THE TORY'S DAUGHTER
ILLUSTRATIVE OF THE
REVOLUTIONARY HISTORY OF VERMONT
NORTHERN CAMPAIGN OF 1777
BY THE AUTHOR OF "THE GREEN MOUNTAIN BOYS"
TWO VOLUMES IN ONE
On commencing his former work, illustrative of the revolutionary history of Vermont,—THE GREEN MOUNTAIN BOYS,—it was the design of the author to have embraced the battle of Bennington, and other events of historic interest which occurred in the older and more southerly parts of the state; but finding, as he proceeded, that the unity and interest of his effort would be endangered by embracing so much ground, a part of the original design was relinquished, or rather its execution was deferred for a new and separate work, wherein better justice could be done to the rich and unappropriated materials of which his researches had put him in possession. That work, after an interval of ten years, and the writing and publishing of several intermediate ones, is now presented to the public, and with the single remark, that if it is made to possess less interest, as a mere tale, than its predecessor, the excuse must be found in the author's greater anxiety to give a true historic version of the interesting and important events he has undertaken to illustrate.
THE TORY'S DAUGHTER
* * * * *
"Sing on! sing on! my mountain home, The paths where erst I used to roam, The thundering torrent lost in foam. The snow-hill side all bathed in light,— All, all are bursting on my sight!"
Towards night, on the twelfth of March, 1775, a richly-equipped double sleigh, filled with a goodly company of well-dressed persons of the different sexes, was seen descending from the eastern side of the Green Mountains, along what may now be considered the principal thoroughfare leading from the upper navigable portions of the Hudson to those of the Connecticut River. The progress of the travellers was not only slow, but extremely toilsome, as was plainly evinced by the appearance of the reeking and jaded horses, as they labored and floundered along the sloppy and slumping snow paths of the winter road, which was obviously now fast resolving itself into the element of which it was composed. Up to the previous evening, the dreary reign of winter had continued wholly uninterrupted by the advent of his more gentle successor in the changing rounds of the seasons; and the snowy waste which enveloped the earth would, that morning, have apparently withstood the rains and suns of months before yielding entirely to their influences. But during the night there had occurred one of those great and sudden transitions from cold to heat, which can only be experienced in northern climes, and which can be accounted for only on the supposition, that the earth, at stated intervals, rapidly gives out large quantities of its internal heats, or that the air becomes suddenly rarefied by some essential change or modification in the state of the electric fluid. The morning had been cloudless; and the rising sun, with rays no longer dimly struggling through the dense, obstructing medium of the dark months gone by, but, with the restored beams of his natural brightness, fell upon the smoking earth with the genial warmth of summer. A new atmosphere, indeed, seemed to have been suddenly created, so warm and bland was the whole air; while, occasionally, a breeze came over the face of the traveller, which seemed like the breath of a heated oven. As the day advanced, the sky gradually became overcast—a strong south wind sprung up, before whose warm puffs the drifted snow-banks seemed literally to be cut down, like grass before the scythe of the mower; and, at length, from the thickening mass of cloud above, the rain began to descend in torrents to the mutely recipient earth. All this, for a while, however, produced no very visible effects on the general face of nature; for the melting snow was many hours in becoming saturated with its own and water from above. Nor had our travellers, for the greater part of the day, been much incommoded by the rain, or the thaw, that was in silent, but rapid progress around and beneath them; as their vehicle was a covered one, and as the hard-trodden paths of the road were the last to be affected. But, during the last hour, a great change in the face of the landscape had become apparent; and the evidence of what had been going on unseen, through the day, was now growing every moment more and more palpable. The snow along the bottom of every valley was marked by a long, dark streak, indicating the presence of the fast-collecting waters beneath. The stifled sounds of rushing streams were heard issuing from the hidden beds of every natural rill; while the larger brooks were beginning to burst through their wintry coverings, and throw up and push on before them the rending ice and snow that obstructed their courses to the rivers below, to which they were hurrying with increasing speed, and with seemingly growing impatience at every obstacle they met in their way. The road had also become so soft, that the horses sunk nearly to the flank at almost every step, and the plunging sleigh drove heavily along the plashy path. The whole mass of the now saturated and dissolving snow, indeed, though lying, that morning, more than three feet deep on a level, seemed to quiver and move, as if on the point of flowing away in a body to the nearest channels.
The company we have introduced consisted of four gentlemen and two ladies, all belonging, very evidently, to the most wealthy, and, up to that time, the most honored and influential class of society. But though all seemed to be of the same caste, yet their natural characters, as any physiognomist, at a glance, would have discovered, were, for so small a party, unusually diversified. Of the two men occupying the front seat, both under the age of thirty, the one sitting on the right and acting as driver was tall, showily dressed, and of a haughty, aristocratic air; while his sharp features, which set out in the shape of a half-moon, the convex outline being preserved by a retreating forehead, an aquiline nose, and a chin sloping inward, combined to give him a cold, repulsive countenance, fraught with expressions denoting selfishness and insincerity. The other occupant of the same seat was, on the contrary, a young man of an unassuming demeanor, shapely features, and a mild, pleasing countenance. The remaining two gentlemen of the party were much older, but scarcely less dissimilar in their appearance than the two just described. One of them was a gaunt, harsh-featured man, of the middle ago, with an air of corresponding arrogance and assumption. The other, who was still more elderly, was a thick-set and rather portly personage, of that quiet, reserved, and somewhat haughty demeanor, which usually belongs to men of much self-esteem, and of an unyielding, opinionated disposition. The ladies were both young, and in the full bloom of maidenly beauty. But their native characters, like those of their male companions, seemed to be very strongly contrasted. The one seated on the left was fair, extremely fair, indeed; and her golden locks, clustering in rich profusion around her snowy neck and temples, gave peculiar effect to the picture-like beauty of her face. But her beauty consisted of pretty features, and her countenance spoke rather of the affections than of the mind, being of that tender, pleading cast, which is better calculated to call forth sympathy than command respect, and which, showed her to be one of those confiding, dependent persons, whose destinies are in me hands of those whom they consider their friends, rather than in their own keeping. The other maiden, with an equally fine form and no less beautiful features, was still of an entirely different appearance. She, indeed, was, to the one first described what the rose, with its hardy stem, is to the lily leaning on the surrounding herbage for its support; and though less delicately fair in mere complexion, she was yet more commandingly beautiful; for there was an expression in the bright, discriminating glances of her deep hazel eyes, and in the commingling smile that played over the whole of her serene and benignant countenance, that told of intellects that could act independently, as well as of a heart that glowed with the kindly affections.
"Father," said the last described female, addressing the eldest gentleman, for the purpose, apparently, of giving a new turn to the conversation, which had now, for some time, been lagging,—"father, I think you promised us, on starting from Bennington this morning, not only a fair day, but a safe arrival at Westminster Court-House, by sunset, did you not?"
"Why, yes, perhaps I did," replied the person addressed; "for I know I calculated that we should get through by daylight."
"Well, my weatherwise father, to say nothing about this storm, instead of the promised sunshine, does the progress, made and now making, augur very brightly for the other part of the result?"
"I fear me not, Sabrey," answered the old gentleman, "though, with the road as good as when we started, we should have easily accomplished it. But who would have dreamed of a thaw so sudden and powerful as this? Why, the very road before us looks like a running river! Indeed, I think we shall do well to reach Westminster at all to-night. What say you, Mr. Peters,—will the horses hold out to do it?" he added, addressing the young man of the repulsive look, who had charge of the team, us before mentioned.
"They must do it, at all events, Squire Haviland," replied Peters. "Sheriff Patterson, here," he continued, glancing at the hard-featured man before described, "has particular reasons for being on the ground to-night. I must also be there, and likewise friend Jones, if we can persuade him to forego his intended stop at Brattleborough; for, being of a military turn, we will give him the command of the forces, if he will go on immediately with us."
"Thank you, Mr. Peters," replied Jones, smiling. "I do not covet the honor of a command, though I should be ready to go on and assist, if I really believed that military forces would be needed."
"Military forces needed for what?" asked Haviland, in some surprise.
"Why, have you not heard, Squire Haviland," said the sheriff, "that threats have been thrown out, that our coming court would not be suffered to sit?"
