Maud Wilder Goodwin.

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

. (page 16 of 17)
Online LibraryMaud Wilder GoodwinWhite aprons, a romance of Bacon's rebellion: Virginia, 1676 → online text (page 16 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


She must be what said I ? she must be you,
None but yourself that miracle can do."

Then he made an end, and waving Penelope a
mighty fine salute, he sat down.

"Bravo!" cried Kneller. "'Tis as pretty a
love-song as ever I heard."

" Sir, whoever you be," quoth Mr. Pepys, " you
do my niece honor by your verses, which need not



A Foy.

the setting off of your music to make them worthy
of our best poets."

Mr. Dryden coughed dryly, and looked a trifle
vexed that the lines of the unknown so far out-
shone his, as of a truth they did.

" Very pretty, very pretty, Mr. Domino," said he
at last. " I will borrow them for my new play,
and put them into the mouth of a callow stripling
fresh from school, who thinks women are to be
won by lollipops and sweet-meat songs."

"So you shall so you shall," answered the
singer with a grand bow, "though it is a quaint
conceit to make a stripling the best speaker in
the play."

At this Mr. Dryden looked so black that Mr.
Pepys made haste to divert the conversation by
saying : " Penelope, my dear, 't is for you to give
us a toast."

" Then," said Penelope, looking down shyly, and
then up with a wonderful tremulous sweetness which
won all hearts, " it cannot be a merry one ; but I
will ask you, friends, as you bear me good will, to
drink to the health of one who lies this night be-
hind prison bars under sentence of death, but
to whom under God, and with the guidance of
Captain Bennett in his good ship * White Lady,'
I go with the message of pardon and release.

315



White Aprons.

" I give you Bryan Fairfax / "

The toast was drunk most heartily, and scarcely
were the goblets drained when the tall stranger,
not he of the lute, but his comrade, 1 rising, said :

" Good people, I too will give you a toast ere I
leave. I ask you to drink the health of the brave
maiden who hath come three thousand miles alone
in search of this pardon, ay, and braved greater
perils than she herself may ever guess to gain it.
Stand up and drink the health of Mistress
Payne ! "

There was somewhat in the stranger's manner
which bent all to his will, and without any knowing
how it came to pass, his rising was the signal for
the company to rise ; and though all were burning
with curiosity to learn who he was and whence he
came, and how he chanced to know so much.of the
party, none dared question him.

The goblets were set down, having been all
drained to the last drop, and there was a general
move toward the donning of hats and cloaks and
hoods amid much laughter and merriment.

Under cover of the general confusion, the two
dominos drew near Penelope. " Your fortune has
fallen out even better than I foretold the other
evening at Whitehall ; the soothsayer wishes
you joy." So spoke the mandolin-player, and

316



A Foy.

moved swiftly out of sight. His companion fol-
lowed, and bent low to kiss Penelope's hand. As
he did so, he slipped upon her wrist an armlet
clasped with a true lover's-knot set in diamonds,
and in her ear he whispered : " As thou hast been
true to thy lover, be true also to thy promise to the
King. Pray for him ! Perchance to that interces-
sion at the throne of the King of kings he may owe
his pardon hereafter."

Scarcely had Penelope had time to take in the
words he was speaking ere he had slipped out into
the night, whither his companion had gone before.
With much mirth and some sadness the rest made
their adieux, and so late had they tarried that it was
nearly midnight when Mr. Pepys and his niece were
set down at their own door in Crutched Friars.
Godfrey Kneller had come with them, his home-
ward way lying with theirs ; and when they parted,
Penelope thanked him with tears for the service
he had done her. Mr. Pepys begged him to come
in. The hour being so late, however, he would
not; but he told Penelope, smiling, that he was
the least bereft of all those she was leaving, since
he would still be able to look at the picture of
Mistress " Spring," and fancy the original sitting
there in the great oak chair beneath the window
in his studio. So he spoke his farewell, and Mr.

317



White Aprons.

Pepys and his niece went into the little house in
Seething Lane together for the last time.

" Good night, Penelope, and God bless thee ! "
said her uncle, taking her head between his hands
and kissing her on the forehead with much tender-
ness, wishing, it maybe, that Heaven had bestowed
on him a daughter who could be to him for life
what this maid had been for a few weeks. But
Mr. Pepys was a practical man, and his moods of
sentiment rarely lasted long.

