25%

Sketch of Connecticut, Forty Years Since/Chapter XIV

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

CHAPTER XIV.

Say, who shall carry a letter of guile

To Corny n the red, that crafty lord ? And who for the meed of his country s mile

Will brave the keen edge of the foeraan a sword ? r

Fight of Falkirk.

THE narrator of Bunker-hill had not taken his leave, _when two gentlemen entered, who like him had served through the war, but with a different fortune. They were of the distinguished family of , and sons of a gen tleman who, by enterprize in commercial pursuits, had acquired an ample fortune, and, by that energy of charac ter which gives man influence over his fellows, had be come th^founder of one of the most respectable aristoc racies which dignified his native place. He had been an officer in the war of 1 755, and his death occurred at about the period of this sketch. The latter years of his life had been marked by some aberrations of intellect, like that of Otis, the early advocate of the liberties of Massachu setts, whose memory the classic pen of Tudor has em balmed. General , the eldest of his five sons, was

of small stature, but of correct, and graceful symmetry. Firm in camps, and wise in council, in refined society he was gentleness itself. The friend of Washington, an in mate of his military family, and highly respected by the >oldievs under his command, he bore into dome&iick life.


J96 SKETCH OF CONNECTICUT,

the spirit of that dovelike gospel which he loved. He

was accompanied by his younger brother Colonel .

whose noble form the military habit well became, and whose countenance was considered as a model of manly beauty. While yet a boy, pursuing his studies at Yale College, the war commenced ; and his bold spirit prompt ed him to rush from academic shades to the toils of the; tented field. He continued firm throughout the whole contest, and rose through the different grades of command to that of Lieutenant-Colonel, while yet in the early stages ef manhood.

The army has been called a school for manners, even by those who consider it hostile to morals, and to the bet ter interests of man. The association of lofty spirits, in ured to danger in all its forms, and emulous of heroic deeds, may naturally give energy, and elevation to th* character, which in the " piping time of peace," has liltl^ scope for action. But, among the officers of our revolu tion, this was blended with a gallantry, a courtes}-, which in mixed society threw around them somewhat of the en chantment of the age of chivalry. It produced a cast, of manners, which was peculiarly admired among female? . who found an almost irresistible charm in the graceful . condescension of those, so long accustomed to command. This deportment distinguished both these visitants oi

Madam L , though modified by their different char.?

teristics.

They migbt have been compared to the two Gracchi


FORTY YEARS SINCE. 197

save that the elder had more gentleness of soul, and the younger less ambition for popularity, than their ancient prototypes. After offering their respects to the Lady, whom from childhood they had honoured as an epitome of all that was noble in woman, they spoke kindly to the the poor soldier, who had risen at their entrance.

" Sit down, my good fellow," said General ," I

am sorry that you have lost so much, by your country s gain."

" General," he answered, unconsciously elevating his crutch to his shoulder, as if it had been a musket, " I have lost only a hand and a leg. Many have lost more, and seen their country enslaved beside. I had rather this head should have gone likewise, than not to have heard that shout of victory when Burgoyne was taken."

The piercing eye of Colonel flashed with a war-

riour s pleasure. The recollection of that event was dear to his soul. He knew not then how conspicuous his own noble form should appear in later times, on the canvas of the illustrious Trumbull ; deputed both to witness, and pourtray the brilliant events which led to his country s lib erty. But the picture of the memory was, at that mo ment, more vivid in the mind of Colonel , than it

could have been rendered by the pencil of the artist.

Glowing recollections, and proud feeling, retouched the traces of the scene ; and in an instant countless images thronged around him. The deeply marked, and interest ing countenance of Burgoyne, the ill-concealed rnelan- 17*


198 SKETCH OF CONNECTICUT,

choly of his officers, amid the formalities of their capitu lation, the martial demeanour of Gates, the energetic, open countenance of Knox, the sullen faces of the British soldiery, the half-suppressed rage with which they grounded their arms, produced a combination of joy and rapturous gratitude, softened by pity, which can scarcely be imagined but by an actor in those tumultuous scenes. The very tones of the music, which guided their march, seemed again to vibrate on his ear, and the foliage of the Saratoga forests, bright with the opposing hues of autumn, to wave in accordance.

