Part 4 out of 8
for battle. Her father's face was stern and cold, and she saw, at once,
that he was on the side of the enemy. This struggle safely over, there
would come another and a severer one. It was well that she had given
herself time, setting the fulfilment of her love so far in advance.
Nothing more was said on this theme, either during the ride to Old
Kennett, or on the return. Martha's plan was very simple: she would
quietly wait until Alfred Barton should declare his sentiments, and then
reject him once and forever. She would speak clearly, and finally; there
should be no possibility of misconception. It was not a pleasant task;
none but a vain and heartless woman would be eager to assume it; and
Martha Deane hoped that it might be spared her.
But she, no less than her irresolute lover, (if we can apply that word
to Alfred Barton,) was an instrument in the hands of an uncomfortable
Fate. Soon after dinner a hesitating knock was heard at the door, and
Barton entered with a more uneasy air than ever before. Erelong, Dr.
Deane affected to have an engagement with an invalid on the New-Garden
road; Betsy Lavender had gone to Fairthorn's for the afternoon, and the
two were alone.
For a few moments, Martha was tempted to follow her father's example,
and leave Alfred Barton to his own devices. Then she reflected that this
was a cowardly feeling; it would only postpone her task. He had taken
his seat, as usual, in the very centre of the room; so she came forward
and seated herself at the front window, with her back to the light,
thus, woman-like, giving herself all the advantages of position.
Having his large, heavy face before her, in full light, she was at first
a little surprised on finding that it expressed not even the fond
anxiety, much less the eagerness, of an aspiring wooer. The hair and
whiskers, it is true, were so smoothly combed back that they made long
lappets on either side of his face; unusual care had been taken with his
cambric cravat and shirt-ruffles, and he wore his best blue coat, which
was entirely too warm for the season. In strong contrast to this
external preparation, were his restless eyes which darted hither and
thither in avoidance of her gaze, the fidgety movements of his thick
fingers, creeping around buttons and in and out of button-holes, and
finally the silly, embarrassed half-smile which now and then came to his
mouth, and made the platitudes of his speech almost idiotic.
Martha Deane felt her courage rise as she contemplated this picture. In
spite of the disgust which his gross physical appearance, and the
contempt which his awkward helplessness inspired, she was conscious of a
lurking sense of amusement. Even a curiosity, which we cannot reprehend,
to know by what steps and in what manner he would come to the
declaration, began to steal into her mind, now that it was evident her
answer could not possibly wound any other feeling than vanity.
In this mood, she left the burden of the conversation to him. He might
flounder, or be completely stalled, as often as he pleased; it was no
part of her business to help him.
In about three minutes after she had taken her seat by the window, he
remarked, with a convulsive smile,--
"Apples are going to be good, this year."
"Are they?" she said.
"Yes; do you like 'em? Most girls do."
"I believe I do,--except Russets," Martha replied, with her hands
clasped in her lap, and her eyes full upon his face.
He twisted the smoothness out of one whisker, very much disconcerted at
her remark, because he could not tell--he never could, when speaking
with her--whether or not she was making fun of him. But he could think
of nothing to say, except his own preferences in the matter of
apples,--a theme which he pursued until Martha was very tired of it.
He next asked after Mark Deane, expressing at great length his favorable
opinion of the young, carpenter, and relating what pains he had taken to
procure for him the building of Hallowell's barn. But to each
observation Martha made the briefest possible replies, so that in a
short time he was forced to start another topic.
Nearly an hour had passed, and Martha's sense of the humorous had long
since vanished under the dreary monotony of the conversation, when
Alfred Barton seemed to have come to a desperate resolution to end his
embarrassment. Grasping his knees with both hands, and dropping his head
forward so that the arrows of her eyes might glance from his fat
forehead, he said,--
"I suppose you know why I come here to-day, Miss Martha?"
All her powers were awake and alert in a moment. She scrutinized his
face keenly, and, although his eyes were hidden, there were lines enough
visible, especially about the mouth, to show that the bitter
predominated over the sweet, in his emotions.
"To see my father, wasn't it? I'm sorry he was obliged to leave home,"
"No, Miss Martha, I come to see you. I have some thing to say to you,
and I 'in sure you know what I mean by this time, don't you?"
"No. How should I?" she coolly replied. It was not true; but the
truest-hearted woman that ever lived could have given no other answer.
Alfred Barton felt the sensation of a groan pass through him, and it
very nearly came out of his mouth. Then he pushed on, in a last wild
effort to perform the remainder of his exacted task in one piece:
"I want you to be--to be--my--wife! That is, my father and yours are
agreed about it, and they think I ought to speak to you. I'm a good deal
older, and--and perhaps you mightn't fancy me in all things, but they
say it'll make little difference; and if you haven't thought about it
much, why, there's no hurry as to making up your mind. I've told you
now, and to be sure you ought to know, while the old folks are trying to
arrange property matters, and it's my place, like, to speak to you
Here he paused; his face was very red, and the perspiration was oozing
in great drops from every pore. He drew forth the huge red silk
handkerchief, and mopped his cheeks, his nose, and his forehead; then
lifted his head and stole a quick glance at Martha. Something in his
face puzzled her, and yet a sudden presentiment of his true state of
feeling flashed across her mind. She still sat, looking steadily at him,
and for a few moments did not speak.
"Well?" he stammered.
"Alfred Barton," she said, "I must ask you one question, do you love
He seemed to feel a sharp sting. The muscles of his mouth twitched; he
bit his lip, sank his head again, and murmured,--
"He does not," she said to herself. "I am spared this humiliation. It is
a mean, low nature, and fears mine--fears, and would soon hate. He shall
not see even so much of me as would be revealed by a frank, respectful
rejection. I must punish him a little for the deceit, and I now see how
to do it."
While these thoughts passed rapidly through her brain, she waited until
he should again venture to meet her eye. When he lifted his head, she
"You have told an untruth! Don't turn your head away; look me in the
face, and hear me tell you that you do not love me--that you have not
come to me of your own desire, and that you would rather ten thousand
times I should say No, if it were not for a little property of mine! But
suppose I, too, were of a similar nature; suppose I cared not for what
is called love, but only for money and lands such as you will inherit;
suppose I found the plans of my father and your father very shrewd and
reasonable, and were disposed to enter into them--what then?"
Alfred Barton was surprised out of the last remnant of his hypocrisy.
His face, so red up to this moment, suddenly became sallow; his chin
dropped, and an expression of amazement and fright came into the eyes
fixed on Martha's.
The game she was playing assumed a deeper interest; here was something
which she could not yet fathom. She saw what influence had driven him to
her, against his inclination, but his motive for seeming to obey, while
dreading success, was a puzzle. Singularly enough, a slight feeling of
commiseration began to soften her previous contempt, and hastened her
"I see that these suppositions would not please you," she said, "and
thank you for the fact. Your face is more candid than your speech. I am
now ready to say, Alfred Barton,--because I am sure the knowledge will
be agreeable to you,--that no lands, no money, no command of my father,
no degree of want, or misery, or disgrace, could ever make me your
She had risen from her chair while speaking, and he also started to his
feet. Her words, though such an astounding relief in one sense, had
nevertheless given him pain; there was a sting in them which cruelly
galled his self-conceit. It was enough to be rejected; she need not have
put an eternal gulf between their natures.
"Well," said he, sliding the rim of his beaver backwards and forwards
between his fingers, "I suppose I'll have to be going. You're very
plain-spoken, as I might ha' known. I doubt whether we two would make a
good team, and no offence to you, Miss Martha. Only, it'll be a mortal
disappointment to the old man, and--look here, it a'n't worth while to
say anything about it, is it?"
Alfred Barton was strongly tempted to betray the secret reason which
Martha had not yet discovered. After the strong words he had taken from
her, she owed him a kindness, he thought; if she would only allow the
impression that the matter was still undecided--that more time (which a
coy young maiden might reasonably demand) had been granted! On the other
hand, he feared that her clear, firm integrity of character would be
repelled by the nature of his motive. He was beginning to feel, greatly
to his own surprise, a profound respect for her.
"If my father questions me about your visit," she said, "I shall tell
him simply that I have declined your offer. No one else is likely to ask
"I don't deny," he continued, still lingering near the door, "that I've
been urged by my father--yours, too, for that matter--to make the offer.
But I don't want you to think hard of me. I've not had an easy time of
it, and if you knew everything, you'd see that a good deal isn't rightly
to be laid to my account."
He spoke sadly, and so genuine a stamp of unhappiness was impressed upon
his face, that Martha's feeling of commiseration rose to the surface.
"You'll speak to me, when we happen to meet?" he said.
"If I did not," she answered, "every one would suspect that something
had occurred. That would be unpleasant for both of us. Do not think that
I shall bear malice against you; on the contrary, I wish you well."
He stooped, kissed her hand, and then swiftly, silently, and with
averted head, left the room.
When Dr. Deane returned home, in season for supper, he found Martha and
Betsy Lavender employed about their little household matters. The former
showed no lack of cheerfulness or composure, nor, on the other hand, any
such nervous unrest as would be natural to a maiden whose hand had just
been asked in marriage. The Doctor could not at all guess, from her
demeanor, whether anything had happened during his absence. That Alfred
Barton had not remained was rather an unfavorable circumstance; but
then, possibly, he had not found courage to speak. All things being
considered, it seemed best that he should say nothing to Martha, until
he had had another interview with his prospective son-in-law.
At this time Gilbert Potter, in ignorance of the cunning plans which
were laid by the old men, was working early and late to accomplish all
necessary farm-labor by the first of October. That month he had
resolved to devote to the road between Columbia and Newport, and if but
average success attended his hauling, the earnings of six round trips,
with the result of his bountiful harvest, would at last place in his
hands the sum necessary to defray the remaining debt upon the farm. His
next year's wheat-crop was already sowed, the seed-clover cut, and the
fortnight which still intervened was to be devoted to threshing. In this
emergency, as at reaping-time, when it was difficult to obtain extra
hands, he depended on Deb. Smith, and she did not fail him.
Her principal home, when she was not employed on farm-work, was a
log-hut, on the edge of a wood, belonging to the next farm north of
Fairthorn's. This farm--the "Woodrow property," as it was called--had
been stripped of its stock and otherwise pillaged by the British troops,
(Howe and Cornwallis having had their headquarters at Kennett Square),
the day previous to the Battle of Brandywine, and the proprietor had
never since recovered from his losses. The place presented a ruined and
desolated appearance, and Deb. Smith, for that reason perhaps, had
settled herself in the original log-cabin of the first settler, beside a
swampy bit of ground, near the road. The Woodrow farm-house was on a
ridge beyond the wood, and no other dwelling was in sight.
