"Oh cruel! and the shame of such a wound
Singleton and Humphries were hailed as they approached the patrols by the voice of Lance Frampton, the younger son of the maniac. He had volunteered to fill the post which had been deserted by Goggle. He reported the absence of the half-breed, and was gratified by receiving from his commander a brief compliment upon his precision and readiness. Such approval was grateful to the boy, coming from Singleton; for the gentle manner of the latter had already won greatly on his affections. Young Frampton, though but sixteen, was manly and fearless, full of ambition, and very promising. He rode well, and could use his rifle already with the best shots of the country. The unsettled life of the partisan warrior did not seem to disagree with his tender years, so far as he had already tried it; and his cheerless fortunes, indeed, almost denied him the choice of any other. Still, though manly in most respects, something of sadness rested upon his pale countenance, which was soft like that of a girl, and quite unlike the bronzed visages common to the sunny region in which he had been born and lived. In addition to the leading difference between himself and the people of his own condition around him, his tastes were naturally fine, his feelings delicate and susceptible, his impressions acute and lasting. He inclined to Major Singleton intuitively; as the manly freedom and ease of deportment for which his commander was distinguished, were mingled with a grace, gentleness, and pleasant propriety, to which his own nature insensibly beguiled him. He saluted them, as we have already said, with becoming modesty, unfolded his intelligence, and then quietly sank back to his position.
Humphries did not seem much surprised at the intelligence.
"As I expected," he said; "it's the nature of the beast. The fellow was a born skunk, and he will die one. There's no mending that sort of animal, major, and there's little use, and some danger, to waste time on it."
"How long is it, Lance, since his departure became known to Lieutenant Davis?" was the inquiry of Singleton.
"Not a half-hour, sir. When Lieutenant Davis went the rounds, sir, to relieve him, the place was empty, and he said Goggle must have gone before the storm came up."
"Had you the storm here, Lance?" inquired Humphries.
"Not much of it, sir. It swept more to the left, and must have been heavy where it went, for the roaring of the wind was louder here than it felt. The trees doubled a little, but didn't give—only some that had the hearts eaten out. They went down, sir, at the first push of the hurricane."
Singleton conferred briefly with Humphries, and then despatched the boy to Davis, with instructions to place the party in moving order by sunrise—the two officers, riding more slowly in the same direction, conferred upon future arrangements.
"That fellow's absence, Humphries, will compel us to change our quarters, for his only object must be to carry the news to Dorchester."
"That's it, for certain, major; and the sooner we move the better. By midday to-morrow. Proctor and Huck, and the whole of 'em would be on our haunches, and we only a mouthful. A start by the time the sun squints on the pine tops, sir, would do no harm; and then, if you move up to Moultrie's old camp at Bacon's bridge, it will be far enough to misguide them for the present. From the bridge, you see, you can make the swamp almost at any moment, and yet it's not so far but you can get to 'The Oaks' soon as ever Proctor turns back upon Dorchester."
"What force has he there, think you?"
"Not enough to go far, sir, or stay out long. The garrison's but slim, and Huck is for the up country, I heard him say. He may give you a drive before he goes, for he is mighty ready to please Proctor; but then he goes by Monk's corner, and so on up to Nelson's ferry; and it will be out of his way to set upon you at Moultrie's."
"Why does he take that route, when his course is for the Catawba?"
"Ha! sir, you don't know Huck. He's an old scout, and knows where the best picking lies. He goes along that route, sir, skimming it like so much cream as he goes; and woe to the housekeeper, loyalist or whig, that gives him supper, and shows him too much plate. Huck loves fine things; and for that matter, plunder of any kind never goes amiss with a tory."
"True; and the course he takes through Sumter gives him spoil enough, if he dares touch it; but Marion will soon be at Nelson's, where we hope to meet him. Let us ride on now, and see to our movement."
"With your leave, now, major, I'll go back to Dorchester."
"With what object?"
"Why, sir, only, as one may say, to curse and quit. That rascal Goggle will be in Proctor's quarters by daylight, and will soon have a pretty story for the major. I must try and get there before him, so as to stop a little the blow. Since it must come, it needn't come on anybody's head but mine; and if I can keep my old father from trap, why, you see, sir, it's my born duty to do so."
"How will you do that?"
"I'll tell you, sir. Dad shall go to Proctor before Goggle, and shall denounce me himself. He shall make something out of the Englishman by his loyalty, and chouse Goggle at the same time. Besides, sir, he will be able to tell a truer story, for he shall say that we've gone from the camp, which, you know, will be the case by that time. So, if he looks for us here, as Goggle will advise him, the old man will stand better than ever in the good graces of the enemy; and will be better able to give us intelligence, and help our cause."
"But will your father like such a mission?"
"Like it, major! why, aint I his son—his only son—and won't he do, think you, what I ask him? To be sure he will. You will see."
