Part 7 out of 12
my peculiarities, and raising a laugh at my expense.
"These reports were persistently and regularly repeated for my
information: I was baited, and worried, and driven nearly mad by
them--finally a duel nearly resulted; but that last step was not taken.
I simply made my bow to the happy pair, left them without a word, and
returned home, determined to drop the whole matter--but none the less
enraged and embittered.
"From that moment George and myself rarely met, and never as friends. I
had been brought to hate him--he knew the fact--and although he was
innocent of all wrong to me, as I know to-day, made no effort to win my
regard again. He was as proud as myself--he said nothing--and our paths
here separated forever.
"Such is the necessary introduction, colonel," said General Davenant,
"to the events which I propose to relate."
"More than twenty years had passed," continued General Davenant, "when
that old hatred which had been aroused in me, toward George Conway,
produced bitter fruits.
"I was to be taught by a terrible experience that hatred is a deadly
sin; that God punishes it more severely than all other sins, for it is
the poison which turns the whole heart to bitterness. I had indulged
it--made no effort to banish it--nourished it like a snake in the
recesses of my breast, and now God decreed, as a punishment, that the
snake should turn and sting me.
"To go back for a moment, however. George had married--a year afterward
I had imitated him. My wife was an angel upon earth--she is an angel in
heaven now--and in comparison with the deep affection which I felt for
her, the ephemeral fancy for the young lady whom my rival had married,
appeared the veriest trifle. William Conway had also married, and he
and George, with their wives, were living at Five Forks. William was
judge of the circuit--George managed the estate--and their affection
for each other, at this period of their mature manhood, was said to
exceed that of their youth.
"'Was said to,' I say, colonel; for I never saw either of them. All
intercourse between "The Pines" and "Five Forks" had ceased twenty
years before; and George and William Conway were as much strangers to
me, as if we lived in opposite quarters of the globe; for time had not
changed--or rather restored--the _entente cordial_ of the past. On the
contrary, the feud had become chronic--the gulf separating us had grown
deeper. When I met either of the brothers, we exchanged no
greetings--passed without looking at each other--and the 'family feud'
between the Davenants and the Conways was not even alluded to; it had
become an old story, and lost its interest.
"Such was the condition of things--such the attitude which I occupied
toward the two brothers--when the event, which I am about to relate,
took place. The event in question was tragic and terrible. It came
without warning, to shock the entire surrounding country. One night, on
his return from the county seat, whither he was said to have gone upon
some matter of business, George Conway was murdered, and his body
concealed in some bushes by the roadside.
"The body was not discovered until the morning succeeding the murder.
His riderless horse was then seen standing at the door of the stable at
Five Forks, and in great terror. Judge Conway set out rapidly to look
for his brother, who was supposed to have met with some accident. Two
or three neighbors, whom he chanced to meet, joined in the search; the
body was discovered; and, on examination, revealed a deep gash in the
region of the heart, apparently inflicted by a dagger or a knife.
"The blow had evidently been mortal--no other hurt was visible. George
Conway seemed to have been waylaid by some unknown person, and murdered
on his return from the court-house.
"It was impossible to divine the perpetrator of the crime, or form any
idea of his motive. Upon the person of the murdered man a large sum of
money, which he had received that day, was discovered. He had not been
waylaid, thus, by one designing to rob him; and his peaceful and
amiable character excluded the hypothesis that he had aroused such
enmity as could have led to the bloody deed. The whole affair was a
profound mystery--no clue could be discovered to the perpetrator, or
the motive of the crime--and the body was borne to "Five Forks," where
it was laid in state to await burial on the next day.
"Judge Conway, it was said, had nearly lost his reason at this sudden
and terrible blow. He had loved his brother with extraordinary
affection; and the event struck him like a thunderbolt. His stupor of
grief was succeeded by rage. He fell into one of his paroxysms. With
flushed face, bloodshot eyes, and mouth foaming with a species of fury,
he mounted his horse, went at full speed to the court-house, made
inquiries of everybody who had seen his brother, asked with whom he had
last been seen, and left no stone unturned to ferret out the author of
"Meanwhile, the whole county was discussing, with awe-struck eyes, the
extraordinary event. Who could have perpetrated the act? Who could have
waylaid and murdered a man so universally popular? Who was safe, if
such a state of things could exist in a peaceful community,--if a good
citizen could not ride to see a neighbor, or to the county seat,
without danger of being murdered?
"Grief, indignation, horror, were the universal sentiments. Some one
must be discovered upon whom to lay the crime. And that some one was
the individual before you, colonel!"
"Let me continue, I beg," continued General Davenant, gloomily. "Your
look of astonishment is quite natural; you feel the indignation of a
gentleman at my words; but allow me to go on with my narrative.
"Poor George Conway was buried on the day after the discovery of his
body, and an immense concourse accompanied him to his grave. The
funeral procession was a mile long, for the notoriety attached to the
event had drawn people from far and near; and when the body reached the
grave-yard, the crowd nearly filled the small enclosure.
"I was present in my carriage with my wife, and my son Charles yonder,
then a child in arms. You will understand, colonel, that I had not the
heart to be absent. I had long ceased to feel a sentiment of any great
regard for the Conways; but at the intelligence of George's sudden
death, all my old friendship had revived--the old kindly feeling came
back; pity banished all enmity. I thought of his former love for me,
and I determined to do all that remained in my power to show my
sympathy--attend his funeral among those who mourned him.
"Well, the body was borne to the grave, the service read, and the
remains of the unfortunate gentleman deposited in their last
resting-place. Then the clods rattled on the coffin, the service ended,
and George Conway had passed away from all eyes.
"I looked at his poor wife and brother with tears in my eyes. All my
enmity was gone--my memory went back to the old scenes; at that instant
I could have reached out my arms, and drawn the bereaved brother to my
heart, mingling my tears with his own.
"All at once, however, I looked at Judge Conway with astonishment. I
had expected to see him overwhelmed with grief--but as he now raised
his head, and turned in the direction of the spot where I was standing,
I saw that his features were convulsed with wrath. His cheeks were
crimson, his teeth clenched, his eyes injected with blood. Suddenly
these bloodshot eyes met my own--the cheeks a moment before so red,
grew pale--and exclaiming, 'It is you who murdered my brother!' he
threw himself upon me with the fury of a wild animal, and his fingers
were nearly buried in my throat.
"The assault was so sudden and terrible that I staggered back, and
nearly fell over the grave.
"Then regaining my self-possession, I caught Judge Conway by the throat
in turn, hurled him from me, and stood confronting him, pale, panting,
my throat bleeding--and resolved if he attacked me again to put him to
death with the first weapon upon which I could lay my hand.
"He was, meanwhile, struggling in the hands of his friends, who, by
main force, held him back.
"'Let me go!' he shouted, foaming at the mouth with rage--'that man
murdered my brother! I will take the law into my own hands! he shall
not leave this spot alive! He dares to come here in the presence of the
dead body of George Conway--and he is his murderer!'
"These words were rather howled than uttered. The speaker seemed to
have lost his reason, from pure excess of rage. If his friends had not
restrained him by main force, he would have thrown himself upon me a
second time, when one of us would have lost his life, colonel, for I
was now as violently enraged as himself.
"That _I_ should be thus publicly branded with the basest crime! that
the representative of the old and honorable house of the Davenants,
should be thus grossly insulted, his person assailed, his good name
torn from him--that he should be denounced thus in the presence of all
as a felon and murderer!
"'You are insane, sir!' I at length said, struggling to regain my
coolness. 'Your grief has affected your brain! I can pardon much in you
today, sir, but beware how you again attempt to degrade me!'
"'Hear him!' was the hoarse and furious reply of Judge Conway; and
reaching out his thin fingers, a habit he had caught from Mr.
Randolph--he pointed at me where I stood.
"'Hear him! He affects innocence! He is outraged! He is indignant! And
yet he waylaid my brother, whom he has hated for twenty years--he
waylaid him like an assassin, and murdered him! There is the proof!'
"And drawing from his pocket a knife, covered with clotted blood, he
threw it upon the grave before all eyes.
"Good God! It was my own!"
THE CHAIN OF EVIDENCE.
"At the sight of that terrible object" continued General Davenant, "I
staggered back, and nearly fell. I could not believe my eyes--never
thought of denying the ownership of the fearful witness,--I could only
gaze at it, with a wild horror creeping over me, and then all these
terrible emotions were too much for me.
"I took two steps toward the grave, reached out with a shudder to grasp
the knife whose clots of blood seemed to burn themselves into my
brain--then vertigo seized me, and letting my head fall, I fainted.
"When I regained my senses, I was in my carriage, supported by the arms
of my wife, and rolling up the avenue to my own house.
"Opposite me, in the carriage, little Charley, who, dimly realized
apparently that some trouble had come to me, was crying bitterly, and a
rough personage was endeavoring to quiet his sobbing.
"The personage in question was a constable. When I fainted at the
grave, my friends had caught me in their arms--protested with burning
indignation that the charge against me was a base calumny--and the
magistrate who was summoned by Judge Conway to arrest me, had declined
to do more than direct a constable to escort me home, and see that I
did not attempt to escape.
