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All That Was Left of Penny

by Nathan Carver 2 years ago in fiction

Part III for the multi-part story "Debian"

All That Was Left of Penny
Photo by Trym Nilsen on Unsplash

It was no great thing for Penny to clamber from her bedroom window to the ground below. She had done it more than once with her skirts on; in this approved apparel anything seemed possible, anything but being a lady. That hope was done with forever. She had crossed the line now. Before her lay—she hardly knew what—but the thought chased the fun from her face.

Ah! Penny, misguided little maid, as you turned your back on what your dead mother had wished you to be, she was perhaps nearer to you than ever before. With tears filling her dark eyes, the girl fled along. Down the long hill and across the meadow which lay behind the old deserted log house and divided it from the woodland. And there at the edge of the woods stood Jack Martin awaiting his belated comrade.

He saw the boy approaching and was filled with alarm at the sight. If Penny came now how were they to get out of the scrape?

“Hello!” he shouted to the oncoming stranger, “whither away so fast?”

“On the King’s business,” panted the boy as he drew near.

Jack gasped.

“Your name?” he faltered, “and pray what business have you with me?”

“Robert Shirtliffe is my name, gaby, and I arrest you in the name of King George the Third as a traitor to your country and for trying to corrupt the mind of one Mistress Elizabeth Mason, a young and innocent maid!”

“My God!” gasped Jack, and sank upon the Autumn leaves at his feet.

Then such a peal of laughter rent the air that the birds stirred in their nests.

“Oh! you coward!” panted Penny. “A gallant soldier you would make. Any Tom, Dick or Harry could arrest and carry you off like a sack of meal. I vow I’ve a mind to give you no more lessons on the drum. ’Twould be just making it possible for you to fall into prison. A drummer boy, indeed, Jack Martin. Better don my gown Sir Babykin, and let me go in your place!”

Jack had arisen in his anger and chagrin and now stood glowering before Penny.

“Shame on you, Penny Mason!” he cried, “a bold jade you are and a disgrace to the village!” Then eyeing her closer he added, “but a fine, handsome lad you look, girl. I doubt if your own father would know you. But I have half a mind not to tell you the news to pay you for this unmannerly prank.”

“And I,” mimicked Penny, “have half a mind to tell the meeting of your bravery.”

“I’ve taught you to read, Deb, when the schools shut their doors on you,” Jack was capitulating, “and I’ve brought you the news. Beside,” with a resumption of his airs, “if you tell on me, how can you explain your own share in the business?”

This reduced Penny to her proper place at once. “I’ll not tell, Jack, but what is the news? By your face I know you have heard much.”

“Wait until you hear Deb. The battle of Lexington has made every man brave. Thousands of men joined the army at once and rushed on to Boston. They’ll drive every Britisher into the 19harbor!” Jack’s voice shook with excitement, “Yes; every King’s dog of them shall die. But”—his eagerness waned—“there has been another battle since. The report of our men winning at Bunker Hill was wrong. But it was a glorious fight. On, on came the British with bayonets pointed, not one of our men flinched; when they came near enough they gave them volley upon volley. I tell you, Deb, every rusty gun spoke true that day!”

“Oh!” gasped the girl, “oh! if I were only a boy. Go on, Jack, go on!”

“Well, they fought until their powder was all gone. Not a man fled; when they could fire no more they used their guns for clubs, and rushed upon the foe!”

Jack’s tones grew shriller as his feelings rose. “They were driven back, but they fought as they went, and they died with their faces toward the enemy!”

“All of them?” panted Penny.

“No.” Jack half moaned, “they are behind entrenchments at Prospect Hill. They have been there all Summer, but Deb, George Washington has been made General of the army, and he’s coming to get our men out!”

“George Washington?” cried Penny, “why Mrs. Lane says he is the worst man she knows. I heard her tell Mistress Knowles.”

Jack laughed, “Wait, lass, he’ll drive the British before him. Elder Morris has had a letter from Abner Andrews. ’Twas a wonderful letter. I listened at the door to hear it read when they thought I was feeding the cattle.”

“Why, Jack.” Penny interrupted, “Abner Andrews went away when father went; does he—speak—of—father?” The question came slowly, it seemed to mean life or death to her. In the twilight Penny saw the excitement and flush die from Jack’s face.

20“Tell me everything, Jack Martin,” she groaned, “don’t you hide a single thing.”

“He was in Abner’s regiment,” whispered Jack. “He was wounded at Lexington, but not much. He doesn’t drink now, Deb, and he thinks of you a lot. Old Morris wasn’t going to let you know for he is afraid of Mrs. Lane; and there was something in the letter about wishing he’d told you the rest of a story for fear something might happen to him.”

“Did he?” Penny braced herself against the tree, and in the dusk Jack, and all familiar things were blotted out.

“Did—he—say—that? And—he—thinks—of—me—and he does not—drink—any—more? Oh! father!”

The year of suppression and heartache rolled away. From the almost forgotten past came the words: “Stay with father, Penny, like a good little maid.”

Had she been a boy nothing would have kept her from following, like a dog, at his heels. Drunk or sober she would have stayed with father. Out somewhere, alone and wounded, he was thinking of her, and trying to be better for her sake.

And she? why she was becoming a bad girl; a girl who was whipped and half starved at times, yet never growing better.

Should being a girl keep her longer from the only one who loved her and could make her happy? No, a thousand times no!

“Jack!” she sobbed, her eyes blazing, “I am going to father! I am going to be a drummer boy myself! See to it that you keep my secret. If you tell, and I am brought back, I’ll, I’ll—but you won’t tell Jack, I know you won’t, not if they should drag your tongue out!”

“Go!” cried Jack, “you in that boy’s toggery? I won’t let you!” He stood in her path.

“Won’t let me!” The girl towered above him in her anger, 21“if you stand in my way Jack Martin, I’ll knock you down! Where’s the drum?”

Jack pointed dumbly to a clump of bushes, and stood aside.

“If you go, I’ll cut too,” he cried at last. “What do you suppose this old town means to me without you and the drum?”

“Well, follow lad.” Penny was fastening the drum round her body. “I reckon they will need all they can get; but here or there keep my secret, Jack, and in the end you will be glad.”

“I promise, Deb.” Two hands clasped in the gathering gloom, and then without giving the accustomed lesson, the new recruit ran through the little wood, and so was lost to sight.

All who went away, took that direction; once clear of the town instructions as to how to proceed might be asked; just now there was nothing to do but run.

Back to the village, with bent head and empty heart, strode Jack; and up in the little back room of Mrs. Lane’s orderly house, lay a heap of crumpled clothing; all that was left of Penny Mason who was soon to be known as the black hearted ingrate, too evil to be followed and striven for.

fiction

Nathan Carver

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