The mysterious manner of life of this woman had no doubt given rise to
the bad name which she bore in the neighborhood. She would often
disappear for a week or two at a time, and her return seemed to take
place invariably in the night. Sometimes a belated farmer would see the
single front window of her cabin lighted at midnight, and hear the
dulled sound of voices in the stillness. But no one cared to play the
spy upon her movements very closely; her great strength and fierce,
reckless temper made her dangerous, and her hostility would have been
worse than the itching of ungratified curiosity. So they let her alone,
taking their revenge in the character they ascribed to her, and the
epithets they attached to her name.
When Gilbert, after hitching his horse in a corner of the zigzag
picket-fence, climbed over and approached the cabin, Deb. Smith issued
from it to meet him, closing the heavy plank door carefully behind her.
"So, Mr. Gilbert!" she cried, stretching out her hard, red hand, "I
reckon you want me ag'in: I've been holdin off from many jobs o'
thrashin', this week, because I suspicioned ye'd be comin' for me."
"Thank you, Deborah!" said he, "you're a friend in need."
"Am I? There you speak the truth. Wait till you see me thump the Devil's
tattoo with my old flail on your thrashin'-floor! But you look as cheery
as an Easter-mornin' sun; you've not much for to complain of, these
days, I guess?"
"Take care!" she cried, a kindly softness spreading over her rough face,
"good luck's deceitful! If I had the strands o' your fortin' in _my_
hands, may be I wouldn't twist 'em even; but I ha'n't, and my fingers is
too thick to manage anything smaller 'n a rope-knot. You're goin'? Well,
look out for me bright and early o' Monday, and my sarvice to your
As he rode over the second hill, on his way to the village, Gilbert's
heart leaped, as he beheld Betsy Lavender just turning into Fairthorn's
gate. Except his mother, she was the only person who knew of his love,
and he had great need of her kind and cautious assistance.
He had not allowed his heart simply to revel in the ecstasy of its
wonderful fortune, or to yearn with inexpressible warmth for Martha's
dearest presence, though these emotions haunted him constantly; he had
also endeavored to survey the position in which he stood, and to choose
the course which would fulfil both his duty towards her and towards his
mother. His coming independence would have made the prospect hopefully
bright, but for the secret which lay across it like a threatening
shadow. Betsy Lavender's assurances had only partially allayed his
dread; something hasty and uncertain in her manner still lingered
uneasily in his memory, and he felt sure that she knew more than she was
willing to tell. Moreover, he craved with all the strength of his heart
for another interview with Martha, and he knew of no way to obtain it
without Betsy's help.
Her hand was on the gate-latch when his call reached her ears. Looking
up the road, she saw that he had stopped his horse between the high,
bushy banks, and was beckoning earnestly. Darting a hasty glance at the
ivy-draped windows nearest the road, and finding that she was not
observed, she hurried to meet him.
"Betsy," he whispered, "I _must_ see Martha again before I leave, and
you must tell me how."
"Tell me how. Folks say that lovyers' wits are sharp," said she, "but I
wouldn't give much for either o' your'n. I don't like underhanded
goin's-on, for my part, for things done in darkness'll come to light, or
somethin' like it; but never mind, if they're crooked everyway they
won't run in straight tracks, all't once't. This I see, and you see, and
she sees, that we must all keep as dark as sin."
"But there must be some way," Gilbert insisted. "Do you never walk out
together? And couldn't we arrange a time--you, too, Betsy, I want you as
"I'm afeard I'd be like the fifth wheel to a wagon."
"No, no! You must be there--you must hear a good part of what I have to
"A good part--that'll do; thought you didn't mean the whole. Don't fret
so, lad; you'll have Roger trampin' me down, next thing. Martha and me
talk o' walkin' over to Polly Withers's. She promised Martha a
pa'tridge-breasted aloe, and they say you've got to plant it in pewter
sand, and only water it once't a month, and how it can grow I can't see;
but never mind, all the same--s'pose we say Friday afternoon about three
o'clock, goin' through the big woods between the Square and Witherses,
and you might have a gun, for the squirls is plenty, and so
accidental-like, if anybody should come along"--
"That's it, Betsy!" Gilbert cried, his face flashing, "thank you, a
"A thousand times," she repeated. "Once't is enough."
Gilbert rode homewards, after a pleasant call at Fairthorn's, in a very
joyous mood. Not daring to converse with his mother on the one subject
which filled his heart, he showed her the calculations which positively
assured his independence in a short time. She was never weary of going
over the figures, and although her sad, cautious nature always led her
to anticipate disappointments, there was now so much already in hand
that she was forced to share her son's sanguine views. Gilbert could not
help noticing that this idea of independence, for which she had labored
so strenuously, seemed to be regarded, in her mind, as the first step
towards her mysterious and long-delayed justification; she was so
impatient for its accomplishment, her sad brow lightened so, her breath
came so much freer as she admitted that his calculations were correct!
Nevertheless, as he frequently referred to the matter on the following
days, she at last said,--
"Please, Gilbert, don't always talk so certainly of what isn't over and
settled! It makes me fearsome, so to take Providence for granted
beforehand. I don't think the Lord likes it, for I've often noticed that
it brings disappointment; and I'd rather be humble and submissive in
heart, the better to deserve our good fortune when it comes."
"You may be right, mother," he answered; "but it's pleasant to me to see
you looking a little more hopeful."
"Ay, lad, I'd never look otherwise, for your sake, if I could." And
nothing more was said.
Before sunrise on Monday morning, the rapid, alternate beats of three
flails, on Gilbert's threshing-floor, made the autumnal music which the
farmer loves to hear. Two of these--Gilbert's and Sam's--kept time with
each other, one falling as the other rose; but the third, quick, loud,
and filling all the pauses with thundering taps, was wielded by the arm
of Deb. Smith. Day by day, the pile of wheat-sheaves lessened in the
great bay, and the cone of golden straw rose higher in the barn-yard. If
a certain black jug, behind the barn-door, needed frequent replenishing,
Gilbert knew that the strength of its contents passed into the red,
bare, muscular arms which shamed his own, and that Deb., while she was
under his roof, would allow herself no coarse excess, either of manner
or speech. The fierce, defiant look left her face, and when she sat, of
an evening, with her pipe in the chimney-corner, both mother and son
found her very entertaining company. In Sam she inspired at once
admiration and despair. She could take him by the slack of the
waist-band and lift him at arm's-length, and he felt that he should
never be "a full hand," if he were obliged to equal her performances
with the flail.
Thus, his arm keeping time to the rhythm of joy in his heart, and
tasting the satisfaction of labor as never before in his life, the days
passed to Gilbert Potter. Then came the important Friday, hazy with "the
smoke of burning summer," and softly colored with the drifts of
golden-rods and crimson sumac leaves along the edges of the yet green
forests. Easily feigning an errand to the village, he walked rapidly up
the road in the warm afternoon, taking the cross-road to New-Garden
just before reaching Hallowell's, and then struck to the right across
After passing the crest of the hill, the land sloped gradually down to
the eastern end of Tuffkenamon valley, which terminates at the ridge
upon which Kennett Square stands. Below him, on the right, lay the field
and hedge, across which he and Fortune (he wondered what had become of
the man) had followed the chase; and before him, on the level, rose the
stately trees of the wood which was to be his trysting-place. It was a
sweet, peaceful scene, and but for the under-current of trouble upon
which all his sensations floated, he could have recognized the beauty
and the bliss of human life, which such golden days suggest.
It was scarcely yet two o'clock, and he watched the smooth field nearest
the village for full three-quarters of an hour, before his sharp eyes
could detect any moving form upon its surface. To impatience succeeded
doubt, to doubt, at its most cruel height, a shock of certainty. Betsy
Lavender and Martha Deane had entered the field at the bottom, and,
concealed behind the hedge of black-thorn, had walked half-way to the
wood before he discovered them, by means of a lucky break in the hedge.
With breathless haste he descended the slope, entered the wood at its
lower edge, and traversed the tangled thickets of dogwood and haw, until
he gained the foot-path, winding through the very heart of the shade.
It was not many minutes before the two advancing forms glimmered among
the leaves. As he sprang forward to meet them, Miss Betsy Lavender
suddenly exclaimed,--"Well, I never, Martha! here's wintergreen!" and
was down on her knees, on the dead leaves, with her long nose nearly
touching the plants.
When the lovers saw each other's eyes, one impulse drew them heart to
heart. Each felt the clasp of the other's arms, and the sweetness of
that perfect kiss, which is mutually given, as mutually taken,--the ripe
fruit of love, which having once tasted, all its first timid tokens seem
ever afterwards immature and unsatisfactory. The hearts of both had
unconsciously grown in warmth, in grace and tenderness; and they now
felt, for the first time, the utter, reciprocal surrender of their
natures which truly gave them to each other.
As they slowly unwound the blissful embrace, and, holding each other's
hands, drew their faces apart until either's eyes could receive the
other's beloved countenance, no words were spoken,--and none were
needed. Thenceforward, neither would ever say to the other,--"Do you
love me as well as ever?" or "Are you sure you can never change?"--for
theirs were natures to which such tender doubt and curiosity were
foreign. It was not the age of introversion or analytical love; they
were sound, simple, fervent natures, and believed forever in the great
truth which had come to them.
"Gilbert," said Martha, presently, "it was right that we should meet
before you leave home. I have much to tell you--for now you must know
everything that concerns me; it is your right."
Her words were very grateful. To hear her say "It is your right," sent a
thrill of purely unselfish pride through his breast. He admitted an
equal right, on her part; the moments were precious, and he hastened to
answer her declaration by one as frank and confiding.
"And I," he said, "could not take another step until I had seen you. Do
not fear, Martha, to test my patience or my faith in you, for anything
you may put upon me will be easy to bear. I have turned our love over
and over in my mind; tried to look at it--as we both must, sooner or
later--as something which, though it don't in any wise belong to others,
yet with which others have the power to interfere. The world isn't made
quite right, Martha, and we're living in it."
Martha's lip took a firmer curve. "Our love is right, Gilbert," she
exclaimed, "and the world must give way!"
"It must--I've sworn it! Now let us try to see what are the mountains in
our path, and how we can best get around or over them. First, this is my
Thereupon Gilbert clearly and rapidly explained to her his precise
situation. He set forth his favorable prospects of speedy independence,
the obstacle which his mother's secret threw in their way, and his
inability to guess any means which might unravel the mystery, and hasten
his and her deliverance. The disgrace once removed, he thought, all
other impediments to their union would be of trifling importance.
"I see all that clearly," said Martha, when he had finished; "now, this
is _my_ position."
She told him frankly her father's plans concerning her and gave him,
with conscientious minuteness, all the details of Alfred Barton's
interview. At first his face grew dark, but at the close he was able to
view the subject in its true character, and to contemplate it with as
careless a merriment as her own.
