From Harper's New Monthly Magazine Vol. XCVIII No. DLXXXVIII (May, 1899)
The ninth day of August, 1814, was hot and sultry on the Connecticut coast. Ever since morning, old Madam Carr, Catherine's grandmother, had been presaging thunder-tempest. Sitting on the north porch, knitting an interminable length of silk stocking, she had sniffed the charred dust of the field-grass consuming beneath the fierce sun, as in a very auto-de-fe of nature, and turned keen old eyes of suspicion upon the northwest horizon, where the thunder-storms were wont to brew. All day the northwest had been vague, as with dregs of color instead of cloud, for all the purple-blue of the intense sky seemed to have settled there. “There will be a thunder-tempest before night,” said Madam Carr, in her deep voice, almost a bass, coming unexpectedly from a slender old throat swathed in folds of delicate lace.
“Yes, grandmother, I think so,” responded Catherine.
She was dressed in some thin stuff of an indeterminate pattern of purple stripes and garlands of pink flowers, faded and darned profusely, as was her lace tucker. Everything in the old Carr mansion was only held from the collapse of age by the timely stitches of thrift. Madam Carr's black satin was actually embroidered by her own cunning fingers in a rose pattern to conceal the threadbare places, and her black lace mittens were almost gone as to the original weave. Madam Carr always wore her black lace mittens of an afternoon, as ladies had been accustomed to do when she was young. She had come of a fine old English family which had not sought the New World at all until the colonies were nearly fledged for independent flight. There had been wealth and state in the daily life of Madam Carr, although now she lived in actual poverty with her granddaughter Catherine. The Carr estate had dribbled away through improvident fingers, until there was little left except the old mansion on the outskirts of the village, and a few acres of scanty pasturage, and a wood-lot or two. Catherine had a brother, two years older than herself, who might retrieve the family fortunes, but he was fighting in Perry's squadron against the British, and his grandmother had little to say of him. Madam Carr was a Tory born and bred, and, if she had her way, would have set up the throne of England at the Capitol with no delay. She prayed in her closet for the English arms, and never asked if Catherine had heard from young Harry Carr, though she loved him well, and though she knew that his scanty pay, sent home as regularly as might be, kept her and her household alive. Catherine herself, from her early training, was not as true a daughter of the republic as she might have been in her principles, and had striven as best she might to dissuade her brother Harry. “Go fight for the one true country and the one true government,” said she, with that gentle imperiousness which folk said was like her grandmother's, and became her well, but Harry would not listen.
“They have ground us into the dust,” he declared, fiercely, “and now we will arise and let them see the stuff we are made of.”
“'Tis British stuff,” argued Catherine.
“British stuff grafted on to a tree of the West, till 'tis the noblest fruit of the whole earth,” said Harry Carr, and was off in his blue uniform.
Catherine wrote to him, though her disapproval was still active. Catherine looked as her grandmother had looked when she was a girl. She was small and fair, with a face as round and innocent as a child's; but she bore herself like a queen, and had, at times, a severity of manner which no one, not even her grandmother, gainsaid. Catherine Carr had been sought in marriage by one Captain Miles Wadsworth, of the blood of the Wadsworth who had hidden the charter of Connecticut in the hollow tree.
Catherine had accepted him, and he had for some six months visited her as her acknowledged lover; then there had been high words, none but they two knew over what, and Captain Miles had sailed away in his ship, The Commonwealth, to Liverpool. That was during the year before the war, and Catherine had not heard a word from her lover since. If she grieved for him, nobody knew. Now and then a swain with courting intent rode over from Stonington to see this damsel with a fair face, and good blood in her veins, though no gold in her purse, but she would have none of him.
“Catherine will never be wedded,” said Madam Carr, “but no one need scorn her for it, since 'tis not for lack of chances. 'Tis an honorable estate, when it comes with choice, and has been held by many a woman of our family.” If the truth had been told, Madam Carr somewhat regretted that she had not held that estate herself. She had been a true and faithful wife to her husband, now dead some twenty years, but she had not been in love with him, and he was in her memory but an additional shadow cast by her fleshly life. She had been a Carr herself, having married her own cousin. She looked with favor on Catherine remaining in her single blessedness. “There is freedom and dignity in it, child, let them say what they will,” said she, “and the old place will feed you as long as you live.”
