"Now, this were sorry wisdom, to persuade
"The Oaks," the dwelling-place of Colonel Walton, was one those antique residences of the Carolina planters to which, at this day, there attaches a sort of historical interest. A thousand local traditions hang around them—a thousand stories of the olden time, and of its associations of peril and adventure. The estate formed one of the frontier-plantations upon the Ashley, and was the site of a colonial barony. It had stood sieges of the Indians in the wars of the Edistoes and Yemassees; and, from a blockhouse station at first, it had grown to be an elegant mansion, improved in European style, remarkable for the length and deep shade of its avenues of solemn oak, its general grace of arrangement, and the lofty and considerate hospitality of its proprietors. Such, from its first foundation to the period of which we speak, had been its reputation; and in no respect did the present owner depart from the good tastes and the frank, manly character of his ancestors.
Colonel Richard Walton was a gentleman in every sense of the word; simple of manner, unpretending, unobtrusive, and always considerate, he was esteemed and beloved by all around him. Born to the possession of large estates, his mind had been exercised happily by education and travel; and at the beginning of the revolutionary struggle, he had been early found to advocate the claims of his native colony. At the commencement of the war he commanded a party of horse, and had been concerned in some of the operations against Prevost, in the rapid foray which that general made into Carolina. When Charleston fell before the armsof Sir Henry Clinton, overawed as was the entire country below the Santee by the immediate presence in force of the British army, he had tendered his submission along with the rest of the inhabitants, despairing of any better fortune. The specious offers of amnesty made by Clinton and Arbuthnot, in the character of commissioners for restoring peace to the revolted colonies, and which called for nothing but neutrality from the inhabitants, had the effect of deceiving him, in common with his neighbours. Nor was this submission so partial as we have been taught to think it. To the southward of Charleston, the militia, without summons, sent in a flag to the British garrison at Beaufort, and made their submission. At Camden, the inhabitants negotiated their own terms of repose. In Ninety-Six the submission was the same; and, indeed, with the exception of the mountainous borders, which were uninvaded, and heard only faint echoes of the conflict from afar, all show of hostility ceased throughout the colony—the people, generally, seeming to prefer quiet on any terms to a resistance which, at that moment of despondency, seemed worse than idle.
This considerate pliability secured Walton, as it was thought, in all the immunities of the citizen, without subjecting him to any of those military duties which, in other respects, his majesty had a perfect right to call for from his loyal subjects. Such, certainly, were the pledges of the British commanders—pledges made with little reflection, or with designed subterfuge, and violated with as little hesitation. They produced the effect desired, in persuading to easy terms of arrangement the people who might not have been conquered but with great difficulty. Once disarmed and divided, they were more easily overcome; and it was not long, after the first object had been obtained, before measures were adopted well calculated to effect the other.
Colonel Walton, though striving hard to convince himself of the propriety of the course which he had taken, remained still unsatisfied. He could not be assured of the propriety of submission when he beheld, as he did hourly, the rank oppression and injustice by which the conquerors strove to preserve their ascendency over the doubtful, while exercising it wantonly among the weak. He could not but see how uncertain was the tenure of hisown hold upon the invaders, whom nothing seemed to bind in the shape of solemn obligation. The promised protection was that of the wolf, and not the guardian dog; it destroyed its charge, and not its enemy; and strove to ravage where it promised to secure. As yet, it is true, none of these ills, in a direct form, had fallen upon Colonel Walton; he had suffered no abuses in his own person or family; on the contrary, such were his wealth and influence, that it had been thought not unwise, on the part of the conquerors, to conciliate and soothe him. Still, the colonel could not be insensible to the gradual approaches of tyranny. He was not an unreflecting man; and as he saw the wrongs done to others, his eyes became duly open to the doubtful value of his own securities, whenever the successes of the British throughout the state should have become so general as to make them independent of any individual influence. So thinking, his mind gave a new stimulus to his conscience, which now refused its sanction to the decision which, in a moment of emergency and dismay, he had been persuaded to adopt. His sympathies were too greatly with the oppressed, and their sufferings were too immediately under his own eyes, to permit of this; and sad with the consciousness of his error—and the more so as he esteemed it now irremediable—vexed with his momentary weakness, and apprehensive of the future—his mind grew sullen with circumstances—his spirits sank; and, gradually withdrawing from all the society around him, he solaced himself in his family mansion with the small circle which widowhood, and other privations of time, had spared him. Nor did his grief pass without some alleviation in the company of his daughter Katharine—she, the high-born, the beautiful, the young—the admiration of her neighbourhood, revelling in power, yet seemingly all unconscious of its sway. The rest of his family in this retirement consisted of a maiden sister, and a niece, Emily Singleton, whom, but a short time before, he had brought from Santee, in the hope that a change of air might be of benefit to that life which she held by a tenure the most fleeting and capricious.
