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James Fenimore Cooper (1789–1851). The Spy. 1911.

Chapter XXIII

  • And now her charms are fading fast,
  • Her spirits now no more are gay:
  • Alas! that beauty cannot last!
  • That flowers so sweet so soon decay!
  • How sad appears
  • The vale of years,
  • How changed from youth’s too flattering scene!
  • Where are her fond admirers gone?
  • Alas! and shall there then be none
  • On whom her soul may lean?

  • THE WALLS of the cottage were all that was left of the building; and these, blackened by smoke, and stripped of their piazzas and ornaments, were but dreary memorials of the content and security that had so lately reigned within. The roof, together with the rest of the wood-work, had tumbled into the cellars, and a pale and flitting light, ascending from their embers, shone faintly through the windows. The early flight of the Skinners left the dragoons at liberty to exert themselves in saving much of the furniture, which lay scattered in heaps on the lawn, giving the finishing touch of desolation to the scene. Whenever a stronger ray of light than common shot upwards, the composed figures of Sergeant Hollister and his associates, sitting on their horses in rigid discipline, were to be seen in the background of the picture, together with the beast of Mrs. Flanagan, which, having slipped its bridle, was quietly grazing by the highway. Betty herself had advanced to the spot where the sergeant was posted, and, with an incredible degree of composure, witnessed the whole of the events as they occurred. More than once she suggested to her companion, that, as the fighting seemed to be over, the proper time for plunder had arrived, but the veteran acquainted her with his orders, and remained inflexible and immovable; until the washerwoman, observing Lawton come round the wing of the building with Sarah, ventured amongst the warriors. The captain, after placing Sarah on a sofa that had been hurled from the building by two of his men, retired, that the ladies might succeed him in his care. Miss Peyton and her niece flew, with a rapture that was blessed with a momentary forgetfulness of all but her preservation, to receive Sarah from the trooper; but the vacant eye and flushed cheek restored them instantly to their recollection.

    “Sarah, my child, my beloved niece,” said the former, folding the unconscious bride in her arms, “you are saved, and may the blessing of God await him who has been the instrument.”

    “See,” said Sarah, gently pushing her aunt aside, and pointing to the glimmering ruins, “the windows are illuminated in honor of my arrival. They always receive a bride thus—he told me they would do no less; listen, and you will hear the bells.”

    “Here is no bride, no rejoicing, nothing but woe!” cried Frances, in a manner but little less frantic than that of her sister; “oh! may heaven restore you to us—to yourself!”

    “Peace, foolish young woman,” said Sarah, with a smile of affected pity; “all cannot be happy at the same moment; perhaps you have no brother, or husband, to console you; you look beautiful, and you will yet find one; but,” she continued, dropping her voice to a whisper, “see that he has no other wife—’t is dreadful to think what might happen, should he be twice married.”

    “The shock has destroyed her mind,” cried Miss Peyton; “my child, my beauteous Sarah is a maniac!”

    “No, no, no,” cried Frances, “it is fever; she is light-headed—she must recover—she shall recover.”

    The aunt caught joyfully at the hope conveyed in this suggestion, and dispatched Katy to request the immediate aid and advice of Dr. Sitgreaves. The surgeon was found inquiring among the men for professional employment, and inquisitively examining every bruise and scratch that he could induce the sturdy warriors to acknowledge they had received. A summons, of the sort conveyed by Katy, was instantly obeyed, and not a minute elapsed before he was by the side of Miss Peyton.

    “This is a melancholy termination to so joyful a commencement of the night, madam,” he observed, in a soothing manner: “but war must bring its attendant miseries; though doubtless it often supports the cause of liberty, and improves the knowledge of surgical science.”

    Miss Peyton could make no reply, but pointed to her niece in agony.

    “’T is fever,” answered Frances; “see how glassy is her eye, and look at her cheek, how flushed.”

    The surgeon stood for a moment, deeply studying the outward symptoms of his patient, and then he silently took her hand in his own. It was seldom that the hard and abstracted features of Sitgreaves discovered any violent emotion; all his passions seemed schooled, and his countenance did not often betray what, indeed, his heart frequently felt. In the present instance, however, the eager gaze of the aunt and sister quickly detected his emotions. After laying his fingers for a minute on the beautiful arm, which, bared to the elbow, and glittering with jewels, Sarah suffered him to retain, he dropped it, and dashing a hand over his eyes, turned sorrowfully away.

