« ПретходнаНастави »
narrative, the pleasant and truthful home scenes of the country mansion, place The Spy in the foremost rank of fiction.”*
CHAPTER IX., VOL. I.—An Extract.
"WELL, Tom, your slanderous propensity is incurable-but," stretching forward his body in the direction he was gazing, as if to aid him in distinguishing objects through the darkness, “what. animal is moving through the field on our right?"
“'Tis a man,” said Mason, looking intently at the suspicious object.
"By his hump 'tis a dromedary," added the captain, still eyeing it keenly. Wheeling his horse suddenly from the highway, he exclaimed, “Harvey Birch—take him dead or alive."
Mason and a few of the leading dragoons only understood the sudden cry, but it was heard throughout the line. A dozen of the men, with the lieutenant at their head, followed the impetuous Lawton, and their speed threatened the pursued with a sudden termination to the race.
Birch prudently kept his position on the rock, where he had been seen by the passing glance of Henry Wharton, until evening had begun to shroud the surrounding objects in darkness. From this height he had seen all the events of the day as they occurred. He had watched, with a beating heart, the departure of the troops under Dunwoodie, and with difficulty had curbed his impatience until the obscurity of night should render his moving free from danger. He had not, however, completed a fourth of his way to his own residence, when his quick ear distinguished the tread of the approaching horse. Trusting to the increasing darkness, he, notwithstanding, determined to persevere. By crouching and moving quickly along the surface of the ground, he hoped yet to escape unnoticed.
Captain Lawton was too much engrossed with the foregoing conversation to suffer his eyes to indulge in their usual wandering; and the pedler, perceiving by the voices that the enemy he most feared had passed him, yielded to his impatience, and stood erect, in order to make greater progress. The moment his body arose above the shadow of the ground, it was seen, and the chase commenced. For a single instant Birch remained helpless, with his blood curdling in his veins at the imminence of his danger, * Duyckinck's Cyclopædia of American Literature.
and his legs refusing their natural, and what was now so neces sary office. But it was for a moment only. Casting his pack where he stood, and instinctively tightening the belt he wore, the pedler betook himself to flight.
He knew that by bringing himself into a line with his pursuers and the wood his form would be lost to the sight. This he soon effected, and he was straining every nerve to gain the wood itself, when several horsemen rode by him but a short distance on his left, and cut him off from this place of refuge. The pedler threw himself on the ground as they came near him, and was in this manner passed unseen. But delay, now, became too dangerous for him to remain in that position. He accordingly arose, and still keeping in the shadow of the wood, along the skirts of which he heard voices crying to each other to be watchful, he ran with incredible speed in a parallel line, but in an opposite direction, to the march of the dragoons.
The confusion of the chase had been heard by the whole of the men, though none distinctly understood the order of the hasty Lawton but those who followed. The remainder were lost in doubt as to the duty that was required of them; and the aforesaid cornet was making eager inquiries of the trooper near him on the subject, when a man, at a short distance in his rear, crossed the road in a single bound. At the same instant the stentorian voice of Captain Lawton rang through the valley, shouting in a manner that told the truth at once to his men:
"Harvey Birch-take him dead or alive."
Fifty pistols lighted the scene instantly, and the bullets whistled in every direction around the head of the devoted pedler. A feeling of despair seized his heart, and he exclaimed bitterly: "Hunted like a beast of the forest." He felt life and its accompaniments to be a burden, and was about to yield himself to his enemies. Nature, however, prevailed; he feared that, if taken, his life would not be honored with the forms of a trial, but that most probably the morning sun would witness his ignominious execution; for he had already been condemned to die as a spy, and only escaped that fate by stratagem.
These considerations, with the approaching footsteps of his pursuers, roused him to new exertions; and he again fled before them. A fragment of a wall that had withstood the ravages made by war, in the adjoining fences of wood, fortunately crossed his nath. He hardly had time to throw his exhausted limbs over
this barrier before twenty of his enemies reached its opposite side. Their horses refused to take the leap in the dark, and amid the confusion of the rearing chargers, and the execrations of their riders, Birch was enabled to gain a sight of the base of the hill, on whose summit was a place of perfect security against the approach of any foe.
The heart of the pedler now beat high with the confidence of his revived hopes, when the voice of Captain Lawton again rang in his ears, shouting to his men to give him room. The order was promptly obeyed, and the fearless trooper came at the wall at the top of his horse's speed, plunged the rowels in his charger, and flew over the obstacle like lightning, and in safety. The triumphant hurrahs of the men, and the thundering tread of the horse, now too plainly assured the pedler of the emergency of his danger. He was nearly exhausted, and his fate no longer seemed doubtful.
Stop, or die," said the trooper, in the suppressed tones of inveterate determination.
