A Blow In The Dark
: ON AND NEAR THE DELAWARE
: Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land
The Tory Manheim sits brooding in his farmhouse near Valley Forge, and
his daughter, with a hectic flush on her cheek, looks out into the
twilight at the falling snow. She is worn and ill; she has brought on a
fever by exposure incurred that very day in a secret journey to the
American camp, made to warn her lover of another attempt on the life of
Washington, who must pass her father's house on his return from a distant
settlement. The Tory knows nothing of this; but he starts whenever the
men in the next room rattle the dice or break into a ribald song, and a
frown of apprehension crosses his face as the foragers crunch by,
half-barefoot, through the snow. The hours go on, and the noise in the
next room increases; but it hushes suddenly when a knock at the door is
heard. The Tory opens it, and trembles as a tall, grave man, with the
figure of an athlete, steps into the fire-light and calmly removes his
gloves. I have been riding far, said he. Can you give me some food and
the chance to sleep for an hour, until the storm clears up?
Manheim says that he can, and shuffling into the next room, he whispers,
Washington! The girl is sent out to get refreshments. It is in vain
that she seeks to sign or speak to the man who sits there so calmly
before the fire, for her father is never out of sight or hearing. After
Washington has finished his modest repast he asks to be left to himself
for a while, but the girl is told to conduct him to the room on the left
of the landing on the next floor.
Her father holds the candle at the foot of the stairs until he sees his
guest enter; then he bids his daughter go to her own bed, which is in the
chamber on the right of the landing. There is busy whispering in the room
below after that, and the dice box is shaken to see to whose lot it shall
fall to steal up those stairs and stab Washington in his sleep. An hour
passes and all in the house appear to be at rest, but the stairs creak
slightly as Manheim creeps upon his prey. He blows his candle out and
softly enters the chamber on the left. The men, who listen in the dark at
the foot of the stair, hear a moan, and the Tory hurries back with a
shout of gladness, for the rebel chief is no more and Howe's reward will
enrich them for life.
Glasses are filled, and in the midst of the rejoicing a step is heard on
the stair. Washington stands before them. In calm, deep tones he thanks
the farmer for his shelter, and asks that his horse be brought to the
door and his reckoning be made out. The Tory stares as one bereft. Then
he rushes aloft, flings open the door of the room on the left, and gazes
at the face that rests on the pillow,--a pillow that is dabbled with red.
The face is that of his daughter. The name of father is one that he will
never hear again in this world. The candle falls from his hand; he sinks
to the floor; be his sin forgiven! Outside is heard the tramp of a horse.
It is that of Washington, who rides away, ignorant of the peril he has
passed and the sacrifice that averted it.