Maud Wilder Goodwin.

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

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be wrapped in luxury when all Virginia goeth bare
of comforts and even necessaries."

" Methinks," said the Colonel, smiling and strok-
ing tenderly the little hand laid in his own, "'tis
spoke but as I should look to hear my daughter
speak, and my softness is rebuked of her wisdom.
It is, as you say, no time to consider ourselves.
Now if it were his horse the man was wishing to
sell, I might think on 't ; for Berkeley do be griev-
ously in want of transports, and I have had no good
horse since Buck was shot under me at Green
Spring."

"Ay, father; and sorely have I grieved over
poor Buck, yet withal did more rejoice for your
escape, of the which and your rescue by the timely
no



Montague and Capulet.

help of that young officer, Bryan Fairfax, I could
hear you tell forever and never weary. Even for the
flesh-wound I could be glad, since it gained you
this leave of absence to come home and be tended
by mother and me. Poor mamma! Methinks
since those days in the camp she do fade and
pine, for all I strive to feed and cheer her."

The Colonel raised his hand and brushed away
a tear. " Come, come," he said, " this will never do.
Say no more, lest ye unman me quite. Let us talk
about the horse. Penelope, ye have as good an
eye for horse-flesh as any jockey in York County.
Look close at this black mare and tell me what ye
think of her, for by my troth she looks to me a
horse of such value that I be more than half in-
clined to the belief that the pedler hath stole
her."

With this Penelope sprang lightly down the
steps, her father tarrying to find his hat. Fairfax
turned to look upon her, but a sort of mist gathered
before his eyes, and he seemed to see some white
angel just poised ready for flight. The angel, how-
ever, had a shrewd little head of her own, quite
awake to earthly matters, and a keen eye, which
now swept over the horse swiftly, taking account of
all its points, the free floating mane, the slim,
sinewy legs, the barrel tapering toward the
in



White Aprons.

haunches, the delicate, almost transparent ears, the
backward-turning, fiery eye. Penelope puckered
her pretty forehead in thought. Surely surely
she had seen all these somewhere before. In
sooth Peggy was a horse once seen not soon to be
forgot ; for there was not her like in the whole of
tide-water Virginia.

At length the girl opened her lips to speak ;
then swift as lightning her eyes rose from the
horse to the master. Fairfax abandoned hope as
he caught that glance, so full was it of comprehen-
sion, of detection, of disdain. Yet he threw her
back a look as haughty and uncompromising as
her own, a look which said as plain as words
could have spoken, " I am at your mercy ; but I
ask no favor." Whilst Penelope stood with
parted lips, uncertain whether to speak or to keep
silence, her father's voice broke the pause, saying :

" What think ye ? is it not a fine creature ? "

" Yea," answered the girl, like one in a daze.

" Well, then, my little jockey, I will leave thee
to chaffer with the trader whiles I go in and order
a mug of ale and a trencher of bread set out in the
kitchen ; for I warrant both man and horse will be
the better for a good meal." So saying, the Colonel
turned his back, ascended the steps, and entered
the wide, hospitable hall.

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Montague and Capulet.

" Well, sir," broke out Mistress Payne, " what
have ye to say for yourself why I should not
denounce you to my father for the spy ye are ? "

" I have naught to say, Mistress Payne,"
answered Fairfax, stonily calm. " Denounce me
when and where and to whom ye will, yet am I
not come as a spy to Rosemary."

" Indeed ! " exclaimed the girl, with irony in
the curve of her lip and eyebrow. " Perchance ye
would have me believe you what your wares and
habit proclaim, a simple tradesman come all the
way from New Amsterdam selling furs along the
road. Let me see I think I heard you tell my
father your name was Van der Stosch well,
then, Mr. Van der Stosch, I would have you know
I do despise you; ay, and I do despise myself
well-nigh as much when I remember how near
I was once to feeling " Fairfax could hear his
heart beat while she paused " yes," she con-
tinued, swallowing hard, " to feeling friendship
for one who called himself Bryan Fairfax, though
perchance that too was but a name assumed to
meet the purpose of the hour."

" Say no more, Mistress Payne ! " burst forth

Fairfax, in a flame of rage and mortified pride and

wounded love ; " ye have already said enough to

make me feel bitter shame that I was so weak as

8 113



White Aprons.

to imperil business of mighty moment for one
glimpse of thee and the chance of a touch of those
fingers of thine. .Fool that I was ! 't was for that
I have been riding since early dawn, 't was for that
I did think to give this letter into your little hand.
Yes, look at me again with scorn in that curling lip ;
it is the best cure for my fool's passion, which I do
swear to stamp out as I now stamp on its avowal."