Harvey stole a fearful glance over his shoulder, and saw, within a bound of him, the man he most dreaded. By the light of the stars he beheld the uplifted arm and threatening sabre. Fear, exhaustion, and despair, seized on his heart, and the intended victim suddenly fell at the feet of the dragoon. The horse of Lawton struck the prostrate pedler, and both steed and rider came together violently to the earth.
As quick as thought Birch was on his feet again, and with the sword of the discomfited dragoon in his hand. . . . All the wrongs of the pedler shone on his brain with a dazzling brightness. For a moment the demon within him prevailed, and Birch brandished the powerful weapon in the air; in the next it fell harmless on the reviving but helpless trooper; and the pedler vanished up the side of the friendly rock.
The Pioneers; or, The Sources of the Susquehannah: a Descrip tive Tale, appeared in 1823. For the minute and vivid description of natural scenery and the graphic pioneer portraitures which mark this volume, the author had recourse to the early experiences of his wild lake home. "The best known character of the story is the world-renowned Leatherstocking, the noble pioneer, the chevalier of the woods "* *Duyckinck's Cyclopædia of American Literature.
He was tall, and so meagre as to make him seem above ever the six feet that he actually stood in his stockings. On his head, which was thinly covered with lank, sandy hair, he wore a cap made of fox-skin. His face was skinny, and thin almost to emaciation, but yet bore no sign of disease-on the contrary, it had every indication of the most robust and enduring health. The cold and the exposure had, together, given it a color of uniform red; his gray eyes were glancing under a pair of shaggy brows, that overhung them in long hairs of gray mingled with their natural hue; his scraggy neck was bare, and burnt to the same tint with his face: though a small part of a shirt-collar, made of the country check, was to be seen above the over-dress he wore.
A kind of coat, made of dressed deer-skin, with the hair on, was belted close to his lank body, by a girdle of colored worsted. On his feet were deer-skin moccasins, ornamented with porcupine quills, after the manner of the Indians, and his limbs were guarded with long leggings of the same material as the mocca sins, which, gartering over the knees of his tarnished buckskin breeches, had obtained for him, among the settlers, the nickname of Leatherstocking, notwithstanding his legs were protected beneath, in winter, by thick garments of woollen, duly made of good blue yarn.
Over his left shoulder was slung a belt of deer-skin, from which depended an enormous ox horn, so thinly scraped as to discover the dark powder that it contained. The larger end was fitted ingeniously and securely with a wooden bottom, and the other was stopped tight by a little plug. A leathern pouch hung before him, from which, as he concluded his last speech, he took a small measure, and, filling it accurately with powder, he commenced reloading the rifle, which, as its butt rested on the snow before him, reached nearly to the top of his fox-skin cap.
As a specimen of the noble and almost tangible descriptions of natural scenery which abound in this work, we append the following fragment:
THE side of the mountain, on which our travelers (Marmaduke Temple and his daughter Elizabeth) were journeying, though not absolutely perpendicular, was yet so steep as to render great care necessary in descending the rude and narrow path, which, in that
early day, wound along the precipices. The negro reined in his Impatient steeds, and time was given to Elizabeth to dwell on a scene which was so rapidly altering under the hands of man, that it only resembled, in its outlines, the picture she had so often studied, with delight, in her childhood.
On the right, and stretching for several miles to the north, lay a narrow plain, buried among mountains, which, falling occasionally, jutted in long low points, that were covered with tall trees, into the valley; and then again, for miles, stretched their lofty brows perpendicularly along its margin, nourishing in the crags hat formed their sides, pines and hemlocks thinly interspersed with chestnut and beech, which grew in lines nearly parallel to the mountains themselves. The dark foliage of the evergreens was brilliantly contrasted by the glittering whiteness of the plain, which exhibited, over the tops of the trees, and through the vistas formed by the advancing points of the hills, a single sheet of unspotted snow, relieved occasionally by a few small dark objects that were discovered, as they were passing directly beneath the feet of the travelers, to be sleighs moving in various directions.
On the western border of the plain, the mountains, though equally high, were less precipitous, and as they receded, opened into irregular valleys and glens, and were formed into terraces, and hollows that admitted of cultivation. Although the evergreens still held dominion over many of the hills that rose on this side of the valley, yet the undulating outlines of the distant mountains, covered with forests of beech and maple, gave a relief to the eye, and the promise of a kinder soil.
Occasionally, spots of white were discoverable amidst the forests of the opposite hills, that announced, by the smoke which curled over the tops of the trees, the habitations of man, and the commencement of agriculture. These spots were sometimes, by the aid of united labor, enlarged into what were called settlements; but more frequently were small and insulated; though Fo rapid were the changes, and so persevering the labors of those who had cast their fortunes on the success of the enterprise, that it was not difficult for the imagination of Elizabeth to conceive they were enlarging under her eye, while she was gazing, in mute wonder, at the alterations that a few short years had made in the aspect of the country.
The points on the western side of the plain were both larger and more numerous than those on its eastern, and one in par