The Tory Maid
By HERBERT BAIRD STIMPSON
New York Dodd, Mead and Company
Copyright, 1898, by H. B. STIMPSON.
To Rev. Dr. and Mrs. Hall Harrison this volume is affectionately inscribed by the Author
I. WE START FOR THE WAR 1
II. WE MEET THE MAID 10
III. A FLASH OF STEEL 24
IV. THE RED COCKADE 34
V. SIR SQUIRE OF TORY DAMES 44
VI. A TALE IS TOLD 55
VII. THE DEFIANCE OF THE TORY 68
VIII. THE BLACK COCKADE 77
IX. THE RED TIDE OF BLOOD 89
X. THE HARRYING OF THE TORY 107
XI. THE COUNCIL OF SAFETY 118
XII. THE VETO OF A MAID 132
XIII. THE GREETING OF FAIR LIPS 146
XIV. THE RETURN OF THE TORY 156
XV. THE FLAG OF TRUCE 166
XVI. THE BALL OF MY LORD HOWE 176
XVII. AN EXCHANGE OF COURTESIES 187
XVIII. THE CROSSING OF SWORDS 196
XIX. THE SANDS OF MONMOUTH 206
XX. IN THE LINES OF THE ENEMY 222
XXI. THE PASSING OF YEARS 230
XXII. THE COMING OF THE MAID 238
The Tory Maid
WE START FOR THE WAR
I, James Frisby of Fairlee, in the county of Kent, on the eastern shore of what was known in my youth as the fair Province of Maryland, but now the proud State of that name, growing old in years, but hearty and hale withal, though the blood courses not through my veins as in the days of my youth, sit on the great porch of Fairlee watching the sails on the distant bay, where its gleaming waters meet the mouth of the creek that runs at the foot of Fairlee. A julep there is on the table beside me, flavoured with mint gathered by the hands of John Cotton early in the morning, while the dew was still upon it, from the finest bank in all Kent County.
So with these old friends around me, with the julep on my right hand and the paper before me, I sit on the great porch of Fairlee to write of the wild days of my youth, when I first drew my sword in the Great Cause. To write, before my hand becomes feeble and my eyes grow dim, of the strange things that I saw and the adventures that befell me, of the old Tory of the Braes, of the fair maid his daughter, and of the part they played in my life during the War of the Deliverance. To write so that those who come after me, as well as those who are growing up around my knees, may know the part their grandfather played in the stirring times that proclaimed the birth of a mighty nation.
The first year of the great struggle, ah, me! I was young then, and the wild blood was in my veins. I was broad of shoulder and long of limb, with a hand that gripped like steel and a seat in the saddle that was the envy of all that hard-riding country. I was hardy and skilled in all the outdoor sports and pastimes of my race and people, and being light in the saddle I often led the hardest riders and won from them the brush, while every creek for fifty miles up and down the broad Chesapeake, and even the farther shore as far as Baltimore, knew my canoe, and the High Sheriff himself was no finer shot than I.
You, who bask in the sunshine of long and dreary years of peace, who never hear the note of the bugle nor see the flash of the foeman's steel from one year's end to another, know not what it was to live in those stirring times and all the joy of the strife. You should have seen us then, when the whole land was aflame.
The fiery signal had come like a rush of the wind from the north, with the cry of the dying on the roadsides and fields of Lexington.
All along the western shore the men of Anne Arundel, of Frederick, and Prince George were mustering fast and strong. Then the Kentish men and those of Queen Anne and all the lower shore were mounting fast and mustering, while from the Howard hills came riding down bold and hardy yeomen.
Then, and as it has always been in the old province of Maryland, the gentlemen led the people, and everywhere the spirit of fire ran like molten steel through the veins of the gathering hosts, and the people took up the gauntlet of war with a laugh and a cheer and shook their clenched hands at the King who was over the sea; so it was the length and breadth of the province, and so it was with me.
And so one day the signal came, and I mounted my black colt Toby and rode away to the Head of Elk in the county of Cecil, where the mustering was, to take my place, as it was my duty and right to do, side by side with the bravest gentlemen of the province in the coming struggle for the Great Cause.
I was eighteen in the month of March of that year and considered myself a man, and, having reached man's estate, I bade good-bye to my mother and rode from out the sheltering walls and groves of Fairlee.
But just before I rode within the shadow of the great woods I turned in my saddle and waved my hand to the small, quaint figure that stood on the broad porch watching me disappear; and she bravely—for the women were brave in those days—waved her hand in return, and then I rode on, for the moment saddened at the parting, for the die that day would be cast, and, though there would be mustering and drilling for many weeks before we took up our march to the northward, the hand of the cause would claim me as its own.
I was riding thus through the forest when I heard hoof-beats behind me and a cheery halloo, and who should ride up but Dick Ringgold of Hunting Field, a lad of my own age and my true friend?
"Why such a long face?" he laughed. "You look as if you were going to a funeral and not to a hunt that will beat all the runs to the hounds in the world. We are going to hunt redcoats and fair ladies' smiles and not foxes now; so cheer up, man."
"Plague on it, Dick, you are ten miles from home and I am only one," I retorted. "You ought to have seen how bravely her ladyship tried to smile, too."
"We will increase the number of miles then," said he, and reaching over he struck Toby across the flank. Well, Toby needs the curb at best, and it was a full half-mile before I brought him up and had a chance to give Dick a rating.
But Dick only laughed.
And so we rode on, across the low-lying plains of Kent, northward toward the borders of Cecil.
For miles we would ride under the shadow of the dense forest, and then we would come to the wide-reaching fields of some great manor or plantation, the manor house itself generally crowning some gently rising knoll amid a grove of trees, with a view of the distant bay, or creek, or river, as the case might be; the cluster of houses, the quarters for the slaves, the stables and the barns, making little villages and hamlets amid the wide expanse of farm lands and the distant circle of the dark green forests.
Then, again, a creek or river would bar our course, and we would have to ride for miles until we turned its head, or found a ferry or a ford, and so overcome its opposition. So on we rode until, as the day waxed near the noon hour, we came to the little hamlet of Georgetown, nestling amid the hills on the banks of the Sassafras. Crossing the river at the ferry, we began the last stage of our journey.
The trail now skirted the broad lands of Bohemia Manor, and crossed the beautiful river of that name, embedded between the hills and wide-stretching farm lands.
As we approached the banks of the Elk the country grew more rolling and wilder—in our front the Iron Hills rose up before us, crowned with forests, in sharp contrast to the low-lying country through which we had been passing.
And now, as our appetites became pressing, we urged our horses on, for we had still many miles to travel.
WE MEET THE MAID
We had just come in sight of the blue waters of the Elk, as it rolled between the forest-clad hills on either side, basking here for a moment in the sunshine, then lost in the deeper shadows of the overhanging forest.
"There rolls the Elk," cried Dick. "Only ten miles more, and a stroke upon a piece of paper, and then, my boy, you are done for. A pain that eats its way ever inward, a thirst that never slackens, and over all the black night lowering down. Aye, so it is, Sir Monk of the Long Face; but we will have some fun before we are put under the sod or our bones are left to whiten on the sands."
"That we will, Sir Richard. And now we are in for it, for here comes our first adventure. Is she ugly or is she fair? Which, Sir Richard?"
For, as we reached the point where our road joins the river road, we saw, approaching along the lower road, a gentleman riding on a powerful horse, while behind him on a pillion sat a slight girlish figure, hidden in part by the broad shoulders of the rider.
"By Jove, it is Gordon of the Braes," said Dick.
"What, the suspected Tory?"
"Yes; and that must be his daughter. They say she is the fairest lass in all the county of Cecil."
"Tory or no Tory," said I, "with a fair face at stake, I will speak to him."
They were as yet some distance off, but as the rider drew nearer to us we saw that he was a splendid specimen of manhood, such as I had but seldom seen before.
While strong of frame and above the medium height, he carried himself and rode with a courtliness and ease that bespoke the accomplished horseman and gentleman. His splendid head and face showed the marks of an adventurous career, and all bespoke the blood of the family from which he had sprung, the Gordons of Avochie.
But striking as was the figure of the rider, the glimpse we caught of the fair burden behind made us for the moment forget him.
A slender figure it was that sat upon the pillion, with wonderful eyes of the darkest blue and hair of the deepest brown that waved and clustered around the temples—a mouth that was winsome and sweet, a small and aristocratic nose, a chin that was slightly determined, giving her altogether a queenly air, as she sat so straight and prim behind her father.
"Sir," said I, making Toby advance and bowing to his mane, "as we are travelling the same way, will you permit us to accompany you? My friend is Richard Ringgold of Hunting Field and I am James Frisby of Fairlee."
"It will give me pleasure," he replied, saluting courteously, "to have your company to the Head of Elk. I know your families and your houses well, and you, no doubt, have heard of me, Charles Gordon of the Braes."
"That we have," said Dick Ringgold. "It was only a week ago that my mother spoke of your first coming to old Kent."
"It was kind of her to remember me," he replied. "She was a great belle and a beauty in her youth."
Dick smiled with pleasure, and I, taking advantage of a narrow place in the road, fell behind, and rode so I could talk to Mistress Jean, much to Master Richard's secret indignation. But she received me with a show of displeasure, and though I courteously asked her of her journey, it was some minutes before I knew the cause thereof.
"Are you not," said she, and her aristocratic little head was in the air, "afraid to be seen riding with suspected Tories, you who wear the black cockade?"
And then I remembered that I wore the emblem of our party.
"Afraid!" I replied. "Afraid! We who have bearded the Ministers of the Crown in the broad light of day? Do you think I am afraid of our own men? Why, if Mistress North herself were half as fair as your ladyship of the Braes, I would ride with her through all the armies of the patriots, and no man would dare say me nay."
A merry twinkle came into her eyes. "Would you wear the red cockade if she should ask you?"
"Ah, Mistress Jean, would you seduce me from my allegiance to the cause of the patriots?"
"To the cause of the patriots? What of your allegiance to the King?"
"But the King himself has broken that, and forced us in self-defence to take up arms in revolt. Would you have me true to my people, or to the King, who is over the sea?"
