While the captain was relating his oft-told but truthful adventure with his justly-prized dog, the quick eye of Dunning caught, through the window, a glimpse of a recognized form, approaching in the road from the east; and slipping out unnoticed from the room, he beckoned the approaching personage round the corner of the house, and when safely out of the hearing and observation of those in the bar-room, he turned to the other, and said,—
"Der devil's in the wind, Captain Harry!"
"How so? Have you discovered the suspected rendezvous?"
"Der yes; and more too."
"Indeed! where is it?"
"Ditter deep in the thickets, on the west side of the pond nearest the great road over the mountains."
"Ah, ha! but their numbers? any more, probably, than the small club we supposed?"
"Der double, and then the ditter double of that, if it don't make more than twenty."
"You surprise me, Dunning. Are you sure?"
"Sure as that I am der talking to Captain Woodburn."
"Impossible! It must be some secret meeting of the disaffected in this quarter."
"Der not that, but a regularly armed force, and, with the ditter exception of two or three about-home tories, may be, all strange faces, including a sprinkling of red skins, brought along with them for ditter decency's sake, I suppose."
"But how could such a force get so far into the interior undetected? How dare they venture on so hazardous a movement? and what can be their designs in so doing?"
"Der here is something that ditter tells a rather loud story about that; at least, as to the matter of intentions," said the hunter, by way of reply, taking a crumpled paper from his cap and handing it to the other.
Woodburn took the paper, and eagerly ran over its contents; which to his astonishment he found to be a copy of an order from General Burgoyne to Colonel Peters, detailing the plan of an expedition, to be conducted by the latter, with one hundred loyalists and a company of Indians, by way of the head waters of Otter Creek, across the mountains to Connecticut River, where this force was to be joined by the loyal troops from Rhode Island, and directing him "to scour the country, levy contributions, take hostages, make prisoners of all civil and military officers acting under Congress, collect horses, and, after proceeding down the river as far as Brattleborough, return to the great road to Albany." [Footnote: The document here quoted was brought to General Stark on his advance through Vermont; and there can be but little doubt of its genuineness; as it afterwards came out, in the trial of Burgoyne in the British Parliament, that such an expedition was actually started, but subsequently changed for that of Bennington. How considerable a portion of the whole intended force penetrated into the interior is not ascertained. But we have the authority of the oldest inhabitants for asserting, that a portion of this force did cross over the mountains, and some of them even reached Springfield; when, owing to the unexpected movements they found going on among the people, and the rumored advance of Stark, all, who were not taken, speedily decamped.]
"How did this get into your hands, Dunning?" demanded the surprised and excited officer, as soon as he had mastered the contents.
"Der well, having crept along near the edge of the pond within ten or twelve rods of their camp, I was lying in the bushes for discoveries; when ditter one of 'em—their leader, I suppose—came down to the pond, for observation, likely; and, while peering up and down the shore, a gust of wind blew his hat off into the water. But though he regained his ditter hit and disappeared, I soon saw a piece of white paper blowing along in the water towards me. After a while, it reached the sort of point where I was, and lodging against a bush, I secured it, and found it this same thing. What do you think of it, captain?"
"Why, it unfolds a plan too bold for credence."
"Not too bold for my ditter credence, captain."
"Then you think it no feint?"
"Der no, sir, but a regular bred expedition, which they mean to push as soon as more force arrives. I have been ditter watching things a little since I got at this wrinkle. They have spies out in every direction. 'Tis not an hour since I espied a fellow peering from the corner of the woods up yonder, who, I think, must be that treacherous ditter devil, David Redding, and there are three now in the bar-room of the same kidney."
"Ah! well, all this may be. Such an expedition may have been set afoot at the instigation of such fellows as Spencer, who, having left the Council of Safety before any thing was done, and while its distracted counsels seemed to preclude all prospect that any thing would be done for the defence of the state. Ay, that is it; and little dreaming of what has since transpired, Peters, who is probably behind, with the main force, has sent forward this as a sort of pioneer corps, who, coming over a route now mostly deserted by our people, have penetrated here nearly to the Twenty Mile Encampment, without once suspecting what is going on through the rest of the state. But that is a secret, which, thanks to the prompt patriotism shown by our young men in enlisting, we shall now soon be able to teach them; for my company is already nearly full; and, if you have notified the recruits you enlisted. Sergeant Dunning, they will all be here for mustering by to-morrow night."
"All done, as in der duty bound, captain; and six of my men said they would be here this evening."
"Indeed! there will be almost enough of us, if your six recruits all get in, to make a pounce upon this nest of vipers to-night Let's see; six—you, myself, and Captain Coffin, and——"
"And der Bart, if he comes; ditter don't you expect him along here to-night?"
"I do. Miss Haviland, according to the letter of Mr. Allen, who wrote some days ago, to apprise me of her coming, would have started, I calculate, this morning; and Bart, whom I immediately despatched to act as her guard on the way, will of course come with her. They will probably arrive before long, now—unless——" and the speaker suddenly paused at the new and startling thought that now seemed to occur to him.
"Unless," said Dunning, guessing the thoughts of the other and taking up the supposition—"unless beset by some of this crew, who are ordered to take prisoners and hostages. But der stay; didn't I catch the glimmer of a distant horseman then?" he continued, pointing along the partially wooded road to the west. "There! that was a clearer view; and, by the ditter darting kind of gait of the horse, I should think it might be Lightfoot, and the short rider the critter we've been talking about."
The hunter's eye had not misled him; for in a few minutes the horseman emerged from the forest into open view, and confirmed the conjecture that had just been made respecting his identity. As he neared the house, perceiving Woodburn and Dunning beckoning to him from behind the buildings, he threw himself from his saddle, leaped over the fence, and approached them.
"The news, sir? What is it? Speak!" eagerly exclaimed Woodburn, as Bart, with a downcast and troubled look, drew near.
"Bad as need to be, consarn it!" replied the latter, with an air of mingled vexation and self-reproach. "But I couldn't help it."
"Help what? What has happened? Where is the lady?" rapidly asked the alarmed and impatient lover.
"Taken prisoner by the tories, as I guessed 'em. She and Vine Howard, that come with her, and the boy that drove 'em."
"How? when? where?"
"Why, as we were coming down this side the mountain, and when nearly to the bottom, five or six fellows, with guns, rushed out of the bush, seized the horse, pulled out the women, and hurried them off with two of their number into the woods towards the pond; while the rest made a push to take me, who was riding just behind. But firing a pistol in their faces, and giving Lightfoot my stiffest sign, we dashed through or over them, and escaped, with their bullets whistling after us, one after another, till we were out of reach."
"These ladies shall be rescued before I sleep, or I will perish in the attempt," said Woodburn, with stern emphasis. "Let us arm and set forward immediately with the best force we can raise."
"There is a thing or two to be ditter done first, it strikes me," observed Dunning, with his usual coolness; "that is, if we don't want enemies both before and behind us, on the way."
"What is that, Dunning?"
"Secure those three chaps in the bar-room, or they'll be ditter sure either to be on our heels, or get there before us to raise the alarm of our coming."
"Are they armed, think you?"
"With ditter knives only, I'm thinking—their guns may have been left in the point of woods yonder, in charge of the spy I named, who, now I ditter think on't, ought to be taken about the same time, for fear of some secret signal being given."
The suggestions of Dunning, who, as the reader will already have inferred, had been made a sergeant in Woodburn's company of Rangers, were at once approved by his superior, who accordingly, as the first step, despatched him and Bart to the woods, where the man conjectured to be in charge of the arms of his comrades was supposed to be concealed. After waiting till the two others might have had time to gain the woods in question, Woodburn left his stand, and, passing round to the front of the house, boldly marched into the bar-room, where the three suspected personages still sat listening to the stories with which the landlord, who suspected what was in progress, seemed intent on amusing them. They, however, now seemed suddenly to lose all interest in the recital going on, and, after exchanging uneasy and significant glances, simultaneously rose to depart.
"You are my prisoners, gentlemen," said Woodburn, stepping before them and presenting a cocked pistol.
For a moment, the surprised tories stood mute in alarm and doubt, alternately glancing from their armed opponent to the landlord, and from the latter to the door and windows, as if weighing the chances and means of escape. But, the next instant, two of them suddenly turned, and drawing and flourishing their knives behind them, sprang for the open windows, with the intention of leaping through them.
"At 'em, Roarer!" exclaimed Coffin, seizing one escaping tory by the leg, and hurling him back with stunning effect upon the floor.
