Chapter 2: A Most Unforseen Error
I had managed to pay off my debts from winnings at table and so returned to Salem for winter Holy-days. I told the Dowager of my studies, and of my profound love of the Gospels and the Hebrew Scriptures. I even invented a story that I had been awarded a Prize for an oration on Original Sin, and that in time I should be graduated at the top of my class. “Bravo!” cried the dowager and increased my allowance to 2 pounds 12 shillings.
My induction at Harvard had engendered the proper and requisite admiration from the people of Salem. I was no longer asked to wait in line for goods at the merchant’s shops, and all the local boys had been instructed to give way on any path upon which I walked. Even the ladies curtsied just a bit lower now that Sperryhawke was acknowledged as the likely successor to the Salem vicarage. I harbored no genuine desire for a Church career, and yet I had to confess that the Dowager’s instincts had not been all wrong, as the benefits to my elevated station were becoming plain to me.
At the beginning of February, I returned to Cambridge, eager to expose Worthington’s humiliation. The most difficult part of the plan having been successfully executed, I contrived that the story of my seduction should reach Worthington in a sincere manner. I knew the boy’s pride would revolt at the slightest hint that his dearest love had been unfaithful to him, and it was most important that the news come from an intimate.
I enlisted Thomas in the scheme, and we resolved that he should convey the rumor not to Worthington, but to another of Worthington’s friends. In this way it might become the stuff of gossip, and demand a response from that beast. “Aye, I’ll put it to old Peterson. He’s a plucky fellow and will have it all over the college in an hour’s time.”
It was upon my departure from Thomas that very afternoon that fate took a devious turn. I was crossing the yard in front of the Chapel when Miss Holyoke accosted me just there on the cobblestone path. She looked a frightful creature, very ruffled and abused. I had half a mind what she intended by this conversation. Or so I thought.
“Good-day to you, Miss Harriet,” I smiled and tipped my hat.
“Mister Sperryhawke,” she said, her eyes began to fill with tears. She was clearly quite distressed, and her hands shook something awful as she tried to wipe her face with a piece of calicko.
“But what is troubling you? Are you sick?”
“Nay,” she said and began fumbling for the words. “I am great with child.”
“Great with child?” I repeated, and paused. “But are you quite certain?”
She nodded, and again began tearing up. This was most unwelcomed news, and I fear my face betrayed my lack of enthusiasm. I struggled for the right words to convey my distress and advise her on the proper course of Action.
“But isn’t there a medical Doctor for whom this work could be done with complete Discretion?”
I tell you now that she did not half appreciate this suggestion. She collapsed into a fit of nerves and tears; behavior I found highly unseemly in so well born a lady. She further demanded that I do the Honorable thing, and if only to get her off the path, I assured her I would see to the matter personally.
* * *
I was not happy to turn husband just then. I had no great desire either for home or children, and felt both would be a hindrance to my schemes. Although Thomas thought the matter highly amusing.
“What are you complaining about? She comes with six-hundreds pounds, and a large bosom. She’s as good a wife as any you’re likely to find elsewhere.”
I tossed and turned all night, unable to shake the obligation from my Mind. I stared at the paper walls of my dormitory and tried to tamper the impulse to Honor. But after a number of hours of this, I realized it was of no use. My sense of Duty has always been a great Burden to me, and prevented my participation in all varieties of profitable enterprizes. But I can no more behave dishonorably than I can make the Tides run backwards. And so by the morning, I realized that Thomas was correct in his assessment. Marriage was the only way out of the predicament in one piece. If I were found to have copulated with Miss Harriet, I should immediately be expelled, and would certainly lose the favor of my benefactress. And the name of Sperryhawke would forever be associated with dishonor and betrayal.4
Thus I resolved that I must do the righteous thing, and make her my wife. I consoled myself with the Opinion that if I must consent to marriage, then a Holyoke girl was assuredly the best Variety. After all was she not skilled in Handicraft & decoupage? Did she not possess wide-hips for child rearing? Would she not lend Dignity and Honor to my household? And besides, it would soil old Worthington’s pride in a most acute manner, a realization that I coveted above all things.