"To the King," she answered promptly, "for the King's Ministers may be bad men to-day and good to-morrow, but if you once strike a blow at the mother country and win, then the ties of love, of friendship, and of interest are severed for ever."
"Yes; but she should have thought of that before she forced us to it."
"What spoiled children you are," she cried. "Because the taffy is not as good as usual you want to pull the house down about our ears."
Thus receiving and parrying thrusts, we rode along the banks of the Elk, and as we neared the ferry we met numbers of men travelling the same way with us, all bound for the great mustering, and though they returned our salutations, seeing the black cockade in our hats, they scowled on Gordon of the Braes.
"There goes that dog of a Tory," I would hear them growl to one another as we passed.
But Gordon rode on with a cool, indifferent, almost contemptuous manner, which made the frowns grow blacker, and the mutterings deeper and louder. But no man as yet sought to beard him, for his courage and his daring were well known throughout the shore, and it would have taken a bold man indeed to cross Gordon of the Braes.
At last we came to the ferry and saw on the hillside, among the forest trees, the white tents, already taking on the appearance of a well-regulated camp. The little town amid the trees, busy with the life of the moving crowd, and bright with the uniforms of the Maryland Line, which we were soon to don, formed a curious spectacle as we entered.
Every part of the province was represented. Here was a tall backwoodsman in his coonskin cap, buckskin shirt and leggings, with his long and deadly rifle, totally unadorned by the glint of silver or chasing on the barrel to betray him to his redskin neighbour—and you knew that one of Cresap's riflemen was before you.
By his side, for the moment, was a young tobacco planter from Prince George. The youngster to whom he was talking, clad in the scarlet and buff of the Maryland Line, was a young dandy from Annapolis.
And so it was all through the crowd, the frontiersman, the hard-riding country squire, and the city swell, all mingled together, and all animated with one all-pervading and all-engrossing thought—how best to secure the freedom of the country and resist the tyranny of the King.
As we made our way through the crowd the faces grew dark as they saw the Tory, but as Dick and I rode on either hand, with our black cockades, the crowd murmuringly gave way before us, and though all the people were hostile to him, and he could not help but see it, he coolly looked them over and rode as if he had no enemy within a hundred miles.
But the colour in Mistress Jean's cheek flamed high, and I saw her little hands clenched together, as if she would like to tell these rebels what she thought of their treatment of her father. And I, seeing the war signal so clearly on her cheek, and daring not the batteries of her eyes and wit, was discreet and said not a word.
We took our way to the inn, kept by one John McLean, a genial host and Scotchman, who was well known in three provinces, and kept the finest inn for many miles around.
He received us in a jovial way, for though he was a stanch patriot, he and Gordon had been friends for many years.
"So, Mistress Jean, you have deigned to honour my roof with your presence. Welcome, welcome, all of you."
And though I had swung myself off Toby to assist Mistress Jean to dismount, he was before me and swung her lightly to the ground.
"I declare," he said, "you grow bonnier every day, lassie," which brought a blush to her cheek. Then, turning, he called his wife and placed Mistress Jean in her charge.
"I am sorry to say, gentlemen, that the inn is very crowded, as you see, but I think I can find a place for you." Then drawing the Tory aside for a little way, we heard him remonstrating with him for coming to the town at such a time, when the feeling ran so strong and high against the Loyalist.
"You risk your life," he said, "for the slightest spark or indiscretion will bring a mob, boiling and seething around you. The officers will not be able to hold the men in, as they are only volunteers, and have not yet felt the hand of discipline."
But Charles Gordon shrugged his shoulders, and his reply came distinct and clear: "I thought you knew me better, McLean. I would not hide my head for a hundred or a thousand of them;" and he turned and went into the inn.
The innkeeper made a gesture of despair. "That is always the way," said he, "both in this country and the old; tell a Gordon of a danger and he will rush right into it, and then expect to come out safe and sound."
We laughed, for the expression on the old Scotchman's face was so droll.
"But now for your room, gentlemen;" and he led the way to a small room under the gable roof. "It is the only room I have left," he said, "but you are welcome to it."
It was now somewhat late in the afternoon, but having made ourselves presentable and partaken of a lunch, we went to report ourselves to Captain Ramsay of the 1st Regiment of the Maryland Line.
He received us at his tent door with a warm grasp of the hand. "You are the very lads I have been waiting for," he said. "I have two Lieutenancies to fill, and you are the men to fill them."
"But, Captain," said Dick Ringgold, "we have not been tried yet. Let us go into the ranks and fight our way up, as so many better men than we are doing."
I could not help admiring Dick for his modesty, and though I, too, said the same thing, I confess I hoped the Captain would not hear of it, and so it proved.
"No, no," he said, and patted Dick on the shoulder. "I must have you; I know the blood that runs in your veins, lads, and that I will have no better fighting stock in the army." And thus it was settled, and we became officers in that Maryland Line, and—I say it with all due modesty—the most famous of all the fighting regiments in the struggle for the Great Cause.
A FLASH OF STEEL
That night we sat at the long table in the dining-room of the inn. All up and down its great length sat the officers of the Line—country gentlemen from Cecil, Kent, and as far south as Queen Anne, who had ridden thus far to see the mustering and to give it their countenance and their favour. Grave and sedate gentlemen many of them, men of affairs, the leaders of their counties, and delegates to the Convention and to Congress—men of the oldest and bluest blood in the province, of wide estates and famous names, whose families wielded a mighty influence in the cause of the patriots and gave it stability and great strength.
Then there was the parson, a merry old gentleman, stout of form, with a round face and twinkling eyes, who in his youth was a mighty fox-hunter in spite of his cloth; even then, stout as he had grown, when he heard the music of the hounds, it was with difficulty he restrained the inclination to follow, which now, alas! was made impossible by his great weight. We who loved hard riding, hard fighting, and a strong will, admired him, and no man was more popular throughout the three counties than the fox-hunting parson. He knew the people and their ways, and was one of them.
"I hear you are fire-eaters here," he said to a vestryman upon being installed.
"Then we are well matched," came the reply, "for they say you are a pepperbox."
So no gathering throughout the county was a success without the parson, and by the unanimous voice of the Line he was called to be their chaplain.
We sat there in the long dining-room amid the hum of many voices, the glare of many lights, and the click of the glasses, as the wine was going around, when a young man who sat across the table from me rose with his glass poised between his fingers.
He was a handsome man, of twenty-one or twenty-two, of dark and swarthy features, thick lips and nose, and hair as black as night, telling of the Indian blood in his veins.
His name was Rodolph, and he was the son of a man more noted for his wealth than for his principles, but who was then at the city of Annapolis, a delegate from the county of Cecil.
"I propose a toast," he cried, "that all true patriots should drink. A toast to the delegates of this county, who at the convention of the province in the city of Annapolis are standing as the bulwarks of liberty against the tyranny of the Crown."
We were all on our feet in an instant to drink the toast, with a right goodwill, all except Charles Gordon, who sat at my right hand. He kept his seat and watched us with a cool, sarcastic smile upon his lips.
"Is not the toast good enough for you?" cried Rodolph, with an ugly sneer upon his face.
All eyes now turned to where Charles Gordon sat, and he slowly rose.
"Drink to your delegates?" said he. "Not I. They are the scum of the county of Cecil, and you know it. I would as soon be governed by my slaves at the Braes as by such men as they are. I wish you joy of them." And bowing, he turned and left the room by a door that was near at hand.
For an instant there was silence, then an uproar broke forth, and Rodolph sprang around the table to follow him, with several of the young men at his heels. But I, seeing the danger, with possibly a thought of a fair maid's eyes, threw myself before the door with drawn sword.
"No man passes through this door," I cried, "unless he passes over me."
The crowd drew back in surprise.
"Since when," I shouted, for they hesitated, "have Maryland gentlemen learned to fight in mobs? If any one has an insult to resent, let him fight as becomes a gentleman, man to man."
"Stand aside," shouted Rodolph, who was now before me, "and let me get at the traitor."
"Put up your swords, gentlemen." I found I had a new ally in a tall, dignified gentleman, who took his place beside me, a Mr. Wilmer of the White House in Kent.
"The lad is right," he said; "and you, Rodolph, I should think, would have had enough of Charles Gordon of the Braes."
At this there was a laugh, which at the time I did not understand; but the company good-naturedly put back their swords and resumed their places at the table, all except Rodolph, who slipped away from the room.
That night, as I lay upon my bed, dreaming, boylike, of the fair eyes of the Tory maid, and hoping that the part I had played in the matter of the toast might come to her ears and cause her to give me a smile at our next meeting, I heard the sound of footsteps coming down the passageway.
"There is great danger," said a voice, which I recognised as the landlord's, as they were passing by my door. "Rodolph is stirring up the crowd, and though you might brave the mob, Mistress Jean—" and then the voices died away.
"The mob" and "Mistress Jean." Clearly something must be afoot. Springing from my bed, I swore to myself, that, if anything happened to the Tory maid, I would make Phil Rodolph feel the edge of my sword. Hastily throwing on my clothes, I went to the window and looked out. The night was dark, the sky being full of drifting clouds, through which the moon faintly struggled; everything lay quiet and still in the village and the camp. Steps were heard upon the porch below, and then a horse was brought around from the stables. A moment later a horseman mounted, and I saw a slender figure on the pillion behind him.
"Keep to the south road," said a voice, "they have only one sentry there."
I did not wait to hear more, but slipped downstairs and out of a side door, and the next moment I was running softly through the camp to the outpost on the south road, for one of my own men was stationed there, and I knew that without orders or the countersign no man would pass that way that night. It was well I did, for as I drew near I heard the challenge "Who goes there?" and the answer "A friend."
"Advance, friend, and give the countersign."
"Maryland." But the Tory had missed it, and the next moment the sentry's rifle was at his shoulder, and I knew the cry for the officer of the guard would follow; so I stepped out from the shadow, and the sentry, seeing me, brought his rifle to a salute.
"Lieutenant," he said, "he wants to pass, and has given the wrong countersign."
"Yes," said I, drawing my hat over my eyes, for I did not wish to be recognised by Mistress Jean. "I heard. But I know them; let them pass."