"You see, Gilbert," were Martha's final words, "how we are situated. If
I marry, against my father's consent, before I am twenty-five"--
"Don't speak of your property, Martha!" he cried; "I never took that
"I know you didn't. Gilbert, but _I_ do! It is mine, and must be mine,
to be yours; here you must let me have my own way--I will obey you in
everything else. Four years is not long for us to wait, having faith in
each other; and in that time, I doubt not, your mother's secret will be
revealed. You cannot, must not, press her further; in the meantime we
will see each other as often as possible"--
"Four years!" Gilbert interrupted, in a tone almost of despair.
"Well--not quite," said Martha, smiling archly; "since you must know my
exact age, Gilbert, I was twenty-one on the second of last February; so
that the time is really three years, four months, and eleven days."
"I'd serve seven years, as Jacob served, if need be," he said. "It's not
alone the waiting; it's the anxiety, the uncertainty, the terrible fear
of that which I don't know. I'm sure that Betsy Lavender guesses
something about it; have you told her what my mother says?"
"It was _your_ secret, Gilbert."
"I didn't think," he answered, softly. "But it's well she should know.
She is the best friend we have. Betsy!"
"A mortal long time afore _I_'m wanted!" exclaimed Miss Lavender, with
assumed grimness, as she obeyed the call. "I s'pose you thought there
was no watch needed, and both ends o' the path open to all the world.
Well--what am _I_ to do?--move mountains like a grain o' mustard seed
(or however it runs), dip out th' ocean with a pint-pot, or ketch old
birds with chaff, eh?"
Gilbert, aware that she was familiar with the particular difficulties on
Martha's side, now made her acquainted with his own. At the mention of
his mother's declaration in regard to his birth, she lifted her hands
and nodded her head, listening, thenceforth to the end, with half-closed
eyes and her loose lips drawn up in a curious pucker.
"What do you think of it?" he asked, as she remained silent.
"Think of it? About as pretty a snarl as ever I see. I can't say as I'm
so over and above taken aback by what your mother says. I've all along
had a hankerin' suspicion of it in my bones. Some things seems to me
like the smell o' water-melons, that I've knowed to come with fresh
snow; you know there _is_ no water-melons, but then, there's the smell
of 'em! But it won't do to hurry a matter o' this kind--long-sufferin'
and slow to anger, though that don't quite suit, but never mind, all the
same--my opinion is, ye've both o' ye got to wait!"
"Betsy, do you know nothing about it? Can you guess nothing?" Gilbert
She stole a quick glance at Martha, which he detected, and a chill ran
through his blood. His face grew pale.
"Nothin' that fits your case," said Miss Lavender, presently. She saw
the renewal of Gilbert's suspicion, and was casting about in her mind
how to allay it without indicating something else which she wished to
conceal. "This I'll say," she exclaimed at last, with desperate
frankness, "that I _do_ know somethin' that may be o' use, when things
comes to the wust, as I hope they won't, but it's neither here nor there
so far as _you two_ are concerned; so don't ask me, for I won't tell,
and if it's to be done, _I'm_ the only one to do it! If I've got my
little secrets, I'm keepin' 'em in your interest, remember that!"
There was the glimmer of a tear in each of Miss Lavender's eyes before
she knew it.
"Betsy, my dear friend!" cried Gilbert, "we know you and trust you. Only
say this, for my sake--that you think my mother's secret is nothing
which will part Martha and me!"
"Martha and me. I _do_ think so--am I a dragon, or a--what's that Job
talks about?--a behemoth? It's no use; we must all wait and see what'll
turn up. But, Martha, I've rather a bright thought, for a wonder; what
if we could bring Alf. Barton into the plot, and git him to help us for
the sake o' _his_ bein' helped?"
Martha looked surprised, but Gilbert flushed up to the roots of his
hair, and set his lips firmly together.
"I dunno as it'll do," continued Miss Betsy, with perfect indifference
to these signs, "but then it _might_. First and foremost, we must try to
find out what he wants, for it isn't you, Martha; so you, Gilbert, might
as well be a little more of a cowcumber than you are at this present
moment. But if it's nothin' ag'inst the law, and not likely, for he's
too cute, we might even use a vessel--well, not exackly o' wrath, but
somethin' like it. There's more 'n one concern at work in all this, it
strikes _me_, and it's wuth while to know 'em all."
Gilbert was ashamed of his sensitiveness in regard to Barton, especially
after Martha's frank and merry confession; so he declared himself
entirely willing to abide by her judgment.
"It would not be pleasant to have Alfred Barton associated with us, even
in the way of help," she said. "I have a woman's curiosity to know what
he means, I confess, but, unless Betsy could make the discovery without
me, I would not take any steps towards it."
"Much would be fittin' to me, child," said Miss Lavender, "that wouldn't
pass for you, at all. We've got six weeks till Gilbert comes back, and
no need o' hurry, except our arrand to Polly Withers's, which'll come to
nothin', unless you each take leave of other mighty quick, while I'm
lookin' for some more wintergreen."
With these words she turned short around and strode away.
"It had best be our own secret yet, Martha?" he asked.
"Yes, Gilbert, and all the more precious."
They clasped hands and kissed, once, twice, thrice, and then the
underwood slowly deepened between them, and the shadows of the forest
separated them from each other.
SANDY FLASH REAPPEARS.
During the month of October, while Gilbert Potter was occupied with his
lonely and monotonous task, he had ample leisure to evolve a clear,
calm, happy purpose from the tumult of his excited feelings. This was,
first, to accomplish his own independence, which now seemed inevitably
necessary, for his mother's sake, and its possible consequences to her;
then, strong in the knowledge of Martha Deane's fidelity, to wait with
With the exception of a few days of rainy weather, his hauling
prospered, and he returned home after five weeks' absence, to count up
the gains of the year and find that very little was lacking of the
entire amount to be paid.
Mary Potter, as the prospect of release drew so near, became suddenly
anxious and restless. The knowledge that a very large sum of money (as
she considered it) was in the house, filled her with a thousand new
fears. There were again rumors of Sandy Flash lurking around
Marlborough, and she shuddered and trembled whenever his name was
mentioned. Her uneasiness became at last so great that Gilbert finally
proposed writing to the conveyancer in Chester who held the mortgage,
and asking whether the money might not as well be paid at once, since he
had it in hand, as wait until the following spring.
"It's not the regular way," said she, "but then, I suppose it'll hold
in law. You can ask Mr. Trainer about that. O Gilbert, if it can be
done, it'll take a great load off my mind!"
"Whatever puts the mortgage into my hands, mother," said he, "is legal
enough for us. I needn't even wait to sell the grain; Mark Deane will
lend me the seventy-five dollars still to be made up, if he has
them--or, if he can't, somebody else will. I was going to the Square
this evening; so I'll write the letter at once, and put it in the
The first thing Gilbert did, on reaching the village, was to post the
letter in season for the mail-rider, who went once a week to and fro
between Chester and Peach-bottom Ferry, on the Susquehanna. Then he
crossed the street to Dr. Deane's, in order to inquire for Mark, but
with the chief hope of seeing Martha for one sweet moment, at least. In
this, however, he was disappointed; as he reached the gate, Mark issued
from the door.
"Why, Gilbert, old boy!" he shouted; "the sight o' you's good for sore
eyes! What have you been about since that Sunday evening we rode up the
west branch? I was jist steppin' over to the tavern to see the
fellows--come along, and have a glass o' Rye!"
He threw his heavy arm over Gilbert's shoulder, and drew him along.
"In a minute, Mark; wait a bit--I've a little matter of business with
you. I need to borrow seventy-five dollars for a month or six weeks,
until my wheat is sold. Have you that much that you're not using?"
"That and more comin' to me soon," said Mark, "and of course you can
have it. Want it right away?"
"Very likely in ten or twelve days."
"Oh, well, never fear--I'll have some accounts squared by that time!
Come along!" And therewith the good-natured fellow hurried his friend
into the bar-room of the Unicorn.
"Done pretty well, haulin', this time?" asked Mark, as they touched
"Very well," answered Gilbert, "seeing it's the last time. I'm at an
end with hauling now."
"You don't say so? Here's to your good luck!" exclaimed Mark, emptying
A man, who had been tilting his chair against the wall, in the farther
corner of the room, now arose and came forward. It was Alfred Barton.
During Gilbert's absence, neither this gentleman's plan nor that of his
father, had made much progress. It was tolerably easy, to be sure, to
give the old man the impression that the preliminary arrangements with
regard to money were going on harmoniously; but it was not so easy to
procure Dr. Deane's acceptance of the part marked out for him. Alfred
had sought an interview with the latter soon after that which he had had
with Martha, and the result was not at all satisfactory. The wooer had
been obliged to declare that his suit was unsuccessful; but, he
believed, only temporarily so. Martha had been taken by surprise; the
question had come upon her so suddenly that she could scarcely be said
to know her own mind, and time must be allowed her. Although this
statement seemed probable to Dr. Deane, as it coincided with his own
experience in previously sounding his daughter's mind, yet Alfred's
evident anxiety that nothing should be said to Martha upon the subject,
and that the Doctor should assume to his father that the question of
balancing her legacy was as good as settled, (then proceed at once to
the discussion of the second and more important question,) excited the
Doctor's suspicions. He could not well avoid giving the required promise
in relation to Martha, but he insisted on seeing the legal evidences of
Alfred Barton's property, before going a step further.
The latter was therefore in a state of great perplexity. The game he was
playing seemed safe enough, so far, but nothing had come of it, and
beyond this point it could not be carried, without great increase of
risk. He was more than once tempted to drop it entirely, confessing his
complete and final rejection, and allowing his father to take what
course he pleased; but presently the itching of his avaricious curiosity
returned in full force, and suggested new expedients.
No suspicion of Gilbert Potter's relation to Martha Deane had ever
entered his mind. He had always had a liking for the young man, and
would, no doubt, have done him any good service which did not require
the use of money. He now came forward very cordially and shook-hands
with the two.
Gilbert had self-possession enough to control his first impulse, and to
meet his rival with his former manner. Secure in his own fortune, he
even felt that he could afford to be magnanimous, and thus, by degrees,
the dislike wore off which Martha's confession had excited.
"What is all this talk about Sandy Flash?" he asked.
"He's been seen up above," said Barton; "some say, about Marlborough,
and some, along the Strasburg road. He'll hardly come this way; he's too
cunning to go where the people are prepared to receive him."
If either of the three had happened to look steadily at the back window
of the bar-room, they might have detected, in the dusk, the face of
Dougherty, the Irish ostler of the Unicorn Tavern. It disappeared
instantly, but there was a crack nearly half an inch wide between the
bottom of the back-door and the sill under it, and to that crack a
large, flat ear was laid.
