Maud Wilder Goodwin.

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

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good fighters ere this day be out."

" West, I need not oversee the setting of your
gun. Whate'er you do is well done. I would I
had a regiment of such."

Words like these cost little, but they count for
much. " I tell thee," said Perry to West as Bacon

White Aprons.

moved on, " 't is not every leader who doth thus
consider the private soldier."

" Nay, verily," answered West ; " but he do look
upon us as so bound up with him that our good or
ill is in truth his own."

" Ay, we must all make common cause else are
we lost, and that speedily. But lost or saved, I
for one grieve not that we have taken up arms.
Methinks we stood still too long, seeing our crops
stolen and our houses burned by those marauding
Indians, and all because of this rusty, crusty old
Governor, who has cheated the grave-digger when
he should have been under ground these ten years.
Because this dotard sees fit to refuse us permission
to fight, shall we submit ? Faith, 't is asking too
much of human nature. We were worse than
cowards did we flinch, most of all when heaven
sends such a man as Nathaniel Bacon to lead us."

" Ay, he was born with a lucky star ; and be we
but faithful, it shall shine on our fortunes as well."

Meanwhile, Bacon himself was walking on, re-
flecting with no such cheerful assurance on the
future. Thus far, to be sure, all had gone well
beyond his hopes, until now the strange chances of
war had fixed his headquarters here at Green
Spring, Sir William Berkeley's plantation, which on
this September morning, in the year sixteen hun-

In Camp.

dred and seventy-six, he was strengthening with
earthworks and fortifying with guns, to receive
the expected visit from its owner. So far, well ;
but who should say what this day now dawning
might bring forth? Berkeley was encamped at
Jamestown, only four miles away, with a force which
outnumbered his three to one, and it was an open
secret that the Governor intended to attack this
very morning.

" Time," muttered Bacon, talking to himself as
he walked, according to his wont, " time is all I
ask. Were Berkeley shrewd enough to make a
night attack, as I would have done in his place,
our game were up ; but my spy says the attack is
planned for seven o' the clock. 'T is too early for
my taste. Let my earthworks but be finished and
my guns set, I will promise them a welcome shall
send them back howling like whipped curs to
Jamestown. But we cannot hope to have all in
readiness till high noon. What then ? Why, the
fox's craft must eke out the lion's courage. Yet
I own I like it not. It savors too much of Law-
rence's subtlety; and then, should aught befall
these women, not even the success of our cause
could console me. I swear I like it not."

With this Bacon began gnawing at his musta-
chio (a sure sign of vexation of spirit in him), and

White Aprons.

stood still, a heavy frown gathering on his brow, till
of a sudden he caught sight of Fairfax marching
toward the stables, swinging his lantern and trol-
ling as he strode along in gay, careless soldier
fashion :

"Jog on, jog on the footpath way,
And merrily hent the stile-a.
Your merry heart goes all the day,
Your sad tires in a mile-a."

" Bless the lad ! " cried Bacon, a smile breaking
over his gloom, "'tis not the first time he hath
cheered me. The sunshine of his nature hath
somewhat of contagion in 't. Moreover he is the
trustiest man in all my following, and of a truth
there is no other to whom I would have committed
the delicate business of the care of these women."

It was with a lighter heart that he continued his
walk, and finally mounted the steps of the mansion
and flung open the door of the dining-room, where
his officers were assembled in council of war and
impatiently awaiting his coming. The table around
which they sat was of oak, heavily carved and black
with age. For well-nigh thirty years it had faith-
fully served Sir William Berkeley. It had held
up his viands, and sometimes his guests, when the
good Madeira and Fayal, which ever flowed bounti-
fully at Green Spring, had mounted to the gentle-

3 2

In Camp.

men's heads. This same table had borne patiently
many a resounding blow from Sir William's fist,
when after dinner he had called his friends to order
and cried out : " Now, gentlemen, one last toast,
and we will, if you please, drink it standing * God
save His Majesty King Charles ! ' '

If wood can feel (and who shall say otherwise ?)
this stanch loyalist table must have trembled with
wrath to feel itself now surrounded by rebels plan-
ning war against its owner, and indeed it did seem
to creak, as if in an agony of apprehension, when
General Bacon, striding abruptly into the room,
unbuckled his sword and threw it clanking down
upon the table, and at the same time rapped heavily
upon its carven edge.