"Thank you," said the rider, and a still softer "Thank you" came from his companion. I bowed, but said nothing, and stood there watching them disappear down the dark road until the sound of the horse's hoofs was lost in the distance.
"Queer time of the night to ride, sir," said the sentinel.
"Yes; but they have far to go."
"Kent or Queen Anne's, sir?"
"Down by Bohemia Manor."
"That is where that old Tory Gordon lives; they say they are going to rout him out in the morning for insulting the committee last night. He is up at the inn, there, and Phil Rodolph says he is going to make it hot for him."
"Mere talk, I expect. Good-night."
I took my way back to the inn, and when I crawled to my room once more and into bed, Dick Ringgold raised himself on his arm and said in a sleepy voice: "What's up, Frisby?"
"Oh, nothing," I replied; "go to sleep." And I soon followed my own advice.
THE RED COCKADE
The stirring notes of the bugle made us spring up in the morning, to find, when we were again downstairs, that every one was talking of the disappearance of Charles Gordon of the Braes.
Master Richard marvelled much at the disappearance of the Tory, and, though I knew it was of the Tory maid he was thinking, I said not a word, but went on with my duties; and manifold they were for many days to come. The drilling of the raw recruits, who, though they were full of fire and elan, were not used to the strict obedience of orders, was at first very difficult. But soon there came the spirit and the pride that were to make them the best drilled troops, the dandies and macaronies of the army. And so, with the drilling of recruits and assisting Captain Ramsay in the formation of the regiment, a week passed by before a day came when Dick and I found a few spare hours on our hands. And having certain plans and purposes in view, and not wishing them to be known to Dick, I sat and watched for an opportunity to slip away.
Master Richard, it was evident, had also some plans on foot, for after moving from the chair to the top of a box and then back again, he stretched his arms above his head, and, yawning, said: "I believe I will take a little canter down the south road; come along?"
"No," I replied; "I am going to ride a short distance down the east road."
"All right," said he, and springing from his chair, he went to order his horse. I soon followed, and, having seen Dick well on his way, rode for a short distance on the east road, then turned, rode back, and entered the road which runs along the bank of the Elk, by which we had entered the town on our journey from Kent. As I rode, I hummed a jovial hunting-song and touched Toby with the spur, for I was quite jubilant at having got rid of Dick and so well on the road to my adventure.
My time was short and it was good twelve miles to the Braes, but Toby's sire was a son of old Ranter, and I knew he could do it in an hour and a half. So Toby felt the spur, and I barely noticed the miles as we flew along, until we came to the road that leads south to the Braes. Down this road we turned, and as we were so near the end of our journey I began to think of the reasons and excuses I should give for my visit. Reason! Pshaw! What better reason does a Marylander want than a pair of blue eyes? And if Mistress Jean should so much as demand it by the merest glance of those eyes, I would tell her so. Aye, but she is a Tory and wears the red cockade. True, but the fairer the enemy the more difficult the prize, the greater the glory and effort to win.
And so, having justified my invasion of the stronghold of the Tory, I pricked Toby with the spur and rode on more rapidly, when, on turning a bend in the road where it is intersected by one from the east, whom should I come face to face with but Master Richard? For a moment he stared at me with open mouth, and I at him; then his brow grew dark.
"I thought," he cried; but suddenly the humour of our meeting came over him. Thrusting his hands into his pockets, he broke out into a hearty burst of laughter, and I could do nothing but follow.
"And so, Master Frisby, you rode down the east road."
"And you, methinks, rode down the south." Again our laughter rang through the woods.
"Come," he cried, "which is it to be? So fair a maid deserves two cavaliers, but we would be at sword points within a week, and I do not wish to lose the friendship of Mr. James Frisby of Fairlee."
"A chance has brought us here, so let chance decide."
"Agreed," said Dick, pulling out a sovereign, and with a twitch of the thumb, he sent it high in the air. "Heads, you win. Tails, I win." Then catching it as it fell: "By Jove, you have it. Present my compliments to Mistress Jean," he cried, with a grandiloquent bow, "and tell her how near she came to being Mrs. Dick Ringgold of Hunting Field."
"That I will, Sir Richard." But Dick was gone, and I was left to ride on to the Braes.
A long, rambling house it was, standing white amid the trees, a wide lawn around it stretching down to the creek at its foot; while beyond could be seen the sunlight gleaming on the bay. A quaint, old-fashioned place, the low roof already growing dark with age; the quiet air of ease and comfort brooding over all, making a fitting setting for the quaint, slender little lady that ruled its destinies.
A negro took my horse; another showed me across the broad hall, with its hunting whips and trophies on the wall, to the parlour, and there I awaited the coming of the Tory maid. And as I sat there, gently stroking the toe of my boot with my whip, and thinking of that night at the inn, of that soft "Thank you" on the old south road, I heard the soft swish of her skirts, and, looking up, saw Mistress Jean standing in the doorway. A beautiful picture it was, like some old portrait of Lely's, the maid standing there framed in the old oak. And I, though I had been to the balls at the Governor's house the winter before, and was therefore a man of the world, sat staring for a moment. But she advanced, and I was on my feet with a low and sweeping bow.
"Father is away," said she, "but in his name I wish to thank you for defending us at the inn that night."
So she knew.
"It was to save the honour of Maryland gentlemen," I replied modestly. "Heretofore they have not fought in mobs. But will you not thank me for yourself?"
"When you turn loyalist, yes," said she.
"Almost thou persuadest me to become a traitor."
"You are that already," she said with spirit.
"Yes, that is the way they have written 'Patriot' since Tyranny first stalked across the world. But patriot or traitor, Mistress Jean, I have already won one 'Thank you,' and I hope some day to win another."
"Won one 'Thank you'—when and where?" and she looked at me with wide open eyes.
Now every Marylander will admit that there are no more gallant fellows in the world than we are, and if any one chooses to dispute it, well and good, we are willing to cross swords with him any day, and so reprove him for his recklessness. Indeed, we have been called with truth the Gascons of the South, and, like those gallant gentlemen of old France, we have never hidden our light under a bushel, to use a homely phrase; and so when I saw Mistress Jean's air of surprise, the spirit of my race came over me.
"Yes," I replied, "it was the sweetest 'Thank you' I ever heard."
Again the mystified look.
"But where?" said she again.
"It was rather dark," I replied, "and the clouds were drifting across the sky, and you, I am afraid, did not know who it was who received that soft 'Thank you.'"
"Were you the Lieutenant?"
"Oh," she said, and she stamped her tiny foot, "if you were only not a rebel!"
"But even rebels have their uses."
Thus it was we became good friends in spite of the traitor stamped upon my brow. Ere I knew it, the time approached when I had to mount and ride. But before I left, her soft hand rested for a moment in mine.
"We march in a few days," said I, "to the North, to the Leaguer of Boston. There will be fighting there and bloody work. Can I not carry a single token?"
Her nimble fingers flew to her hair, and took from thence a blood-red rose, and pinned it to my coat.
"There," said she, "my red cockade;" and turning quickly, she ran into the house.
SIR SQUIRE OF TORY DAMES
"Well, Sir Squire of Tory Dames, did she smile on you?" The voice was harsh and rasping; looking across the table, I saw the sneer upon his lips. I had but entered a moment before the dining-room of the inn, after my long ride, and was about to take my seat, when Rodolph's sneering question made me pause.
"That is more than you could ever win, my Mighty Lord from Nowhere," I retorted. At this there was a laugh from those about. An angry flush showed through even his dark and swarthy skin; for, being a burly bully of the border, he liked not being bearded thus by a youth.
"You damned impudent puppy!" he cried, rising.
But there stood a glass at my right hand, full to the brim, and ere he could say another word the red wine flew across the table straight into his face.
"Take that!" I cried, "with the compliments of James Frisby of Fairlee!"
A dozen men were now around us, and Rodolph, spluttering through the wine and swearing many oaths, demanded to be released from the hands upon his shoulders, shouting that he would shoot me like a dog.
"It will give me pleasure to let you have an opportunity," I replied coolly. "It will be a rare chance for you to become a gentleman."
And so, still muttering and swearing, his friends took him from the room, while I took my seat at the table. But I was not allowed to eat my meal in peace; for many gentlemen came to offer their services and to thank me. Rodolph's overbearing manners had long been unpopular among them, and the wonder was that he had not been forced to fight before. But I was determined that Dick should be my second, and so, thanking them all for their kind offers, I placed my hand on Dick's shoulder, and we went out together amid a volley of advice and friendly warning.
Half an hour later, as I was examining my sword and Dick his pistols, there came a rap on my door, and two gentlemen entered; one was Captain Brooke, the other Lieutenant Barry of the Line.
"Lieutenant Frisby," said Captain Brooke, as he advanced and bowed, "it is my painful duty to deliver you this challenge."
"It is a pleasure to receive it from your hands," I replied, returning his courtesy. "Lieutenant Ringgold and Harry Gresham of Kent will act as my seconds, permit me to refer you to them."
Dick now went out with them to Harry Gresham's room near by, where they would be safe from interruption, Gresham having volunteered with Dick to be one of my seconds, and I went on polishing my sword, waiting for the issue. At last Dick came back.
"Well," he cried, "it is all settled. You are to fight to-morrow morning at sunrise down in the little meadow below the creek."
"Swords, I suppose?"
"No; pistols. I insisted on swords at first, it being our privilege; but Captain Brooke said that Rodolph had broken his arm the year before, and that it was still too weak to fight with. So I waived the swords and agreed to the pistols."
"It is not quite as gentlemanly a weapon, but just as deadly. I have put a bullet through the head of a wild duck flying, and I think I can hit Phil Rodolph."
"That you can," said Dick.
It was a bright, clear morning as we slipped out of the inn on our way to the little meadow. The eastern sky was already tinged with crimson, and the blood-red lances across the heavens told of the coming dawn. The air was fresh and cool as it blew up the river from the bay, and our lungs drew in great draughts of it as we felt the breeze in our faces.
"A splendid morning to die on," said Harry Gresham.
"And to live on, too," I replied.
"Stop your croaking, Gresham," put in Dick Ringgold. We walked on silently to the meadow, where we found that we were the first to arrive.
