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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
André’s Fate
By Silas Weir Mitchell (1829–1914)
 
From ‘Hugh Wynne, Free Quaker’

ON the 20th of September I was desired by my colonel to conduct two companies from Newark, where we lay, through the gap at Ramapo, New Jersey, to the main army, which at this date was camped, as I have said, about Tappan. Being stout and well, I was glad to move, and glad of a chance to see the great river Hudson. We were assigned camp-ground near to Piermont, on a hill slope, in a long-settled country, where since early in the seventeenth century the Dutch had possessed the land. Having no tents, on arriving we set to work at the old business of hut-building; so that it was not until the 26th of September that I had an idle hour in which to look up Jack, who lay somewhere between Tappan and the river.  1
  It was, as usual, a joyous meeting, and we never did less lack for talk. Jack told me that he was ordered on an unpleasant bit of business, and asked if I could not get leave to go with him. Orders were come from West Point to seize and destroy all periaguas, canoes, and boats in the possession of the few and often doubtfully loyal people between us and King’s Ferry. He had for this duty two sail-rigged dories with slide-keels, and would take two soldiers in each.  2
  Upon his representing my skill as a sailor, and the need for two officers, I was allowed to turn over my command to the junior captain and to join Jack.  3
  We set off on the 27th of September with provender and two small tents, and went away up the river with a fine wind. The water was a dull gray, and the heavens clouded. The far shore of Dobbs’ Ferry and Tarrytown was already gayly tinted with the hues of the autumn, and to south the bleak gray lines of the Palisades below Sneedon’s Landing lay sombre and stern under a sunless sky. One of my men was a good sailor, and I was thus enabled to spend most of the day in Jack’s boat.  4
  I mention all these details because of a curious coincidence. I said to Jack—I was steering—that I had had since dawn a feeling that some calamity was about to happen. Now this was, as I recall it, a notion quite new to me, and far more like Jack himself. He laughed and said it was the east wind. Then after a pause he added: “I was trying to recall something I once heard, and now I have it. This waiting for an idea is like fishing in the deep waters of the mind: sometimes one gets only a nibble, and sometimes a bite; but I have my fish. It was Dr. Rush who told me that the liver was the mother of ghosts and presentiments. When I told him I was afflicted with these latter, he put on his glasses, looked at me, and said I was of a presentimental temperament.”  5
  “And he was right,” said I, laughing. Then Jack declared the weather was sorry enough to account for my notion. I made answer, as I remember, that I was not subject to the rule of the weathercock, like some fellows I knew, nor to thinking I was going to be shot. This shut up Jack for a while, and we got off on to our own wise plans for capturing Sir Henry and all his host.  6
  At last we ran ashore at a settled point, called Nyack, and thence we went to and fro wherever we saw the smoke of men’s homes. We broke up or burned many boats and dugouts, amid the lamentations of their owners, because with the aid of these they were enabled to take fish, and were ill off for other diet. We had an ugly task, and could only regret the sad but inexorable necessities of war.  7
  We camped ten miles above Piermont; and next day, near to dusk, got as far as King’s Landing, having pretty thoroughly attended to our ungracious task.  8
  As the tall promontory of Stony Point rose before us, dim in the evening light, we talked of Wayne’s gallant storming of this formidable fort, and of his affection for the bayonet, which, he said, was to be preferred to the musket because it was always loaded.  9
  “We of our State had most of that glory,” said Jack; “and all our best generals, save the great chief, are men of the North,” which was true and strange.  10
  We had at this place a strong force of horse and foot; and here we meant to pass the night with some of our officers, friends of Jack’s.  11
  It was quite dark, when, running in with a free sheet, we came close to a large barge rowed by six men. As we approached I heard a stern order to keep off; and recognized in the boat, where were also armed men, Major Tallmadge, whom I knew. I called to him, but as he only repeated his order, I answered, “Very well, sir;” and we drew in to the shore some hundred feet away.  12