The dog was but little behind his master in drawing back, by a grip in his clothes, the other to the floor, where he was glad to lie without offering further resistance to the grim and growling conqueror standing over him. The third, in the mean while, not daring to stir lest a worse fate should befall him, standing as he was directly before the muzzle of Woodburn's pistol, and seeing the situation of his comrades, immediately submitted; when all, giving up their concealed arms, now quietly yielded themselves as prisoners.
In a few minutes after the surrender of the tories, their guns were brought in by Dunning and Bart, who found them at the suspected place, though the traitor, Redding, whom they identified, had just taken the alarm, and was seen retreating over a distant knoll as they came up to the spot.
The prisoners being left in charge of the landlord's oldest boy, who was armed for the purpose, and the dog Roarer, the rest of the company now retired to another part of the house, to devise measures for the rescue of the fair captives, for which a preliminary step only had as yet been taken. Having at length fixed on the plan of operations which they believed most promising of auspicious results, they immediately commenced their hasty preparations for the bold adventure. And Dunning's six recruits luckily arriving in season, the whole company, now consisting of ten resolute woodsmen, and led on by a man fully resolved to succeed or perish, set forward, a little after sunset, for the scene of action, which was several miles distant from the tavern. According to the plan that had been adopted, two men were to proceed to the eastern shore of the pond, take a log canoe, and, under cover of the darkness, row silently over to some point beyond, but near the tory encampment; and, after making what discoveries they could respecting the situation of the captives, lie in ambush and await the operations of the rest of the company, who were to proceed round by the road, enter the woods, and gain a post on the other side of the encampment, and, by a feigned attack, draw off the tories, and thus afford the former a favorable moment to rush from their concealment and release the captives. And if they found this impracticable, they were then to shout aloud the watchword, To the rescue! when both parties of the assailants were to make an earnest and desperate onset on the foe. Dunning and Bart, from their known sagacity and skill as woodsmen and coolness and intrepidity in action, were the two men selected to undertake the more difficult and hazardous part first mentioned.
After a rapid and silent march of about an hour, the company reached the vicinity of the pond, just as the last suffusions of an obscured twilight disappeared in the west, and halted a few minutes, that the different parts of the plan might be repeated and clearly understood by all before separating.
"Remember the arrangement, boys," said Woodburn, addressing Dunning and Bart, in a voice which betrayed the intense solicitude he felt in the event at issue. "Recollect the first and main object is to release and get off the ladies, and if this can be done within the hour we will give you for the purpose, as it possibly may be, before we make any demonstrations in front, so much the better; if not, proceed in the manner agreed on. And may Heaven favor the innocent, whose cause, remember, is mostly in your hands."
With this the company separated, and each party proceeded to their different destinations. We will follow the two intrusted with the most difficult part of the enterprise.
"The first that hears Shall be the first to bleed."
The hunter, followed by his young comrade, now leaving the rest of the band to proceed to their contemplated stand by the main road, struck off into the woods to the right, and, with silent and rapid steps, led the way to the south-eastern shore of the pond. Here finding, as he seemed to have expected, a capacious canoe, dug out from the trunk of some huge pine, he drew it forth from its concealment, beneath a mass of fallen trees projecting over the bank, and, bidding Bart enter with the oars, and placing one knee on the stern, with a grasp on the sides, gave a push with his foot from the shore, which sent his rude craft surging out far into the open expanse of water before him. Before applying the oars, however, and while the canoe continued to move under the impulse it had thus received, its occupants employed themselves in bending their heads to the water, and listening for any sounds that might indicate the presence of others abroad on the pond. The night, as it was yet moonless, and as the sky was overclouded, was consequently a dark one; and the adventurers could distinguish little else but the dark outlines of the Green Mountains, that rose high in the western heavens, casting, by their huge shadows, an impenetrable pall of darkness over the intervening space beneath, from which not a sound rose to the ear, save an occasional short croak of some waterfowl, or the low, sullen dash of the waters along the shores.
"Nothing out on the pond, guess, but loons, ducks, and sich like," quietly observed Bart, raising himself from his listening attitude; "nor can I make out any sounds from the nest of 'em you say there is over on the shore yonder. Ma'be they've pulled up stakes and are off with their traps, the wimin folks and all—shouldn't wonder, single bit."
"Now I reason a little ditter different," replied the sergeant. "They may be getting oneasy and suspicious, because their spies we took there at Coffin's don't return; and so keep still, and put out their fires, lest the absent ones be dogged back, and their rendezvous thus discovered; but I der don't believe the company would clear out till they knew what become of them. They are still there, I'm apt to think; so we will now put forward—first up north a piece, on this side, and then across and down to a little cove there is near their encampment."
So saying, Dunning took up one of the oars, and, with long vigorous, but noiseless strokes, sent the boat rapidly ahead; while the other took a position most favorable for a lookout. In this manner, and taking turns at the oar, they soon, by the course they had marked out for themselves, reached the western side of the pond, and, heading round, moved cautiously along the shore towards the hostile encampment.
"Ah! there! one—two—yes, three camp fires, T can der catch glimmers of occasionally," softly exclaimed Dunning, rising up in the boat, and peering ahead for observation. "I was right—the ditter rapscallions are there, snug in their quarters, but had wit enough to build their fires behind logs, or something, so as not to be seen from 'tother side. We are within the ditter matter of three hundred yards of 'em, now; so carefully, Bart, and don't let your oar graze the boat, or any thing, to give out the least sound; for they've ears, it's der probable, as well as we."
A short time now sufficed to bring them to the small cove, at which the hunter had proposed to land. Here, under the screen of an impervious tangle of brushwood and fallen tree tops, which intervened between them and the foe, they drew up their boat on to the shore. They then, after taking off their shoes, which they left in the canoe, carefully crawled up the bank, passed round the thicket, and paused to listen. The sounds of voices conversing in low tones in one spot, the slow steps of a sentinel in another, and the snoring of some hard sleeper in a third, were soon detected by the quick ears of the anxious listeners.
"As I thought," whispered Dunning, putting his mouth close to the ear of the other: "the head ones are ditter suspicious, and watchful; but we must try what can be done—at least to find the spot where they've put the gals. There's a ditter old shanty I used to camp in, about fifty yards ahead; and as that is probably the best they've got, I've been thinking they may have cooped 'em in there. Suppose you, who are lightest and smallest, creep forward to it, for ditter discoveries. I will follow half way, and wait."
Without demurring to the suggestion, Bart immediately set forward, on his hands and knees, in the direction indicated by his companion. Carefully removing every dry twig and leaf from each place where he wished to bear his weight, and moving as noiselessly as the preying cat along the ground, he made his way onward till he had gone far enough, as he judged, to reach the expected shanty; when he paused to listen and reconnoitre. But now all seemed perfectly still. Not the slightest sound of any kind reached his ears; while it had, in some unaccountable manner, suddenly become so pitchy dark that he could not distinguish a single object before him. And he began to feel confused and doubtful about proceeding, when, by the action of those secret and undefinable sympathies, perhaps, by which, it is said, we sometimes become apprised of the presence of others before we are informed by the senses, he all at once became impressed with the idea that some person was near him. He therefore strained his senses to the utmost in trying to discover what objects might be before or around him; but all, for a while, to no purpose. In a short time, however, his ear caught the sound of a deep sigh, the softness of which told him it came from a female, within a few feet of him. With a palpitating heart, he now doubtfully attempted to move forward, when he suddenly perceived his head on the point of coming in contact with some broad, high obstacle, which seemed to rise like a wall before him, Surprised, and still more confused than before, he retreated a few paces, and looked upward, to try to make out the nature of the obstacle before him; when he discovered it to be the backside of the very shanty of which he was in search. The strange darkness, which had so suddenly overshadowed him, and which was caused by the obstruction of the skylight by this rude structure, being now explained, and every thing made clear to his mind, he cautiously moved round towards the front of the shanty, to find the entrance, no longer doubting that those he sought were within. On reaching the front corner, so as to enable him to peer round it on that side, he soon made out the entrance; but directly across it, to his disappointment, he discovered the half-recumbent form of a man, with a musket leaning on his shoulder. After a few hurried observations, in which he discovered, by the decaying fires before them several other shanties or tents among the trees, a few rods in front, Bart again slunk back to the spot he had just left, and was about to retrace his way to his companion, when a new thought occurred to him, and, moving up to the back of the shanty, which was formed by broad pieces of thick bark standing slantingly against a pole supported by crotches, and, placing his mouth to a crack, softly whispered the names of the captives, and turned his ear to the spot to catch the hoped-for response. For the first moment, all was still but the next, the catching of a long-suspended breath, and even, as he thought, the rapid beatings of a fluttering bosom, became audible. Presently a slight movement, as of a cautiously changed posture, was heard within; and the next instant a pair of soft lips came in contact with his ear at the crevice, articulating, in sounds scarcely above the slightest murmur of the air,—
"Who speaks my name?"
