CAPTAIN WHARTON, said Birch, looking guardedly around, and speaking with impressive seriousness of manner, if I fail you, all fail you. No Harper nor Dunwoodie can save your life; unless you get out with me, and that within the hour, you die to-morrow on the gallows of a murderer. Yes, such are their laws; the man who fights, and kills, and plunders, is honored; but he who serves his country as a spy, no matter how faithfully, no matter how honestly, lives to be reviled, or dies like the vilest criminal!
I have told you truth. Cæsar met me, as he was going on his errand this morning, and with him I have laid the plan which, if executed as I wish, will save youotherwise you are lost; and I again tell you, that no other power on earth, not even Washington, can save you.
I dont know that any will wish to interrupt you, returned the soldier, with a waggish leer of his eye; but, should they be so disposed, I have no power to stop them, if they be of the prisoners friends; I have my orders, and must mind them, whether the Englishman goes to heaven, or not.
Audacious sinner! said the pretended priest, have you not the fear of God before your eyes! I tell you, as you will dread punishment at the last day to let none of the idolatrous communion enter, to mingle in the prayers of the righteous.
Whew-ew-ewwhat a noble commander youd make for Sergeant Hollister! youd preach him dumb in a roll-call. Harkee, Ill thank you not to make such a noise when you hold forth, as to drown our bugles, or you may get a poor fellow a short horn at his grog, for not turning out to the evening parade: if you want to be alone, have you no knife to stick over the door-latch, that you must have a troop of horse to guard your meeting-house?
For a foot-soldier and them Eastern militia, it might be, said Harvey, turning a bag upside down, that Cæsar now handed him; but these dragoons are fellows that you must brag down. A faint heart, Captain Wharton, would do but little here; but come, here is a black shroud for your good-looking countenance, taking, at the same time, a parchment mask, and fitting it to the face of Henry. The master and the man must change places for a season.
Great pains had been taken in forming the different articles used in the disguise of Captain Wharton, and when arranged, under the skilful superintendence of the peddler, they formed together a transformation that would easily escape detection, from any but an extraordinary observer.
The mask was stuffed and shaped in such a manner as to preserve the peculiarities, as well as the color, of the African visage; and the wig was so artfully formed of black and white wool, as to imitate the pepper-and-salt color of Cæsars own head, and to exact plaudits from the black himself, who thought it an excellent counterfeit in everything but quality.
Cæsar, who had received minute instructions from the peddler in their morning interview, immediately commenced throwing aside his coarse garments, which the youth took up and prepared to invest himself with; unable, however, to suppress a few signs of loathing.
In the manner of the peddler there was an odd mixture of care and humor; the former was the result of a perfect knowledge of their danger, and the means necessary to be used in avoiding it; and the latter proceeded from the unavoidably ludicrous circumstances before him, acting on an indifference which sprung from habit, and long familiarity with such scenes as the present.
Here, captain, he said, taking up some loose wool, and beginning to stuff the stockings of Cæsar, which were already on the leg of the prisoner; some judgment is necessary in shaping this limb. You will have to display it on horseback; and the southern dragoons are so used to the brittle-shins, that should they notice your well-turned calf, theyd know at once it never belonged to a black.
Anything but your leg, said the peddler, coolly pursuing the toilet of Henry. Slip on the coat, captain, over all. Upon my word, youd pass well at a pinkster frolic; and here, Cæsar, place this powdered wig over your curls, and be careful and look out of the window, whenever the door is open, and on no account speak, or you will betray all.
Everything now was arranged for action, and the peddler very deliberately went over the whole of his injunctions to the two actors in the scene. The captain he conjured to dispense with his erect military carriage, and for a season to adopt the humble paces of his fathers negro; and Cæsar he enjoined to silence and disguise, so long as he could possibly maintain them. Thus prepared, he opened the door, and called aloud to the sentinel, who had retired to the farthest end of the passage, in order to avoid receiving any of that spiritual comfort, which he felt was the sole property of another.
Let the woman of the house be called, said Harvey, in the solemn key of his assumed character; and let her come alone. The prisoner is in a happy train of meditation, and must not be led from his devotions.
