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- [Sub The Tory's Daughter] - 30/72 -
table, in readiness, on their part, to commence proceedings. That offender was no other than our humble friend, Barty Burt, who had lucklessly fallen into one of the snares which had been set for him and his suspected companions, round the country, in consequence of the part they had acted in spiriting away, in so strange a manner, Woodburn's cattle, when about to be sold on town meeting day. He and Piper, during the night following that affair, after meeting Dunning at an appointed place, and giving him charge of the cattle, which had been successfully pursued and there collected, to be driven out of that part of the country by the hunter, left town in different directions, to avoid the arrest they anticipated, in case they remained; Piper going down the river in quest of some temporary employment till the storm blew over, and Bart setting off on a fishing excursion to Marlboro' Pond, situated in a then nearly unsettled section, about ten miles to the north. Here Bart had pursued his sport unmolested, many days, occasionally going out to Brattleborough to sell his fish and buy provisions, and considering himself in this secluded situation perfectly safe from any search which might be made for him by the officers of Guilford. But the reward offered by the constable for the apprehension of the offenders, who had been soon pretty well identified, had put all the tories in the town and vicinity on the watch and the result was, that Bart had been seen, traced to his retreat, seized and brought back for trial.
Although Bart's general demeanor seemed to show a perfect indifference to the fate that now threatened him, yet the quick keen glances with which, under that show of indifference, he noted every movement of those into whose power he had fallen and the restlesness he exhibited when their eyes were not upon him, gave token of no little inward perturbation. And it was not without reason that his apprehensions were excited; he knew the character and disposition of the two tory justices whom he saw taking their seats to try him, and he rightly judged that he need not expect either mercy or justice at their hands. He had also detected one of the constable's minions, who had been despatched to the woods for the purpose, stealing slyly round into the horse-shed, on his return, with a half dozen formidable looking green beech rods; and he was at no loss to decide for whose back they were intended, or by whose ruthless hand they were to be applied.
"You can't go that, Bart," he mentally exclaimed. "You must get away; so now put your best contrivances in motion, for I tell you it won't do for you to think of standing that pickle."
And as hopeless as, to all appearance, was any attempt to escape his captors, who stood round him with loaded pistols in their hands, Bart yet confidently counted on being able, in some way or other, to slip through their fingers, and avoid the fearful punishment which he knew was in store for him, if he remained many hours longer in their hands. To effect this, he looked for no aid from others; for experience had taught him the value of self-reliance. The whole life of this singular being, indeed, had been one which was peculiarly calculated to throw him on his own resources, sharpen his wits, and render him fertile in expedients. He had been a foundling, and knew no more of his parentage than a young ostrich, that springs from the deserted egg in the sand. He was left, when an infant, at the door of a poor mechanic, in Boston, by the name of Burt, and by him transferred to the almshouse, where he was called after the name of his finder, with the pet name of Barty, given him by his nurse. Here he was kept till he was four or five years old, when he was given to the Shakers, from whom he ran away at ten or twelve. From that time, the poor friendless boy became a wanderer through the interior country, generally remaining but a few months in a place, being driven from each successive home by misusage, or for want of profitable work for him to do, or, what was still oftener the case, perhaps, for playing off some trick to avenge the fancied or real insult he had received, till, after having been kicked about the world like a foot-ball, cheated, abused cowed in feeling, and become, in consequence, abject, uncouth and singular in manner and appearance, he at length reached the situation in the family of the haughty loyalist where we found him.
While Bart was thus uneasily revolving the matter of his present concern in his mind, and beginning to cast about him for some means of escape, the constable was called aside by those who had undertaken to manage the prosecution, for the purpose of holding with them a consultation, the purport of which, though carried on in a low tone, and at some distance, was soon gathered by the quick and practised ears of the prisoner. It appeared that the trial was being delayed in consequence of the absence of Peters, who was an important witness, and who unaccountably failed to make his appearance. And it being feared that he might have been waylaid, and detained on the road, by some band of the other party, to prevent him from testifying, as all knew he was anxious to do, it was settled that Fitch should start immediately in search of him to the house which he usually made his temporary quarters in another part of the town. Accordingly the constable, after putting the prisoner in charge of two stout fellows who were in his interest, with orders to guard him closely, and shoot him down the instant he should attempt to escape, set forth on his mission after Peters. Bart's countenance brightened when he saw the savage officer depart, for he believed the absence of the latter would greatly increase his chances of escape; and in spite of all the threats he had received of being shot, he resolved to improve that absence in making the attempt, though the manner of doing so yet remained to be decided, by the circumstances which might occur.