  Jack said it was queer: what could it mean? We walked toward the small blockhouse in time to see Tallmadge and several soldiers conduct a cloaked prisoner into the fort. A little later the major came out, and at once asked me to excuse his abruptness, saying that he had in charge Sir Henry Clinton’s adjutant-general, who had been caught acting as a spy, and was now about to be taken to Tappan. I exclaimed, “Not Major André!”  13
  “Yes,” he returned, “André A bad business.” And I was hastily told the miserable story of Arnold’s treason and flight. I turned to Jack. “There it is,” said I. “What of my presentiment?” He was silent. “You know,” I added, “that to this man I owed my life at the Mischianza ball: here he is in the same trap from which his refusal to aid my cousin saved me.” I was terribly distressed; and at my urgent desire, in place of remaining at the fort, we set out after supper and pulled down the river against the flood-tide, while my unfortunate friend André was hurried away to Tappan, guarded by a strong escort of light horse.  14
  We reached Sneedon’s Landing about 5 A.M., and I went up with Jack to his hut. Here I got a bit of uneasy sleep, and thence set off to find Hamilton; for the whole staff, with his Excellency, had made haste to reach the camp at Tappan so soon as the general felt reassured as to the safety of West Point.  15
  I walked a half-mile up a gentle rise of ground to the main road, about which were set, close to the old Dutch church, a few modest one-story stone houses, with far and near the cantonments of the armies. At the bridge over Piermont Creek, I was stopped by sentries set around a low brick building, then used as headquarters. It stood amid scattered apple-trees on a slight rise of ground, and was, as I recall it, built of red and black brick. Behind the house was the little camp of the mounted guard, and on all sides were stationed sentinels, who kept the immediate grounds clear from intrusion. For this there was need; soldiers and officers were continually coming hither in hopes to gather fresh news of the great treason, or curious as to this strange capture of Sir Henry Clinton’s adjutant. General officers came and went with grave faces; aides mounted and rode away in haste; all was excitement and anxious interest,—every one asking questions, and none much the wiser. With difficulty I succeeded in sending in a note to Hamilton along with Jack’s report. This was nigh to nine in the morning, but it was after midday before I got a chance to see my friend.  16
  Meanwhile I walked up and down in a state of such agitation and distress as never before nor since have I known. When I had seen Major Tallmadge, he knew but little of those details of Arnold’s treason which later became the property of all men; but he did tell me that the correspondence had been carried on for Sir Henry by André in the name of Anderson, and this brought to my mind the letter which the Quaker farmer declined to surrender to me at the time I was serving as Arnold’s aide. I went back at last to Jack’s hut in the valley near the river, and waited. I leave Jack to say how I felt and acted that day and evening, as I lay and thought of André and of poor Margaret Shippen, Arnold’s wife:—  17
  “Never have I seen my dear Hugh in such trouble. Here was a broken-hearted woman, the companion of his childhood; and André who, at a moment which must have called upon his every instinct as a soldier, held back and saved my friend from a fate but too likely to be his own. Hugh all that evening lay in our hut, and now and then would break out declaring he must do something; but what, he knew not, nor did I. He was even so mad as to think he might plan some way to assist André to escape. I listened, but said nothing, being assured from long knowledge that his judgment would correct the influence of the emotion which did at first seem to disturb it.  18
  “Now all this miserable business is over, I ask myself if our chief would have tried to buy an English general; or if so, would I or Hugh have gone on such an errand as André’s. To be a spy is but a simple duty, and no shame in it; but as to the shape this other matter took, I do not feel able to decide.”  19
  Still later he adds:—  20
  “Nor is my mind more fully settled as to it to-day; some think one way, some another. I had rather André had not gone on this errand with the promise of a great reward. Yet I think he did believe he was only doing his duty.”  21
