James Fenimore Cooper
Part 8 out of 9
instantly gave in. The first words he spoke were--
"Golly! massa, you t'ink I got no feelin'?"
"By heavens!" shouted the lieutenant, "it is the negro himself!
Scoundrel! where is your master, and who was the priest?" While
speaking, he made a movement as if about to renew the attack; but Caesar
cried aloud for mercy, promising to tell all that he knew.
"Who was the priest?" repeated the dragoon, drawing back his formidable
leg, and holding it in threatening suspense. "Harvey, Harvey!" cried
Caesar, dancing from one leg to the other, as he thought each member in
turn might be assailed.
"Harvey who, you black villain?" cried the impatient lieutenant, as he
executed a full measure of vengeance by letting his leg fly.
"Birch!" shrieked Caesar, falling on his knees, the tears rolling in
large drops over his shining face.
"Harvey Birch!" echoed the trooper, hurling the black from him, and
rushing from the room. "To arms! to arms! Fifty guineas for the life of
the peddler spy--give no quarter to either. Mount, mount! to arms!
During the uproar occasioned by the assembling of the dragoons, who all
rushed tumultuously to their horses, Caesar rose from the floor, where
he had been thrown by Mason, and began to examine into his injuries.
Happily for himself, he had alighted on his head, and consequently
sustained no material damage.
Away went Gilpin, neck or nought,
Away went hat and wig;
He little dreamt, when he set out,
Of running such a rig.
The road which it was necessary for the peddler and the English captain
to travel, in order to reach the shelter of the hills, lay, for a half
mile, in full view from the door of the building that had so recently
been the prison of the latter; running for the whole distance over the
rich plain, that spreads to the very foot of the mountains, which here
rise in a nearly perpendicular ascent from their bases; it then turned
short to the right, and was obliged to follow the windings of nature, as
it won its way into the bosom of the Highlands.
To preserve the supposed difference in their stations, Harvey rode a
short distance ahead of his companion, and maintained the sober,
dignified pace, that was suited to his assumed character. On their
right, the regiment of foot, that we have already mentioned, lay, in
tents; and the sentinels who guarded their encampment were to be seen
moving with measured tread under the hills themselves.
The first impulse of Henry was, certainly, to urge the beast he rode to
his greatest speed at once, and by a coup de main not only accomplish
his escape, but relieve himself from the torturing suspense of his
situation. But the forward movement that the youth made for this purpose
was instantly checked by the peddler.
"Hold up!" he cried, dexterously reining his own horse across the path
of the other. "Would you ruin us both? Fall into the place of a black,
following his master. Did you not see their blooded chargers, all
saddled and bridled, standing in the sun before the house? How long do
you think that miserable Dutch horse you are on would hold his speed, if
pursued by the Virginians? Every foot that we can gain, without giving
the alarm, counts a day in our lives. Ride steadily after me, and on no
account look back. They are as subtle as foxes, aye, and as ravenous for
blood as wolves!"
Henry reluctantly restrained his impatience, and followed the direction
of the peddler. His imagination, however, continually alarmed him with
the fancied sounds of pursuit, though Birch, who occasionally looked
back under the pretense of addressing his companion, assured him that
all continued quiet and peaceful.
"But," said Henry, "it will not be possible for Caesar to remain long
undiscovered. Had we not better put our horses to the gallop, and by the
time they can reflect on the cause of our flight, we can reach the
corner of the woods?"
"Ah! you little know them, Captain Wharton," returned the peddler.
"There is a sergeant at this moment looking after us, as if he thought
all was not right; the keen-eyed fellow watches me like a tiger lying in
wait for his leap. When I stood on the horseblock, he half suspected
that something was wrong. Nay, check your beast--we must let the animals
walk a little, for he is laying his hand on the pommel of his saddle. If
he mounts, we are gone. The foot-soldiers could reach us with
"What does he now?" asked Henry, reining his horse to a walk, but at the
same time pressing his heels into the animal's sides, to be in readiness
for a spring.
"He turns from his charger, and looks the other way, now trot on
gently--not so fast--not so fast. Observe the sentinel in the field, a
little ahead of us--he eyes us keenly."
"Never mind the footman," said Henry, impatiently, "he can do nothing
but shoot us--whereas these dragoons may make me a captive again.
Surely, Harvey, there are horse moving down the road behind us. Do you
see nothing particular?"
"Humph!" ejaculated the peddler. "There is something particular, indeed,
to be seen behind the thicket on our left. Turn your head a little, and
you may see and profit by it too."
Henry eagerly seized this permission to look aside, and the blood
curdled to his heart as he observed that they were passing a gallows,
which unquestionably had been erected for his own execution. He turned
his face from the sight, in undisguised horror.
"There is a warning to be prudent," said the peddler, in the sententious
manner that he often adopted.
"It is a terrific sight, indeed!" cried Henry, for a moment veiling his
eyes with his hand, as if to drive a vision from before him.
The peddler moved his body partly around, and spoke with energetic but
gloomy bitterness, "And yet, Captain Wharton, you see it where the
setting sun shines full upon you; the air you breathe is clear, and
fresh from the hills before you. Every step that you take leaves that
hated gallows behind; and every dark hollow, and every shapeless rock in
the mountains, offers you a hiding place from the vengeance of your
enemies. But I have seen the gibbet raised, when no place of refuge
offered. Twice have I been buried in dungeons, where, fettered and in
chains, I have passed nights in torture, looking forward to the
morning's dawn that was to light me to a death of infamy. The sweat has
started from limbs that seemed already drained of their moisture; and if
I ventured to the hole that admitted air through grates of iron to look
out upon the smiles of nature, which God has bestowed for the meanest of
His creatures, the gibbet has glared before my eyes, like an evil
conscience harrowing the soul of a dying man. Four times have I been in
their power, besides this last; but--twice--did I think my hour had
come. It is hard to die at the best, Captain Wharton; but to spend your
last moments alone and unpitied, to know that none near you so much as
think of the fate that is to you the closing of all that is earthly; to
think that, in a few hours, you are to be led from the gloom, which, as
you dwell on what follows, becomes dear to you, to the face of day, and
there to meet all eyes fixed upon you, as if you were a wild beast; and
to lose sight of everything amidst the jeers and scoffs of your fellow
creatures--that, Captain Wharton, that indeed is to die!"
Henry listened in amazement, as his companion uttered this speech with a
vehemence altogether new to him; both seemed to have forgotten their
danger and their disguises.
"What! were you ever so near death as that?"
"Have I not been the hunted beast of these hills for three years past?"
resumed Harvey; "and once they even led me to the foot of the gallows
itself, and I escaped only by an alarm from the royal troops. Had they
been a quarter of an hour later, I must have died. There was I placed in
the midst of unfeeling men, and gaping women and children, as a monster
to be cursed. When I would pray to God, my ears were insulted with the
history of my crimes; and when, in all that multitude, I looked around
for a single face that showed me any pity, I could find none--no, not
even one; all cursed me as a wretch who would sell his country for gold.
The sun was brighter to my eyes than common--but it was the last time I
should see it. The fields were gay and pleasant, and everything seemed
as if this world was a kind of heaven. Oh, how sweet life was to me at
that moment! 'Twas a dreadful hour, Captain Wharton, and such as you
have never known. You have friends to feel for you, but I had none but a
father to mourn my loss, when he might hear of it; but there was no
pity, no consolation near, to soothe my anguish. Everything seemed to
have deserted me. I even thought that HE had forgotten that I lived."
"What! did you feel that God Himself had forgotten you, Harvey?"
"God never forsakes His servants," returned Birch, with reverence, and
exhibiting naturally a devotion that hitherto he had only assumed.
"And whom did you mean by HE?"
The peddler raised himself in his saddle to the stiff and upright
posture that was suited to his outward appearance. The look of fire,
that for a short time glowed on his countenance, disappeared in the
solemn lines of unbending self-abasement, and, speaking as if addressing
a negro, he replied,--
"In heaven there is no distinction of color, my brother, therefore you
have a precious charge within you, that you must hereafter render an
account of;" dropping his voice--"this is the last sentinel near the
road; look not back, as you value your life."
Henry remembered his situation, and instantly assumed the humble
demeanor of his adopted character. The unaccountable energy of the
peddler's manner was soon forgotten in the sense of his own immediate
danger; and with the recollection of his critical situation, returned
all the uneasiness that he had momentarily forgotten.
"What see you, Harvey?" he cried, observing the peddler to gaze towards
the building they had left, with ominous interest. "What see you at
"That which bodes no good to us," returned the pretended priest. "Throw
aside the mask and wig; you will need all your senses without much
delay; throw them in the road. There are none before us that I dread,
but there are those behind who will give us a fearful race!"
"Nay, then," cried the captain, casting the implements of his disguise
into the highway, "let us improve our time to the utmost. We want a full
quarter to the turn; why not push for it, at once?"
"Be cool; they are in alarm, but they will not mount without an officer,
unless they see us fly--now he comes, he moves to the stables; trots
briskly; a dozen are in their saddles, but the officer stops to tighten
his girths; they hope to steal a march upon us; he is mounted; now ride,
Captain Wharton, for your life, and keep at my heels. If you quit me,
you will be lost!"
A second request was unnecessary. The instant that Harvey put his horse
to his speed Captain Wharton was at his heels, urging the miserable
animal he rode to the utmost. Birch had selected his own beast; and
although vastly inferior to the high-fed and blooded chargers of the
dragoons, still it was much superior to the little pony that had been
thought good enough to carry Caesar Thompson on an errand. A very few
jumps convinced the captain that his companion was fast leaving him, and
a fearful glance thrown behind informed the fugitive that his enemies
were as speedily approaching. With that abandonment that makes misery
doubly grievous, when it is to be supported alone, Henry cried aloud to
the peddler not to desert him. Harvey instantly drew up, and suffered
his companion to run alongside of his own horse. The cocked hat and wig
of the peddler fell from his head the moment that his steed began to
move briskly, and this development of their disguise, as it might be
termed, was witnessed by the dragoons, who announced their observation
by a boisterous shout, that seemed to be uttered in the very ears of the
fugitives; so loud was the cry, and so short the distance between them.
"Had we not better leave our horses," said Henry, "and make for the
hills across the fields, on our left? The fence will stop our pursuers."
"That way lies the gallows," returned the peddler. "These fellows go
three feet to our two, and would mind the fences no more than we do
these ruts; but it is a short quarter to the turn, and there are two
roads behind the wood. They may stand to choose until they can take the
track, and we shall gain a little upon them there."
"But this miserable horse is blown already," cried Henry, urging his
beast with the end of his bridle, at the same time that Harvey aided his
efforts by applying the lash of a heavy riding whip he carried. "He will
never stand it for half a mile farther."
"A quarter will do; a quarter will do," said the peddler, "a single
quarter will save us, if you follow my directions."
