Maud Wilder Goodwin.

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

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purpose with the tenacity of a bull-dog. The
commission he had come to seek, and the commis-
sion he must have, yes, if he hired himself out
as a servant to the lump of clay in yonder chair.
He would dog his footsteps, live with him by day
and night, share his dull company, bear his coarse
abuse and coarser familiarity, but that commis-
sion he would have.

The Dutch clock which hung high upon the
wall struck the hour of half-past eleven. His

The King's Commission.

heart in his mouth, Fairfax waited to see if its
tone disturbed the sleeper; but Boynton only
turned drowsily in his chair, threw back his head,
and snored the louder. "First of all," thought
Fairfax, " we must stop that. The next stroke
will be on the hour of midnight, which may fall in
the middle of my search, and I dare not trust twelve
strokes even on ear as dead in drunkenness as his."
As Fairfax looked anxiously at the face of the
clock, the jolly round Dutch moon in one corner
seemed to be smiling in derision of his plight ; but
as he looked, suddenly his gaze grew fixed, not
by that stolid painted countenance, but by some-
thing in the opposite corner, where a round hole
of the size of a bull's eye had been rudely cut out,
and was filled by a figured red disk, which ordi-
narily would have attracted no attention, save as
some bright-colored decoration set in to balance
the apple-cheeked moon; but now, to the heated
fancy of Fairfax it took on the semblance of a state
seal. Oh, could it be that fortune, in very raillery
at his vaunted cunning, had thrust this treasure
into his hand as into that of one too dull to find
it for himself ! Yes, he saw it all now. No better
hiding-place could be devised; for here a paper
tucked away in the top of the clock, yet peeping
out at this hole, was always under the eye of its

White Aprons.

guardian. Verily this Boynton was not the stupid
oaf he had seemed, or else he Fairfax was the
duller of the two.

Stretching up his arm, Fairfax first of all made
haste to stay the pendulum, fearing lest the very
ticking should awaken the sleeper at the critical
moment. Then climbing upon a chair he reached
over the high carved top with its brass balls, and,
grasping the paper, drew it forth with trembling
hand. As he opened it, all doubts ceased, for
there was the name of Nathaniel Bacon written in
a clerkly hand, and a great Charles R. sprawled at
the foot of the page.

Thrusting the precious paper into his bosom,
Fairfax drew off his boots and stole with noiseless
foot-fall across the floor. As he went, his eye fell
by chance upon the motto on the mantel-breast:
" Pereat qui me lacessit" In his exultation he
shook his boots first at it, then at the portrait on
the wall, as if bidding defiance to the whole house
of Boynton. From the dining-room he passed into
the saloon, unlighted save by the moon, which,
however, shone brightly enough through the win-
dow to show him the way to the door. To his
joy he found it unlocked ; but as he stirred the
handle it creaked, and Fairfax started with such
an alarm as shook the hearts of Christian and

The King's Commission.

Hopeful when the gate of Giant Despair's castle
grated on its hinges at their flight.

For one second Fairfax stopped and listened;
then hearing no sound save that made by the
crickets and tree-toads without, he pushed the
door boldly open, and rejoiced, like Hopeful, to
find that it made less noise at the bold thrust
than at the timid attempt. Across the green he
crept, striving to keep as much as possible in the
shadow of the house; for the moon made every
object on which its light fell, clear as day. Past
the out-buildings he strode, and groped his way
through the gloom of the pine woods to the stable
door. " What if the stable men were still on
duty ! What if the dogs were loose ! " But no ;
all was silent, save that as he opened the door
Peggy turned her head and whinnied low.

" Be quiet, Peggy ! " he said softly, while he
stroked the nose she laid against his shoulder as
he rapidly slipped the bridle over her neck. " We
will leave the saddle and all our Dutch trappings
behind," said he, " and I will try if I have forgot
the trick of bareback riding."

Feeling once more in his bosom to make sure
of the paper, he threw off his coat and stepped
noiselessly across the turf, and, leading Peggy by
the bridle, passed down the dark path and out at

White Aprons.

the gate. Once fairly on the open road, he
stopped, and leaping on Peggy's back he cried,
" Now for it ! 't is a ride for life, and for that
which is worth more than both our lives, my
girl ! "

On they sped, past field and forest. Ever and
anon Fairfax paused, more than half expecting to
hear galloping hoofs and dogs in full cry; but
save for a startled deer trampling the underbrush
in haste to get away, no sound broke on his ear.
Boynton still slept his drunken sleep, and the
hands of the old Dutch clock still marked the half-
hour after eleven.

