The Partisan/X

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The Partisan by William Gilmore Simms
Chapter X


"I see the shape of murder, with red hand,
 That through the night creeps to his victim's couch."

The whole affair was over in the space of ten minutes. In as little time the wagons were sacked. The swords and pistols were strewn upon the ground, and each trooper made his selection without stint or limit. In addition to this, each soldier was required to carry an extra sword, and holsters with their contents; and in this manner supplies were secured for a much larger force than that which Singleton now commanded. The rest were broken against the trees—muskets, pistols, and swords sharing the same fate—while the wagons themselves, carefully tumbled from their axles, and their wheels torn apart, were thrown into the slough by the road-side. There was no concealing their spoils, under the circumstances, and with prisoners to take care of; and the necessity which called for this destruction of property, so valuable at the time, was the subject of no small regret with the troopers. Even Davis muttered to the major his desire that the wagons, or at least one of them, should be preserved and filled with spoils so highly important to the enterprise. But Singleton knew better than to encumber his party, whose utility consisted chiefly in the rapidity of its movement, with such burdens, and peremptorily enforced the order which destroyed the valuable residue. This done, he gave orders to mount; and having carefully secured his prisoners, the party moved at a brisk pace along the road downward until they came within ten miles of the city; then moving to the right, they crossed Ashley ferry without molestation, and towards evening had placed themselves in safety, with all their spoils, in the close swamp thickets of the river, on the western side, and but a short distance from Dorchester itself.

Here Singleton made his camp, within a few miles of his uncle's plantation. He now felt secure for a brief period, as he was taught to believe that the affections of the people were with his cause, and the rapidity of his proceedings must baffle any pursuit. Still he knew that he could not hope to maintain this security for any time. The audacity of the two efforts which he had made that day, so nigh the garrison, could not long be concealed, and must soon call out a superior force sufficient for his annihilation. This he well knew; yet he required but a few days for all his purposes.

His object was twofold—the attainment of recruits, and the arousing of his uncle, whose bravery was well known, and whose influence in the country was considerable, to a proper sense of his duty. The first of these objects promised well, so far as opportunity had been given him to judge;—of the second, he did not despair, particularly as he well knew what must be the influence upon Colonel Walton of the recent proclamation of Sir Henry Clinton. He knew the stern sense of integrity which the colonel insisted upon with the tenacity of a professional moral disciplinarian; and he did not err in the thought, that his sense of humanity was sufficiently alive to prompt a due indignation at the many atrocities hourly committed by the tory leaders under the especial sanction of the British. Other motives for the contemplated visit might not be wanting to his mind, as he thought of his lovely cousin—the stately and the beautiful Katharine Walton—one of those high-souled creatures that awe while they attract; and, even while they invite and captivate, control and discourage. His sister, too—she was there; a meek, sad, but uncomplaining girl, perishing of disease, without having lived—one of the unrepining sufferers, whose melancholy fortunes, so much at variance with what we know of their deserts, would lead us sometimes improperly to doubt of that justice which we assume to mark all the decrees of Providence. But let us not anticipate.

Having placed his camp in such security as he thought necesary and which was practicable, Major Singleton towards sunset rode forth in the direction of Dorchester Bridge to meet Humphries, as had been agreed upon between them. The lieutenant was in waiting at the time appointed, and came forward to meet his superoir.

"Ride aside, Major Singleton, if you please. The brush is best for us just now. There are strange birds on our road that we must sheer from."

"What mean you, Humphries—what birds?"

"British officers! Major Proctor, himself, and another have just gone by; and if I mistake not, on a visit to 'The Oaks.' They say he looks hard upon your cousin, sir, the beautiful Miss Katharine."

"Ha! do they say that?" responded Major Singleton, with something like a start—"and she?" he continued, inquiringly.

"They say nothing of her, whether she likes it or not; but young ladies will be young ladies, major; and a smart officer, with a king's commission in his pocket, and a showy red coat on his back, is no small danger to an easy heart."

