"Why, Mr. Peters certainly appeared much alarmed, and anxious that something should be done to save you," replied Miss McRea, after a thoughtful pause, produced by the words and fervid manner of her companion.
"Then why did he leave it to another to save me?" responded the former, severely.
"That I do not know, certainly," replied the other; "but he at once bestirred himself, and I heard him offer five guineas, and I think he doubled the price the next moment, to any one who would go on to the ice and bring you off."
"Five guineas!" exclaimed Miss Haviland, starting to her feet, with a countenance eloquent with scorn and contempt—"five guineas, and at a pinch, ten! What a singular fountain must that be, from which such a thought, at such a time, could have flowed! Had it been one of those favorite horses, it would have sounded well enough, perhaps, though I think he would have offered more. It is well, however, that I now know the price at which I am estimated," she added, bitterly.
"It does sound rather strangely, now you have named it," responded Miss McRea, abashed at the unexpected construction put on what she had communicated, and mortified and half vexed, that every attempt she had made to remove her friend's difficulties only made the matter worse: "it sounds oddly, to be sure, but I presume he did not mean any thing."
"O, no, I dare say; nor did he do any thing, as I can learn, through the whole affair, except attempt to deprive Woodburn of the credit he had gained. Jane," she continued, with softened tone, "what would you have thought, had you been in my situation, and your lover had acted such a part?"
"I should have thought—I don't know what I should have thought," replied the other, with a feeling which showed how quickly the appeal had taken effect. "But I should have had no occasion to have any thought about it; for I know he would have been the one to save me, or die with me. O, I wish Mr. Jones had come on with us, for had he been there, so good and so brave as he is, I am sure even you need not have become so deeply indebted to this low young fellow."
"Low, Jane, low?" said the former, reprovingly. "Was it low to overlook so easily the injury and affront he had received from Peters, and then return good for evil? And was it low to rescue me from the raging flood, by exertions and risk of life, which would have done credit to the first hero in the land?"
"O, no, not that; I did not mean that; for his conduct has been generous and noble indeed; and from the first, when I heard Mr. Jones's account of him, I was disposed to think highly of the man, for one in his situation of life. I only meant that he did not belong to our party, but was one of the lower classes of society."
"It is true he may not belong to our party, Jane; but how much should that weigh in the argument? Perhaps at this very hour, two thirds of the American people would count it as weight to the other part of the balance. And even I, trained as I have been by and among the highest toned loyalists, wish I could help doubting that our party is the only one that has right and reason on its side. And as to the claim of belonging to what is called the first society, I can only say that I wish many, who are allowed that claim among us, were as worthy of the place as I think Woodburn is. I have always loved Justice for her beautiful self and hated her opposite; and I never could see how those who are guided by her and the kindred virtues, could be accounted low, or how, or why, those who lack these qualities could claim to be called high. Is it any wonder then, Jane, that I should feel troubled and distressed at discoveries which, in my mind, reverse the situation that my friends assign to the two individuals of whom we have been speaking?"
"O, you are too much of a philosopher for me in all that," replied Jane, "Come, be a woman now, Sabrey, and I will discuss the matter with you, claiming, perhaps, a little, a very little, of the right of the confessor. I can easily understand how painful it would be to have doubts of the character of one's lover, and I can also understand," she continued, looking a little archly, "how one, who did not love a suitor very hard, could feel grateful—yes, very grateful—to a good-looking young man who had behaved gallantly. And I have a good mind to half suspect—"
"Hark!" interrupted the other, hurriedly, while a slight tinge became visible on her cheek—"hark! did you hear the striking of the house clock below? It is telling the hour of midnight. Let us dismiss these embarrassing thoughts, and retire to our repose. Your prospects, Jane," she continued, rising and speaking in a sad and gently expostulatory tone—"your prospects are bright with love and happiness; and it will be ungenerous and cruel in you to say aught which will deepen the shade that I fear is coming over mine."
"O, I will not, Sabrey," warmly returned the kind-hearted Jane. "I did not intend it. Forgive me, do; and we will dismiss the subject for something which will give us pleasanter dreams, and then, as you say, go to rest and enjoy them."
Leaving these fair friends to their slumbers, disquieted or sweetened by the various visions which the incidents of the day had been calculated to excite in the bosom of each, we will now repair to a lower apartment of the house, to note the doings of a select band of court dignitaries there assembled, for a purpose concerning which a spectator, at the first glance, might, from the appearances, be at a loss to decide whether it was one of revelry or secret consultation, so much did it partake of the character of both.
Around a long table, well furnished with wine and glasses, sat a select company of gentlemen, whose dress and deportment denoted them to be persons of the first consequence. And such, indeed, may be said to have been the fact, till the present time, for the party embraced the judges and officers of the court, and such of the most stanch and influential of their supporters as could be convened for a special consultation, which, it was considered, the portents of the times demanded. Here was the aristocratic and haughty Brush, the host, and leading spirit of the party, with his florid face, cracking his jokes and ridiculing "the boorish settlers," in which he was sure to find a ready response in the boisterous laugh of Peters and other young supporters of the court and loyal party. Here, too, sat the fiery and profane Gale, the clerk of the court, with his thin, angular features, and forbidding brow, occasionally exploding with his short, bitter, barking laugh, as, with many an oath, he dealt out anticipated vengeance on all those who should dare cross the path of the established authorities. And here also was Chandler, the chief judge of the court, with his plausible manners, affectedly sincere look, and deferential smile, as he exchanged the whisper and meaning glance with his colleague, Judge Sabin, a stern, reserved, and bigoted loyalist, or as he nodded approbation to the remarks, whatever they might be, of those around him. These with Stearns, a tory lawyer of some note, Rogers, a tory land holder, Haviland, and a few others, all leading and trusty supporters of the court party, constituted the company, or rather the cabinet council, here convened, all of whom, as appeared by the entire freedom of their remarks, were fully in each other's confidence.
There was one person in the room, however, who had no thought or feeling in common with the rest of those present, but who did not appear to be deemed by them of sufficient consequence to be interrogated in relation to his opinions, or of sufficient capacity to comprehend what was said in his presence, at least not to any degree which might render it unsafe that he should hear the discussion so unreservedly going forward. This person, who was acting in the capacity of waiter to the company, being under a temporary engagement to the master of the house, to serve him in such work as might be wanted about the house and stables, was a youth, of perhaps eighteen, of quite an ordinary, and even singular appearance. His figure was low and slight, and he was made to appear the more diminutive, perhaps, by his dress, which consisted of short trousers, a long, coarse jacket, and a flat woollen cap, drawn down to the eyebrows. His hair, hanging, in lank locks, to his shoulders, was light and sandy, and his face was deeply freckled; while a pair of long, falling eyelashes contributed to add still further to the peculiarity of his looks, and to give his countenance, with those who did not note the keen, bright orbs that occasionally peeped from their usually impenetrable coverts, a sleepy and listless appearance. He now sat on the top of a high wood-box, placed near one corner of the chimney, with his legs dangling over one end of the box, and his head drooping sluggishly towards the fire, apparently as unconscious of what was said and done in the room, as the little black dog that lay sleeping on the floor beneath his feet.
"Here, Bart," exclaimed Brush, as the company, having dropped the discussion of all weighty matters, were now briskly circulating the bottle, and beginning to give way to noisy merriment—"here, Bart, you sleepy devil, come and snuff these candles. Our chap here," he continued, winking archly to those around him—"our chap Bart, or Barty Burt, to give the whole of his euphonious name, gentlemen, may be considered an excellent specimen of the rebel party, who talk so wisely about self-government, sitting under one's own vine and fig-tree, and all that sort of thing; for; in the first place, he has a great deal of wisdom, handy to be got at, it all lying in his face. And then he is so much for self-government that no one can govern him in anything. Then again, as to the idea of sitting under a fig-tree, I think it is one that Bart would most naturally entertain; for had he a tree to sit under, be it fig or bass-wood, and enough to eat, he would sit there till he was gray, before he would think of moving."
"Not badly drawn, that similitude," said Stearns, after the burst of laughter, by which these remarks were greeted, had a little subsided; "but methinks I see a flaw therein, friend Brush: you said our young republican's wisdom, alias ideas, all lay in his face; and then, in the matter of the fig-tree, you go on to intimate he has one distinct idea in his head, thereby lessening the force and exactness of the comparison, as I think you will allow."