  After an hour or more of fruitless thinking, not hearing from Mr. Hamilton, I walked back to headquarters. Neither in the joy and pride of glad news, nor when disaster on disaster fell on us, have I ever seen anything like the intensity of expectation and of anxiety which at this time reigned in our camps. The capture of the adjutant-general was grave enough; his fate hung in no doubtful balance: but the feeling aroused by the fall of a great soldier, the dishonor of one greatly esteemed in the ranks, the fear of what else might come, all served to foster uneasiness and to feed suspicion. As the great chief had said, whom now could he trust, or could we? The men talked in half-whispers about the camp-fires; an hundred wild rumors were afloat; and now and again eager eyes looked toward the low brick church where twelve general officers were holding the court-martial which was to decide the fate of my friend.  22
  It was evening before the decision of the court-martial became generally known. I wandered about all that day in the utmost depression of mind. About two in the afternoon of this 29th of September, I met Hamilton near the creek. He said he had been busy all day, and was free for an hour: would I come and dine at his quarters? what was the matter with me? I was glad of the chance to speak freely. We had a long and a sad talk, and he then learned why this miserable affair affected me so deeply. He had no belief that the court could do other than condemn Mr. André to die. I asked anxiously if the chief were certain to approve the sentence. He replied gloomily, “As surely as there is a God in heaven.”  23
  I could only wait. A hundred schemes were in my mind, each as useless as the others. In fact, I knew not what to do.  24
  On the 30th his Excellency signed the death-warrant; and all hope being at an end, I determined to make an effort to see the man to whom I believe I owed my life. When I represented the matter to Mr. Hamilton and to the Marquis de Lafayette, I put my request on the ground that Mr. André had here no one who could be called a friend, excepting only myself; and that to refuse me an interview were needlessly cruel. I wrote my application with care, the marquis, who was most kind throughout, charging himself with the business of placing it favorably before our chief.  25
  The execution had been ordered for October 1st; but upon receipt of some communication from Sir Henry Clinton, it was postponed until noon on October 2d.  26
  On the 30th I rode out into the hills back of Tappan, and tried to compose myself by my usual and effective remedy of a hard ride. It was useless now. I came back to my friend’s quarters and tried to read, finding a stray volume of the Rambler on his table. It was as vain a resort.  27
  Never at any time in my memory have I spent two days of such unhappiness. I could get no rest and no peace of mind. To be thus terribly in the grip of events over which you have no control, is to men of my temper a maddening affliction. My heart seemed all the time to say, “Do something,” and my reason to reply, “There is nothing to do.” It was thus in the jail when my cousin was on my mind; now it was as to André and as to the great debt I owed him, and how to pay it. People who despair easily do not fall into the clutches of this intense craving for some practical means of relief where none can be. It is the hopeful, the resolute, and such as are educated by success, who suffer thus. But why inflict on others the story of these two days, except to let those who come after me learn how one of their blood looked upon a noble debt, which, alas! like many debts, must go to be settled in another world, and in other ways than ours.  28
  Hamilton, who saw my agitation, begged me to prepare for disappointment. I, however, could see no reason to deny a man access to one doomed, when no other friend was near. Nor was I wrong. About seven in the evening of the 1st, the marquis came in haste to find me. He had asked for my interview with Mr. André as a favor to himself. His Excellency had granted the request in the face of objections from two general officers, whom the marquis did not name. As I thanked him he gave me this order:—
        “To Major Tallmadge:
  “The bearer, Hugh Wynne, Esq., Captain Second Company, Third Regiment of Pennsylvania Foot, has herewith permission to visit Major André.
“GEOR WASHINGTON.    
  “October 1st, 1780.”
