Part 4 out of 5
"All is well, I trust, Lieutenant Stewart?" asked Colonel Burton, as I
approached. Then something in my face must have startled him, for he
asked me sharply what had happened.
"I fear we cannot remain here, sir," I said, as calmly as I could. "All
of our men have deserted us. There is not a single sentry at his post;"
and I told him what I had found.
He listened without a word till I had finished.
"You will get the tumbrel ready for the general, lieutenant," he said
quietly. "I will report this sad news to him. It seems that our defeat is
to become dishonor."
I put the horses into harness again, and led them to the place where the
general lay. He seemed dazed by the tidings of his men's desertion, and
made no protest nor uttered any sound as we lifted him again into the
cart and set off through the night. We soon reached the second ford, and
on the other side found Colonel Gage, who had contrived to rally about
eighty men and hold them there with him. But there seemed no hope of
keeping them through the night, so we set forward again, and plunged into
the gloomy forest.
An hour later, as I was plodding wearily along beside the cart, thinking
over the events of this tragic day, I was startled by a white face
peering from beneath the upraised curtain out into the darkness. It was
the stricken man within, who was surveying the remnant of that gallant
army which, a few short hours before, had passed along this road so
gayly, thinking itself invincible. He held himself a moment so, then let
the curtain drop and fell back upon his couch.
ALLEN AND I SHAKE HANDS
Of the horrors of the night which followed, my pen can paint no adequate
picture. Fugitives panted past us in the darkness, pursued by phantoms of
their own imagining, thinking only of one thing--to leave that scene of
awful slaughter far behind. The wounded toiled on, groaning and cursing,
for to drop to the rear or to wander from the way was to die, if not by
knife or tomahawk, none the less surely by hunger. Here and there some
poor wretch who could win no farther sat groaning by the roadside or
rolled in delirium upon the ground. The vast, impenetrable darkness of
the forest overshadowed us, full of threatening suggestion and peopled
with nameless terrors.
Colonel Gage remained with us with such of his men as he could hold
together, and among them I saw Lieutenant Allen. He had been wounded in
the shoulder, and at the suggestion of Captain Orme mounted the tumbrel
and drove the horses, while I walked beside it. What agonies the stricken
man within endured, tossed from side to side as the cart bumped along the
rough road, through ruts and over rocks and stumps of trees, must have
been beyond description, but not once during all that long night did I
hear a groan or complaint from him. Once he asked for water, and as Orme
and I stooped over him I heard him murmur as though to himself, "Who
would have thought it?" and again, "Who would have thought it?" Then he
drank the water mechanically and lay back, and said no more.
The disaster had been too sudden, too unexpected, too complete, for any
of us to fully realize. It seemed impossible that this handful of
terror-stricken fugitives should be all that remained of the proud army
to which we had belonged, and that this army had been defeated by a few
hundred Indians. Few of us had seen above a dozen of the enemy,--we of
Waggoner's company were the only ones who had looked down upon that
yelling mob in the ravine,--and scarce knew by whom we had been
slaughtered. It was incredible that two regiments of the best troops in
England should have been utterly routed by so contemptible a foe. The
reason refused to acknowledge such a thing.
I was plodding along, wearily enough, thinking of all this, when I heard
my name called, and glancing up, saw Allen looking round the corner of
the wagon cover.
"Won't you come up here, Lieutenant Stewart?" he asked. "There is ample
room for two, and 't is no use to tire yourself needlessly."
I accepted gratefully, though somewhat astonished at his courtesy, and in
a moment was on the seat beside him. He fell silent for a time, nor was I
in any mood for talk, for Spiltdorph's fate and young Harry Marsh's
sudden end weighed upon me heavily.
"Lieutenant Stewart," he said at last, "I feel that I did you and the
Virginia troops a grave injustice when I chose to question their courage.
What I saw to-day has opened my eyes to many things. In all the army, the
Virginia troops were the only ones who kept their wits about them and
proved themselves men. I wish to withdraw the expressions I used that
night, and to apologize for them most sincerely."
My hand was in his in an instant.
"With all my heart," I said. "I have thought more than once since then
that we were both too hasty."
He laughed,--a short laugh, in which there was no mirth.
"I think there are many of us who have been too hasty in this campaign,"
he said. "It is easy enough to see now that regulars are worth little in
this frontier warfare, where their manoeuvres count for nothing, and that
the provincials should have been left to fight in their own fashion. It
is not a pleasant thought that all my work in drilling them was worse
than wasted, and that every new manoeuvre I taught them impaired their
efficiency by just so much."
"'Twas not quite so bad as that," I protested. "The Virginia troops have
much to thank you for, and we shall know better how to deal with the
enemy next time."
"Next time?" he repeated despondently. "But when will next time be,
"Why, at once, to be sure!" I cried. "We have still, with Colonel
Dunbar's companies, over a thousand men. So soon as we join with him, and
get our accoutrement in order, we can march back against the enemy, and
we shall not be caught twice in the same trap."
He did not answer, and there was a moment's silence. I glanced at his
face and saw that it was very grave.
"You do not mean," I asked, with a great fear at my heart, "that you
think it possible we shall retreat without striking another blow?"
"I fear it is only too possible," he answered gloomily. "If the general
lives, he may order another advance; indeed, I am sure he will, in the
hope of saving some fragment of his reputation. But if he dies, as seems
most likely, Colonel Dunbar, who succeeds to the command, is not the man
to imperil his prestige by taking such a risk."
"Risk?" I cried. "How is this any greater than the risk we took at
"You forget, lieutenant," said Allen, "that all of our equipment was left
on the field. The men flung away their arms, many of them even the
clothes upon their backs. Everything was abandoned,--the general's
private papers, and even the military chest, with L10,000 in it. These
losses will not be easily repaired."
I could not but admit the truth of this, and said as much.
"And then," continued Allen, still more gloomily, "we have suffered
another loss which can never be made good. The morale of the men is
gone. They have no longer the confidence in themselves which a winning
army must have. I doubt if many of them could be got to cross the
Monongahela a second time."
Yes, that was also true, and we fell silent, each busy with his own
thoughts. It seemed too horrible, too utterly fantastic. At last came the
dawn, and the light of the morning disclosed us to each other. As I
looked about me, I wondered if these scarecrows, these phantoms of men,
could be the same who had gone into battle in all the pride of manhood
and pageantry of arms the day before. Orme was ghastly, with his bandaged
head and torn, mud-stained uniform, and as I looked at him, I recalled
sadly the gallant figure I had met at Fort Necessity. Nor were the others
better. Haggard faces, bloodshot eyes, lips drawn with suffering, hair
matted with blood,--all the grim and revolting realities of defeat were
there before us, and no longer to be denied. And I realized that I was
ghastly as any. A bullet had cut open my forehead, leaving a livid gash,
from which the blood had dried about my face. I had lost my hat, and my
uniform was in tatters and stained with blood.
We soon met the men who had gone forward with Waggoner to secure us some
supplies, and halted by a little brook to wash our injuries. Captain Orme
and some others attended as well as they were able to the general, and
gave him a little food, which was all too scarce, barely sufficient for a
single meal. Fortunately, Doctor Craik, who had learned that the general
was wounded, came up soon after, and made a careful examination of the
injury. He came away, when he had finished, with grave face, and told us
there was little hope, as the wound was already much inflamed and
fevered, and the general was able to breathe only with great agony. He
said there could be no question that the ball had entered the lung. The
general fancied that he would be easier on horseback, so when the march
was begun again, he was mounted on the horse Orme had been riding, but
after half an hour his pain grew so intense that he had to be taken down.
It was evident that he could not endure the jolting of the cart, and we
finally rigged up a sort of litter out of a portion of the tumbrel top,
and the men took turns in bearing him on this between them.
Daylight banished much of the terror of the night, and as we toiled
onward, we began to talk a little, each to tell what part he had seen
of the battle. It was here that I heard the story of Harry Gordon, the
engineer who had been marking out the road in advance of the column,
and who had first seen the enemy. They had appeared suddenly, coming
through the wood at a run, as though hurrying from the fort, and led by
a man whose silver gorget and gayly fringed hunting-shirt at once
bespoke the chief. So soon as he saw Gordon, he halted and waved his
hat above his head, and the rabble of savages at his heels had
dispersed to right and left and disappeared as if by magic. An instant
later came a tremendous rifle fire from either flank, which cut Gage's
troops to pieces. They had rallied and returned the fire with spirit,
so that for a time the issue hung in the balance; but the terrible fire
to which they were subjected was too much for any discipline to
withstand, and they had finally given way in confusion, just as Burton
was forming to support them.
It was not until long afterward that I heard the French story of the
fight, but I deem it best to set it down here. As our army had approached
through the wilderness, the Indians who lurked upon our flanks had
carried greatly exaggerated stories of our strength to Fort Duquesne, and
M. de Contrecoeur prepared to surrender on terms of honorable
capitulation, deeming it mere madness to oppose a force so overwhelming
in strength and so well disciplined. To the French the reputation of
General Braddock and of the Forty-Fourth and Forty-Eighth regiments of
the line was well known and commanded the greatest respect. On the eighth
of July, it was reported that the English were only a few miles from the
fort, which they would probably invest the next day, and M. de Beaujeu, a
captain of the regulars, asked the commandant for permission to prepare
an ambuscade and contest the second passage of the Monongahela.
Contrecoeur granted the request with great reluctance, and only on
condition that Beaujeu obtain the assistance of the Indians, of whom
there were near a thousand camped about the fort. Accordingly. Beaujeu at
once called the warriors to a council, and urged that they accompany him
against the English on the morrow. They received his proposition with
marked coldness, and according to the Indian custom, asked until morning
to consider their reply. In the morning, the council was called together
again, and the Indians refused to take part in the expedition. At that
moment a runner burst in upon them and announced that the enemy was at
hand. Beaujeu, who knew well the inflammable nature of his hearers, was
on his feet in an instant.
"I," he cried, "am determined to go out against the enemy. I am certain
of victory. What! Will you suffer your father to depart alone?"
