Part 5 out of 8
approaching night, and the wild glen, bleak enough before, was now a
scene of utter and hopeless desolation to Gilbert's eyes. He was almost
unmanned, not only by the cruel loss, but also by the stinging sense of
outrage which it had left behind. A mixed feeling of wretched
despondency and shame filled his heart, as he leaned, chill, weary, and
still weak from the shock of his fall, upon Roger's neck.
The faithful animal turned his head from time to time, as if to question
his master's unusual demeanor. There was a look of almost human sympathy
in his large eyes; he was hungry and restless, yet would not move until
the word of command had been given.
"Poor fellow!" said Gilbert, patting his cheek, "we've both fared ill
to-day. But you mustn't suffer any longer for my sake."
He then mounted and rode onward through the storm.
ROGER REPAYS HIS MASTER.
A mile or more beyond the spot where Gilbert Potter had been waylaid,
there was a lonely tavern, called the "Drovers' Inn." Here he
dismounted, more for his horse's sake than his own, although he was
sore, weary, and sick of heart. After having carefully groomed Roger
with his own hands, and commended him to the special attentions of the
ostler, he entered the warm public room, wherein three or four
storm-bound drovers were gathered around the roaring fire of hickory
The men kindly made way for the pale, dripping, wretched-looking
stranger; and the landlord, with a shrewd glance and a suggestion of
"Something hot, I reckon?" began mixing a compound proper for the
occasion. Laying aside his wet cloak, which was sent to the kitchen to
be more speedily dried, Gilbert presently sat in a cloud of his own
steaming garments, and felt the warmth of the potent liquor in his
All at once, it occurred to him that the highwayman had not touched his
person. There was not only some loose silver in his pockets, but Mark
Deane's money-belt was still around his waist. So much, at least, was
rescued, and he began to pluck up a little courage. Should he continue
his journey to Chester, explain the misfortune to the holder of his
mortgage, and give notice to the County Sheriff of this new act of
robbery? Then the thought came into his mind that in that case he might
be detained a day or two, in order to make depositions, or comply with
some unknown legal form. In the mean time the news would spread over the
country, no doubt with many exaggerations, and might possibly reach
Kennett--even the ears of his mother. That reflection decided his
course. She must first hear the truth from his mouth; he would try to
give her cheer and encouragement, though he felt none himself; then,
calling his friends together, he would hunt Sandy Flash like a wild
beast until they had tracked him to his lair.
"Unlucky weather for ye, it seems?" remarked the curious landlord, who,
seated in a corner of the fireplace, had for full ten minutes been
watching Gilbert's knitted brows, gloomy, brooding eyes, and compressed
"Weather?" he exclaimed, bitterly. "It's not the weather. Landlord, will
you have a chance of sending to Chester to-morrow?"
"I'm going, if it clears up," said one of the drovers.
"Then, my friend," Gilbert continued, "will you take a letter from me to
"If it's nothing out of the way," the man replied.
"It's in the proper course of law--if there is any law to protect us.
Not a mile and a half from here, landlord, I have been waylaid and
robbed on the public road!"
There was a general exclamation of surprise, and Gilbert's story, which
he had suddenly decided to relate, in order that the people of the
neighborhood might be put upon their guard, was listened to with an
interest only less than the terror which it inspired. The landlady
rushed into the bar-room, followed by the red-faced kitchen wench, and
both interrupted the recital with cries of "Dear, dear!" and "Lord save
us!" The landlord, meanwhile, had prepared another tumbler of hot and
hot, and brought it forward, saying,--
"You need it, the Lord knows, and it shall cost you nothing."
"What I most need now," Gilbert said, "is pen, ink, and paper, to write
out my account. Then I suppose you can get me up a cold check,
[Footnote: A local term, in use at the time, signifying a "lunch."] for
I must start homewards soon."
"Not 'a cold check' after all that drenching and mishandling!" the
landlord exclaimed. "We'll have a hot supper in half an hour, and you
shall stay, and welcome. Wife, bring down one of Liddy's pens, the
schoolmaster made for her, and put a little vinegar into th' ink-bottle;
it's most dried up!"
In a few minutes the necessary materials for a letter, all of the rudest
kind, were supplied, and the landlord and drovers hovered around as
Gilbert began to write, assisting him with the most extraordinary
"I'd threaten," said a drover, "to write straight to General Washington,
unless they promise to catch the scoundrel in no time!"
"And don't forget the knife and pistol!" cried the landlord.
"And say the Tory farmers' houses ought to be searched!"
"And give his marks, to a hair!"
Amid all this confusion, Gilbert managed to write a brief, but
sufficiently circumstantial account of the robbery, calling upon the
County authorities to do their part in effecting the capture of Sandy
Flash. He offered his services and those of the Kennett troop,
announcing that he should immediately start upon the hunt, and expected
to be seconded by the law.
When the letter had been sealed and addressed, the drovers--some of whom
carried money with them, and had agreed to travel in company, for better
protection--eagerly took charge of it, promising to back the delivery
with very energetic demands for assistance.
Night had fallen, and the rain fell with it, in renewed torrents. The
dreary, universal hum of the storm rose again, making all accidental
sounds of life impertinent, in contrast with its deep, tremendous
monotone. The windows shivered, the walls sweat and streamed, and the
wild wet blew in under the doors, as if besieging that refuge of warm,
"This beats the Lammas flood o' '68," said the landlord, as he led the
way to supper. "I was a young man at the time, and remember it well.
Half the dams on Brandywine went that night."
After a bountiful meal, Gilbert completely dried his garments and
prepared to set out on his return, resisting the kindly persuasion of
the host and hostess that he should stay all night. A restless, feverish
energy filled his frame. He felt that he could not sleep, that to wait
idly would be simple misery, and that only in motion towards the set aim
of his fierce, excited desires, could he bear his disappointment and
shame. But the rain still came down with a volume which threatened soon
to exhaust the cisterns of the air, and in that hope he compelled
himself to wait a little.
Towards nine o'clock the great deluge seemed to slacken. The wind arose,
and there were signs of its shifting, erelong, to the northwest, which
would bring clear weather in a few hours. The night was dark, but not
pitchy; a dull phosphoric gleam overspread the under surface of the sky.
The woods were full of noises, and every gully at the roadside gave
token, by its stony rattle, of the rain-born streams.
With his face towards home and his back to the storm, Gilbert rode into
the night. The highway was but a streak of less palpable darkness; the
hills on either hand scarcely detached themselves from the low, black
ceiling of sky behind them. Sometimes the light of a farm-house window
sparkled faintly, like a glow-worm, but whether far or near, he could
not tell; he only knew how blest must be the owner, sitting with wife
and children around his secure hearthstone,--how wretched his own life,
cast adrift in the darkness,--wife, home, and future, things of doubt!
He had lost more than money; and his wretchedness will not seem unmanly
when we remember the steady strain and struggle of his previous life. As
there is nothing more stimulating to human patience, and courage, and
energy, than the certain prospect of relief at the end, so there is
nothing more depressing than to see that relief suddenly snatched away,
and the same round of toil thrust again under one's feet! This is the
fate of Tantalus and Sisyphus in one.
Not alone the money; a year, or two years, of labor would no doubt
replace what he had lost. But he had seen, in imagination, his mother's
feverish anxiety at an end; household help procured, to lighten her
over-heavy toil; the possibility of her release from some terrible
obligation brought nearer, as he hoped and trusted, and with it the
strongest barrier broken down which rose between him and Martha Deane.
All these things which he had, as it were, held in his hand, had been
stolen from him, and the loss was bitter because it struck down to the
roots of the sweetest and strongest fibres of his heart. The night
veiled his face, but if some hotter drops than those of the storm were
shaken from his cheek, they left no stain upon his manhood.
The sense of outrage, of personal indignity, which no man can appreciate
who has not himself been violently plundered, added its sting to his
miserable mood. He thirsted to avenge the wrong; Barton's words
involuntarily came back to him,--"I'll know no peace till the villain
has been strung up!" Barton! How came Sandy Flash to know that Barton
intended to send money by him? Had not Barton himself declared that the
matter should be kept secret? Was there some complicity between the
latter and Sandy Flash? Yet, on the other hand, it seemed that the
highwayman believed that he was robbing Gilbert of Barton's money. Here
was an enigma which he could not solve.
All at once, a hideous solution presented itself. Was it possible that
Barton's money was to be only _apparently_ stolen--in reality returned
to him privately, afterwards? Possibly the rest of the plunder divided
between the two confederates? Gilbert was not in a charitable mood; the
human race was much more depraved, in his view, than twelve hours
before; and the inference which he would have rejected as monstrous,
that very morning, now assumed a possible existence. One thing, at
least, was certain; he would exact an explanation, and if none should be
furnished, he would make public the evidence in his hands.
The black, dreary night seemed interminable. He could only guess, here
and there, at a landmark, and was forced to rely more upon Roger's
instinct of the road than upon the guidance of his senses. Towards
midnight, as he judged, by the solitary crow of a cock, the rain almost
entirely ceased. The wind began to blow, sharp and keen, and the hard
vault of the sky to lift a little. He fancied that the hills on his
right had fallen away, and that the horizon was suddenly depressed
towards the north. Roger's feet began to splash in constantly deepening
water, and presently a roar, distinct from that of the wind, filled the
It was the Brandywine. The stream had overflowed its broad
meadow-bottoms, and was running high and fierce beyond its main channel.
The turbid waters made a dim, dusky gleam around him; soon the fences
disappeared, and the flood reached to his horse's belly. But he knew
that the ford could be distinguished by the break in the fringe of
timber; moreover, that the creek-bank was a little higher than the
meadows behind it, and so far, at least, he might venture. The ford was
not more than twenty yards across, and he could trust Roger to swim that
The faithful animal pressed bravely on, but Gilbert soon noticed that he
seemed at fault. The swift water had forced him out of the road, and he
stopped, from time to time, as if anxious and uneasy. The timber could
now be discerned, only a short distance in advance, and in a few minutes
they would gain the bank.
What was that? A strange rustling, hissing sound, as of cattle trampling
through dry reeds,--a sound which quivered and shook, even in the breath
of the hurrying wind! Roger snorted, stood still, and trembled in every
limb; and a sensation of awe and terror struck a chill through Gilbert's
heart. The sound drew swiftly nearer, and became a wild, seething roar,
filling the whole breadth of the valley.
"Great God!" cried Gilbert, "the dam!--the dam has given way!" He turned
Roger's head, gave him the rein, struck, spurred, cheered, and shouted.
The brave beast struggled through the impeding flood, but the advance
wave of the coming inundation already touched his side. He staggered; a
line of churning foam bore down upon them, the terrible roar was all
around and over them, and horse and rider were whirled away.
What happened during the first few seconds, Gilbert could never
distinctly recall. Now they were whelmed in the water, now riding its
careering tide, torn through the tops of brushwood, jostled by floating
logs and timbers of the dam-breast, but always, as it seemed,
remorselessly held in the heart of the tumult and the ruin.
