"It needs but to be bold—be bold—be bold—
It was not long before Singleton reached the tavern, which he now found crowded. The villagers of all conditions and politics had there assembled, either to mutter over their doubts or discontents, or to gather counsel for their course in future, from the many, wiser than themselves, in their own predicament. There, also, came the true loyalist, certain to find deference and favour from those around him, not so happy or so secure as himself in the confidence of the existing powers. The group was motley enough, and the moods at work among them not less so. Some had already determined upon submission,—some of the weak—the time-serving—such as every old community will be found to furnish, where indolent habits, which have become inveterate, forbid all sort of independence. Some fluctuated, and knew not what to do, or even what to think. But there were others, Singleton imagined, as he looked into their grave, sullen features, full of thought and pregnant with determination, who felt nothing so strongly as the sense of injustice, and the rebel-daring which calls for defiance at every hazard.
"Vengeance! my men!" he muttered to himself, as, passing full into the apartment, he became at once visible to the group. The old landlord himself was the first person who confronted him, speaking still after that familiar fashion which had already had its rebuke from the same quarter.
"Ah, captain! (the brow of Singleton darkened)—squire, I mean. I ask pardon, squire; but here, where every man is a captain, or a colonel, or something, it comes natural to captain or colonel all, and is not often amiss. No offence, squire—it's use only, and I mean no harm."
"Enough, enough! good Master Landlord! Least said, soonest mended. Shall we soon have supper?"
The ready publican turned to the inner door of the apartment and put the same question to his daughter, the fair Bella; then, without waiting for her reply, informed the inquirer that many minutes would not elapse before it would be on table.
"Six o'clock's the time of day for supper, squire—six for supper—one for dinner—eight for breakfast—punctual to the stroke, and no waiting. Heh! what's that you say, Master Dickenson?—what's that about Frampton?" said old Humphries, turning to one of the villagers who had just entered the apartment. The person so addressed came forward; a thin-jawed, sallow countryman, whose eyes were big with the intelligence he brought, and who seemed anxious that a well dressed and goodly-looking stranger, like Singleton, should have the benefit of his burden.
"Why, gentlemen, the matter with Frampton's strange enough. You all know he's been out several days, close in the swamp. He had a fight, stranger, you see, with one of Huck's dragoons; and he licked the dragoon, for all the world, as if he'd a licked him out of his skin. Now the dragoon's a strong fellow enough; but Frampton's a horse, and if ever he mounts you the game is up, for there's no stopping him when he gets his hand in. So, as I tell you, the dragoon stood a mighty slim chance. He first brought him down with a back-handed wipe, that came over his cheek for all the world like the slap of a water-wheel—"
"Yes, yes, we all heard that; but what was it all about, Dickenson?—we don't know that, yet," cried one of the group which had now formed around the speaker.
"Why, that's soon told. The dragoon went to Frampton's house when he was in the swamp, and made free with what he wanted. Big Barney, his eldest son, went off in the meanwhile to his daddy, and off he came full tilt, with Lance, his youngest lad along with him. You know Lance, or Lancelot, a smart chap of sixteen: you've seed him often enough.""Yes, yes, we know him."
"Well, as I tell you, the old man and his two boys came full tilt to the house, and 'twas a God's mercy they came in time, for the doings of the dragoon was too rediculous for any decent body to put up with, and the old colt couldn't stand it no how; so, as I tell you, he put it to him in short order. He first gave him a back-handed wipe, which flattened him, I tell you; and when the sodger tried to get up, he put it to him again so that it was easier for him to lie down than to stand up; and lie down he did, without a word, till the other dragoons tuk him up. They came a few minutes after, and the old man and the youngest boy, Lance, had a narrow chance and a smart run for it. They heard the troops coming down the lane, and they took to the bush. The sodgers tried hard to catch them, but it aint easy to hook a Goose-Creeker when he's on trail for the swamp, and splashing after the hogs along a tussock. So they got safe into the Cypress, and the dragoons had nothing better to do than go back to the house. Well, they made Frampton's old woman stand all sorts of treatment, and that too bad to find names for. They beat her too, and she as heavy as she could go. Well, then, she died night afore last, as might be expected; and now the wonder is, what's become of her body. They laid her out; and the old granny that watched her only went into the kitchen for a little while, and when she came back the body was gone. She looked out of the window, and sure enough she sees a man going over the rail with a bundle all in white on his shoulder. And the man looked, so she swears, for all the world like old Frampton himself. Nobody knows anything more about it; and what I heard, is jist now what I tell you."