It was the one spark needed to set the Indians on fire. They were frantic
with excitement. Barrels of bullets and casks of powder were rolled from
the fort, and their heads knocked out, so that each Indian could take
what he needed. War paint was donned, and in an hour the band, nine
hundred strong, of whom near seven hundred were Indians and the remainder
Canadians and regulars, set off silently through the forest. Beaujeu
calculated, at the most, on giving us a severe check as we crossed the
second ford, but long ere he reached the river, the beating of the drums
and the tramp of the approaching army told him that he was too late, and
that we had already crossed. Quickening their pace to a run, in a moment
they came upon our vanguard, and as Beaujeu gave the signal, the Indians
threw themselves into two ravines on our flanks, while the Canadians and
French held the centre. The first volley of Gage's troops killed
Beaujeu, and was so tremendous that it frightened the Indians, who
turned to flee. But they were rallied by a few subalterns, and finding
that the volleys of the regulars did little damage except to the trees,
returned to the attack, and during the whole engagement were perfectly
sheltered in the ravines, rifle and artillery fire alike sweeping above
them. They lost altogether but twenty-five or thirty men, and most of
these fell before the volley which we of Waggoner's company had fired
into the ravine.
After our retreat, no pursuit was attempted, the Indians busying
themselves killing and scalping the wounded and gathering up the rich
booty which the army had left behind. They decked themselves in British
uniforms, stuck the tall caps of the grenadiers above their painted
faces, wound neck, wrist, and ankle with gold lace, made the wood to echo
with the dreadful scalp-halloo. Such an orgy of blood they never had
before; not another such will they ever have.
One other horror must I record, which chokes me even yet to think of. A
score of regulars, surrounded by savages and cut off in their retreat
from the remainder of the army, yielded themselves captive to the
victors, thinking to be treated as prisoners of war have ever been in
Christian nations. But the Indians knew only their own bloodthirsty
customs. Half of the captives were tomahawked on the spot. The others
were stripped of clothing, their faces blackened, their hands bound
behind them, and were driven forward to the Allegheny, where, just
across from Fort Duquesne, a stake had been set in the river's bank.
Arrived there, the prisoners began to understand the fate prepared for
them, yet they could not believe. A hundred yards away across the river
stood the walls of the fort, crowded with soldiers, the fair lilies of
France waving lazily above their heads. Calmly they watched the terrible
preparations,--Contrecoeur, Dumas, and all the others,--and not one
raised a hand to rescue those unhappy men, or uttered a word to mitigate
their torture. From dark to dawn the flames shimmered across the
water,--for the English went to their fate singly,--and things were done
to turn one sick with horror; yet did the French look tranquilly from
their bastions and joke one to another. Our flag, thank God, has never
been sullied by a deed like that!
Early the next morning, the Indians started westward to their homes,
laden with booty, sated with slaughter, leaving the French to take care
of themselves as best they might. The latter remained for a week in great
fear of another attack, which they would have been quite unable to
withstand, little thinking that our army was fleeing back to the
settlements with feet winged by an unreasoning terror.
We reached Gist's plantation at ten o'clock on the night of the tenth,
and here we were compelled to stop because of our own exhaustion and the
great suffering of the general. And here, early the next morning, came
Colonel Washington, sitting his cushioned saddle like some gaunt
spectre, and bringing with him wagons loaded with provision. The general
still persisted in the exercise of his duties, despite his suffering, and
he at once detailed a party to proceed toward the Monongahela with a
supply of food, for the succor of the stragglers and the wounded who had
been left behind,--a duty which was ill fulfilled because of the
cowardice of those to whom it was intrusted. Meanwhile we pushed on, and
reached Dunbar's camp that night.
We found it in the utmost confusion. At five o'clock on the morning after
the battle, a teamster, who had cut loose his horse and fled at the first
onset, had ridden madly into the camp crying that the whole army was
destroyed and he alone survived. At his heels came other teamsters, for
with an appalling cowardice, which makes me blush for my countrymen, they
had one and all cut loose their teams at the first fire, and selecting
the best horse, had fled precipitately from the field. Toward noon,
Colonel Washington had arrived, bringing the first accurate news of the
disaster, and at once setting on foot the relief expedition. After him
came troops of haggard, toil-worn, famished men, without arms, bewildered
with terror, fearing a second ambuscade at every step, and with the yells
of the Indians still ringing in their ears. The news of the disaster and
the incoherent stories of these half-crazed fugitives spread
consternation through the camp. Men deserted by scores and started
hot-foot for the settlements, and all pretense of discipline vanished.
Nor did the arrival of the general greatly better matters. He was fast
sinking, and long periods of delirium sapped his strength. It was evident
that the end was near.
On the morning of the twelfth, I was engaged in collecting such of
the Virginia troops as I could find about the camp, when I saw
Colonel Washington approaching with a face so gloomy that I foresaw
some new disaster.
"What is it?" I asked, almost before he had reached me.
"Have you not heard?" and he looked meaningly back toward a spring near
which a number of men were unheading some casks. "We are to destroy all
our powder and stores, burn our wagons, and flee back to the settlements,
like so many children."
"Why, 'tis folly!" I cried. "'Tis monstrous! Who gave such an order?"
"I know not," and Washington smiled bitterly. "It is certain that the
general did not, since he has been raving with fever all the night.
Besides, his one thought has been to march back against the French the
instant he could get his troops together. Come, walk over with me and let
us watch this unhappy work."
I followed him, and witnessed a sight which filled me with speechless
anger and indignation. Powder casks were being knocked open and their
contents cast into the spring, cohorns broken, shells burst, provisions
destroyed, and upwards of a hundred and fifty wagons burned. I remembered
bitterly what work we had had to obtain those wagons. Such a scene of
senseless and wanton destruction I had never seen before, and hope never
to see again. A frenzy of terror seemed to possess officers and men
alike, and I turned away, raging at heart, to think that to such men as
these had been intrusted the defense of our country. At last the work of
destruction was complete. With barely enough provision to carry us to
Fort Cumberland, and with no ammunition save that in our cartouch boxes,
the retreat commenced, if the flight of a disordered and frenzied rabble
can be dignified by such a name.
BRADDOCK PAYS THE PRICE
It was the morning of Sunday, July 13, that this shameful flight began.
Its arrant cowardice weighed on many of the officers who were left alive,
and even on some of the men, especially, I am glad to say, on many of the
Virginians. Whose fault was it? Well, Colonel Dunbar was in command,
since the general was no longer conscious, and must take the blame.
Colonel Washington had asked me to remain near him, if possible. He had
secured me a horse, and together with Captain Orme, who was no less
depressed, we formed the escort to the litter whereon lay the dying man.
Doctor Craik came to us from time to time, but the general was far beyond
human aid. I had never respected him so much as in this hour, for of his
downright valor I had had every proof. If only his pride had been a
little less, that his valor might have counted! It was while I was riding
thus, absorbed in melancholy thought, that a horse cantered up beside me,
and looking up, I saw Lieutenant Allen.
"Confess I was a true prophet, Lieutenant Stewart," he remarked, with
a sorry attempt at a smile, "though damme if I could have foretold
that act of folly back yonder! You see, I know our new commander
better than do you."
"So it seems," I answered, and at that moment caught Colonel Washington's
astonished eyes fixed upon us. Allen followed my glance, and smiled as he
saw the expression of Washington's face.
"He cannot understand our friendliness," he laughed. "He is doubtless
wondering if we are arranging the preliminaries for the desperate
encounter for which we were booked. Let me explain the situation to him,"
and he spurred to Washington's side. "I had occasion to say to Lieutenant
Stewart a few evenings ago," he said, "that I had been grievously
mistaken in my estimate of his courage, and that of the Virginia
companies, and that I was truly sorry that I had ever questioned them. In
the light of to-day's event, I am still more sorry, and I wish to add to
you, Colonel Washington, that I regret the words I used to you, and that
I sincerely ask your pardon."
"'Tis granted with all my heart!" cried Washington, his face illumined
with that fine smile which always lighted it before any deed of courage
or gentleness, and the two shook hands warmly. "'Twas granted before you
asked it. I am not such a fire-eater as Tom, back there. I have regretted
that foolish quarrel many times, and had determined that it should not
lead to another meeting between you, which would have been mere folly.
Come here, sir," he called to me. "I wish to tell you how pleased I am
that this quarrel has been adjusted."
"No more pleased than I, I assure you, colonel," I laughed.
"Lieutenant Allen gave me a sample of his swordsmanship I shall not
soon forget. I should have been as helpless before him as a lamb in the
jaws of a tiger."
"Now you are mocking me!" cried Allen, and as I related to Colonel
Washington the story of his little bout with Langlade, we rode on
laughing, the best of friends.
"But, believe me, Lieutenant Stewart," he said, when I had finished, "it
was not self-complacency which urged me to take up the foils that day. I
merely wished to show you that you had need to keep in practice, and so
prevent you from becoming over-sure."
"'T was well done," said Washington heartily. "I appreciate your conduct,
"And I certainly took the lesson to heart," I laughed. "Just before you
came, I had conceived a most exalted opinion of my own abilities. I shall
not make the mistake a second time."
Presently Allen fell back to rejoin the rear-guard, with which he had
been stationed, and we rode on beside the general's litter. He was
delirious most of the time, and was fighting the battle of the
Monongahela over and over again, giving orders and threshing from side to
side of his couch in his agony. In one of his intervals of consciousness,
he called my companion to him.
"Colonel Washington," he said in a low tone, "I feel that I have done you
great injustice. Had I followed your advice, this catastrophe might not
have happened. But my eyes were not opened until too late. Had I lived,
I should not have forgot you. I am sure you cannot withhold your pardon
from a dying man."
Washington's lips were trembling as he bent over the litter.
"If there is anything to pardon, general," he said softly, "be sure I
pardon you with all my heart. You have the love of all your officers,
sir, who revere you as a brave and gallant man."
"Ay, but a proud and stubborn one," and he smiled sadly. "Would God I had
had the grace to see it while it was yet time. Colonel Washington," he
added, "I wish you to have my charger, Bruce, and my body servant,
Bishop. These two gentlemen are witnesses that I give them to you."
Orme and I bowed our assent, and Washington thanked him with a trembling
voice. He was soon wandering again, this time, apparently, among the
scenes of his earlier manhood.
"Messieurs de la Garde Francaise," he cried, "tirez, s'il vous plait!"
"Ah," murmured Orme, "he is at Fontenoy."
"Poor Fanny, I always thought she would play till she would be forced to
tuck herself up."
"She was his sister," said Orme, answering our questioning glances. "She
ruined herself at cards and then hanged herself. It was a sad story."
And yet again,--
"No, I'll not take your purse!" he cried; and then after a moment, "nor
ask my life at your hands. Do what you will."