    “Here is no fever to excite—’t is a case, my dear madam, for time and care only; these, with the blessing of God, may effect a cure.”

    “And where is the wretch who has caused this ruin?” exclaimed Singleton, rejecting the support of his man, and making an effort to rise from the chair to which he had been driven by debility. “It is in vain that we overcome our enemies, if, conquered, they can inflict such wounds as this.”

    “Dost think, foolish boy,” said Lawton, with a bitter smile, “that hearts can feel in a colony? What is America but a satellite of England—to move as she moves, follow where she wists, and shine, that the mother country may become more splendid by her radiance? Surely you forget that it is honor enough for a colonist to receive ruin from the hand of a child of Britain.”

    “I forget not that I wear a sword,” said Singleton, falling back exhausted; “but was there no willing arm ready to avenge that lovely sufferer—to appease the wrongs of this hoary father?”

    “Neither arms nor hearts are wanting, sir, in such a cause,” said the trooper, fiercely; “but chance oftentimes helps the wicked. By heavens, I ’d give Roanoke himself, for a clear field with the miscreant!”

    “Nay! captain dear, no be parting with the horse, any way,” said Betty; “it is no trifle that can be had by jist asking of the right person, if ye ’re in need of silver; and the baste is sure of foot, and jumps like a squirrel.”

    “Woman, fifty horses, aye, the best that were ever reared on the banks of the Potomac, would be but a paltry price, for one blow at a villain.”

    “Come,” said the surgeon, “the night air can do no service to George, or these ladies, and it is incumbent on us to remove them where they can find surgical attendance and refreshment. Here is nothing but smoking ruins and the miasma of the swamps.”

    To this rational proposition no objection could be raised, and the necessary orders were issued by Lawton to remove the whole party to the Four Corners.

    America furnished but few and very indifferent carriage-makers at the period of which we write, and every vehicle, that in the least aspired to that dignity, was the manufacture of a London mechanic. When Mr. Wharton left the city, he was one of the very few who maintained the state of a carriage; and, at the time Miss Peyton and his daughters joined him in his retirement, they had been conveyed to the cottage in the heavy chariot that had once so imposingly rolled through the windings of Queen Street, or emerged, with sombre dignity, into the more spacious drive of Broadway. This vehicle stood, undisturbed, where it had been placed on its arrival, and the age of the horses alone had protected the favorites of Cæsar from sequestration by the contending forces in their neighborhood. With a heavy heart, the black, assisted by a few of the dragoons, proceeded to prepare it for the reception of the ladies. It was a cumbrous vehicle, whose faded linings and tarnished hammercloth, together with its panels of changing color, denoted the want of that art which had once given it lustre and beauty. The “lion couchant” of the Wharton arms was reposing on the reviving splendor of a blazonry that told the armorial bearings of a prince of the church; and the mitre, that began to shine through its American mask, was a symbol of the rank of its original owner. The chaise which conveyed Miss Singleton was also safe, for the stable and outbuildings had entirely escaped the flames: it certainly had been no part of the plan of the marauders to leave so well-appointed a stud behind them, but the suddenness of the attack by Lawton, not only disconcerted their arrangements on this point, but on many others also. A guard was left on the ground, under the command of Hollister, who, having discovered that his enemy was of mortal mould, took his position with admirable coolness and no little skill, to guard against surprise. He drew off his small party to such a distance from the ruins, that it was effectually concealed in the darkness, while at the same time the light continued sufficiently powerful to discover any one who might approach the lawn with an intent to plunder.

    Satisfied with this judicious arrangement, Captain Lawton made his dispositions for the march. Miss Peyton, her two nieces, and Isabella were placed in the chariot, while the cart of Mrs. Flanagan, amply supplied with blankets and a bed, was honored with the person of Captain Singleton. Dr. Sitgreaves took charge of the chaise and Mr. Wharton. What became of the rest of the family, during that eventful night, is unknown: for Cæsar alone, of the domestics, was to be found, if we except the housekeeper. Having disposed of the whole party in this manner, Lawton gave the word to march. He remained himself, for a few minutes, alone, on the lawn, secreting various pieces of plate and other valuables, that he was fearful might tempt the cupidity of his own men; when, perceiving nothing more that he conceived likely to overcome their honesty, he threw himself into the saddle with the soldierly intention of bringing up the rear.

