Part 9 out of 9
companies and fragments of companies, keeping up at the same time a
scattering and desultory fire.
Lawton witnessed these operations in silence, nor did he open his mouth
until the field was covered with parties of the flying Americans. Then,
indeed, he seemed stung with the disgrace thus heaped upon the arms of
his country. Spurring Roanoke along the side of the hill, he called to
the fugitives in all the strength of his powerful voice. He pointed to
the enemy, and assured his countrymen that they had mistaken the way.
There was such a mixture of indifference and irony in his exhortations
that a few paused in surprise--more joined them, until, roused by the
example of the trooper, and stimulated by their own spirit, they
demanded to be led against their foe once more.
"Come on, then, my brave friends!" shouted the trooper, turning his
horse's head towards the British line, one flank of which was very near
him; "come on, and hold your fire until it will scorch their eyebrows."
The men sprang forward, and followed his example, neither giving nor
receiving a fire until they had come within a very short distance of the
enemy. An English sergeant, who had been concealed by a rock, enraged
with the audacity of the officer who thus dared their arms, stepped from
behind his cover, and leveled his musket.
"Fire and you die!" cried Lawton, spurring his charger, which leaped
forward at the instant. The action and the tone of his voice shook the
nerves of the Englishman, who drew his trigger with an uncertain aim.
Roanoke sprang with all his feet from the earth, and, plunging, fell
headlong and lifeless at the feet of his destroyer. Lawton kept his
feet, standing face to face with his enemy. The latter presented his
bayonet, and made a desperate thrust at the trooper's heart. The steel
of their weapons emitted sparks of fire, and the bayonet flew fifty feet
in the air. At the next moment its owner lay a quivering corpse.
"Come on!" shouted the trooper, as a body of English appeared on the
rock, and threw in a close fire. "Come on!" he repeated, and brandished
his saber fiercely. Then his gigantic form fell backward, like a
majestic pine yielding to the ax; but still, as he slowly fell, he
continued to wield his saber, and once more the deep tones of his voice
were heard uttering, "Come on!"
The advancing Americans paused aghast, and, turning, they abandoned the
field to the royal troops.
It was neither the intention nor the policy of the English commander to
pursue his success, for he well knew that strong parties of the
Americans would soon arrive; accordingly he only tarried to collect his
wounded, and forming in a square, he commenced his retreat towards the
shipping. Within twenty minutes of the fall of Lawton, the ground was
deserted by both English and Americans. When the inhabitants of the
country were called upon to enter the field, they were necessarily
attended by such surgical advisers as were furnished by the low state of
the profession in the interior at that day. Dr. Sitgreaves entertained
quite as profound a contempt for the medical attendants of the militia
as the captain did of the troops themselves. He wandered, therefore,
around the field, casting many a glance of disapprobation at the slight
operations that came under his eye; but when, among the flying troops,
he found that his comrade and friend was nowhere to be seen, he hastened
back to the spot at which Hollister was posted, to inquire if the
trooper had returned. Of course, the answer was in the negative. Filled
with a thousand uneasy conjectures, the surgeon, without regarding, or
indeed without at all reflecting upon any dangers that might lie in his
way, strode over the ground at an enormous rate, to the point where he
knew the final struggle had been. Once before, the surgeon had rescued
his friend from death in a similar situation; and he felt a secret joy
in his own conscious skill, as he perceived Betty Flanagan seated on the
ground, holding in her lap the head of a man whose size and dress he
knew could belong only to the trooper. As he approached the spot, the
surgeon became alarmed at the aspect of the washerwoman. Her little
black bonnet was thrown aside, and her hair, which was already streaked
with gray, hung around her face in disorder.
"John! dear John!" said the doctor, tenderly, as he bent and laid his
hand upon the senseless wrist of the trooper, from which it recoiled
with an intuitive knowledge of his fate. "John! where are you hurt?--can
I help you?"
"Ye talk to the senseless clay," said Betty, rocking her body, and
unconsciously playing with the raven ringlets of the trooper's hair;
"it's no more will he hear, and it's but little will he mind yeer
probes and yeer med'cines. Och hone," och hone!--and where will be the
liberty now? or who will there be to fight the battle, or gain the day?"
"John!" repeated the surgeon, still unwilling to believe the evidence of
his unerring senses. "Dear John, speak to me; say what you will, that
you do but speak. Oh, God! he is dead; would that I had died with him!"