I could bear no more, and rode forward out of earshot. To see this
gallant man lying there, slowly dying, bereft at one stroke of life and
that far dearer to him than life, his military reputation, moved me as
few things had ever done. He had another lucid interval toward the middle
of the afternoon, and warmly praised the conduct of his officers.
"They were gallant boys, every one," he said. "They did their duty
as brave men should. How many of them fell?" he asked suddenly,
turning to Orme.
"Sixteen," answered Orme sadly.
"And how many were wounded?"
"Sixty-three,--and there were only eighty-nine," and Braddock sighed
heavily. "And how went it with the men?"
Orme hesitated, fearing to disclose the extent of the disaster, but the
general's eyes were on his and would take no denial.
"They suffered very heavily," said Orme at last. "Less than five hundred
escaped unharmed. All of the wounded who remained on the field were
killed by the Indians."
"And we went into battle with near fifteen hundred men," said Braddock.
"Why, it was mere slaughter. There has never an army gone into battle
which lost such proportion of its numbers. Ah, well, I shall soon join
them. And they are happier than I, for they went to their end honored
and applauded, whilst I am a broken and ruined man, who will be
remembered only to be cursed."
He turned his head away from us, and a great tear rolled down his cheek.
Orme was crying like a child, and made no effort to conceal it, nor were
Washington and I less moved.
"At least," he said at last, turning back to us with a smile, "it were
better to have died than to have lived. I am glad I do not have to live."
He soon lapsed again into delirium, and seemed to be living over a second
time a meeting with some woman.
"Dear Pop," he said, "we are sent like sacrifices to the altar. They have
given me a handful of men and expect me to conquer whole nations. I know
that I shall never see you more. Good-by, Pop, and God bless you."
Orme turned away for a moment to master his emotion.
"'T was his last night in London," he said when he could speak. "He was
to set out on the morrow, and he asked Colonel Burton and myself to go
with him to visit a very dear protegee of his, George Anne Bellamy, the
actress, to whom, I think, he has left all his property. He used to her
almost the same words he has just repeated."
"So he had doubts of his success," said Washington musingly. "Well, he
was a brave man, for he never permitted them to be seen."
He was fast growing weaker. His voice faltered and failed, and he lay
without movement in his litter, continuing so until eight o'clock in the
evening. We had halted for the night, and had gathered about his couch,
watching him as his breathing grew slowly fainter. At last, when we
thought him all but gone, he opened his eyes, and seeing the ring of
anxious faces about him, smiled up at them.
"It is the end," he said quietly. "You will better know how to deal with
them next time;" and turning his head to one side, he closed his eyes.
We buried him at daybreak. The grave was dug in the middle of the road,
so that the wagons passing over it might efface all trace of its
existence and preserve it inviolate from the hands of the Indians. Our
chaplain, Mr. Hughes, had been severely wounded, so it was Colonel
Washington who read the burial service. I shall not soon forget that
scene,--the open grave in the narrow roadway, the rude coffin draped with
a flag, the martial figure within in full uniform, his hands crossed over
the sword on his breast, the riderless charger neighing for its master,
and the gray light of the morning over it all. The burial service has
never sounded more impressively in my ears than it did as read that
morning, in Colonel Washington's strong, melodious voice, to that little
group of listening men, in the midst of the wide, unbroken, whispering
forest. How often have I heard those words of hope and trust in God's
promise to His children, and under what varying circumstances!
We lowered him into the grave, and lingered near until the earth was
heaped about it. Then the drums beat the march, the wagons rolled over
it, and in half an hour no trace of it remained. So to this day, he lies
there undisturbed in the heart of the wilderness, in a grave which no man
knows. Others have railed at him,--have decried him and slandered
him,--but I remember him as he appeared on that last day of all, a brave
and loyal gentleman, not afraid of death, but rather welcoming it, and
the memory is a sweet and dear one. If he made mistakes, he paid for them
the uttermost penalty which any man could pay,--and may he rest in peace.
Of the remainder of that melancholy flight little need be said. We
struggled on through the wilderness, bearing our three hundred wounded
with us as best we could, and marking our path with their shallow graves,
as they succumbed one after another to the hardships of the journey. On
the twenty-second day of July we reached Fort Cumberland, and I learned
with amazement that Dunbar did not propose to stop here, although he had
placed near a hundred and fifty miles between him and the enemy, but to
carry his whole army to Philadelphia, leaving Virginia open to Indian and
French invasion by the very road which we had made. He alleged that he
must go into winter quarters, and that, too, though it was just the
height of summer. Colonel Washington ventured to protest against this
folly, but was threatened with court-martial, and came out of Dunbar's
quarters red with anger and chagrin.
And sure enough, on the second of August, Dunbar marched away with all
his effective men, twelve hundred strong, leaving at the fort all his
sick and wounded and the Virginia and Maryland troops, over whom he
attempted to exercise no control. I bade good-by to Orme and Allen and
such other of the officers as I had met. Colonel Burton took occasion to
come to me the night before he marched, and presented me with a very
handsome sword in token of his gratitude, as he said, for saving his
life,--an exploit, as I pointed out to him, small enough beside a hundred
others that were done that day.
The sword he gave me hangs above my desk as I write. I am free to confess
that I have performed no great exploits with it, and when I took it down
from its hook the other day to look at it, I found that it had rusted in
VIRGINIA BIDS US WELCOME
"To my mind, there is only one thing to be done. That is to retire."
The speaker was Colonel Henry Innes, commandant of the fort, but as he
looked up and down the row of faces opposite him, he saw few which showed
assent. Scarcely had the rear-guard of Dunbar's troops disappeared among
the trees which lined the narrow military road, when Colonel Innes had
called this meeting of the officers left at the fort, "to decide," as the
summons put it, "on our future course of action." As if, I thought
indignantly to myself, there could be any question as to what our future
course of action should be.
"We are left here," continued the speaker, in a louder voice and growing
somewhat red in the face, "with scarce five hundred men, all provincials,
and most of them unfit for service. A great part of the army's equipment
has been abandoned or destroyed back there in the woods. In short, we are
so weak that we can hope neither to advance against the enemy nor to
repel an assault, should they march against us in force, as they are most
like to do."
For a moment there was an ominous silence.
"May I ask what it is you propose, Colonel Innes?" asked Captain
Waggoner at last.
"I propose to abandon the place," replied Innes, "and to fall back to
Winchester or some other point where our wounded may lie in safety and
our men have opportunity to recover from the fatigues of the campaign."
Again there was a moment's silence, and all of us, as by a common
impulse, glanced at Colonel Washington, who sat at one end of the table,
his head bowed in gloomy thought. The fever, which he had shaken off for
a time, had been brought back by the arduous work he had insisted on
performing, and he was but the shadow of his former self. He felt our
eyes upon him and suddenly raised his head.
"Do you really anticipate that the French will march against us, Colonel
Innes?" he asked quietly. "There were scarce three hundred of them at the
fort three weeks ago, hardly enough for an expedition of such moment, and
it is not likely that they can be reinforced to undertake any campaign
"There would be little danger from the French themselves," retorted
Innes, with an angry flush, "but they will undoubtedly rally the Indians,
and lead them against us along the very road which Braddock cut over the
mountains. Fort Cumberland stands at one end of that road."
Washington smiled disdainfully.
"I have heard of few instances," he said, "where Indians have dared
attack a well-manned fortification, and of none where they have captured
one. To retreat from here would be to leave our whole frontier open to
their ravages, and would be an act of cowardice more contemptible than
that which Colonel Dunbar performed this morning, when he marched his
I had never seen him so moved, and I caught the infection of his anger.
"Colonel Washington is right!" I cried hotly. "Our place is here."
Innes did not so much as look at me. His eyes were on Washington, and his
face was very red.
"Colonel Washington," he sneered, his lips curling away from his teeth
with rage, "was, I believe, an aide on the general's staff. Since the
general is dead, that position no longer exists. Consequently, Colonel
Washington is no longer an officer of the army, and I fail to see what
right he has to take part in this discussion."
Half a dozen of us were on our feet in an instant, but Washington was
before us and waved us back with a motion of his hand.
"Colonel Innes is right," he said, his deep-set eyes gleaming like two
coals of fire. "I am no longer an officer of the army, and I thank God
this is so, since it is about to further disgrace itself."
"Take care, sir," cried Innes, springing to his feet. "You forget there
is such a thing as court-martial."
"And you forget that I am no longer of the army, and so can defy its
He stood for a moment longer looking Innes in the eyes, and then,
without saluting, turned on his heel and left the place. A moment later
the council broke up in confusion, for Innes saw plainly that the
sentiment of nearly all the other officers present was against him, and
he did not choose to give it opportunity of expression. I had scarcely
reached my quarters when I received a note from his secretary stating
that as the mortality among the Virginia companies had been so heavy, it
had been decided to unite the three into one, and my lieutenancy was
therefore abolished. Trembling with anger, I hurried to Washington's
quarters and laid the note before him.
"Why, Tom," he said, with a short laugh, after he had read it, "we seem
to have fallen into disgrace together. But come," he added more
cheerfully, seeing my downcast face, "do not despair. We may yet win out.
The governor and the House of Burgesses will not receive so quietly this
project to retire from the frontier. I had a letter from Dinwiddie but
the other day, in which he said as much. In the mean time, I am going
home to Mount Vernon to rest, and you must come with me."
I accepted readily enough, for I knew not what else to do, and on the
morrow we set out. Colonel Washington was so ill that we could proceed
but slowly. We finally reached Winchester, and from there, because of the
better road, crossed the river to Frederick, where a great surprise
awaited us. For scarcely were we off our horses at the little tavern,
than the host, learning our names, rushed away down the wide, rambling
street, crying the news aloud, to our great wonderment, who saw not why
it should interest any one. In an incredibly short time, above a hundred
people had gathered before the inn, cheering and hallooing with all their
might, while we looked at them in dumb amazement. We sent for the host to
learn what this might mean, thinking doubtless there was some mistake,
and even as he entered, a dozen men burst into the room, and insisted
that we should not be permitted for a moment to think of putting up at an
inn, but should accompany them home.
"But, gentlemen," protested Washington, "you have mistaken us for some
one else. We have done nothing to deserve your hospitality."