Somewhat cheered by the cool and confident manner of his companion,
Henry continued silently urging his horse forward. A few moments brought
them to the desired turn, and as they doubled round a point of low
underbrush, the fugitives caught a glimpse of their pursuers scattered
along the highway. Mason and the sergeant, being better mounted than the
rest of the party, were much nearer to their heels than even the peddler
thought could be possible.
At the foot of the hills, and for some distance up the dark valley that
wound among the mountains, a thick underwood of saplings had been
suffered to shoot up, where the heavier growth was felled for the sake
of the fuel. At the sight of this cover, Henry again urged the peddler
to dismount, and to plunge into the woods; but his request was promptly
refused. The two roads, before mentioned, met at very sharp angles at a
short distance from the turn, and both were circuitous, so that but
little of either could be seen at a time. The peddler took the one which
led to the left, but held it only a moment, for, on reaching a partial
opening in the thicket, he darted across into the right-hand path and
led the way up a steep ascent, which lay directly before them. This
maneuver saved them. On reaching the fork, the dragoons followed the
track and passed the spot where the fugitives had crossed to the other
road, before they missed the marks of the footsteps. Their loud cries
were heard by Henry and the peddler, as their wearied and breathless
animals toiled up the hill, ordering their comrades in the rear to ride
in the right direction. The captain again proposed to leave their horses
and dash into the thicket.
"Not yet, not yet," said Birch, in a low voice. "The road falls from the
top of this hill as steep as it rises; first let us gain the top." While
speaking, they reached the desired summit, and both threw themselves
from their horses, Henry plunging into the thick underwood, which
covered the side of the mountain for some distance above them. Harvey
stopped to give each of their beasts a few severe blows of his whip,
that drove them headlong down the path on the other side of the
eminence, and then followed his example.
The peddler entered the thicket with a little caution, and avoided, as
much as possible, rustling or breaking the branches in his way. There
was but time only to shelter his person from view when a dragoon led up
the ascent, and on reaching the height, he cried aloud,--
"I saw one of their horses turning the hill this minute."
"Drive on, spur forward, my lads," shouted Mason; "give the Englishman
quarter, but cut down the peddler, and make an end of him."
Henry felt his companion grip his arm hard, as he listened in a great
tremor to this cry, which was followed by the passage of a dozen
horsemen, with a vigor and speed that showed too plainly how little
security their overtired steeds could have afforded them.
"Now," said the peddler, rising from the cover to reconnoiter, and
standing for a moment in suspense, "all that we gain is clear gain; for,
as we go up, they go down. Let us be stirring."
"But will they not follow us, and surround this mountain?" said Henry,
rising, and imitating the labored but rapid progress of his companion.
"Remember, they have foot as well as horse, and, at any rate, we shall
starve in the hills."
"Fear nothing, Captain Wharton," returned the peddler, with confidence;
"this is not the mountain that I would be on, but necessity has made me
a dexterous pilot among these hills. I will lead you where no man will
dare to follow. See, the sun is already setting behind the tops of the
western mountains, and it will be two hours to the rising of the moon.
Who, think you, will follow us far, on a November night, among these
rocks and precipices?"
"Listen!" exclaimed Henry; "the dragoons are shouting to each other;
they miss us already."
"Come to the point of this rock, and you may see them," said Harvey,
composedly setting himself down to rest. "Nay, they can see us--observe,
they are pointing up with their fingers. There! one has fired his
pistol, but the distance is too great even for a musket."
"They will pursue us," cried the impatient Henry, "let us be moving."
"They will not think of such a thing," returned the peddler, picking the
checkerberries that grew on the thin soil where he sat, and very
deliberately chewing them, leaves and all, to refresh his mouth. "What
progress could they make here, in their heavy boots and spurs, and long
swords? No, no--they may go back and turn out the foot, but the horse
pass through these defiles, when they can keep the saddle, with fear and
trembling. Come, follow me, Captain Wharton; we have a troublesome
march before us, but I will bring you where none will think of venturing
So saying, they both arose, and were soon hid from view amongst the
rocks and caverns of the mountain.
The conjecture of the peddler was true. Mason and his men dashed down
the hill, in pursuit, as they supposed, of their victims, but, on
reaching the bottom lands, they found only the deserted horses of the
fugitives. Some little time was spent in examining the woods near them,
and in endeavoring to take the trail on such ground as might enable the
horse to pursue, when one of the party descried the peddler and Henry
seated on the rock already mentioned.
"He's off," muttered Mason, eying Harvey, with fury; "he's off, and we
are disgraced. By heavens, Washington will not trust us with the keeping
of a suspected Tory, if we let the rascal trifle in this manner with the
corps; and there sits the Englishman, too, looking down upon us with a
smile of benevolence! I fancy that I can see it. Well, well, my lad, you
are comfortably seated, I will confess, and that is something better
than dancing upon nothing; but you are not to the west of the Harlem
River yet, and I'll try your wind before you tell Sir Henry what you
"Shall I fire and frighten the peddler?" asked one of the men, drawing
his pistol from the holster.
"Aye, startle the birds from their perch--let us see how they can use
the wing." The man fired the pistol, and Mason continued--"'Fore George,
I believe the scoundrels laugh at us. But homeward, or we shall have
them rolling stones upon our heads, and the royal gazettes teeming with
an account of a rebel regiment routed by two loyalists. They have told
bigger lies than that, before now."
The dragoons moved sullenly after their officer, who rode towards their
quarters, musing on the course it behooved him to pursue in the present
dilemma. It was twilight when Mason's party reached the dwelling, before
the door of which were collected a great number of the officers and men,
busily employed in giving and listening to the most exaggerated
accounts of the escape of the spy. The mortified dragoons gave their
ungrateful tidings with the sullen air of disappointed men; and most of
the officers gathered round Mason, to consult of the steps that ought to
be taken. Miss Peyton and Frances were breathless and unobserved
listeners to all that passed between them, from the window of the
chamber immediately above their heads.
"Something must be done, and that speedily," observed the commanding
officer of the regiment, which lay encamped before the house. "This
English officer is doubtless an instrument in the great blow aimed at us
by the enemy lately; besides, our honor is involved in his escape."
"Let us beat the woods!" cried several at once. "By morning we shall
have them both again."
"Softly, softly, gentlemen," returned the colonel. "No man can travel
these hills after dark, unless used to the passes. Nothing but horse can
do service in this business, and I presume Lieutenant Mason hesitates to
move without the orders of his major."
"I certainly dare not," replied the subaltern, gravely shaking his head,
"unless you will take the responsibility of an order; but Major
Dunwoodie will be back again in two hours, and we can carry the tidings
through the hills before daylight; so that by spreading patrols across,
from one river to the other, and offering a reward to the country
people, their escape will yet be impossible, unless they can join the
party that is said to be out on the Hudson."
"A very plausible plan," cried the colonel, "and one that must succeed;
but let a messenger be dispatched to Dunwoodie, or he may continue at
the ferry until it proves too late; though doubtless the runaways will
lie in the mountains to-night."
To this suggestion Mason acquiesced, and a courier was sent to the major
with the important intelligence of the escape of Henry, and an
intimation of the necessity of his presence to conduct the pursuit.
After this arrangement, the officers separated.
When Miss Peyton and her niece first learned the escape of Captain
Wharton, it was with difficulty they could credit their senses. They
both relied so implicitly on the success of Dunwoodie's exertions, that
they thought the act, on the part of their relative, extremely
imprudent; but it was now too late to mend it. While listening to the
conversation of the officers, both were struck with the increased danger
of Henry's situation, if recaptured, and they trembled to think of the
great exertions that would be made to accomplish this object. Miss
Peyton consoled herself, and endeavored to cheer her niece, with the
probability that the fugitives would pursue their course with
unremitting diligence, so that they might reach the neutral ground
before the horse would carry down the tidings of their flight. The
absence of Dunwoodie seemed to her all-important, and the artless lady
was anxiously devising some project that might detain her kinsman, and
thus give her nephew the longest possible time. But very different were
the reflections of Frances. She could no longer doubt that the figure
she had seen on the hill was Birch, and she felt certain that, instead
of flying to the friendly forces below, her brother would be taken to
the mysterious hut to pass the night.
Frances and her aunt held a long and animated discussion by themselves,
when the good spinster reluctantly yielded to the representation of her
niece, and folding her in her arms, she kissed her cold cheek, and,
fervently blessing her, allowed her to depart on an errand of
And here, forlorn and lost, I tread,
With fainting steps, and slow;
Where wilds, immeasurably spread,
Seem length'ning as I go.
The night had set in dark and chilling, as Frances Wharton, with a
beating heart but light step, moved through the little garden that lay
behind the farmhouse which had been her brother's prison, and took her
way to the foot of the mountain, where she had seen the figure of him
she supposed to be the peddler. It was still early, but the darkness and
the dreary nature of a November evening would, at any other moment, or
with less inducement to exertion, have driven her back in terror to the
circle she had left. Without pausing to reflect, however, she flew over
the ground with a rapidity that seemed to bid defiance to all
impediments, nor stopped even to breathe, until she had gone half the
distance to the rock that she had marked as the spot where Birch made
his appearance on that very morning.
The good treatment of their women is the surest evidence that a people
can give of their civilization; and there is no nation which has more to
boast of, in this respect, than the Americans. Frances felt but little
apprehension from the orderly and quiet troops who were taking their
evening's repast on the side of the highway, opposite to the field
through which she was flying. They were her countrymen, and she knew
that her sex would be respected by the Eastern militia, who composed
this body; but in the volatile and reckless character of the Southern
horse she had less confidence. Outrages of any description were seldom
committed by the really American soldiery; but she recoiled, with
exquisite delicacy, from even the appearance of humiliation. When,
therefore, she heard the footsteps of a horse moving slowly up the road,
she shrank, timidly, into a little thicket of wood which grew around
the spring that bubbled from the side of a hillock near her. The
vidette, for such it proved to be, passed her without noticing her form,
which was so enveloped as to be as little conspicuous as possible,
humming a low air to himself, and probably thinking of some other fair
that he had left on the banks of the Potomac.
Frances listened anxiously to the retreating footsteps of his horse,
and, as they died upon her ear, she ventured from her place of secrecy,
and advanced a short distance into the field, where, startled at the
gloom, and appalled with the dreariness of the prospect, she paused to
reflect on what she had undertaken. Throwing back the hood of her
cardinal, she sought the support of a tree, and gazed towards the summit
of the mountain that was to be the goal of her enterprise. It rose from
the plain like a huge pyramid, giving nothing to the eye but its
outlines. The pinnacle could be faintly discerned in front of a lighter
background of clouds, between which a few glimmering stars occasionally
twinkled in momentary brightness, and then gradually became obscured by
the passing vapor that was moving before the wind, at a vast distance
below the clouds themselves. Should she return, Henry and the peddler
would most probably pass the night in fancied security upon that very
hill towards which she was straining her eyes, in the vain hope of
observing some light that might encourage her to proceed. The
deliberate, and what to her seemed cold-blooded, project of the officer
for the recapture of the fugitives, still rang in her ears, and
stimulated her to go on; but the solitude into which she must venture,
the time, the actual danger of the ascent, and the uncertainty of her
finding the hut, or what was still more disheartening, the chance that
it might be occupied by unknown tenants, and those of the worst
description--urged her to retreat.