He saw, at last, that they had fallen behind the furious onset of the
flood, but Roger was still swimming with it, desperately throwing up his
head from time to time, and snorting the water from his nostrils. All
his efforts to gain a foothold failed; his strength was nearly spent,
and unless some help should come in a few minutes, it would come in
vain. And in the darkness, and the rapidity with which they were borne
along, how should help come?
All at once, Roger's course stopped. He became an obstacle to the flood,
which pressed him against some other obstacle below, and rushed over
horse and rider. Thrusting out his hand, Gilbert felt the rough bark of
a tree. Leaning towards it and clasping the log in his arms, he drew
himself from the saddle, while Roger, freed from his burden, struggled
into the current and instantly disappeared.
As nearly as Gilbert could ascertain, several timbers, thrown over each
other, had lodged, probably upon a rocky islet in the stream, the
uppermost one projecting slantingly out of the flood. It required all
his strength to resist the current which sucked, and whirled, and tugged
at his body, and to climb high enough to escape its force, without
overbalancing his support. At last, though still half immerged, he found
himself comparatively safe for a time, yet as far as ever from a final
He must await the dawn, and an eternity of endurance lay in those few
hours. Meantime, perhaps, the creek would fall, for the rain had ceased,
and there were outlines of moving cloud in the sky. It was the night
which made his situation so terrible, by concealing the chances of
escape. At first, he thought most of Roger. Was his brave horse drowned,
or had he safely gained the bank below? Then, as the desperate moments
went by, and the chill of exposure and the fatigue of exertion began to
creep over him, his mind reverted, with a bitter sweetness, a mixture of
bliss and agony, to the two beloved women to whom his life
belonged,--the life which, alas! he could not now call his own, to give.
He tried to fix his thoughts on Death, to commend his soul to Divine
Mercy; but every prayer shaped itself into an appeal that he might once
more see the dear faces and bear the dear voices. In the great shadow of
the fate which hung over him, the loss of his property became as dust in
the balance, and his recent despair smote him with shame. He no longer
fiercely protested against the injuries of fortune, but entreated pardon
and pity for the sake of his love.
The clouds rolled into distincter masses, and the northwest wind still
hunted them across the sky, until there came, first a tiny rift for a
star, then a gap for a whole constellation, and finally a broad burst of
moonlight. Gilbert now saw that the timber to which he clung was lodged
nearly in the centre of the channel, as the water swept with equal force
on either side of him. Beyond the banks there was a wooded hill on the
left; on the right an overflowed meadow. He was too weak and benumbed to
trust himself to the flood, but he imagined that it was beginning to
subside, and therein lay his only hope.
Yet a new danger now assailed him, from the increasing cold. There was
already a sting of frost, a breath of ice, in the wind. In another hour
the sky was nearly swept bare of clouds, and he could note the lapse of
the night by the sinking of the moon. But he was by this time hardly in
a condition to note anything more. He had thrown himself, face
downwards, on the top of the log, his arms mechanically clasping it,
while his mind sank into a state of torpid, passive suffering, growing
nearer to the dreamy indifference which precedes death. His cloak had
been torn away in the first rush of the inundation, and the wet coat
began to stiffen in the wind, from the ice gathering over it.
The moon was low in the west, and there was a pale glimmer of the coming
dawn in the sky, when Gilbert Potter suddenly raised his head. Above the
noise of the water and the whistle of the wind, he heard a familiar
sound,--the shrill, sharp neigh of a horse. Lifting himself, with great
exertion, to a sitting posture, he saw two men, on horseback, in the
flooded meadow, a little below him. They stopped, seemed to consult, and
presently drew nearer.
Gilbert tried to shout, but the muscles of his throat were stiff, and
his lungs refused to act. The horse neighed again. This time there was
no mistake; it was Roger that he heard! Voice came to him, and he cried
aloud,--a hoarse, strange, unnatural cry.
The horsemen heard it, and rapidly pushed up the bank, until they
reached a point directly opposite to him. The prospect of escape brought
a thrill of life to his frame; he looked around and saw that the flood
had indeed fallen.
"We have no rope," he heard one of the men say. "How shall we reach
"There is no time to get one, now," the other answered. "My horse is
stronger than yours. I'll go into the creek just below, where it's
broader and not so deep, and work my way up to him."
"But one horse can't carry both."
"His will follow, be sure, when it sees me."
As the last speaker moved away, Gilbert saw a led horse plunging through
the water, beside the other. It was a difficult and dangerous
undertaking. The horseman and the loose horse entered the main stream
below, where its divided channel met and broadened, but it was still
above the saddle-girths, and very swift. Sometimes the animals plunged,
losing their foothold; nevertheless, they gallantly breasted the
current, and inch by inch worked their way to a point about six feet
below Gilbert. It seemed impossible to approach nearer.
"Can you swim?" asked the man.
Gilbert shook his head. "Throw me the end of Roger's bridle!" he then
The man unbuckled the bridle and threw it, keeping the end of the rein
in his hand. Gilbert tried to grasp it, but his hands were too numb. He
managed, however, to get one arm and his head through the opening, and
relaxed his hold on the log.
A plunge, and the man had him by the collar. He felt himself lifted by a
strong arm and laid across Roger's saddle. With his failing strength and
stiff limbs, it was no slight task to get into place, and the return,
though less laborious to the horses, was equally dangerous, because
Gilbert was scarcely able to support himself without help.
"You're safe now," said the man, when they reached the bank, "but it's a
downright mercy of God that you're alive!"
The other horseman joined them, and they rode slowly across the flooded
meadow. They had both thrown their cloaks around Gilbert, and carefully
steadied him in the saddle, one on each side. He was too much exhausted
to ask how they had found him, or whither they were taking him,--too
numb for curiosity, almost for gratitude.
"Here's your saviour!" said one of the men, patting Roger's shoulder.
"It was all along of him that we found you. Want to know how?
Well--about three o'clock it was, maybe a little earlier, maybe a little
later, my wife woke me up. 'Do you hear that?' she says. I listened and
heard a horse in the lane before the door, neighing,--I can't tell you
exactly how it was,--like as if he'd call up the house. 'T was rather
queer, I thought, so I got up and looked out of window, and it seemed to
me he had a saddle on. He stamped, and pawed, and then he gave another
yell, and stamped again. Says I to my wife, 'There's something wrong
here,' and I dressed and went out. When he saw me, he acted the
strangest you ever saw; thinks I, if ever an animal wanted to speak,
that animal does. When I tried to catch him, he shot off, run down the
lane a bit, and then came back as strangely acting as ever. I went into
the house and woke up my brother, here, and we saddled our horses and
started. Away went yours ahead, stopping every minute to look round and
see if we followed. When we came to the water, I kind o' hesitated, but
't was no use; the horse would have us go on, and on, till we found you.
I never heard tell of the like of it, in my born days!"
Gilbert did not speak, but two large tears slowly gathered in his eyes,
and rolled down his cheeks. The men saw his emotion, and respected it.
In the light of the cold, keen dawn, they reached a snug farm-house, a
mile from the Brandywine. The men lifted Gilbert from the saddle, and
would have carried him immediately into the house, but he first leaned
upon Roger's neck, took the faithful creature's head in his arms, and
The good housewife was already up, and anxiously awaiting the return of
her husband and his brother. A cheery fire crackled on the hearth, and
the coffee-pot was simmering beside it. When Gilbert had been partially
revived by the warmth, the men conducted him into an adjoining bed-room,
undressed him, and rubbed his limbs with whiskey. Then, a large bowl of
coffee having been administered, he was placed in bed, covered with half
a dozen blankets, and the curtains were drawn over the windows. In a few
minutes he was plunged in a slumber almost as profound as that of the
death from which he had been so miraculously delivered.
It was two hours past noon when he awoke, and he no sooner fully
comprehended the situation and learned how the time had sped, than he
insisted on rising, although still sore, weak, and feverish. The good
farmer's wife had kept a huge portion of dinner hot before the fire, and
he knew that without compelling a show of appetite, he would not be
considered sufficiently recovered to leave. He had but one desire,--to
return home. So recently plucked from the jaws of Death, his life still
seemed to be an uncertain possession.
Finally Roger was led forth, quiet and submissive as of old,--having
forgotten his good deed as soon as it had been accomplished,--and
Gilbert, wrapped in the farmer's cloak, retraced his way to the main
road. As he looked across the meadow, which told of the inundation in
its sweep of bent, muddy grass, and saw, between the creekbank trees,
the lodged timber to which he had clung, the recollection of the night
impressed him like a frightful dream. It was a bright, sharp, wintry
day,--the most violent contrast to that which had preceded it. The hills
on either side, whose outlines he could barely guess in the darkness,
now stood out from the air with a hard, painful distinctness; the sky
was an arch of cold, steel-tinted crystal; and the north wind blew with
a shrill, endless whistle through the naked woods.
As he climbed the long hill west of Chadd's Ford, Gilbert noticed how
the meadow on his right had been torn by the flood gathered from the
fields above. In one place a Hessian skull had been snapped from the
buried skeleton, and was rolled to light, among the mud and pebbles. Not
far off, something was moving among the bushes, and he involuntarily
The form stopped, appeared to crouch down for a moment, then suddenly
rose and strode forth upon the grass. It was a woman, wearing a man's
flannel jacket, and carrying a long, pointed staff in her hand. As she
approached with rapid strides, he recognized Deb. Smith.
"Deborah!" he cried, "what are you doing here?"
She set her pole to the ground and vaulted over the high picket-fence,
like an athlete.
"Well," she said, "if I'd ha' been shy o' you, Mr. Gilbert, you wouldn't
ha' seen me. I'm not one of them as goes prowlin' around among dead
bodies' bones at midnight; what I want, I looks for in the daytime."
"Bones?" he asked. "You're surely not digging up the Hessians?"
"Not exackly; but, you see, the rain's turned out a few, and some on
'em, folks says, was buried with lots o' goold platted up in their
pig-tails. I know o' one man that dug up two or three to git their
teeth, (to sell to the tooth-doctors, you know,) and when he took hold
o' the pig-tail to lift the head by, the hair come off in his hand, and
out rattled ten good goolden guineas. Now, if any money's washed out,
there's no harm in a body's pickin' of it up, as I see."
"What luck have you had?" asked Gilbert.
"Nothin' to speak of; a few buttons, and a thing or two. But I say, Mr.
Gilbert, what luck ha' _you_ had?" She had been keenly and curiously
inspecting his face.
"Deborah!" he exclaimed, "you're a false prophet! You told me that,
whatever happened, I was safe from Sandy Flash."
There was a shrill tone of surprise and curiosity in this exclamation.
"You ought to know Sandy Flash better, before you prophesy in his name,"
Gilbert repeated, in a stern voice.