Catherine Carr led her life of peaceful monotony of industry, and seemed content enough, though she was young and there was warm blood in her veins. The days for three years had dawned and dimmed with no change, except their own variety of eternity, but now this ninth day of August was to hold enough to spice a lifetime.
Catherine, when she waked that morning, had felt a strange quickening of her pulses, and a turmoil of her whole mind, both as to its memories and its imagery of the future. An electrical ferment of storms and upheavals of present harmonies seemed to be in her little sphere of life, as well as in the greatness of nature. “There will be a thunder-tempest before night,” said Madam Carr. “Something will happen before night,” said Catherine Carr, but only to herself. All the forenoon she and old black Sylvy had been putting up little pots of currant jelly and jam. Her finger-tips were still rosy with the currant juice, though she had rubbed them well. She sat that afternoon with her grandmother on the porch and darned a petticoat of fine red damask which had belonged to her mother.
“I remember well when your mother first wore that; she had just turned sixteen,” said Madam Carr. “It is a handsome color, though not for this time of year.”
“The people of this country like it not overwell, at this time of year or any other,” said Catherine, with a laugh, referring to the red coats of the British soldiers. Catherine's laugh had a nervous ring, her delicate face was strained and tense, her blue eyes almost black. She kept turning an ear this way and that, as if listening; she glanced often at the road, visible through the lilac shrubbery in the front yard; all at once Catherine's whole face lightened and sharpened with attention like a hunting dog's. She heard a noise like the feet of a swift runner; then she saw one man, then another, and another, come pelting up the road; then a stout woman laboring behind with heavy joltings of hips like the panniers of a donkey. Catherine recognized them for the landlord, his wife and son and man-servant, from the tavern a half-mile below. The tavern was a small hostelry of none too good repute, serving mainly as a resting and carousing place for sailors, for there was a good anchorage at that point. Catherine ran out around the corner of the house, through the lilacs, to the road, and her grandmother, knitting-work in hand, went after her, nearly as agile as she.
“What is it?” called Catherine, and her face was pale; for those were troublous times on the coast, with an enemy on the seas. The woman answered her, though she was scantest of breath.
“The British! The British!” she gasped out.
Catherine ran after her, grasping her arm, and keeping alongside easily. “Are they come? Are the British come?”
“Their ships are off yonder, four of 'em, and a boat from the biggest — a-comin' — a-comin' ashore. Let go! let go!”
“Are the men going to Stonington to warn the town?”
“No; the town will be all in a light blaze in a half-hour. We be goin' to the swamp, where they can't find us. Best you and your folks go too, Catherine Carr. Get your teaspoons an' come. I have my half-dozen in my pocket. Let go! let go!”
With that the woman, the wife of John Tabb the tavern-keeper, wrenched away her arm, and was on with the rushing men.
“Oh, go to Stonington! go to Stonington! to warn the town!” cried Catherine, after them; but John Tabb pelted on with his stubborn face as if he did not hear.
“Go to Stonington! go to Stonington, Mr. Tabb!” shrieked Catherine. But John Tabb went on with a steady rush, like a panic-stricken ox, and they were all out of sight.
Catherine ran back to her grandmother, standing pale, but with a certain air of tremulous triumph, at the house gate. “We have nothing to fear, Catherine,” said she. “There is no need for women of the Carr family to fear anything from British soldiers.”
“I am not afraid,” said Catherine, proudly, “but the people in Stonington will have no time to defend the town. Grandmother, I am going to warn them.”
“You will not go one step,” declared Madam Carr. “The British will give them notice in time to remove the women and children; the men will stay and fight. What more would you?”
“There will be no time to strengthen the earth-works.”
“Let them fall, then! What you are thinking of, Catherine Carr, is Miles Wadsworth's father and mother, and sister Pamela.”
Catherine went rosy red, and ran, with her grandmother calling vainly after her, through the house to the garden. It was in her mind to cross to the fields from the garden, and then to run through them to a point farther up the road, that being considered a shorter way.