"Yes, something of the kind, perhaps," replied Haviland, contemptuously; "but I looked upon them only as the silly vaporings of a few disaffected creatures, who, having heard of the rebellious movements in the Bay State, have thrown out these idle threats with the hope of intimidating our authorities, and so prevent the holding of a court, which they fear might bring too many of them to justice."
"So I viewed the case for a while," rejoined Patterson; "but a few days ago, I received secret information, on which I could rely, that these disorganizing rascals were actually combining, in considerable numbers, with the intention of attempting to drive us from the Court-House."
"Impossible! impossible! Patterson," said the squire; "they will never be so audacious as to attempt to assail the king's court."
"They are making a movement for that purpose, nevertheless," returned the former; "for, in addition to the information I have named, I received a letter from Judge Chandler, just as I was leaving my house in Brattleborough, yesterday morning, in which the judge stated, that about forty men, from Rockingham, came to him in a body, at his house in Chester, and warned him against holding the court; and had the boldness to tell him, that blood would be shed, if it was attempted, especially if the sheriff appeared with an armed posse."
"Indeed! why, I am astonished at their insolence!" exclaimed the squire. "But what did the judge tell them?"
"Why the judge, you know, has an oily way of getting along with ugly customers," replied the sheriff, with a significant wink; "so he thanked them all kindly for calling on him, and gravely told them he agreed with them, that no court should be holden at this time. But, as there was one case of murder to be tried, he supposed the court must come together to dispose of that; after which they would immediately adjourn. And promising them that he would give the sheriff directions not to appear with any armed assistants, he dismissed them, and sat down and wrote me an account of the affair, winding off with giving me the directions he had promised, but adding in a postscript, that I was such a contrary fellow, that he doubted whether I should obey his directions; and he should not be surprised to see me there with a hundred men, each with a gun or pistol under his great-coat. Ha ha! The judge is a sly one."
"One word about that case of murder, to which you have alluded, Mr. Patterson," interposed Jones, after the jeering laugh with which the sheriff's account was received by Haviland and Peters, had subsided. "I have heard several mysterious hints thrown out by our opponents about it, which seemed to imply that the prosecution of the prisoner was got up for private purposes; and I think I have heard the name of Secretary Brush coupled with the affair. Now, who is the alleged murderer? and where and when was the crime committed?"
"The fellow passes by the name of Herriot, though it is suspected that this is not his true name," responded the sheriff. "The crime was committed at Albany, several years ago, when he killed, or mortally wounded, an intimate friend of Mr. Brush."
"Under what circumstances?"
"Why, from what I have gathered, I should think the story might be something like this: that, some time previous to the murder, this Herriot had come to Albany, got into company above his true place, dashed away a while in high life, gambled deeply, and, losing all his own money, and running up a large debt to this, and other friends of Brush, gave them his obligations and absconded. But coming there again, for some purpose, a year or two after, with a large sum of money, it was thought, which had been left or given him by a rich Spaniard, whose life he had saved, or something of the kind, those whom he owed beset him to pay them, or play again. But he refused to play, pretending to have become pious, and also held back about paying up his old debts. Their debts, however, they determined to have, and went to him for that purpose; when an affray arose, and one of them was killed by Herriot, who escaped, and fled, it seems, to this section of the country, where he kept himself secluded in some hut in the mountains, occasionally appear-ing abroad to preach religion and rebellion to the people, by which means he was discovered, arrested, and imprisoned in Westminster jail, where he awaits his trial at the coming term of the court. And I presume he will be convicted and hung, unless he makes friends with Brush to intercede for a pardon, which he probably might do, if the fellow would disgorge enough of his hidden treasures to pay his debts, and cease disaffecting the people, which is treason and a hanging matter of itself, for which he, and fifty others in this quarter, ought, in justice, to be dealt with without benefit of the clergy.—What say you, Squire Haviland?"
"I agree with you fully," replied the squire. "But to return to Judge Chandler's communication: what steps have you taken, if any, in order to sustain the court in the threatened emergency?"
"Why, just the steps that Chandler knew I should take—sent off one messenger to Brush, there on the ground at Westminster; another to Rogers, of Kent; and yet another to a trusty friend in Guilford, requesting each to be on, with a small band of resolute fellows; while I whipped over to Newfane myself, fixed matters there, and came round to Bennington to enlist David Redding, and a friend or two more; as I did, after I arrived, last night, though I was compelled to leave them my sleigh and horses to bring them over, which accounts for my begging a passage with you. So, you see, that if this beggarly rabble offer to make any disturbance, I shall be prepared to teach them the cost of attempting to put down the king's court."
"Things are getting to a strange pass among these deluded people, that is certain. I cannot, however, yet believe them so infatuated as to take this step. But if they should, decided measures should be taken—such, indeed, as shall silence this alarming spirit at once and forever."
"I hope," observed Miss Haviland, who had been a silent but attentive listener to the dialogue, "I hope no violence is really intended, either on the part of the authorities or their opponents. But what do these people complain of? There must be some cause, by which they, at least, think themselves justified in the movement, surely. Do they consider themselves aggrieved by any past decisions of the court?"
"O, there are grumblers enough, doubtless, in that respect," answered the sheriff. "And among other things, they complain that their property is taken and sold to pay their honest debts, when money is so scarce, they say, that they cannot pay their creditors in currency—just as if the court could make money for the idle knaves! But that is mere pretence. They have other motives, and those, too, of a more dangerous character to the public peace."
"And what may those motives be, if it be proper for me to inquire, sir?" resumed the fair questioner.
"Why, in the first place," replied the sheriff, "they have an old and inveterate grudge against New York, whose jurisdiction they are much predisposed to resist. But to this they might have continued to demur and submit, as they have done this side of the mountain, had New York adopted the resolves of the Continental Congress of last December, and come into the American Association, as it is called, which has no less for its object, in reality, than the entire overthrow of all royal authority in this country. But as our colony has nobly refused to do this, they are now intent on committing a double treason—that of making war on New York and the king too."
"Well, I should have little suspected," remarked Haviland, "that the people of this section, who have shown themselves commendably conservative, for the most part, had any intention of yielding to the mob-laws of Ethan Allen, Warner, and others, who place the laws of New York at defiance on the other side of the mountains; and much less that they would heed the resolves of that self-constituted body of knaves, ignoramuses, and rebels, calling themselves the Continental Congress."
"Are you not too severe on that body of men, father?" said Miss Haviland, lifting her expressive eye reprovingly to the face of the speaker. "I have recently read over a list of the members of the Congress; when I noticed among them the names of men, who, but a short time since, stood very high, both for learning and worth, as I have often heard you say yourself. Now, what has changed the characters of these men so suddenly?"
"Why is it, Sabrey," said the old gentleman, with an air of petulance, and without deigning any direct answer to the troublesome question,—"why is it that you cannot take the opinion of your friends, who know so much more than you do about these matters, instead of raising, as I have noticed you have lately seemed inclined to do, questions which seem to imply doubts of the correctness of the measures of our gracious sovereign and his wise ministers?"
"Why, father," replied the other, with an ingenuous, but somewhat abashed look, "if I have raised such questions, in relation to the quarrel between the colonies and the mother country, I have gone on the ground that the party which has the most right on its side would, of course, have the best reasons for its measures; and as I have not always been able to perceive good reasons for all the king's measures, I had supposed you would be proud to give them."
The old gentleman, though evidently disturbed and angry at this reply, did not seem inclined to push the debate any further with his daughter. The other gentlemen, also, looked rather glum; and for many moments not a word was spoken; when the other young lady, who had not yet spoken, after glancing round on the gentlemen in seeming expectation that those better reasons would be given, at length ventured to remark,—
"Well, for my part, it is enough for me that my friends all belong to the loyal party; and whatever might be said, I know I should always feel that they were in the right, and their opposers in the wrong."
"And in that, Jane, I think you are wise," responded Jones, with an approving smile. "The complaints of these disaffected people are based on mistaken notions. They are too ill informed, I fear, to appreciate the justice and necessity of the measures of our ministers, or to understand very clearly what they are quarrelling about."
"Ah, that is it," warmly responded Haviland. "That is what I have always said of them. They don't understand their own rights, or what is for their own good, and should be treated accordingly. And I think some of our leading men miss it in trying to reason with them. Reason with them! Ridiculous! As if the common people could understand an argument!"