"Oh, Mr. Gilbert, tell me what you mean?" She grasped his leg with one
hand, while she twisted the other in Roger's mane, as if to hold both
horse and rider until the words were explained.
Thereupon he related to her in a brief, fierce way, all that had
befallen him. Her face grew red and her eyes flashed; she shook her fist
and swore under her breath, from time to time, while he spoke.
"You'll be righted, Mr. Gilbert!" she then cried, "you'll be righted,
never fear! Leave it to me! Haven't I always kep' my word to you? You're
believin' I lied the last time, and no wonder; but I'll prove the truth
o' my words yet--may the Devil git my soul, if I don't!"
"Don't think that I blame you, Deborah," he said. "You were too sure of
my good luck, because you wished me to have it--that's all."
"Thank ye for that! But it isn't enough for me. When I promise a thing,
I have power to keep my promise. Ax me no more questions; bide quiet
awhile, and if the money isn't back in your pocket by New-Year, I give
ye leave to curse me, and kick me, and spit upon me!"
Gilbert smiled sadly and incredulously, and rode onward. He made haste
to reach home, for a dull pain began to throb in his head, and chill
shudders ran over his body. He longed to have the worst over which yet
awaited him, and gain a little rest for body, brain, and heart.
MARTHA DEANE TAKES A RESOLUTION.
Mary Potter had scarcely slept during the night of her son's absence. A
painful unrest, such as she never remembered to have felt before, took
complete possession of her. Whenever the monotony of the drenching rain
outside lulled her into slumber for a few minutes, she was sure to start
up in bed with a vague, singular impression that some one had called her
name. After midnight, when the storm fell, the shrill wailing of the
rising wind seemed to forebode disaster. Although she believed Gilbert
to be safely housed in Chester, the fact constantly slipped from her
memory, and she shuddered at every change in the wild weather as if he
were really exposed to it.
The next day, she counted the hours with a feverish impatience. It
seemed like tempting Providence, but she determined to surprise her son
with a supper of unusual luxury for their simple habits, after so
important and so toilsome a journey. Sam had killed a fowl; it was
picked and dressed, but she had not courage to put it into the pot,
until the fortune of the day had been assured.
Towards sunset she saw, through the back-kitchen-window, a horseman
approaching from the direction of Carson's. It seemed to be Roger, but
could that rider, in the faded brown cloak, be Gilbert? His cloak was
blue; he always rode with his head erect, not hanging like this man's,
whose features she could not see. Opposite the house, he lifted his
head--it _was_ Gilbert, but how old and haggard was his face!
She met him at the gate. His cheeks were suddenly flushed, his eyes
bright, and the smile with which he looked at her seemed to be joyous;
yet it gave her a sense of pain and terror.
"Oh, Gilbert!" she cried; "what has happened?"
He slid slowly and wearily off the horse, whose neck he fondled a moment
before answering her.
"Mother," he said at last, "you have to thank Roger that I am here
tonight. I have come back to you from the gates of death; will you be
satisfied with that for a while?"
"I don't understand you, my boy! You frighten me; haven't you been at
"No," he answered, "there was no use of going."
A presentiment of the truth came to her, but before she could question
him further, he spoke again.
"Mother, let us go into the house. I'm cold and tired; I want to sit in
your old rocking-chair, where I can rest my head. Then I'll tell you
everything; I wish I had an easier task!"
She noticed that his steps were weak and slow, felt that his hands were
like ice, and saw his blue lips and chattering teeth. She removed the
strange cloak, placed her chair in front of the fire, seated him in it,
and then knelt upon the floor to draw off his stiff, sodden top-boots.
He was passive as a child in her hands. Her care for him overcame all
other dread, and not until she had placed his feet upon a stool, in the
full warmth of the blaze, given him a glass of hot wine and lavender,
and placed a pillow under his head, did she sit down at his side to hear
"I thought of this, last night," he said, with a faint smile; "not that
I ever expected to see it. The man was right; it's a mercy of God that I
ever got out alive!"
"Then be grateful to God, my boy!" she replied, "and let me be grateful,
too. It will balance misfortune,--for that there it misfortune in store
for us. I see plainly."
Gilbert then spoke. The narrative was long and painful, and he told it
wearily and brokenly, yet with entire truth, disguising nothing of the
evil that had come upon them. His mother sat beside him, pale, stony,
stifling the sobs that rose in her throat, until he reached the period
of his marvellous rescue, when she bent her head upon his arm and wept
"That's all, mother!" he said at the close; "it's hard to bear, but I'm
more troubled on your account than on my own."
"Oh, I feared we were over-sure!" she cried. "I claimed payment before
it was ready. The Lord chooses His own time, and punishes them that
can't wait for His ways to be manifest! It's terribly hard; and yet,
while His left hand smites, His right hand gives mercy! He might ha'
taken you, my boy, but He makes a miracle to save you for me!"
When she had outwept her passionate tumult of feeling, she grew composed
and serene. "Haven't I yet learned to be patient, in all these years?"
she said. "Haven't I sworn to work out with open eyes the work I took in
blindness? And after waiting twenty-five years, am I to murmur at
another year or two? No, Gilbert! It's to be done; I _will_ deserve my
justice! Keep your courage, my boy; be brave and patient, and the sight
of you will hold me from breaking down!"
She arose, felt his hands and feet, set his pillow aright, and then
stooped and kissed him. His chills had ceased; a feeling of heavy,
helpless languor crept over him.
"Let Sam see to Roger, mother!" he murmured. "Tell him not to spare the
"I'd feed him with my own hands, Gilbert, if I could leave you. I'd put
fine wheat-bread into his manger, and wrap him in blankets off my own
bed! To think that Roger,--that I didn't want you to buy,--Lord forgive
me, I was advising your own death!"
It was fortunate for Mary Potter that she saw a mysterious Providence,
which, to her mind, warned and yet promised while it chastised, in all
that had occurred. This feeling helped her to bear a disappointment,
which would otherwise have been very grievous. The idea of an atoning
ordeal, which she must endure in order to be crowned with the final
justice, and so behold her life redeemed, had become rooted in her
nature. To Gilbert much of this feeling was inexplicable, because he was
ignorant of the circumstances which had called it into existence. But he
saw that his mother was not yet hopeless, that she did not seem to
consider her deliverance as materially postponed, and a glimmer of hope
was added to the relief of having told his tale.
He was still feverish, dozing and muttering in uneasy dreams, as he lay
back in the old rocking-chair, and Mary Potter, with Sam's help, got him
to bed, after administering a potion which she was accustomed to use in
all complaints, from mumps to typhus fever.
As for Roger, he stood knee-deep in clean litter, with half a bushel of
oats before him.
The next morning Gilbert did not arise, and as he complained of great
soreness in every part of his body, Sam was dispatched for Dr. Deane.
It was the first time this gentleman had ever been summoned to the
Potter farm-house. Mary Potter felt considerable trepidation at his
arrival, both on account of the awe which his imposing presence
inspired, and the knowledge of her son's love for his daughter,--a fact
which, she rightly conjectured, he did not suspect. As he brought his
ivory-headed cane, his sleek drab broadcloth, and his herbaceous
fragrance into the kitchen, she was almost overpowered.
"How is thy son ailing?" he asked. "He always seemed to me to be a very
healthy young man."
She described the symptoms with a conscientious minuteness.
"How was it brought on?" he asked again.
She had not intended to relate the whole story, but only so much of it
as was necessary for the Doctor's purposes; but the commencement excited
his curiosity, and he knew so skilfully how to draw one word after
another, suggesting further explanations without directly asking them,
that Mary Potter was led on and on, until she had communicated all the
particulars of her son's misfortune.
"This is a wonderful tale thee tells me," said the Doctor--"wonderful!
Sandy Flash, no doubt, has reason to remember thy son, who, I'm told,
faced him very boldly on Second-day morning. It is really time the
country was aroused; we shall hardly be safe in our own houses. And all
night in the Brandywine flood--I don't wonder thy son is unwell. Let me
go up to him."
Dr. Deane's prescriptions usually conformed to the practice of his
day,--bleeding and big doses,--and he would undoubtedly have applied
both of these in Gilbert's case, but for the latter's great anxiety to
be in the saddle and on the hunt of his enemy. He stoutly refused to be
bled, and the Doctor had learned, from long observation, that patients
of a certain class must be humored rather than coerced. So he
administered a double dose of Dover's Powders, and prohibited the
drinking of cold water. His report was, on the whole, reassuring to Mary
Potter. Provided his directions were strictly followed, he said, her son
would be up in two or three days; but there _might_ be a turn for the
worse, as the shock to the system had been very great, and she ought to
"There's no one I can call upon," said she, "without it's Betsy
Lavender, and I must ask you to tell her for me, if you think she can
"I'll oblige thee, certainly," the Doctor answered. "Betsy _is_ with us,
just now, and I don't doubt but she can spare a day or two. She may be a
little headstrong in her ways, but thee'll find her a safe nurse."
It was really not necessary, as the event proved. Rest and warmth were
what Gilbert most needed. But Dr. Deane always exaggerated his patient's
condition a little, in order that the credit of the latter's recovery
might be greater. The present case was a very welcome one, not only
because it enabled him to recite a most astonishing narrative at
second-hand, but also because it suggested a condition far more
dangerous than that which the patient actually suffered. He was the
first person to bear the news to Kennett Square, where it threw the
village into a state of great excitement, which rapidly spread over the
He related it at his own tea-table that evening, to Martha and Miss
Betsy Lavender. The former could with difficulty conceal her agitation;
she turned red and pale, until the Doctor finally remarked,--
"Why, child, thee needn't be so frightened."
"Never mind!" exclaimed Miss Betsy, promptly coming to the rescue, "it's
enough to frighten anybody. It fairly makes me shiver in my shoes. If
Alf. Barton had ha' done his dooty like a man, this wouldn't ha'
"I've no doubt Alfred did the best he could, under the circumstances,"
the Doctor sternly remarked.
"Fiddle-de-dee!" was Miss Betsy's contemptuous answer. "He's no more
gizzard than a rabbit. But that's neither here nor there; Mary Potter
wants me to go down and help, and go I will!"
"Yes, I think thee might as well go down to-morrow morning, though I'm
in hopes the young man may be better, if he minds my directions," said
"To-morrow mornin'? Why not next week? When help's wanted, give it
_right away_; don't let the grass grow under your feet, say I! Good luck
that I gev up Mendenhall's home-comin' over t' the Lion, or I wouldn't
ha' been here; so another cup o' tea, Martha, and I'm off!"
Martha left the table at the same time, and followed Miss Betsy
up-stairs. Her eyes were full of tears, but she did not tremble, and her
voice came firm and clear.
"I am going with you," she said.
Miss Lavender whirled around and looked at her a minute, without saying
"I see you mean it, child. Don't think me hard or cruel, for I know your
feelin's as well as if they was mine; but all the same, I've got to look
ahead, and back'ards, and on this side and that, and so lookin', and so
judgin', accordin' to my light, which a'n't all tied up in a napkin,
what I've got to say is, and ag'in don't think me hard, it won't do!"