Catherine hurried through the old garden, overrun with box in sinuous green windings, under the arches of ancient rose-trees. Black Sylvy's eyes rolled white with childlike wonder and terror from the shadowy kitchen window. Catherine ran down the main garden path, between the humping rows of box. She climbed the wall at the rear, and had just set foot on the sun-baked grass of the field when she gave a choking cry and started back. Captain Miles Wadsworth was coming toward her, running weakly, as if he were about to fall, flinging out with uncertain knees like a drunken man. His face was darkly flushed, though it had grown so thin that one who did not know it as well as her own might not have recognized it, and he kept one hand pressed hard against his side.
For a second Catherine felt as if she were in a dream, and as if it were her eyes awaver with sleep which gave this dream man his wavering gait; then she sprang forward. “Miles! Miles!” she cried out, and caught him by the arm; and he leaned against her shoulder, and would have fallen except for her. “How came you here? What is the matter? Oh, Miles!” she cried, trembling and supporting him, and forgetting that there had ever been enmity between them.
“The British! Alarm the town!” gasped out Captain Miles Wadsworth.
“Miles, have you escaped from the British ships?”
“Yes. Sweetheart, hurry; I can go no farther. I swam ashore, and the sun heat — and — I have had a wound in my side. Go, go!”
“Miles, if they find you, you will be shot.”
“Never mind me, Catherine. Run to the town!”
“And a boat-load is coming to the anchorage at the tavern,” cried Catherine in a frenzy. “They will find you here; they will stop and search the house; 'tis you they are after, Miles.”
“No, I — overheard — they will — bombard Stonington in an hour. Go, Catherine.”
“They will stop and search, and if they find you, they will kill you, Miles.”
“As well one time as another, Catherine,” replied Captain Miles Wadsworth, faintly, with a little bitterness of sadness. “I have no sweetheart and no ship, and my old father and mother have another son and will not miss me. I must die for my country, which alone has any need of me, and as well now. Run to Stonington, Catherine, for ten minutes on the earth-works may mean victory and the salvation of the town. Leave me where I am, and go.”
But Catherine Carr, with her mouth set hard, was already urging the young man toward the house, though he continued to beg her not, almost piteously. “Catherine, for your life leave me and go,” he begged, stammering and stumbling, for the pain and dizziness in his head were great, and his feet met the ground with strange shocks. Captain Miles Wadsworth was nearly spent with exhaustion from the heat and the stress and anxiety of his escape, being also weakened in health by anxiety of mind, and a bullet wound received some time since in his side. His good ship the Constitution had been captured by the British on the high seas before the war had begun, and he himself impressed into service in the British navy. That morning, having discovered that messengers were to be sent to warn Stonington and give her an hour to remove the inhabitants, he had jumped overboard and swum ashore; but on reaching the land he had sunk down exhausted, and lain there he knew not how long.
Catherine half dragged, half bore him into the house, to the bedroom out of the cool north parlor, and forced him gently upon the bed, on which he sank, gasping faintly, for his strength was almost spent.
Madam Carr stood in the entry as they passed, and black Sylvy's eyes rolled white over her shoulder. “Who — who —?” demanded Madam Carr, and her face was as pale as her darned laces. She did not know Miles Wadsworth with his emaciated figure and his thin flushed face.
Catherine answered not a word till she had laid Miles on the bed and come back panting. “Fetch cold water from the well, and a towel, quick,” she ordered Sylvy, imperatively, then ran to the cupboard in the south room for a glass of cordial; but Madam Carr caught her by the arm. “Who is it, Catherine Carr?” she demanded.
“Miles — it is Miles; let me go.”
“How comes he here?”
“He has escaped from the British. Let me go, grandmother.”
“They will shoot him if they find him here.”
“They shall not find him.”
“I saw the gleam of their bayonets down the road before I came in. They are almost here. They will shoot him if they find him, Catherine Carr.”
Catherine gazed at her grandmother with a face of pale desperation; then the color came back, her eyes flashed with sudden resolution and fun, and she gave one leap toward the north porch, where lay the red damask petticoat which she had been mending.