"Have you not?" they cried, and they hustled us out into the yard. There
was no denying them, so off we rode again, greatly bewildered, and in the
course of half an hour were being introduced by our self-appointed
entertainer to his wife and three pretty daughters.
"'T is Colonel Washington, you understand, wife," he cried. "Colonel
Washington, whose advice, had it been followed, would have saved the
A great light broke upon me. So my friend's merits were to be recognized
at last,--were to win him something more than contumely and insult,--and
as he would have made denial, I cut him short.
"Do not listen to him!" I cried. "'T is true, every word of it, and much
Whereat the girls smiled at me very sweetly, our host wrung my hand
again, and I swear there were tears in Washington's eyes as he looked at
me in feigned anger. Such a night's entertainment as was given us I shall
not soon forget, nor Colonel Washington either, I dare say. Word of our
presence had got about the neighborhood with singular speed, and the
people flocked in by dozens, until the great hallway, which ran through
the house from front to rear, was crowded from end to end. Then, nothing
would do but that Colonel Washington must tell the story of the advance,
the ambuscade, and the retreat, which he did with such consummate
slighting of his own part in the campaign that I interrupted him in great
indignation, and, unheeding his protests, related some of the things
concerning him which I have already written, and which, I swear, were
very well received.
"But Lieutenant Stewart says nothing of what he himself did," cried
Washington, when I had finished.
"Because I did nothing worth relating," I retorted, my cheeks hot with
embarrassment at the way they looked at me.
"Ask him how he won that sword he wears at his side," he continued, not
heeding my interruption, his eyes twinkling at my discomfiture. "Believe
me, 'tis not many Virginia officers can boast such a fine one."
And then, of course, they all demanded that he tell the story, which he
did with an exaggeration that I considered little less than shameful.
In some mysterious manner, tankards of cold, bitter Dutch beer, the
kind that is so refreshing after a journey or at the close of a hot
day's work, had found their way into the right hand of every man
present, and as Washington ended the story and I was yet denying, our
host sprang to his feet.
"We'll drink to the troops of Maryland and Virginia," he cried, "who
behaved like soldiers and died like men, teaching England's redcoats a
lesson they will not soon forget, and to two of the bravest among them,
Colonel Washington and Lieutenant Stewart!"
It was done with a cheer that made the old hall ring, and when, half an
hour later, I found myself beside the prettiest of the three daughters of
the house, I was not yet quite recovered. Only this I can say,--it is a
pleasant thing to be a hero, though trying to the nerves. I had only the
one experience, and did not merit that, as the reader has doubtless
decided for himself.
Of course there was a dance,--what merrymaking would be complete without
one?--and Colonel Washington walked a minuet with a certain Mistress
Patience Burd, with a grace which excited the admiration of every swain
in the room, and the envy of not a few,--myself among the number, for I
was ever but a clumsy dancer, and on this occasion no doubt greatly vexed
my pretty partner. But every night must end, as this one did at last.
Colonel Washington was much better next morning, for his illness had been
more of the mind than of the body, and our kind reception had done
wonders to banish his vexation. Our friends bade us Godspeed, and we rode
on our way southward. I never saw the house again, and it is one of my
great regrets and reasons for self-reproach that I have forgot the name
of the honest man who was our host that night, and remember only that the
name of his prettiest daughter was Betty.
As we reached a part of the country which was more closely settled, I
soon perceived that however great dishonor had accrued to British arms
and British reputations as the result of that battle by the Monongahela,
Colonel Washington had won only respect and admiration by his consistent
and courageous conduct. We were stopped a hundred times by people who
asked first for news, and when they heard my companion's name, vied with
one another to do him honor. It did me good to see how he brightened
under these kind words and friendly acts, and how the color came again
into his face and the light into his eyes. And I hold that this was as it
should be, for I know of nothing of which a man may be more justly proud
than of the well-earned praises of his fellows.
At last, toward the evening of a sultry August day, we turned our horses'
heads into the wide road which led up to Mount Vernon, and drew near to
that hospitable and familiar mansion. News of our approach must have
preceded us, for there, drawn up in line, were the bowing and grinning
negroes, while at the entrance gate were Mrs. Washington and her
children, as well as a dozen families assembled from as many miles
around to do honor to the returning warrior. My heart beat more quickly
as I ran my eyes over this gathering, but fell again when I saw that the
family from Riverview was not there.
And such a greeting as it was! We all remained a space apart until Mrs.
Washington had kissed her son, as something too sacred for our intrusion.
But when he turned to greet his neighbors, I have rarely seen such
genuine emotion shown even in our whole-hearted Virginia. At the great
dinner which followed, with Mrs. Washington at the head of the table and
her son at the foot, we told again the story of the campaign, and the men
forgot to sip their wine until the tale was ended. Yet with all this
largess of goodwill, I was not wholly happy. For I had no home to go to,
nor was there any waiting to welcome me, and the woman I loved seemed
farther away than ever, though now she was so near.
A NEW DANGER AT RIVERVIEW
But Dorothy was not so near as I had thought, for next morning came a
message from my aunt. It was delivered almost as soon as I was out of bed
by a negro boy who had ridden over at daybreak. It was dated but two days
before, and began very formally.
"Sir," it ran, "since you no doubt will wish to recuperate from the
fatigues of the campaign so unfortunately ended, and as there is no place
where you can do this so well as at Riverview, I hasten to assure you
that the place is entirely at your service."
I paused a moment to get my breath. Her reference to the campaign was
intended as a stab, of course, yet could it be she was relenting? But
hope fell as I read on.
"In order that you may feel at liberty to avail yourself of this
invitation," the note continued, "my daughter and I have accepted one of
long standing to spend a month, or perhaps two months, at the home of a
relative. James is at Williamsburg, so that you may be entirely free to
occupy your leisure at Riverview as best pleases you. Do not think that
you have driven us from the place, for that is not at all the case. I
have long felt the need of rest, and take advantage of this opportunity,
while there is little doing on the plantation, to secure it. I trust to
your sense of honor to make no inquiries as to where we are stopping, nor
to attempt to see my daughter, who, I believe, has already discovered
that any fancy she may ever have seemed to entertain for you was more
imaginary than real."
Here was a blow, straight from the shoulder, and I winced under it.
"I could never consent," the note concluded, "to any attachment of a
serious nature between you, having quite other views for my daughter,
which, I am sure, will be for her happiness and well-being."
I read the note through a second time before I realized what a blow it
gave to all my hopes. I had had little cause to anticipate any other
treatment, it is true, and yet I have often observed that men hope most
who have least reason for it, and this was so in my case. As I read the
note again, I could not but admire the adroitness of its author. She had
placed me upon honor--without my consent, 't is true--to make no effort
to see Dorothy. I stood biting my lips with anger and vexation, and then,
with sudden resolve, turned back to the messenger.
"Go around to the kitchen and get something to eat, if you are hungry," I
said to him. "I shall be ready to ride back with you in half an hour;"
and as he disappeared around a corner of the house, agrin from ear to
ear at the prospect of refreshment, I sought Mrs. Washington and told her
that I had just received a note from my aunt and would ride to Riverview
at once. How much she suspected of my difference with my aunt, I do not
know, but if she experienced any surprise at my sudden departure, she
certainly did not show it, saying only that she regretted that I must go
so soon, and that I must always consider Mount Vernon no less my home
than Riverview,--an assurance which Colonel Washington repeated when the
moment came to say good-by, and I rode away at last with a very tender
feeling in my heart for those two figures which stood there on the steps
until I turned into the road and passed from sight.
"And how is everything at Riverview, Sam?" I asked of the boy, as we
struck into the road and settled our horses into an easy canter. He did
not answer for a moment, and when I glanced at him to see the cause of
his silence, I was astonished to find him rolling his eyes about as
though he saw a ghost.
"What's the matter, boy?" I asked sharply. "Come, speak out. What is it?"
He looked behind him and all around into the woods, and then urged his
horse close to mine.
"Mas' Tom," he said, almost in a whisper, "dere's gwine t' be hell at d'
plantation foh long. Youse stay 'way fum it."
I looked at him, still more astonished by his singular behavior. A
full-blooded negro does not turn pale, but under the influence of great
terror his skin grows spotted and livid. Sam's was livid at that moment.
"See here, Sam," I said sharply, "if you have anything to tell, I want
you to tell me right away. What are you afraid of?"
"D' witch man," he whispered, his eyes almost starting from his head, and
his forehead suddenly beading with perspiration.
"The witch man? Has a witch man come to Riverview?"
"And what is he doing there, Sam?"
"He says d' French dun whopped d' English, an' a-comin' t' set all d'
niggahs free. He says we mus' holp, an' dere won't be no mo' slaves. All
ub us be free, jus' like white folks."
It took me a minute or two to grasp the full meaning of this
"He says the French are coming to set all the niggers free?" I repeated.
"And that the niggers must help them?"
Again Sam nodded.
"Help them how, Sam?"
"By killing the English, Sam?"
"I reckon dat 's it," he said reluctantly.
"And burning down their houses, perhaps?"
"I 'se hearn dat talked erboat, too."
I drew my horse in with a jerk, and catching Sam's by the bridle,
pulled it to me.
"Now, boy," I said, "you must tell me all about this. I promise you that
no one shall harm you."
He began to whimper.
"I'll tell yo', Mas' Tom," he stuttered, "but yo' mus' n' hurt d'
"Who is this witch man?" I demanded.
"Ole uncle Polete."
"Polete's no witch man. Why, Sam, you 've known him all your life. He's
nothing but an ordinary old nigger. He's been on the plantation twenty or
thirty years. All that he needs is a good whipping."
But the boy only shook his head and sobbed the more.
"Ef he's a-killed," he cried, "his ha'nt 'll come back fo' me."
I saw in a moment what the boy was afraid of. It was not of old
Polete in the flesh, but in the spirit. I thought for a moment. Well,
I had no reason to wish Polete any harm, yet if it were discovered
that he had been inciting the slaves to insurrection, there was no
power in the colony could save his life. If his owner did not execute
him, the governor would take the matter out of his hands, and order
it done himself.
"I tell you what I'll do, Sam," I said at last. "You tell me everything
you know, and I'll do all I can to save Polete. I believe I can stop this
thing without calling in any outside help."