Though I have stood on many a field of honour since that day, though I have felt the bullet tearing and burning its way through the flesh, and the sudden, sharp pain of the sword thrust, I shall never forget that encounter on the meadow beside the Elk, when I first faced the muzzle of a hostile pistol, and knew that the will behind it sought my life.
It was not fear that I felt as I stood there, waiting for the coming of my adversary, for fear has always been foreign to my family, but a sort of secret elation. For that day, if I survived, though the down upon my lip was as yet imperceptible, I could take my place as a man among men. No longer would my boyish face keep me out of the councils of my elders, but I would have the right to take my stand and ruffle it with the best of them all. I was there to win my spurs as a man and a duellist, and to show to all the world that I had the courage of my race. For then, as it has ever been in the fair province of Maryland, we love above all else courage in a man; and so it was I waited with impatience Rodolph's approach, for it meant the casting off of the boy and the making of the man.
We did not have long to wait, for Rodolph and his seconds soon followed us down the path, and each party saluted. Then Captain Brooke and Dick Ringgold measured off the paces, and threw for the choice of positions. Dick won, and I found myself standing near a small sapling, with my back to the rising sun, which as yet had not climbed over the tree tops, and so did not interfere with Rodolph's position. Facing me, twelve paces away, stood Rodolph, his dark, swarthy face darker, more Indian-like, and forbidding than ever; behind him stretched away the small glade, and the smooth green waters of the river, as they wound their way between the tall forests on either side. I remember watching a wild duck as he went swiftly flying down the Elk, when Dick Ringgold's "Are you ready?" suddenly recalled me to my position. "Yes," I nodded. Then came the even counting, "One, two;" but ere "two" had been uttered, I saw the flash of Rodolph's pistol, and felt the sharp pain of the bullet tearing its way into my side. While I, taken by surprise at such rank treachery, fired not so accurately as usual, and my bullet clipped his ear. Dick's sword was out in an instant, and I verily believe he would have run Rodolph through on the spot, as it was his duty and right to do, so base was the crime of firing before the time—a thing that had never been known among Maryland gentlemen before. But seeing me reel, he came to my assistance, and threw his arm around me.
"Tie me to the sapling, Dick," said I, "and give me one more shot."
"But no gentleman should fight with such a scoundrel!" cried Dick hotly.
"I waive that, just one more shot."
So, with Harry Gresham's assistance, they took Dick's sash and tied me to the sapling, and in this way enabled me to keep an upright position. Captain Brooke had come forward to inquire as to my injury, but Dick met him and demanded another exchange of shots. "My principal," he said, "waives the treachery that places your principal beyond the pale of men of honour. But," continued Dick, "if he should dare to fire again before the time, I will shoot him down where he stands."
Captain Brooke flushed, and though we saw that it was painful to him as a man of honour to be the second of such a principal, he could do nothing but accept. "I will shoot him down myself," said he, "if he dares again to do it."
He then returned to his party, and we saw by his angry gestures that he was warning Rodolph of the penalty if he should a second time transgress the rules of honour.
Again we faced, and I could feel the strength ebbing fast from me, but I could see that Rodolph's face was pale, even through his swarthy skin. "One, two, three, Fire," came again the fateful words; but I had nerved myself for the final effort, and glancing down the polished barrel, I fired, at the same moment that Rodolph's pistol rang out.
For a moment I saw him standing there, and then he lurched forward, with his arms in the air, and fell face downward as the mortally wounded do. With that there came a mist before my eyes, my hand fell to my side, and I remembered nothing more. They told me afterward that they carried me to the inn in the village, Captain Brooke assisting, after they had seen that Rodolph was dead. "Leave him there for awhile," said the Captain, as he came to assist Dick in my removal. "The dog had a better death than he deserved."
A TALE IS TOLD
I lay there at the inn, I do not know how long, but they told me afterward it was for many days, hanging on the brink between life and death, until one day I heard in my dreams the music of the fife and the rattle of the drums, and awoke to life and hope again. The sunlight was streaming through the south window across the counterpane of the bed, and outside could be heard the steady tread of marching men.
"What troops are those?" I asked somewhat hazily, for I was still on the borderland of dreams.
"They are the Maryland Line marching away to the North to join General Washington."
"Marching to the North? Then I must join them." And I tried to rise in my bed, for it came back to me with a rush that I was a Lieutenant in the Line. But strong hands pushed me gently back upon my pillow, and I recognised now the voice of my nurse, Mrs. McLean.
"No, no, Mr. Frisby; be still. You are a regular little bantam, but your spurs are clipped for some time yet."
"Why, what is the matter, Mrs. McLean? How did I come here?"
"Law bless the boy!" said the good old soul. "He has clean forgot."
But the dull pain in my side soon brought back to me that clear, fresh morning on the bank of the Elk, and for a moment I lay still.
"Did I kill Rodolph?" I asked.
"That you did, lad; and no man deserved it more."
Then I heard a heavy step in the passageway outside, and then a lighter one. The next moment the door opened and I saw my mother, more pale and fairy-like than ever, and behind her came Captain Ramsay, bluff and hearty, but looking very solemn at that moment. But they saw the news on Mrs. McLean's good-natured face, and when I spoke to my lady, the old-time happy look came back again, as she came to my bedside and kissed me, while the great voice of the Captain came hearty and strong.
"Aye, lad, I told them that you would pull through; make a gallant fight, my boy, and you will have a shot at the redcoats yet."
"But, Captain, you are marching away without me."
"You will be in time for the fighting, never worry; lie still and get well. Half the young men in the Line are envying you, you rogue, for becoming a hero before them all." And the Captain took my hand, and bade me good-bye, for he must hurry away to join his regiment.
A few minutes later there came the clank of a sword and a hurried step, and then the door burst open and in marched Master Dick in all the glory of his full regimentals. And so brave was the show that he made in his cocked hat, scarlet coat, with its facings of buff, and the long clanking sword, that I longed to spring up and don my own then and there. But my mother's finger on her lip caused him to stop the cheery greeting, and he came forward on his tiptoes, holding his sword carefully to keep it from clanking, for by this time I was growing weak again. Master Dick shook my hand gently and murmured, "Cheer up, old fellow, you will soon be with us again," but I could only give him a slight smile, for I was again on the borderland of dreams. Dick stood for awhile looking down on me; then he, too, had to depart. Gradually the steady tramp of marching feet died away, and everything became quiet and still again.
The days passed by, week followed week, and though at first I gained strength but slowly, the process seeming a long and dreary one, the vigour of a youthful frame soon asserted itself, and I could feel the returning tide of health and strength. But as yet I lay there upon the great four-post bed, with my mother sitting near by, her dear face bending over the embroidery frame, as her deft fingers weaved beautiful designs with the silk. As I lay there, I would wander back again to that day before the duel, to the swift challenging glance of a pair of blue eyes as a blood-red rose was pinned to my coat. But that was so long ago, years it seemed to me, away back in the past, a memory as it were of a fairy tale heard from the lips of a grandmother before the big open fire in the great hall on a winter night; a fairy tale, aye, and she the Princess, with her blue eyes and hair of waving brown, with her step as light as the dew-drop, and her voice as low and soft as the breath of the Southern breeze in the spring; and then I would be her Prince Charming, with my coal-black horse. But, pshaw! I am becoming a child again; whereas I am a man, who has fought his duel as becomes a man, with a right to the sword by his side. And yet those blue eyes, what fate was in store for them? And would their challenging glance ever meet mine again? But here my mother stopped the trend of my thoughts for a moment.
"James," she said, "John Cotton tells me that an old darky comes to inquire for you every night. Strange, is it not? We know so few people here."
"Yes," I replied. "Does John Cotton know who he is?"
"No; he refuses to tell, and all John Cotton can find out is that he leaves town by the river road. He appears to be a stranger to all the other darkies, and nobody seems to know him."
By the river road! Could it possibly be, then, that it was the Tory maid who sent those many miles to see if I were in the land of the living or the dead? Ah, it was too pleasant a thing to dream of; too pleasant to have it shattered by the rough hand of fact. And so I said dreamily, "It is only one of John Cotton's stories, I suppose."
Yet I would not have believed it otherwise for all of John Cotton's weight in gold. Thus it was I was thinking one day of the Tory maid, when the door opened, and a tall, dignified gentleman came in—the man who had stood by my side that day when with drawn sword I held the door against Rodolph and his followers—Mr. Lambert Wilmer of the White House in Kent.
He came forward and greeted me with many kind phrases. While he sat talking to me of the duel and its cause, I thought of that great burst of laughter when he told Rodolph to put up his sword, as by this time he should have had enough of Gordon of the Braes, and I asked the reason for it all.
"It is a long story, lad," said he, "but I will tell it to you."
Then he told me how, many years before, Mistress Margaret Nicholson had been the loveliest girl in Kent, and the belle of the whole shore, and how there was not a bachelor within three counties who did not seek her as his bride, or who would not have sold his soul for a glance of her eyes or the soft pressure of her hand; and how when James Rodolph of Charlestown Hundred came riding down from Cecil and boasted of his wealth, his horses, and his slaves, swearing that he would win her or no one would, the suitors stood aside to see how he would fare with this the proudest of Kent beauties. To their dismay, he seemed to prosper well, until one day there disembarked from a vessel that came sailing up the broad Chester a young gentleman of distinguished appearance, who asked his way to Radcliffe, the home of the Nicholsons.
"Now, the Nicholsons, as you know," said Mr. Wilmer, "are Scotch, and this young gentleman was Scotch, for his accent betrayed him, and we, thinking he might be a cousin and have brought news from over the water, welcomed him, and showed him the way to Radcliffe. He, though he was very reserved, told us that he had indeed come from over the sea, and bore a letter to the Nicholsons, who were old friends of his family, but of himself he would say no more. And so, when he strode off, we turned to Captain Hezekiah Brown of the Maid of Perth, who was a man who delighted to talk. From him we learned that his name was Gordon, and that there was a mystery about him, as people suspected him of being one of the young chiefs who had led that famous clan in the recent rebellion against the King. But this we held not to his injury, for there were still many lovers of the White Rose in the fair province of Maryland, and we afterward welcomed him the more heartily for it. From the advent of the stranger the good fortune of James Rodolph began to wane; for the rich planter of the border, with his wild and boisterous manners, was no match for the Scottish cavalier. It is true that he was penniless, but he was very handsome, of distinguished manners and address, and when it became known that he was out in 'forty-five' the mantle of romance that fell around Prince Charles was shared as well by him, and he became the hero of many a pair of fair eyes.