"There is but little use in living and fighting now," said Betty. "Both
him and the baste! see, there is the poor cratur, and here is the
master! I fed the horse with my own hands, the day; and the last male
that _he_ ate was of my own cooking. Och hone! och hone!--that Captain
Jack should live to be killed by the rig'lars!"
"John! my dear John!" said the surgeon, with convulsive sobs, "thy hour
has come, and many a more prudent man survives thee; but none better,
nor braver. O John, thou wert to me a kind friend, and very dear; it is
unphilosophical to grieve; but for thee I must weep, in bitterness
The doctor buried his face in his hands, and for several minutes sat
yielding to an ungovernable burst of sorrow; while the washerwoman gave
vent to her grief in words, moving her body in a kind of writhing, and
playing with different parts of her favorite's dress with her fingers.
"And who'll there be to encourage the boys now?" she said. "O Captain
Jack! ye was the sowl of the troop, and it was but little we knowed of
the danger, and ye fighting. Och! he was no maly-mouthed, that quarreled
wid a widowed woman for the matter of a burn in the mate, or the want of
a breakfast. Taste a drop, darling, and it may be, 'twill revive ye.
Och! and he'll niver taste ag'in; here's the doctor, honey, him ye used
to blarney wid, waping as if the poor sowl would die for ye. Och! he's
gone, he's gone; and the liberty is gone with him."
A thundering sound of horses' feet came rolling along the road which led
near the place where Lawton lay, and directly the whole body of
Virginians appeared, with Dunwoodie at their head. The news of the
captain's fate had reached him, for the instant that he saw the body he
halted the squadron, and, dismounting, approached the spot. The
countenance of Lawton was not in the least distorted, but the angry
frown which had lowered over his brow during the battle was fixed even
in death. His frame was composed, and stretched as in sleep. Dunwoodie
took hold of his hand, and gazed a moment in silence; his own dark eye
kindled, and the paleness which had overspread his features was
succeeded by a spot of deep red in either cheek.
"With his own sword will I avenge him!" he cried, endeavoring to take
the weapon from the hand of Lawton; but the grasp resisted his utmost
strength. "It shall be buried with him. Sitgreaves, take care of our
friend, while I revenge his death."
The major hastened back to his charger, and led the way in pursuit of
While Dunwoodie had been thus engaged, the body of Lawton lay in open
view of the whole squadron. He was a universal favorite, and the sight
inflamed the men to the utmost: neither officers nor soldiers possessed
that coolness which is necessary to insure success in military
operations; they spurred after their enemies, burning for vengeance.
The English were formed in a hollow square, which contained their
wounded, who were far from numerous, and were marching steadily across a
very uneven country as the dragoons approached. The horse charged in
column, and were led by Dunwoodie, who, burning with revenge, thought to
ride through their ranks, and scatter them at a blow. But the enemy knew
their own strength too well, and, standing firm, they received the
charge on the points of their bayonets. The horses of the Virginians
recoiled, and the rear rank of the foot throwing in a close fire, the
major, with a few men, fell. The English continued their retreat the
moment they were extricated from their assailants; and Dunwoodie, who
was severely, but not dangerously wounded, recalled his men from further
attempts, which must be fruitless.
A sad duty remained to be fulfilled. The dragoons retired slowly through
the hills, conveying their wounded commander, and the body of Lawton.
The latter they interred under the ramparts of one of the Highland
forts, and the former they consigned to the tender care of his
Many weeks were gone before the major was restored to sufficient
strength to be removed. During those weeks, how often did he bless the
moment that gave him a right to the services of his beautiful nurse! She
hung around his couch with fond attention, administered with her own
hands every prescription of the indefatigable Sitgreaves, and grew each
hour in the affections and esteem of her husband. An order from
Washington soon sent the troops into winter quarters, and permission was
given to Dunwoodie to repair to his own plantation, with the rank of
lieutenant colonel, in order to complete the restoration of his health.
Captain Singleton made one of the party; and the whole family retired
from the active scenes of the war, to the ease and plenty of the major's
own estate. Before leaving Fishkill, however, letters were conveyed to
them, through an unknown hand, acquainting them with Henry's safety and
good health; and also that Colonel Wellmere had left the continent for
his native island, lowered in the estimation of every honest man in the
It was a happy winter for Dunwoodie, and smiles once more began to play
around the lovely mouth of Frances.
