IN a country settled, like these States, by a people who fled their native land and much-loved firesides, victims of consciences and religious zeal, none of the decencies and solemnities of a Christian death are dispensed with, when circumstances will admit of their exercise. The good woman of the house was a strict adherent to the forms of the church to which she belonged; and having herself been awakened to a sense of her depravity, by the ministry of the divine who harangued the people of the adjoining parish, she thought it was from his exhortations only that salvation could be meted out to the short-lived hopes of Henry Wharton. Not that the kind-hearted matron was so ignorant of the doctrines of the religion which she professed, as to depend, theoretically, on mortal aid for protection; but she had, to use her own phrase, sat so long under the preaching of good Mr. , that she had unconsciously imbibed a practical reliance on his assistance, for that which her faith should have taught her could come from the Deity alone. With her, the consideration of death was at all times awful; and the instant that the sentence of the prisoner was promulgated, she dispatched Cæsar, mounted on one of her husbands best horses, in quest of her clerical monitor. This step had been taken without consulting either Henry or his friends; and it was only when the services of Cæsar were required on some domestic emergency, that she explained the nature of his absence. The youth heard her, at first, with an unconquerable reluctance to admit of such a spiritual guide; but as our view of the things of this life becomes less vivid, our prejudices and habits cease to retain their influence; and a civil bow of thanks was finally given, in requital for the considerate care of the well-meaning woman.
The black returned early from his expedition, and, as well as could be gathered from his somewhat incoherent narrative, a minister of God might be expected to arrive in the course of the day. The interruption that we mentioned in our preceding chapter was occasioned by the entrance of the landlady. At the intercession of Dunwoodie, orders had been given to the sentinel who guarded the door of Henrys room, that the members of the prisoners family should, at all times, have free access to his apartment: Cæsar was included in this arrangement, as a matter of convenience, by the officer in command; but strict inquiry and examination was made into the errand of every other applicant for admission. The major had, however, included himself among the relatives of the British officer; and one pledge, that no rescue should be attempted, was given in his name, for them all. A short conversation was passing between the woman of the house and the corporal of the guard, before the door that the sentinel had already opened in anticipation of the decision of his non-commissioned commandant.
Would you refuse the consolations of religion to a fellow-creature about to suffer death? said the matron, with earnest zeal. Would you plunge a soul into the fiery furnace, and a minister at hand to point out the straight and narrow path?
I ll tell you what, good woman, returned the corporal, gently pushing her away; I ve no notion of my back being a highway for any man to walk to heaven upon. A pretty figure I should make at the pickets, for disobeying orders. Just step down and ask Lieutenant Mason, and you may bring in a whole congregation. We have not taken the guard from the foot-soldiers, but an hour, and I should nt like to have it said that we know less of our duty than the militia.
All eyes were now turned on Dunwoodie, who, looking at his watch, spoke a few words with Henry, in an undertone, and hastened from the apartment, followed by Frances. The subject of their conversation was a wish expressed by the prisoner for a clergyman of his own persuasion, and a promise from the major, that one should be sent from Fishkill town, through which he was about to pass, on his way to the ferry to intercept the expected return of Harper. Mason soon made his bow at the door, and willingly complied with the wishes of the landlady; and the divine was invited to make his appearance accordingly.
The person who was ushered into the apartment, preceded by Cæsar, and followed by the matron, was a man beyond the middle age, or who might rather be said to approach the downhill of life. In stature he was above the size of ordinary men, though his excessive leanness might contribute in deceiving as to his height; his countenance was sharp and unbending, and every muscle seemed set in rigid compression. No joy or relaxation appeared ever to have dwelt on features that frowned habitually, as if in detestation of the vices of mankind. The brows were beetling, dark, and forbidding, giving the promise of eyes of no less repelling expression; but the organs were concealed beneath a pair of enormous green goggles, through which they glared around with a fierceness that denounced the coming day of wrath. All was fanaticism, uncharitableness, and denunciation. Long, lank hair, a mixture of gray and black, fell down his neck, and in some degree obscured the sides of his face, and, parting on his forehead, fell in either direction in straight and formal screens. On the top of this ungraceful exhibition was laid, impending forward, so as to overhang in some measure the whole fabric, a large hat of three equal cocks. His coat was of a rusty black, and his breeches and stockings were of the same color; his shoes without lustre, and half concealed beneath huge plated buckles.