The increasing darkness was each moment rendering objects less and less
distinct, and the clouds were gathering more gloomily in the rear of the
hill, until its form could no longer be discerned. Frances threw back
her rich curls with both hands on her temples, in order to possess her
senses in their utmost keenness; but the towering hill was entirely lost
to the eye. At length she discovered a faint and twinkling blaze in the
direction in which she thought the building stood, that, by its reviving
and receding luster, might be taken for the glimmering of a fire. But
the delusion vanished, as the horizon again cleared, and the star of
evening shone forth from a cloud, after struggling hard, as if for
existence. She now saw the mountain to the left of the place where the
planet was shining, and suddenly a streak of mellow light burst upon the
fantastic oaks that were thinly scattered over its summit, and gradually
moved down its side, until the whole pile became distinct under the rays
of the rising moon. Although it would have been physically impossible
for our heroine to advance without the aid of the friendly light, which
now gleamed on the long line of level land before her, yet she was not
encouraged to proceed. If she could see the goal of her wishes, she
could also perceive the difficulties that must attend her reaching it.
While deliberating in distressing incertitude, now shrinking with the
timidity of her sex and years from the enterprise, and now resolving to
rescue her brother at every hazard, Frances turned her looks towards the
east, in earnest gaze at the clouds which constantly threatened to
involve her again in comparative darkness. Had an adder stung her, she
could not have sprung with greater celerity than she recoiled from the
object against which she was leaning, and which she for the first time
noticed. The two upright posts, with a crossbeam on their tops, and a
rude platform beneath, told but too plainly the nature of the structure;
even the cord was suspended from an iron staple, and was swinging to and
fro, in the night air. Frances hesitated no longer, but rather flew than
ran across the meadow, and was soon at the base of the rock, where she
hoped to find something like a path to the summit of the mountain. Here
she was compelled to pause for breath, and she improved the leisure by
surveying the ground about her. The ascent was quite abrupt, but she
soon found a sheep path that wound among the shelving rocks and through
the trees, so as to render her labor much less tiresome than it
otherwise would have been. Throwing a fearful glance behind, the
determined girl commenced her journey upwards. Young, active, and
impelled by her generous motive, she moved up the hill with elastic
steps, and very soon emerged from the cover of the woods, into an open
space of more level ground, that had evidently been cleared of its
timber, for the purpose of cultivation. But either the war or the
sterility of the soil had compelled the adventurer to abandon the
advantages that he had obtained over the wilderness, and already the
bushes and briers were springing up afresh, as if the plow had never
traced furrows through the mold which nourished them. Frances felt her
spirits invigorated by these faint vestiges of the labor of man, and she
walked up the gentle acclivity with renewed hopes of success. The path
now diverged in so many different directions, that she soon saw it would
be useless to follow their windings, and abandoning it, at the first
turn, she labored forward towards what she thought was the nearest point
of the summit. The cleared ground was soon past, and woods and rocks,
clinging to the precipitous sides of the mountain, again opposed
themselves to her progress. Occasionally, the path was to be seen
running along the verge of the clearing, and then striking off into the
scattering patches of grass and herbage, but in no instance could she
trace it upward. Tufts of wool, hanging to the briers, sufficiently
denoted the origin of these tracks, and Frances rightly conjectured that
whoever descended the mountain, would avail himself of their existence,
to lighten the labor. Seating herself on a stone, the wearied girl again
paused to rest and to reflect; the clouds were rising before the moon,
and the whole scene at her feet lay pictured in softest colors.
The white tents of the militia were stretched in regular lines
immediately beneath her. The light was shining in the window of her
aunt, who, Frances easily fancied, was watching the mountain, racked
with all the anxiety she might be supposed to feel for her niece.
Lanterns were playing about in the stable yard, where she knew the
horses of the dragoons were kept, and believing them to be preparing for
their night march, she again sprang upon her feet, and renewed her toil.
Our heroine had to ascend more than a quarter of a mile farther,
although she had already conquered two thirds of the height of the
mountain. But she was now without a path or any guide to direct her in
her course. Fortunately, the hill was conical, like most of the
mountains in that range, and, by advancing upwards, she was certain of
at length reaching the desired hut, which hung, as it were, on the very
pinnacle. Nearly an hour did she struggle with the numerous difficulties
that she was obliged to overcome, when, having been repeatedly exhausted
with her efforts, and, in several instances, in great danger from falls,
she succeeded in gaining the small piece of tableland on the summit.
Faint with her exertions, which had been unusually severe for so slight
a frame, she sank on a rock, to recover her strength and fortitude for
the approaching interview. A few moments sufficed for this purpose, when
she proceeded in quest of the hut. All of the neighboring hills were
distinctly visible by the aid of the moon, and Frances was able, where
she stood, to trace the route of the highway, from the plains into the
mountains. By following this line with her eyes, she soon discovered the
point whence she had seen the mysterious dwelling, and directly opposite
to that point she well knew the hut must stand.
The chilling air sighed through the leafless branches of the gnarled and
crooked oaks, as with a step so light as hardly to rustle the dry leaves
on which she trod, Frances moved forward to that part of the hill where
she expected to find this secluded habitation; but nothing could she
discern that in the least resembled a dwelling of any sort. In vain she
examined every recess of the rocks, or inquisitively explored every part
of the summit that she thought could hold the tenement of the peddler.
No hut, nor any vestige of a human being could she trace. The idea of
her solitude struck on the terrified mind of the affrighted girl, and
approaching to the edge of a shelving rock, she bent forward to gaze on
the signs of life in the vale, when a ray of keen light dazzled her
eyes, and a warm ray diffused itself over her whole frame. Recovering
from her surprise, Frances looked on the ledge beneath her, and at once
perceived that she stood directly over the object of her search. A hole
through its roof afforded a passage to the smoke, which, as it blew
aside, showed her a clear and cheerful fire crackling and snapping on a
rude hearth of stone. The approach to the front of the hut was by a
winding path around the point of the rock on which she stood, and by
this, she advanced to its door.
Three sides of this singular edifice, if such it could be called, were
composed of logs laid alternately on each other, to a little more than
the height of a man; and the fourth was formed by the rock against which
it leaned. The roof was made of the bark of trees, laid in long strips
from the rock to its eaves; the fissures between the logs had been
stuffed with clay, which in many places had fallen out, and dried leaves
were made use of as a substitute, to keep out the wind. A single window
of four panes of glass was in front, but a board carefully closed it, in
such a manner as to emit no light from the fire within. After pausing
some time to view this singularly constructed hiding place, for such
Frances well knew it to be, she applied her eye to a crevice to examine
the inside. There was no lamp or candle, but the blazing fire of dry
wood made the interior of the hut light enough to read by. In one corner
lay a bed of straw, with a pair of blankets thrown carelessly over it,
as if left where they had last been used. Against the walls and rock
were suspended, from pegs forced into the crevices, various garments,
and such as were apparently fitted for all ages and conditions, and for
either sex. British and American uniforms hung peaceably by the side of
each other; and on the peg that supported a gown of striped calico, such
as was the usual country wear, was also depending a well-powdered wig:
in short, the attire was numerous and as various as if a whole parish
were to be equipped from this one wardrobe.
In the angle against the rock, and opposite to the fire which was
burning in the other corner, was an open cupboard, that held a plate or
two, a mug, and the remains of some broken meat. Before the fire was a
table, with one of its legs fractured, and made of rough boards; these,
with a single stool, composed the furniture, if we except a few articles
of cooking. A book, that by its size and shape, appeared to be a Bible,
was lying on the table, unopened. But it was the occupant of the hut in
whom Frances was chiefly interested. This was a man, sitting on the
stool, with his head leaning on his hand, in such a manner as to conceal
his features, and deeply occupied in examining some open papers. On the
table lay a pair of curiously and richly mounted horseman's pistols, and
the handle of a sheathed rapier, of exquisite workmanship, protruded
from between the legs of the gentleman, one of whose hands carelessly
rested on its guard. The tall stature of this unexpected tenant of the
hut, and his form, much more athletic than that of either Harvey or her
brother, told Frances, without the aid of his dress, that it was neither
of those she sought. A close surtout was buttoned high in the throat of
the stranger, and parting at his knees, showed breeches of buff, with
military boots and spurs. His hair was dressed so as to expose the whole
face; and, after the fashion of that day, it was profusely powdered. A
round hat was laid on the stones that formed a paved floor to the hut,
as if to make room for a large map, which, among the other papers,
occupied the table.
This was an unexpected event to our adventurer. She had been so
confident that the figure twice seen was the peddler, that on learning
his agency in her brother's escape, she did not in the least doubt of
finding them both in the place, which, she now discovered, was occupied
by another and a stranger. She stood, earnestly looking through the
crevice, hesitating whether to retire, or to wait with the expectation
of yet meeting Henry, as the stranger moved his hand from before his
eyes, and raised his face, apparently in deep musing, when Frances
instantly recognized the benevolent and strongly marked, but composed
features of Harper.
All that Dunwoodie had said of his power and disposition, all that he
had himself promised her brother, and all the confidence that had been
created by his dignified and paternal manner, rushed across the mind of
Frances, who threw open the door of the hut, and falling at his feet,
clasped his knees with her arms, as she cried,--
"Save him--save him--save my brother; remember your promise, and save
Harper had risen as the door opened, and there was a slight movement of
one hand towards his pistols; but it was cool and instantly checked. He
raised the hood of the cardinal, which had fallen over her features, and
exclaimed, with some uneasiness,--
"Miss Wharton! But you cannot be alone?"
"There is none here but my God and you; and by His sacred name, I
conjure you to remember your promise, and save my brother!"
Harper gently raised her from her knees, and placed her on the stool,
begging her at the same time to be composed, and to acquaint him with
the nature of her errand. This Frances instantly did, ingenuously
admitting him to a knowledge of all her views in visiting that lone spot
at such an hour, and by herself.
It was at all times difficult to probe the thoughts of one who held his
passions in such disciplined subjection as Harper, but still there was a
lighting of his thoughtful eye, and a slight unbending of his muscles,
as the hurried and anxious girl proceeded in her narrative. His
interest, as she dwelt upon the manner of Henry's escape, and the flight
to the woods, was deep and manifest, and he listened to the remainder of
her tale with a marked expression of benevolent indulgence. Her
apprehensions, that her brother might still be too late through the
mountains, seemed to have much weight with him, for, as she concluded,
he walked a turn or two across the hut, in silent musing.
Frances hesitated, and unconsciously played with the handle of one of
the pistols, and the paleness that her fears had spread over her fine
features began to give place to a rich tint, as, after a short pause,
"We can depend much on the friendship of Major Dunwoodie, but his sense
of honor is so pure, that--that--notwithstanding his--his--feelings--his
desire to serve us--he will conceive it to be his duty to apprehend my
brother again. Besides, he thinks there will be no danger in so doing,
as he relies greatly on your interference."