"I crave pardon, gentlemen," cried the secretary; "I should have qualified; for, really, I have several times seriously suspected Bart to have ideas, or, at least, one whole idea of his own; and if you think that is too much to allow the individuals of the party generally, with whom I have compared him, why, then I must knock under, that's all."
"You are down! you are down, then, Brush!" shouted several, with another uproarious burst of laughter.
Bart, the chief butt of this ridicule, in the mean while, was moving quietly about the room in performance of his bidden tasks, without appearing to notice a word that was uttered; and but for a certain rapid twinkling that might have been seen in his eyes, which, as he deliberately returned to his seat in the corner, were opened to an unusual extent, one would have supposed him utterly insensible to all the taunts and jeering laughter of which he had thus publicly been made the victim.
"Ah! Patterson, here you are then, at last," exclaimed Gale, as the former, with a disturbed and angry countenance, now came pushing his way into the midst of the company. "We have done nothing but drink and joke since you went out, scarcely; at all events, we have concluded on nothing, except to wait and learn the result of your discoveries: so now for your report."
"Ay, ay, Mr. Sheriff," responded Brush. "But stay, take breath, and a glass of this glorious old Madeira, first. There! now tell us how the land lies abroad to-night."
"It lies but little to my liking," growled the Sheriff, with an oath. The rascally dogs have altogether stolen the march of us. They have been swarming into town all the evening, as thick as bees, while not more than a dozen of our flint-and-steel men have yet got on the ground. It beats Beelzebub!—"
"Our witnesses," quickly interposed Judge Chandler, bowing with a significant smile and cautionary wink, while he threw a sidelong glance towards Bart, whom the wary eye of the judge had detected in slightly changing his position, so as to bring his ear more directly towards the speakers—"our witnesses and quarrelling suitors in court you mean, of course?"
"Why, yes—yes, your honor—if you think that necessary," replied Patterson, following the direction of the other's glance, and then looking inquiringly at Brush, as if to ask whether there was any danger to be apprehended from talking before the servant. "Pooh—nonsense!" said Brush, readily understanding the mute appeal. "Nonsense! You could not make him comprehend what we are talking about in six weeks, if you should do your prettiest. Why, the fellow has not two ideas above a jackass!—so talk out."
"Well, then," resumed the sheriff, in a lower tone, "I have satisfied myself that the rebels are plotting like so many Satans, and are in earnest about carrying their threat into execution. Now, the question is, what shall be done—yield the point and submit to be turned out of the Court House to-morrow, as if we were a pack of unruly boys, or what?"
"Yield!" fiercely exclaimed Gale—"not till my pistol bullets have drank the heart's blood of the d——d rascals, first."
"Ay, Gale," responded Brush, "that would be well enough, but for one small difficulty, which is, that these demi-savages understand quite as much of that kind of play as we do; and so long as they outnumber us so greatly, the fun of doing what you would propose might be less than talking about it. Let us have Chandler's opinion. What course is it best to take, judge?"
"Temporize!" replied the latter, in a low, emphatic tone, and with a look of peculiar significance—"temporize till——"
"Till we can help ourselves," said Patterson, taking up the sentence where the other left it, or rather finishing in words what had been expressed by looks.
"That's just my notion," remarked Stearns. "Let them see and be assured that we are for peace, and want nothing but what is right; all of which may be said truly. And in this manner, if the thing is well managed, their suspicions can be allayed, and we can get possession of the Court House as soon as our friends get on, which will be by to-morrow noon—will it not Patterson?"
"Yes, unless this cussed flood has carried away all the roads, as well as bridges," gruffly replied the sheriff. "Yes, and if these mobbing knaves can be kept quiet then, we shall be in a situation to ask no favors."
"And grant none," said Sabin, with cool bitterness.
"You don't learn," asked Chandler, with feigned indifference—"you don't learn that the people have brought any offensive implements with them, do you, Patterson? It might be done covertly, you know. Has this been seen to, by proper measures,—such as examining the straw in the bottoms of their sleighs, and the like?"
"Yes, thoroughly," returned the former; "they have brought no arms with them, at any rate. We are undoubtedly indebted to your honor's skilful management with them at Chester for that."
"Ay, ay," interposed Stearns, "nobody but the judge could have executed that piece of diplomacy with the fellows. And no one but he can carry out the business successfully now. His honor must be the one to undertake it."
"Certainly." "The very man." "He must do it." "They would listen to none of us." "The thing is settled, and he must go" unanimously responded the company.
"I really feel flattered, gentlemen," replied Chandler, bowing and waving his hand towards the company—"highly flattered by your opinion of my capacity to negotiate in this delicate affair. But you will understand, in case I accede to your wishes, gentlemen," he continued, with a look of peculiar meaning—"you will understand that I am to be considered, on all hands, as utterly opposed to coercive measures—to all—I am understood, I suppose, gentlemen?"
"Yes, yes, judge," returned the others, with knowing winks and laughter, "we will all understand that you are opposed to the whole move."
Having thus arranged business for the morrow to their satisfaction, these astute personages, who, like their party generally in America, at that period, seemed to have acted on an entirely false estimate of the intelligence and spirit of the common people, now rose and retired to their respective lodgings, inwardly chuckling at their sagacity, in being able to concoct what they believed would prove a successful scheme of overreaching and putting down their opponents, and, at the same time, of establishing their own tottering authority on a basis which might bid defiance to all future attempts to overturn it.
"But here, at least, are arms unchained And souls that thraldom never stained."
As soon as the company, described in the preceding chapter, had all retired from the room, Brush, bidding Bart to rake up the fire and go to bed, proceeded to lock all the outer doors of the house, muttering to himself as he did so, "It can't be as Chandler fears, I think, about this fellow's going out to blab to-night; but as this will put an end to the possibility of his doing it, I may as well make all fast, and then there will be no chance for blame for suffering him to remain in the room."
So saying, and putting the different keys in his pocket, he at once disappeared, on his way to his own apartment. When the sound of his retiring footsteps had ceased to be heard, Bart, who had lingered in the room, suddenly changed his sleepy, abject appearance for a prompt, decisive look and an erect attitude.
"Two ideas above a jackass!—two ideas above a jackass, eh?" he said, and slowly repeated, as with flashing eyes he nodded significantly in the direction his master had taken. "You may yet find out, Squire Brush, that my ears aint sich a disput sight longer than yourn, arter all."
With this he blew out the last remaining light, and groped his way to his own humble sleeping-room, in the low attic story of the back kitchen. Here, however, he manifested no disposition to go to bed, but sitting down upon the side of his miserable pallet, he remained motionless and silent for fifteen or twenty minutes, when he began to soliloquize: "Jackass!—sleepy devil!—not wit enough to see what they are at in six weeks, eh? Barty Burt, you are one of small fishes, it is true; but, for all that, you needn't be walloped about at this rate, and bamboozled, and swallowed entirely up by the big ones of this court-and-king party. You know enough to take care of yourself; yes, and at the same time, you can be doing something towards paying these gentry for the beautiful compliments you have had from them to-night and at other times. The fact is, Bart, you are a rebel now—honestly one of them—you feel it in you, and you may as well let it out. So here goes for their meeting, if it is to be found, if I am hanged for it."
Having, in this whimsical manner, made a sort of manifesto of his principles and intentions, as if to give them, with himself, a more fixed and definite character, he now rose buttoned up his jacket, carefully raised the window of his room, let himself down to the roof of a shed beneath it, and from that descended to the ground, with the easy and rapid motions of a squirrel engaged in nut-gathering. Here he cast a furtive glance around him, and paused some moments, in apparent hesitation, respecting the course to be taken to find those of whom he was in quest. Soon, however, appearing to come to a determination, he struck out into the main street, and, with a quick step, proceeded on, perhaps a furlong, when he suddenly stopped short, and exclaimed, "Hold up, Bart. What did that sly judge say about searching in folks' sleighs, for—what was that word now?—But never mind, it meant guns. And what did the sheriff say about a dozen flint-and-steel men having come? Put that and that together now, Bart, and see if it don't mean that the only guns brought into town to-night are packed away in the straw, in the bottom of the sleighs of the court party understrappers? Let's go and mouse round their stopping-place a little, Bart. Perhaps you'll get more news to carry to the rebels," he added, turning round and making towards the tavern at which those in the interests of the loyalists were known generally to put up.