"James Rodolph soon saw this, and his hatred grew from day to day, as his rival became more successful. One day there was a quarrel, and next morning, upon the smooth, sandy shore of the river, they met and fought it out. Rodolph was fiery, quick, and fierce; Gordon cool and steady; until Rodolph, growing weary and desperate, tried a foul and dangerous stroke, to find his rapier flying through the air, to fall with a splash into the river.
"'I would not stain my blade by killing you,' said Gordon; and turning with the other gentlemen who had seen the foul stroke, he walked away, leaving him there.
"And so it was that Rodolph came back to Cecil with a blot upon his name, and Gordon married the maid, and became in time the owner of the Braes, for she was an heiress as well as a great beauty. From that time has grown the feud which we may some day see the end of. And that is why the people laughed and Rodolph slunk away. For the old story is known throughout the shore, and Rodolph proved, in his fight with you, the bad blood in his veins. It never does to cross the white blood with the red, for the treachery of the Indian will taint the race for generations."
Thus it was, by the light of this old tale of thirty years before, I saw and read the cause and reason of it all—of his fatal course, of our quarrel, and of the meeting by the banks of the river Elk.
THE DEFIANCE OF THE TORY
A few weeks later I was up and out, fast gaining strength and courage for the long ride to the northward to join the gallant fellows of the Maryland Line, who had taken up their line of march soon after the accident befell me. And though I was eager to be off, the surgeon would not let me go, and so, until I could gather strength for the long journey, I served as best I could my country and the commands of the Committee of Public Safety sitting at the Head of Elk. Thus it was I rode one day by the side of Edward Veasey, High Sheriff of the county of Cecil, carrying the writ and command of the Committee of Public Safety to Charles Gordon of the Braes, now a suspected Tory and a malcontent. And as I rode by the side of the High Sheriff on this most unpleasant task, I longed to turn back and let the Sheriff ride on alone; but duty held me as a point of honour. For as it was, I was carrying I knew not what ruin and destruction to the roof of the very house that once had received me as a guest and that sheltered the fairest eyes that had ever gazed in mine. And now I was to appear before that house as the bearer of ill-tidings. Ah, duty often wears a gruesome countenance; yet it is a sign of courage to face this duty down, and I sat more firmly in my saddle and rode nearer to the High Sheriff. He was a stern and determined man; he was short of stature, stout of frame, and sat his powerful horse like the fox-hunter that he was. But, though it was the height of summer, and the hills and the forests were green, the air laden with the odour of flowers, and the streams full and rushing, there was anything but a smile on the High Sheriff's face. For though he was no friend to Gordon of the Braes, he liked not the errand on which he rode, and would gladly have turned his horse's head with me.
"If they want to fight," said he to me, "why don't they join the Maryland Line and leave men alone who are disposed to be quiet? They will have enough to do in repulsing the redcoats, and should not stir up opposition in the rear of our armies, which this persecution of private individuals will certainly do. I wish some other carried this writ, and I was with the lads fighting in the North."
"Aye, so do I, but it is the order of the committee," said I grimly.
"True, and as such must be obeyed."
We had come to where the ferry crosses the Elk, and hailing it we were soon on the south bank and taking up again the road that leads to the Braes. Over the hills and dales of Cecil, the forest, streams, and rivers, the soft warm sunlight played, and nature blessed with lavish hand the harvest of the year. Seldom had she been more pleasing, the earth bursting with flowers and the very trees welcoming with outstretched arms the soft breezes wafted from the bay. And then, after some hours' travelling, we came to the Braes and I saw again the long rambling house amid the trees. I took a firmer grip upon my sense of duty and rode on. The clatter of our horses' hoofs as we rode up to the door announced us. A moment later Charles Gordon came through the open doorway on to the porch. Though I had seen him before, it seemed to me, as I saw him standing there, with the memory of the old tale in my mind, that I saw not the Tory, but one of those figures of romance that stepped out from the mystery and the haze of the North, when Prince Charles raised his standard in the Highlands, one of those heroic men who drew swords with Wallace and with Bruce, rallied with Montrose, and went to death with a cheer behind Bonnie Dundee at Killiecrankie, of such gallant bearing and bold and open countenance was he.
"What brings you here, Mr. Sheriff, riding so fast?"
"I come, Charles Gordon of the Braes," replied the Sheriff, "to serve on you the writ and summons of the Committee of Public Safety." And here he unfolded the summons and read aloud, sitting on his horse as he was:
"Whereas, Great complaints have this day been made against Charles Gordon of the Braes, for that he has infamously reflected on the membership of this Committee and the deputies of this county who lately attended the Provincial Convention,
"These are therefore requiring the said Charles Gordon of the Braes that he appear before this Committee, at the house of Thomas Savin at the Head of Elk, to-morrow at two o'clock P.M., to answer unto said complaints.
"Hereto fail not on your peril.
"JAMES RODOLPH, Chairman.
"To CHARLES GORDON of the Braes."
Then spoke Charles Gordon:
"Go tell those who sent you, Mr. Sheriff, that if they wish to see Charles Gordon they will have to come to the Braes to do so; that I will give them a right warm welcome, as my plantation is large enough to hold them all; but that if any of their rascally crew dare to approach the house, there will be lives lost; for I say to you, Mr. Sheriff, as I have said before and will say again, that James Rodolph and his committee are a set of infamous scoundrels, who have usurped such power and authority in troublous times as the King himself would not dare to claim. Tell them that I am at their defiance, that I do not recognise their authority, and that I have as much contempt for them as I have for their dogs."
The old gentleman, for he must have been nearly sixty, looked splendid in his wrath, as he denounced the Committee of Public Safety. The ring in his voice told that the ire of the Scot was rising.
For an instant the High Sheriff hesitated, as if he would turn and go, but then he said:
"Charles Gordon, I spoke to you a moment ago as an officer of the law. I speak to you now as one who does not wish you an injury. Obey the order of the committee, and I will see that you have fair speech before it. Refuse and you will be declared a traitor and an outlaw, and the edict will go forth through all the province that no man shall buy of you, that no man shall sell to you, and he that shows you kindness will become an outlaw like yourself."
Charles Gordon laughed.
"Do you think I care a snap of a finger for their edict? There has not been a generation of my family that has not been at the Horn at Edinburgh for high treason. Do you think that I care when my neck has been on the block for the part I took at Preston Pans and Culloden? Go frighten the children with their edicts, but not an old Scot who has seen the claymores flash and led the charge for the King who is over the sea."
"If you fought against the father, why not against the son?"
"A fair question deserves a fair answer. When my head was on the block my life was saved by the intercession of the Duchess of Gordon, but upon conditions, and those conditions are these: That I should nevermore bear arms against the King, that I should leave the realm of Scotland, sail across the sea to the province of Maryland, there remain and never return. So, though I love not the King nor his race, I will not draw sword against him, for never yet has a Gordon broken faith with friend or foe. Yet for all that I will not take up arms for the King's cause unless I am forced to do so by such rascals as compose your Committee of Public Safety."
"So be it, then, but I wish it were otherwise," said the Sheriff; and, turning, we rode away, leaving him standing there. As I entered the woods I looked back again, my eyes searching every window in the old house, but never a sign of the Tory maid did I see.
THE BLACK COCKADE
It was two o'clock next day when we rode up to the house where the Committee of Public Safety held its meetings, dismounted, and entered the room. Six gentlemen sat at the long table, and the room was crowded with hangers-on. They were men who stayed behind while the others went to the war; they fought the fight with their tongues, with writs of forfeiture for high treason, became great statesmen, and in time aspired to become members of the committee. How the worthy High Sheriff regarded them could be seen by the manner in which he brushed past them to stand before the committee.
"What right have you to talk of liberty and of freedom, if you will not fight for it? Why are you not with Howard, Gist, Smallwood, and the other heroes who are making the name of the Maryland Line ring through the army?" he would ask, and they would turn away.
The burly form and dark, swarthy face of the Chairman dominated the committee. As we entered and stood before him his dark eyes flashed.
"Do you bring the body of Charles Gordon with you?" he demanded.
"No; I do not. I bring his defiance, instead;" and the High Sheriff delivered the message of Charles Gordon to the committee.
The committee glanced from one to another, and there was a big stir in the room. Then the Chairman was on his feet.
"By a thousand devils," he swore, "Charles Gordon shall suffer for this. I will not stop until the Braes is razed to the ground, and I have driven him from the province. He is a Tory and a traitor, and a danger to the peace of the county. He will be up in arms next. Mr. Sheriff, summon a posse and ride to the Braes and bring us the body of Charles Gordon, dead or alive."
"You will not accept the invitation to go to the Braes yourself, then?" asked the High Sheriff gravely, though there was the suggestion of a smile around the corners of his mouth.
The Chairman hesitated. "No," he said; "it is absolutely necessary for the welfare of the county of Cecil that we should remain where we are and not engage in any brawls or tumults, for if we are killed who will take our places?"
"That is true," said the High Sheriff ironically, "but have you considered, gentlemen, that Charles Gordon's wife was of the Nicholsons of Kent, who, as you know, are the leaders of the patriots in that county? How will they like it when they hear of your burnings and your razings?"
The Chairman frowned. "You are right," he said; "we must proceed about it in a legal way, which is slow but sure. Mr. Clerk, institute proceedings against Charles Gordon for the forfeiture of his lands for high treason, and meanwhile we will publish him throughout the province as a Tory and a traitor. We will teach this Charles Gordon and all Tories what it means to contemn the authority and dignity of this province and its committee."
And then applause broke out from the crowd; but the High Sheriff, who left the room with me, shrugged his shoulders and said: "If they had half of the courage of that Scot they would not be loafing around here, applauding James Rodolph. I am tired of it; I am going to resign and go to the front." He was as good as his word, for that very day he resigned the office of High Sheriff of the county of Cecil, packed his saddle-bags, gathered some volunteers about him, and rode away to the North, becoming in time a noted officer. But it was not until the month of August of that year that I was ready to follow him and felt equal to the length of the journey. On the night of the day before I took my departure I called John Cotton and ordered him to saddle Toby.