With this Fairfax drew forth from his breast the
letter which held the outpourings of his love, and
with a quick movement he tore it in twain and
would have cast it under his heel ; but Penelope's
hand stayed him, and Penelope's fingers grasped
the torn pieces of paper. " Give me the letter,"
she said, speaking low and quick.

Fairfax yielded the fragments to her grasp, and
as he did so he felt the anger fading fast. " Now,"
said she, " look in my eyes, and swear if ye can
that you came to Rosemary not to plot harm and
dark designs against my kith and kin, but solely
and only as ye did say but now, to look on
my face and hear my voice."

" Penelope," answered Fairfax, coming a step
nearer, " I swear I could as soon desire injury to
myself as to thee or those whom thou dost love.
But of a truth when thou dost bid me look into
thine eyes, thou dost forefend my thoughts from
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Montague and Capulet.

dwelling on aught else but just my great love for
thee, a love deeper and stronger than all the
floods of wrath and bitterness which do rage
around us. Say, sweetheart, do my words find
no echo in thine own soul ? "

"Oh," cried the girl, as one whose heart is
shaken by a gust of passion too strong for her and
who feels her foothold losing its grasp, " ask me
no such question I know not how to answer
wert thou not a rebel but no already for
thy sake I have deceived my father ah, it makes
me hate myself to think on 5 t. Yea, and it makes
me hate thee too."

Fairfax staggered as if a blow had struck him.
" Nay I meant it not ! " cried poor Penelope,
well-nigh distraught. "But make haste to get away
from here lest thou be seized and shot, and then
what were my life worth ? "

" Ah, Penelope, say those words once more ! "

" No, of a truth I know not what I say ; but get
thee gone and I will explain thy going somehow
to my father more deceiving alas, lies do come
thick and fast to my lips which till now have
scorned them."

" Penelope, I will stay or go, or whatsoever you
do bid me, but speak one word before I go say
only hope ' ! "



White Aprons.

" Nay, not a single word will I speak, at least
not now. Yet I would not have thee wholly despair.
Thou shalt shortly hear from me, so much
I promise ; but for the purport of the message I do
promise thee naught. Farewell! Rebel as thou
art, my heart is little better than a rebel too.
Farewell I"



116



CHAPTER VII.

THE KING'S COMMISSION.
Pereat qui me lacessit.

SO shaken was the mind of Fairfax by the min-
gled emotions which had been stirred within
him during his visit to Rosemary Hall, that when
he took the highroad again he went forward in a
daze. Like a child with the petals of a daisy, he
repeated over and over the refrain, "She loves
me she loves me not she loves me not."
Monotonous indeed to the cool bystander, but to
the anxious heart torn by alternating hopes and
fears, agonies and expectations, the whirlwind were
a dead calm in comparison.

Morning drew on to noon and noon to evening.
Fairfax had a vague recollection of having paused
at the hottest height of the sun to drink by a brook
and eat of the bread and meat which he had taken
good care to transfer to the Dutchman's wallet.
Save for this remembrance of eating and drinking
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White Aprons.

he seemed to himself to have been riding all day
in a trance, like Saint Bernard by the side of his
Swiss lake.

The rays of the setting sun were shining long
and level on the road, and lighting up the under
side of the boughs of the sombre pines which
skirted the shores of the Chickahominy River,
when the broad open gate and stone posts of the
Boynton plantation rose before Fairfax and told
him that his journey was accomplished, and that
the decisive hour of success or failure was close
at hand.

Dismounting, he eased Peggy of her load and
tethered her to a tree, for he was too good a horse-
man to allow her to partake of food or water till she
had rested, and he, having washed off the dust
of travel, and with it the stain of the berries from
his face and hands, stretched himself out on the
bank by her side, working out as best he could his
plans for the securing of that which he had come
to seek. At length, rising from the ground, he
drew forth a small sack of oats from the saddle-
bag and tied it over Peggy's nose, saying as he did
so, " There may be work for you this night, my girl,
and oats to a horse are like toddy to a man, and
do lift the heart over many a hard bit of road;
therefore will I feed thee myself, and trust to no
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The King's Commission.

lazy hostler, who may be filling thy belly with hay,
and giving thee colic with over-cold water when
thou art hot. I tell thee, Peggy, much of what
men call good luck lies in a man's trusting to it as
little as may be."

