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ECLECTIC ENGLISH CLASSICS
A TALE OF THE NEUTRAL GROUND
BY JAMES FENIMORE COOPER
NATHANIEL WARING BARNES
PROFESSOR OF ENGLISH COMPOSITION
IN DE PAUW UNIVERSITY
JAMES FENIMORE COOPER
"I believe I could write a better story myself!" With these words, since
become famous, James Fenimore Cooper laid aside the English novel which
he was reading aloud to his wife. A few days later he submitted several
pages of manuscript for her approval, and then settled down to the task
of making good his boast. In November, 1820, he gave the public a novel
in two volumes, entitled _Precaution_. But it was published anonymously,
and dealt with English society in so much the same way as the average
British novel of the time that its author was thought by many to be an
Englishman. It had no originality and no real merit of any kind. Yet it
was the means of inciting Cooper to another attempt. And this second
novel made him famous.
When _Precaution_ appeared, some of Cooper's friends protested against
his weak dependence on British models. Their arguments stirred his
patriotism, and he determined to write another novel, using thoroughly
American material. Accordingly he turned to Westchester County, where he
was then living, a county which had been the scene of much stirring
action during a good part of the Revolutionary War, and composed _The
Spy--A Tale of the Neutral Ground_. This novel was published in 1821,
and was immediately popular, both in this country and in England. Soon
it was translated into French, then into other foreign languages, until
it was read more widely than any other tale of the century. Cooper had
written the first American novel. He had also struck an original
literary vein, and he had gained confidence in himself as a writer.
Following this pronounced success in authorship, Cooper set to work on a
third book and continued for the remainder of his life to devote most of
his time to writing. Altogether he wrote over thirty novels and as many
more works of a miscellaneous character. But much of this writing has no
interest for us at the present time, especially that which was
occasioned by the many controversies in which the rather belligerent
Cooper involved himself. His work of permanent value after _The Spy_
falls into two groups, the tales of wilderness life and the sea tales.
Both these groups grew directly out of his experiences in early life.
Cooper was born on September 15, 1789, in Burlington, New Jersey, but
while still very young he was taken to Cooperstown, on the shores of
Otsego Lake, in central New York. His father owned many thousand acres
of primeval forest about this village, and so through the years of a
free boyhood the young Cooper came to love the wilderness and to know
the characters of border life. When the village school was no longer
adequate, he went to study privately in Albany and later entered Yale
College. But he was not interested in the study of books. When, as a
junior, he was expelled from college, he turned to a career in the navy.
Accordingly in the fall of 1806 he sailed on a merchant ship, the
_Sterling_, and for the next eleven months saw hard service before the
mast. Soon after this apprenticeship he received a commission as a
midshipman in the United States navy. Although it was a time of peace,
and he saw no actual fighting, he gained considerable knowledge from his
service on Lake Ontario and Lake Champlain that he put to good use
later. Shortly before his resignation in May, 1811, he had married, and
for several years thereafter he lived along in a pleasant, leisurely
fashion, part of the time in Cooperstown and part of the time in
Westchester County, until almost accidentally he broke into the writing
of his first novel. Aside from the publication of his books, Cooper's
later life was essentially uneventful. He died at Cooperstown, on
September 14, 1851.
The connection of Cooper's best writing with the life he knew at first
hand is thus perfectly plain. In his novels dealing with the wilderness,
popularly known as the Leatherstocking Tales, he drew directly on his
knowledge of the backwoods and backwoodsmen as he gained it about
Cooperstown. In _The Pioneers_ (1823) he dealt with the scenes of his
boyhood, scenes which lay very close to his heart; and in the other
volumes of this series, _The Last of the Mohicans_ (1826), _The Prairie_
(1827), _The Pathfinder_ (1840), and _The Deerslayer (1841), he
continued to write of the trappers and frontiersmen and outpost
garrisons and Indians who made up the forest life he knew so well.
Similarly, in the sea tales, which began with 'The Pilot'(1823) and
included 'The Red Rover'(1828), 'The Two Admirals' (1842) and 'The
Wing-and-Wing'(1842), he made full use of his experiences before the
mast and in the navy. The nautical accuracy of these tales of the sea
could scarcely have been attained by a "landlubber". It has much
practical significance, then, that Cooper chose material which he knew
intimately and which gripped his own interest. His success came like
Thackeray's and Stevenson's and Mark Twain's--without his having to
reach to the other side of the world after his material.
In considering Cooper's work as a novelist, nothing is more marked than
his originality. In these days we take novels based on American history
and novels of the sea for granted, but at the time when Cooper published
'The Spy' and 'The Pilot' neither an American novel nor a salt-water
novel had ever been written. So far as Americans before Cooper had
written fiction at all, Washington Irving had been the only one to cease
from a timid imitation of British models. But Irving's material was
local, rather than national. It was Cooper who first told the story of
the conquest of the American continent. He caught the poetry and the
romantic thrill of both the American forest and the sea; he dared to
break away from literary conventions. His reward was an immediate and
widespread success, together with a secure place in the history of his
There was probably a two-fold reason for the success which Cooper's
novels won at home and abroad. In the first place, Cooper could invent a
good story and tell it well. He was a master of rapid, stirring
narrative, and his tales were elemental, not deep or subtle. Secondly,
he created interesting characters who had the restless energy, the
passion for adventure, the rugged confidence, of our American pioneers.
First among these great characters came Harvey Birch in 'The Spy', but
Cooper's real triumph was Natty Bumppo, who appears in all five of the
Leatherstocking Tales. This skilled trapper, faithful guide, brave
fighter, and homely philosopher was "the first real American in
fiction," an important contribution to the world's literature. In
addition, Cooper created the Indian of literature--perhaps a little too
noble to be entirely true to life--and various simple, strong seamen.
His Chingachgook and Uncas and Long Tom Coffin justly brought him added
fame. In these narrative gifts, as well as in the robustness of his own
character, Cooper was not unlike Sir Walter Scott. He once modestly
referred to himself as "a chip from Scott's block" and has frequently
been called "the American Scott."
But, of course, Cooper had limitations and faults. When he stepped
outside the definite boundaries of the life he knew, he was unable to
handle character effectively. His women are practically failures, and
like his military officers essentially interchangeable. His humor is
almost invariably labored and tedious. He occasionally allowed long
passages of description or long speeches by some minor character to clog
the progress of his action. Now and then, in inventing his plots, he
strained his readers' credulity somewhat. Finally, as a result of his
rapid writing, his work is uneven and without style in the sense that a
careful craftsman or a sensitive artist achieves it. He is even guilty
of an occasional error in grammar or word use which the young pupil in
the schools can detect. Yet his literary powers easily outweigh all
these weaknesses. He is unquestionably one of America's great novelists
and one of the world's great romancers.
There is abundant reason, therefore, why Americans of the present day
should know James Fenimore Cooper. He has many a good story of the
wilderness and the sea to tell to those who enjoy tales of adventure. He
gives a vivid, but faithful picture of American frontier life for those
who can know its stirring events and its hardy characters only at second
hand. He holds a peculiarly important place in the history of American
literature, and has done much to extend the reputation of American
fiction among foreigners.
The author has often been asked if there were any foundation in real
life for the delineation of the principal character in this book. He can
give no clearer answer to the question than by laying before his readers
a simple statement of the facts connected with its original publication.
Many years since, the writer of this volume was at the residence of an
illustrious man, who had been employed in various situations of high
trust during the darkest days of the American Revolution. The discourse
turned upon the effects which great political excitement produces on
character, and the purifying consequences of a love of country, when
that sentiment is powerfully and generally awakened in a people. He who,
from his years, his services, and his knowledge of men, was best
qualified to take the lead in such a conversation, was the principal
speaker. After dwelling on the marked manner in which the great struggle
of the nation, during the war of 1775, had given a new and honorable
direction to the thoughts and practices of multitudes whose time had
formerly been engrossed by the most vulgar concerns of life, he
illustrated his opinions by relating an anecdote, the truth of which he
could attest as a personal witness.
The dispute between England and the United States of America, though not
strictly a family quarrel, had many of the features of a civil war. The
people of the latter were never properly and constitutionally subject to
the people of the former, but the inhabitants of both countries owed
allegiance to a common king. The Americans, as a nation, disavowed this
allegiance, and the English choosing to support their sovereign in the
attempt to regain his power, most of the feelings of an internal
struggle were involved in the conflict. A large proportion of the
emigrants from Europe, then established in the colonies, took part with
the crown; and there were many districts in which their influence,
united to that of the Americans who refused to lay aside their
allegiance, gave a decided preponderance to the royal cause. America was
then too young, and too much in need of every heart and hand, to regard
these partial divisions, small as they were in actual amount, with
indifference. The evil was greatly increased by the activity of the
English in profiting by these internal dissensions; and it became doubly
serious when it was found that attempts were made to raise various corps
of provincial troops, who were to be banded with those from Europe, to
reduce the young republic to subjection. Congress named an especial and
a secret committee, therefore, for the express purpose of defeating this
object. Of this committee Mr.----, the narrator of the anecdote,
In the discharge of the novel duties which now devolved on him, Mr.----
had occasion to employ an agent whose services differed but little from
those of a common spy. This man, as will easily be understood, belonged
to a condition in life which rendered him the least reluctant to appear
in so equivocal a character. He was poor, ignorant, so far as the usual
instruction was concerned; but cool, shrewd, and fearless by nature. It
was his office to learn in what part of the country the agents of the
crown were making their efforts to embody men, to repair to the place,
enlist, appear zealous in the cause he affected to serve, and otherwise
to get possession of as many of the secrets of the enemy as possible.
The last he of course communicated to his employers, who took all the
means in their power to counteract the plans of the English, and
frequently with success.
It will readily be conceived that a service like this was attended with
great personal hazard. In addition to the danger of discovery, there was
the daily risk of falling into the hands of the Americans themselves,
who invariably visited sins of this nature more severely on the natives
of the country than on the Europeans who fell into their hands. In fact,
the agent of Mr. ---- was several times arrested by the local
authorities; and, in one instance, he was actually condemned by his
exasperated countrymen to the gallows. Speedy and private orders to the
jailer alone saved him from an ignominious death. He was permitted to
escape; and this seeming and indeed actual peril was of great aid in
supporting his assumed character among the English. By the Americans, in
his little sphere, he was denounced as a bold and inveterate Tory. In
this manner he continued to serve his country in secret during the early
years of the struggle, hourly environed by danger, and the constant
subject of unmerited opprobrium.
In the year ---, Mr. ---- was named to a high and honorable employment
at a European court. Before vacating his seat in Congress, he reported
to that body an outline of the circumstances related, necessarily
suppressing the name of his agent, and demanding an appropriation in
behalf of a man who had been of so much use, at so great risk. A
suitable sum was voted; and its delivery was confided to the chairman of
the secret committee.
