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In the aftermath of the Revolutionary War, America remained very volatile. One outgrowth of this was Shays' Rebellion, an armed uprising in Massachusetts that pitted a group of dissatisfied residents against the nascent state authorities. ..
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Copyright © 2016 by Edward Bellamy
Published by Ozymandias Press
Interior design by Pronoun
Distribution by Pronoun
THE MARCH OF THE MINUTE MEN
THE FIRST BEAMS OF THE sun of August 17, 1777, were glancing down the long valley, which opening to the East, lets in the early rays of morning, upon the village of Stockbridge. Then, as now, the Housatonic crept still and darkling around the beetling base of Fisher’s Nest, and in the meadows laughed above its pebbly shoals, embracing the verdant fields with many a loving curve. Then, as now, the mountains cradled the valley in their eternal arms, all round, from the Hill of the Wolves, on the north, to the peaks that guard the Ice Glen, away to the far south-east. Then, as now, many a lake and pond gemmed the landscape, and many a brook hung like a burnished silver chain upon the verdant slopes. But save for this changeless frame of nature, there was very little, in the village, which the modern dweller in Stockbridge would recognize.
The main settlement is along a street lying east and west, across the plain which extends from the Housatonic, northerly some distance, to the foot of a hill. The village green or “smooth” lies rather at the western end of the village than at the center. At this point the main street intersects with the county road, leading north and south, and with divers other paths and lanes, leading in crooked, rambling lines to several points of the compass; sometimes ending at a single dwelling, sometimes at clusters of several buildings. On the hill, to the north, somewhat separated from the settlement on the plain, are quite a number of houses, erected there during the recent French and Indian wars, for the sake of being near the fort, which is now used as a parsonage by Reverend Stephen West, the young minister. The streets are all very wide and grassy, wholly without shade trees, and bordered generally by rail fences or stone walls. The houses, usually separated by wide intervals of meadow, are rarely over a story and a half in height. When painted, the color is usually red, brown, or yellow, the effect of which is a certain picturesqueness wholly outside any design on the part of the practical minded inhabitants.
Interspersed among the houses, and occurring more thickly in the south and west parts of the village, are curious huts, as much like wigwams as houses. These are the dwellings of the Christianized and civilized Stockbridge Indians, the original possessors of the soil, who live intermingled with the whites on terms of the most utter comity, fully sharing the offices of church and town, and fighting the battles of the Commonwealth side by side with the white militia.
Around the green stand the public buildings of the place. Here is the tavern, a low two-story building, without porch or piazza, and entered by a door in the middle of the longest side. Over the door swings a sign, on which a former likeness of King George has, by a metamorphosis common at this period, been transformed into a soldier of the revolution, in Continental uniform of buff and blue. But just at this time its contemplation does not afford the patriotic tipler as much complacency as formerly, for Burgoyne is thundering at the passes of the Hoosacs, only fifty miles away, and King George may get his red coat back again, after all. The Tories in the village say that the landlord keeps a pot of red paint behind the door, so that the Hessian dragoons may not take him by surprise when they come galloping down the valley, some afternoon. On the other side [of] the green is the meeting-house, built some thirty years ago, by a grant from government at Boston, and now considered rather old-fashioned and inconvenient. Hard by the meeting-house is the graveyard, with the sandy knoll in its south-west corner, set apart for the use of the Indians. The whipping-post, stocks, and cage, for the summary correction of such offences as come within the jurisdiction of Justice Jahleel Woodbridge, Esquire, adorn the middle of the village green, and on Saturday afternoon are generally the center of a crowd assembled to be edified by the execution of sentences.
On the other side [of] the green from the meeting-house stands the store, built five years before, by Timothy Edwards, Esquire, a structure of a story and a half, with the unusual architectural adornment of a porch or piazza in front, the only thing of the kind in the village. The people of Stockbridge are scarcely prouder of the divinity of their late shepherd, the famous Dr. Jonathan Edwards, than they are of his son Timothy’s store. Indeed, what with Dr. Edwards, so lately in their midst, Dr. Hopkins, down at Great Barrington, and Dr. Bellamy, just over the State line in Bethlehem, Connecticut, the people of Berkshire are decidedly more familiar with theologians than with storekeepers, for when Mr. Edwards built his store in 1772, it was the only one in the county.
At such a time it may be readily inferred that a commercial occupation serves rather as a distinction than otherwise. Squire Edwards is moreover chairman of the selectmen, and furthermore most of the farmers are in his debt for supplies, while to these varied elements of influence, his theological ancestry adds a certain odor of sanctity. It is true that Squire Jahleel Woodbridge is even more brilliantly descended, counting two colonial governors and numerous divines among his ancestry, not to speak of a rumored kinship with the English noble family of Northumberland. But instead of tending to a profitless rivalry the respective claims of the Edwardses and the Woodbridges to distinction have happily been merged by the marriage of Jahleel Woodbridge and Lucy Edwards, the sister of Squire Timothy, so that in all social and political matters, the two families are closely allied.
The back room of the store is, in a sense, the Council-chamber, where the affairs of the village are debated and settled by these magnates, whose decisions the common people never dream of anticipating or questioning. It is also a convivial center, a sort of clubroom. There, of an afternoon, may generally be seen Squires Woodbridge, Williams, Elisha Brown, Deacon Nash, Squire Edwards, and perhaps a few others, relaxing their gravity over generous bumpers of some choice old Jamaica, which Edwards had luckily laid in, just before the war stopped all imports.
In the west half of the store building, Squire Edwards lives with his family, including, besides his wife and children, the remnants of his father’s family and that of his sister, the widowed Mrs. President Burr. Young Aaron Burr was there, for a while after his graduation at Princeton, and during the intervals of his arduous theological studies with Dr. Bellamy at Bethlehem. Perchance there are heart-sore maidens in the village, who, to their sorrow, could give more particular information of the exploits of the seductive Aaron at this period, than I am able to.
