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HOME > Short Stories > The Peddler Spy > CHAPTER VI. THE HUMAN COLLISION AND HORSE COLLAPSE.
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CHAPTER VI. THE HUMAN COLLISION AND HORSE COLLAPSE.
The meeting between the lovers was long, and it was only the wise council of Boston which induced them at length to separate. He had moved away a little from the window, and was calling in a low tone upon Willie to make haste, when a chamber lattice was thrown rudely back, and a gun protruded. It was Captain Van Zandt who had heard voices.

“Come away,” cried Boston, now careless. “You will spoil all. Obey me, Sir Lieutenant!”

“How dare he speak in that way?” thought Katrine.

Willie, imprinting a farewell kiss upon the willing lips of Theresa, bounded away. A stream of fire leaped from the muzzle of the musket of Van Zandt. A mocking laugh came back in response. Without a moment’s hesitation, he leaped from the window, sword in hand, calling upon Van Curter, who was up and armed by this time, to follow. It is a maxim which all woodsmen should heed, not to follow an enemy too closely in the dark. But, an angry man is not apt to take maxims to heart. Van Zandt had recognized the voice of the peddler, and heard him call “Willie,” and knew full well who were the intruders and their business.

Boston did not run far. Reaching the edge of a little thicket, he paused, and waited for the captain, who was only a few feet behind, hurrying forward at his best pace; when Boston, making a single forward step, dealt a blow with such fullness and force, that the furious soldier went down like an ox under the ax of the butcher. No one, looking at the light frame of the peddler, would have imagined for a moment that his muscles were developed to such an extent. No sooner was the blow struck, than he grasped Willie by the arm and hurried him forward at a quick pace, leaving Van Zandt prostrate upon the earth.

“Have you hurt him badly?” inquired Willie.

“Oh, no. I hit him behind the ear in the way you wot of. I did not care to use my weapons.”

[54]

“You are right. What shall we do now? I am afraid you have betrayed yourself. You called out, ‘obey me!’ in a way that made me start.”

“Katrine suspects too, the little darling. I have promised to tell her the secret. She shall know it when the house of Good Hope is ours.”

“You have hope, then?”

“When I shall tell you what I have heard this night from the lips of Jacob Van Curter, you will understand why I have hope. But, we can not stay now. We must go to Windsor at once. We know the river, and our canoe is at hand.”

“I am ready to go.”

As they glided from the shore, Van Curter stumbled over the prostrate form of Joseph. This aroused the captain, and he staggered to his feet, making a weak attack upon his friend, who parried his blows with great ease.

“You are mad. It’s I, Van Curter.”

Van Zandt came to his senses.

“I believe I am crazy,” he said. “But what a blow. My head seems split asunder.”

“What did he strike you with? Ho, there, Hans! Bring the torch hither. What did he strike you with?”

“It seemed like a clinched hand. And it can not be that a human hand should have such power. I would sooner be kicked by a horse than take such another blow.”

“Do you know who struck you?”

“Not I; though when the blow came every sun, moon and star in a clear sky seemed to blaze close before my eyes. By my faith, I am dizzy yet.”

“I should think you were. Lean upon me, and let us return to the house. Do you know who they were?”

“Surely. Who should it be but the worshipful Lieutenant Barlow, and his friend Bainbridge. I tell you again that he is something more than he shows upon the outside. S’death, man, he called out to the lieutenant like a master, I can tell you, and he came at his call.”

“What was it all about?”

“I heard voices under my window, and listened. It was Theresa talking with Barlow. I threw open my window and called upon him to speak. But Bainbridge called to his[55] comrade to come away, and I missed him—it was very dark.”

“By the bones of my father!” cried Van Curter. “Has it gone so far as that. Follow me.”

He strode into the house, and knocked heavily at his daughter’s door, ordering her to come forth. She did so, with her garments thrown loosely about her. She greeted the young man in a hesitating manner, which went to his heart.

“How is this?” said her father, harshly. “Who dares to come to Good Hope in the dead of night, to meet the daughter of a Van Curter? Where is your womanhood, girl? Can you think of this and not blush?”

Theresa had much of her father’s untamable spirit, and answered quickly:

“It is no shame to meet one whom I love! And I take no fear in saying that I love Willie Barlow.”