The man had narrated truly what he had heard; and what, in reality, with little exaggeration, was the truth. The company had listened to one of those stories of brutality, which—in the fierce civil warfare of the South, when neighbours were arrayed against one another, and when, on one side, negroes and Indians formed allies, contributing, by their lighter sense of humanity, additional forms of terror to the sanguinary warfare pursued at that period—were of almost daily occurrence. Huck, the infamous tory captain, of whom we have already obtained a slight glimpse in the progress of our narrative, was himself a character well fitted, by his habitualcunning and gross want of all the softening influences of humanity, to give countenance, and even example, to crimes of this nature. His dragoons, though few as yet in number, and employed only on marauding excursions calling for small parties, had already become notorious for their outrages of this description. Indeed, they found impunity in this circumstance. In regular warfare, under the controlling presence of crowds, the responsibility of his men, apart from what they owed or yielded to himself, would have held them certainly in some greater restraints; although, to their shame be it said, the British generals in the South, when mortified by defeat and vexed by unexpected resistance, were themselves not always more tenacious of propriety than the tory Huck. The sanguinary orders of Cornwallis, commanding the cold-blooded execution of hundreds, are on record, in melancholy attestation of the atrocities committed by the one, and the persecutions borne by the other party, during this memorable conflict.
It could easily be seen what was the general feeling during this recital; and yet that feeling was unspoken. Some few shook their heads very gravely, and a few, more daring yet, ventured to say, that "it was very bad, very bad indeed—very shocking!"
"What's very bad, my friends? what is it you speak of as so shocking?" was the demand of one just entering. The crowd started back, and Huck himself stood among them. He repeated his inquiry, and with a manner that left it doubtful whether he really desired to know what had been the subject of their remarks, or whether, having heard, he wished to compel some of them to the honest utterance of their sentiments upon it. Singleton, who had listened with a duly-excited spirit to the narrative of the countryman, now advanced deliberately towards the new-comer, whom he addressed as in answer to his question—
"Why, sir, it is bad, very bad indeed, the treatment received, as I learn, by one of his majesty's dragoons, at the hands of some impudent rebel a few nights ago. You know, sir, to what I allude. You have heard, doubtless."The bold, confident manner of the speaker was sufficiently imposing to satisfy all around of his loyalty. Huck seemed completely surprised, and replied freely and with confidence—
"Ay, you mean the affair of that scoundrel, Frampton. Yes, I know all about it; but we're on his trail, and shall soon make him sweat for his audacity, the blasted rebel."
"Do you know that his wife is dead?" asked one of the countrymen, in a tone subdued to one of simple and inexpressive inquiry.
"No—and don't care very greatly. It's a bad breed, and the misfortune is, there's quite too many of them. But we'll thin them soon, and easily, by G—d! and the land shall be rid of the reptiles."
"Yes, captain, we think alike," said Singleton, familiarly—"we think alike on that subject. Something must be done, and in time, or there will be no comfortable moving for a loyalist, whether in swamp or highway. These rascal rebels have it in their power to do mischief, if not taken care of in time. It is certainly our policy to prevent our men from being ill-treated by them, and to do this, they must be taken in hand early. Rebellion grows like joint-grass when it once takes root, and runs faster than you can follow. It should be seen to."
"That is my thought already, and accordingly I have a good dog on trail of this lark, Frampton, and hope soon to have him in. He cannot escape Travis, my lieutenant, who is now after him, and who knows the swamp as well as himself. They're both from Goose Creek, and so let dog eat dog."
"You have sent Travis after him, then, captain?" inquired a slow and deliberate voice at Huck's elbow. Singleton turned at the same moment with the person addressed, and recognised in the speaker his own lieutenant, the younger Humphries, who had got back to the tavern almost as soon as himself. Humphries, of whose Americanism we can have no sort of question, had yet managed adroitly to conceal it; and what with his own cunning and his father's established loyalty, he was enabled, not only to pass without suspicion, but actually to impress the tories with a favourable opinion of his good feeling for the British cause. This was one of those artifices which the necessities of the times imposed upon most men, and for which they gave a sufficient moral sanction.
"Ah, Bill, my boy," said Huck, turning as to an old acquaintance, "is that you! Why, where have you been?—haven't seenyou for an age, and didn't well know what had become of you—thought you might have gone into the swamps too with the skulking rebels."
"So I have," replied the other calmly—"not with the rebels, though. I see none of them to go with—but I have been skirting the cypress for some time, gathering what pigs the alligators found no use for. Pigs and poultry are the rebels I look after. You may judge of my success by their bawling."