"Betsy," Martha Deane persisted, "a misfortune like this brings my duty
with it. Besides, he may be in great danger; he may have got his
"Don't begin talkin' that way," Miss Lavender interrupted, "or you'll
put me out o' patience. I'll say that for your father, he's always
mortal concerned for a bad case, Gilbert Potter or not; and I can mostly
tell the heft of a sickness by the way he talks about it,--so that's
settled; and as to dooties, it's very well and right, I don't deny it,
but never mind, all the same, I said before, the whole thing's a snarl,
and I say it ag'in, and unless you've got the end o' the ravellin's in
your hand, the harder you pull, the wuss you'll make it!"
There was good sense in these words, and Martha Deane felt it. Her
resolution began to waver, in spite of the tender instinct which told
her that Gilbert Potter now needed precisely the help and encouragement
which she alone could give.
"Oh, Betsy," she murmured, her tears falling without restraint, "it's
hard for me to seem so strange to him, at such a time!"
"Yes," answered the spinster, setting her comb tight with a fierce
thrust, "it's hard every one of us can't have our own ways in this
world! But don't take on now, Martha dear; we only have your father's
word, and not to be called a friend's, but _I'll_ see how the land lays,
and tomorrow evenin', or next day at th' outside, you'll know everything
fair and square. Neither you nor Gilbert is inclined to do things rash,
and what you _both_ agree on, after a proper understanding I guess'll be
pretty nigh right. There! where's my knittin'-basket?"
Miss Lavender trudged off, utterly fearless of the night walk of two
miles, down the lonely road. In less than an hour she knocked at the
door of the farm-house, and was received with open arms by Mary Potter.
Gilbert had slept the greater part of the day, but was now awake, and so
restless, from the desire to leave his bed, that his mother could with
difficulty restrain him.
"Set down and rest yourself, Mary!" Miss Betsy exclaimed. "I'll go up
and put him to rights."
She took a lamp and mounted to the bed-room. Gilbert, drenched in
perspiration, and tossing uneasily under a huge pile of blankets, sprang
up as her gaunt figure entered the door. She placed the lamp on a table,
pressed him down on the pillow by main force, and covered him up to the
"Martha?" he whispered, his face full of intense, piteous eagerness.
"Will you promise to lay still and sweat, as you're told
"Now let me feel your pulse. That'll do; now for your tongue! Tut, tut!
the boy's not so bad. I give you my word you may get up and dress
yourself to-morrow mornin', if you'll only hold out to-night. And as for
thorough-stem tea, and what not, I guess you've had enough of 'em; but
you can't jump out of a sick-spell into downright peartness, at one
"Martha, Martha!" Gilbert urged.
"You're both of a piece, I declare! There was she, this very night, dead
set on comin' down with me, and mortal hard it was to persuade her to be
Miss Lavender had not a great deal to relate, but Gilbert compelled her
to make up by repetition what she lacked in quantity. And at every
repetition the soreness seemed to decrease in his body, and the weakness
in his muscles, and hope and courage to increase in his heart.
"Tell her," he exclaimed, "it was enough that she wanted to come. That
alone has put new life into me!"
"I see it has," said Miss Lavender, "and now, maybe, you've got life
enough to tell me all the ups and downs o' this affair, for I can't say
as I rightly understand it."
The conference was long and important. Gilbert related every
circumstance of his adventure, including the mysterious allusion to
Alfred Barton, which he had concealed from his mother. He was
determined, as his first course, to call the volunteers together and
organize a thorough hunt for the highwayman. Until that had been tried,
he would postpone all further plans of action. Miss Lavender did not say
much, except to encourage him in this determination. She felt that there
was grave matter for reflection in what had happened. The threads of
mystery seemed to increase, and she imagined it possible that they might
all converge to one unknown point.
"Mary," she said, when she descended to the kitchen, "I don't see but
what the boy's goin' on finely. Go to bed, you, and sleep quietly; I'll
take the settle, here, and I promise you I'll go up every hour through
the night, to see whether he's kicked his coverin's off."
Which promise she faithfully kept, and in the morning Gilbert came down
to breakfast, a little haggard, but apparently as sound as ever. Even
the Doctor, when he arrived, was slightly surprised at the rapid
"A fine constitution for medicines to work on," he remarked. "I wouldn't
wish thee to be sick, but when thee is, it's a pleasure to see how thy
system obeys the treatment."
Martha Deane, during Miss Lavender's absence, had again discussed, in
her heart, her duty to Gilbert. Her conscience was hardly satisfied with
the relinquishment of her first impulse. She felt that there was, there
must be, something for her to do in this emergency. She knew that he had
toiled, and dared, and suffered for her sake, while she had done
nothing. It was not pride,--at least not the haughty quality which bears
an obligation uneasily,--but rather the impulse, at once brave and
tender, to stand side by side with him in the struggle, and win an equal
right to the final blessing.
In the afternoon Miss Lavender returned, and her first business was to
give a faithful report of Gilbert's condition and the true story of his
misfortune, which she repeated, almost word for word, as it came from
his lips. It did not differ materially from that which Martha had
already heard, and the direction which her thoughts had taken, in the
mean time, seemed to be confirmed. The gentle, steady strength of
purpose that looked from her clear blue eyes, and expressed itself in
the firm, sharp curve of her lip, was never more distinct than when she
"Now, Betsy, all is clear to me. You were right before, and I am right
now. I must see Gilbert when he calls the men together, and after that I
shall know how to act."
Three days afterwards, there was another assemblage of the Kennett
Volunteers at the Unicorn Tavern. This time, however, Mark Deane was on
hand, and Alfred Barton did not make his appearance. That Gilbert Potter
should take the command was an understood matter. The preliminary
consultation was secretly held, and when Dougherty, the Irish ostler,
mixed himself, as by accident, among the troop, Gilbert sharply ordered
him away. Whatever the plan of the chase was, it was not communicated to
the crowd of country idlers; and there was, in consequence, some
grumbling at, and a great deal of respect for, the new arrangement.
Miss Betsy Lavender had managed to speak to Gilbert before the others
arrived; therefore, after they had left, to meet the next day, equipped
for a possible absence of a week, he crossed the road and entered Dr.
This time the two met, not so much as lovers, but rather as husband and
wife might meet after long absence and escape from imminent danger.
Martha Deane knew how cruel and bitter Gilbert's fate must seem to his
own heart, and she resolved that all the cheer which lay in her buoyant,
courageous nature should be given to him. Never did a woman more sweetly
blend the tones of regret and faith, sympathy and encouragement.
"The time has come, Gilbert," she said at last, "when our love for each
other must no longer be kept a secret--at least from the few who, under
other circumstances, would have a right to know it. We must still wait,
though no longer (remember that!) than we were already agreed to wait;
but we should betray ourselves, sooner or later, and then the secret,
discovered by others, would seem to hint at a sense of shame. We shall
gain respect and sympathy, and perhaps help, if we reveal it ourselves.
Even if you do not take the same view, Gilbert, think of this, that it
is my place to stand beside you in your hour of difficulty and trial;
that other losses, other dangers, may come, and you could not, you must
not, hold me apart when my heart tells me we should be together!"
She laid her arms caressingly over his shoulders, and looked in his
face. A wonderful softness and tenderness touched his pale, worn
countenance. "Martha," he said, "remember that my disgrace will cover
you, yet awhile."
That one word, proud, passionate, reproachful, yet forgiving, sealed his
"So be it!" he cried. "God knows, I think but of you. If I selfishly
considered myself, do you think I would hold back my own honor?"
"A poor honor," she said, "that I sit comfortably at home and love you,
while you are face to face with death!"
Martha Deane's resolution was inflexibly taken. That same evening she
went into the sitting-room, where her father was smoking a pipe before
the open stove, and placed her chair opposite to his.
"Father," she said, "thee has never asked any questions concerning
Alfred Barton's visit."
The Doctor started, and looked at her keenly, before replying. Her voice
had its simple, natural tone, her manner was calm and self-possessed;
yet something in her firm, erect posture and steady eye impressed him
with the idea that she had determined on a full and final discussion of
"No, child," he answered, after a pause. "I saw Alfred, and he said thee
was rather taken by surprise. He thought, perhaps, thee didn't rightly
know thy own mind, and it would be better to wait a little. That is the
chief reason why I haven't spoken to thee."
"If Alfred Barton said that, he told thee false," said she. "I knew my
own mind, as well then as now. I said to him that nothing could ever
make me his wife."
"Martha!" the Doctor exclaimed, "don't be hasty! If Alfred is a little
"Father!" she interrupted, "never mention this thing again! Thee can
neither give me away, nor sell me; though I am a woman, I belong to
myself. Thee knows I'm not hasty in anything. It was a long time before
I rightly knew my own heart; but when I did know it and found that it
had chosen truly, I gave it freely, and it is gone from me forever!"
"Martha, Martha!" cried Dr. Deane, starting from his seat, "what does
all this mean?"
"It means something which it is thy right to know, and therefore I have
made up my mind to tell thee, even at the risk of incurring thy lasting
displeasure. It means that I have followed the guidance of my own heart
and bestowed it on a man a thousand times better and nobler than Alfred
Barton ever was, and, if the Lord spares us to each other, I shall one
day be his wife!"
The Doctor glared at his daughter in speechless amazement. But she met
his gaze steadily, although her face grew a shade paler, and the
expression of the pain she could not entirely suppress, with the
knowledge of the struggle before her, trembled a little about the
corners of her lips.
"Who is this man?" he asked.
Dr. Deane's pipe dropped from his hand and smashed upon the iron hearth.
"Martha Deane!" he cried. "Does the d---- _what_ possesses thee? Wasn't
it enough that thee should drive away the man I had picked out for thee,
with a single view to thy own interest and happiness; but must thee take
up, as a wicked spite to thy father, with almost the only man in the
neighborhood who brings thee nothing but poverty and disgrace? It shall
not be--it shall never be!"
"It _must_ be, father," she said gently. "God hath joined our hearts and
our lives, and no man--not even thee--shall put them asunder. If there
were disgrace, in the eyes of the world,--which I now know there is
not,--Gilbert has wiped it out by his courage, his integrity, and his
sufferings. If he is poor, I am well to do."
"Thee forgets," the Doctor interrupted, in a stern voice, "the time
"I know that unless thee gives thy consent, we must wait three years;
but I hope, father, when thee comes to know Gilbert better, thee will
not be so hard. I am thy only child, and my happiness cannot be
indifferent to thee. I have tried to obey thee in all things"--
He interrupted her again. "Thee's adding another cross to them I bear
for thee already! Am I not, in a manner, thy keeper, and responsible for
thee, before the world and in the sight of the Lord? But thee hardened
thy heart against the direction of the Spirit, and what wonder, then,
that it's hardened against me?"
