Hushed were his Gertrude’s lips; but still their bland
And beautiful expression seemed to melt
With love that could not die! and still his hand
She presses to the heart no more that felt.
—Gertrude of Wyoming.
The brief arrangements of the dragoons had prepared two apartments for the reception of the ladies, the one being intended as a sleeping room, and situated within the other. Into the latter Isabella was immediately conveyed, at her own request, and placed on a rude bed by the side of the unconscious Sarah. When Miss Peyton and Frances flew to her assistance, they found her with a smile on her pallid lip, and a composure in her countenance, that induced them to think her uninjured.
“God be praised!” exclaimed the trembling aunt. “The report of firearms, and your fall, had led me into error. Surely, surely, there was enough horror before; but this has been spared us.”
Isabella pressed her hand upon her bosom, still smiling, but with a ghastliness that curdled the blood of Frances.
“Is George far distant?” she asked. “Let him know—hasten him, that I may see my brother once again.”
“It is as I apprehended!” shrieked Miss Peyton. “But you smile—surely you are not hurt!”
“Quite well—quite happy,” murmured Isabella; “here is a remedy for every pain.”
Sarah arose from the reclining posture she had taken, and gazed wildly at her companion. She stretched forth her own hand, and raised that of Isabella from her bosom. It was dyed in blood.
“See,” said Sarah, “but will it not wash away love? Marry, young woman, and then no one can expel him from your heart, unless,”—she added, whispering, and bending over the other,—”you find another there before you; then die, and go to heaven—there are no wives in heaven.”
The lovely maniac hid her face under the clothes, and continued silent during the remainder of the night. At this moment Lawton entered. Inured as he was to danger in all its forms, and accustomed to the horrors of a partisan war, the trooper could not behold the ruin before him unmoved. He bent over the fragile form of Isabella, and his gloomy eye betrayed the workings of his soul.
“Isabella,” he at length uttered, “I know you to possess a courage beyond the strength of women.”
“Speak,” she said, earnestly; “if you have anything to say, speak fearlessly.”
The trooper averted his face as he replied, “None ever receive a ball there, and survive.”
“I have no dread of death, Lawton,” returned Isabella. “I thank you for not doubting me; I felt it from the first.”
“These are not scenes for a form like yours,” added the trooper. “‘Tis enough that Britain calls our youth to the field; but when such loveliness becomes the victim of war, I sicken of my trade.”
“Hear me, Captain Lawton,” said Isabella, raising herself with difficulty, but rejecting aid. “From early womanhood to the present hour have I been an inmate of camps and garrisons. I have lived to cheer the leisure of an aged father, and think you I would change those days of danger and privation for any ease? No! I have the consolation of knowing, in my dying moments, that what woman could do in such a cause, I have done.”
“Who could prove a recreant, and witness such a spirit! Hundreds of warriors have I witnessed in their blood, but never a firmer soul among them all.”
“‘Tis the soul only,” said Isabella. “My sex and strength have denied me the dearest of privileges. But to you, Captain Lawton, nature has been more bountiful; you have an arm and a heart to devote to the cause; and I know they are in arm and a heart that will prove true to the last. And George—and—” she paused, her lip quivered, and her eye sank to the floor.
“And Dunwoodie!” added the trooper. “Would you speak of Dunwoodie?”
“Name him not,” said Isabella, sinking back, and concealing her face in her garments. “Leave me, Lawton—prepare poor George for this unexpected blow.”
The trooper continued for a little while gazing, in melancholy interest, at the convulsive shudderings of her frame, which the scanty covering could not conceal, and withdrew to meet his comrade. The interview between Singleton and his sister was painful, and, for a moment, Isabella yielded to a burst of tenderness; but, as if aware that her hours were numbered, she was the first to rouse herself to exertion. At her earnest request, the room was left to herself, the captain, and Frances. The repeated applications of the surgeon, to be permitted to use professional aid, were steadily rejected, and, at length, he was obliged unwillingly to retire.