  29
  I went at once—it was now close to eight in the evening—to the small house of one Maby, where the prisoner was kept. It was but an hundred yards from his Excellency’s quarters. Six sentries marched to and fro around it, and within the room two officers remained day and night with drawn swords. My pass was taken at the door of the house, while I waited on the road without. In a few minutes an officer came to me with Major Tallmadge’s compliments, and would I be pleased to enter?  30
  I sometimes think it strange how, even in particulars, the natural and other scenery of this dark drama remains distinct in my memory, unaffected by the obliterating influence of the years, which have effaced so much else I had been more glad to keep.  31
  I can see to-day the rising moon, the yellowish road, the long gray stone farm-house of one story, with windows set in an irregular frame of brickwork. The door opens, and I find myself in a short hall, where two officers salute as I pass. My conductor says, “This way, Captain Wynne”; and I enter a long, cheerless-looking apartment, the sitting-room of a Dutch farmhouse. Two lieutenants, seated within at the doorway, rose as I entered, and saluting me, sat down again. I stood an instant looking about me. A huge log fire roared on the hearth, so lighting the room that I saw its glow catch the bayonet tips of the sentinels outside, as they went and came. There were a half-dozen wooden chairs, and on a pine table four candles burning, a bottle of Hollands, a decanter and glasses. In a high-backed chair sat a man with his face to the fire. It was André. He was tranquilly sketching, with a quill pen, a likeness of himself. 1 He did not turn or leave off drawing until Captain Tomlinson, one of the officers in charge, seeing me pause, said:—  32
  “Your pardon, major. Here is a gentleman come to visit you.”  33
  As he spoke the prisoner turned, and I was at once struck by the extreme pallor of his face, even as seen in the red light of the fire. His death-like whiteness at this time brought out the regular beauty of his features, as his usual ruddiness of color never did. I have since seen strong men near to certain death, but I recall no one who, with a serene and untroubled visage, was yet as white as was this gentleman.  34
  The captain did not present me; and for a moment I stood with a kind of choking in the throat, which came, I suppose, of the great shock André’s appearance gave me. He was thus the first to speak.  35
  “Pardon me,” he said as he rose: “the name escaped me.”  36
  “Mr. Hugh Wynne,” I said, getting myself pulled together—it was much needed.  37
  “O Wynne!” he cried quite joyously: “I did not know you. How delightful to see a friend; how good of you to come! Sit down. Our accommodations are slight. Thanks to his Excellency, here are Madeira and Hollands: may I offer you a glass?”  38
  “No, no,” I said, as we took chairs by the fire; on which he cast a log, remarking how cold it was. Then he added:—  39
  “Well, Wynne, what can I do for you?” And then, smiling, “Pshaw! what a thing is habit! What can I do for you, or indeed, my dear Wynne, for any one? But Lord! I am as glad as a child.”  40
  It was all so sweet and natural that I was again quite overcome.  41
  “My God!” I cried, “I am so sorry, Mr. André! I came down from King’s Ferry in haste when I heard of this, and have been three days getting leave to see you. I have never forgotten your great kindness at the Mischianza. If there be any service I can render you, I am come to offer it.”  42
  He smiled and said, “How strange is fate, Mr. Wynne! Here am I in the same sad trap in which you might have been. I was thinking this very evening of your happier escape.” Then he went on to tell me that he had instantly recognized me at the ball, and also—what in my confusion at the time I did not hear—that Miss Peniston had cried out as she was about to faint, “No, no, Mr. André!” Afterward he had wondered at what seemed an appeal to him rather than to my cousin.  43
  At last he said it would be a relief to him if he might speak to me out of ear-shot of the officers. I said as much to these gentlemen; and after a moment’s hesitation, they retired outside of the still open doorway of the room, leaving us freer to say what we pleased. He was quiet, and as always, courteous to a fault; but I did not fail to observe that at times, as we talked and he spoke a word of his mother, his eyes filled with tears. In general he was far more composed than I.  44
  He said:—“Mr. Wynne, I have writ a letter, which I am allowed to send to General Washington. Will you see that he has it in person? It asks that I may die a soldier’s death. All else is done. My mother—but no matter. I have wound up my earthly affairs. I am assured, through the kindness of his Excellency, that my letters and effects will reach my friends and those who are still closer to me. I had hoped to see Mr. Hamilton to-night, that I might ask him to deliver to your chief the letter I now give you. But he has not yet returned, and I must trust it to you to make sure that it does not fail to be considered. That is all, I think.”  45