"That was kind. I was a murderer, and my proper place a jail. Why
should _I_ be more favored than some poor common man charged with that
crime? Had such a person been confronted with such a charge, supported
by such damning evidence as the bloody knife, would any ceremony have
been observed? 'To jail!' all would have cried, 'No bail for the
murderer!' And why should the rich Mr. Davenant be treated with more
"On the day after my arrest--I spare you all the harrowing scenes, my
poor wife's agony, and every thing, colonel--on the day after, I got
into my carriage, and went and demanded to be confined in jail. It was
the first time a Davenant had ever been _in jail_--but I went thither
without hesitation, if not without a shudder. No sooner had I taken
this step than the whole country seemed to have left their homes to
visit me in my prison. On the evening of the scene at the grave, twenty
persons had called at the 'Pines,' to express their sympathy and
indignation at the charge against me. Now, when the iron door of the
law had closed upon me, and I was a real prisoner, the visitors came in
throngs without number. One and all, they treated the charge as the
mere result of Judge Conway's fury--some laughed at, others denounced
it as an attempt to entrap and destroy me--all were certain that an
investigation would at once demonstrate my innocence, and restore me to
liberty and honor.
"Alas! I could only thank my friends, and reply that I hoped that such
would be the result. But when they had left me alone, I fell into fits
of the deepest dejection.
"What proofs could I give that I was innocent? There was a terrible
array of circumstances, on the contrary, to support the hypothesis of
my guilt--much more than I have mentioned, colonel. I had visited the
courthouse on the same day with poor George Conway, and for the first
time in twenty years had exchanged words with him. And the words were
unfriendly. We had both been in the clerk's office of the county, when
that gentleman asked me some common-place question--in what year such a
person had died, and his will had been recorded, I think. I replied,
mentioning a year. The clerk shook his head, declaring that it must
have been later, and appealed to poor George Conway, who agreed with
him, adding, 'Mr. Davenant is certainly in the wrong.' I was much
annoyed that day--made some curt reply--poor George made a similar
rejoinder, and some harsh, almost insulting words, passed between us.
The affair went no further, however. I left the clerk's office, and
having attended to the business which brought me, left the court-house
about dusk. As I mounted my horse, I saw poor George Conway riding out
of the place. I followed slowly, not wishing to come up with him,
turning into a by-road which led toward my own house--and knew nothing
of the murder until it was bruited abroad on the next day.
"That is much like the special pleading of a criminal--is it not,
colonel? If I had really murdered the poor man, would not this be my
method of explaining every thing? You see, I do not deny what several
witnesses could prove; the fact that I quarreled with Conway, came to
high words, uttered insults, exhibited anger, followed him from the
court-house at dusk--I acknowledge all that, but add, that I struck
into a by-road and went home! That sounds suspicious, I assure you,
even to myself, to-day. Imagine the effect it promised to have then,
when I was a man charged with murder--who would naturally try to frame
such a statement as would clear him--and when a large portion of the
community were excited and indignant at the murder.
"Such had been the truly unfortunate scene in the clerk's office,--the
fatality which made me follow the man going to his death, and my known
enmity of long standing, supported the hypothesis of my guilt. There
was another, and even more fatal circumstance still,--the discovery of
the knife with which George Conway had been slain. That knife was my
own; it was one of peculiar shape, with a handle of tortoise-shell, and
I had often used it in presence of my friends and others. A dozen
persons could make oath to it as my property; but it was not needed;
the scene at the grave made that useless. I evidently did not deny the
ownership of the weapon which had been used in the commission of the
murder. At the very sight of it, on the contrary, in the hands of the
brother of my victim, I had turned pale and fainted!
"This was the condition of things when the special term of the court,
held expressly to try me, commenced at Dinwiddie."
"A great crowd assembled on the day of the trial. Judge Conway had
vacated the bench, as personally interested, and the judge from a
neighboring circuit had taken his place.
"Below the seat of the judge sat the jury. Outside the railing, the
spectators were crowded so closely that it was with difficulty the
sheriff made a passage for my entrance.
"To one resolution I had adhered in spite of the remonstrances of all
my friends,--to employ no counsel. In this determination nothing could
shake me. A disdainful pride sustained me, mingled with bitter
obstinacy. If I, the representative of one of the oldest and most
honorable families in the county of Dinwiddie was to be branded as a
murderer,--if my past life, my family and personal character, did not
refute the charge,--if I was to be dragged to death on suspicion,
gibbeted as a murderer, because some felon had stolen my pocket-knife,
and committed a crime with it,--then I would go to my death unmoved. I
would disdain to frame explanations; let the law murder _me_ if it
would; no glib counsel should save my life by technicalities; I would
be vindicated by God and my past life, or would die.
"Such was my state of mind, and such the origin of my refusal to employ
counsel. When the court now assigned me counsel, I rose and forbade
them to appear for me. In the midst of a stormy scene, and with the
prosecuting attorney sitting dumb in his chair, resolved to take no
part in the trial, the witnesses appeared upon the stand, and, rather
by sufferance than the judge's consent, the jury proceeded to
"The circumstances which I have detailed to you were all proved in the
clearest manner; the altercation in the clerk's office on the day of
the murder; my long enmity against him, dating back more than twenty
years; the fact that I had followed him out of the village just at dusk
on the fatal night; and the discovery of my knife in the tall grass by
the roadside near the body.
"I had summoned no witnesses, but some appeared of their own accord,
and gave important testimony. Many neighbors testified that my enmity
toward George Conway had almost entirely disappeared in the lapse of
years, and that I had spoken of him, upon more than one occasion, with
great kindness. The clerk of the county described the scene in his
office, stating that the affair had appeared to him a mere interchange
of curt words, without exhibition of the least malice on my part. The
most important witness, however, was a poor man, living in the
neighborhood, who made oath that he had been riding toward the
court-house on the evening of the murder; had passed Mr. Conway, and,
riding on farther, came in sight of me, and he had, before reaching me,
seen me turn into the by-road which led toward my own residence. I
could not have committed the murder, he added, for Mr. Conway had time
to pass the spot where his body was found before I could have ridden
back to the highroad and caught up with him.
"Unfortunately, the witness who gave this testimony bore a very
indifferent character, and I could see that more than one of the jurors
suspected that he was perjuring himself.
"Another ugly-looking circumstance also intervened to neutralize the
favorable impression thus made. From the irregular mode of proceeding,
the fatal knife had not been exhibited in court. Suddenly, a juror
called for it, and it could nowhere be found! The sheriff swore that he
had left it in the clerk's office, where he supposed it to be entirely
safe. Upon searching for it, however, in the drawer where he had
deposited it, the weapon was missing.
"When that fact was stated, I saw a curious expression pass over the
faces of more than one of the jury. They evidently suspected foul play.
"'Was the door of the office locked?' asked one of them.
"'Yes, sir,' was the reply.
"'Were the windows secured?'
"'By shutters with bolts.'
"'Are all the bolts on the windows of this building firm?'
"'I think so, sir.'
"'There is one, that is not!' said the juror.
"And he pointed to a long iron bolt on one of the windows, which bore
evident traces of having been rent from its socket.
"The sheriff looked in amazement in the direction indicated.
"'You are right, sir!' he said; 'some one has entered the court-house
by breaking open the shutter, and stolen that knife from the clerk's
office, which is never locked.'
"A meaning silence followed the words. It was not difficult to
understand it. The jury looked at each other, and in their glances I
could read this--'Mr. Davenant is on trial for his life. He or his
friends suborn testimony to prove an alibi on the night of the murder,
and not content with that, they hire a burglar to enter the court-house
and steal the knife which proves his connection with the deed--that it
may not appear in evidence against him.'
"The evidence closed. I had not uttered a word. I had sworn in my heart
that I would not stir a finger in the matter--but now, stung beyond
endurance, I rose and addressed the jury in impassioned words. 'Their
verdict,' I told them, 'was of little importance if I was to lose the
respect of my fellow-citizens. I had made no effort to shape their
decision, but now on the brink, it might be of a felon's grave, I would
utter my dying words. I would confine myself to protesting before God,
and on my honor, that I had long since forgiven George Conway the
wrongs done me--that the scene on the day of his murder was the result
of momentary irritability, caused by business annoyances, and not
malice--that I had forgotten it in an hour--returned directly to my own
house--and only heard of the murder on the day after its commission. As
to the knife--I had been suspected if not charged with having had the
weapon stolen. Well! my answer to that was to declare that, to the best
of my knowledge and belief, _the murder was committed with my own
knife!_ More than that. A witness had sworn that he saw me turn into
the road to my own residence, at such a distance behind George Conway
that I could not have rejoined him before he had passed the fatal spot.
The witness was mistaken. There was time. _By riding across the angle
through the thicket, I could easily have rejoined him_!
"'And now, gentlemen,' I said, 'I have done. I have left you no ground
to charge me with suborning testimony--with having the evidence of my
crime stolen--with plotting in darkness, to hide my crime and blind
your eyes in determining my guilt or innocence. That knife was mine, I
repeat. It was possible for me to rejoin Mr. Conway, and do him to
death by a blow with it. Now, retire, gentlemen! Bring in your verdict!
Thank God! no taint of real dishonor will rest upon a Davenant, and I
can appear before my Maker as I stand here to-day--innocent!'
"Ten minutes afterward the jury had retired, with every mark of
agitation upon their faces. The great concourse of spectators seemed
moved almost beyond control.
"Suddenly the crowd opened, I saw my wife hastening through the space
thus made--a living wall on each side--and in an instant she had thrown
herself into my arms, with a low cry which brought tears to the
roughest faces of the auditory. I placed my arm around her,
remonstrated with her for this ill-advised proceeding, and was trying
to soothe her, when she hastily gave me a letter. A strange man had
brought it an hour before, she said--it was marked 'In haste--this will
save Mr. Davenant's life.' She had mounted her riding horse, and
brought it at full speed in person, without waiting to question the
stranger, who had at once disappeared.