Such are the mountains and rivers, the streets and the houses of Stockbridge as the sun of this August morning in the year 1777, discloses them to view. But where are the people? It is seven, yes, nearly eight o’clock, and no human being is to be seen walking in the streets, or travelling in the roads, or working in the fields. Such lazy habits are certainly not what we have been wont to ascribe to our sturdy forefathers. Has the village, peradventure, been deserted by the population, through fear of the Hessian marauders, the threat of whose coming has long hung like a portentous cloud, over the Berkshire valley? Not at all. It is not the fear of man, but the fear of God, that has laid a spell upon the place. It is the Sabbath, or what we moderns call Sunday, and law and conscience have set their double seal on every door, that neither man, woman nor child, may go forth till sunset, save at the summons of the meeting-house bell. We may wander all the way from the parsonage on the hill, to Captain Konkapot’s hut on the Barrington road, without meeting a soul, though the windows will have a scandalized face framed in each seven by nine pane of glass. And the distorted, uncouth and variously colored face and figure, which the imperfections of the glass give the passer-by, will doubtless appear to the horrified spectators, but the fit typical representation of his inward depravity. We shall, I say, meet no one, unless, as we pass his hut by Konkapot’s brook, Jehoiachim Naunumpetox, the Indian tithing man, spy us, and that will be to our exceeding discomfiture, for straightway laying implacable hands upon us, he will deliver us to John Schebuck, the constable, who will grievously correct our flesh with stripes, for Sabbath-breaking, and cause us to sit in the stocks, for an ensample.
But if so mild an excursion involve so dire a risk, what must be the desperation of this horseman who is coming at a thundering gallop along the county road from Pittsfield? His horse is in a foaming sweat, the strained nostrils are filled with blood and the congested eyes protrude as if they would leap from their sockets to be at their goal.
It is Squire Woodbridge’s two story red house before which the horseman pulls rein, and leaving his steed with hanging head and trembling knees and laboring sides, drags his own stiffened limbs up the walk and enters the house. Almost instantly Squire Woodbridge himself, issues from the door, dressed for church in a fine black coat, waistcoat, and knee-breeches, white silk stockings, a three-cornered black hat and silver buckles on his shoes, but in his hand instead of a Bible, a musket. As he steps out, the door of a house further east opens also, and another man similarly dressed, with brown woolen stockings, steps forth with a gun in his hand also. He seems to have interpreted the meaning of the horseman’s message. This is Deacon Nash. Beckoning him to follow, Squire Woodbridge steps out to the edge of the green, raises his musket to his shoulder and discharges it into the air. Deacon Nash coming up a moment later also raises and fires his gun, and e’er the last echoes have reverberated from the mountains, Squire Edwards, musket in hand, throws open his store door and stepping out on the porch, fires the third gun.
A moment ago hundreds of faces were smiling, hundreds of eyes were bright, hundreds of cheeks were flushed. Now there is not a single smile or a trace of brightness, or a bit of color on a face in the valley. Such is the woful change wrought in every household, as the successive reports of the heavily-charged pieces sound through the village, and penetrate to the farthest outlying farmhouse. The first shot may well be an accident, the second may possibly be, but as the third inexorably follows, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, parents and sons, look at each other with blanched faces, and instantly a hundred scenes of quiet preparation for meeting, are transformed into the confusion of a very different kind of preparation. Catechisms are dropped for muskets, and Bibles fall unnoticed under foot, as men spring for their haversacks and powder-horns. For those three guns summon the minute men to be on the march for Bennington. All the afternoon before, the roar of cannon has faintly sounded from the northward, and the people knew that Stark was meeting Baum and his Hessians, on the Hoosac. One detachment of Stockbridge men is already with him. Does this new summons mean disaster? Has the dreaded foe made good his boasted invincibility? No one knows, not even the exhausted messenger, for he was sent off by Stark, while yet the issue of yesterday’s battle trembled in the balance.
“It’s kinder suddin. I wuz in hopes the boys wouldn’ hev to go, bein as they wuz a fightin yisdy,” quavered old Elnathan Hamlin, as he trotted about, helplessly trying to help, and only hindering Mrs. Hamlin, as with white face, but deft hands, and quick eyes, she was getting her two boys ready, filling their haversacks, sewing a button here, tightening a buckle there, and looking to everything.
“Ye must tak keer o’ Reub, Perez. He ain’t so rugged ‘zye be. By rights, he orter ha stayed to hum.”
“Oh, I’m as stout as Perez. I can wrastle him. Don’t fret about me,” said Reuben, with attempted gayety, though his boyish lip quivered as he looked at his mother’s face, noting how she did not meet his eye, lest she should lose her self-control, and not be able to do anything more.
“I’ll look after the boy, never fear,” said Perez, slapping his brother on the back. “I’ll fetch him back a General, as big a man as Squire Woodbridge.”
“I dunno what ‘n time I shall dew ‘bout gittin in the crops,” whimpered Elnathan. “I can’t dew it ‘lone, nohow. Seems though my rheumatiz wuz wuss ‘n ever, this las’ spell o’ weather.”
“There goes Abner Rathbun, and George Fennell,” cried Perez. “Time we were off. Good-bye mother. There! There! Don’t you cry, mother. We’ll be back all right. Got your gun, Reub? Good-bye father. Come on,” and the boys were off.
In seeming sympathy with the sudden grief that has fallen on the village, the bright promise of the morning has given place in the last hour to one of those sudden rain storms to which a mountainous region is always liable, and a cold drizzle is now falling. But that does not hinder every one who has friends among the departing soldiers, or sympathy with the cause represented, from gathering on the green to witness the muster and march of the men. All the leading men and the officials of the town and parish are there, including the two Indian selectmen, Johannes Metoxin and Joseph Sauquesquot. Squire Edwards, Deacon Nash, Squire Williams and Captain Josiah Jones, brother-in-law of Squire Woodbridge, are going about among the tearful groups, of one of which each soldier is a centre, reassuring and encouraging both those who go, and those who stay, the ones with the promise that their wives and children and parents shall be looked after and cared for, the others with confident talk of victory and speedy reunions.
Squire Edwards tells Elnathan, who with Mrs. Hamlin has come down to the green, that he needn’t fret about the mortgage on his house, and Deacon Nash tells him that he’ll see that his crops are saved, and George Fennell, who, with his wife and daughter, stands by, is assured by the Squire, that they shall have what they want from the store. There is not a plough-boy among the minute men who is not honored today with a cordial word or two, or at least a smile, from the magnates who never before have recognized his existence.