  I said I would do my best, and was there no more—no errand of confidence—nothing else?  46
  “No,” he replied thoughtfully; “no, I think not. I shall never forget your kindness.” Then he smiled and added, “My ‘never’ is a brief day for me, Wynne, unless God permits us to remember in the world where I shall be to-morrow.”  47
  I hardly recall what answer I made. I was ready to cry like a child. He went on to bid me say to the good Attorney-General Chew that he had not forgotten his pleasant hospitalities; and he sent also some amiable message to the women of his house, and to my aunt, and to the Shippens, speaking with the ease and unrestraint of a man who looks to meet you at dinner next week, and merely says a brief good-by.  48
  I promised to charge myself with his messages, and said at last that many officers desired me to express to him their sorrow at his unhappy situation; and that all men thought it hard that the life of an honest soldier was to be taken in place of that of a villain and coward, who, if he had an atom of honor, would give himself up.  49
  “May I beg of you, sir,” he returned, “to thank these gentlemen of your army? ’Tis all I can do: and as to General Arnold—no, Wynne, he is not one to do that; I could not expect it.”  50
  Before I rose to go on his errand I said,—and I was a little embarrassed,—“May I be pardoned, sir, if I put to you a quite personal question?”  51
  “Assuredly,” he returned. “What is it, and how can a poor devil in my situation oblige you?”  52
  I said: “I have but of late learned that the exchanges were all settled when I met my cousin Arthur Wynne at Amboy. Could it have been that the letter I bore had anything to do with this treason of General Arnold? Within a day or two this thought has come to me.”  53
  Seeing that he hesitated, I added, “Do not answer me unless you see fit: it is a matter quite personal to myself.”  54
  “No,” he replied: “I see no reason why I should not. Yes, it was the first of the letters sent to Sir Henry over General Arnold’s signature. Your cousin suggested you as a messenger, whose undoubted position and name would insure the safe carriage of what meant more to us than its mere contents seemed to imply. Other messengers had become unsafe; it was needful at once to find a certain way to reply to us. The letter you bore was such as an officer might carry, as it dealt seemingly with nothing beyond questions of exchange of prisoners. For these reasons, on a hint from Captain Wynne, you were selected as a person beyond suspicion. I was ill at the time, as I believe Mr. Wynne told you.”  55
  “It is only too plain,” said I. “It must have been well known at our headquarters in Jersey that this exchange business was long since settled. Had I been overhauled by any shrewd or suspicious officer, the letter might well have excited doubt and have led to inquiry.”  56
  “Probably: that was why you were chosen,—as a man of known character. By the way, sir, I did not know of the selection, nor how it came about, until my recovery. I had no part in it.”  57
  I thanked him for thus telling me of his having no share in the matter.  58
  “You were ordered,” he continued, “as I recall it, to avoid your main army in the Jerseys: you can now see why. There is no need of further concealment.”  59
  It was clear enough. “I owe you,” I said, “my excuses for intruding a business so personal.”  60
  “And why not? I am glad to serve you. It is rather a relief, sir, to talk of something else than my own hopeless case. Is there anything else? Pray, go on: I am at your service.”  61
  “You are most kind. I have but one word to add: Arthur Wynne was—nay, must have been—deep in this business?”  62
  “Ah, now you have asked too much,” he replied; “but it is I who am to blame. I had no right to name Captain Wynne.”  63
  “You must not feel uneasy. I owe him no love, Mr. André; but I will take care that you do not suffer. His suggestion that I should be made use of, put in peril not my life but my honor. It is not to my interest that the matter should ever get noised abroad.”  64
  “I see,” he said. “Your cousin must be a strange person. Do with what I have said as seems right to you. I shall be—or rather,” and he smiled quite cheerfully, “I am content. One’s grammar forgets to-morrow sometimes.”  65
  His ease and quiet seemed to me amazing. But it was getting late, and I said I must go at once.  66
  As I was in act to leave, he took my hand and said: “There are no thanks a man about to die can give that I do not offer you, Mr. Wynne. Be assured your visit has helped me. It is much to see the face of a friend. All men have been good to me and kind, and none more so than his Excellency. If to-morrow I could see, as I go to death, one face I have known in happier hours—it is much to ask—I may count on you, I am sure. Ah, I see I can! And my letter—you will be sure to do your best?”  67