He stalked into the room, and giving a stiff nod with his head, took the chair offered him by the black, in dignified silence. For several minutes no one broke this ominous pause in the conversation; Henry feeling a repugnance to his guest, that he was vainly endeavoring to conquer, and the stranger himself drawing forth occasional sighs and groans, that threatened a dissolution of the unequal connection between his sublimated soul and its ungainly tenement. During this deathlike preparation, Mr. Wharton, with a feeling nearly allied to that of his son, led Sarah from the apartment. His retreat was noticed by the divine, in a kind of scornful disdain, who began to hum the air of a popular psalm tune, giving it the full richness of the twang that distinguishes the Eastern1 psalmody.
My strength is not in the things of this life, said the divine, speaking in a hollow, sepulchral voice. Thrice have I this day held forth in my masters service, and fainted not; still it is prudent to help this frail tenement of clay, for, surely, the laborer is worthy of his hire.
Woman! exclaimed the stranger, with energy, when was I ever known to shrink from a duty? But judge not lest ye be judged, and fancy not that it is given to mortal eyes to fathom the intentions of the Deity.
T is well, woman,t is well, cried the minister, moving his head with supercilious disdain; humility becometh thy sex and lost condition; thy weakness driveth thee on headlong like unto the bosom of destruction.
It is not everyone that crieth out for mercy, that will be heard. The ways of Providence are not to be judged by menMany are called, but few chosen. It is easier to talk of humility than to feel it. Are you so humble, vile worm, as to wish to glorify God by your own damnation? If not, away with you for a publican and a Pharisee!
Such gross fanaticism was uncommon in America, and Miss Peyton began to imbibe the impression that her guest was deranged; but remembering that he had been sent by a well-known divine, and one of reputation, she discarded the idea, and, with some forbearance, observed,
Mercy is only for the elect, cried the stranger, with an unaccountable energy; and you are in the valley of the shadow of death. Are you not a follower of idle ceremonies, which belong to the vain church that our tyrants would gladly establish here, along with their stamp-acts and tea-laws? Answer me that, woman; and remember, that Heaven hears your answer: are you not of that idolatrous communion?
Yes, yes, I know ye, self-righteous and papal as ye arefollowers of forms, and listeners to bookish preaching; think you, woman, that holy Paul had notes in his hand to propound the word to the believers?
So saying, she withdrew, followed by the landlady, who was not a little shocked, and somewhat surprised, by the intemperate zeal of her new acquaintance; for, although the good woman believed that Miss Peyton and her whole church were on the highroad to destruction, she was by no means accustomed to hear such offensive and open avowals of their fate.
I must confess, sir, he exclaimed with heat, that in receiving a minister of God, I thought I was admitting a Christian; and one who, by feeling his own weaknesses, knew how to pity the frailties of others. You have wounded the meek spirit of an excellent woman, and I acknowledge but little inclination to mingle in prayer with so intolerant a spirit.
The minister stood erect, with grave composure, following with his eyes, in a kind of scornful pity, the retiring females, and suffered the expostulation of the youth to be given, as if unworthy of his notice. A third voice, however, spoke,
Silence! said the pedler, solemnly; t is a name not to be mentioned, and least of all here, within the heart of the American army. Birch paused and gazed around him for a moment, with an emotion exceeding the base passion of fear, and then continued in a gloomy tone, There are a thousand halters in that very name, and little hope would there be left me of another escape, should I be again taken. This is a fearful venture that I am making; but I could not sleep in quiet, and know that an innocent man was about to die the death of a dog, when I might save him.
No, said Henry, with a glow of generous feeling on his cheek; if the risk to yourself be so heavy, retire as you came, and leave me to my fate. Dunwoodie is making, even now, powerful exertions in my behalf; and if he meets with Mr. Harper in the course of the night, my liberation is certain.
If there ever was the stamp of truth, or simple, honest benevolence, in the countenance of man, it shone in his, said Henry; besides, Dunwoodie has powerful friends in the rebel army, and it would be better that I take the chance where I am, than thus to expose you to certain death, if detected.
