Maud Wilder Goodwin.

White aprons, a romance of Bacon's rebellion: Virginia, 1676 online

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done has been in defence of His Majesty's interests.
I have fought against the Indians who were slay-
ing the King's servants and despoiling them of

The Trial of Bryan Fairfax.

their means of livelihood. I have upheld the com-
mission of Nathaniel Bacon, signed by Sir William
Berkeley and ratified by act of assembly. When
the Governor expressed his confidence in his
loyalty and his valor, and when later he did see
fit to tax him with * coward ' and ' fool,' and above
all, when he took upon himself to hold back the
King's commission, 'twas Berkeley, not Bacon,
who taxed himself of treason to our Sovereign."

" Enough," cried Ludwell, sternly ; " we are not
met to listen to the mad attacks of malice and
rancor against our Governor and the Chief Justice
of this court ; but I charge you, gentlemen of the
jury, that ye take note of this fellow's words, and
carry well in mind what bearing they have upon
the second count of this indictment. Is the prose-
cutor ready to proceed with his witnesses on this
head ? "

But the words which had been uttered had
aroused intense excitement among both jury and
spectators, for rumors had for some time been
abroad, the truth whereof no man knew, that
Berkeley had suppressed a royal commission to
Bacon, something that it would by no means suit
the Governor and his adherents to have known, as
the prosecutor well understood. His blundering
witness was making it too clear, and the ominous
13 193

White Aprons.

murmur in the court-room, as well as Berkeley's
look, warned him that this matter must be probed
no farther. With the adroitness of his calling he
avoided the difficulty. " Thou didst never read
this paper, I think?" he said to the witness.

"No, not I," answered Boynton.

"Then," said the prosecutor, "I find that I
have no sufficient proof upon this count, and will
proceed to the next.

" May it please Your Honors, I have but one
witness to this heavy charge ; but methinks he will
prove all sufficient, and the more so that he was a
late companion in arms with the prisoner, and him-
self a repentant and remorseful rebel pardoned by
the Governor's clemency. Call Arthur Thorn ! "

At this name, for the first time this day, Penelope
Payne put back her veil ; and had there been any
whose attention was not fixed upon the bar of
judgment, he might have observed that the eyes so
lately veiled by moisture of pity now blazed with
a wrath which burned away tears as the fierce sun
of August dries the dewdrops on the blades of
summer grass.

" Thou wretch ! " quoth she ; but none noted her.

Court " Dost thou know the prisoner ? "

Thorn "I do."

Court " How long hast thou known him ? "

The Trial of Bryan Fairfax.

Thorn "A matter of two years, since ever he
came to the country."

Court "Were you with him in Bacon's army
at Gloucester Court House?"

Thorn "I was."

C our t "Didst ever hear him say aught touch-
ing the taking off of Berkeley?"

Thorn " Ay, I heard him say that Berkeley's
death would be the greatest good that could befall
the country, since if that came to pass all would
unite under Bacon."

Court "Did ever anything happen particular
that made thee believe Fairfax devised himself the
taking of the Governor's life ? "

Thorn "There did."

Court " Tell thy story to the court."

Thorn "I trust Your Honors will pardon me if
my story be over long, for many incidents thereof
are fixed in my mind, and I tell it with deep regret,
which hindereth me, and plucketh me back from
bearing testimony thus against a comrade in arms,
and a former friend."

Fairfax gnawed his under lip, as though to be
called this man's friend were worse aspersion than
the charge of treason and murder.

Court " Say it at what length thou wilt."

Thorn " Then, may it please the court, it was


White Aprons.

one evening in October last, just before Bacon was
taken ill. The sun was fading in the skies, when,
chancing to find myself outside the canvas flap of
General Bacon's tent, "

("Eavesdropping as usual," muttered Fairfax
under his breath.)

I W as about to enter; but hearing voices
within I paused, fearing my company might be held
an intrusion. Even while I halted thus, I saw a
black coming out a black whom I recognized at
once as the body servant of Sir William Berkeley,
and under his arm he bore a pigeon and a white

Court " Heard ye anything said ? "

Thorn " Ay, I heard the voice of the prisoner
say : " Pompey, here is a half-crown for thee, and
I will make it a whole one an these safely reach
the one for whom they be intended."

" Being much wrought upon to pluck out the
heart of this mystery, I passed in as Pompey
passed out, and then I saw the prisoner sitting with
his head on his hands, and his brow as gloomy as
though he saw the scaffold which that night's work
should nail for him."

