Read CHAPTER XXVI of Rodney‚ the Ranger With Daniel Morgan on Trail and Battlefield , free online book, by John V. Lane, on ReadCentral.com.

TRICKED, AND BY HIS FRIEND

Burgoyne, on meeting Colonel Morgan after the surrender, had said to him: “Sir, you command the finest regiment in the world.”

“A feller with ornary jedgment mought reach that ar conclusion with half the experience,” remarked a lank old rifleman, whose peculiar gait had given him the name of “Lopin’ Luther.” Nevertheless, the compliment greatly pleased the Rangers. It could not, however, remedy the injustice done Morgan and his corps by Gates in not making favourable mention of them because the “old wagoner” so sturdily refused to participate in Gates’ scheme to supplant Washington.

“Nawthin’ ter do but keep at it; sun’ll be shinin’ bimeby,” was the terse comment of one of the Rangers, and his was the philosophy which prevailed.

Rodney thought of the Indian saying: “My foot is on the path and the word is onward,” when, on the first of November, orders came to join Washington’s army.

“Now we’ll be under a general as will play fair,” was the way one rifleman expressed the general sentiment, and they set out on their journey, war-worn and ragged and weary with the arduous campaigning of the previous months.

As they marched away, one of the number sang to improvised music those stirring words written by the Reverend Timothy Dwight, one of the army chaplains:

“Columbia, Columbia, to glory arise,
The queen of the world, and the child of the skies.”

Sorry looking Rangers were they when they arrived at Washington’s headquarters; shoes worn out, clothes in tatters. There they found a dwindling army. The battles of the Brandywine and Germantown had been fought in their absence, and the British were in Philadelphia, planning for a hilarious winter. What remained of the American army must exist outside in the cold of a bitter winter and do what they might to keep the enemy where it was and cut off its supplies whenever possible. Those of the Rangers who had suitable clothing were immediately assigned to duty. At Gloucester Point they bore themselves so creditably that Lafayette said of them: “I never saw men so merry, so spirited and so desirous to go on to the enemy....”

Later, at Chestnut Hill, their unerring rifles did such execution that Howe’s soldiers bore a sorry burden back to Philadelphia. There were sad gaps, as well, in the ranks of the Rangers, and among those fatally wounded was the gallant Morris who had charged the line at Bemis Heights.

As usual, the Rangers were assigned to outpost duty and scouting. Owing to need of secrecy, many a bitter winter night was passed by Rangers in this work without a camp-fire. These were wretched weeks for Rodney Allison; and there were moments when they seemed worse than the days of his captivity among the Indians. Then he would be reminded that Morgan’s men were noted as well for endurance and fortitude as for courage and skill. It should not be said that the son of David Allison flinched or shirked a duty!

At the close of one cold, gray day spent on guard the officer in charge of the guard said to Rodney: “Can ye keep awake all night? I needn’t ask ye though; ye’ve got to, fer thar be no men left to do the job.”

“I’ll try. What is it?”

“This mornin’ one of our scouts saw a British officer ride to a house ‘bout half a mile from here. We sent three Rangers down thar an’ hunted high an’ low, but hide nor hair could they find. I ’low he’s thar an’ to-night he’ll try to git ter Philadelphy. You got ter go down thar an’ stop him. If a word won’t do, try a bullet.”

It was a dismal prospect. The wind was cutting, and Rodney’s clothes were worn thin. The weather was almost too cold for snow, but by night it fell in fine, stinging particles. Out on the road young Allison tramped to and fro to keep warm, occasionally stopping to thresh his arms. Late in the evening he saw someone go to the stable, and soon after a double team was driven out. The door of the house opened and a woman came out and entered the carriage. There were good-byes spoken in loud tones with no apparent attempt at concealment. Rodney was no coward, but in his heart he was glad that, instead of two men, he had only one and a woman to deal with. The woman might scream but probably wouldn’t shoot.

The driver cracked his whip and the team came down the road at a rattling pace.

“Halt!”

The word rang sharply on the ears of the driver, a black man, and he quickly brought his horses to a standstill.

“Drive back. My orders are to allow no one to leave that house.”

“You surely aren’t making war on women,” said the girl, opening the door of her carriage, and her voice sounded strangely familiar.

“I am making war on no one who obeys orders,” he replied, his rifle levelled at the driver.

“Is that you, Rodney Allison? It is!” Then she laughed, such a merry, rollicking laugh, which the next instant gave place to indignation, as she exclaimed: “You ought to be ashamed of yourself. What have I done that I should not be permitted to return to Philadelphia? Am I the man your backwoodsmen searched the house for, do you think? Black Pete does not greatly resemble any British officer I ever saw,” and then she laughed again. “And I’m not forage, am I? And there’s not a soul but me in this carriage; look for yourself. There, now tell Pete to drive on, please. After all, I’m glad to see you. And send my love to your mother and Naomi, won’t you.”