'Midst furs, and silks, and jewels' sheen,
He stood, in simple Lincoln green,
The center of the glittering ring;
And Snowdon's knight is Scotland's king!
--_Lady of the Lake_.
The commencement of the following year was passed, on the part of the
Americans, in making great preparations, in conjunction with their
allies, to bring the war to a close. In the South, Greene and Rawdon
made a bloody campaign, that was highly honorable to the troops of the
latter, but which, by terminating entirely to the advantage of the
former, proved him to be the better general of the two.
New York was the point that was threatened by the allied armies; and
Washington, by exciting a constant apprehension for the safety of that
city, prevented such reŽnforcements from being sent to Cornwallis as
would have enabled him to improve his success.
At length, as autumn approached, every indication was given that the
final moment had arrived.
The French forces drew near to the royal lines, passing through the
neutral ground, and threatened an attack in the direction of King's
Bridge, while large bodies of Americans were acting in concert. By
hovering around the British posts, and drawing nigh in the Jerseys, they
seemed to threaten the royal forces from that quarter also. The
preparations partook of the nature of both a siege and a storm. But Sir
Henry Clinton, in the possession of intercepted letters from Washington,
rested within his lines, and cautiously disregarded the solicitations of
Cornwallis for succor.
It was at the close of a stormy day in the month of September, that a
large assemblage of officers was collected near the door of a building
that was situated in the heart of the Americans troops, who held the
Jerseys. The age, the dress, and the dignity of deportment of most of
these warriors, indicated them to be of high rank; but to one in
particular was paid a deference and obedience that announced him to be
of the highest. His dress was plain, but it bore the usual military
distinctions of command. He was mounted on a noble animal, of a deep
bay; and a group of young men, in gayer attire, evidently awaited his
pleasure and did his bidding. Many a hat was lifted as its owner
addressed this officer; and when he spoke, a profound attention,
exceeding the respect of mere professional etiquette, was exhibited on
every countenance. At length the general raised his own hat, and bowed
gravely to all around him. The salute was returned, and the party
dispersed, leaving the officer without a single attendant, except his
body servants and one aid-de-camp. Dismounting, he stepped back a few
paces, and for a moment viewed the condition of his horse with the eye
of one who well understood the animal, and then, casting a brief but
expressive glance at his aid, he retired into the building, followed by
On entering an apartment that was apparently fitted for his reception,
he took a seat, and continued for a long time in a thoughtful attitude,
like one in the habit of communing much with himself. During this
silence, the aid-de-camp stood in expectation of his orders. At length
the general raised his eyes, and spoke in those low, placid tones that
seemed natural to him.
"Has the man whom I wished to see arrived, sir?"
"He waits the pleasure of your excellency."
"I will receive him here, and alone, if you please."
The aid bowed and withdrew. In a few minutes the door again opened, and
a figure, gliding into the apartment, stood modestly at a distance from
the general, without speaking. His entrance was unheard by the officer,
who sat gazing at the fire, still absorbed in his own meditations.
Several minutes passed, when he spoke to himself in an undertone,--
"To-morrow we must raise the curtain, and expose our plans. May Heaven
A slight movement made by the stranger caught his ear, and he turned
his head, and saw that he was not alone. He pointed silently to the
fire, toward which the figure advanced, although the multitude of his
garments, which seemed more calculated for disguise than comfort,
rendered its warmth unnecessary. A second mild and courteous gesture
motioned to a vacant chair, but the stranger refused it with a modest
acknowledgment. Another pause followed, and continued for some time. At
length the officer arose, and opening a desk that was laid upon the
table near which he sat, took from it a small, but apparently heavy bag.
"Harvey Birch," he said, turning to the stranger, "the time has arrived
when our connection must cease; henceforth and forever we must be
The peddler dropped the folds of the greatcoat that concealed his
features, and gazed for a moment earnestly at the face of the speaker;
then dropping his head upon his bosom, he said, meekly,--
"If it be your excellency's pleasure."