Interesting groups filled the back ground of this mental picture. The funeral of General Frazer ; the incessant cannonade upon his grave ; the uncovered head of the clergyman, who absorbed in the services of heaven, heed* ed not the war upon earth ; the pale, delicate, beautiful countenance of Lady Ackland, committing herself to the waters in an open boat, amid the darkness and storms of night, or presenting to General Gates the open and wet letter of Burgoyne, in which her protection was supplicat ed, or entreating with the exquisite tones of female forti tude in anguish, permission to attend her imprisoned and desperately wounded husband ; the magnanimous Schuy- ler, as he took in his arms the three little children of the Baroness Reidesel, reassuring the spirits of the stranger, and the captive, by his tenderness to her helpless off- -pring ; these, and many more touching images were call-


FORTY YEARS SINCE. 199

ed forth by the allusion of the disabled soldier to the surrender of Burgoyne.

The transient reverie of ColoneJ was dispelled by

the voice of the Lady, kindly mentioning Anderson, who had been the last speaker.

" I take so much pleasure," she said, v in his narratives, that I sincerely regret any draw-back should exist to his part of the satisfaction in visiting me. So strong arc his patriotic feelings, that he likes not to be long in a house, which, for so many years, gave shelter to General Ar nold."

" I feel strongly indignant," said Colonel , " that

my native place should have given birth to the only traitor, who ever existed among the officers of the United States."

" When we recollect," replied Madam L , " that

our contest had, at first, all the repulsive features of a civil war when we balance the labours, the privations, the dis couragements of our officers, with the infirmities of human nature. I have often been surprized, and always grateful to God, that this instance of treason was solitary."

" There was," said General , " a circumstance

connected with the history of Arnold, with which, Madam,, you may not have been familiar ; as it was for some time- known only to a few, who possessed the confidence of Washington. The treason was discovered by him, on his arrival at West-Point, from Hartford, in 1781. He was astonished at perceiving marks of disorder, and at learn-


200 SKETCH OF CONNECTICUT,

ing that Arnold was absent, whom he expected would have received him at the fortress. Recrossing the Hudson, he went to the General s house, and found Mrs. Arnold in a state of sudden, and violent distraction. Tearing her hair, she could scarcely be restrained by her women, and the two aids-de-camp of her husband, from rushing into the streets. At the sight of Washington, her frenzy was redoubled, with cries of" Depart! depart ! thou demon. ?ent ta torment me." Then a horrible suspicion of trea son first entered the mind of the Commander in Chief.

Soon the circumstances of the traitor s escape were made known, by the men who returned from rowing him on board the Vulture. He had endeavoured to bribe them also to desertion, by promises of promotion, and British gold. Finding them resolute, he forced them to trust their lives to a miserable boat, retaining for his own use, the barge in which they had innocently conveyed him to the enemy. Intelligence arrived of the capture of Andre", and Washington, inexpressibly afflicted, hastened to the army which, under the command of General Greene, was en camped in the vicinity of Tappan. He immediately sum moned to his presence Major Lee, of the celebrated legion of Virginia horse, an intrepid officer, and worthy the confidence of his Chief. When he came. Washington was alone, and writing in his teat. The glimmering light of the lamp displayed a countenance, pale with anxiety and watching. His noble, and commanding appearance seemed to derive new interest from the grief which shaded


ORTY YEARS SINCE. 201

his features. It was a searching, yet serene sorrow, such as perchance might mark the brow of some guardian angel, who saw the object of his affectionate tutelage, plunging into perdition. He rose as Major Lee entered, and said in a voice whose deep, and manly tones were softened into exquisite modulation

" Heaven only knows where the treason of Arnold will end. Imputations are cast, through him, upon one whom I hold most pure, and noble. Have you, among your bold, .Virginian spirits, any man capable of a daring, delicate, and perilous enterprize ? Know you any one willing to risk life, liberty, and what is more, honour, upon a desperate stake, where the chance of success is but as one against a thousand dangers ?"

" Did you say that honour must also be thrown into the balance, my General ?" inquired Lee. " And what is the counterpoise ?"