"Bart," replied the other. "You know what I'm after. Can one of the barks between us be removed without alarming your keeper?"
"I fear—but he seems asleep—try it," was the measured and hesitating reply.
After slightly essaying several of the pieces of the bark he wished to remove, he at length commenced operations at the bottom of one of them, and gently forcing it aside, inch by inch, in a short time effected an opening sufficient, as he judged, for the egress of the captives, and that too, he felt confident, without attracting the attention of the dozing guard.
"Now feel your way out; and, without stirring a twig or leaf creep on after me," whispered Bart.
And receding a few paces from the opening, he paused to await the result. In a moment he had the satisfaction of perceiving a female form slowly emerging from the narrow passage into the open air without.
Supposing her companion to be immediately behind, he now, with a whispered word of encouragement, led the way from the spot. With frequent pauses, both to assure himself that he was followed by his charge, and to listen for any stir among the foe that should indicate a discovery of the escape, he continued to creep forward till he encountered Dunning, when, the latter taking the lead, they all moved on, one after another, in the same cautious manner as before, and soon reached the landing in safety; out as they emerged from the bushes, and the hunter turned to congratulate the ladies on their escape, it was now, for the first time, discovered that but one of them was present.
"Bart, how is this? ditter tell me—where is the other?" demanded Dunning, in a tone of disappointment and vexation.
But Bart, equally disappointed and perplexed, was mute; and the lady, who proved to be Miss Howard, replied,—
"Miss Haviland, if not retaken, is now wandering in the woods."
"Der wandering in ditter woods, and you not with her?" again demanded the former with an air of mingled surprise and reproach.
"Yes sir, but I did not intend to desert her," promptly replied the girl. "Perceiving we were not watched very closely by the man they put over us, she and I had thought of a plan of escaping into the woods and getting round into the road. And while he was talking with another, that he had stepped forward a little ways to meet, we slipped out undiscovered, and gained a thicket; when finding I had left my shawl, I, contrary to Miss Haviland's advice, I will own, ventured back to get it, and was detected, just as I was leaving the shanty a second time, and her absence discovered. This made a stir among them, and they ordered off scouts after her along the pond towards the road, which was the way I pointed when they were threatening me if I didn't tell. But she must have heard all and escaped."
"Escaped! ditter deuse of an escape that; for a woman to get out into a forest full of Indians in search of her," replied the still unreconciled hunter. "But what course has she der taken, think ye, gal?"
"The one we planned, likely; and that was, to take a wide sweep round their camp, gain the road, and make for the tavern, which she said was not far off," replied the other.
"Well," said Dunning, in a more mollified tone, "though der dogs is in the luck, to be sure, yet half a loaf is better than none. We must save what we have got; so into the canoe there with ye, gal; and you, Bart, take her across, der find Harry, whom I'd ditter rather you would meet first, and tell him you have left me this side to go in search of the other, who, if found, can most likely be got to the road as well the way she set out as this, in the shape things now stand."
Although this conversation scarcely occupied a minute, and although, while the hunter was yet speaking, Bart and his fair friend were in their respective positions in the boat, which instantly shot out silently and swiftly into the pond, under the vigorous push given it by the former, yet the event showed that they had been none too speedy in their movements; for, at that instant, a sudden bustle in the tory encampment, which was quickly followed by the confused sounds of voices making rapid inquiries and giving orders, together with the stealthy tread of approaching footsteps, apprised the fugitives that not only was their escape discovered, but probably also the direction they had taken.
"Der narve it, narve it, Bart! The ditter divils are after ye!" shouted the hunter, hastily retreating from the shore and disappearing in the nearest thicket.
And scarcely had he gained a covert before his place was occupied by four or five of the enemy, who came rushing down to the water; when, discovering the receding boat, then not fifty yards distant, the acting leader of the band fiercely exclaimed "Put about there instantly, and come ashore, or we'll fire and kill every person in the boat!"
"O, but you'll kill us if we come back," replied Bart, splashing round his oar as if turning the boat, which in fact was going swiftly ahead.
"No, we won't," responded the leader, deceived by the apparent simplicity of the reply; "but be quick, or we fire!"
"Well, seeing you aint going to hurt us," said the former, carelessly while at the same time directing, in a whisper, the girl to throw herself close on the bottom of the canoe, he silently, but with all his might, bent himself to the oar.
"Why," said the leader, after a short and doubtful pause, as he peered out in the darkness at the dimly-seen boat—"why, aint the fellow still moving ahead? He is, confound him: fire!"
"Let drive, then!" sung out Bart, with the greatest sang froid, as he hastily cast himself down in the boat.
The next instant several bullets struck the boat, or whistled over it, as the fierce flashings and deafening reports of as many exploding muskets burst from the shore with startling effect on the darkness and silence of night.
"I vown! but that an't so bad shooting as might be, in the dark so," exclaimed Bart, hastily springing up and seizing his oar. "They are more at the business than I thought 'em; and we may as well be a little further off afore they have time to load and fire agin, guess," he added, suddenly changing the direction of the beat from the course it had been taking, and plying the oar with an energy which showed rather less indifference to his proximity to the hostile marksmen behind him than his words might seem to imply.
The tories, in the mean while, who had foolishly all discharged their pieces at once, fell to loading again as fast as was possible for them to do in the dark. But before any of them was ready to fire, the last traces of the fugitive boat had vanished from their view.
They were, however, after giving vent to their vexation in a volley of curses upon the fellow who had thus outwitted them, in getting beyond controlling distance, preparing to fire again, at random, in the direction in which the canoe was last seen moving, when their attention was suddenly arrested by firing in the woods a short distance to the south, which seemed to be an exchange of shots between their pickets and some enemy assailing them from that direction. They therefore hurried back to their companions, and with them rallied to make a stand against the force which all supposed was about to storm their encampment. But to their agreeable disappointment, though an occasional shot continued to be directed towards them by persons who seemed to be lurking in the distant thickets, no tangible force made its appearance for the firing which had so alarmed them, and caused them to call in all their scouts within hearing, and make every preparation for a desperate resistance, was, as the reader will have already imagined, but the feint made by Woodburn's party, who, hearing the reports of the guns discharged at the escaping canoe, and partly divining the cause, had advanced from their concealment, and begun to make the diversion agreed on at the outset. But not receiving the signal promised, in case help was needed, and feeling doubtful how to act, most of them fell back, and ceased operations, till Bart, who had, in the mean time, reached the shore, and, with the fearless girl he had released, hastened round to their post, arrived and informed them of all that had occurred. On receiving this aggravating intelligence, Woodburn, now almost frantic with disappointment and anxiety, instantly withdrew to the road with all his band, except two left to keep the enemy in a state of alarm; when they all, including even the heroic Vine Howard, immediately scattered in different directions through the dark forest in anxious search for the luckless Miss Haviland, to whom we will now return, for the purpose of following her in the wild and perillous adventures she was destined to encounter on that eventful night.
"Unshrinking from the storm, Well have ye borne your part, With woman's fragile form, But more than manhood's heart"—Whittier
The observation is no less true than trite, that no one knows till he has tried it, what he can do or endure. And as just as is the remark in a general application, it is, we apprehend, more strikingly so when applied to the gentler sex; for, from the position they occupy in social life, their powers of action or endurance are so seldom fully put to the test, that they are generally far less conscious than men of what deeds they might accomplish or what degree of suffering they might endure, in emergencies calculated to call forth the highest energies of their physical and moral natures. And if there be any disparity between the number of heroes and heroines in the world, such emergencies as we have named are only wanting, we believe, to make up any deficiency that may be found in the latter.
When Miss Haviland ascertained that her too venturous companion had been intercepted and retaken, in the manner mentioned in the preceding chapter, she for a moment greatly hesitated whether to return and yield herself again to her captors, or persevere in her attempt to escape. But, beginning to suspect the true source of the present misfortune, which, if her suspicions were just, pointed only at herself, and thinking that her escape would soon lead to the voluntary release of her companion, she quickly decided on the latter alternative, and glided noiselessly away into the depths of the forest.
