The Partisan/IV

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The Partisan by William Gilmore Simms
Chapter IV


"————Keep thy counsel well,
 And fear not. We shall mate with them in time,
 And spoil them who would strike us. We are free,
 And confidently strong—have arms and men—
 Good fellows in the wood, that will not fly
 When blows are to be borne."

By a short path the stranger and his companion moved from the bridge to the place of gathering. It was not long before they found themselves in the thick of the crowd, upon the green plot in front of the church, from the portals of which the heavy roll of the drum commanded due attention from the populace. The proclamation which the commander of the garrison at Dorchester now proceeded to read to the multitude, was of no small importance. Its contents were well calculated to astound and terrify the Carolinians who heard it. It was one of the many movements of the British commander, unfortunately for the cause of royalty in that region, which, more than anything besides, contributed to arouse and irritate that spirit of resistance on the part of the invaded people, which it should have been the studious policy of the invaders to mollify and suppress. The document in question had been just issued by Sir Henry Clinton, declaring all paroles or protections granted hitherto to be null and void, and requiring the holders of them, within twenty days, to resume the character of British subjects—taking up arms in the promotion of his majesty's cause, against their brethren, under pain of being treated as rebels to his government.

The motive of Sir Henry for a movement so exceedingly injudicious, may be only conjectured from he concurrent circumstances of the time. The continental army, under De Kalb, was on its way to the South—Gates had been ordered to command it—and this intelligence, though not generally known to the people of Carolina,could not long be withheld from their possession. It was necessary to keep them from any co-operation with their approaching friends; and no more effectual mode, simply considered by itself, could have been suggested to the mind of the Briton than their employment under his own banners. This apart, the invasion of the adjoining states of Virginia and North Carolina had been long since determined upon, and was now to be attempted. Troops were wanted for this purpose, and no policy seemed better than to expend one set of rebels upon another. It was also necessary to secure the conquered province; and the terrors of the hangman were providently held out, in order to impel the conquered to the minor risks of the bayonet and shot.

The error was a fatal one. From that hour the declension of British power was precipitately hurried in Carolina; the people lost all confidence in those who had already so grossly deceived them; for the condition of the protection or parole called for no military service from the citizen who took it. He was simply to be neutral in the contest; and, however unworthy may have been the spirit consenting even to this condition, it cannot be denied that a foul deception had been practised upon them. The consequences were inevitable; and the determined hostility of the foe was coupled, on the part of the Carolinians, with a wholesale scorn of the want of probity manifested by the enemy they were now not so unwilling to encounter.

From the church-porch the proclamation was again read to the assembled multitude. The crowd was variously composed, and various indeed was the effect which it produced among them. The stranger and his companion, at a little distance, listened closely to the words of the instrument; and a smile of joy, not unmarked by Davis, played over the features of the former as he heard it read. The latter looked his indignation: he could not understand why such a paper should give pleasure to his comrade, and could not forbear, in a whisper, demanding the occasion of his satisfaction.

"It pleases you, stranger? I see you smile!"

"It does please me—much, very much," responded the other, quickly, and with emphasis, but in a whisper also.

"What!" with more earnestness, said the countryman—"what!does it please you to listen to such villainy as this? I do not understand you."

"Not so loud, comrade; you have a neck, and these fellows a rope; besides, there's one to the left of us whose looks I like not."

The other turned in the direction signified, and saw the propriety of his companion's caution, as he beheld within a few feet the harsh features of the notorious Captain Huck, a furious and bloody tory-leader, well-known, and held in odious estimation, throughout the neighborhood. The stranger went on, still whispering:—

"Look pleased, friend Davis, if you can; this is no time to show any but false colours to the enemy. I am pleased, really, as you think, and have my reason for being so, which you shall know in good time. Take breath, and listen."