He agreed to this, and as we jogged along I gradually drew the details of
the plot from him. The news of our defeat had, it seemed, stirred up the
negroes at the plantation, and in some way the wild rumor had been
started that a great force of French was marching over the mountains to
conquer Virginia and all the other English colonies; that emissaries had
come to the negroes and promised them that if they would assist the
invading army, they would be given their freedom and half of the colony
to live in. It was at this time that old Polete, crazed, perhaps, by
working in the tobacco fields under the blazing sun, had suddenly
developed into a witch man, and proclaimed that he could see the French
army marching, and urged the negroes to strike a blow at once in order to
merit their freedom when the French should come. Meetings were held
almost nightly in the woods some miles from their cabins, whence they
stole away after dark by twos and threes. Just what their plans were Sam
did not know, as he did not belong to the inner council, but he believed
that something would happen soon because of the increasing excitement of
the older negroes who were acquainted with the plans.
I rode on for some time in silence, thinking over this story and trying
to decide what I would better do. I did not know until months later that
signs of unrest had been observed among the slaves all over the colony,
and that the governor had considered the situation so serious that he had
sent out many warnings concerning the danger. It was as well, perhaps,
that I did not know this then, for I might not have thought my own
portion of the problem so easy of solution. At the time, I had no
thought but that the outbreak was the result of old Polete's prophecies,
and was confined alone to Riverview.
Sam was cantering along behind me, his face still livid with terror, and
as I caught sight of it again, I wondered what impulse it was had moved
him to confide in me, with such fancied peril to himself.
"I would n' tole nobody else," he said, in answer to my question, "but
you tole a lie fo' me oncet, an' saved me a lickin'."
"Told a lie for you, Sam?" I questioned in astonishment. "When was that?"
"Don' yo' 'membah boat d' whip, Mas' Tom, what I stole?" he asked.
I looked at him for a moment before that incident of my boyhood came
back to me.
"Why, yes, I remember it now," I said. "But that was years ago, Sam, and
I had forgotten it. Besides, I didn't tell a lie for you. I only told old
Gump that I wished to give you the whip."
"Well," said Sam, looking at me doubtfully, "yo' saved me a lickin'
anyhow, an' I did n' f 'git it," and he dropped back again.
Well, to be sure, an act of thoughtfulness or mercy never hurts a man, a
fact which I have since learned for myself a hundred times, and wish all
We were soon at Riverview, and I ordered Sam to ride out to the field
where the men were working, and tell the overseer, Long, that I wished to
see him. Sam departed on the errand, visibly uneasy, and I wandered from
my room, where I had taken my pack, along the hall and into my aunt's
business room while I waited his return. I stood again for a moment at
the spot on the staircase where I had kissed Dorothy that morning,--it
seemed ages ago,--and as I looked up, I fancied I could still see her
sweet face gazing down at me. But it was only fancy, and, with a sigh, I
turned away and went down through the hall.
There were reminders of her at every turn,--there was the place where she
had sat sewing in the evenings; over the fireplace hung a little picture
she had painted, rude enough, no doubt, but beautiful to my eyes. With a
sudden impulse, I ran down the steps and to the old seat under the oaks
by the river. Nothing had changed,--even the shadows across the water
seemed to be the same. But as I ran my hand mechanically along the arm of
the seat on the side where Dorothy always sat my fingers felt a roughness
which had not been there before, and as I looked to see what this might
be, I saw that some one had cut in the wood a T and a D, intertwined, and
circled by a tiny heart. Who could have done it? I had no need to ask
myself the question. My heart told me that no one but Dorothy could have
done it, and that she knew that I should come and sit here and live over
again the long evenings when she had sat beside me. It was a message from
my love, and with trembling lips I bent and kissed the letters which she
had carved. As I sat erect again, I heard footsteps behind me, and turned
to see Long approaching.
"You sent for me, Mr. Stewart?" he asked. "I saw you sitting here, and
decided you were waiting for me."
"Yes," I said, and I shook hands with him, for he was an honest man and a
"I am glad to see you back again, sir, though looking so ill," he added.
"I trust the air of Riverview will soon bring you around all right," and
from his eyes I knew he meant it.
I thanked him, and bade him sit beside me. Then, in a few words, I
told him what I had learned of the negro meetings, and saw his face
"'Tis what I have always feared," he said, when I had finished. "There
are too many of them in the colony, and they feel their strength. If they
had a leader and a chance to combine, they might do a great deal of harm.
However, we shall soon knock this in the head."
"How?" I asked.
"Make an example of Polete," he answered decidedly. "That's the best way,
sir. Put him out of the way, let the other niggers see us do it, and
they'll quiet down fast enough."
"Undoubtedly that is the easiest way," I said, smiling, "but,
unfortunately, I had to promise the person who gave me the information
that Polete should not be harmed."
Long stared at me for a moment in amazement.
"It would be unfortunate if any of the other planters should hear of that
promise, Mr. Stewart," he said at last. "They would probably take
Polete's case into their own hands."
I laughed at his evident concern.
"No doubt," I said, "but they are not going to hear of it. I intend
telling no one but yourself, for we two are quite sufficient to stop this
thing right here, and it need go no further."
"Perhaps we are," he answered doubtfully. "What is your plan, sir?"
"Polete will hold a meeting to-night over there in the woods. Well, we
will be present at the meeting."
He looked at me without saying a word. "Our visit will probably not be
very welcome," I continued, "but I believe it will produce the desired
effect. Will you go with me?"
"Certainly," he answered readily, "but I still think my plan the
"Perhaps it is," I laughed, "but we will try mine first," and he went
back to the field, agreeing to be at the house at eight o'clock.
I covered with my hand the tiny letters on the arm of the bench, and,
looking out across the broad river, drifted into the land of dreams,
where Dorothy and I wandered together along a primrose path, with none to
THE GOVERNOR SHOWS HIS GRATITUDE
I ate my supper in solitary splendor in the old dining-room, with my
grandfather's portrait looking down upon me, and Long found me an hour
later sitting in the midst of a wreath of smoke just within the hallway
out of the river mist.
"'T was as you said, Mr. Stewart," he remarked, as he joined me. "Fully a
hundred of the niggers stole off to the woods to-night so soon as it was
dark. They went down toward the old Black Snake swamp."
"Very well," I said, rising. "Wait till I get my hat, and I am with you."
"But you will go armed?" he asked anxiously.
I paused to think for a moment.
"No, I will not," I said finally. "A brace of pistols would avail
nothing against that mob, should they choose to resist us, and our going
unarmed will have a great moral effect upon them as showing them that we
are not afraid."
"You have weighed fully the extent of the risk you are about to run, I
hope, sir," protested Long.
"Fully," I answered. "'T is not yet too late for you to turn back, you
know. I have no right to ask you to endanger your life to carry out this
plan of mine. Perhaps it would be wiser for you not to go."
"And if I stay, you"--
"Will go alone," I said.
He caught my hand and wrung it heartily.
"You are a brave man, Mr. Stewart," he exclaimed. "If I have shown any
hesitation, 't was on your account, not on my own. I am ready to go with
you," and as he spoke, he drew a brace of pistols from beneath his coat
and laid them on the table by the fireplace.
"Wait one moment," I said, and hurrying to my aunt's room, I wrote a
short note telling her of the trouble I had discovered and where Long and
I were going, so that, if we did not return, she would know what had
happened. Folding and sealing it, I wrote on the outside, "To be
delivered at once to Mrs. Stewart," left it on the table, knowing that no
one would enter the room till morning, and hurried back to rejoin Long.
We were off without further words, and were soon well on our way.
It was a clear, cool, summer night, with the breeze just stirring in the
trees and keeping up a faint, unceasing whispering among the leaves. The
moon had risen some hours before, and sailed upward through a cloudless
sky. Even under the trees it was not wholly dark, for the moon's light
filtered through here and there, making a quaint patchwork on the ground,
and filling the air with a peculiar iridescence which transformed the
ragged trunks of the sycamores into fantastic hobgoblins. All about us
rose the croaking of the frogs, dominating all the other noises of the
night, and uniting in one mighty chorus in the marshes along the river.
An owl was hooting from a distant tree, and the hum of innumerable
insects sounded on every side. Here and there a glittering, dew-spangled
cobweb stretched across our path, a barrier of silver, and required more
than ordinary resolution to be brushed aside. As we turned nearer to the
river, the ground grew softer and the underbrush more thick, and I knew
that we had reached the swamp.
Then, in a moment, it seemed to me that I could hear some faint,
monotonous singsong rising above all the rest. At first I thought it was
the croaking of a monster frog, but as we plodded on and the sound grew
more distinct, I knew it could not be that. At last, in sheer perplexity,
I stopped and motioned Long to listen.
"Do you hear it?" I asked. "Do you know what it is?"
"Yes, I have heard it for the last ten minutes, Mr. Stewart," he
answered quietly. "It is old Polete preaching to the niggers. I have
often heard their so-called witch men preach. It is always in a singsong
just like that."
As we drew nearer, I perceived that this was true, for I could catch the
tones of the speaker's voice, and in a few minutes could distinguish his
words. Some years before, when the river had been in flood, its current
had been thrown against this bank by a landslide on the other side, and
had washed away trees and underbrush for some distance. The underbrush
had soon sprung up again, but the clearing still remained, and as we
stopped in the shadow of the trees and looked across it, we saw a
singular sight. Negroes to the number of at least a hundred and fifty
were gathered about a pile of logs on which Polete was mounted. He was
shouting in a monotone, his voice rising and falling in regular cadence,
his eyes closed, his head tilted back, his face turned toward the moon,
whose light silvered his hair and beard and gave a certain majesty to his
appearance. His hearers were seemingly much affected, and interrupted him
from time to time with shouts and groans and loud amens.
"Dis is d' promise' lan'!" cried old Polete, waving his arms above his
head in a wild ecstasy. "All we hab t' do is t' raise up an' take it from
ouh 'pressahs. Ef we stays hyah slaves, it's ouh own fault. Now's d'
'pinted time. D' French is ma'chin' obah d' mountings t' holp us. Dee'll
drib d' English into d' sea, and wese t' hab ouh freedom,--ouh freedom
an' plenty lan' t' lib on."
"Dat's it," shouted some one, "an' we gwine t' holp, suah!"
The negroes were so intent upon their speaker that they did not perceive
us until we were right among them, and even then for a few minutes, as we
forced our way through the mob, no one knew us.
