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- [Sub The Tory's Daughter] - 4/72 -
scrutiny, now began to incite his horses afresh, frequently applying the lash with unwonted severity, and then suddenly curbing them in, till the spirited animals became so frantic that they could scarcely be restrained from dashing off at a run. The young farmer, in the mean while, finding himself closely pressed by those behind him, without any apparent disposition on their part to turn out and pass by him, now veered partly out of the road, to give the others, with the same change in their course to the opposite side, an opportunity, if they chose, of going by, as might easily have been done with safety to all concerned.
"Mr. Peters!" suddenly exclaimed Miss Haviland, in a tone of energetic remonstrance, at the same time catching at his arm, as if to restrain him from some intended movement, which her watchful eye had detected.
This appeal, however, which was rather acted than spoken, was unheeded, or came too late; for, at that instant, the chafing and maddened horses dashed furiously forward, directly over the exposed corner of the young man's vehicle, which, under the iron-bound feet of the fiercely-treading animals, and the heavy sleigh runners that followed, came down with a crash to the ground, leaving him barely time to clear himself from the wreck, by leaping forward into the snow. Startled by the noise behind him, the frightened pony made a sudden but vain effort to spring forward with the still connected remains of the jumper, which were, at the instant confined down by the passing runners of the large sleigh; when snorting and wild with desperation, he reared himself upright on his hinder legs, and fell over backwards, striking, with nearly the whole weight of his body, upon his doubled neck, which all saw at a glance was broken by the fall.
With eyes flashing with indignation, young Woodburn bounded forward to the head of the aggressing team, boldly seized the nearest horse by his nostrils and bridle curb, and, in spite of his desperate rearing and plunging, under the rapidly applied whip of the enraged driver, soon succeeded, by daring and powerful efforts, in bringing him and his mate to a stand.
"Let go there, fellow, on your peril!" shouted Peters, choking with rage at his defeat in attempting to ride over and escape his bold antagonist.
"Not till I know what all this means, sir!" retorted Woodburn, with unflinching spirit.
"Detain us if you dare, you young ruffian!" exclaimed the sheriff, protruding his harsh visage from one side of the sleigh. "Begone! or I will arrest you in the king's name, sir!"
"You will show your warrant for it first, Mr. Sheriff," replied the former, turning to Patterson with cool disdain. "I have nothing to do with you, sir; but I hold this horse till the outrage I have just received is atoned for, or at least explained."
"My good friend," interposed Jones, in a respectful manner, "you must not suppose we have designedly caused your disaster. Our horses, which are high-mettled, as you see, took a sudden start, and the mischief was done before they could be turned or checked."
"Now, let go that horse, will you, scoundrel?" again exclaimed Peters, still chafing with anger, but evidently disturbed and uneasy under the cold, searching looks of the other.
"Hear me first, John Peters!" replied Woodburn, with the same determined manner as before. "I care not for your abusive epithets, and have only to say of them, that they are worthy of the source from which they proceed. But you have knowingly and wickedly defrauded me of my farm; unless I obtain redress, as I little expect, from a court which seems so easily to see merits in a rich man's claim. Yes, you have defrauded me, sir, out of my hard-earned farm; and there," he continued, pointing to his gasping horse,--"there lies nearly half of all my remaining property--dead and gone! ay, and by your act, which, from signs I had previously noticed, and from the tones of that young lady's exclamation at the instant, (and God bless her for a heart which could be kind in such company,) I shall always believe was wilfully committed. And if I can make good my suspicions and a court of law will not give me justice, I will have it elsewhere! There, sir, go," he added, relinquishing his hold on the horse, and stepping aside,--"go! but remember I claim a future reckoning at your hands!"
The sleigh now passed on to the yard of the inn, where the company alighted, and soon disappeared within its doors, leaving the young man standing alone in the road, gazing after them with that moody and disquieted kind of countenance which usually settles on the face on the subsidence of a strong gust of passion.
"Poor pony!" he at length muttered, sadly, as, rousing himself, he now turned towards his petted beast, that lay dead in his rude harness,--"poor pony! But there is no help for you now, nor for me either, I fear, as illy as I can afford to lose you. But it is not so much the loss, as the manner--the manner!" he repeated, bitterly, as he proceeded to undo the fastenings of the tackle, with the view of removing the carcass and the broken sleigh from the road.
While he was thus engaged, a number of men, most of them his townsmen, who being, like himself, on their way to court, had stopped at the inn, or store, near by, where the noise of the fray had aroused them, now came hastening to the spot.
"What is all this, Harry?" exclaimed the foremost, as he came up and threw a glance of surprise and concern on the ruins before him.