"It is necessary. Since I have filled the station which I now hold, it
has become my duty to know many men, who, like yourself, have been my
instruments in procuring intelligence. You have I trusted more than all;
I early saw in you a regard to truth and principle, that, I am pleased
to say, has never deceived me--you alone know my secret agents in the
city, and on your fidelity depend, not only their fortunes, but
He paused, as if to reflect in order that full justice might be done to
the peddler, and then continued,--
"I believe you are one of the very few that I have employed who have
acted faithfully to our cause; and, while you have passed as a spy of
the enemy, have never given intelligence that you were not permitted to
divulge. To me, and to me only of all the world, you seem to have acted
with a strong attachment to the liberties of America."
During this address, Harvey gradually raised his head from his bosom,
until it reached the highest point of elevation; a faint tinge gathered
in his cheeks, and, as the officer concluded, it was diffused over his
whole countenance in a deep glow, while he stood proudly swelling with
his emotions, but with eyes that sought the feet of the speaker.
"It is now my duty to pay you for these services; hitherto you have
postponed receiving your reward, and the debt has become a heavy one--I
wish not to undervalue your dangers; here are a hundred doubloons;
remember the poverty of our country, and attribute to it the smallness
of your pay."
The peddler raised his eyes to the countenance of the speaker; but, as
the other held forth the money, he moved back, as if refusing the bag.
"It is not much for your services and risks, I acknowledge," continued
the general, "but it is all that I have to offer; hereafter, it may be
in my power to increase it."
"Does your excellency think that I have exposed my life, and blasted my
character, for money?"
"If not for money, what then?"
"What has brought your excellency into the field? For what do you daily
and hourly expose your precious life to battle and the halter? What is
there about me to mourn, when such men as you risk their all for our
country? No, no, no--not a dollar of your gold will I touch; poor
America has need of it all!"
The bag dropped from the hand of the officer, and fell at the feet of
the peddler, where it lay neglected during the remainder of the
interview. The officer looked steadily at the face of his companion, and
"There are many motives which might govern me, that to you are unknown.
Our situations are different; I am known as the leader of armies--but
you must descend into the grave with the reputation of a foe to your
native land. Remember that the veil which conceals your true character
cannot be raised in years--perhaps never."
Birch again lowered his face, but there was no yielding of the soul in
"You will soon be old; the prime of your days is already past; what have
you to subsist on?"
"These!" said the peddler, stretching forth his hands, that were already
embrowned with toil.
"But those may fail you; take enough to secure a support to your age.
Remember your risks and cares. I have told you that the characters of
men who are much esteemed in life depend on your secrecy; what pledge
can I give them of your fidelity?"
"Tell them," said Birch, advancing and unconsciously resting one foot on
the bag, "tell them that I would not take the gold!"
The composed features of the officer relaxed into a smile of
benevolence, and he grasped the hand of the peddler firmly.
"Now, indeed, I know you; and although the same reasons which have
hitherto compelled me to expose your valuable life will still exist, and
prevent my openly asserting your character, in private I can always be
your friend; fail not to apply to me when in want or suffering, and so
long as God giveth to me, so long will I freely share with a man who
feels so nobly and acts so well. If sickness or want should ever assail
you and peace once more smile upon our efforts, seek the gate of him
whom you have so often met as Harper, and he will not blush to
"It is little that I need in this life," said Harvey; "so long as God
gives me health and honest industry, I can never want in this country;
but to know that your excellency is my friend is a blessing that I prize
more than all the gold of England's treasury."
The officer stood for a few moments in the attitude of intense thought.
He then drew to him the desk, and wrote a few lines on a piece of paper,
and gave it to the peddler.
"That Providence destines this country to some great and glorious fate I
must believe, while I witness the patriotism that pervades the bosoms
of her lowest citizens," he said. "It must be dreadful to a mind like
yours to descend into the grave, branded as a foe to liberty; but you
already know the lives that would be sacrificed, should your real
character be revealed. It is impossible to do you justice now, but I
fearlessly intrust you with this certificate; should we never meet
again, it may be serviceable to your children."
"Children!" exclaimed the peddler, "can I give to a family the infamy of
The officer gazed at the strong emotion he exhibited with pain, and he
made a slight movement towards the gold; but it was arrested by the
expression of his companion's face. Harvey saw the intention, and shook
his head, as he continued more mildly,--
"It is, indeed, a treasure that your excellency gives me: it is safe,
too. There are men living who could say that my life was nothing to me,
compared to your secrets. The paper that I told you was lost I swallowed
when taken last by the Virginians. It was the only time I ever deceived
your excellency, and it shall be the last; yes, this is, indeed, a
treasure to me; perhaps," he continued, with a melancholy smile, "it may
be known after my death who was my friend; but if it should not, there
are none to grieve for me."