    “Stop, stop,” cried a female voice: “will you leave me alone to be murdered? The spoon is melted, I believe, and I ’ll have compensation, if there ’s law or justice in this unhappy land.”

    Lawton turned an eye in the direction of the sound, and perceived a female emerging from the ruins, loaded with a bundle that vied in size with the renowned pack of the pedler.

    “Whom have we here,” said the trooper, “rising like a phœnix from the flames? Oh! by the soul of Hippocrates, but it is the identical she-doctor, of famous needle reputation. Well, good woman, what means this outcry?”

    “Outcry!” echoed Katy, panting for breath; “is it not disparagement enough to lose a silver spoon, but I must be left alone in this lonesome place, to be robbed, and perhaps murdered? Harvey would not serve me so; when I lived with Harvey, I was always treated with respect at least, if he was a little close with his secrets, and wasteful of his money.”

    “Then, madam, you once formed part of the household of Mr. Harvey Birch?”

    “You may say I was the whole of his household,” returned the other; “there was nobody but I, and he, and the old gentleman. You did n’t know the old gentleman, perhaps?”

    “That happiness was denied me: how long did you live in the family of Mr. Birch?”

    “I disremember the precise time, but it must have been hard on upon nine years: and what better am I for it all?”

    “Sure enough; I can see but little benefit that you have derived from the association, truly. But is there not something unusual in the movements and character of this Mr. Birch?”

    “Unusual is an easy word for such unaccountables!” replied Katy, lowering her voice, and looking around her; “he was a wonderful disregardful man, and minded a guinea no more than I do a kernel of corn. But help me to some way of joining Miss Jinitt, and I will tell you prodigies of what Harvey has done, first and last.”

    “You will!” exclaimed the trooper, musing; “here, give me leave to feel your arm above the elbow. There—you are not deficient in bone, let the blood be as it may.” So saying, he gave the spinster a sudden whirl, that effectually confused all her faculties, until she found herself safely, if not comfortably, seated on the crupper of Lawton’s steed.

    “Now, madam, you have the consolation of knowing that you are as well mounted as Washington. The nag is sure of foot, and will leap like a panther.”

    “Let me get down,” cried Katy, struggling to release herself from his iron grasp, and yet afraid of falling; “this is no way to put a woman on a horse; besides, I can’t ride without a pillion.”

    “Softly, good madam,” said Lawton; “for although Roanoke never falls before, he sometimes rises behind. He is far from being accustomed to a pair of heels beating upon his flanks like a drum-major on a field day; a single touch of the spur will serve him for a fortnight, and it is by no means wise to be kicking in this manner, for he is a horse that but little likes to be outdone.”

    “Let me down, I say,” screamed Katy; “I shall fall and be killed. Besides, I have nothing to hold on with; my arms are full of valuables.”

    “True,” returned the trooper, observing that he had brought bundle and all from the ground; “I perceive that you belong to the baggage guard; but my sword-belt will encircle your little waist, as well as my own.”

    Katy was too much pleased with this compliment to make any resistance, while he buckled her close to his own herculean frame, and, driving a spur into his charger, they flew from the lawn with a rapidity that defied further denial. After proceeding for some time, at a rate that a good deal discomposed the spinster, they overtook the cart of the washerwoman driving slowly over the stones, with a proper consideration for the wounds of Captain Singleton. The occurrences of that eventful night had produced an excitement in the young soldier, that was followed by the ordinary lassitude of reaction, and he lay carefully enveloped in blankets, and supported by his man, but little able to converse, though deeply brooding over the past. The dialogue between Lawton and his companion ceased with the commencement of their motions, but a foot-pace being more favorable to speech, the trooper began anew:—

    “Then, you have been an inmate in the same house with Harvey Birch?”

    “For more than nine years,” said Katy, drawing her breath, and rejoicing greatly that their speed was abated.

    The deep tones of the trooper’s voice were no sooner conveyed to the ears of the washerwoman, than, turning her head, where she sat directing the movements of the mare, she put into the discourse at the first pause.

    “Belike, then, good woman, ye ’re knowing whether or no he ’s akin to Beelzeboob,” said Betty; “it ’s Sargeant Hollister who ’s saying the same, and no fool is the sargeant, any way.”

