Maud Wilder Goodwin.

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

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road nearest Penelope Payne, he wheeled the
horses so that she was sheltered, and taking aim
at the smoke still curling through the underbrush
he fired. At the same moment another shot came
whizzing through the air, and Fairfax's bridle arm
dropped useless at his side.

" For the love of God," cried Fairfax, " ride on !
ride for your life ! Should I fall, stay not to help
me, but ride the swifter. There be more lives
than thine or mine at stake ! "

So saying, he struck his spurs deep into his
horse's side, and the two started on a full gallop,
though the blood had soaked through his sleeve
and trickled down in a red line upon his stocking.

On and on sped the horses, now perforce slow-
ing up a little to pick their way over the rough
corduroy road of logs laid loosely over the bog,
then dashing over the bridge, their hoofs echoing
4 49

White Aprons.

noisily against the planks. The gate was gained
at last.

" Halt ! " cried the sentry. " No farther, though
ye bore twenty flags of truce, till ye do tell your
errand ! "

" We must see Governor Berkeley," said Fair-
fax ; but his voice sounded faint in his own ears.

" Come ye as friends- or foes ? "

" Both. I am a follower of Bacon ; but this
young lady is the daughter of Colonel Payne."

" Who speaks my name without there ? " asked a
deep, authoritative voice over the sentry's shoulder.

" Father ! " cried Penelope. Even as she spoke
Fairfax fell forward on his horse's neck, faint with
loss of blood.



" The Latin tongue seems somewhat injurious to the female
sex : for whereas amicus is a friend, arnica always signifies a
sweetheart ; as if their sex were not capable of any other kind
of familiar friendship but in way to marriage."


" Dogs of rebels ! "

" An I had my way they should be blown from
the mouth of the cannon when we reach Green

Fairfax stood leaning against the wall of the
powder magazine, listening with outward calmness
to the bitter outcry raised by all the excited folk in
James City when Penelope Payne had delivered her
message. When first he had regained conscious-
ness after his swoon, the surgeon was binding his
arm, and no one else at hand ; for all were gathered
about the group where stood Governor Berkeley
with Colonel Payne and his daughter. Penelope
oft cast furtive glances at the surgeon as he

White Aprons.

worked, but her attention was quickly reclaimed
by the eager exclamations around her.

Fairfax, full of inward curses over his own weak-
ness, declined the doctor's offer to help him into
Major Beverley's house which stood hard by; but
he drank deep of a cup of spirits, and then, rising,
drew near the group of talkers.

In its centre stood Sir William Berkeley.

He was a stalwart and a doughty knight, for all
his threescore years and ten. His hair, which fell
in a queue upon his shoulders, was bleached by
nature and age, whiter than all the powder in the
three kingdoms could have made it, and its thick-
ness was greater than that of bag-wig, full-bottomed
tie, or curly peruke.

The eye that flashed beneath the shaggy gray
eyebrow had neither the dimness nor the coldness
of age. It was fiery, choleric, vengeful ; and now,
dilated as it was with passion, it seemed a bale-fire
able to consume the mob of miscreants who dared
to dispute his autocratic will. The tumult of rage
within him stirred even the breastplate of steel
which he still wore, when most had abandoned
armor as heavy and useless ; but to this man all
that savored of the past was sacred, and he
asked but to live and die in the traditions of his


Flag of Truce.

Fairfax stood a moment unobserved ; but as the
crowd swayed to and fro, Berkeley caught sight of
him, and all his pent-up rage burst forth. His face
turned from red to purple, and the veins of his
forehead swelled till those about feared to see him
fall in a fit.

" I '11 teach you," he cried, shaking his fist in
the face of Fairfax, " I '11 teach you to come with
such messages to me. Beverley, order out the
guard and have the pestilent fellow shot."

At this Penelope Payne took a step forward and
opened her lips as if about to speak ; but her father
was before her.

" Nay, nay ! Your Excellency," he said, laying
his hand soothingly on Sir William's cuff. " You
mean not all you say ; you would be the last man
to order a flag of truce violated."

" And you say this ? " asked Berkeley, between
wrath and amazement. " You, whose wife these
wretches propose to set up as a shield betwixt
themselves and our bullets? Faith, if good old
Dr. Fuller thought it strange that the devil's black
guard should be enrolled God's soldiers, he might
e'en think it stranger still could he see these
innocent dames thus entered as a white guard to
the devil."