And proud in her tears, to-day, is the girl who has a sweetheart among the soldiers. Shy girls, who for fear of being laughed at, have kept a secret of their inclinations, now grown suddenly bold, cry, as they talk with their lovers, and refuse not the parting kiss. Desire Edwards, the Squire’s daughter, as she moves among the groups, and sees these things, is stirred with envy and thinks she would give anything if she, too, had a sweetheart to bid good-bye to. But she is only fifteen, and Squire Edwards’ daughter, moreover, to whom no rustic swain dares pretend. Then she bethinks herself that one has timidly, enough, so pretended. She knows that Elnathan Hamlin’s son, Perez, is dreadfully in love with her. He is better bred than the other boys, but after all he is only a farmer’s son, and while pleased with his conquest as a testimony to her immature charms, she has looked down upon him as quite an inferior order of being to herself. But just now he appears to her in the desirable light of somebody to bid good-bye to, to the end that she may be on a par with the other girls whom she so envies. So she looks about for Perez.
And he, on his part, is looking about for her. That she, the Squire’s daughter, as far above him as a star, would care whether he went or stayed, or would come to say good-bye to him, he had scarcely dared to think. And yet how deeply has that thought, which he has scarcely dared own, tinged all his other thinking! The martial glory that has so dazzled his young imagination, how much of its glitter was but reflected from a girl’s eyes. As he looks about and not seeing her, says, “She does not care, she will not come,” the sword loses all its sheen, and the nodding plume its charm, and his dreams of self-devotion all their exhilaration.
“I came to bid you good-bye, Perez,” says a voice behind him.
He wheels about, red, confused, blissful. Desire Edwards, dark and sparkling as a gypsy, stands before him with her hand outstretched. He takes it eagerly, timidly. The little white fingers press his big brown ones. He does not feel them there; they seem to be clasping his heart. He feels the ecstatic pressure there.
“Fall in,” shouts Captain Woodbridge, for the Squire himself is their captain.
There is a tumult of embraces and kisses all around. Reuben kissed his mother.
“Will you kiss me, Desire?” said Perez, huskily, carried beyond himself, scarcely knowing what he said, for if he had realized he never would have dared.
Desire looked about, and saw all the women kissing their men. The air was electric.
“Yes,” she said, and gave him her red lips, and for a moment it seemed as if the earth had gone from under his feet. The next thing he knew he was standing in line, with Reub on one side, and George Fennell on the other and Abner Rathbun’s six feet three towering at one end of the line, while Parson West was standing on the piazza of the store, praying for the blessing of God on the expedition.
“Amen,” the parson said, and Captain Woodbridge’s voice rang out again. The lines faced to the right, filed off the green at quick step, turned into the Pittsfield road, and left the women to their tears.
NINE YEARS AFTER
EARLY ONE EVENING IN THE very last of August, 1786, only three years after the close of the Revolutionary war, a dozen or twenty men and boys, farmers and laborers, are gathered, according to custom, in the big barroom of Stockbridge tavern. The great open fireplace of course shows no cheery blaze of logs at this season, and the only light is the dim and yellow illumination diffused by two or three homemade tallow candles stuck about the bar, which runs along half of one side of the apartment. The dim glimmer of some pewter mugs standing on a shelf behind the bar is the only spot of reflected light in the room, whose time-stained, unpainted woodwork, dingy plastering, and low ceiling, thrown into shadows by the rude and massive crossbeams, seems capable of swallowing up without a sign ten times the illumination actually provided. The faces of four or five men, standing near the bar, or lounging on it, are quite plainly visible, and the forms of half a dozen more who are seated on a long settle placed against the opposite wall, are more dimly to be seen, while in the back part of the room, leaning against the posts or walls, or lounging in the open doorway, a dozen or more figures loom indistinctly out of the darkness.
The tavern, it must be remembered, as a convivial resort, is the social antipodes of the back room of Squire Edwards’ “store.” If you would consort with silk-stockinged, wigged, and silver shoe-buckled gentlemen, you must just step over there, for at the tavern are only to be found the hewers of wood and drawers of water, mechanics, farm-laborers, and farmers. Ezra Phelps and Israel Goodrich, the former the owner of the new gristmill at “Mill Hollow,” a mile west of the village, the other a substantial farmer, with their corduroy coats and knee-breeches, blue woolen hose and steel shoe buckles, are the most socially considerable and respectably attired persons present.
Perhaps about half the men and boys are barefooted, according to the economical custom of a time when shoes in summer are regarded as luxuries not necessities. The costume of most is limited to shirt and trousers, the material for which their own hands or those of their women-folk have sheared, spun, woven and dyed. Some of the better dressed wear trousers of blue and white striped stuff, of the kind now-a-days exclusively used for bed-ticking. The leathern breeches which a few years before were universal are still worn by a few in spite of their discomfort in summer.
Behind the bar sits Widow Bingham, the landlady, a buxom, middle-aged woman, whose sharp black eyes have lost none of their snap, whether she is entertaining a customer with a little pleasant gossip, or exploring the murky recesses of the room about the door, where she well knows sundry old customers are lurking, made cowards of by consciousness of long unsettled scores upon her slate. And whenever she looks with special fixity into the darkness there is soon a scuttling of somebody out of doors.
She pays little or no attention to the conversation of the men around the bar. Being largely political, it might be expected to have the less interest for one of the domestic sex, and moreover it is the same old story she has been obliged to hear over and over every evening, with little variation, for a year or two past.
For in those days, throughout Massachusetts, at home, at the tavern, in the field, on the road, in the street, as they rose up, and as they sat down, men talked of nothing but the hard times, the limited markets, and low prices for farm produce, the extortions and multiplying numbers of the lawyers and sheriffs, the oppressions of creditors, the enormous, grinding taxes, the last sheriff’s sale, and who would be sold out next, the last batch of debtors taken to jail, and who would go next, the utter dearth of money of any sort, the impossibility of getting work, the gloomy and hopeless prospect for the coming winter, and in general the wretched failure of the triumph and independence of the colonies to bring about the public and private prosperity so confidently expected.
The air of the room is thick with smoke, for most of the men are smoking clay or corncob pipes, but the smoke is scarcely recognizable as that of tobacco, so largely is that expensive weed mixed with dried sweet-fern and other herbs, for the sake of economy. Of the score or two persons present, only two, Israel Goodrich and Ezra Phelps, are actually drinking anything. Not certainly that they are the only ones disposed to drink, as the thirsty looks that follow the mugs to their lips, sufficiently testify, but because they alone have credit at the bar. Ezra furnishes Mrs. Bingham with meal from his mill, and drinks against the credit thus created, while Israel furnishes the landlady with potatoes on the same understanding. There being practically almost no money in circulation, most kinds of trade are dependent on such arrangements of barter. Meshech Little, the carpenter, who lies dead-drunk on the floor, his clothing covered with the sand, which it has gathered up while he was being unceremoniously rolled out of the way, is a victim of one of these arrangements, having just taken his pay in rum for a little job of tinkering about the tavern.