The paper was finished, and the detachment moved on its way to the "Royal George Tavern," the crowd generally following; and there it was again read. Our two friends kept together, and proceeded with the multitude. The stranger was eminently watchful and observant; he noted well the sentiment of indignation which all faces manifested; there could be no doubt of that expression. The sober farmer, the thoughtless and gay-hearted planter of the neighbourhood, the drudge, the mechanic, the petty chapman—all had in their looks that severe soberness which showed a thought and spirit, active, and more to be respected, as they were kept so well restrained.

"God save the king!" cried the officer, as he concluded the instrument, from the steps of the tavern.

"Ay, God save the king, and God bless him, too!" echoed old Humphries, at the entrance. A few only of the crowd gave back the cry, and even with them the prayer was coldly uttered; and there was nothing like that spirit which, when the heart goes with the decree of the ruler, makes the welkin ring with its unregulated rejoicings.

"You are silent; you do not cry with the rest," said one at the elbow of the stranger. He turned to behold the features of the tory captain, of whom we have already spoken, who now, with a scrutinizing glance, placed himself close beside the person he had addressed. The mean cunning—the low, searching expression ofhis look—were eminently disgusting to the youth, who replied, while resuming his old position:—

"What? God save the king? Did I not say it? It's very natural; for I am so used to it. I'm quite willing that God should save his majesty—God knows he needs it."

This was said with a very devout countenance, and the expression was so composed and quiet, that the tory could say nothing, though still not satisfied, seemingly, with much that was in the language. It sounded very like a sneer, and yet, strictly speaking, it was perfectly unexceptionable. Baffled in this quarter, the loyalist, who was particularly desirous of establishing his own claims to British favour, now turned with a similar inquiry to Davis; but the countryman was ready, and a nudge in the side from his companion, had anything been wanting, moved him to a similar answer. Huck was not exactly prepared to meet with so much willingness on the part of two persons whose movements he had suspected, and had been watching; but, concluding them now to be well affected, he did not scruple to propose to them to become members of the troop of horse he was engaged in raising. To the stranger he first addressed himself, complimenting him upon his fine limbs and figure, and insisting upon the excellent appearance he would make, well mounted and in British uniform. A smile of sovereign contempt overspread the youth's features as he listened to the tory patiently to the end. Calmly, then, he begged permission to decline the proposed honour.

"Why, you are loyal, sir?" he asked, seeming to doubt.

"Who denies it?" fiercely replied the stranger.

"Oh, nobody; I mean not to offend: but, as a loyal subject, you can scarce withhold yourself from service."

"I do not contemplate to do so, sir."

"And why not join my troop? Come, now, you shall have a lieutenancy; for, blast me, but I like your looks, and would be devilish glad to have you. You can't refuse."

"But I do," said the other, coolly—almost contemptuously.

"And wherefore?" Huck inquired, with a show of pique in his countenance and manner—"wherefore? What better service? and, to a soldier of fortune, let me ask you, what better chances thannow of making every thing out of these d—d rebels, who have gone into the swamps, leaving large estates for confiscation? What better business?"

"None: I fully agree with you."

"And you will join my troop?"

"No!"

The man looked astonished. The coolness and composure with which the denial was made surprised him not less than the denial itself. With a look of doubt and wonderment, he went on—

"Well, you know best; but, of course, as a good citizen, you will soon be in arms: twenty days, you know, are all that's allowed you."

"I do not need so many: as a good citizen, I shall be in arms in less time."

"In whose troop?—where?"

"Ah, now we come to the point," was the sudden reply; "and you will now see why I have been able to withstand the tempting offers you have made. I am thinking to form a troop of my own, and should I do so, I certainly should not wish so much success to yours as to fall into your ranks."

"Indeed! Well, I'm glad, anyhow, that his majesty is likely to be so well served with officers. Have you yet applied for a commission to the commandant?"

"No; nor shall I, till my recruits are strong enough to make my appearance respectable."

"That's right! I know that by experience. They never like you half so well as when you bring your men with you: they don't want officers so much as men; and some of the commands, if they can chouse you out of your recruits, will not stop to do so; and then you may whistle for your commission. I suppose your friend, here, is already secured for your squad?"