"No, father," said Martha, rising and laying her hand softly upon his
arm, "I _obeyed_ the Spirit in that other matter, as I obey my
conscience in this. I took my duty into my own hands, and considered it
in a humble, and, I hope, a pious spirit. I saw that there were innocent
needs of nature, pleasant enjoyments of life, which did not conflict
with sincere devotion, and that I was not called upon to renounce them
because others happened to see the world in a different light. In this
sense, thee is not my keeper; I must render an account, not to thee, but
to Him who gave me my soul. Neither is thee the keeper of my heart and
its affections. In the one case and the other my right is equal,--nay,
it stands as far above thine as Heaven is above the earth!"
In the midst of his wrath, Dr. Deane could not help admiring his
daughter. Foiled and exasperated as he was by the sweet, serene, lofty
power of her words, they excited a wondering respect which he found it
difficult to hide.
"Ah, Martha!" he said, "thee has a wonderful power, if it were only
directed by the true Light! But now, it only makes the cross heavier.
Don't think that I'll ever consent to see thee carry out thy strange and
wicked fancies! Thee must learn to forget this man, Potter, and the
sooner thee begins the easier it will be!"
"Father," she answered, with a sad smile, "I'm sorry thee knows so
little of my nature. The wickedness would be in forgetting. It is very
painful to me that we must differ. Where my duty was wholly owed to
thee, I have never delayed to give it; but here it is owed to Gilbert
Potter,--owed, and will be given."
"Enough, Martha!" cried the Doctor, trembling with anger; "don't mention
his name again!"
"I will not, except when the same duty requires it to be mentioned. But,
father, try to think less harshly of the name; it will one day be mine!"
She spoke gently and imploringly, with tears in her eyes. The conflict
had been, as she said, very painful; but her course was plain, and she
dared not flinch a step at the outset. The difficulties must be met face
to face, and resolutely assailed, if they were ever to be overcome.
Dr. Deane strode up and down the room in silence, with his hands behind
his back. Martha stood by the fire, waiting his further speech, but he
did not look at her, and at the end of half an hour, commanded shortly
and sharply, without turning his head,--
"Go to bed!"
"Good-night, father," she said, in her usual clear sweet voice, and
quietly left the room.
The story of Gilbert Potter's robbery and marvellous escape from death
ran rapidly through the neighborhood, and coming, as it did, upon the
heels of his former adventure, created a great excitement. He became
almost a hero in the minds of the people. It was not their habit to
allow any man to _quite_ assume so lofty a character as that, but they
granted to Gilbert fully as much interest as, in their estimation, any
human being ought properly to receive. Dr. Deane was eagerly questioned,
wherever he went; and if his garments could have exhaled the odors of
his feelings, his questioners would have smelled aloes and asafoetida
instead of sweet-marjoram and bergamot. But--in justice to him be it
said--he told and retold the story very correctly; the tide of sympathy
ran so high and strong, that he did not venture to stem it on grounds
which could not be publicly explained.
The supposed disgrace of Gilbert's birth seemed to be quite forgotten
for the time; and there was no young man of spirit in the four townships
who was not willing to serve under his command. More volunteers offered,
in fact, than could be profitably employed. Sandy Flash was not the game
to be unearthed by a loud, numerous, sweeping hunt; traps, pitfalls,
secret and unwearied following of his many trails, were what was needed.
So much time had elapsed that the beginning must be a conjectural
beating of the bushes, and to this end several small companies were
organized, and the country between the Octorara and the Delaware very
When the various parties reunited, after several days, neither of them
brought any positive intelligence, but all the greater store of guesses
and rumors. Three or four suspicious individuals had been followed and
made to give an account of themselves; certain hiding-places, especially
the rocky lairs along the Brandywine and the North Valley-Hill, were
carefully examined, and some traces of occupation, though none very
recent, were discovered. Such evidence as there was seemed to indicate
that part of the eastern branch of the Brandywine, between the forks of
the stream and the great Chester Valley, as being the probable retreat
of the highwayman, and a second expedition was at once organized. The
Sheriff, with a posse of men from the lower part of the county,
undertook to watch the avenues of escape towards the river.
This new attempt was not more successful, so far as its main object was
concerned, but it actually stumbled upon Sandy Flash's trail, and only
failed by giving tongue too soon and following too impetuously. Gilbert
and his men had a tantalizing impression (which later intelligence
proved to have been correct) that the robber was somewhere near
them,--buried in the depths of the very wood they were approaching,
dodging behind the next barn as it came into view, or hidden under dead
leaves in some rain-washed gulley. Had they but known, one gloomy
afternoon in late December, that they were riding under the cedar-tree
in whose close, cloudy foliage he was coiled, just above their heads!
Had they but guessed who the deaf old woman was, with her face muffled
from the cold, and six cuts of blue yarn in her basket! But detection
had not then become a science, and they were far from suspecting the
extent of Sandy Flash's devices and disguises.
Many of the volunteers finally grew tired of the fruitless chase, and
returned home; others could only spare a few days from their winter
labors; but Gilbert Potter, with three or four faithful and courageous
young fellows,--one of whom was Mark Deane,--returned again and again to
the search, and not until the end of December did he confess himself
baffled. By this time all traces of the highwayman were again lost; he
seemed to have disappeared from the country.
"I believe Pratt's right," said Mark, as the two issued from the
Marlborough woods, on their return to Kennett Square. "Chester County is
too hot to hold him."
"Perhaps so," Gilbert answered, with a gloomy face. He was more keenly
disappointed at the failure than he would then confess, even to Mark.
The outrage committed upon him was still unavenged, and thus his loss,
to his proud, sensitive nature, carried a certain shame with it.
Moreover, the loss itself must speedily be replaced. He had half
flattered himself with the hope of capturing not only Sandy Flash, but
his plunder; it was hard to forget that, for a day or two, he had been
independent,--hard to stoop again to be a borrower and a debtor!
"What are the county authorities good for?" Mark exclaimed. "Between you
and me, the Sheriff's a reg'lar puddin'-head. I wish you was in his
"If Sandy is safe in Jersey, or down on the Eastern Shore, that would do
no good. It isn't enough that he leaves us alone, from this time on; he
has a heavy back-score to settle."
"Come to think on it, Gilbert," Mark continued, "isn't it rather queer
that you and him should be thrown together in such ways? There was
Barton's fox-chase last spring; then your shootin' at other, at the
Square; and then the robbery on the road. It seems to me as if he picked
you out to follow you, and yet I don't know why."
Gilbert started. Mark's words reawakened the dark, incredible suspicion
which Martha Deane had removed. Again he declared to himself that he
would not entertain the thought, but he could not reject the evidence
that there was something more than accident in all these encounters. If
any one besides Sandy Flash were responsible for the last meeting, it
must be Alfred Barton. The latter, therefore, owed him an explanation,
and he would demand it.
When they reached the top of the "big hill" north of the Fairthorn
farm-house, whence they looked eastward down the sloping corn-field
which had been the scene of the husking-frolic, Mark turned to Gilbert
with an honest blush all over his face, and said,--
"I don't see why you shouldn't know it, Gilbert. I'm sure Sally wouldn't
care; you're almost like a brother to her."
"What?" Gilbert asked, yet with a quick suspicion of the coming
"Oh, I guess you know, well enough, old fellow. I asked her that night,
and it's all right between us. What do you say to it, now?"
"Mark, I'm glad of it; I wish you joy, with all my heart!" Gilbert
stretched out his hand, and as he turned and looked squarely into Mark's
half-bashful yet wholly happy face, he remembered Martha's words, at
their last interview.
"You are like a brother to me, Mark," he said, "and you shall have _my_
secret. What would you say if I had done the same thing?"
"No?" Mark exclaimed; "who?"
"By the Lord! It's the best day's work _you_'ve ever done! Gi' me y'r
hand ag'in; we'll stand by each other faster than ever, now!"
When they stopped at Fairthorn's, the significant pressure of Gilbert's
hand brought a blush into Sally's cheek; but when Mark met Martha with
his tell-tale face, she answered with a proud and tender smile.
Gilbert's first business, after his return, was to have a consultation
with Miss Betsy Lavender, who alone knew of the suspicions attaching to
Alfred Barton. The spinster had, in the mean time, made the matter the
subject of profound and somewhat painful cogitation. She had ransacked
her richly stored memory of persons and events, until her brain was like
a drawer of tumbled clothes; had spent hours in laborious mental
research, becoming so absorbed that she sometimes gave crooked answers
when spoken to, and was haunted with a terrible dread of having thought
aloud; and had questioned the oldest gossips right and left, coming as
near the hidden subject as she dared. When they met, she communicated
the result to Gilbert in this wise:
"'T a'n't agreeable for a body to allow they're flummuxed, but if _I_
a'n't, this time, I'm mighty near onto it. It's like lookin' for a set
o' buttons that'll match, in a box full o' tail-ends o' things. This'n
'd do, and that'n 'd do; but you can't put this'n and that'n together;
and here's got to be square work, everything fittin' tight and hangin'
plumb, or it'll be throwed back onto your hands, and all to be done over
ag'in. I dunno when I've done so much head-work and to no purpose,
follerin' here and guessin' there, and nosin' into everything that's
past and gone; and so my opinion is, whether you like it or not, but
never mind, all the same, I can't do no more than give it, that we'd
better drop what's past and gone, and look a little more into these
"Well, Betsy," said Gilbert, with a stern, determined face, "this is
what I shall do. I am satisfied that Barton is connected, in some way,
with Sandy Flash. What it is, or whether the knowledge will help us, I
can't guess; but I shall force Barton to tell me!"
"To tell me. That might do, as far as it goes," she remarked, after a
moment's reflection. "It won't be easy; you'll have to threaten as well
as coax, but I guess you can git it out of him in the long run, and
maybe I can help you here, two bein' better than one, if one is but a
"I don't see, Betsy, that I need to call on you."
"This way, Gilbert. It's a strong p'int o' law, I've heerd tell, not
that I know much o' law, Goodness knows, nor ever want to, but never
mind, it's a strong p'int when there's two witnesses to a thing,--one to
clinch what the t'other drives in; and you must have a show o' law to
work on Alf. Barton, or I'm much mistaken!"
Gilbert reflected a moment. "It can do no harm," he then said; "can you
go with me, now?"
"Now's the time! If we only git the light of a farden-candle out o' him,
it'll do me a mortal heap o' good; for with all this rakin' and scrapin'
for nothin', I'm like a heart pantin' after the water-brooks, though a
mouth would be more like it, to my thinkin', when a body's so awful dry
as that comes to!"
The two thereupon took the foot-path down through the frozen fields and
the dreary timber of the creek-side, to the Barton farm-house. As they
approached the barn, they saw Alfred Barton sitting on a pile of straw
and watching Giles, who was threshing wheat. He seemed a little
surprised at their appearance; but as Gilbert and he had not met since
their interview in the corn-field before the former's departure for
Chester, he had no special cause for embarrassment.