After proceeding in a direct course from the camp to such a distance as should preclude the possibility that any ordinary sound made in walking through the woods would reach her captors, unless they were in actual pursuit behind, of which her often strained senses had as yet given her no evidence, she turned short to the south, and, in pursuance of the hasty plan formed by herself and companion at the outset, now made her way, as fast as the darkness and the usual obstacles of the woods would permit, towards the road, her only guide being the parallel swells of land, which, running north and south, rose, as she had luckily noticed before dark, in successive lifts up the mountain to the west. Still hearing no sounds of pursuit, she began to entertain strong hopes that she should be permitted to reach the road unmolested. In this, however, she was doomed to be disappointed; for, in a short time, a cracking, as of dry twigs under the tread of some one stealthily advancing, arrested her attention, and brought her to a stand. Fortunately, no part of her dress was sufficiently light-colored to betray her. And, having nothing to fear from this, and believing that, by placing herself in close contact with some natural object, she might still have a good chance to be passed undetected, she glided to the nearest tree, and, placing her back to the side opposite to the suspected foe, awaited his approach in breathless silence. Presently he came up, and, after pausing a moment within a few yards of her, apparently to listen and reconnoitre, he passed by so near as to graze the bark of the tree behind which she stood, and moved carelessly on some distance before again pausing to repeat his reconnoissance.
She drew a long breath; but, before she dared move from her stand, the sounds of other approaching feet reached her ears. And soon two more men, evidently on the same search, passed by her, at different distances to the east, and, like the first one, bent their courses northward. After waiting till all sound of their receding steps had wholly died away, she again moved forward, and soon had the satisfaction of finding herself in the road, but a short distance from the spot where, a few hours before, she and her attendant had been captured. It remained now to get beyond the tory encampment. Could she be permitted to pass down the mountain, in the road, but a half mile, she might then consider the danger mostly over, and proceed on to the tavern in comparative safety. And, though aware that this portion of the way might be scarcely less dangerous than any she had passed over, yet, tempted by the facility with which it could be accomplished in the road, she resolved to make the attempt, and accordingly, with a guarded but rapid step, began to move down the sloping way before her. But she had proceeded but a short distance, when she was startled by the loud report of firearms in the direction of the tory encampment, which, as already described, were, just at that moment, being discharged at the escaping canoe. While pausing in doubt at the meaning of this unexpected outbreak, the random firing of Woodburn's party which we noted as soon following that of the tories, now burst from the forest a little before her on the left, and greatly in creased her perplexity. Suddenly conceiving the idea, from these circumstances, that the tories had been assailed in their rear, and were now retreating towards her, and this notion being the next moment confirmed by the glimpses she caught of a dark form emerging from the bushes on the left, whom she mistook for a foe, she hastily turned and fled, in agitation and alarm, into the opposite forest bordering the road on the south, having thus approached within a few rods of the very men who were in search of her, and thus unconsciously eluded their friendly grasp. Though intending soon to turn her course eastward, so as to come out again into the road at such a point as should place her beyond any danger of a recapture, yet, urged by her fears lest her foes should cross the road and overtake her, she pressed on so far into the depths of the woods, that when she paused to change her course, she became confused and doubtful respecting the direction she should take to regain the road in the manner she had proposed. She had now no further knowledge of the make of the land, or the situation of the hills, by which she could be guided. But at length, fixing on a course which she thought most likely to be the right one, she again set forward, slowly picking her way through the swampy and tangled tract of forest into which she seemed now to have entered. In this manner she pursued her dubious course onward nearly an hour, every moment expecting that the next would bring her out into the road. At length she fell in with a small stream, which she rightly judged to be one of the brooks running into Black River, and which, from what she knew of the course of that river, she supposed would lead nearly in the direction she sought to go. But on stooping down to feel the current, she, to her great surprise, found it running in a course directly opposite from what she expected. Scarcely knowing now which way to direct her steps, she passed over the stream, and, with a sense of desolation, growing out of the thought that she was lost in the depths of the wilderness, which she had never before experienced, wandered on, and on, for several of the successive hours of that dark and dismal night. At last she came to the top of a high swell, where, the new aspect presented in the slope of the forest before her naturally causing her to pause, she dropped down upon an old mossy log to rest her worn and wearied frame, and try to collect her confused and scattered faculties. While here endeavoring to rally her sinking spirits, and compose her thoughts so as to look more coolly on her situation, she began to discern, through the openings of the foliage, the dark outlines of a high mountain, rising, at the distance of two or three miles, directly in front of her. It now occurred to her that, like other persons lost in the woods, of whom she had heard, she might have been, all this time, wandering in a circle, and that the mountain before her might be the very one she supposed she had left far behind her, west of the tory encampment. If this supposition should prove correct, the long-sought road must lie somewhere between her and the mountain in view, and a little more perseverance in that direction would consequently put an end to those perplexities which were now becoming more painful and dread than any sensations she had experienced from the pursuit of her enemies. Encouraged by the gleam of hope which this thought imparted to her almost despairing mind, she started up, and again nerved herself for the task of meeting the many difficulties which she knew, at the best, yet remained to be overcome. It had, by this time, in consequence of a scattering of the clouds, or the rising of a waning moon, become perceptibly lighter, and, for the next hour, her progress was much more direct and easy. By this time, she came to a spot in the forest which was sufficiently open to give her another and fairer view of the mountain she had been approaching. She looked upon its dark sides a moment, and the pleasant delusion under which she had been laboring wholly vanished from her mind. She saw it could not be the mountain she had hoped to find it, nor indeed any she had ever seen; and she again gave herself up as lost, perhaps, irretrievably lost, far away and deep in the dark recesses of a howling wilderness, from which she might never be extricated. And yet her usual firmness did not wholly forsake her. "Is not your life of more value than many sparrows in the sight of Him who careth for all?" she mentally exclaimed; and she was calmed and comforted by the ready affirmative which her faith responded.
While casting about her in doubt respecting the next step to be taken, she discovered traces of what was evidently once an imperfect road, or path, which seemed to extend through a partial opening towards the mountain. Thinking it might possibly lead to some human habitation, or at least to some place preferable to the open forest for rest and shelter till the return of daylight, she resolved to follow it. As she proceeded on, she began to detect marks of the woodman's or hunter's axe in the trees, here entirely cut down, and there girdled, or denuded of their bark as high as the hand could reach. These indications of the former presence of men appeared to grow more frequent as she went on; and at length she came out into a small opening in the forest in the midst of which stood a roughly-constructed log-house, or shanty, with a regularly-formed bark roof still standing. The remains of smaller and less durable shanties were also visible in the vicinity of the former. [Footnote: Colonel Hawks, while traversing the wilderness of Vermont, in the French wars, with a regular force, among whom was the then Captain John Stark, once encamped near the foot of the mountain, in the south part of Cavendish, where the incident we are narrating is supposed to have occurred. The mountain still bears the name of Hawks's Mountain, and the traces of the encampment, it is said are still visible.]
With a cautious and hesitating step, Miss Haviland drew near to this rude structure, and at once perceived, by the appearance of the unguarded loop-hole window, and the open entrance, before which the untrodden wild weeds were growing, that it was untenanted. Approaching still nearer, and peering into the window, she discovered, in one corner of the deserted apartment, a comfortable-looking bed, composed of branches of the hemlock, which she rightly concluded had been collected and used by hunters, who occasionally made the place their quarters for the night. Immediately concluding to avail herself of the advantages which this shelter and primitive couch seemed to promise for obtaining the rest her exhausted system so much needed, she entered, and, throwing herself down on the soft and yielding boughs, soon surrendered herself to the influence of the grateful repose, and fell asleep. She was soon, however, awakened—by what she knew not, unless by the feeling of uneasiness and apprehension, by which she now found herself unaccountably agitated. She had heard, or read, of those mysterious intimations, by which, it is said, we sometimes instinctively become apprised of impending danger, when there is no apparent cause for apprehension, and when reason utters no warning. If such instances ever in reality occurred, this might be one of them; or the impression might have been unconsciously received from actual sounds, which came from foes now secretly lurking near, and which, as it is known often to be the case, had fallen on her slumbering ear, and disturbed and troubled, without fully awakening her. But whatever the cause of the strange foreboding, the effect soon became too strong and exciting to permit her longer to remain passive. And she arose to examine the apartment, and see what precautions could be taken to render it more safe against the intrusion of enemies, whether they should come in the shape of men or wild beasts. On approaching the entrance, she discovered, standing by the side of it against the wall a sort of rough door made of long cuts of thick bark, confined by withes to two cross-pieces, and intended, evidently, as there were no contrivances for hanging it, to be set up against the entrance on the inside as a barrier against the cold, or the unwelcome intrusion of any thing from without. But it had become so water-soaked and heavy, and the end on which it stood so firmly set in the ground, that she found, on making the attempt, her strength unequal to the task of removing it. And she turned away to look for other means of protecting herself from danger. Casting her eyes upward, she perceived, lying loose on the beams, or rather poles, extending across the room above, several long pieces of bark, which had been left there, probably, when the roof, of the same material, was constructed. And it immediately occurred to her, that, if she could mount this loft, she might so dispose of herself there as to escape the observation of any human intruders, and, at the same time, be out of reach of any wild beasts that should enter the room below. Accordingly, going to one corner, she began to mount by stepping on the projecting sides of the logs in the two converging walls, and soon succeeded in reaching the loft, and forming, from the bark, a piece of flooring sufficiently strong and broad to bear her weight and screen her person from observation. Upon this she extended herself, face downwards, with her eyes placed to a small aperture, to enable her to see what might happen in the room below, and silently, but with highly excited expectation, awaited the event. But what event did she expect? She could not tell; and yet she was wholly unable to divest herself of the continually intruding idea that something fearful was about to occur; and impelled by the singular apprehension, she could not help listening for sounds which might herald the approaching evil. For some time, however, no sounds reached her ears, except those low, mingled murmurs which are peculiar to the forest in the stillness of night. But at length her quickened organs were greeted by some noise which she knew was not a fancied one; and the next moment the sound of human footsteps became distinctly audible. Presently she heard voices at the door, and then saw two dark forms cautiously entering the room below. After walking around the apartment and thrusting the muzzles of their guns into corners, with the apparent purpose of ascertaining whether any one was concealed within, they approached the pile of boughs before described, and gave vent to their satisfaction at finding so good a bed, in a short, guttural ugh! which proclaimed them, to the trembling listener above, to be Indians, and of those, doubtless, who had been sent out in pursuit of her. They then proceeded to draw up the old door and barricade the entrance after which they set their guns against the wall, and camped down on the bed in the corner.
