WHO should come in, this morning, just after my husband had cleverly got away on his horse, but a young cock-a-whoop ensign, that belongs to Ninety-Six, and four great Scotchmen with him, all in red coats; they had been out thieving, I warrant, and were now going home again. And who but they! Here they were, swaggering all about my houseand calling for thisand calling for thatas if they owned the fee-simple of everything on the plantation. And it made my blood rise, Mr. Horse Shoe, to see them run out in the yard, and catch up my chickens and ducks, and kill as many as they could string about themand I not daring to say a word: though I did give them a piece of my mind, too.
The hostess went to the door and called her son, and, almost immediately afterwards, a sturdy boy of about twelve or fourteen years of age entered the apartment, his clothes dripping with rain. He modestly and shyly seated himself on a chair near the door, with his soaked hat flapping down over a face full of freckles, and not less rife with the expression of an open, dauntless hardihood of character.
You are not going to take the boy out on any of your desperate projects, Mr. Horse Shoe? said the mother, with the tears starting instantly into her eyes. You wouldnt take such a child as that into danger?
Bless your soul, Mrs. Ramsay, there arnt no danger about it! Dont take on so. Its a thing that is either done at a blow, or not done,and theres an end of it. I want the lad only to bring home the prisoners for me, after I have took them.
Ah, Mr. Robinson, I have one son already in these warsGod protect him!and you men dont know how a mothers heart yearns for her children in these times. I cannot give another, she added, as she threw her arms over the shoulders of the youth and drew him to her bosom.
I give you my honor, Mistress Ramsay, said Robinson, that I will bring or send your son safe back in one hour; and that he shant be put in any sort of danger whatsomedever: come, thats a good woman!
Horse Shoe now loaded the fire-arms, and having slung the pouch across his body, he put the pistol into the hands of the boy; then shouldering his rifle, he and his young ally left the room. Even on this occasion, serious as it might be deemed, the sergeant did not depart without giving some manifestation of that light-heartedness which no difficulties ever seemed to have the power to conquer. He thrust his head back into the room, after he had crossed the threshold, and said with an encouraging laugh, Andy and me will teach them, Mistress Ramsay, Pats point of warwe will surround the ragamuffins.
Now, Andy, my lad, said Horse Shoe, after he had mounted Captain Peter, you must get up behind me. Turn the lock of your pistol down, he continued, as the boy sprang upon the horses rump, and cover it with the flap of your jacket, to keep the rain off. It wont do to hang fire at such a time as this.
Andy, he said, we have got rather a ticklish sort of a job before us, so I must give you your lesson, which you will understand better by knowing something of my plan. As soon as your mother told me that these thieving villains had left her house about fifteen minutes before the rain came on, and that they had gone along upon this road, I remembered the old field up here, and the little log hut in the middle of it; and it was natural to suppose that they had just got about near that hut, when this rain came up; and then, it was the most supposable case in the world, that they would naturally go into it, as the driest place they could find. So now, you see, its my calculation that the whole batch is there at this very point of time. We will go slowly along, until we get to the other end of this wood, in sight of the old field, and then, if there is no one on the look-out, we will open our first trench; you know what that means, Andy?
Pretty exactly, said the sergeant. But listen to me. Just at the edge of the woods you will have to get down, and put yourself behind a tree. Ill ride forward, as if I had a whole troop at my heels, and if I catch them, as I expect, they will have a little fire kindled, and, as likely as not, theyll be cooking some of your mothers fowls.
No, you dont, replied Horse Shoe, but you will when you hear what I am going to say. If I get at them onawares, theyll be mighty apt to think they are surrounded, and will bellow, like fine fellows, for quarter. And, thereupon, Andy, Ill cry out stand fast, as if I was speaking to my own men, and when you hear that, you must come up full tilt, because it will be a signal to you that the enemy has surrendered. Then it will be your business to run into the house and bring out the muskets, as quick as a rat runs through a kitchen: and when you have done that, why, alls done. But if you should hear any popping of fire-armsthat is, more than one shot, which I may chance to let offdo you take that for a bad sign, and get away as fast as you can heel it. You comprehend.