He saw but few persons besides. Studiously estranging himself, he had no visitors, unless we may except the occasional calls of the commanding officer of the British post at Dorchester. Thisvisitor, to Colonel Walton, appeared only as one doing an appointed duty, and exercising, during these visits, that kind of surveillance over the people of the country which seemed to be called for by his position. Major Proctor had another object in his visits to "The Oaks." He sought to ingratiate himself in the favour of the father, on account of his lovely daughter; and to the charms of one, rather than the political feelings of the other, were the eyes of the British officer properly addressed. Katharine was not ignorant of her conquest, for Proctor made no efforts to conceal the impression which she had made upon his heart. The maiden, however, gave him but small encouragement. She gloried in the name of a rebel lady, and formed one of that beautiful array, so richly shining in the story of Carolina, who, defying danger, and heedless of privation, spoke boldly in encouragement to those who yet continued to struggle for its liberties. She did not conceal her sentiments; and whatever may have been the personal attractions of Major Proctor, they were wanting in force to her mind, as she associated him with her own and the enemies of her country. Her reception of her suitor was coldly courteous; and that which her father gave him, though always studiously considerate and gentle, Proctor, at the same time, could not avoid perceiving was constrained and frigid—quite unlike the warm and familiar hospitality which otherwise marked and still marks, even to this day, the gentry of that neighbourhood.
It was drawing to a close—that day of events in the history of our little squad of partisans whose dwelling was the Cypress Swamp. Humphries, who had engaged to meet Major Singleton with some necessary intelligence from Dorchester, was already upon his way to the place of meeting, and had just passed out of sight of Ashley River, when he heard the tramp of horses moving over the bridge, and on the same track with himself. He sank into cover as they passed, and beheld Major Proctor and a Captain Dickson, both on station at the garrison, on their way to " The Oaks." Humphries allowed them to pass; then renewing his ride, soon effected the meeting with Major Singleton. As we have already seen, their object was "The Oaks" also; but the necessity of avoiding a meeting with the British officers was obvious, and theykept close in the wood, leaving the ground entirely to their opponents.
Though, as we have said, rather a frequent visitor at "The Oaks," the present ride of Major Proctor in that quarter had its usual stimulus dashed somewhat by the sense of the business which occasioned it. Its discharge was a matter of no little annoyance to the Englishman, who was not less sensitive and generous than brave. It was for the purpose of imparting to Colonel Walton, in person, the contents of that not yet notorious proclamation of Sir Henry Clinton, with which he demanded the performance of military duty from the persons who had been paroled; and by means of which, on departing from the province, he planted the seeds of that revolting patriotism which finally overthrew the authority he fondly imagined himself to have successfully re-established.
Colonel Walton received his guests with his accustomed urbanity: was alone when he received them; and the eyes of Proctor looked round the apartment inquiringly, but in vain, as if he desired another presence. His host understood the glance perfectly, for he had not been blind to the frequent evidences of attachment which his visitor had shown towards his daughter; but he took no heed of it; and, with a lofty reserve of manner, which greatly added to the awkwardness of the commission which the Englishman came to execute, he simply confined himself to the occasional remark—such only as was perfectly unavoidable with one with whom politeness was habitual, and the predominant feeling at variance with it, the result of a calm and carefully regulated principle. It was only with a steady resolution, at last, that Proctor was enabled to bring his conversation into any thing like consistency and order. He commenced, despairing of any better opening, with the immediate matter which he had in hand.
"Colonel Walton does not now visit Dorchester so frequently as usual, nor does he often travel so far as the city. May I ask if he has heard any late intelligence of moment."
Walton looked inquiringly at his guest, as if to gather from his features something of that intelligence which his words seemed to presage. But the expression was unsatisfactory—perhaps that of care—so Walton thought, and it gave him a hope of somebetter fortune for his country than had usually attended its arms heretofore.
"I have not, sir; I ride but little now, and have not been in Dorchester for a week. Of what intelligence do you speak, sir?"
"The proclamation of Sir Henry Clinton, sir—his proclamation on the subject of protections granted to the militia of the province, those excepted made prisoners in Charleston."
Colonel Walton looked dubious, but still coldly, and without a word, awaited the conclusion of Proctor's statement. But the speaker paused for a moment, and when he again spoke, the subject seemed to have been somewhat changed.
"I am truly sorry, Colonel Walton, that it has not been heretofore in your power to sympathize more freely and openly with his majesty's arms in this warfare against his rebellious subjects."