It would be difficult to describe the sensations with which the hapless girl witnessed what had occurred; and these, with the fear of what might still be in store for her, nearly filled the measure of her distress and perplexity; for although she had thus far escaped observation, and although she soon had the satisfaction of knowing, by the heavy and measured breathing which reached her ears, that her foes had sunk into a deep sleep, yet how was she, even now, to avoid falling into their merciless hands? Should she attempt to descend and escape through the window, could she effect her purpose without being heard and detected? She feared not. And should she remain in her present situation till daylight, would her terrible visitors then awaken and depart without discovering her? This alternative appeared to her even less promising than the other. And yet one of the two courses must be adopted. Which should it be? While anxiously reflecting on the subject, fresh noises in the woods arrested her attention. These were also the sounds of footsteps, but evidently not those of any human prowler. With a light, quick pat, pat, pat, the animal came up to the door, paused, and snuffed the air through the crevices. He then moved along to the window, reared himself on his hind legs, thrust in his nose, and after giving two or three quick, eager snuffs there also, withdrew, and trotted off, at a moderate pace, a short distance into the forest, where he appeared to come to a sudden halt. The next moment, the long, unearthly howl of a wolf rose shrill and tremulous from the spot, and died slowly away, in strange, wild cadences, among the echoing mountains around. Sabrey instinctively shuddered at the fearful sound, but instantly turned her attention to the sleeping Indians, whom she expected to hear rousing up and rushing out with their guns after the insidious prowler. But they, to her surprise, snored on, unconscious of the danger. The howl was soon repeated, when short, faint responses, in the same shrill, savage modulations, became audible in every direction in the surrounding forest. These answering cries, growing more distinct and loud every moment, in their evident approach to the spot where the first signal howl was given, now fully apprised the agitated listener of the fearful character of the scene which was likely soon to occur beneath or around her. In an incredibly short space of time, the gathering troop of famished monsters seemed to be arriving and arranging themselves under their invoking leader to be led on to the promised prey. And soon the trampling of multitudinous feet evinced that they were in motion and cautiously advancing towards the house. The next moment, they all appeared to have assembled under the window, and paused as if to plan the mode of attack. After a brief interval, in which no sounds could be distinguished but the low, suppressed snuffling of the troop for the scented prey, a large wolf leaped up into the narrow aperture paused a second and then quickly thrusting his balanced body forward, dropped noiselessly down on the ground floor within. Another, and another, and another, followed in rapid succession, till more than half a score of the gaunt, grim monsters had landed inside, and silently arranged themselves in a row before the bed of their intended victims, who still strangely slept on. One more fearful pause succeeded, in which the greedy band seemed to be eagerly eyeing the fated sleepers, and marking out portions of their bodies for the deadly gripe; when suddenly springing forward, they all fiercely pounced upon the victims, and, with the seeming noise of a thousand wrangling fiends, mingled with the sharp, short, half-stifled screeches of human agony, that were heard in the hideous din, seized, throttled, and tore them, limb from limb, to pieces, and bore off the dissevered parts, munching and snarling, to different corners of the room. The noise now for a short time subsided, and nothing was heard but the low, broken growls of the cannibal troop, as they busily craunched the bones, and tore the flesh on which they were raking their horrid feast. Then followed the fierce and noisy encounters for the decreasing fragments, till none were left worth contending for.
At this juncture, two of the half-glutted but still ravenous gang, relinquishing the well-picked bones on which they had been laboring, rose, and, advancing into the middle of the room, stood a moment listlessly viewing the operations of the rest; when they suddenly started, and, turning slowly round and round, began busily to snuff the air, and throw their noses upward in search of some fresh game that appeared now to have struck their keen olfactories. The affrighted maiden, who had been witnessing this hideous scene from her hitherto unsuspected concealment above, with blood curdling in horror at the sights and sounds that reached her recoiling senses, now shuddered in fresh alarm; for she but too well understood what this new and fearfully-significant movement of the wolves portended. And, instinctively withdrawing her face from her loop-hole of observation, she hastily drew herself up in the middle of her frail support, so as to be as far as possible out of the reach of her expected assailants. But they at once detected the slight sounds occasioned by her movement, and, now guided by two senses instead of one, instantly began to gnash their teeth, and, with wild howls, to leap upward after their newly-discovered prey. And although her position was more than seven feet from the ground,—a height which, it might be supposed, could not have been reached by this class of animals in a perpendicular leap,—yet so desperate had the present gang become by the taste of human blood, that they soon, in their determined and constantly-repeated efforts, began to strike and seize the beams with their teeth, by which they would hang suspended a moment, and then drop back again to the ground for another trial. The terrified maiden now gave herself up as lost, and tried to quell the tumult of her frenzied feelings, that she might meet her approaching fate, as dreadful as it was, with calmness and resignation. But the terrific noise of her maddened assailants, as they leaped up, snapping, snarling, and howling, in demoniac chorus, and made nearer and nearer approaches every moment to her person, once more aroused her natural instinct for self-preservation; and she arose, and, standing upon her feet, involuntarily bent over one end of her support to catch a view of what was passing below.
In withdrawing her shrinking gaze from the fiercely upheaving heads and fiery eyeballs which there greeted her, she espied the guns of the Indians still standing against the wall, almost directly beneath her, with the muzzles extending upward within the reach of her arm. With the rapid process of thought which danger is known often to beget, a new plan of deliverance, suggested by the discovery just made, was instantly formed and digested in her mind. And in its pursuance, she drew a white handkerchief from her pocket, and, hastily folding it together, threw it down to the farthest corner of the room below. As she had anticipated, the whole gang rushed after it. And instantly seizing the opportunity thus afforded to execute her design, she hastily balanced herself on the edge of the bark the most nearly over the guns, reached down her arm, grasped one of the muzzles, and drew up the heavy weapon, just in time to escape the baffled brutes as they came bounding back, with redoubled howls of rage and disappointment, to the spot. Too much accustomed, in the new settlement in which she had been mostly reared, to the sight and even handling of fire-arms not to know how to use them, she cocked the piece, and, again advancing to the edge of her platform, pointed down into the thickest of the infuriated pack, and fired. One wild, piercing yelp followed the deafening explosion, and, the next instant, all the survivors of the hushed and frightened gang were heard scrambling through the window, and scattering and fleeing off with desperate speed into the surrounding forest. With the last sounds of the retreating steps of the wolves, and with the relief which a returning sense of safety brought to the over-wrought feelings of the maiden, all her strength gave way, and, sinking down, weak and helpless as an infant, she sobbed out, in the broken murmurs of an overflowing heart, her gratitude to Heaven for her deliverance from the horrid death from which she had so narrowly escaped. For a while she could only tremble and weep; but at length the violence of her emotions began gradually to subside, exhausted nature would be cheated no longer, and she sunk into slumber, too sound, happily, to permit her to dream over the fearful scenes of the past.