Cæsar sunk his face between his hands; and when the soldier looked into the apartment, he thought he saw his charge in deep abstraction. Casting a glance of huge contempt at the divine, he called aloud for the good woman of the house. She hastened at the summons, with earnest zeal, entertaining a secret hope that she was to be admitted to the gossip of a death-bed repentance.
Tis not unlikely; there are many books you have never heard of: it is impossible for this poor penitent to pass in peace, without the consolations of that volume. One hours reading in it is worth an age of mans preaching.
It was first put out at Geneva in the Greek language, and then translated at Boston. It is a book, woman, that should be in the hands of every Christian, especially such as die upon the gallows. Have a horse prepared instantly for this black, who shall accompany me to my brother , and I will send down the volume yet in season. Brother, compose thy mind; you are now in the narrow path to glory.
Cæsar wriggled a little in his chair, but he had sufficient recollection to conceal his face with hands that were, in their turn, concealed by gloves. The landlady departed, to comply with this very reasonable request, and the group of conspirators were again left to themselves.
This is well, said the peddler; but the difficult task is to deceive the officer who commands the guardhe is lieutenant to Lawton, and has learned some of the captains own cunning in these things. Remember, Captain Wharton, continued he with an air of pride, that now is the moment when everything depends on our coolness.
And wherein can I be more forlorn and persecuted than I now am? asked the peddler, with that wild incoherence which often crossed his manner. But I have promised one to save you, and to him I have never yet broken my word.
The man soon returned, and announced that the horses were at the door. Harvey gave the captain a glance, and led the way down the stairs, first desiring the woman to leave the prisoner to himself, in order that he might digest the wholesome mental food that he had so lately received.
A rumor of the odd character of the priest had spread from the sentinel at the door to his comrades; so that when Harvey and Wharton reached the open space before the building, they found a dozen idle dragoons loitering about, with the waggish intention of quizzing the fanatic, and employed in affected admiration of the steeds.
My calling may be laborsome to both myself and this faithful beast, but then a day of settling is at hand, that will reward me for all my outgoings and incomings, said Birch, putting his foot in the stirrup, and preparing to mount.
Come, suppose you give us a little preaching; we have a leisure moment just now, and theres no telling how much good you might do a set of reprobates like us, in a few words; here, mount this horse-block, and take your text where you please.
The peddler inwardly dreaded, that, in their unceremonious handling of himself and garments, his hat and wig might be displaced, when detection would be certain; he was therefore fain to comply with their request. Ascending the horse-block, after hemming once or twice, and casting several glances at the captain, who continued immovable, he commenced as follows:
I shall call your attention, my brethren, to that portion of Scripture which you will find in the second book of Samuel, and which is written in the following words: And the king lamented over Abner, and said, Died Abner as a fool dieth? Thy hands were not bound, nor thy feet put into fetters: as a man falleth before wicked men, so fellest thou. And all the people wept again over him. Cæsar, ride forward, I say, and obtain the book as directed; thy master is groaning in spirit even now for the want of it.
What are you at there, scoundrels? cried Lieutenant Mason, as he came in sight from a walk he had taken to sneer at the evening parade of the regiment of militia; away with every man of you to your quarters, and let me find that each horse is cleaned and littered, when I come round. The sound of the officers voice operated like a charm, and no priest could desire a more silent congregation, although he might possibly have wished for one that was more numerous. Mason had not done speaking, when it was reduced to the image of Cæsar only. The peddler took that opportunity to mount, but he had to preserve the gravity of his movements, for the remarks of the troopers upon the condition of their beasts were but too just, and a dozen dragoon horses stood saddled and bridled at hand, ready to receive their riders at a moments warning.
There is evil in thy conversation, profane man, cried the priest, raising his hands and casting his eyes upwards in holy horror; so I will depart from thee unhurt, as Daniel was liberated from the lions den.
Off with you, for a hypocritical, psalm-singing, canting rogue in disguise, said Mason, scornfully; by the life of Washington! it worries an honest fellow to see such voracious beasts of prey ravaging a country for which he sheds his blood. If I had you on a Virginia plantation for a quarter of an hour, Id teach you to worm the tobacco with the turkeys.