    “It ’s a scandalous disparagement” cried Katy, vehemently, “no kinder soul than Harvey carries a pack; and for a gownd or a tidy apron, he will never take a king’s farthing from a friend. Beelzebub, indeed! For what would he read the Bible, if he had dealings with the evil spirit?”

    “He ’s an honest divil, any way; as I was saying before, the guinea was pure. But then the sargeant thinks him amiss, and it ’s no want of l’arning that Mister Hollister has.”

    “He ’s a fool!” said Katy tartly. “Harvey might be a man of substance, were he not so disregardful. How often have I told him, that if he did nothing but peddle, and would put his gains to use, and get married, so that things at home could be kept within doors, and leave off his dealings with the rig’lars, and all incumberments, that he would soon become an excellent liver. Sergeant Hollister would be glad to hold a candle to him, indeed!”

    “Pooh!” said Betty, in her philosophical way; “ye ’re no thinking that Mister Hollister is an officer, and stands next the cornet, in the troop. But this pidler gave warning of the brush the night, and it ’s no sure that Captain Jack would have got the day, but for the reinforcement.”

    “How say you, Betty,” cried the trooper, bending forward on his saddle, “had you notice of our danger from Birch?”

    “The very same, darling; and it ’s hurry I was till the boys was in motion; not but I knew ye ’re enough for the Cow-Boys any time. But wid the divil on your side, I was sure of the day. I ’m only wondering there ’s so little plunder, in a business of Beelzeboob’s contriving.”

    “I ’m obliged to you for the rescue, and equally indebted to the motive.”

    “Is it the plunder? But little did I t’ink of it till I saw the movables on the ground, some burnt, and some broke, and other some as good as new. It would be convanient to have one feather-bed in the corps, any way.”

    “By heavens, ’t was timely succor! Had not Roanoke been swifter than their bullets, I must have fallen. The animal is worth his weight in gold.”

    “It ’s continental, you mane, darling. Goold weighs heavy, and is no plenty in the States. If the nagur had n’t been staying and frighting the sargeant with his copper-colored looks, and a matter of blarney ’bout ghosts, we should have been in time to have killed all the dogs, and taken the rest prisoners.”

    “It is very well as it is, Betty,” said Lawton; “a day will yet come, I trust, when these miscreants shall be rewarded, if not in judgments upon their persons, at least in the opinions of their fellow-citizens. The time must arrive when America will distinguish between a patriot and a robber.”

    “Speak low,” said Katy; “there ’s some who think much of themselves, that have doings with the Skinners.”

    “It ’s more they are thinking of themselves, then, than other people thinks of them,” cried Betty; “a t’ief ’s a t’ief, any way; whether he stales for King George or for Congress.”

    “I know ’d that evil would soon happen,” said Katy; “the sun set to-night behind a black cloud, and the house-dog whined, although I gave him his supper with my own hands; besides, it ’s not a week sin’ I dreamed the dream about the thousand lighted candles, and the cakes being burnt in the oven.”

    “Well,” said Betty, “it ’s but little I drame, any way. Jist keep an ’asy conscience and a plenty of the stuff in ye, and ye ’ll sleep like an infant. The last drame I had was when the boys put the thistle-tops in the blankets, and then I was thinking that Captain Jack’s man was currying me down, for the matter of Roanoke; but it ’s no trifle I mind either in skin or stomach.”

    “I ’m sure,” said Katy, with a stiff erection that drew Lawton back in his saddle, “no man shall ever dare to lay hands on bed of mine; it ’s undecent and despisable conduct.”

    “Pooh! pooh!” cried Betty; “if you tag after a troop of horse, a small bit of a joke must be borne: what would become of the States and liberty, if the boys had never a clane shirt, or a drop to comfort them? Ask Captain Jack, there, if they ’d fight, Mrs. Beelzeboob, and they no clane linen to keep the victory in.”

    “I ’m a single woman, and my name is Haynes,” said Katy, “and I ’d thank you to use no disparaging terms when speaking to me.”

    “You must tolerate a little license in the tongue of Mrs. Flanagan, madam,” said the trooper; “the drop she speaks of is often of an extraordinary size, and then she has acquired the freedom of a soldier’s manner.”