“Meshech hain’t hed a steady job sence the new meetin-haouse wuz done las’ year, an I s’pose the critter feels kinder diskerridged like,” said Abner Rathbun, regarding the prostrate figure sympathetically. Abner has grown an inch and broadened proportionally, since Squire Woodbridge made him file leader of the minute men by virtue of his six feet three, and as he stands with his back to the bar, resting his elbows on it, the room would not be high enough for his head, but that he stands between the cross-beams.
“I s’pose Meshech’s fam’ly ‘ll hev to go ontew the taown,” observed Israel Goodrich. “They say ez the poorhouse be twicet ez full ez’t orter be, naow.”
“It’ll hev more intew it fore ‘t hez less,” said Abner grimly.
“Got no work, Abner? I hearn ye wuz up Lenox way a lookin fer suthin to dew,” inquired Peleg Bidwell, a lank, loose-jointed farmer, who was leaning against a post in the middle of the room, just on the edge of the circle of candlelight.
“A feller ez goes arter work goes on a fool’s errant,” responded Abner, dejectedly. “There ain’ no work nowhar, an a feller might jess ez well sit down to hum an wait till the sheriff comes arter him.”
“The only work as pays now-a-days is pickin the bones o’ the people. Why don’t ye turn lawyer or depity sheriff, an take to that, Abner?” said Paul Hubbard, an undersized man with a dark face, and thin, sneering lips.
He had been a lieutenant in the Continental army, and used rather better language than the country folk ordinarily, which, as well as a cynical wit which agreed with the embittered popular temper, gave him considerable influence. Since the war he had been foreman of Colonel William’s iron-works at West Stockbridge. There was great distress among the workmen on account of the stoppage of the works by reason of the hard times, but Hubbard, as well as most of the men, still remained in West Stockbridge, simply because there was no encouragement to go elsewhere.
“Wat I can’t make aout is that the lawyers an sheriffs sh’d git so dern fat a pickin our bones, seein ez ther’s sech a dern leatle meat ontew us,” said Abner.
“There’s as much meat on squirrels as bears if you have enough of em,” replied Hubbard. “They pick clean, ye see, an take all we’ve got, an every little helps.”
“Yas,” said Abner, “they do pick darned clean, but that ain’t the wust on’t, fer they sends our bones tew rot in jail arter they’ve got all the meat orf.”
“‘Twas ony yesdy Iry Seymour sole out Zadkiel Poor, ez lives long side o’ me, an tuk Zadkiel daown tew Barrington jail fer the res’ what the sale didn’t fetch,” said Israel Goodrich. “Zadkiel he’s been kinder ailin like fer a spell back, an his wife, she says ez haow he can’t live a month daown tew the jail, an wen Iry tuk Zadkiel orf, she tuk on reel bad. I declare for’t, it seemed kinder tough.”
“I hearn ez they be tew new fellers a studyin law intew Squire Sedgwick’s office,” said Obadiah Weeks, a gawky youth of perhaps twenty, evidently anxious to buy a standing among the adult circle of talkers by contributing an item of information.
Abner groaned. “Great Crypus! More blood-suckers. Why, they be ten lawyers in Stockbridge taown a’ready, an they warn’t but one wen I wuz a boy, an thar wuz more settlers ‘n they be naow.”
“Wal, I guess they’ll git nuff to dew,” said Ezra Phelps. “I hearn as haow they’s seven hundred cases on the docket o’ the Common Pleas, nex’ week, mos’ on em fer debt.”
“I hearn as two hundred on em be from Stockbridge an the iron-works,” added Israel. “I declare for’t Zadkiel ‘ll hev plenty o’ kumpny daown tew jail, by the time them suits be all tried.”
“By gosh, what be we a comin tew?” groaned Abner. “It doos seem zif we all on us mout z’well move daown tew the jail to onc’t, an hev done with ‘t. We’re baown to come to ‘t fuss or las’.”
Presently Peleg Bidwell said, “My sister Keziah’s son, by her fuss husban’s been daown tew Bosting, an I hearn say ez haow he says ez the folks daown East mos’ly all hez furniter from Lunnon, and the women wears them air Leghorn hats as cos ten shillin lawful, let alone prunelly shoes an satin stockins, an he says as there ain’t a ship goes out o’ Bosting harbor ez don’ take more’n five thousan paound o’ lawful money outer the kentry. I callate,” pursued Peleg, “that’s jess what’s tew the bottom o’ the trouble. It’s all long o’ the rich folks a sendin money out o’ the kentry to git theirselves fine duds, an that’s wy we don’ git more’n tuppence a paound fer our mutton, an nex’ ter nothin fer wheat, an don’t have nothin to pay taxes with nor to settle with Squire Edwards, daown ter the store. That’s the leak in the bar’l, an times won’t git no better till that’s plugged naow, I tell yew.”
“If’t comes to pluggin leaks ye kin look nigher hum nor Bosting,” observed Abner. “I hearn ez Squire Woodbridge giv fifty pound lawful fer that sorter tune box ez he’z get fer his gal, an they doos say ez them cheers o’ Squire Sedgwick’s cos twenty pound lawful in the old kentry.”
“What dew they call that air tune box?” inquired Israel Goodrich. “I’ve hearn tell but I kinder fergit. It’s some Frenchified soundin name.”
“It’s a pianner,” said Obadiah.
“I guess peeanner’s nigher right,” observed Peleg critically. “My gal hearn the Edwards gal call it peeanner.”
“They ain’t nuther of ye in a mile o’ right. ‘Tain’t pianner, an ‘tain’t peeanner; it’s pianny,” said Abner, who on account of having once served a few weeks in connection with a detachment of the French auxiliaries, was conceded to be an authority on foreign pronunciation.
“I hain’t got no idee on’t, nohow,” said Israel shaking his head. “I hearn it a goin ez I wuz a comin by the store. Souns like ez if it wuz a hailin ontew a lot o’ milk pans. I never suspicioned ez I should live tew hear sech a n’ise.”
“I guess Peleg’s baout right,” said Abner. “Thar won’t be no show fer poor folks, ‘nless they is a law agin’ sendin money aouter the kentry.”