  “Yes,” I said, not trusting myself to speak further, and only adding, “Good-by,” as I wrung his hand. Then I went out into the cold October starlight.  68
  It was long after ten when I found Hamilton. I told him briefly of my interview, and asked if it would be possible for me to deliver in person to the general Mr. André’s letter. I had in fact that on my mind, which, if but a crude product of despair, I yet did wish to say where alone it might help or be considered.  69
  Hamilton shook his head. “I have so troubled his Excellency as to this poor fellow that I fear I can do no more. Men who do not know my chief cannot imagine the distress of heart this business has caused. I do not mean, Wynne, that he has or had the least indecision concerning the sentence, but I can tell you this,—the signature of approval of the court’s finding is tremulous and unlike his usual writing. We will talk of this again. Will you wait at my quarters? I will do my best for you.”  70
  I said I would take a pipe, and walk on the road at the foot of the slope below the house in which Washington resided. With this he left me.  71
  The night was clear and beautiful; from the low hills far and near the camp bugle-calls and the sound of horses neighing filled the air. Uneasy and restless, I walked to and fro up and down the road below the little farm-house. Once or twice I fancied I saw the tall figure of the chief pass across the window-panes. A hundred yards away was the house I had just left. There sat a gallant gentleman awaiting death. Here, in the house above me, was he in whose hands lay his fate. I pitied him too, and wondered if in his place I could be sternly just. At my feet the little brook babbled in the night, while the camp noises slowly died away. Meantime, intent on my purpose, I tried to arrange in my mind what I would say, or how plead a lost cause. I have often thus prearranged the mode of saying what some serious occasion made needful. I always get ready; but when the time comes I am apt to say things altogether different, and to find, too, that the wisdom of the minute is apt to be the better wisdom.  72
  At last I saw Hamilton approaching me through the gloom. “Come,” he said. “His Excellency will see you, but I fear it will be of no use. He himself would agree to a change in the form of death; but Generals Greene and Sullivan are strongly of opinion that to do so in the present state of exasperation would be unwise and impolitic. I cannot say what I should do were I he. I am glad, Wynne, that it is not I who have to decide. I lose my sense of the equities of life in the face of so sad a business. At least I would give him a gentleman’s death. The generals who tried the case say that to condemn a man as a spy, and not at last to deal with him as Hale was dealt with, would be impolitic, and unfair to men who were as gallant as the poor fellow in yonder farm-house.”  73
  “It is only too clear,” I said.  74
  “Yes, they are right, I suppose; but it is a horrible business.”  75
  As we discussed, I went with him past the sentinels around the old stone house and through a hall, and to left into a large room.  76
  “The general sleeps here,” Hamilton said in a lowered voice. “We have but these two apartments; across the passage is his dining-room, which he uses as his office. Wait here;” and so saying, he left me. The room was large, some fifteen by eighteen feet, and so low-ceiled that the Dutch builder had need to contrive a recess in the ceiling to permit of a place for the tall Dutch clock he had brought from Holland. Around the chimney-piece were Dutch tiles. Black Billy, the general’s servant, sat asleep in the corner, and two aides slumbered on the floor; tired out, I fancy. I walked to and fro over the creaking boards, and watched the Dutch clock. As it struck eleven, the figure of Time, seated below the dial, swung a scythe and turned a tiny hour-glass. A bell rang; an orderly came in and woke up an aide: “Dispatch for West Point, sir, in haste.” The young fellow groaned, stuck the paper in his belt, and went out for his long night ride.  77
  At last my friend returned. “The general will see you presently, Wynne; but it is a useless errand. Give me André’s letter.” With this he left me again, and I continued my impatient walk. In a quarter of an hour he came back. “Come,” said he: “I have done my best, but I have failed as I expected to fail. Speak your mind freely; he likes frankness.” I went after him, and in a moment was in the farther room and alone with the chief.  78
  A huge fire of logs blazed on the great kitchen hearth; and at a table covered with maps and papers, neatly set in order, the general sat writing.  79
  He looked up, and with quiet courtesy said, “Take a seat, Captain Wynne. I must be held excused for a little.” I bowed and sat down, while he continued to write.  80