On reaching the tavern, and finding all there still and dark, he proceeded directly to the barn shed, and commenced a search, which was soon rewarded by finding, in the different sleighs about the place, twelve muskets, carefully concealed in hay or blankets. With a low chuckle of delight at his discovery, Bart took as many as he could conveniently carry at one load, and, going with them into the barn, thrust them one by one into the hay mow, under the girts and beams, so as effectually to conceal them. He then returned for others, and continued his employment till the whole were thus disposed of; when he left the place, and resumed his walk to the northerly end of the village. After pursuing his way through the street, and some distance down the road beyond the village, he paused against a low, long log-house, standing endwise to the road. This house was occupied by a middle-aged, single man, known by the name of Tom Dunning, though often called Ditter Dunning, and sometimes Der Ditter, on account of his frequent use of these terms as prefixes to his words and sentences, arising from a natural impediment of speech. He was a hunter by profession, and passed most of his lime in the woods, or round the Connecticut in catching salmon, which, at that period, were found in the river in considerable numbers, as far up as Bellows Falls. Though he mingled but little in society, yet he was known to be well informed respecting all the public movements of the times; and it was also believed that he had enrolled himself among the far-famed band of Green Mountain Boys, and often joined them in their operations against the Yorkers, on the other side of the mountains. Very little however, was known about the man, except that he was a shrewd resolute fellow, extremely eccentric, and perfectly impenetrable to all but the few in whom he confided.
Bart, from some remark he had overheard in the street, in the early part of the evening, had been led to conclude that the company he now sought were assembled at this house. And though he was personally unacquainted with the owner, and knew nothing of his principles, yet he was resolved to enter and trust to luck to make his introduction, if the company were present, and, if not, to rely on his own wit to discover whether it were safe to unfold his errand.
As he was approaching the house, Dunning hastily emerged from the door, and, advancing with a quick step, confronted him in the path with an air which seemed to imply an expectation that his business would be at once announced. Bart, who was not to be discomposed by any thing of this kind, manifested no hurry to name his errand, and seemed to prefer that the other should be the first to break the silence.
"Ditter—seems to me I have seen you somewhere?" at length said Dunning, inquiringly.
"Very likely. I have often been there," replied Bart, with the utmost gravity.
"Ditter—devil you have! And what did you—der—ditter—find there, my foxy young friend?"
"Nothing that I was looking for."
"Der—what was that?"
"The one I'd like to go to, may be."
"You are a bright pup; but—der—don't spit this way; it might be der—ditter—dangerous business to me; for you must have been eating razors to-night."
"No, I haven't; don't love 'em. But you haven't yet told me where the meeting is?"
"Ditter—look here, my little chap," said Dunning, getting impatient and vexed that he could not decide whether the other was a knave, simpleton, or neither—"ditter—look here;—der—don't your folks want you?" Hadn't you better run along now?"
"Reckon I shall, when you tell me where to go and not run against snags."
"Ditter well, der go back the way you come, about ditter as far again as half way; der then, ditter turn to the ditter right, then to the ditter left, then der—ditter—ditter—ditter—go along! you'll get there before I can tell you."
"In no sort of hurry; will wait till you get your mouth off; may be it will shoot near the mark arter all."
"Ditter, dog, my cat, if I—der—don't begin to believe you are considerable of a critter: and I've half a mind to risk you a piece; so come into the house, and, der—let me take a squint at your phiz in the light."
Taking no exceptions to the character of the invitation, Bart now followed the other into the house, and, sitting down on a bench by the fire, began very unconcernedly to whistle, on a low key, the tune of Yankee Doodle, which was then just beginning to be considered a patriotic air. Dunning, in the mean time, taking a seat in the opposite corner, commenced his proposed scrutiny, which he continued, with one eye partly closed, and with a certain dubious expression of countenance, for some moments, when he observed,
"You are a ditter queer chicken, that's a fact. But I der find now that I know you, as the ditter divil did his pigs, by sight; I know also the sort of folks you have been living amongst lately; and der knowing all that, it's reasonable that I should be a snuffing a little for the ditter smell of brimstone. So now if you are a court party tory, and come here for mischief, you've got into a place that will ditter prove too hot for you; but if, as I rather think, you are, or der want to be, something better, and can let us into the shape and fix of matters and things over there at ditter head-quarters, you may be the chap we would like to see. Ditter speak out therefore, like a man, and no more of your ditter squizzling."
After a few more evasive remarks, in which he succeeded in drawing out the other more fully, and causing him the more completely to commit himself, Bart threw aside all bantering, and proceeded to relate all his discoveries relative to the contemplated movement of the court party.
"Ditter devils and dumplings!" exclaimed the hunter, as, with eyes sparkling with excitement, he sprang to his feet, as the other finished his recital. "This must be made known directly. Come—der follow me, and I'll take you to the company you ditter said you wished to see."
So saying, he immediately led the way through a dark entry to a room in the rear of the house, which the two now entered; when Bart found himself in a company of nearly twenty grave and stern-looking men, deliberating in a regularly organized meeting.
"Ditter here, Captain Wright," eagerly commenced Dunning, as he entered, addressing the chairman, a prompt, fine-looking man, and the leading whig of the village; "here is one," he continued, pointing to Bart, "one who brings ditter news that—"
"Esquire Knowlton, of Townsend, has the floor now," said the chairman, interrupting the speaker, and directing his attention to a middle-aged man of a gentlemanly, intelligent appearance, who was standing on one side of the room, having suspended the remarks he was making at the entrance of Dunning and his companion.
"As I was remarking, Mr. Chairman," now resumed the gentleman who had been thus interrupted in his speech, "the tory party, acting under various disguises, have been, for several months past, secretly using every means within their reach to strengthen their unrighteous rule in this already sadly oppressed section of the country. They aim to bring the people into a state of bondage and slavery. When no cash is stirring, with which debts can be paid, they purposely multiply suits, seize property, which they well know can never be redeemed, and take it into their hands, that they may make the people dependent on them, and subservient to their party purposes. And just so far as they find themselves strengthened by these and other disguised movements, so far they betray their intention to curtail all freedom of opinion, and to overawe us by open acts of oppression. Here, one man has been thrown into prison on the charge of high treason; when all they proved against him was the remark, that if the king had signed the Quebec bill, he had broken his coronation oath. There, another, a poor harmless recluse, as I have ever supposed him, is dragged from his hut in the mountains and imprisoned to await his trial for an alleged murder, committed long ago, and in another jurisdiction; when his only crime, with his prosecutors, probably, is his bold denunciations of their tyranny, unless, as some suspect, even a baser motive actuates them. They even proclaim, that all who dare question the king's right to tax us without our consent, are guilty of high treason and worthy of death! For myself, I seek not the suspension of this court at this time, on account of the questionable jurisdiction of New York merely, but because the court, itself bitterly tory in all its branches, is sustained by a colony which refuses to adopt the resolves of the Continental Congress, and thereby continues to force upon us the royal authority, which our brethren of the other colonies have almost every where put down, and which in our case, Heaven knows, is not the least deserving the fate it has met elsewhere. And the question, then, now comes home to us, Shall we tolerate it any longer? The hearts of the people, though their tongues may often be awed into silence—the hearts of the people are ready to respond their indignant no! And I, for one, am ready to join in the cry, and stepping into the first rank of the opposers of arbitrary power, breast the storm in discharging my duty to my country."
"Amen!" was the deep and general response of the company.
"Mr. Dunning will now be heard," said the chairman, motioning to the former to come forward.
"Ditter well, Captain—der—ditter Mr. Moderator, I mean. I, being on the watch against ditter interlopers, you know, have just picked up an odd coon, here, who ditter seems to have ears in one place and tongue in another; and his story is a ditter loud one. But let him tell it in his own way. So now, Barty Burt," he continued, going up to the other, who stood by the fire, kicking the fore-stick with his usual air of indifference; "come forward, and tell the meeting all you have der seen and heard, in the ditter camp of the Philistines."
Bart, then, mostly in the way of answers to a series of rapid questions, put by the chairman, who seemed to know him, and understand the best way of drawing him out,—Bart then related his discoveries to his astonished and indignant auditors, giving such imitations of the manner of each of the company, whose words he was repeating, as not only showed their meaning in its full force, but at once convinced all present of the truth of his story.