Mr. ---- took the necessary means to summon his agent to a personal
interview. They met in a wood at midnight. Here Mr. ---- complimented
his companion on his fidelity and adroitness; explained the necessity of
their communications being closed; and finally tendered the money. The
other drew back, and declined receiving it. "The country has need of all
its means," he said; "as for myself, I can work, or gain a livelihood in
various ways." Persuasion was useless, for patriotism was uppermost in
the heart of this remarkable individual; and Mr. ---- departed, bearing
with him the gold he had brought, and a deep respect for the man who had
so long hazarded his life, unrequited, for the cause they served
The writer is under an impression that, at a later day, the agent of
Mr. ---- consented to receive a remuneration for what he had done; but it
was not until his country was entirely in a condition to bestow it.
It is scarcely necessary to add, that an anecdote like this, simply but
forcibly told by one of its principal actors, made a deep impression on
all who heard it. Many years later, circumstances, which it is
unnecessary to relate, and of an entirely adventitious nature, induced
the writer to publish a novel, which proved to be, what he little
foresaw at the time, the first of a tolerably long series. The same
adventitious causes which gave birth to the book determined its scene
and its general character. The former was laid in a foreign country; and
the latter embraced a crude effort to describe foreign manners. When
this tale was published, it became matter of reproach among the author's
friends, that he, an American in heart as in birth, should give to the
world a work which aided perhaps, in some slight degree, to feed the
imaginations of the young and unpracticed among his own countrymen, by
pictures drawn from a state of society so different from that to which
he belonged. The writer, while he knew how much of what he had done was
purely accidental, felt the reproach to be one that, in a measure, was
just. As the only atonement in his power, he determined to inflict a
second book, whose subject should admit of no cavil, not only on the
world, but on himself. He chose patriotism for his theme; and to those
who read this introduction and the book itself, it is scarcely necessary
to add, that he took the hero of the anecdote just related as the best
illustration of his subject.
Since the original publication of _The Spy_, there have appeared several
accounts of different persons who are supposed to have been in the
author's mind while writing the book. As Mr. ---- did not mention the
name of his agent, the writer never knew any more of his identity with
this or that individual, than has been here explained. Both Washington
and Sir Henry Clinton had an unusual number of secret emissaries; in a
war that partook so much of a domestic character, and in which the
contending parties were people of the same blood and language, it could
scarcely be otherwise.
The style of the book has been revised by the author in this edition. In
this respect, he has endeavored to make it more worthy of the favor with
which it has been received; though he is compelled to admit there are
faults so interwoven with the structure of the tale that, as in the case
of a decayed edifice, it would cost perhaps less to reconstruct than to
repair. Five-and-twenty years have been as ages with most things
connected with America. Among other advantages, that of her literature
has not been the least. So little was expected from the publication of
an original work of this description, at the time it was written, that
the first volume of _The Spy_ was actually printed several months,
before the author felt a sufficient inducement to write a line of the
second. The efforts expended on a hopeless task are rarely worthy of him
who makes them, however low it may be necessary to rate the standard of
his general merit.
One other anecdote connected with the history of this book may give the
reader some idea of the hopes of an American author, in the first
quarter of the present century. As the second volume was slowly
printing, from manuscript that was barely dry when it went into the
compositor's hands, the publisher intimated that the work might grow to
a length that would consume the profits. To set his mind at rest, the
last chapter was actually written, printed, and paged, several weeks
before the chapters which precede it were even thought of. This
circumstance, while it cannot excuse, may serve to explain the manner in
which the actors are hurried off the scene.
A great change has come over the country since this book was originally
written. The nation is passing from the gristle into the bone, and the
common mind is beginning to keep even pace with the growth of the body
politic. The march from Vera Cruz to Mexico was made under the orders of
that gallant soldier who, a quarter of a century before, was mentioned
with honor, in the last chapter of this very book. Glorious as was that
march, and brilliant as were its results in a military point of view, a
stride was then made by the nation, in a moral sense, that has hastened
it by an age, in its progress toward real independence and high
political influence. The guns that filled the valley of the Aztecs with
their thunder, have been heard in echoes on the other side of the
Atlantic, producing equally hope or apprehension.
There is now no enemy to fear, but the one that resides within. By
accustoming ourselves to regard even the people as erring beings, and by
using the restraints that wisdom has adduced from experience, there is
much reason to hope that the same Providence which has so well aided us
in our infancy, may continue to smile on our manhood.
COOPERSTOWN, March 29, 1849.
[Illustration: MAP TO ILLUSTRATE THE STORY OF THE SPY]
[The footnotes throughout are Cooper's own.]
And though amidst the calm of thought entire,
Some high and haughty features might betray
A soul impetuous once--'twas earthly fire
That fled composure's intellectual ray,
As Etna's fires grow dim before the rising day.
--Gertrude of Wyoming.
It was near the close of the year 1780 that a solitary traveler was seen
pursuing his way through one of the numerous little valleys of
Westchester. [Footnote: As each state of the American Union has its own
counties, it often happens that there are several which bear the same
name. The scene of this tale is in New York, whose county of Westchester
is the nearest adjoining to the city.] The easterly wind, with its
chilling dampness and increasing violence, gave unerring notice of the
approach of a storm, which, as usual, might be expected to continue for
several days; and the experienced eye of the traveler was turned in
vain, through the darkness of the evening, in quest of some convenient
shelter, in which, for the term of his confinement by the rain that
already began to mix with the atmosphere in a thick mist, he might
obtain such accommodations as his purposes required. Nothing whatever
offered but the small and inconvenient tenements of the lower order of
the inhabitants, with whom, in that immediate neighborhood, he did not
think it either safe or politic to trust himself.
The county of Westchester, after the British had obtained possession of
the island of New York, [Footnote: The city of New York is situated on
an island called Manhattan: but it is at one point separated from the
county of Westchester by a creek of only a few feet in width. The bridge
at this spot is called King's Bridge. It was the scene of many
skirmishes during the war, and is alluded to in this tale. Every
Manhattanese knows the difference between "Manhattan Island" and the
"island of Manhattan." The first is applied to a small District in the
vicinity of Corlaer's Hook, while the last embraces the Whole island; or
the city and county of New York as it is termed in the laws.] became
common ground, in which both parties continued to act for the remainder
of the war of the Revolution. A large proportion of its inhabitants,
either restrained by their attachments, or influenced by their fears,
affected a neutrality they did not feel. The lower towns were, of
course, more particularly under the dominion of the crown, while the
upper, finding a security from the vicinity of the continental troops,
were bold in asserting their revolutionary opinions, and their right to
govern themselves. Great numbers, however, wore masks, which even to
this day have not been thrown aside; and many an individual has gone
down to the tomb, stigmatized as a foe to the rights of his countrymen,
while, in secret, he has been the useful agent of the leaders of the
Revolution; and, on the other hand, could the hidden repositories of
divers flaming patriots have been opened to the light of day, royal
protections would have been discovered concealed under piles of
At the sound of the tread of the noble horse ridden by the traveler, the
mistress of the farmhouse he was passing at the time might be seen
cautiously opening the door of the building to examine the stranger; and
perhaps, with an averted face communicating the result of her
observations to her husband, who, in the rear of the building, was
prepared to seek, if necessary, his ordinary place of concealment in the
adjacent woods. The valley was situated about midway in the length of
the county, and was sufficiently near to both armies to make the
restitution of stolen goods no uncommon occurrence in that vicinity. It
is true, the same articles were not always regained; but a summary
substitute was generally resorted to, in the absence of legal justice,
which restored to the loser the amount of his loss, and frequently with
no inconsiderable addition for the temporary use of his property. In
short, the law was momentarily extinct in that particular district, and
justice was administered subject to the bias of personal interests and
the passions of the strongest.
The passage of a stranger, with an appearance of somewhat doubtful
character, and mounted on an animal which, although unfurnished with any
of the ordinary trappings of war, partook largely of the bold and
upright carriage that distinguished his rider, gave rise to many
surmises among the gazing inmates of the different habitations; and in
some instances, where conscience was more than ordinarily awake, to no
Tired with the exercise of a day of unusual fatigue, and anxious to
obtain a speedy shelter from the increasing violence of the storm, that
now began to change its character to large drops of driving rain, the
traveler determined, as a matter of necessity, to make an application
for admission to the next dwelling that offered. An opportunity was not
long wanting; and, riding through a pair of neglected bars, he knocked
loudly at the outer door of a building of a very humble exterior,
without quitting his saddle. A female of middle age, with an outward
bearing but little more prepossessing than that of her dwelling,
appeared to answer the summons. The startled woman half closed her door
again in affright, as she saw, by the glare of a large wood fire, a
mounted man so unexpectedly near its threshold; and an expression of
terror mingled with her natural curiosity, as she required his pleasure.
Although the door was too nearly closed to admit of a minute scrutiny of
the accommodations within, enough had been seen to cause the horseman to
endeavor, once more, to penetrate the gloom, with longing eyes, in
search of a more promising roof, before, with an ill-concealed
reluctance, he stated his necessities and wishes. His request was
listened to with evident unwillingness, and, while yet unfinished, it
was eagerly interrupted by the reply:
"I can't say I like to give lodgings to a stranger in these ticklish
times," said the female, in a pert, sharp key. "I'm nothing but a
forlorn lone body; or, what's the same thing, there's nobody but the old
gentleman at home; but a half mile farther up the road is a house where
you can get entertainment, and that for nothing. I am sure 'twill be
much convenienter to them, and more agreeable to me--because, as I said
before, Harvey is away; I wish he'd take advice, and leave off
wandering; he's well to do in the world by this time; and he ought to
leave off his uncertain courses, and settle himself, handsomely, in
life, like other men of his years and property. But Harvey Birch will
have his own way, and die vagabond after all!"
The horseman did not wait to hear more than the advice to pursue his
course up the road; but he had slowly turned his horse towards the bars,
and was gathering the folds of an ample cloak around his manly form,
preparatory to facing the storm again, when something in the speech of
the female suddenly arrested the movement.