"You are perfectly right, squire," responded Peters, with eager promptness. "My own experience among the lower classes fully confirms your opinion. My business, for several years past, has brought me often in contact with them, in a certain quarter; and I have found them not only ignorant of what properly belongs to their own rights and privileges, but jealous and obstinate to a degree that is excessively annoying."
"Friend Peters probably alludes to his experience in the great republic of Guilford," said Jones, archly.
"There and elsewhere," rejoined the former; "though I have seen quite enough of republicanism there, for my purpose. One year, the party outvoting their opponents, and coming into power, upsets every thing done by their predecessors. The next year the upsetters themselves get upset; and all the measures they had established are reversed for others no better; and so they go on from year to year, forever quarrelling and forever changing."
"And yet, Peters," resumed Jones, banteringly, "I doubt whether you have been much the loser by their quarrels."
"How so, Mr. Jones?" asked Haviland, who noticed that Peters had answered only by a significant smile.
"Why, you know, Squire Haviland," replied Jones, "that I have been on to attend several of the last sessions of your court, as the agent of Secretary Fanning, [Footnote: Edward Fanning, secretary to Governor Tryon, New York, before the revolution, obtained, by an act of favoritism from his master, a grant of the township of Stratton, which, in 1780, Fanning having been appointed a colonel of a regiment of tories, was confiscated, and re-granted, by the legislature of Vermont, to William Williams and others. Kent, afterwards Londonderry, which had been granted to James Rogers, who has been introduced, and who became a tory officer, was also, in like manner, confiscated and re-granted.] to see to his landed interests in this quarter. Well, friend Peters, here, who has gone considerably into land speculations east of the mountains, you know, had brought, it seems, several suits for the possession of lands, mostly in this same Guilford; and among the rest, one for a right of land in possession of a sturdy young log-roller, whom they called Harry Woodburn, who appeared in court in his striped woollen frock, and insisted on defending his own case, as he proceeded to do with a great deal of confidence. But when he came to produce his deed for the land he contended was his own, it was found, to his utter astonishment, to bear a later date than the one produced by Peters. This seemed to settle the case against him. But he appeared to have no notion of giving up so; and, by favor of court, the further hearing of the case was deferred a day or two, to enable him to procure the town records, which, he contended, would show the priority of his deed. So he posted back to Guilford for the purpose; but, on arriving there, found, to his dismay, that the records were nowhere to be found. One of the belligerent parties of that town, it seems, had broken into the clerk's office, stolen the records, and buried them somewhere in the ground. The fellow, therefore, had to return, and submit to a judgment against him. Still, however, he clung to his case, and obtained a review of it, in expectation that the records would be found before the next court. But the poor fellow seemed doomed to disappointment. At the next court, no records were forthcoming; and though he defended his case with great zeal, he was thrown in his suit again; when he concluded, I suppose, to yield to his fate without further ado."
"Not by any means," said Peters, in a tone of raillery. "He has petitioned for a new trial; and the question is to come on at this court."
"Indeed!" exclaimed Jones, laughing. "Well, I must confess I have never seen so much dogged determination exhibited in so hopeless a case. And I really could not help admiring the fellow's spirit and uncultured force of mind, as much misapplied as, of course, I suppose it to have been. Your lawyer, Stevens, really appeared, once or twice, to be quite annoyed at his home thrusts; while lawyer Knights, or Rough-hewn Sam, as they call him, who, either from a sly wish to see his friend Stevens bothered, or from a real wish to help Harry, volunteered to whisper a few suggestions in his ear occasionally, sat by, and laughed out of his eyes, till they ran over with tears, to see a court lawyer so hard pushed by a country bumpkin."
"Pooh! you make too much of the fellow," said Peters, with assumed contempt. "Why, he is a mere obstinate boor, whose self-will and vanity led him to set up and persevere in a defence in which he knows there is neither law nor justice."
"And yet, Mr. Peters," observed Miss Haviland, inquiringly, "the young man must have known that he was making great expense for himself, in obtaining delays and new trials, in the hope that the lost records would be found. If he was not very confident those records would have established his right, why should he have done this?"
"O, that was a mere pretence about the records altering the case, doubtless," replied Peters, with the air of one wishing to hear no more on the subject.
"It may have been so," rejoined the former, doubtfully; "but I should have hardly inferred it from Mr. Jones's description of the man and his conduct."
"Nor I," interposed the other lady, playfully, but with considerable spirit. "Mr. Jones has really excited my curiosity by his account of this young plough-jogger. I should like to get a sight of him—shouldn't you, Sabrey?"
But the latter, though evidently musing on the subject, and mentally discussing some unpleasant doubts and inferences which it seemed to present to her active mind, yet evaded the question, and turned the conversation, by directing the attention of her companion and the rest of the company to a distant object in the wild landscape, which here opened to their view. This was the tall, rugged mountain, which, rising from the eastern shore of the Connecticut, was here, through an opening in the trees, seen looming and lifting its snowy crest to the clouds, and greeting the gladdened eyes of the way-worn travellers with the silent but welcome announcement that they were now within a few miles of the great river, and in the still more immediate vicinity of their intended halting-place—the thriving little village which was then just starting into life, under the auspices of the man from whom its name was derived—the enterprising Colonel Brattle, of Massachusetts.
Having now the advantage of a road, which, as it received the many concentrating paths of a thicker settlement, here began to be comparatively firm, the travellers passed rapidly over the descending grounds, and, in a short time, entered the village. As they were dashing along towards the village inn, at a full trot, a man, with a vehicle drawn by one horse, approaching in an intersecting road from the south, struck into the same street a short distance before them. His whole equipment was very obviously of the most simple character,—a rough board box, resting on four upright wooden pins inserted into a couple of saplings, which were bent up in front for runners—the whole making what, in New England phrase, is termed a jumper, constituted his sleigh. And this vehicle was drawn by a long switch-tailed young pony, whose unsteady gait, as he briskly ambled along the street, pricking up his ears and veering about at every new object by the way-side, showed him to be but imperfectly broken. The owner of this rude contrivance for locomotion was evidently some young farmer from the neighboring country. But although his dress and mode of travelling seemed thus to characterize him, yet there was that in his personal appearance, as plain as was his homespun garb, which was calculated to command at once both attention and respect. And as he now rose and stood firmly planted in his sleigh, occasionally looking back to watch the motions of the team behind him, with his long, toga-like woollen frock drawn snugly over his finely-sloping shoulders and well-expanded bust, and closely girt about at the waist by a neatly-knotted Indian belt, while the flowing folds below streamed gracefully aside in the wind, he displayed one of those compact, shapely figures, which the old Grecian sculptors so delighted to delineate. And in addition to these advantages of figure, he possessed an extremely fine set of features, which were shown off effectively by the profusion of short, jetty locks, that curled naturally around his white temples and his bold, high forehead.
"Miss McRea—Jane," said Jones, turning round to the amiable girl, and tapping her on the shoulder, with the confiding smile and tender playfulness of the accepted lover, as he was,—"Jane, you said, I think, that you should like to get a sight of that spunky opponent of Mr. Peters, whom we were talking of a little while since—did you not?"
"O, yes, yes, to be sure I did," replied the other briskly; "but why that question, just at this time?"
"Because, if I do not greatly mistake, that man who is pushing on before us, in yon crazy-looking establishment, is the self-same young fellow. Is it not so, Peters?"
"I have not noticed him particularly, nor do I care whether it is he or not," answered Peters, with an affected indifference, with which his uneasy and frowning glances, as he kept his eye keenly fixed on the person in question, but illy comported. "Well that is the fellow—that is Harry Woodburn, you may rely on it, ladies," rejoined Jones, gayly, as he faced about in his seat.
Both young ladies now threw intent and curious glances forward on the man thus pointed out to them, till they caught, as they did the next moment, a full and fair view of his personal appearance; when they turned and looked at each other with expressions of surprise, which plainly indicated that the object of their thoughts was quite a different person from what they had been led to expect.
"His dress, to be sure, is rather coarse," observed Miss Haviland to her companion, in a low tone; "but he is no boor; nor can every one boast of—" Here she threw a furtive glance at Peters, when she appeared to read something in his countenance which caused her to suspend the involuntary comparison which was evidently passing in her mind, and to keep her eye fixed on his motions.