" Thou art a good girl," he said. " I am loath to
part with thee, and I do not grudge thee thy foy,
though it cost me two pounds seven shillings (the
extra shillings being for the entertainment of the
masks). Troth, I would give as much more to
discover who they were ! People of importance I
dare be sworn from their bearing ; and when the
cloak of the mandolin-player slipped I did catch a
glimpse of some huge noble lace at his wrist."

Penelope flushed guiltily, but the secret being
none of hers she felt it wrong to say aught of the
matter ; so hiding her armlet closer beneath her
cloak she returned her uncle's good night and ran
upstairs to her chamber and sat herself down to
write a last entry in her journal. Thus it read :

" Monday night. So will I set it down, though
'twere nearer the truth to write it Tuesday morn-

318



A Foy.

ing, foi the bellman hath just cried beneath my
window, ' Past one o'clock, and a cold, frosty,
windy morning.' My candle burns low, and I
must make haste to set down the things (many of
them too strange almost for belief) that have
happed on this, my last night in England. Day
will soon break, a new day leading toward the
new world. Thank God, Bryan, it leads me
toward thee!"



319



CHAPTER XIX.

APRIL TWENTY-THIRD.

"One moment in Annihilation's waste,
One moment of the well of life to taste
The stars are setting, and the caravan
Starts for the dawn of Nothing. Oh, make haste 1 "

ON the twenty-third day of April, in the year of
our Lord sixteen hundred and seventy-seven,
the sun rose over the Old Dominion as clear and
bright as though, in all the realms his rays shone
on, there were no such things as tears or clouded
lives or broken human hearts. It was a spring
day, and a spring day such as can be found ir: Vir-
ginia alone. The sky brooded above the earth,
the air was a caress, the warm ground thrilled with
the quickening of the green things hid in her
bosom ready to bourgeon and blossom in a few
more days.

Strange paradox ! All this sweetness and bright-
ness was but the background of a scene of suffer-
ing, and the sad trappings of a humiliating death.
320



April Twenty -third.

As Bryan Fairfax looked forth from the barred
window of his prison in the midst of the ruins of
Jamestown, he felt a sudden, bitter pang that
Nature should thus, as it were, hold high festival
on the day of his death. But to one man in the
colony it seemed altogether fitting that the day
should rise in unclouded brightness, for was it
not the day of his final triumph and revenge ?

Sir William Berkeley had resolved that Bryan
Fairfax should hang. He would listen neither
to entreaties nor expostulations on that subject.
The man who had turned the tide in the field at
Gloucester (for that too had come to the Gover-
nor's ears), who had secured the safely hidden
commission for Bacon, who had beyond a per-
adventure planned his own taking off (of this he
would admit no shadow of doubt), that man
must die. But Fairfax once dead, Berkeley was
resolved to play the r61e of father of the people.
Nay, he had even prepared a proclamation of
general amnesty to be read from the scaffold, so
that the remainder of the day following the execu-
tion should be given up to popular rejoicing; and
if there were those who of late had murmured
against the harshness of the government, their
voices should be swallowed up in the shouts and
acclamations of the crowd.

21 321



White Aprons.

So carefully had the Governor planned all this,
that as the time drew near, he began to feel a
nervous dread lest something should go wrong, and
his revenge and his pardon alike slip through his
fingers. For the last fortnight he had scanned the
surface of the river the first thing each morning
and the last each evening, dreading lest he should
see thereon the broad, square sails of a bark from
over seas. Once, indeed, a ship appeared, of such
a size that a fear smote him that Penelope Payne
might be standing on her deck with the King's
pardon held like a white dove in her hand. But
the vessel proved to be only a thick-set, round-
sterned, tub-like packet from the colony of New
Netherland, and Sir William breathed freely once
more. For his further consolation the coast had
been harassed by heavy storms, which must, as he
thought, have beaten back any vessel coming this
way, or at least stayed her on her course.

This morning, as he stood upon the bank and
saw the broad yellow stream stretching from shore
to shore as far as eye could reach, with not so
much as a pinnace or a canoe upon its bosom,
and the air above so calm that no sail could fill to
bear a vessel on, this old man, unconscious of
his blasphemy, lifted up his voice and thanked
God aloud that his enemy was delivered into his
322



April Twenty-third.

hand. Nay, the very words of holy writ did he
pervert to his evil purpose, saying, " I will tread on
him in my anger, and trample him in my fuiy, and
his blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments ;
for the day of vengeance is in my heart."

So buried was he in his thoughts of blood and
vengeance that he heard not the footsteps behind
him till he felt a hand laid upon his arm, when,
turning, he saw close beside him the tall form and
white head of Colonel Payne.