"No, indeed!" replied the other, in a tone which seemed to have found nothing consolatory in his companion's reflection, and in which there may have been something of latent bitterness—"no, indeed!—such attractions are at all times sweet with the sex, and seldom utterly unsuccessful. They love the conquest, always, even when they may despise the game. 'Tis with most of them after this fashion, and the goodly outside is a fair offset to worth and good manners. But how shall we know, of a certainty, the destination of Proctor?"

"Only by dogging his footsteps, major. We may do that with some safety, however, as I happen to know the back track which hugs the river, and is seldom travelled. This brings us close on the park, yet gives us a good shelter all the way along the copse. We shall take our watch, and yet be all the time hidden; and where I shall carry you shall give us a fair peep at all the grounds as well as the river."

"That is well. And now of Dorchester; what stirs in the village? and what of Huck? Do they know yet of the affair of the swamp, or are they ever like to know?"

"They know not yet, certainly; but Huck musters strong, andtalks of a drive to Camden. There is news, too, which moves the garrison much. They talk of the continentals from Virginia."

"Do they? they must be De Kalb's. And what do they say on the subject? do they speak of him as at hand?"

"Nothing much, but they look a deal, and the whigs talk, a little more boldly. This provokes Huck, who threatens a start on the strength of it, and is hurrying his recruits for that purpose. There is also some talk of a force from North Carolina under Sumter, and they have got wind of the last move of our Colonel Marion, there-away among Gainey's corps of tories, where you cut them up in such fine style; but there's nothing certain, and this I get out of Huck in curses now and then. He's mighty anxious that I should join him, and I'm thinking to do so, if it promises to give me a better hold on him."

"Think not of it, Humphries; it will be twice putting your neck in the halter, and the good that it may do is too doubtful to justify such a risk."

"He presses me mighty hard, major, and I must keep out of his way or consent. He begins to wonder why I do not join his troop, and with some reason too, believing me to be a loyalist, for certainly, were I to do so, it would be the very making of me."

"Thou wouldst not turn traitor, Humphries?" replied the other, looking sternly upon the speaker.

"Does Major Singleton ask the question now?" was the reply, in a tone which had in it something of reproach.

"I should not, certainly, Humphries, knowing what I do. Forgive me; but in these times there is so much to make us suspect our neighbours, that suspicions become natural to every mind. You I know, however, and I have trusted you too long not to continue in my confidence now. But how come on our recruits?"

"Tolerably; as you say, these are suspicious times, major, and they are slow to trust. But the feeling is good with us, and they only wait to see some of the chances in our favour before they come out boldly in the cause."

"Now, out upon the calculating wretches! Will they dare nothing, but always wait for the lead of others? Chances, indeed! as if true courage and a bold heart did not always make their own.But what of the villagers? How of that old tavern-keeper of whom you spoke—your father's rival?"

"But so no longer. Old Pryor, you mean. He is a prime piece of stuff, and will not scruple to do what's wanted. He was always true with us, though kept down by those about him ; yet he only wants to see others in motion to move too. He'll do any thing now—the more readily, as the Royal George, being entirely loyal, does all the business; and poor Pryor, being all along suspected, has not a customer left. He'd burn the town, now, if we put it into his head!"

"Well, just now we lack no such spirit. May not his rashness prompt him to too much speech?"

"No, sir; that's the beauty of rebellion with old Pryor. It has hands and a weapon, but it wants tongue. If he felt pain, and was disposed to tell of it, his teeth would resist, and grin down the feeling. No fear of him; he talks too little: and as for blabbing, his wife might lie close, and listen all night, and his dreams would be as speechless as his humour. He locks up his thoughts in close jaws, and at best only damns a bit when angered, and walks off with his hands in his breeches pocket."

"A goodly comrade for a dark night! But let us move. Dusk closes upon us, and we may travel now with tolerable security. Our course is for the river?"