Captain Wharton, said Birch, looking guardedly around, and speaking with impressive seriousness of manner, if I fail you, all fail you. No Harper nor Dunwoodie can save your life; unless you get out with me, and that within the hour, you die to-morrow on the gallows of a murderer. Yes, such are their laws; the man who fights, and kills, and plunders, is honored; but he who serves his country as a spy, no matter how faithfully, no matter how honestly, lives to be reviled, or dies like the vilest criminal!
I have told you truth. Cæsar met me, as he was going on his errand this morning, and with him I have laid the plan which, if executed as I wish, will save youotherwise you are lost; and I again tell you, that no other power on earth, not even Washington, can save you.
I dont know that any will wish to interrupt you, returned the soldier, with a waggish leer of his eye; but, should they be so disposed, I have no power to stop them, if they be of the prisoners friends; I have my orders, and must mind them, whether the Englishman goes to heaven, or not.
Audacious sinner! said the pretended priest, have you not the fear of God before your eyes! I tell you, as you will dread punishment at the last day, to let none of the idolatrous communion enter, to mingle in the prayers of the righteous.
Whew-ew-ewwhat a noble commander you d make for Sergeant Hollister! you d preach him dumb in a roll-call. Harkee, I ll thank you not to make such a noise when you hold forth, as to drown our bugles, or you may get a poor fellow a short horn at his grog, for not turning out to the evening parade: if you want to be alone, have you no knife to stick over the door-latch, that you must have a troop of horse to guard your meeting-house?
For a foot-soldier and them Eastern militia, it might be, said Harvey, turning a bag upside down, that Cæsar now handed him; but these dragoons are fellows that you must brag down. A faint heart, Captain Wharton, would do but little here; but come, here is a black shroud for your good-looking countenance, taking, at the same time, a parchment mask, and fitting it to the face of Henry. The master and the man must change places for a season.
Great pains had been taken in forming the different articles used in the disguise of Captain Wharton, and when arranged, under the skillful superintendence of the pedler, they formed together a transformation that would easily escape detection, from any but an extraordinary observer.
The mask was stuffed and shaped in such a manner as to preserve the peculiarities, as well as the color, of the African visage; and the wig was so artfully formed of black and white wool, as to imitate the pepper-and-salt color of Cæsars own head, and to exact plaudits from the black himself, who thought it an excellent counterfeit in everything but quality.
Cæsar, who had received minute instructions from the pedler in their morning interview, immediately commenced throwing aside his coarse garments, which the youth took up and prepared to invest himself with; unable, however, to repress a few signs of loathing.
In the manner of the pedler there was an odd mixture of care and humor; the former was the result of a perfect knowledge of their danger, and the means necessary to be used in avoiding it; and the latter proceeded from the unavoidably ludicrous circumstances before him, acting on an indifference which sprang from habit, and long familiarity with such scenes as the present.
Here, captain, he said, taking up some loose wool, and beginning to stuff the stockings of Cæsar, which were already on the leg of the prisoner; some judgment is necessary in shaping this limb. You will have to display it on horseback and the southern dragoons are so used to the brittle-shins, that should they notice your well-turned calf, they d know at once it never belonged to a black.
Anything but your leg, said the pedler, coolly pursuing the toilet of Henry. Slip on the coat, captain, over all. Upon my word, you d pass well at a pinkster frolic; and here, Cæsar, place this powdered wig over your curls, and be careful and look out of the window, whenever the door is open, and on no account speak, or you will betray all.
Everything now was arranged for action, and the pedler very deliberately went over the whole of his injunctions to the two actors in the scene. The captain he conjured to dispense with his erect military carriage, and for a season to adopt the humble paces of his fathers negro; and Cæsar he enjoined to silence and disguise, so long as he could possibly maintain them. Thus prepared, he opened the door, and called aloud to the sentinel, who had retired to the farthest end of the passage, in order to avoid receiving any of that spiritual comfort, which he felt was the sole property of another.
Let the woman of the house be called, said Harvey, in the solemn key of his assumed character; and let her come alone. The prisoner is in a happy train of meditation, and must not be led from his devotions.