When the mare had finished her supper, nosing
eagerly for the last grain hid in the cracks of the
seaming in the bag, Fairfax took the bridle over
his arm and drew near the open gate. As he
turned from the highway (or what passed in Vir-
ginia for a highway, which was little more than
a track marked by the felling of a few trees and
the blazing of a few more) into the private road
within sight of a brick house, two mastiffs came
dashing down the drive with a barking which
laid Peggy's ears back flat against her head and
set her to walking circus fashion on her hind legs ;
but ere the dogs had come half way, a sharp
whistle sounded from the porch, and a deep, gruff
voice called: "Here, Bruno! Here, Catnip! Back,
you hell-hounds damn you : I '11 have you whipped
till the blood runs, an ye rush out like that again
unbidden ! "

The dogs thus rudely recalled showed the human-
ness of their nature by their worship of power.
They cringed back to the feet of their master and
fell to licking his hands ; while he, having vented
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White Aprons.

his wrath, turned amiable, patted them on the head,
and, holding each bv the collar, moved between
them down the road to meet the new-comer.

" Cloth and chains and silks and furs for sale,
eh ! " said he, peering through the gathering dusk
at the pedler and his load. " Well, I am in want
of no such lollipops, so ye may as well move on. I
wonder not that my dogs were fain to fall on you,
for ye are an outlandish figure enough, a mongrel,
I should say, a cross twixt Dutch and English.
Which are ye, anyway?"

Fairfax's morning experience warned him not to
attempt again the assuming of a strange tongue
wherein he ran such risk of detection, especially
should any by chance offer to hold converse with
him in his adopted language ; therefore, putting on
a bold and easy manner, he made answer : " I am
as good an Englishman as you, if I do chance to
hail from a Dutch colony ; but I would have you
know my wares are for sale but not my history,
and of a surety neither the one nor the other is to be
given away, nor yet to be worried out of me by you
and those infernal dogs of yours. Now a bit of
supper, and something to wash it down withal, were
more to the purpose, and methinks would comport
better with the tales I have heard of Virginia
hospitality."

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The King's Commission.

" Come in, then," cried Boynton, with a round,
mouth-filling oath. " My kinsman, the master of
this house, were he at home, would send you out
for bit and sup with the servants, for he do build
much on his blue blood, and is for drawing the line
mighty straight 'twixt the gentry and such as you,
and his lady none the less; but she is fled to
Accomac, and he gone to join Berkeley, so I am
master for the nonce, and having been brought up
as 't were in a tavern, if I did chance to be born in
a mansion, I have had opportunity to learn that
blue blood runs monstrous slow, and that Bill and
Sam and Moll and Sue at the ordinary are better
company than Ma'am Fine-airs and Master Bag-
wig at the Hall, besides, now I am forbid to leave
the plantation, I must consort with such as come to
me, or else gnaw my heart out here alone."

" Tough eating, methinks," answered Fairfax ;
then seeing his words like to give offence to one
who had heavy humor enough to crack a jest but
not sharpness enough to get at the meat in that of
another, as is the wont of those who tarry too
much at home, he made haste to add, "I have
gnawed mine so oft in sheer loneliness that I know
the taste well, and do dislike it much."

" Come in, then," cried the host, with more hearti-
ness than he had yet shown, " come in and bide

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White Aprons.

the night with me, and we will rub loneliness as
calves rub noses in the pasture."

Pleased with his own wit, Boynton turned, still
chuckling; and as he went before him Fairfax
had opportunity to mark the gigantic height and
breadth which had given him the name by which
he was known far and wide, of "Big Boynton."
When he reached the steps the giant thundered
out a call for the hostler in a voice which suited
well with his frame, and which straightway brought
four black boys, tumbling over each other's heels in
their eagerness to be first.

" Take this man's mare ! " ordered the master of
the house, " and look to her well, for I have not a
better one in the stable. Rub her down, let her
stand an hour, and then give her supper."

" I thank you," answered Fairfax, "but she was
fed some distance back, I try always to deal
fairly by my horse if I have to pinch my own belly
to do it. Sponge out her mouth," he added,
turning to the stable boy, " and let her stand. I
will come out myself after supper to see to her ; for
she and I have wandered about the world together
so long that she would never close an eye an I
came not to bid her good night."