When she awoke, it was broad daylight, and all was quiet within, while without the birds were chanting their morning melodies. At first she could scarcely believe that the scene she had passed through was not the distempered imaginings of some frightful dream. But there, on the blood-stained floor beneath her, lay the carcass of a dead wolf, and the scattered bones of the slain Indians, to attest the dreadful reality. Hastening down from the loft into the room, and averting her eyes from the revolting spectacle, she hurried forward with a shudder to the door, effected an opening sufficient for her egress, and rushed out into the open air, of which she now drew a long, grateful inhalation, more expressive than words of the deep sense of inward pleasure she experienced in being freed from this den of horrors.
Believing that, by the advantages daylight would now afford her, she might be able to retrace her way to the road, she immediately sought out and entered the old path by which she had approached the cabin; and this serving to indicate the general course she must pursue to accomplish her purpose, she followed it back to the end, and then passed on through the forest in the same direction. She had proceeded but a short distance, however, before she was startled by the unexpected appearance of a man advancing through the thick intervening undergrowth directly towards her. As she was about to strike out obliquely into the forest to avoid him, her steps were arrested by his voice calling out to her.
"Don't be alarmed at a friend, young lady," he said, in a plausible manner, as he came forward and stopped at a respectful distance—"don't be alarmed at my appearance at all; for you are the one, I take it, that we are searching for. It is Miss Haviland, is it not?"
"Yes, sir," replied the latter, looking doubtfully at the man whom she thought she had somewhere before seen—"yes, that is my name; but as there may be both friends and foes out in search of me, you will excuse me for saying that I do not know to which of these you belong."
"True, true," said the other, in a wheedling tone—"true; I don't blame you for being a little cautious. So I must tell you that, living in these parts, and being acquainted with Captain Woodburn, I volunteered, when I heard you were lost last night, to go with the rest in search of you. And being now so lucky as to find you, I will conduct you out to Coffin's—four or five miles from this, I suppose—where your friends are anxiously waiting to see or get word of you."
Although our heroine was not exactly pleased with the manner and countenance of the man, yet the charm of the name of Woodburn, to whom he had so artfully referred, restored her confidence, and she at once and thankfully accepted of his proffered guidance, little suspecting that she had yielded herself to the most subtle of her foes—the deceitful and treacherous David Redding!
"Then marched the brave from rocky steep, From mountain river, swift and cold. The borders of the stormy deep, The vales where gathered waters sleep, Bent up the strong and bold."—Bryant
The bold and decisive measures of the Council of Safety had by this time begun to manifest themselves in results little anticipated by the adherents of the royal cause in Vermont. The latter, emboldened both by the presence of a powerful British army on their borders, and the doubts and difficulties which, for a while, were known to have embarrassed and rendered ineffectual the deliberations of their opponents, had become so assured and confident of an easy conquest, that in some sections they proceeded openly in the work of enlistment, and in others pushed forward their parties into the very heart of the interior, before perceiving their error; while, by their representations at headquarters, they completely deceived Burgoyne and his advisers respecting the true state of feeling that animated the bosoms of the great mass of the people—a fact made abundantly evident, not only by the subsequent confessions of that general, but by all his operations at the time, and especially that of the short-sighted expedition, which we have before shown him to have planned and set afoot, under Peters, to the Connecticut River. It was no wonder, therefore, that when they now suddenly discovered the whole state in motion—armed men springing up in every glen, nook, and corner of the Green Mountains, and concentrating to join another no less unexpected, and no less formidable force, which was understood to be rapidly advancing from New Hampshire—it was no wonder they were taken wholly by surprise, and slunk silently away to their retreats, or immediately fled to the British army, whom they still neglected to undeceive.
It was about one week subsequent to the events last recited; and the interim had been marked with little, as far as immediately concerned the action of our story, and those of its personages to whom we must now return—with very little to which pen can do justice, except what the reader's imagination probably has already anticipated; for though thrilling events may be described with a good degree of adequacy, there are yet certain states of high wrought feeling that language can never but feebly portray. The search for the lost maiden, on the eventful night of her capture and escape, had been, as the reader will have inferred, as vain and fruitless as it was agonizing to her lover, and anxious to all. The renewal of the search next day, till afternoon, had been no better rewarded. More force having then arrived, the tory encampment was assailed, but found empty of occupants, who had, some hours before, scattered and fled. Still unwilling to relinquish his object, Woodburn, with a small party of his friends, continued his efforts in wider ranges through the forest, which, on the third morning, brought him to the cabin in which her most fearful trials had occurred; when the dead wolf, the remnants of the slain Indians, not yet wholly carried off by the foxes or returning wolves, the guns, the torn and blood-stained earth, and, above all, the white shreds of some part of female apparel, discolored and scattered round the room, told a tale, that, in spite of the entreaties of his sympathizing friends, who deemed the evidence not yet wholly conclusive, drove the appalled lover, in a frenzy of grief and horror, from the dreadful scene.
It was about a week, as we have said, after that night of adventure and excitement. Three companies of the newly-enlisted regiment of Rangers, embracing all the recruits yet raised on the east side of the mountains, were paraded in the road before Coffin's tavern, while their officers were standing listless on the grass in front, and occasionally throwing inquiring glances along the road to the east, as if awaiting some expected arrival from that quarter. At length Woodburn, on whose brow rested an air of gloomy sternness, advanced, and calling his sergeant and scoutmaster, Dunning, to his side, in a low tone, imparted to him some private order or suggestion; when the latter, beckoning from the ranks his and the reader's old acquaintance, Bill Piper, who was also a subaltern in the same company, the two laid aside their guns and equipments, and proceeded leisurely down the road, the way in which the attention of all seemed directed. After proceeding about a quarter of a mile, they came to a turn in the road, which, now becoming invisible from the tavern, led down a long hill, and entered an extended piece of woods nearly another quarter of a mile distant.
"Well," said Dunning, here pausing and casting his eyes forward to the woods, "they der don't seem to make their appearance yet. I ditter think they must have halted there by the brook to drink and rest a little so we will stop at this point, where we can see both ways; and when the troops begin to show themselves, we'll then give the signal."
With this, they threw themselves down in the cool shade of a tree by the way side, and, for a while, yielded themselves to that listless, dreamy mood, which reclining in the shade, after exercise, on a warm day, almost invariably induces.
"Dunning," said Piper, at length rousing up a little, and drawing from his pocket a well-filled leathern purse, which he carelessly chinked against his upraised knee, by way of preliminary—"Dunning, it is a mystery to me where all this stuff comes from. Six weeks ago, it was thought there were scarcely a thousand hard dollars, except what was in tory families, in all the Grants. Now, there must be well on to that sum even in our own company, every recruit having been paid his bounty and month's advance pay, in silver or gold, on the spot. Where does it come from?"
"From the sales of the der tory estates, of which they have been making a clean sweep, you know," replied the other.
"Yes, yes, we all know that, I suppose; but where do the purchasers of these estates get the money to buy with?" rejoined the former.
"I never ditter catechized them about it," said the hunter, evasively.
"Nor I," remarked Piper; "but I have lately heard a curious story about the matter. They say there has been a sort of homespun-looking old fellow, that nobody seems to know, following the commissioners of sales round, from place to place, with an old horse and cart, seemingly loaded with wooden ware, or some such kind of gear, for peddling; and that he has bid off a great part of all the farms, and stock on them, which have been sold, paying down for them on the spot in hard money, which they say he carries about with him tied up in old stockings, and hid away in his load of trumpery. Some mistrust he is a Jew; and some are afraid he is a British agent, not only buying up farms, but also the Council of Safety, who are also strangely full of money these days."
"That last would prove a rather ditter tough bargain for him and his masters, I reckon," responded the hunter, dryly.
"Yes, that is all nonsense, no doubt," observed Piper. "But still it is a mystery to my mind, how money, that a short time ago was so scarce, should now all at once be so plenty; and that was the reason I raised the question before you, who generally know pretty near what is going on among our head men, and who, I thought likely, could easily explain this secret."
"No," said the other; "no, Bill; there might be der trouble about that. When a state secret falls into my ears, it is not so easy to get it out of my mouth. I've got an impediment in my ditter speech, you know," he added, with a slight twinkle of the eye.
"Your mouth goes off well enough on some public matters, I find," remarked Piper, with an air fluctuating between a miff and a laugh.
"Der yes, to say, for instance, that the decree to confiscate and sell the tory estates was a ditter righteous one—has worked like a charm—called out the rusty dollars from their hiding-places thick as der bumblebees in June—ditter drove off the blue devils from among the people, and raised a regiment of men in less than three weeks!"