“Raise me,” said the dying young woman, “and let me look on a face that I love, once more.” Frances silently complied, and Isabella turned her eyes in sisterly affection upon George. “It matters but little, my brother—a few hours must close the scene.”
“Live, Isabella, my sister, my only sister!” cried the youth, with a burst of sorrow that he could not control. “My father! my poor father—”
“There is the sting of death; but he is a soldier and a Christian. Miss Wharton, I would speak of what interests you, while yet I have strength for the task.”
“Nay,” said Frances, tenderly, “compose yourself; let no desire to oblige me endanger a life that is precious to—to—so many.” The words were nearly stifled by her emotions, for the other had touched a chord that thrilled to her heart.
“Poor, sensitive girl!” said Isabella, regarding her with tender interest; “but the world is still before you, and why should I disturb the little happiness it may afford! Dream on, lovely innocent! and may God keep the evil day of knowledge far distant!”
“Oh, there is even now little left for me to enjoy,” said Frances, burying her face in the clothes. “I am heartstricken in all that I most loved.”
“No!” interrupted Isabella; “you have one inducement to wish for life, that pleads strongly in a woman’s breast. It is a delusion that nothing but death can destroy—” Exhaustion compelled her to pause, and her auditors continued in breathless suspense, until, recovering her strength, she laid her hand on that of Frances, and continued more mildly, “Miss Wharton, if there breathes a spirit congenial to Dunwoodie’s, and worthy of his love, it is your own.”
A flush of fire passed over the face of the listener, and she raised her eyes, flashing with an ungovernable look of delight, to the countenance of Isabella; but the ruin she beheld recalled better feelings, and again her head dropped upon the covering of the bed. Isabella watched her emotion with a look that partook both of pity and admiration.
“Such have been the feelings that I have escaped,” she continued. “Yes, Miss Wharton, Dunwoodie is wholly yours.”
“Be just to yourself, my sister,” exclaimed the youth; “let no romantic generosity cause you to forget your own character.”
She heard him, and fixed a gaze of tender interest on his face, but slowly shook her head as she replied,—
“It is not romance, but truth, that bids me speak. Oh! how much have I lived within an hour! Miss Wharton, I was born under a burning sun, and my feelings seem to have imbibed its warmth; I have existed for passion only.”
“Say not so—say not so, I implore you,” cried the agitated brother. “Think how devoted has been your love to our aged father; how disinterested, how tender, your affection to me!”
“Yes,” said Isabella, a smile of mild pleasure beaming on her countenance, “that, at least, is a reflection which may be taken to the grave.”
Neither Frances nor her brother interrupted her meditations, which continued for several minutes; when, suddenly recollecting herself, she continued,—
“I remain selfish even to the last; with me, Miss Wharton, America and her liberties were my earliest passion, and—” Again she paused, and Frances thought it was the struggle of death that followed; but reviving, she proceeded, “Why should I hesitate, on the brink of the grave! Dunwoodie was my next and my last. But,” burying her face in her hands, “it was a love that was unsought.”
“Isabella!” exclaimed her brother, springing from the bed, and pacing the floor in disorder.
“See how dependent we become under the dominion of worldly pride; it is painful to George to learn that one he loves had not feelings superior to her nature and education.”
“Say no more,” whispered Frances; “you distress us both—say no more, I entreat you.”
“In justice to Dunwoodie I must speak; and for the same reason, my brother, you must listen. By no act or word has Dunwoodie ever induced me to believe he wished me more than a friend; nay, latterly, I have had the burning shame of thinking that he avoided my presence.”
“Would he dare?” said Singleton, fiercely.
“Peace, my brother, and listen,” continued Isabella, rousing herself with an effort that was final. “Here is the innocent, the justifiable cause. We are both motherless; but that aunt—that mild, plain-hearted, observing aunt, has given you the victory. Oh! how much she loses, who loses a female guardian to her youth. I have exhibited those feelings which you have been taught to repress. After this, can I wish to live?”