"It's Mas' Tom!" yelled one big fellow, as my hat was knocked from my
head. And, as if by instinct, they crowded back on either side, and a
path was opened before us to the pile of logs where Polete stood. He
gaped at us amazedly as we clambered up toward him, and I saw that he was
licking his lips convulsively. A yell from the crowd greeted us as we
appeared beside him,--a menacing yell, which died away into a low
growling, and foretold an approaching storm.
"Now, boys," I cried, "I want you to listen to me for a minute. That is a
lie about the French coming over the mountains,--every word of it. If
Polete here, who, you know, is only a laborer like most of you, says he
has seen them coming in a vision, why he's simply lying to you, or he
doesn't know what he's talking about. There are not three hundred
Frenchmen the other side of the mountains, in the first place, and it
will be winter before they can get any more there. So if you fight, you
will have to fight alone, and you can guess how much chance of success
you have. You know the penalty for insurrection. It's death, and not an
easy death, either,--death by fire! If you go ahead with this thing, no
power on earth can save every one of you from the stake."
"It's a lie!" yelled Polete. "I did hab d' vision. I did see d' French
a-comin'--millions o' dem--all a-ma'chin' t'rough d' forest. Dee's almost
hyah. Dee want us t' holp."
A hoarse yell interrupted him, and I saw that something must be done.
"Wait a minute, boys," I cried. "Let me ask Polete a question. You say
you have seen the French marching, Polete?"
He nodded sullenly.
"What was the color of their uniforms?"
He hesitated a moment, but saw he must answer.
"Dee was all colors," he said. "Red, blue, green,--all colors."
I saw that my moment of triumph was at hand.
"Now, boys," I cried, holding up my hand so that all might be quiet and
hear my words. "You may guess how much value there is in Polete's
visions. He says he has seen the French army marching, and he has just
told me that their uniforms are all colors,--red, blue, green, and so on.
Now, if he has seen the army, he ought to know the color of the uniforms,
ought he not?"
"Yes, yes," yelled the mob.
"Well, boys," I continued, "the French wear only one color uniform, and
that color is just the one which Polete has not mentioned--white. No
Frenchman goes to war except in a white uniform."
They were all silent for a moment, and I saw them eyeing Polete
But he was foaming at the mouth with fury.
"A lie!" he screamed. "A lie, same's de uddah. Don' yo' see what we mus'
do? Kill 'em! Kill 'em, an' nobody else'll evah know!"
That low growling which I had heard before again ran through the crowd. I
must play my last card.
"You fools!" I cried, "do you suppose we are the only ones who know? If
so much as a hair of our heads is touched, if we are not back among our
friends safe and sound when morning comes, every dog among you will yelp
his life out with a circle of fire about him!"
They were whining now, and I knew I had them conquered.
"I came here to-night to save you," I went on, after a moment. "Return
now quietly to your quarters, and nothing more will be said about this
gathering. Put out of your minds once for all the hope that the French
will help you, for it is a lie. And let this be the last time you hold a
meeting here, or I will not answer for the consequences."
I waved them away with my hand, and they slunk off by twos and threes
until all of them had disappeared in the shadow of the wood.
"And now, what shall we do with this cur?" asked Long, in a low voice, at
my elbow. I turned and saw that he had old Polete gripped by the collar.
"He tried to run away," he added, "but I thought you might have something
to say to him."
Polete was as near collapse as a man could be and yet be conscious. He
was trembling like a leaf, his eyes were bloodshot, and his lower jaw was
working convulsively. He turned an imploring gaze on me, and tried to
speak, but could not.
"Polete," I said sternly, "I suppose you know that if this night's work
gets out, as it is certain to do sooner or later, no power on earth can
save your life?"
"Yes, massa," he muttered, and looked about him wildly, as though he
already saw the flames at his feet.
"Well, Polete," I went on, "after the way you have acted to-night, I see
no reason why I should try to save you. You certainly did all you could
to get me killed."
"Yes, massa," he said again, and would have fallen had not Long held him
upright by the collar.
I waited a moment, for I thought he was going to faint, but he opened his
eyes again and fixed them on me.
"Now listen," I went on, when he appeared able to understand me. "I'm
not going to kill you. I'm going to give you a chance for your
life,--not a very big chance, perhaps, but a great deal better one than
you would have here."
"Yes, massa," he said a third time, and there was a gleam of hope
in his face.
"I'm going to let you go," I concluded. "I'd advise you to follow the
river till you get beyond the settlements, and then try for Pennsylvania.
I promise you there'll be no pursuit, but if you ever show your face
around here again, you're as good as dead."
Before I had finished, he had fallen to his knees and bowed his head upon
my feet, with a peculiar reverence,--a relic, I suppose, of his life in
Africa. He was blubbering like a baby when he looked up at me.
"I'll nevah f'git yeh, Mas' Tom," he said. "I'll nevah f'git yeh."
"That'll do, uncle," and I caught him by the collar and pulled him to
his feet. "I don't want to see you killed, but you'd better get away from
here as fast as you can, and drop this witch man business for good and
all. Here's two shillings. They'll get you something to eat when you get
to Pennsylvania, but you'd better skirmish along in the woods the best
you can till then, or you'll be jerked up for a runaway."
He murmured some inarticulate words,--of gratitude, perhaps,--and
slid down from the pile of logs. We watched him until he plunged into
the woods to the south of the clearing, and then started back toward
the house. I was busy with my own thoughts as we went, and Long was
also silent, so that scarcely a word passed between us until we
reached the steps.
"Sit down a minute, Long," I said, as he started back to his quarters. "I
don't believe we'll have any more trouble with those fellows, but perhaps
it would be well to watch them."
"Trust me for that, sir," he answered. "I'll see to it that there are no
more meetings of that kind. With Polete away, there is little danger. The
only question is whether he will stay away."
"I think he will," and I looked out over the river thoughtfully. "He
seemed to understand the danger he was in. If he returns, you will have
to deliver him up to the authorities at once, of course."
"Well," said Long, "I'm not a bloodthirsty man, sir, as perhaps you know,
but I think we'd be safer if he were dead. Still, we'll be safe enough
anyway, now the niggers know their plot is discovered. But we were in a
ticklish place there for a while this evening."
"Yes," I answered, with a smile. "It was not so easy as I had expected. I
want to thank you, Long, for going with me. It was a service on your part
which showed you have the interest of the place at heart, and are not
afraid of danger."
"That's all right, sir," he said awkwardly. "Good-night."
"Wait till I get your pistols," I said. "You left them in the hall,
The moonlight was streaming through the open window, and as I stepped
into the hall, I rubbed my eyes, for I thought I must be dreaming. There
in a great chair before the fireplace sat Colonel Washington. His head
had fallen back, his eyes were closed, and from his deep and regular
breathing I knew that he was sleeping. Marveling greatly at his presence
here at this hour, I tiptoed around him, got Long's pistols, and took
them out to him. Then I lighted my pipe and sat down in a chair opposite
the sleeper, and waited for him to awake. I had not long to wait. Whether
from my eyes on his face, or some other cause, he stirred uneasily,
opened his eyes, and sat suddenly bolt upright.
"Why, Tom," he cried, as he saw me, "I must have been asleep."
"So you have," I said, shaking hands with him, and pressing him back into
the chair, from which he would have risen. "But what fortunate chance
has brought you here?"
"The most fortunate in the world!" he cried, his eyes agleam. "You know I
told you that the governor and House of Burgesses would not bear quietly
the project to leave our frontier open to the enemy. Well, read this,"
and he drew from his pocket a most formidable looking paper. I took it
with a trembling hand and carried it to the window, but the moon was
almost set, and I could not decipher it.
"What is it?" I asked, quivering with impatience.
"Here, give it to me," he said, with a light laugh, which reminded me of
the night I had seen him first in the governor's palace at Williamsburg.
"The House of Burgesses has just met. They ordered that a regiment of a
thousand men be raised to protect the frontier in addition to those
already in the field, and voted L20,000 for the defense of the colony."
"And that is your commission!" I cried. "Is it not so?"
"Yes," he said, scarce less excited than myself. "'Tis my commission as
commander-in-chief of all the Virginia forces."
I wrung his hand with joy unutterable. At last this man, who had done so
much, was to know something beside disappointment and discouragement.
"But you do not ask how you are concerned in all this," he continued,
smiling into my face, "or why I rode over myself to bring the news to
you. 'Tis because I set out to-morrow at daybreak for Winchester to take
command, and I wish you to go with me, Tom, as aide-de-camp, with the
rank of captain."
A WARNING FROM THE FOREST
It was at Winchester that Colonel Washington established his
headquarters, maintaining a detachment at Fort Cumberland sufficient to
repel any attack the Indians were like to make against it, and to cut off
such of their war parties as ventured east of it. From Winchester he was
able more easily to keep in touch with all parts of the frontier, and
with the string of blockhouses which had been built years before as a
gathering-place for the settlers in the event of Indian incursions. By
the first of September his arrangements had been completed, but long
before that time it was evident the task was to be no easy one.
Already, from the high passes of the Alleghenies, war parties of
Delawares and Shawanoes had descended, sweeping down upon the frontier
families like a devastating whirlwind, and butchering men, women, and
children with impartial fury. The unbounded forest, which covered hill
and valley with a curtain of unbroken foliage, afforded a thousand
lurking-places, and it was well-nigh impossible for an armed force to get
within striking distance of the marauders. So, almost daily, stories of
horrible cruelty came to the fort, plunging the commander into an agony
of rage and dejection at his very impotence. The fort was soon crowded
with refugees,--wives bewailing their husbands, husbands swearing to
avenge their wives, parents lamenting their children, children of a
sudden made orphans,--and from north and south, scores of hard-featured,
steel-eyed men came to us, their rifles in their hands, to offer their
services, and after a time these came to be one of the most valuable
portions of our force.
Ah, the stories they told us! Tragedies such as that which Spiltdorph and
I had come upon had been repeated scores of times. The settler who had
left his cabin at daybreak in search of game, or to carry his furs to the
nearest post, returned at sundown to find only a smoking heap of ashes
where his home had been, and among them the charred and mutilated bodies
of his wife and children. Horror succeeded horror, and the climax came
one day when we were passing a little schoolhouse some miles below the
fort, in the midst of a district well populated. Wondering at the
unwonted silence, we dismounted, opened the door, and looked within. The
master lay upon the platform with his pupils around him, all dead and
newly scalped. The savages had passed that way not half an hour before.
