Imágenes de páginas

go to-day." Catherine spoke this, frequently pausing for breath. When she ceased


Some of her 'lations gwine to be hung, an' she gwine to see President Madison to get him off. May depen' that's it," whispered one farm-labourer to another.

"Can you let me have a horse to take me there to-day? I will pay twice-ten times its value," said Catherine, raising her heavy eyelids to the old farmer's kind face.

Lady, I'll let you have another horse in two hours from this, on condition that you go in to my old woman and take some refreshment, and lie down to rest for that time; and not a minute sooner, and not on any other terms whatsoever, even if it was your father was going to be hanged, would I let you have a horse; because I see very clearly that, unless you take some rest, you will drop down dead before you get a mile farther on your road.”

thank you very much; I will rest.

"It is true-it is the voice of Providence, I think. I Please take care of my

poor pony."

"He shall be looked after, lady. Take my arm." And the worthy farmer drew Catherine's arm within his own, and carefully and respectfully supported her to the house, where he gave her into the charge of his wife, saying, "Here, wait upon this lady, honey; be a mother to her, honey, for she's sorrowfully in want of one.

The farmer's wife placed her in a stuffed chair, drew off her gloves, untied her hat and removed it, unfastened her spencer, and asked her if she would have breakfast, which was just ready to go on the table.


No, thank you. You are very kind. The Lord reward you. But-rest, I want only rest," said Catherine, ready to swoon, for the sense of fatigue was growing upon her.

'Yes, rest; that's all she wants, or, rather, that's the most she wants now. Put her to bed; let her sleep for two hours, and have a cup of strong coffee and a broiled chicken ready for her when she wakes-that will set her up again, and help her to reach her journey's end," said the kindhearted man.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Supported by the farmer's wife, Catherine was guided up the stairs to a cool and quiet room, where she dropped upon the bed. No sooner had her head touched the pillow than the room, the white-washed wall, blue window-curtains, the

evergreens in the whitened fire-place, the picture of the Annunciation over the mantelpiece-all reeled around her senses as a vision, and wheeled off, carrying with them the outside world, and all consciousness of being.

To her, existence was blotted out for two hours.

"Wake up, lady! wake up! your breakfast is ready, and so is your horse!"

Catherine started up at the voice of her landlady, and gazed around, bewildered; then memory flashed upon her, and she sprang to her feet, and began hastily and nervously to fasten her habit.

"Here is water, lady, and napkins; and is there anything else I can bring you



No, thank you; you are very good." "How do you find yourself?"

"Better, I think. How long have I slept ?"

"Just two hours. I wished to let you lie longer, but my dear old fellow insisted on keeping his word with you."

"I'm glad he did; it was very needful; but you are kind, and I thank you."

Catherine bathed her head and face, and the good hostess combed and arranged her hair, and fastened her habit and took her down stairs, where a comfortable breakfast awaited her. It was yet but seven o'clock, and the farmer assured her that she had time enough to reach Washington by nightfall, and that she would be far better able to do it from having had this rest. She hastily swallowed a few mouthfuls of food, drank a cup of strong coffee, that gave her a sort of fictitious strength, and then rose from the table, and quickly prepared to resume her journey. The good woman followed her with many kind wishes, and the good man set her in her saddle, and, while adjusting her comfortably, gave directions about the nearest way to W- the next considerable town upon the road; then he gave her the reins and prayed God to bless her. She thanked her kind host earnestly again, put whip to her horse and galloped away, leaving her valuable pony in pledge.


The farmhouse, with its garden, orchard, and vineyard, barns, wheat-stack, and stubble-fields, vanished behind her flying steed. The country was now open, and she flew on and on before the wind; and now she had entered the forest, and she hurried through its deep shadows, flecked with golden

sun-glances. When she emerged again, and found herself in the open meadows, it was high noon, and the August sun was pouring down his burning rays with intolerable power; but on and on she rode, unconscious of suffering in herself, and unheedful of the fatigue of her panting and perspiring steed.

It was two hours past noon when she reached the town of W- ; and at the very first inn on the suburbs her horse stopped of his own will, nor could she, with all her efforts, persuade or force him to budge a step. A boy, a coloured woman, and then the landlord, his wife, and all the children, came out to see a lady riding, unattended, who could not make her horse go.