"Is this, then, the dwelling of Harvey Birch?" he inquired, in an
involuntary manner, apparently checking himself, as he was about to
"Why, one can hardly say it is his dwelling," replied the other, drawing
a hurried breath, like one eager to answer; "he is never in it, or so
seldom, that I hardly remember his face, when he does think it worth his
while to show it to his poor old father and me. But it matters little to
me, I'm sure, if he ever comes back again, or not;--turn in the first
gate on your left;--no, I care but little, for my part, whether Harvey
ever shows his face again or not--not I"--and she closed the door
abruptly on the horseman, who gladly extended his ride a half mile
farther, to obtain lodgings which promised both more comfort and
Sufficient light yet remained to enable the traveler to distinguish the
improvements [Footnote: Improvements is used by the Americans to express
every degree of change in converting land from its state of wilderness
to that of cultivation. In this meaning of the word, it is an
improvement to fell the trees; and it is valued precisely by the
supposed amount of the cost.] which had been made in the cultivation,
and in the general appearance of the grounds around the building to
which he was now approaching. The house was of stone, long, low, and
with a small wing at each extremity. A piazza, extending along the
front, with neatly turned pillars of wood, together with the good order
and preservation of the fences and outbuildings, gave the place an air
altogether superior to the common farmhouses of the country. After
leading his horse behind an angle of the wall, where it was in some
degree protected from the wind and rain, the traveler threw his valise
over his arm, and knocked loudly at the entrance of the building for
admission. An aged black soon appeared; and without seeming to think it
necessary, under the circumstances, to consult his superiors,--first
taking one prying look at the applicant, by the light of the candle in
his hand,--he acceded to the request for accommodations. The traveler
was shown into an extremely neat parlor, where a fire had been lighted
to cheer the dullness of an easterly storm and an October evening. After
giving the valise into the keeping of his civil attendant, and politely
repeating his request to the old gentleman, who arose to receive him,
and paying his compliments to the three ladies who were seated at work
with their needles, the stranger commenced laying aside some of the
outer garments which he had worn in his ride.
On taking an extra handkerchief from his neck, and removing a cloak of
blue cloth, with a surtout of the same material, he exhibited to the
scrutiny of the observant family party, a tall and extremely graceful
person, of apparently fifty years of age. His countenance evinced a
settled composure and dignity; his nose was straight, and approaching to
Grecian; his eye, of a gray color, was quiet, thoughtful, and rather
melancholy; the mouth and lower part of his face being expressive of
decision and much character. His dress, being suited to the road, was
simple and plain, but such as was worn by the higher class of his
countrymen; he wore his own hair, dressed in a manner that gave a
military air to his appearance, and which was rather heightened by his
erect and conspicuously graceful carriage. His whole appearance was so
impressive and so decidedly that of a gentleman, that as he finished
laying aside the garments, the ladies arose from their seats, and,
together with the master of the house, they received anew, and returned
the complimentary greetings which were again offered.
The host was by several years the senior of the traveler, and by his
manner, dress, and everything around him, showed he had seen much of
life and the best society. The ladies were, a maiden of forty, and two
much younger, who did not seem, indeed, to have reached half those
years. The bloom of the elder of these ladies had vanished, but her eyes
and fine hair gave an extremely agreeable expression to her countenance;
and there was a softness and an affability in her deportment, that added
a charm many more juvenile faces do not possess. The sisters, for such
the resemblance between the younger females denoted them to be, were in
all the pride of youth, and the roses, so eminently the property of the
Westchester fair, glowed on their cheeks, and lighted their deep blue
eyes with that luster which gives so much pleasure to the beholder, and
which indicates so much internal innocence and peace. There was much of
that feminine delicacy in the appearance of the three, which
distinguishes the sex in this country; and, like the gentleman, their
demeanor proved them to be women of the higher order of life.
After handing a glass of excellent Madeira to his guest, Mr. Wharton,
for so was the owner of this retired estate called, resumed his seat by
the fire, with another in his own hand. For a moment he paused, as if
debating with his politeness, but at length threw an inquiring glance on
the stranger, as he inquired,--
"To whose health am I to have the honor of drinking?"
The traveler had also seated himself, and he sat unconsciously gazing on
the fire, while Mr. Wharton spoke; turning his eyes slowly on his host
with a look of close observation, he replied, while a faint tinge
gathered on his features,--
"Mr. Harper," resumed the other, with the formal precision of that day,
"I have the honor to drink your health, and to hope you will sustain no
injury from the rain to which you have been exposed."
Mr. Harper bowed in silence to the compliment, and he soon resumed the
meditations from which he had been interrupted, and for which the long
ride he had that day made, in the wind, might seem a very
The young ladies had again taken their seats beside the workstand, while
their aunt, Miss Jeanette Peyton, withdrew to superintend the
preparations necessary to appease the hunger of their unexpected
visitor. A short silence prevailed, during which Mr. Harper was
apparently enjoying the change in his situation, when Mr. Wharton again
broke it, by inquiring whether smoke was disagreeable to his companion;
to which, receiving an answer in the negative, he immediately resumed
the pipe which had been laid aside at the entrance of the traveler.
There was an evident desire on the part of the host to enter into
conversation, but either from an apprehension of treading on dangerous
ground, or an unwillingness to intrude upon the rather studied
taciturnity of his guest, he several times hesitated, before he could
venture to make any further remark. At length, a movement from Mr.
Harper, as he raised his eyes to the party in the room, encouraged him
"I find it very difficult," said Mr. Wharton, cautiously avoiding at
first, such subjects as he wished to introduce, "to procure that quality
of tobacco for my evenings' amusement to which I have been accustomed."
"I should think the shops in New York might furnish the best in the
country," calmly rejoined the other.
"Why--yes," returned the host in rather a hesitating manner, lifting his
eyes to the face of Harper, and lowering them quickly under his steady
look, "there must be plenty in town; but the war has made communication
with the city, however innocent, too dangerous to be risked for so
trifling an article as tobacco."
The box from which Mr. Wharton had just taken a supply for his pipe was
lying open, within a few inches of the elbow of Harper, who took a small
quantity from its contents, and applied it to his tongue, in a manner
perfectly natural, but one that filled his companion with alarm.
Without, however, observing that the quality was of the most approved
kind, the traveler relieved his host by relapsing again into his
meditations. Mr. Wharton now felt unwilling to lose the advantage he had
gained, and, making an effort of more than usual vigor, he continued,--
"I wish from the bottom of my heart, this unnatural struggle was over,
that we might again meet our friends and relatives in peace and love."
"It is much to be desired," said Harper, emphatically, again raising his
eyes to the countenance of his host.
"I hear of no movement of consequence, since the arrival of our new
allies," said Mr. Wharton, shaking the ashes from his pipe, and turning
his back to the other under the pretense of receiving a coal from his
"None have yet reached the public, I believe."
"Is it thought any important steps are about to be taken?" continued Mr.
Wharton, still occupied with his daughter, yet suspending his
employment, in expectation of a reply.
"Is it intimated any are in agitation?"
"Oh! nothing in particular; but it is natural to expect some new
enterprise from so powerful a force as that under Rochambeau."
Harper made an assenting inclination with his head, but no other reply,
to this remark; while Mr. Wharton, after lighting his pipe, resumed
"They appear more active in the south; Gates and Cornwallis seem willing
to bring the war to an issue there."
The brow of Harper contracted, and a deeper shade of melancholy crossed
his features; his eye kindled with a transient beam of fire, that spoke
a latent source of deep feeling. The admiring gaze of the younger of the
sisters had barely time to read its expression, before it passed away,
leaving in its room the acquired composure which marked the countenance
of the stranger, and that impressive dignity which so conspicuously
denotes the empire of reason.
The elder sister made one or two movements in her chair, before she
ventured to say, in a tone which partook in no small measure of
"General Gates has been less fortunate with the earl, than with General
"But General Gates is an Englishman, Sarah," cried the younger lady,
with quickness; then, coloring to the eyes at her own boldness, she
employed herself in tumbling over the contents of her work basket,
silently hoping the remark would be unnoticed.
The traveler had turned his face from one sister to the other, as they
had spoken in succession, and an almost imperceptible movement of the
muscles of his mouth betrayed a new emotion, as he playfully inquired of
"May I venture to ask what inference you would draw from that fact?"
Frances blushed yet deeper at this direct appeal to her opinions upon a
subject on which she had incautiously spoken in the presence of a
stranger; but finding an answer necessary, after some little hesitation,
and with a good deal of stammering in her manner, she replied,--
"Only--only--sir--my sister and myself sometimes differ in our opinions
of the prowess of the British." A smile of much meaning played on a
face of infantile innocency, as she concluded.
"On what particular points of their prowess do you differ?" continued
Harper, meeting her look of animation with a smile of almost
"Sarah thinks the British are never beaten, while I do not put so much
faith in their invincibility."
The traveler listened to her with that pleased indulgence, with which
virtuous age loves to contemplate the ardor of youthful innocence; but
making no reply, he turned to the fire, and continued for some time
gazing on its embers, in silence.
Mr. Wharton had in vain endeavored to pierce the disguise of his guest's
political feelings; but, while there was nothing forbidding in his
countenance, there was nothing communicative; on the contrary it was
strikingly reserved; and the master of the house arose, in profound
ignorance of what, in those days, was the most material point in the
character of his guest, to lead the way into another room, and to the
supper table. Mr. Harper offered his hand to Sarah Wharton, and they
entered the room together; while Frances followed, greatly at a loss to
know whether she had not wounded the feelings of her father's inmate.
The storm began to rage with great violence without; and the dashing
rain on the sides of the building awakened that silent sense of
enjoyment, which is excited by such sounds in a room of quiet comfort
and warmth, when a loud summons at the outer door again called the
faithful black to the portal. In a minute the servant returned, and
informed his master that another traveler, overtaken by the storm,
desired to be admitted to the house for a shelter through the night.
At the first sounds of the impatient summons of this new applicant, Mr.
Wharton had risen from his seat in evident uneasiness; and with eyes
glancing with quickness from his guest to the door of the room, he
seemed to be expecting something to proceed from this second
interruption, connected with the stranger who had occasioned the first.
He scarcely had time to bid the black, with a faint voice, to show this
second comer in, before the door was thrown hastily open, and the
stranger himself entered the apartment. He paused a moment, as the
person of Harper met his view, and then, in a more formal manner,
repeated the request he had before made through the servant. Mr. Wharton
and his family disliked the appearance of this new visitor excessively;
but the inclemency of the weather, and the uncertainty of the
consequences, if he were refused the desired lodgings, compelled the old
gentleman to give a reluctant acquiescence.
Some of the dishes were replaced by the orders of Miss Peyton, and the
weather-beaten intruder was invited to partake of the remains of the
repast, from which the party had just risen. Throwing aside a rough
greatcoat, he very composedly took the offered chair, and
unceremoniously proceeded to allay the cravings of an appetite which
appeared by no means delicate. But at every mouthful he would turn an
unquiet eye on Harper, who studied his appearance with a closeness of
investigation that was very embarrassing to its subject. At length,
pouring out a glass of wine, the newcomer nodded significantly to his
examiner, previously to swallowing the liquor, and said, with something
of bitterness in his manner,--
"I drink to our better acquaintance, sir; I believe this is the first
time we have met, though your attention would seem to say otherwise."