"If he comes any nearer, you must send word around at once," said
Gilbert,--"not wait until he's already among us."
"Let me alone for that!" Barton exclaimed; "Damn him, I only wish he had
pluck enough to come!"
Mark was indignant "What's the sheriff and constables good for?" he
cried. "It's a burnin' shame that the whole country has been plundered
so long, and the fellow still runnin' at large. Much he cares for the
five hundred dollars on his head."
"It's a thousand, now," said Barton. "They've doubled it."
"Come, that'd be a good haul for us. We're not bound to keep inside of
our township; I'm for an up and down chase all over the country, as soon
as the fall work's over!"
"And I, too," said Gilbert
"You 're fellows after my own heart, both o' you!" Barton asserted,
slapping them upon the back. "What'll you take to drink?"
By this time several others had assembled, and the conversation became
general. While the flying rumors about Sandy Flash were being produced
and discussed, Barton drew Gilbert aside.
"Suppose we step out on the back-porch," he said, "I want to have a word
The door closed between them and the noisy bar-room. There was a
rustling noise under the porch, as of a fowl disturbed on its roost, and
then everything was still.
"Your speaking of your having done well by hauling put it into my head,
Gilbert," Barton continued. "I wanted to borrow a little money for a
while, and there's reasons why I shouldn't call upon anybody who'd tell
of it. Now, as you've got it, lying idle"--
"It happens to be just the other way, Barton," said Gilbert,
interrupting him. "I came here to-night to borrow."
"How's that?" Barton could not help asking, with a momentary sense of
chagrin. But the next moment he added, in a milder tone, "I don't mean
to pry into your business."
"I shall very likely have to use my money soon," Gilbert explained, "and
must at least wait until I hear from Chester. That will be another week,
and then, if the money should not be wanted, I can accommodate you. But,
to tell you the truth, I don't think there's much chance of that"
"Shall you have to go down to Chester?"
"I hope so."
"In ten or twelve days from now."
"Then," said Barton, "I 'II fix it this way. 'Tisn't only the money I
want, but to have it paid in Chester, without the old man or Stacy
knowing anything of the matter. If I was to go myself, Stacy'd never
rest till he found out my business--Faith! I believe if I was hid in
the hayloft o' the William Penn Tavern, he'd scent me out. Now, I can
get the money of another fellow I know, if you'll take it down and hand
it over for me. Would you be that obliging?"
"Of course," Gilbert answered. "If I go it will be no additional
"All right," said Barton, "between ourselves, you understand."
A week later, a letter, with the following address was brought to the
post-office by the mail-rider,--
_"To Mr. Gilbert Potter, Esq.
Kennett Square P. O.
These, with Care and Speed."_
Gilbert, having carefully cut around the wafer and unfolded the sheet of
strong yellowish paper, read this missive,--
"Sir: Yr respd favour of ye [Footnote: This form of the article, though
in general disuse at the time, was still frequently employed in
epistolary writing, in that part of Pennsylvania. [ed note: The r in Yr
and e in ye, etc. are superscripted.]] 11th came duly to hand, and ye
proposition wh it contains has been submitted to Mr. Jones, ye present
houlder of ye mortgage. He wishes me to inform you that he did not
anticipate ye payment before ye first day of April, 1797, wh was ye term
agreed upon at ye payment of ye first note; nevertheless, being required
to accept full and lawful payment, whensoever tendered, he hath
impowered me to receive ye moneys at yr convenience, providing ye
settlement be full and compleat, as aforesaid, and not merely ye payment
of a part or portion thereof.
"Yr obt servt,
Gilbert, with his limited experience of business matters, had entirely
overlooked the fact, that the permission of the creditor is not
necessary to the payment of a debt. He had a profound respect for all
legal forms, and his indebtedness carried with it a sense of stern and
perpetual responsibility, which, alas! has not always been inherited by
the descendants of that simple and primitive period.
Mary Potter received the news with a sigh of relief. The money was again
counted, the interest which would be due somewhat laboriously computed,
and finally nothing remained but the sum which Mark Deane had promised
to furnish. This Mark expected to receive on the following Wednesday,
and Gilbert and his mother agreed that the journey to Chester should be
made at the close of the same week.
They went over these calculations in the quiet of the Sabbath afternoon,
sitting alone in the neat, old-fashioned kitchen, with the dim light of
an Indian-summer sun striking through the leafless trumpet-vines, and
making a quaint network of light and shade on the whitewashed
window-frame. The pendulum ticked drowsily along the opposite wall, and
the hickory back-log on the hearth hummed a lamentable song through all
its simmering pores of sap. Peaceful as the happy landscape without,
dozing in dreams of the departed summer, cheery as the tidy household
signs within, seemed at last the lives of the two inmates. Mary Potter
had not asked how her son's wooing had further sped, but she felt that
he was contented of heart; she, too, indulging finally in the near
consummation of her hopes,--which touched her like the pitying sympathy
of the Power that had dealt so singularly with her life,--was nearer the
feeling of happiness than she had been for long and weary years.
Gilbert was moved by the serenity of her face, and the trouble, which he
knew it concealed, seemed, to his mind, to be wearing away. Carefully
securing the doors, they walked over the fields together, pausing on the
hilltop to listen to the caw of the gathering crows, or to watch the
ruby disc of the beamless sun stooping to touch the western rim of the
valley. Many a time had they thus gone over the farm together, but never
before with such a sense of peace and security. The day was removed,
mysteriously, from the circle of its fellows, and set apart by a
peculiar influence which prevented either from ever forgetting it,
during all the years that came after.
They were not aware that at the very moment this influence was
profoundest in their hearts, new rumors of Sandy Flash's movements had
reached Kennett Square, and were being excitedly discussed at the
Unicorn Tavern. He had been met on the Street Road, riding towards the
Red Lion, that very afternoon, by a man who knew his face; and, later in
the evening came a second report, that an individual of his build had
crossed the Philadelphia Road, this side of the Anvil, and gone
southward into the woods. Many were the surmises, and even detailed
accounts, of robberies that either had been or might be committed, but
no one could say precisely how much was true.
Mark Deane was not at home, and the blacksmith was commissioned to
summon Alfred Barton, who had ridden over to Pennsbury, on a friendly
visit to Mr. Joel Ferris. When he finally made his appearance, towards
ten o'clock, he was secretly horror-stricken at the great danger he had
escaped; but it gave him an admirable opportunity to swagger. He could
do no less than promise to summon the volunteers in the morning, and
provision was made accordingly, for despatching as many messengers as
the village could afford.
Since the British occupation, nearly twenty years before, Kennett Square
had not known as lively a day as that which followed. The men and boys
were in the street, grouped in front of the tavern, the women at the
windows, watching, some with alarmed, but many with amused faces. Sally
Fairthorn, although it was washing-day, stole up through Dr. Deane's
garden and into Martha's room, for at least half an hour, but Joe and
Jake left their overturned shocks of corn unhusked for the whole day.
Some of the young farmers to whom the message had been sent, returned
answer that they were very busy and could not leave their work; the
horses of others were lame; the guns of others broken. By ten o'clock,
however, there were nine volunteers, very irregularly armed and mounted,
in attendance; by eleven o'clock, thirteen, and Alfred Barton, whose
place as leader was anything but comfortable, began to swell with an air
of importance, and set about examining the guns of his command. Neither
he nor any one else noticed particularly that the Irish ostler appeared
to be a great connoisseur in muskets, and was especially interested in
the structure of the flints and pans.
"Let's look over the roll, and see how many are true blue," said Barton,
drawing a paper from his pocket. "There's failing nine or ten, among 'em
some I fully counted on--Withers, he _may_ come yet; Ferris, hardly time
to get word; but Carson, Potter, and Travilla ought to turn up curst
soon, or we'll have the sport without 'em!"
"Give me a horse, Mr. Barton, and I'll ride down for Gilbert!" cried Joe
"No use,--Giles went this morning," growled Barton.
"It's time we were starting; which road would be best to take?" asked
one of the volunteers.
"All roads lead to Rome, but all don't lead to Sandy Flash, ha! ha!"
said another, laughing at his own smartness.
"Who knows where he was seen last?" Barton asked, but it was not easy to
get a coherent answer. One had heard one report, and another another; he
had been seen from the Street Road on the north all the way around
eastward by the Red Lion and the Anvil, and in the rocky glen below the
Barton farm, to the lime-quarries of Tuffkenamon on the west.
"Unless we scatter, it'll be like looking for a needle in a haystack,"
remarked one of the more courageous volunteers.
"If they'd all had spunk enough to come," said Barton, "we might ha'
made four parties, and gone out on each road. As it is, we're only
strong enough for two."
"Seven to one?--that's too much odds in Sandy's favor!" cried a
light-headed youth, whereat the others all laughed, and some of them
blushed a little.
Barton bit his lip, and with a withering glance at the young man,
replied,--"Then we'll make three parties, and you shall be the third."
Another quarter of an hour having elapsed, without any accession to the
troop, Barton reluctantly advised the men to get their arms, which had
been carelessly placed along the tavern-porch, and to mount for the
Just then Joe and Jake Fairthorn, who had been dodging back and forth
through the village, watching the roads, made their appearance with the
"Hurray--there's another--comin' up from below, but it a'n't Gilbert.
He's stuck full o' pistols, but he's a-foot, and you must git him a
horse. I tell you, he looks like a real buster!"
"Who can it be?" asked Barton.
"We'll see, in a minute," said the nearest volunteers, taking up their
"There he is,--there he is!" cried Joe.
All eyes, turned towards the crossing of the roads, beheld, just
rounding the corner-house, fifty paces distant, a short,
broad-shouldered, determined figure, making directly for the tavern. His
face was red and freckled, his thin lips half-parted with a grin which
showed the flash of white teeth between them, and his eyes sparkled with
the light of a cold, fierce courage. He had a double-barrelled musket
on his shoulder, and there were four pistols in the tight leathern belt
about his waist.
Barton turned deadly pale as he beheld this man. An astonished silence
fell upon the group, but, the next moment, some voice exclaimed, in an
undertone, which, nevertheless, every one heard,--
"By the living Lord! Sandy Flash himself!"
There was a general confused movement, of which Alfred Barton took
advantage to partly cover his heavy body by one of the porch-pillars.
Some of the volunteers started back, others pressed closer together. The
pert youth, alone, who was to form the third party, brought his musket
to his shoulder.
Quick as lightning Sandy Flash drew a pistol from his belt and levelled
it at the young man's breast.
"Ground arms!" he cried, "or you are a dead man."
He was obeyed, although slowly and with grinding teeth.