"Yes; a hundred yards will take us in sight of it, and we keep it the whole way. But we must hug the bush, as much out of sight there as if we were upon the high-road. There are several boats, chiefly armed, upon it now; besides the galley which runs up and down—some that have brought supplies to the garrison. Their shot would be troublesome did they see us."

They rode down the hill, entered a long copse, and the river wound quietly on its way a little below them. They were now on a line with the fortress of Dorchester; the flag streamed gaudily from the staff, and they could see through the bushes that several vessels of small burden were passing to and fro. They sank back again into the woods, and kept on their course in comparative silence, until, close upon sunset, they found themselves at a few hundred yards from "The Oaks;" the spacious and lofty dwellingrising dimly out of the woods before them, while from their feet the extensive grounds of the park spread away in distance and final obscurity.

Leaving them to amuse themselves as they may, let us now return to the Cypress Swamp, where we left the wounded Clough under the charge of the dragoon and negro. The injury he had received, though not, perhaps, a fatal one, was yet serious enough to render immediate attention highly important to his safety; but in that precarious time surgeons were not readily to be found, and the Americans, who were without money, were not often indulged with their services. The several corps of the leading partisans, such as Marion, and Sumter, Pickens, Horry, &c., fought daily in the swamps and along the highways, with the painful conviction that, save by some lucky chance, their wounds must depend entirely upon nature to be healed. In this way, simply through want of tendance, hundreds perished in that warfare of privation, whom, with a few simple specifics, medical care would have sent again into the combat, after a few weeks' nursing, hearty and unimpaired. The present circumstances of Clough's condition were not of a character to lead him to hope for a better fortune, and he gave himself up despondingly to his fate, after having made a brief effort to bribe his keeper to assist in his escape. But attendance was at hand, if we may so call it, and after a few hours' suffering, the approach of Doctor Oakenburg was announced to the patient.

The doctor was a mere culler of simples, a stuffer of birds and reptiles, a digger of roots, a bark and poultice doctor—in other words, a mere pretender. He was wretchedly ignorant of every thing like medical art, but he had learned to physic. He made beverages which, if not always wholesome, were, at least, sometimes far from disagreeable to the country housewives, who frequently took the nostrum for the sake of the stimulant. Doctor Oakenburg knew perfectly the want, if he cared little for the need, of his neighbours; and duly heedful of those around him who indulged in pipe and tobacco, he provided the bark and the brandy. A few bitter roots and herbs constituted his entire stock of medicines; and with these, well armed at all points and never unprovided, he had worked out for himself no small reputation in that section ofcountry. But this good fortune lasted only for a season. Some of his patients took their departure after the established fashion; some more inveterate, with that prejudice which distinguishes the bad subject, turned their eyes on rival remedies; many were scattered abroad and beyond the reach of our doctor by the chances of war; and, with a declining reputation and wofully diminished practice, Oakenburg was fain, though a timid creature, to link his own with the equally doubtful fortunes of the partisan militia. This decision, after some earnest argument, and the influence of a more earnest necessity, Humphries at length persuaded him to adopt, after having first assured him of the perfect security and unharming character of the warfare in which he was required to engage.

With a dress studiously disposed in order, a head well plastered with pomatum, and sprinkled with the powder so freely worn at the time, a ragged frill carefully adjusted upon his bosom to conceal the injuries of time, and an ostentatious exhibition of the shrunken shank, garnished at the foot with monstrous buckles that once might have passed for silver, Oakenburg still persisted in exhibiting as many of the evidences of the reduced gentleman as he possibly could preserve. His manner was tidy, like his dress. His snuff-box twinkled for ever between his fingers, one of which seemed swollen by the monstrous paste ring which enriched it; and his gait was dancing and elastic, as if his toes had volunteered to do all the duty of his feet. His mode of speech, too, was excessively finical and delicate—the words passing through his lips with difficulty; for he dreaded to open them too wide, lest certain deficiencies in his jaws should become too conspicuously notorious. These deficiencies had the farther effect of giving him a lisping accent, which not a little added to the pretty delicacies of his other features.