" A fig for the Boynton motto ! " cried Fairfax,
as he drew rein at last by the little strip of beach
whence he had set out less than twenty-four hours
ago. " I seem to have escaped its curse un-

The moon had set, and the darkness was so
great that save for the whiteness of the sand
Fairfax would have been in some doubt whether
he had found the meeting-place ; but as he whistled
thrice the familiar skiff put out from under the
cypress trees, and Fairfax leaped aboard, holding
Peggy by the bridle. In the darkness he could
discern nothing more than the figure of the boat-
man muffled to the eyes in his great cloak. He

The Kings Commission.

nodded but spoke not as Fairfax sank into the
stern, too weary for greeting ; but his mind was
full of satisfaction. Fortune had favored him
throughout. Despite the rashness of his visit to
Rosemary, he could not regret it, for had it not
brought him assurance beyond his wildest hopes
of Penelope's favor? Even this, he felt, would
have been too dearly bought had it hampered in
the least his mission; but no, that was done,
accomplished with brilliant success. Now there
was naught before him but to rest his tired body
and rejoice in the thought of Bacon's joy. This
suggestion of his chief's delight brought new vigor,
and sitting up for the first time Fairfax saw that
the stream was more than half crossed, but saw
also with surprise that the boatman had drawn in
his oars. As Fairfax lifted his eyes they looked
straight into the barrel of a pistol held level with
his face. Treachery / it took him but a fraction
of a second to see that, and less than the same
time to decide upon his own course. What man
this was before him, who had betrayed him, or
what had been the motive, he had no time to con-
jecture, death stared him in the face.

Luckily for Fairfax, he had a swiftness of per-
ception which waited not on the slow workings of
reason. Instinct told him that one thing only

White Aprons.

could save him, and that one thing he did like
a flash of lightning, he capsized the skiff I

As the boat turned, the boatman, after flounder-
ing for some moments, caught the gunwale, and
clambering upon the keel bestrode it in safety,
while the brisk breeze blew him steadily down
stream. Waiting not to inquire into his fate,
Fairfax kicked off the Dutchman's big boots,
struck out lustily for the Gloucester bank, and
Peggy followed loyally. The water was cold, and
Fairfax, wearied as he was by the day's work, had
scarce force to resist its benumbing chill. As he
felt his limbs stiffening and his faculties growing
drowsy, his mind dwelt strangely on the motto
over the fireplace at the Boynton plantation,
" Death to him who harms me ! " He was not
free from the superstition of his age, but he set his
teeth in stern resolve to disprove the omen. He
could not, he would not, die till he had placed
the paper in Bacon's hands; then let the curse
fall when it would.

Yet the last two rods proved almost too much
even for his iron will ; and when he felt land
beneath him he could scarce gather strength to
wade ashore, but was like to have drowned in
three feet of water. His horse was well-nigh as
exhausted as himself, together they sank on the

The Kings Commission.

pebbly strand, quite vanquished by fatigue; but
Fairfax felt in his soul a mighty joy and thank-
fulness, which rose superior to all bodily weakness,
which overmastered all anger, all curiosity as to the
how and why of the boatman's treachery all this
could wait ; nothing mattered much, for he had
the King's Commission.



" I would that ye were either hot or cold."

IT was after sunrise before Fairfax had recovered
from his exhaustion enough to push on. Rising
at length from his hard bed, he limped along pain-
fully, holding Peggy by the bridle. On his way he
passed the hut of the boatman. As he had antici-
pated, it was empty. The owner had fled. " Gone
to join Berkeley I 'd be sworn," muttered Fairfax.
" Well, I wish His Excellency joy of the addition
to his forces. Could we send him all the other
traitors in our camp it would be more gain to our
cause than the winning of a pitched battle."

A little farther on Fairfax came upon the house
of a farmer, who gladly gave him breakfast,
together with grain and watering and a soft bed
on the hay for Peggy. Richly did man and
horse enjoy their well-earned rest; but when the
sun-dial before the farmer's house marked eleven,
Fairfax's eagerness and impatience got the better


of bodily fatigue, and he resolved to attempt the
five-mile journey which lay between him and
Gloucester Court House, where Bacon's camp lay.
Short as the distance was, it was yet no trifle for
a man whose horse was jaded with travel and
whose limbs were aching in every joint from cold
and weariness. So slowly did they journey that
noon was long overpast when they reached the
camp. A very different figure was this dusty,
way-worn, bedraggled traveller from the gallant,
bravely clad soldier who had set out thence less
than two days since.