" If General Bacon plays the part of coward he


White Aprons.

must bear the scorn and contumely which his acts
do call for; but let us not cast ourselves under the
same reproach by the breaking of honorable rules
of civilized warfare. Besides, this young man is
not responsible for the doings of his superior officer,
our revenge should fall not on him, but on

" Ay," shouted a rough-looking man on the out-
skirts of the crowd. "Let us be revenged on
Bacon ; I vote for an immediate attack."

Colonel Payne turned upon the speaker with
fire in his glance. " Wretch ! " cried he. " Think
ye that to pierce our enemy's side we will dart our
weapons through the breasts of our wives ? "

A murmur of mingled applause and disapproba-
tion ran about the crowd at these words. While
Colonel Payne was speaking, the Governor was
striding up and down, well-nigh beside himself
with fury, ever and anon clutching at the hilt of his
sword as though he had a mind to run Fairfax
through with his own hand, then glaring at him
contemptuously as though he found him unworthy
such honor.

Fairfax neither spoke nor moved, but stood there
still as a stone image. He looked a thorough
soldier, though the light locks which in old Saxon
days had given his family its name fell on his


Flag of Truce.

shoulders in curls, and though his eyes were blue
as any maid's that caught their color from the
cornflower ; yet the softness which these bespoke
was contradicted by the haughty bearing, the
resolute mouth, and the fighting chin thrust com-
batively forward beyond the upper jaw. White and
wan as he was, and with one hand disabled and
carried in a sling, Bryan Fairfax was yet not a
man to be trifled with. The steady gaze where-
with he now confronted Berkeley was as free from
fear as the Governor's own, and as cool as Berke-
ley's was hot. Its very calmness more enraged
the man before him than any anger could have

" Am I master here, or am I not ? " cried the
Governor, looking from one to another. "Is there
none to do my bidding ? "

At the moment a swaying of the crowd marked
the efforts of some one to force a passage, and a
stout halberdier elbowed his way to the front, and
behind him, holding her head high and somewhat
scornfully, walked Lady Frances Berkeley. Ap-
parently unmoved by the tumult around her, she
walked calmly to her husband's side and laid her
hand upon his cuff. Not a word said she, only
stood looking at him as one that knew this mood
of old and had learned how best to meet it. Grad-

White Aprons.

ually his fingers relaxed their clutch at the hilt of
his sword, then the hand fell away from the wea-
pon and laid itself upon that other hand on his
cuff. His eyes lost their fierceness, and took on
instead a wholly human look of tenderness and
affection, which so transformed his countenance
that it seemed to bring back his old nature with
all its old-time gentlehood.

" Why, how now, poppet ? " said His Excellency,
in a tone so soft that one who had heard him but
now addressing Fairfax could scarce have believed
it was the same man who spoke. Those who
stood around (especially the women) smiled behind
their hands at the word "poppet" addressed to
the middle-aged, tight-lipped little lady, trim and
prim, carrying her chin stiffly above the starched
ruff with a touch-me-not air which might well have
made this pet name seem somewhat comical to
those who realized not that true love hangs
wreaths of roses on its idol though it be of iron,
and that an idol never grows old.

"What brings thee here?" added Berkeley.
" Get thee home. 'T is no place for women, though
there be too many here. Let them but fancy they
are not wanted and they will face the culverin."

" Ay, that will I," answered My Lady, " when
thou art there to protect me."


Flag of Truce.

Thus did she, who dearly loved a fight, whom
indeed Dame Rumor credited with having pro-
voked more than one with the weapon of her
tongue, and who would not have flinched before
the whole rebel army, play upon her husband's
weakness, knowing full well, perchance, that love
has its interruptions, but that vanity is perpetual.

Berkeley swelled up at her words to a still more
inflated dignity; but the growing softness in his
eye showed his lady that her cause was won.

" I was fain," she added, " to look nearer upon
this Fairfax to whom I heard ye speaking a few
minutes since, for I was mightily curious to know
if it was that Bryan Fairfax who is reported the
best sportsman in Warwick County."

Here again the shrewdness of the dame peeped
forth, for she knew full well that the Governor
loved a sportsman as he hated a rebel. Berkeley
himself felt his resentment weaken, and made a
desperate effort to recover it. " I know not what
or how much ye may have heard of this Bryan
Fairfax, my lady, all I know or wish to know is
that he is my prisoner."

