Read CHAPTER XLII of Cudjo's Cave , free online book, by J. T. Trowbridge, on ReadCentral.com.

PROMETHEUS UNBOUND.

Five minutes later Penn and Virginia arrived. Penn ran eagerly for his musket. At the same time, looking about the cave, he was surprised to see only the old clergyman sitting by the fire, and Prometheus reclining by his rock.

“Where is Salina? Where is Toby?”

“Toby has just left his charge to see what discovery Salina has made outside. She went out previously and thought she saw soldiers.”

At that moment Toby came running in.

“Dar’s some men way down by the ravine! O, sar! I’s bery glad you’s come, sar!”

Having announced the discovery, and greeted Penn and Virginia, he went to look at his prisoner. He had been absent from him but a minute: he found him lying as he had left him, and did not reflect, simple old soul, how much may be secretly accomplished by a desperate villain in that brief space of time.

Penn took Pomp’s glass, climbed along the rocky shelf, peered over the thickets, and saw on the bank of the ravine, where Salina pointed them out to him, several men. They were some distance below Gad’s Leap (as he named the place where the spy met his death), and seemed to be occupied in extinguishing a fire. He levelled the glass. The recent burning of the trees and undergrowth had cleared the field for its operation. His eye sparkled as he lowered it.

“I recognize one of our friends in a new uniform!” handing the glass to Salina.

Returning to the cave, he added, in Virginias ear,

“Augustus Bythewood!”

The bright young brow contracted: “Not coming here?”

“I trust not. Yet his proximity means mischief. Pomp will be interested!”

He took his torch and gun. There was no time for adieus. In a moment he was gone. There was one who had been waiting with anxious eyes and handcuffed hands to see him go.

Meanwhile Mr. Villars had called Toby to him, and said, in a low voice,

“Is all right with your prisoner?”

“O, yes; he am bery quiet, ’pears like.”

“You must look out for him. He is crafty. I feel that all is not right. When you were out, I thought I heard something like the sawing or tearing of a cord. Look to him, Toby.”

“O, yes, sar, I shall!” And the confident old negro approached the rock.

There lay the rope about the base of it, still firmly tied on the side opposite the prisoner. And there crouched he, in the same posture of durance as before, except that now he had his legs well under him. His handcuffed hands lay on the rope.

“Right glad ter see ye convanescent, sar!”

Toby was bending over, examining his captive with a grin of satisfaction; when the latter, in a weak voice, made a humble request.

“I wish you would put on my cap.”

“Wiv all de pleasure in de wuld, sar.”

The cap had been thrown off purposely. Unsuspecting old Toby! The pistol was in his pocket. He stooped to pick up the cap and place it on Sprowl’s head; when, like a jumping devil in a box when the cover is touched, up leaped Lysander on his legs, knocking him down with the handcuffs, and springing over him.

Before the old man was fully aware of what had happened, and long before he had regained his feet, Lysander was in the thickets. In his hurry he thrust his wife remorselessly from the ledge before him, and flung her rudely down upon the sharp boughs and stones, as he sped by her. There Toby found her, when he came too late with his pistol. Her hands were cut; but she did not care for her hands. Ingratitude wounds more cruelly than sharp-edged rocks.

Penn had judged correctly in two particulars. Deslow had turned traitor. And the personage in the new uniform down by the ravine was Lieutenant-Colonel Bythewood.

Deslow had gone straight to head-quarters after quitting Withers the previous night, given himself up, taken the oath of allegiance to the confederacy, and engaged to join the army or provide a substitute. As if this were not enough, he had also been required to expose the secret retreat of his late companions. To this, we know not whether reluctantly, he had consented; and it was this act of treachery that had brought Silas Ropes to the sink, and Bythewood to the ravine.

Advantage had been taken of the fog in the morning to march back again, up the mountain, the men who had marched down, baffled and inglorious, after the wild-goose chase Carl led them the night before. Bythewood commanded the expedition at his own request, being particularly interested in two persons it was designed to capture Virginia and Pomp. It is supposed that he took a sinister interest in Penn also.

But Bythewood was not anxious to deprive Ropes of his laurels; and perhaps he felt himself to be too fine a gentleman to mix in a vulgar fight. He accordingly sent Ropes forward to surprise the patriots at the sink, while he moved with a small force cautiously up towards Gad’s Leap, with two objects in view. One was, to make some discovery, if possible, with regard to the missing Lysander; the other, to intercept the retreat of the fugitives, should they be driven from the cave through the opening unknown to Deslow, but which he believed to be in this direction.

The firing on the right apprised Augustus that the attack had commenced. This was the signal for him to advance boldly up from the ravine, and establish himself on an elevation commanding a view of the slopes. Here he had been discovered very opportunely by Salina, who was seeking some pretext for calling Toby from his prisoner. In the shade of some bushes that had escaped the fire, he sat comfortably smoking his cigar on one end of a log, which was smoking on its own account at the other end.

“Put out that fire, some of you,” said Augustus.

This was scarcely done, when suddenly a man came leaping down the slope, holding his hands together in a very singular manner. Bythewood started to his feet.

“Deuce take me!” said he, “if it ain’t Lysander! But what’s the matter with his hands, sergeant?”

“Looks to me as though he had bracelets on,” replied the experienced sergeant.

Some men were despatched to meet and bring the captain in. The sergeant found a key in his pocket to unlock the handcuffs. Then Lysander told the story of his capture, which, though modified to suit himself, excited Bythewood’s derision. This stung the proud captain, who, to wash the stain from his honor, proposed to take a squad of men and surprise the cave.