“Catherine, Catherine Carr, what are you going to do?”
Catherine made a swift notch with her scissors, then, with a fierce twitch of her strong young arm, rent the petticoat from belt to hem.
“Catherine, what are you doing? Are you gone mad?”
Catherine made no reply; she rushed to the fireplace, caught up the poker, and thrust it through the band of the damask petticoat, then scuttled up the winding spiral of the front stair, and hung out the red flag which she had improvised from the second-story window over the front door.
Madam Carr, all in a tremulous whir of silken skirts, stood at the foot of the stair; she thought that her granddaughter had lost her wits over the peril of her lover. “Catherine,” she called, faintly, and as she called caught a scarlet gleam through the side-lights of the front door, heard the tramp of heavy feet, and the jingle of swords, then a great clatter of the knocker. Then she heard the voice of Catherine, who was waving the red flag from the window overhead —
“What do you want, gentlemen?”
A voice of inquiry sounded from without, and it was imperious, though somewhat tempered by admiration for Catherine's fair face, and respect for her gentle, fine-bred manners.
Then Madam Carr heard her granddaughter's voice again, gentle as ever, yet with a tone in it which she had never heard, and which seemed to show in a flash the girl to her as a stranger: “It is the flag of the small-pox, gentlemen. You can enter if you please, but you will do so at your peril.”
There was a commotion among the redcoats; then the man's voice sounded again, with a quaver of consternation in it, “Who is ill, madam?”
And Catherine Carr answered, unfaltering over the first lie of her life, “My brother, gentlemen.”
“A sailor has escaped from our ship this morning. Has one come here seeking shelter?”
There was a confused murmur of voices; then the leading one was heard again: “I am despatched by the British commodore to give notice to the inhabitants of Stonington that the bombardment by his Majesty's ships will begin in an hour's time, and to warn them to remove to places of safety.”
“Oh, I pray you, gentlemen,” cried Catherine Carr — and if she was guilty of a bit of malicious humor in the midst of her terror and danger they did not perceive it — “I pray you, gentlemen, to assist me in removing my poor brother, who is in the worst stage of the disease, to some place of safety before the bombardment begins.”
Then the young officer, who had a face as fair and rosy as the ladies of whom he was a dear lover, answered in great haste: “There is no cause for alarm, madam; you are well out of range of our fire. There is no occasion to remove your brother, and it might do him great harm, since he is in such a state. I bid you good-day, and may the sad affliction which is upon your house spare your roses!”
Then Madam Carr heard the heavy tramp of retreating feet, and saw the vanishing swing of scarlet shoulders, and Catherine came down stairs, laughing.
Her grandmother, pale with anxiety and bewilderment, yet looked at her with asperity. “Laugh, if you can, at falsehood and disloyalty against your rightful country and ruler,” said she, “but you know not if they will not return and shoot your lover in there, and you know not if he be not lying dead now with a sunstroke. You would laugh on the verge of the grave.”
Catherine turned pale, and hastened into the north bedroom, where Captain Miles lay, with black Sylvy wetting his head with cloths wet in cold water, and crooning the while with a half-savage murmur of sympathy and love. Miles did not open his eyes as Catherine bent over him, and Sylvy shook her head warningly. In spite of his peril and anxiety, Miles Wadsworth had fallen into the repose of utter exhaustion.
Madam Carr beckoned Catherine out into the parlor. “What if they suspect, and stop on their way back — what then?” she whispered.
“They will not stop when they are bound on such an errand,” Catherine whispered back, but her forehead was contracted a little. Then suddenly her whole face lighted with the flash of her ready wit, and her mouth twitched, for so full of spirit was she that she had presence of mind to love the jest which sometimes rides abreast with danger. Out she ran to the kitchen, got a jar of the currant jelly which she had just made, and the porringer of paste which she had used for fastening the little circles of letter-paper over the jars, and was back in the bedroom. Then, while the black woman watched her in consternation, though she ceased not her cold-water applications, she made with soft and deft touches Captain Miles Wadsworth's handsome face resemble most hideously that of a small-pox patient.