" Nay," answered Lady Berkeley, smiling up into
Sir William's bloodshot eyes, but extending her
hand to Fairfax, who was in truth an old favorite
of hers before these war times and well remem-


White Aprons.

bered at the hunt balls, " nay, I swear he is my
prisoner ! "

" Say rather, your slave," answered Fairfax, who
had a mighty pretty wit of his own and kept it
close behind his tongue.

"Take him, then," cried Sir Turkey Cock, swell-
ing stouter and redder than ever. " Take him, and
wrap him in wool if ye like, to be ready for the
next fox hunt ; but for us whose business is to hunt
men, 't is time to be about our preparations."

" Then must I beg another escort of Your
Excellency that I may return with all speed to
Green Spring."

So spoke the voice of Penelope Payne, who had
been standing by, less noticed than her youthful
vanity fully relished in a scene wherein she had
thought to play the heroine.

" Zounds ! " cried Sir William. " What have we
here ! Payne, has your daughter turned rebel too
in these days when all the world is upside down,
or is she gone mad that she doth imagine we will
consent to send her back to be but one more
target for our bullets ? That red head of thine," he
added, turning toward Penelope and speaking
more kindly, "were too fair a mark."

" My daughter is right," said Colonel Payne,
speaking with slow utterance and with that dry-


Flag of Truce.

ness of the throat which marks intense inward
feeling. " Come good, come ill, her place is
beside her mother. Mistress Berkeley, I petition
thee that this prisoner of thine who hath brought
my daughter safely hither may be her guardian on
the return journey."

" 'T were willingly done on my part," answered
Lady Berkeley, " if so be my husband giveth his

" 'S death," cried the Governor, " if you are all
bound to use the golden rule as a ramrod, the
sooner we open our gates to the rebels the better.
On your own heads be the result of your folly ! I
wash my hands of the business ! "

With this His Excellency turned in high dud-
geon, and folding his arms behind his back, like
one resolved both in letter and spirit to have no
hand in the matter, he strode on ; or, to speak more
graphically, strutted off. Colonel Payne stood
looking dubiously after him, knowing not how to
interpret his behavior; but Lady Berkeley whis-
pered : " 'T is a compromise. He will not say
'Yea,' but he hath not said, * Nay.' Off with
them ere his mood harden ! "

The Colonel bowed assent. He drew his
daughter to his breast and held her there close,
close as though he never could let her go. The


White Aprons.

slow tears fell from the man's stern eyes upon the
girl's bright hair. At last with one final embrace
he released her ; then taking her hand he placed
it in that of Fairfax, saying solemnly,

" The Lord do so to you, and more also, as you
do unto this my child ! "

They were strange words to pass between
enemies. On the instant it shot through the minds
of those who stood around that this was like to
the ancient form of betrothal. But the words
which next fell from the father's lips were in quite
another spirit.

" I would, Major Fairfax, that I might break
my mind to your General, but you in my stead
may say to him from me, as Governor Berkeley's
commanding officer, that, being gentlemen, we
would no sooner fire at women than we would
shelter ourselves behind them. We will wait for
his fortifications to be finished, presuming that he
intends not to fight his whole campaign behind
'White Aprons.'"

A titter ran about the group at the last words,
and the angry color mantled Fairfax's cheek.

" Silence ! " commanded Colonel Payne, looking
sharply from man to man.

" Say also," he continued, " to General Bacon,
that I consider the insult he hath thus put upon

Flag of Truce.

my wife and daughter to be doubly an insult to
me, and that meet him where I may, in war or
peace, on the battle-field, or in the council hall,
I will shoot him like the beast he is."

" O Father, Father ! " sobbed the girl, clinging
closer to him.

"Nay, nay, my darling! Have no fears. Me-
thinks 'tis but a cowardly ruse on Bacon's part
and that he doth intend no bodily harm, but in any
case bethink thee that thou art a soldier's daughter,
and bear thyself as one who fears naught that men
can do."

They were almost the very words her mother
had uttered as they turned their backs on the dear
walls of Rosemary, and the flood of recollection
sadly shook the firmness still left to Penelope.

A tumult of wrath and resentment shook the
soul of the man who stood by her side. In all his
honorable young life Fairfax had never till this day
known what it meant to be scorned, and now he
could ill brook the looks of contempt and ill will
which met his gaze on every side.