In confirmation of what Humphries had said, at that moment the collection of tied pigs with which his cart had been piled and the tethered chickens undergoing transfer to a more fixed dwelling, and tumbled from the mass where they had quietly but confusedly lain for an hour or two before—sent up a most piteous pleading,—which, for the time, effectually silenced the speakers within. A moment's pause obtained, Humphries reverted, though indirectly, to the question which he had put to the tory captain touching the pursuit of Frampton by Travis; and, without exciting his suspicion by a positive inquiry, strove to obtain information.
"Travis will find Frampton if he chooses,—he knows the swamp quite as well—and a lean dog for a long chase, you know,—that is, if you have given him men enough."
"I gave him all he wanted: ten, he said, would answer: he could have had more. He'll catch him, or I'm mistaken."
"Yes, if he strikes a good route. The old paths are washed now by the freshet, and he may find it hard to keep track. Now, the best path for him to take, captain, would have been up over Terrapin Bridge by Turkey Town. That will bring him right into the heart of the swamp, where it's most likely Frampton hides."
"Terrapin Bridge—Turkey Town," said the other, seeming to muse. "No, he said nothing of these places: he spoke of—"
"Droze's old field," exclaimed Humphries, somewhat eagerly.
"Yes, that's the name; he goes that route; and I remember he spoke of another, where he said the waters were too high.""Ay—and does he think to find Frampton on the skirts?—and then, what a round-about way by Droze's! eh! neighbours?—he can't be there before midnight. But of course he went there in time," said Humphries, insinuating the question.
"Only two hours gone," replied the other, giving the desired intelligence; "but he won't do more than stretch to the swamp to-night. He wants to be ready to make a dash with the daylight upon them, when he hopes to find the fellow not yet out of his nest."
Humphries looked approvingly as he heard the plan. He exchanged glances of intelligence at intervals with Singleton, who listened attentively to this dialogue, which had wormed out the secret of one of those little adventures of Huck's party, in which his command was most generally employed. The look of Singleton spoke clearly to Humphries his desire to have a hand in the performance which was now naturally suggested to both. The lieutenant, eager like his superior, was yet prudent enough to keep his countenance. They both looked unconcerned enough, and now remained silent.
Huck, in the meantime, who had long been desirous of securing Humphries for his troop, now pressed the latter more earnestly than ever upon that subject. Taking him aside, he detailed to him in an undertone the thousand advantages of profit and position which must result to him from coming out in arms for his majesty, and in his, Captain Huck's, particular command of cavalry. It was amusing to observe how much stronger became his anxiety whenever his eye rested upon the form of Singleton, whom he now regarded in the light of a rival leader. The eye of young Humphries, also, glanced frequently in the same direction, as, from a previous knowledge of the character of Singleton, he felt how impatient he would be until he could make the attack, which he saw he contemplated, upon the marauding party which had been sent out under Travis. It was in such little adventures that the partisan warfare of Carolina had its origin.
Humphries, closely pressed by Huck, had yet ingenuity enough to evade his application without offending his pride or alarming his suspicions. He made sundry excuses, simply as to time, leaving the tory to infer that in the end the recruit would certainly be his.
"You will soon have to come out, Bill, my boy; and dang it, but there's no better chance than you have in my troop. You be my right-hand man, for I know you, old fellow—and blastme, but I'd sooner trust you than any chap of the corps. I may as well put you down."
"No, not yet: I'll be ready to answer you soon, and I can easily make my preparations. You have arms a-plenty?"
"Soon shall have. Three wagons are on their way from Charleston with sabres and pistols especially for us."
"I shall, no doubt, want some of them, and you shall then hear from me. There is time enough in all next week."
"Yes; but be quick about it, or there will be no picking; and then you have but twenty days, remember. The proclamation gives but twenty days, and then Cornwallis has sworn to treat as rebels, with the utmost severity of the law, all those who are not in arms for his majesty—just the same as if they had fought against him. See, I have it here."
He took from his pocket the proclamation, and with it a private order, which was issued by the commander-in-chief to all the subordinate commands, giving directions for the utmost severity, and prescribing the mode of punishment for the refractory, nearly in the language, and to the full effect, of Huck's representations. Humphries looked grave enough at these crowding evidences, but resisted, by well urged evasions, the exhortations of the tempter. The tory captain was compelled to rest satisfied for the present, assured that he had held forth especial inducements to the countryman which must give his troop a preference over any claims that might be set up by the rival recruiting officer, as he considered Singleton. With a hearty shake of the hand, and a few parting words in whisper to his companion, he left the hotel to make his way—a subtle sycophant with his superiors—to the presence of Major Proctor of the Dorchester garrison, from whom he had received his commission.