"I opened the letter--glanced at its contents--at the same instant the
jury made their appearance--and the clerk said:--
"'Gentlemen of the jury, have you agreed upon a verdict?'
"'We have, sir,' said the foreman.
"'What is it?'
"The court-house rang with applause. The crowd rushed toward me to
shake me by the hand and congratulate me. Suddenly, in the midst of the
tumult, I heard the furious words:--
"'Murderer! you have escaped, but I brand you before God and man as the
murderer of my brother!'
"It was Judge Conway, who, mounted upon a bench, with glaring eyes,
foaming lips, teeth clenched, in a wild fury, shook his arm at me, and
denounced me as a convict before God, if not before man."
WHAT THE LETTER CONTAINED.
General Davenant was silent for a moment. The deep voice, so long
resounding in my ears, made the silence oppressive.
"Now you know, my dear colonel," he suddenly added, "why my son can not
form an alliance with a daughter of Judge Conway."
I bowed my head. The whole mystery was patent before me.
"The family opposition is mutual," said General Davenant, with a proud
smile; "he objects because he believes that I murdered his brother--and
I object because he believes it! He insulted me, outraged me--at the
grave, in the court-house, in public, as in private; and I could not
think of beseeching his honor to give his consent to the marriage of
his daughter with the son of an 'escaped murderer.'"
The old soldier uttered these words with gloomy bitterness; but in a
moment he had regained his coolness.
"That was the end of the affair," he said. "I went home, accompanied by
a _cortege_ of friends who seemed never weary of congratulating me; and
on the next day, I wrote a mortal defiance to Judge Conway, which I
placed in the hands of a friend to convey to him. An hour afterward, I
had mounted my horse, ridden rapidly, caught up with this friend on his
way to Five Forks, and had taken from him the challenge, which I tore
to pieces. You will probably comprehend the motive which compelled me
to do this. It was not repugnance to the modern form of single combat,
I am sorry to say. Old as I was, I had still the ancient hallucination
on that subject. I did not then know that duels were mere
comedies--child's play; that one infantry skirmish results in the
shedding of more blood than all the affairs of a generation. The motive
that induced me to withdraw my challenge, was one which you will
probably understand. The pale face of the dead George Conway had risen
up before me--I knew his brother's deep love for him--that he regarded
me as the dead man's murderer; and I no longer writhed under that
public insult in the court-house, or, at least controlled myself. 'Let
him go on his way, poor, stricken heart!' I said with deep pity; 'I
forgive him, and will not avenge that affront to me!'
"Such is my history, colonel. It is sad, you see. I have related it to
explain what has come to your knowledge--the bitter hostility which
Judge Conway indulges toward me, and his frowns at the very name of
Davenant. These events occurred more than ten years ago. During all
that time, he has been laboring under the belief that I am really
guilty of his brother's blood. See where my 'high pride' has conducted
me," said General Davenant, with a smile of inexpressible melancholy
and bitterness. "I was proud and disdainful on the day of my trial--I
would not use the common weapons of defence--I risked my life by
refusing counsel, and acknowledging the ownership of that knife. Pride,
hauteur, a sort of disdain at refuting a charge of base dishonor--that
was my sentiment then, and I remain as haughty to-day! I am a
Davenant--I was found 'not guilty'--why go and tell Judge Conway the
contents of that letter received in the court-house?"
"The contents of the letter, general?"
"What did it contain?--I beg you to tell me!"
"The confession of the murderer of George Conway!"
General Davenant had scarcely uttered the words which I have just
recorded, when rapid firing was heard in the woods, a quarter of a mile
from his head-quarters; and a moment afterward a courier came at a
gallop, bearing a dispatch.
"My horse!" came in the brief tone of command.
And General Davenant tore open the dispatch, which he read attentively.
"The enemy are advancing to attack me," he said; "this note was written
ten minutes since. The attack has commenced. Will you go and see it,
General Davenant ordered another horse, as my own was useless; we
mounted and rode at full speed through the woods; in five minutes we
were at the scene of action.
A heavy assault was in progress. The enemy had massed a large force in
front of the hastily erected earth-works, and were endeavoring, by a
determined charge, to carry them.
General Davenant was everywhere amid the fight, the guiding and
directing head, and beside him I saw distinctly in the starlight, the
brave figure of little Charley, who had started from his couch, buckled
on a huge sword, and was now galloping to and fro, cheering on the men
as gallantly as his father. It was an inspiring sight to see that child
in his little braided jacket, with his jaunty cap balanced gallantly on
his auburn curls--to see his rosy cheeks, his smiling lips, and his
small hand flourishing that tremendous sabre, as he galloped gaily amid
"And yet," I said, "there are those who will not believe in _blood_--or
Fill the space which that dash occupies, my dear reader, with an abrupt
"duck" of the head, as a bullet went through my hat!
The charge was repulsed in twenty minutes; but the firing continued
throughout the night. When it ceased, toward daybreak, and I rode back
with General Davenant and Charley, who was as gay as a lark, and
entertained me with reminiscences of Gettysburg, I was completely
broken down with fatigue. Throwing myself upon a bed, in General
Davenant's tent, I fell asleep.
When I opened my eyes the sun was high in the heavens. I looked around
for the general, he was invisible.
I rose, and at the door of the tent met Charley, with bright eyes, and
cheeks like roses.
"The general has gone to corps head-quarters, colonel, and told me to
present you his compliments, and beg that you will remain to
After which formal and somewhat pompous sentence the youthful Charley
drew near, slapped me in a friendly way upon the back, and exclaimed,
with dancing eyes:--
"I say, colonel! wasn't that a jolly old he-fight we had last night?"
My reply was a laugh, and a glance of admiration at the gay boy.
I declined the invitation of General Davenant, as I had to return. My
horse was brought, and I found his foot much easier. In half an hour I
was on the road to Petersburg.
THE BLUE SERPENT.
Once back at the "Cedars," I reflected deeply upon the history which I
had heard from the lips of General Davenant.
I shall refrain, however, from recording these reflections. If the
reader will cast his eyes back over the pages of these memoirs, he will
perceive that I have confined myself generally to the simple narration
of events--seldom pausing to offer my own comments upon the scenes
passing before me. Were I to do so, what an enormous volume I should
write, and how the reader would be bored! Now, to bore a reader, is, in
my eyes, one of the greatest crimes of which an author can be guilty.
It is the unpardonable sin, indeed, in a writer. For which reason, and
acting upon the theory that a drama ought to explain itself and be its
own commentator, I spare the worthy reader of these pages all those
reflections which I indulged in, after hearing General Davenant's
"Pride! pride!" I muttered, rising at the end of an hour. "I think I
can understand that--exceptional as is this instance; but I wish I had
heard who was the 'real murderer' of George Conway!"
Having thus dismissed the subject, I set about drawing up my official
report, and this charmingly common-place employment soon banished from
my mind every more inviting subject!
It was nearly ten days after this my first ride into the wilds of
Dinwiddie, before I again set out to look after the cavalry. The end of
October was approaching. Grant had continued to hammer away along his
immense line of earth-works; and day by day, step by step, he had gone
on extending his left in the direction of the Southside railroad.
If the reader will keep this in view, he will understand every movement
of the great adversaries. Grant had vainly attempted to carry Lee's
works by assault, or surprise,--his only hope of success now was to
gradually extend his lines toward the Southside road; seize upon that
great war artery which supplied life-blood to Lee's army; and thus
compel the Confederate commander to retreat or starve in his trenches.
One thing was plain--that when Grant reached the Southside railroad,
Lee was lost, unless he could mass his army and cut his way through the
forces opposed to him. And this fact was so obvious, the situation was
so apparent--that from the moment when the Weldon road was seized upon
by General Grant, that officer and his great adversary never removed
their eyes from the real point of importance, the true key of the
lock--namely the Southside railroad, on Lee's right.
Elsewhere Grant attacked, but it was to cover some movement, still
toward his left. He assaulted Lee's works, north of the James--but it
was south of the Appomattox that he was looking. The operations of the
fall and winter, on the lines around Petersburg were a great series of
marches and counter-marches to and fro, suddenly bursting into battles.
Grant massed his army heavily in front of the works in Charles City
opposite the left of Lee; attempted to draw in that direction his
adversary's main force; then suddenly the blue lines vanished; they
were rushed by railroad toward Petersburg, and Grant hastened to thrust
his columns still farther beyond Lee's right, in order to turn it and
seize the Southside road.
That was not the conception of a great soldier, it may be, reader; but
it was ingenious. General Grant was not a man of great military
brain--but he was patient, watchful, and persevering. To defeat Lee,
what was wanted was genius, or obstinacy--Napoleon or Grant. In the
long run, perseverance was going to achieve the results of genius. The
tortoise was going to reach the same goal with the hare. It was a
question of time--that was all.