The quality of the wine seemed greatly to his fancy, for, on replacing
the glass upon the table, he gave his lips a smack, that resounded
through the room; and, taking up the bottle, he held it between himself
and the light, for a moment, in silent contemplation of its clear and
"I think we have never met before, sir," replied Harper with a slight
smile on his features, as he observed the move ments of the other; but
appearing satisfied with his scrutiny, he turned to Sarah Wharton, who
sat next him, and carelessly remarked,--
"You doubtless find your present abode solitary, after being accustomed
to the gayeties of the city."
"Oh! excessively so," said Sarah hastily. "I do wish, with my father,
that this cruel war was at an end, that we might return to our friends
"And you, Miss Frances, do you long as ardently for peace as your
"On many accounts I certainly do," returned the other, venturing to
steal a timid glance at her interrogator; and, meeting the same
benevolent expression of feeling as before, she continued, as her own
face lighted into one of its animated and bright smiles of intelligence,
"but not at the expense of the rights of my countrymen."
"Rights!" repeated her sister, impatiently; "whose rights can be
stronger than those of a sovereign: and what duty is clearer, than to
obey those who have a natural right to command?"
"None, certainly," said Frances, laughing with great pleasantry; and,
taking the hand of her sister affectionately within both of her own, she
added, with a smile directed towards Harper,--
"I gave you to understand that my sister and myself differed in our
political opinions; but we have an impartial umpire in my father, who
loves his own countrymen, and he loves the British,--so he takes sides
"Yes," said Mr. Wharton, in a little alarm, eying first one guest, and
then the other; "I have near friends in both armies, and I dread a
victory by either, as a source of certain private misfortune."
"I take it, you have little reason to apprehend much from the Yankees,
in that way," interrupted the guest at the table, coolly helping himself
to another glass, from the bottle he had admired.
"His majesty may have more experienced troops than the continentals,"
answered the host fearfully, "but the Americans have met with
Harper disregarded the observations of both; and, rising, he desired to
be shown to his place of rest. A small boy was directed to guide him to
his room; and wishing a courteous good-night to the whole party, the
traveler withdrew. The knife and fork fell from the hands of the
unwelcome intruder, as the door closed on the retiring figure of Harper;
he arose slowly from his seat; listening attentively, he approached the
door of the room--opened it--seemed to attend to the retreating
footsteps of the other--and, amidst the panic and astonishment of his
companions, he closed it again. In an instant, the red wig which
concealed his black locks, the large patch which hid half his face from
observation, the stoop that had made him appear fifty years of age,
"My father!-my dear father!"--cried the handsome young man; "and you, my
dearest sisters and aunt!--have I at last met you again?"
"Heaven bless you, my Henry, my son!" exclaimed the astonished but
delighted parent; while his sisters sank on his shoulders, dissolved
The faithful old black, who had been reared from infancy in the house of
his master, and who, as if in mockery of his degraded state, had been
complimented with the name of Caesar, was the only other witness of this
unexpected discovery of the son of Mr. Wharton. After receiving the
extended hand of his young master, and imprinting on it a fervent kiss,
Caesar withdrew. The boy did not reenter the room; and the black
himself, after some time, returned, just as the young British captain
"But who is this Mr. Harper?--is he likely to betray me?"
"No, no, no, Massa Harry," cried the negro, shaking his gray head
confidently; "I been to see--Massa Harper on he knee--pray to God--no
gemman who pray to God tell of good son, come to see old fader--Skinner
do that--no Christian!"
This poor opinion of the Skinners was not confined to Mr. Caesar
Thompson, as he called himself--but Caesar Wharton, as he was styled by
the little world to which he was known. The convenience, and perhaps the
necessities, of the leaders of the American arms, in the neighborhood of
New York, had induced them to employ certain subordinate agents, of
extremely irregular habits, in executing their lesser plans of annoying
the enemy. It was not a moment for fastidious inquiries into abuses of
any description, and oppression and injustice were the natural
consequences of the possession of a military power that was uncurbed by
the restraints of civil authority. In time, a distinct order of the
community was formed, whose sole occupation appears to have been that of
relieving their fellow citizens from any little excess of temporal
prosperity they might be thought to enjoy, under the pretense of
patriotism and the love of liberty.
Occasionally, the aid of military authority was not wanting, in
enforcing these arbitrary distributions of worldly goods; and a petty
holder of a commission in the state militia was to be seen giving the
sanction of something like legality to acts of the most unlicensed
robbery, and, not infrequently, of bloodshed.
On the part of the British, the stimulus of loyalty was by no means
suffered to sleep, where so fruitful a field offered on which it might
be expended. But their freebooters were enrolled, and their efforts more
systematized. Long experience had taught their leaders the efficacy of
concentrated force; and, unless tradition does great injustice to their
exploits, the result did no little credit to their foresight. The
corps--we presume, from their known affection to that useful animal--had
received the quaint appellation of "Cowboys."
Caesar was, however, far too loyal to associate men who held the
commission of George III, with the irregular warriors, whose excesses
he had so often witnessed, and from whose rapacity, neither his poverty
nor his bondage had suffered even him to escape uninjured. The Cowboys,
therefore, did not receive their proper portion of the black's censure,
when he said, no Christian, nothing but a "Skinner," could betray a
pious child, while honoring his father with a visit so full of peril.
And many a halcyon day he lived to see
Unbroken, but by one misfortune dire,
When fate had reft his mutual heart--but she
Was gone-and Gertrude climbed a widowed father's knee.
--Gertrude of Wyoming.
The father of Mr. Wharton was a native of England, and of a family whose
parliamentary interest had enabled them to provide for a younger son in
the colony of New York. The young man, like hundreds of others in this
situation, had settled permanently in the country. He married; and the
sole issue of his connection had been sent early in life to receive the
benefits of the English schools. After taking his degrees at one of the
universities of the mother country, the youth had been suffered to
acquire a knowledge of life with the advantages of European society. But
the death of his father recalled him, after passing two years in this
manner, to the possession of an honorable name, and a very ample estate.
It was much the fashion of that day to place the youth of certain
families in the army and navy of England, as the regular stepping-stones
to preferment. Most of the higher offices in the colonies were filled by
men who had made arms their profession; and it was even no uncommon
sight to see a veteran warrior laying aside the sword to assume the
ermine on the benches of the highest judicial authority.
In conformity with this system, the senior Mr. Wharton had intended his
son for a soldier; but a natural imbecility of character in his child
interfered with his wishes.
A twelvemonth had been spent by the young man in weighing the
comparative advantages of the different classes of troops, when the
death of his father occurred. The ease of his situation, and the
attentions lavished upon a youth in the actual enjoyment of one of the
largest estates in the colonies, interfered greatly with his ambitious
projects. Love decided the matter; and Mr. Wharton, in becoming a
husband, ceased to think of becoming a soldier. For many years he
continued happy in his family, and sufficiently respected by his
countrymen, as a man of integrity and consequence, when all his
enjoyments vanished, as it were, at a blow. His only son, the youth
introduced in the preceding chapter, had entered the army, and had
arrived in his native country, but a short time before the commencement
of hostilities, with the reinforcements the ministry had thought it
prudent to throw into the disaffected parts of North America. His
daughters were just growing into life, and their education required all
the advantages the city could afford. His wife had been for some years
in declining health, and had barely time to fold her son to her bosom,
and rejoice in the reunion of her family, before the Revolution burst
forth, in a continued blaze, from Georgia to Massachusetts. The shock
was too much for the feeble condition of the mother, who saw her child
called to the field to combat against the members of her own family in
the South, and she sank under the blow.
There was no part of the continent where the manners of England and its
aristocratical notions of blood and alliances, prevailed with more force
than in a certain circle immediately around the metropolis of New York.
The customs of the early Dutch inhabitants had, indeed, blended in some
measures, with the English manners; but still the latter prevailed. This
attachment to Great Britain was increased by the frequent
intermarriages of the officers of the mother country with the wealthier
and most powerful families of the vicinity, until, at the commencement
of hostilities, their united influence had very nearly thrown the colony
into the scale on the side of the crown. A few, however, of the leading
families espoused the cause of the people; and a sufficient stand was
made against the efforts of the ministerial party, to organize, and,
aided by the army of the confederation, to maintain an independent
republican form of government.
The city of New York and the adjacent territory were alone exempted from
the rule of the new commonwealth; while the royal authority extended no
further than its dignity could be supported by the presence of an army.
In this condition of things, the loyalists of influence adopted such
measures as best accorded with their different characters and
situations. Many bore arms in support of the crown, and, by their
bravery and exertions, endeavored to secure what they deemed to be the
rights of their prince, and their own estates from the effects of the
law of attainder. Others left the country; seeking in that place they
emphatically called home, an asylum, as they fondly hoped, for a season
only, against the confusion and dangers of war. A third, and a more wary
portion, remained in the place of their nativity, with a prudent regard
to their ample possessions, and, perhaps, influenced by their
attachments to the scenes of their youth. Mr. Wharton was of this
description. After making a provision against future contingencies, by
secretly transmitting the whole of his money to the British funds, this
gentleman determined to continue in the theater of strife, and to
maintain so strict a neutrality as to insure the safety of his large
estate, whichever party succeeded. He was apparently engrossed in the
education of his daughters, when a relation, high in office in the new
state, intimated that a residence in what was now a British camp
differed but little, in the eyes of his countrymen, from a residence in
the British capital. Mr. Wharton soon saw this was an unpardonable
offense in the existing state of things, and he instantly determined to
remove the difficulty, by retiring to the country. He possessed a
residence in the county of Westchester; and having been for many years
in the habit of withdrawing thither during the heats of the summer
months, it was kept furnished and ready for his accommodation. His
eldest daughter was already admitted into the society of women; but
Frances, the younger, required a year or two more of the usual
cultivation, to appear with proper _éclat_; at least so thought Miss
Jeanette Peyton; and as this lady, a younger sister of their deceased
mother, had left her paternal home, in the colony of Virginia, with the
devotedness and affection peculiar to her sex, to superintend the
welfare of her orphan nieces, Mr. Wharton felt that her opinions were
entitled to respect. In conformity to her advice, therefore, the
feelings of the parent were made to yield to the welfare of
Mr. Wharton withdrew to the Locusts, with a heart rent with the pain of
separating from all that was left him of a wife he had adored, but in
obedience to a constitutional prudence that pleaded loudly in behalf of
his worldly goods. His handsome town residence was inhabited, in the
meanwhile, by his daughters and their aunt. The regiment to which
Captain Wharton belonged formed part of the permanent garrison of the
city; and the knowledge of the presence of his son was no little relief
to the father, in his unceasing meditations on his absent daughters. But
Captain Wharton was a young man and a soldier; his estimate of character
was not always the wisest; and his propensities led him to imagine that
a red coat never concealed a dishonorable heart.