"Come into the house," he said, leading the way.
"No," Gilbert answered, "I came here to speak with you privately. Will
you walk down the lane?"
"No objection, of course," said Barton, looking from Gilbert to Miss
Lavender, with a mixture of curiosity and uneasiness. "Good news, I
hope; got hold of Sandy's tracks, at last?"
"One of them."
"Ah, you don't say so! Where?"
Gilbert stopped and faced Barton. They were below the barn, and out of
"Barton," he resumed, "you know what interest I have in the arrest of
that man, and you won't deny my right to demand of you an account of
your dealings with him. When did you first make his acquaintance?"
"I've told you that, already; the matter has been fully talked over
between us," Barton answered, in a petulant tone.
"It has not been fully talked over. I require to know, first of all,
precisely when, and under what circumstances, you and Sandy Flash came
together. There is more to come, so let us begin at the beginning."
"Damme, Gilbert, _you_ were there, and saw as much as I did. How could I
know who the cursed black-whiskered fellow was?"
"But you found it out," Gilbert persisted, "and the manner of your
finding it out must be explained."
Barton assumed a bold, insolent manner. "I don't see as that follows,"
he said. "It has nothing in the world to do with his robbery of you; and
as for Sandy Flash, I wish to the Lord you'd get hold of him, yourself,
instead of trying to make me accountable for his comings and goings!"
"He's tryin' to fly off the handle," Miss Lavender remarked. "I'd drop
that part o' the business a bit, if I was you, and come to the t'other
"What the devil have _you_ to do here?" asked Barton.
"Miss Betsy is here because I asked her," Gilbert said. "Because all
that passes between us may have to be repeated in a court of justice,
and two witnesses are better than one!"
He took advantage of the shock which these words produced upon Barton,
and repeated to him the highwayman's declarations, with the inference
they might bear if not satisfactorily explained. "I kept my promise," he
added, "and said nothing to any living soul of your request that I
should carry money for you to Chester. Sandy Flash's information,
therefore, must have come, either directly or indirectly, from you."
Barton had listened with open mouth and amazed eyes.
"Why, the man is a devil!" he cried. "I, neither, never said a word of
the matter to any living soul!"
"Did you really send any money?" Gilbert asked.
"That I did! I got it of Joel Ferris, and it happened he was bound for
Chester, the very next day, on his own business; and so, instead of
turning it over to me, he just paid it there, according to my
directions. You'll understand, this is between ourselves?"
He darted a sharp, suspicious glance at Miss Betsy Lavender, who gravely
nodded her head.
"The difficulty is not yet explained," said Gilbert, "and perhaps you'll
_now_ not deny my right to know something more of your first
acquaintance with Sandy Flash?"
"Have it then!" Barton exclaimed, desperately--"and much good may it do
you! I thought his name was Fortune, as much as you did, till nine
o'clock that night, when he put a pistol to my breast in the woods! If
you think I'm colloguing with him, why did he rob me under threat of
murder,--money, watch, and everything?"
"Ah-ha!" said Miss Lavender, "and so that's the way your watch has been
gittin' mended all this while? Mainspring broke, as I've heerd say;
well, I don't wonder! Gilbert, I guess this much is true. Alf. Barton'd
never live so long without that watch, and that half-peck o' seals, if
he could help it!"
"This, too, may as well be kept to ourselves," Barton suggested. "It
isn't agreeable to a man to have it known that he's been so taken in as
I was, and that's just the reason why I kept it to myself; and, of
course, I shouldn't like it to get around."
Gilbert could do no less than accept this part of the story, and it
rendered his later surmises untenable. But the solution which he sought
was as far off as ever.
"Barton," he said, after a long pause, "will you do your best to help me
in finding out how Sandy Flash got the knowledge?"
"Only show me a way! The best would be to catch him and get it from his
He looked so earnest, so eager, and--as far as the traces of cunning in
his face would permit--so honest, that Gilbert yielded to a sudden
impulse, and said,--
"I believe you, Barton. I've done you wrong in my thoughts,--not
willingly, for I don't want to think badly of you or any one else,--but
because circumstances seemed to drive me to it. It would have been
better if you had told me of your robbery at the start."
"You're right there, Gilbert! I believe I was an outspoken fellow
enough, when I was young, and all the better for it, but the old man's
driven me into a curst way of keeping dark about everything, and so I go
on heaping up trouble for myself."
"Trouble for myself, Alf. Barton," said Miss Lavender, "that's the
truest word you've said this many a day. Murder will out, you know, and
so will robbery, and so will--other things. More o' your doin's is
known, not that they're agreeabler, but on the contrary, quite the
reverse, and as full need to be explained, though it don't seem to
matter much, yet it may, who can tell? And now look here, Gilbert; my
crow is to be picked, and you've seen the color of it, but never mind,
all the same, since Martha's told the Doctor, it can't make much
difference to you. And this is all between ourselves, you understand?"
The last words were addressed to Barton, with a comical, unconscious
imitation of his own manner. He guessed something of what was coming,
though not the whole of it, and again became visibly uneasy; but he
stammered out,--"Yes; oh, yes! of course."
Gilbert could form a tolerably correct idea of the shape and size of
Miss Lavender's crow. He did not feel sure that this was the proper time
to have it picked, or even that it should be picked at all; but he
imagined that Miss Lavender had either consulted Martha Deane, or that
she had wise reasons of her own for speaking. He therefore remained
"First and foremost," she resumed, "I'll tell you, Alf. Barton, what we
know o' your doin's, and then it's for you to judge whether we'll know
any more. Well, you've been tryin' to git Martha Deane for a wife,
without wantin' her in your heart, but rather the contrary, though it
seems queer enough when a body comes to think of it, but never mind; and
your father's druv you to it; and you were of a cold shiver for fear
she'd take you, and yet you want to let on it a'n't settled betwixt and
between you--oh, you needn't chaw your lips and look yaller about the
jaws, it's the Lord's truth; and now answer me this, _what do you mean?_
and maybe you'll say what right have I got to ask, but never mind, all
the same, if I haven't, Gilbert Potter has, for it's him that Martha
Deane has promised to take for a husband!"
It was a day of surprises for Barton. In his astonishment at the last
announcement, he took refuge from the horror of Miss Lavender's first
revelations. One thing was settled,--all the fruits of his painful and
laborious plotting were scattered to the winds. Denial was of no use,
but neither could an honest explanation, even if he should force himself
to give it, be of any possible service.
"Gilbert," he asked, "is this true?--about _you_, I mean."
"Martha Deane and I are engaged, and were already at the time when you
addressed her," Gilbert answered.
"Good heavens! I hadn't the slightest suspicion of it. Well--I don't
begrudge you your luck, and of course I'll draw back, and never say
another word, now or ever."
"_You_ wouldn't ha' been comfortable with Martha Deane, anyhow," Miss
Lavender grimly remarked. "'T isn't good to hitch a colt-horse and an
old spavined critter in one team. But that's neither here nor there; you
ha'n't told us why you made up to her for a purpose, and kep' on
pretendin' she didn't know her own mind."
"I've promised Gilbert that I won't interfere, and that's enough," said
Miss Lavender was foiled for a moment, but she presently returned to the
attack. "I dunno as it's enough, after what's gone before," she said.
"Couldn't you go a step furder, and lend Gilbert a helpin' hand,
whenever and whatever?"
"Betsy!" Gilbert exclaimed.
"Let me alone, lad! I don't speak in Gilbert's name, nor yet in
Martha's; only out o' my own mind. I don't ask you to do anything, but I
want to know how it stands with your willin'ness."
"I've offered, more than once, to do him a good turn, if I could; but I
guess my help wouldn't be welcome," Barton answered. The sting of the
suspicion rankled in his mind, and Gilbert's evident aversion sorely
wounded his vanity.
"Wouldn't be welcome. Then I'll only say this; maybe I've got it in my
power, and 't isn't sayin' much, for the mouse gnawed the mashes o' the
lion's net, to help you to what you're after, bein' as it isn't Martha,
and can't be her money. S'pose I did it o' my own accord, leavin' you to
feel beholden to me, or not, after all's said and done?"
But Alfred Barton was proof against even this assault. He was too
dejected to enter, at once, into a new plot, the issue of which would
probably be as fruitless as the others. He had already accepted a
sufficiency of shame, for one day. This last confession, if made, would
place his character in a still grosser and meaner light; while, if
withheld, the unexplained motive might be presented as a partial
justification of his course. He had been surprised into damaging
admissions; but here he would take a firm stand.
"You're right so far, Betsy," he said, "that I had a reason--a good
reason, it seemed to me, but I may be mistaken--for what I did. It
concerns no one under Heaven but my own self; and though I don't doubt
your willingness to do me a good turn, it would make no difference--you
couldn't help one bit. I've given the thing up, and so let it be!"
There was nothing more to be said, and the two cross-examiners took
their departure. As they descended to the creek, Miss Lavender remarked,
as if to herself,--
"No use--it can't be screwed out of him! So there's one cur'osity the
less; not that I'm glad of it, for not knowin' worries more than
knowin', whatsoever and whosoever. And I dunno as I think any the wuss
of him for shuttin' his teeth so tight onto it."
Alfred Barton waited until the two had disappeared behind the timber in
the bottom. Then he slowly followed, stealing across the fields and
around the stables, to the back-door of the Unicorn bar-room. It was
noticed that, although he drank a good deal that afternoon, his
ill-humor was not, as usual, diminished thereby.
DEB. SMITH TAKES A RESOLUTION.
It was a raw, overcast evening in the early part of January. Away to the
west there was a brownish glimmer in the dark-gray sky, denoting sunset,
and from that point there came barely sufficient light to disclose the
prominent features of a wild, dreary, uneven landscape.
The foreground was a rugged clearing in the forest, just where the crest
of a high hill began to slope rapidly down to the Brandywine. The dark
meadows, dotted with irregular lakes of ice, and long, dirty drifts of
unmelted snow, but not the stream itself, could be seen. Across the
narrow valley rose a cape, or foreland, of the hills beyond, timbered
nearly to the top, and falling, on either side, into deep lateral
glens,--those warm nooks which the first settlers loved to choose, both
from their snug aspect of shelter, and from the cold, sparkling springs
of water which every one of them held in its lap. Back of the summits of
all the hills stretched a rich, rolling upland, cleared and mapped into
spacious fields, but showing everywhere an edge of dark, wintry woods
against the darkening sky.
In the midst of this clearing stood a rough cabin, or rather half-cabin,
of logs; for the back of it was formed by a ledge of slaty rocks, some
ten or twelve feet in height, which here cropped out of the hill-side.