"A crafty thrust ! " groaned Fairfax.

"A dastardly stab in the dark!" muttered
Colonel Payne.


The Trial of Bryan Fairfax.

" Stepping up to him I said, * Methinks thou
couldst scarce look solemner were there pohon in
your packet.' "

Scarce looking up or seeming to give much heed
to who it was spoke, he muttered, "Ay, poison;
enough, perchance, to be the spoiling of two

At this a thrill of horror ran through the listeners.
The taking off of the Governor might, to a mad
fanatic, seem only but a form of warfare; but that
he should aim at another, perhaps Lady Berkeley,
the innocent to suffer with the guilty, this were
the unpardonable sin.

Angry murmurs began to rise from all quarters :

"Hang him!"

"To the gallows!"

" He should be drawn and quartered."

"Prisoner at the bar," quoth Berkeley, "the
evidence against you is grave ; have ye any to bring
against it? Unhappily my servant Pompey died
that same month of October, of the Jamestown
fever, else might we have a stronger light on this
coil. I, too, was taken down about the same time,
and Lady Berkeley."

" Faith," said Ludwell, " this tallies but too well
with the words of the witness. Didst thou eat of
the flesh of pigeon?"


White Aprons.

Berkeley " Why, birds were most of our meat
this autumn ; but I recall naught special."

Ludwell " The case is clear ; yet that all may
be after the form of law we will hear the prisoner
if he hath aught to say."

Fairfax " Your Honor, I have listened in
silence, but not that silence which doth give assent
to the words of this witness, which are as cunning
a tissue of truth and falsehood as any ever woven
out of hell. The words he doth attribute to me I
did speak."

" He owns it."

" f T is his death warrant."

"I did speak the words," repeated Fairfax, un-
moved, "but with no such meaning as he doth
impute. ' T is true I desired the death of Berkeley,
and I would have shot him to the heart had I met
him in fair fight upon the field of battle, and so
I doubt not would any one of you have done to
Bacon, but 't is a far cry from war to murder and
from honest powder to base poison."

The prisoner's words were spoken so like a true
man that they began to weigh in his favor. But
Ludwell sternly bade him keep to the point, and
explain, if he could, his words and the packet

Thus bidden, he opened his lips ; but no words

The Trial of Bryan Fairfax.

would come. Thrice he essayed, and after the last
vain effort he said dryly, "Your Honors, I can
say naught, not because I am guilty, but because
it toucheth another as nearly as myself, and I
would rather die a thousand times than open the
matter here to-day."

Ludwell " So, 't is a conspiracy. Think not
under such thin varnish of honor thou shalt escape.
You see, gentlemen, he hath no defence, and I
move that the case be charged and go at once to
the jury."

"I ask to be heard as a witness for the prisoner / "

At these words, uttered in the soft plaintive tone
peculiar to the women of Virginia, there fell upon
that room a deep amazement.

"'Tis Mistress Payne!"

" Nay, surely not."

" Ay look at her father ! "

Truth to say, Colonel Payne gazed on his
daughter as on one suddenly gone mad from stress
of excitement ; and he would have drawn her away
to the door, but she put him gently aside, and stood
there like some prophetess of old, the wintry sun
shining on the glowing coil of her hair, and her
eyes dark with feeling, and showing darker yet
against the marble pallor of her cheek.

" Call Mistress Penelope Payne! "

White Aprons.

At the words she moved forward as one moves
in a dream, conscious, yet profoundly heedless, of
all around, till, passing Arthur Thorn, she drew her
petticoat slightly aside that it might not touch him.
He cringed.

For Fairfax, the light of a mighty love and ten-
derness shone in his eyes as he gazed upon the
vision of an angel suddenly alighted as 'twere
upon this planet to plead his cause. He never
dreamed that it would avail aught; but 'twas
enough and too much of happiness to see her stand-
ing there, his friend, his love, his guardian angel.