No sooner had Bart closed, than a half dozen of the company sprang to their feet, in their eagerness to express their indignation and abhorrence of the bloody plot, which their opponents under the garb of peace and fair promises, had, it was now evident, been hatching against them.
"Order, gentlemen!" cried the chairman: "I don't wonder you all want to denounce the detestable and cowardly conduct of the tyrants. But one only can be heard at a time, and Mr. French, I rather think, was fairly up first, and he will therefore proceed."
While all others, on hearing this remark of the chairman, resumed their seats, the person thus named, as privileged to speak first, remained standing. He was a young man, of about twenty-two, of a ready, animated appearance, while every look and motion of his ardent countenance and restless muscles proclaimed him to be of the most sanguine temperament and enthusiastic feelings. An almost unnatural excitement was sparkling in his kindling eyes, and a sort of wild, fitful, sad, and prophetic air characterized his whole appearance as he began.
"It has come at last, then! I knew it was coming. I have felt it for months; waking and sleeping, I have felt it. In my dreams I have seen blood in the skies, and heard sounds of battle in the air and earth. Dreams of themselves, I know, are generally without sign or significance; but when the spirit of a dream remains on the mind through the waking hours, as it has on mine, I know it has a meaning. Something has been hurrying me to be ready for the great event. I could not help coming here to-night. I cannot help being here to-morrow. The event and the time are at hand! I see it now—resistance, and battle, and blood! Let it come! the victims are ready; and their blood, poured out on the wood on the altar of liberty, will bring down fire from heaven to consume the oppressors!"
There was a short silence among the company, who seemed to pause, in surprise and awe at the strange words and manner of the young man, which evidently made an impression on his hearers at the time, and which were afterwards remembered, and often repeated, at the fireside, in recounting his untimely fate."
"Mr. Fletcher," at length observed the chairman, breaking the silence—"Mr. Fletcher, of Newfane, is next entitled to speak, I believe."
"I rose, Mr. Chairnan," said the latter, a fine specimen of the hardy, resolute, and intelligent yeoman of the times—"I rose but to ask whether the news just received can be relied on: can it be, that Judge Chandler, after his pledge to us at Chester, would be guilty of conduct reflecting so deeply on his character as a man?"
"I am not wholly unprepared to believe the story myself," replied the chairman; "our young friend here may have his peculiarities; but I consider him a thousand times more honest and honorable, than some of those whose sly hints and treacherous conduct he has so well described."
"Ditter, look here, Mr. Moderator," interposed Dunning. "I was once, ditter travelling, in the Bay State, with a friend, when we came across a meeting-house with eight sides, and my friend asked me what order of architecture I called it. Ditter well, I was fairly treed, and couldn't tell. But I should be able to tell now. I should ditter call it the Chandler order."
A desultory but animated debate now arose. Various methods of accomplishing what appeared to be the settled determination of all—that of preventing the sitting of the court—were suggested. Some proposed to dismantle or tear down the Court House; others were for arming the people, seizing the building, and bidding open defiance to their opponents. At this stage of the deliberations, Colonel Carpenter, whose character had secured him great influence, rose, and requested to be heard.
"From the gathering signs of the times," said he, "we have good reason to believe that the smouldering fires of liberty will soon burst forth into open revolution throughout these oppressed and insulted colonies. Our movements here may lead to the opening scene of the great drama; and we must give our foes no advantages by our imprudence. If we are the first to appear in arms, it may weaken our cause, while it strengthens theirs. Let them be the first to do this—let us place them in the wrong, and then, if they have recourse to violence and bloodshed, we will act; and no fear but the people will find means to arm themselves. Let us, therefore, go into the Court House to-morrow, in a body, but without a single offensive implement, and resist peacefully, but firmly; and then, if they dare make a martyr, his blood will do more for our cause than would now a regiment of rifles."
Although this prudent and far-sighted proposal was for a while opposed, by the more ardent and unthinking part of the company, yet it was at length adopted by the whole; and having made arrangements to carry it into effect, the meeting broke up, and all retired to their respective lodgings.
"Thou ever strong upon the strongest side"
Although many were the anxious consultations, and deep plottings, among the belligerent parties within doors, during the fore part of the memorable 13th of March, yet it was not till the afternoon of that day had considerably advanced, that any indications of the events which followed became observable in the streets of Westminster. About this time, one of the doors of Crean Brush's guest-filled mansion suddenly flew open, and the crouched and cringing form of our humble friend Barty Burt, hotly pursued by his recent employer with uplifted cane, was seen coming down the steps of the entrance, in flying leaps, to the ground.
"There, you infernal booby! please consider this caning and kicking as a farewell to my house and employ forever!" exclaimed the enraged master, standing in the door-way, and looking down with ineffable scorn upon the prostrate person of the ejected Bart, as he lay sprawled out upon the spot where he landed, without manifesting any disposition to rise.
"I should like to know what I've done criminal, squire?" responded the latter, looking back over his shoulder at the other, with a doleful grimace.
"What have you done?" sharply retorted Brush. "Why, you impertinent puppy, you have done every thing wrong, and nothing right, ever since you got your lubberly carcass out of bed, at the fine time of eight o'clock this morning! and now, to crown all, in clearing off the table, you must go, with your load of meats and half-filled gravy dishes, through the parlor, where you had no business to go, and there, like a blundering jackass, as you are, you must fall down and ruin the best carpet in the house! I've had quite enough of you, sir: so up with you there and clear out, you vagabond!"
"Well, I'spose I know what you want," muttered Bart, by way of reply to this tirade—"you want to accuse, and drive me away, so you won't have to pay me the two crowns you owe me for work, and other things."
"I don't owe you half that sum, you lying lout," returned Brush, fiercely. "But to get rid of such a pest, and prevent your going round town with that lie in your mouth, I'll give you all you ask; and there they are!" he continued, pulling out and disdainfully tossing the coins down at the other's feet. "Your dirty rags, if you have any in the house, shall be thrown out to you; and then, if you aint off, I'll set the dogs on ye."
With this, and an expressive slam of the door behind him, the secretary returned into the house; and in a few moments, the sash of a garret window was thrown up, and a pair of shoes, a pair of old summer pantaloons, a spare coarse shirt, and pair of stockings, were successively flung down into the yard, near where the owner was still lying, by the hand of a grinning and blushing servant maid, while her dainty-fingered master stood by, directing the operation,
"Well, Bart," now soon began to mutter this singular being, in his usual manner of addressing himself as a second person, when alone—"well, Bart, your plan of getting driv away has worked to a shaving. You've got your pay, too, jest in the way you calculated would fetch it; yes, all your honest pay, and one crown more; but you charged that, you know, when you told him two crowns, as damage for the kick and cane lick you got. So that's settled. And as to the other accounts against him, and the rest of 'em there, you'll be in a way to square all, fore long, guess; for you will be your own rebel, now, Bart, you know."
While thus communing with himself, he had slowly, and with many winces of affected pain, gathered up his limbs, risen on to his feet, pocketed his two crowns, and collected and tied up his clothes. And he was now, with a grieved look, as if sorrowing for the loss of his home, looking back to the house, where several curious, half-laughing, half-pitying countenances were seen peering through the windows to witness his departure. He then looked hesitatingly abroad, one way and then the other, with the sad and despairing air of one who feels there is no place in the wide world where he can find a friendly shelter. After this, with a wince and groan at every step, he slowly hobbled off up the street, losing his lameness, and converting his groans into snickers of low, exulting laughter, as soon as he was out of eye-shot of the company he had left behind him.
"Kinder 'pears to me, Bart," he at length said, resuming his soliloquy, as he glanced keenly at the tavern, which was the scene of his last night's exploit, and which he was now passing—"'pears to me, there's a good many heads rather close together in spots, round that tory nest over yonder. They act as if they were in a sort of stew about something. I wonder if they lost their guns last night, or anything, that puts them in such a pucker," he continued with a chuckle. "But suppose, Bart, as going this way is only a sham, suppose we now haul up here, and edge over there among 'em a little, to learn what they are up to, before you go to join the company at the Court House."
On reaching the yard of the tavern, Bart found that the company, numbering perhaps twenty in all, had broken from the separate groups in which they had been conversing, and had now gathered round one man, who, having just come out of the tavern, appeared to be communicating to the crowd something that obviously produced considerable sensation. This person was a man of the ordinary size, of fair complexion, light eyes, and an unsettled and vacillating countenance, rendered the more strikingly so, perhaps, by the quick, eager, and restless motions and manner by which his whole appearance was characterized. Bart soon contrived to work his way into this circle, till he gained a position from which he could hear what was said.