" Well, gentlemen," said he, peering through the
half light at the tall Dutch clock in the corner, " it
wants but three hours of seven o'clock, the hour
when the spy (and I think he is trustworthy)
informs me Lord Berkeley has planned his attack.
We have time, but none to waste. Fairfax," he
added, turning to the young man who stood in
the doorway about to enter, "are the horses
saddled ? "

"Yes, General."

" And the lady called ? "

" No, for you named her not."

3 33

White Aprons.

" True true I did put off the decision
plague on my vacillation! Let me see, which
shall it be ? Which shall it be? Not Dame Bal-
lard, for her tongue is too blunt ; not my kinswoman
Dame Bacon, for her temper is too sharp. Not
Madam Payne, for she is too fine a woman to suffer
aught of discourtesy which can be avoided. I
have it. It shall be her daughter.

" Major Fairfax, call Mistress Penelope Payne
(so I think she is named) ; and that her mother
may endure no apprehension on her behalf, inform
Madam Payne that her daughter is to be sent with
an escort to James City, bearing a message to her
father and Governor Berkeley."

The young officer bowed and withdrew. Sooth
to say he liked his errand little, and the more he
thought of it the less he liked it. More reluc-
tantly than he would have approached a frowning
fortress did he mount the winding stairs, and draw
near the chamber door, before which a sentry,
stiff and still as a wooden soldier, was keeping

Fairfax rapped sharply against the panel, and as
the echo fell upon his ear, it recalled the indignant
apparition which his knock at the door of Rose-
mary Hall had called up, and he would rather
have faced Berkeley's batteries than this young


In Camp.

fury. But a true hero will not flinch, even before
a woman; and Fairfax stood his ground.

His rapping roused the five women within the
chamber. In fact, they needed little rousing, for
their slumbers had been brief and fitful. Most
of them reclined on arm-chairs and couches, with
which the luxurious taste of Lady Berkeley had
supplied the room. Mistress Ballard, however,
whose hair-dressing was the admiration of the
colony, a miracle of taste, labor, and ingenuity,
unwilling to risk its destruction, was sitting bolt
upright in a stiff, high-backed chair, the cherished
locks carefully supported by its cross-bar.

"What is wanted?" she called aloud in answer
to the summons.

" I must beg of you to open the door at your
earliest convenience," said the voice of Fairfax
outside. " I must see you, that I may the better
explain my errand. General Bacon desires the
attendance of one of your number in the dining-
room below, where he and his officers be now

" Good Lord ! " cried Madam Ballard, " I hope
it 's not me that 's wanted. I am such a fright
before breakfast! I was in such a flutter when
they fetched me from the plantation that I be-
thought me not to take with me my powder puff,


White Aprons.

nor my rouge ball, nor even my eye-brow stick ; and
there was my cramoisie stomacher lying new in my
drawer and I never fetched it. Not that it mat-
ters; but one would not wish to appear before
gentlemen, rebels though they be, in such a plight.
'T is one thing not to think well of men, but 't is
quite another not to wish them to think well
of me."

" Ha, my lady," thought Fairfax, " I have your
gauge ; but methinks you are likely this day to forget
even your vanity."

" Sure the summons cannot be for me," said the
voice of Dame Bray, who scarce bestirred herself
to turn toward the door, but lay yawning and
spreading her much-ringed fingers before her
sleepy eyes. " Master Bacon has visited in my
house, and he knows I never rise before noon.
Why, I would not have a negar called at this

" I only hope I am the one," snapped little
Madam Bacon. " I crave naught more than the
chance to speak my mind to Nat." The spiteful
sparkle in the lady's eyes and the tightening of her
thin lips indicated that the piece of her mind
which she contemplated bestowing on her kinsman
would be more blessed to give than to receive.

" I have often told my husband," she continued,


In Camp.

speaking high and shrill, " that he was nourishing
a viper in his bosom ; and now when this treacher-
ous villain has put me to death, I shall have the
comfort of knowing what I said hath come true.
Ladies," she added solemnly, " if any of you should
chance to survive me, I would have you see to it
that ' I told you so ' is inscribed upon my grave-

The handle of the chamber door was shaken
impatiently. " I prithee, ladies, make greater haste,
for I must enter, and that speedily. Time is pre-
cious, and I can waste no more. Besides, you are
throwing away your words ; for it is none of you who
are wanted below, but Mistress Penelope Payne."