"I am favored, Sir William, to find you here,
for I was about to seek you at your house."

" A visit from Colonel Payne is alway an honor,"
replied Berkeley ; but there was little heart in the
words.

A chill had fallen of late betwixt these two men
who had been of old such dear friends ; and when
a blight once falls on friendship, there is no shower
save tears of contrition that can revive it.

" It was not a visit of ceremony, but on official
business," said Colonel Payne. " I have already
in vain besought you for the sake of your own honor,
as well as in the name of mercy, to delay the sen-
tence of this unfortunate young man, Bryan Fair-
fax, till the coming in of the ship, which may be even
now upon the ocean, bearing the King's pardon."

" I do appreciate your zeal in his behalf, and I
3 2 3



White Aprons.

might be moved to grant your petition, and wish you
joy of a future son-in-law with the smell o' James
City jail on his garments; but I have a duty to
the State."

Colonel Payne reddened with anger at the first
words ; but as he looked on the Governor's livid
face distorted with hatred and malice, and all the
evil passions that spring up in their train, he felt a
great overwhelming pity for this man who had
once stood at the parting of the ways, his nature
rich in qualities both good and bad, and who
had deliberately turned away from his better
nature and thrown the reins upon the neck of his
baser passions, which were now in a mad gallop
none could check. To reason with him was as
futile as to argue with a madman. But Colonel
Payne said quietly : " I can conceive no duty to
the State which waits not upon the King's will, and
methinks this obstinacy smacks more of private
vengeance than of care for the common weal."

The truth of the accusation made it unbearable.
Berkeley writhed as if a probe had been turned
in a wound. " Colonel Payne ! " he cried in fury,
" an 't were not for our old-time friendship I 'd
have you clapped into the prison along side of
Bryan Fairfax for such words to the Governor
of the colony."

324



April Twenty-third.

" No doubt," answered Payne, coldly. " It were
quite of apiece with your conduct, and would match
well. So far ye have carried all with a high hand,
but beware ! The King is the father of his people,
and they have cried aloud to him of thy cruelty ! "

" So," snarled Berkeley, " that was thy daughter's
errand, to stir up anger against me as well as to
procure a pardon for her precious lover ! I am
glad to know it, and I will take care to make her
home-coming all it should be. Know, Theophilus
Payne, that were I to set sail for England this day,
I would stay the ship till I had seen Bryan Fairfax
hanged."

" Then," said Payne, " there is no more to be
said. I will stand by Fairfax on the scaffold as
though he were mine own son, as for my dear
daughter's sake I do verily count him. For you,
your deeds be upon your head, and never, so help
me God, will I speak to you or take you by the
hand so long as Virginia shall hold us both."

The long roll of the drum broke in upon the
words, and Colonel Payne's face grew ashen white
as he saw the prison door open and Bryan Fairfax
come forth, guarded before and behind by two
stout halberdiers.

The four months in prison had left their traces.
Fairfax had entered the jail a youth, he emerged

3 2 S



White Aprons.

a man. The deep furrows between the eyes had
been drawn by the hand of grief ; yet the head
with its weight of fair hair was lifted as haughtily
as of old. Neither to the right nor the left did he
turn as he marched up the straggling village street
where half a year since he had ridden a conqueror,
now surrounded by a hooting mob.

"'Tis pity your General is na with you to see
the ruins o' the houses ye laid in ashes last fall,"
cried one in his ear.

" Ay," added a smoother tone on the other side ;
" and a pity Mistress Payne cannot take in this
scene from her ship. Could I have had my say,
I would have builded the scaffold like a light-
house tower, and set it where it might be as a
beacon to in-coming vessels."

The color rose to the pale cheek of Fairfax, and
his hands, bound with rope as they were, fumbled
nervously for his sword. But he only lifted his
head the higher and marched forward with firm
tread and steady eye.

Ere he had gone another rod, the place on his
right was taken by Colonel Payne:

*' Courage, my lad ! " quoth he. " I have
watchers posted on the river bank. We have
three hours yet, and if the ship heave in sight,
Berkeley dare not proceed."
326



April Twenty- third.

" How say you, Colonel Payne ? " spoke Arthur
Thorn from the other side. " ' Dare not ' are harsh
words to be used anent an old soldier, and sure no
man ever deserved it less. I will see to it that your
speech reaches His Excellency."

" Say what you like," answered the Colonel.
" 'T were as hard to increase the Governor's
malignity as your poisonous sycophancy."