Start, or I will shake the dust from your jacket, designing knave! A fellow to be preaching to my men! Theres Hollister put the devil in them by his exhorting; the rascals were getting too conscientious to strike a blow that would rase the skin. But hold! whither do you travel, Master Blackey, in such godly company?
He goes, said the minister, hastily speaking for his companion, to return with a book of much, condolence and virtue to the sinful youth above, whose soul will speedily become white, even as his outwards are black and unseemly. Would you deprive a dying man of the consolation of religion?
No, no, poor fellow, his fate is bad enough; a famous good breakfast his prim body of an aunt gave us. But harkee, Mr. Revelation, if the youth must die secundum artem, let it be under a gentlemans directions; and my advice is, that you never trust that skeleton of yours among us again, or I will take the skin off and leave you naked.
Out upon thee for a reviler and scoffer of goodness! said Birch, moving slowly, and with a due observance of clerical dignity, down the road, followed by the imaginary Cæsar; but I leave thee, and that behind me that will prove thy condemnation, and take from thee a hearty and joyful deliverance.
The soldier was standing at the open door of the apartment, looking in with a suspicious eye on the supposed British officer. On observing his lieutenant, he fell back with habitual respect, and replied, with an air of puzzled thought,
I dont know, sir; but just now the prisoner looked queer. Ever since the preacher has left him, he dont look as he used to dobut, gazing intently over the shoulder of his officer, it must be him, too! There is the same powdered head, and the darn in the coat, where he was hit the day we had the last brush with the enemy.
This was but too true, Cæsar was an alarmed auditor of this short conversation, and, from congratulating himself upon the dexterous escape of his young master, his thoughts were very naturally beginning to dwell upon the probable consequences to his own person. The pause that succeeded the last remark of the sentinel, in no degree contributed to the restoration of his faculties. Lieutenant Mason was busied in examining with his own eyes the suspected person of the black, and Cæsar was aware of the fact by stealing a look through a passage under one of his arms, that he had left expressly for the purpose of reconnoitring. Captain Lawton would have discovered the fraud immediately, but Mason was by no means so quick-sighted as his commander. He therefore turned rather contemptuously to the soldier, and, speaking in an undertone, observed,
The truth was, that Cæsar, unable to hear what Mason uttered in a low voice, and having every fear aroused in him by what had already passed, incautiously removed the wig a little from one of his ears, in order to hear the better, without in the least remembering that its color might prove fatal to his disguise. The sentinel had kept his eyes fastened on his prisoner, and noticed the action. The attention of Mason was instantly drawn to the same object; and, forgetting all delicacy for a brother officer in distress, or, in short forgetting everything but the censure that might alight on his corps, the lieutenant sprang forward and seized the terrified African by the throat; for no sooner had Cæsar heard his color named, than he knew his discovery was certain; and at the first sound of Masons heavy boot on the floor, he arose from his seat, and retreated precipitately to a corner of the room.
Who are you? cried Mason, dashing the head of the old man against the angle of the wall at each interrogatory, who the devil are you, and where is the Englishman? Speak, thou thunder-cloud! Answer me, you jackdaw, or Ill hang you on the gallows of the spy!
Cæsar continued firm. Neither the threats nor the blows could extract any reply, until the lieutenant, by a very natural transition in the attack, sent his heavy boot forward in a direction that brought it in direct contact with the most sensitive part of the negrohis shin. The most obdurate heart could not have exacted further patience, and Cæsar instantly gave in. The first words he spoke were
By heavens! shouted the lieutenant, it is the negro himself! Scoundrel! where is your master, and who was the priest? While speaking, he made a movement, as if about to renew the attack; but Cæsar cried aloud for mercy, promising to tell all that he knew.
Harvey Birch! echoed the trooper, hurling the black from him, and rushing from the room. To arms! to arms! Fifty guineas for the life of the peddler spygive no quarter to either. Mount, mount! to arms! to horse!
During the uproar occasioned by the assembling of the dragoons, who all rushed tumultuously to their horses, Cæsar rose from the floor, where he had been thrown by Mason, and began to examine into his injuries. Happily for himself, he had alighted on his head, and consequently sustained no material damage.