"On mine," said Harper, raising his eyes in surprise.
"Yes, on yours. When we told him of your kind language, he at once
assured us all that you had the power, and, if you had promised, would
have the inclination, to procure Henry's pardon."
"Said he more?" asked Harper, who appeared slightly uneasy.
"Nothing but reiterated assurances of Henry's safety; even now he is in
quest of you."
"Miss Wharton, that I bear no mean part, in the unhappy struggle between
England and America, it might now be useless to deny. You owe your
brother's escape, this night, to my knowledge of his innocence, and the
remembrance of my word. Major Dunwoodie is mistaken when he says that I
might openly have procured his pardon. I now, indeed, can control his
fate, and I pledge to you a word which has some influence with
Washington, that means shall be taken to prevent his recapture. But
from you, also, I exact a promise, that this interview, and all that has
passed between us, remain confined to your own bosom, until you have my
permission to speak upon the subject."
Frances gave the desired assurance, and he continued,--
"The peddler and your brother will soon be here, but I must not be seen
by the royal officer, or the life of Birch might be the forfeiture."
"Never!" cried Frances, ardently. "Henry could never be so base as to
betray the man who saved him."
"It is no childish game that we are now playing, Miss Wharton. Men's
lives and fortunes hang upon slender threads, and nothing must be left
to accident that can be guarded against. Did Sir Henry Clinton know that
the peddler had communion with me, and under such circumstances, the
life of the miserable man would be taken instantly; therefore, as you
value human blood, or remember the rescue of your brother, be prudent,
and be silent. Communicate what you know to them both, and urge them to
instant departure. If they can reach the last pickets of our army before
morning, it shall be my care that there are none to intercept them.
There is better work for Major Dunwoodie than to be exposing the life of
While Harper was speaking, he carefully rolled up the map he had been
studying, and placed it, together with sundry papers that were also
open, into his pocket. He was still occupied in this manner, when the
voice of the peddler, talking in unusually loud tones, was heard
directly over their heads.
"Stand farther this way, Captain Wharton, and you can see the tents in
the moonshine. But let them mount and ride; I have a nest here, that
will hold us both, and we will go in at our leisure."
"And where is this nest? I confess that I have eaten but little the last
two days, and I crave some of the cheer you mention."
"Hem!" said the peddler, exerting his voice still more. "Hem--this fog
has given me a cold; but move slow--and be careful not to slip, or you
may land on the bayonet of the sentinel on the flats; 'tis a steep hill
to rise, but one can go down it with ease."
Harper pressed his finger on his lip, to remind Frances of her promise,
and, taking his pistols and hat, so that no vestige of his visit
remained, he retired deliberately to a far corner of the hut, where,
lifting several articles of dress, he entered a recess in the rock, and,
letting them fall again, was hid from view. Frances noticed, by the
strong firelight, as he entered, that it was a natural cavity, and
contained nothing but a few more articles of domestic use.
The surprise of Henry and the peddler, on entering and finding Frances
in possession of the hut, may be easily imagined. Without waiting for
explanations or questions, the warm-hearted girl flew into the arms of
her brother, and gave a vent to her emotions in tears. But the peddler
seemed struck with very different feelings. His first look was at the
fire, which had been recently supplied with fuel; he then drew open a
small drawer of the table, and looked a little alarmed at finding
"Are you alone, Miss Fanny?" he asked, in a quick voice. "You did not
come here alone?"
"As you see me, Mr. Birch," said Frances, raising herself from her
brother's arms, and turning an expressive glance towards the secret
cavern, that the quick eye of the peddler instantly understood.
"But why and wherefore are you here?" exclaimed her astonished brother;
"and how knew you of this place at all?"
Frances entered at once into a brief detail of what had occurred at the
house since their departure, and the motives which induced her to
"But," said Birch, "why follow us here, when we were left on the
Frances related the glimpse that she had caught of the hut and peddler,
in her passage through the Highlands, as well as her view of him on that
day, and her immediate conjecture that the fugitives would seek the
shelter of this habitation for the night. Birch examined her features
as, with open ingenuousness, she related the simple incidents that had
made her mistress of his secret; and, as she ended, he sprang upon his
feet, and, striking the window with the stick in his hand, demolished it
at a blow.
"'Tis but little luxury or comfort that I know," he said, "but even that
little cannot be enjoyed in safety! Miss Wharton," he added, advancing
before Frances, and speaking with the bitter melancholy that was common
to him, "I am hunted through these hills like a beast of the forest; but
whenever, tired with my toils, I can reach this spot, poor and dreary as
it is, I can spend my solitary nights in safety. Will you aid to make
the life of a wretch still more miserable?"
"Never!" cried Frances, with fervor; "your secret is safe with me."
"Major Dunwoodie"--said the peddler, slowly, turning an eye upon her
that read her soul.
Frances lowered her head upon her bosom, for a moment, in shame; then,
elevating her fine and glowing face, she added, with enthusiasm,--
"Never, never, Harvey, as God may hear my prayers!"
The peddler seemed satisfied; for he drew back, and, watching his
opportunity, unseen by Henry, slipped behind the screen, and entered
Frances and her brother, who thought his companion had passed through
the door, continued conversing on the latter's situation for several
minutes, when the former urged the necessity of expedition on his part,
in order to precede Dunwoodie, from whose sense of duty they knew they
had no escape. The captain took out his pocketbook, and wrote a few
lines with his pencil; then folding the paper, he handed it to
"Frances," he said, "you have this night proved yourself to be an
incomparable woman. As you love me, give that unopened to Dunwoodie, and
remember that two hours may save my life."
"I will--I will; but why delay? Why not fly, and improve these precious
"Your sister says well, Captain Wharton," exclaimed Harvey, who had
reentered unseen; "we must go at once. Here is food to eat, as
"But who is to see this fair creature in safety?" cried the captain. "I
can never desert my sister in such a place as this."
"Leave me! leave me!" said Frances. "I can descend as I came up. Do not
doubt me; you know not my courage nor my strength."
"I have not known you, dear girl, it is true; but now, as I learn your
value, can I quit you here? Never, never!"
"Captain Wharton," said Birch, throwing open the door, "you can trifle
with your own lives, if you have many to spare; I have but one, and must
nurse it. Do I go alone, or not?"
"Go, go, dear Henry," said Frances, embracing him; "go; remember our
father; remember Sarah." She waited not for his answer, but gently
forced him through the door, and closed it with her own hands.
For a short time there was a warm debate between Henry and the peddler;
but the latter finally prevailed, and the breathless girl heard the
successive plunges, as they went down the sides of the mountain at a
Immediately after the noise of their departure had ceased, Harper
reappeared. He took the arm of Frances in silence, and led her from the
hut. The way seemed familiar to him; for, ascending to the ledge above
them, he led his companion across the tableland tenderly, pointing out
the little difficulties in their route, and cautioning her
Frances felt, as she walked by the side of this extraordinary man, that
she was supported by one of no common stamp. The firmness of his step,
and the composure of his manner, seemed to indicate a mind settled and
resolved. By taking a route over the back of the hill, they descended
with great expedition, and but little danger. The distance it had taken
Frances an hour to conquer, was passed by Harper and his companion in
ten minutes, and they entered the open space already mentioned. He
struck into one of the sheep paths, and, crossing the clearing with
rapid steps, they came suddenly upon a horse, caparisoned for a rider of
no mean rank. The noble beast snorted and pawed the earth, as his master
approached and replaced the pistols in the holsters.
Harper then turned, and, taking the hand of Frances, spoke as follows:--
"You have this night saved your brother, Miss Wharton. It would not be
proper for me to explain why there are limits to my ability to serve
him; but if you can detain the horse for two hours, he is assuredly
safe. After what you have already done, I can believe you equal to any
duty. God has denied to me children, young lady; but if it had been His
blessed will that my marriage should not have been childless, such a
treasure as yourself would I have asked from His mercy. But you are my
child: all who dwell in this broad land are my children, and my care;
and take the blessing of one who hopes yet to meet you in happier days."
As he spoke, with a solemnity that touched Frances to the heart, he laid
his hand impressively upon her head. The guileless girl turned her face
towards him, and the hood again falling back, exposed her lovely
features to the moonbeams. A tear was glistening on either cheek, and
her mild blue eyes were gazing upon him in reverence. Harper bent and
pressed a paternal kiss upon her forehead, and continued: "Any of these
sheep paths will take you to the plain; but here we must part--I have
much to do and far to ride; forget me in all but your prayers."
He then mounted his horse, and lifting his hat, rode towards the back
of the mountain, descending at the same time, and was soon hid by the
trees. Frances sprang forward with a lightened heart, and taking the
first path that led downwards, in a few minutes she reached the plain in
safety. While busied in stealing through the meadows towards the house,
the noise of horse approaching startled her, and she felt how much more
was to be apprehended from man, in some situations, than from solitude.
Hiding her form in the angle of a fence near the road, she remained
quiet for a moment, and watched their passage. A small party of
dragoons, whose dress was different from the Virginians, passed at a
brisk trot. They were followed by a gentleman, enveloped in a large
cloak, whom she at once knew to be Harper. Behind him rode a black in
livery, and two youths in uniform brought up the rear. Instead of taking
the road that led by the encampment, they turned short to the left and
entered the hills.
Wondering who this unknown but powerful friend of her brother could be,
Frances glided across the fields, and using due precautions in
approaching the dwelling, regained her residence undiscovered and
Hence, bashful cunning!
And prompt me, plain and holy innocence;
I am your wife, if you will marry me.
On joining Miss Peyton, Frances learned that Dunwoodie was not yet
returned; although, with a view to relieve Henry from the importunities
of the supposed fanatic, he had desired a very respectable divine of
their own church to ride up from the river and offer his services. This
gentleman was already arrived, and had been passing the half hour he had
been there, in a sensible and well-bred conversation with the spinster,
that in no degree touched upon their domestic affairs.
To the eager inquiries of Miss Peyton, relative to her success in her
romantic excursion, Frances could say no more than that she was bound to
be silent, and to recommend the same precaution to the good maiden also.
There was a smile playing around the beautiful mouth of Frances, while
she uttered this injunction, which satisfied her aunt that all was as it
should be. She was urging her niece to take some refreshment after her
fatiguing expedition, when the noise of a horseman riding to the door,
announced the return of the major. He had been found by the courier who
was dispatched by Mason, impatiently waiting the return of Harper to the
ferry, and immediately flew to the place where his friend had been
confined, tormented by a thousand conflicting fears. The heart of
Frances bounded as she listened to his approaching footsteps. It wanted
yet an hour to the termination of the shortest period that the peddler
had fixed as the time necessary to effect his escape. Even Harper,
powerful and well-disposed as he acknowledged himself to be, had laid
great stress upon the importance of detaining the Virginians during that
hour. She, however, had not time to rally her thoughts, before Dunwoodie
entered one door, as Miss Peyton, with the readiness of female instinct,
retired through another.
The countenance of Peyton was flushed, and an air of vexation and
disappointment pervaded his manner.