The arrogant personage last named, wholly unconscious of this scrutiny, now began to incite his horses afresh, frequently applying the lash with unwonted severity, and then suddenly curbing them in, till the spirited animals became so frantic that they could scarcely be restrained from dashing off at a run. The young farmer, in the mean while, finding himself closely pressed by those behind him, without any apparent disposition on their part to turn out and pass by him, now veered partly out of the road, to give the others, with the same change in their course to the opposite side, an opportunity, if they chose, of going by, as might easily have been done with safety to all concerned.
"Mr. Peters!" suddenly exclaimed Miss Haviland, in a tone of energetic remonstrance, at the same time catching at his arm, as if to restrain him from some intended movement, which her watchful eye had detected.
This appeal, however, which was rather acted than spoken, was unheeded, or came too late; for, at that instant, the chafing and maddened horses dashed furiously forward, directly over the exposed corner of the young man's vehicle, which, under the iron-bound feet of the fiercely-treading animals, and the heavy sleigh runners that followed, came down with a crash to the ground, leaving him barely time to clear himself from the wreck, by leaping forward into the snow. Startled by the noise behind him, the frightened pony made a sudden but vain effort to spring forward with the still connected remains of the jumper, which were, at the instant confined down by the passing runners of the large sleigh; when snorting and wild with desperation, he reared himself upright on his hinder legs, and fell over backwards, striking, with nearly the whole weight of his body, upon his doubled neck, which all saw at a glance was broken by the fall.
With eyes flashing with indignation, young Woodburn bounded forward to the head of the aggressing team, boldly seized the nearest horse by his nostrils and bridle curb, and, in spite of his desperate rearing and plunging, under the rapidly applied whip of the enraged driver, soon succeeded, by daring and powerful efforts, in bringing him and his mate to a stand.
"Let go there, fellow, on your peril!" shouted Peters, choking with rage at his defeat in attempting to ride over and escape his bold antagonist.
"Not till I know what all this means, sir!" retorted Woodburn, with unflinching spirit.
"Detain us if you dare, you young ruffian!" exclaimed the sheriff, protruding his harsh visage from one side of the sleigh. "Begone! or I will arrest you in the king's name, sir!"
"You will show your warrant for it first, Mr. Sheriff," replied the former, turning to Patterson with cool disdain. "I have nothing to do with you, sir; but I hold this horse till the outrage I have just received is atoned for, or at least explained."
"My good friend," interposed Jones, in a respectful manner, "you must not suppose we have designedly caused your disaster. Our horses, which are high-mettled, as you see, took a sudden start, and the mischief was done before they could be turned or checked."
"Now, let go that horse, will you, scoundrel?" again exclaimed Peters, still chafing with anger, but evidently disturbed and uneasy under the cold, searching looks of the other.
"Hear me first, John Peters!" replied Woodburn, with the same determined manner as before. "I care not for your abusive epithets, and have only to say of them, that they are worthy of the source from which they proceed. But you have knowingly and wickedly defrauded me of my farm; unless I obtain redress, as I little expect, from a court which seems so easily to see merits in a rich man's claim. Yes, you have defrauded me, sir, out of my hard-earned farm; and there," he continued, pointing to his gasping horse,—"there lies nearly half of all my remaining property—dead and gone! ay, and by your act, which, from signs I had previously noticed, and from the tones of that young lady's exclamation at the instant, (and God bless her for a heart which could be kind in such company,) I shall always believe was wilfully committed. And if I can make good my suspicions and a court of law will not give me justice, I will have it elsewhere! There, sir, go," he added, relinquishing his hold on the horse, and stepping aside,—"go! but remember I claim a future reckoning at your hands!"
The sleigh now passed on to the yard of the inn, where the company alighted, and soon disappeared within its doors, leaving the young man standing alone in the road, gazing after them with that moody and disquieted kind of countenance which usually settles on the face on the subsidence of a strong gust of passion.
"Poor pony!" he at length muttered, sadly, as, rousing himself, he now turned towards his petted beast, that lay dead in his rude harness,—"poor pony! But there is no help for you now, nor for me either, I fear, as illy as I can afford to lose you. But it is not so much the loss, as the manner—the manner!" he repeated, bitterly, as he proceeded to undo the fastenings of the tackle, with the view of removing the carcass and the broken sleigh from the road.
While he was thus engaged, a number of men, most of them his townsmen, who being, like himself, on their way to court, had stopped at the inn, or store, near by, where the noise of the fray had aroused them, now came hastening to the spot.
"What is all this, Harry?" exclaimed the foremost, as he came up and threw a glance of surprise and concern on the ruins before him.
"You can see for yourselves," was his moody reply, as others now arrived, and, with inquiring looks, gathered around him.
"Yes, yes; but how was it done?"
"John Peters, who just drove up to the tavern, yonder, with a load of court gentry, run over me—that's all," he answered, with an air that showed his feelings to be still too much irritated to be communicative.
But the company, among whom he seemed to be a favorite were not to be repulsed by a humor for which they appeared to understand how to make allowance, but continued to press him with inquiries and soothing words, till their manifestations of sympathy and offers of assistance had gradually won him into a more cheerful mood; when, throwing off his reserve, he thanked them kindly, and frankly related what he knew of the affair, the particulars of which obviously produced a deep sensation among the listeners. All present, after hearing the recital of the facts, and on coupling them with the well-known disposition of Peters, and his previous injuries to Woodburn, at once declared their belief that the aggression was intentional, and warmly espoused this cause of their outraged friend and townsman. A sort of council of war was then holden; the affair was discussed and set down as another item in the catalogue of injuries and oppressions of which the court party had been guilty. Individuals were despatched into all the nearest houses, and elsewhere, for the purpose of discovering what evidence might be obtained towards sustaining a prosecution. It was soon ascertained, however, that no one had seen the fracas, except the parties in interest,—all Peters's company being so accounted,—and that, consequently, no hope remained of any legal redress. On this, some proposed measures of club-law retaliation, some recommended reprisals on the same principle, and others to force Peters, as soon as he should appear in the street, to make restitution for the loss he had occasioned. And so great was the excitement, that had the latter then made his appearance,—which, it seemed, he was careful not to do,—it is difficult to say what might have been his reception. But contrary to the expectations of all, Woodburn, who had been thoughtfully pacing up and down the road, a little aloof from the rest, during the discussion, now came forward, and, in a firm and manly manner, opposed all the propositions which had been made in his behalf.
"No," said he, in conclusion, "such measures will not bear thinking of. I threatened him myself with something of the kind you have proposed. But a little reflection has convinced me I was wrong; for should I take this method of obtaining redress, nowever richly he might deserve it at my hands, I should but be doing just what I condemn in him, and thus place myself on a level with him in his despicable conduct. No, we will let him alone, and give him all the rope he will take; and if he don't hang for his misdeeds, he will doubtless, by his conduct, aid in hastening on the time, which, from signs not to be mistaken, cannot, I think, be far distant, when a general outbreak will place him, and all like him, who have been riding over us here rough-shod for years, in a spot where he and they will need as much of our pity as they now have of our hatred and fear."
"Ay, ay," responded several, with significant nods and looks; "that time will come, and sooner than they dream of."
"And then," said one, "it will not be with us as it was with one last fall; when, just as the winter was coming on, and milk was half our dependence for the children, our only cow was knocked off by a winking sheriff, for eleven and threepence, to this same Peters."
"Nor as it was with me," said another poorly-clad man of the crowd, "when for a debt, which, before it was sued, was only the price of a bushel of wheat I bought to keep wife and little ones from starving, my pair of two-year-olds and seven sheep were all seized and sold under the hammer, for just enough to pay the debt and costs, to Squire Gale, the clerk of the court, who is another of those conniving big bugs, who are seen going round with the sheriff, at such times, with their pockets full of money to buy up the poor man's property for a song, though never a dollar will they lend him to redeem it with"
"No, my friends," said a tall, stout, broad-chested man, with a clear, frank, and fearless countenance, who, having arrived at the spot as Woodburn began to speak, had been standing outside of the crowd, silently listening to the remarks of the different speakers,—"no, my friends; when the time just predicted arrives, it will no longer be as it has been with any of us. We shall then, I trust, all be allowed to exercise the right which, according to my notions, we have from God—that of choosing our own rulers, who, then, would be men from among ourselves, knowing something about the wants and wishes of the people, and willing to provide for their distresses in times like these. I have little to say about individual men, or their acts of oppression; for such men and such acts we may expect to see, so long as this accursed system of foreign rule is suffered to remain. We had better, therefore, not waste much of our ammunition on this or that tool of royalty, but save it for higher purposes. And, for this reason, I highly approve of the course that my young neighbor, Woodburn, has just taken, in his case; although, from what I have heard I suspect it was an outrageous one."