" So be it," said his host. " I think the more of
a man who looks after his own beast ; I do the like

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The King's Commission.

myself." To do as he did was to approach the
only standard of perfection Boynton had ever set
up. The stranger was growing in favor moment
by moment.

The candles were lighted in the dark dining-
room, to which he led the way. Their yellow rays
shone on a great mug of Delft ware, and danced
on the shining circle of the solitary pewter plate
which stood at the head of the table. When
Boynton saw it his brow clouded like that of a
spoiled, angry child, who expects his wishes
understood and attended to without his taking the
trouble to make them known.

" How 's this ? '* he growled. " D' ye expect two
men to eat like dogs, off the one plate ? "

The servant made answer timidly that the
stranger's supper was set out in the kitchen.

" Fool ! " shouted his master. " Think ye I will
waste so good a chance to catch news of all that is
stirring in the great world, while you black devils
stretch your ears to take all in by the kitchen fire ?
Fetch another plate, I say, and another noggin,
and if you care for your carcass be quick
about it!"

Boynton brought down his fist with a resounding
whack, which set the plate spinning on the table
and sent the man even more hurriedly to the
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White Aprons.

pantry, whence he came out a moment later bear-
ing plate and mug, together with a steel knife and
a two-tined fork.

" Fall to ! " cried Boynton. " Take a fork and
eat like a gentleman for once."

To a man who had been all day in the saddle in
the keen autumn air there ordinarily might have
needed little bidding to persuade him to help
himself from the platter of cold meat, the great
trencher of bread, the smoking bacon, and the
bowl of hominy ; but Fairfax could not brook the
thought of breaking bread with the man he had
come to rob, though 't was of something not right-
fully his ; and for all he made great parade of help-
ing himself bountifully, little passed his lips, and
that little went near to choking him. But Boynton
was too absorbed in the enjoyment of his own meal,
whereof he partook till the veins swelled in his
forehead, to note the abstinence of his companion.
When he had devoured a goodly share of all set
before him, he pushed away the plate, bade the
servants set on more wine, and then leave the room
and plague him no more that night, which, accord-
ing well with their sleepy wishes, they accepted as
permission to be off to their quarters and abed.

" Oh, and I say," called the master after them,
"bid Sam leave the stable door open, that the
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The King's Commission.

trader may look after his horse ere he go to
bed."

" Ay, and tie up the dogs in their kennel, if it
please you," added Fairfax, " for I have no taste for
such a greeting as I did receive this afternoon."

"Ay," said Boynton, "off to the quarters with
the dogs ! And now," he added, turning toward
Fairfax, " try your hand at the noggin, and we two
will show our strength at a drinking bout wherein
I have never yet met my match."

Fairfax felt that his opportunity had come.
Could he but lay this guardian under the table, he
might prosecute his search undisturbed. " But,"
thought he, "while my head is as steady as the
next man's, I do count myself no match for this
giant, whose looks belie him if he was not suckled
on Madeira in place of milk."

Boynton filled both noggins from the huge pew-
ter flagon which stood by his elbow, and raising
his mug to his mouth drained it at a single gulp,
then wiped his lips with the back of his brawny
hand, and setting the noggin down hard enough to
have broken a daintier vessel in a thousand frag-
ments, he cried out, " Ha ! I am one noggin to
the good already, for you have scarce dipped your
nose in yours."

" Ay, mark yourself down one. I acknowledge

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White Aprons.

myself so deep in your debt," answered Fairfax,
gayly; while to himself he said, " Methinks he can
not hold out long at this pace, for drinking is like
driving, a swift start makes a poor ending."

" 'T is a huge, noble house, this of yours," he
continued aloud, letting his eye roam in leisurely
fashion about the room. " We see little of such
splendor north of the Delaware. Our gambrel
roofs do cover comfort but not luxury."

" No, no," answered Big Boynton, with the smile
of one who counts himself and his belongings far
above all comparison with the world outside his
own plantations. " Of course there be no province
like Virginia; but for the matter o' that, ye will
not find many mansions in the length and breadth
of the Old Dominion so fine as this."

" I do credit it well. Troth it must have seven
or eight rooms."