And to add to the trials of the commander, his troops, hastily got
together, were most of them impatient of restraint or discipline, and
with no knowledge of warfare, while the governor and the House of
Burgesses demanded that he undertake impossibilities. It was a dreary,
trying, thankless task.
"They expect me to perform miracles," he said to me bitterly one day.
"How am I to protect a frontier four hundred miles in length with five or
six hundred effective men, against an enemy who knows every foot of the
ground, and who can find a hiding-place at every step?"
Only by the sternest measures could many of the levies be brought to the
fort, and one man--a captain, God save the mark!--sent word that he and
his company could not come because their corn had not yet been got in.
Yet, in spite of all these drawbacks, we did accomplish something. There
were a few of the Iroquois who yet remained our friends, and the general
spared no effort to retain their goodwill, for their services were
invaluable. With a lofty contempt for the Delawares and Shawanoes, whom
they had one time subjugated and compelled to assume the name of women,
they roamed the forest for miles around, and more than once enabled us to
ambush one of the war parties and send it howling back to the Muskingum,
where there was great weeping and wailing in the lodges upon its return.
But it was fruitless work, for the Indians, driven back for the moment,
returned with augmented fury, and again drenched the frontier in the
blood of the colonists.
We realized one and all that nothing we could do would turn the tide of
war permanently from our borders and render the frontier safe until the
French had been driven from Fort Duquesne. For it was they who urged the
Indians on, supplying them with guns and ammunition, and rewarding them
with rum when they returned to the fort laden with English scalps. An
expedition against the French stronghold was for the present out of the
question, and we could only bite our nails and curse, waiting for another
night when we might sally forth and fall upon one of the war parties. But
the few Indians we killed seemed a pitiful atonement for the mangled
bodies scattered along the frontier and the hundreds of homes of which
there remained nothing but blackened ruins. As the weeks passed and the
Indians saw our impotence, they grew bolder, slipped through the chain of
blockhouses, and ravaged the country east of us, disappearing into the
woods as if by magic at the first alarm.
The month of August and the first portion of September wore away in this
dreary manner, and it was perhaps a week later that Colonel Washington
sent me to Frederick to make arrangements for some supplies. The
distance, which was a scant fifty miles, was over a well-traveled road,
and through a district so well protected that the Indians had not dared
to visit it; so I rode out of the fort one morning, taking with me only
my negro boy Sam, whom I had selected for my servant since the day he had
warned me against Polete. I remember that the day was very warm, and that
there was no air stirring, so that we pushed forward with indifferent
speed. At noon we reached a farmhouse owned by John Evans, where we
remained until the heat had somewhat moderated, and set forward again
about four o'clock in the afternoon.
We had ridden for near an hour, and I was deep in my own thoughts, when
I heard something breaking its way through the underbrush, and the next
moment my horse shied violently as a negro stumbled blindly into the
road and collapsed into a heap before he had taken half a dozen steps
along it. I reined up sharply, and as I did so, heard Sam give a shrill
cry of alarm.
"Shut up, boy," I cried, "and get off and see what ails the man. He can't
But Sam sat in his saddle clutching at his horse's neck, his face spotted
with terror as I had seen it once before.
"What is it, Sam?" I asked impatiently.
"Good Gawd, Mas' Tom," he cried, his teeth chattering together and
cutting off his words queerly, "don' yo' see who 'tis? Don' yo'
"Know him? No, of course not," I answered sharply. "Who is he?"
"Polete," gasped Sam. "Polete, come back aftah me," and seemed incapable
of another word.
In an instant I was off my horse and kneeling in the road beside the
fallen man. Not till then did I believe it was Polete. From a great gash
in the side of his head the blood had soaked into his hair and dried over
his face. His shirt was stained, apparently from a wound in his breast,
but most horrible of all was a circular, reeking spot on the crown of his
head from which the scalp had been stripped. It needed no second glance
to tell me that Polete had been in the hands of the Indians.
By this time Sam had partially recovered his wits, and being convinced
that it was Polete in the flesh, not in the spirit, brought some water
from a spring at the roadside. I bathed Polete's head as well as I could,
and washed the blood from his face. Tearing open his shirt, I saw that
blood was slowly welling from an ugly wound in his breast. He opened his
eyes after a moment, and stared vacantly up into my face.
"Debbils," he moaned, "debbils, t' kill a po' ole man. Ain't I said I
done gwine t' lib wid yo'? Kain't trabble fas' 'nough fo' yo'? Don'
shoot, oh, don' shoot! Ah!"
He dropped back again into the road with a groan, and tossed from side to
side. I thought he was dying, but when I dashed more water in his face,
he opened his eyes again. This time he seemed to know me.
"Is it Mas' Tom?" he gasped. "Mas' Tom what let me go?"
"Yes, Polete," I answered gently, "it's Master Tom."
"Whar am I?" he asked faintly. "Have dee got me 'gin? Dee gwine to buhn
"No, no," I said. "Nobody 's going to harm you, Polete. Where have you
been all this time?"
"In d' woods," he whispered, "hidin' in d' swamps, an' skulkin' long
aftah night. Could n' nevah sleep, Mas' Tom. When I went t' sleep, seemed
laike d' dogs was right aftah me."
His head fell back again, and a rush of blood in his throat almost
"Wish I'd stayed at d' plantation, Mas' Tom," he whispered. "Nothin'
could n' been no wo'se 'n what I went frough. Kep' 'long d' ribbah, laike
yo' said, but could n' git nothin' t' eat only berries growin' in d'
woods. Got mighty weak, 'n' den las' night met d' Injuns."
"Last night!" I cried. "Where, Polete?"
"Obah dah 'long d' ribbah," he answered faintly. "Dee gib me some'n' t'
eat, an' I frought maybe dee'd take me 'long, but dis mornin' dee had a
big powwow, an' dee shot me an' knock me in d' haid. Seems laike dee 's
gwine t' buhn a big plantation t'-night."
"A big plantation, Polete?" I asked. "Where? Tell me--oh, you must tell
But his head had fallen back, and his eyes were closed. There was another
burst of blood from his nose and mouth. I threw water over his face,
slapped his hands, and shouted into his ears, but to no avail. Sam
brought me another hatful of water, but his hands trembled so that when
he set it down, he spilled half of it. I dashed what was left over the
dying man, but his breathing grew slow and slower, and still his eyes
were closed. I trembled to think what would happen should I never learn
where the Indians were going, if Polete should never open his eyes again
to tell me. But he did, at last,--oh, how long it seemed!--he did, and
gazed up at me with a little smile.
"Reckon it's all obah wid ole Polete, Mas' Tom," he whispered.
"Where is this plantation, Polete?" I asked. "The plantation the Indians
are going to attack. Quick, tell me."
He looked at me a moment longer before answering.
"D' plantation? Obah dah, eight, ten mile, neah d' ribbah," and he made a
faint little motion northward with his hand. The motion, slight as it
was, brought on another hemorrhage. His eyes looked up into mine for a
moment longer, and then, even as I gazed at them, grew fixed and glazed.
Old Polete was dead.
We laid him by the side of the road and rolled two or three logs over
him. More we could not do, for every moment was precious.
"Sam," I said quickly, as we finished our task, "you must ride to the
fort as fast as your horse will carry you. Tell Colonel Washington that I
sent you, and that the Indians are going to attack some big plantation on
the river eight or ten miles north of here. Tell him that I have gone on
to warn them. Do you understand?"
"Yes, sah," he gasped.
"Well, don't you forget a word of it," I said sternly. "You can reach the
fort easily by nine o'clock to-night. Now, be off."
He hesitated a moment.
"What is it?" I cried. "You are not afraid, boy?"
He rubbed his eyes and began to whimper.
"Not fo' myself, Mas' Tom," he said. "But yo' gwine t' ride right into d'
Injuns. Dee'll git yo' suah."
"Nonsense!" I retorted sharply. "I'll get through all right, and we can
easily hold out till reinforcements come. Now get on your horse.
Remember, the faster you go, the surer you'll be to save us all."
He swung himself into the saddle, and turned for a moment to look at
me, the tears streaming down his face. He seemed to think me as good as
"Good-by, Sam," I said.
"Good-by, Mas' Tom," and he put spurs to his horse and set off
down the road.
I watched him until the trees hid him from sight, and then sprang upon my
horse and started forward. Eight or ten miles, Polete had said, northward
near the river. The road served me for some miles, and then I came to a
cross road, which seemed well traveled. Not doubting that this led to the
plantation of which I was in search, I turned into it, and proceeded
onward as rapidly as the darkness of the woods permitted. Evening was at
hand, and under the overlapping branches of the trees, the gloom grew
deep and deeper. At last, away to the right, I caught the gleam of water,
and with a sigh of relief knew I was near the river and so on the right
road. The house could not be much farther on. With renewed vigor I urged
my horse forward, and in a few minutes came to the edge of a clearing,
and there before me was the house.
But it was not this which drew my eyes. Far away on the other side,
concealed from the house by a grove of trees, a shadowy line of tiny
figures was emerging from the forest. Even as I looked, they vanished,
and I rubbed my eyes in bewilderment. Yet I knew they had not deceived
me. It was the war party preparing for the attack.
I set spurs to my horse and galloped the jaded beast toward the house as
fast as his weary legs would carry him. As I drew near, I saw it was a
large and well-built mansion. Lights gleamed through the open doors and
windows. Evidently none there dreamed of danger, and I thanked God that I
should be in time. In a moment I was at the door, and as I threw myself
from the saddle, I heard from the open window a ringing laugh which
thrilled me through and through, for I knew that the voice was Dorothy's.
I FIND MYSELF IN A DELICATE SITUATION
I staggered up the steps, reeling as from a blow on the head, and a negro
met me at the top.
"Where is your master?" I asked.
"Kun'l Ma'sh 's obah at Frederick, sah," he answered, looking at me with
"Your mistress, then, quick, boy!" and as he turned toward the open door
with a gesture of his hand, I hurried after him. There was a buzz of
conversation in the room as we approached, but it ceased abruptly as we
entered. I felt rather than saw that Dorothy was there, but I looked only
at the plump little woman who half rose from her chair and stared at me
in astonishment. I suppose my appearance was sufficiently surprising, but
there was no time to think of that.
"A gen'leman t' see yo', Mis' Ma'sh," said my guide.
I had not caught the name before, but now I understood, and as I looked
at the woman before me, I saw her likeness to her son.