"Thank you, thank you, Colonel Carpenter," said Woodburn, coming forward and cordially offering the other his hand; "the approbation of a man like you more than reconciles me to the course which, I confess, cost me a hard struggle to adopt."
"Ay, you were right, Harry," rejoined the former, "though a hard matter to bear; and though I am willing this, and all such outrages, should go in to swell the cup of our grievances, that it may the sooner overflow, yet you were right; and it was spoken, too, like a man. But let me suggest, whether you, and all present, had not better now disperse. The powers that be will soon have their eyes upon us, and I would rather not excite their jealousy, at this time, on account of certain measures we have in contemplation, which I will explain to you hereafter."
"Your advice is good," returned Woodburn, "and I will see that it is followed, as soon as I can find some one to dispose of the body of my luckless pony; for then I propose to throw the harness into some sleigh, and join such of the company here as are on foot on their way to court."
"Put your harness aboard my double sleigh standing in the tavern yard yonder, Harry. And I am sorry I have too much of a load to ask you to ride yourself. But where shall I leave the arness?"
"At Greenleaf's store, at the river, if you will; for I conclude you are bound to Westminster, as well as the rest of us."
"I am, and shall soon be along after you, as I wish to go through to-night, if possible, being suspicious of a flood, that may prevent me from getting there with a team, by to-morrow. Neither the rain nor thaw is over yet, if I can read prognostics. How strong and hot this south wind blows! And just cast your eye over on to West River mountain, yonder—how rapidly those long, ragged masses of fog are creeping up its sides towards the summit! That sign is never failing."
Woodburn's brief arrangements were soon completed; when he and his newly-encountered foot companions, each provided with a pair of rackets, or snow-shoes,—articles with which foot-travellers, when the snow was deep, often, in those times, went furnished,—took up their line of march down the road leading to the Connecticut, leaving Peters and his company, as well as all others who had teams, refresing themselves or their horses at the village inn.
But, before we close this chapter, in order that the reader not versed in the antiquarian lore of those times may more clearly understand some of the allusions of the preceding pages, and also that he may not question the probability that such a company as we have introduced should be thus brought together, and be thus on their way to a court so far into the interior of a new settlement, it may not be amiss here to observe, that the sale and purchase of lands in Vermont at this period constituted one of the principal matters of speculation among men of property, not only those residing here, but those residing in the neighboring colonies, and especially in that of New York; and that the frequent controversies, arising out of disputed titles, made up the chief business of the court, which, on the erection of a new county by the legislature of New York, embracing all the south-eastern part of the Grants, and known by the name of Cumberland, had here, several years before, been established. And it was business of this kind, and the personal, in addition to the political, interest they had in sustaining a court, the judges of which were themselves said to be engaged in these speculations, and therefore expected to favor, as far as might be decent, their brother speculators, that led to the journey of the present company of loyalists, consisting as before seen, of Haviland, a large landholder of Bennington; Peters, an unconscientious speculator in the same kind of property, belonging to a noted family of tories of that name, residing in Pownal, and an adjoining town in New York; and Jones, the agent of Fanning, from the vicinity of Fort Edward; the fated Miss McRea, of sad historical memory, from the same place, having been induced to come on with her lover, at the previous solicitation of her friend, Miss Haviland, to join her, her father, and Peters, to whom she was affianced in their proposed excursion over the mountains to court.
"Now forced aloft, bright bounding through the air Moves the bleak ice, and sheds a dazzling glare; The torn foundations on the surface ride, And wrecks of winter load the downward tide."
After travelling a short distance in the road, Woodburn and his companions halted, put on their snow-shoes, and, turning out to the left into the woods, commenced, with the long, loping step peculiar to the racket-shod woodsman, their march over the surface of the untrodden snow. The road just named, which formed the usual route from the village they had quitted to their place of destination, led first directly to the Connecticut, in an easterly direction, and then, turning to the north, passed up the river near its western banks, thus describing in its course a right angle, at the point of which, resting on the river, stood the store of Stephen Greenleaf, the first, and, for a while, the only merchant in Vermont; whose buildings, with those perhaps of one or two dependants, constituted the then unpromising nucleus around which has since grown up the wealthy and populous village of East Brattleborough. Such being the course of the travelled route, it will readily be seen, that the main object of our foot company, in leaving it, was the saving of distance, to be effected by striking across this angle to some eligible point on the northern road. Arid they accordingly pitched their course so as to enter the road near its intersection with the Wantastiquet, or West River,—one of the larger tributaries of the Connecticut,—which here comes lolling down from the eastern side of the Green Mountains, and pours its rock-lashed and rapid waters into the comparatively quiet bosom of the ingulfing stream below.
After a walk of about half an hour, through alternating fields and forest, they arrived, as they had calculated, at the banks of the tributary above named, where it was crossed on the ice by the winter road, which, owing to the failure of the rude bridge near the mouth of the stream, and the difficulty of descending the bank in its immediate vicinity, had been broken out through the adjoining meadow and over the river at this point, which was consequently a considerable distance above the ordinary place of crossing.
On reaching this spot, it was found that the flood, which, on the high grounds, where we have last been taking the reader, was but little observable, had made, and was evidently still making, a most rapid progress. The rising waters had already forced themselves through the small but constantly widening outlets of their strong, imprisoning barriers, and were beginning to hurry along, in two dark, turbid streams, over the surface of the ice, beneath the opposite banks, where it was still too strongly confined to the roots and frozen earth to permit of its rising; while the uplifting mass, in the middle of the river, had nearly attained the level of the surrounding meadows. And, although the main body still remained unbroken, yet the deep, dull reports that rose in quick succession to the ear from the cracking mass in every direction around, and the sharp, hissing, gurgling sounds of the water, which was gushing violently upwards through the fast multiplying fissures, together with the visible, tremor-like agitation that pervaded the whole, plainly evinced that it could not long withstand the tremendous pressure of the laboring column of waters beneath.
The travellers, who were not to be turned back by a foot or two of water in their path over the ice, so long as the foundation remained firm, drew up a long spruce pole from a neighboring fence, and, shooting it forward through the first stream of water, passed over upon it to the uncovered ice; and then, drawing their spar-bridge to the water next the other bank, went through the same process, till they had all reached the opposite shore unwet and in safety.
Here they again paused to note the appearance of the disturbed elements; for, in addition to the threatening aspect which the river was here fast assuming, a slight trembling of the ground began occasionally to be perceptible; while unusual sounds seemed to come mingling from a distance, with the roaring of the wind and the noise of rushing waters, as if earth, air, and water were all joining their disturbed forces for some general commotion.
"The water and ice are strangely agitated, it appears to me," observed Woodburn to his companions, as they stood looking on the scene before them. "See how like a pot the water boils up through that crevice yonder! Then hear that swift, lumbering rush of the stream beneath! The whole river, indeed, seems fairly to groan, like some huge animal confined down by an insupportable burden, from which it is laboring to free itself. I have noticed such appearances, I think, when the ice was on the point of breaking up; but that can hardly be the case here, at present can it?"
"On the point of breaking up, now?" said one of the company in reply. "No, indeed! Why, the ice is more than three feet thick, and as sound and solid as a rock. Should it rain from this time till to-morrow noon, it won't start."
"Well, now, I don't know about that," remarked an observant old settler, who had been silently regarding the different portents to which we have alluded. "I don't know about the ice staying here twenty hours, or even one. This has been no common thaw, that we have had for the last six or eight hours, let me tell you."
"And still," observed Woodburn, "I should not think the water high enough as yet to cause a breaking up, should you?"