He passed through the swamp with infinite difficulty, and greatly to the detriment of his shoes and stockings. Riding a small tackey (a little, inconsiderate animal, that loves the swamp, and is usually born and bred in it), he was compelled continually to be on the look-out for, and defence against, the overhanging branches and vines clustering about the trees, through which his horse, in its owndesire to clamber over the roots, continually and most annoyingly bore him. In this toil he was compelled to pay far less attention to his legs than was due to their well-being, and it was not until they were well drenched in the various bogs through which he had gone, that he was enabled to see how dreadfully he had neglected their even elevation to the saddle skirts—a precaution absolutely necessary at all times in such places, but more particularly when the rider is tall, and mounted upon a short, squat animal, such as our worthy doctor bestrode.

Dr. Oakenburg was in the company—under the guidance in fact—of a person whose appearance was in admirable contrast with his own. This was no other than the Lieutenant Porgy, of whom Humphries has already given us an account. If Oakenburg was as lean as the Knight of La Mancha, Porgy was quite as stout as Sancho—a shade stouter perhaps, as his own height was not inconsiderable, yet showed him corpulent still. At a glance you saw that he was a jovial philosopher—one who enjoyed his bottle with his humours, and did not suffer the one to be soured by the other. It was clear that he loved all the good things of this life, and some possibly that we may not call good with sufficient reason. His abdomen and brains seemed to work together. He thought of eating perpetually, and, while he ate, still thought. But he was not a mere eater. He rather amused himself with a hobby when he made food his topic, as Falstaff discoursed of his own cowardice without feeling it. He was a wag, and exercised his wit with whomsoever he travelled; Doctor Oakenburg, on the present occasion, offering himself as an admirable subject for victimization. To quiz the doctor was Porgy's recipe against the tedium of a swamp progress, and the fertile humours of the wag perpetually furnished him occasions for the exercise of his faculty. But we shall hear more of him in future pages, and prefer that he shall speak on most occasions for himself. He was attended by a negro body servant—a fellow named Tom, and of humours almost as keen and lively as his own. Tom was a famous cook, after the fashion of the southern planters, who could win his way to your affections through his soups, and need no other argument. He was one of that class of faithful, half-spoiled negroes, who willnever suffer any liberties with his master, except such as he takes himself. He, too, is a person who will need to occupy a considerable place in our regards, particularly as, in his instance, as well as that of his master—to say nothing of other persons—we draw our portraits from actual life.

Porgy was a good looking fellow, spite of his mammoth dimensions. He had a fine fresh manly face, clear complexion, and light blue eye, the archness of which was greatly heightened by its comparative littleness. It was a sight to provoke a smile on the face of Mentor, to see those little blue eyes twinkling with treacherous light as he watched Doctor Oakenburg plunging from pool to pool under his false guidance, and condoling with him after. The doctor, in fact, in his present situation and imperfect experience, could not have been spared his disasters. He was too little of an equestrian not to feel the necessity, while battling with his brute for their mutual guidance, of keeping his pendulous members carefully balanced on each side, to prevent any undue preponderance of one over the other—a predicament of which he had much seeming apprehension. In the mean time, the lively great-bodied and great-bellied man who rode beside him chuckled incontinently, though in secret. He pretended great care of his companion, and advised him to sundry changes of direction, all for the worse, which the worthy doctor in his tribulation did not scruple to adopt.

"Ah! Lieutenant Porgy," said he, complaining, though in his most mincing manner, as they reached a spot of dry land, upon which they stopped for a moment's rest—"ah! Lieutenant Porgy, this is but unclean travelling, and full too of various peril. At one moment I did hear a plunging, dashing sound in the pond beside me, which it came to my thought was an alligator—one of those monstrous reptiles that are hurtful to children, and even to men."

"Ay, doctor, and make no bones of whipping off a thigh-bone, or at least a leg: and you have been in danger more than once to-day."

The doctor looked down most wofully at his besmeared pedestals; and the shudder which went over his whole frame was perceptible to his companion, whose chuckle it increased proportionably.