" Colonel Payne," he answered, striving to keep
his voice steady, " I can answer for the safe con-
duct of your daughter and the safe bearing of your
message. The slur upon General Bacon you are
secure in casting, here in your stronghold, where

White Aprons.

I am as powerless to retort as to avenge. When
we meet again, I trust my sword may speak for me."

Colonel Payne bowed a haughty acknowledg-
ment of these words the while he busied himself
with setting his daughter on her horse. When
she had made ready, Fairfax climbed into his own
saddle ; and though the wounded arm hindered him
not a little, none offered him help. Amid a silence
which spoke louder than groans or curses, he
adjusted the bridle reins of the two horses, then
he and his charge rode slowly through the lines of
hostile faces, rode through the gate grudgingly
opened by hostile hands, rode across the echoing
bridge, then out into the open country, stretching
away free and clear to Green Spring.

Ah, what a relief to turn from all the turmoil of
human passions to the tranquillity of Nature, whose
face smiles not a whit the less, though contending
armies shed blood upon her garments !

Bryan Fairfax within the last two hours had
faced the wrath of armed men, the suffering of
a wound, the chance of death itself; yet none
of these were so keenly in his mind as the rebuff
with which the girl beside him had met his at-
tempted kindness. It is the little things of life
which make it bitter or sweet.

Thus Major Fairfax rode on in resolute silence,

Flag of Truce.

looking straight before him, as one bent only on
fulfilling his distasteful commission, and in haste
to be relieved of his troublesome duty of guard.

" Poor Papa ! It wrung his heart to let
me go."

Fairfax started as though a cannon had been
discharged at his ear. He could scarce credit his
own hearing when it told him that his companion
had of her own volition broken the hostile silence
which had lain betwixt them. For an instant he
paused, watchful of his dignity, as youth ever is,
and hesitated whether or no to accept the olive
branch thus held out to him.

" In sooth," he answered at last, "it could have
been no otherwise, yet was his counsel according
to the wisdom for which he is reputed, and he bore
himself to the end like the brave man he is."

" Yet you would shoot him if you met this day,"
said the girl, somewhat tremulously ; for I must con-
fess here, almost at the beginning of my tale, that
Penelope Payne was no iron heroine, no Joan of
Arc, but a very human and altogether variable
maiden, who could be touched to compassion or
keyed to heroism, but who cared little for princi-
ples or causes as compared with people. Having
once vented her hot temper, she found it increas-
ingly difficult to preserve the chill disapprobation


White Aprons.

which lingers so easily with colder natures. Be-
sides, the thought perpetually and importunately
knocked at her heart, " He risked his life to save

Fairfax was quick to feel the hint of softening,
as she rushed on after her wonted impetuous
fashion : " Why do you, why should any one, hate
my father?" Of a sudden the fiery brown eyes
were drowned in tears as a realization of the mean-
ing of war swept over her for the first time, bringing
in its train the thought of blood and wounds, of
suffering and death.

" Be of good heart, Mistress Payne," answered
Fairfax, a hint of irony in his tone ; " ye need
have little fear for your father from any enmity of
mine. He is a veteran, and far liker to shed my
blood than I his."

The girl shuddered. " Oh ! " cried she, " belike
it is because I am a woman and have a woman's
weakness that war do seem so horrible in mine
eyes. For the life of me I cannot comprehend why
and wherefore all the sons of the Dominion are
fallen of a sudden to cutting each the others'

"Wherefore indeed!" sighed Fairfax, more as
'twere thinking aloud than answering his com-
panion. " Were it not for the diabolical temper

Flag of Truce.

of one man, the colony would be in peace and unity,
with no foes but those without."

Penelope Payne stretched that long throat of
hers still longer, and held her head high and stiffly,
with a swift change from the half -friendliness of
a moment before. A spiritual thermometer would
have marked a fall of forty degrees in the warmth
of her manner as she said, " You speak, I presume
of General Bacon."

Fairfax felt a swift pang of regret that he had
been drawn on to break the truce between them ;
but the girl's tone stirred his anger, and with the
eager unwisdom of youth he took up the glove of

" Nay," said he, " not of Bacon, but of one who
hath wronged him at every turn. General Bacon
did ask naught save the poor boon of permission
to defend his home and the homes of all of us
against the savages who are lurking in the wood
like so many wild beasts, ready to leap out upon us
as they did on our grandfathers fifty years ago,
when the settlers thought themselves so secure.
But Bacon is too good a soldier to await the pleas-
ure of the enemy and let them take their own
time for opening the fight. Oh, his foes will yet be
forced to own him the greatest man of our time,
scholar, soldier, statesman, and gentleman ! "
5 65

White Aprons.