The house of Mr. Wharton became a fashionable lounge to the officers of
the royal army, as did that of every other family that was thought
worthy of their notice. The consequences of this association were, to
some few of the visited, fortunate; to more, injurious, by exciting
expectations which were never to be realized, and, unhappily, to no
small number ruinous. The known wealth of the father and, possibly, the
presence of a high-spirited brother, forbade any apprehension of the
latter danger to the young ladies: but it was impossible that all the
admiration bestowed on the fine figure and lovely face of Sarah Wharton
should be thrown away. Her person was formed with the early maturity of
the climate, and a strict cultivation of the graces had made her
decidedly the belle of the city. No one promised to dispute with her
this female sovereignty, unless it might be her younger sister. Frances,
however, wanted some months to the charmed age of sixteen; and the idea
of competition was far from the minds of either of the affectionate
girls. Indeed, next to the conversation of Colonel Wellmere, the
greatest pleasure of Sarah was in contemplating the budding beauties of
the little Hebe, who played around her with all the innocency of youth,
with all the enthusiasm of her ardent temper, and with no little of the
archness of her native humor. Whether or not it was owing to the fact
that Frances received none of the compliments which fell to the lot of
her elder sister, in the often repeated discussions on the merits of the
war, between the military beaux who frequented the house, it is certain
their effects on the sisters were exactly opposite. It was much the
fashion then for the British officers to speak slightingly of their
enemies; and Sarah took all the idle vaporing of her danglers to be
truths. The first political opinions which reached the ears of Frances
were coupled with sneers on the conduct of her countrymen. At first she
believed them; but there was occasionally a general, who was obliged to
do justice to his enemy in order to obtain justice for himself; and
Frances became somewhat skeptical on the subject of the inefficiency of
her countrymen. Colonel Wellmere was among those who delighted most in
expending his wit on the unfortunate Americans; and, in time, Frances
began to listen to his eloquence with great suspicion, and sometimes
It was on a hot, sultry day that the three were in the parlor of Mr.
Wharton's house, the colonel and Sarah seated on a sofa, engaged in a
combat of the eyes, aided by the usual flow of small talk, and Frances
was occupied at her tambouring frame in an opposite corner of the room,
when the gentleman suddenly exclaimed,--
"How gay the arrival of the army under General Burgoyne will make the
city, Miss Wharton!"
"Oh! how pleasant it must be," said the thoughtless Sarah, in reply; "I
am told there are many charming women with that army; as you say, it
will make us all life and gayety."
Frances shook back the abundance of her golden hair, and raised her
eyes, dancing with the ardor of national feeling; then laughing, with a
concealed humor, she asked,--
"Is it so certain that General Burgoyne will be permitted to reach the
"Permitted!" echoed the colonel. "Who is there to prevent it, my pretty
Frances was precisely at that age when young people are most jealous of
their station in society; neither quite a woman, nor yet a child. The
"pretty Miss Fanny" was too familiar to be relished, and she dropped her
eyes on her work again with cheeks that glowed like crimson.
"General Stark took the Germans into custody," she answered, compressing
her lip; "may not General Gates think the British too dangerous to go
"Oh! they were Germans, as you say," cried the colonel, excessively
vexed at the necessity of explaining at all; "mere mercenary troops; but
when the really British regiments come in question, you will see a very
"Of that there is no doubt," cried Sarah, without in the least partaking
of the resentment of the colonel to her sister, but hailing already in
her heart the triumph of the British.
"Pray, Colonel Wellmere," said Frances, recovering her good humor, and
raising her joyous eyes once more to the face of the gentleman, "was
the Lord Percy of Lexington a kinsman of him who fought at Chevy Chase?"
"Why, Miss Fanny, you are becoming a rebel," said the colonel,
endeavoring to laugh away the anger he felt; "what you are pleased to
insinuate was a chase at Lexington, was nothing more than a judicious
"Running fight," interrupted the good-humored girl, laying a great
emphasis on the first word.
"Positively, young lady"--Colonel Wellmere was interrupted by a laugh
from a person who had hitherto been unnoticed.
There was a small family apartment adjoining the room occupied by the
trio, and the air had blown open the door communicating between the two.
A fine young man was now seen sitting near the entrance, who, by his
smiling countenance, was evidently a pleased listener to the
conversation. He rose instantly, and coming through the door, with his
hat in his hand, appeared a tall, graceful youth, of dark complexion,
and sparkling eyes of black, from which the mirth had not entirely
vanished, as he made his bow to the ladies.
"Mr. Dunwoodie!" cried Sarah, in surprise; "I was ignorant of your being
in the house; you will find a cooler seat in this room."
"I thank you," replied the young man, "but I must go and seek your
brother, who placed me there in ambuscade, as he called it, with a
promise of returning an hour ago." Without making any further
explanation, the youth bowed politely to the young women, distantly and
with hauteur to the gentleman, and withdrew. Frances followed him into
the hall, and blushing richly, inquired, in a hurried voice,--
"But why--why do you leave us, Mr. Dunwoodie? Henry must soon return."
The gentleman caught one of her hands in his own, and the stern
expression of his countenance gave place to a look of admiration as he
"You managed him famously, my dear little kinswoman; never--no, never,
forget the land of your birth; remember, if you are the granddaughter of
an Englishman, you are, also, the granddaughter of a Peyton."
"Oh!" returned the laughing girl, "it would be difficult to forget that,
with the constant lectures on genealogy before us, with which we are
favored by Aunt Jeanette; but why do you go?"
"I am on the wing for Virginia, and have much to do." He pressed her
hand as he spoke, and looking back, while in the act of closing the
door, exclaimed, "Be true to your country--be American." The ardent girl
kissed her hand to him as he retired, and then instantly applying it
with its beautiful fellow to her burning cheeks, ran into her own
apartment to hide her confusion.
Between the open sarcasm of Frances, and the ill-concealed disdain of
the young man, Colonel Wellmere had felt himself placed in an awkward
predicament; but ashamed to resent such trifles in the presence of his
mistress, he satisfied himself with observing, superciliously, as
Dunwoodie left the room,--
"Quite a liberty for a youth in his situation; a shop boy with a bundle,
The idea of picturing the graceful Peyton Dunwoodie as a shop boy could
never enter the mind of Sarah, and she looked around her in surprise,
when the colonel continued,--
"This Mr. Dun--Dun--"
"Dunwoodie! Oh, no--he is a relation of my aunt," cried the young lady,
"and an intimate friend of my brother; they were at school together, and
only separated in England, when one went into the army, and the other to
a French military academy."
"His money appears to have been thrown away," observed the colonel,
betraying the spleen he was unsuccessfully striving to conceal.
"We ought to hope so," added Sarah, with a smile, "for it is said he
intends joining the rebel army. He was brought in here in a French ship,
and has just been exchanged; you may soon meet him in arms."
"Well, let him--I wish Washington plenty of such heroes;" and he turned
to a more pleasant subject, by changing the discourse to themselves.
A few weeks after this scene occurred, the army of Burgoyne laid down
their arms. Mr. Wharton, beginning to think the result of the contest
doubtful, resolved to conciliate his countrymen, and gratify himself, by
calling his daughters into his own abode. Miss Peyton consented to be
their companion; and from that time, until the period at which we
commenced our narrative, they had formed one family.
Whenever the main army made any movements, Captain Wharton had, of
course, accompanied it; and once or twice, under the protection of
strong parties, acting in the neighborhood of the Locusts, he had
enjoyed rapid and stolen interviews with his friends. A twelvemonth had,
however, passed without his seeing them, and the impatient Henry had
adopted the disguise we have mentioned, and unfortunately arrived on the
very evening that an unknown and rather suspicious guest was an inmate
of the house, which seldom contained any other than its regular
"But do you think he suspects me?" asked the captain, with anxiety,
after pausing to listen to Caesar's opinion of the Skinners.
"How should he?" cried Sarah, "when your sisters and father could not
penetrate your disguise."
"There is something mysterious in his manner; his looks are too prying
for an indifferent observer," continued young Wharton thoughtfully, "and
his face seems familiar to me. The recent fate of André has created much
irritation on both sides. Sir Henry threatens retaliation for his death;
and Washington is as firm as if half the world were at his command. The
rebels would think me a fit subject for their plans just now, should I
be so unlucky as to fall into their hands."
"But my son," cried his father, in great alarm, "you are not a spy; you
are not within the rebel--that is, the American lines; there is nothing
here to spy."
"That might be disputed," rejoined the young man, musing. "Their pickets
were as low as the White Plains when I passed through in disguise. It is
true my purposes are innocent; but how is it to appear? My visit to you
would seem a cloak to other designs. Remember, sir, the treatment you
received not a year since, for sending me a supply of fruit for
"That proceeded from the misrepresentations of my kind neighbors," said
Mr. Wharton, "who hoped, by getting my estate confiscated, to purchase
good farms at low prices. Peyton Dunwoodie, however, soon obtained our
discharge; we were detained but a month."
"We!" repeated the son, in amazement; "did they take my sisters, also?
Fanny, you wrote me nothing of this."
"I believe," said Frances, coloring highly, "I mentioned the kind
treatment we received from your old friend, Major Dunwoodie; and that he
procured my father's release."
"True; but were you with him in the rebel camp?"
"Yes," said the father, kindly; "Fanny would not suffer me to go alone.
Jeanette and Sarah took charge of the Locusts, and this little girl was
my companion, in captivity."
"And Fanny returned from such a scene a greater rebel than ever," cried
Sarah, indignantly; "one would think the hardships her father suffered
would have cured her of such whims."
"What say you to the charge, my pretty sister?" cried the captain gayly;
"did Peyton strive to make you hate your king, more than he
"Peyton Dunwoodie hates no one," said Frances, quickly; then, blushing
at her own ardor, she added immediately, "he loves you, Henry, I know;
for he has told me so again and again."
Young Wharton tapped his sister on the cheek, with a smile, as he asked
her, in an affected whisper, "Did he tell you also that he loved my
little sister Fanny?"
"Nonsense!" said Frances; and the remnants of the supper-table soon
disappeared under her superintendence.
'Twas when the fields were swept of Autumn's store,
And growing winds the fading foliage tore
Behind the Lowmon hill, the short-lived light,
Descending slowly, ushered in the night;
When from the noisy town, with mournful look,
His lonely way the meager peddler took.