The tory referred to Davis, who did not leave his companion to reply; but, without scruple, avowed himself as having already been partially secured for the opposition troop.

"Well, good luck to you. But I say, comrade, you have commanded before—of course, you are prepared to lead?"

"I have the heart for it," was the reply; and as the strangerspoke, he extended his arms towards the tory captain, while elevating his figure to its fullest height; "and you can say yourself for the limbs. As for the head, it must be seen if mine's good for anything."

"I doubt it not; and service comes easy after a brush or two. But wouldn't you like to know the major?"

"Who?—the officer in command of the garrison here?"

"The same."

"In time, I'll trouble you, perhaps, to help me to that knowledge. Not yet; not till I get my recruits."

"You are right in that; and, talking of the recruits, I must see after mine; and, so, a good-evening to you, and success. We shall meet again."

The tory moved among the separate groups as he spoke, and the stranger turned to Davis while he muttered—

"Ay, we shall meet again, Master Huck, or it will be no fault of mine. If we do not, Old Nick takes marvellous care of his own. But, ha! comrade, keep you here awhile; there is one that I would speak with."

At a little distance apart, at one wing of the tavern, stood a man, attired in the blue homespun garments of the country, among the humbler classes; and with nothing particular to distinguish him, if we except a face somewhat more round and rosy than belongs usually to the people dwelling in Dorchester and its neighbourhood. He was like them in one respect—having a sidelong, indirect movement, coupled with a sluggish, lounging, indifferent gait, which is a general feature of this people, unless when roused by insult or provocation. In his hand he carried a whip of common leather, which he smacked occasionally, either for the sharp, shot-like sounds which it sent forth, or when he desired to send to a greater distance that most grumbling of all aristocrats, the hog, as it approached him. The quick eye of the stranger had singled out this personage; and, leaving Davis where he stood, and moving quickly through the straggling groups that still clustered in front of the tavern, he at once approached him confidently as an old acquaintance. The other seemed not to observe his coming, until our first acquaintance, speaking as he advanced, caught his notice. This had no soonerbeen done, than the other was in motion. Throwing aside his sluggishness of look, he recognised by a glance the stranger, and his head was bent forward to listen, as he saw that he was about to speak. The words of our old acquaintance were few, but significant—

"I am here before you—say nothing—lead on, and I will follow."

With a nod, the person addressed looked but once at the speaker; then, without a word, moving from his easy position against the tavern, and throwing aside all show of sluggishness, he led the way for the stranger. Taking an oblique path, which carried them in a short time into the neighbouring woods, they soon left the village behind them.

Davis had been reluctant to separate from the companion to whom he had so readily yielded his confidence. He had his doubts—as who could be without them in that season of general distrust? But when he remembered the warm, manly frankness of the stranger—his free, bold, generous, and gentle countenance—he did not suffer himself to doubt, for a moment more, that his secret would be safe in his possession. This, indeed, was the least of his difficulties. The fair coquette of the inn had attracted him strongly, and, with a heavy heart, he turned into the "Royal George," and, throwing his form at length upon a bench, he solaced, or vexed, himself with an occasional glance at Bella Humphries, whose duties carried her to and fro between the bar and the sitting-room; and with thoughts of that vengeance upon his enemy which his new relation with the stranger seemed to promise him.

Meanwhile, following the steps of the individual he had so singled out, the stranger kept on his way until the village had been fairly passed; then, plunging down a little by-path, into which the former had gone, he soon overtook him, and they moved on closely together in their common progress. The guide was a stout able-bodied person, of thirty years, or perhaps more—a rough-looking man, one seemingly born and bred entirely in the humble life of the country. He was powerful in physical development, rather stout than high, with a short thick neck—a head round and large, with eyes small, settled, and piercing—and features even solemn in their generalexpression of severity. He carried no visible weapons, but he seemed the man to use them; for no one who looked in his face could doubt that he was full of settled purpose, firm in his resolve, and reckless, having once determined, in the prosecution of the most desperate enterprise.