The raw clay with which the crevices between the logs had been stopped,
had fallen out in many places; the roof of long strips of peeled bark
was shrivelled by wind and sun, and held in its place by stones and
heavy branches of trees, and a square tower of plastered sticks in one
corner very imperfectly suggested a chimney. There was no inclosed patch
of vegetable-ground near, no stable, improvised of corn-shocks, for the
shelter of cow or pig, and the habitation seemed not only to be
untenanted, but to have been forsaken years before.
Yet a thin, cautious thread of smoke stole above the rocks, and just as
the starless dusk began to deepen into night, a step was heard, slowly
climbing upward through the rustling leaves and snapping sticks of the
forest. A woman's figure, wearily scaling the hill under a load which
almost concealed the upper part of her body, for it consisted of a huge
wallet, a rattling collection of articles tied in a blanket, and two or
three bundles slung over her shoulders with a rope. When at last,
panting from the strain, she stood beside the cabin, she shook herself,
and the articles, with the exception of the wallet, tumbled to the
ground. The latter she set down carefully, thrust her arm into one of
the ends and drew forth a heavy jug, which she raised to her mouth. The
wind was rising, but its voice among the trees was dull and muffled; now
and then a flake of snow dropped out of the gloom, as if some cowardly,
insulting creature of the air were spitting at the world under cover of
"It's likely to be a good night," the woman muttered, "and he'll be on
the way by this time. I must put things to rights."
She entered the cabin by a narrow door in the southern end. Her first
care was to rekindle the smouldering fire from a store of boughs and dry
brushwood piled in one corner. When a little flame leaped up from the
ashes, it revealed an interior bare and dismal enough, yet very cheery
in contrast with the threatening weather outside. The walls were naked
logs and rock, the floor of irregular flat stones, and no furniture
remained except some part of a cupboard or dresser, near the chimney.
Two or three short saw-cuts of logs formed as many seats, and the only
sign of a bed was a mass of dry leaves, upon which a blanket had been
thrown, in a hollow under the overhanging base of the rock.
Untying the blanket, the woman drew forth three or four rude cooking
utensils, some dried beef and smoked sausages, and two huge round loaves
of bread, and arranged them upon the one or two remaining shelves of the
dresser. Then she seated herself in front of the fire, staring into the
crackling blaze, which she mechanically fed from time to time, muttering
brokenly to herself in the manner of one accustomed to be much alone.
"It was a mean thing, after what I'd said,--my word used to be wuth
somethin', but times seems to ha' changed. If they have, why shouldn't I
change with 'em, as well's anybody else? Well, why need it matter? I've
got a bad name.... No, that'll never do! Stick to what you're about, or
you'll be wuthlesser, even, than they says you are!"
She shook her hard fist, and took another pull at the jug.
"It's well I laid in a good lot o' _that_," she said. "No better company
for a lonesome night, and it'll stop his cussin', I reckon, anyhow. Eh?
From the wood came a short, quick yelp, as from some stray dog. She
rose, slipped out the door, and peered into the darkness, which was full
of gathering snow. After listening a moment, she gave a low whistle. It
was not answered, but a stealthy step presently approached, and a form,
dividing itself from the gloom, stood at her side.
"All right, Deb?"
"Right as I can make it. I've got meat and drink, and I come straight
from the Turk's Head, and Jim says the Sheriff's gone back to Chester,
and there's been nobody out these three days. Come in and take bite and
sup, and then tell me everything."
They entered the cabin. The door was carefully barred, and then Sandy
Flash, throwing off a heavy overcoat, such as the drovers were
accustomed to wear, sat down by the fire. His face was redder than its
wont, from cold and exposure, and all its keen, fierce lines were sharp
and hard. As he warmed his feet and hands at the blaze, and watched Deb.
Smith while she set the meat upon the coals, and cut the bread with a
heavy hunting-knife, the wary, defiant look of a hunted animal gradually
relaxed, and he said,--
"Faith, Deb., this is better than hidin' in the frost. I believe I'd ha'
froze last night, if I hadn't got down beside an ox for a couple o'
hours. It's a dog's life they've led me, and I've had just about enough
"Then why not give it up, Sandy, for good and all? I'll go out with you
to the Backwoods, after--after things is settled."
"And let 'em brag they frightened me away!" he exclaimed, with an oath.
"Not by a long shot, Deb. I owe 'em a score for this last chase--I'll
make the rich men o' Chester County shake in their shoes, and the
officers o' the law, and the Volunteers, damme! before I've done with
'em. When I go away for good, I'll leave somethin' behind me for them to
remember me by!"
"Well, never mind; eat a bit--the meat's ready, and see here, Sandy! I
carried this all the way."
He seized the jug and took a long draught. "You're a good 'un, Deb.," he
said. "A man isn't half a man when his belly's cold and empty."
He fell to, and ate long and ravenously. Warmed at last, both by fire
and fare, and still more by his frequent potations, he commenced the
story of his disguises and escapes, laughing at times with boisterous
self-admiration, swearing brutally and bitterly at others, over the
relentless energy with which he had been pursued. Deb. Smith listened
with eager interest, slapping him upon the back with a force of approval
which would have felled an ordinary man, but which Sandy Flash
cheerfully accepted as a caress.
"You see," he said at the close, "after I sneaked between Potter's troop
and the Sheriff's, and got down into the lower corner o' the county, I
managed to jump aboard a grain-sloop bound for Newport, but they were
froze in at the mouth o' Christeen; so I went ashore, dodged around
Wilmington, (where I'm rather too well known,) and come up Whitely Creek
as a drover from Mar'land. But from Grove up to here, I've had to look
out mighty sharp, takin' nigh onto two days for what I could go straight
through in half a day."
"Well, I guess you're safe here, Sandy," she said; "they'll never think
o' lookin' for you twice't in the same place. Why didn't you send word
for me before? You've kep' me a mortal long time a-waitin', and down on
the Woodrow farm would ha' done as well as here."
"It's a little too near that Potter. He'd smell me out as quick as if I
was a skunk to windward of him. Besides, it's time I was pitchin' on a
few new holes; we must talk it over together, Deb."
He lifted the jug again to his mouth. Deb. Smith, although she had kept
nearly even pace with him, was not so sensible to the potency of the
liquor, and was watching for the proper degree of mellowness, in order
to broach the subject over which she had been secretly brooding since
"First of all, Sandy," she now said, "I want to talk to you about
Gilbert Potter. The man's my friend, and I thought you cared enough
about me to let my friends alone."
"So I do, Deb., when they let me alone. I had a right to shoot the
fellow, but I let him off easy, as much for your sake as because he was
carryin' another man's money."
"That's not true!" she cried. "It was his own money, every cent of
it,--hard-earned money, meant to pay off his debts; and I can say it
because I helped him earn it, mowin' and reapin' beside him in the
harvest-field, thrashin' beside him in the barn, eatin' at his table,
and sleepin' under his roof. I gev him my word he was safe from you, but
you've made me out a liar, with no more thought o' me than if I'd been a
stranger or an enemy!"
"Come, Deb., don't get into your tantrums. Potter may be a decent
fellow, as men go, for anything I know, but you're not beholden to him
because he treated you like a Christian as you are. You seem to forgit
that he tried to take my life,--that he's hardly yet giv' up huntin' me
like a wild beast! Damn him, if the money _was_ his, which I don't
believe, it wouldn't square accounts between us. You think more o' his
money than o' my life, you huzzy!"
"No I don't, Sandy!" she protested, "no I don't. You know me better'n
that. What am I here for, to-night? Have I never helped you, and hid
you, and tramped the country for you back and forth, by day and by
night,--and for what? Not for money, but because I'm your wife, whether
or not priest or 'squire has said it. I thought you cared for me, I did,
indeed; I thought you might do one thing to please me!"
There was a quivering motion in the muscles of her hard face; her lips
were drawn convulsively, with an expression which denoted weeping,
although no tears came to her eyes.
"Don't be a fool!" Sandy exclaimed. "S'pose you have served me, isn't it
somethin' to have a man to serve? What other husband is there for you in
the world, than me,--the only man that isn't afeard o' your fist? You've
done your duty by me, I'll allow, and so have I done mine by you!"
"Then," she begged, "do this one thing over and above your duty. Do it,
Sandy, as a bit o' kindness to me, and put upon me what work you please,
till I've made it up to you! You dunno what it is, maybe, to have one
person in the world as shows a sort o' respect for you--that gives you
his hand honestly, like a gentleman, and your full Chris'en name. It
does good when a body's been banged about as I've been, and more used to
curses than kind words, and not a friend to look after me if I was
layin' at Death's door--and I don't say you wouldn't come, Sandy, but
you can't. And there's no denyin' that he had the law on his side, and
isn't more an enemy than any other man. Maybe he'd even be a friend in
need, as far as he dared, if you'd only do it"--
"Do what? What in the Devil's name is the woman drivin' at?" yelled
"Give back the money; it's his'n, not Barton's,--I know it. Tell me
where it is, and I'll manage the whole thing for you. It's got to be
paid in a month or two, folks says, and they'll come on him for it,
maybe take and sell his farm--sell th' only house, Sandy, where I git my
rights, th' only house where I git a bit o' peace an' comfort! You
wouldn't be that hard on me?"
The highwayman took another deep drink and rose to his feet. His face
was stern and threatening. "I've had enough o' this foolery," he said.
"Once and for all, Deb., don't you poke your nose into my affairs! Give
back the money? Tell you where it is? Pay him for huntin' me down? I
could take you by the hair and knock your head ag'in the wall, for them
She arose also and confronted him. The convulsive twitching of her mouth
ceased, and her face became as hard and defiant as his. "Sandy Flash,
mark my words!" she exclaimed. "You're a-goin' the wrong way, when you
stop takin' only from the Collectors and the proud rich men, and sparin'
the poor. Instead o' doin' good to balance the bad, it'll soon be all
bad, and you no better 'n a common thief! You needn't show your teeth;
it's true, and I say it square to y'r face!"
She saw the cruel intensity of his anger, but did not flinch. They had
had many previous quarrels, in which neither could claim any very great
advantage over the other; but the highwayman was now in an impatient and
exasperated mood, and she dared more than she suspected in defying him.
"You ----!" (the epithet he used cannot be written,) "will you stop your
jaw, or shall I stop it for you? I'm your master, and I give you your
orders, and the first order is, Not another word, now and never, about
Potter or his money!"
He had never before outraged her by such a word, never before so
brutally asserted his claim to her obedience. All the hot, indignant
force of her fierce, coarse nature rose in resistance. She was
thoroughly aroused and fearless. The moment had come, she felt, when the
independence which had been her compensation amid all the hardships and
wrongs of her life, was threatened,--when she must either preserve it by
a desperate effort, or be trampled under foot by this man, whom she both
loved and feared, and in that moment, hated.
"I'll not hold my jaw!" she cried, with flashing eyes. "Not even at your
biddin', Sandy Flash! I'll not rest till I have the money out o' you;
there's no law ag'inst stealin' from a thief!"