“Isabella! my poor Isabella! you wander in your mind.”
“But one word more—for I feel that blood, which ever flowed too swiftly, rushing where nature never intended it to go. Woman must be sought to be prized; her life is one of concealed emotions; blessed are they whose early impressions make the task free from hypocrisy, for such only can be happy with men like—like Dunwoodie.” Her voice failed, and she sank back on her pillow in silence. The cry of Singleton brought the rest of the party to her bedside; but death was already upon her countenance; her remaining strength just sufficed to reach the hand of George, and pressing it to her bosom for a moment, she relinquished her grasp, and, with a slight convulsion, expired.
Frances Wharton had thought that fate had done its worst, in endangering the life of her brother, and destroying the reason of her sister; but the relief conveyed by the dying declaration of Isabella taught her that another sorrow had aided in loading her heart with grief. She saw the whole truth at a glance; nor was the manly delicacy of Dunwoodie lost upon her—everything tended to raise him in her estimation; and, for mourning that duty and pride had induced her to strive to think less of him, she was compelled to substitute regret that her own act had driven him from her in sorrow, if not in desperation. It is not in the nature of youth, however, to despair; and Frances now knew a secret joy that gave a new spring to her existence.
The sun broke forth, on the morning that succeeded this night of desolation, in unclouded luster, and seemed to mock the petty sorrows of those who received his rays. Lawton had early ordered his steed, and was ready to mount as the first burst of light broke over the hills. His orders were already given, and the trooper threw his leg across the saddle, in silence; and, casting a glance of fierce chagrin at the narrow space that had favored the flight of the Skinner, he gave Roanoke the rein, and moved slowly towards the valley.
The stillness of death pervaded the road, nor was there a single vestige of the scenes of the night, to tarnish the loveliness of a glorious morn. Struck with the contrast between man and nature, the fearless trooper rode by each pass of danger, regardless of what might happen; nor did he rouse himself from his musing, until the noble charger, snuffing the morning air, greeted the steeds of the guard under Sergeant Hollister.
Here, indeed, was to be seen sad evidence of the midnight fray, but the trooper glanced his eye over it with the coolness of one accustomed to such sights. Without wasting the moments in useless regrets, he proceeded, at once, to business.
“Have you seen anything?” he demanded of the orderly.
“Nothing, sir, that we dared to charge upon,” returned Hollister; “but we mounted once, at the report of distant firearms.”
“‘Tis well,” said Lawton, gloomily. “Ah! Hollister, I would give the animal I ride, to have had your single arm between the wretch who drew that trigger and these useless rocks, which overhang every bit of ground, as if they grudged pasture to a single hoof.”
“Under the light of day, and charging man to man, I am as good as another; but I can’t say that I’m overfond of fighting with those that neither steel nor lead can bring down.”
“What silly crotchet is uppermost, now, in that mystified brain of thine, Deacon Hollister?”
“I like not the dark object that has been maneuvering in the skirt of the wood since the first dawn of day; and twice, during the night, it was seen marching across the firelight, no doubt with evil intent.”
“Is it yon ball of black, at the foot of the rock maple, that you mean? In truth it moves.”
“But without mortal motion,” said the sergeant, regarding it with awful reverence. “It glides along, but no feet have been seen by any who watch here.”
“Had it wings,” cried Lawton, “it is mine; stand fast, until I join.” The words were hardly uttered before Roanoke was flying across the plain, and apparently verifying the boast of his master.
“Those cursed rocks!” ejaculated the trooper, as he saw the object of his pursuit approaching the hillside; but, either from want of practice or from terror, it passed the obvious shelter they offered, and fled into the open plain.
“I have you, man or devil!” shouted Lawton, whirling his saber from its scabbard. “Halt, and take quarter!”
His proposition was apparently acceded to; for, at the sound of his powerful voice, the figure sank upon the ground, exhibiting a shapeless ball of black, without life or motion.
