Read CHAPTER XI - THE COUNCIL OF SAFETY of The Tory Maid , free online book, by Herbert Baird Stimpson, on ReadCentral.com.

The sun had risen when we came once more in view of the groves of Fairlee. Toby’s pace had degenerated into a walk, as if not to disturb the fair burden he bore, for she, overcome with fatigue and excitement, was quietly sleeping with her head on my shoulder. Toby picked his way like a dancing-master, and though the road was rough, never once did he stumble; he still bore himself gallantly for the old House of Fairlee. Ah! Toby, that road was miles too short for your master. Willingly would he have ridden thus, aye, until his hair had turned as white as snow on his brows, until the hand that guided the reins became too feeble to grasp them; aye, even unto the end of time.

But before us lay Fairlee, and beyond that lay duty and the army. “Look once more, my cavalier,” said I to myself; “look once more, for the moments are short, and in the days to come, in the dreary bivouacs and on the long marches, when the world seems bare and cold, the memory of that sweet face will brighten up with sunshine your existence and make it all glorious again. Oh, hang it, here is Fairlee!”

“Mistress Jean,” I whispered. I was loath to wake her, but it had to be done. “Mistress Jean!” I said, this time louder, and she awoke with a start. “This is Fairlee, and you can rest here with my mother, while I push on.”

“Fairlee? Why, where am I? Oh, I remember now. Did I go to sleep, Mr. Frisby?”

“You did, Mistress Jean.”

A quick, blush came.

“Oh,” she said, “how can I thank you? I don’t deserve ”

“Ah, Mistress Jean, it is I who do not deserve that pleasure. I would go through a hundred fights to be able to do it again; but you are tired, and I will rouse the house.”

So, hammering on the door, I soon brought John Cotton to it. His woolly hair almost went straight on seeing me, and he started back, for he thought he saw my ghost.

“Good Lord, Mars Jim,” he stammered, “does that be you?”

“Yes, you black scamp.” And I soon convinced him of my real personality.

“But, Mars Jim, who is dat you got wid you? It ain’t one of dem Yankee ladies, is it?” For, I am sorry to say, John Cotton did not approve of the ladies in question, and was afraid I would “disgrace de family” if I married one of them. Before I could answer I heard a glad little cry, and there was my mother, coming down the stairway of the great hall.

“How is my little lady?” said I, as I picked her up and kissed her, and then I introduced Mistress Jean to her and told her of our adventure at the Braes.

Then my mother went up to her, in her stately little way, and took her hands in hers, and kissed and welcomed her to the House of Fairlee.

So they made friends with each other then and there, as women do, and my mother led her away, up the broad stairs, and I stood looking after them. Then I turned to my own room, and, throwing myself on the bed, I slept the sleep of exhaustion for many hours.

When the hour of my awakening came I sprang up, for there lay the despatch which I was to bear to the Council of Safety.

Drawing on my riding-boots and buckling on my sword, I called John Cotton to bring my horse to the door, for several miles lay between Fairlee and Rock Hall, where the boat lay to take me to Annapolis.

I walked across to the hall and on to the old porch, where I saw Mistress Jean standing, gazing wistfully out on the broad bay.

“He is safe now, Mistress Jean.”

“Yes,” she said with a sad smile, “but when shall I ever see him again?”

“Just as soon as we whip them,” I replied.

“Then it will never be,” came her retort.

“Oh, ho! What will your uncle, Captain Nicholson, say when he finds he has such a fiery little Tory in his house? He will have to give up chasing the redcoats to suppress the Goddess of Sedition in his own camp.”

But at this Mistress Jean gave her head a toss and walked away to the end of the porch.

Then John Cotton brought the horse to the steps.

“Are you going so soon, Mr. Frisby?”

“I must,” I answered; “I am a bearer of despatches to the Council of Safety. I would gladly desert my trust to be your escort to Chestertown, but ”

“The honour of the House of Fairlee stands in the way,” said she mockingly.

“Not that, my lady,” I replied, bowing courteously, “but the fact that I would fall even lower in your good graces.”

“Well said, cavalier,” she retorted, with a sweeping courtesy. “’Tis a pity that so fine a gentleman should be a rebel.”

“Or so fair a maid a Tory.”

“Is this a minuet?” came the laughing voice of my mother from the door.

“Nay, mother, I am only bidding Mistress Jean good-bye with all due ceremony.”

A few moments later I was in the saddle, trotting slowly off, while behind me fluttered their handkerchiefs, waving good-bye.

Rock Hall lies on a bluff, looking out across the bay. To the southward lies the Isle of Kent, with its fertile fields of waving grain, and off there on the horizon the greenish ribbon near the sky line tells where the hills of Anne Arundel lay.