The sentry looked and wondered at him as he
passed, scarcely recognizing him ; but he would not
in any case have stopped him, for General Bacon
had this day summoned all the men of Gloucester
County to meet him at the Court House, to take
the oath of allegiance to himself and swear to
oppose the forces of Sir William Berkeley, as
well as any troops coming out of England,
until they should have opportunity to learn the
King's will. This last clause in the oath which
Bacon would have them take troubled the Glouces-
ter men; for read it as they might, and with
whatever juggle of plausible interpretation subtle
Mr. Lawrence might put upon it, the matter
smacked too much of treason for their taste. Yet


White Aprons.

with Bacon's army in the midst of them and Berke-
ley's army far away across the bay at Accomac,
and with the Governor's threat to make the rivers
of Virginia run with their blood because they would
not rally round his standard last July, these poor
hesitating Gloucester men found themselves be-
tween the devil and the deep sea, and wished
petulantly that Bacon and Berkeley would fight
it out betwixt them without dragging into the
controversy peaceable planters who asked only to
remain neutral.

Yet they had gathered this day, six hundred
strong, to hear what Bacon had to say in the
matter. Poor fools, who thought to escape from
the magnetism of that form and face and voice and
all-compelling personality with any will or judg-
ment of their own !

The throng had the air of those whistling to
keep their courage up, and verily none could
disguise the fact that this day's business was of
serious moment. Each man discoursed vehe-
mently to his neighbor, for all that neighbor was
talking as loudly as himself.

" I knew some ill would befall since ever those
ominous presages did appear, three in one
year," quoth one.

" Yea," added another, " dost thou not bear in


mind that great comet, streaming like a horse's
tail to westward ? "

" That do I, and the flight of pigeons stretching
their length over half the heavens, till they seemed
past all numbering, and how when they lighted
their weight broke down the limbs of the trees."

"Ay," said a third, "and worst of all, those
swarms of flies last spring, that were no bigger
than the top of my hand's littlest finger, yet did
they come in such numbers that they devoured
every young sprout, till the country was like a
man shorn of his eyelids under the blazing sun
of summer.' :

" Well, well ! " broke in Fairfax, who had caught
the words as he stood behind the yeoman. " Of
what avail is all this talk of signs and portents?
What is writ is writ, and for the matter o' that
your omens may be twisted either way. For min
own part, I do read in the swarms of flies the
petty exactions and tyrannies of Governor Berke-
ley ; in the wild pigeons, the Indians put to flight
by our men; and in the streaming comet, the
glorious career of General Bacon."

" Faith, ye speak truth : 't is strange we ne'er

thought on that interpretation," said all three in

a breath, their mouths agape; yet one ventured:

" 'T is clear the omens do be in our favor and the


White Aprons.

chances promise fair, unless the King take offence-,
but there, to my mind, the hitch lies. Should His
Majesty see fit to send soldiers over from home,
what then ? Methinks we should all walk wet-
shod in blood, as the Governor threatened a while

" Pish ! Pish ! " quoth another, with ill concealed
contempt. "As to that, good master, we are in
over shoes now, and might as well be in over boots.
Besides, we must needs make answer for our con-
duct to Bacon as well as to Berkeley."

But a timid man with the white feather in his
hat, which did but fitly shadow forth the white
feather in his heart, stammered forth, while his
knees shook under him, " Yes but but what
about the English soldiers ? "

At this a woman (for women as well as men
were mingling in the throng in the field at Glou-
cester Court House that day), a woman, I say,
picked up a stick which lay in the trodden grass,
and, breaking it across her knee, she waved the
pieces above her head, shouting aloud so that all
could hear her : " I for one fear the power of
England no more than this broken stick."

"Ah!" cried Fairfax, approvingly. "'Tis
bravely spoke, and should go far to teach their
duty to those who stand cowering around you


calling themselves men, yet waiting for a woman
to lead them." Under his breath he said: "By
Heavens! 'tis the wife of Drummond; it is well
none have recognized her." Then aloud : " But let
us not waste time bandying words here, for the
General himself is speaking from yonder hillock ;
and his words shall soon persuade you to his
following, I will warrant you."