"With a slow rise, and in a still time, perhaps not, Harry. But when the water is rising rapidly, as now, and especially if there is a strong wind, like this, to increase the motion, as it does either by outward pressure, or by forcing the air through the chinks in under the ice, I have always noticed that the stream acts on the ice at a much less height, and much more powerfully, than when the rise is slow and the weather calm."
"Then you look upon the appearances I named as indications that such an event is soon to take place here, do you?"
"I do, Harry, much sooner than you are expecting; for the signs you name are not the only ones which tell that story, as I will soon convince you all, if you will be still and listen a moment."
This remark caused the company to pause and place themselves in a listening attitude.
"There," resumed the speaker, pointing up to the bold, shaggy steeps of the mountain, which we have before alluded to, and which, from the opposite side of the Connecticut, and within a few furlongs from the spot where they now stood, rose, half concealed in its "misty shroud," like some huge battlement, to the heavens—"there! do you hear that dull roar, with occasionally a crashing sound, away up there among those clouds of fog near the top peaks of the mountain?"
"Ay, ay, quite distinctly."
"Well, that is an echo, which, strangely enough, we can hear when we can't the original sound, and which is made by the striking up there of the roar of the river above us; that of course must be open, having already broken up and got the ice in motion somewhere. But hark again! Now, don't you hear that rumbling noise? Can't you, now, both hear and feel those quick, irregular, deep, jarring sounds?"
"Yes, plainly—very plainly, now—you are right. Sure enough, the ice in the river above us is on the move!" responded all, with excited looks.
"To be sure it is; and from the noise it makes, it must be coming down upon us with the speed of a race-horse! Let us all to the hills, boys, where we can get a fair view of the spectacle."
The company, accordingly, now all ran to gain the top of a neighboring swell, which commanded a view of West River for a long distance up the stream, as well as one of a considerable reach of the more distant Connecticut, both of which views were obstructed, at the spot they had just left, by a point of woods and turn in the river in the former instance, and by intervening hills in the latter.
Among the many wild and imposing exhibitions of nature, peculiar to the mountainous regions of our northern clime, there is no one, perhaps, of more fearful magnificence, than that which is sometimes presented in the breaking up of one of our large rivers by a winter flood; when the ice, in its full strength, enormous thickness, and rock-like solidity, is rent asunder, with loud, crashing explosions, and hurled up into ragged mountains, and borne onward before the raging torrent with inconceivable force and frightful velocity, spreading devastation along the banks in its course, and sweeping away the strongest fabrics of human power which stand opposed to its progress, like the feeble weeds that disappear from the path of a tornado.
Such a spectacle, as they reached their proposed stand, now burst on the view of the astonished travellers. As far as the eye could reach upwards along the windings of the stream, the whole channel was filled with the mighty mass of ice, driving down towards them with fearful rapidity, and tumbling, crashing, grinding, and forcing its way, as it came, with collisions that shook the surrounding forest, and with the din and tumult of an army of chariots rushing together in battle. Here, tall trees on the bank were beaten down and overwhelmed, or, wrenched off at the roots and thrown upwards, were whirled along on the top of the rushing volume, like feathers on the tossing wave. There, the changing mass was seen swelling up into mountain-like elevations, to roll onward a while, and, then gradually sinking away, be succeeded by another in another form; while, with resistless front, the whole immense moving body drove steadily on, ploughing and rending its way into the unbroken sheet of ice before it, which burst, divided, and was borne down beneath the boiling flood, or hurled upwards into the air, with a noise sometimes resembling the sounds of exploding muskets, and sometimes the crash of falling towers.
But the noise of another and similar commotion in an opposite direction, now attracted their attention, They turned, and their eyes were greeted with a scene, which, though less startling from its distance, yet even surpassed, in picturesque grandeur, the one they had just been witnessing. Through the whole visible reach of the Connecticut, a long, white, glittering column of ice, with its ridgy and bristling top towering high above the adjacent banks, was sweeping by and onward, like the serried lines of an army advancing to the charge; while the broad valley around even back to the summits of the far-off hills, was resounding with the deafening din that rose from the extended line of the booming avalanche, with the deep rumblings of an earthquake mingled with the tumultuous roar of an approaching tempest.
The attention of the company, however, was now drawn from this magnificent display of the power of the elements, by an object of more immediate interest to their feelings. This was an open double sleigh, approaching, on the opposite side of the river, towards the place at which they had just crossed over, in the manner we have described. The mountain mass of ice that was still forcing its way down the river before them, with increasing impetus, was now within three hundred yards of the pass, to which those in the sleigh were hastening, with the evident design of crossing. And though the latter, owing to a point of woods that intervened at a bend in the stream a short distance above, could not see the coming ice, yet they seemed aware of its dangerous proximity; for, as they now drove down to the edge of the water, they paused, and a large man, who appeared to have control of the team, rose to his feet, and with words that could not be distinguished in the roaring of the wind and the noise from the scene above, made an appealing gesture, which was readily understood by our foot travellers as an inquiry whether the team would have time to cross before the ice reached the spot.
"It is Colonel Carpenter and his company," said Woodburn. "He will have no time to spare, but enough, I think, if he instantly improves it, to get safely over. He has smart horses, and is anxious to be on this side of the river. Let him come."
Accordingly, they returned him encouraging gestures, which being seen and understood by him, he instantly whipped up his horses, and, forcing them on the ice, soon effected his passage in safety, and drove rapidly down the road, leading along the northern bank of the stream to Connecticut, the object of his speed being obviously to keep forward of the icy flood, which by his progress might otherwise be soon obstructed.
"There," resumed Woodburn, breaking the silence with which he and his companions had been witnessing the rather hazardous passage of their friends,—"there, the colonel is well over; but his is the last sleigh to cross this year, unless it be drawn by winged horses."
"Well, winged, or not winged, there is another, it seems, about to make the attempt," said one of the company, pointing across the river, where a covered double sleigh, with showy equipage was dashing at full speed down the road towards the stream.
"It is a hostile craft!" "Peters and his gang!" "We owe them no favors!" "Let the enemy take care of themselves!" were the exclamations which burst from the recently-incensed group, as all eyes were now turned to the spot.
"O, no! no!" exclaimed Woodburn, with looks of the most lively concern. "Be they foes or friends, they must not be suffered to enter upon that river. Why, the breaking ice has already nearly reached the bend, and unless it stops there, that path across the stream, within five minutes, will be as traceless as the ocean! Run down to the bank, and hail them!" he continued, turning to those around him. "I fear they would not listen to me. Will no one go to warn them against an attempt which must prove their destruction?" he added, reproachfully glancing around him.
"Shall we interfere unasked?" said one, who was smarting under a sense of former injuries; "ay, and interfere, too, to save such a man as Peters, that he may go on robbing us of our farms?"
"And save such a man as Sheriff Patterson, also, that he may hang the innocent and pious Herriot?" said another, bitterly.
"And save them all, that they may keep up the court which will soon hang or rob the whole of us?" added a third, in the same spirit.
"O, wrong—wickedly wrong! and, if no one will go, I must," cried Woodburn, turning hastily from the spot, and making his way down the hill towards the river with all the speed he was master of.
A few seconds sufficed to bring him to the edge of the stream, when, in a voice that rose above the roar of the wind and waters around, he called on Peters, who was already urging his reluctant and snorting horses down the opposite bank into the water, warned him of the situation of the ice, and begged him, as he valued the lives of his friends, to desist from his perilous attempt.
"Do you think to frighten me?" shouted Peters, who, perceiving the speaker to be his despised opponent, became suspicious, as the latter had feared, that the warning was but a ruse to prevent him from going on that night,—"do you think to frighten me back, liar, when a heavy team has just passed safely over before my eyes?"