John Cotton received the order with wide-open eyes, as it was growing somewhat late.
"Fo' de Lord's sake, Mars Jim, what do you want Toby fo'? It's after ten o'clock."
"Ask no questions, you black rascal, and bring Toby around in a hurry."
Then his eyes fell on a cluster of red roses on my table, and a broad grin crept from ear to ear.
"Sartin, Mars Jim, sartin;" and he was out of the door before my flying boot could repay the impertinence of that grin. A few minutes later I slipped out of the house to the stables, and, mounting Toby, was soon riding out of the silent town, having hit that rascal John Cotton across the shoulders with my whip for the snickering laugh he could not restrain as I was riding off.
Have you ever ridden by the silent river after the night has fallen, and when it is far advanced? The great trees, rising far above you like the vaulted arch of a cathedral, overhanging the path down which you ride; the smooth flowing waters of the river, the towering dark mass on the farther shore, and over all the glorious moon shining down flooding everything with its silvery light, weird and fantastic, glinting now like polished steel upon the waters, now deepening the shadows of the forest, or flooding again with its glorious radiance some wide and sweeping stretch of water. And then, the unearthly silence of it all, the mournful howl of the wolf in the hills, and the piercing shrill cry of the wildcat, like that of a child tortured by the demons of hell; then the horror of its beauty, its stillness and its loneliness, comes over you; nervous chills become distinctly apparent, and you put spurs to your horse and ride on more rapidly, and the night is broken first by your whistle and then by your song. So it was, as I rode by the banks of the Elk, that night in early August, and my voice rang across the waters, as I sang the old Highland ballad:
The Gordons cam', and the Gordons ran, And they were stark and steady, And aye the word among them a' Was, Gordons, keep you ready.
A ballad that I heard a young girl sing one day not long before. Thus the length of my ride passed quickly away until Toby felt the soft grass under his feet as I rode silently across the lawn. Her window was high, it is true, but it was open to admit the fresh, cool breeze from the bay, and then I had not thrown quoits in my youth not to be able to surmount so small a difficulty. So I fastened a black cockade amid the blood-red of the roses, and, rising in my stirrups, threw them firmly and gently, and saw them rise in the air, top the window-sill, and fall with a slight thud upon the floor. I did not wait for more, but turned and rode away; but it seemed to me that as I gained the shadow of the forest and looked back I saw the faint suggestion of a girlish form standing at the open window. I looked once again and rode on.
When morning came, I bade good-bye to my mother, mounted my black colt Toby, and rode away to join the Maryland Line, which was marching now from Boston, to meet the British before New York. As that day I crossed the line into the province of Delaware, I saw nailed to a great oak the proclamation of the Committee of Public Safety, denouncing Charles Gordon as a Tory and a traitor, and calling upon all persons to have no dealings with him, either in public or private, at their peril. And thus it was at every cross-roads in the county of Cecil, and in all the counties to the south and west, the edict had gone forth.
Now in Maryland, as I have said before, we love, above all else, courage in a man, and so I rode under the oak, and tore down the proclamation, for I knew the courage of Charles Gordon, Tory though he was. I knew also that the proceedings of forfeiture had been instituted against him in the High Court of the Province, and that ere I set foot on the soil of Maryland again, he would be driven from the province, and it was for this that I paid this courtesy to the courage of an enemy, as I left my native plains behind me.
It was a long road for a lad, but the people received me with open arms and urged me on when I told them whither I was riding. After several days of travelling along the shore of the Delaware and across the low-lying plains of New Jersey, I came to the banks of the Hudson, and saw across the water the great city of New York, its clustering houses and steeples. And then it was not long before I was on the ferry that conveyed me across the river, and heard the sharp ring of the pavement under my horse's feet as I rode toward the great common where lay the encampment of the troops. It was near twelve o'clock when I came to the camp of the patriots and asked my way of an officer to the quarters of the Maryland Line.
"You must be a stranger," he said, "or you would know that the Maryland Line always has the place of honour in the camp;" and he showed me where their quarters lay.
I felt aglow with pride when I heard this tribute to my countrymen. I thanked him and rode on. A few minutes later I was among them. The great voice of the Captain was giving me greeting; Dick Ringgold's hand was on my shoulder, as he took charge of me; and many of my kith and kin, old friends and neighbours who belonged to that famous corps, came forward to greet and welcome me to the camp. Thus, after many days of sickness and of travel, I took my place among the men who were about to face the great storm. True, at the time quiet reigned all along our front, which lay over beyond the heights of Brooklyn; but hot work was soon expected, as the British fleet had been seen in the offing, and it was only a question of time when the army would be landed and the attack begun.
THE RED TIDE OF BLOOD
Spruce Macaronies, and pretty to see, Tidy and dapper and gallant were we; Blooded, fine gentlemen, proper and tall, Bold in a fox-hunt and gay at a ball;
Tralara! Tralara! now praise we the Lord, For the clang of His call and the flash of His sword. Tralara! Tralara! now forward to die; For the banner, hurrah! and for sweethearts, good-bye!
JOHN WILLIAMSON PALMER.
It was on the 22d day of August that the rumour flew through the camp that the enemy had landed and was preparing to attack. But the hours flew by, and still no orders came, until the Line became restless, and the fear grew that the fight would begin before we could reach the field of battle. The sun began to sink over the Heights of Harlem when an aide rode into our lines. It was Tench Tilghman, who swung his hat and shouted as he went by: "You will have warm work in a day or two, boys!"
We gave him a yell in reply, and started with renewed interest the preparations for the coming fight. A few minutes later came the orders that we were to march at dawn. The men received the news joyfully, and it was wonderful to see the change in their bearing; for while the doubt hung over them, they were restless and murmuring was heard all through the camp; but now all was laughter and gaiety. They prepared for the fight as one would prepare for the next county ball or a fox-hunt on the morrow.
The stirring notes of the bugle ringing over the camp brought me to my feet with a bound, and I looked out of the tent to see a heavy mist over everything, and hear the sound of men's voices coming through it all around me. It does not take a soldier long to don his uniform, and I was soon out attending to my duties. At seven o'clock we were on our march to the ferry, crossing the East River at the foot of the main street of the small town of Brooklyn; then we took a road leading over a creek called Gowanus, and knew that we were marching to guard the right of the American line. Low-lying hills, heavily wooded, lay before us; it was in these woods that our line was called to a halt, and we took up our position for the battle. We lay there several days, with constant rumours flying through the camp of the enemy's advance, but yet they would not come.
It was on the morning of the 27th of August that the great battle of Long Island, so disastrous for the patriot forces, broke upon us. The scattering shots of the skirmishers first made us spring to arms; then the sharp rattle of the musketry of Atlee's men and the boom of Carpenter's cannon on our immediate right told that the enemy was pushing them hard. Then through the forest trees came the line of the British advance. The fire extended along our whole front, while far over, to our left came the distant roar of cannon and musketry.
"They are having a hot time over there," said Dick, "but why don't these fellows charge us?"
"They will charge us soon enough," I replied. But it seemed as if they never would, for what promised to be an attack along our whole line dwindled down to a mere exchange of shots. Hour after hour went by, and yet they never advanced beyond a certain point except when a company or so would dash forward and a sharp skirmish would break forth for a moment or two, and then die away again. But far over to our left the sound of the battle came rolling nearer and nearer, telling the tale of Sullivan's men being driven in.
"I do not like that," said Dick. "They are doing all the fighting, while we are merely exchanging courtesies with our friends six hundred yards away. Hello! There comes news."
I looked behind us to a small hill, where Lord Stirling stood with his staff, and saw Tench Tilghman riding up at full speed. There was a hurried movement among the staff, and Stirling's glasses swept the country to our left and rear. A moment later an order was given and the aides came dashing down our lines, and then, to our disgust, came the order to retire.
"Retreat!" cried one of the men. "Why, we haven't begun to fight yet!"
"Steady, men," cried Captain Ramsay; "you form the rear guard and must hold the enemy in check," for they were beginning to advance as the regiments on each side of us withdrew. Then we began slowly to withdraw, but there came an aide riding swiftly to Major Gist. Pennsylvania and Delaware regiments took our place in the rear, and we were marched rapidly to the front. The heavy woods had heretofore prevented our seeing what was taking place, but now that we had come out to the opening a wild scene of terror and dismay lay before us. Gowanus Creek, deep and unfordable, with its sullen tide rising fast, lay like a great ugly serpent across our path, while over the meadow and far in our front the broken streams of fugitives were swarming, flying toward the bridge at the mill, the only hope of crossing Gowanus Creek. And as I looked, to my horror, the mill and the bridge burst into flames, catching the routed army as it were between the rising tide and the advancing legions of the victorious English. Then, as we watched it, a rumour grew and spread through the ranks, as such things will in battle, that a New England Colonel had fired the bridge to save himself and his regiment. How we cursed New England then, and swore that if we ever escaped we would have our reckoning with her and her people.
"There they come!" cried Dick at my side, pointing to where a large stone house crowned a hill immediately in the rear and commanded the whole field of the terror-stricken fugitives.
I saw the brilliant scarlet of their coats as they took possession of the hill and prepared to open fire.
"They will have to be driven from there or we are lost," I answered.
Then, as the prospect looked the darkest and the long line of the British formed to make their last advance, Lord Stirling rode up to our line.
"Men of Maryland!" he shouted, "charge that hill, hold Cornwallis in check and save the army!"
We answered with a yell, as he sprang from his horse to lead us.