Rodney hesitated. She was the same imperious, winsome girl who had been his favourite playmate. No, there was no one inside the carriage; he was sure of that. How the men would laugh at him for capturing a negro and a girl! He felt like a ninny and afraid he might look like one.

“Drive on,” he said with all the importance he could command, adding: “I am sorry to delay you, but must obey orders.”

“Good night,” she called back as she rode away. The coachman was plying the whip, and there was a note of triumph in her voice that somehow jarred on Rodney’s nerves.

As he paced back and forth the conviction that he had made a grave mistake grew upon him, though for his life he could not be sure why it might be a mistake. Why need he say anything about the affair? The men would only joke him. Yes, he would tell the whole story and take the responsibility.

“Did ye inspect the inside o’ the nigger as well as the carriage?” was the question sharply asked him by the officer the following day, when it was found that the officer’s horse was gone from the stable, and that every slave on the place had run away the day before, just after the search of the house.

Assuming the disguise of a black menial was the last thing he would have suspected a haughty British officer to do!

Oh, but the disappointment was a bitter one! He had expected promotion. Certainly he had earned it. Now, that hope was gone. His blunder was the jest of his comrades, who would call after him: “Nigger in the woodpile, nigger on the box.”

Morgan, troubled with rheumatism, had gone to his home in Winchester for the winter. The army was half starved and poorly clothed, and to make matters worse, it was generally understood that these hardships were due to corruption and incompetency; for there were some in authority, in those days, who were greedy, dishonest and hard-hearted.

Young Allison had occasion to visit the camp at Valley Forge and the sights he saw there never left his memory. Wretchedness and misery were on every side. How did Washington, knowing as he must that these conditions were unnecessary under proper management, how could he hope ever to save the country?

Who was that haggard fellow with bare feet wrapped in rags and little but an old horse blanket to keep out the wintry wind? Angus? Yes, no doubt of it!

“Hi, Rod! Say, you fellers as hev breeches ought ter bring us in a bite ter eat. What’s the good o’ your foragin’ if yer don’t?”

“I haven’t had a mouthful since last night, myself. How are you, anyway? I don’t see how you men can stay here and bear it.”

“Many of us wouldn’t if we’d the duds ter git away in. It’s a hard road ter Charlottesville fer bare feet.”

“I’m beginning to feel like taking it. When we drive the British out of the Quaker City then we’ll apply for a furlough, eh, Angus?”

“I’d go this minute if I could.”

“I doubt it, Angus. You always were a tenacious fellow.”

“What’s the good o’ stayin’ when Congress won’t provide board an’ clothes? They sure are a shiftless lot.”

“They might easily be improved, it would seem, but we’ve gone too far in this war to turn back now.”

“Starvin’ an’ freezin’ ain’t goin’ ter help ther cause none.”

“Spring will soon be here and we’ll feel better, I hope.”

Spring was approaching, and never again was the American army to suffer as it did that winter at Valley Forge. Those who endured, and lived through it, won such glory as few men achieve.

Colonel Morgan rejoined his command in the spring. The enemy were beginning to show signs of animation. Rumours were about that Howe intended to leave Philadelphia, and then another to the effect that he was to be recalled.

One day a company of Rangers was sent to support Lafayette at Barren Hill, Rodney among the number. Two British generals were marching their men by different routes from Philadelphia to capture the distinguished Frenchman and his command.

“Here,” thought young Allison, “is my chance,” and he set his face, which had noticeably hardened during the cruel winter. No more would it look with favour on the flattering smiles of a girl; at least Rodney had so resolved.

When the charge was made in characteristic Ranger manner, Allison was in the front line and was the last to turn back, though there were several bullet holes in his clothes. Another charge, and again he was in the lead. A big redcoat was upon him before he could reload. He clubbed his rifle, knocked aside the bayonet thrust and felled his antagonist. Then, when he turned to retreat, it was too late; a flanking party was at his back, and, with several other prisoners, he was driven off to Philadelphia.

Into the Provost Prison on Walnut Street he was huddled along with others. Oh, the squalor of it! The air was foul, the food poor, and the officer in charge, Captain Cunningham, a brutal man, inflamed with drink most of the time.

How his head ached the following morning! At first he attributed it to the foul air, but surely that could not cause every bone in his body to ache, nor the parched, feverish condition of his mouth. Was he, after so long escaping the hazards of camp and battle, to die in a hole like that old prison? That had been the fate of many a man.

“Hello, Allison. I’m glad, yet sorry, to find you here.”

Rodney looked up. They had just brought in Lawrence Enderwood. For a few minutes, in the pleasure of companionship, the lad forgot the fever pains, but they would not be forgotten for long.

Enderwood entreated Cunningham to send a doctor, but was gruffly told to mind his business. The next morning Rodney was delirious.