“What have we here?” cried Lawton, drawing up by its side. “A gala suit of the good maiden, Jeanette Peyton, wandering around its birthplace, or searching in vain for its discomfited mistress?” He leaned forward in his stirrups, and placing the point of his sword under the silken garment, by throwing aside the covering, discovered part of the form of the reverend gentleman who had fled from the Locusts, the evening before, in his robes of office.
“In truth, Hollister had some ground for his alarm; an army chaplain is, at any time, a terror to a troop of horse.”
The clergyman had collected enough of his disturbed faculties, to discover that it was a face he knew, and somewhat disconcerted at the terror he had manifested, and the indecent attitude in which he had been found, he endeavored to rise and offer some explanation. Lawton received his apologies good-humoredly, if not with much faith in their truth; and, after a short communication upon the state of the valley, the trooper courteously alighted, and they proceeded towards the guard.
“I am so little acquainted, sir, with the rebel uniform, that I really was unable to distinguish, whether those men, whom you say are your own, did or did not belong to the gang of marauders.”
“Apology, sir, is unnecessary,” replied the trooper, curling his lip. “It is not your task, as a minister of God, to take note of the facings of a coat. The standard under which you serve is acknowledged by us all.”
“I serve under the standard of his gracious Majesty, George III,” returned the priest, wiping the cold sweat from his brow. “But really the idea of being scalped has a strong tendency to unman a new-beginner, like myself.”
“Scalped!” echoed Lawton, stopping short in his walk. Then recollecting himself, he added, with composure, “If it is to Dunwoodie’s squadron of Virginia light dragoons that you allude, it may be well to inform you that they generally take a bit of the skull with the skin.”
“Oh! I can have no apprehensions of gentlemen of your appearance,” said the divine, with a smirk. “It is the natives that I apprehend.”
“Natives! I have the honor to be one, I assure you, sir.”
“Nay, I beg that I may be understood—I mean the Indians; they who do nothing but rob, and murder, and destroy.”
“Yes, sir, and scalp too,” continued the clergyman, eying his companion a little suspiciously; “the copper-colored, savage Indians.”
“And did you expect to meet those nose-jeweled gentry in the neutral ground?”
“Certainly; we understand in England that the interior swarms with them.”
“And call you this the interior of America?” cried Lawton, again halting, and staring the other in the face, with a surprise too naturally expressed to be counterfeited.
“Surely, sir, I conceive myself to be in the interior.”
“Attend,” said Lawton, pointing towards the east. “See you not that broad sheet of water which the eye cannot compass? Thither lies the England you deem worthy to hold dominion over half the world. See you the land of your nativity?”
“‘Tis impossible to behold objects at a distance of three thousand miles!” exclaimed the wondering priest, a little suspicious of his companion’s sanity.
“No! what a pity it is that the powers of man are not equal to his ambition. Now turn your eyes westward; observe that vast expanse of water which rolls between the shores of America and China.”
“I see nothing but land,” said the trembling priest; “there is no water to be seen.”
“‘Tis impossible to behold objects at a distance of three thousand miles!” repeated Lawton, pursuing his walk. “If you apprehend the savages, seek them in the ranks of your prince. Rum and gold have preserved their loyalty.”
“Nothing is more probable than my being deceived,” said the man of peace, casting furtive glances at the colossal stature and whiskered front of his companion; “but the rumors we have at home, and the uncertainty of meeting with such an enemy as yourself, induced me to fly at your approach.”
“‘Twas not judiciously determined,” said the trooper, “as Roanoke has the heels of you greatly; and flying from Scylla, you were liable to encounter Charybdis. Those woods and rocks cover the very enemies you dread.”
“The savages!” exclaimed the divine, instinctively placing the trooper in the rear.