Cæsar sank his face between his hands; and when the soldier looked into the apartment, he thought he saw his charge in deep abstraction. Casting a glance of huge contempt at the divine, he called aloud for the good woman of the house. She hastened at the summons, with earnest zeal, entertaining a secret hope that she was to be admitted to the gossip of a death-bed repentance.
T is not unlikely; there are many books you have never heard of: it is impossible for this poor penitent to pass in peace, without the consolations of that volume. One hours reading in it, is worth an age of mans preaching.
It was first put out at Geneva in the Greek language and then translated at Boston. It is a book, woman, that should be in the hands of every Christian, especially such as die upon the gallows. Have a horse prepared instantly for this black, who shall accompany me to my brother , and I will send down the volume yet in season. Brother, compose thy mind; you are now in the narrow path to glory.
Cæsar wriggled a little in his chair, but he had sufficient recollection to conceal his face with hands that were, in their turn, concealed by gloves. The landlady departed, to comply with this very reasonable request, and the group of conspirators were again left to themselves.
This is well, said the pedler; but the difficult task is to deceive the officer who commands the guardhe is lieutenant to Lawton, and has learned some of the captains own cunning in these things. Remember, Captain Wharton, continued he with an air of pride, that now is the moment when everything depends on our coolness.
And wherein can I be more forlorn and persecuted than I now am? asked the pedler, with that wild incoherence which often crossed his manner. But I have promised one to save you, and to him I have never yet broken my word.
The man soon returned, and announced that the horses were at the door. Harvey gave the captain a glance, and led the way down the stairs, first desiring the woman to leave the prisoner to himself, in order that he might digest the wholesome mental food that he had so lately received.
A rumor of the odd character of the priest had spread from the sentinel at the door to his comrades; so that when Harvey and Wharton reached the open space before the building, they found a dozen idle dragoons loitering about, with the waggish intention of quizzing the fanatic, and employed in affected admiration of the steeds.
My calling may be laborsome to both myself and this faithful beast, but then a day of settling is at hand, that will reward me for all my outgoings and incomings, said Birch, putting his foot in the stirrup, and preparing to mount.
Come, suppose you give us a little preaching; we have a leisure moment just now, and there s no telling how much good you might do a set of reprobates like us, in a few words; here, mount this horseblock, and take your text where you please.
The pedler inwardly dreaded, that, in their unceremonious handling of himself and garments, his hat and wig might be displaced, when detection would be certain; he was therefore fain to comply with their request. Ascending the horseblock, after hemming once or twice, and casting several glances at the captain, who continued immovable, he commenced as follows:
I shall call your attention, my brethren, to that portion of Scripture which you will find in the second book of Samuel, and which is written in the following words:And the king lamented over Abner, and said, Died Abner as a fool dieth? Thy hands were not bound, nor thy feet put into fetters: as a man falleth before wicked men, so fellest thou. And all the people wept again over him. Cæsar, ride forward, I say, and obtain the book as directed; thy master is groaning in spirit even now for the want of it.
What are you at there, scoundrels? cried Lieutenant Mason, as he came in sight from a walk he had taken to sneer at the evening parade of the regiment of militia; away with every man of you to your quarters, and let me find that each horse is cleaned and littered, when I come round. The sound of the officers voice operated like a charm, and no priest could desire a more silent congregation, although he might possibly have wished for one that was more numerous. Mason had not done speaking, when it was reduced to the image of Cæsar only. The pedler took that opportunity to mount, but he had to preserve the gravity of his movements, for the remark of the troopers upon the condition of their beasts was but too just, and a dozen dragoon horses stood saddled and bridled at hand, ready to receive their riders at a moments warning.
There is evil in thy conversation, profane man, cried the priest, raising his hands and casting his eyes upwards in holy horror; so I will depart from thee unhurt, as Daniel was liberated from the lions den.
Off with you, for a hypocritical, psalm-singing, canting rogue in disguise, said Mason, scornfully; by the life of Washington! it worries an honest fellow to see such voracious beasts of prey ravaging a country for which he sheds his blood. If I had you on a Virginia plantation for a quarter of an hour, I d teach you to worm the tobacco with the turkeys.