"And yet, Lieutenant Porgy," said he, looking round him with a most wo-begone apprehension—"yet did our friend Humphries assure me that our new occupation was one of perfect security. 'Perfect security' were the precise words he used when he counselled me to this undertaking."

"Perfect security!" said Porgy, and the man laughed out aloud. "Why, doctor, look there at the snake winding over the bank before you—look at that, and then talk of perfect security."

The doctor turned his eyes to the designated point, and beheld the long and beautiful volumes of the beaded snake, as slowly crossing their path with his pack of linked jewels full in their view, he wound his way from one bush into another, and gradually folded himself up out of sight. The doctor, however, was not to be alarmed by this survey. He had a passion for snakes; and admiration suspended all his fear, as he gazed upon the beautiful and not dangerous reptile.

"Now would I rejoice, Lieutenant Porgy, were yon serpent in my poor cabinet at Dorchester. He would greatly beautify my collection." And as the man of simples spoke, he gazed on the retiring snake with envying eye.

"Well, doctor, get down and chunk it. If it's worth having, it's worth killing."

"True, Lieutenant Porgy; but it would be greatly detrimental to my shoes to alight in such a place as this, for the thick mud would adhere—"

"Ay, and so would you, doctor—you'd stick—but not the snake. But come, don't stand looking after the bush, if you won't go into it. You can get snakes enough in the swamp—ay, and without much seeking. The place is full of them."

"This of a certainty, Lieutenant Porgy? know you this?"

"Ay, I know it of my own knowledge. You can see them here almost any hour in the day, huddled up like a coil of rope on the edge of the tussock, and looking down at their own pretty figures in the water."

"And you think the serpent has vanity of his person?" inquired the doctor, gravely.

"Think—I don't think about, it, doctor—I know it," replied theother, confidently. "And it stands to reason, you see, that where there is beauty and brightness there must be self-love and vanity. It's a poor fool that don't know his own possessions."

"There is truly some reason, Lieutenant Porgy, in what you have said touching this matter; and the instinct is a correct one which teaches the serpent, such as that which we have just seen, to look into the stream as one of the other sex into a mirror, to see that its jewels are not displaced, and that its motion may not be awry, but graceful. There is reason in it."

"And truth. But we are nigh our quarters, and here is a soldier waiting us."

"A soldier, squire!—he is friendly, perhaps?"

The manner of the phrase was interrogatory, and Porgy replied with his usual chuckle.

"Ay, ay, friendly enough, though dangerous, if vexed. See what a sword he carries—and those pistols! I would not risk much, doctor, to say, there are no less than sixteen buckshot in each of those barkers."

"My ! you don't say so, lieutenant. Yet did William Humphries say to me that the duty was to be done in perfect security."

The last sentence fell from the doctor's lips in a sort of comment to himself, but his companion replied—

"Ay, security as perfect, doctor, as war will admit of. You talk of perfect security: there is no such thing—no perfect security any where—and but little security of any kind until dinner's well over. I feel the uncertainty of life till then. Then, indeed, we may know as much security as life knows. We have, at least, secured what secures life. We may laugh at danger then; and if we must meet it, why, at least we shall not be compelled to meet it in that worst condition of all—an empty stomach. I am a true Englishman in that, though they do call me a rebel. I feel my origin only when eating; and am never so well disposed towards the enemy as when I'm engaged, tooth and nail, in that savoury occupation, and with roast-beef. Would that we had some of it now!"

The glance of Oakenburg, who was wretchedly spare and lank, looked something of disgust as he heard this speech of the gourmand, and listened to the smack of his lips with which he concluded it.

He had no taste for corpulence, and probably this was one of the silent impulses which taught him to admire the gaunt and attenuated form of the snake. Porgy did not heed his expression of countenance, but looking up overhead where the sun stood just above them peering down imperfectly through the close umbrage, he exclaimed to the soldier, while pushing his horse through the creek which separated them—

"Hark you, Wilkins, boy, is it not high time to feed? Horse and man—man and horse, boy, all hungry and athirst."