"I am Captain Stewart, Mrs. Marsh," I said, controlling my voice as well
as I could. "You may, perhaps, have heard of me. If not, there are others
present who can vouch for me," but I did not move my eyes from her face.
"That is quite unnecessary, Captain Stewart," she cried, coming to me
and giving me her hand very prettily. "I knew your grandfather, and you
resemble him greatly." And then she stopped suddenly and grew very pale.
"I remember now," she said. "You were in dear Harry's company."
"I was not in his company, but I knew and loved him well," I answered
gently, taking both her hands and holding them tight in mine. "He was a
brave and gallant boy, and lost his life while trying to save another's.
I was with him when he fell."
She came close to me, and I could feel that she was trembling.
"And did he suffer?" she asked. "Oh, I cannot bear to think that he
"He did not suffer," I said. "He was shot through the heart. He did not
have an instant's pain."
She was crying softly against my shoulder, but I held her from me.
"Mrs. Marsh," I said, "it is not of Harry we must think now, but of
ourselves. This afternoon I learned that the Indians had planned an
attack upon this place to-night. I sent my servant back to the fort for
reinforcements and rode on to give the alarm. As I neared the house, I
saw their war party skulking in the woods, so that the attack may not be
Her face had turned ashen, and I was glad that I had kept her hands in
mine, else she would have fallen.
"There is no danger," I added cheerily. "We must close the doors and
windows, and we can easily keep them off till morning. The troops will be
here by that time."
"Oh, do you think so?" she gasped.
"I am sure of it. Now, will you give the orders to the servants?"
But that was not necessary. The man who had shown me in had heard my
words, and already had the other servants at work, closing and barring
doors and windows. I saw that my assistance was not needed.
Then for the first time I looked at Dorothy. She was standing, leaning
lightly with one hand upon a table, her eyes large and dark with terror,
and her lips quivering, perhaps at the scene which had gone before. Her
mother was seated by her, and it was to her I turned.
"I beg you to believe, Mrs. Stewart," I said, "that I did not know you
and your daughter were here. Indeed, I thought you both were back at
Riverview ere this."
"I believe you, Mr. Stewart," she answered softly. "I believe you to be a
man of honor. I am sure I can trust you."
There was a tone in her voice which I had never heard before.
"Thank you," I said. "I shall try to deserve your trust," and then I
turned away to look to our defenses.
I confess that, after the first five minutes, our situation appeared more
perilous than I had at first believed it. There was no white man in the
house except myself, only a dozen negro servants, five of whom were men.
A boy, whom I sent to the negro quarters to bring reinforcements,
returned with the news that they were deserted, but he brought back with
him the overseer, a man named Brightson, who was to prove his mettle
before the night was out.
"I suspected this afternoon that there was something in the wind," he
said to me, when I had explained our situation, "though I could not guess
what it was. The niggers were so damned quiet, not singing in the field
as they always do. They've been mighty uneasy for a month back."
"Yes, I know," I interrupted. "It's the same all over the colony. They
think the French are going to help them kill the English. I'm rather glad
they ran away. How about these house niggers?"
"Oh, they're all right, especially Pomp there. They'll help us all
"That makes seven of us, then. Can you shoot?"
"Try me," he answered simply.
"All right," I said. "We'll pull through, I think. Indians are no good at
anything but a surprise. I dare say some of the niggers have told them
that there would be no men here to-night, so they think they'll have an
I had ordered Pomp to bring to the hall all the arms and ammunition in
the house, and at this moment he touched me on the elbow and told me
this was done. Brightson and I looked over the collection, and found it
as complete as could be desired. There were a dozen muskets, half a dozen
pairs of pistols, a pile of swords and hangers, and ammunition in plenty.
Evidently, Colonel Marsh had foreseen the possibility of an Indian
attack, and was prepared to receive it. A tour of the house showed me,
moreover, that it had been built with the same possibility in view. The
doors and shutters were all strong and double-barred, and moreover were
loopholed in a way that enabled us to command both approaches. I divided
the arms, and posted Brightson with three men at the rear door, while I,
with Pomp and another negro, took a place at the front. The women I sent
to the top of the staircase, where they would be out of reach of any
flying bullets, and could at the same time see what was going on. It was
my aunt who protested against this arrangement.
"Can we not be of use, Captain Stewart?" she asked. "We could at least
load the muskets for you."
"And I am sure that I could fire one," cried Dorothy.
"No, no," I laughed. "Time enough for that when there is need. They will
not fancy the reception they will get, and may not return for a second
dose." And with a sudden tenderness at my heart, right under the eyes of
Mrs. Stewart, I reached up, caught Dorothy's hand, and kissed it. When I
glanced up again, I saw that she was smiling down at me, but I dared not
look at her mother's face.
I had wondered at first why the attack was not made at once, but as I
stood looking out at my loophole, I perceived the reason. The first shade
of evening had found the moon high in the heavens, and it was now rapidly
sinking toward the line of trees which marked the horizon. Once plunged
behind them, the darkness would enable the Indians to creep up to the
house unseen. I watched the moon as it dropped slowly down the sky. The
lower rim just touched the treetops--then it was half behind them--then
it had disappeared, and the world was plunged in darkness. I peered into
the gloom with starting eyes, but could see nothing. I strained my ears,
but could catch no sound; three or four tense minutes passed, I could
have sworn it was half an hour. One of the negro women on the stair
screamed slightly, and, as though it were a signal, there came a great
blow upon the door and pandemonium arose without. I fired blindly through
my loophole, seized the musket at my side, and fired a second time, then
emptied both my pistols out into the night. It seemed to me a hundred
rifles were being fired at once. The hall was full of smoke and the
pungent smell of powder, and then, in a second, all was still.
But only for a second. For there came another chorus of yells from a
distance, and I could hear the negro women on the steps behind me
"Load!" I shouted. "Load, Pomp! They will be back in a minute," and then
I ran to the other door to see how Brightson fared.
"All right," he said cheerfully, in answer to my question. "We couldn't
see 'em, but we emptied a good deal of lead out there, and I think from
the way they yelled we must have hit two or three." "Keep it up!" I
cried. "We'll drive them off easily," and with a word of encouragement to
the negroes, I returned to my post. As I neared the door, I saw two
figures in white working over the guns. It was Dorothy and her mother,
helping the negroes reload. I sent them back to the stair with affected
sternness, but I got a second hand-clasp from Dorothy as she passed me.
Then came another long period of waiting, which racked the nerves until
the silence grew well-nigh insupportable. The darkness without was
absolute, and there was not a sound to disturb the stillness. The minutes
passed, and I was just beginning to hope that the Indians had already got
enough, when I caught the faint shuffle of moccasined feet on the porch,
and again the door was struck a terrific blow, which made it groan on its
hinges. I fired out into the darkness as fast as I could lay down one gun
and pick up another, and again the uproar ceased as suddenly as it had
begun. As I turned away a moment from the loophole, I saw that Pomp had
sunk down to the floor, his hands to his head.
"What is it, Pomp?" I cried, as I bent over him, but there was no need
for him to answer, even had he been able. A bullet, entering the
loop-hole through which he was firing, had struck his left eye and
entered the head. The other negro and myself laid him to one side
against the wall, and when I went to him ten minutes later to see if
there was anything I could do, he was dead. I turned away to the women
to say some words of cheer and comfort to them, when a call from
Brightson startled me.
"What has happened?" I asked, as I reached his side, and for answer he
pointed out through the loophole.
"They have fired the nigger quarters and outbuildings," he said grimly.
"They'll probably try to fire the house next."
Even as we looked, the flames rose high above the roofs of the cabins and
bathed the clearing in red radiance. In and out among the buildings we
could see the Indians scampering, a hundred of them at least. Suddenly
there was a chorus of yells, and two Indians appeared, rolling a cask
before them into the belt of light.
"They've found a keg of rum which was in my quarters," remarked
Brightson; "now they'll get crazy drunk. Our task has just begun,
I realized that he spoke the truth. Sober, an Indian will not stand up
long in open fight, but drunk, he is a devil incarnate,--a fiend who will
dare anything. I watched them as they knocked in the head of the cask and
scooped up the raw spirits within. Then one of them began a melancholy
melody, which rose and fell in measured cadence, the other warriors
gradually joining in and stamping the ground with their feet. Every
minute one would run to the cask for another draught of the rum, and
gradually their yells grew louder, their excitement more intense, as they
rushed back and forth brandishing their weapons.
"They will soon be on us again," said Brightson in a low tone, but round
and round they kept dancing, their leader in front in all his war
trappings, the others almost naked, and for the most part painted black.
No wonder I had been unable to see them in the darkness.
"They are going to attack us again, Tom, are they not?" asked a low voice
at my elbow.
"Dorothy," I cried, "what are you doing here? Come, you must get back to
the stair at once. The attack may come at any moment."
"You are treating me like a child," she protested, and her eyes flashed
passionately. "Do you think we are cowards, we women? We will not be
treated so! We have come to help you."
I looked at her in amazement. This was not the Dorothy I knew, but a
braver, sweeter one. Her mother and Mrs. Marsh were behind her, both
looking equally determined.
"Very well," I said, yielding with an ill grace. "You may sit on the
floor here and load the guns as we fire them. That will be of greater
service than if you fired them yourselves, and you will be quite out of
reach of the bullets."
Dorothy sniffed contemptuously at my last words, but deigned to sit down
beside the other women. I placed the powder and ball where they could
reach them easily, shaded a candle so that it threw its light only on the
floor beside them, gave them a few directions about loading, and rejoined
Brightson at his loophole. The Indians had stopped dancing, and were
engaged in heaping up a great pile of burning logs.
"What are they about?" I asked.
Brightson looked at me with a grim light in his eyes.
"They're going to try to burn us out," he said, and almost before he had
spoken, the Indians seized a hundred burning brands from the fire, and
waving them about their heads to fan them to a brighter flame, started
A DESPERATE DEFENSE
I had barely time to get back to my post at the front door when they were
upon us. I fired out into the rabble, and as I turned to get another gun,
Dorothy was at my side and thrust it into my hands. There was no time to
protest, even had I not realized, as I glanced into her eyes, that
protestation would be useless. I fired a second time, when a tremendous
explosion in the hall at my side startled me. I saw in a moment what had
happened. The negro who was at the other loophole, dazed with fear, had
discharged his gun straight into the ceiling overhead, and then, flinging
it down, turned and ran. I could not pursue him, and grabbing a third gun