"Stand aside!" he then commanded. "_You_ have pluck, and I should hate
to shoot you. Make way, the rest o' ye! I've saved ye the trouble o'
ridin' far to find me. Whoever puts finger to trigger, falls. Back,
back, I say, and open the door for me!"
Still advancing as he spoke, and shifting his pistol so as to cover now
one, now another of the group, he reached the tavern-porch. Some one
opened the door of the barroom, which swung inwards. The highwayman
strode directly to the bar, and there stood, facing the open door, while
he cried to the trembling bar-keeper,--
"A glass o' Rye, good and strong!"
It was set before him. Holding the musket in his arm, he took the glass,
drank, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and then, spinning a
silver dollar into the air, said, as it rang upon the floor,--
"_I_ stand treat to-day; let the rest o' the gentlemen drink at my
He then walked out, and slowly retreated backwards towards the
corner-house, covering his retreat with the levelled pistol, and the
flash of his dauntless eye.
He had nearly reached the corner, when Gilbert Potter dashed up behind
him, with Roger all in a foam. Joe Fairthorn, seized with deadly terror
when he heard the terrible name, had set off at full speed for home; but
descrying Gilbert approaching on a gallop, changed his course, met the
latter, and gasped out the astounding intelligence. All this was the
work of a minute, and when Gilbert reached the corner, a single glance
showed him the true state of affairs. The confused group in front of the
tavern, some faces sallow with cowardice, some red with indignation and
shame; the solitary, retreating figure, alive in every nerve with
splendid courage, told him the whole story, which Joe's broken words had
only half hinted.
Flinging himself from his horse, he levelled his musket, and cried
Sandy Flash, with a sudden spring, placed his back against the house,
pointed his pistol at Gilbert, and said: "Drop your gun, or I fire!"
For answer, Gilbert drew the trigger; the crack of the explosion rang
sharp and clear, and a little shower of mortar covered Sandy Flash's
cocked hat. The ball had struck the wall about four inches above his
He leaped forward; Gilbert clubbed his musket and awaited him. They were
scarcely two yards apart; the highwayman's pistol-barrel was opposite
Gilbert's heart, and the two men were looking into each other's eyes.
The group in front of the tavern stood as if paralyzed, every man
holding his breath.
"Halt!" said Sandy Flash. "Halt! I hate bloodshed, and besides that,
young Potter, you're not the man that'll take me prisoner. I could blow
your brains out by movin' this finger, but _you_'re safe from any bullet
o' mine, whoever a'n't!"
At the last words a bright, mocking, malicious grin stole over his face.
Gilbert, amazed to find himself known to the highwayman, and puzzled
with certain familiar marks in the latter's countenance, was swiftly
enlightened by this grin. It was Fortune's face before him, without the
black hair and whiskers,--and Fortune's voice that spoke!
Sandy Flash saw the recognition. He grinned again. "You'll know your
friend, another time," he said, sprang five feet backward, whirled,
gained the cover of the house, and was mounting his horse among the
bushes at the bottom of the garden, before any of the others reached
Gilbert, who was still standing as if thunder-struck.
By this time Sandy Flash had leaped the hedge and was careering like
lightning towards the shelter of the woods. The interest now turned upon
Gilbert Potter, who was very taciturn and thoughtful, and had little to
relate. They noticed, however, that his eyes were turned often and
inquiringly upon Alfred Barton, and that the latter as steadily avoided
When Gilbert went to bring Roger, who had quietly waited at the crossing
of the roads, Deb. Smith suddenly made her appearance.
"I seen it all," she said. "I was a bit up the road, but I seen it. You
shouldn't ha' shot, Mr. Gilbert, though it isn't him that's born to be
hit with a bullet; but _you_'re safe enough from _his_ bullets, anyhow--
whatever happens, _you_'re safe!"
"What do you mean, Deborah?" he exclaimed, as she almost repeated to him
Sandy Flash's very words.
"I mean what I say," she answered. "_You_ wouldn't be afeard, but it'll
be a comfort to your mother. I must have a drink o' whiskey after that
With these words she elbowed her way into the barroom. Most of the
Kennett Volunteers were there engaged in carrying out a similar
resolution. They would gladly have kept the whole occurrence secret, but
that was impossible. It was known all over the country, in three days,
and the story of it has not yet died out of the local annals.
THE HUSKING FROLIC.
Jake Fairthorn rushed into Dr. Deane's door with a howl of terror.
"Cousin Martha! Betsy!" he cried; "he's goin' to shoot Gilbert!"
"None o' your tricks, boy!" Betsy Lavender exclaimed, in her most savage
tone, as she saw the paleness of Martha's face. "I'm up to 'em. Who'd
shoot Gilbert Potter? Not Alf Barton, I'll be bound; he'd be afeard to
shoot even Sandy Flash!"
"It's Sandy Flash,--he's there! Gilbert shot his hat off!" cried Jake.
"The Lord have mercy!" And the next minute Miss Betsy found herself, she
scarcely knew how, in the road.
Both had heard the shot, but supposed that it was some volunteer
discharging an old load from his musket; they knew nothing of Sandy's
visit to the Unicorn, and Jake's announcement seemed simply incredible.
"O you wicked boy! What'll become o' you?" cried Miss Lavender, as she
beheld Gilbert Potter approaching, leading Roger by the bridle. But at
the same instant she saw, from the faces of the crowd, that something
unusual had happened. While the others instantly surrounded Gilbert, the
young volunteer who alone had made any show of fight, told the story to
the two ladies. Martha Deane's momentary shock of terror disappeared
under the rush of mingled pride and scorn which the narrative called up
in her heart.
"What a pack of cowards!" she exclaimed, her cheeks flushing,--"to stand
still and see the life of the only man that dares to face a robber at
the mercy of the robber's pistol!"
Gilbert approached. His face was grave and thoughtful, but his eye
brightened as it met hers. No two hands ever conveyed so many and such
swift messages as theirs, in the single moment when they touched each
other. The other women of the village crowded around, and he was
obliged, though with evident reluctance, to relate his share in the
In the mean time the volunteers had issued from the tavern, and were
loudly discussing what course to pursue. The most of them were in favor
of instant pursuit. To their credit it must be said that very few of
them were actual cowards; they had been both surprised by the incredible
daring of the highwayman, and betrayed by the cowardly inefficiency of
their own leader. Barton, restored to his usual complexion by two
glasses of whiskey, was nearly ready to head a chase which he suspected
would come to nothing; but the pert young volunteer, who had been
whispering with some of the younger men, suddenly cried out,--
"I say, fellows, we've had about enough o' Barton's command; and I, for
one, am a-goin' to enlist under Captain Potter."
"Good!" "Agreed!" responded a number of others, and some eight or ten
stepped to one side. The few remaining around Alfred Barton began to
look doubtful, and all eyes were turned curiously upon him.
Gilbert, however, stepped forward and said: "It's bad policy to divide
our forces just now, when we ought to be off on the hunt. Mr. Barton, we
all know, got up the company, and I am willing to serve under him, if
he'll order us to mount at once! If not, rather than lose more time,
I'll head as many as are ready to go."
Barton saw how the tide was turning, and suddenly determined to cover up
his shame, if possible, with a mantle of magnanimity.
"The fellows are right, Gilbert!" he said. "You deserve to take the lead
to-day, so go ahead; I'll follow you!"
"Mount, then, all of you!" Gilbert cried, without further hesitation. In
a second he was on Roger's back. "You, Barton," he ordered, "take three
with you and make for the New-Garden cross-road as fast as you can.
Pratt, you and three more towards the Hammer-and-Trowel; while I, with
the rest, follow the direct trail."
No more time was wasted in talking. The men took their guns and mounted,
the two detached commands were told off, and in five minutes the village
was left to its own inhabitants.
Gilbert had a long and perplexing chase, but very little came of it. The
trail of Sandy Flash's horse was followed without much difficulty until
it struck the west branch of Redley Creek. There it suddenly ceased, and
more than an hour elapsed before some one discovered it, near the road,
a quarter of a mile further up the stream. Thence it turned towards the
Hammer-and-Trowel, but no one at the farm-houses on the road had seen
any one pass except a Quaker, wearing the usual broad-brimmed hat and
drab coat, and mounted on a large, sleepy-looking horse.
About the middle of the afternoon, Gilbert detected, in one of the lanes
leading across to the Street Road, the marks of a galloping steed, and
those who had a little lingering knowledge of wood-craft noticed that
the gallop often ceased suddenly, changed to a walk, and was then as
suddenly resumed. Along the Street Road no one had been seen except a
Quaker, apparently the same person. Gilbert and his hunters now
suspected the disguise, but the difficulty of following the trail had
increased with every hour of lost time; and after scouring along the
Brandywine and then crossing into the Pocopsin valley, they finally gave
up the chase, late in the day. It was the general opinion that Sandy had
struck northward, and was probably safe in one of his lairs among the
When they reached the Unicorn tavern at dusk, Gilbert found Joe
Fairthorn impatiently waiting for him. Sally had been "tearin' around
like mad," (so Joe described his sister's excitement,) having twice
visited the village during the afternoon in the hope of seeing the hero
of the day--after Sandy Flash, of course, who had, and deserved, the
"And, Gilbert," said Joe, "I wasn't to forgit to tell you that we're
a-goin' to have a huskin' frolic o' Wednesday night,--day after
to-morrow, you know. Dad's behindhand with huskin', and the moon's goin'
to be full, and Mark he said Let's have a frolic, and I'm comin' home to
meet Gilbert anyhow, and so I'll be there. And Sally she said I'll have
Martha and lots o' girls, only we shan't come out into the field till
you're nigh about done. Then Mark he said That won't take long, and if
you don't help me with my shocks I won't come, and Sally she hit him,
and so it's all agreed. And you'll come, Gilbert, won't you?"
"Yes, yes, Joe," Gilbert answered, a little impatiently; "tell Sally
I'll come." Then he turned Roger's head towards home.
He was glad of the solitary ride which allowed him to collect his
thoughts. Fearless as was his nature, the danger he had escaped might
well have been cause for grave self-congratulation; but the thought of
it scarcely lingered beyond the moment of the encounter. The astonishing
discovery that the stranger, Fortune, and the redoubtable Sandy Flash
were one and the same person; the mysterious words which this person had
addressed to him; the repetition of the same words by Deb. Smith,--all
these facts, suggesting, as their common solution, some secret which
concerned himself, perplexed his mind, already more than sufficiently
occupied with mystery.
It suddenly flashed across his memory, as he rode homeward, that on the
evening when he returned from the fox-chase, his mother had manifested
an unusual interest in the strange huntsman, questioning him minutely as
to the latter's appearance. Was she--or, rather, had she been, at one
time of her life--acquainted with Sandy Flash? And if so--
"No!" he cried aloud, "it is impossible! It could not--cannot be!" The
new possibility which assailed him was even more terrible than his
previous belief in the dishonor of his birth. Better, a thousand times,
he thought, be basely born than the son of an outlaw! It seemed that
every attempt he made to probe his mother's secret threatened to
overwhelm him with a knowledge far worse than the fret of his ignorance.