"We shall find a bite for you, lieutenant, before long—but here's a sick man the doctor must see to at once: he's in a mighty had way, I tell you."

"A sick man, indeed!" and the doctor, thrusting his hands into his pocket, drew forth a bottle filled with a dark thick liquid, which he shook violently until it gathered into a foam upon the surface. Armed with this, he approached the little bark shanty under which reposed the form of the wounded Clough.

"You are hurt, worthy sir?" said the mediciner, inquiringly; "you have not been in a condition of perfect security—such as life requires. But lie quiet, I pray you; be at ease, while I look into your injuries," said the doctor, condolingly, and proceeded to the outstretched person of the wounded man with great deliberation.

"You need not look very far—here they are," cried Clough, faintly, but peevishly, in reply, as he pointed to the wound in his side.

The doctor looked at the spot, shook his head, clapped on a plaster of pine gum, and administered a dose of his nostrum, which the patient gulped at prodigiously, and then telling him he would do well, repeated his order to lie quiet and say nothing. Hurrying away to his saddle-bags after this had been done, with the utmost despatch he drew forth a pair of monstrous leggings, which he bandaged carefully around his shrunken shanks. In a moment after he was upon his tackey, armed with a stick, and hastening back upon the route he had just passed over.

Porgy, who was busy urging the negro cook in the preparation of his dinner, cried out to the dealer of simples, but received no answer. The doctor had no thought but of the snake he had seen, for whose conquest and capture he had now set forth, with all the appetite of a boy after adventures, and all the anxiety of an inveterate naturalist, to get at the properties of the object he pursued. Meanwhile the new comer, Porgy, had considerably diverted the thought of the trooper from attention to his charge; and laying down his sabre between them, the sentinel threw himself along the ground where Porgy had already stretched himself, and a little lively chat and good company banished from his mind, for a season, the consideration of his prisoner.

His neglect furnished an opportunity long watched and waited for by another. The shanty in which Clough lay stood on the edge of the island, and was one of those simple structures which the Indian makes in his huntings. A stick rested at either end between the crotch of a tree, and small saplings, leaning against it on one side, were covered with broad flakes of the pine bark. A few bushes, piled up partially in front, completed the structure, which formed no bad sample of the mode of hutting it, winter and summer, in the swamps and forests of the South, by the partisan warriors. In the rear of the fabric stood a huge cypress, from the hollow of which, at the moment when the sentinel and Porgy seemed most diverted, a man might have been seen approaching. He cautiously wound along on all-fours, keeping as much out of sight as possible, until he reached the back of the hut; then lifting from the saplings a couple of the largest pieces of bark which covered them, he introduced his body without noise into the tenement of the wounded man.

Clough was in a stupor—a half-dozy consciousness was upon him—and he muttered something to the intruder, though without any fixed object. The man replied not, but approaching closely, put his hand upon the bandagings of the wound, drawing them gently aside. The first distinct perception which the prisoner had of his situation was the agonizing sense of a new wound, as of some sharp weapon driven directly into the passage made by the old one. He writhed under the instrument as it slanted deeper anddeeper into his vitals; but he had not strength to resist, and but little to cry out. He would have done so; but the sound had scarcely risen to his lips, when the murderer thrust a tuft of grass into his mouth and stifled all complaint. The knife went deeper—the whole frame of the assailant was upon it, and all motion ceased on the part of the sufferer with the single groan and distorted writhing which followed the last agony. In a moment after, the stranger had departed by the way he came; and it was not till he had reached the thick swamp around, that the fearful laugh of the maniac, Frampton—for it was he—announced the success of his new effort at revenge.

The laugh reached Porgy and the dragoon—they heard the groan also, but that was natural enough. Nothing short of absolute necessity could have moved either of them at that moment—the former being busied with a rasher of bacon and a hoe-cake hot from the fire, and the latter indulging in an extra swig of brandy from a canteen which Porgy, with characteristic providence, had brought well filled along with him.