When Catherine turned, after finishing her work, she saw her grandmother standing in the doorway, watching her with an expression which resembled her own. Full of perturbation and anxiety was Madam Carr's face, and yet there was a lift at her mouth corners which denoted something else. Suddenly she glided swiftly to the cupboard beside the chimney in the parlor, where they kept a small stock of domestic remedies, and displayed, with a shrewd narrowing of her eyes, a small vial to Catherine. “It is assafœtida, and, in case they return, it can be spilled on the floor for the evil smell of the disease,” said she, and Catherine nodded, laughing again; but at that moment came a clattering knock on the front door, which caused them both to start and pale.
“They have come back,” gasped Catherine, losing for the moment her courage; but her grandmother stood firm. “Go to the door,” said she, “and fetch them in if they have a mind!” Then she went herself into the bedroom, ordered Sylvy away, and took her place at Captain Miles's head.
Catherine ran up the stairs, flung open the window, and brandished her ominous flag. Only one man stood below — a grizzled old king's veteran, with a square jaw, small eyes of stubborn defiance, and a face deeply dinted with the small-pox. In doubt and suspicion as to whether the deserter, or a body of the enemy and arms, might not be concealed in the house, this man, John Busby by name, had volunteered to return and face the pestilence.
“You will enter at your peril, sir,” declared Catherine's sweet voice from the window. She had quite recovered herself; her eyes flashed, and her cheeks were as red as her flag.
When the caller declared gruffly his intention to enter, Catherine ran down at once and opened the door, and led the way to the bedroom wherein Captain Miles Wadsworth lay.
“I beg you, sir, to be quiet, and not disturb my brother, or his life may answer for it,” said Catherine, softly; and the soldier made no answer, but trod on tiptoe, and barely stepped over the bedroom threshold. Indeed, he found one look and one breath enough. Madam Carr had spilled all the assafœtida as she proposed, and Captain Wadsworth's face in the darkened room was a hideous sight. Madam Carr had slipped the wet towel over his forehead and eyes, but the lower part of his face was exposed, and it looked, as John Busby reported, for all the world like a Christmas pudding. And as for the disease being small-pox — “Go there and draw one long breath,” said John Busby.
John Busby retreated, fairly routed, though he knew it not, by the wit of two women, sturdy soldier though he was, and the gleam of his scarlet coat was soon out of sight on the Stonington road.
After he was gone, Captain Miles Wadsworth lay in such a peace of rest and slumber that it seemed almost like that of death, and Madam Carr ordered that he be left to himself. “He will do now,” said she, “but we will leave his face as 'tis lest they come again, and he be shot, and we convicted of perjury.”
She went out with her stately glide, but Catherine lingered, gave a swift glance around to make sure that she was not seen, then bent over the sleeping man and kissed him softly. Then she slipped out, all glowing with blushes, and looked at the tall clock on the stair landing. It was about five o'clock in the afternoon. Catherine reckoned, standing there. “In about half an hour they will have reached Stonington and given warning,” she reflected; “then they have to return to their ship. That will take near an hour longer, as they have computed. The bombardment will begin about the half-hour after six.”
Suddenly the thought came to Catherine Carr, “If — if those messengers could be delayed two hours — one hour — only one half-hour — the people of Stonington might be able to save the town.” For she remembered what her lover had said as to the value of even fifteen minutes for the strengthening of defences. Catherine Carr, a slim young figure, in her gown of faded purples and roses, stood with her fair alert face fronting the face of the clock as if it were the veritable one of time and eternity, in which she could find the eyelight of wisdom.
Then she threw back her head, her white throat swelled, and she gave a short laugh, which was to her gay undaunted temper the expression of resolution.
Catherine hurried out on the porch, caught up the remaining half of her red damask petticoat, and raced down the road.
Catherine hastened toward the tavern which had been so incontinently deserted, down the stretch of dusty road between the powdered thickets of gold and purple midsummer bloom. The sun rays beat over from the westward like the fierce arrows of retreating hunters, there were broadsides of heat from earth and sky, and every leaf and blade and flower had seemingly its own shot for the weary eye that beheld it, for it was one of the hottest days of the year. But Catherine had no thought of the heat as she sped along, being fully possessed with fiercest love and loyalty, not for her country — for as to that she was divided — but for her lover. She remembered Miles Wadsworth's anxiety for the safety of Stonington, and how he had risked his own life for that end, and rather than fire against his countrymen.