" May it please the court," quoth the vision, her
voice, which trembled mightily at first, growing
ever clearer and stronger as she went on, "I ask
to be heard, for I have that to say which will set
both prisoner and witness in far different light
from that wherein they now stand before you.
'T is not an easy task for a maiden to lay bare her
heart, yet better so than that an innocent man
suffer and all of you stand charged at the last day
with bloodguiltiness. I know not the ways of
courts, whereby, as it hath looked to me this day,
all roads save those that lead to the scaffold are
barred ; but I do beseech you that ye lend an open
ear to the plain tale of an untutored, untrained
girl, who hath no other counsellor than her own

The Trial of Bryan Fairfax.

heart, for neither to mother, father, nor friend
have I disclosed that which I would now lay before

At these words Sir William Berkeley, once more
something of the true knight he had been before
the sulphurous cloud of war hid his better nature,
cried out:

" Mistress Payne, say on, and thou shalt be
heard ; I promise thee the protection of the court,
and that thy story shall be attended to with open

" I thank Your Excellency, and I do rely upon
the kindness of the court. Know, then, that this
Arthur Thorn hath vowed long ago that he would
do the prisoner some harm.'*

" Pish ! Pish ! " interrupted the prosecutor, " what
motive could he have ? "

" Silence ! " thundered the Governor. " The wit-
ness is speaking: let none break in upon her

" What motive had he ? " said Penelope, turning
toward the prosecutor and repeating his question
with scorn in her voice. " The mean motive of one
who loves unworthily, who cares naught for the
happiness of her he professes to love, unless it be
his own happiness as well, and who would rather
see her dead at his feet than wed to another."

White Aprons.

The infernal gleam in Thorn's eyes attested the
truth of her words, and all who looked on him felt
that it was even so.

" Ay, but what other ? " questioned Ludwell ; and
his harsh query fell upon the girl's heart, as the
rude hand of the executioner tears away the ker-
chief from the neck of one about to die by the axe.

The maiden red which had quite forsaken the
white cheek now rushed up over cheek and brow
till it lost itself in the ripples of her hair ; but she
flinched not. Moving close to the side of Bryan
Fairfax, she laid her hand upon the hand of the
almost convicted felon and answered:

" This other ! "

Thus they stood, like man and wife before God's
altar, and the stillness of death fell around them.

" Go on, girl," quoth Berkeley at length, but in
a softer tone than he had used that day. Per-
chance his mind was dwelling on the day when
Dame Frances Stevens even thus laid her hand in
his, and promised to be his helpmeet, for better, for
worse, in joy and in sorrow ; and he felt a sudden
thrill of human sympathy.

" Ay, give me but time and I will tell all. The love

I bear this man is the sad fruit of the bitter roots

of strife and hatred. The first time ever my eyes

lighted on him was yonder, at Rosemary, whither


The Trial of Bryan Fairfax.

he came at Bacon's command to bring my mother
a prisoner to Green Springs. That day I took an
oath that come what might, I would never forgive
that deed, nor cease to count the doer of it my foe."

The voice trembled again, but she caught herself
bravely and went on: "God forgive the making
of the oath rather than the breaking of it, for I had
not been two days in his company ere I felt the
assurance" in my heart that, fight under what flag
he might, the heart that beat in his breast was
loyal, true, and honorable."

The fickle folk in the audience started a faint
cheer, but Ludwell checked them sternly. "All
this is mighty pretty," he said, " but it hath precious
little to do with the matter o' the poison."

" Ay," echoed Berkeley, suspicion jarring in his
tone, " what of the poison ? Canst thou, Mistress
Payne, cast any light upon that packet ? "

" Yes, that can I," answered Penelope, " a light
so bright that it shall leave naught hid or in
darkness. Your Excellency, Bryan Fairfax, in
this last autumn, did, in the disguise of a Dutch
trader, visit my father's house at Rosemary ; and
though I knew him for what he was, I durst make
no sign, lest he be taken and shot as a spy ; for my
father was even then at home on leave of absence
from the Governor."


White Aprons.

" Penelope / " The word broke from the lips of
Colonel Payne, and such a world of grief, of shame,
of tender reproach were in the tone that the
maiden sobbed aloud, " O Father, forgive me ! I
ne'er meant any deception towards thee I pray
thee, hear me but to the end."

Mastering her emotions at length, she continued:
" When I had escaped to my chamber, and had
spread out my letter, I found it filled with sweet
and bitter he loved me and now, alas, I knew
too well that I loved him as well. He prayed me
send him some word, some token on which he
might hang a thread of hope."

Silence again, and for a moment it seemed she
could not go on ; yet she did, and more boldly.