A storm below the highlands of the Hudson, if it be introduced with an
easterly wind, seldom lasts less than two days. Accordingly, as the
inmates of the Locusts assembled, on the following morning, around their
early breakfast, the driving rain was seen to strike in nearly
horizontal lines against the windows of the building, and forbade the
idea of exposing either man or beast to the tempest. Harper was the last
to appear; after taking a view of the state of the weather, he
apologized to Mr. Wharton for the necessity that existed for his
trespassing on his goodness for a longer time. To appearances, the reply
was as courteous as the excuse; yet Harper wore a resignation in his
deportment that was widely different from the uneasy manner of the
father. Henry Wharton had resumed his disguise with a reluctance
amounting to disgust, but in obedience to the commands of his parent. No
communications passed between him and the stranger, after the first
salutations of the morning had been paid by Harper to him, in common
with the rest of the family. Frances had, indeed, thought there was
something like a smile passing over the features of the traveler, when,
on entering the room, he first confronted her brother; but it was
confined to the eyes, seeming to want power to affect the muscles of the
face, and was soon lost in the settled and benevolent expression which
reigned in his countenance, with a sway but seldom interrupted. The eyes
of the affectionate sister were turned in anxiety, for a moment, on her
brother, and glancing again on their unknown guest, met his look, as he
offered her, with marked attention, one of the little civilities of the
table; and the heart of the girl, which had begun to throb with
violence, regained a pulsation as tempered as youth, health, and buoyant
spirits could allow. While yet seated at the table, Caesar entered, and
laying a small parcel in silence by the side of his master, modestly
retired behind his chair, where, placing one hand on its back, he
continued in an attitude half familiar, half respectful, a listener.
"What is this, Caesar?" inquired Mr. Wharton, turning the bundle over to
examine its envelope, and eying it rather suspiciously.
"The 'baccy, sir; Harvey Birch, he got home, and he bring you a little
good 'baccy from York."
"Harvey Birch!" rejoined the master with great deliberation, stealing a
look at his guest. "I do not remember desiring him to purchase any
tobacco for me; but as he has brought it, he must be paid for
For an instant only, as the negro spoke, did Harper suspend his silent
meal; his eye moved slowly from the servant to the master, and again all
remained in impenetrable reserve.
To Sarah Wharton, this intelligence gave unexpected pleasure; rising
from her seat with impatience, she bade the black show Birch into the
apartment; when, suddenly recollecting herself, she turned to the
traveler with an apologizing look, and added, "If Mr. Harper will excuse
the presence of a peddler."
The indulgent benevolence expressed in the countenance of the stranger,
as he bowed a silent acquiescence, spoke more eloquently than the nicest
framed period, and the young lady repeated her order, with a confidence
in its truth that removed all embarrassment.
In the deep recesses of the windows of the cottage were seats of paneled
work; and the rich damask curtains, that had ornamented the parlor in
Queen Street, [Footnote: The Americans changed the names of many towns
and streets at the Revolution, as has since been done in France. Thus,
in the city of New York, Crown Street has become Liberty Street; King
Street, Pine Street; and Queen Street, then one of the most fashionable
quarters of the town, Pearl Street. Pearl Street is now chiefly occupied
by the auction dealers, and the wholesale drygoods merchants, for
warehouses and counting-rooms.] had been transferred to the Locusts, and
gave to the room that indescribable air of comfort, which so gratefully
announces the approach of a domestic winter. Into one of these recesses
Captain Wharton now threw himself, drawing the curtain before him in
such a manner as to conceal most of his person from observation; while
his younger sister, losing her natural frankness of manner, in an air of
artificial constraint, silently took possession of the other.
Harvey Birch had been a peddler from his youth; at least so he
frequently asserted, and his skill in the occupation went far to prove
the truth of the declaration. He was a native of one of the eastern
colonies; and, from something of superior intelligence which belonged to
his father, it was thought they had known better fortune in the land of
their nativity. Harvey possessed, however, the common manners of the
country, and was in no way distinguished from men of his class, but by
his acuteness, and the mystery which enveloped his movements. Ten years
before, they had arrived together in the vale, and, purchasing the
humble dwelling at which Harper had made his unsuccessful application,
continued ever since peaceful inhabitants, but little noticed and but
little known. Until age and infirmities had prevented, the father
devoted himself to the cultivation of the small spot of ground
belonging to his purchase, while the son pursued with avidity his humble
barter. Their orderly quietude had soon given them so much consideration
in the neighborhood, as to induce a maiden of five-and-thirty to forget
the punctilio of her sex, and to accept the office of presiding over
their domestic comforts. The roses had long before vanished from the
cheeks of Katy Haynes, and she had seen in succession, both her male and
female acquaintances forming the union so desirable to her sex, with but
little or no hope left for herself, when, with views of her own, she
entered the family of the Birches. Necessity is a hard master, and, for
the want of a better companion, the father and son were induced to
accept her services; but still Katy was not wanting in some qualities
which made her a very tolerable housekeeper. On the one hand, she was
neat, industrious, honest, and a good manager. On the other, she was
talkative, selfish, superstitious, and inquisitive. By dint of using the
latter quality with consummate industry, she had not lived in the family
five years when she triumphantly declared that she had heard, or rather
overheard, sufficient to enable her to say what had been the former fate
of her associates. Could Katy have possessed enough of divination to
pronounce upon their future lot, her task would have been accomplished.
From the private conversations of the parent and child, she learned that
a fire had reduced them from competence to poverty, and at the same time
diminished the number of their family to two. There was a tremulousness
in the voice of the father, as he touched lightly on the event, which
affected even the heart of Katy; but no barrier is sufficient to repel
vulgar curiosity. She persevered, until a very direct intimation from
Harvey, by threatening to supply her place with a female a few years
younger than herself, gave her awful warning that there were bounds
beyond which she was not to pass. From that period the curiosity of the
housekeeper had been held in such salutary restraint, that, although no
opportunity of listening was ever neglected, she had been able to add
but little to her stock of knowledge. There was, however, one piece of
intelligence, and that of no little interest to herself, which she had
succeeded in obtaining; and from the moment of its acquisition, she
directed her energies to the accomplishment of one object, aided by the
double stimulus of love and avarice.
Harvey was in the frequent habit of paying mysterious visits in the
depth of the night, to the fireplace of the apartment that served for
both kitchen and parlor. Here he was observed by Katy; and availing
herself of his absence and the occupations of the father, by removing
one of the hearthstones, she discovered an iron pot, glittering with a
metal that seldom fails to soften the hardest heart. Katy succeeded in
replacing the stone without discovery, and never dared to trust herself
with another visit. From that moment, however, the heart of the virgin
lost its obduracy, and nothing interposed between Harvey and his
happiness, but his own want of observation.
The war did not interfere with the traffic of the peddler, who seized on
the golden opportunity which the interruption of the regular trade
afforded, and appeared absorbed in the one grand object of amassing
money. For a year or two his employment was uninterrupted, and his
success proportionate; but, at length, dark and threatening hints began
to throw suspicion around his movements, and the civil authority thought
it incumbent on them to examine narrowly into his mode of life. His
imprisonments, though frequent, were not long; and his escapes from the
guardians of the law easy, compared to what he endured from the
persecution of the military. Still Birch survived, and still he
continued his trade, though compelled to be very guarded in his
movements, especially whenever he approached the northern boundaries of
the county; or in other words, the neighborhood of the American lines.
His visits to the Locusts had become less frequent, and his appearance
at his own abode so seldom, as to draw forth from the disappointed Katy,
in the fullness of her heart, the complaint we have related, in her
reply to Harper. Nothing, however, seemed to interfere with the pursuits
of this indefatigable trader, who, with a view to dispose of certain
articles for which he could only find purchasers in the very wealthiest
families of the county, had now braved the fury of the tempest, and
ventured to cross the half mile between his own residence and the house
of Mr. Wharton.
In a few minutes after receiving the commands of his young mistress,
Caesar reappeared, ushering into the apartment the subject of the
foregoing digression. In person, the peddler was a man above the middle
height, spare, but full of bone and muscle. At first sight, his strength
seemed unequal to manage the unwieldy burden of his pack; yet he threw
it on and off with great dexterity, and with as much apparent ease as if
it had been filled with feathers. His eyes were gray, sunken, restless,
and, for the flitting moments that they dwelt on the countenance of
those with whom he conversed, they seemed to read the very soul. They
possessed, however, two distinct expressions, which, in a great measure,
characterized the whole man. When engaged in traffic, the intelligence
of his face appeared lively, active, and flexible, though uncommonly
acute; if the conversation turned on the ordinary transactions of life,
his air became abstracted and restless; but if, by chance, the
Revolution and the country were the topic, his whole system seemed
altered--all his faculties were concentrated: he would listen for a
great length of time, without speaking, and then would break silence by
some light and jocular remark, that was too much at variance with his
former manner, not to be affectation. But of the war, and of his father,
he seldom spoke and always from some very obvious necessity.
To a superficial observer, avarice would seem his ruling passion--and,
all things considered, he was as unfit a subject for the plans of Katy
Haynes as can be readily imagined. On entering the room, the peddler
relieved himself from his burden, which, as it stood on the floor,
reached nearly to his shoulders, and saluted the family with modest
civility. To Harper he made a silent bow, without lifting his eyes from
the carpet; but the curtain prevented any notice of the presence of
Captain Wharton. Sarah gave but little time for the usual salutations,
before she commenced her survey of the contents of the pack; and, for
several minutes, the two were engaged in bringing to light the various
articles it contained. The tables, chairs, and floor were soon covered
with silks, crapes, gloves, muslins, and all the stock of an itinerant
trader. Caesar was employed to hold open the mouth of the pack, as its
hoards were discharged, and occasionally he aided his young lady, by
directing her admiration to some article of finery, which, from its
deeper contrast in colors, he thought more worthy of her notice. At
length, Sarah, having selected several articles, and satisfactorily
arranged the prices, observed in a cheerful voice,--
"But, Harvey, you have told us no news. Has Lord Cornwallis beaten the
The question could not have been heard; for the peddler, burying his
body in the pack, brought forth a quantity of lace of exquisite
fineness, and, holding it up to view, he required the admiration of the
young lady. Miss Peyton dropped the cup she was engaged in washing, from
her hand; and Frances exhibited the whole of that lovely face, which had
hitherto only suffered one of its joyous eyes to be seen, beaming with a
color that shamed the damask which enviously concealed her figure.
The aunt quitted her employment; and Birch soon disposed of a large
portion of his valuable article. The praises of the ladies had drawn the
whole person of the younger sister into view; and Frances was slowly
rising from the window, as Sarah repeated her question, with an
exultation in her voice, that proceeded more from pleasure in her
purchase, than her political feelings. The younger sister resumed her
seat, apparently examining the state of the clouds, while the peddler,
finding a reply was expected, answered,--
"There is some talk, below, about Tarleton having defeated General
Sumter, on the Tiger River."
