The Collector glanced over his shoulder, and saw that the man spoke truth.
“Dicky,” he said easily, but in a voice the child durst not disobey, “there has been an accident. Go you down and amuse yourself on the sands till Manasseh calls you.”
He walked back coolly, carrying the rug on his arm.
“Where was she to be taken?” he asked.
“To the stocks!” answered a voice or two. “To the Court-house!” said others.
“It’s the same thing,” said the heavy-browed man, at the Collector’s elbow. “The stocks are just across the square from the Court-house. You’ll find the magistrates there; they’re the ones to face. They took her case first this morning, and this is the first part of her sentence.”
Oliver Vyell walked back to the crowd. It was—a glance assured him— more hostile than before; had recovered from its surprise, and was menacing. But it gave way again before him.
He called on them to give more room. He stooped and, spreading the rug over the girl’s body, lifted and laid her in the straw of the cart. A constable would have interfered. The Collector swung round on him.
“You are taking her back to the Court-house? Well, I have business there too. Where is your Court-house?”
The constable pointed.
“Up the road? I am obliged to you. Drive on, if you please.”
The wooden Jail and the wooden Court-house of Port Nassau faced one another across an unpaved grass-grown square planted with maples. To-day—for the fall of the leaf was at hand—these maples flamed with hectic yellows and scarlets; and indeed thousands of leaves, stripped by the recent gales, already strewed the cross-walks and carpeted the ground about the benches disposed in the shade—pleasant seats to which, of an empty afternoon, wives brought their knitting and gossiped while their small children played within sight; haunts, later in the day, of youths who whittled sticks or carved out names with jack-knives—ancient solace of the love-stricken; rarely thronged save when some transgressor was brought to the stocks or the whipping-post.
These instruments of public discipline stood on the northern side of the square, before the iron-studded door of the Jail. The same hand, may be, that had blackened over the Jail’s weather-boarded front with a coat of tar, had with equal propriety whitewashed the facade of the Court-house; an immaculate building, set in the cool shade, its straight-lined front broken only by a recessed balcony, whence, as occasion arose, Mr. George Bellingham, Chief Magistrate, delivered the text of a proclamation, royal or provincial, or declared the poll when the people of Port Nassau chose their Selectmen.