“I callate that would be a shuttin of the barn door arter the hoss is stole,” said Ezra Phelps, as he arrested a mug of flip on its way to his lips, to express his views. “There ain’ no use o’ beginnin to save arter all’s spent. I callate guvment’s got ter print a big stack o’ new bills ef we’re a goin to git holt o’ no money.”
“Ef it’s paper bills as ye’re a talkin baout,” said Abner grimly, “I’ve got quite a slew on em tew hum, mebbe a peck or tew. I got em fer pay in the army. They’re tew greasy tew kindle a fire with, an I dunno o’ nothin else ez they’re good for. Ye’re welcome to em, Ezry. My little Bijah assed me fer some on em tew make a kite outer thuther day, an I says tew him, says I, ‘Bijah, I don’ callate they’ll do nohow fer a kite, for I never hearn of a Continental bill a goin up, but ef yer want a sinker fer yer fish line they’re jess the thing.’”
There was a sardonic snicker at Ezra’s expense, but he returned to the charge quite undismayed.
“That ain’t nuther here nor there,” he said, turning toward Abner and emphasizing his words with the empty mug. “What I asses yew is, wan’t them bills good fer suthin wen they wuz fuss printed?”
“They wuz wuth suthin fer a wile,” assented Abner.
“Ezackly,” said the other, “that’s the nater o’ bills. Allers they is good fer a wile and then they kinder begins to run daown, an they runs daown till they ain’t wuth nuthin,” and Ezra illustrated the process by raising the mug as high as his head and bringing it slowly down to his knees. “Paounds an shillins runs daown tew by gittin wored off till they’s light weight. Every kine o’ money runs daown, on’y it’s the nater o’ bills to run daown a leetle quicker nor other sorts. Naow I says, an I ain’t the ony one ez says it, that all guvment’s got to dew is tew keep a printin new bills ez fass ez the old ones gits run daown. Times wuz good long in the war. A feller could git baout what he assed fer his crops an he could git any wages he assed. Yer see guvment wuz a printin money fass. Jess’s quick ez a bill run daown they up and printed another one, so they wuz allers plenty. Soon ez the war wuz over they stopped a printin bills and immejetly the hard times come. Hain’t that so?”
“I dunno but yew be right,” said Abner, thoughtfully, “I never thort on’t ezzackly that way,” and Isaiah Goodrich also expressed the opinion that there was “somethin into what Ezry says.”
“What we wants,” pursued Ezra, “what we wants, is a kine o’ bills printed as shall lose vally by reglar rule, jess so much a month, no more no less, cordin ez its fixed by law an printed on tew the bills so’z everybody’ll understan an no-body’ll git cheated. I hearn that’s the idee as the Hampshire folks went fer in the convenshun daown tew Hatfield this week. Ye see, ez I wuz a sayin, bills is baoun tew come daown anyhow ony if they comes daown regler, cordin tew law, everybody’ll know what t’expect, and nobody won’ lose nothin.”
“Praps the convenshun what’s a sittin up tew Lenox’ll rekummen them bills,” hopefully suggested a farmer who had been taking in Ezra’s wisdom with open mouth.
“I don’ s’pose that it’ll make any odds how many bills are printed as far’s we’re concerned,” said Hubbard, bitterly. “The lawyers’ll make out to git em all pretty soon. Ye might’s well try to fat a hog with a tape worm in him, as to make folks rich as long as there are any lawyers round.”
“Yas, an jestices’ fees, an sheriff fees is baout ez bad ez lawyer’s,” said Israel Goodrich, whose countenance was beginning to glow from the influence of his potations. “I tell you wesh’d be a dern sight better off ‘f’all the courts wuz stopped. Most on ye is young fellers, ‘cept you Elnathan Hamlin, thar. He’ll tell ye, ez I tell ye, that this air caounty never seen sech good times, spite on’ts bein war times, ez long fur ‘74 to ‘80, arter we’d stopped the King’s courts from sittin an afore we’d voted for the new constitution o’ the state, ez we wuz durn fools fer doin of, ef I dew say it. In them six year thar warn’t nary court sot nowhere in the caounty, from Boston Corner tew ole Fort Massachusetts, an o’ course thar warn’t no lawyers an no sheriffs ner no depity sheriffs nuther, tew make every debt twice as big with ther darnation fees. They warn’t no sheriffs sales, nuther, a sellin of a feller outer house’n hum an winter comin on, an thar warn’t no suein an no jailin of fellers fer debt. Folks wuz keerful who they trusted, ez they’d orter be allers, for ther warn’t no klectin o’ debts nohow, an ef that warn’t allers jestice I reckin ‘twas as nigh jestice as ‘tis to klect bills swelled more’n double by lawyers’ and sheriffs’ and jestices’ fees ez they doos naow. In them days ef any feller wuz put upon by another he’d jess got tew complain tew the slectmen or the committee, an they’d right him. I tell yew rich folks an poor folks lived together kinder neighborly in them times an ‘cordin tew scripter. The rich folks warn’t a grindin the face o’ the poor, an the poor they wuzn’t a hatin an a envyin o’ the rich, nigh untew blood, ez they is naow, ef I dew say it. Yew rekullec them days, Elnathan, warn’t it jess ez I say?”
“Them wuz good times, Israel. Ye ain’t sayin nothin more’n wuz trew,” said Elnathan in a feeble treble, from his seat on the settle.
“I tell you they wuz good,” reiterated Israel, as he looked around upon the group with scintillating eyes, and proceeded to hand his mug over the bar to be refilled.
“I hearn ez haow the convenshun up tew Lenox is a go in tew ‘bolish the lawyers an the courts,” said a stalwart fellow of bovine countenance, named Laban Jones, one of the discharged iron-works men.
“The convenshun can’t ‘bolish nothin,” said Peleg Bidwell, gloomily. “It can’t do nothin but rekommen the Gineral Court way daown tew Bosting. Bosting is too fer orf fer this caounty, nor Hampshire nuther, tew git no considerashin. This eend o’ the state ull never git its rights till the guvment’s moved outer Bosting tew Worcester where’t uster be in war times.”
“That’s so,” said Ezra Phelps, “everybody knows as these tew counties be taxed higher nor the other eend o’ the state.”
“Hev yew paid up ye taxes fer las’ year, Peleg?” inquired Abner.