"You may rely on what I have told you," said the speaker, as Bart came within hearing; "for I have just had it from the sheriff and lawyer Stearns. The rebels have been in possession of the Court House about an hour, posted sentinels at all the doors, and openly declare, that the judges and officers shall never enter to hold another court. Nobody dreamed of their daring on such a bold step, or we should have been before them in taking possession of the house, even with the force we had on the ground. But, thinking it best to go strong-handed, the judges concluded they would not go in to open the court till enough of friends should arrive to put down all opposition at a blow. The rebels think now, doubtless, that they have got an advantage which they will be able to maintain. But they will find themselves a little mistaken, I fancy; for Patterson says he has now got them in just the spot he wanted. This act both he and Stearns decide to be overt treason, which will justify him in taking the course he intends, unless they yield and scatter, on the first summons. But as they won't do that, and our forces will shortly be here, you can all guess what we shall now soon see follow," he added, with a significant wink.
"Then why not be getting out our guns at once?" asked one of the company.
"No," resumed the speaker; "the plan is to leave that till the last thing before we march upon them, lest the rebels should take alarm and go and arm themselves, and we thus thwart our own intention of taking them by surprise. You, however, can be kinder carelessly looking up clubs for such as may have no arms, and a few axes and crowbars for breaking into the Court House, if that should be necessary. But, as I said, let the guns remain hid in the sleighs till you have orders to take them out. For it is not exactly settled yet whether we shall march upon them as soon as our reenforcements arrive, and besiege them in the house, or coax them out, and so get possession ourselves. But, at any rate, you will have work on hand soon; and if we don't see fun before to-morrow morning, my name aint David Redding. But come, let's all adjourn to the bar-room, and take a drop to warm us up a little."
Leaving Redding to his despicable task of endeavoring, in compliance with the directions of those whose base tool he was, to inflame the company he had collected, and work up their feelings to such a pitch of enmity and recklessness as should prepare them to imbrue their hands in the blood of their neighbors and countrymen, we will now proceed to note the conduct of more important personages in the events of the day.
While the scene above described was transpiring, Patterson, Gale, Stearns, and one or two other tory leaders, who had been consulting at this tavern, and making their arrangements for active movements, left the house, and, with hasty steps, took their way to the mansion of the haughty secretary, which, by his special invitation, at this crisis, was made the permanent quarters of the judges and principal officers of the court, as well as of his numerous guests.
"Upon the whole, perhaps you are right, Stearns," said Patterson, as they were about to enter the house. "We will start off Chandler to the Court House to make one of his smooth speeches, and play Sir Plausible with the rebel rascals, as agreed on last night, and though he should have done it before, yet he may, even now, succeed in flattering them to quit the house long enough for us to get possession; if not, we will take the other course."
In a few moments after these worthies had disappeared within the house, the door was again opened, and Chief Justice Chandler, the man to whose singularly compounded character, made up of timidity, selfishness, vanity, thirst of power, kindness, and duplicity, or rather the conduct that flowed from it, may be mainly attributed the bloody tragedy that ensued, now made his appearance in the street. He wore a powdered wig, according to the fashion of the times among men of his official station, and his whole toilet had evidently been made with much attention. Carelessly flirting a light cane in his hand, and assuming an air of easy unconcern, he leisurely took his way along the street, towards the Court House, bowing low, and blandly smiling to every one he met, and often even crossing to the opposite side of the street to exchange salutations with the passer-by, to each of whom, whatever his party or station, he was sure to say something complimentary, and aimed with no little sagacity to reach the peculiar feelings and interests of the person addressed.
"This is Mr. French, I believe," he said, turning out of his course to speak to the young man introduced in the last chapter, who, with the same restless, anxious look he then wore, was unobservantly hurrying by the other, on his way to the Court House.
"Yes, yes, sir," replied French, slightly checking his speed, and looking back, with a half-surprised, half-vacant expression.
"Ay, I was sure I knew you," rejoined the judge. "How are the times with you, Mr. French? You will pardon my freedom, sir, but the great interest I take in the success of our enterprising and intelligent young men like yourself—But no matter now. I see you are in haste. I will not detain you, sir. A very good day to you, Mr. French."
"Well, upon my word, now, here is my friend Colonel Carpenter!" he again exclaimed, as, turning from the person he had just saluted with such poor success, his quick and wary eye caught sight of the gentleman thus addressed coming up behind him. "Most happy to fall in with you, colonel," he continued, grasping and warmly shaking the hand of the other. "How are your family, sir? Shall I confess it, colonel? I have really sometimes greatly envied you."
"Why so, sir?" asked Carpenter, with a little coolness.
"Envied you your well-deserved appellation—that of Friend of the People, as they call you," replied the judge.
"The people need a friend at this crisis, I think, sir," responded the unbought yeoman, with cold dignity.
"If there is one title that I should covet above all others," resumed the judge, without appearing to notice the drift of the other's remark, "it would be the one I have named. What can be a more truly honorable distinction? I have often regretted being so trammelled by my station on the bench, as to prevent me from acting as I would otherwise like to do. But a judge, you know, colonel, in party times, must not act openly on any particular side."
"He had better do that, however, than act secretly on all sides," returned the other, with biting significance.
"O, doubtless, doubtless, sir," rejoined the judge, with a forced laugh, but with the air of one perfectly unsuspicious of any intended personalities. "Yes, indeed. But, ah!" he continued, slightly motioning towards the Court House, against which they had now arrived. "What have we here? A public meeting?"
"Quite possible. At all events I think of going in myself," said Carpenter, quietly turning from the other into the Court House yard, but soon pausing a little, though without looking round, to hear the remarks which the other seemed intent on making.
"Indeed! Why, I had not heard of it, else I should have been pleased to have dropped in. I came out, be sure, only for a little exercise, but——"
Here he paused, in expectation that the other would speak; but finding himself disappointed, and left alone in the street, he resumed his walk, while his now unguarded countenance very plainly showed the disquiet he felt at the rebuffs he had received in his attempts to conciliate Colonel Carpenter, and obtain from him an invitation to go into the meeting, which, in reality, it was his only object in coming out to attend.
While digesting his mortification, and occupied in conjecturing how he could have become an object of suspicion among the opponents of the court party, as every thing now seemed to indicate, his attention was again arrested by the sounds of approaching footsteps; and, looking up, his eyes encountered the sarcastic countenance of Tom Dunning, who, coming from an opposite direction, was also on his way to join the company at the Court House.
"Ah, Mr. Dunning!" exclaimed the judge, starting from his reverie and downcast attitude, while his face instantly brightened into smiles summoned for the occasion; "right glad to meet you, sir. I have been thinking I must engage some such expert and lucky sportsman, as they say you are, to catch and send me up a fresh salmon, occasionally. I suppose your never-failing spear will be put in requisition again, when the spring opens; will it not?"
"Der—yes, your worship, unless I turn my attention to the catching—ditter—eels, or other slippery varments," returned the hunter, with a sly, significant twinkling of his eyes, as he brushed by the rebuked cajoler, and pushed on without waiting for a reply.
The judge did not pursue his walk much farther; but now, soon facing about, began, with a quickened step and a look of increasing uneasiness, to retrace his way to his quarters.
While those little incidents were occurring in the streets, about one hundred sturdy and determined men had collected within the walls of the Court House. As the construction of this building was somewhat peculiar, for one designed for such purposes, it may be necessary, for a clear understanding of the descriptions which follow, to say a few words respecting its interior arrangements. The court-room was in the upper story, which was all occupied as such, except the east and south corners, that had been partitioned off for sleeping apartments. In the lower story, there was a wide passage running through the middle of the building, with doors at both ends; while the stairs leading up into the court room faced the principal entrance, on the north-east side of the house. After passing by the stairs, there was a small passage leading from the large one, at right angles, and running back between prison-rooms, whose doors opened into it. The part of this lower story, on the opposite side of the main passage, consisted also of two rooms, with doors opening into it, and an entry, or short passage, leading out into the street. One of these rooms was used as a common, or bar-room, and the other as a sort of parlor, being both occupied by the jailer and his family.