" Excellent words ! " quoth Thorn, his tawny face
mottling like the skin of a snake. " Excellent words,
treason and libel all in one. I will find my way
to Governor Berkeley with them, and that without
loss of time." With this he took his leave, yet for
some time hovered near, as loath even for a moment
to lose sight of his victim.

" Colonel Payne," said Fairfax when Thorn had
gone, his face for the first time relaxing from its
stony composure, "tell Penelope that I died as
a soldier should, and that on the very scaffold,
looking death in the face, the thought of her love
made me a proud and happy man."

The Colonel turned away. There was that in
his throat which made it -impossible to utter
speech. In silence, keeping step as to a funeral
march, they went on together, shoulder to shoulder.
Oh, what joy and comfort it brought afterward
to the heart of Penelope Payne to remember that
327



White Aprons.

her father and her lover were thus united to the
very end !

As they drew near the foot of the scaffold the
crowd, attracted more by curiosity than hatred,
grew thicker. A little lad stepped out from those
who lined the road, and held forth toward Fairfax
a bunch of gay wild-flowers gripped tight in his
tiny chubby fist; then as he saw the prisoner's
hands bound tight behind him he cried, " Poor
man ! thou canst not hold the flowers I did gather
for thee."

" Nay, little one," answered Fairfax with a smile
sadder than tears, " no more flowers for me in this
world ; but I thank thee none the less for thy kind
intention." Small as was the act, it shed a glow
over Fairfax's downcast heart anH with its last
beat came a picture of that childish hand out-
stretched with its bunch of flowers. It was strange
how now in his great stress of mind his eye noted
every blossom and singled out the white violet, the
wood anemone, and the hanging crimson bell of
the columbine.

It was nine o'clock, and the sun already waxing
hot, when Bryan Fairfax took his stand upon the
scaffold, the cruel rope about his neck, that he
might experience for three mortal hours the full
foretaste of the death agony.
328



April Twenty -third.

In full sight from the scaffold, in the centre of
the village green, stood the dial ; and from where
he stood Fairfax could watch the shadow creep
along, and to him it was like the shadow of death
cast by the sun of eternity. Strange to say, he had
no wish to stay it, but would fain have hastened it
rather in a kind of mad impatience to be done
with it all and learn the worst that life (or death)
had in store for him. Yet one thought ran under
and through all his feelings. "Penelope! Poor
Penelope ! "

The shadow on the dial marked ten.

A strange, trancelike feeling had stolen over him.
He seemed to be but one of the crowd around the
scaffold, and to see himself as a stranger standing
there uplifted in ignominy. He listened then with
scarce a thrill of emotion to the murmurs of sym-
pathy which ran through the throng of bystanders,
mostly women.

" How handsome he is ! "

"And so young! "

" Ay, and his poor sweetheart gone to fetch the
King's pardon. Poor thing, she '11 go mad when
she finds she is come too late, and maybe kill
herself."

" Then Berkeley will have the blood of two on
his head, for 'tis sheer murder."

3 2 9



White Aprons.

"The blood of two! Say rather of two hun-
dred, and none knows whose turn will come
next. I would the King were here to see what
things be done in his name."

To all this Fairfax listened as calmly as though
he had no interest of special moment in the dis-
course, nay, all his senses seemed quickened
beyond the natural. He noted the dignitaries on
the platform, that Sir John Berry wore a new
sword-belt, that Philip Ludwell had grown a mus-
tachio, and that Governor Berkeley's eyes were
shot with blood, which was not so aforetime.

The shadow on the dial marked eleven.

Colonel Payne paced up and down like a caged
lion, his eye fixed in turn upon the boat in the
river and the man on the shore, watching, watch-
ing for the red flag which was to be the signal of
an approaching vessel. Would it never come !
Ah, what bitter irony should it come but one hour
too late! Despair had settled black on Payne's
soul ; yet still he sought to cheer the other, bidding
him be of good courage, for while there was life
there was hope. But like a running comment of
mockery on his words were the preparations going
on around, the hangman making ready and testing
the strength of the beam.

Now there crept over Fairfax a sharp, pricking

330



April Twenty- third.

sense that this was indeed the last of earth. He
strove to give up his heart wholly to God, and to
shut out all thoughts and affections of this world ;
but spite of his intensest effort God seemed
shadowy, strange, and far away, and every pulsa-
tion of his being throbbed with one word, one
thought : " Penelope ! Penelope ! Penelope ! "

The shadow on the dial marked the half hour.