" The punishment of treason," replied Washington with energy, " the thanks of his country, the friendship of his Chief, perhaps the rescue of an unfortunate victim " more sinned against, than sinning."

" Lee bent his eyes to the earth, in deep thought. Again he raised them, beaming with affection, to his beloved commander. Yet he looked one moment to Heaven, as if for assurance, ere he spoke.

" I do know such a man ; and but one. He is a native of my own Loudon county. Though but twenty-four years f age, heroes honour to Virginia. He is the serjeant-ma-


202 SKETCH OF CONNECTICUT,

jor of my cavalry, and has served since 76 with unsul lied reputation. His courage equals any danger, and his perseverance is invincible. But in points of integrity he will be found inflexible. 1 know not how far it is the will of your Excellency, that his honour should be put to the proof."

" The cloud passed from the forehead of Washington, ar* he said

" Heaven be praised. My friend, you have raised a heavy weight from my soul."

" He then gave him his instructions with that minuteness, and accuracy, which he ever preserved even in the most perplexing, and dreadful exigencies. Lee returned to the camp, and summoned to a private conference his faithful officer. As he entered, his tall, finely proportioned form, in the imposing dress of the Virginia cavalry, exhibited a commanding appearance. His grave countenance betok ened a character, enduring, and undaunted, such as ad versity sometimes forms. His black eye, keen in its glances, but almost melancholy when at rest, indicated a man dexterous to read the secrets of others, and cautious

  • o conceal his own. His black hair, cut according to the

military fashion, still evinced some disposition to wreathe itself into those close curls, which had given his youth a cast of romantic beauty. His broad shoulders, and joint? firmly knit, gave evidence of native strength, confirmed b* verity of toil,


FORTY YEARS S1NCL. 203

  • I have sent for you, Champe", said his commander, to

entrust to you an expedition which requires inviolable se crecy."

" The soldier bowed.

" I have chosen you to this confidence, because I have long known your valour, and integrity. I commit to you what may influence your destiny, beyond the power of present calculation. It may secure that promotion which is so dear to a brave man, or it may lead to an untimely grave."

    • " Again the soldier bowed with an unmoved counte

nance. But, as the outlines of the mysterious plan were developed, his features confessed the varying interests of wonder, enthusiasm, and distress. He respectfully pre served silence, until his commander had ceased to speak. Then his emotion became extreme. He traversed the tent with hasty strides, and his breathing was thick, and strong as one who approaches convulsion. The bold Champe, who often rode unmoved up to the sabre s edge, trembled, and could scarcely articulate

" I cannot think of desertion. I would serve my Commander in Chief with the last drop in my veins, and the last breath of my soul. But why does he solicit me to appear as a betrayer of my country ?"

" It is indispensable," answered Lee, "that you join the ranks of the enemy, and identify yourself with them. How else can you expect to circumvent the traitor, and bring him to his country s justice ? It is the particular


04 SKETCH OF CONNECTICUT,

order of Washington, that you offer him no personal inju ry, but restore him to be made a public example/

" Theresas a settled sorrow on the brow of the sol dier, and he almost gasped for utterance, as he said " Speak not to me of desertion !"

" Lee approached him, as he traversed the tent with unequal steps, and waving all circumstance of rank, drew his arm within his own, and spoke in a low voice, words which made him start. He exclaimed rapidly

" It is false. The army holds not an officer more loyal to the liberties of America, than him you mention. The suspicion was created by the execrable Arnold. If, as you say, it might be in my power to prove its falsity, I know of nothing that would sooner tempt me to accede to your purpose. Would to God, it were at the expense of my blood, and not of my integrity."

" His emotion redoubled, and his breast heaved strong ly against the band which compressed it. This was the parting struggle. Lee was astonished at the length of his resistance.

" I knew," he said, " that the plan was replete with peril. Therefore I entrusted it to you. I said, I have* known Champe from his youth. He will not shrink from danger. It seems 1 was mistaken. Since you are more moved by the semblance of present evil, than the pros pect of immense good, you are released from ail obliga, tion, save that of secrecy. Leave my tent. I will seek for another, who shall clear innocence from suspicion, bring


FORTY YEARS SINCE. 205

treason to punishment, fulfil the wishes of Washington, and merit the thanks of his country."