“No, I hain’t, nor fer year afore, nuther. Gosh, I can’t. I could pay in pertaters, but I can’t pay in money. Ther ain’t no money. Klector Williams says as haow he’d hafter sell me out, an I s’pose he’s goin ter. It’s kinder tough, but I don’ see zi kin dew nothin. I callate to be in the jail or poorhouse, afore spring.”
“I dunno o’ nobody roun here, as haz paid ther taxes fer las year, yit,” said Israel. “I callate that more’n half the farms in the caounty ‘ll be sole fer taxes afore spring.”
“I hearn as how Squire Woodbridge says taxes is ten times what they wuz afore the war, an its sartain that they ain’t one shillin intew folks’ pockets tew pay em with whar they wuz ten on em in them days. It seems dern curis, bein as we fit agin the redcoats jest tew git rid o’ taxes,” said Abner.
“Taxes is mosly fer payin interest ontew the money what govment borrowed tew kerry on the war. Naow, I says, an I ain’t the on’y one in the caounty as says it, nuther, ez debts orter run daown same ez bills does, reglar, so much a month, till they ain’t nuthin leff,” said Ezra Phelps, setting down his mug with an emphatic thud. “S’poosn I borrers money of yew, Abner, an built a haouse, that haouse is boun tew run daown in vally, I callate, ‘long from year tew year. An it seems kinder rees’nable that the debt sh’d run daown’s fass as the haouse, so’s wen the haouse gits wored aout, the debt ‘ll be, tew. Them things ez govment bought with the money it borrered, is wore aout, an it seems kinder rees’nable that the debts should be run daown tew. A leetle orter a been took orf the debt every year, instead o’ payin interes ontew it.”
“I guess like’s not ye hev the rights on’t, Ezry. I wuzn’t a thinkin on’t that air way, ezzactly. I wuz a thinkin that if govment paid one kine o’ debts ‘t orter pay t’other kine. I fetched my knapsack full o’ govment bills hum from the war. I callate them bills wuz all on em debts what the govment owed tew me fur a fightin. Ef govment ain’t a goin tew pay me them bills, an ‘tain’t, ‘it don’ seem fair tew tax me so’s it kin pay debts it owes tew other folks. Leastways seems’s though them bills govment owes me orter be caounted agin the taxes instead o’ bein good fer nothin. It don’t seem ez if ‘twas right, nohaow.”
“Leastways,” said Peleg, “if the Gineral Court hain’t a goin ter print more bills ‘t orter pass a lor, seein thar ain’t no money in the kentry, so ‘z a feller’s prop’ty could be tuk by a fair valiation fer what he owes, instead o’ lettin the sheriff sell it fer nothin and sendin a feller tew jail fer the balince. Wen I giv Squire Edwards that air leetle morgidge on my farm, money wuz plenty, an I callated tew pay it up easy; an naow thar ain’t no money, an I can’t git none, if I died for’t. It’s jess zif I ‘greed tew sell a load o’ ice in January, an a thaw come an thar wan’t no ice leff. Property’s wuth’s much ‘z ever I callate, an’t orter be good fer debts instead o’ money, ‘cordin to a far valiation.”
“Mr. Goodrich, how did you go to work to stop the King’s courts in ‘74? Did you hang the justices?” inquired Paul Hubbard, arousing from a fit of contemplation.
“Nary bit,” replied Isaiah, “there warn’t no need o’ hangin nobody. ‘Twas a fine mornin in May, I rekullec jess zif ‘twas yes’day, wen the court was a goin tew open daown tew Barrington, an abaout a thousan men on us jess went daown an filled up the court haouse, an woudn’ let the jedges in, an wen they see ‘twan’t no use, they jess give in quiet’s lambs, an we made em sign their names tew a paper agreein not tew hold no more courts, an the job wuz done. Ye see the war wuzn’t farly begun an none o’ the King’s courts in th’ uther caounties wuz stopped, but we callated the court mout make trouble for some o’ the Sons o’ Liberty, in the caounty if we let it set.”
“I callate ‘t ain’t nothin very hard tew stop a court, ‘cordin tew that,” said Peleg Bidwell.
“No, ‘tain’t hard, not ef the people is gen’ally agin’ the settin on it,” said Isaiah.
“I s’pose ef a thousan men sh’d be daown tew Barrington nex’ week Tewsday, they could stop the jestice fr’m openin the Common Pleas, jess same ez yew did,” said Peleg, thoughtfully.
“Sartain,” said Isaac, “sartain; leastways’s long ez the militia warn’t aout, but gosh, they ain’t no sense o’ talkin baout sech things! These hain’t no sech times ez them wuz, an folks ain’t what they wuz, nuther. They seems kinder slimpsy; hain’t got no grit.”
During this talk, Elnathan had risen and gone feebly out.
“Elnathan seems tew take it tew heart baout leavin the ole place. I hearn ez how Solomon Gleason’s goin ter sell him aout pooty soon,” Abner remarked.
“I guess t’ain’t so much that as ‘tis the bad news he’s heerd baout Reub daown tew Barrington jail,” said Obadiah Weeks.
“What’s abaout Reub?” asked Abner.
“He’s a goin intew a decline daown to the jail.”
“I wanter know! Poor Reub!” said Abner, compassionately. “He fout side o’ me tew Stillwater, an Perez was t’other side. Perez done me a good turn that day, ez I shan’t furgit in a hurry. Gosh, he’d take it hard ef he hearn ez haow Reub wuz in jail! I never seed tew fellers set more store by another ‘n he did by Reub.”
“Wonder ef Perez ain’t never a comin hum. He hain’t been back sence the war. I hearn his folks had word a spell ago, ez he wuz a comin,” said Peleg.
“Gosh!” exclaimed Abner, his rough features softening with a pensive cast, “I rekullec jess zif ‘twar yes’dy, that rainy mornin wen we fellers set orf long with Squire Woodbridge fer Bennington. Thar wuz me, ‘n Perez, an Reub, an Abe Konkapot, ‘n lessee, yew went afore, didn’t ye, Peleg?”
“Yas, I went with Cap’n Stoddard,” replied that individual.