Although there had been, for many weeks, a growing disposition among the party here assembled to prevent the session of a court avowedly acting under royal authority, and spurning all the recommendations of Congress, yet there had been no settled intention among them to resort to any other than the peaceful measures of petition and remonstrance, which they believed would be sufficient to effect the desired result. It had been decided, therefore, that the court should be permitted to come together; when such representations and arguments were to be laid before them, as could not fail, it was supposed, to convince any reasonable men of the wisdom of listening to the voice of the people. But when, or, the preceding evening, it was discovered, in the way before related, and from other sources, that the people had been duped by the duplicity of Chandler, and that it was the secret purpose of the court, in defiance of all pledges to the contrary, to hold a full session, under the protection of an armed force, the hitherto modest and quiet spirit of patriotism was at once aroused among this resolute little band of revolutionists, and they came to the bold determination, as we have before seen, of seizing the Court House in advance of their opponents, and holding it till their remonstrances should be heard and heeded.
This object, so far as respected the possession of the building, being now obtained, the company proceeded to organize and make arrangements for maintaining their advantage through the night. Their possession, however, was not destined to remain long undisputed. In a short time after they had begun to act, their new recruit, Barty Burt, who could not forego his desire of remaining among the tories (where we left him acting the unsuspected spy on their movements) till they should look for their guns, that he might have the pleasure of witnessing their discomfiture on discovering their loss, now arrived with news, that the latter, as soon as they made the discovery that their arms had been abstracted, were thrown into the greatest commotion; and that under the direction of Patterson and Gale, both foaming with rage, they had hastily collected all the offensive implements they could find, with the avowed determination of making an immediate assault on their opponents at the Court House. But notwithstanding this startling intelligence, no one manifested the least disposition of quitting his post. And although there was not a weapon of defence, beyond a cane, in the whole company, yet they seemed none the less inclined to maintain their position in consequence of the threatening aspect which the affair was beginning to assume; but resolving, by acclamation, to keep possession of the house till compelled by force of arms to relinquish it, they placed a few strong and resolute men as guards at every door, and quietly awaited the result. And they were not kept long in suspense. In a short time, Patterson and his posse, armed with several old muskets, swords, pistols, and clubs, made their appearance, and, with many hostile manifestations, came rushing up within a few yards of the door. Commanding a halt, the sheriff then, in a loud and arrogant tone, summoned the company within to come forth and disperse. No voice, however, was heard to respond to the summons. Gale, the clerk, then proceeded, upon the intimation of the former, to read the king's proclamation to the outward walls of the house, or the supposed listeners within, with great form and solemnity.
"Ditter—dickins!" exclaimed Tom Dunning, after listening a moment to the reading of the riot act, or proclamation, as it was usually called, as, with several others, he stood just within the entrance. "Now I wonder if they expect to rout a body of Green Mountain Boys with that sort of—ditter—ammunition?"
"There!" fiercely cried Patterson, as the reader concluded his task. "There, you d——d rascals, now disperse, or, by Heaven, I will blow a lane through ye!"
"Only—ditter—hear that!" again remarked the hunter, contemptuously, at the menace and profanity of the haughty officer. "Natural enough, though, mayhap, for a bag of wind to blow, if it does any thing. He is rather smart at—der—swearing, too, I think. But even at that, I guess he would have to haul in his horns a little, if old Ethan Allen was here, as I wish he was, to let off a few blasts of his—ditter—damnations at him."
Captain Wright, after a brief consultation with the other leaders, now coming down from the court-room, opened the door, (Dunning and another strong-armed man having hold of it to guard against a rush,) and addressed the besiegers.
"Why is all this, gentlemen?" he said, in a respectful, but firm manner. "Are you come here for war? We are here for no such purpose, ourselves. We came with none other than peaceful intentions. And so long as we can say that, and say, also, above all, that we have come together with the approbation of the chief judge of your court, who has promised us a fair hearing of our grievances; and so long as, in direct violation of that judge's pledge to us, you appear here in arms, to intimidate us, let me assure you, we shall not disperse under your threats. We, however, will permit you to come in, if you will lay aside your arms; or we will hold a parley with you as you are."
"D——n your parley!" exclaimed Gale, furiously. "D——n the parley with such d——d rascals as you are! I will hold no parley with such d——d rascals, but by this!" he added, drawing a pistol, and brandishing it towards his opponents.
"Ay! ay!" cried Redding, who, next to the sheriff and clerk, appeared to be the most violent and officious among the assailants: "talk about being here without arms, and for peace, do ye? when you have stolen a dozen of our guns, and have now got them in there among you. Pretty fellows, to talk about parley? We will give you a parley that will send you all to hell before morning!"
Wright here began a denial of the charge made by the last speaker; when he was interrupted by Dunning, who, jogging him said, in an undertone,—
"Let 'em-der—believe it. They are such—ditter—cowards, that the idea of a dozen guns among us will mike 'em more mannerly than all the preaching you could—ditter—do in a month."
Concluding to profit by this suggestion of the sagacious hunter Wright now retired within doors, followed by the hisses, curses and all manner of abusive epithets, of the assailants.
The besiegers, now finding that the king's proclamation, on whose potency for quelling the risings of the rebellious colonists the tory authorities, at the commencement of the revolution, seemed to have greatly counted, did not annihilate their opponents, and, not seeing fit to attempt to carry their threats into execution at present, they soon drew off a short distance, and apparently held a consultation. While they were thus occupied, a small deputation was sent out to them from the Court House, with another offer to hold a conference. But their proposals being received with fresh insults and abuse, they returned to the house, while Patterson and his forces, evidently fearing to venture an attack, with their present strength, on the other party, whom they suspected to be armed with the lost guns, now moved off to head-quarters, to report progress, and wait for the expected reenforcement, to hasten whose arrival, expresses had been despatched several hours before.
A short time after the disappearance of Patterson's band. Judge Chandler unexpectedly came up to the Court House, wholly unattended, and being readily admitted, he at once ascended into the court-room, and entered the somewhat surprised, but unmoved assembly, bowing low to individuals on the right and left, as he passed on to an unoffered seat, with the gratified air of one, who, after many detentions, has the satisfaction of getting at length into the company of his friends.
After a rather embarrassing pause, the judge rose, and made a short speech, which left his hearers but little the wiser respecting his real wishes and intentions, though he had much to say about his solicitude for the welfare of the people, and his anxiety that they should do nothing to injure their cause. After he was seated, Wright, Carpenter, and Knowlton, each in turn, addressed him, stating, in general terms, the views and wishes of their party, and reminding him of his pledge, that no arms should be brought by the officers of the court, the recent violation of which they hoped he would be able to explain.
Upon this, the former rejoined, declaring with great assurance, and not a little to the surprise of many in the room, that the arms complained of had been brought without his knowledge and against his express wishes; and he concluded by assuring his friends, as he said he was proud to believe he might safely call them, that he would go and immediately secure the arms in question; so that the company might now retire, in full confidence that their petitions would obtain a fair hearing, when the court came together the next morning. The speaker then resumed his seat, and glanced persuasively around him for some tokens of assent or approbation. But the men, whom he had thus undertaken to wheedle, had been taught by experience to heed the caution so well recommended by the tuneful Burns,—
"Beware the tongue that's smoothly hung,"—
and a chilling silence was the only response that greeted him.
"You hear his honor's remarks," observed the chairman, at length breaking the ominous silence. "Have you any propositions to make before the judge retires?"
Another long interval of deep silence ensued; when Tom Dunning's tall, sinewy form, and sharp, bronzed features, screwed up with an expression of sly mischief, was seen rising from a back seat in the room.
"Seeing no one else," he said, "seems—ditter—disposed to accept your invitation, Mr. Moderator, I don't—ditter—know but I will make a small proposition on the occasion. Now, as I take it, we are to remain here to-night; and as we have now learned that the judge and the people here are the—ditter—best of friends, I would just move, Mr. Moderator, that his honor be—der—ditter—invited to take up lodgings with us in the Court House to-night, so that, if the enemy comes," he added, imitating the manner of the judge, as described by Bart, "he can assist us to—ditter—'temporize—temporize—till'—"
Here the hunter bobbed down into his seat, while explosive bursts of laughter rose from several parts of the room, and a low, half-smothered titter ran through the whole assembly, at this sly, but cutting allusion to the part last night taken by the double-dealing judge, who now sat before them, looking, for the moment, like a suddenly detected criminal. He, however, while the chairman was calling to order, recovered his command of countenance, and, by the time the tumult had subsided into the less noisy expressions of mirth, he was smiling as gayly as the rest, and affecting to consider the remarks of the stammering humorist as merely a pleasant joke.