The girl's tone was hot with anger as she made
answer : " A soldier certainly, a scholar perchance,
but a gentleman never ! How dare you call one
* gentleman ' who sets up women as targets above
his works. Oh, of a truth, Bacon and the rest of
you shall be set forever in the pillory of public
contempt as ' White Aprons ' ! "

The laugh which followed these words was
bitter, and grated on the ear of him who heard it.
An older man would have met the thrust and
parried it with that contemptuous toleration which
most chafes the hot and angry heart ; but Fairfax
was young, and the semblance of truth in the girl's
words stung him to the quick. " There," cried he,
snatching a paper from the breast of his coat and
thrusting it out toward Penelope Payne; "read
that, and confess with shame how unjust you have
been ! "

Penelope took the paper and read. It was an
official order hastily written on a half -sheet of paper.

" MAJOR FAIRFAX," it ran, " You will take
charge of the women lately captured and brought
to the camp. They are to be stationed upon the
little hill in front of our works, in order that in the
event of Berkeley's approach they may be seen
from afar. Should Berkeley, however, so far for-

Flag of Truce.

get every natural scruple as to order an advance
on the works, it will be your duty to see that the
women are withdrawn at once to a place of safety,
and that under no circumstances are they allowed
to sustain any, the least, injury.


The relief to Penelope's overstrained nerves was
almost too great. Her fear for her mother set so
suddenly at rest, her anxieties for the moment
lulled, she bowed her head upon the high pommel
of her saddle, and wept bright tears wherein the
world around seemed to dance in rose-colored

When she at length raised her head and opened
her eyes, she turned toward Major Fairfax with
a look of friendliness such as her face had
not yet worn for him. She held out the paper
to him with a dazzling smile ; but it met impenetra-
ble gloom. The young soldier's brow was knit,
his cheeks flushed, and he gnawed nervously at his
under lip.

"Are you angry with me?" asked the girl, a
note of timidity for the first time in her voice.

" No, with myself," he answered. " I have done
that which merits the loss of my rank, perhaps
worse. I have betrayed orders which if not marked

White Aprons.

secret, were assuredly never meant to meet your
eye. In short, I have been a fool."

" Nay, Major Fairfax, unless to let in a ray of
sunshine on the dark path of a poor maiden well-
nigh distraught with trouble be foolishness, you
have committed no folly. I swear to you that I
will guard this secret as jealously as you yourself
could do, holding it my very own. Why need any
ever know that other eyes than yours have looked
upon the order?"

" Because I am not a poltroon nor a deceiver,"
answered Fairfax, hotly, venting some of his impa-
tience with himself upon his comrade, in very
unheroic but highly human fashion. "You rate
me as baser than I am, baser than you have called
me yet, though your tongue has not spared my
poor character, if you fancy I would withhold the
knowledge of the breach of confidence whereof I
have been guilty from General Bacon. For your
mother and the rest, you must do as you think fit,
I will not stoop to ask you to keep a secret
which I was too weak to guard myself."

With this Fairfax set the horses in a gallop, and
they cleared the ground at so round a pace that
the woods seemed to fly past them. Both man
and maid were so wrapped in their own thoughts
that it was with surprise that they found themselves

Flag of Truce.

passing the sentry, riding up the long avenue, and
standing before the mansion of Green Spring.
Not -a soul was waiting to receive them. The
grove was filled with soldiers, but not a person was
about the house save the black servant waiting to
take the horses. Fairfax turned to help Mistress
Payne to alight ; but as on the night before, she had
slipped from her saddle without his aid. Quite
simple and unconscious she stood there, tired and
dusty and worn, less fair than she had looked a
score of times ere now ; but for some inscrutable
reason the picture of her as she stood thus against
the pillar entered into the heart of Bryan Fairfax
never to be obliterated. As he looked at her, a
new power came into his life. He fell in love,
though as yet he guessed it not himself.

'T is a strange business, this falling in love ; mys-
terious as the creation of the world. God says to the
human soul, " Let there be light ! " and there is light.

That is all we know of it ; and none of all those

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Online LibraryMaud Wilder GoodwinWhite aprons, a romance of Bacon's rebellion: Virginia, 1676 → online text (page 3 of 17)