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There are, whose changing lineaments
Express each guileless passion of the breast;
Where Love, and Hope, and tender-hearted Pity
Are seen reflected, as from a mirror's face;
But cold experience can veil these hues
With looks, invented shrewdly to encompass
The cunning purposes of base deceit.
The officer to whose keeping Dunwoodie had committed the peddler
transferred his charge to the custody of the regular sergeant of the
guard. The gift of Captain Wharton had not been lost on the youthful
lieutenant; and a certain dancing motion that had taken possession of
objects before his eyes, gave him warning of the necessity of recruiting
nature by sleep. After admonishing the noncommissioned guardian of
Harvey to omit no watchfulness in securing the prisoner, the youth
wrapped himself in his cloak, and, stretched on a bench before a fire,
soon found the repose he needed. A rude shed extended the whole length
of the rear of the building, and from off one of its ends had been
partitioned a small apartment, that was intended as a repository for
many of the lesser implements of husbandry. The lawless times had,
however, occasioned its being stripped of everything of value; and the
searching eyes of Betty Flanagan selected this spot, on her arrival, as
the storehouse for her movables and a sanctuary for her person. The
spare arms and baggage of the corps had also been deposited here; and
the united treasures were placed under the eye of the sentinel who
paraded the shed as a guardian of the rear of the headquarters. A second
soldier, who was stationed near the house to protect the horses of the
officers, could command a view of the outside of the apartment; and, as
it was without window or outlet of any kind, excepting its door, the
considerate sergeant thought this the most befitting place in which to
deposit his prisoner until the moment of his execution. Several
inducements urged Sergeant Hollister to this determination, among which
was the absence of the washerwoman, who lay before the kitchen fire,
dreaming that the corps was attacking a party of the enemy, and
mistaking the noise that proceeded from her own nose for the bugles of
the Virginians sounding the charge. Another was the peculiar opinions
that the veteran entertained of life and death, and by which he was
distinguished in the corps as a man of most exemplary piety and holiness
of life. The sergeant was more than fifty years of age, and for half
that period he had borne arms. The constant recurrence of sudden deaths
before his eyes had produced an effect on him differing greatly from
that which was the usual moral consequence of such scenes; and he had
become not only the most steady, but the most trustworthy soldier in his
troop. Captain Lawton had rewarded his fidelity by making him
Followed by Birch, the sergeant proceeded in silence to the door of the
intended prison, and, throwing it open with one hand, he held a lantern
with the other to light the peddler to his prison. Seating himself on a
cask, that contained some of Betty's favorite beverage, the sergeant
motioned to Birch to occupy another, in the same manner. The lantern was
placed on the floor, when the dragoon, after looking his prisoner
steadily in the face, observed,--
"You look as if you would meet death like a man; and I have brought you
to a spot where you can tranquilly arrange your thoughts, and be quiet
"'Tis a fearful place to prepare for the last change in," said Harvey,
gazing around his little prison with a vacant eye.
"Why, for the matter of that," returned the veteran, "it can reckon but
little in the great account, where a man parades his thoughts for the
last review, so that he finds them fit to pass the muster of another
world. I have a small book here, which I make it a point to read a
little in, whenever we are about to engage, and I find it a great
strengthener in time of need." While speaking, he took a Bible from his
pocket, and offered it to the peddler. Birch received the volume with
habitual reverence; but there was an abstracted air about him, and a
wandering of the eye, that induced his companion to think that alarm was
getting the mastery of the peddler's feelings; accordingly, he proceeded
in what he conceived to be the offices of consolation.
"If anything lies heavy on your mind, now is the best time to get rid of
it--if you have done any wrong to anyone, I promise you, on the word of
an honest dragoon, to lend you a helping hand to see them righted."
"There are few who have not done so," said the peddler, turning his
vacant gaze once more on his companion.
"True--'tis natural to sin; but it sometimes happens that a man does
what at other times he may be sorry for. One would not wish to die with
any very heavy sin on his conscience, after all."