So, throughout October, as throughout September, and August, and July,
General Grant thundered everywhere along his forty miles of
earth-works, but his object was to raise a smoke dense enough to hide
the blue columns moving westward. "Hurrah! we have got Fort Harrison!"
exclaimed his enthusiastic subordinates. Grant would much rather have
heard, "We have got the White Oak road!" Fort Harrison was a strong
out-post simply; the White Oak road was the postern door into the
Gradually moving thus, from the Jerusalem plank road to the Weldon
railroad, from the Weldon railroad to the Squirrel Level road, from the
Squirrel Level road toward the Boydton road, beyond which was the White
Oak road, Grant came, toward the end of October, to the banks of the
Rowanty. As this long blue serpent unfolded its coils and stretched its
threatening head into the Dinwiddie woods, Lee had extended his right
to confront it. The great opponents moved _pari passu_, each marching
in face of each other. Like two trained and skillful swordsmen, they
changed ground without moving their eyes from each others' faces--the
lunge was met by the parry; and this seemed destined to go on to
That was the unskilled opinion, however. The civilians thought
that--Lee did not. It was plain that this must end somewhere. Lee's
line would not bear much further extension. It reached now from a point
on the Williamsburg road, east of Richmond, to Burgess's Mill, west of
Petersburg. His forty thousand men were strung over forty miles. That
made the line so thin that it would bear little more. Stretched a
little farther still, and it would snap.
Lee called in vain for more men. The Government could not send them. He
predicted the result of failure to receive them. They did not come.
And Grant continued to move on, and Lee continued to stretch his thin
line, until it began to crack.
Such was the situation of affairs at the end of October--when Grant
aimed a heavy blow to cut the line in pieces. The blue serpent raised
its head, and sprung to strike.
THE HOUSE NEAR MONK'S NECK, AND ITS OWNER.
Such was the critical condition of affairs when I again set out to make
my regular tour of inspection of the cavalry.
Crossing Hatcher's Run at Burgess's Mill, I turned to the left, and
soon found myself riding on between the lofty walls of pine, through
which the roads of Dinwiddie wind like a serpent.
When near Monk's Neck, I determined to stop and feed my horse. I always
carried, strapped behind my saddle, a small bag containing about a feed
of corn for that purpose; and as I generally selected some wayside
house where I could, myself, rest while my horse was feeding, I now
looked about me to discover such.
My search was speedily rewarded. Three hundred yards from the road, in
a clump of stunted trees, I saw a small house, which I soon reached.
The surroundings of the establishment were poor and mean beyond
expression. Through the open door I could see that the interior was
even more poverty-stricken than the outside.
As I dismounted, a man came to this door. Are you fond of natural
history, reader; and have you ever amused yourself by instituting
comparisons between certain human beings and certain animals--beasts,
birds, or fishes? I have seen men who resembled horses, owls, hawks,
sheep,--and geese. This one resembled the bird called the penguin. Read
the description of the penguins: "Their feet are placed more
posteriorly than in any other birds, and only afford them support by
resting on the tarsus, which is enlarged, like the sole of the foot of
a quadruped. The wings are very small, and are furnished with rudiments
of feathers only, resembling scales. Their bodies are covered with
oblong feathers, harsh to the touch, and closely applied over each
other. * * * * * Their motions are slow and awkward, and from the form
of their wings, they can not fly."
The individual before me recalled the penguin--except that he was
excessively lean instead of fat. The feet accorded with the above
description; the arms were short, and hung like wings; the coat of the
worthy was a ragged "cut-away," which ended in a point behind, like the
tail of a bird; and the movements of the individual were "slow and
awkward" to a degree which forbade the supposition that, under any
circumstances, he could be induced to fly. Add a long, crane-like neck,
two bleared eyes, a mouth stretching from ear to ear, and a nose like
the bill of a duck. You will then have before you the gentleman who
bore, as I soon discovered, the classic name of Mr. Alibi.
When the worthy, who had flapped his arms, by way of greeting, and
shown me into his mansion, informed me that such was his name, I knew
that the house at which I now found myself was the place of meeting
agreed upon between Nighthawk and Swartz, at their interview in
Richmond. Here, also, the man and woman, rescued by Swartz on the
Nottoway, had been left, on his way to Petersburg, as the spy had
informed us in the Wilderness.
"Well, general," croaked Mr. Alibi, with a smile, and in a nasal voice,
"wha--a--t's the news?"
"I am only a lieutenant-colonel, Mr. Alibi."
"Well, colonel, any thing stirring?"
"Nothing, I think. Any news with you, Mr. Alibi? I have heard of you
from a friend of yours."
"Eh! And who mout that be, colonel?"
"Mr. Nighthawk. Have you seen him lately?"
"Na--a--a--w," said Mr. Alibi, with a prolonged drawl through his nose,
and flapping his arms in an uncouth fashion, "I ain't seen him for a
long spell now."
"Nor Swartz, either?"
Mr. Alibi looked keenly at me.
"Na--a--a--w, nor him nuther, leftenant-colonel."
"Leave out the 'leftenant,' my dear Mr. Alibi; and call me
'colonel'--it is shorter," I said, laughing, as I looked at the queer
figure. "And so you have not seen Swartz lately? He made an appointment
to meet Nighthawk here."
"Made an app'intment, did he, leftenant--least ways, colonel?"
"With Mr. Nighthawk?"
"Well, I reckon they are both dead, or they'd 'a' kept their
"He must be, sartain."
"You are mistaken, friend Alibi," said a voice behind him.
And Nighthawk, in person, entered the house.
Nighthawk had appeared, as was his wont, as if he had risen from the
But this circumstance disappeared from my mind at once. I was looking
at his face. It had completely lost its benignant expression; was pale,
and bore marks of great fatigue. Something of the old clerical
benignity came to the eyes as he greeted me cordially; but sitting down
in the nearest chair, as though completely wearied out, he became as
dispirited as before.
"And what mout be the matter with you, Mr. Nighthawk?" said Mr. Alibi:
"you look 's if the night hags had been a-riding of you with spurs on."
And Mr. Alibi flapped his wings, stretched out his neck, and seemed
about to cackle.
"I am tired, Alibi," said Nighthawk, briefly, "go to the spring and get
me some fresh water. You needn't come back in a hurry, as I wish to
talk with Colonel Surry."
And Mr. Nighthawk rose, and carelessly sat down near the window,
through which he could reconnoitre.
The object of this movement was soon evident. Mr. Alibi took a bucket,
and went out as though to seek the spring. When he had gone a few
paces, however, he turned to the right and disappeared behind the
house, toward the opposite window, which was open.
Nighthawk rose, went to the door, and caught Mr. Alibi
eavesdropping--the result of which was that the penguin hastily moved
off, muttering. In a minute he had shambled along and disappeared.
No sooner had his figure vanished than Nighthawk turned hastily toward
"Will you go with me to-night, colonel, on an expedition I intend to
make?" he said.
"An expedition, Nighthawk?"
"A work of mercy, colonel; let us talk quickly. That man, Alibi, is a
spy--for both sides--and I wish to arrange every thing before he
"I will, colonel. Do you remember that night in Richmond, when Swartz
made an appointment to meet me at a house near Monk's Neck?"
"Well, this is the house,--and I expected important results from that
meeting. Unfortunately, I was prevented, by some pickets who arrested
me, from reaching this spot on the appointed day. I was here two days
afterward, however--asked for Swartz--he had not been here--and as that
was the most unaccountable thing in the world to me, I set out to find
"In the enemy's lines?"
"Yes, colonel. I had no doubt I would come across him somewhere. So I
went through the country behind the Federal lines; looked everywhere
for my man, have been looking ever since I left you--and at last have
"In the upper room of a deserted house, not three miles from this
place, within the enemy's picket line."
"The upper room of a deserted house?"
'"Confined--put to starve there, colonel! The work of Darke, and that
she-devil who goes about with him, I am willing to swear, colonel!"
"Good heavens! Is it possible?" I said, "Swartz is shut up and left to
"Exactly, colonel--and here is how I know it. I was coming back, worn
out by my long search after Swartz, when in passing this house, I came
suddenly upon a picket of about fifty men. To avoid being seen, I ran,
being on foot, and got behind the house. I had no sooner done so, than
I heard groans from the upper part of it--and as the house was entirely
uninhabited, these sounds excited my curiosity--not to say
astonishment. Well, I determined to, find the origin of them. I crawled
through a broken window--reached the second floor by a dusty staircase,
and went straight toward a door, behind which I heard the groaning. It
was heavily locked, and I could not even shake it. Then I ran to the
partition between the room and the passage--found it made of boards,
between the cracks of which I could see--and looking in, I saw Swartz!
He was sitting on an old broken chair, beside a table with three legs,
and his hand was buried in his hair, as if he was trying to tear it
"When I called to him, he started, and his groans stopped. He turned
his head. No sooner had he recognized me than he cried out with joy;
and for some moments he could say nothing but 'Save me! save me!
Nighthawk! They are starving me to death!'
"I will not lengthen out my story, colonel. I see Alibi coming back. I
had scarcely exchanged ten words with Swartz, when I heard the gallop
of a horse, and running to the window, saw _that woman_ get off. A
second's reflection told me that she was coming into the house; I knew
that, if discovered, I would be shot or taken prisoner--and I decided
on my course in a minute. I said to Swartz, 'wait a few hours--I will
go and bring you help.' I glided through a back window, dropped to the
ground, ran into the bushes--and here I am, colonel, waiting for night
to come, to return and rescue Swartz."
"Can you do so?"
"With one companion--to look out while I pick the lock."
"Good--I'll go with you; and provide for contingencies, too."
I had seen a cavalryman passing along the road in front of the house,
and as Mr. Alibi came in at the same moment, I sent him to hail the
wayfarer, and bring him to the house. As soon as Mr. Alibi had left us
on his errand, I tore a sheet from my note-book, obtained from
Nighthawk an exact description of the locality where Swartz was
confined, and writing a note to Mohun, informed him of our intention.
If he could send a squadron of cavalry to drive in the picket near the
house, it would insure the success of our design, I added.