Down below, under the bluff, lay a long, slender boat, shaped like a canoe, but much larger, stouter, stronger, and far swifter, when the wind filled its sails and carried it like a bird skimming over the waters.

“An English man-of-war is lying off the Isle of Kent now,” said the old waterman in answer to my question, “but we can walk all around her in this boat.”

“Then we will start immediately,” I replied, and placing my things on board we were soon under way.

The wind caught our sails; we stood out into the bay gloriously, and she fairly flew through the water. As we rounded the Isle of Kent we saw, lying almost in our track, the English man-of-war, lazily rolling with the tide.

Then there was a great bustle on board, and the sailors flew to the rigging, the sails filled with the wind, and through the port hole was run the ugly muzzle of a Long Tom. The waterman with me laughed merrily.

“They think they can stop us,” said he, but he never altered his course.

So we bore down on her until there came a flash; a cannon ball came ricochetting across the water, but fell short by a hundred yards.

The waterman chuckled. “That is about the right distance,” said he; and the boat answering the helm, fairly danced around his Majesty’s representative, always, by a saving grace, just beyond cannon shot.

And when his Majesty’s ship actually gave chase and sent a broadside after our impertinent piece of baggage the waterman fairly danced with delight and led her a merry chase down the bay until we were opposite Annapolis. Then with a flirt of her sail we bade them good-bye and ran for the mouth of the Severn. Gaining that, we soon passed the charred hulk of the Peggy Stewart and ran up beside the wharf, and I found myself walking the streets of that gay little capital.

It was growing somewhat late, but I made my way at once to the State House, where the Convention of the Freemen of the Province sat, hoping still to find them at their deliberations. I paused for the moment when I came to the foot of the knoll on which the State House stands, for it had only recently been completed, and was the noblest building in America. Its massive proportions towered high above me, overawing the town at its feet, and commanding the country for miles around. But it was not a time for halting. Hurrying up the long flights of steps, I found myself in the great lobby, with its lofty ceilings and its air of vastness.

The Convention had adjourned but a short time before, and the lobby was still filled with men. As I threaded my way through them my dusty uniform and muddy boots marked me out as a bearer of despatches.

“News from the army victory or defeat?” cried eager voices around me. Answer them I would not, but hurried on to the room where sat the Council of Safety, who held the fate and the fortunes of the province in its hand and was the heart and soul of the great revolt.

An usher stood at the door, but, seeing my uniform, threw it wide open, and, as I entered, softly swung it to behind me. It was a lofty room in which I found myself, with immense windows looking out over the town and the sweep of the waters of the bay to the distant line of the eastern shore. A long, broad table extended down the centre of the room. Around it were seated some sixteen or eighteen gentlemen. Staid men and grave they were, past the middle age of life, for the younger men had gone to fight the battles of the republic; men who were fitted by experience to guide the province through the stormy scenes of the civil war.

At their head sat a venerable gentleman whom I knew to be Matthew Tilghman, the patriarch of the Colony. At his right hand sat a man of sturdy build, ruddy countenance, and dark hair and eyes, more like a prosperous planter with many acres and numerous slaves than the man who was soon to become the Great War Governor of Maryland. All down the table on either side sat men with strong, determined faces, whose names bespoke the chieftainship of many a powerful family. A movement of interest ran down the table as I entered and delivered to the venerable Chairman the despatch. He broke the seal with nervous fingers, and then rising, read General Washington’s despatch aloud amid intense interest.

“Battle,” “defeat,” “rout,” “Cortelyou House,” “the Maryland Line.” “Good, I see the boys did their duty,” were among the many exclamations I heard around the table and when the despatch ended.

“The bearer will describe the battle.”

They all turned to me, and Thomas Johnson said: “Come, young gentleman, tell us everything you saw and heard.”

So I took my place by the Chairman and told them of what I had seen and done, amid many interruptions and eager questions from the Council.

Thus for a time, as I stood there, I became a man of importance, telling the tale of the battle, of the defeat and the rout, of the fiery charges, the death, the pain and the anguish of it all, until long after the night had fallen. But an end comes to all things, and Thomas Johnson, laying his hand on my shoulder, said:

“Young gentleman, you must stay with me to-night.”

I accepted gladly, for the inns were crowded, and it was somewhat late in the evening to find a friend to take me in. We strolled across the State House grounds under the soft September skies, through the wide, dusty streets, until we came to the future Governor’s house. Though it was late, we talked for yet another hour, and then, with a cheery good-night, I was shown to my room.