Harvey had by this time thoroughly examined the place in which he was to
pass the night, and saw no means of escape. But as hope is ever the last
feeling to desert the human breast, the peddler gave the dragoon more of
his attention, fixing on his sunburned features such searching looks,
that Sergeant Hollister lowered his eyes before the wild expression
which he met in the gaze of his prisoner.
"I have been taught to lay the burden of my sins at the feet of my
Savior," replied the peddler.
"Why, yes--all that is well enough," returned the other. "But justice
should be done while there is opportunity. There have been stirring
times in this country since the war began, and many have been deprived
of their rightful goods I oftentimes find it hard to reconcile even my
lawful plunder to a tender conscience."
"These hands," said the peddler, stretching forth his meager, bony
fingers, "have spent years in toil, but not a moment in pilfering."
"It is well that it is so," said the honest-hearted soldier, "and, no
doubt, you now feel it a great consolation. There are three great sins,
that, if a man can keep his conscience clear of, why, by the mercy of
God, he may hope to pass muster with the saints in heaven: they are
stealing, murdering, and desertion."
"Thank God!" said Birch, with fervor, "I have never yet taken the life
of a fellow creature."
"As to killing a man in lawful battle, that is no more than doing one's
duty. If the cause is wrong, the sin of such a deed, you know, falls on
the nation, and a man receives his punishment here with the rest of the
people; but murdering in cold blood stands next to desertion as a crime
in the eye of God."
"I never was a soldier, therefore never could desert," said the peddler,
resting his face on his hand in a melancholy attitude.
"Why, desertion consists of more than quitting your colors, though that
is certainly the worst kind; a man may desert his country in the hour
Birch buried his face in both his hands, and his whole frame shook; the
sergeant regarded him closely, but good feelings soon got the better of
his antipathies, and he continued more mildly,--
"But still that is a sin which I think may be forgiven, if sincerely
repented of; and it matters but little when or how a man dies, so that
he dies like a Christian and a man. I recommend you to say your prayers,
and then to get some rest, in order that you may do both. There is no
hope of your being pardoned; for Colonel Singleton has sent down the
most positive orders to take your life whenever we met you. No,
no--nothing can save you."
"You say the truth," cried Birch. "It is now too late--I have destroyed
my only safeguard. But _he_ will do my memory justice at least."
"What safeguard?" asked the sergeant, with awakened curiosity.
"'Tis nothing," replied the peddler, recovering his natural manner, and
lowering his face to avoid the earnest looks of his companion.
"And who is he?"
"No one," added Harvey, anxious to say no more.
"Nothing and no one can avail but little now," said the sergeant, rising
to go. "Lay yourself on the blanket of Mrs. Flanagan, and get a little
sleep; I will call you betimes in the morning; and from the bottom of my
soul I wish I could be of some service to you, for I dislike greatly to
see a man hung up like a dog."
"Then _you_ might save me from this ignominious death," said Birch,
springing to his feet, and catching the dragoon by the arm. "And, oh!
what will I not give you in reward!"
"In what manner?" asked the sergeant, looking at him in surprise.
"See," said the peddler, producing several guineas from his person;
"these are nothing to what I will give you, if you will assist me
"Were you the man whose picture is on the gold, I would not listen to
such a crime," said the trooper, throwing the money on the floor with
contempt. "Go--go, poor wretch, and make your peace with God; for it is
He only that can be of service to you now."
The sergeant took up the lantern, and, with some indignation in his
manner, he left the peddler to sorrowful meditations on his approaching
fate. Birch sank, in momentary despair, on the pallet of Betty, while
his guardian proceeded to give the necessary instructions to the
sentinels for his safe-keeping.
Hollister concluded his injunctions to the man in the shed, by saying,
"Your life will depend on his not escaping. Let none enter or quit the
room till morning."