By the time that these instructions were fully impressed upon the boy, our adventurous forlorn hope, as it may fitly be called, had arrived at the place which Horse Shoe Robinson had designated for the commencement of active operations. They had a clear view of the old field, and it afforded them a strong assurance that the enemy was exactly where they wished him to be, when they discovered smoke arising from the chimney of the hovel. Andrew was soon posted behind a tree, and Robinson only tarried a moment to make the boy repeat the signals agreed on, in order to ascertain that he had them correctly in his memory. Being satisfied from this experiment that the intelligence of his young companion might be depended upon, he galloped across the intervening space, and, in a few seconds, abruptly reined up his steed, in the very door-way of the hut. The party within was gathered around a fire at the further end, and, in the corner near the door, were four muskets thrown together against the wall. To spring from his saddle and thrust himself one pace inside of the door, was a movement which the sergeant executed in an instant, shouting at the same time
Halt! File off right and left to both sides of the house, and wait orders. I demand the surrender of all here, he said, as he planted himself between the party and their weapons. I will shoot down the first man who budges a foot.
I dont want to do you or your men any harm, young man, said Robinson, as he brought his rifle to a level, but, by my fathers son, I will not leave one of you to be put upon a muster-roll if you raise a hand at this moment.
Both parties now stood, for a brief space, eyeing each other in a fearful suspense, during which there was an expression of doubt and irresolution visible on the countenances of the soldiers, as they surveyed the broad proportions, and met the stern glance of the sergeant whilst the delay, also, began to raise an apprehension in the mind of Robinson that his stratagem would be discovered.
Keep them outside of the doorstand fast, cried the doughty sergeant, with admirable promptitude, in the new and sudden posture of his affairs caused by this opportune appearance of the boy. Sir, you see that its not worth while fighting five to one; and I should be sorry to be the death of any of your brave fellows; so, take my advice, and surrender to the Continental Congress and this scrap of its army which I command.
During this appeal the sergeant was ably seconded by the lad outside, who was calling out first on one name, and then on another, as if in the presence of a troop. The device succeeded, and the officer within, believing the forbearance of Robinson to be real, at length said:
Lower your rifle, sir. In the presence of a superior force, taken by surprise, and without arms, it is my duty to save bloodshed. With the promise of fair usage, and the rights of prisoners of war, I surrender this little foraging party under my command.
Im here, captain, said Andrew, in a conceited tone, as if it were a mere occasion of merriment: and the lad quickly entered the house and secured the weapons, retreating with them some paces from the door.
Ensign, your sarvent, added Horse Shoe, still preserving this unusual exhibition of politeness. You have defended your post like an old sodger, although you hant much beard on your chin; but, seeing you have given up, you shall be treated like a man who has done his duty. You will walk out, now, and form yourselves in line at the door. Ill engage my men shall do you no harm; they are of a marciful breed.
When the little squad of prisoners submitted to this command, and came to the door, they were stricken with equal astonishment and mortification to find, in place of the detachment of cavalry which they expected to see, nothing but a man, a boy, and a horse. Their first emotions were expressed in curses, which were even succeeded by laughter from one or two of the number. There seemed to be a disposition on the part of some to resist the authority that now controlled them; and sundry glances were exchanged, which indicated a purpose to turn upon their captors. The sergeant no sooner perceived this, than he halted, raised his rifle to his breast, and, at the same instant, gave Andrew Ramsay an order to retire a few paces, and to fire one of the captured pieces at the first man who opened his lips.
Finding the conqueror determined to execute summary martial law upon the first who should mutiny, the prisoners submitted, and marched in double file from the hut back towards RamsaysHorse Shoe, with Captain Peters bridle dangling over his arm, and his gallant young auxiliary Andrew, laden with double the burden of Robinson Crusoe (having all the fire-arms packed upon his shoulders), bringing up the rear. In this order victors and vanquished returned to David Ramsays.
Well, I have brought you your ducks and chickens back, mistress, said the sergeant, as he halted the prisoners at the door; and, whats more, I have brought home a young sodger thats worth his weight in gold.
Heaven bless my child! my brave boy! cried the mother, seizing the lad in her arms, and unheeding anything else in the present perturbation of her feelings. I feared ill would come of it; but Heaven has preserved him. Did he behave handsomely, Mr. Robinson? But I am sure he did.
A little more venturesome, maam, than I wanted him to be, replied Horse Shoe; but he did excellent service. These are his prisoners, Mistress Ramsay; I should never have got them if it hadnt been for Andy. In these drumming and fifing times the babies suck in quarrel with their mothers milk. Show me another boy in America thats made more prisoners than there was men to fight them with, thats all!