Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land, Complete

Page: 67


It was on the day after the battle of Germantown that Warner, who wore the blue, met his hated neighbor, the Tory Dabney, near that bloody field.

By a common impulse the men fell upon each other with their knives, and Warner soon had his enemy in a position to give him the death-stroke, but Dabney began to bellow for quarter. "My brother cried for quarter at Paoli," answered the other, "and you struck him to the heart."

"I have a wife and child. Spare me for their sakes."

"My brother had a wife and two children. Perhaps you would like to beg your life of them."

Though made in mockery, this proposition was caught at so earnestly that Warner at length consented to take his adversary, firmly bound, to the house where the bereaved family was living. The widow was reading the Bible to her children, but her grief was too fresh to gather comfort from it. When Dabney was flung into the room he grovelled at her feet and begged piteously for mercy. Her face did not soften, but there was a kind of contempt in the settled sadness of her tone as she said, "It shall be as God directs. I will close this Bible, open it at chance, and when this boy shall put his finger at random on a line, by that you must live or die."

The book was opened, and the child put his finger on a line: "That man shall die."

Warner drew his knife and motioned his prisoner to the door. He was going to lead him into the wood to offer him as a sacrifice to his brother's spirit.

"No, no!" shrieked the wretch. "Give me one more chance; one more! Let the girl open the book."

The woman coldly consents, and when the book is opened for the second time she reads, "Love your enemies." There are no other words. The knife is used, but it is to cut the prisoner's bonds, and he walks away with head hung down, never more to take arms against his countrymen. And glad are they all at this, when the husband is brought home—not dead, though left among the corpses at Paoli, but alive and certain of recovery, with such nursing as his wife will give him. After tears of joy have been shed she tells him the story of the Bible judgment, and all the members of the family fall on their knees in thanksgiving that the blood of Dabney is not upon their heads.


Farmer Derwent and his four stout sons set off on an autumn night for the meeting of patriots at a house on the Wissahickon,—a meeting that bodes no good to the British encamped in Philadelphia, let the red-coats laugh as they will at the rag-tag and bob-tail that are joining the army of Mr. Washington in the wilds of the Skippack. The farmer sighs as he thinks that his younger son alone should be missing from the company, and wonders for the thousandth time what has become of the boy. They sit by a rock that juts into the road to trim their lantern, and while they talk together they are startled by an exclamation. It is from Ellen, the adopted daughter of Derwent and the betrothed of his missing son. On the night that the boy stole away from his father's house he asked her to meet him in this place in a year's time, and the year is up to-night.

But it is not to meet him that she is hastening now: she has heard that the British have learned of the patriot gathering and will try to make prisoners of the company. Even as she tells of this there is a sound to the southward: the column is on the march. The farmer's eye blazes with rage and hate. "Boys," he says, "yonder come those who intend to kill us. Let them taste of their own warfare. Stand here in the shadow and fire as they pass this rock."

The troopers ride on, chuckling over their sure success, when there is a report of rifles and four of the red-coats are in the dust. The survivors, though taken by surprise, prove their courage by halting to answer the volley, and one of them springs from his saddle, seizes Derwent, and plunges a knife into his throat. The rebel falls. His blood pools around him. The British are successful, for two of the young men are bound and two of them have fallen, and there is a cheer of victory, but the trooper with the knife in his hand does not raise his voice. He bends above the farmer as still as one dead, until his captain claps him on the shoulder. As he rises, the prisoners start in wonder, for the face they see in the lantern-light is that of their brother, yet strange in its haggardness and its smear of blood on the cheek. The girl runs from her hiding-place with a cry, but stands in horror when her foot touches the gory pool in the road. The trooper opens his coat and offers her a locket. It contains her picture, and he has worn it above his heart for a year, but she lets it fall and sinks down, moaning. The soldier tears off his red coat, tramples it in the dust, then vaulting to his saddle he plunges into the river, fords it, and crashes through the underbrush on the other side. In a few minutes he has reached the summit of a rock that rises nearly a hundred feet above the stream. The horse halts at the edge, but on a fierce stab of the spur into his flank he takes the leap. With a despairing yell the traitor and parricide goes into eternity.


Terrible in the field at Brandywine was the figure of a man armed only with a hammer, who plunged into the ranks of the enemy, heedless of his own life, yet seeming to escape their shots and sabre cuts by magic, and with Thor strokes beat them to the earth. But yesterday war had been to him a distant rumor, a thing as far from his cottage at Dilworth as if it had been in Europe, but he had revolted at a plot that he had overheard to capture Washington and had warned the general. In revenge the Tories had burned his cottage, and his wife and baby had perished in the flames. All day he had sat beside the smoking ruins, unable to weep, unable to think, unable almost to suffer, except dumbly, for as yet he could not understand it. But when the drums were heard they roused the tiger in him, and gaunt with sleeplessness and hunger he joined his countrymen and ranged like Ajax on the field. Every cry for quarter was in vain: to every such appeal he had but one reply, his wife's name—Mary.

Near the end of the fight he lay beside the road, his leg broken, his flesh torn, his life ebbing from a dozen wounds. A wagoner, hasting to join the American retreat, paused to give him drink. "I've only five minutes more of life in me," said the smith. "Can you lift me into that tree and put a rifle in my hands?" The powerful teamster raised him to the crotch of an oak, and gave him the rifle and ammunition that a dying soldier had dropped there. A band of red-coats came running down the road, chasing some farmers. The blacksmith took careful aim; there was a report, and the leader of the band fell dead. A pause; again a report rang out, and a trooper sprawled upon the ground. The marksman had been seen, and a lieutenant was urging his men to hurry on and cut him down. There was a third report, and the lieutenant reeled forward into the road, bleeding and cursing. "That's for Mary," gasped the blacksmith. The rifle dropped from his hands, and he, too, sank lifeless against the boughs.


It was three soldiers, escaping from the rout of Braddock's forces, who caught the alleged betrayer of their general and put him to the death. They threw his purse of ill-gotten louis d'or into the river, and sent him swinging from the edge of a ravine, with a vine about his neck and a placard on his breast. And so they left him.

Twenty years pass, and the war-fires burn more fiercely in the vales of Pennsylvania, but, too old to fight, the schoolmaster sits at his door near Chad's Ford and smokes and broods upon the past. He thinks of the time when he marched with Washington, when with two wounded comrades he returned along the lonely trail; then comes the vision of a blackening face, and he rises and wipes his brow. "It was right," he mutters. "He sent a thousand of his brothers to their deaths."