"Remember," said the officer, with strong emotion, "that in me you will
always have a secret friend; but openly I cannot know you."
"I know it, I know it," said Birch; "I knew it when I took the service.
'Tis probably the last time that I shall ever see your excellency. May
God pour down His choicest blessings on your head!" He paused, and moved
towards the door. The officer followed him with eyes that expressed deep
interest. Once more the peddler turned, and seemed to gaze on the
placid, but commanding features of the general with regret and
reverence, and, bowing low, he withdrew.
The armies of America and France were led by their illustrious commander
against the enemy under Cornwallis, and terminated a campaign in
triumph that had commenced in difficulties. Great Britain soon after
became disgusted with the war; and the States' independence was
As years rolled by, it became a subject of pride among the different
actors in the war, and their descendants, to boast of their efforts in
the cause which had confessedly heaped so many blessings upon their
country; but the name of Harvey Birch died away among the multitude of
agents who were thought to have labored in secret against the rights of
their countrymen. His image, however, was often present to the mind of
the powerful chief, who alone knew his true character; and several times
did he cause secret inquiries to be made into the other's fate, one of
which only resulted in any success. By this he learned that a peddler of
a different name, but similar appearance, was toiling through the new
settlements that were springing up in every direction, and that he was
struggling with the advance of years and apparent poverty. Death
prevented further inquiries on the part of the officer, and a long
period passed before he was again heard of.
Some village Hampden, that with dauntless breast
The village tyrant of his fields withstood--
Some mute, inglorious Milton here may rest;
Some Cromwell, guiltless of his country's blood.
It was thirty-three years after the interview which we have just related
that an American army was once more arrayed against the troops of
England; but the scene was transferred from Hudson's banks to those of
The body of Washington had long lain moldering in the tomb; but as time
was fast obliterating the slight impressions of political enmity or
personal envy, his name was hourly receiving new luster, and his worth
and integrity each moment became more visible, not only to his
countrymen, but to the world. He was already the acknowledged hero of an
age of reason and truth; and many a young heart, amongst those who
formed the pride of our army in 1814, was glowing with the recollection
of the one great name of America, and inwardly beating with the sanguine
expectation of emulating, in some degree, its renown. In no one were
these virtuous hopes more vivid than in the bosom of a young officer who
stood on the table rock, contemplating the great cataract, on the
evening of the 25th of July of that bloody year. The person of this
youth was tall and finely molded, indicating a just proportion between
strength and activity; his deep black eyes were of a searching and
dazzling brightness. At times, as they gazed upon the flood of waters
that rushed tumultuously at his feet, there was a stern and daring look
that flashed from them, which denoted the ardor of an enthusiast. But
this proud expression was softened by the lines of a mouth around which
there played a suppressed archness, that partook of feminine beauty. His
hair shone in the setting sun like ringlets of gold, as the air from the
falls gently moved the rich curls from a forehead whose whiteness showed
that exposure and heat alone had given their darker hue to a face
glowing with health. There was another officer standing by the side of
this favored youth; and both seemed, by the interest they betrayed, to
be gazing, for the first time, at the wonder of the western world. A
profound silence was observed by each, until the companion of the
officer that we have described suddenly started, and pointing eagerly
with his sword into the abyss beneath, exclaimed,--
"See! Wharton, there is a man crossing in the very eddies of the
cataract, and in a skiff no bigger than an eggshell."
"He has a knapsack--it is probably a soldier," returned the other. "Let
us meet him at the ladder, Mason, and learn his tidings."
Some time was expended in reaching the spot where the adventurer was
intercepted. Contrary to the expectations of the young soldiers, he
proved to be a man far advanced in life, and evidently no follower of
the camp. His years might be seventy, and they were indicated more by
the thin hairs of silver that lay scattered over his wrinkled brow, than
by any apparent failure of his system. His frame was meager and bent;
but it was the attitude of habit, for his sinews were strung with the
toil of half a century. His dress was mean, and manifested the economy
of its owner, by the number and nature of its repairs. On his back was a
scantily furnished pack, that had led to the mistake in his profession.