" At your service," cried that young woman,
flinging the door wide, though her mother clung to
her, saying over and over in tones pathetically
tremulous, " Oh, no not her not her I pray
you, sir, take me"

"Madam Payne," said Fairfax, entering, and
bowing low to each lady in turn, but lowest and
with most reverence to her whom he addressed,
"suffer not the least apprehension. General
Bacon is, as you all know, and in spite of all ill
spoke against him, a man of his word, and he bids
me assure you that your daughter shall come to no
harm. He doth but intend to send her under safe


White Aprons.

escort to James City, bearing a message to Gov-
ernor Berkeley, to which so at least our General
thinks he will pay the more heed that it comes
from one of his own party."

At these words the older woman relaxed her
eager clasp, though the anxiety cleared not alto-
gether from her brow. Penelope, with that light-
ness of heart with which youth doth ever enter on
untried adventure, turned from one to the other of
her companions and cried almost mirthfully : " Fare
ye well, friends, though I trust but for a time. I will
bear in mind all ye have said when I am yonder at
James City. Madam Ballard, I will strive to sup-
ply the necessaries of your toilet if I have luck to
find them, that you may not change color in the
face of danger. Madam Bray, I will report having
seen you as none ever did before, awake ere dawn.
Mistress Bacon, I will assure your husband on
your own authority that he hath cherished a viper
in his bosom. For you, Madam Mother, since you
never crave aught for yourself, I know not what I
can promise save to bring you back in safety that
worthless baggage, your daughter, and to say to
my father that you do continue to be yourself,
and that is the tenderest mother and faithfullest
wife, the loyallest subject, and most foolishly for-
giving enemy in the province."

In Camp.

With this she swept a wide courtesy, and fold-
ing her mother in her arms kissed her on both

" Here is one," quoth Fairfax to himself, " who
knows no measure either in loving or hating. Per-
chance 'tis a pleasing nature to one at the right
end of the gun, but to me, at the muzzle of her dis-
pleasure, 'tis a very vicious and altogether con-
demnable character."

The only vent of his reflections was in the tone
of impatience which marked his next words:
" Come, madam ! "

" Go on, sir, aad I will follow, as a captive

" Pardon me, but your place, both as a captive
and a lady, is in front."

Not another word uttered My Lady Disdain as
she swept down the dark hall. Fairfax, following,
felt himself a belated Douglas with another captive
queen on his hands. This princess knew so little
of the humility demanded of a prisoner that she
entered the dining-room with as high a mien as
though she were lady of the manor, and these her
retainers awaiting her pleasure. Her eye swept
rapidly over the circle of men gathered about the
table, whose polished top reflected their faces in
grotesque foreshortening. They were marked faces


White Aprons.

all, and more marked than ever now, as the dim
light of early dawn fell grayly on their features.

In the centre of the group, in a high arm-chair
carved with heavy lion's heads, sat General Bacon,
of figure indifferent tall, and somewhat over-slender
for a man in perfect health. His deep-set eyes and
overhanging brows lent to his countenance an
aspect ominous, pensive, and melancholy, such as
marks the portrait of every great man that has
come down to us, strive as the painter may to hide
it beneath a smiling lip or triumphant eye. The
peaked beard and damp, dark hair straggling down
across the high, white forehead contributed to form
a strange likeness to the unfortunate Charles, a
likeness which haunted all who met this man, and
perchance lent something to the magnetic power of
his personal influence. Here was a king by divine
right indeed, one who could rule the minds of
men, able to sway states to mighty issues. None
could look on him and doubt it, though the choleric
temper which showed in every glance of that quick
eye might make the on-looker question whether
here lay also that calm judgment and far-reaching
grasp which could mould events as well as stir them.

Next to Bacon and a little behind him, so placed
that his face lay in shadow, sat the subtle Mr.
Lawrence, the man whose counsels had turned the

In Camp.

tide of opinion on a doubtful day in the old field
by the shores of the York River. His elbow rested
on the table, and the hand on which his chin was
propped so covered the close-shaven mouth that
none could read its expression. It was a favorite
attitude with him, and well revealed the character
of the man. His curious, inscrutable opaque blue
eyes, which saw much and told little, were fixed
upon the girl so closely that in spite of herself her
confidence faltered somewhat, and she turned her
own gaze aside. In so doing it fell upon the figure
of a young man at the farther side of the room.
Little enough had he, one would have said, to
merit the gathering intensity with which she re-
garded him. His loose lips, retreating chin, and
shambling limbs marked only feebleness of will
and fickleness of purpose. His color was sallow,
and of a yellow pallor beneath the tan which the
summer suns had bestowed upon it; but now, as
Penelope Payne continued that fixed, scornful gaze,
his cheeks became dyed with a deep, painful red,
as though her look were a flame which burned him
through and through. After one swift glance he
had cast down his furtive eyes ; but at length they
rose again beneath the compelling power of her

" You here?"