“Stonington shall be saved, Miles,” she cried, exultantly, as she hurried along. She thought of the good folk whom she knew in the town, and how Miles Wadsworth's father and mother and sister dwelt there.
When she reached the tavern she saw the boat from the British frigate rocking on the blue swell, and to her great relief it was empty. Her fear had been lest a sailor or two were left in charge. She did not know that such was the case, and that they had been lured from their allegiance by the abandoned barrels of New England rum in the tavern, and were then therein, forgetful of friend and foe alike.
Catherine got a hatchet from the tavern wood-pile, and ran down the beach to the boat. She had a strong arm and wrist; she had soon cut a hole in the bottom of the boat, and severed the rope. All the time she was in deadly fear lest some one on the ships which swarmed aloof in the haze of the heat might spy her out with a glass. She had, to guard against that, brought the severed half of her damask petticoat and pinned it over her shoulders, that any watcher might take it for the red coat of England.
When her work was done, and she was hurrying up the road, she cast a glance back, to see the dim ships moving in a line toward a position more directly opposite the town, all except one, which lingered for the return of the boat.
“That boat will never return,” thought Catherine Carr, “and they cannot bombard until they are sure that the first shot will not kill their own men.”
Then she reflected — suppose she had scuttled the boat, how long would it take for the soldiers to signal the ship, and for another boat to be sent to them? It would take some time, certainly, but could she not delay them longer still? A spirit of utter daring and mischief seized the girl, and imaginations as extravagant as those of a child possessed her. She was of an exceeding nervous temperament, as finely responsive to all new conditions as a bird which slants its wings to every change of wind. Moreover, the intense heat of the day, instead of depressing her with slumbrous languor, had stung her to freer life. She had risen with higher and higher understanding and capacity to every new emergency of danger, until now she was in a fairly abnormal condition of activity, and barriers were as nothing to the leaping powers of her mind.
“I will delay the British ships longer still,” said Catherine Carr.
Just before she reached her own house she saw a thick cloud of dust ahead, then horns tossed through it, followed by bounding red flanks and lashing tails. Then she heard the shrill scream of a fife, and knew that little Johnny Purdy was driving home the cows, playing the while on the fife on which his grandfather had played in the Revolution, and in which his soul delighted.
Catherine bounded forward and caught the boy by the arm. He stared at her in bewilderment, his fife still at his pouting lips. He and his widowed mother, living off the main road, had heard naught of the approach of the British.
Catherine talked fast; the boy's face kindled as he listened. He was a sun-burnt lad of twelve, with ready blushes, but steady eyes.
When Catherine released him, bidding him hurry, he went forward with a leap, driving the cows at a furious rate, but his fife was still.
Catherine ran toward the house, and her grandmother met her at the door. “He is still asleep,” she said. “Where have you been, Catherine Carr?”
“I have been to the British boat and scuttled it.”
“They will shoot you for a traitor, and you are one,” said Madam Carr, hotly, but her eyes snapped.
Catherine made no reply, but hurried up to the garret and got the two old muskets which her grandfather Carr had once used against the colonists.
“What are you going to do with the muskets? Is your brain turned?” demanded Madam Carr, when Catherine came down.
“Go to the door and watch, grandmother, and you will see,” answered Catherine, running out with a musket over each shoulder, though they were of prodigious weight and length, and she could scarcely walk under them.
The country road was bordered with stone walls. Catherine laid her two muskets one over each wall, a little above the house, with their muzzles pointing up the road at a slight slant. Then back she went for some pokers and tongs and shovels, and even warming-pans with long brass-bound handles, which, seen in an uncertain light of gathering dusk, and also of storm, for that which had threatened all day was rolling high in the northwest, might well deceive the eyes of suspicion in a hostile land. All these she ranged over the stone walls, with the muskets at the ends nearest the town; and then came little Johnny Purdy, dragging painfully the enormous gun used by his ancestor of Plymouth against the Indians. That, when placed, seemed to project half across the road with its furious old muzzle; and though it could not be fired without such labor and preparation as were out of the question, yet its look was an intimation of a far-reaching death.