"Stay, sir, if you please: these subjects, of whom your phrase is rather unscrupulous, are my relatives and countrymen; and their sentiments on this rebellion have been and are my own, though I have adopted the expedient of a stern necessity, and in this have suspended the active demonstration of principles which I am nevertheless in no haste to forget, and do not suppress."
"Pardon me, sir; you will do me the justice to believe I mean nothing of offence. However erring your thought, I must respect it as honest; but this respect does not forbid that I should lament such a misfortune—a misfortune, scarcely less so to his majesty than to you. It is my sincere regret that you have heretofore found it less than agreeable to unite your arms with those of our army in the arrest of this unnatural struggle. The commission proffered you by Sir Henry—"
"Was rejected, Major Proctor, and my opinions then fairly avowed and seemingly respected. No reference now to that subject need be made by either of us."
"Yet am I called upon to make it now, Colonel Walton; and I do so with a hope that what is my duty will not lose me, by its performance, the regard of him to whom I speak. I am counselled to remind you, sir, of that proposition by the present commander-in-chief of his majesty's forces in the South, Earl Cornwallis. The proclamation of Sir Henry Clinton to which I have alluded,is of such a nature as opens fresh ground for the renewal of that offer; and in this packet I have instructions to that end, with a formal enclosure of seal and signature, from his excellency himself, which covers the commission to you, sir, in your full rank, as engaged in the rebel army."
"You will keep it, sir; again it is rejected. I cannot lift arms against my countrymen; and though I readily understand the necessity which requires you to make the tender, you will permit me to say, that I hold it only an equivocal form of insult."
"Which, I again repeat, Colonel Walton, is foreign to all intention on the part of the Commander-in-chief. For myself, I surely need make no such attestation. He, sir, is persuaded to the offer simply as he knows your worth and influence—he would secure your co-operation in the good cause of loyalty, and at the same time would soften what may seem the harsh features of this proclamation."
"And what is this proclamation, sir? Let me hear that: the matter has been somewhat precipitately discussed in advance of the text."
"Surely, sir," said Proctor, eagerly, as the language of Colonel Walton's last remarks left a hope in his mind that he might think differently, on the perusal of the document, which he now took from the hands of his companion, Dickson—"surely, sir, and I hope you will reconsider the resolve which I cannot help thinking precipitately made."
The listener simply bowed his head, and motioned the other to proceed. Proctor obeyed; and, unfolding the instrument, proceeded to convey its contents to the ears of the astonished Carolinian. As he read, the cheek of Colonel Walton glowed like fire—his eye kindled—his pulsation increased—and when the insidious decree, calling upon him to resume the arms which he had cast aside when his country needed them, and lift them in behalf of her enemies, was fairly comprehended by his sense, his feelings had reached that climax which despaired of all utterance. He started abruptly from his seat, and paced the room in strong emotion; then suddenly approaching Proctor, he took the paper from his hand, and read it with unwavering attention. For a few moments after he had been fully possessed of its contents, he made no remark; then, with astrong effort, suppressing as much as possible his aroused feelings, he addressed the Briton in tones of inquiry which left it doubtful what, in reality, those feelings were.
"And you desire that I should embrace this commission, Major Proctor, which, if I understand it, gives me command in a service which this proclamation is to insist upon—am I right?"
"It is so, sir; you are right. Here is a colonel's commission under his majesty, with power to appoint your own officers. Most gladly would I place it in your hands."
"Sir— Major Proctor, this is the rankest villany—villany and falsehood. By what right, sir, does Sir Henry Clinton call upon us for military service, when his terms of protection, granted by himself and Admiral Arbuthnot, secured all those taking them in a condition of neutrality?"
"It is not for me, Colonel Walton," was Proctor's reply—"it is not for me to discuss the commands of my superiors. But does not the proclamation declare these paroles to be null and void after the twentieth?"
"True. But by what right does your superior violate his compact? Think you, sir, that the Carolinians would have made terms with the invader, the conditions and maintenance of which have no better security than the caprice of one of the parties? Think you, sir, that I, at least, would have been so weak and foolish?"
"Perhaps, Colonel Walton—and I would not offend by the suggestion," replied the other with much moderation "perhaps, sir, it was a singular stretch of indulgence to grant terms at all to rebellion."
"Ay, sir, you may call it by what name you please; but the terms, having been once offered and accepted, were to the full as binding between the law and the rebel as between the prince and dutiful subjects."
"I may not argue, sir, the commands of my superior," rejoined the other, firmly, but calmly."I am not so bound, Major Proctor; it is matter for close argument and solemn deliberation with me, and it will be long, sir, before I shall bring myself to lift arms against my countrymen." "There is a way of evading that necessity, Colonel Walton," said Proctor, eagerly.