As I finished this note, Mr. Alibi appeared with the cavalryman. He
proved to belong to Mohun's command. I entrusted the note to him,
cautioning him that it was important, and must reach Mohun
promptly--then I looked at my watch.
It was four o'clock. Already the sun was declining toward the wooded
horizon; I looked toward it, and then at Nighthawk, who nodded.
"In an hour, colonel," he said, "and as I am broken down, I will
With these words, Nighthawk leaned back in his split-bottom chair,
covered his face with his handkerchief, and in ten seconds his long,
quiet breathing showed plainly that he was asleep.
"A cur'ous man, leftenant-colonel! a cur'ous man is Mr. Nighthawk!"
said Mr. Alibi.
And he flapped his arms, and wriggled about in a manner so
extraordinary that he looked more like a penguin than ever.
BIRDS OF PREY.
Night came on. I left my horse at Mr. Alibi's; set off on foot with
Nighthawk; crossed the Rowanty, separating the opposing pickets, by a
moss-covered log, in a shadowy nook, and was approaching the house in
which Swartz was shut up.
Nighthawk moved with the stealthy and gliding step of a wildcat. I
could see the man was a born scout; intended by nature for the calling
he had adopted--secret service. He scarcely uttered a word; when he
did, it was in tones so low that they were lost in the whisper of the
wind, amid the great trailing vines depending from the trees, and I was
compelled to lean my ear close to catch the words.
Fifty paces from the bank, a shadowy object on horseback was visible by
the dim light.
"The vedette," murmured Nighthawk, "but he need not see us."
And plunging, or rather gliding into the shadow of the trees, he led
the way without noise, to a point directly in rear of the vedette.
A hundred yards farther a fire twinkled; and around this fire were the
dusky figures of men and horses. This was evidently the picket.
Three hundred paces to the left, rose a dark object, sombre and
lugubrious against the night, which it exceeded in blackness. Only in
the upper portion of the house, a dim light, like a star, glittered.
"Some one is yonder," came from Nighthawk in a murmur as before, "let
us go there, colonel."
And crouching down until his body nearly reached the earth, my
companion glided, snake-like, toward the house. I imitated him; we
passed unobserved, and almost immediately were behind the house.
Nighthawk then rose erect, and said in a whisper:--
"I am going to reconnoitre. Remain here, colonel. If I think you can
come up without danger, I will make you a signal through that window."
With these words Nighthawk pointed to an open window about ten feet
from the ground; glided past me through the broken sash of one beside
which we were standing, and disappeared like a shadow.
I waited, holding my breath. From the upper portion of the house came
the muffled sound of voices. I was endeavoring to distinguish the words
uttered, when I saw Nighthawk appear at the upper window, and make me a
That sign indicated that I might ascend with a reasonable amount of
safety; and passing without noise through the window, I found myself in
a bare and deserted apartment, with a single shutterless window
opposite me. On the right was an open door. I passed through it, and
found myself at the foot of a rough stairway, occupying half of a
Ascending, not without more than one creak, which, I must confess, sent
a tingle through my nerves, I reached the upper landing, found myself
in front of a closed door, and beside this door encountered the warning
hand of Nighthawk.
"Look!" he said.
And drawing me toward him, he pointed through a crack in the board
partition, which separated the passage from the apartment.
DARKE'S PAST LIFE.
Leaning on Nighthawk's shoulder, I placed my eye at the aperture.
On a broken chair beside the three-legged table sat Darke, booted,
spurred, and armed with pistol and sabre. In an old rocking-chair,
without arms, the singular woman, who seemed to accompany him
everywhere, sat rocking to and fro, and carelessly tapping with a small
whip, the handsome gray riding-habit which defined her slender and
Facing them, on an old bed frame, sat the unfortunate Swartz--but I
would scarcely have recognized him, if I had not known that it was he.
His frame had fallen away almost to nothing. His clothes hung upon him
as upon a wooden pole. His cheeks were pale, sunken; his eyes hollow;
his bearing, cowed, abject, and submissive beyond expression. Let me
spare the reader one horror, however. Hunger was not torturing the
unfortunate man at this moment. Beside him, on the floor, lay a piece
of meat, and an unfinished loaf--thus it was evident that food had been
brought to him; and as some of that food remained uneaten, he must have
satisfied his hunger.
From Swartz, my glance passed to Darke. This second survey of the
worthy proved to me that he was what is succinctly styled "half-drunk."
But drink appeared not to have exhilarated him. It seemed even to have
made him more morose. In the eyes and lips of the heavily bearded
Hercules could be read a species of gloomy sarcasm--a something
resembling bitter melancholy.
The woman in the gray dress, had never appeared cooler. She rocked to
and fro in her chair with an air of perfect _insouciance_.
The interview had evidently lasted some time before our arrival at the
house; but, as the reader will perceive, we came soon enough to
overhear a somewhat singular revelation.
As I reached my position near the door, Darke was speaking to
"You ask why you are shut up here to starve," he said, "and as I have
some time on my hands to-night, I am going to tell you. That might be
called 'imprudent.' No! I am talking to a dead man! You see I hold out
no false hopes--you will not leave this house alive probably--I will go
back, and tell you something which will serve to explain the whole."
Darke paused a moment, and then gazed with a strange mixture of gloom
and tenderness upon the gray woman.
"Perhaps you, too, madam," he said, speaking in a low tone, "may be
ignorant of a part of my history. You know the worst--but not all. You
shall know every thing. Listen; and I beg you will not interrupt me.
About ten years ago, I chanced to be at Dinwiddie Court-House, a few
miles only from this spot; and one day a certain Mr. George Conway
visited the courthouse to receive a considerable sum of money which was
to be paid to him."
At the words "a certain Mr. George Conway," uttered by the speaker, in
a hoarse and hesitating voice, I very nearly uttered an exclamation.
That name, which General Davenant's recent narrative had surrounded
with so many gloomy associations, produced a profound effect on me, as
it now escaped from this man's lips; and had it not been for
Nighthawk's warning pressure on my arm, I should probably have betrayed
our vicinity. Fortunately I suppressed the rising exclamation; it had
attracted no attention; and Darke went on in the same low tone:--
"I was in the clerk's office of Dinwiddie when the money I refer to was
paid to Mr. Conway. It amounted to about ten thousand dollars, and as I
had at that time no business in the region more important than hanging
around the tavern, and drinking and playing cards--as, besides this, I
was at the end of my resources, having lost my last penny on the night
before, at the card-table--the idea occurred to me that it would not be
a bad plan to ride after Mr. Conway; accost him on the road; represent
my necessities to him, and request a small loan out of his abundant
means, to prevent myself from being deprived of my luxuries--liquor and
cards. Is that a roundabout way of saying I intended to act the
highwayman, perhaps the--murderer--on this occasion? By no means,
madam! What is highway robbery? Is it not the brutal and wanton robbery
of the poor as well as the rich? Well, I was not going to rob anybody.
I was going to request a small loan--and so far from intending
violence, or--murder--," he uttered that word always in a hesitating
voice--"I swear, I had no such intention. I was entirely unarmed; upon
my whole person there was not one deadly weapon--it was only by
accident that I found, when riding out of the court-house, that I had a
small pen-knife in my pocket. This I had picked up, by pure accident
from the table of the clerk's office, where some one had laid it down.
I had carelessly commenced paring my nails with it--my attention was
attracted by something else. I finished paring my nails, and without
being aware of what I was doing, put the knife in my pocket.
"Well, you may think, perhaps, all this is irrelevant. You are
mistaken. Many things turned on that knife. The devil himself placed it
in my grasp that day!"
STABBED "NOT MURDERED."
"Well," Darke continued, "I have told you my design, and now I will
inform you how I carried it out.
"I saw Mr. George Conway receive the money--in notes, bank notes, and
gold. That was enough; I knew the road he would take; and going to the
stable of the tavern I saddled my horse, and rode out of the place in a
western direction. When I was out of sight, however, I turned eastward
toward Five Forks, pushed into the woods, and about sunset took my
stand in a piece of timber, on the side of the road which--he--was
There was always a marked hesitation when he came to the name of his
victim. He went on more rapidly now.
"Well, he came along about dusk. Some one followed him, but I could not
make out who. Another man came on from the direction of Petersburg;
passed me and _him_; and the other who had followed _him_ out of the
court-house turned into a by-road and disappeared. Then I saw that the
game was in my own hands; I waited, looking at him as he approached me.
I swear I did not intend to harm him. I was half-drunk, but I remember
what I intended. He came on. I rode toward him, demanded the money, he
refused. I threw myself on him, as he struck at me with the butt of his
heavy riding-whip, then we both rolled to the ground, I under! His
clutch was on my throat, I was choking. 'Help,' he cried, and I came
near crying it, too! All at once my hand fell upon my pocket, I felt
the knife, I drew it out, opened it, and stabbed him as he was
"That was the whole! Do you call it a _murder_? I rose up, as _he_ fell
back. His breast was all bloody; his eyes turned round; he gasped
something, and fell back dead."
The speaker paused and wiped his brow with his huge, muscular hand. His
face was a strange spectacle. The most bitter and terrible emotions of
the human heart were written there as with a pen of fire.
"Then I looked at him;" he went on, "I said to myself, 'this is a
murder,' foolishly, for he was stabbed, not murdered; and my first
thought was to conceal the body. I dragged it to the roadside, hid it
in some bushes, and thinking I heard some one coming, leaped on my
horse, who had stood by quietly--_his_ had galloped away--and left the
cursed spot as fast as I could go. The money was left on him. I swear I
did not touch a penny of it, and would not have touched it, even if I
had not been interrupted. I had not intended to kill him. It was the
result of the struggle. I took nothing of _his_ away from that place,
but I left something of my own; the knife with which I had struck him!