A few words of salutation, and, on the part of the young men, of
surprise, that one so aged should venture so near the whirlpools of the
cataract, were exchanged; when the old man inquired, with a voice that
began to manifest the tremor of age, the news from the contending
"We whipped the redcoats here the other day, among the grass on the
Chippewa plains," said the one who was called Mason; "since when, we
have been playing hide and go seek with the ships: but we are now
marching back from where we started, shaking our heads, and as surly as
"Perhaps you have a son among the soldiers," said his companion, with a
milder demeanor, and an air of kindness; "if so, tell me his name and
regiment, and I will take you to him."
The old man shook his head, and, passing his hand over his silver locks,
with an air of meek resignation, he answered,--
"No; I am alone in the world!"
"You should have added, Captain Dunwoodie," cried his careless comrade,
"if you could find either; for nearly half our army has marched down the
road, and may be, by this time, under the walls of Fort George, for
anything that we know to the contrary."
The old man stopped suddenly, and looked earnestly from one of his
companions to the other; the action being observed by the soldiers, they
"Did I hear right?" the stranger uttered, raising his hand to screen
his eyes from the rays of the setting sun. "What did he call you?" "My
name is Wharton Dunwoodie," replied the youth, smiling. The stranger
motioned silently for him to remove his hat, which the youth did
accordingly, and his fair hair blew aside like curls of silk, and opened
the whole of his ingenuous countenance to the inspection of the other.
"'Tis like our native land!" exclaimed the old man with vehemence,
"improving with time; God has blessed both." "Why do you stare thus,
Lieutenant Mason?" cried Captain Dunwoodie, laughing a little. "You show
more astonishment than when you saw the falls." "Oh, the falls!--they
are a thing to be looked at on a moonshiny night, by your Aunt Sarah and
that gay old bachelor, Colonel Singleton; but a fellow like myself never
shows surprise, unless it may be at such a touch as this." The
extraordinary vehemence of the stranger's manner had passed away as
suddenly as it was exhibited, but he listened to this speech with deep
interest, while Dunwoodie replied, a little gravely,--"Come, come, Tom,
no jokes about my good aunt, I beg; she is kindness itself, and I have
heard it whispered that her youth was not altogether happy." "Why, as to
rumor," said Mason, "there goes one in Accomac, that Colonel Singleton
offers himself to her regularly every Valentine's day; and there are
some who add that your old great-aunt helps his suit." "Aunt Jeanette!"
said Dunwoodie, laughing. "Dear, good soul, she thinks but little of
marriage in any shape, I believe, since the death of Dr. Sitgreaves.
There were some whispers of a courtship between them formerly, but it
ended in nothing but civilities, and I suspect that the whole story
arises from the intimacy of Colonel Singleton and my father. You know
they were comrades in the horse, as indeed was your own father."
"I know all that, of course; but you must not tell me that the
particular, prim bachelor goes so often to General Dunwoodie's
plantation merely for the sake of talking old soldier with your father.
The last time I was there, that yellow, sharp-nosed housekeeper of your
mother's took me into the pantry, and said that the colonel was no
despisable match, as she called it, and how the sale of his plantation
in Georgia had brought him--oh, Lord! I don't know how much."
"Quite likely," returned the captain, "Katy Haynes is no bad
They had stopped during this conversation, in uncertainty whether their
new companion was to be left or not.
The old man listened to each word as it was uttered, with the most
intense interest; but, towards the conclusion of the dialogue, the
earnest attention of his countenance changed to a kind of inward smile.
He shook his head, and, passing his hands over his forehead, seemed to
be thinking of other times. Mason paid but little attention to the
expression of his features, and continued,--
"To me, she is selfishness embodied!"
"Her selfishness does but little harm," returned Dunwoodie. "One of her
greatest difficulties is her aversion to the blacks. She says that she
never saw but one she liked."
"And who was he?"
"His name was Caesar; he was a house servant of my late grandfather
Wharton. You don't remember him, I believe; he died the same year with
his master, while we were children. Katy yearly sings his requiem, and,
upon my word, I believe he deserved it. I have heard something of his
helping my English uncle, as we call General Wharton, in some difficulty
that occurred in the old war. My mother always speaks of him with great
affection. Both Caesar and Katy came to Virginia with my mother when she
married. My mother was--"
"An angel!" interrupted the old man, in a voice that startled the young
soldiers by its abruptness and energy.