Captain Wharton now involuntarily thrust his head between the opening of
the curtains into the room; and Frances, turning her ear in breathless
silence, noticed the quiet eyes of Harper looking at the peddler, over
the book he was affecting to read, with an expression that denoted him
to be a listener of no ordinary interest.
"Indeed!" cried the exulting Sarah; "Sumter--Sumter--who is he? I'll
not buy even a pin, until you tell me all the news," she continued,
laughing and throwing down a muslin she had been examining.
For a moment the peddler hesitated; his eye glanced towards Harper, who
was yet gazing at him with settled meaning, and the whole manner of
Birch was altered. Approaching the fire, he took from his mouth a large
allowance of the Virginian weed, and depositing it, with the
superabundance of its juices, without mercy to Miss Peyton's shining
andirons, he returned to his goods.
"He lives somewhere among the niggers to the south," answered the
"No more nigger than be yourself, Mister Birch," interrupted Caesar
tartly, dropping at the same time the covering of the goods in high
"Hush, Caesar--hush; never mind it now," said Sarah Wharton soothingly,
impatient to hear further.
"A black man so good as white, Miss Sally," continued the offended
negro, "so long as he behave heself."
"And frequently he is much better," rejoined his mistress. "But, Harvey,
who is this Mr. Sumter?"
A slight indication of humor showed itself on the face of the peddler,
but it disappeared, and he continued as if the discourse had met with no
interruption from the sensitiveness of the domestic.
"As I was saying, he lives among the colored people in the
south"--Caesar resumed his occupation--"and he has lately had a
scrimmage with this Colonel Tarleton--"
"Who defeated him, of course?" cried Sarah, with confidence.
"So say the troops at Morrisania."
"But what do you say?" Mr. Wharton ventured to inquire, yet speaking in
a low tone.
"I repeat but what I hear," said Birch, offering a piece of cloth to the
inspection of Sarah, who rejected it in silence, evidently determined to
hear more before she made another purchase.
"They say, however, at the Plains," the peddler continued, first
throwing his eyes again around the room, and letting them rest for an
instant on Harper, "that Sumter and one or two more were all that were
hurt, and that the rig'lars were all cut to pieces, for the militia were
fixed snugly in a log barn."
"Not very probable," said Sarah, contemptuously, "though I make no doubt
the rebels got behind the logs."
"I think," said the peddler coolly, again offering the silk, "it's quite
ingenious to get a log between one and a gun, instead of getting between
a gun and a log."
The eyes of Harper dropped quietly on the pages of the volume in his
hand, while Frances, rising, came forward with a smile in her face, as
she inquired, in a tone of affability that the peddler had never
witnessed from her,--
"Have you more of the lace, Mr. Birch?"
The desired article was immediately produced, and Frances became a
purchaser also. By her order a glass of liquor was offered to the
trader, who took it with thanks, and having paid his compliments to the
master of the house and the ladies, drank the beverage.
"So, it is thought that Colonel Tarleton has worsted General Sumter?"
said Mr. Wharton, affecting to be employed in mending the cup that was
broken by the eagerness of his sister-in-law.
"I believe they think so at Morrisania," said Birch, dryly.
"Have you any other news, friend?" asked Captain Wharton, venturing to
thrust his face without the curtains.
"Have you heard that Major Andre has been hanged?"
Captain Wharton started, and for a moment glances of great significance
were exchanged between him and the trader, when he observed, with
affected indifference, "That must have been some weeks ago."
"Does his execution make much noise?" asked the father, striving to make
the broken china unite.
"People will talk, you know, 'squire."
"Is there any probability of movements below, my friend, that will make
traveling dangerous?" asked Harper, looking steadily at the other, in
expectation of his reply.
Some bunches of ribbons fell from the hands of Birch; his countenance
changed instantly, losing its keen expression in intent meaning, as he
answered slowly, "It is some time since the rig'lar cavalry were out,
and I saw some of De Lancey's men cleaning their arms, as I passed their
quarters; it would be no wonder if they took the scent soon, for the
Virginia horse are low in the county."
"Are they in much force?" asked Mr. Wharton, suspending all employment
"I did not count them."
Frances was the only observer of the change in the manner of Birch, and,
on turning to Harper, he had resumed his book in silence. She took some
of the ribbons in her hand--laid them down again--and, bending over the
goods, so that her hair, falling in rich curls, shaded her face, she
observed, blushing with a color that suffused her neck,--
"I thought the Southern horse had marched towards the Delaware."
"It may be so," said Birch; "I passed the troops at a distance."
Caesar had now selected a piece of calico, in which the gaudy colors of
yellow and red were contrasted on a white ground, and, after admiring it
for several minutes, he laid it down with a sigh, as he exclaimed,
"Berry pretty calico."
"That," said Sarah; "yes, that would make a proper gown for your wife,
"Yes, Miss Sally," cried the delighted black, "it make old Dinah heart
leap for joy--so berry genteel."
"Yes," added the peddler, quaintly, "that is only wanting to make Dinah
look like a rainbow."
Caesar eyed his young mistress eagerly, until she inquired of Harvey the
price of the article.
"Why, much as I light of chaps," said the peddler.
"How much?" demanded Sarah in surprise.
"According to my luck in finding purchasers; for my friend Dinah, you
may have it at four shillings."
"It is too much," said Sarah, turning to some goods for herself.
"Monstrous price for coarse calico, Mister Birch," grumbled Caesar,
dropping the opening of the pack again.
"We will say three, then," added the peddler, "if you like that better."
"Be sure he like 'em better," said Caesar, smiling good-humoredly, and
reopening the pack; "Miss Sally like a t'ree shilling when she give, and
a four shilling when she take."
The bargain was immediately concluded; but in measuring, the cloth
wanted a little of the well-known ten yards required by the dimensions
of Dinah. By dint of a strong arm, however, it grew to the desired
length, under the experienced eye of the peddler, who conscientiously
added a ribbon of corresponding brilliancy with the calico; and Caesar
hastily withdrew, to communicate the joyful intelligence to his
During the movements created by the conclusion of the purchase, Captain
Wharton had ventured to draw aside the curtain, so as to admit a view of
his person, and he now inquired of the peddler, who had begun to
collect the scattered goods, at what time he had left the city.
"At early twilight," was the answer.
"So lately!" cried the other in surprise: then correcting his manner, by
assuming a more guarded air, he continued, "Could you pass the pickets
at so late an hour?"
"I did," was the laconic reply.
"You must be well known by this time, Harvey, to the officers of the
British army," cried Sarah, smiling knowingly on the peddler.
"I know some of them by sight," said Birch, glancing his eyes round the
apartment, taking in their course Captain Wharton, and resting for an
instant on the countenance of Harper.
Mr. Wharton had listened intently to each speaker, in succession, and
had so far lost the affectation of indifference, as to be crushing in
his hand the pieces of china on which he had expended so much labor in
endeavoring to mend it; when, observing the peddler tying the last knot
in his pack, he asked abruptly,
"Are we about to be disturbed again with the enemy?"
"Who do you call the enemy?" said the peddler, raising himself erect,
and giving the other a look, before which the eyes of Mr. Wharton sank
in instant confusion.
"All are enemies who disturb our peace," said Miss Peyton, observing
that her brother was unable to speak. "But are the royal troops out
"'Tis quite likely they soon may be," returned Birch, raising his pack
from the floor, and preparing to leave the room.
"And the continentals," continued Miss Peyton mildly, "are the
continentals in the county?"
Harvey was about to utter something in reply, when the door opened, and
Caesar made his appearance, attended by his delighted spouse.
The race of blacks of which Caesar was a favorable specimen is becoming
very rare. The old family servant who, born and reared in the dwelling
of his master, identified himself with the welfare of those whom it was
his lot to serve, is giving place in every direction to that vagrant
class which has sprung up within the last thirty years, and whose
members roam through the country unfettered by principles, and
uninfluenced by attachments. For it is one of the curses of slavery,
that its victims become incompetent to the attributes of a freeman. The
short curly hair of Caesar had acquired from age a coloring of gray,
that added greatly to the venerable cast of his appearance. Long and
indefatigable applications of the comb had straightened the close curls
of his forehead, until they stood erect in a stiff and formal brush,
that gave at least two inches to his stature. The shining black of his
youth had lost its glistening hue, and it had been succeeded by a dingy
brown. His eyes, which stood at a most formidable distance from each
other, were small, and characterized by an expression of good feeling,
occasionally interrupted by the petulance of an indulged servant; they,
however, now danced with inward delight. His nose possessed, in an
eminent manner, all the requisites for smelling, but with the most
modest unobtrusiveness; the nostrils being abundantly capacious, without
thrusting themselves in the way of their neighbors. His mouth was
capacious to a fault, and was only tolerated on account of the double
row of pearls it contained. In person Caesar was short, and we should
say square, had not all the angles and curves of his figure bid defiance
to anything like mathematical symmetry. His arms were long and muscular,
and terminated by two bony hands, that exhibited on one side a coloring
of blackish gray, and on the other, a faded pink. But it was in his legs
that nature had indulged her most capricious humor. There was an
abundance of material injudiciously used. The calves were neither before
nor behind, but rather on the outer side of the limb, inclining forward,
and so close to the knee as to render the free use of that joint a
subject of doubt. In the foot, considering it as a base on which the
body was to rest, Caesar had no cause of complaint, unless, indeed, it
might be that the leg was placed so near the center, as to make it
sometimes a matter of dispute, whether he was not walking backwards. But
whatever might be the faults a statuary could discover in his person,
the heart of Caesar Thompson was in the right place, and, we doubt not,
of very just dimensions.
Accompanied by his ancient companion, Caesar now advanced, and paid his
tribute of gratitude in words. Sarah received them with great
complacency, and made a few compliments to the taste of the husband, and
the probable appearance of the wife. Frances, with a face beaming with a
look of pleasure that corresponded to the smiling countenances of the
blacks, offered the service of her needle in fitting the admired calico
to its future uses. The offer was humbly and gratefully accepted.
As Caesar followed his wife and the peddler from the apartment, and was
in the act of closing the door, he indulged himself in a grateful
soliloquy, by saying aloud,--
"Good little lady--Miss Fanny--take care of he fader--love to make a
gown for old Dinah, too." What else his feelings might have induced him
to utter is unknown, but the sound of his voice was heard some time
after the distance rendered his words indistinct.
Harper had dropped his book, and he sat an admiring witness of the
scene; and Frances enjoyed a double satisfaction, as she received an
approving smile from a face which concealed, under the traces of deep
thought and engrossing care, the benevolent expression which
characterizes all the best feelings of the human heart.