"The devil had put the cursed thing into my hand; and now the devil
made me drop it there, within ten feet of the dead body."
THE TWO PAPERS.
Darke had spoken in a low, dull, gloomy voice; and something like a
shudder had passed through his frame as he painted, in brief words, the
sombre scene. This emotion now seemed even to grow deeper. Was there
good left in this wild animal?
"That knife," he continued, "was very nearly the means of hanging an
innocent man. It belonged to a gentleman of the neighborhood who had
accidentally laid it on the table of the clerk's office, a few moments
before I, as accidentally, picked it up--and this gentleman had just
had angry words with--_him_--about a trifle. What made things worse was
that they had long been enemies--and when _he_ was found there, dead in
the bushes, next day, the owner of the knife found near the body was
arrested as the murderer.
"Well, he went to jail, and the trial was coming on soon. The evidence
against him was strong. He was the known enemy of--Mr. Conway. He had
quarrelled with him on that day, and his knife was found by--the
body--on which the money had not been touched. A robber, you see, would
have taken the money; as it was untouched the crime must have been
committed by a personal enemy. Who was that enemy? The prisoner--whose
name was Davenant!
"Well, the trial was near. I had gone back to the court-house on _that
day_, and was still hanging around the place. What was I to do? I had
to determine whether I would let an innocent man be hanged for my
crime, or go to the sheriff and say, 'release the prisoner--I am the
murderer.' That was rather more than I was ready for, and I hit on a
means which might serve. The knife was important evidence--the _most_
important--and I was in the clerk's office one day, hanging round and
listening, when I saw the sheriff put the knife in a drawer, to have it
ready near court on the day of trial. Well, that night I broke into the
court-house--stole the knife--and waited to see what would occur on the
"As the day drew near I felt like a real murderer, and had the prisoner
all the time before my eyes, hanging on a gallows. I drank harder than
ever, but I could not get that picture out of my mind. I saw worse
pictures than before. So I determined what to do. I sat down, wrote a
full confession of the murder, which I signed; and a friend of mine
carried this to the prisoner's wife. I had put on it 'In haste, this
will save Mr. Davenant's life'--and his wife carried it, at full speed,
with her own hands to the court-house, where she arrived just as the
jury had retired.
"The prisoner opened and read it. When he had finished it, he folded it
up and put it in his pocket. As he did so, the jury came in with a
verdict of 'Not guilty'--and he went out of the court-room accompanied
by a crowd of friends.
"So he was cleared, you see--without using the document which I had
written. That was in his pocket; was of no further use; and as it might
become dangerous I entered his house that night, broke open the desk in
which he kept his private papers, and took this one out, reading and
making sure that it was the genuine document, by the light of the moon
which streamed in at the window.
"I was still looking at the paper, when a noise behind me attracted my
attention, and turning round I saw--Mr. Davenant. He had heard the
noise I made in breaking open the secretary; put on his dressing-gown;
and coming down, pistol in hand, was on me before I knew it. The few
minutes that followed were rather angry, and noisy. Unexpectedly, Mr.
Davenant did not fire on me. After an interchange of compliments, I put
the paper in my pocket, passed out through the window, and mounting my
horse, rode away.
"After that I went far, and saw many persons. Among the rest you,
madam; and our matrimonial life has been chequered!
"A word to you, now," he added, turning toward Swartz. "I shut you up
here to starve you to death because you were trusted and have betrayed
me. Listen, and I will tell you how. You are greedy for gold, and this
greed has tempted you to an act which will be your destruction. In
Pennsylvania, one night, just before the battle of Gettysburg, you were
at my house, and stole a paper from madam, who was collecting every
thing to hide it from the enemy. No matter how I know that; I have made
the discovery, and you deny it--refusing to deliver up that paper,
which you state you never had, and consequently have not in your
possession. In saying that, you lied! You stole that paper, and promise
yourself that you will sell it for a large sum of money--you have
already been bargaining, and have tried to finish the business.
"Well, that paper is interesting--to madam at least; and she has kept
it with care from the eyes of the very person you would sell it to!
Folded with it was another paper which is no less valuable to me. Thus,
you see, that we are interested; and we will probably be informed in a
day from this time where to find both the documents--as you will then
be starving, and will reveal every thing!
"You think me jesting, perhaps--you imagine I will spare you. Undeceive
yourself--your life is a small matter compared with these two papers.
"One is the certificate of madam's marriage with your very humble
servant; the other the letter which I took from Mr. Davenant's desk
that night, in which I confess myself the--well! the murderer--of
Darke's deep and gloomy voice ceased to resound, and for a moment the
silence of the apartment was only disturbed by the slight creaking made
by the chair of the woman, as she quietly rocked backward and forward.
Swartz had risen to his feet while Darke was uttering his final words.
With clasped hands, and trembling lips, he was about to throw himself
upon his knees;--when suddenly a shot resounded without, a cry was
heard, and then this was succeeded by rapid firing, mingled with
hoof-strokes, in the immediate vicinity of the house.
Darke rose to his feet, and in two strides was at the window.
"An attack!" he exclaimed. "Can the friends of this carrion be trying
to catch me!"
And springing toward the door, he tore it open.
Suddenly, another thought seemed to come to him. Returning at a bound
to the side of Swartz, he seized him by the throat, dragged him through
the door, and rushed down the steps, still dragging the unfortunate
As he passed me, I drew my revolver and fired on him, but the ball did
not strike him. Then I saw the woman dart past like a shadow. When
Nighthawk and myself reached the foot of the stairs, she and Darke were
already in the saddle.
The collar of Swartz was still in his clutch. He seemed determined to
bear him off at the risk of being himself captured; for a second glance
showed me that a party of Confederate cavalry was rushing headlong
toward the house, led by an officer whom I made out to be Mohun.
Darke saw that the small force on picket could not contend with the
By the starlight, I could see his face, as he glared over his shoulder
at Mohun, whom he had evidently recognized. An expression of profound
hate was in that glance; a hoarse growl issued from his lips; and I
distinguished the low words addressed to Swartz, whom he was dragging
on beside his horse.
"So, you are rescued, you think! You have laid this trap for me,
He drew his pistol as he spoke, and placed it close to the unhappy
man's temple. I had mine in my hand, and, aiming at Darke, fired.
It was too late. The bullet did not strike him; and the report of his
own weapon followed that of mine like an echo.
Swartz staggered back, threw up his hands, and uttering a wild cry,
fell at full length upon the ground.
The scene which followed was as brief as this tragedy. Mohun charged,
at the head of his men, and drove the picket force before him. In five
minutes the whole party were dispersed, or captured.
Darke had escaped with the gray woman, in the darkness.
The pursuit did not continue far. The Federal lines were near; and
Mohun soon recalled his men.
Grasping me cordially by the hand, he exclaimed:--
"Well, Surry! the prisoner! Where is Swartz?"
I pointed to the spot where his body lay, and went thither with Mohun.
Swartz lay perfectly dead, in a pool of blood. Darke had blown out his
An hour afterward the body of the unfortunate man had been buried, and
I had returned with Mohun and Nighthawk to the opposite bank of the
I had never seen Mohun so gloomy. He scarcely uttered a word during the
whole march back; and when I announced my intention to spend the night
at the house of Mr. Alibi, as the long tramp had wearied me out, he
scarcely invited me to his head-quarters, and when I declined, did not
urge me. Something evidently weighed heavily on the mind of Mohun, and
a few moment's reflection explained the whole to me.
He had conversed rapidly and apart with Nighthawk near the lonely
house; and his gloom had dated from that conversation. Nighthawk had
evidently explained every thing: the cause of Swartz's imprisonment;
his statement in reference to the paper--and now that Swartz was dead,
the hiding-place of the document seemed forever undiscoverable.
If the reader does not understand the terrible significance of this
fact, and Mohun's consequent gloom, I promise that he shall comprehend
all before very long.
Mohun returned to his camp, and I remained at the house of Mr. Alibi
until morning, stretched on a lounge, and wrapped in my cape.
I awoke about sunrise. As I opened my eyes, quick firing came from the
direction of Burgess's Mill. The fire speedily became more rapid and
continuous; I hastened to mount my horse; and as I did so, a courier
passed at full gallop.
"What news?" I asked.
"The enemy are advancing in force! They have crossed!"
And the courier disappeared, at full speed, in the woods. In a moment I
had abandoned my design of inspecting, and was riding back.
"Armstrong's" was a mill on the Rowanty, near the Boydton road. If the
enemy had crossed there, in force, it was to make a heavy advance
toward the Southside road.
I was not mistaken. Reaching the debouchment of the "Quaker road," I
found the cavalry drawn up in order of battle--a dispatch had been sent
to hurry up the rest--on the lower waters of the Rowanty, and General
Hampton informed me of the situation of affairs.
The enemy had advanced in heavy force at sunrise, driven in the
pickets, and, crossing the Rowanty, seized on the Boydton road and the
bridge at Burgess's Mill. From prisoners taken, it was ascertained that
the force consisted of the Second, Fifth, and part of the Ninth Corps;
Grant, Meade, and Hancock, accompanying the troops in person.
That left nothing in doubt. If any remained, it was dispelled by the
fact, stated to me by General Hampton, that the Federal troops "had
eight days' rations, and were certainly bound for the Southside
[Footnote 1: His words.]