Why not be patient, therefore, leaving the solution to her and to time?
Nevertheless, a burning curiosity led him to relate to his mother, that
evening, the events of the day. He watched her closely as he described
his encounter with the highwayman, and repeated the latter's words. It
was quite natural that Mary Potter should shudder and turn pale during
the recital--quite natural that a quick expression of relief should
shine from her face at the close; but Gilbert could not be sure that her
interest extended to any one except himself. She suggested no
explanation of Sandy Flash's words, and he asked none.
"I shall know no peace, child," she said, "until the money has been
paid, and the mortgage is in your hands."
"You won't have long to wait, now, mother," he answered cheerily. "I
shall see Mark on Wednesday evening, and therefore can start for Chester
on Friday, come rain or shine. As for Sandy Flash, he's no doubt up on
the Welch Mountain by this time. It isn't his way to turn up twice in
succession, in the same place."
"You don't know him, Gilbert. He won't soon forget that you shot at
"I seem to be safe enough, if he tells the truth." Gilbert could not
Mary Potter shook her head, and said nothing.
Two more lovely Indian-summer days went by, and as the wine-red sun
slowly quenched his lower limb in the denser smoke along the horizon,
the great bronzed moon struggled out of it, on the opposite rim of the
sky. It was a weird light and a weird atmosphere, such as we might
imagine overspreading Babylonian ruins, on the lone plains of the
Euphrates; but no such fancies either charmed or tormented the lusty,
wide-awake, practical lads and lasses, whom the brightening moon beheld
on their way to the Fairthorn farm. "The best night for huskin' that
ever was," comprised the sum of their appreciation.
At the old farm-house there was great stir of preparation. Sally, with
her gown pinned up, dodged in and out of kitchen and sitting-room,
catching herself on every door-handle, while Mother Fairthorn, beaming
with quiet content, stood by the fire, and inspected the great kettles
which were to contain the materials for the midnight supper. Both were
relieved when Betsy Lavender made her appearance, saying,--
"Let down your gownd, Sally, and give _me_ that ladle. What'd be a
mighty heap o' work for you, in that flustered condition, is
child's-play to the likes o' me, that's as steady as a cart-horse,--not
that self-praise, as the sayin' is, is any recommendation,--but my
kickin' and prancin' days is over, and high time, too."
"No, Betsy, I'll not allow it!" cried Sally. "You must enjoy yourself,
too." But she had parted with the ladle, while speaking, and Miss
Lavender, repeating the words "Enjoy yourself, too!" quietly took her
place in the kitchen.
The young men, as they arrived, took their way to the corn-field,
piloted by Joe and Jake Fairthorn. These boys each carried a wallet over
his shoulders, the jug in the front end balancing that behind, and the
only casualty that occurred was when Jake, jumping down from a fence,
allowed his jugs to smite together, breaking one of them to shivers.
"There, that'll come out o' your pig-money," said Joe.
"I don't care," Jake retorted, "if daddy only pays me the rest."
The boys, it must be known, received every year the two smallest pigs of
the old sow's litter, with the understanding that these were to be their
separate property, on condition of their properly feeding and fostering
the whole herd. This duty they performed with great zeal and enthusiasm,
and numberless and splendid were the castles which they built with the
coming money; yet, alas! when the pigs were sold, it always happened
that Farmer Fairthorn found some inconvenient debt pressing him, and the
boys' pig-money was therefore taken as a loan,--only as a loan,--and
There were between three and four hundred shocks to husk, and the young
men, armed with husking-pegs of hickory, fastened by a leathern strap
over the two middle fingers, went bravely to work. Mark Deane, who had
reached home that afternoon, wore the seventy-five dollars in a buckskin
belt around his waist, and anxiously awaited the arrival of Gilbert
Potter, of whose adventure he had already heard. Mark's presumed
obligations to Alfred Barton prevented him from expressing his
overpowering contempt for that gentleman's conduct, but he was not
obliged to hold his tongue about Gilbert's pluck and decision, and he
The latter, detained at the house by Mother Fairthorn and Sally,--both
of whom looked upon him as one arisen from the dead,--did not reach the
field until the others had selected their rows, overturned the shocks,
and were seated in a rustling line, in the moonlight.
"Gilbert!" shouted Mark, "come here! I've kep' the row next to mine, for
you! And I want to get a grip o' your hand, my bold boy!"
He sprang up, flinging an armful of stalks behind him, and with
difficulty restrained an impulse to clasp Gilbert to his broad breast.
It was not the custom of the neighborhood; the noblest masculine
friendship would have been described by the people in no other terms
than "They are very thick," and men who loved each other were accustomed
to be satisfied with the knowledge. The strong moonlight revealed to
Gilbert Potter the honest heart which looked out of Mark's blue eyes, as
the latter held his hand like a vice, and said,--
"I've heard all about it."
"More than there was occasion for, very likely," Gilbert replied. "I'll
tell you my story some day, Mark; but tonight we must work and not
"All right, Gilbert. I say, though, I've got the money you wanted; we'll
fix the matter after supper."
The rustling of the corn-stalks recommenced, and the tented lines of
shocks slowly fell as the huskers worked their way over the brow of the
hill, whence the ground sloped down into a broad belt of shade, cast by
the woods in the bottom. Two or three dogs which had accompanied their
masters coursed about the field, or darted into the woods in search of
an opossum-trail. Joe and Jake Fairthorn would gladly have followed
them, but were afraid of venturing into the mysterious gloom; so they
amused themselves with putting on the coats which the men had thrown
aside, and gravely marched up and down the line, commending the rapid
and threatening the tardy workers.
Erelong, the silence was broken by many a shout of exultation or banter,
many a merry sound of jest or fun, as the back of the night's task was
fairly broken. One husker mimicked the hoot of an owl in the thickets
below; another sang a melody popular at the time, the refrain of which
"Be it late or early, be it late or soon,
It's I will enjoy the sweet rose in June!"
"Sing out, boys!" shouted Mark, "so the girls can hear you! It's time
they were comin' to look after us."
"Sing, yourself!" some one replied. "You can out-bellow the whole raft."
Without more ado, Mark opened his mouth and began chanting, in a
"On yonder mountain summit
My castle you will find,
Renown'd in ann-cient historee,--
My name it's Rinardine!"
Presently, from the upper edge of the wood, several feminine voices were
heard, singing another part of the same song:--
"Beware of meeting Rinar,
All on the mountains high!"
Such a shout of fun ran over the field, that the frighted owl ceased his
hooting in the thicket. The moon stood high, and turned the night-haze
into diffused silver. Though the hollows were chill with gathering
frost, the air was still mild and dry on the hills, and the young
ladies, in their warm gowns of home-made flannel, enjoyed both the
splendor of the night and the lively emulation of the scattered
"Turn to, and give us a lift, girls," said Mark.
"Beware of meeting Rinar!" Sally laughed.
"Because you know what you promised him, Sally," he retorted. "Come, a
bargain's a bargain; there's the outside row standin'--not enough of us
to stretch all the way acrost the field--so let's you and me take that
and bring it down square with th' others. The rest may keep my row
a-goin', if they can."
Two or three of the other maidens had cut the supporting stalks of the
next shock, and overturned it with much laughing. "I can't husk, Mark,"
said Martha Deane, "but I'll promise to superintend these, if you will
keep Sally to her word."
There was a little running hither and thither, a show of fight, a mock
scramble, and it ended by Sally tumbling over a pumpkin, and then being
carried off by Mark to the end of the outside row of shocks, some
distance in the rear of the line of work. Here he laid the stalks
straight for her, doubled his coat and placed it on the ground for a
seat, and then took his place on the other side of the shock.
Sally husked a few ears in silence, but presently found it more
agreeable to watch her partner, as he bent to the labor, ripping the
covering from each ear with one or two rapid motions, snapping the cob,
and flinging the ear over his shoulder into the very centre of the heap,
without turning his head. When the shock was finished, there were five
stalks on her side, and fifty on Mark's.
He laughed at the extent of her help, but, seeing how bright and
beautiful her face looked in the moonlight, how round and supple her
form, contrasted with his own rough proportions, he added, in a lower
"Never mind the work, Sally--I only wanted to have you with me."
Sally was silent, but happy, and Mark proceeded to overthrow the next
When they were again seated face to face, he no longer bent so steadily
over the stalks, but lifted his head now and then to watch the gloss of
the moon on her black hair, and the mellow gleam that seemed to slide
along her cheek and chin, playing with the shadows, as she moved.
"Sally!" he said at last, "you must ha' seen, over and over ag'in, that
I like to be with you. Do you care for me, at all?"
She flushed and trembled a little as she answered,--"Yes, Mark, I do."
He husked half a dozen ears rapidly, then looked up again and asked,--
"Do you care enough for me, Sally, to take me for good and all? I can't
put it into fine speech, but I love you dearly and honestly; will you
Sally bent down her head, so choked with the long-delayed joy that she
found it impossible to speak. Mark finished the few remaining stalks and
put them behind him; he sat upon the ground at her feet.
"There's my hand, Sally; will you take it, and me with it?"
Her hand slowly made its way into his broad, hard palm. Once the
surrender expressed, her confusion vanished; she lifted her head for his
kiss, then leaned it on his shoulder and whispered,--
"Oh, Mark, I've loved you for ever and ever so long a time!"
"Why, Sally, deary," said he, "that's my case, too; and I seemed to feel
it in my bones that we was to be a pair; only, you know, I had to get a
foothold first. I couldn't come to you with empty hands--though, faith!
there's not much to speak of in 'em!"
"Never mind that, Mark,--I'm _so_ glad you want me!"
And indeed she was; why should she not, therefore, say so?
"There's no need o' broken sixpences, or true-lovers' knots, I guess,"
said Mark, giving her another kiss. "I'm a plain-spoken fellow, and when
I say I want you for my wife, Sally, I mean it. But we mustn't be
settin' here, with the row unhusked; that'll never do. See if I don't
make the ears spin! And I guess you can help me a little now, can't
With a jolly laugh, Mark picked up the corn-cutter and swung it above
the next shock. In another instant it would have fallen, but a loud
shriek burst out from the bundled stalks, and Joe Fairthorn crept forth
on his hands and knees.
The lovers stood petrified. "Why, you young devil!" exclaimed Mark,
while the single word "JOE!" which came from Sally's lips, contained the
concentrated essence of a thousand slaps.
"Don't--don't!" whimpered Joe. "I'll not tell anybody, indeed I wont!"