So saying Fairfax moved toward the little knoll
in the centre of the camp. His heart leaped up to
see his Chief standing there with the whole multi-
tude gazing up at him and hanging upon his
accents as he spoke. Too little has been made
of the individuality of the voice; for nothing
more betrays the character behind it, and nothing
more surely affects the listener before it. Some
voices are like a file, that rasps the nerves of the
hearer. Some are like a brook, whose murmur-
ing lulls to drowsy acquiescence. This man's
was like an organ ; and as one stop or another was
touched, it could utter soft persuasion, or kindle to
action, or strike with terror, or lead on to victory,
and if need be to death.

The first words which caught the ear of Fairfax
as he joined the throng at the foot of the natural
platform whereon Bacon stood were words of
pleading and calm argument.


White Aprons.

"We the commons of Virginia do desire a prime
union among ourselves against the common enemy.
Let not the faults of the guilty be the reproach of
the innocent, the crimes of your oppressors divide
and separate those who have suffered by their
oppression. The question is now before you.
Men of Gloucester, will ye take the oath and join
our ranks, or must we count you of the number
of the foes of liberty?"

Silence dead, leaden silence followed this
appeal ; then from the midst of the crowd who had
huddled close together as if to avoid individual
recognition, a sandy-haired man spoke out timidly :
" May it please you, Master Bacon, we have talked
over this matter in conclave before our coming
hither, and it is the sense of us Gloucester men that
we are resolved to lend aid neither to you nor
yet to Berkeley. As we told the Governor three
months since, we do prefer to remain neutral."

"Neutral!" echoed Bacon, with a taunting
mockery. "Oh, yes, ye are of those who would
fain be saved with the righteous and yet do naught
toward obtaining of the salvation. Zounds! I
swear ye shall not remain neutral. He that is
not for us is against us."

The General's fiery ardor began to burn into
the coldness of the crowd ; but still they strove to


temporize and delay, if they could not evade, the
final decision. The commoner men of the throng
were with Bacon. For all they had walked many
miles to the meeting and were spent with weari-
ness, their spirits leaped within them at the cry of
this champion of popular liberty. Instinctively
they felt that his cause was theirs, and as instinc-
tively Bacon, looking into their eyes, felt their
response ; but the men on horseback, the rich
planters, the aristocracy already sprung up in this
new democratic country, still stood cold and im-
passive as a stone.

At length one, Colonel Gouge, an officious busy-
body always anxious to make himself noticed,
called aloud : " Perchance, Master Bacon, the oath
may yet be taken if you grant us time. Thus far
ye have chiefly spoke to the foot and not to the

"Nay," cried Bacon, hotly; " I spake to the men,
and I leave you to speak to the horse, as one beast
can best understand another."

A ripple of resentment ran through the crowd.
" Have a care, Mr. Bacon," cried a man dressed
in the garb of a Church of England clergyman;
"we are not come hither to hear our spokesman

" Faith," answered Bacon, now quite beside him-
10 I45

White Aprons.

self with passion, " if ye are not come to hear it,
ye may stay to hear it. As for you, reverend sir,
I would have you know it is your place to preach
in church but not in camp. In the pulpit you may
say what you please, but here you shall say what
pleaseth me, unless indeed ye can fight to better
purpose than ye preach. 'T is not for a parson to
teach a general the rules of war."

"If you be in sooth a general," called out a
surly cavalier, " show us your commission. I know
you but as a rebel whom the Governor hath out-
lawed, and cancelled the commission which you did
wring from him by force and duress yonder at
James City. Show your commission and we will
follow you!"

" Will you so ? " cried a voice from the thickest
of the crowd. "Then stand by your words, for
General Bacon's commission is here/"

A mighty cheer greeted Fairfax's words, though
as yet the crowd scarce comprehended their

When Bacon's eye fell upon the paper as Fair-
fax waved it above his head, he stopped short in
the speech he was about to utter, staggered, and,
catching at his heart, said to Drummond, who stood
next him : " I am faint. Lend me thine arm to
my tent."