Singleton, while this episode of Humphries and the tory had been going on, employed himself in occasional conversation with the landlord and sundry of the villagers in another end of the apartment. In this conversation, though studiously selecting topics of a nature not to startle or offend the fears or the prejudices of any, he contrived, with no little ingenuity, to bring about, every and then, occasional expressions of their feelings and opinions.He saw, from these few and brief evidences, that their feelings were not with their rulers—that they subscribed simply to a hard necessity, and would readily seek the means of relief, did they know where to find it. He himself took care, while he uttered nothing which could be construed into an offence against loyalty, to frame what he did say in such a guise that it must have touched and ministered largely to the existing provocations. He could see this in the burning indignation strong in every countenance, as he dwelt upon the imperative necessity they were now under of taking up arms in obedience to the proclamation. His urging of this topic was, like that of Huck, ostensibly the obtaining of recruits for his contemplated troop. His policy was one frequently acted upon in that strange warfare, in which the tories, when defeated, found few conscientious scruples to restrain them from falling into the ranks and becoming good soldiers along with their conquerors. Such devices as that which he now aimed to practise were freely resorted to; and the case was not uncommon of a troop thus formed under the eye of the enemy, and, in his belief, to do the battles of the monarch, moving off, en masse, the first opportunity, and joining with their fellow-countrymen, as well as flight as in victory. Such, however, was scarcely now the object of the stranger: he simply desired that his loyalty might pass unquestioned; and he put on a habit, therefore, as a disguise, which but too many natives wore with far less scruple, and perhaps with some show of grace. It may be said, as highly gratifying to Singleton, that in the character thus assumed he made no converts.
But the bell for supper was now ringing, and, taking his way with the rest, he passed into the inner apartment. Bella Humphries presided, her brother taking a seat at the other end of the table, and ministering to the guests in that quarter. Singleton was assigned a seat, possibly by way of distinction, close to the maiden, who smiled graciously at his approach. Still she looked not so well satisfied. Neither of her squires was present, and her eye wandered from side to side among unattractive countrymen at the table, resting at last, as with a dernier hope, upon the manly and handsome face and person of our adventurer. The coquette must be busy. It is her necessity. She has smiles to circulate,and, like the counterfeiter with false coin, she is ever on the look out for the flat. While she watched Singleton with ready smiles, he had an opportunity of scanning her features more narrowly. She was very girlish, certainly very youthful in appearance, and her face was decidedly handsome. He saw, at a glance, that she was incapable of any of that settled and solemn feeling which belongs to love, and which can only exist along with a strongly marked character and truly elevated sentiments. Her desire was that of display, and conquest made the chief agent to this end. It mattered not how doubtful was the character of her captives, so that they were numerous; and Singleton felt assured that his simple Goose Creek convert, Davis, but for the lack of red coat and command, stood quite as good a chance in the maiden's heart as the more formidable sergeant. How long he would have scanned the features which seemed not unwilling to attract his eye, we may not say; but his gaze was at length disturbed by the entrance of Davis, who, taking his seat at the opposite corner of the table, now appeared in a better and a more conciliatory humour. He addressed some country compliment to Bella, which she was not displeased to listen to, as she was perfectly satisfied to have a swain, no matter who, in the absence of the greater favourite. She answered some few remarks of Singleton and Davis with a pretty, childish simplicity, which showed that, after all, the misfortune of the girl was only a deficiency in the more interesting points of character, and not the presence of any improper or wanton state of feeling.
Meantime the supper proceeded. Towards its conclusion, Humphries, the brother, giving Davis a look and a sign, which the latter seemed to comprehend, left the apartment. Davis followed him. They were gone about a quarter of an hour, which time was spent by Singleton in a lively chat with the girl, when, through the window, he saw the face of a man, and the motion of a hand, which beckoned him. In a moment after the person was gone; and, suffering some few seconds to elapse, Singleton also rose and obeyed the signal. He took his way into the yard, and under the shadow of a tree, at a little distance from the house, distinguished the person of the younger Humphries. Singleton at once approached him—the other motioned silence, seeing him about tospeak, and led him to the stable, where all was perfectly in shadow.
"We are safe now," said he. Singleton immediately addressed him, and with some show of impatience, on a subject which had much employed his thoughts during the past hour.
"Well, Humphries, say, can we not strike at that fellow Tracy? Is it possible to do anything with his detachment?"