I had scarcely received this intelligence from General Hampton, when a
heavy attack was made upon General William H.F. Lee, holding the Quaker
From that moment the battle began to rage with determined fury, and the
entire force of cavalry was engaged in an obstinate fight with the
advancing enemy. It was a bitter and savage affair. The men charged;
dismounted and fought behind impromptu breastworks of rails; fell back
only when they were pushed by the weight of the great column rolling
forward; and for hours the whole field was a hurly-burly of dust,
smoke, blood, uproar, carbine shots, musket shots, and the long
threatening roar of cannon.
The Stuart horse artillery fought like tigers. The men stuck to their
guns amid a storm of bullets, and vindicated, as they had done before
on many fields, the name of "my pets," given them by Stuart! Among the
officers, Will Davenant was seen, sitting his horse amid the smoke, as
calm as a May morning; and I shall never forget the smile on the face
of this young bull-dog, when he said:--
"I think we can hold our ground, colonel."
And looking over his shoulder, in the direction of Five Forks, he
"This is a good place to die, too."
A thundering cheer rose suddenly above the roar of the guns, and the
line of dismounted sharp-shooters behind their rail breastworks opened
a more steady and resolute fire as the enemy appeared to pause.
At the same moment young Preston Hampton, a son of the general, and one
of my favorites, from his courage and courtesy, passed by at a gallop,
cheering and encouraging the skirmishers.
I spurred after him. Just as I reached him, I saw the arm waving above
his head suddenly drop; his sword escaped from his grasp, and he fell
from the saddle to the ground.
In an instant I had dismounted, and with other officers who hastened
up, had raised him from the earth.
As we did so, the group, consisting now of no less than seven,
attracted the enemy's attention; a hot fire was opened on us, and
before we could bear the dying youth in our arms beyond the reach of
the fire, four out of the seven officers were shot.
[Footnote 1: Fact]
The boy was placed in an ambulance, and borne to the rear; but the
wound was fatal, and he soon afterward expired. A staff officer
afterward informed me that General Hampton did not leave his tent for a
fortnight--scarcely replying when he was spoken to, and prostrated by
I could understand that. The death of the brave youth sent a pang to my
own heart--and he was only my friend. The great heart of the father
must have been nearly broken.
So fell Preston Hampton. Peace to his ashes! No kinder or braver spirit
ever died for his country!
I AM CAPTURED.
Hour after hour the battle continued to rage; the enemy making resolute
attempts to brush off the cavalry.
It was now discovered that Hancock's corps had crossed the Rowanty,
supported by Crawford's division, with two corps behind; and as General
Hancock held the bridge at Burgess's, there seemed little probability
that Lee could cross a force to attack him.
But this was done. While the cavalry fought the blue masses with
obstinate courage on the Boydton road, Mahone, that daring soldier,
crossed a column of three brigades over the Rowanty, below Burgess's;
and suddenly the enemy found themselves attacked in flank and rear.
Mahone did not pause. He advanced straight to the assault; swept every
thing before him, and thrusting his small force in between Hancock and
Crawford, tore from the former four hundred prisoners, three battle-
flags, and six pieces of artillery.
The assault had been sudden and almost overwhelming. While hotly
engaged with Hampton in front, the enemy had all at once staggered
beneath the heavy blow dealt on their flank and rear. They turned to
strike at this new foe; and the shock which followed was rude, the
Mahone met it with that dash and stubbornness now proverbial in the
army; and, hurling his three brigades against the advancing column,
broke through three lines of battle, and drove them back.
[Footnote 1: "In the attack subsequently made by the enemy, General
Mahone broke three lines of battle."--General Lee's Dispatch of October
Night was near, and the fighting still continued. The enemy seemed both
to give up the ground; and were holding their position obstinately,
when a determined charge from a brigade of Mahone's drove every thing
in its front.
I had been to carry a message for General Hampton, upon whose staff I
served during the battle, and now found myself swept forward by the
In front of them, I recognized General Davenant, on horseback, and
sword in hand, leading the charge. His son Charley was beside him.
"We are driving them, colonel!" exclaimed the general, with a proud
smile "and look! yonder are some of their general officers flying from
As he spoke, he pointed to three horsemen, riding at full speed from a
house known as Burgess's; their splendid suit of staff officers
indicated that they were of high rank.
In fact, the three horsemen who retired thus hastily, would have proved
a rich prize to us. They were Generals Grant, Meade and Hancock.
[Footnote 1: Fact.]
They made a narrow escape, and the question suggests itself, "What
would have been the result of their capture?" I know not; I only know
that Grant, Meade and Hancock, came near having an interview with
General Lee that night--a peaceful and friendly talk at his
I did not think of all this then. The hot charge dragged me. I had come
to participate in it by the mere chance of battle--but this apparent
accident was destined to have very singular results.
I had ridden with General Davenant, as his brigade swept forward, and
we were breasting a heavy fire on his front, when a sudden cry of
"Cavalry! look out!" came from our left.
General Davenant wheeled his horse; went at full speed, accompanied by
his son and myself, through the bullets, in the direction indicated;
and carried onward by his animal, as I was by my own, rode right into a
column of blue cavalry, advancing to attack our flank.
Such was the "chance of battle!" At one moment General Davenant was in
command of a brigade which was driving the enemy, and sweeping every
thing before it. At the next moment he had been carried by the powerful
animal which he bestrode straight into the ranks of the Federal
cavalry, hidden by the woods and approaching darkness--had been
surrounded in an instant, fired upon, and half dragged from his saddle,
and captured, together with his son Charley.
What was still more unfortunate to me, personally, was the fact that
having followed the old soldier, I was surrounded, and made a prisoner
in the same manner.
FACE TO FACE.
We had scarcely time to realize the truly disgusting fact, that we were
captured at the very instant that the enemy were being driven, when the
charge of the Federal cavalry was met by a hail-storm of bullets which
drove them back in disorder.
For some moments the woods presented a singular spectacle. Horsemen
flying in wild confusion; riderless animals darting madly toward the
rear; the groans of wounded men tottering in the saddle as they rushed
by--all this made up a wild scene of excitement, and confusion worse
General Davenant, his son, and myself had been ordered to the rear,
under escort; and the old cavalier had turned his horse's head in that
direction, boiling with rage at his capture, when the repulse ensued,
and the Federal cavalry streamed by us toward the rear.
All at once a loud voice was heard shouting in the half darkness:--
"Halt! halt! you cursed cowards! Halt! and form column!"
The speaker rushed toward us as he spoke, mounted upon a huge black
horse, and I heard the noise made by his sabre, as with the flat of it,
he struck blows upon the brawny shoulders of the fugitives.
At his summons, and the blows of his sabre, the men halted, and again
fell into column. Under the shadowy boughs of the woods, and in the
gathering darkness, the long line of horsemen resembled phantoms rather
than men. Near them glimmered some bivouac fires; and the flickering
light illumined their persons, gleamed on their scabbards, and lit up
the rough bearded faces.
"Cowardly scoundrels!" exclaimed their leader, in fierce accents,
"where are the prisoners that ran into us?"
"Here, colonel. One is a general!" said a man.
"Let me see them!"
General Davenant struck the spur violently into his horse, and rode
close to the Federal officer, in whom I had recognized Colonel Darke.
"Here I am, wretch!--look at me!" exclaimed General Davenant, foaming
with rage. "Accursed be the day when I begat a murderer and a
Darke's hand unconsciously drew the rein, and man and horse both seemed
to stagger back before the furious old soldier.
"General--Davenant!" muttered Darke, turning pale.
"Yes, General Davenant!--a gentleman, an honest man; not a traitor and
"Good God!" muttered Darke, "it is my father, truly--and my little
brother! The proud face, the eyes, the mouth--and yet they told me you
"Ah! 'Killed!' Killing is a favorite topic with you!" exclaimed General
Davenant, furiously; "well, kill _me_, now!--Strike your dastardly
sword, or _your knife_ if you have one, straight into my breast! Murder
me, I say, as you murdered George Conway!--I have a purse in my pocket,
and you can rob me when I am dead. Strike! strike!--but not with the
sword! That is the weapon of a gentleman. Draw your knife, and stab me
in the back--the knife is the weapon of the assassin!"
And crossing his arms upon his breast, the fiery old cavalier
confronted his son, with eyes full of bitter wrath and disdain--eyes
which I shall never forget; for their fire burnt them into my memory.
Darke did not dare to meet them. I had listened with amazement to those
words, which indicated that the Federal officer was General Davenant's
son; then this sentiment of astonishment, profound as it was, had
yielded to one of expectation, if I may so express myself. What I
expected was a furious outbreak from the man of fierce and violent
passions, thus taunted and driven to bay by the repeated insults of the
general. No outburst came, however. On the contrary, the Federal
officer bowed his head, and listened in silence, while a mortal pallor
diffused itself over his swarthy face. His gaze was bent upon the
ground, and his brows so closely knit that they extended in an unbroken
ridge of black and shaggy hair above his bloodshot eyes. He sat his
horse, in the light of the camp-fire,--a huge cavalier upon an animal
as powerful and forbidding in appearance as himself,--and for more than
a minute after the scornful outburst from General Davenant, Darke
remained silent and motionless, with his eyes still fixed upon the
Then he raised his head, made a sign with his hand to an officer, and
"Move back with the column--leave these prisoners here."