" Seven or eight, man ! I would have you know
it hath thirteen, besides the offices set off by them-
selves in other buildings." Here the giant paused,
and poured out another nogginful of the liquor
with a triumphant wink at Fairfax, who took pains
to open wide his mouth and eyes in amazement,
exclaiming, " Why, it were a mansion fit for the
Duke of York, in whose honor our colony of New
Netherland is new named. I remember me once
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The King's Commission.

of being taken through his palace in London, and
't was so full of passages and secret closets a man
might have lain hid therein for fifty years and none
suspicioned him. I suppose many great houses be
like that, for I was told while Charles was over
the water some of his father's crown jewels lay
under Oliver's big nose in the very closet where
he was wont to say his canting, long-winded prayers.
By the way, how runs that motto carved on the
mantel-breast behind you ? "

Boynton twisted himself about heavily in his
chair; and while his back was turned, Fairfax
deftly upset the contents of his noggin under the
table. " Ah ha ! " thought he, " 't was not for
naught I did read in my youth the tale of Jack
and how he overcame the giant." Then aloud,
"Fill me another noggin, mine host, and let me
see thee take of that one of thine."

As Boynton drank, Fairfax could see that a
slight film was gathering over his eyes, his cheek
was flushing, his utterance growing thicker, and his
confidences more garrulous.

" That motto," said he, " is not for ignorant fel-
lows like you to read. It is writ in Latin, which
being a dead language this thousand years, is apt
to stink when 't is dug up, and therefore have I let
it more or less alone myself, though I had as much
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White Aprons.

schooling as becomes the son of a Virginia gentle-
man, which, between me and you and yonder post,
is little enough. But for this motto, being that of
our house, I made out to decipher and learned it
by heart, and faith 'tis a good one, * Per eat
qui me lacessitj ' that means, He that harms a
Boynton is as good as a dead man."

" So," said Fairfax, " it is well to warn all comers
who would trespass by thus printing of their fate
before their eyes." Boynton looked at him close
to make sure if he were in jest ; but Fairfax's face
was as solemn as a tombstone.

" As for what ye were saying of Charles," quoth
Boynton, lying back in his chair, " I do think him
after all a fool for his pains. ' Set a man to nosing
round like a ferret,' say I, ' and ye put him on the
scent at once for some secret.' Now if I had aught
to hide, which were little likely in this poor
country, where all the wealth is underground, but
if any shrewd man had such a treasure, he 'd bet-
ter set it somewhere in easy reach, just about a
room in plain sight perchance."

Fairfax closed his eyes lest the light therein
should betray him. " Ay," said he, stretching his
arms above his head and yawning wide enough to
show his back teeth, " ye are a wise man, master ;
'tis a pity there is so little treasure here to try
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The King's Commission.

your craft on : we in New Netherland have more
need of something to hide than of a hiding-place.
The squirrels are the only misers among us, but
I am growing so heavy with sleep that I must soon
crave your permission to retire vanquished from
our drinking bout with the confession that ye are
the valiantest man at both trencher and noggin I
did e'er encounter ; yet before I go I would fain
see you drain one more mug, that I may have
the larger tale to tell when I am returned
home. "

Pleased to receive the palm for the noble virtues
of gluttony and wine-bibbing, Boynton filled his
noggin, drank deep, and held it upside down to
prove that the last drop was gone; but even as he
did so, the red eyelids closed, the head fell heavily
forward on his breast, and the drunken snore told
that the liquor had done its work.

The faculties of Fairfax, on the contrary, were
alert. " No time to lose," thought he. " Let me
consider an open place that might be in this
very room, under the hearth? No, the dullest
thief would search there first. Perchance there
openeth a cupboard behind that portrait of the old
gentleman whose ruffles swell out like a pouter
pigeon. Methinks he smiles a little as the fire
plays on his face. Come on, then, Sir Whatever
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Your Name; stiff as you look you shall move, I
swear, and give me a chance to see what you
cover ! "

He rose cautiously and turned the Boynton
ancestor to the wall ; but no paper was tucked into
the corner of the frame. He turned to the wains-
cot and tapped it with his knuckle ; but the join-
ings were close, and no crack or crevice gave
evidence of any hiding-place within. He stooped
and felt along the under-side of every chair-seat ;
except for the roughness of the wood the two
sides were alike. He flung open the door of the
cupboard ; every shelf was bare. Then a sudden
frenzy of impotent rage seized him. To be so
near success and yet to fail, oh, it was intoler-
able ! But it was not in the nature of a Fairfax to
dwell long on the idea of failure. He clung to his


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Online LibraryMaud Wilder GoodwinWhite aprons, a romance of Bacon's rebellion: Virginia, 1676 → online text (page 6 of 17)