"Ah! and a fine regiment, too, it will be. I long to see it all wrought together, for I don't know a tenth of them—men or officers—not even our colonel."
"Herrick? Well, I can't der quite say I should know him now; but he is a ditter go-ahead fellow, who loves the smell of gunpowder nearly as well as Seth Warner himself, whose pupil he is in the trade. We shall have the pleasure of seeing him in a few minutes, probably, as Coffin told me he passed along here night before last, on the way to Number Four, to come on with Stark. That may be told without ditter mischief."
"And so may another thing, perhaps, which I should like to know, Dunning."
"Der what is that, Bill?"
"Why, you know that Bart, the night after we discovered the place where we supposed the girl was destroyed, disappeared, and has not been here since. Where have they sent him, and what after?"
"Piper, you are as brave as a lion, and as strong as a horse, der doubtless; but your tongue may ditter need training, for all that. Still, as you mean right, and will probably learn to bridle that unruly member only by practice, I will, for once, put you to the trial. Bart has gone a spy to the British camp. Though Harry, in his despair, would for a while believe nothing but that she was der dead, or worse, yet, as I and others, putting all things together, hoped and reasoned ditter different, in part, and thought she might not have been killed there, but retaken; and, for fear of pursuit, hurried off directly to the British, he concluded to despatch Bart to his friend Allen, of the Council, to take advice, and then proceed in some disguise or other, right into the lion's den—ascertain whether the girl was there—and, after ditter learning what he could about the enemy's movements, return with the news."
"Well, I'll be chunked if the project wan't a bold one! But if any creature on earth can carry it out, it is Bart; and he will, unless they get word from this quarter that such a fellow is among them. Ah! I now see the need of a close mouth on the subject, and will keep one, thanking you kindly, Dunning, for your caution and confidence."
"It will be all right, I presume, Bill, now you perceive Bart's neck may depend on your ditter discretion. But who have we there?" added the speaker, pointing down the road towards the woods.
While Dunning and Piper were thus engrossed in conversation, two men, on foot, had emerged from the woods and approached within a hundred yards, before attracting the attention of the former. They were without coats, or in their shirt sleeves, as, in common parlance, is the phrase for such undress; and, having handkerchiefs tied round their heads, and carrying in their hands rough sticks, picked up by the way-side, for canes, they presented an appearance, as they leisurely came along up the ascending road, with occasional glances back towards the woods, that left Dunning and his companion wholly in doubt, while attempting to decide who or what they were.
"Now, who knows," said the wary hunter, "but they may be der tory spies, hanging round the skirts of Stark's army, and intending soon to be off cross-lots to the British, to report his progress. I'll ditter banter them a little, at all hazards, before we let 'em pass."
But as the strangers drew near, their appearance grew less and less like that of the ordinary footpads for whom they had been taken; and there was something in their bearing which considerably shook, though it did not wholly alter, the hunter's intention to banter them. One was a strongly-built, broad-chested man, with a high head, hardy brown features, and a countenance betokening much cool energy and decision of character. The other was rather less stocky, and slightly taller, of quicker motions, but withal a prompt, resolute-looking person.
"Well, my friends," said the former, coming up and pausing before the expectant Rangers, with an air that seemed to challenge conversation, "this is Coffin's tavern here ahead, I suppose. Will the captain be pleased, think ye, to see a little company about this time?"
"Der yes," replied Dunning, eyeing the speaker with a curious, half doubtful and half quizzing expression. "Yes, if of the right sort, he wont ditter cry, I reckon. But the captain is sometimes rather particular—for instance, if you should happen to be tories——"
"Tories!—do we look like tories?" demanded the former glancing to his companion with a droll, surprised look.
"Why der no," replied the hunter, a little abashed, "I ditter think not."
"Well, I had hoped not," rejoined the man. "But who are you, my friend—one of the Green Mountain Boys, that we hear so much about?"
"Not far from the mark, sergeant, or commissary, or whatever is your ditter title; for you belong to the army that's at hand, I take it?" said Dunning.
"O, yes," briskly returned the other, again looking at his companion, and joining him in a merry laugh. "Yes, I am one of them, and mean to have a hand in stirring up Burgoyne, when we reach him, I assure you."
"That's right, commissary!" exclaimed Dunning. "You are a der chap of some pluck, I'll warrant it. I begin to ditter like you. What shall I call your name, friend?"
"My name is John Stark, if you will allow," replied the stranger, with an amused look.
"John Stark? Why, that's your der general's name!" said the hunter, incredulously. "Come, come, friend, you are ditter gumming me. I have seen John Stark—Captain Stark, that was then—now general—the same that was bought back by our folks for a white pony—ditter dog cheap, too, as the British will find, before he is der done with them, or I mistake the amount of fight that's in the critter, amazingly." [Footnote: When General Stark was exposed for sale in Montreal, by the Indians, by whom he had been captured in the French war, and some of his countrymen were trying in vain to make his savage master set a price on him, an English gentleman happened to ride by on a handsome white pony, which so greatly struck the Indian's fancy, that, pointing after the coveted animal, he exclaimed, "Ah! ugh! me take that you get him." Whereupon the gentleman was followed, the pony purchased, and, with it, the captive Stark redeemed.]
"Thank you, sir!" heartily exclaimed the former, now evidently as much gratified as amused at what he heard. "In behalf of that same John Stark, I thank you, sir, for your good opinion of him. But where, my good fellow," he continued, with at look of lively interest, "where did you ever fall in with Captain Stark?"
"Why, in the old war, when he der marched through here with Colonel Hawk, I ditter acted as the colonel's guide over the mountains to Otter Creek. Stark, as I've said, was one of the captains, though I wasn't much with him, to be sure," replied the hunter, becoming more doubtful and puzzled every moment, at the turn matters were taking.
"Ah! yes, yes,—our hunter guide on that rough march! I remember now. Well, well, the fault is not wholly on one side after all!" said the other, musingly.
"Der—der—ditter how? der—ditter—" began Dunning opening his eyes with an uneasy stare.
"This is General Stark, my boys," here quickly interposed the other gentleman. "I see by your badges that you belong to the Rangers. I am your colonel, Herrick, and this the general himself, who, by way of relief from a long ride in the saddle, threw off his uniform, like myself, down in the woods yonder, and walked on, while the troops were halting to refresh a moment, and recover from the effects of their march in this scalding heat, before they made their appearance at your rendezvous. They will now be on the move shortly."
"Der—der—ditter—" cried the confused hunter, rising hurriedly to his feet, and lifting his cap, in a tremor of respectful deprecation, before the general, while his tongue began to trip and fly in the vain attempt to get out an apology—"der—der—ditter—ditter—ditter—"
"Never mind, my brave fellow!" exclaimed Stark, with a hearty slap on the other's shoulder; "never mind a mistake so naturally growing out of our unmilitary guise. No offence, even had your remarks been less pleasant. But you, sir!—why, you have paid me the greatest compliment I ever had in my life!"
"No—no offence whatever to either of us," added Herrick. "But yonder come the columns of our friends and helpers from New Hampshire. If you are here to give notice of their approach, as I suppose, make the signal, and back to your post. And here, general," he continued, pointing to two fine-looking and gayly caparisoned horses, now led up by waiters, with the coats, swords, sashes, and great military cocked hats of the denuded officers swinging on their arms—"here, general, come our horses and uniforms. Let us rig up before a worse mistake shall befall us."
With a curious mixture of chagrin and gratification at what had just occurred, the two Rangers now made the appointed signal, and hurried back to join their companions in arms at the tavern. And in a few minutes, the fine little brigade of the hardy and resolute New Hampshire Boys, headed by their intrepid leader, now equipped in imposing regimentals, and mounted on his curvetting charger, came pouring along the plain in all the pomp of martial array, and were received by the customary military salutes, and the reiterated cheers of their congenial welcomers of the Green Mountains.
The hour that succeeded was a bustling and a joyous one. The greetings, the introductions, the mutual compliments for deeds done at Ticonderoga and Bunker Hill, and the merry jokes given and taken, as the mingling forces partook of the good cheer prepared for the whole at the expense of the public or patriotic individuals, together with the strong community of feeling that agitated their bosoms in view of a common object to be accomplished, and common dangers to be encountered,—all combined to render the scene one of no ordinary interest and animation. At length, the drums of the different companies began to beat to arms, and the soldiers were seen gathering at their respective stands, preparatory to the march of the combined forces across the mountains.