In the mean time a trotting-match had been got up in the road in front of the tavern, by a small party who had been boasting of the speed and other qualities of their horses; and it being now understood that the trial was to be delayed till the constable's return, the whole company left the house, and went out to the road to witness the performance. Bart's keepers not being able, where they stood, to see and hear what was going on very distinctly, and being equally desirous with the rest to get a favorable stand for that purpose, after renewing the threat of shooting him, if lie attempted to run away, took him along with them, and entered the line of spectators extended along the road. After a few trials among those who began the contest, several new competitors led on their horses and entered the lists. By this time most of the company began to take a lively interest in the performance, taking sides, and betting on the success of the different horses now put into the contest. The prisoner having, by this time, through dint of persevering in good humor and sociability, in return for the abusive epithets, by which all his attempts to converse were, for a while, received, succeeded, in a great measure, in disarming his keepers of the stern reserve and jealous distrust they at first exhibited towards him, he was soon permitted to talk freely, and offer, unrebuked, his opinions of the success of the various horses about to make a trial, which his previous observation and acquaintance with many of them, made during his residence in town the preceding year, enabled him to do with considerable sagacity. And his predictions being luckily fulfilled in several instances, and especially in one in which his most rigid keeper had been saved from losing, in a bet, which would have been made but for his timely cautions, Bart at length found himself on such a footing of confidence and good will with those whom he wished to conciliate, that he thought it would now do to commence operations for himself.
"I don't think much of such trotting, myself," said Bart, carelessly, as one of the contests afoot had just terminated; "but there is one animal I notice here to-day, I should like to bet on."
"What horse is that?" asked the keeper above designated,
"That dapple gray mare hitched over there in the corner of the cow-yard yonder," replied Bart, pointing to a small, long tailed pony, whose shabby coat of shedding and neglected hair greatly disguised the remarkable make of her limbs and other indications of strength and activity.
"That creature!" exclaimed the other, contemptuously; "why she aint bigger than a good-sized sheep. You may bet if you want to, and lose; for there's not a horse on the ground but would beat her."
"Well, for all that, Mr. Sturges," responded Bart, banteringly, "I'll not take back what I've said about the nag. And to prove my earnest, I'll make you an offer; I'll bet my gun, which you saw me hand the landlord for safe keeping when they brought me in--I'll bet my gun against your hat, I'll take that creature and out-trot you, with any hoss you may choose to bring on."
"Done!" exclaimed Sturges; "but you are contriving this up for a chance to get away, you scamp."
"What should I want to get away for?" I haint done nothin: and there's a witness here that will swear to a thing or two for me, when the trial comes on, guess you'll find; besides, aint you young to ride by my side, with a loaded pistol in your hand?"
"Yes, and that aint all; I'll put a bullet through you the instant you make the least move to be off."
"I'm agreed to that."
"Well, but will they let you take the colt for the march?"
"Guess so; I'll venture to take her. The boy that rode her here has cleared out down to the brook a fishing; but I know him, and think he wouldn't object."
"Who owns the colt?"
"Old Turner did, last year, when I lived with him; and the boy is from that way, and borrowed her, likely."
"Then you have rode her, have you?" asked Sturges, doubtfully.
"Never rid her with any other boss, but know she can trot faster than any thing you can find here; so you may as well back out at once," answered Bart, with apparent indifference.
"Not by a jug-full, sir; but I must look me up a horse, and fix matters a little first; and then, if it is thought safe for me to trust you to ride, I'll go it," returned the other, with some hesitation.
Sturges then stepped aside with the other keeper, and, after consulting with him a few moments, went forward and announced to the company the bet offered by the prisoner, and his own intention of accepting it, and indulging the fellow in a trial, if they thought best, and would assist in measures to prevent the possibility of his escape. The proposal was received with shouts of laughter by the tories; and eager for the fun they expected to see in so queer a contest, they agreed to be answerable for the prisoner's safety, and urged on the performance.
The two keepers, now calling in others to take charge of the prisoner, while they made their preparations, proceeded to arrange the company on both sides of the road, placing men at short intervals along the whole line of the course, commencing back about two hundred yards south of the tavern, and extending to the sign-post, which, standing on the edge of the beaten path in front of the house, had been agreed on as the goal. And not satisfied with this precaution, they then procured four long, heavy, spruce poles, and, extending them from
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