Then Johnny Purdy, who was pale under his freckles, for his ancestral blood was surging high in his heart, went, according to instructions, his fife in hand, to a point some distance away in the fields, whence he could fly easily to cover of the woods; and Catherine Carr, with a tin pan and two sticks for a drum, stationed herself aloof on the other side of the road.
When the men from the British ship, with the young officer at their head, came down the road on their way to take boat, having warned the town of Stonington according to instructions, they saw to their dismay a gleaming file as of muskets projecting over either wall just before they reached the Carr house. The thunder-clouds were gathering fast, and there was a sallow twilight over the whole country. They doubted not that they saw at least twelve good muskets, six on either side of the road, forming a short but certain lane of death for the King's men to pass. They halted, and suddenly from the right came the shrill scream of a fife in the tune of “Yankee Doodle”; then the triumphant beat of a drum responded from the left. That meant, to the British, American re-enforcements in both quarters, and the impossibility of taking to the fields and skirting the muskets.
The men were brave soldiers as any in his Majesty's service, but a little pause before what seemed a certain march on death did them no discredit. Some time was spent by them in conference as to what course to pursue, some holding it was best to retreat on the town and seize a boat, some holding that since their flag did not protect them here it would not there, and they would either be cut in pieces, or held prisoners to prevent the bombardment.
And all the time the Stonington men were working for their lives at the earth-works, while the ancient, useless muskets and the pokers, tongs, and warming-pans pointed fiercely over the stone walls, above the Carr house, at the enemy; and the fife played on the right nearer and nearer, now this way, now that; while the drum sounded bravely on the left.
Finally the men from the British ship placed themselves shoulder to shoulder, levelled their guns, and made a rushing charge, as brave in spirit as that of the six hundred, though it was against a powerless enemy, and their bravery seemed to recoil upon themselves with a shock of mortification and ridicule.
After the bloodless passage between the bristling walls, there was a halt and hoarse shout, half of mirth, half of rage.
Catherine had fled like a deer through the garden into the house, and little Johnny Purdy had dropped into a misty hollow, where they might have searched all night for him in vain. There he lay low, shaking with exultant laughter, though the thunder-shower burst over him, drenching him to the skin, and pelting him as with bullets of water.
As Catherine entered the house there came a blinding blue flash, and a report like a whole broadside of artillery. Catherine rushed through into the south room, where her grandmother was. She was laughing, but her grandmother's look checked her.
“See what you have done!” cried Madam Carr, panting. “They are coming back here!”
Catherine looked out of the window, and there were the redcoats coming on a run. Their charge had carried them past, but they had turned as soon as they had collected their wits, and made for the Carr house. They hesitated no longer before that flying ensign of a dread pestilence. Either they, having just experienced such a scurvy trick, suspected the subterfuge, or, being so wroth with those who had mocked them, feared no danger, or else were minded to seek one moment's shelter from the fury of the storm, though that would have scarcely been to their credit, being on the King's service; but, whatever may have been the reason, they were coming.
Catherine Carr's brave heart and gay daring failed her utterly. “They — will — find him!” she gasped. This contingency had not entered her head, which was, after all, that of a child's, without enough retrospective distance to give her the best foresight.
Then it was that Madam Carr arose. “Be quiet, Catherine Carr, and do as I bid you, and I will save him,” said she, and went straight across to the north parlor, with Catherine at her heels, though her knees shook so that she could scarcely step.
In the north parlor was a carved chest of precious Indian wood. It had been one of Madam Carr's wedding treasures, and held some of her most precious belongings, her bridal gown and veil and satin shoes, and her dead husband's knee-buckles among them.
Madam Carr flung open the chest, and drew therefrom a parcel securely folded in a fine linen cloth, laid well under the others, for it was a contraband thing, and had been kept for years at the risk of disparagement to Madam Carr's loyalty.