  His pen moved slowly, and he paused at times, and then went on apparently with the utmost deliberation. I was favorably placed to watch him without appearing to do so, his face being strongly lighted by the candles in front of him. He was dressed with his usual care, in a buff waistcoat and a blue-and-buff uniform, with powdered hair drawn back to a queue and carefully tied with black ribbon.  81
  The face, with its light-blue eyes, ruddy cheeks, and rather heavy nose above a strong jaw, was now grave, and I thought, stern. At least a half-hour went by before he pushed back his chair and looked up.  82
  I am fortunate as regards this conversation, since on my return I set it down in a diary; which, however, has many gaps, and is elsewhere incomplete.  83
  “Captain Wynne,” he said, “I have refused to see several gentlemen in regard to this sad business; but I learn that Mr. André was your friend, and I have not forgotten your aunt’s timely aid at a moment when it was sorely needed. For these reasons, and at the earnest request of Captain Hamilton and the marquis, I am willing to listen to you. May I ask you to be brief?”  84
  He spoke slowly, as if weighing his words.  85
  I replied that I was most grateful—that I owed it to Major André that I had not long ago endured the fate which was now to be his.  86
  “Permit me, sir,” he said, “to ask when this occurred.”  87
  I replied that it was when, at his Excellency’s desire, I had entered Philadelphia as a spy; and then I went on briefly to relate what had happened.  88
  “Sir,” he returned, “you owed your danger to folly, not to what your duty brought. You were false, for the time, to that duty. But this does not concern us now. It may have served as a lesson, and I am free to admit that you did your country a great service. What now can I do for you? As to this unhappy gentleman, his fate is out of my hands. I have read the letter which Captain Hamilton gave me.” As he spoke, he took it from the table and deliberately read it again, while I watched him. Then he laid it down and looked up. I saw that his big patient eyes were over-full as he spoke.  89
  “I regret, sir, to have to refuse this most natural request; I have told Mr. Hamilton that it is not to be thought of. Neither shall I reply. It is not fitting that I should do so, nor is it necessary or even proper that I assign reasons which must already be plain to every man of sense. Is that all?”  90
  I said, “Your Excellency, may I ask but a minute more?”  91
  “I am at your disposal, sir, for so long. What is it?”  92
  I hesitated, and I suspect, showed plainly in my face my doubt as to the propriety of what was most on my mind when I sought this interview. He instantly guessed that I was embarrassed, and said with the gentlest manner and a slight smile:—  93
  “Ah, Mr. Wynne, there is nothing which can be done to save your friend, nor indeed to alter his fate; but if you desire to say more, do not hesitate. You have suffered much for the cause which is dear to us both. Go on, sir.”  94
  Thus encouraged, I said: “If on any pretext the execution can be delayed a week, I am ready to go with a friend”—I counted on Jack—“to enter New York in disguise, and to bring out General Arnold. I have been his aide, I know all his habits, and I am confident that we shall succeed if only I can control near New York a detachment of tried men. I have thought over my plan, and am willing to risk my life upon it.”  95
  “You propose a gallant venture, sir, but it would be certain to fail; the service would lose another brave man, and I should seem to have been wanting in decision for no just or assignable cause.”  96
  I was profoundly disappointed; and in the grief of my failure I forgot for a moment the august presence which imposed on all men the respect which no sovereign could have inspired.  97
  “My God! sir,” I exclaimed, “and this traitor must live unpunished, and a man who did but what he believed to be his duty must suffer a death of shame!” Then, half scared, I looked up, feeling that I had said too much. He had risen before I spoke,—meaning, no doubt, to bring my visit to an end; and was standing with his back to the fire, his admirable figure giving the impression of greater height than was really his.  98
  When, after my passionate speech, I looked up, having of course also risen, his face wore a look that was more solemn than any face of man I have ever yet seen in all my length of years.  99
  “There is a God, Mr. Wynne,” he said, “who punishes the traitor. Let us leave this man to the shame which every year must bring. Your scheme I cannot consider. I have no wish to conceal from you or from any gentleman what it has cost me to do that which, as God lives, I believe to be right. You, sir, have done your duty to your friend. And now, may I ask of you not to prolong a too painful interview?”  100
  I bowed, saying, “I cannot thank your Excellency too much for the kindness with which you have listened to a rash young man.”  101