At this juncture, a single horseman came galloping along the road from the west; and, the next moment, Ira Allen, the active and untiring secretary of the Council of Safety, with a countenance betokening good or exciting news, rode up to the door, and, throwing himself from the saddle, turned to receive the greetings of his acquaintances gathering round him. With a significant look and gesture to Woodburn to follow, he led the way to an unoccupied room, at length found in the crowded tavern.
"What news do you bring, Mr. Allen?" said Woodburn, with an effort at calmness, as soon as the two were by themselves.
"That which will scatter the blackest part of that cloud on your brow, I trust, my dear fellow," replied Allen, with an animated and exulting air. "Here, look at this!" he added, pulling out and presenting a small and closely-folded letter.
With trembling eagerness, Woodburn seized the missive, and, with a glance at the well-known hand of the superscription, "To Captain Woodburn, or Mr. Allen, of the Council," opened it, and read as follows:—
"I am at the British head-quarters—not exactly a prisoner but evidently a closely-watched personage, having reached here with my captors, after a forced and fatiguing journey, which however, was not made unpleasant by any disrespectful treatment. Although the party, to whom I became a prisoner, have been frightened back or recalled, and the expedition, of which they were the advance, given up, yet I think it my duty to say that another, and much more formidable one, is in agitation against Bennington. I hope our people will be prepared for it, and show these haughty Britons that they do not deserve the name of the undisciplined rabble of poltroons and cowards by which I here daily hear them branded. S. H."
We will not attempt to describe the emotions of Woodburn on the occasion. But the letter disclosed that which involved more momentous interests than those merely that concerned the individual feelings of a lover. And it was soon concluded to lay it before General Stark, who, with Colonel Herrick, was then called in, the letter shown, and all the attending circumstances, past and present, so far as concerned the public to know, fully explained.
Mean while the troops were drawn up, in marching order, before the tavern, and stood wondering why their general did not appear, or, at least, give order for the column to move onward.
At length, however, the long expected leader, attended by those with whom he had been in consultation, made his appearance at the door, and ordered the horses of those who were to travel mounted to be led forward.
"There's something more than common on John Stark's mind," whispered a tall New Hampshire Boy, to his fellow in the ranks. "See how his eyes snap! I am an old neighbor of his, you know, and can read him like a book. I shouldn't be surprised if we heard from him soon; for he an't one of those that like to keep chawing on a thing that makes him feel, but wants to out with it, and always will, unless he has good reason for a close mouth. Yes, I'll bet a goose we hear from him before we start."
The speaker had conjectured rightly. Stark was heard to say to Allen,—
"Mount and ride along against the centre there, sir, where you can best be heard. We must have it; for, besides preparing their minds for what they probably must soon meet, it will make a battle cry for your boys and mine as potent, for aught we can tell, as was the name of Joan of Arc among the Frenchmen."
The officers, with Allen, then sprung into their saddles; and as the latter reached his allotted post, and faced round to the lines, the general commanded attention, and added,—
"My men, let me introduce you to Mr. Allen, the patriotic secretary of the Vermont Council of Safety, and say that I hold myself voucher for the truth of what he shall tell you. Listen to his communication."
The secretary, now bowing respectfully to the attentive and already prepossessed ranks before him, began by saying that among the recreant few of any note in the Green Mountains, who had basely deserted their country and joined the enemy, there was one who had a daughter of whom he was wholly unworthy. The speaker then proceeded to relate Miss Haviland's noble stand for the American cause, from which she was not to be allured or driven by all the inducements and menaces held out by a tory father and lover, both of whom had received royal commissions—her absolute refusal to go with them, on their late departure for the British army, and her more recent capture and abduction, while on her way to her friends, by the probable instigation of the rejected lover, and with the connivance, perhaps, of the father; all of which was concluded by reading the letter just received, it was added, by a trusty messenger, who had gone in disguise to the enemy's camp to receive it, and who had now returned to keep open the important communication.
"Men of New Hampshire!" now cried Stark, in a loud, animated voice, as with flashing eyes he glanced over the throng of upturned and excited faces before him, "is it any wonder the Green Mountain Boys are so gallant and brave in fighting for their wives and sweethearts, when such is a specimen? Will you join them in defence of their homes and country, and help fulfil this matchless girl's expectations when we meet that taunting foe at Bennington, as by God's favor we will? If so, then let it now be told in three cheers for the good cause, and as many more as you please for The Tory's Daughter!"
The next instant, as the bidden drummers brought their sticks to the bounding parchment of their instruments with blows that seemingly would have thrown their arms from their shoulders, a thousand men were seen leaping wildly into the air, and giving their patriotic response in a round of cheers that rent the ringing heavens above, and shook the startled wilderness for miles around them.
"Order in the ranks!" at length broke in the deep, stern voice of the general, as the last cheer was dying away. "Prepare to march! March!"
And the excited troops could scarcely be kept in their places as, with the stirring strains of lively fife and rattling drum, they went rushing and pouring along on their way to the seat of war.
"In dreams the haughty Briton bore The trophies of a conqueror."
The scene of our story changes to the vicinity of the Hudson, to which the eyes of millions were now turned as the theatre of approaching events, on which hung, perhaps, the great issue of the American revolution. Although both parties seemed to look upon the matter at stake as one of immense magnitude, yet far different were the views and feelings which, at this time, pervaded the two opposing armies. The British, flushed by their successes, and confident in that strength before which every opposing obstacle had thus far given way, were looking down with little other than absolute contempt on the American forces in their front, believing them wholly incapable, either from numbers or courage, of opposing any serious resistance to their march, when they chose to move forward. And here thus lay their proud and infatuated chief for weeks, dreaming of coronets, frittering away the time in feasting with his officers, and indulging himself and them in all the follies which characterized their gay and licentious camp. On the other hand, the Americans, deeply sensible of the consequence of suffering their enemies to effect their contemplated junction at Albany, were vigilant, active, and determined. Though firmly resolved to dispute the way of the invader to the death when they must, they yet preferred, for a while, the policy of embarrassing and impeding him, rather than openly exposing themselves to his attacks. Whole brigades were therefore employed in the work of destroying the bridges, blocking up the roads with fallen trees, and putting every possible obstruction in the way of his advance, so that his delay, where he now lay at Fort Ann, might be protracted till a sufficient force could be gathered to meet him with a more reasonable hope of success.
And every hour that hope waxed stronger and stronger. Every day brought fresh accessions of strength to their self-devoted bands, and every gale wafted to their gladdened ears the sounds of the warlike preparations of an aroused and indignant people gathering from afar to the rescue; and they began to breathe more freely while they thought, as with trembling solicitude they still did, of the fearful meeting that must now soon follow.
At the time which we have selected for opening the scene that forms the next connecting link in the chain of our tale although the road had been at length opened, and a few detachments thrown forward to the Hudson, the main part of the British army still lay at Fort Ann; where their long lines of tents, marked, at intervals, by the colors of the different regiments flying from their slender flagstaffs, were now seen stretching, a city of canvas, over the plain. A little apart from this imposing array stood a small number of dwelling-houses of different sizes, irregularly scattered along on both sides of the road towards the south, over the largest of which floated the broad British flag, proclaiming it the head-quarters of the commander-in-chief. The next, in size and commodiousness, among these various structures,—all now occupied by the general officers and other favored personages of the army,—was a large, low farmhouse, which the intermingling devices of the British and Hanoverian flags, conspicuously displayed from the roof, denoted to be the quarters of General Reidesel, suite, and well-known family. This last building seemed now to be the principal point of attraction. Gayly dressed officers and ladies were seen entering the doors, or standing inside at the open windows; while the sounds of the familiar greetings, lively sallies, and merry laughter of the assembled and assembling company, sufficiently indicated the convivial character of the scene about to be enacted within. Let us enter. Around a long and richly-furnished table, in the principal apartment, were just seated those who deemed themselves the elite of that boastful army. Its notorious chief, the weak and wise, vain-glorious and energetic Burgoyne, occupied the post of honor, at the head, and the fair hostess, the amiable, learned, and vivacious Countess of Reidesel, the foot of the table: while, at the sides, were ranged, according to the prevailing notions of precedence, the variously-ranked individuals composing the rest of the company, among whom, with other officers of less note, were Generals Reidesel and Frazier, Major Ackland and his devoted wife, together with several Americans, including the elated Esquire Haviland and his beautiful daughter. The latter who, sorely against her inclinations, had been prevailed on, or rather constrained, by her father to attend him to the entertainment, was seated by the side of Lady Ackland, to whom she seemed shrinkingly to cling as a sort of shield against the fierce glances she was compelled to encounter from the eyes of those whom it was there counted treason to repulse.