"But," said the trooper, "my orders are, to let the washerwoman pass in
and out, as she pleases."
"Well, let her then; but be careful that this wily peddler does not get
out in the folds of her petticoats." He then continued his walk, giving
similar orders to each of the sentinels near the spot.
For some time after the departure of the sergeant, silence prevailed
within the solitary prison of the peddler, until the dragoon at his door
heard his loud breathings, which soon rose into the regular cadence of
one in a deep sleep. The man continued walking his post, musing on an
indifference to life which could allow nature its customary rest, even
on the threshold of the grave. Harvey Birch had, however, been a name
too long held in detestation by every man in the corps, to suffer any
feelings of commiseration to mingle with these reflections of the
sentinel; for, notwithstanding the consideration and kindness manifested
by the sergeant, there probably was not another man of his rank in the
whole party who would have discovered equal benevolence to the prisoner,
or who would not have imitated the veteran in rejecting the bribe,
although probably from a less worthy motive. There was something of
disappointed vengeance in the feelings of the man who watched the door
of the room on finding his prisoner enjoying a sleep of which he himself
was deprived, and at his exhibiting such obvious indifference to the
utmost penalty that military rigor could inflict on all his treason to
the cause of liberty and America. More than once he felt prompted to
disturb the repose of the peddler by taunts and revilings; but the
discipline he was under, and a secret sense of shame at the brutality of
the act, held him in subjection.
His meditations were, however, soon interrupted by the appearance of
the washerwoman, who came staggering through the door that communicated
with the kitchen, muttering execrations against the servants of the
officers, who, by their waggery, had disturbed her slumbers before the
fire. The sentinel understood enough of her maledictions to comprehend
the case; but all his efforts to enter into conversation with the
enraged woman were useless, and he suffered her to enter her room
without explaining that it contained another inmate. The noise of her
huge frame falling on the bed was succeeded by a silence that was soon
interrupted by the renewed respiration of the peddler, and within a few
minutes Harvey continued to breathe aloud, as if no interruption had
occurred. The relief arrived at this moment.
The sentinel, who felt nettled at the contempt of the peddler, after
communicating his orders, while he was retiring, exclaimed to his
"You may keep yourself warm by dancing, John; the peddler spy has tuned
his fiddle, you hear, and it will not be long before Betty will strike
up, in her turn."
The joke was followed by a general laugh from the party, who marched on
in performance of their duty. At this instant the door of the prison was
opened, and Betty reappeared, staggering back again toward her
"Stop," said the sentinel, catching her by her clothes; "are you sure
the spy is not in your pocket?"
"Can't you hear the rascal snoring in my room, you dirty blackguard?"
sputtered Betty, her whole frame shaking with rage. "And is it so ye
would sarve a dacent famale, that a man must be put to sleep in the room
wid her, ye rapscallion?"
"Pooh! Do you mind a fellow who's to be hanged in the morning? You see
he sleeps already; to-morrow he'll take a longer nap."
"Hands off, ye villain," cried the washerwoman, relinquishing a small
bottle that the trooper had succeeded in wresting from her. "But I'll
go to Captain Jack, and know if it's orders to put a hang-gallows spy in
my room; aye, even in my widowed bed, you tief!"
"Silence, old Jezebel!" said the fellow with a laugh, taking the bottle
from his mouth to breathe, "or you will wake the gentleman. Would you
disturb a man in his last sleep?"
"I'll awake Captain Jack, you reprobate villain, and bring him here to
see me righted; he will punish ye all, for imposing on a dacent widowed
body, you marauder!"
With these words, which only extorted a laugh from the sentinel, Betty
staggered round the end of the building, and made the best of her way
towards the quarters of her favorite, Captain John Lawton, in search of
redress. Neither the officer nor the woman, however, appeared during the
night, and nothing further occurred to disturb the repose of the
peddler, who, to the astonishment of the different sentinels, continued
by his breathing to manifest how little the gallows could affect
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