"You can see for yourselves," was his moody reply, as others now arrived, and, with inquiring looks, gathered around him.
"Yes, yes; but how was it done?"
"John Peters, who just drove up to the tavern, yonder, with a load of court gentry, run over me--that's all," he answered, with an air that showed his feelings to be still too much irritated to be communicative.
But the company, among whom he seemed to be a favorite were not to be repulsed by a humor for which they appeared to understand how to make allowance, but continued to press him with inquiries and soothing words, till their manifestations of sympathy and offers of assistance had gradually won him into a more cheerful mood; when, throwing off his reserve, he thanked them kindly, and frankly related what he knew of the affair, the particulars of which obviously produced a deep sensation among the listeners. All present, after hearing the recital of the facts, and on coupling them with the well-known disposition of Peters, and his previous injuries to Woodburn, at once declared their belief that the aggression was intentional, and warmly espoused this cause of their outraged friend and townsman. A sort of council of war was then holden; the affair was discussed and set down as another item in the catalogue of injuries and oppressions of which the court party had been guilty. Individuals were despatched into all the nearest houses, and elsewhere, for the purpose of discovering what evidence might be obtained towards sustaining a prosecution. It was soon ascertained, however, that no one had seen the fracas, except the parties in interest,--all Peters's company being so accounted,--and that, consequently, no hope remained of any legal redress. On this, some proposed measures of club-law retaliation, some recommended reprisals on the same principle, and others to force Peters, as soon as he should appear in the street, to make restitution for the loss he had occasioned. And so great was the excitement, that had the latter then made his appearance,--which, it seemed, he was careful not to do,--it is difficult to say what might have been his reception. But contrary to the expectations of all, Woodburn, who had been thoughtfully pacing up and down the road, a little aloof from the rest, during the discussion, now came forward, and, in a firm and manly manner, opposed all the propositions which had been made in his behalf.
"No," said he, in conclusion, "such measures will not bear thinking of. I threatened him myself with something of the kind you have proposed. But a little reflection has convinced me I was wrong; for should I take this method of obtaining redress, nowever richly he might deserve it at my hands, I should but be doing just what I condemn in him, and thus place myself on a level with him in his despicable conduct. No, we will let him alone, and give him all the rope he will take; and if he don't hang for his misdeeds, he will doubtless, by his conduct, aid in hastening on the time, which, from signs not to be mistaken, cannot, I think, be far distant, when a general outbreak will place him, and all like him, who have been riding over us here rough-shod for years, in a spot where he and they will need as much of our pity as they now have of our hatred and fear."
"Ay, ay," responded several, with significant nods and looks; "that time will come, and sooner than they dream of."
"And then," said one, "it will not be with us as it was with one last fall; when, just as the winter was coming on, and milk was half our dependence for the children, our only cow was knocked off by a winking sheriff, for eleven and threepence, to this same Peters."
"Nor as it was with me," said another poorly-clad man of the crowd, "when for a debt, which, before it was sued, was only the price of a bushel of wheat I bought to keep wife and little ones from starving, my pair of two-year-olds and seven sheep were all seized and sold under the hammer, for just enough to pay the debt and costs, to Squire Gale, the clerk of the court, who is another of those conniving big bugs, who are seen going round with the sheriff, at such times, with their pockets full of money to buy up the poor man's property for a song, though never a dollar will they lend him to redeem it with"
"No, my friends," said a tall, stout, broad-chested man, with a clear, frank, and fearless countenance, who, having arrived at the spot as Woodburn began to speak, had been standing outside of the crowd, silently listening to the remarks of the different speakers,--"no, my friends; when the time just predicted arrives, it will no longer be as it has been with _any_ of us. We shall _then_, I trust, all be allowed to exercise the right which, according to my notions, we have from God--that of choosing our own rulers, who, then, would be men from among ourselves, knowing something about the wants and wishes of the people, and willing to provide for their distresses in times like these. I have little to say about individual men, or their acts of oppression; for such men and such acts we may expect to see, so long as this accursed system of foreign rule is suffered to remain. We had better, therefore, not waste much of our ammunition on this or that tool of royalty, but save it for higher purposes. And, for this reason, I highly approve of the course that my young neighbor, Woodburn, has just taken, in _his_ case; although, from what I have heard I suspect it was an outrageous one."
"Thank you, thank you, Colonel Carpenter," said Woodburn, coming forward and cordially offering the other his hand; "the approbation of a man like you more than reconciles me to the course which, I confess, cost me a hard struggle to adopt."
"Ay, you were right, Harry," rejoined the former, "though a hard
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