"'Twas imprudent, Frances; nay, it was unkind," he cried, throwing
himself in a chair, "to fly at the very moment that I had assured him of
safety! I can almost persuade myself that you delight in creating points
of difference in our feelings and duties."
"In our duties there may very possibly be a difference," returned his
mistress, approaching, and leaning her slender form against the wall;
"but not in our feelings, Peyton. You must certainly rejoice in the
escape of Henry!"
"There was no danger impending. He had the promise of Harper; and it is
a word never to be doubted. O Frances! Frances! had you known the man,
you would never have distrusted his assurance; nor would you have again
reduced me to this distressing alternative."
"What alternative?" asked Frances, pitying his emotions deeply, but
eagerly seizing upon every circumstance to prolong the interview.
"What alternative! Am I not compelled to spend this night in the saddle
to recapture your brother, when I had thought to lay my head on its
pillow, with the happy consciousness of having contributed to his
release? You make me seem your enemy; I, who would cheerfully shed the
last drop of blood in your service. I repeat, Frances, it was rash; it
was unkind; it was a sad, sad mistake."
She bent towards him and timidly took one of his hands, while with the
other she gently removed the curls from his burning brow.
"Why go at all, dear Peyton?" she asked. "You have done much for your
country, and she cannot exact such a sacrifice as this at your hand."
"Frances! Miss Wharton!" exclaimed the youth, springing on his feet, and
pacing the floor with a cheek that burned through its brown covering,
and an eye that sparkled with wounded integrity. "It is not my country,
but my honor, that requires the sacrifice. Has he not fled from a guard
of my own corps? But for this, I might have been spared the blow! But if
the eyes of the Virginians are blinded to deception and artifice, their
horses are swift of foot, and their sabers keen. We shall see, before
to-morrow's sun, who will presume to hint that the beauty of the sister
furnished a mask to conceal the brother! Yes, yes, I should like, even
now," he continued, laughing bitterly, "to hear the villain who would
dare to surmise that such treachery existed!"
"Peyton, dear Peyton," said Frances, recoiling from his angry eye, "you
curdle my blood--would you kill my brother?"
"Would I not die for him!" exclaimed Dunwoodie, as he turned to her more
mildly. "You know I would; but I am distracted with the cruel surmise to
which this step of Henry's subjects me. What will Washington think of
me, should he learn that I ever became your husband?"
"If that alone impels you to act so harshly towards my brother,"
returned Frances, with a slight tremor in her voice, "let it never
happen for him to learn."
"And this is consolation, Frances!"
"Nay, dear Dunwoodie, I meant nothing harsh or unkind; but are you not
making us both of more consequence with Washington than the truth
"I trust that my name is not entirely unknown to the commander in
chief," said the major, a little proudly; "nor are you as obscure as
your modesty would make you. I believe you, Frances, when you say that
you pity me, and it must be my task to continue worthy of such feelings.
But I waste the precious moments; we must go through the hills to-night,
that we may be refreshed in time for the duty of to-morrow. Mason is
already waiting my orders to mount. Frances, I leave you with a heavy
heart; pity me, but feel no concern for your brother; he must again
become a prisoner, but every hair of his head is sacred."
"Stop! Dunwoodie, I conjure you," cried Frances, gasping for breath, as
she noticed that the hand of the clock still wanted many minutes to the
desired hour. "Before you go on your errand of fastidious duty, read
this note that Henry has left for you, and which, doubtless, he thought
he was writing to the friend of his youth."
"Frances, I excuse your feelings; but the time will come when you will
do me justice."
"That time is now," she answered, extending her hand, unable any longer
to feign a displeasure that she did not feel.
"Where got you this note?" exclaimed the youth, glancing his eyes over
its contents. "Poor Henry, you are indeed my friend! If anyone wishes me
happiness, it is you!"
"He does, he does," cried Frances, eagerly; "he wishes you every
happiness; believe what he tells you; every word is true."
"I do believe him, lovely girl, and he refers me to you for its
confirmation. Would that I could trust equally to your affections!"
"You may, Peyton," said Frances, looking up with innocent confidence
towards her lover.
"Then read for yourself, and verify your words," interrupted Dunwoodie,
holding the note towards her.
Frances received it in astonishment, and read the following:
_"Life is too precious to be trusted to uncertainties. I leave you,
Peyton, unknown to all but Caesar, and I recommend him to your mercy.
But there is a care that weighs me to the earth. Look at my aged and
infirm parent. He will be reproached for the supposed crime of his son.
Look at those helpless sisters that I leave behind me without a
protector. Prove to me that you love us all. Let the clergyman whom you
will bring with you, unite you this night to Frances, and become at
once, brother, son, and husband."_
The paper fell from the hands of Frances, and she endeavored to raise
her eyes to the face of Dunwoodie, but they sank abashed to the floor.
"Am I worthy of this confidence? Will you send me out this night, to
meet my own brother? or will it be the officer of Congress in quest of
the officer of Britain?"
"And would you do less of your duty because I am your wife, Major
Dunwoodie? In what degree would it better the condition of Henry?"
"Henry, I repeat, is safe. The word of Harper is his guarantee; but I
will show the world a bridegroom," continued the youth, perhaps
deceiving himself a little, "who is equal to the duty of arresting the
brother of his bride."
"And will the world comprehend this refinement?" said Frances, with a
musing air, that lighted a thousand hopes in the bosom of her lover. In
fact, the temptation was mighty. Indeed, there seemed no other way to
detain Dunwoodie until the fatal hour had elapsed. The words of Harper
himself, who had so lately told her that openly he could do but little
for Henry, and that everything depended upon gaining time, were deeply
engraved upon her memory. Perhaps there was also a fleeting thought of
the possibility of an eternal separation from her lover, should he
proceed and bring back her brother to punishment. It is difficult at all
times to analyze human emotions, and they pass through the sensitive
heart of a woman with the rapidity and nearly with the vividness of
"Why do you hesitate, dear Frances?" cried Dunwoodie, who was studying
her varying countenance. "A few minutes might give me a husband's claim
to protect you."
Frances grew giddy. She turned an anxious eye to the clock, and the hand
seemed to linger over its face, as if with intent to torture her.
"Speak, Frances," murmured Dunwoodie; "may I summon my good kinswoman?
Determine, for time presses."
She endeavored to reply, but could only whisper something that was
inaudible, but which her lover, with the privilege of immemorial custom,
construed into assent. He turned and flew to the door, when his mistress
recovered her voice:--
"Stop, Peyton! I cannot enter into such a solemn engagement with a fraud
upon my conscience. I have seen Henry since his escape, and time is
all-important to him. Here is my hand; if, with this knowledge of the
consequences of delay, you will not reject it, it is freely yours."
"Reject it!" cried the delighted youth. "I take it as the richest gift
of heaven. There is time enough for us all. Two hours will take me
through the hills; and by noon to-morrow I will return with Washington's
pardon for your brother, and Henry will help to enliven our nuptials."
"Then meet me here, in ten minutes," said Frances, greatly relieved by
unburdening her mind, and filled with the hope of securing Henry's
safety, "and I will return and take those vows which will bind me to
Dunwoodie paused only to press her once to his bosom, and flew to
communicate his wishes to the priest.
Miss Peyton received the avowal of her niece with infinite astonishment,
and a little displeasure. It was violating all the order and decorum of
a wedding to get it up so hastily, and with so little ceremony. But
Frances, with modest firmness, declared that her resolution was taken;
she had long possessed the consent of her friends, and their nuptials,
for months, had only waited her pleasure. She had now promised
Dunwoodie; and it was her wish to comply; more she dare not say without
committing herself, by entering into explanations that might endanger
Birch, or Harper, or both. Unused to contention, and really much
attached to her kinsman, the feeble objections of Miss Peyton gave way
to the firmness of her niece. Mr. Wharton was too completely a convert
to the doctrine of passive obedience and nonresistance, to withstand any
solicitation from an officer of Dunwoodie's influence in the rebel
armies; and the maid returned to the apartment, accompanied by her
father and aunt, at the expiration of the time that she had fixed.
Dunwoodie and the clergyman were already there. Frances, silently, and
without the affectation of reserve, placed in his hand the wedding ring
of her own mother, and after some little time spent in arranging Mr.
Wharton and herself, Miss Peyton suffered the ceremony to proceed.
The clock stood directly before the eyes of Frances, and she turned many
an anxious glance at the dial; but the solemn language of the priest
soon caught her attention, and her mind became intent upon the vows she
was uttering. The ceremony was quickly over, and as the clergyman
closed the words of benediction, the clock told the hour of nine. This
was the time that Harper had deemed so important, and Frances felt as if
a mighty load was at once removed from her heart.
Dunwoodie folded her in his arms, saluted the mild aunt again and again,
and shook Mr. Wharton and the divine repeatedly by the hands. In the
midst of the felicitation, a tap was heard at the door. It was opened,
and Mason appeared.
"We are in the saddle," said the lieutenant, "and, with your permission,
I will lead on; as you are so well mounted, you can overtake us at
"Yes, yes, my good fellow; march," cried Dunwoodie, gladly seizing an
excuse to linger. "I will reach you at the first halt."
The subaltern retired to execute these orders; he was followed by Mr.
Wharton and the divine.
"Now, Peyton," said Frances, "it is indeed a brother that you seek; I am
sure I need not caution you in his behalf, should you unfortunately
"Say fortunately," cried the youth, "for I am determined he shall yet
dance at my wedding. Would that I could win him to our cause. It is the
cause of his country; and I could fight with more pleasure, Frances,
with your brother by my side."
"Oh! mention it not! You awaken terrible reflections."
"I will not mention it," returned her husband; "but I must now leave
you. But the sooner I go, Frances, the sooner I shall return."
The noise of a horseman was heard approaching the house, and Dunwoodie
was yet taking leave of his bride and her aunt, when an officer was
shown into the room by his own man.
The gentleman wore the dress of an aid-de-camp, and the major at once
knew him to be one of the military family of Washington.
"Major Dunwoodie," he said, after bowing to the ladies, "the commander
in chief has directed me to give you these orders."
He executed his mission, and, pleading duty, took his leave immediately.
"Here, indeed!" cried the major, "is an unexpected turn in the whole
affair; but I understand it: Harper has got my letter, and already we
feel his influence."
"Have you news affecting Henry?" cried Frances, springing to his side.
"Listen, and you shall judge."
"SIR,--Upon the receipt of this, you will concentrate your squadron, so
as to be in front of a covering party which the enemy has sent up in
front of his foragers, by ten o'clock to-morrow, on the heights of
Croton, where you will find a body of foot to support you. The escape of
the English spy has been reported to me, but his arrest is unimportant,
compared with the duty I now assign you. You will, therefore, recall
your men, if any are in pursuit, and endeavor to defeat the enemy
Your obedient servant,
"Thank God!" cried Dunwoodie, "my hands are washed of Henry's recapture;
I can now move to my duty with honor."