She unfolded the parcel while the knocks of the British soldiers resounded through the house, and shook out the British ensign, which had been struck on a British man-of-war in the Revolution, and had fallen into her husband's hands, to be held sacred by him, and his widow after him.
In the bedroom, dark with the storm, Captain Miles Wadsworth was stirring in faint bewildered wise, awakened by the roll of the thunder and the clatter at the door. Madam Carr, holding the flag behind her, went into the room and up to the bed, Catherine following.
“The British are about to enter this house,” said Madam Carr. “They will shoot you for a deserter if they find you here. Shut your eyes and lie still, and hold your breath, for your life.”
Miles tried to speak.
“Do as I bid you, for your life,” ordered Madam Carr. “Shut your eyes and hold your breath.”
Captain Miles Wadsworth, borne down in his weakness by this onslaught of maternal will, closed his eyes. Then Madam Carr flung the British ensign over him as he lay there, and stood at his side, her head bowed as in pale and tearless grief, when the redcoats rushed into the room.
There was a sudden hush as they saw the still shape on the bed under the British flag, the stony grief of the stately old woman, and Catherine, who was weeping in good earnest, for her nerves had given way.
They all uncovered, and then the young officer gave the word to leave the room; but the old soldier John Busby spoke up in surly defiance of authority. “Sir,” said he, “they have just served us one trick; this may be another.”
“Silence!” cried the officer, with a side glance toward the weeping Catherine, and maybe an uneasy consciousness of the evil odor in the room — “Silence! The man under my command who respects not the dead covered by the British flag falls himself. March!”
The young officer gave one more admiring and passionate glance at Catherine. If he suspected aught wrong, he hid his suspicions from himself, and as he spoke he heard a signal-gun from his ship, and knew that there was no time to waste upon such play as this. Then he went out of the room, his men following.
The signal-gun from the ship was fired again as the redcoats hurried down the road, with the storm driving hard at their heels, and the lightning playing upon their scarlet backs like whips of fire.
The bombardment of Stonington was a good three hours late that night, and though continued until midnight, and with intervals for three days, and some property demolished, the town was saved, and finally the British fleet sailed away, leaving the American flag still floating over the ramparts.
To Catherine Carr the safety of the town, though she had striven so hard for it, was as nothing to that of her lover; but his rejoicing was somewhat tempered with mortification when he learned that he had been saved by the flag which was hostile to his country. “A traitor and a coward might have availed himself of such a means of safety,” he said once, hotly; but Madam Carr faced him with stern indignation: “English you were born, and your forebears. English you will live and die, and those who come after you,” declared she. “Blood is blood, and race is race, and you cannot change it, though you deny your King, and crown all your own unworthy heads. You will speak with an English tongue, and look askance at the rest of the world with English eyes, as long as you live. The English flag covered those who came before you from death and insult, and will cover those who come after you. It has saved your life now, and you have cause for honor and pride, and not shame.” With that Madam Carr went out of the room, her head as high and stiff as if she bore the majesty of England upon it, and left Catherine and her lover alone in the north parlor. That was a year later, when peace was established and Miles's health quite restored, and he and Catherine were to be married the next day. Even then, Miles's sister Pamela, and Catherine's brother Harry, and some of her mates, were out in the fields gathering wild flowers to trim the old Carr house for the wedding.
Catherine Carr, who was strong in natural feminine wiles for the soothing of man, and understood well how to inveigle him sweetly away from a bone of argument rather than allow him to pause to wrangle over it, simply remarked to Miles that breathing New England air for threescore years and ten had not changed grandmother Carr's old England heart, and old trees must lean their own way, and went on to tell him gayly of little Johnny Purdy's trepidation over bringing home the wedding-cake from Stonington, whither it had been taken to be iced, on his wheelbarrow, and how he had sighed with relief when he landed it safe at the door, having neither spilled it in the dust nor had it tasted by wasp or bee or boy.
Miles Wadsworth looked at Catherine's beautiful, laughing face, and thought no more than of how his life had been saved, since saved it was for so great happiness; but Catherine, with her head on her lover's shoulder, cast a mindful glance at the old carved chest in the corner which held the British flag.