The route they were pursuing grew more and more tangled as they went, gradually sinking in level, until the footing became slightly insecure, and at length terminated in the soft oozy swamp surface common to the margin of most rivers in the low country of the south. They were now close on the banks of the Ashley, which wound its way, perceptible to the two in occasional glimpses, through the close-set foliage by which they were surrounded. A few more strides through the copse and over the miry surface, brought them again to a dry elevation, isolated by small sluices of water, and more closely wrapped in brush and covering. Here their progress was self-arrested, for they were now perfectly secure from interruption. In all this time, no word had been exchanged between the parties; but the necessity for farther caution being now over, they came to a pause, and the silence was broken as follows by our last-made acquaintance:—

"We are safe here, Major Singleton, and can now speak freely. The sharpest scout in the British garrison could not well come upon us without warning, and if he did, would do so by accident."

"I'm glad of it, for I'm heartily tired, and not a little impatient to talk with you. But let us be at ease."

They threw themselves upon the ground—our elder acquaintance, whom we now know as Major Singleton, with an air of superiority which seemed familiar, choosing the most favorable spot, while the other remained standing until his companion had adjusted himself; and then took his seat respectfully on the ridgy roots of the pine-tree spreading over them.

"And now, Humphries," said Singleton, "what of my sister—is she safe, and how did she bear the journey?"

"Safe, major, and well as could be expected, though very feeble. We had some trouble crossing the Santee, but it did not keep us long, and we got on tolerably well after. The whole party are now safe at 'The Oaks.'"

"Well, you must guide me there to-night, if possible; I know nothing of the place, and but little of the country. Years have passed since I last went over it."

"What! have you never been at 'The Oaks,' major? I was told you had."

"Yes, when a boy; but I have no distinct memory on the subject, except of the noble trees, the thick white moss and the dreamy quiet of all things around. The place, I know, is beautiful."

"You may well say so, major; a finer don't happen often in the low country, and the look at it from the river is well worth a journey."

'Ah! I have never seen it from that quarter. But you said my uncle was well, and"—here the voice faltered a little—"and my cousin Katharine—they are all well?"

"All well, sir. The old squire is rather down in the mouth, you see, for he's taken a protection, and he can't help seeing the troubles of the county. It's this that makes his trouble; and though he used of old time to be a dashing, hearty, lively, talkative gentleman, always pleasant and good-humoured, yet now he says nothing; and if he happens to smile at all, he catches himself up a minute after, and looks mighty sorry for it. Ah, major, these cursed protections—they've made many a good heart sore in this neighbourhood, and the worst is to come yet, or I'm mistaken."

"A sore subject, Humphries, and not very necessary to speak on. But what news—what stirring, and how get on our recruits?"

"Slowly enough, major; but that is to be expected while the country is overrun with the red-coats. The folk are afraid to move, and our poor swamp-boys can't put their noses out yet—not until the enemy turns his back on them for a while, and gives them chance for a little skirmish, without the risk of the rope. But things would change, I'm certain, if the great general you spoke of, with the continentals, would only come south. Our people only want an opportunity."

"And they shall have it. But what intelligence here from the city?"

"None, sir, or little. You heard the proclamation?"

"Yes, with joy—with positive delight. The movement is agrand one for our cause: it must bring out the ground-rats—those who skulked for safety into contracts, measuring honour by acres, and counting their duty to their country by the value of their crops."

"True—I see that, major, but that's the thing I dread. Why should you desire to bring them out?"

"Why, because, though with us in spirit and sentiment, they yet thought to avoid danger, while they believed themselves unable to serve us by their risk. Now, forced into the field—compelled to fight—is it not clear that the argument is all in favour of our side? Will they not rather fight in conformity with their feelings and opinions than against them? particularly when the latter course must place them in arms against their friends and neighbours—not to speak of their countrymen—in many instances to their relatives, and the members of their own families. By forcing into the field those who were quiet before, Sir Henry Clinton has forced thousands into our ranks, who will be as slow to lay down their weapons as they were to take them up."