" That night came the Governor's servant bear-
ing despatches for my father. I remember he sat
late over the candle reading of them. For me, my
resolve was taken. Pompey (as Your Excellency
knows) was my father's servant, and by him given
to you, and from a tiny maid this old servant had
known and loved me, and I mind me still how I
wept when my father sent him away. But to be
brief, I did charge him, by the love of other days,
to be my messenger as well as my father's ; that he
should, as the servant of a poor planter having
poultry for sale, find his way to Bacon's camp and

The Trial of Bryan Fairfax.

make opportunity to see Bryan Fairfax, to whom
he should deliver my letter, with a message that he
should straightway answer that within by the
bearer: and to make it sure of that answer's reach-
ing none but me, I bade Pompey bind it under the
wing of my white pigeon, which would find its way
home though 't were from New Sweden itself."

Here, at length, was a clew; the onlookers
brightened, the jury grew more attentive ; but Lud-
well and Berkeley only hardened both their hearts
and faces. " Perhaps you will give us the spirit of
his reply," quoth Berkeley, with more than met the
ear in his tone; but he little knew the nature of her
he had to deal with if he thought to daunt her thus.

" Nay," she flashed out, " not the spirit alone, but
the substance. For mine, 't was brief indeed, and
comprised but these words : ' The daughter of
Colonel Payne will never wed with a rebel. If
thou dost indeed love her, come over to the side of
thy Governor and thy King ! ' "

" Bravely said ! Now thou art mine own daughter
indeed," quoth Colonel Payne.

" And he, what said he ? " questioned Berkeley.

" My lord, here is his letter."

With trembling hand at these words, the maiden
drew from her breast a packet, bound with red ribbon,
and Arthur Thorn turned livid as he looked upon it.

White Aprons,

Every head bent forward, and every ear was
strained to catch the syllables as they fell from her
lips while she read :

" SWEET MISTRESS," thus it ran, " Thy letter
is like a dagger rubbed with balm, healing even
while it hurts. Thou lovest me 'tis as vain to
hide it from me as from thyself ; and knowing this,
I can trust our future to the white wings of the
peace which I see hovering over my poor distraught
country. Yes, trust to it as now I trust this note
to the white wing of the dove thou hast sent me as
a messenger. For the conditions thou wouldst
bind me to I can but answer in the words of a
better man : ' I could not love thee, dear, so much,
loved I not honor more.'

" Thine only and thine ever,


" We have heard enough, Mistress Payne ; you
can leave the witness-stand," said Berkeley, filled
with wrath over the sympathy written on the faces
of all around, and half regretting the protection he
had extended to the witness. " Gentlemen of the
jury," he concluded, when the public prosecutor
had spoken once more, "ye have heard the evi-
dence, ye have heard how on the first counts the
prisoner stands, confessed by his own mouth, guilty

The Trial of Bryan Fairfax.

as charged. 'T is for you to decide whether one
who hath the hardihood, even now, to glory in such
deeds were like to stick at the last. A thief, a spy,
and a rebel he is, by his own confession ; it only
remaineth for you to decide whether he did also
seek to become a murderer."

The jury left the room, but 't was a short time
ere their return brought all eagerly trooping back
to their seats in the court. The clerk called the
roll while the jury stood.

" Are ye all agreed of your verdict ? "

" Yea."

" Who shall say for you ? "

" The foreman."

Then said the clerk : " Bryan Fairfax, hold up
thy hand. Look upon the jury. Gentlemen of the
jury, look upon the prisoner, is he guilty or not
guilty as in the indictment charged ? "

" Guilty of bearing arms under Bacon."

Berkeley's eyes flashed with rage. " That is no
verdict," he thundered, " and we will not receive it.
Is he guilty or not guilty as charged in the indict-
ment? It is not for you to draw distinctions.
Retire, and return your verdict in the. form in
which the law and the court command, or it shall
be worse for you."

Again a murmur arose from the spectators, and

White Aprons.

the faces of the jury flushed angrily as they with-
drew. When at length they came back into court,
and the question as to their verdict was asked with
the same solemnity as before, they stood with com-
pressed lips and determined faces, and their fore-
man answered : " Guilty on the first and on the
second count, but recommended to mercy."

" How say you of the last counts ? "

" Not guilty."

At these words such a cheer shook the house as
could have been heard a mile away. It was a
cheer, not so much for Bryan Fairfax as for Pe-
nelope Payne. But Berkeley liked it none the better
for that. It was the first open defiance of his will,
and he resented it with all the gall and bitterness
of his perverted nature.

Beverley and Ludwell put their heads close, and
Ludwell whispered in the Governor's ear: " T' is an
infamy to have acquitted him of the well-proven
attempt on thy life, but no matter ; the treason is
clear, off with him to the gallows ! "

But Beverley, perchance through having less in
his own person to resent, saw more clearly than his
fellows that the temper of the people was not to be
tried too far.