" Major Lee," said the soldier calmly, " this appeal was unnecessary. I had resolved to go when I last spoke. You know me too well to believe that any part of my hes itation has arisen from fear."

Delighted to secure this cautious, and intrepid agent, Lee gave him particular instructions, accompanied by the kindest wishes, and recommended an immediate depart ure. Champe* hastened to the camp, wrapt himself in his cloak, silently arrayed his horse, and began his adventur ous journey. He knew that his first danger was from the pursuit of his own people ; who, since the crime of Ar nold, had been full of watchfulness, and suspicion.

"Lee sat in his tent, ruminating upon the danger, and magnanimity of Champe , and following in imagination the speed of his faithful war-horse. Half an hour since his departure had not elapsed, when suddenly the officer of the day stood before him. In hurried accents, he said

" A dragoon has been seen to leave our camp. He was challenged by a patrole, but put spurs to his horse, and escaped."

" I beg your pardon," replied the Major. "The fatigues of the day had so exhausted me, that I was half slumber ing, and did not comprehend your communication."

" It was repeated, and he answered

" It was undoubtedly some countryman. During the whole war but one dragoon has deserted. I am sorry that

18


206 SKETCH OF CONNECTICUT,

you suspect we harbour any such base souls in our Vir ginia legion."

" Indignant at his indifference, the officer replied- " The deserter is believed to be no Jess a person than your sergeant-major. His horse, and arms are missing from their quarters. I have to request immediate or ders for pursuit."

These Lee was compelled to grant, after prolonging the conversation as much as possible. Immediately a band equipped for pursuit appeared in front of his tent. On inspecting them, he said lo the lieutenant at their head I have a particular service for you in the morning. Call Cornet Middleton to the command of this party."

" This arrangement was partly to create delay, that the fugitive might have more the advance of his pursuers ; and partly from a knowledge of the tenderness of Middleton s disposition, which he thought would prevent him from in flicting personal injury on his victim. The design of de lay was soon frustrated by the appearance of Cornet Middleton, spurring his horse in front of his associates, Such command of countenance had Lee, that not a mus cle moved, as he delivered his orders in a distinct, delib erate tone

" Pursue as far as you can with safety Sergeant Cbam- pe", who is suspected of desertion to the enemy. He has been seen to take the road leading to Paulus-hook. Bring him alive, that he may suffer in the presence of the army ; but if he resist, kill him."


FORTY YEARS SINCE, 207

The tramp of the horses, put to full speed, instantly succeeded his

words. He strained his eyes after them, 

in agony. It was midnight, and rain fell in protracted showers. Champe had the advance of his pursuers scarce ly one hour.

" He will be overtaken," exclaimed Lee. " I have destroyed a brave, and honourable man."

"Securing the entrance of his tent, he threw himself upon the earth, in bitterness of soul. Groans burst from his manly bosom, and deeply he execrated the perfidy of Ar nold, which had been the cause of all this woe.

" Rain had fallen soon after the departure of Champe, which enabled his pursuers, with the aid of the lights they bore, to discern his track. It was for him an unfor tunate circumstance, that the front shoes of the horses of those dragoons had a private mark by which their impres sion was distinctly known to each other. This precau tion, which had often proved useful, now greatly enhanced his danger. Middleton, with his men, occasionally dis mounted to examine these impressions ; and as no other horse had past since the shower, mistake was impossible. Day broke when they were several miles north of the village of Bergen. Ascending an eminence, just before reaching the Three Pigeons, they descried Champe not half a mile in front. Vigilant and active, he also, at the same moment descried them. Putting spurs to his horse, he de termined to outstrip them. Middleton, calling on his men to imitate him, urged his horse to breathless speed. Re-


208 SKETCH OP CONNECTICUT,

collecting a shorter route through the woods, to the bridge below Bergen, which diverged from the great road near the Three Pigeons, he directed a sergeant with five dra goons to take it, and obtain possession of the bridge, Champ^ also recollected this shorter road, but, thinking it probable that Middleton would avail himself of it, felt con strained to avoid it. He also knew that it was generally preferred by those parties of our men who were returning from the neighbourhood of the enemy, on account of the concealment which the shade of its trees afforded.