“Say you so? Am I bearded to my face by a child of mine? Look upon Joseph Van Zandt. You were promised to him long ago. He has waited long years until this hour. And now you—you, of all others, spit upon the contract of your father, and plight your faith to one of alien blood! While I live, it shall never be.”

Theresa did not lower her eyes, but met the angry orbs of her father with a full glance.

“Speak no more of Joseph Van Zandt. Joseph, I am very sorry that you have set your heart upon a thing which can never be. I do not love you. But, if report says true, you would not have far to go to find one who would be true to you in wedlock. But I love you not as a wife should love, and I never can be yours.”

Van Zandt looked at her a moment, the fierce anger in his heart blazing in his eyes. He had waited long years for Theresa—had seen her grow more beautiful, day by day, and now, the torture of hearing her say that she loved him not! He raised his clinched hand on high, and brought it down upon the table with a force which made the glasses ring again.

“God in his mercy keep him out of my sight, or I shall kill him,” he cried.

“Father!” she cried, “look upon the man you would have me marry. He is a murderer in his heart.”

[56]

“So am I,” her parent answered, moodily. “Girl, get you in. You shall wed Joseph, as I am your father.”

“I would not have it so,” said Joseph. “I marry no unwilling wife. But him—let him take care!”

“What would you do?” she half-screamed.

“Murder! You have described the feelings of my heart. If he cross not my path, well—he is safe. But, if I meet him, God do so to me, and more also, if both leave the ground alive!”

“He is mad,” she said.

“You have made me so—you, with your accursed beauty. Blame that, and nothing more.”

“Get you in, I say,” cried Van Curter. “Do you still tarry to madden him the more? Get to bed! As for you, Joseph, go to your room and try to get a little sleep. Remember that in the morning we prepare for the march.”

“You are right. Now she is gone, I am a man again. I tell you she maddens me. I did not mean to tell her that, when I spoke. Let him look to himself, the alien dog!”

“You will have the chance, Joseph, as we march against him, to do away with him forever. Come, be a man.”

“I am. You have seen me fight, and know my power. I shall do good service if it comes to blows.”

“Thanks. Go to your room and get a little sleep. You will need it. To-morrow we shall see Ten Eyck, and secure his horse for your service.”

“Will he sell it?”

“I shall give him command while we are gone. That will make him ready to do any thing. Good-night.”

Joseph went up to his room and sat at the open window. The rain drifted in his face, but he heeded it not. He could hear Van Curter tramping to and fro in his room, and the voices of Theresa and Katrine in low conversation below. Before morning, he dropped into an uneasy slumber, with his head upon the sill. He was waked by the sound of noisy preparation in the open space below the window. He sprung up at once, buckled his sword-belt about him, and went down. He met Theresa in the large room in which he had seen her the night before. Neither spoke a word; but the glance of mingled repulsion and fear upon the one side, and of deadly[57] threatening upon the other, was of greater expression than a volume. He passed her quickly, with his spurs ringing upon the hard floor, and went out into the open space, or parade of the House of Good Hope. He was greeted by a cheer from those of the men who recognized him, for Captain Van Zandt was known far and near as a brave and skillful leader. He called to his side a slender youth, who was cleaning a gun in the corner of the parade. He had a strange face, sharp features, with thin, cruel lips, receding forehead, and small, glittering, deep-set eyes. The youth laid down the gun when called by the captain, and followed him from the stockade to a retired spot outside the works.

“Carl Anselm,” said the latter, stopping suddenly, and laying his hand impressively upon the shoulder of the young man, “do you owe me any thing?”

“A life!” said the boy, quickly.

“You have said often, Carl, that you would like to do me a service. I do not remind you of your indebtedness to me because I like to remind people of their obligations; but the time has come when I need your help.”

“I have waited long,” said the young man. “When I lay under the hand of the savage Mohawk, and you killed him, I swore to repay you for the life you gave me. You have made me happy. What would you have me do?”

“Do you know the road to the Nipmuck village of Wampset?”

“Yes; one of Wampset’s men was here but a day or two ago.”

“Is it far?”

“Twenty miles—so the brave said.”

“It can be done, then. Take your arms and go to the village; find the chief, Wampset, give him this wampum belt, and tell him that the sender calls upon him to meet him at the three hills above Windsor, at midnight, with all the men he can muster. Do not fear for yourself; there is no Indian who owns the sway of the Nipmucks or the Mohawks who would lay a hand in anger upon the man who wears that belt. Put it on.”