The moments slid away. A silence fell on the
crowd like the calm which goes before a storm.
The air was electric with feeling.

Hark ! "

"Heard ye aught?"

" Ay, of a truth, methought I caught the sound
of flying hoofs on yonder bridge."

" See, see, 't is a woman who rides ! "

"What if 'twere "

" Nay ! Nay ! It could na be."

" Yea, I swear, 't is she ! "

While these breathless whispers were running
from mouth to mouth in the crowd, Bryan Fairfax
stood with fixed and glassy eyes upon the scaffold.
So absorbed was his soul in the thought of Pe-
nelope that it was scarcely with surprise that his
mind conjured up the vision of her form on horse-
back as he had seen her that day of their ride to
this very spot ; but now she was flying like some



White Aprons.

wild sister of the wind up the street, and her horse
was trembling, flecked with foam and with wide
distended nostrils. Such apparitions he had heard
did oftentimes arise before the eyes of those about
to die. But what struck him as most strange was
the fact that the hangman paused in his ghastly
work, and the very crowd around his feet seemed
to share his delusion, for a mighty cheer arose
from beneath him, a cheer which shook the
platform on which with staring eyes and open
mouth and swelling veins stood the Governor.

" Hurrah ! " shouted the crowd.

" Penelope ! "

" Penelope Payne ! "

Yes, it was she. Finding the ship becalmed
upon the lower river, she had taken horse, and out-
stripping those who rode with her, she had reached
the fatal spot in time ; but with not one moment
to spare. Flinging herself from the horse, which
already swayed this way and that, ready to sink
upon its spent knees, she waved a white packet
above her head, and rushing up the rude steps of
the platform fell on her knees before the Governor,
crying : " The King's pardon ! In time, thank
God ! "

Berkeley turned a terrible ashen gray ; then
pointing his rigid arm to the shadow on the dial

33 2



April Twenty- third.

which marked three minutes after twelve he
gasped : " Nay, by God, 't is not in time. Bid
the hangman do his office!"

" Never ! " shouted the crowd, suddenly grown
a menacing mob.

"The King's pardon must be respected, Your
Excellency," said Sir John Berry, courteously but
firmly.

Berkeley stamped with fury. " It came too late,
I say. But for the gaping and gazing of the hang-
man the sentence would have been already executed
when this wench arrived. If need be, my own
hands shall make fast the rope. I am Governor of
this province, and I will be obeyed."

With trembling hands Penelope tore open the
breast of her gown, and, drawing forth a paper
sealed with the royal seal, she thrust it into Sir
John Berry's hands, crying out, " Lose not an
instant, read ! read ! "

The Governor himself paused and turned, spell-
bound by the girl's voice, and the crowd waited in
the hush born of intense excitement. Sir John
glanced hastily, with ever-growing amazement, at
the paper, and then, advancing to the edge of the
platform, he said aloud so that all could hear : " I
do hold in my hand a communication from our sov-
ereign Lord the King. Under any circumstances

333



White Aprons.

but the extraordinary ones now existing, I should
deem it most unfitting to make it public till it had
been first communicated to him whom it doth most
concern ; but in view of the great issue at stake, I
do accept the heavy responsibility of making it here
known to the people of Virginia."

Having so said, amid a hush still as death he
spread out the sheet and read:

To Sir John Berry, Knight:

TRUSTY AND WELL-BELOVED, We greet you well.

Whereas it hath come to our knowledge that affairs
in our province of Virginia are gone sadly awry, it is our
will that all be investigated and thoroughly considered,
and to this end we command Sir William Berkeley, our
trusty vice-regent, to return at once to England, and we
do hereby order and decree that from the moment this
paper is placed in your hands, the powers and privi-
leges of Governor of the province be lodged and vested
in you until such time as the Lieutenant-Governor, Sir
Herbert Jeffreys, can be proclaimed, in due form of
law, Governor in place of Sir William Berkeley. And
for the instant and full performance of these our com-
mands we rely upon your well-approved loyalty.

CHARLES R.

Stillness deep as death fell on the multitude.
Then Sir John said solemnly:

" As my first official act, in the King's name, I bid
yonder hangman remove the rope from about the
334



April Twenty -third.

neck of Bryan Fairfax, and I declare the prisoner
pardoned."

The scene which followed is beyond the power
of my poor pen to set down. It was as though in
the setting free of this one man the whole colony


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 16

Online LibraryMaud Wilder GoodwinWhite aprons, a romance of Bacon's rebellion: Virginia, 1676 → online text (page 16 of 17)