Ah, I shall never forget the pride with which we stepped out of the mass of flying fugitives, four hundred Marylanders, the greatest dandies and bluest blood in all the army, for this, the proudest service of the day. We formed for the charge as if on the drill ground; our evolutions and lines were perfect, and would have done credit to the grenadiers of the later empire. Stirling's sword was in the air, the drums were beating the charge, when there broke from the throats of our Marylanders the wild, thrilling yell of the southern provinces, and we leaped to the charge up the long hill, straight into the face of Cornwallis's army, a handful against thousands. Up, up the hill we dashed. A fire as of hell broke upon us and rattled and roared about our ears, thinning our ranks and strewing our pathway with the dead. Men fell to the right and to the left of me, and I strode across the bodies of the slain in my path; but still, over the roar of the cannon and the rattle of musketry, high and shrill rose the yell of the charging line. We swept up the hill, the crest was gained, and the British fell back before us, when we were met by a sheet of flame, a storm of lead and smoke and fire. We were raised as it were in the air and held there gasping for breath, and then we were swept back down the hill, struggling desperately to gain a foothold to make a stand.
Again we saw Stirling glance over the meadow and the marsh behind us as we re-formed our line. His voice came ringing down our ranks.
"Once again, men of Maryland."
Once again! Aye, we knew how to answer that call, for the bodies of our comrades lay dotting the long hillside.
"Once again, and charge home!" cried Ramsay.
We sprang to the charge, and wilder, shriller, fiercer, more terrible, rose the yell—the yell of vengeance that seemed to pick the line up bodily and hurl it up the hill through the scorching, blistering storm and hail of lead, fire, and smoke. I remembered naught till the crest was gained, and Edward Veasey crying, "Charge home! Charge home!" and we dashed in upon the scarlet line. Ah me, for a moment, then it was glorious, as steel met steel, and we drove them, ten times our number, back, and rolled them up against the house and forced them off the plain. And then our hands were on the ugly muzzles of the guns, and Edward Veasey, springing on the carriage, cheered on his men. But ere it had died on his lips, so desperate was the struggle, the English Captain of the guns fired, and Veasey fell. I was but a dozen steps away, and, seeing Veasey fall, I dashed through the press of bayonets to where the English Captain fought.
"Another one!" he cried, as we met face to face.
"Yes, and the last;" and our swords met.
"No time for that!" cried a voice at my side; then there was a flash, and the Englishman fell back into the arms of his men, and the guns were won for an instant. But only for an instant. Our men melted away under the storm of lead from the Cortelyou house, and the weight of the advancing regiments forced us back to the crest of the hill. Then slowly, step by step, down the hill they forced us, until we rested once more at its foot.
But still the meadow, the marsh, and the creek were black with the mass of flying men seeking eagerly, desperately to escape, while between them and the victorious British stretched the ranks of the Maryland Line, now sadly thinned, for one-third of our men were dyeing the long dank grass with their blood. But that line, thin as it was, closed up the wide gaps in the ranks with as jaunty a step and as gallant a carriage as when they first stepped out for the charge. Their faces looked grim, it is true, for with the smoke and the fire, and the blood and the dust, the genius of battle had sketched thereon.
For a few minutes we rested at the foot of the hill, for we knew that our work was not half done, and until the last fugitive was over Gowanus Creek we must check the British advance. A glance from Lord Stirling told us to charge, as he pointed up the long hill with his sword.
Again there came the answering yell, the requiem for many a gallant soul, and the line once more swung forward to breast the hill. Up the long hill we toiled again, straight into the teeth of the fire.
Again we gained the crest and fought them, man to man; again by weight of numbers they forced us off the crest, and sent us staggering, reeling down the hill, desperate now.
Yet again Lord Stirling called on us to follow, and yet again we charged them home.
Men lay wounded, men lay dying, all across the long hillside, and more than half our number were dead or sorely stricken.
Yet it was for a fifth time that Stirling's voice rang clear, over the roar of the battle, and for the fifth time we picked up the gauge of their challenge, and swept forward in the charge.
Thus for the last time we reached the crest, and for one heroic moment held our own, and then came reeling back from the shock. And, as I was carried down the hill with the retreating line, I saw the tall figure of Lord Stirling standing upright and alone amid the storm of bullets, courting death and disdaining to retreat.
"To the rescue of Lord Stirling," I cried to the few soldiers who were around me. Dick, who was near, echoed my shout, and we dashed forward, determined to bring him off by force if no other way could be found.
But we had not advanced a dozen yards before every man that was with us had fallen and only Dick and I reached Lord Stirling, who was calmly awaiting the end.
"The day is lost, my lord," I cried, "but we have yet time to save you."
"Save yourselves, lads," he replied; "you have done everything that men can do, but it remains for me either to die or surrender."
"My lord," I cried; but at this moment Dick reeled. "Struck, by George!" he exclaimed, and I caught him as he fell.
"See to your comrade," said Lord Stirling; "you have yet time to escape."
So, throwing Dick's arms around my neck, for there was no time to parley under that rain of lead, I bore him quickly down the hill.
But our work had not been in vain, for as a soldier came to my assistance I saw that the last of the fugitives had reached the other side, and the army for the moment was saved.
And so, when we reached the banks of Gowanus Creek, we formed in line once more and gave a parting yell of defiance; then, turning, we plunged into the creek and swam to the other side, while the shot and grape from the English on the hill tore across the whole surface of the water.
Dick was badly wounded, but, with the soldier's assistance, I swam with him across the creek and bore him safely out of the range of the fire.
Ah, it was but a shadow of our former line when we formed once more, but the great General himself came to thank us, and that shadow of a line was worth a thousand men.
Thereafter we claimed as our own the post of honour in advance or in retreat; during the famous march on the night after the battle, and in the retreat to White Plains, we formed the rear guard, and the army felt secure.
There came a breathing time one day during the retreat, and the General rode up to our lines. We greeted him with the yell he loved to hear, for it brought back to him the Southland and the hunting fields of Old Virginia.
Then he told our officers that he wanted us to pick out the youngest of our line to carry a special despatch to the Committee of Public Safety, sitting at Annapolis, announcing the battle and the famous part we had taken therein. The choice fell on me, as poor Dick was groaning in the hospital, but luckily out of danger from his wound.
"Well, my boy, how old are you?" said the General, smiling down upon me, as I saluted.
"Do you think you can carry this safely?"
"I was in the charge at Gowanus Ford, General," said I modestly.
"I see," laughed the General, "you are a true Marylander. I wish I had more of you in the army."
THE HARRYING OF THE TORY
I was soon riding southward, the bearer of the message from General Washington to the Council of Safety, sitting at Annapolis; and as I rode, the people hailed me for my news, and gave me food and drink, so I could hurry on.
At last I reached the borders of Maryland, and again rode under the old oak from which I had torn the proclamation. It was only a few weeks before, and I wondered what had been the fate of Charles Gordon.
So, as I rode through the Head of Elk late that afternoon and came to the ferry there, I asked the boatman what they had done with him.
"Forfeiture has been decreed," he answered, "and the new High Sheriff and James Rodolph have gone to-day with a posse and many men to root the traitor out."
"How long ago did they start?"
"About an hour."
"What road did they take?"
"The river road. They expect to reach there about nine o'clock. Jupiter! I'd like to be there and see the flames reddening the sky. It will be a grand sight." He looked longingly through the forest toward the Braes.
"Something else will be dyed crimson, if I know that Tory right."
"That there will be, sir; it will be a lovely scrimmage;" and he sighed at the lost opportunity.
The boat grounded on the south bank, and I mounted Toby.
"A pleasant ride, sir."
"Toby," said I, as I patted his neck, "you have travelled many a mile to-day, old fellow; but you will have to cover the ground to-night as you never covered it before. They have an hour's start, and we have a longer distance to go; so double your legs under you, my boy, and go."
Toby rising to the occasion, and the spirit of old Ranter proving true, he broke into the long even gallop that makes the miles pass swiftly. It was a race against time, against James Rodolph and his crew. I knew if once they gained the Braes, black death would stalk among the ruins, for Charles Gordon would never surrender.
The night fell rapidly as we raced along and the miles flew by.
As Toby and I drew near Bohemia Manor, where the road joined the one on which the posse was marching, I reined him in and rode more cautiously. It was well that I did so, for as I approached I heard the low murmur of men's voices and saw their figures in the dim light as they were marching by.
I brought Toby to a halt. The road was cut off that way, so I wheeled him around to ride back a short distance to where the road skirted the open fields of Bohemia Manor. As Toby plunged forward in answer to my spur, I heard a cry and then a shot came whistling by. But I left them behind, and coming to the open fields, I put Toby at the fence and raced across the open country, through the lower fields to the Braes, Toby taking the fences in his stride.
Then I dashed once more across the green lawn of the Braes and drew my sword hilt across the shutter.
There was a stir in the room above me; the shutter was cautiously opened and I was covered by the muzzle of a pistol.
"Who are you?" demanded a voice which I knew to be Charles Gordon's.
"James Frisby of Fairlee," I replied. "I have ridden to warn you, Mr. Gordon. You have only a few minutes to escape in; James Rodolph, with a hundred men behind him, will be here in ten minutes."
"Thank you, lad, for the information. I will give them a warm reception."
"But you cannot hold the Braes against a hundred men; they will burn you out, and then Mistress Jean."
"Hum; that is so, lad. Ride round to the rear of the house."
I did so, and a moment later, they came out on the little porch. The old gentleman had buckled on his sword, and there were pistols in his belt. And she, ah! she never looked more bewitching. Her beautiful hair flowed wild about her shoulders, over the light dark mantle in which she was wrapped. By the flicker of the candle, I saw that a bright flush mantled her cheek, as she spoke rapidly.
"Father, there is an English vessel a few miles down the bay. Call the slaves and escape to it."
"But I cannot take you there."
"I will carry her through the lines," I cried, "and see her safe in the hands of her aunt in Kent."
They hesitated, but the noise in front of the house told of the approaching mob, and there was no time for parley. So, true to my race, I acted quickly, and stooping from my saddle I caught her up gently and placed her on Toby before me.
"It is the only chance, lad. See that you carry her safely."
"I will carry her through or die," I replied with deep conviction. At the touch of the spur Toby sprang forward under his double burden.
"The creek," she cried.
"Yes; but we can swim it."
Indeed it was our only way, as the mob blocked the other roads of escape, so we rode boldly in and swam for the other side. The creek was several hundred yards wide, but Toby bore us bravely until we reached the southern shore, then he plunged forward, threw himself up the bank, and we were out of immediate danger.
There we halted for a moment under the shadow of a great tree and looked back across the water.