"If you do," threatened Mark, brandishing the corn-cutter, "it isn't
your legs I shall cut off, but your head, even with the shoulders. What
were you doin' in that shock?"
"I wanted to hear what you and Sally were savin' to each other. Folks
said you two was a-courtin'," Joe answered.
The comical aspect of the matter suddenly struck Mark, and he burst into
a roar of laughter.
"Mark, how can you?" said Sally, bridling a little.
"Well,--it's all in the fam'ly, after all. Joe, tarnation scamp as he
is, is long-headed enough to keep his mouth shut, rather than have
people laugh at his relations--eh, Joe?"
"I said I'd never say a word," Joe affirmed, "and I won't. You see if I
even tell Jake. But I say, Mark, when you and Sally get married, will
you be my uncle?"
"It depends on your behavior," Mark gravely answered, seating himself to
husk. Joe magnanimously left the lovers, and pitched over the third
shock ahead, upon which he began to husk with might and main, in order
to help them out with their task.
By the time the outside row was squared, the line had reached the bottom
of the slope, where the air was chill, although the shadows of the
forest had shifted from the field. Then there was a race among the
huskers for the fence, the girls promising that he whose row was first
husked out, should sit at the head of the table, and be called King of
the Corn-field. The stalks rustled, the cobs snapped, the ears fell like
a shower of golden cones, and amid much noise and merriment, not only
the victor's row but all the others were finished, and Farmer
Fairthorn's field stood husked from end to end.
Gilbert Potter had done his share of the work steadily, and as silently
as the curiosity of the girls, still excited by his recent adventure,
would allow. It was enough for him that he caught a chance word, now and
then, from Martha. The emulation of the race with which the husking
closed favored them, and he gladly lost a very fair chance of becoming
King of the Corn-field for the opportunity of asking her to assist him
in contriving a brief interview, on the way to the house.
Where two work together to the same end, there is no doubt about the
result, especially as, in this case, the company preferred returning
through the wood instead of crossing the open, high-fenced fields. When
they found themselves together, out of ear-shot of the others, Gilbert
lost no time in relating the particulars of his encounter with Sandy
Flash, the discovery he had made, and the mysterious assurance of Deb.
Martha listened with the keenest interest. "It is very, very strange,"
she said, "and the strangest of all is that he should be that man,
Fortune. As for his words, I do not find them so singular. He has
certainly the grandest courage, robber as he is, and he admires the same
quality in you; no doubt you made a favorable impression upon him on the
day of the fox-chase; and so, although you are hunting him down, he will
not injure you, if he can help it. I find all that very natural, in a
man of his nature."
"But Deb. Smith?" Gilbert asked.
"That," said Martha, "is rather a curious coincidence, but nothing more,
I think. She is said to be a superstitious creature, and if you have
ever befriended her,--and you may have done so, Gilbert, without your
good heart being aware of it,--she thinks that her spells, or charms, or
what not, will save you from harm. No, I was wrong; it is not so very
strange, except Fortune's intimacy with Alfred Barton, which everybody
was talking about at the time."
Gilbert drew a deep breath of relief. How the darkness of his new fear
vanished, in the light of Martha's calm, sensible words! "How
wonderfully you have guessed the truth!". he cried. "So it is; Deb.
Smith thinks she is beholden to me for kind treatment; she blew upon my
palm, in a mysterious way, and said she would stand by me in time of
need! But that about Fortune puzzles me. I can see that Barton is very
shy of me since he thinks I've made the discovery."
"We must ask Betsy Lavender's counsel, there," said Martha. "It is
beyond my depth."
The supper smoked upon the table when they reached the farm-house. It
had been well earned, and it was enjoyed, both in a physical and a
social sense, to the very extent of the guests' capacities. The King sat
at the head of the table, and Gilbert Potter--forced into that position
by Mark--at the foot. Sally Fairthorn insisted on performing her duty as
handmaiden, although, as Betsy Lavender again and again declared, her
room was better than her help. Sally's dark eyes fairly danced and
sparkled; her full, soft lips shone with a scarlet bloom; she laughed
with a wild, nervous joyousness, and yet rushed about haunted with a
fearful dread of suddenly bursting into tears. Her ways were so well
known, however, that a little extra impulsiveness excited no surprise.
Martha Deane was the only person who discovered what had taken place. As
the girls were putting on their hats and cloaks in the bedroom, Sally
drew her into the passage, kissed her a number of times with passionate
vehemence, and then darted off without saying a word.
Gilbert rode home through the splendid moonlight, in the small hours of
the morning, with a light heart, and Mark's money-belt buckled around
GILBERT ON THE ROAD TO CHESTER.
Being now fully prepared to undertake his journey to Chester, Gilbert
remembered his promise to Alfred Barton. As the subject had not again
been mentioned between them,--probably owing to the excitement produced
by Sandy Flash's visit to Kennett Square, and its consequences,--he felt
bound to inform Barton of his speedy departure, and to renew his offer
He found the latter in the field, assisting Giles, who was hauling home
the sheaves of corn-fodder in a harvest-wagon. The first meeting of the
two men did not seem to be quite agreeable to either. Gilbert's
suspicions had been aroused, although he could give them no definite
form, and Barton shrank from any reference to what had now become a very
"Giles," said the latter, after a moment of evident embarrassment, "I
guess you may drive home with that load, and pitch it off; I'll wait for
When the rustling wain had reached a convenient distance, Gilbert
"I only wanted to say that I'm going to Chester tomorrow."
"Oh, yes!" Barton exclaimed, "about that money? I suppose you want all
"It's as I expected. But you said you could borrow elsewhere, and send
it by me."
"The fact is," said Barton, "that I've both borrowed and sent. I'm
obliged to you, all the same, Gilbert; the will's as good as the deed,
you know; but I got the money from--well, from a friend, who was about
going down on his own business, and so that stone killed both my birds.
I ought to ha' sent you word, by rights."
"Is your _friend_," Gilbert asked, "a safe and trusty man?"
"Safe enough, I guess--a little wild, at times, maybe; but he's not such
a fool as to lose what he'd never have a chance of getting again."
"Then," said Gilbert, "it's hardly likely that he's the same friend you
took such a fancy to, at the Hammer-and-Trowel, last spring?"
Alfred Barton started as if he had been shot, and a deep color spread
over his face. His lower jaw slackened and his eyes moved uneasily from
side to side.
"Who--who do you mean?" he stammered.
The more evident his embarrassment became, the more Gilbert was
confirmed in his suspicion that there was some secret understanding
between the two men. The thing seemed incredible, but the same point, he
remembered had occurred to Martha Deane's mind, when she so readily
explained the other circumstances.
"Barton," he said, sternly, "you know very well whom I mean. What became
of your friend Fortune? Didn't you see him at the tavern, last Monday
"Y-yes--oh, yes! I know who he is _now_, the damned scoundrel! I'd give
a hundred dollars to see him dance upon nothing!"
He clenched his fists, and uttered a number of other oaths, which need
not be repeated. His rage seemed so real that Gilbert was again
staggered. Looking at the heavy, vulgar face before him,--the small,
restless eyes, the large sensuous mouth, the forehead whose very extent,
in contradiction to ordinary laws, expressed imbecility rather than
intellect, it was impossible to associate great cunning and shrewdness
with such a physiognomy. Every line, at that moment, expressed pain and
exasperation. But Gilbert felt bound to go a step further.
"Barton," he said, "didn't you know who Fortune was, on that day?"
"N-no--no! On that _day_--NO! Blast me if I did!"
"Not before you left him?"
"Well, I'll admit that a suspicion of it came to me at the very last
moment--too late to be of any use. But come, damme! that's all over, and
what's the good o' talking? _You_ tried your best to catch the fellow,
too, but he was too much for you! 'T isn't such an easy job, eh?"
This sort of swagger was Alfred Barton's only refuge, when he was driven
into a corner. Though some color still lingered in his face, he spread
his shoulders with a bold, almost defiant air, and met Gilbert's eye
with a steady gaze. The latter was not prepared to carry his examination
further, although he was still far from being satisfied.
"Come, come, Gilbert!" Barton presently resumed, "I mean no offence. You
showed yourself to be true blue, and you led the hunt as well as any man
could ha' done; but the very thought o' the fellow makes me mad, and
I'll know no peace till he's strung up. If I was your age, now! A man
seems to lose his spirit as he gets on in years, and I'm only sorry you
weren't made captain at the start, instead o' me. You _shall_ be, from
this time on; I won't take it again!"
"One thing I'll promise you," said Gilbert, with a meaning look, "that I
won't let him walk into the bar-room of the Unicorn, without hindrance."
"I'll bet you won't!" Barton exclaimed. "All _I'm_ afraid of is, that he
won't try it again."
"We'll see; this highway-robbery must have an end. I must now be going.
"Good-bye, Gilbert; take care o' yourself!" said Barton, in a very good
humor, now that the uncomfortable interview was over. "And, I say," he
added, "remember that I stand ready to do you a good turn, whenever I
"Thank you!" responded Gilbert, as he turned Roger's head; but he said
to himself,--"when all other friends fail, I may come to _you_, not
The next morning showed signs that the Indian Summer had reached its
close. All night long the wind had moaned and lamented in the chimneys,
and the sense of dread in the outer atmosphere crept into the house and
weighed upon the slumbering inmates. There was a sound in the forest as
of sobbing Dryads, waiting for the swift death and the frosty tomb. The
blue haze of dreams which had overspread the land changed into an ashy,
livid mist, dragging low, and clinging to the features of the landscape
like a shroud to the limbs of a corpse.
The time, indeed, had come for a change. It was the 2nd of November; and
after a summer and autumn beautiful almost beyond parallel, a sudden and
severe winter was generally anticipated. In this way, even the most
ignorant field-hand recognized the eternal balance of Nature.
Mary Potter, although the day had arrived for which she had so long and
fervently prayed, could not shake off the depressing influence of the
weather. After breakfast, when Gilbert began to make preparations for
the journey, she found herself so agitated that it was with difficulty
she could give him the usual assistance. The money, which was mostly in
silver coin, had been sewed into tight rolls, and was now to be
carefully packed in the saddle-bags: the priming of the pistols was to
be renewed, and the old, shrivelled covers of the holsters so greased,
hammered out, and padded that they would keep the weapons dry in case of
rain. Although Gilbert would reach Chester that evening,--the distance
being not more than twenty-four miles,--the preparations, principally on
account of his errand, were conducted with a grave and solemn sense of
When, finally, everything was in readiness,--the saddle-bags so packed
that the precious rolls could not rub or jingle; the dinner of sliced
bread and pork placed over them, in a folded napkin; the pistols,
intended more for show than use, thrust into the antiquated holsters;
and all these deposited and secured on Roger's back,--Gilbert took his
mother's hand, and said,--
"Good-bye, mother! Don't worry, now, if I shouldn't get back until late
to-morrow evening; I can't tell exactly how long the business will
He had never looked more strong and cheerful. The tears came to Mary
Potter's eyes, but she held them hack by a powerful effort. All she
could say--and her voice trembled in spite of herself--was,--
"Good-bye, my boy! Remember that I've worked, and thought, and prayed,
for you alone,--and that I'd do more--I'd do _all_, if I only could!"