"Travis, not Tracy, major," replied the other. "It is possible, sir; and there is a strong chance of our success if we manage well, and if you can postpone going to 'The Oaks' to-night."
"True," said the other; "I should like very much to go there; but this movement of Tracy—or Travis, you say—gives us a good beginning, which we ought on no account to miss. Besides, we should put your men on their guard. Are they not in some danger?"
"Not if they watch well; but there's no answering for new hands. They must have practice before they can learn, and down here, they've had but little yet. They're not like your Santee boys I've heard you tell of."
"Willing soon will!" said the other. "But let us move. I'll say no more of 'The Oaks' to-night at least. We can move there to-morrow. Of course you lead the route, for I know nothing about it."
"Trust to me; and, major, go back to the house quietly. Wait till you hear my whistle three times—thus. It's an old signal, which you'll have to learn here, as our little squad all knows it, and knows nothing else by way of music. Meantime I'll get things in readiness, and set Davis to carry out the horses to the bush."
"Is he resolved to go with us?" was Singleton's question.
"True as steel. A little weak o' heart, sir, about that foolish girl—but that's all the better, for it makes him hate the British the more. Here he comes. You had better go now, major, and let us be as little seen together as may be. You'll mind the whistle—thus, three times;" and in a low tone Humphries gave him the signal. Singleton went towards the house, in the shadow of which he was soon lost from sight, while Humphries and Davis proceeded to the farther arrangement of the enterprise.It was not long before this was completed, and with a rush of pleasure to his heart, Major Singleton heard the thrice-uttered note—the signal agreed upon—directly beneath his chamber window. He rose at the sound, and silently descending the stairs, passed through the hall, where, in something like uncomfortable solitude, the fair Bella sat alone. She looked up as she heard his footsteps, and the gracious smile which her lips put on, was an invitation to make himself happy in a seat beside her. But he resisted the blandishment, and lifting his hat as he passed, with a smile in return, he soon disappeared from her presence, and joined the two who awaited him. All was ready for departure, but Davis craved a few minutes' indulgence to return to the house.
"Why, what should carry you back, Davis?" asked Humphries, peevishly.
"Nothing, Bill; but I must—I will go," said the other.
"I see, I see: you will be as foolish as ever," exclaimed the former, as the lover moved away.
"The poor fellow's half mad after my sister, major, and she, you see, don't care a straw about him. She happened to smile on him at supper-table, and he takes it for granted he's in a fair way. We must wait for him, I suppose; and if I know Bella, he won't keep us long."
Meanwhile, the seat beside her, which her smile had beckoned Major Singleton to occupy, had been eagerly filled by Davis. The girl was not displeased to see him: she was lonesome, wanted company, and liked, as all other coquettes do, to have continually in her presence some one or other of the many subjects of her daily conquest. It did not much concern her which, so that she was allowed to carry on her pretty little practice. Her graciousness softened very greatly the moody spirit of her swain, so that he half-repented of that rashness which was about to place him in a position calculated, under every probability, to wrest him, for a time at least, from the enjoyment of that society which he so much coveted. Her gentleness, her good-nature, her smiles—so very unfrequent to him for so long a time—almost turned his brain, and his professions of love grew passionate, and he himself almost eloquent in their utterance. Surely, there is no tyranny like thatof love, since it puts us so completely in subjection to the character which deliberate reason would teach us to despise.
But in the midst of his pleading, and while she regarded him with her most gracious smile, the voice of the obtrusive Sergeant Hastings was heard in the tap-room, and the sweet passages of love were at once over between the couple.
"As rocks that have been rent asunder" was their new position. The maiden drew her chair a foot back from its place, and when Davis looked into her face, and beheld the corresponding change in its expression, he rose up, with a bitter curse in his throat, which he was nevertheless too well behaved to utter. He wanted no better evidence of her heartlessness, and with a look which said what his tongue could not have spoken, he seemed to warn her that he was lost to her for ever. His determination was at length complete, and rapidly passing the luckier sergeant, who now entered the apartment, he was soon again in company with the two he had left in waiting. Humphries smiled as he saw the desperate manner of his comrade, but nothing was said, and the three together made their way on foot, till, leaving the village, they entered the forest to the right, and found the clump of trees to which their horses had been fastened. In a moment they were mounted and speeding with the wind towards the close and scarcely penetrable estuary known as the Cypress Swamp, forming a spacious reservoir for the Ashley, from which, by little and little, winding as it goes, it expands at length, a few miles below, into a noble and navigable river.