Start, or I will shake the dust from your jacket, designing knave! A fellow to be preaching to my men! There s Hollister put the devil in them by his exhorting; the rascals were getting too conscientious to strike a blow that would raze the skin. But hold! whither do you travel, Master Blackey, in such godly company?
He goes, said the minister, hastily speaking for his companion, to return with a book of much condolence and virtue to the sinful youth above, whose soul will speedily become white, even as his outwards are black and unseemly. Would you deprive a dying man of the consolation of religion?
No, no, poor fellow, his fate is bad enough; a famous good breakfast his prim body of an aunt gave us. But harkee, Mr. Revelation, if the youth must die secundum artem, let it be under a gentlemans directions; and my advice is, that you never trust that skeleton of yours among us again, or I will take the skin off and leave you naked.
Out upon thee for a reviler and scoffer of goodness! said Birch, moving slowly, and with a due observance of clerical dignity, down the road, followed by the imaginary Cæsar; but I leave thee, and that behind me that will prove thy condemnation, and take from thee a hearty and joyful deliverance.
The soldier was standing at the open door of the apartment, looking in with a suspicious eye on the supposed British officer. On observing his lieutenant, he fell back with habitual respect, and replied, with an air of puzzled thought,
I dont know, sir; but just now the prisoner looked queer. Ever since the preacher has left him, he dont look as he used to dobut, gazing intently over the shoulder of his officer, it must be him, too! There is the same powdered head, and the darn in the coat, where he was hit the day we had the last brush with the enemy.
This was but too true. Cæsar was an alarmed auditor of this short conversation, and, from congratulating himself upon the dexterous escape of his young master, his thoughts were very naturally beginning to dwell upon the probable consequences to his own person. The pause that succeeded the last remark of the sentinel, in no degree contributed to the restoration of his faculties. Lieutenant Mason was busied in examining with his own eyes the suspected person of the black, and Cæsar was aware of the fact, by stealing a look through a passage under one of his arms, that he had left expressly for the purpose of reconnoitering. Captain Lawton would have discovered the fraud immediately, but Mason was by no means so quick-sighted as his commander. He therefore turned rather contemptuously to the soldier, and, speaking in an undertone, observed,
The truth was, that Cæsar, unable to hear what Mason uttered in a low voice, and having every fear aroused in him by what had already passed, incautiously removed the wig a little from one of his ears, in order to hear the better, without in the least remembering that its color might prove fatal to his disguise. The sentinel had kept his eyes fastened on his prisoner, and noticed the action. The attention of Mason was instantly drawn to the same object; and, forgetting all delicacy for a brother officer in distress, or, in short, forgetting everything but the censure that might alight on his corps, the lieutenant sprang forward and seized the terrified African by the throat; for no sooner had Cæsar heard his color named, than he knew his discovery was certain; and at the first sound of Masons heavy boot on the floor, he arose from his seat, and retreated precipitately to a corner of the room.
Who are you? cried Mason, dashing the head of the old man against the angle of the wall at each interrogatory, who the devil are you, and where is the Englishman? Speak, thou thundercloud! Answer me, you jackdaw, or I ll hang you on the gallows of the spy!
Cæsar continued firm. Neither the threats nor the blows could extract any reply, until the lieutenant, by a very natural transition in the attack, sent his heavy boot forward in a direction that brought it in direct contact with the most sensitive part of the negrohis shin. The most obdurate heart could not have exacted further patience, and Cæsar instantly gave in. The first words he spoke were
By heavens! shouted the lieutenant, it is the negro himself! Scoundrel! where is your master, and who was the priest? While speaking, he made a movement, as if about to renew the attack; but Cæsar cried aloud for mercy, promising to tell all that he knew.
Harvey Birch! echoed the trooper, hurling the black from him, and rushing from the room. To arms! to arms! Fifty guineas for the life of the pedler spygive no quarter to either. Mount, mount! to arms! to horse!
During the uproar occasioned by the assembling of the dragoons, who all rushed tumultuously to their horses, Cæsar rose from the floor, where he had been thrown by Mason, and began to examine into his injuries. Happily for himself, he had alighted on his head, and consequently sustained no material damage.