"I hope so, major; but I fear that many will rather strike for what seems the strongest, and not ask many questions as to which is the justest side."

"No—this I fear not. The class of people on whom I rely are too proud to suffer this imposition, and too spirited not to resist the indignity which it puts upon them. They must be roused by the trick which has been practised, and will shake off their sleep. Let us hope for it, at least."

"I am willing, sir, but fear it. They have quite too much at stake: they have too much plate, too many negroes, and live too comfortably to be willing to stand a chance of losing all by taking up arms against the British, who are squat close alongside of them."

"So should I fear with you, Humphries, and for like reasons, if the protections protected them. I doubt not that they would be willing to keep quiet, and take no part in this struggle, if the conquerors were wise enough to let them alone; but they kick and cuff them on all occasions, and patriots are frequently made by kicking. I care not for the process, so it gives us the commodity. Let them kick on, and may they get extra legs for the purpose!"

"Amen," said Humphries, gravely. "If it makes them stand up to the rack, as you think it will. But—" changing somewhat abruptly, he said to Singleton—

"You were with Jack Davis, of Goose Creek, major, when you first came up—I thought you were unknown in these parts?"

"You thought rightly; I am still unknown, but I learned to know something of him you speak of, and circumstances threw us together." Here Singleton related the occurrences at the tavern, as already known to us. Humphries, who was the son of the landlord, gave close attention, and with something more than ordinary interest. He was not at any time a man to show his feelings openly, but there was an increased pressure of his lips together as that portion fell upon his ear which described the interference of his sister, the fair coquette Bella, for the protection of her cast-off lover. His breathing was far less free at this point of the narrative; and when Singleton concluded, the listener muttered, partly in soliloquy and partly in reply—

"A poor fool of a girl, that sister of mine, major; loves the fine colours of the jay in spite of his cursed squalling, and has played upon that good fellow, Davis—Prickly Ash, as we sometimes call him in the village—till he is half out of his wits. Her head, too, is half turned with that red coat; but I'll cure her of that, and cure him too, or there's no virtue in twisted bore. But, major, did you do anything with Davis?"

The answer was affirmative, and Humphries continued—

"That's a gain, sir; for Davis is true, if he says it, and comes of good breed: he'll fight like a bull-dog, and his teeth shall meet in the flesh. Besides, he's a great shot with a rifle, like most of the boys from Goose Creek. His old mother kept him back, or he'd a-joined us long ago, for I've seen how his thoughts run. But it's not too late, and if the word's once out of his mouth, he's to be depended on—he's safe."

"A few more will do. You have several others, have you not, gathering in a safe place!" said Singleton.

"In the swamp—thirteen, true as steel, and ready for fight. They're only some some six miles off, and can be brought up in two hours, at notice. See, this river comes from the heart of the CypressSwamp, where they shelter; and if there be no tory among us to show them the track, I defy all Proctor's garrison to find us out."

"We must be among them to-morrow. But the evening wears, and the breeze freshens up from the river: it is sweet and fresh from the sea—and how different, too, from that of the forests! But come—I must go back, and have my horse in readiness for this ride to 'The Oaks,' where you must attend me."

"Your horse! Where is he?" asked the other quickly.

"In your father's stable."

"He must not be suffered to stay there; if he is, you will not have him long. We must hide him out, or that black-hearted tory, Huck, will be on his quarters before three days: he's beating about the country now for horses as well as men."

"See to it, then, for I must run no such risk. Let us return at once," said Singleton.

"Yes; but we take different roads: we must not know each other. Can you find the way back alone, major?"

"Yes—I doubt not."

"To the left now—round that water; keep straight up from the river for a hundred yards, and you fall into the track. Your horse shall be ready in an hour, and I will meet you at supper."

They parted—Singleton on his way as directed, and Humphries burying himself still deeper in the copse.