" Fruitful in expedients, he with great presence of mind resolved to relinquish his original destination to Paulus- hook, and seek refuge from two British gallies, which usu ally lay a few miles east of Bergen. Entering this village, he turned to his right, and disguising his track as much as possible, by choosing the beaten roads, directed his course towards Elizabeth-town Point. The sergeant, with his dragoons, concealed himself at the bridge, ex pecting every moment to dart upon his prey. Thither Cornet Middleton also soon arrived, and found, to his ex treme mortification, that the victim had eluded his strata gem. Returning a short distance, he inquired of the villagers of Bergen, if a dragoon had been seen that morn ing, alone, and preceding him. They answered in the affirmative, but their information of his route varied. The pursuers, in great chagrin, dispersed through the whole village to search for the track of his horse. It was discovered just at the spot where, leaving the village, he


FORTY YEARS SINCE. 209

had taken the road towards the Point. They flew with the speed of lightning. Again the fugitive was descried. His eye was also bent upon them ; and they perceived that, notwithstanding the rapidity of his course, he had lashed his valice to his shoulders, and that he carried his drawn sword in his hand. The pursuit was rapid, and close. Not more swiftly does the eagle pursue the dove ihrough the air.

"They were within a few hundred yards of him. They Routed with eager joy. The heart of the fugitive beat with tumultuous sensation, lest the gallies where he sought refuge might not be there. In an instant, he perceived their white sails ; and for the first time blest the flag of his country s foe.

" A long marsh, and the deep waters lay between him, and the ark of safety. He sprang from his horse, and plunged into the morass. His pursuers arrived, and dis mounted also.

" Champe*, struggling with the tenacious and deceitful footing, and sometimes sinking in the slimy pool, still held his glittering sword high above his head. Reaching the brink of the river, he threw away his cloak, and scab bard, lest they might obstruct his desperate enterprize. He threw his broad breast upon the waters, and divided them with Herculean strokes. But, in his extremity, his trusty sword escaped from his grasp, and the head of the bold dragoon sunk for a moment, as if in despondency, or sorrow.


210 SKETCH OF CONNECTICUT.

"At this crisis, a fire commenced from the gallies upon the cavalry on shore, some of whom, like the horsemen of Pharoah, were preparing to plunge in after him, who thus boldly made for himself a path through the deep. But a light boat, with rapid oar, approached him, and bore him on board the gallies.

" The British had been watchful of the. strife, and draw ing the inference that Champ^ was a pursued deserter, de termined to protect him.

"Cornet Middleton collected his scattered band, and returned to the camp, chagrined, and in silence. It was three in the afternoon ere they arrived, yet Lee had not yet left his tent. So sorely did the agitation of his mind affect physical energy, that he almost seemed the victim of intermittent fever. He was roused by a shout. It was universal and prolonged

The traitor is slain. The second Arnold has met his doom."

" Rushing from his tent, he saw the horse of Champe led on, with his cloak, and the scabbard of his trusty sword. The eye of the fiery animal was roiling, and blood-shot^ and his sides heaved deeply, more in anger, than from toil. To Lee it seemed that he was mourning for his master.

" I knew, he sighed, that Champe loved thee as a bro ther, thou forsaken animal ! Thou hast been his compan ion these five years, in all dangers, by night and by day. Consumed by heat, or chilled by frost, when sleep depart ed from his eyes, thou wert with him."


FORTY YEARS SINCE. 211

  • Groaning audibly he returned to his tent, exclaim

ing

" The blood of my bravest man is upon my soul to all eternity."

" Cornet Middleton entered. The Major read the set tled gloom upon his brow, and his hopes rekindled.

" The traitor has eluded me," he said, and as he re traced the adventure, Lee had need of all his self-controul to repress the rapture that kindled in his eye. His sick ness vanished. Throwing himself upon his horse, he hast ened to head-quarters, and sought a private interview with the Commander in Chief. Thrice Washington pressed hard the hand of his Major ; and once a bright moisture glistened in his eye, as he heard the loyalty, the perils the escape of the faithful Champe.