“More than savages; men who, under the guise of patriotism, prowl through the community, with a thirst for plunder that is unsatiable, and a love of cruelty that mocks the ingenuity of the Indian—fellows whose mouths are filled with liberty and equality, and whose hearts are overflowing with cupidity and gall—gentlemen that are ycleped the Skinners.”
“I have heard them mentioned in our army,” said the frightened divine, “and had thought them to be the aborigines.”
“You did the savages injustice.”
They now approached the spot occupied by Hollister, who witnessed with surprise the character of the prisoner made by his captain. Lawton gave his orders, and the men immediately commenced securing and removing such articles of furniture as were thought worthy of the trouble; and the captain, with his reverend associate, who was mounted on a mettled horse, returned to the quarters of the troop.
It was the wish of Singleton that the remains of his sister should be conveyed to the post commanded by his father, and preparations were early made to this effect. The wounded British were placed under the control of the chaplain; and towards the middle of the day Lawton saw all the arrangements so far completed, as to render it probable that in a few hours he would be left with his small party, in undisturbed possession of the Corners.
While leaning in the doorway, gazing in moody silence at the ground which had been the scene of the last night’s chase, his ear caught the sound of a horse, and the next moment a dragoon of his own troop appeared dashing up the road, as if on business of the last importance. The steed was foaming, and the rider had the appearance of having done a day’s service. Without speaking, he placed a letter in the hand of Lawton, and led his charger to the stable. The trooper knew the hand of the major, and ran his eye over the following:
I rejoice it is the order of Washington, that the family of the Locusts are to be removed above the Highlands. They are to be admitted to the society of Captain Wharton, who waits only for their testimony to be tried. You will communicate this order, and with proper delicacy I do not doubt. The English are moving up the river; and the moment you see the Whartons in safety, break up and join your troop. There will be good service to be done when we meet, as Sir Henry is reported to have sent out a real soldier in command. Reports must be made to the commandant at Peekskill, for Colonel Singleton is withdrawn to headquarters, to preside over the inquiry upon poor Wharton. Fresh orders have been sent to hang the peddler if we can take him, but they are not from the commander in chief. Detail a small guard with the ladies, and get into the saddle as soon as possible.
This communication entirely changed the whole arrangement. There was no longer any motive for removing the body of Isabella, since her father was no longer with his command, and Singleton reluctantly acquiesced in an immediate interment. A retired and lovely spot was selected, near the foot of the adjacent rocks, and such rude preparations were made as the time and the situation of the country permitted. A few of the neighboring inhabitants collected from curiosity and interest, and Miss Peyton and Frances wept in sincerity over her grave. The solemn offices of the church were performed by the minister, who had so lately stood forth to officiate in another and very different duty; and Lawton bent his head, and passed his hand across his brow, while the words that accompanied the first clod were uttered.
A new stimulus was given to the Whartons by the intelligence conveyed in the letter of Dunwoodie; and Caesar, with his horses, was once more put in requisition. The relics of the property were intrusted to a neighbor, in whom they had confidence; and, accompanied by the unconscious Sarah, and attended by four dragoons and all of the American wounded, Mr. Wharton’s party took their departure. They were speedily followed by the English chaplain, with his countrymen, who were conveyed to the waterside, where a vessel was in waiting to receive them. Lawton joyfully witnessed these movements; and as soon as the latter were out of sight, he ordered his own bugle to sound. Everything was instantly in motion. The mare of Mrs. Flanagan was again fastened to the cart; Dr. Sitgreaves exhibited his shapeless form once more on horseback; and the trooper appeared in the saddle, rejoicing in his emancipation.
The word to march was given; and Lawton, throwing a look of sullen ferocity at the place of the Skinner’s concealment, and another of melancholy regret towards the grave of Isabella, led the way, accompanied by the surgeon in a brown study; while Sergeant Hollister and Betty brought up the rear, leaving a fresh southerly wind to whistle through the open doors and broken windows of the “Hotel Flanagan,” where the laugh of hilarity, the joke of the hardy partisan, and the lamentations of the sorrowing, had so lately echoed.