"He wants food and drink, I suppose," said Catherine to the landlord, who at last came to offer her aid; and then she alighted, and, requesting the host to have the animal attended very quickly, followed the landlady, who conducted her into the rustic parlour. She was now so fatigued and stiffened that the act of standing or walking was really painful, so she sank down upon the lounge, and, declining all the landlady's offers of refreshment, waited a weary halfhour, while her horse was feeding; at the end of that time, she mounted again and resumed her journey. She passed through the town, and over the wooded hills that environed it on the east, and came down upon the plains. The heat of the afternoon was of that close, breathless, insufferable kind that always forbodes an awful storm. The sense of suffering was beginning to force itself upon her; and as for the animal she rode, she could not, by any means, coax or drive him beyond a walk. Then her mind became again anxiously concentrated upon the end of her journey, to the total exclusion of all other thought, and all sense. It was in this state that she arrived at the foot of a steep hill, covered with copsewood, ascended its top, descended the other side, and reached a small river at its foot. She drew up her feet, doubled her riding-skirt up over the horse's shoulders, and guided him into the ford; and with the water splashing around, and rising even to the animal's neck, she crossed the river so mechanically, so unconsciously, that had people asked her thereafter whether she had forded a stream in her journey, she could not have told them.

The sun was declining to his setting, and the sky was

heavy with clouds, while still the air was close, sultry, stifling, and oppressive. Everything indicated the approach before long of a tremendous tornado. The shades of evening were falling thickly around her when she was passing through the dense, low-lying forest south-west of Washington. When she emerged from its deep obscurity and came out into the open country, an alarming phenomenon arrested her attention; the eastern horizon was luridly lighted by a low, dull, red glow, like the earliest dawn of a wintry morning. Her road led directly towards this murky light, and her eyes were fascinated to it. As she rode and gazed, the blood-tinged illumination seemed to glow and brighten on her vision, and presently after began to send up meteoric streams of fire towards the clouds. As the distance lessened between herself and the awful conflagration, it began to illumine her path more and more distinctly and fearfully, until every object for miles around was plainly visible in the lurid glare; and then at last Catherine recognised it for a burning city-the city of Washington wrapped in flames!

On descending the road towards the Potomac, a scene difficult to describe met her view: all up and down the river and on either shore were seen in the red glare multitudes of fugitives-some seeking to cross, some in boats on the water, and some landed and hurrying in disorder up the country. Soon after this, she met great numbers of terrified women and children, flying from their desolated homes. The greatest possible consternation and confusion prevailed among these panic-stricken fugitives. The most terrific reports were rifethat the enemy were in hot pursuit-that the slaves had been incited to revolt, and, mad with emancipation and drunk with all manner of licentious excess, were perpetrating more horrible and revolting atrocities than those which at Hampton, the year before, steeped the country in blood and shame.

Rendered by despair senseless as the dead to all these dangers, Catherine laboriously pushed and threaded her way down the road, blocked up with horses, carriages, foot-passengers, baggage-waggons, cattle, and all the miscellaneous emptyings of a hastily and fearfully evacuated city. As she drew near the Long Bridge, she heard by the frightened talk of the flying multitude that the end of the bridge on the Virginia side had been burned to prevent, or at least delay, the pursuit of the enemy. She then turned her horse's head


the course of the river, with the intention of crossing by the Georgetown Ferry. She had no trouble in picking her way through the thicket under the hills that bordered the Potomac from this point; for every minutest object on the way was made painfully distinct by the light of the burning city. When nearly opposite Georgetown, she descried the ferry-boat put off from the other shore, and propelled rapidly across the river. She stopped her horse, intending to wait

and return with it. In less than five minutes it touched the beach, and a carriage with a small party of ladies, escorted by a guard of nine cavalry volunteers, landed.


In the hurried consultation that ensued among them, Catherine learned that the party consisted of Mrs. Madison and her friends and attendants, flying from the burning presidential mansion. When they had turned their horses' heads up the river road, Catherine rode down to the boat, and addressed herself to the ferryman, asking to be taken The man looked at her in astonishment, and, when he saw that she was in earnest, advised her strongly against the trip, telling her that she had best turn rein and ride as fast and as far as possible in the opposite direction-that every one had fled or was flying from Washington-that the city was in the undisputed possession of the enemy, who were demolishing, burning, and laying waste the metropolis at pleasure. There was no need to tell that the fact was awfully visible by the light of the great conflagration. But Catherine still persisted in her purpose, replying to his objections that some one whom she did not wish to desert was in the hands of the enemy; and at last prevailed upon him to put her across.

She was landed on the flats west of the city. Here crowds of women and children, pale with terror, and weeping and wailing for their ruined city and lost homes, waited impatiently to be taken across the river, out of the way of more horrible fates, which exaggeration had taught them to dread. Catherine left them hurrying in mad confusion into the boat, while she hastened on to the very scene of peril from which they were flying. She passed swiftly over the low and marshy fields that then lay between the river and the heart of the city, and entered upon Twenty-first Street, above the War Department, and turned into Pennsylvania Avenue.

« AnteriorContinuar »