And, in defiance of the timely caution he had received, and the warning sounds, of which his senses might have apprised him, had he paused a moment to listen, he furiously applied the whip, and plunged madly through the water towards the middle ice But as rapidly as he drove, the team had not passed over more than one third of the distance across, before he and all with him became fully aware of the fearful peril they had so recklessly incurred; for, at this critical moment, with awful brunt, the mountain wave of icy ruins came rolling round the screening point into full view, and not fifty yards above them. A cry of alarm at once burst from every occupant of the menaced vehicle and Peters, no less frightened than the rest, suddenly checked the horses, with the half-formed design of turning and attempting to regain the shore he had just left. But on glancing round, he beheld, to his dismay, the ice burst upward from its winter moorings along the shore, leaving between them and the bank a dark chasm of whirling waters, over which it were madness to think of repassing. At that instant, with a deep and startling report, the broad sheet of ice confining the agitated river burst asunder parted, and was afloat in a hundred pieces around them. Another piercing cry of terror and distress issued from the devoted sleigh and Miss Haviland, with an involuntary impulse at the fearful shock, leaped out on to the large cake of ice on which the sleigh and horses were resting. She seemed instantly to perceive her error; but before she could regain the sleigh, or even be caught by the extended hands of her friends, the frightened horses made a sudden and desperate lunge forward, and, with a speed that could neither be checked nor controlled, dashed onward over the dissevering mass, leaping from piece to piece of their sinking support, and each in turn falling in, to be drawn out by his mate, till they reached the shore, and rushed furiously up the bank, beyond the sweep of the dreadful torrent from which they had so miraculously escaped.
"O God of heaven, have mercy on my daughter!" exclaimed Haviland, in a piteous burst of anguish, as he sprang out of the sleigh among the company, who, with horror-stricken looks, stood on the bank mutely gazing on the fast receding form of the luckless maiden, thus left behind, to be borne away, in all human probability, to speedy destruction.
For a moment no one stirred or spoke, all standing amazed, and seemingly paralyzed at the thought of her awful situation having no hope of her rescue, and expecting every instant to see her crushed, or ingulfed among the ice that was wildly heaving and tumbling on every side around her. But fortunately for her, the broad, solid block, on which she had alighted, and on which she continued still to retain her stand, was, by the submerged and rising masses beneath, gradually and evenly forced upwards to the top of the column, with which it was moving swiftly down the current. And there she stood, like a marble statue on its pedestal, sculptured for some image of woe, her bonnet thrown back from her blanched features, and her loosened hair streaming wildly in the wind; while one hand was extended doubtfully towards the shore, and the other lifted imploringly to heaven, as if in supplication for that aid from above, which she now scarcely hoped to receive from her friends below.
"O Sabrey, Sabrey! must you indeed perish?" at length burst convulsively from Miss McRea, in the most touching accents of distress.
"Is there no help? Can no one save her?" added the agonized father.
"Yes, save her—save her!" exclaimed Peters, now eagerly addressing the men he affected so to despise. "Can't some of you get on to the ice there, and bring her off? Five guineas to the man who will do it; yes, ten! Quick! run, run, or you'll be too late," he added, turning, from one to another, without offering to start himself.
Throwing a look of silent scorn on his contemptible foe, Woodburn, having been anxiously casting about him in thought for some means of rescuing the ill-fated girl from her impending doom, now, with the air of one acting only on his own responsibility, hastily called on his companions to follow him, and led the way, with rapid strides, down along the banks of the stream, as near the main channel as the water and ice, already bursting over the banks into the road, would permit. But although he could easily keep abreast of the fair object of his anxiety, of whom he occasionally obtained such glimpses through the brushwood here lining the banks as to show him that she still retained her footing on the same block of ice, which still continued to be borne on with the surrounding mass, yet he could perceive no way of reaching her—no earthly means by which she could be snatched from the terrible doom that seemed so certainly to await her; for along the whole extent of the moving ice, and even many rods in advance of it, the water, dammed up, and forced from the choked channel, was gushing over the banks, and sweeping down by their sides in a stream that nothing could withstand. And, to add to the almost utter hopelessness with which he was compelled to view her situation, he now soon began to be admonished that she was immediately threatened by a danger from which she had thus far been so providentially preserved—that of being crushed or swallowed up at once in the broken ice. He could perceive, from the increasing commotion of the ice around her, that her hitherto level and unbroken support was growing every moment more insecure and uncertain. And as it rose and fell, or was pitched forward and thrown up aslant, in the changing volume, he could plainly hear her piteous shrieks, and see her flying from side to side of the plunging body, to avoid being hurled into the frightful chasms which were continually yawning to receive her.
"Lost! lost!" he uttered with a sigh; "no earthly aid can now avail her. But stay! stay!" he continued, as his eye fell on the two or three remaining beams or string-pieces of the old bridge still extended across the river a short distance below. "If she reaches that place alive, and I can but gain the spot in time, I may yet save her. O Heaven, help me to the speed and the means of rescuing her from this dreadful death!"
And calling loudly to his companions, whom he had already outstripped, to come on, he now set forward, with all possible speed, for the place which afforded the last chance for the poor girl's rescue. The banks of the river, at the point which it was now his object to gain, were so much more elevated than those above, that he had little fear of finding the path leading on to the bridge obstructed by the water. And it had glanced through his mind, as he descried this forgotten spot, and saw the remains of the bridge still standing, that the maiden might here be assisted to escape on to the bank, or be drawn up by a cord, or some other implement, to the top of the bridge, which, being high above the ordinary level of the water, would not probably be swept away by the ice, at least not till that part of it on which she was situated should have passed under it. There was an occupied log-house standing but a short distance from the place, and the owner, as Woodburn drew near, was, luckily, just making his appearance at the door.
"A rope, a rope! be ready with a rope," shouted Woodburn, pointing to the scene of trouble, as soon as he could make himself understood by the wondering settler.
The man, after a hurried glance from the speaker to the indicated scene, and thence to the bridge below, during which he seemed to comprehend the nature of the emergency, instantly disappeared within the door. In another moment Woodburn came up, and burst into the house, where he found the settler and his wife eagerly running out the rope of their bedstead, which had been hastily stripped of the bed and clothing, and the fastenings cut, for the purpose. The instant the rope was disengaged, was seized by the young man, who, bidding the other to follow, rushed out of the house, and bounded forward to the bridge, which they both reached just as the unbroken ice was here beginning to quake and move from the impulse of the vast body above, which, now scarcely fifty paces distant, was driving down, with deafening crash, towards them.
"Thank Heaven, she yet lives, and is nearing us!" exclaimed Woodburn, as he ran out on to the partially covered beams of the bridge, where he could obtain a clear view of the channel above.
She is there, hedged in, though as yet riding securely in the midst of that hideous jam, but, if not drawn up here, will be the next moment lost among the spreading mass, as it is disgorged into the Connecticut here below."
"Shall we throw down an end of the rope for her to catch?" said the settler, hastening to Woodburn's side.
"I dare not risk her strength to hold on to it; I must go down myself," said Woodburn, hurriedly knotting the two ends of the cord round his body. "Now stand by me, my friend. Brace yourself back firmly on this string-piece; let me down, and the instant I have secured her in my arms, draw us both up together."
"I can let you down; but to draw you both up—" replied the other, hesitating at the thought of the hazardous attempt.
"You must try it," eagerly interrupted the intrepid young man, "My friends will be here in a moment to aid you. There she comes! be ready! Now!"
Accordingly, sliding over the edge of the bridge, Woodburn was gradually let down by the strong and steady hands of the settler, till he was swinging in the air, on a level with that part of the approaching mass on which stood the half-senseless object of his perilous adventure. The foremost of the broken ice was now sweeping swiftly by, just beneath his feet. Another moment, and she will be there! She evidently sees the preparation for her deliverance; a faint cry of joy escapes her lips, and her hands are extended towards the proffered aid. And now, riding high on the billowy column, she is borne on nearer and nearer towards those who wait, in breathless silence, for her approach. And now she comes—she is here! She is caught in the eager grasp of the brave youth; and, the next instant, by the giant effort of the strong man above them, they are together drawn up within a few feet of the bending and tottering bridge. But with all his desperate exertions, he can raise them no higher, and there they hang suspended over the dark abyss of whirling waters that had opened in the disrupturing mass beneath, at the instant, as if to receive them; while a mountain billow of ice, that must overwhelm them with certain destruction, is rolling down, with angry roar, within a few rods of the spot. A groan of despair burst from the exhausted man at the rope; and his grasp was about to give way.
"Hold on there, an instant! one instant longer!" cried a loud voice on the right, where a tall, muscular form was seen bounding forward to the spot.
"Quick, Colonel Carpenter! quick! O, for God's sake, quick!" exclaimed the settler, throwing an anguished and beseeching glance over his shoulder towards the other.