“Thar we wuz; all a stannin in line,” pursued Abner, gazing right through the ceiling, as if he could see just the other side of it the scene which he so vividly recalled, “an Parson West a prayin, an the wimmin a whimperin, an we nigh ontew it; fer we wuz green, an the mothers’ milk warn’t aouter us. But I bet we tho’t we wuz big pertaters, agoin to fight fer lib’ty. Wall, we licked the redcoats, and we got lib’ty, I s’pose; lib’ty ter starve, that is ef we don’ happin to git sent tew jail fus,” and Abner’s voice fell, and his chin dropped on his breast, in a sudden reaction of dejection at the thought of the bitter disappointment of all the hopes which that day had made their hearts so strong, even in the hour of parting.
“I callate we wuz a dern sight better orf every way under the King, ‘n we be naow. The Tories wuz right, arter all, I guess. We’d better a let well nuff l’one, an not to a jumped aouter the fryin-pan intew the fire,” said Peleg, gloomily.
As he ended speaking, a medium sized man, with a pasty white, freckled complexion, bristly red hair, a retreating forehead and small, sharp eyes, came forward from the dark corner near the door. His thin lips writhed in a mocking smile, as he stood confronting Peleg and Abner, and looking first at one and then at the other:
“Ef I don’ furgit,” he said at length, “that’s ‘baout the way I talked wen the war wuz a goin on, an if I rekullec, ye, Peleg, an ye, Abner Rathbun and Meshech Little, thar on the floor, tuk arter me with yer guns and dorgs caze ye said I wuz a dum Tory. An ye hunted me on Stockbridge mounting like a woodchuck, an ye’d a hed my skelp fer sartin ef I hadn’t been a durn sight smarter ‘n ye ever wuz.”
“Jabez,” said Abner, “I hope ye don’ hev no hard feelin’s. Times be changed. Let by gones be by gones.”
“Mos’ folks ud say I hed some call to hev hard feelin’s. Ye druv me ter hide in caves, an holes, fer the best part o’ tew year. I dass’n come hum tew see my wife die, nor tew bury on her. Ye confiscated my house and tuk my crops fer yer derned army. Mos’ folks ud sartingly say ez I hed call tew hev hard feelin’s agin’ ye. But gosh, I hain’t, an wy hain’t I? Gaze ye hev been yer own wust enemies; ye’ve hurt yerselves more ner ye hev me, though ye didn’t go fer ter dew it. Pooty nigh all on ye, as fit agen the King, is beggars naow, or next door tew it. Everybudy hez a kick fer a soldier. Ye’ll fine em mosly in the jails an the poorhaouses. Look at you fellers as wuz a huntin me. Ther’s Meshech on the floor, a drunken, worthless cuss. Thar ye be, Abner, ‘thout a shillin in the world, nor a foot o’ lan’, yer dad’s farm gone fer taxes. An thar be ye, Peleg. Wal Peleg, they dew say, ez the neighbors sends ye in things.”
Jabez looked from one to the other till he had sufficiently enjoyed their discomfiture and then he continued:
“I ain’t much better orf’n ye be, but I hain’t got nothin ontew my conscience. An wen I looks roun’ an sees the oppresshin, and the poverty of the people, and how they have none tew help, an the jails so full, an the taxes, an the plague o’ lawyers, an the voice o’ cryin as is goin up from the land, an all the consekences o’ the war, I tell ye, it’s considabul satisfacshin to feel ez I kin wash my hans on’t.” And, with a glance of contemptuous triumph around the circle, Jabez turned on his heel and went out. The silence was first broken by Ezra Phelps, who said quietly:
“Wal, Jabez ain’t fur from right. It’s abaout so. Some says the King is callatin to try to git the colonies back agin fore long. Ef he doos I guess he’ll make aout, fur I don’t bleeve ez a kumpny o’ men could be raised in all Berkshire, tew go an fight the redcoats agin, if they wuz to come to-morrer.” And a general murmur of assent confirmed his words.
“Wal,” said Abner, recovering speech, “live an larn. In them days wen I went a gunnin arter Jabez, I uster to think ez thar wuzn’t no sech varmint ez a Tory, but I didn’t know nothin bout lawyers, and sheriffs them times. I callate ye could cut five Tories aout o’ one lawyer an make a dozen skunks aout o’ what wuz leff over. I’m a goin hum.”
This was the signal for a general break-up. Israel, who had fallen into a boozy slumber on the settle, was roused and sent home between his son and hired man, and presently the tavern was dark save for the soon extinguished glimmer of a candle at the upstairs window of Widow Bingham’s apartment. Meshech was left to snore upon the barroom floor and grope his way outdoors as best he might, when he should return to his senses. For doors were not locked in Stockbridge in those days.
THE TAVERN-JAIL AT BARRINGTON
PELEG’S INFORMATION, ALTHOUGH OF A hearsay character, was correct. Perez Hamlin was coming home. The day following the conversation in the barroom of Stockbridge tavern, which I have briefly sketched in the last chapter, about an hour after noon, a horseman might have been seen approaching the village of Great Barrington, on the road from Sheffield. He wore the buff and blue uniform of a captain in the late Continental army, and strapped to the saddle was a steel hilted sword which had apparently experienced a good many hard knocks. The lack of any other baggage to speak of, as well as the frayed and stained condition of his uniform, indicated that however rich the rider might be in glory, he was tolerably destitute of more palpable forms of wealth.
Poverty, in fact, had been the chief reason that had prevented Captain Hamlin from returning home before. The close of the war had found him serving under General Greene in South Carolina, and on the disbandment of the troops he had been left without means of support. Since then he had been slowly working his way homewards, stopping a few months wherever employment or hospitality offered. What with the lack and insecurity of mails, and his frequent movements, he had not heard from home for two or three years, though he had written. But in those days, when the constant exchange of bulletins of health and business between friends, which burdens modern mail bags, was out of the question, the fact perhaps developed a more robust quality of faith in the well-being of the absent than is known in these timid and anxious days. Certain it is that as the soldier rides along, the smiles that from time to time chase each other across his bronzed face, indicate that gay and tender anticipations of the meeting now only a few hours away, leave no room in his mind for gloomy conjectures of possible disaster. It is nine years since he parted with his father and mother; and his brother Reub he has not seen since the morning in 1778, when Perez, accepting a commission, had gone south with General Greene, and Reub had left for home with Abner and Fennell, and a lot of others whose time had expired. He smiles now as he thinks how he never really knew what it was to enjoy the fighting until he got the lad off home, so that he had not to worry about his being hit every time there was any shooting going on. Coming into Great Barrington, he asked the first man he met where the tavern was.