Carl encircled his waist with the wampum belt. “Shall I go now?” he asked.

[58]

“Yes, and make haste; you must have a horse. Ha, Paul Swedlepipe, come hither.”

That individual, who was passing in a great hurry, came up at the call.

“Where is that Narragansett pony you bought from the Yankee?”

“In my stable.”

“You must lend him to Carl. We are going on an expedition in which you are to have an important trust. Can he have the horse?”

“If you will be responsible for him, yes.”

“Go with him, Carl,” said the captain, turning away. “Do not stop a moment to talk. Kill any one who attempts to stay you. I know you are good and true. Good-by, and all luck to you.”

In a few moments Carl Anselm, with the wampum belt girt about his waist, rode out of Good Hope. The captain stepped to the side of his horse for a parting word:

“Do you know William Barlow, the man who was in Good Hope last night?”

“I have met him and know him perfectly by sight.”

“He is my enemy. Do you fear him?”

“I fear no man,” replied the youth, drawing himself up proudly. “What would you have me do?”

“I tell you he is my enemy. Is not that enough for thee? Say, shall he die, if you meet? Will you give him a grave in the forest?”

“If knives are sharp or bullets dig deep—if water can drown or fire burn, when we meet he shall die.”

“You are a friend indeed,” cried Joseph, grasping his hand. “Go out upon your duty, with my thanks for your kindness. And remember, that in me you always have a friend.”

They shook hands and parted, the young man riding swiftly forward upon his way, along the bank of the “Happy River,” while Joseph went back to the camp. On the way, he met Van Curter, who asked him to go with him to secure the horse of Ten Eyck.

That worthy was reposing in front of his house, smoking a pipe in great enjoyment. He greeted the approach of the two dignitaries with a nod of recognition, thinking in his heart[59] how he would crow over Paul Swedlepipe, who could not boast of the honor of such a visit.

“Good-day, mynheer, good-day,” said Van Curter. “We have agreed to go out against Windsor to-day, and, after considerable discussion, my friend the captain and myself have agreed upon a person to take command of Good Hope during our absence.”

“Who is it?” asked Ten Eyck, watching the puff of smoke which ascended in spiral rings from his fair, long pipe.

“What would you say to Paul Swedlepipe?” asked the captain, with a touch of mischievous humor. “Would he be a good man for the place?”

“What! Paul Swedlepipe? Do you insult me? I would suggest that you go and get Hans Drinker’s boy, Jacob, and give him command, before you take Paul Swedlepipe. To be sure, little Jacob is a fool; but what of that? Paul is a fool, too.”

“Then you don’t think Paul would do?”

“Nix, no, NO!” he cried using all the negatives at his command.

“Well, we concluded, after due discussion, not to take Paul. What do you say to Hans Drinker?”

“He is a bigger fool than Jacob!”

“Then he won’t do; and, in fact, we didn’t think of having him. The man we have in our mind is one Ten Eyck!”

“Ha!” said he, without moving a muscle of his face, “that is sensible! Oh, Saint Nicholas,” he thought, “won’t I crow over that Paul Swedlepipe after this!” Then he added aloud: “How many men do you leave with us?”

“Five. You won’t need many, as our expedition must be kept secret. Mind that, and don’t blab.”

Ten Eyck nodded his head vigorously, and the captain came to the principal object of the visit. “You bought a horse yesterday?”

“Yaw,” said he.

“What did you give for him?”

“One hundred and fifty guilders.”

“Ah; the price is large. I want to see the horse. If he is good, I will give you a hundred and fifty.”

“I sells him den. I puys him,” he went on, now using[60] broken English, as it was more in sympathy with the subject, “vor fear Paul Swedlepipe get him. Coom over unt see him.”

The two men followed to the place where the beast had spent the night. The reader will remember that a tremendous rain had fallen during the night. The horse had been shut up in a sort of corral of rails which, however, afforded little shelter.

To describe the puffed-up and vainglorious manner in which Ten Eyck approached the corral, would be in vain. He seemed to grow taller, and his head was thrown back to such a fearful extent that there seemed to be immediate danger of his falling over on his back. Those familiar with the ballad which some years since was the delight of the youngsters of this country and of Merry England, “Lord Bateman,” will remember the engraving representing that individual. Mynheer Ten Eyck, approaching the corral, was his exact representative. Mentally, he was crowing over his enemy at every step. They entered the corral by a bar which was set in holes in two posts, set upright, about eight feet apart. Ten Eyck put up the bar, lest the spirited beast should attempt to escape.