"The plan is good, and reminds me of Pryor. You will see him, and hurry his recruiting. Say to him, from me, how much Colonel Marion expects from him, as, indeed, the letter I gave him has already persuaded him. Remind him of that letter, and let him read it to you. This will please him, and prompt to new efforts, should he prove dull. But let him be quiet—nothing impatient, till Colonel Walton is prepared to start. Only keep in readiness, and wait the signal. For yourself, when you have done this, delay nothing, and risk nothing in Dorchester. You have no plea if found out; and they will hang you off-hand as soon as taken. Follow to Bacon's bridge as soon as possible, and if you find me not there, I am either in the swamp, or in the south towards the Edisto; possibly on the road to Parker's ferry. I wish to keep moving to baffle any pursuit."
Protracted but little longer, and only the better to perfect their several plans, the conference was at length concluded, and the two separated; the one proceeding to his bivouac, and the other on his journey of peril, along the old track leading to the bridge of Dorchester.
Singleton had scarcely resumed command of his squad before the fugitive Goggle stood before him, with a countenance cold and impassive as ever, and with an air of assurance the most easy and self-satisfied. The eye of the partisan was concentrated upon him with a searching glance, sternly and calmly, but he shrank not beneath it.
"You have left your duty, sir—your post; what have you to say?"
The offender frankly avowed his error, but spoke in extenuation.
"The storm was coming up, sir; nobody was going to trouble us, and I thought a little stretch to the old woman—my mother, sir, that is—would do no harm."
"You were wrong, sir, and must be punished. Your duty was to obey, not to think. Lieutenant Davis, a corporal's guard!"
Goggle looked somewhat astounded at this prompt movement, and urged the measure as precipitate and unusual.
"But, major, the troopers go off continually from Colonel Washington's troop, when they want to see their families—"
"The greater the necessity of arresting it in ours; but you will make your plea at morning, for with the sunrise you shall be examined."
The guard appeared, and as the torch flamed above the head of the fugitive, Singleton ordered him to be searched narrowly. With the order, the ready soldiers seized upon and bound him. His rifle was taken from his grasp—a measure inexpressibly annoying to the offender, as it was a favourite weapon, and he an excellent shot with it. In the close search which he underwent, his knife, and, indeed, everything in his possession, was carefully withdrawn, and he had reason to congratulate himself upon the timely delivery of the stolen watch to his mother; for the prisoner from whom it had been taken had already announced its loss; and had it been found upon the thief, it would have been matter, under the stern policy pursued by Singleton, for instantly hurrying him to some one of the thousand swinging boughs overhead. With the clear daylight, a court-martial at the drum-head sat in judgment on the prisoner. He told his story with a composure that would have done credit to innocence. There was no contradiction in his narrative. Singleton proposed sundry questions.
"Why did you not stand when called to?"
"I was but one, major, and you were two; and when the British and tories are thick about us, it stands to reason that it was them calling. I didn't make out your voice."
"And why did you not proceed directly to your mother's? Why let so much time elapse between the pursuit and your appearance at her cabin?"
"I lay close after they had gone, major, for I didn't know that they had done looking after me."
Prompt and ready were his several responses, and, apart from the initial offence of leaving his post, nothing could be ascertained calculated to convict him of any other error. In the meantime he exhibited no more interest in the scene than in the most ordinary matter. One side of his body, as was its wont, rested upon the other; one leg hung at ease, and his head, sluggish like the rest of his person, was bent over, so as to lie on his left shoulder. At this stage of the proceedings, his mother, whose anxieties had been greater on the subject than those of her son, now made her appearance, tottering towards the group with a step in which energy and feebleness were strangely united. Her first words were those of reproach to Singleton:—
"Now, wherefore, gentlemen, do you bind the boy? Is it because he loves the old woman, his own mother? Oh, for shame! it's a cruel shame to do so! Will you not loose the cord?"
She hobbled over to the place where her son stood alone, and her bony fingers were for a moment busied with the thongs, as if she strove to release him. The prisoner himself twisted from her, and his repulse was not confined to his action.
"A'drat it, mother! have done. Say it out what you know, and done with it."
"What can you say, dame, in this matter?" inquired Singleton.
"It's my son you tie with ropes—it's a good son to me—will you not loose him?"
"He has done wrong, dame; he has left his post, and has neglected his duty."
"He came to see his mother—his old mother; to bring her comfort, for he had been long away, and she looked for him—she thought he had had wrong. Was there harm in this?"
"None, only as he had other duties, not less important, which he sacrificed for this. But say what you know."
She did so, and confirmed the fugitive's story; was heard patiently through a somewhat tedious narrative, in which her own feelings, and a strange show of love for the indifferent savage, were oddly blended with the circumstances which she told. Though unavailing to save him from punishment, the evidence of his mother, and her obvious regard, had the effect of modifying its severity. The court found him guilty, and sentenced him to the lash. Twenty lashes, and imprisonment in the discretion of the commander, were decreed as his punishment.