The answer was a swift, tremendous blow of the highwayman's fist,
delivered between her eyes. She fell, and lay for a moment stunned, the
blood streaming from her face. Then with a rapid movement, she seized
the hunting-knife which lay beside the fire, and sprang to her feet.
The knife was raised in her right hand, and her impulse was to plunge it
into his heart. But she could not avoid his eyes; they caught and held
her own, as if by some diabolical fascination. He stood motionless,
apparently awaiting the blow. Nothing in his face or attitude expressed
fear; only all the power of the man seemed to be concentrated in his
gaze, and to hold her back. The impulse once arrested, he knew, it would
not return. The eyes of each were fixed on the other's, and several
minutes of awful silence thus passed.
Finally, Deb. Smith slightly shuddered, as if with cold, her hand slowly
fell, and without a word she turned away to wash her bloody face.
Sandy Flash grinned, took another drink of whiskey, resumed his seat
before the fire, and then proceeded to fill his pipe. He lit and smoked
it to the end, without turning his head, or seeming to pay the least
attention to her movements. She, meanwhile, had stopped the flow of
blood from her face, bound a rag around her forehead, and lighted her
own pipe, without speaking. The highwayman first broke the silence.
"As I was a-sayin'," he remarked, in his ordinary tone, "we've got to
look out for new holes, where the scent isn't so strong as about these.
What do you think o' th' Octorara?"
"Where?" she asked. Her voice was hoarse and strange, but he took no
notice of it, gazing steadily into the fire as he puffed out a huge
cloud of smoke.
"Well, pretty well down," he said. "There's a big bit o' woodland, nigh
onto two thousand acres, belongin' to somebody in Baltimore that doesn't
look at it once't in ten years, and my thinkin' is, it'd be as safe as
the Backwoods. I must go to--it's no difference where--to-morrow
mornin', but I'll be back day after to-morrow night, and you needn't
stir from here till I come. You've grub enough for that long, eh?"
"It'll do," she muttered.
"Then, that's enough. I must be off an hour before day, and I'm devilish
fagged and sleepy, so here goes!"
With these words he rose, knocked the ashes out of his pipe, and
stretched himself on the bed of leaves. She continued to smoke her pipe.
"Deb.," he said, five minutes afterwards, "I'm not sure o' wakin'. You
look out for me,--do you hear?"
"I hear," she answered, in the same low, hoarse voice, without turning
her head. In a short time Sandy Flash's deep breathing announced that he
slept. Then she turned and looked at him with a grim, singular smile, as
the wavering fire-light drew clear pictures of his face which the
darkness as constantly wiped out again. By-and-by she noiselessly moved
her seat nearer to the wall, leaned her head against the rough logs, and
seemed to sleep. But, even if it were sleep, she was conscious of his
least movement, and started into alert wakefulness, if he turned,
muttered in dreams, or crooked a finger among the dead leaves. From time
to time she rose, stole out of the cabin and looked at the sky. Thus the
night passed away.
There was no sign of approaching dawn in the dull, overcast, snowy air;
but a blind, animal instinct of time belonged to her nature, and about
two hours before sunrise, she set about preparing a meal. When all was
ready, she bent over Sandy Flash, seized him by the shoulder, and shook
his eyes open.
"Time!" was all she said.
He sprang up, hastily devoured the bread and meat, and emptied the jug
of its last remaining contents.
"Hark ye, Deb.," he exclaimed, when he had finished, "you may as well
trudge over to the Turk's Head and fill this while I'm gone. We'll need
all of it, and more, tomorrow night. Here's a dollar, to pay for't. Now
I must be on the tramp, but you may look for me to-morrow, an hour after
He examined his pistols, stuck them in his belt, threw his drover's
cloak over his shoulders, and strode out of the cabin. She waited until
the sound of his footsteps had died away in the cold, dreary gloom, and
then threw herself upon the pallet which he had vacated. This time she
slept soundly, until hours after the gray winter day had come up the
Her eyes were nearly closed by the swollen flesh, and she laid handfuls
of snow upon her face, to cool the inflamation. At first, her movements
were uncertain, expressing a fierce conflict, a painful irresolution of
feeling; she picked up the hunting-knife, looked at it with a ghastly
smile, and then threw it from her. Suddenly, however, her features
changed, and every trace of her former hesitation vanished. After
hurriedly eating the fragments left from Sandy's breakfast, she issued
from the cabin and took a straight and rapid course eastward, up and
over the hill.
During the rest of that day and the greater part of the next, the cabin
It was almost sunset, and not more than an hour before Sandy Flash's
promised return, when Deb. Smith again made her appearance. Her face was
pale, (except for the dark blotches around the eyes,) worn, and haggard;
she seemed to have grown ten years older in the interval.
Her first care was to rekindle the fire and place the replenished jug in
its accustomed place. Then she arranged and rearranged the rude blocks
which served for seats, the few dishes and the articles of food on the
shelf, and, when all had been done, paced back and forth along the
narrow floor, as if pushed by some invisible, tormenting power.
Finally a whistle was heard, and in a minute afterwards Sandy Flash
entered the door. The bright blaze of the hearth shone upon his bold,
daring, triumphant face.
"That's right, Deb.," he said. "I'm dry and hungry, and here's a rabbit
you can skin and set to broil in no time. Let's look at you, old gal!
The devil!--I didn't mean to mark you like that. Well, bygones is
bygones, and better times is a-comin'."
"Sandy!" she cried, with a sudden, appealing energy, "Sandy--once't
more! Won't you do for me what I want o' you?"
His face darkened in an instant. "Deb!" was all the word he uttered, but
she understood the tone. He took off his pistol-belt and laid it on the
shelf. "Lay there, pets!" he said; "I won't want you to-night. A long
tramp it was, and I'm glad it's over. Deb., I guess I've nigh tore off
one o' my knee-buckles, comin' through the woods."
Placing his foot upon one of the logs, he bent down to examine the
buckle. Quick as lightning, Deb., who was standing behind him, seized
each of his arms, just above the elbows, with her powerful hands, and
drew them towards each other upon his back. At the same time she uttered
a shrill, wild cry,--a scream so strange and unearthly in its character
that Sandy Flash's blood chilled to hear it.
"Curse you, Deb., what are you doing? Are you clean mad?" he ejaculated,
struggling violently to free his arms.
"Which is strongest now?" she asked; "my arms, or your'n? I've got you,
I'll hold you, and I'll only let go when I please!"
He swore and struggled, but he was powerless in her iron grip. In
another minute the door of the cabin was suddenly burst open, and two
armed men sprang upon him. More rapidly than the fact can be related,
they snapped a pair of heavy steel handcuffs upon his wrists, pinioned
his arms at his sides, and bound his knees together. Then, and not till
then, Deb. Smith relaxed her hold.
Sandy Flash made one tremendous muscular effort, to test the strength of
his bonds, and then stood motionless. His white teeth flashed between
his parted lips, and there was a dull, hard glare in his eyes which told
that though struck dumb with astonishment and impotent rage, he was
still fearless, still unsubdued. Deb. Smith, behind him, leaned against
the wall, pale and panting.
"A good night's work!" remarked Chaffey, the constable, as he possessed
himself of the musket, pistol-belt, and hunting-knife. "I guess this
pitcher won't go to the well any more."
"We'll see," Sandy exclaimed, with a sneer. "You've got me, not through
any pluck o' your'n, but through black, underhanded treachery. You'd
better double chain and handcuff me, or I may be too much for you yet!"
"I guess you'll do," said the constable, examining the cords by the
light of a lantern which his assistant had in the mean time fetched from
without. "I'll even untie your knees, for you've to walk over the hill
to the next farm-house, where we'll find a wagon to carry you to Chester
jail. I promise you more comfortable quarters than these, by daylight."
The constable then turned to Deb. Smith, who had neither moved nor
"You needn't come with us without you want to," he said. "You can get
your share of the money at any time; but you must remember to be ready
to appear and testify, when Court meets."
"Must I do that?" she gasped.
"Why, to be sure! It's a reg'lar part of the trial, and can't be left
out, though there's enough to hang the fellow ten times over, without
The two unbound Sandy Flash's knees and placed themselves on each side
of him, the constable holding a cocked pistol in his right hand.
"March is the word, is it?" said the highwayman. "Well, I'm ready.
Potter was right, after all; he said there'd be a curse on the money,
and there is; but I never guessed the curse'd come upon me through
"Oh, Sandy!" she cried, starting forward, "you druv me to it! The curse
was o' your own makin'--and I gev you a last chance to-night, but you
throwed it from you!"
"Very well, Deb," he answered, "if I've got my curse, don't think you'll
not have your'n! Go down to Chester and git your blood-money, and see
what'll come of it, and what'll come to you!"
He turned towards her as he spoke, and the expression of his face seemed
so frightful that she shuddered and covered her eyes. The next moment,
the old cabin door creaked open, fell back with a crash, and she was
She stared around at the dreary walls. The sound of their footsteps had
died away, and only the winter night-wind wailed through the crannies of
the hut. Accustomed as she was to solitary life and rudest shelter, and
to the companionship of her superstitious fancies, she had never before
felt such fearful loneliness, such overpowering dread. She heaped sticks
upon the fire, sat down before it, and drank from the jug. Its mouth was
still wet from his lips, and it seemed that she was already drinking
down the commencement of the curse.
Her face worked, and hard, painful groans burst from her lips. She threw
herself upon the floor and grovelled there, until the woman's relief
which she had almost unlearned forced its forgotten way, through cramps
and agonies, to her eyes. In the violent passion of her weeping and
moaning, God saw and pitied, that night, the struggles of a dumb,
ignorant, yet not wholly darkened nature.
Two hours afterwards she arose, sad, stern, and determined, packed
together the things she had brought with her, quenched the fire (never
again to be relighted) upon the hearth, and took her way, through cold
and darkness, down the valley.
The news of Sandy Flash's capture ran like wildfire through the county.
As the details became more correctly known, there was great rejoicing
but greater surprise, for Deb. Smith's relation to the robber, though
possibly surmised by a few, was unsuspected by the community at large.
In spite of the service which she had rendered by betraying her paramour
into the hands of justice, a bitter feeling of hostility towards her was
developed among the people, and she was generally looked upon as an
accomplice to Sandy Flash's crimes, who had turned upon him only when
she had ceased to profit by them.
The public attention was thus suddenly drawn away from Gilbert Potter,
and he was left to struggle, as he best might, against the difficulties
entailed by his loss. He had corresponded with Mr. Trainer, the
conveyancer in Chester, and had learned that the money still due must
not only be forthcoming on the first of April, but that it probably
could not be obtained there. The excitement for buying lands along the
Alleghany, Ohio, and Beaver rivers, in western Pennsylvania, had seized
upon the few capitalists of the place, and Gilbert's creditor had
already been subjected to inconvenience and possible loss, as one result
of the robbery. Mr. Trainer therefore suggested that he should make a