"There is no cheating our friend Dunning out of his joke. I perceive," he said, rising and taking up his hat; "and, indeed, I don't know that I can blame a hardy woodsman for laughing at the idea of one of our in-door and tender professional men, like myself, sleeping on floors and benches. I am afraid we deserve it for our effeminacy. Yes, yes, a good joke, truly! and a good laughter-moving joke is an excellent thing to go to bed upon, they say," he added, as with a merry, gleeful look, he bowed himself out of the assembly.
No further comments were offered by any of the company upon the communications of this official double-dealer, after his departure; for all seemed to think that the single shot of Dunning had rendered all further comments on his speech, and his motives in coming there to make it, entirely superfluous. And they therefore proceeded, as if nothing but an ordinary interruption had occurred, to the business on which they were engaged when the judge came in—that of passing some fresh resolves expressive of their determination to hold the Court House in defiance of the threats of their opponents, and of their now settled purpose of no longer submitting, on any conditions, to the continuance of a court which had proved itself so corrupt and treacherous. After this, and making arrangements for the posting and relieving of guards at the doors for the night, a part of the company left the house to seek lodgings elsewhere, as the usual hour of rest had now arrived.
When the nonplused and disconcerted Chandler left the Court House, he rapidly took his way back to his quarters, from which he had been started out by Patterson and Gale, to see if he might not be able to accomplish by fair words what they had failed to effect by foul. Although he had put the best possible face upon the mortifying occurrence he had just been compelled to meet, and had made, as he believed, a handsome exit from the company, yet he felt keenly conscious that he had not only utterly failed in the object of his visit, but that much of his late base conduct was known. He perceived this in the allusions of Dunning, the pith of which he had affected not to understand. He had seen it, he had felt it, in the significant and knowing glances that had been exchanged on every side around him, and especially in the bitter derisive laugh that had assailed his tingling ears. He had also been taught a new lesson in the interview! He had seen, in the firm manner and determined looks of those he had been confronting—he had seen that which told him of a spirit at work among the people, that the loyal party, with all their boasted strength, might not long be able to quell. He began now, with the instinctive sagacity of the true office-seeker, to perceive the possibility, perhaps probability, that the power of dispensing office and patronage was about to change hands, and he inwardly trembled for his own safety. He found himself, in short, in one of those straits, to which men of his character are not unfrequently reduced—that of being wholly at a loss to decide which side was most likely to become the strongest. Could he have foreseen and decided this, his mind would have been comparatively at ease; for he could have then trimmed his sails, so as to steer clear of the political breakers which he knew were somewhere ahead. Some course, however, he must decide upon; and after lamenting his inability to pierce the future, so far as to know which party was destined to prevail, and thus secure the important advantages that might be derived from shaping his present course accordingly, he at length resolved to keep aloof, at present, from both parties, believing he had so adroitly managed thus far, that whichever side might triumph, he could put in a specious claim of having acted with it, in reality, from the first.
And having now made up his mind to this course, he avoided meeting the tory leaders again; and, seeking out a safe messenger, and sending him to tell them, that "he had left the company at the Court House as he found it," and that "a forgotten business engagement had compelled him to be absent from their councils for a few hours," he took his way to a distant part of the village, where he called on an acquaintance of neutral politics. And here becoming much engaged in conversation, and feigning to have forgotten the hour of the night, he was at last prevailed on to accept, as he did with great seeming reluctance, the invitation of his host to tarry till morning.
After Patterson and his minions retreated from the Court House, they returned to the tory tavern, and there remained several hours, alternately cursing their opponents for rebellious obstinacy in not yielding to their commands and menaces, and their expected friends for their tardiness in reaching the place. And affairs remaining in this situation till a late hour in the evening, they were on the point of giving up all thoughts of renewing the attack that night, when the long and anxiously looked for reenforcement, consisting of thirty or forty armed men, came hurrying on to the ground. The sinking spirits and waning courage of the blustering sheriff and his confederates now instantly revived; and, exulting that they now had the power to glut their vengeance, they resolved on making an immediate assault. And after fortifying their courage with liberal potations of brandy, the whole party, now swelled, not only by the freshly arrived forces, but by Brush, Peters, Stearns, and many others, who had declined joining in the first sally, to nearly one hundred men, eagerly set forward to the scene of action.
The other party, in the mean time, though still maintaining a watchful guard at the doors of the Court House, had yet been so long exempted from an attack of their foes, that they were now in but little expectation of being any further molested till the next morning. And some were lying stretched upon the benches in the court-room, asleep; some, with their great-coats under their heads, were reposing on the floors of the different passages of the house; while others were sitting round the fires, engaged in smoking and conversation.
Among those taking their turns as sentries, at this juncture, were Woodburn and Bart, who, with each a stout cane or cudgel in his hand, were now stationed at the principal entrance.
"They are coming!" cried Bart, who, having gone out into the street to ascertain what might be the noise which they had heard at a distance, now came running up, with an excited air to his companion; "they are upon us again, with twice as many men as before, and plenty of guns!"
"In with the news!" said Woodburn, as the appearance of the hostile party wheeling up towards the Court House the next instant confirmed the other's statement—"in with the news, and tell them to man the doors, or in two minutes we shall be routed."
Instantly springing into the door, which he unfortunately left open, Bart made the announcement to French, who was restlessly moving about in the passage, and who repeated the same in a voice which started all, both above and below to their feet.
"They are coming for our blood!" he added, in a tone of strange, wild glee. "Ay, there they come! I see them levelling their guns in the yard! Now for the victims! Let us die like——"
The report of two or three muskets, and the whistling of bullets through the passage just over his head, cut short the speaker. A moment of breathless silence ensued; when the harsh, ruffian voice of Patterson was heard from without,—
"Damn ye, why don't you fire?"
A general discharge of the fire-arms of the assailants, flashing fiercely on the surrounding darkness, and sending them deadly missiles through the passage, windows, and sides of the house, in every direction, instantly followed the ferocious order. And, in the expiring light, the fated French was seen to leap into the air; and then, spinning giddily round and round an instant, fall, with a low, short screech, prostrate on the floor; while mingled groans, rising from a half dozen others along the passage, told also the fearful effect of the murderous volley.
With the discharge of their arms, the assailing force, guided by their torch-bearers, made a rush for the Court House. As they approached the door, Woodburn, who had kept his post, unhurt, on one side of the steps, sprang forward to dispute their passage, and, after knocking up the swords and bayonets that were aimed at his breast, laid about him so lustily with his cudgel, that the whole party were, for some moments, kept at bay. At length, however, Peters, who was near the rear of the hostile column, perceiving it was his hated opponent who was disputing the pass so resolutely, stealthily crept round those in front, and coming up partly behind his intended victim, with a protruded sabre, aimed a deadly lunge at his body, exultingly exclaiming with the supposed fatal thrust,—
"There! d——d rebel, take that!"
"And you that!" cried the other, who, having, from a lucky turn in his body at the instant, received only a flesh-wound on the inner side of his arm, now, with an upward sweep of his cudgel, knocked the sword of the detestable assassin twenty feet into the air—"and you that! ay, and that!" he added, as, with a quickly repeated blow over the head, he sent his foe reeling to the earth.
But the weapon of the intrepid young man being now caught, and his body fiercely grappled by four or five of his exasperated foes, he was soon disarmed, and, in spite of his desperate struggles, borne into the court-house with the crowd, who now rushed furiously along the passages, wounding with their swords, and beating down with their guns and clubs, without distinction or mercy, all whom they met in their way.
"Guard the doors instantly!" shouted Patterson, who perceived that numbers of the vanquished party were retreating through the different doors; "don't let another of the d——d rascals escape! And, hallo there, jailer! bring on the keys of the prison-rooms; we will cage the whole lot, dead or alive, and let 'em be enjoying a few of the fruits of their rebellion now, and the blessed anticipations of being hung for high treason hereafter."
The obsequious jailer soon appeared with the required keys and the doors of both prison-rooms were speedily unlocked and thrown open by the directions of the sheriff.
"Now, tumble them in, boys!" resumed the sheriff, with look and tone of savage exultation.
