked fixedly, wonderingly, and then said half dreamily, half inquiringly, as if he were not quite certain whether it were a man or a vision, he murmured:.

    But before Fennell could answer the other prisoner sprang to the side of the speaker, clutching his arm in his claw-like fingers, and crying in an anguished voice:. At the voice Perez started as if a bullet had reached his heart.

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    Like lightning he turned, his face, frozen with fear, that was scarcely yet comprehended, his eyes like darts. The emaciated figure before him, the face bleached with the ghastly pallor which a sunless prison gives, the deep sunken eyes looking like coals of fire, eating their way into his brain, the tattered clothing, the long unkempt hair and beard, prematurely whitening, and filled with filth, the fingers grown claw-like and blue, with prison mould, the dull vacant look and the thought that this was Reuben, his brother; these things all filled him with such an unutterable, intolerable pity, that it seemed as if he should lose his head and go wild for very anguish of heart.

    I callated ye must be in jail, somewheres, like all the rest of the soldiers. But how came you here, Reub? Who put you here? Almost any misfortune now seemed possible to Perez. Sol Gleason had a mortgage on the place. And then he pointed to the sums in charcoal, covering the walls of the cell.