His look said, "I do not forget!" He sat already in the saddle, and was
straightening the folds of his heavy cloak, so that it might protect his
knees. The wind had arisen, and the damp mist was driving down the glen,
mixed with scattered drops of a coming rain-storm. As he rode slowly
away, Mary Potter lifted her eyes to the dense gray of the sky,
darkening from moment to moment, listened to the murmur of the wind over
the wooded hills opposite, and clasped her hands with the appealing
gesture which had now become habitual to her.
"Two days more!" she sighed, as she entered the house,--"two days more
of fear and prayer! Lord forgive me that I am so weak of faith--that I
make myself trouble where I ought to be humble and thankful!"
Gilbert rode slowly, because he feared the contents of his saddle-bags
would be disturbed by much jolting. Proof against wind and weather, he
was not troubled by the atmospheric signs, but rather experienced a
healthy glow and exhilaration of the blood as the mist grew thicker and
beat upon his face like the blown spray of a waterfall. By the time he
had reached the Carson farm, the sky contracted to a low, dark arch of
solid wet, in which there was no positive outline of cloud, and a dull,
universal roar, shorn of all windy sharpness, hummed over the land.
From the hill behind the farm-house, whence he could overlook the
bottom-lands of Redley Creek, and easily descry, on a clear day, the
yellow front of Dr. Deane's house in Kennett Square, he now beheld a dim
twilight chaos, wherein more and more of the distance was blotted out.
Yet still some spell held up the suspended rain, and the drops that fell
seemed to be only the leakage of the airy cisterns before they burst.
The fields on either hand were deserted. The cattle huddled behind the
stacks or crouched disconsolately in fence-corners. Here and there a
farmer made haste to cut and split a supply of wood for his
kitchen-fire, or mended the rude roof on which his pigs depended for
shelter; but all these signs showed how soon he intended to be snugly
housed, to bide out the storm.
It was a day of no uncertain promise. Gilbert confessed to himself,
before he reached the Philadelphia road, that he would rather have
chosen another day for the journey; yet the thought of returning was
farthest from his mind. Even when the rain, having created its little
pools and sluices in every hollow of the ground, took courage, and
multiplied its careering drops, and when the wet gusts tore open his
cloak and tugged at his dripping hat, he cheerily shook the moisture
from his cheeks and eyelashes, patted Roger's streaming neck, and
whistled a bar or two of an old carol.
There were pleasant hopes enough to occupy his mind, without dwelling on
these slight external annoyances. He still tried to believe that his
mother's release would be hastened by the independence which lay folded
in his saddle-bags, and the thud of the wet leather against Roger's hide
was a sound to cheer away any momentary foreboding. Then, Martha--dear,
noble girl! She was his; it was but to wait, and waiting must be easy
when the end was certain. He felt, moreover, that in spite of his
unexplained disgrace, he had grown in the respect of his neighbors; that
his persevering integrity was beginning to bring its reward, and he
thanked God very gratefully that he had been saved from adding to his
name any stain of his own making.
In an hour or more the force of the wind somewhat abated, but the sky
seemed to dissolve into a massy flood. The rain rushed down, not in
drops, but in sheets, and in spite of his cloak, he was wet to the skin.
For half an hour he was obliged to halt in the wood between Old Kennett
and Chadd's Ford, and here he made the discovery that with all his care
the holsters were nearly full of water. Brown streams careered down the
long, meadowy hollow on his left, wherein many Hessian soldiers lay
buried. There was money buried with them, the people believed, but no
one cared to dig among the dead at midnight, and many a wild tale of
frighted treasure-seekers recurred to his mind.
At the bottom of the long hill flowed the Brandywine, now rolling swift
and turbid, level with its banks. Roger bravely breasted the flood, and
after a little struggle, reached the opposite side. Then across the
battle-meadow, in the teeth of the storm, along the foot of the low
hill, around the brow of which the entrenchments of the American army
made a clayey streak, until the ill-fated field, sown with grape-shot
and bullets which the farmers turned up every spring with their furrows,
lay behind him. The story of the day was familiar to him, from the
narratives of scores of eye-witnesses, and he thought to himself, as he
rode onward, wet, lashed by the furious rain, yet still of good
cheer,--"Though the fight was lost, the cause was won."
After leaving the lovely lateral valley which stretches eastward for two
miles, at right angles to the course of the Brandywine, he entered a
rougher and wilder region, more thickly wooded and deeply indented with
abrupt glens. Thus far he had not met with a living soul. Chester was
now not more than eight or ten miles distant, and, as nearly as he could
guess, it was about two o'clock in the afternoon. With the best luck, he
could barely reach his destination by nightfall, for the rain showed no
signs of abating, and there were still several streams to be crossed.
His blood leaped no more so nimbly along his veins; the continued
exposure had at last chilled and benumbed him. Letting the reins fall
upon Roger's neck, he folded himself closely in his wet cloak, and bore
the weather with a grim, patient endurance. The road dropped into a
rough glen, crossed a stony brook, and then wound along the side of a
thickly wooded hill. On his right the bank had been cut away like a
wall; on the left a steep slope of tangled thicket descended to the
One moment, Gilbert knew that he was riding along this road, Roger
pressing close to the bank for shelter from the wind and rain; the next,
there was a swift and tremendous grip on his collar, Roger slid from
under him, and he was hurled backwards, with great force, upon the
ground. Yet even in the act of falling, he seemed to be conscious that a
figure sprang down upon the road from the bank above.
It was some seconds before the shock, which sent a crash through his
brain and a thousand fiery sparkles into his eyes, passed away. Then a
voice, keen, sharp, and determined, which it seemed that he knew,
"Damn the beast! I'll have to shoot him."
Lifting his head with some difficulty, for he felt weak and giddy, and
propping himself on his arm, he saw Sandy Flash in the road, three or
four paces off, fronting Roger, who had whirled around, and with
levelled ears and fiery eyes, seemed to be meditating an attack.
The robber wore a short overcoat, made entirely of musk-rat skins, which
completely protected the arms in his belt. He had a large hunting-knife
in his left hand, and appeared to be feeling with his right for the
stock of a pistol. It seemed to Gilbert that nothing but the singular
force of his eye held back the horse from rushing upon him.
"Keep as you are, young man!" he cried, without turning his head, "or a
bullet goes into your horse's brain. I know the beast, and don't want to
see him slaughtered. If _you_ don't, order him to be quiet!"
Gilbert, although he knew every trait of the noble animal's nature
better than those of many a human acquaintance, was both surprised and
touched at the instinct with which he had recognized an enemy, and the
fierce courage with which he stood on the defensive. In that moment of
bewilderment, he thought only of Roger, whose life hung by a thread,
which his silence would instantly snap. He might have seen--had there
been time for reflection--that nothing would have been gained, in any
case, by the animal's death; for, stunned and unarmed as he was, he was
no match for the powerful, wary highwayman.
Obeying the feeling which entirely possessed him, he cried,--"Roger!
Roger, old boy!"
The horse neighed a shrill, glad neigh of recognition, and pricked up
his ears. Sandy Flash stood motionless; he had let go of his pistol, and
concealed the knife in a fold of his coat.
"Quiet, Roger, quiet!" Gilbert again commanded.
The animal understood the tone, if not the words. He seemed completely
reassured, and advanced a step or two nearer. With the utmost swiftness
and dexterity, combined with an astonishing gentleness,--making no
gesture which might excite Roger's suspicion,--Sandy Flash thrust his
hand into the holsters, smiled mockingly, cut the straps of the
saddle-bags with a single movement of his keen-edged knife, tested the
weight of the bags, nodded, grinned, and then, stepping aside, he
allowed the horse to pass him. But he watched every motion of the head
and ears, as he did so.
Roger, however, seemed to think only of his master. Bending down his
head, he snorted warmly into Gilbert's pale face, and then swelled his
sides with a deep breath of satisfaction. Tears of shame, grief, and
rage swam in Gilbert's eyes. "Roger," he said, "I've lost everything but
He staggered to his feet and leaned against the bank. The extent of his
loss--the hopelessness of its recovery--the impotence of his burning
desire to avenge the outrage--overwhelmed him. The highwayman still
stood, a few paces off, watching him with a grim curiosity.
With a desperate effort, Gilbert turned towards him. "Sandy Flash," he
cried, "do you know what you are doing?"
"I rather guess so,"--and the highwayman grinned. "I've done it before,
but never quite so neatly as this time."
"I've heard it said, to your credit," Gilbert continued, "that, though
you rob the rich, you sometimes give to the poor. This time you've
robbed a poor man."
"I've only borrowed a little from one able to spare a good deal more
than I've got,--and the grudge I owe him isn't paid off yet."
"It is not so!" Gilbert cried. "Every cent has been earned by my own and
my mother's hard work. I was taking it to Chester, to pay off a debt
upon the farm; and the loss and the disappointment will well nigh break
my mother's heart. According to your views of things, you owe me a
grudge, but you are outside of the law, and I did my duty as a lawful
man by trying to shoot you!"
"And I, _bein'_ outside o' the law, as you say, have let you off mighty
easy, young man!" exclaimed Sandy Flash, his eyes shining angrily and
his teeth glittering. "I took you for a fellow o' pluck, not for one
that'd lie, even to the robber they call me! What's all this pitiful
story about Barton's money?"
"Oh--ay! You didn't agree to take some o' his money to Chester?" The
mocking expression on the highwayman's face was perfectly diabolical. He
slung the saddle-bags over his shoulders, and turned to leave.
Gilbert was so amazed that for a moment he knew not what to say. Sandy
Flash took three strides up the road, and then sprang down into the
"It is not Barton's money!" Gilbert cried, with a last desperate
appeal,--"it is mine, mine and my mother's!"
A short, insulting laugh was the only answer.
"Sandy Flash!" he cried again, raising his voice almost to a shout, as
the crashing of the robber's steps through the brushwood sounded farther
and farther down the glen, "Sandy Flash! You have plundered a widow's
honest earnings to-day, and a curse goes with such plunder! Hark you!
if never before, you are cursed from this hour forth! I call upon God,
in my mother's name, to mark you!"
There was no sound in reply, except the dull, dreary hum of the wind and
the steady lashing of the rain. The growing darkness of the sky told of