We heard the sound of many voices, the howling of the mob, and through the trunks of the trees flickered the glare of the torches. Suddenly shots rang out, a cry of dismay and rage followed, and then the flash of guns and a rattling volley crashed around the house.
"By Jove, he is fighting it out!" But the slender figure on my arm trembled, and I saw that her face was white through the darkness.
"He will escape, Mistress Jean," I said reassuringly; "trust an old Highlander for that." And I saw that her eyes were bright and tense, watching the scene across the water.
"There he goes," she exclaimed joyfully; and there, gliding swiftly through the waters, where the shadow of the trees made the darkness more intense, was a long low boat rowed by stalwart slaves. The sound of the oars was drowned by the clamour of the mob.
"If he passes the neck," I exclaimed, "he will be safe;" for the creek narrowed at its mouth until it was but a hundred yards wide.
"Ride quick to the point," she said.
So Toby plunged forward again at the pressure of my knees, and though he still went gallantly on, I could tell that the strain and the toil of the long march from the north, and his dash from the Head of Elk, were beginning to tell on him.
At last we reached the mouth of the creek, and I brought Toby to a halt under the shadow of a clump of trees, where we could see and yet not be seen. I glanced for a moment out over the waters of the bay, and I saw, several miles to the southward, the gleam of a light as it fell on the waves; I knew it was the English man-of-war.
But Mistress Jean's eyes were eagerly searching the waters of the creek, and she was straining her ears to catch the sound of the oars. Then we were rewarded. For at that moment we heard the long sweep of the oars in the water, and out from the mouth of the creek came the boat, the brawny negroes bending to their task.
The commanding figure of the old Tory stood in the stern, looking back up the creek whence they came. Unconsciously my glance followed his, and I saw that the sky was crimson, and high above the tree-tops the flames licked the skies.
"The Braes!" I exclaimed, and Mistress Jean was about to call out, when there came the sound of galloping hoofs on the other side. A horseman dashed into view, and rode into the water up to the saddle-girths. There was a flash, and the crack of a pistol broke the stillness of the night; then with a gesture of rage, the horseman rose in his stirrups and hurled the pistol far over the water; we heard the splash as it fell.
Then the figure in the boat raised his clenched hand and shook it at the horseman and the flames.
"You fired too quick, Mr. Rodolph," said the ferryman.
"Yes, damn him, he has escaped." He turned his horse and rode into the darkness, while a soft voice whispered in my ear,—
THE COUNCIL OF SAFETY
The sun had risen when we came once more in view of the groves of Fairlee. Toby's pace had degenerated into a walk, as if not to disturb the fair burden he bore, for she, overcome with fatigue and excitement, was quietly sleeping with her head on my shoulder. Toby picked his way like a dancing-master, and though the road was rough, never once did he stumble; he still bore himself gallantly for the old House of Fairlee. Ah! Toby, that road was miles too short for your master. Willingly would he have ridden thus, aye, until his hair had turned as white as snow on his brows, until the hand that guided the reins became too feeble to grasp them; aye, even unto the end of time.
But before us lay Fairlee, and beyond that lay duty and the army. "Look once more, my cavalier," said I to myself; "look once more, for the moments are short, and in the days to come, in the dreary bivouacs and on the long marches, when the world seems bare and cold, the memory of that sweet face will brighten up with sunshine your existence and make it all glorious again. Oh, hang it, here is Fairlee!"
"Mistress Jean," I whispered. I was loath to wake her, but it had to be done. "Mistress Jean!" I said, this time louder, and she awoke with a start. "This is Fairlee, and you can rest here with my mother, while I push on."
"Fairlee? Why, where am I? Oh, I remember now. Did I go to sleep, Mr. Frisby?"
"You did, Mistress Jean."
A quick, blush came.
"Oh," she said, "how can I thank you? I don't deserve——"
"Ah, Mistress Jean, it is I who do not deserve that pleasure. I would go through a hundred fights to be able to do it again; but you are tired, and I will rouse the house."
So, hammering on the door, I soon brought John Cotton to it. His woolly hair almost went straight on seeing me, and he started back, for he thought he saw my ghost.
"Good Lord, Mars Jim," he stammered, "does that be you?"
"Yes, you black scamp." And I soon convinced him of my real personality.
"But, Mars Jim, who is dat you got wid you? It ain't one of dem Yankee ladies, is it?" For, I am sorry to say, John Cotton did not approve of the ladies in question, and was afraid I would "disgrace de family" if I married one of them. Before I could answer I heard a glad little cry, and there was my mother, coming down the stairway of the great hall.
"How is my little lady?" said I, as I picked her up and kissed her, and then I introduced Mistress Jean to her and told her of our adventure at the Braes.
Then my mother went up to her, in her stately little way, and took her hands in hers, and kissed and welcomed her to the House of Fairlee.
So they made friends with each other then and there, as women do, and my mother led her away, up the broad stairs, and I stood looking after them. Then I turned to my own room, and, throwing myself on the bed, I slept the sleep of exhaustion for many hours.
When the hour of my awakening came I sprang up, for there lay the despatch which I was to bear to the Council of Safety.
Drawing on my riding-boots and buckling on my sword, I called John Cotton to bring my horse to the door, for several miles lay between Fairlee and Rock Hall, where the boat lay to take me to Annapolis.
I walked across to the hall and on to the old porch, where I saw Mistress Jean standing, gazing wistfully out on the broad bay.
"He is safe now, Mistress Jean."
"Yes," she said with a sad smile, "but when shall I ever see him again?"
"Just as soon as we whip them," I replied.
"Then it will never be," came her retort.
"Oh, ho! What will your uncle, Captain Nicholson, say when he finds he has such a fiery little Tory in his house? He will have to give up chasing the redcoats to suppress the Goddess of Sedition in his own camp."
But at this Mistress Jean gave her head a toss and walked away to the end of the porch.
Then John Cotton brought the horse to the steps.
"Are you going so soon, Mr. Frisby?"
"I must," I answered; "I am a bearer of despatches to the Council of Safety. I would gladly desert my trust to be your escort to Chestertown, but—"
"The honour of the House of Fairlee stands in the way," said she mockingly.
"Not that, my lady," I replied, bowing courteously, "but the fact that I would fall even lower in your good graces."
"Well said, cavalier," she retorted, with a sweeping courtesy. "'Tis a pity that so fine a gentleman should be a rebel."
"Or so fair a maid a Tory."
"Is this a minuet?" came the laughing voice of my mother from the door.
"Nay, mother, I am only bidding Mistress Jean good-bye with all due ceremony."
A few moments later I was in the saddle, trotting slowly off, while behind me fluttered their handkerchiefs, waving good-bye.
Rock Hall lies on a bluff, looking out across the bay. To the southward lies the Isle of Kent, with its fertile fields of waving grain, and off there on the horizon the greenish ribbon near the sky line tells where the hills of Anne Arundel lay.
Down below, under the bluff, lay a long, slender boat, shaped like a canoe, but much larger, stouter, stronger, and far swifter, when the wind filled its sails and carried it like a bird skimming over the waters.
"An English man-of-war is lying off the Isle of Kent now," said the old waterman in answer to my question, "but we can walk all around her in this boat."
"Then we will start immediately," I replied, and placing my things on board we were soon under way.
The wind caught our sails; we stood out into the bay gloriously, and she fairly flew through the water. As we rounded the Isle of Kent we saw, lying almost in our track, the English man-of-war, lazily rolling with the tide.
Then there was a great bustle on board, and the sailors flew to the rigging, the sails filled with the wind, and through the port hole was run the ugly muzzle of a Long Tom. The waterman with me laughed merrily.
"They think they can stop us," said he, but he never altered his course.
So we bore down on her until there came a flash; a cannon ball came ricochetting across the water, but fell short by a hundred yards.
The waterman chuckled. "That is about the right distance," said he; and the boat answering the helm, fairly danced around his Majesty's representative, always, by a saving grace, just beyond cannon shot.
And when his Majesty's ship actually gave chase and sent a broadside after our impertinent piece of baggage the waterman fairly danced with delight and led her a merry chase down the bay until we were opposite Annapolis. Then with a flirt of her sail we bade them good-bye and ran for the mouth of the Severn. Gaining that, we soon passed the charred hulk of the Peggy Stewart and ran up beside the wharf, and I found myself walking the streets of that gay little capital.
It was growing somewhat late, but I made my way at once to the State House, where the Convention of the Freemen of the Province sat, hoping still to find them at their deliberations. I paused for the moment when I came to the foot of the knoll on which the State House stands, for it had only recently been completed, and was the noblest building in America. Its massive proportions towered high above me, overawing the town at its feet, and commanding the country for miles around. But it was not a time for halting. Hurrying up the long flights of steps, I found myself in the great lobby, with its lofty ceilings and its air of vastness.
The Convention had adjourned but a short time before, and the lobby was still filled with men. As I threaded my way through them my dusty uniform and muddy boots marked me out as a bearer of despatches.
"News from the army—victory or defeat?" cried eager voices around me. Answer them I would not, but hurried on to the room where sat the Council of Safety, who held the fate and the fortunes of the province in its hand and was the heart and soul of the great revolt.
An usher stood at the door, but, seeing my uniform, threw it wide open, and, as I entered, softly swung it to behind me. It was a lofty room in which I found myself, with immense windows looking out over the town and the sweep of the waters of the bay to the distant line of the eastern shore. A long, broad table extended down the centre of the room. Around it were seated some sixteen or eighteen gentlemen. Staid men and grave they were, past the middle age of life, for the younger men had gone to fight the battles of the republic; men who were fitted by experience to guide the province through the stormy scenes of the civil war.
At their head sat a venerable gentleman whom I knew to be Matthew Tilghman, the patriarch of the Colony. At his right hand sat a man of sturdy build, ruddy countenance, and dark hair and eyes, more like a prosperous planter with many acres and numerous slaves than the man who was soon to become the Great War Governor of Maryland. All down the table on either side sat men with strong, determined faces, whose names bespoke the chieftainship of many a powerful family. A movement of interest ran down the table as I entered and delivered to the venerable Chairman the despatch. He broke the seal with nervous fingers, and then rising, read General Washington's despatch aloud amid intense interest.