The other looked at him inquiringly, though he evidently did not hope for much from the suggested alternative.
"That difficulty, sir, may be overcome: his majesty has need of troops in the West Indies; Lord Cornwallis, with a due regard to the feelings of his dutiful subjects of the colonies, has made arrangements for an exchange of service. The Irish regiments will be withdrawn from the West Indies, and those of loyal Carolinians substituted. This frees you from all risk of encountering with your friends and countrymen, while at the same time it answers equally the purposes of my commander."
The soldier by profession saw nothing degrading, nothing servile in the proposed compromise. The matter had a different aspect in the eyes of the southern gentleman. The proposition which would send him from his family and friends, to engage in conflict with and to keep down those to whom he had no antipathy, was scarcely less painful in its exactions than to take up arms against his immediate neighbours. The suggestion, too, which contemplated the substitution of troops of foreign mercenaries, in the place of native citizens, who were to be sent to other lands in the same capacity, was inexpressibly offensive, as it directly made him an agent for the increase of that power which aimed at the destruction of his people and his principles. The sense of ignominy grew stronger in his breast as he heard it, and he paced the apartment in unmitigated disorder.
"I am no hireling, Major Proctor; and the war, hand to hand with my own sister's child, would be less shameful to me, however full of pain and misery, than this alternative."
"There is no other, sir, that I know of."
"Ay, sir, but there is—there is another alternative, Major Proctor; more than that, sir—there is a remedy."
The eyes of the speaker flashed, and Proctor saw that they rested upon the broadsword which hung upon the wall before them.
"What is that, sir?" inquired the Briton."In the sword, sir—in the strife—to take up arms—to prepare for battle!" was the stern reply. Either the other understood him not, with an obtuseness not common with him, or he chose not to understand him, as he replied—
"Why that, sir, is what he seeks—it is what Lord Cornwallis desires, and what, sir, would, permit me to say, be to me, individually, the greatest pleasure. Your co-operation here, sir, would do more towards quieting discontent than any other influence."
The manner of Walton was unusually grave and deliberate.
"You have mistaken me, Major Proctor. When I spoke of taking up the sword, sir, I spoke of an alternative. I meant not to take up the sword to fight your battles, but my own. If this necessity is to be fixed upon me, sir, I shall have no loss to know my duty."
"Sir—Colonel Walton—beware! As a British officer, in his majesty's commission, I must not listen to this language. You will remember, sir, that I am in command of this garrison, and of the neighbouring country—bound to repress every show of disaffection, and with the power to determine, in the last resort, without restraint, should my judgment hold it necessary. I would not willingly be harsh; and you will spare me, sir, from hearing those sentiments uttered which become not the ears of a loyal subject."
"I am a free man, Major Proctor—I would be one, at least. Things I must call by their right names; and, as such, I do not hesitate to pronounce this decree a most dishonest and criminal proceeding, which should call up every honest hand in retribution. Sir Henry Clinton has done this day what he will long be sorry for."
"And what, permit me to add, Colonel Walton—what I myself am sorry for. But it is not for me to question the propriety of that which my duty calls upon me to enforce."
"And pray, sir, what are the penalties of disobedience to this mandate?"
"Sequestration of property and imprisonment, at the discretion of the several commandants of stations."
"Poor Kate!—But it is well it is no worse." The words fell unconsciously from the lips of the speaker: he half strode over thefloor; then, turning upon Proctor, demanded once more to look upon the proclamation. He again read it carefully.
"Twenty days, Major Proctor, I see have been allowed by Sir Henry Clinton for deliberation in a matter which leaves so little choice. So much is scarcely necessary; you shall have my answer before that time is over. Meanwhile, sir, let us not again speak of the subject until that period."
"A painful subject, sir, which I shall gladly forbear," said Proctor, rising; "and I will hope, at the same time, that Colonel Walton thinks not unkindly of the bearer of troublesome intelligence."
"God forbid, sir! I am no malignant. You have done your duty with all tenderness, and I thank you for it. Our enemies are not always so considerate."
"No enemies, I trust, sir. I am in hopes that, upon reflection, you will not find it so difficult to reconcile yourself to what, at the first blush, may seem so unpleasant."
"No more, sir—no more on the subject," was the quick, but calm reply. "Will you do me honour, gentlemen, in a glass of Madeira—some I can recommend?"
They drank; and seeing through the window the forms of the young ladies, Major Proctor proposed to join them in their walk—a suggestion which his entertainer answered by leading the way. In the meanwhile, let us go back to our old acquaintance, Major Singleton, and his trusty coadjutor, Humphries.