    “Pooh! captain, darling,” cried Betty, “why do you bother the woman? talk like yeerself, dear, and it ’s no fool of a tongue that ye ’ve got in yeer own head. But it ’s here-away that sargeant made a halt, thinking there might be more divils than one stirring, the night. The clouds are as black as Arnold’s heart, and deuce the star is there twinkling among them. Well, the mare is used to a march after nightfall, and is smelling out the road like a pointer slut.”

    “It wants but little to the rising moon,” observed the trooper. He called a dragoon, who was riding in advance, issued a few orders and cautions relative to the comfort and safety of Singleton, and speaking a consoling word to his friend himself, gave Roanoke the spur, and dashed by the cart, at a rate that again put to flight all the philosophy of Katharine Haynes.

    “Good luck to ye, for a free rider and a bold!” shouted the washerwoman, as he passed; “if ye ’re meeting Mister Beelzeboob, jist back the baste up to him, and show him his consort that ye ’ve got on the crupper. I ’m thinking it ’s no long he ’d tarry to chat. Well, well, it ’s his life that we saved, he was saying so himself—though the plunder is nothing to signify.”

    The cries of Betty Flanagan were too familiar to the ears of Captain Lawton to elicit a reply. Notwithstanding the unusual burden that Roanoke sustained, he got over the ground with great rapidity, and the distance between the cart of Mrs. Flanagan and the chariot of Miss Peyton was passed in a manner that, however it answered the intentions of the trooper, in no degree contributed to the comfort of his companion. The meeting occurred but a short distance from the quarters of Lawton, and at the same instant the moon broke from a mass of clouds, and threw its light on objects.

    Compared with the simple elegance and substantial comfort of the Locusts, the “Hotel Flanagan” presented but a dreary spectacle. In the place of carpeted floors and curtained windows, were the yawning cracks of a rudely-constructed dwelling, and boards and paper were ingeniously applied to supply the place of the green glass in more than half the lights. The care of Lawton had anticipated every improvement that their situation would allow, and blazing fires were made before the party arrived. The dragoons, who had been charged with this duty, had conveyed a few necessary articles of furniture, and Miss Peyton and her companions, on alighting, found something like habitable apartments prepared for their reception. The mind of Sarah had continued to wander during the ride, and, with the ingenuity of the insane, she accommodated every circumstance to the feelings that were uppermost in her own bosom.

    “It is impossible to minister to a mind that has sustained such a blow,” said Lawton to Isabella Singleton; “time and God’s mercy can alone cure it; but something more may be done towards the bodily comfort of all. You are a soldier’s daughter, and used to scenes like this; help me to exclude some of the cold air from these windows.”

    Miss Singleton acceded to his request, and while Lawton was endeavoring, from without, to remedy the defect of broken panes, Isabella was arranging a substitute for a curtain within.

    “I hear the cart,” said the trooper, in reply to one of her interrogatories. “Betty is tender-hearted in the main; believe me, poor George will not only be safe, but comfortable.”

    “God bless her, for her care, and bless you all,” said Isabella, fervently. “Dr. Sitgreaves has gone down the road to meet him, I know—what is that glittering in the moon?”

    Directly opposite the window where they stood, were the outbuildings of the farm, and the quick eye of Lawton caught at a glance the object to which she alluded.

    “’T is the glare of fire-arms,” said the trooper, springing from the window towards his charger, which yet remained caparisoned at the door. His movement was quick as thought, but a flash of fire was followed by the whistling of a bullet, before he had proceeded a step. A loud shriek burst from the dwelling, and the captain sprang into his saddle: the whole was the business of but a moment.

    “Mount—mount, and follow!” shouted the trooper; and before his astonished men could understand the cause of alarm, Roanoke had carried him in safety over the fence which lay between him and his foe. The chase was for life or death, but the distance to the rocks was again too short, and the disappointed trooper saw his intended victim vanish in their clefts, where he could not follow.

    “By the life of Washington,” muttered Lawton, as he sheathed his sabre, “I would have made two halves of him, had he not been so nimble on the foot—but a time will come!” So saying, he returned to his quarters, with the indifference of a man who knew his life was at any moment to be offered a sacrifice to his country. An extraordinary tumult in the house induced him to quicken his speed, and on arriving at the door, the panic-stricken Katy informed him that the bullet aimed at his own life had taken effect in the bosom of Miss Singleton.