"And with prudence, too, dear Peyton," said Frances, with a face as pale
as death. "Remember, Dunwoodie, you leave behind you new claims on
The youth dwelt on her lovely but pallid features with rapture; and, as
he folded her to his heart, exclaimed,--
"For your sake, I will, lovely innocent!" Frances sobbed a moment on his
bosom, and he tore himself from her presence.
Miss Peyton retired with her niece, to whom she conceived it necessary,
before they separated for the night, to give an admonitory lecture on
the subject of matrimonial duty. Her instruction was modestly received,
if not properly digested. We regret that history has not handed down to
us this precious dissertation; but the result of all our investigation
has been to learn that it partook largely of those peculiarities which
are said to tincture the rules prescribed to govern bachelors' children.
We shall now leave the ladies of the Wharton family, and return to
Captain Wharton and Harvey Birch.
Allow him not a parting word;
Short be the shrift, and sure the cord!
The peddler and his companion soon reached the valley, and after pausing
to listen, and hearing no sounds which announced that pursuers were
abroad, they entered the highway. Acquainted with every step that led
through the mountains, and possessed of sinews inured to toil, Birch led
the way, with the lengthened strides that were peculiar to the man and
his profession; his pack alone was wanting to finish the appearance of
his ordinary business air. At times, when they approached one of those
little posts held by the American troops, with which the Highlands
abounded, he would take a circuit to avoid the sentinels, and plunge
fearlessly into a thicket, or ascend a rugged hill, that to the eye
seemed impassable. But the peddler was familiar with every turn in their
difficult route, knew where the ravines might be penetrated, or where
the streams were fordable. In one or two instances, Henry thought that
their further progress was absolutely at an end, but the ingenuity, or
knowledge, of his guide, conquered every difficulty. After walking at a
great rate for three hours, they suddenly diverged from the road, which
inclined to the east, and held their course directly across the hills,
in a due south direction. This movement was made, the peddler informed
his companion, in order to avoid the parties who constantly patrolled in
the southern entrance of the Highlands, as well as to shorten the
distance, by traveling in a straight line. After reaching the summit of
a hill, Harvey seated himself by the side of a little run, and opening a
wallet, that he had slung where his pack was commonly suspended, he
invited his comrade to partake of the coarse fare it contained. Henry
had kept pace with the peddler, more by the excitement natural to his
situation, than by the equality of his physical powers. The idea of a
halt was unpleasant, so long as there existed a possibility of the horse
getting below him in time to intercept their retreat through the neutral
ground. He therefore stated his apprehensions to his companion, and
urged a wish to proceed.
"Follow my example, Captain Wharton," said the peddler, commencing his
frugal meal. "If the horse have started, it will be more than man can do
to head them; and if they have not, work is cut out for them, that will
drive all thoughts of you and me from their brains."
"You said yourself, that two hours' detention was all-important to us,
and if we loiter here, of what use will be the advantage that we may
have already obtained?"
"The time is past, and Major Dunwoodie thinks little of following two
men, when hundreds are waiting for him on the banks of the river."
"Listen!" interrupted Henry, "there are horse at this moment passing the
foot of the hill. I hear them even laughing and talking to each other.
Hist! there is the voice of Dunwoodie himself; he calls to his comrade
in a manner that shows but little uneasiness. One would think that the
situation of his friend would lower his spirits; surely Frances could
not have given him the letter."
On hearing the first exclamation of the captain, Birch arose from his
seat, and approached cautiously to the brow of the hill, taking care to
keep his body in the shadow of the rocks, so as to be unseen at any
distance, and earnestly reconnoitered the group of passing horsemen. He
continued listening, until their quick footsteps were no longer audible,
and then quietly returned to his seat, and with incomparable coolness
resumed his meal.
"You have a long walk, and a tiresome one, before you, Captain Wharton;
you had better do as I do--you were eager for food at the hut above
Fishkill, but traveling seems to have worn down your appetite."
"I thought myself safe, then, but the information of my sister fills me
with uneasiness, and I cannot eat."
"You have less reason to be troubled now than at any time since the
night before you were taken, when you refused my advice, and an offer to
see you in safety," returned the peddler. "Major Dunwoodie is not a man
to laugh and be gay when his friend is in difficulty. Come, then, and
eat, for no horse will be in our way, if we can hold our legs for four
hours longer, and the sun keeps behind the hills as long as common."
There was a composure in the peddler's manner that encouraged his
companion; and having once determined to submit to Harvey's government,
he suffered himself to be persuaded into a tolerable supper, if quantity
be considered without any reference to the quality. After completing
their repast, the peddler resumed his journey.
Henry followed in blind submission to his will. For two hours more they
struggled with the difficult and dangerous passes of the Highlands,
without road, or any other guide than the moon, which was traveling the
heavens, now wading through flying clouds, and now shining brightly. At
length they arrived at a point where the mountains sank into rough and
unequal hillocks, and passed at once from the barren sterility of the
precipices, to the imperfect culture of the neutral ground.
The peddler now became more guarded in the manner in which they
proceeded, and took divers precautions to prevent meeting any moving
parts of the Americans. With the stationary posts he was too familiar to
render it probable he might fall upon any of them unawares. He wound
among the hills and vales, now keeping the highways and now avoiding
them, with a precision that seemed instinctive. There was nothing
elastic in his tread, but he glided over the ground with enormous
strides, and a body bent forward, without appearing to use exertion, or
The moon had set, and a faint streak of light was beginning to show
itself in the east. Captain Wharton ventured to express a sense of
fatigue, and to inquire if they were not yet arrived at a part of the
country where it might be safe to apply at some of the farmhouses for
"See here," said the peddler, pointing to a hill, at a short distance in
the rear, "do you not see a man walking on the point of that rock? Turn,
so as to bring the daylight in the range--now, see, he moves, and seems
to be looking earnestly at something to the eastward. That is a royal
sentinel; two hundred of the rig'lar troops lay on that hill, no doubt
sleeping on their arms."
"Then," cried Henry, "let us join them, and our danger is ended."
"Softly, softly, Captain Wharton," said the peddler, dryly, "you've once
been in the midst of three hundred of them, but there was a man who
could take you out; see you not yon dark body, on the side of the
opposite hill, just above the cornstalks? There are the--the rebels
(since that is the word for us loyal subjects), waiting only for day, to
see who will be master of the ground."
"Nay, then," exclaimed the fiery youth, "I will join the troops of my
prince, and share their fortune, be it good or be it bad."
"You forget that you fight with a halter round your neck; no, no--I have
promised one whom I must not disappoint, to carry you safe in; and
unless you forget what I have already done, and what I have risked for
you, Captain Wharton, you will turn and follow me to Harlem."
To this appeal the youth felt unwillingly obliged to submit; and they
continued their course towards the city. It was not long before they
gained the banks of the Hudson. After searching for a short time under
the shore, the peddler discovered a skiff, that appeared to be an old
acquaintance; and entering it with his companion he landed him on the
south side of the Croton. Here Birch declared they were in safety; for
the royal troops held the continentals at bay, and the former were out
in too great strength for the light parties of the latter to trust
themselves below that river, on the immediate banks of the Hudson.
Throughout the whole of this arduous flight, the peddler had manifested
a coolness and presence of mind that nothing appeared to disturb. All
his faculties seemed to be of more than usual perfection, and the
infirmities of nature to have no dominion over him. Henry had followed
him like a child in leading strings, and he now reaped his reward, as he
felt a bound of pleasure at his heart, on hearing that he was relieved
from apprehension, and permitted to banish every doubt of security.
A steep and laborious ascent brought them from the level of the
tidewaters to the high lands that form, in this part of the river, the
eastern banks of the Hudson. Retiring a little from the highway, under
the shelter of a thicket of cedars, the peddler threw his form on a flat
rock, and announced to his companion that the hour for rest and
refreshment was at length arrived. The day was now opened, and objects
could be seen in the distance, with distinctness. Beneath them lay the
Hudson, stretching to the south in a straight line, as far as the eye
could reach. To the north, the broken fragments of the Highlands threw
upwards their lofty heads, above masses of fog that hung over the water,
and by which the course of the river could be traced into the bosom of
hills whose conical summits were grouping togather, one behind another,
in that disorder which might be supposed to have succeeded their
gigantic, but fruitless, efforts to stop the progress of the flood.
Emerging from these confused piles, the river, as if rejoicing at its
release from the struggle, expanded into a wide bay, which was
ornamented by a few fertile and low points that jutted humbly into its
broad basin. On the opposite, or western shore, the rocks of Jersey were
gathered into an array that has obtained for them the name of the
"Palisades," elevating themselves for many hundred feet, as if to
protect the rich country in their rear from the inroads of the
conqueror; but, disdaining such an enemy, the river swept proudly by
their feet, and held its undeviating way to the ocean. A ray of the
rising sun darted upon the slight cloud that hung over the placid river,
and at once the whole scene was in motion, changing and assuming new
forms, and exhibiting fresh objects in each successive moment. At the
daily rising of this great curtain of nature, at the present time,
scores of white sails and sluggish vessels are seen thickening on the
water, with that air of life which denotes the neighborhood to the
metropolis of a great and flourishing empire; but to Henry and the
peddler it displayed only the square yards and lofty masts of a vessel
of war, riding a few miles below them. Before the fog had begun to move,
the tall spars were seen above it, and from one of them a long pennant
was feebly borne abroad in the current of night air, that still quivered
along the river; but as the smoke arose, the black hull, the crowded and
complicated mass of rigging, and the heavy yards and booms, spreading
their arms afar, were successively brought into view.
"There, Captain Wharton," said the peddler, "there is a safe resting
place for you; America has no arm that can reach you, if you gain the
deck of that ship. She is sent up to cover the foragers, and support the
troops; the rig'lar officers are fond of the sound of cannon from their
Without condescending to reply to the sarcasm conveyed in this speech,
or perhaps not noticing it, Henry joyfully acquiesced in the proposal,
and it was accordingly arranged between them, that, as soon as they were
refreshed, he should endeavor to get on board the vessel.
While busily occupied in the very indispensable operation of breaking
their fast, our adventurers were startled with the sound of distant
firearms. At first a few scattering shots were fired, which were
succeeded by a long and animated roll of musketry, and then quick and
heavy volleys followed each other.
"Your prophecy is made good," cried the English officer, springing upon
his feet. "Our troops and the rebels are at it! I would give six months'
pay to see the charge."
"Umph!" returned his companion, without ceasing his meal, "they do very
well to look at from a distance; I can't say but the company of this
bacon, cold as it is, is more to my taste, just now, than a hot fire
from the continentals."
"The discharges are heavy for so small a force; but the fire seems
"The scattering guns are from the Connecticut militia," said Harvey,
raising his head to listen; "they rattle it off finely, and are no fools
at a mark. The volleys are the rig'lars, who, you know, fire by word--as
long as they can."
"I like not the warmth of what you call a scattering fire," exclaimed
the captain, moving about with uneasiness; "it is more like the roll of
a drum than skirmishers' shooting."