  “You have said nothing, sir, which does not do you honor. Make my humble compliments to Mistress Wynne.”  102
  I bowed, and backing a pace or two, was about to leave, when he said, “Permit me to detain you a moment. Ask Mr. Harrison—the secretary—to come to me.”  103
  I obeyed; and then in some wonder stood still, waiting.  104
  “Mr. Harrison, fetch me Captain Wynne’s papers.” A moment later he sat down, again wrote the free signature, “Geoe Washington,” at the foot of a parchment, and gave it to me, saying, “That boy Hamilton has been troubling me for a month about this business. The commission is but now come to hand from Congress. You will report, at your early convenience, as major, to the colonel of the Third Pennsylvania foot; I hope it will gratify your aunt. Ah, Captain Hamilton,” for here the favorite aide entered, “I have just signed Mr. Wynne’s commission.” Then he put a hand affectionately on the shoulder of the small, slight figure. “You will see that the orders are all given for the execution at noon. Not less than eighty files from each wing must attend. See that none of my staff be present, and that this house be kept closed to-morrow until night. I shall transact no business that is not such as to ask instant attention. See, in any case, that I am alone from eleven until one. Good evening, Mr. Wynne; I hope that you will shortly honor me with your company at dinner. Pray remember it, Mr. Hamilton.”  105
  I bowed and went out, overcome with the kindliness of this great and noble gentleman.  106
  “He likes young men,” said Hamilton to me long afterward. “An old officer would have been sent away with small comfort.”  107
  It was now late in the night; and thinking to compose myself, I walked up and down the road, and at last past the Dutch church, and up the hill between rows of huts and rarer tents. It was a clear starlit night, and the noises of the great camp were for the most part stilled. A gentle slope carried me up the hill, back of André’s prison, and at the top I came out on a space clear of these camp homes, and stood awhile under the quiet of the star-peopled sky. I lighted my pipe with help of flint and steel, and walking to and fro, set myself resolutely to calm the storm of trouble and helpless dismay in which I had been for two weary days. At last, as I turned in my walk, I came on two upright posts with a cross-beam above. It was the gallows. I moved away horror-stricken, and with swift steps went down the hill and regained Jack’s quarters.  108
  Of the horrible scene at noon on the 2d of October I shall say very little. A too early death never took from earth a more amiable and accomplished soldier. I asked and had leave to stand by the door as he came out. He paused, very white in his scarlet coat, smiled, and said, “Thank you, Wynne; God bless you!” and went on, recognizing with a bow the members of the court, and so with a firm step to his ignoble death. As I had promised, I fell in behind the sad procession to the top of the hill. No fairer scene could a man look upon for his last of earth. The green range of the Piermont hills rose to north. On all sides, near and far, was the splendor of the autumn-tinted woods, and to west the land swept downward past the headquarters to where the cliffs rose above the Hudson. I can see it all now—the loveliness of nature, the waiting thousands, mute and pitiful. I shut my eyes and prayed for this passing soul. A deathful stillness came upon the assembled multitude. I heard Colonel Scammel read the sentence. Then there was the rumble of the cart, a low murmur broke forth, and the sound of moving steps was heard. It was over. The great assemblage of farmers and soldiers went away strangely silent, and many in tears.  109
  The effort I so earnestly desired to make for the capture of Arnold was afterward made by Sergeant Champe, but failed, as all men now know. Yet I am honestly of opinion that I should have succeeded.  110
  Years afterward, I was walking along the Strand in London, when, looking up, I saw a man and woman approaching. It was Arnold with his wife. His face was thin and wasted, a countenance writ over with gloom and disappointment. His masculine vigor was gone. Cain could have borne no plainer marks of vain remorse. He looked straight before him. As I crossed the way, with no desire to meet him, I saw the woman look up at him; a strange, melancholy sweetness in the pale, worn face of our once beautiful Margaret. Her love was all that time had left him; poor, broken, shunned, insulted, he was fast going to his grave. Where now he lies I know not. Did he repent with bitter tears on that gentle breast? God only knows. I walked on through the crowded street, and thought of the words of my great chief, “There is a God who punishes the traitor.”  111
 
Note 1. My acquaintance, Captain Tomlinson, has it. [back]
 
 
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