White Aprons.

These were all the words she said ; but a volume
could not have uttered more amazement and con-
tempt. The youth writhed on his chair as though
it had been a pillory, twisting one foot about the
other ankle, then untwining it and shuffling both
feet about the floor, striving all the time to find
words, till at last in very pity Mr. Lawrence was
moved to speak for him.

" Yes, Mistress Payne, your cousin has of late
seen the business of this controversy so clearly that
he has been driven by reason and conscience to
join himself to the followers of General Bacon. I
would that all others of his kin might show them-
selves so wise as to follow his good example."

" Perchance," added Bacon, " he may be able to
convert one this day. 'Tis thy cousin, mistress,
who is commissioned to be thine escort to James
City ; for I do presume it will meet thy wish more
nearly to have him than a stranger to bear thee

" Nay," answered the girl, " spare me such insult.
Send whom you will, but tie not my bridle rein to
that of a Judas ! "

The youth cringed as though a lash had struck
him. There are whips whose whistle is never heard
in the air, and stripes borne for life that no out-
ward eye can take note of.

In Camp.

"Hard words those, young lady," quoth one who
had not spoken till now. " May not a man claim
freedom to join one side or the other as he sees fit
without having such names as Judas ' cast upon
him ? "

" Ay, some men may," answered Penelope, never
flinching ; " some men, but not Arthur Thorn, not
he whom my father brought up under his own
roof, whom my mother cherished and cared for,
and who not six months since prayed me to accept
the precious offering of his heart and hand. A
fine figure he doth make now, forsooth, driven by
his reason and conscience to fight against his bene-
factor, to imprison the woman above stairs to
whom he owes everything, and to ride as a jailor
beside her whom half a year ago he besought to
be his wife."

An awkward silence followed these scathing
words. At length Bacon broke it, saying : " For
your private grievances, Mistress Payne, you must
e'en find private settlement. Our minds are over-
full of public matters of great moment to permit of
our entering upon a trial in a court of love."

Penelope bowed haughtily and vouchsafed no
other response. After a moment Bacon continued :
" I sent yesterday, as you know, to secure the pres-
ence in camp of your mother ; and though I did


White Aprons.

not send for you, and Fairfax unduly exceeded his
commission in permitting you to accompany her,
yet now am I well content, since you, better per-
haps than any other, can do our errand in yonder

" And what may that errand be ? "

" All in good time, young lady. Permit me to
speak without breaking in and you shall the sooner
be enlightened. I would have you bear word to
Governor Berkeley that our earthworks are not
yet finished, and that we, therefore, request him of
his courtesy to make no attack before noon."

Penelope's short lip curled shorter than ever.
" 'T is little ye must know of the Governor's nature
that ye send him such a message by the mouth of
a maid. Think ye he will come cap in hand, bow-
ing low and saying with civil flourishes : * Gentle-
men, kindly let me know when you do be quite in
readiness, that I may move upon your works with
all ceremony' ? "

The mockery of the tone in which this was
uttered brought a sullen flush to Lawrence's face.

" Teach the minx her place ! " he whispered in
the ear of his chief; but Bacon shook his head.
" Let it not be said," he answered, " that a girl hath
power to vex a soldier." Then turning once more
to Penelope, he said gravely, yet with a twinkle in

In Camp.

his solemn eyes which was like sunshine behind a
black cloud : " From what I do know of Governor
Berkeley, I should expect his answer to be so little
like what you have set forth that it might be quite
unmeet for the ear of a lady."

" Ay, I will answer for it that it would, and more
than that, it would be delivered by the cannons'
mouth rather than his own."