Thus without further procrastination I rung up the Reverend Holyoke. He was a reasonable man, and surely wished, as I did, to settle this discreetly. I was brought into his sitting room and warmed myself by the fire.
“I have come about your daughter,” I said.
“My daughter?” he asked.
“Yes, your Reverence. You see, I have come to know your daughter, and have been most enchanted by her charms and skills. Particularly her skills in the hand-Loom and Decoupage.”
Holyoke seemed perturbed by this talk. “But my daughter is promised to Mr. Worthington?”
“Yes indeed, but I’m afraid circumstances have arisen that make it impossible.”
“Circumstances?” he said in a high voice. “What circumstances?”
“Well, that is where our conversation becomes rather sordid I’m afraid.”
“Sordid!” he cried.
“Yes well it’s nothing for you to become excited over.“
He rang the bell ferociously, which brought a young girl skipping through the parlor door. She was charming, though not quite so petite as Harriet.
“Madeline, this here is Mister Sperryhawke, whom I believe you know,” he said.
Miss Madeline curtsy’d, as ladies of breeding are wont to do. I tipped my hat, and said that it was a pleasure to make her acquaintance.
“I’m sure she is quite lovely -- but I mean your other daughter.”
“My other daughter!” cried Holyoke.
“Yes I have even seen her here in this house,” I rejoined. “The one who has often accompanied you to Chapel.”
It was then that Harriet came into the room, likely to see about the commotion. I smiled as she entered, and felt relieved that I should make my case the better. “This, this is your other daughter. This is your daughter Miss Holyoke!”
“Mister Sperryhawke! This is not my daughter!” cried the President, and stretched out a long finger. “She is my house maid!”
“Your housemaid!” I cried, for I did not expect that this maid also came with a dowry of six-hundred. I found the wind emptied from my lungs, and rested myself on the mantle. “You mean to tell me that I have seeded your housemaid?”
“Seeded!” roared Holyoke. “That you have seeded my housemaid!
My jaw dropped to my chest, and I looked about the room for some indication that I was in the midst of a terrible nightmare. “That I have seeded your housemaid?”
“You are condemned, Master Sperryhawke! Condemned and dismissed! They say that I am a libertine mister Sperryhawke, but I am not so far gone as to allow Fornication in my household! It is the limit, Mister Sperryhawke!”
“But your Honor, if you’ll only listen,” I protested.
“Fornication is set at a 12 shilling fine! I have not the slightest idea what the fine for consummation is, but I can assure you master Sperryhawke, it is not less than 15 shillings!”
By that point in the conversation, Holyoke was chasing me around the parlor with his cane, threatening to beat me if he caught hold of my person.
* * *
I managed to escape the President’s house, and raced as quickly as I could to the Pig and Thistle, where I found Thomas engaged in drink with some low fellows from the docks. I soon caught my breath and told him of my confrontation with the President. But Thomas was in his cups, and thought the whole charade very amusing. It was only after several pleadings that I persuaded him this was no laughing matter, and inquired him to provide me a remedy.
“George, I can tell you plainly that if you stay here, you’ll be expelled. Thrashed perhaps and put in the stockades.”
“Then what am I to do Thomas?” I asked.
Thomas scrawled a few notes on a scrap of paper. “Take this note, and go down to Duxbury. My brother-in-law there has a ship and they are setting sail for the Indies.”
“Christ, I shan’t like that!”
“Oh come now George my boy! You’re always going on about the Indies and sugar plantations. This is just the thing for you.”
Thomas was never a man of indecision. He pushed me towards the door, and told me that he should get word to the Dowager. Then he embraced me, promised me that his brother would look after me. “Now you must go George!”
I knew Thomas was right, and that Holyoke was likely at that moment setting the local Magistrate upon me. I did not even bother to fetch my things from my rooms, but instead took turn at Braintree Street. And so it was that in the spring of 1763, I went down to Duxbury to take ship for Indies -- an outcast, alone, and penniless, but resolved to make myself a gentleman.