A long howl—a shriek of demoniac energy—from the old woman, as she heard the doom, rang in the ears of the party. Her long skinny finger was uplifted in vain threatenings, and her lips moved in vague adjurations and curses. Singleton regretted the necessity which made him sanction the decree, but example was necessary in the lax state of discipline at that time prevailing throughout the country. Marion, who was himself just and inflexible, had made him a disciplinarian.
"You will not say 'Yes' to this," cried the old woman to Singleton. "You are a gentleman, and your words are kind. You will forgive the boy."
"I dare not, my good woman. Your son knew his duty, and neglected it. We must make an example, and warn other offenders. The punishment is really slight in comparison with that usually given for an offence so likely to be fatal as this of which your son has been guilty. He must submit."
The old woman raved furiously, but her son rebuked her. His eyes were thrown up obliquely to the commander, and the expression of his face was that of a sneaking defiance, as he rudely enough checked her in her denunciations.
"Hold tongue, mother—a'drat it! Can't you thank the gentlemen for their favour?"
A couple of soldiers strapped him up; when, having first taken off his outer jacket, one of them, with a common wagon-whip, prepared to execute the sentence, while the old woman, almost in danger from the lash, pressed closely to the criminal, now denouncing and now imploring the court; at one moment abusing her son for his folly in returning to the camp, and the next, with salt tears running down her withered cheeks, seeking to soothe and condole with him in his sufferings. They would have removed her from the spot before the punishment began, but she threw herself upon the earth when they attempted it, and would only rise when they forbore the effort. He, the criminal, was as impassive as ever. Nothing seemed to touch him, either in the punishment he was to receive, or the agonizing sensations which he witnessed in his mother, and which were all felt in his behalf. He helped the soldiers to remove his vest, and readily turned his back towards them, while, obliquely over his shoulder, his huge staring eyes were turned to the spot where Singleton stood, with glance somewhat averted from the scene of ignominy.
The first stroke was followed by a piercing shriek from the old woman—a bitter shriek and a curse; but with that stroke she began counting the blows.
"One"—"two"—her enumeration perpetually broken by exclamations of one sort or another—now of pity, now of horror, denunciation, and the most impotent expressions of paralytic rage—in some such phrases as the following:—"The poor boy!—his mother never whipped him!—they will murder him!—two—for he came to see her—three—was ever the like to whip a son for this!—four—God curse them! God curse them!—five—I can curse, too, that I can—they shall feel me, they shall hear me!—six, seven—that is eight—nine. Oh, the wretches! but bear up, Ned, bear up—it is half over—that is ten—my poor boy! Oh, do not strike so hard! Look! the red on the shirt—it is blood! Oh, wretches! have you no mercy?—it is most done—there, there—stop! Hell blast you for ever!—that was twenty. Why did you strike another? I curse you with a black curse for that other stroke! You ragged imp!—you vile polecat!—I curse you for that stroke!"
The execution was over. Unflinching to the last, though the strokes were severely dealt, the criminal had borne them. He looked the very embodiment of callosity. His muscles were neither composed nor rigid during the operation; and though the flesh evidently felt, the mood of the wretch seemed to have undergone no change. Before he could yet be freed from the cords, his mother's arms were thrown around him; and though he strove to shake her off, and shrank from her embraces, she yet persisted, and, with a childish fondness, she strove, with kind words, while helping him on with his jacket, to console him for his sufferings.
"And you will go with me now, Neddy—you will go from these cruel men?"
"I cannot, mother; don't you know I'm to be under guard so long as the major chooses?"
"He will not—you will not tie him up again; you will let him go now with his mother."
She turned to Singleton as she spoke; but his eye refused her ere his tongue replied—
"He will be in custody for twelve hours; and let me say to you, dame, that for such an offence his punishment is a very slight one. Marion's men would suffer two hundred lashes, and something more restraint, for the same crime."
"God curse him!" she said bitterly, as she again approached her son, with whom she conversed apart. He whispered but a word in her ear, and then turned away from her. She looked after him a moment, as the guard marched him into the rear, but her finger was uplifted towards Singleton, and the fierce fire shooting out from her grey eye, and moving in the direction of the pointed finger, was long after remembered by him. In a few moments more, she was gone from the camp, and, with a degree of elasticity scarcely comporting with her years, was trudging fast on her way to Dorchester.
Waiting until she had fairly departed, Singleton at length left his camp on the Ashley, and leaving no traces of his sojourn but the dying embers of his fires, he led the way towards the designated encampment at Bacon's Bridge. This was a few miles above Dorchester, on the same river, and immediately contiguous to the Cypress Swamp. An old battery and barracks, built by General Moultrie, and formerly his station, prior to the siege of Charleston, furnished a much more comfortable place of abode than that which he had just vacated. Here he took that repose which the toils of the last twenty-four hours rendered absolutely necessary.