"It is the form, the eye, the word,
The bearing of that stranger lord,
His stature, manly, bold, and tall,
Built like a castle's battled wall,
Yet molded in such just degrees
His giant strength seems lightsome ease.
Weather and war their rougher trace
Have left on that majestic face;
But 'tis his dignity of eye!
There, if a suppliant, would I fly,
Secure, 'mid danger, wrongs, and grief,
Of sympathy, redress, relief--
That glance, if guilty, would I dread
More than the doom that spoke me dead."
"Enough, enough!" the princess cried,
"'Tis Scotland's hope, her joy, her pride!"
The party sat in silence for many minutes after the peddler had
withdrawn. Mr. Wharton had heard enough to increase his uneasiness,
without in the least removing his apprehensions on behalf of his son.
The captain was impatiently wishing Harper in any other place than the
one foe occupied with such apparent composure, while Miss Peyton
completed the disposal of her breakfast equipage, with the mild
complacency of her nature, aided a little by an inward satisfaction at
possessing so large a portion of the trader's lace; Sarah was busily
occupied in arranging her purchases, and Frances was kindly assisting in
the occupation, disregarding her own neglected bargains, when the
stranger suddenly broke the silence by saying,--
"If any apprehensions of me induce Captain Wharton to maintain his
disguise, I wish him to be undeceived; had I motives for betraying him,
they could not operate under present circumstances."
The younger sister sank into her seat colorless and astonished. Miss
Peyton dropped the tea tray she was lifting from the table, and Sarah
sat with her purchases unheeded in her lap, in speechless surprise. Mr.
Wharton was stupefied; but the captain, hesitating a moment from
astonishment, sprang into the middle of the room, and exclaimed, as he
tore off the instruments of his disguise,--
"I believe you from my soul, and this tiresome imposition shall continue
no longer. Yet I am at a loss to conceive in what manner you should
"You really look so much better in your proper person, Captain Wharton,"
said Harper, with a slight smile, "I would advise you never to conceal
it in future. There is enough to betray you, if other sources of
detection were wanting." As he spoke, he pointed to a picture suspended
over the mantel piece, which exhibited the British officer in his
"I had flattered myself," cried young Wharton, with a laugh, "that I
looked better on the canvas than in a masquerade. You must be a close
"Necessity has made me one," said Harper, rising from his seat.
Frances met him as he was about to withdraw, and, taking his hand
between both her own, said with earnestness, her cheeks mantling with
their richest vermilion, "You cannot--you will not betray my brother."
For an instant Harper paused in silent admiration of the lovely pleader,
and then, folding her hands on his breast, he replied solemnly, "I
cannot, and I will not." He released her hands, and laying his own on
her head gently, continued, "If the blessing of a stranger can profit
you, receive it." He turned, and, bowing low, retired, with a delicacy
that was duly appreciated by those he quitted, to his own apartment.
The whole party were deeply impressed with the ingenuous and solemn
manner of the traveler, and all but the father found immediate relief in
his declaration. Some of the cast-off clothes of the captain, which had
been removed with the goods from the city, were produced; and young
Wharton, released from the uneasiness of his disguise, began at last to
enjoy a visit which had been undertaken at so much personal risk to
himself. Mr. Wharton retiring to his apartment, in pursuance of his
regular engagements, the ladies, with the young man, were left to an
uninterrupted communication on such subjects as were most agreeable.
Even Miss Peyton was affected with the spirits of her young relatives;
and they sat for an hour enjoying, in heedless confidence, the pleasures
of an unrestrained conversation, without reflecting on any danger which
might be impending over them. The city and their acquaintances were not
long neglected; for Miss Peyton, who had never forgotten the many
agreeable hours of her residence within its boundaries, soon inquired,
among others, after their old acquaintance, Colonel Wellmere.
"Oh!" cried the captain, gayly, "he yet continues there, as handsome and
as gallant as ever."
Although a woman be not actually in love, she seldom hears without a
blush the name of a man whom she might love, and who has been connected
with herself by idle gossips, in the amatory rumor of the day. Such had
been the case with Sarah, and she dropped her eyes on the carpet with a
smile, that, aided by the blush which suffused her cheek, in no degree
detracted from her native charms.
Captain Wharton, without heeding this display of interest in his sister,
immediately continued, "At times he is melancholy--we tell him it must
be love." Sarah raised her eyes to the face of her brother, and was
consciously turning them on the rest of the party, when she met those of
her sister laughing with good humor and high spirits, as she cried,
"Poor man! does he despair?"
"Why, no--one would think he could not; the eldest son of a man of
wealth, so handsome, and a colonel."
"Strong reasons, indeed, why he should prevail," said Sarah, endeavoring
to laugh; "more particularly the latter."
"Let me tell you," replied the captain, gravely, "a lieutenant
colonelcy in the Guards is a very pretty thing."
"And Colonel Wellmere a very pretty man," added Frances.
"Nay, Frances," returned her sister, "Colonel Wellmere was never a
favorite of yours; he is too loyal to his king to be agreeable to
Frances quickly answered, "And is not Henry loyal to his king?"
"Come, come," said Miss Peyton, "no difference of opinion about the
colonel--he is a favorite of mine."
"Fanny likes majors better," cried the brother, pulling her upon his
"Nonsense!" said the blushing girl, as she endeavored to extricate
herself from the grasp of her laughing brother.
"It surprises me," continued the captain, "that Peyton, when he procured
the release of my father, did not endeavor to detain my sister in the
"That might have endangered his own liberty," said the smiling girl,
resuming her seat. "You know it is liberty for which Major Dunwoodie is
"Liberty!" exclaimed Sarah; "very pretty liberty which exchanges one
master for fifty."
"The privilege of changing masters at all is a liberty."
"And one you ladies would sometimes be glad to exercise," cried the
"We like, I believe, to have the liberty of choosing who they shall be
in the first place," said the laughing girl. "Don't we, Aunt Jeanette?"
"Me!" cried Miss Peyton, starting; "what do I know of such things,
child? You must ask someone else, if you wish to learn such matters."
"Ah! you would have us think you were never young! But what am I to
believe of all the tales I have heard about the handsome Miss
"Nonsense, my dear, nonsense," said the aunt, endeavoring to suppress a
smile; "it is very silly to believe all you hear."
"Nonsense, do you call it?" cried the captain, gayly. "To this hour
General Montrose toasts Miss Peyton; I heard him within the week, at Sir
"Why, Henry, you are as saucy as your sister; and to break in upon your
folly, I must take you to see my new home-made manufactures, which I
will be bold enough to put in contrast with the finery of Birch."
The young people rose to follow their aunt, in perfect good humor with
each other and the world. On ascending the stairs to the place of
deposit for Miss Peyton's articles of domestic economy, she availed
herself, however, of an opportunity to inquire of her nephew, whether
General Montrose suffered as much from the gout as he had done when
she knew him.
It is a painful discovery we make, as we advance in life, that even
those we most love are not exempt from its frailties. When the heart is
fresh, and the view of the future unsullied by the blemishes which have
been gathered from the experience of the past, our feelings are most
holy: we love to identify with the persons of our natural friends all
those qualities to which we ourselves aspire, and all those virtues we
have been taught to revere. The confidence with which we esteem seems a
part of our nature; and there is a purity thrown around the affections
which tie us to our kindred that after life can seldom hope to see
uninjured. The family of Mr. Wharton continued to enjoy, for the
remainder of the day, a happiness to which they had long been strangers;
and one that sprang, in its younger members, from the delights of the
most confident affection, and the exchange of the most disinterested
Harper appeared only at the dinner table, and he retired with the cloth,
under the pretense of some engagement in his own room. Notwithstanding
the confidence created by his manner, the family felt his absence a
relief; for the visit of Captain Wharton was necessarily to be confined
to a very few days, both from the limitation of his leave of absence,
and the danger of a discovery.
All dread of consequences, however, was lost in the pleasure of the
meeting. Once or twice during the day, Mr. Wharton had suggested a doubt
as to the character of his unknown guest, and the possibility of the
detection of his son proceeding in some manner from his information; but
the idea was earnestly opposed by all his children; even Sarah uniting
with her brother and sister in pleading warmly in favor of the sincerity
expressed in the outward appearance of the traveler.
"Such appearances, my children," replied the desponding parent, "are but
too often deceitful; when men like Major Andre lend themselves to the
purposes of fraud, it is idle to reason from qualities, much less
"Fraud!" cried his son quickly. "Surely, sir, you forget that Major
Andre was serving his king, and that the usages of war justified
"And did not the usages of war justify his death, Henry?" inquired
Frances, speaking in a low voice, unwilling to abandon what she thought
the cause of her country, and yet unable to suppress her feelings
for the man.
"Never!" exclaimed the young man, springing from his seat, and pacing
the floor rapidly. "Frances, you shock me; suppose it should be my fate,
even now, to fall into the power of the rebels; you would vindicate my
execution--perhaps exult in the cruelty of Washington."
"Henry!" said Frances, solemnly, quivering with emotion, and with a face
pale as death, "you little know my heart."
"Pardon me, my sister--my little Fanny," cried the repentant youth,
pressing her to his bosom, and kissing off the tears which had burst,
spite of her resolution, from her eyes.
"It is very foolish to regard your hasty words, I know," said Frances,
extricating herself from his arms, and raising her yet humid eyes to
his face with a smile; "but reproach from those we love is most severe,
Henry; particularly--where we--we think--we know"--her paleness
gradually gave place to the color of the rose, as she concluded in a low
voice, with her eyes directed to the carpet, "we are undeserving of it."
Miss Peyton moved from her own seat to the one next her niece, and,
kindly taking her hand, observed, "You should not suffer the impetuosity
of your brother to affect you so much; boys, you know, are proverbially
"And, from my conduct, you might add cruel," said the captain, seating
himself on the other side of his sister. "But on the subject of the
death of Andre we are all of us uncommonly sensitive. You did not know
him: he was all that was brave--that was accomplished--that was
estimable." Frances smiled faintly, and shook her head, but made no
reply. Her brother, observing the marks of incredulity in her
countenance, continued, "You doubt it, and justify his death?"
"I do not doubt his worth," replied the maid, mildly, "nor his being
deserving of a more happy fate; but I cannot doubt the propriety of
Washington's conduct. I know but little of the customs of war, and wish
to know less; but with what hopes of success could the Americans
contend, if they yielded all the principles which long usage had
established, to the exclusive purposes of the British?"
"Why contend at all?" cried Sarah, impatiently. "Besides, being rebels,
all their acts are illegal."
"Women are but mirrors, which reflect the images before them," cried the
captain, good-naturedly. "In Frances I see the picture of Major
Dunwoodie, and in Sarah--"