" Of a truth I doubt it not. 'T is the very thing
I have foreseen, and thereunto have we taken our
precautions. I desire, therefore, that with your
other message you do tell His Excellency that we
have decided to place Madam Ballard, Madam
Bacon, and Madam Bray, together with your mother,
in front of our fortifications till they be completed ;
and say to him that we trust consideration for the
safety of these ladies, if not for our wishes, will lead
him to delay his untimely advance."

Penelope Payne grew white, and seized the case-
ment of the door ; but her spirit did not quail.

" Cowards ! " she cried, facing them like a lioness
at bay, " let your cause win or lose, it shall be said
of you far and wide that ye were poltroons who
dared not fight like men, but must needs shelter
yourselves behind the white aprons of women."

Bacon in his turn whitened at the word 'coward?
But Lawrence muttered : " Parley no more with


White Aprons.

the saucy baggage! We are wasting precious
time. Bid her be off!"

Bacon had rallied ere Lawrence ceased speak-
ing. " Major Fairfax," he said, " is all in readi-
ness ? "

"All is in readiness."

" You are fully armed ? "

" I have my sword and pistols."

" J T is well. Whatever haps you must not be
taken till your message be delivered. My orders
are that you accompany this young lady to James
City, where, having said her say, you may leave
her in safety among her friends."

At this for the first time Penelope's courage
broke down utterly, and the tears ran down her
pale cheeks.

" Ah, General, you are strong ; be also merciful !
Say but that I may return to be with my mother,
and forget my hasty words of a moment since ! "

The girl would fain have knelt before him, but
he raised her, his own features working strongly
with emotion. "Thou art a brave maid and a
good daughter," quoth he, " and thou shalt have
thy will. If thou canst persuade thy father to hear
to thy return, I will not forbid it. But now to
horse, and that with speed ! "

With deep respect General Bacon led Penelope

In Camp.

to the door and set her upon the horse which had
stood tethered to a tree hard by. Fairfax made
her stirrup right and tightened the girth of her
saddle. So they set forth, thus for the second
time within twenty-four hours strangely forced
into companionship.

The chipmunk stopped in his wild gallop up and
down the tree-trunk, and turned his head to watch
them passing, till his little black, bead-like eyes
could see no farther. The crested bittern napped
her wings in friendly fashion over their heads, and
the chattering plover gossiped in their ears the
secrets of his love, as though, forsooth, his instinct
were gone so far astray as to tell him that these
two were lovers with hearts in tune to all the loves
of the world around them. Strange sarcasm of
Fate! While these human beings rode on sur-
rounded by joy, and love, and peace, their own
souls were filled with thoughts of war, and hatred,
and bitterness.

At length, heralded by the bursting forth of all
nature into a paean of song and bloom, up rose
the red September sun, full and round and fiery,
foretelling another day of heat and drouth.

" Methinks the earth is well-nigh parched for
want of rain." Fairfax ventured this remark as one
who holds out an olive branch. It was not ac-


White Aprons.

cepted. Mistress Payne but held her head the
higher, and pressed her lips the closer, and strained
her eyes, as though striving to catch a glimpse of
the gates of James City, where she might make an
end of his hateful guardianship.

Fairfax was no long-suffering saint, only an
honest and well-meaning fellow, with a great rever-
ence for all women, and a mighty tenderness for
one in misfortune. Had his advance been more
civilly met, he would have been glad of the chance
to speak his sympathy ; but now he forced it all
back, and told himself that he cared not a farthing
what befell this lofty young woman, who, for the
matter o' that, would but be the better for a little

Thus they rode on in silence, at once so near
together and so far asunder, till at length a turn in
the road brought Jamestown full in view, though
distant still across the long, flat reaches of Virginia
marsh-land. There rose the tower of the old
church. There peeped the roof of the powder
magazine, and borne to them on the still morning
air came the shrilling of the fife, answered by the
deep rumbling of the gruff drum.

" Faith," thought Fairfax, " we are arrived none
too soon. A little later and Berkeley's troops
would have been on the move, and we might have

In Camp.

missed them at the fork in the road behind us.
What would the General have done had he seen
the enemy actually moving on his works ? What
would he have done ? "

"Crack/" sounded a gun. A flash of flame
and a curl of smoke from the bushes told Fairfax
that he had been taken off his guard by one of
Berkeley's pickets. Instantly, as his quick eye
noted that the firing came from the side of the

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Online LibraryMaud Wilder GoodwinWhite aprons, a romance of Bacon's rebellion: Virginia, 1676 → online text (page 2 of 17)