At the word, the column moved back slowly; the shadowy figures were
lost sight of in the darkness; General Davenant, his son Charles,
Darke, and myself, were left alone beside the camp-fire.
Then the Federal officer, with a face over which seemed to pass "the
shadow of unutterable things," looked first with a long, wistful,
absorbed glance toward the boy Charles, his brother--lastly, toward his
"Why do you taunt me?" he said, in a low tone. "Will that result in any
good now? Yes, I committed murder. I intended, if I did not commit,
robbery. I killed--yes, I killed!--with a knife--as a murderer kills.
But I do not wish to kill you--or Charley--or this officer--or rob you.
Keep your life and your money. There is the road before you, open. Go;
you are free!"
General Davenant had sat his horse--the boy Charley beside
him--listening in sullen wrath. As Darke ended, the general's hand went
to the hilt of his sword, and he half drew it, by an instinctive
movement, from the scabbard. "Well!" added the Federal officer, in the
same low tone, with a deeper flush in his cheeks, "draw your sword,
sir--strike me if you think proper. For myself, I am done with murder,
and shrink from it, so that, if my father wishes to kill me, I will
open my breast, to give him a fair opportunity. You see I am not
altogether the murderous wretch you take me for. I am a murderer, it is
true, and soiled with every vice--you see I am frank--but I will not
resist, if you plunge your sword into my heart. Strike! strike! While I
am dying I will have time to say the few words I have to say to you!"
General Davenant shuddered with wrath still, but a strange emotion was
mingled with the sentiment now--an emotion which I could not fathom.
Before he could open his lips, however, Darke resumed, in the same
"You hesitate--you are not ready to become my executioner. Well,
listen, and I will utter that which may deprive you of all
self-control. Yes, once more, I killed a man, and killed him for money;
but _you_ made me what I was! You petted, and spoiled, and made me
selfish. In addition, you hated--that man. You had hated him for
twenty years. When I grew up, I found out that. If you did not strike
him, you had the desire to do so--and, like a good son, I shared my
'father's loves and hatreds.' I heard you speak of--him--harshly; I
knew that an old grudge was between you; what matter if I met this
enemy of the family on the high-road, and, with the dagger at his
throat, said: 'Yield me a portion of your ill-gotten gains!' for that
money was the proceeds of a forced sale for cash, by which the father
of a family was turned out of house and home! Well, I did that--and did
it under the effect of drink. I learned the habit at _your_ table; wine
was placed in my hands, in my very childhood, by you; you indulged all
my vile selfishness; made me a miserable, arrogant wretch; I came to
hang about the village tavern, and gamble, and fuddle myself, until I
was made worthless! Then, when one day the devil tempted me, I
committed a crime--and that crime was committed by _you_! for _you_
cultivated in me the vile habits which led me on to murder!"
Darke's eyes were gloomy, and full of a strange fire. As he uttered the
last words, he spurred close to his father, tore open his uniform until
his bare breast was visible, and added in accents full of vehement and
"Strike me! Bury your sword's point in my heart! I am your son. You are
as noble a gentleman as Brutus was! Kill me, then! I am a murderer: but
I am a Davenant, and no coward!"
From the fierce and swollen face, in which the dark eyes burned like
firebrands, my glance passed to the countenance of General Davenant. A
startling change had taken place in the expression of the old cavalier.
He was no longer erect, fiery, defiant. His glance no longer darted
scorn and anger. His chin had fallen upon his breast; his frame
drooped; his cheeks, but now so flushed, were covered with a deep
For a moment he remained silent. The hand which had clutched at the
sword hilt hung listless at his side. All at once his breast heaved,
and with a sound which resembled a groan, he said, in low tones:--
"I am punished! Yes, my hatred has brought forth fruit, and the fruit
is bitter! It was I who warped this life, and the tree has grown as I
"Yes," said Darke, in his deep voice, "first warped--then, when cut
down, cast off and forgotten!"
General Davenant looked at the speaker with bitter melancholy.
"Ah! you charge me with that, do you, sir?" he said, "You do not
remember, then, that I have suffered for you--you do not know, perhaps,
that for ten years I have labored under the imputation of that crime,
and have preserved silence that I might shield your memory--for I
thought you dead! You do not know that I never breathed a syllable of
that letter which you sent to me on the day of my trial--that I have
allowed the world to believe I was saved by a legal technicality! You
have not heard, perhaps, that a daughter of Judge Conway is beloved by
your brother, and that her father rejects with scorn the very idea of
forming an alliance with _my_ son--the son of one whom he regards as
the murderer of his brother! Oh! yes, sir! truly I have cast off and
forgotten you and your memory! I have not wept tears of blood over the
crime you committed--over the dishonor that rested on the name of
Davenant! I have not writhed beneath the cold and scornful eye of Judge
Conway and his friends! I have not seen your brother's heart breaking
for love of that girl; and suppressed all, concealed every thing, borne
the brand on my proud forehead, and _his_ young life, that _your_
tombstone might at least not have 'murderer' cut on it! And now you
taunt me with my faults!--with my injudicious course toward you when
your character was forming. You sneer and say that I first hated George
Conway, and that the son only inherited the family feud, and struck the
enemy of the family! Yes, I acknowledge those sins; I pray daily to be
forgiven for them. I have borne for ten years this bitter load of
dishonor. But there is something more maddening even than my faults,
and the stain on my name--it is to be taunted to my face, here, with
the charge that I struck that blow! that I made you the criminal, and
then threw you off, and drove you to become a renegade in the ranks of
The last words of the speaker were nearly drowned in a heavy fusillade
which issued from the woods close by.
"Listen!" exclaimed General Davenant, "that is the fire of your
hirelings, sir, directed at the hearts of your brethren! _You_ are
leading that scum against the gentlemen of Virginia! Well join them!
Point _me_, and my son, and companion out to them! Tear us to pieces
with your bullets! Trample us beneath your hireling heels! That will
not prevent me from branding you again in your dishonored
forehead!--from cursing you as renegade, debauchee, and murderer!"
The whistle of bullets mingled with these furious and resounding words;
and then the crackle of footsteps was heard, the undergrowth suddenly
swarmed with figures--a party of Confederates rushed shouting into the
Darke wheeled not from, but toward them, as though to charge them. The
stern courage of the Davenant blood burned in his cheeks and eyes.
Then, with a harsh and bitter laugh, he turned and pushed his horse
close up beside that of his father.
"I would call this meeting and parting strange, if any thing were
strange in this world!" he said, "but nothing astonishes me, or moves
me, as of old! The devil has brought it about! he put a knife in my
hands once! to-night he brings me face to face with you and my
boy-brother--and makes you curse and renounce me! Well, so be it! have
your will! Henceforth I am really lost--my father!"
And drawing his pistol, he coolly discharged barrel after barrel in the
faces of the men rushing upon him; wheeled his horse, and dug the spurs
into him; an instant afterward, with his sneering face turned over his
shoulder, he had disappeared in the woods.
Two hours afterward I was on my way to Petersburg.
The enemy were already falling back from their adventurous attempt to
seize the Southside road.
In the morning they had retired across the Rowanty, and disappeared.
So ended that heavy blow at Lee's great war-artery.
[Illustration: THE FLIGHT]
RICHMOND BY THE THROAT.
I was again back at the "Cedars," after the rapid and shifting scenes
which I have endeavored to place before the reader.
The tragic incidents befalling the actors in this drama, had most
absorbed my attention; but sitting now in my tent, with the newspapers
before me, I looked at the fight in which I had participated, from the
general and historic point of view.
That heavy advance on the Boydton road, beyond Lee's right, had been
simultaneous with a determined assault on the Confederate left, north
of James River, and on Lee's centre opposite Petersburg; and now the
extracts from Northern journals clearly indicated that the movement was
meant to be decisive.
"I have Richmond by the throat!" General Grant had telegraphed; but
there was good ground to believe that the heavy attack, and the
eloquent dispatch, were both meant to "make capital" for the
approaching Presidential election.
These memoirs, my dear reader, are written chiefly to record some
incidents which I witnessed during the war. I have neither time nor
space for political comments. But I laid my hand yesterday, by
accident, on an old number of the _Examiner_ newspaper; and it chanced
to contain an editorial on the fight just described, with some
penetrating views on the "situation" at that time.
Shall I quote a paragraph from the yellow old paper? It will be
bitter--we were all bitter in those days! though to-day we are so
fraternal and harmonious. With his trenchant pen, Daniel pierced to the
core of the matter; and the paper may give some idea of the spirit of
I could fancy the great satirist sitting in his lonely study, and
penning the lines I shall quote, not without grim smiles at his own
Here is the slip I cut out. The old familiar heading may recall those
times to some readers, as clearly as the biting sentences, once read,
perhaps, by the camp-fire.
* * * * * DAILY EXAMINER. * * * * *
MONDAY MORNING OCT. 31, 1864. * * * * *
"Every day must now bring its brilliant bulletin to the Yankee
nation. That nation does not regard the punctual rising of the sun
as more lawfully due to it than a victory every morning. And those
glorious achievements of SHERIDAN in the Valley were grown cold and
stale, and even plainly hollow and rotten--insomuch that, after
totally annihilating the army of EARLY at least three times, and so
clearing the way to Lynchburg, instead of marching up to Lynchburg
the heroick victor goes whirling down to Winchester. Then the
superb victory obtained on Sunday of last week over PRICE in
Missouri, has taken a certain bogus tint, which causes many to
believe that there was, in fact, no victory and no battle. This
would not do. Something fresh must be had; something electrifying;
above all, something that would set the people to cheering and