"No, no; I said not skrimmagers," returned the other, raising himself
upon a knee, and ceasing to eat; "so long as they stand, they are too
good for the best troops in the royal army. Each man does his work as if
fighting by the job; and then, they think while they fight, and don't
send bullets to the clouds, that were meant to kill men on earth."
"You talk and look, sir, as if you wished them success," said Henry,
"I wish success to the good cause only, Captain Wharton. I thought you
knew me too well, to be uncertain which party I favored."
"Oh! you are reputed loyal, Mr. Birch. But the volleys have ceased!"
Both now listened intently for a little while, during which the
irregular reports became less brisk, and suddenly heavy and repeated
"They've been at the bayonet," said the peddler; "the rig'lars have
tried the bayonet, and the rebels are driven."
"Aye, Mr. Birch, the bayonet is the thing for the British soldier, after
all. They delight in the bayonet!"
"Well, to my notion," said the peddler, "there's but little delight to
be taken in any such fearful weapon. I dare say the militia are of my
mind, for half of them don't carry the ugly things. Lord! Lord! captain,
I wish you'd go with me once into the rebel camp, and hear what lies the
men will tell about Bunker Hill and Burg'yne; you'd think they loved the
bayonet as much as they do their dinners."
There was a chuckle, and an air of affected innocency about his
companion, that rather annoyed Henry, and he did not deign to reply.
The firing now became desultory, occasionally intermingled with heavy
volleys. Both of the fugitives were standing, listening with much
anxiety, when a man, armed with a musket, was seen stealing towards
them, under the shelter of the cedar bushes, that partially covered the
hill. Henry first observed this suspicious-looking stranger, and
instantly pointed him out to his companion. Birch started, and certainly
made an indication of sudden flight; but recollecting himself, he stood,
in sullen silence, until the stranger was within a few yards of them.
"'Tis friends," said the fellow, clubbing his gun, but apparently afraid
to venture nearer.
"You had better retire," said Birch; "here are rig'lars at hand. We are
not near Dunwoodie's horse now, and you will not find me an easy
"Damn Major Dunwoodie and his horse!" cried the leader of the Skinners
(for it was he); "God bless King George! and a speedy end to the
rebellion, say I. If you would show me the safe way in to the refugees,
Mr. Birch, I'll pay you well, and ever after stand your friend, in
"The road is as open to you as to me," said Birch, turning from him in
ill-concealed disgust. "If you want to find the refugees, you know well
where they lay."
"Aye, but I'm a little doubtful of going in upon them by myself; now,
you are well known to them all, and it will be no detriment to you just
to let me go in with you."
Henry here interfered, and after holding a short dialogue with the
fellow, he entered into a compact with him, that, on condition of
surrendering his arms, he might join the party. The man complied
instantly, and Birch received his gun with eagerness; nor did he lay it
upon his shoulder to renew their march, before he had carefully examined
the priming, and ascertained, to his satisfaction, that it contained a
good, dry, ball cartridge.
As soon as this engagement was completed, they commenced their journey
anew. By following the bank of the river, Birch led the way free from
observation, until they reached the point opposite to the frigate, when,
by making a signal, a boat was induced to approach. Some time was spent,
and much precaution used, before the seamen would trust themselves
ashore; but Henry having finally succeeded in making the officer who
commanded the party credit his assertions, he was able to rejoin his
companions in arms in safety. Before taking leave of Birch, the captain
handed him his purse, which was tolerably well supplied for the times;
the peddler received it, and, watching an opportunity, he conveyed it,
unnoticed by the Skinner, to a part of his dress that was ingeniously
contrived to hold such treasures.
The boat pulled from the shore, and Birch turned on his heel, drawing
his breath, like one relieved, and shot up the hills with the strides
for which he was famous. The Skinner followed, and each party pursued
the common course, casting frequent and suspicious glances at the other,
and both maintaining a most impenetrable silence.
Wagons were moving along the river road, and occasional parties of horse
were seen escorting the fruits of the inroad towards the city. As the
peddler had views of his own, he rather avoided falling in with any of
these patrols, than sought their protection. But, after traveling a few
miles on the immediate banks of the river, during which, notwithstanding
the repeated efforts of the Skinner to establish something like
sociability, he maintained a most determined silence, keeping a firm
hold of the gun, and always maintaining a jealous watchfulness of his
associate, the peddler suddenly struck into the highway, with an
intention of crossing the hills towards Harlem. At the moment he gained
the path, a body of horse came over a little eminence, and was upon him
before he perceived them. It was too late to retreat, and after taking a
view of the materials that composed this party, Birch rejoiced in the
rencounter, as a probable means of relieving him from his unwelcome
companion. There were some eighteen or twenty men, mounted and equipped
as dragoons, though neither their appearance nor manners denoted much
discipline. At their head rode a heavy, middle-aged man, whose features
expressed as much of animal courage, and as little of reason, as could
be desired for such an occupation. He wore the dress of an officer, but
there was none of that neatness in his attire, nor grace in his
movements, that was usually found about the gentlemen who bore the royal
commission. His limbs were firm, and not pliable, and he sat his horse
with strength and confidence, but his bridle hand would have been
ridiculed by the meanest rider amongst the Virginians. As he expected,
this leader instantly hailed the peddler, in a voice by no means more
conciliating than his appearance.
"Hey! my gentlemen, which way so fast?" he cried, "Has Washington sent
you down as spies?"
"I am an innocent peddler," returned Harvey meekly, "and am going
below, to lay in a fresh stock of goods."
"And how do you expect to get below, my innocent peddler? Do you think
we hold the forts at King's Bridge to cover such peddling rascals as
you, in your goings in and comings out?"
"I believe I hold a pass that will carry me through," said the peddler,
handing him a paper, with an air of indifference.
The officer, for such he was, read it, and cast a look of surprise and
curiosity at Harvey, when he had done.
Then turning to one or two of his men, who had officiously stopped the
way, he cried,--
"Why do you detain the man? Give way, and let him pass in peace. But
whom have we here? Your name is not mentioned in the pass!"
"No, sir," said the Skinner, lifting his hat with humility. "I have been
a poor, deluded man, who has been serving in the rebel army; but, thank
God, I've lived to see the error of my ways, and am now come to make
reparation, by enlisting under the Lord's anointed."
"Umph! a deserter--a Skinner, I'll swear, wanting to turn Cowboy! In the
last brush I had with the scoundrels, I could hardly tell my own men
from the enemy. We are not over well supplied with coats, and as for
countenances, the rascals change sides so often, that you may as well
count their faces for nothing; but trudge on, we will contrive to make
use of you, sooner or later."
Ungracious as was this reception, if you could judge of the Skinner's
feelings from his manner, it nevertheless delighted him. He moved with
alacrity towards the city, and really was so happy to escape the brutal
looks and frightful manner of his interrogator, as to lose sight of all
other considerations. But the man who performed the functions of orderly
in the irregular troop, rode up to the side of his commander, and
commenced a close and apparently a confidential discourse with his
principal. They spoke in whispers, and cast frequent and searching
glances at the Skinner, until the fellow began to think himself an
object of more than common attention. His satisfaction at this
distinction was somewhat heightened, at observing a smile on the face of
the captain, which, although it might be thought grim, certainly denoted
satisfaction. This pantomime occupied the time they were passing a
hollow, and concluded as they rose another hill. Here the captain and
his sergeant both dismounted, and ordered the party to halt. The two
partisans each took a pistol from his holster, a movement that excited
no suspicion or alarm, as it was a precaution always observed, and
beckoned to the peddler and the Skinner to follow. A short walk brought
them to a spot where the hill overhung the river, the ground falling
nearly perpendicularly to the shore. On the brow of the eminence stood a
deserted and dilapidated barn. Many boards of its covering were torn
from their places, and its wide doors were lying, the one in front of
the building, and the other halfway down the precipice, whither the wind
had cast it. Entering this desolate spot, the refugee officer very
coolly took from his pocket a short pipe, which, from long use, had
acquired not only the hue but the gloss of ebony, a tobacco box, and a
small roll of leather, that contained steel, flint, and tinder. With
this apparatus, he soon furnished his mouth with a companion that habit
had long rendered necessary to reflection. So soon as a large column of
smoke arose from this arrangement, the captain significantly held forth
a hand towards his assistant. A small cord was produced from the pocket
of the sergeant, and handed to the other. The refugee threw out vast
puffs of smoke, until nearly all of his head was obscured, and looked
around the building with an inquisitive eye. At length he removed the
pipe, and inhaling a draft of pure air, returned it to its domicile, and
proceeded at once to business. A heavy piece of timber lay across the
girths of the barn, but a little way from the southern door, which
opened directly upon a full view of the river, as it stretched far away
towards the bay of New York. Over this beam the refugee threw one end of
the rope, and, regaining it, joined the two parts in his hand. A small
and weak barrel, that wanted a head, the staves of which were loose, and
at one end standing apart, was left on the floor, probably as useless.
The sergeant, in obedience to a look from his officer, placed it beneath
the beam. All of these arrangements were made with composure, and they
now seemed completed to the officer's perfect satisfaction.
"Come," he said coolly to the Skinner, who, admiring the preparations,
had stood a silent spectator of their progress. He obeyed; and it was
not until he found his neckcloth removed, and hat thrown aside, that he
took the alarm. But he had so often resorted to a similar expedient to
extort information, or plunder, that he by no means felt the terror an
unpracticed man would have suffered, at these ominous movements. The
rope was adjusted to his neck with the same coolness that formed the
characteristic of the whole movement, and a fragment of board being laid
upon the barrel, he was ordered to mount.
"But it may fall," said the Skinner, for the first time beginning to
tremble. "I will tell you anything--even how to surprise our party at
the Pond, without all this trouble, and it is commanded by my
"I want no information," returned his executioner (for such he now
seemed really to be), throwing the rope repeatedly over the beam, first
drawing it tight so as to annoy the Skinner a little, and then casting
the end from him, beyond the reach of anyone.
"This is joking too far," cried the Skinner, in a tone of remonstrance,
and raising himself on his toes, with the vain hope of releasing himself
from the cord, by slipping his head through the noose. But the caution
and experience of the refugee officer had guarded against this escape.
"What have you done with the horse you stole from me, rascal?" muttered
the officer of the Cowboys, throwing out columns of smoke while he
waited for a reply.
"He broke down in the chase," replied the Skinner quickly; "but I can
tell you where one is to be found that is worth him and his sire."
"Liar! I will help myself when I am in need; you had better call upon
God for aid, as your hour is short." On concluding this consoling
advice, he struck the barrel a violent blow with his heavy foot, and the
slender staves flew in every direction, leaving the Skinner whirling in
the air. As his hands were unconfined, he threw them upwards, and held
himself suspended by main strength.
"Come, captain," he said, coaxingly, a little huskiness creeping into
his voice, and his knees beginning to shake with tremor, "end the joke;
'tis enough to make a laugh, and my arms begin to tire--I can't hold on
"Harkee, Mr. Peddler," said the refugee, in a voice that would not be
denied, "I want not your company. Through that door lies your
road--march! offer to touch that dog, and you'll swing in his place,
though twenty Sir Henrys wanted your services." So saying, he retired to
the road with the sergeant, as the peddler precipitately retreated
down the bank.