"Did you know her?" cried the son, with a glow of pleasure on his cheek.
The reply of the stranger was interrupted by sudden and heavy explosions
of artillery, which were immediately followed by continued volleys of
small arms, and in a few minutes the air was filled with the tumult of a
warm and well-contested battle.
The two soldiers hastened with precipitation towards the camp,
accompanied by their new acquaintance. The excitement and anxiety
created by the approaching fight prevented a continuance of the
conversation, and the three held their way to the army, making
occasional conjectures on the cause of the fire, and the probability of
a general engagement. During their short and hurried walk, Captain
Dunwoodie, however, threw several friendly glances at the old man, who
moved over the ground with astonishing energy for his years, for the
heart of the youth was warmed by an eulogium on a mother that he adored.
In a short time they joined the regiment to which the officers belonged,
when the captain, squeezing the stranger's hand, earnestly begged that
he would make inquiries after him on the following morning, and that he
might see him in his own tent. Here they separated.
Everything in the American camp announced an approaching struggle. At a
distance of a few miles, the sound of cannon and musketry was heard
above the roar of the cataract. The troops were soon in motion, and a
movement made to support the division of the army which was already
engaged. Night had set in before the reserve and irregulars reached the
foot of Lundy's Lane, a road that diverged from the river and crossed a
conical eminence, at no great distance from the Niagara highway. The
summit of this hill was crowned with the cannon of the British, and in
the flat beneath was the remnant of Scott's gallant brigade, which for a
long time had held an unequal contest with distinguished bravery. A new
line was interposed, and one column of the Americans directed to charge
up the hill, parallel to the road. This column took the English in
flank, and, bayoneting their artillerists, gained possession of the
cannon. They were immediately joined by their comrades, and the enemy
was swept from the hill. But large reenforcements were joining the
English general momentarily, and their troops were too brave to rest
easy under the defeat. Repeated and bloody charges were made to recover
the guns, but in all they were repulsed with slaughter. During the last
of these struggles, the ardor of the youthful captain whom we have
mentioned urged him to lead his men some distance in advance, to scatter
a daring party of the enemy. He succeeded, but in returning to the line
missed his lieutenant from the station that he ought to have occupied.
Soon after this repulse, which was the last, orders were given to the
shattered troops to return to the camp. The British were nowhere to be
seen, and preparations were made to take in such of the wounded as could
be moved. At this moment Wharton Dunwoodie, impelled by affection for
his friend, seized a lighted fusee, and taking two of his men went
himself in quest of his body, where he was supposed to have fallen.
Mason was found on the side of the hill, seated with great composure,
but unable to walk from a fractured leg. Dunwoodie saw and flew to the
side of his comrade, saying,--
"Ah! dear Tom, I knew I should find you the nearest man to the enemy."
"Softly, softly; handle me tenderly," replied the lieutenant. "No, there
is a brave fellow still nearer than myself, and who he can be I know
not. He rushed out of our smoke, near my platoon, to make a prisoner or
some such thing, but, poor fellow, he never came back; there he lies
just over the hillock. I have spoken to him several times, but I fancy
he is past answering."
Dunwoodie went to the spot, and to his astonishment beheld the aged
"It is the old man who knew my mother!" cried the youth. "For her sake
he shall have honorable burial; lift him, and let him be carried in; his
bones shall rest on native soil."
The men approached to obey. He was lying on his back, with his face
exposed to the glaring light of the fusee; his eyes were closed, as if
in slumber; his lips, sunken with years, were slightly moved from their
natural position, but it seemed more like a smile than a convulsion
which had caused the change. A soldier's musket lay near him; his hands
were pressed upon his breast, and one of them contained a substance that
glittered like silver. Dunwoodie stooped, and removing the limbs,
perceived the place where the bullet had found a passage to his heart.
The subject of his last care was a tin box, through which the fatal lead
had gone; and the dying moments of the old man must have passed in
drawing it from his bosom. Dunwoodie opened it, and found a paper in
which, to his astonishment, he read the following:--
"Circumstances of political importance, which involve the lives and
fortunes of many, have hitherto kept secret what this paper now reveals.
Harvey Birch has for years been a faithful and unrequited servant of his
country. Though man does not, may God reward him for his conduct!"
It was the SPY OF THE NEUTRAL GROUND, who died as he had lived, devoted
to his country, and a martyr to her liberties.