The next instant, the powerful frame of the new-comer was bending over the grasped rope; and, in another, both preservers and preserved were on the bridge, from which they had barely time to escape, before it was swept away, with a loud crash, and borne off on the top of the mighty torrent. They were met on the bank by the companions of Woodburn, and the friends of the rescued maiden, who came promiscuously running to the spot; when loud and long were the gushing acclamations of joy and gratitude that rang wildly up to heaven at the unexpected deliverance.
"The king can make a belted knight, Confer proud names, and a' that; But pith of sense and pride of worth Are brighter ranks than a' that."
The village of Westminster yields, perhaps, in the tranquil and picturesque beauty of its location, to few others in New England. In addition to the advantage of a situation along the banks of that magnificent river, of which our earliest epic poet, Barlow, in his liquid numbers, has sung,
"No watery glades through richer valleys shine, Nor drinks the sea a lovelier wave than thine,"
it stands upon an elevated plain, that could scarcely have been made more level had it been smoothed and evened, by the instruments of art, to fit it for the arena of some vast amphitheatre, which the place, with the aid of a little fancy, may be very easily thought to resemble; for, from the principal street, which is nearly a mile in extent, broad and beautiful fields sweep away in every direction, till they meet, in the distance, that crescent-like chain of hills, by which, with the river, the place is enclosed.
It was probably this natural beauty of the place, together with its proximity to the old fort at Walpole, at which a military establishment was once maintained by the government of New Hampshire for the protection of its frontier, that led to the early settlement and rapid growth of this charming spot, which, having been entered by the pioneers as far back as 1741, continued so to increase and prosper, though on the edge of a wilderness unbroken, for many years, for hundreds of miles on the north, that, at the opening of the American revolution, it was the most populous and best built village in Vermont.
This place, at the period chosen for the beginning of our tale, had been, for several years, the seat of justice for all the southern part of this disputed territory, under the assumed jurisdiction of New York, in which a majority of the inhabitants seemed to have tacitly acquiesced. And the most prominent of its public buildings, as might be expected, was the Court House, embracing the jail under the same roof. This was a spacious square edifice conspicuously located, and of very respectable architecture for the times. The village, also, contained a meeting-house, school house, and the usual proportion of stores and taverns. The whole place, indeed, had now nearly passed into the second stage of existence, in American villages, when the pioneer log-houses have given place to the more airy and elegant framed buildings; and, compared with other towns, which, in this new settlement, were then just emerging from the wilderness, it wore quite an ancient appearance.
Among the most commodious and handsome of the many respectable dwellings which had here been erected, was that of Crean Brush, Esquire, colonial deputy secretary of New York, and also an active member of the legislature of that colony for this part of her claimed territory. This house, at the sessions of the courts, especially, was the fashionable place of resort for what was termed the court party gentry, and other distinguished persons from abroad. To the interior of this well-furnished and affectedly aristocratic establishment, we will now repair, in order to resume the thread of our narrative.
In an upper chamber of the house, at a late hour of the same evening on which occurred the exciting scenes described in the preceding pages, sat the two young ladies, to whom the reader has already been introduced, silently indulging in their different reveries before an open fire. They had safely arrived in town, about an hour before, with all their company, except Jones, who had been left at Brattleborough; and having been consigned to the family of this mansion, with whom they had formed a previous acquaintance at Albany, where Brush, the greater part of the year, resided, and where both of the young ladies were educated, they had taken some refreshment, and retired to the apartment prepared for their reception. The demeanor of these fair companions, always widely different, was particularly so at the present moment. Miss Haviland, with her chin gracefully resting on one folded hand, and her calm and beautiful, but now deeply-clouded brow, shaded by the white, taper fingers of the other, was abstractedly gazing into the glowing coals on the hearth before her, while the gentle, but less reflective McRea, with a countenance disturbed only by the passing emotions of sympathy that occasionally flitted over it, as she glanced at the downcast face of her friend, sat quietly preparing for bed, by removing her ornaments, and adjusting those long, golden tresses, with which, in after times, her memory was destined to become associated in the minds of tearful thousands, while reading the melancholy history of her tragic fate.
"Come, Sabrey," at length said the latter, soothingly, "come, cheer up. I cannot bear to see you so dejected. I would not brood over that frightful scene any longer, but, feeling grateful and happy at my escape, would dismiss it as soon as possible from my mind."
"I am, Jane," responded the other, partially rousing herself from her reverie; "I am both grateful and happy at my providential escape. But you are mistaken in supposing it is that scene which disquiets me to-night."
"Indeed!" replied the former, with a look of mingled surprise and curiosity. "Why, I have been attributing your dejection and absence of mind, this evening, to that cause alone. What else can have occurred to disturb your thoughts to-night, let me ask?"
"Jane, in confidence, I will tell you," replied Miss Haviland, looking the other in the face, and speaking in a low, serious tone. "It is the discovery which I have made, or at least think I have, this day, made, respecting the true character of one who should command, in the relation I stand with him, my entire esteem."
"Mr. Peters? Though of course it is he to whom you allude. But what new trait have you discovered in him, to-day, that leads you to distrust his character?"
"What I wish I had not; what I still hope I may be deceived in; but what, nevertheless, forces itself upon my mind, in spite of all my endeavors to resist it. You recollect Mr. Jones's account of the lawsuit, in which Mr. Peters succeeded in obtaining the farm of this Mr. Woodburn, whose gallant conduct we have all this afternoon witnessed?"
"Well, did you think that story, when rightly viewed, was very creditable to Mr. Peters?"
"I am not sure I understood the case sufficiently to judge; did you?"
"Well enough, Jane, with the significant winks that passed between Peters and the sheriff, to convince me that an unjust advantage had been taken. But perhaps I could have been brought to believe myself mistaken in this conclusion, had I seen nothing else to confirm it, and lower him still more in my esteem."
"What else did you see?
"An exhibition of malice, Jane, which astonished as much as it pained me. That pretended accident, in running over Woodburn, was designed—nay, coolly designed."
"Why, Sabrey Haviland! how can you talk, how can you believe, so about one whose betrothing ring is now on your finger?"
"It is indeed painful to do so; but truth compels me."
"Might you not have been mistaken?"
"No; I saw the whole movement. I had been watching him some time, and I noticed how he prepared those fiery horses of his for a sudden spring, and saw the look of malicious exultation accompanying the final act. And even now, I shudder to think what guilt he might have incurred! Even as it resulted, only in the destruction of property, how can I help being shocked at the discovery of a secret disposition which could have prompted such a deed? O, how different has been the conduct of him who has thus been made the victim of his misusage!"
"Different! Why, what has he done? I was not aware—"
"True, I am reminded that I have not told you. That loquacious landlady, where we stopped to dine, told me, as we were coming away, that there had been a great excitement among the people in the street, about the outrage; and that Peters would certainly have been mobbed, if Woodburn had not interfered and prevented it."
"Indeed! I should have hardly expected so much magnanimity in one of his class. It was truly a noble return for the injuries he had received from Peters."
"Ay, and by this last act of saving my life, he has still more nobly revenged himself upon Peters, and upon us all."
"Assisted to save you, I conclude you mean; for I heard Peters tell your father, that it was the settler who lived in the house near by, and Colonel Carpenter, who finally rescued you."
"Did he tell my father that story, without mentioning Woodburn?" asked Miss Haviland, with a look of mingled surprise and displeasure.
"Yes, as he came back to meet us with the news, while we were getting round with the sleigh to the spot."
"Well, my father shall know the truth of the case; and Mr. Woodburn, though he did not boast of his services, nor even stay to give me an opportunity to thank him for what he had done, shall also know that we are not insensible to his gallant conduct; for, whatever they may say, Jane, I am indebted to him for my life. As dreadful as was my situation among that crashing mass of ice, with which I was borne onward down the stream, I saw all that was done. He led the way from the first, contrived the plan, and with the assistance of the hesitating settler, carried it into execution, with a promptitude that alone could have saved me. It is true, that we both must have perished but for the timely arrival of Colonel Carpenter; but that detracts nothing from the merits of Mr. Woodburn, who, as we hung suspended over that frightful abyss, I knew and felt, was throwing his life to the winds to save mine. O, why could it not have been, as I have often said to myself during our cheerless ride this evening,—why could it not have been Peters, to perform all that I have this day seen in that poor, despised, and persecuted young man?"