Where was he? There, shivering in one corner of the corral, was a strange animal, without tail or teeth, for he had dropped them both in the night; a hide streaked here and there with marks of the coloring-substance which Boston had used in the metamorphosis; with drooping head and dejected looks generally. Ten Eyck took in all at a glance. Sold! fearfully and irrecoverably by the Yankee, aided and abetted by Paul Swedlepipe!

“Where is your horse?” asked the captain. “Not this, I hope!”

“You have been cheated again,” cried Van Curter.

Ten Eyck glared from side to side for an object upon which to wreak his vengeance. In that unlucky moment Paul, who had heard in some way that Joseph intended to buy the horse, and had followed to see the fun, peeped over the rails. The woebegone face of his enemy met his eye. It was too much. He burst into a stentorian laugh. Ten Eyck turned, wrath blazing from his eyes, and rushed at his foe. Nothing loth, Paul tumbled into the inclosure and met him half-way. At[61] any other time, Ten Eyck would have known better than to peril his fame in open battle. But, the last drop had been put into the pot of his wrath, and it boiled over. They met, like Ajax and Hector, in the center of the list, and great deeds were achieved, whereof Good Hope rung for many a day. As we have said, Paul was short and choleric, and ready for a fray. The strokes of the combatants fell thick and fast. Ten Eyck had armed himself, in hot haste, with the fallen tail of the cause of the quarrel. Paul had caught up a more hurtful weapon, a short cudgel, which he had found outside the corral. At him, Paul! At him, Ten Eyck! Now Hector! Now Ajax! It was the Battle of the Giants. The horse-tail swept the air with a whistling sound and lighted with stinging force upon the face of Paul. The cudgel cracked upon the crown of Ten Eyck, and twice brought him to his knee. The two lookers-on would not interfere, for they knew the quarrel had been fomenting for many years, and they hoped this would decide it.

Holding their sides with laughter, the two soldiers watched while the unequal fight went on—unequal because the weapon of Ten Eyck, beyond maddening Paul to new exertions, did no harm. At last, a well-directed blow brought the tall man to the ground.

As Paul rushed forward, ready, like ancient warriors, to fight for the body of his conquered foe, the captain held him back:

“Enough of this. Away to your duty, Paul. Leave him to us.”

Paul obeyed, and Ten Eyck rose from the ground, a dejected man—a sadly different one from him who had entered the corral. He was humbled in the dust. Not only had he been overreached by his hated foe in the bargain, but he was beaten in open battle. From this day, he dared not meet Paul Swedlepipe. The star of Ten Eyck had set forever!

They left the spot, as the captain did not desire to invest in horse-flesh of that kind. It was in vain that they attempted to console Ten Eyck. His self-respect was gone; he had been betrayed, beaten, sold!

“Cheer up, man, cheer up,” said the captain, slapping him upon the shoulder. “Paul didn’t do it. He never had the[62] head for it at all. It was all the work of that scoundrel, Boston Bainbridge.”

“The lightning blast him!” roared Ten Eyck.

“If I catch that fellow,” said Van Curter, “I will keep my promise to him. I will strap him up to a swaying limb and give him forty stripes save one.”

“I imagine you will have to catch him first,” answered the younger man, setting his teeth hard. “I have to thank him for his interference when I met Barlow in the forest, as well as for the blow which I think came from his hand last night. Barlow is not cool enough to knock a man down who has a sword in his hand. He would have used the steel.”

“Hot blood, hot blood, like your own. How did you miss him, last night?”

“It was dark enough, the only light coming from a taper at the back of my room. No, I do not wonder that I missed him.”

“Where did you send Carl Anselm?”

“I thought I told you. In my Indian-fighting I made the friendship of Wampset, a sachem of the Nipmucks. He gave me a wampum belt, and promised that, if I needed his help, and would send or bring that belt to him, he would come to my aid with all the men at his command.”

“Ah, that is good; where shall we meet them?”

“At the three hills, near Windsor.”

“It is a good place. You must be satisfied with one of my horses.”

“It will do. Let us go in.”
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