Lawrence, who stood by, took in the situation at
a glance, and while Drummond led Bacon away he
took his place, and cried so that all could hear :
" See ! Your failure to stand by him like men
hath cut him to the quick. This faintness which
hath come upon him is but the result of all he hath
endured in the behalf of your poor languishing
country, which lies gasping under the violent pres-
sure of unreasonable men. An ye make not com-
mon cause with him, I do promise you ye shall all
suffer the like tyranny which hath worn him out.
Ye shall see as he did, your servants slain and
your plantations laid waste, the corn ye have sown
reaped by the hands of savages red with the blood
of the planter. All this, ay, and more, would come
to pass should Berkeley chance to win in this
strife wherein we do now be engaged. But win he
will not, win he cannot ; for this is a struggle be-
twixt a youth in the full vigor of his manhood and
a graybeard in his dotage, betwixt an honest man
and an old treacherous villain. Now Bacon hath
his commission, naught can stay his triumph."

Here the orator paused ; and then with a solem-
nity which struck awe to the hearts of those who
heard, he said slowly: " Choose ye this day whom
ye will serve."

The words of Lawrence made a deep impression.

White Aprons.

Man turned to man and repeated them in awe-struck
whispers. Under cover of the buzz Lawrence
turned to Fairfax, exclaiming below his breath :
" For God's sake go to the General ! I like not his

Fairfax, who had been but biding his time lest
he rouse suspicion of something amiss by haste,
waited no urging, but quickly working his way
to the outer circle of the crowd, was off like arrow
from the bow. At the tent he met Drummond
coming out.

" How is he ? " asked Fairfax, breathlessly.

" Better," answered Drummond. " Belike 't was
but the weakness of a moment; yet I own the
General hath seemed to me a sick man since we
came to this Gloucester shore. His head is over-
hot, and his eye brighter than nature kindled it,
and for his temper, 'tis perpetually at fever
heat, and leapeth to his tongue on the slightest

" Stand not there prating like idiots," cried a
voice from within the tent. " Either come in or
move on."

Drummond shrugged his shoulders and passed

on, glancing expressively at Fairfax, who hesitated

an instant, then lifted the flap and entered. He

was shocked at the ravages of disease, which his



brief absence enabled him to perceive the more

" General," he exclaimed, " I am sore bestead
to see thee thus."

" To see me how ? " asked Bacon, testily, forget-
ting, or choosing to ignore, his confessions at Green
Spring. But Fairfax answered steadily, " To see
thee feverish in body and mind."

" What mean you by f everishness of mind ? "

" I mean the temper which led you to speak so
hotly to the crowd but now."

" Major Fairfax, I will be the judge of mine own
words and mine own condition."

Fairfax was cut by this use of his title, which
seemed to say that this conversation was held not
as friends, but as officers, and that advice to a
superior was strangely out of place. He bowed
with a ceremony curiously ill matching with his
draggled and dishevelled attire. "I stand re-
proved," he said, "and can but beg General
Bacon's permission to retire."

Bacon's answer was made by rising from the
stool on which he sat and flinging his arm over his
companion's shoulder.

"Fairfax," he said low and sadly, "'tis God's
truth you speak. I am ill, ill in body and soul.
Grant me but one more week to struggle with

White Aprons.

Berkeley and I will have my foot on his neck and
then why, then you and the rest must follow up
the victory, for I am a spent ball."

"Say not so I pray thee," cried Fairfax, "for
there be those do love thee more than life."

" Ay, lad, I do well believe it, of thee at least ;
but for a true man there is much beside his own
life to live for. Could we but see this Virginia of
ours with limbs unshackled, standing free and
powerful, a Virgin Queen of the West, ruling in her
own right, there were a work well worth the cost
of a thousand lives like thine and mine, ay,
Bryan ? "

Never before had Fairfax heard his first name
uttered thus familiarly by his Chief. It touched
him inexpressibly; for it was as if they stood already
in the white light of eternity, where all formalities
and all petty distinctions of age and rank drop
away and leave us all man to man. He could find
no words to answer, but only grasped the hand
which lay over his shoulder. After a minute, which
seemed to have transformed him from a youth to a
man, he answered with a deep gravity : " For my
own poor life, my Chief, I dedicate it wholly to you,
to you and Virginia ; but realizing as I do how
the welfare of the province is bound up with yours,
I must make bold, even at the risk of incurring


anew your displeasure, to pray you have a care.
To-day you are easily the first man in Virginia, and

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Online LibraryMaud Wilder GoodwinWhite aprons, a romance of Bacon's rebellion: Virginia, 1676 → online text (page 7 of 17)