Penny Loses Her Father
Part I for the multi-part story "Debian"
PennyyyyBefore there was a Debian, there was a Penny Mason, and with her we must deal first.
One July morning, over a hundred years ago there stood in a forlorn room of a log house in Plymouth, a tall, severe looking woman in rich apparel, and a ragged desperate child of fourteen. On the floor in a drunken stupor, lay a man.
“See, lass,” said the woman, “there lies thy father quite drunk. Look at thyself; in rags thou art, and shamefully neglected.”
“But I love my father!” Penny blazed forth, “and when he awakens who, pray, is to care for him if I go away?”
“But I tell thee, child, he hath joined this wild crew who are headed for Boston, and thou wilt be turned on the town.”
“’Tis a lie!” screamed the girl, “he did not know when he promised. He would not leave me, but even if he did he would come back, he always does!”
Mrs. Lane paused, not knowing how further to explain the truth to the wild child.
“Lass, hear me, for thy mother’s sake I am trying to save thee. I never knew her story, but she was a lady. In meeting, thy case hath been considered, thy father is no longer to be tolerated in the town, he must go, and I have taken thy care upon myself.”
Penny stared in bewilderment, then slowly the truth dawned upon her.
Old Thomas Martin had been ordered from the town, and poor Jack bound out to Elder Morris. It was quite plain, her father was to go also, out into that somewhere of silence and absence, and she was bound out to Mrs. Lane like a slave; she, proud, free Penny Mason!
“I won’t go with you!” she shrieked, “I’ll go with father! He loves me, and, and beside I promised mother!”
Just then the man upon the floor stirred and roused; after many exertions he sat up. One look at his little daughter and Mrs. Lane steadied him.
“Good morning!” he smiled foolishly; “I’m afraid I’ve taken a drop too much again. Penny, child, don’t take on so, I’m going away so that I won’t disgrace you any more. There’s going to be trouble sure as you live, and I’m going to fight. If I come back, lass, I’ll be a man.”
He arose clumsily and stood before the woman and girl with downcast eyes. Penny grew white to the lips.
It was true then. He was going away. After all she had borne and suffered for his sake, he was turning his back upon her, leaving her to fare as she might. Little poor Penny knew of patriotism, or the new talk of war and a republic; she had not even that hope to help her bear this blow.
Just then, down the street came a straggling company of men and boys headed by a drum and fife. As they drew near Mason stood straighter and taking from the wall a rusty gun, staggered to the door. Mrs. Lane drew Penny back.
“Come on, Mason,” called the men; “if they don’t want you in Plymouth, you’ll soon be wanted out yonder. There’s plenty of room in Boston for men like you and us.”
Mason reeled on. Penny could not let him slip from her without one more struggle. She broke away from Mrs. Lane and ran after the swaying figure.
“Father!” she cried, “take me with you! I love you! I love you! Remember what mother said!”
The man stood still, sobered for a moment by that magic name.
“Lass,” he whispered putting his arms about her, “all they said in the meeting was true. I’m going to be a man, so help me God for her sake and yours—or I won’t come back!”
“Come on Billy!” yelled the crowd, “Deb can do without you!”
Clinging to her father poor Penny’s rage and despair rose. She shook her fist at the laughing mob.
“You’re a mad lot!” she cried, “the whole town is mad to take my father from me. I curse you all! I curse you every one for what you have done!”
The men laughed loudly.
“Bring your drum, Deb, and come along,” called one. “You need not part with the old man. You’re as good as a lad any day, and a better fighter I swear than your daddy. Come on and drum us to victory.”
Penny stooped and picked up a stone, then flung it into the crowd. An oath came from the man hit and in the excitement Mason, with bowed head joined the yelling rabble.
“Shame on thee, lass!” cried Mrs. Lane laying firm hands on the sobbing girl, “who would ever think thy mother was a lady? The town hath done well to try and save thy soul and body. Thou art possessed of a devil. Follow me!”
The door of the wretched home was closed. Nothing mattered any more. Meekly enough Penny followed her rescuer up the hill to the white house on the top. Poor Penny! in the neat home, with plenty to eat and decent clothing she was absolutely miserable.
Since her mother had died five years before she had led a wild uncared-for existence. Among her father’s rude companions she had shared food and drink, when there was any, and had gone hungry and cold without complaint when times were hard.
In Mrs. Lane’s well ordered life and home, she was a worse outcast than amid the poverty and shame. There she had at least the love of the poor wretched father who, when he was sober, remembered the past, and lavished affection upon her. With Mrs. Lane she was watched, distrusted and whipped for misdeeds, and under the new order of things her soul and body were in a very bad way indeed. With a burning longing she fretted in silence for news of her father, but how could she hope, in Mrs. Lane’s loyal home, to hear of the doings of the wild rebels who were defying their King and his laws?
It mattered little to Penny whether her father was Whig or Tory, no matter what he was she hungered for him day and night.
There was one other thing Penny hungered for, that was her drum; it had been her one childish toy, the treasure of lonely years.
She had always longed to be a boy, and her drum was the concession her father had made to her desire.
Upon it he had taught her to beat so clearly and in time, that she had become famous among his boon companions.
But there was no place in Mrs. Lane’s house for such an unmaidenly thing, and to save it from destruction, Penny had hidden it behind the old home in a bit of woodland. Thither she sometimes ran when life pressed hard, and with muffled sticks, beat frantically upon the blessed comfort.
During the year which dragged drearily away after Mr. Mason left the town, Penny learned to do some useful things in her new home, and she grew straight and tall and strong; but her heart was hard and bitter. Strange as it seemed though, in all her misery in the prim existence, she remembered her mother clearer than ever before, and snatches of old talk and scenes came sharply to her mind.
It had not always been such a sad life as Penny had last known with her father. Once the home was neat and cosy, and dimly an old story,—a story never finished, floated through the girl’s mind.
“Some day, child, when thou art older,” it was the mother who had spoken, “I will tell thee of my home. Perhaps we’ll write a letter, they may like to see thee, little lass. Try to be a lady, dear, then they will not be ashamed of thee.” Things grew confused as Penny tried to think, but there was one night that was ever clear. It was the last night of the clean happy life. “Be a lady, Penny child, and whatever happens stay with father like a good maid. Save him, dear, he was a fine man once. He will tell thee the rest of the story some day.”
How vividly Penny remembered clinging to the poor mother and sobbing out the promise to stay with father. After that scene all was confusion and misery. The untold story was never finished or asked for. Uncared-for and neglected poor Penny became an outcast among decent children, and the butt of the reckless ones.
And so it had gone from bad to worse until the town had ordered Bill Mason from the village of his adoption, and had bound Penny to Mrs. Lane for five years.