Birch went no farther than a bush that opportunely offered itself as a
screen to his person, while he yielded to an unconquerable desire to
witness the termination of this extraordinary scene.
Left alone, the Skinner began to throw fearful glances around, to espy
the hiding places of his tormentors. For the first time the horrid idea
seemed to shoot through his brain that something serious was intended by
the Cowboy. He called entreatingly to be released, and made rapid and
incoherent promises of important information, mingled with affected
pleasantry at their conceit, which he would hardly admit to himself
could mean anything so dreadful as it seemed. But as he heard the tread
of the horses moving on their course, and in vain looked around for
human aid, violent trembling seized his limbs, and his eyes began to
start from his head with terror. He made a desperate effort to reach the
beam; but, too much exhausted with his previous exertions, he caught the
rope in his teeth, in a vain effort to sever the cord, and fell to the
whole length of his arms. Here his cries were turned into shrieks.
"Help! cut the rope! captain!--Birch! good peddler! Down with the
Congress!--sergeant! for God's sake, help! Hurrah for the king!--O God!
O God!--mercy, mercy--mercy!"
As his voice became suppressed, one of his hands endeavored to make its
way between the rope and his neck, and partially succeeded; but the
other fell quivering by his side. A convulsive shuddering passed over
his whole frame, and he hung a hideous corpse.
Birch continued gazing on this scene with a kind of infatuation. At its
close he placed his hands to his ears, and rushed towards the highway.
Still the cries for mercy rang through his brain, and it was many weeks
before his memory ceased to dwell on the horrid event. The Cowboys rode
steadily on their route, as if nothing had occurred; and the body was
left swinging in the wind, until chance directed the wandering footsteps
of some lonely straggler to the place.
Green be the turf above thee,
Friend of my better days;
None knew thee but to love thee,
None named thee but to praise.
While the scenes and events that we have recorded were occurring,
Captain Lawton led his small party, by slow and wary marches, from the
Four Corners to the front of a body of the enemy; where he so
successfully maneuvered, for a short time, as completely to elude all
their efforts to entrap him, and yet so disguised his own force as to
excite the constant apprehension of an attack from the Americans. This
forbearing policy, on the side of the partisan, was owing to positive
orders received from his commander. When Dunwoodie left his detachment,
the enemy were known to be slowly advancing, and he directed Lawton to
hover around them, until his own return, and the arrival of a body of
foot, might enable him to intercept their retreat.
The trooper discharged his duty to the letter but with no little of the
impatience that made part of his character when restrained from
During these movements, Betty Flanagan guided her little cart with
indefatigable zeal among the rocks of Westchester, now discussing with
the sergeant the nature of evil spirits, and now combating with the
surgeon sundry points of practice that were hourly arising between them.
But the moment arrived that was to decide the temporary mastery of the
field. A detachment of the eastern militia moved out from their
fastnesses, and approached the enemy.
The junction between Lawton and his auxiliaries was made at midnight,
and an immediate consultation was held between him and the leader of the
foot soldiers. After listening to the statements of the partisan, who
rather despised the prowess of his enemy, the commandant of the party
determined to attack the British, the moment daylight enabled him to
reconnoiter their position, without waiting for the aid of Dunwoodie and
his horse. So soon as this decision was made, Lawton retired from the
building where the consultation was held, and rejoined his own
The few troopers who were with the captain had fastened their horses in
a spot adjacent to a haystack, and laid their own frames under its
shelter, to catch a few hours' sleep. But Dr. Sitgreaves, Sergeant
Hollister, and Betty Flanagan were congregated at a short distance by
themselves, having spread a few blankets upon the dry surface of a rock.
Lawton threw his huge frame by the side of the surgeon, and folding his
cloak about him, leaned his head upon one hand, and appeared deeply
engaged in contemplating the moon as it waded through the heavens. The
sergeant was sitting upright, in respectful deference to the surgeon,
and the washerwoman was now raising her head, in order to vindicate some
of her favorite maxims, and now composing it to sleep.
"So, sergeant," continued Sitgreaves, following up a previous position,
"if you cut upwards, the blow, by losing the additional momentum of your
weight, will be less destructive, and at the same time effect the true
purpose of war, that of disabling your enemy."
"Pooh! pooh! sergeant dear," said the washerwoman, raising her head from
the blanket, "where's the harm of taking a life, jist in the way of
battle? Is it the rig'lars who'll show favor, and they fighting? Ask
Captain Jack there, if the country could get free, and the boys no
strike their might. I wouldn't have them disparage the whisky so much."
"It is not to be expected that an ignorant female like yourself, Mrs.
Flanagan," returned the surgeon, with a calmness that only rendered his
contempt more stinging to Betty, "can comprehend the distinctions of
surgical science; neither are you accomplished in the sword exercise; so
that dissertations upon the judicious use of that weapon could avail you
nothing either in theory or in practice."
"It's hut little I care, anyway, for such botherment; but fighting is
no play, and a body shouldn't be particular how they strike, or who they
hit, so it's the inimy."
"Are we likely to have a warm day, Captain Lawton?"
"'Tis more than probable," replied the trooper; "these militia seldom
fail of making a bloody field, either by their cowardice or their
ignorance, and the real soldier is made to suffer for their
"Are you ill, John?" said the surgeon, passing his hand along the arm of
the captain, until it instinctively settled on his pulse; but the
steady, even beat announced neither bodily nor mental malady.
"Sick at heart, Archibald, at the folly of our rulers, in believing that
battles are to be fought and victories won, by fellows who handle a
musket as they would a flail; lads who wink when they pull a trigger,
and form a line like a hoop pole. The dependence we place on these men
spills the best blood of the country."
The surgeon listened with amazement. It was not the matter, but the
manner that surprised him. The trooper had uniformly exhibited, on the
eve of battle, an animation, and an eagerness to engage, that was
directly at variance with the admirable coolness of his manner at other
times. But now there was a despondency in the tones of his voice, and a
listlessness in his air, that was entirely different. The operator
hesitated a moment, to reflect in what manner he could render this
change of service in furthering his favorite system, and then
"It would be wise, John, to advise the colonel to keep at long shot; a
spent ball will disable--"
"No!" exclaimed the trooper, impatiently, "let the rascals singe their
whiskers at the muzzles of the British muskets, if they can be driven
there. But, enough of them. Archibald, do you deem that moon to be a
world like this, containing creatures like ourselves?"
"Nothing more probable, dear John; we know its size and, reasoning from
analogy, may easily conjecture its use. Whether or not its inhabitants
have attained to that perfection in the sciences which we have acquired,
must depend greatly on the state of its society, and in some measure
upon its physical influences."
"I care nothing about their learning, Archibald; but 'tis a wonderful
power that can create such worlds, and control them in their wanderings.
I know not why, but there is a feeling of melancholy excited within me
as I gaze on that body of light, shaded as it is by your fancied sea and
land. It seems to be the resting place of departed spirits!"
"Take a drop, darling," said Betty, raising her head once more, and
proffering her own bottle. "'Tis the night damp that chills the
blood--and then the talk with the cursed militia is no good for a fiery
temper. Take a drop, darling, and ye'll sleep till the morning. I fed
Roanoke myself, for I thought ye might need hard riding the morrow."
"'Tis a glorious heaven to look upon," continued the trooper, in the
same tone, disregarding the offer of Betty, "and 'tis a thousand pities
that such worms as men should let their vile passions deface such
"You speak the truth, dear John; there is room for all to live and enjoy
themselves in peace, if each could be satisfied with his own. Still, war
has its advantages; it particularly promotes the knowledge of
"There is a star," continued Lawton, still bent on his own ideas,
"struggling to glitter through a few driving clouds; perhaps that too is
a world, and contains its creatures endowed with reason like ourselves.
Think you that they know of war and bloodshed?"
"If I might be so bold," said Sergeant Hollister, mechanically raising
his hand to his cap, "'tis mentioned in the good book, that the Lord
made the sun to stand still while Joshua was charging the enemy, in
order, sir, as I suppose, that they might have daylight to turn their
flank, or perhaps make a feint in the rear, or some such maneuver. Now,
if the Lord would lend them a hand, fighting cannot be sinful. I have
often been nonplused, though, to find that they used them chariots
instead of heavy dragoons, who are, in all comparison, better to break a
line of infantry, and who, for the matter of that, could turn such wheel
carriages, and getting into the rear, play the very devil with them,
horse and all."
"It is because you do not understand the construction of those ancient
vehicles, Sergeant Hollister, that you judge of them so erroneously,"
said the surgeon. "They were armed with sharp weapons that protruded
from their wheels, and which broke up the columns of foot, like
dismembered particles of matter. I doubt not, if similar instruments
were affixed to the cart of Mrs. Flanagan, that great confusion might be
carried into the ranks of the enemy thereby, this very day."
"It's but little that the mare would go, and the rig'lars firing at
her," grumbled Betty, from under her blanket. "When we got the plunder,
the time we drove them through the Jarseys it was, I had to back the
baste up to the dead; for the divil the foot would she move, fornent the
firing, wid her eyes open. Roanoke and Captain Jack are good enough for
the redcoats, letting alone myself and the mare."
A long roll of the drums, from the hill occupied by the British,
announced that they were on the alert; and a corresponding signal was
immediately heard from the Americans. The bugle of the Virginians struck
up its martial tones; and in a few moments both the hills, the one held
by the royal troops and the other by their enemies, were alive with
armed men. Day had begun to dawn, and preparations were making by both
parties, to give and to receive the attack. In numbers the Americans had
greatly the advantage; but in discipline and equipment the superiority
was entirely with their enemies. The arrangements for the battle were
brief, and by the time the sun rose the militia moved forward.
The ground did not admit of the movements of horse; and the only duty
that could be assigned to the dragoons was to watch the moment of
victory, and endeavor to improve the success to the utmost. Lawton soon
got his warriors into the saddle; and leaving them to the charge of
Hollister, he rode himself along the line of foot, who, in varied
dresses, and imperfectly armed, were formed in a shape that in some
degree resembled a martial array. A scornful smile lowered about the lip
of the trooper as he guided Roanoke with a skillful hand through the
windings of their ranks; and when the word was given to march, he turned
the flank of the regiment, and followed close in the rear. The Americans
had to descend into a little hollow, and rise a hill on its opposite
side, to approach the enemy.
The descent was made with tolerable steadiness, until near the foot of
the hill, when the royal troops advanced in a beautiful line, with their
flanks protected by the formation of the ground. The appearance of the
British drew a fire from the militia, which was given with good effect,
and for a moment staggered the regulars. But they were rallied by their
officers, and threw in volley after volley with great steadiness. For a
short time the fire was warm and destructive, until the English advanced
with the bayonet. This assault the militia had not sufficient discipline
to withstand. Their line wavered, then paused, and finally broke into
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