Fired by the prospect of seeing Virginia in his power, Augustus had but one important order to give: “Bring your prisoners to me here!”

Instead of proceeding directly to the cave, Lysander used strategy. He knew that if his movements were observed, and their object suspected, Virginia would have ample time to escape with her father and old Toby into the interior caverns, where it might be extremely difficult to discover them. He accordingly started in the direction of the sink, as if with intent to reenforce the soldiers fighting there; then, dropping suddenly into a hollow, he made a short turn to the left, and advanced swiftly, under cover of rocks and bushes, towards the ledge that concealed the cave.

“How could you let him go, Toby!” cried Virginia, filled with consternation at the prisoner’s escape. For she saw all the mischievous consequences that were likely to follow in the track of that fatal error: Cudjo’s secret, so long faithfully kept, now in evil hour betrayed; the cave attacked and captured, and the brave men fighting at the sink, believing their retreat secure, taken suddenly in the rear; and so disaster, if not death, resulting to her father, to Penn, to all.

The anguish of her tones pierced the poor old negro’s soul.

“Dunno’, missis, no more’n you do! ’Pears like he done gnawed off de rope wiv his teef!” For Lysander, having used the knife, had hidden it under the skins on which he sat.

Then Salina spoke, and denounced herself. After all the pains she had taken to conceal her agency in Sprowl’s escape, inconsistent, impetuous, filled with rage against herself and him, she exclaimed,

“I did it! Here is the knife I gave him!”

Virginia stood white and dumb, looking at her sister. Toby could only tear his old white wool and groan.

“Salina,” said her father, solemnly, “you have done a very treacherous and wicked thing! I pity you!”

Severest reproaches could not have stung her as these words, and the terrified look of her sister, stung the proud and sensitive Salina.

“I have done a damnable thing! I know it. Do you ask what made me? The devil made me. I knew it was the devil at the time; but I did it.”

“O, what shall we do, father?” said Virginia.

“There is nothing you can do, my daughter, unless you can reach our friends and warn them.”

“O,” she said, in despair, “there is not a lamp or a torch! All have been taken!”

“And it is well! It would take you at least an hour to go and return; and that man ” Mr. Villars would never, if he could help it, speak Lysander’s name “will be here again before that time, if he is coming.”

“He is not coming,” said Salina. “He swore to me that he would not take advantage of his escape to betray or injure any of you. He will keep his oath. If he does not

She paused. There was a long, painful silence; the old man musing, Virginia wringing her hands, Toby keeping watch outside.

“Listen!” said Salina. “I am a woman. But I will defend this place. I will stand there, and not a man shall enter till I am dead. As for you, Jinny, take him, and go. You can hide somewhere in the caves. Leave me and Toby. I will not ask you to forgive me; but perhaps some time you will think differently of me from what you do now.”

“Sister!” said Virginia, with emotion, “I do forgive you! God will forgive you too; for he knows better than we do how unhappy you have been, and that you could not, perhaps, have done differently from what you have done.”

Salina was touched. She threw her arms about Virginia’s neck.

“O, I have been a bad, selfish girl! I have made both you and father very unhappy; and you have been only too kind to me always! Now leave me alone go! I hope I shall not trouble you much longer.”

She brushed back her hair from her large white forehead, and smiled a strange and vacant smile. Virginia saw that her wish was to die.

“Sister,” she said gently, “we will all stay together, if you stay. We must not give up this place! Our friends are lost we are lost if we give it up! Perhaps we can do something. Indeed, I think we can! If we only had arms! Women have used arms before now!”

Toby entered. “Dey ain’t comin’ dis yer way, nohow! Dey’s gwine off to de norf, hull passel on ’em.”

“Give me that pistol, Toby,” said Salina. “You can use Cudjo’s axe, if we are attacked. Place it where you can reach it, and then return to your lookout. Don’t be deceived; but warn us at once if there is danger.”

“My children,” said the old man, “come near to me! I would I could look upon you once; for I feel that a separation is near. Dear daughters!” he took a hand of each, “if I am to leave you, grieve not for me; but love one another. Love one another. To you, Salina, more especially, I say this; for though I know that deep down in your heart there is a fountain of affection, you are apt to repress your best feelings, and to cherish uncharitable thoughts. For your own good, O, do not do so any more! Believe in God. Be a child of God. Then no misfortune can happen to you. My children, there is no great misfortune, other than this to lose our faith in God, and our love for one another. I do not fear bodily harm, for that is comparatively nothing. For many years I have been blind; yet have I been blest with sight; for night and day I have seen God. And as there is a more precious sight than that of the eyes, so there is a more precious life than this of the body. The life of the spirit is love and faith. Let me know that you have this, and I shall no longer fear for you. You will be happy, wherever you are. Why is it I feel such trust that Virginia will be provided for? Salina, let your heart be like hers, and I shall no longer fear for you!”

“I wish it was! I wish it was!” said Salina, pouring out the anguish of her heart in those words. “But I cannot make it so. I cannot be good! I am Salina! Is there fatality in a name?”

“I know the infirmity of your natural disposition, my child. I know, too, what circumstances have done to embitter it. Our heavenly Father will take all that into account. Yet there is no one who has not within himself faults and temptations to contend with. Many have far greater than yours to combat, and yet they conquer gloriously. I cannot say more. My children, the hour has come which is to decide much for us all. Remember my legacy to you, Have Faith and Love.”

They knelt before him. He laid his hands upon their heads, and in a brief and fervent prayer blessed them. Both were sobbing. Tears ran down his cheeks also; but his countenance was bright in its uplifted serenity, wearing a strange expression of grandeur and of joy.