" Forget not," said he, " that there are other pris-
oners to be tried for this rebellion, and it is not

The Trial of Bryan Fairfax.

wise to thwart too openly a jury drawn from our
own friends ; besides, remember the coming of the
commissioners. Methinks it were well to have
one instance of clemency to point to, and all the
better that 't were the pardon of an affront to one
of his judges, and of the suspicion of a graver
offence toward another."

" 'T is easy to forgive where we have suffered
no injury," sneered Ludwell.

The point of Beverley's argument had penetrated
Berkeley's mind. He felt that to press his author-
ity too far was to lose all. Loath as he was to
risk, or even to defer his vengeance, caution con-
quered. " Since you are not agreed, gentlemen,"
said he, somewhat coldly to Beverley and Ludwell,
" I must decide betwixt ye, and I hold Beverley's
counsel to lean more to the side of prudence,
though methinks Ludwell hath spoken more like
true friend of mine. Yet even at the risk of letting
the scoundrel escape, 't is safer to temporize. We
have him still, and if I have aught to say, the
gibbet shall still claim its own."

Having spoken in low tones to his associates,
Governor Berkeley rose, and every eye was fixed
on him : " Bryan Fairfax," said he, " you are con-
victed of a heinous offence against the state,
an offence for which the penalty is death. Your
14 209

White Aprons.

judges do accordingly sentence you to stand upon
the scaffold at James City from nine o'clock until
noon, and afterward to be hanged by the neck
till you are dead, and may the Lord have mercy
on your soul."

A rising tide of wrath began to make itself
heard, but Berkeley stayed it with his hand as he
concluded :

" Yet since the jury hath recommended thee to
mercy, we have decided to grant a respite of an
hundred days, with ten more added of our grace,
wherein you may, if you will, seek pardon of our
Sovereign Lord, the King ; and," he added, with the
same cruel irony with which he had formerly ad-
dressed Drummond, "bring to the notice of his
advisers the points which your doubtless profound
study of the law has enabled you to raise. Where-
fore we do grant you reprieve until the twenty-third
day of April next."

" Faith," said one to another as the court broke
up, " 't is but a refinement of cruelty ; for how can
news cross and re-cross the ocean in any such
space of time, above all when every vessel is
hindered by winter storms?"

But when Penelope Payne heard the words, joy
conquered that soul which sorrow could not bend.
She grew white, she staggered, she would have

The Trial of Bryan Fairfax.

fallen, but her father's arms were around her, and
his voice whispered in her ear : " My poor child,
would I had died ere this befell."

" Did I do wrong, father ? "

" Nay, my daughter; 't is no mortal's fault that
love conquers him. Methinks thou hast been but
the brave maid I would have had thee. Come
away. Whate'er comes to thee we will bear it

Scarce heeding his words, Penelope murmured
over and over, " The King's pardon I must have
the King's pardon ! "

" Ay," said Colonel Payne, breathing deep deter-
mination, " and thou shalt, or thou and I will die
in the seeking of it."



Though seas and lands be twixt us both,
Our faith and troth

Like separated souls,

All time and space controls.
Above the highest sphere we meet
Unseen, unknown ; and greet as angels greet.

\ 17 HEN Penelope left the court-room her mind
was set in that heroic key to which danger
and difficulty are but a spur and an excitement.
She would have faced the rack or the stake without
a tremor. But reaction is the inevitable penalty of
such exaltation ; and in the watches of the night, as
she lay in her little white bed in her chamber at
Rosemary, her forebodings conjured up lions in her
path till her heart sank, but never failed. The
sea, the dark, the stormy, the terrible, must be
crossed, and alone ; for the physician had declared
but the other day that her mother's life hung by
such an uncertain thread that none could say what


Penelope's Pilgrimage.

day might end it, and 't was clear that her father
could not be spared from home.

To be separated from this dear mother in such a
season of storm and stress, what a trial! And
perhaps never to look upon her face again, but
from that thought she turned away, as youth has
power to do from that which it finds insupportable.

It was agreed between her and her father that
she should sail on the " White Lady," which was
about to depart, with Captain Bennett, whose wife
was but too lad of a companion on the voyage.
So far all was clear ; but this uncle to whose care
she was to be consigned, what did she know of
him ? What did even her father know of him save
that he had married her mother's younger half-

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Online LibraryMaud Wilder GoodwinWhite aprons, a romance of Bacon's rebellion: Virginia, 1676 → online text (page 10 of 17)