“That’s it, over yonder,” said the man, jerking his thumb over his shoulder at a nondescript building some way ahead.
“That looks more like a jail.”
“Wal, so ‘tis. The jail’s in the ell part o’ the tavern. Cephe Bement keeps ‘em both.”
“It’s a queer notion to put em under the same roof.”
“I dunno ‘bout that, nuther. It’s mostly by way o’ the tavern that fellers gits inter jail, I calc’late.”
Perez laughed, and riding up to the tavern end of the jail, dismounted, and going into the barroom, ordered a plate of pork and beans. Feeling in excellent humor he fell to conversing over his modest meal with the landlord, a big, beefy man, who evidently liked to hear himself talk, and in a gross sort of way, appeared to be rather good natured.
“I saw a good many red flags on farmhouses, as I was coming up from Sheffield, this morning,” said Perez. “You haven’t got the smallpox in the county again, have you?”
“Them wuz sheriff’s sales,” said the landlord, laughing uproariously, in which he was joined by a seedy, red-nosed character, addressed as Zeke, who appeared to be a hanger-on of the barroom in the function of echo to the landlord’s jokes.
“Ye’ll git uster that air red flag ef ye stay long in these parts. Ye ain’t so fer from right arter all, though, fer I guess mos’ folks’d baout as leeve hev the smallpox in the house ez the sheriff.”
“Times are pretty hard hereabouts, are they?”
“Wal, yes, they be baout ez hard ez they kin be, but ye see it’s wuss in this ere caounty ‘n ‘tis ‘n mos’ places, cause ther warn’t nary court here fer six or eight year, till lately, an no debts wuz klected ‘n so they’ve kinder piled up. I callate they ain’t but dern few fellers in the caounty ‘cept the parsons, ‘n lawyers, ‘n doctors ez ain’t a bein sued ted-day, ‘specially the farmers. I tell you it makes business lively fer the lawyers an sheriffs. They’re the ones ez rides in kerridges these days.”
“Is the jail pretty full now?”
“Chock full, hed to send a batch up ter Lenox las’ week, an got em packed bout’s thick’s they’ll lay naow, like codfish in a bar’l. Haow in time I’m a gonter make room fer the fellers the court’ll send in nex’ week, I d’now, derned if I dew. They’d orter be three new jails in the caounty this blamed minit.”
“Do you expect a good many more this week?”
“Gosh, yes. Why, man alive, the Common Pleas never had ez much business ez this time. I callate they’s nigh onter seven hundred cases tew try.”
“The devil! Has there been a riot or a rebellion in the county? What have they all done?”
“Oh they hain’t done nothin,” replied the landlord, “they ain’t nothin but debtors. Dern debtors, I don’ like to hev the jailin of em. They hain’t got no blood intew em like Sabbath-breakers, an blasphemers, an rapers has. They’re weakly, pulin kinder chaps, what thar ain’t no satisfaction a lockin up an a knockin roun’. They’re dreffle deskerridgin kind o’ fellers tew. Ye see we never git rid on em. They never gits let aout like other fellers as is in jail. They hez tew stay till they pays up, an naterally they can’t pay up’s long ez they stays. Genally they goes aout feet foremost, when they goes aout at all, an they ain’t long lived.”
“Why don’t they pay up before they get in?” queried Perez.
“Whar be ye from?” asked the landlord, staring at him.
“I’m from New York, last.”
“I thort ye could’t be from roun’ here, nowheres, to as’ sech a queschin. Why don’ they pay their debts? Did ye hear that Zeke? Why, jess caze they ain’ no money in the kentry tew pay em with. It don’ make a mite o’ odds haow much propty a feller’s got. It don’ fetch nothin tew a sale. The credtor buys it in fer nothin, an the feller goes to jail fer the balance. A man as has got a silver sixpence can amos buy a farm. Some folks says they orter be a law makin propty a tender fer debts on a far valiation. I dunno, I don’ keer, I hain’t no fault tew find with my business, leastways the jail end on’t.”
Finishing his dinner, Perez asked for his score, and drew a large wallet from his pocket, and took out a roll of about five thousand dollars in Continental bills.
“Hain’t ye got no Massachusetts bills? They ain’t wuth but one shillin in six but that’s suthin, and them Continental bills ain’t wuth haouse room. Gosh durn it. I swow, ef I’d a known ye hadn’t nothin but them, I wouldn’t a guv ye a drop to drink nor eat nuther. Marthy say ony this morning, ‘Cephas,’ says she, ‘rum ‘s rum an rags is rags, an don’ ye give no more rum fer rags.’”
“Well,” said Perez, “I have nothing else. Government thought they were good enough to pay the soldiers for their blood; they ought to pay landlords for their rum.”
“I dunno nothin baout bein soldiers, an I dunno ez I or any other man’s beholden to ye for’t, nuther. Ye got paid all twat wuth if ye didn’t git paid nuthin; fur’s I kin reckon, we wuz a durn sight better orf under Ole King George ‘s we be naow. Ain’ that baout so, Zeke?”
“Well,” said Perez, “if you won’t take these, I can’t pay you at all.”
“Well” said Bement crossly, “thar’s the beans an mug o’ flip. Call it a thousand dollars, an fork over, but by gosh, I don’ git caught that way again. It’s downright robbery, that’s wot it is. I say ain’t ye got no cleaner bills nor these?”
“Perhaps these are cleaner,” said Perez, handing him another lot. “What odds does it make?”
“Wal, ye see, ef they be middlin clean, I kin keep kaounts on the backs on em, and Marthy finds em handy wen she writes to her folks daown tew Springfield. Tain’t fuss class writin paper, but it’s cheaper’n other kinds, an that’s suthin in these times.”
Having satisfied the landlord’s requirements, as well as possible, Perez walked to the door and stood looking out. The ell containing the jail, coming under his eye, he turned and said, “You spoke of several hundred debtors coming before the court next week. It don’t look as if you could get over fifty in here.”
“Oh ye can jam in a hundred. I’ve got nigh that naow, and thay’s other lockups in the caounty,” replied the landlord. “But ef they wuz a gonter try to shet up all the debtors, they’d hev tew build a half a dozen new jails. But bless ye, the mos’ on em won’t be shet up. Ther creditors ‘ll git jedgments agin’ em, an then they’ll hev rings in their noses, an kin dew wot they likes with em caze ef they don’ stan raoun’ they kin shove em right intew jug ye see.”
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