Eager to obey, the supple tools of arbitrary power now commenced driving all those of their prisoners who had not been too much disabled by their wounds to stand, together into the prison-rooms. They then seized hold of the wounded, who lay weltering in their blood in different parts of the floor of the long passage, and began dragging them along by their limbs to the same destination.
"Monster!" exclaimed Woodburn, looking back from the felon's cell which he was about to enter, and addressing Redding, who stood mimicking, with fiendish glee, the groans and contortions of French, as he lay gasping and writhing in mortal agony on the spot where he fell, just beyond the short passage dividing the prison-rooms—"monster," he repeated, "would you insult the dying?"
"Yes, d—n you!" savagely interposed Gale, stepping forward; "he has got just what he deserved; and I wish there were forty more of you in the same predicament. Drag him along in there with the rest of 'em, Redding!"
"Ay, ay," responded Patterson, "in with him! And I can tell the rest of them, they had better be saving their pity for themselves, for they will all be in hell before to-morrow night!"
It is needless to say that this brutal order was promptly obeyed. And when the dying and insensible victim, pierced through head and body, and all the wounded, had been drawn in and thrown promiscuously together, on the cold, damp floors of the prison-rooms, the keys were turned upon them; and their remorseless butchers, making not the least provision for the sufferers, by way of medical aid or otherwise, returned, after posting a strong guard at the doors, to the tavern or the house of Brush, to celebrate their victory in a drunken carousal.
"The brand is on their brows, A dark and guilty spot; 'Tis ne'er to be erased, 'Tis ne'er to be forgot."
Whatever may be the result of the present public movement for the abolition of capital punishment, and however far future experiments may go towards establishing the expediency and safety of such a change in criminal jurisprudence, the history of every nation and people will show, we believe, the remarkable fact, that ever since Cain stood before his Maker with his hands reeking with the blood of his murdered brother, and his heart so deeply smitten with the consciousness of having justly forfeited his own life by taking the life of another, that he could not divest himself of the belief that all men would seek to slay him, no one principle has been found to be more deeply implanted in the human breast than the desire to see the wilful shedding of blood atoned for by the blood of the perpetrator. So strong, so active, and so impelling, indeed, seems this principle, that no sooner goes forth the dread tale of homicide, than all community rise up, as one man, instinctively impressed with the duty of hunting down the guilty and bringing them to justice; while the guilty themselves seem no less instinctively impressed with the abiding consciousness that the doom, which heaven and earth has decreed to their crimes, must inevitably overtake them.
Deep and fearful was the excitement, in the hitherto quiet and peaceful village of Westminster, as from mouth to mouth, and house to house, spread the startling intelligence, that a meeting of unarmed citizens, assembled at the Court House, had been assailed, and numbers shot down in cold blood by the minions of British authority. The whole town was soon in commotion. No loud noise or clamor of voices, it is true, was heard proclaiming the deed on the midnight air; but the rapid footfalls of men hurrying along the streets, the hastily exchanged inquiry, the eager, suppressed tones of those conversing in small groups at the corners and by-places around the village, the hasty opening and shutting of doors, and the dancing of lights in every direction, gave ominous indication of the feeling that had every where been awakened, and the secret movement which was everywhere afoot among the people.
A small band, who had gathered in the yard of what was called the People's Tavern, were listening, with many a demonstration of horror and indignation, to the account of one who had escaped from the Court House after the tories had got possession.
"Where are our leaders, Morris?" asked one of the listeners, as the speaker, a fluent, energetic young man, closed his recital of the atrocities he had witnessed. "Did they escape, or are they among the wounded and prisoners?"
"Wright and Carpenter had gone off before we were attacked," was the reply, "the rest, not among the wounded I have named escaped in the confusion, I think, except Dr. Jones, of Buckingham, who was driven into the felon's hole with other prisoners; and it may be well that he was, perhaps, as those bloodthirsty brutes would have suffered no surgeon to be sent for to attend those who are not past help."
"And Tom Dunning, whose rifle we shall need,—what became of him?"
"He got out in the same manner I did. We stood in a dark corner, at the head of the stairs, taking note of the proceedings below; when that crafty little chap, that joined us from Brush's, came wriggling like an eel out from between the legs of the crowding tories, in the passage; and, working himself up stairs unnoticed, in the same way, beckoned us to follow him, as we did, into the court-room, where, at his suggestion, we stripped off the sheets of a bed, in one of those corner sleeping cuddies, made a rope, and by it let ourselves down through a window to the ground in the rear of the house; when we separated, Dunning going home, as he said, to arm himself. But here he comes," added the speaker, peering out towards the street, from which several forms were dimly seen approaching—"here he comes, and those just behind him I should judge to be Carpenter and Fletcher, by their gait."
"Well, Dunning," asked one of the company, as the hunter came striding up to the spot, "what is your response to all this?"
"Der-sixty bullets, and a—ditter—pound of powder!" was the stern and significant reply of the other, as with one hand he struck his rattling bullet-pouch and huge powder-horn, and with the other brought down the breech of his rifle with a heavy blow upon the ground.
"That's the man for me!" exclaimed Fletcher, now coming up with Carpenter.
"Ay, Dunning is right!" said Carpenter, with emphasis. "If we hold our peace now, the very stones will cry out for vengeance. But talking is only a small part of what must be done. We must act. And first of all, this tale of murder and outrage must instantly be thrown upon the four winds of heaven, and carried into every town in this part of the settlement. Who will volunteer to ride express with the news?—news which, if I know anything of the spirit of the great mass of our people, will be taken as a call to arms, and responded to accordingly."
Several eager voices announced their readiness to start off at once on the proposed mission.
"Follow me to the stables, then," resumed the stanch patriot, hastily leading the way to the barn, and throwing open a stable door. "There!" he continued, pointing to a pair of large, active-looking brutes, feeding together in one stall—"there are my two horses—take them. Let one of their riders go north, the other south; and spare no horse-flesh of mine in an emergency like this; but ride and rally, till you have sent the bloody tale to every house and hut this side the mountains. And you, Morris and Dunning, accompany me to Captain Wright's. More messengers must be despatched west and east, into the borders of New Hampshire, and much other business done before morning."
A far different scene, in the mean while, was in progress among the inmates of the loyal mansion, which we have before described, and which was destined to give shelter that night to the last conclave of royal office-holders ever known in the Green Mountains. Although the leaders of the court party had returned from the sanguinary scene they had enacted, in high exultation at the decisive victory they supposed they had achieved over their despised opponents, yet neither their own vain boastings, nor the deeply-quaffed wines of their host, could long keep up their spirits. Conscience soon began to be busy among them; and their hearts waxed faint and fearful at the thought of what they had done. They instinctively drew close together, conversed in subdued tones, or sat uneasily listening to the sounds that occasionally reached them from without. And whatever they might have said to keep up their own and each other's courage, it soon became apparent that secret misgivings, fears, and forebodings of a coming retribution had taken possession of their guilt-smitten bosoms.
And there was another person in that house, to whom the tragical events of the night brought deep disquietude; but it was a disquietude of quite a different character from that which was experienced by the troubled wretches we have named: that person was the Tory's Daughter—the pure, guileless, and nobleminded Sabrey Haviland.
Having been apprised of the intention of Patterson and his confederates to make an assault upon their opponents as soon as the expected reinforcements arrived, her anxieties on the subject had prevented her from retiring to rest, as her less concerned companion did, at the usual hour. And when the startling report of fire-arms broke upon the stillness of the night, she was not, like many others in the village, at loss to know the cause; and her fears led her to divine but too well the fatal result. And after an interval of painful suspense, which was terminated by the return of the tory leaders to the house, she stole softly out of her chamber to the head of the stairs, and there listened with mingled emotions of horror and disgust to the boastful recital of their sanguinary deeds, as given by the heartless Gale and others, to her father and Judge Sabin, who had remained in the house, but who, she perceived with sorrow, were warm approvers of all that had been done. But, as revolting to her gentle nature as was the general description of the event, the particulars the exulting narrators soon proceeded to give were much more so. And when she heard them relate the affray between Woodburn and Peters, and heard the latter, while making light of his own hurts, boast that he had first given the other a thrust with his sword through the body, which must finish him before morning; she could listen no longer, but, hastily retiring to her room, she walked the apartment for nearly an hour in the deepest agitation and distress.