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- Hugh Wynne, Free Quaker - 60/75 -
I walked back to headquarters. Neither in the joy and pride of glad news, nor when disaster on disaster fell on us, have I ever seen anything like the intensity of expectation and of anxiety which at this time reigned in our camps. The capture of the adjutant-general was grave enough; his fate hung in no doubtful balance; but the feeling aroused by the fall of a great soldier, the dishonour of one greatly esteemed in the ranks, the fear of what else might come, all served to foster uneasiness and to feed suspicion. As the great chief had said, whom now could he trust, or could we? The men talked in half-whispers about the camp-fires; an hundred wild rumours were afloat; and now and again eager eyes looked toward the low brick church where twelve general officers were holding the court-martial which was to decide the fate of my friend.
It was evening before the decision of the court-martial became generally known. I wandered about all that day in the utmost depression of mind. About two in the afternoon of this 29th of September I met Hamilton near the creek. He said he had been busy all day, and was free for an hour; would I come and dine at his quarters? What was the matter with me? I was glad of a chance to speak freely. We had a long and a sad talk, and he then learned why this miserable affair affected me so deeply. He had no belief that the court could do other than condemn Mr. Andre to die. I asked anxiously if the chief were certain to approve the sentence. He replied gloomily, "As surely as there is a God in heaven."
I could only wait. A hundred schemes were in my mind, each as useless as the others. In fact, I knew not what to do.
On the 30th his Excellency signed the death-warrant, and, all hope being at an end, I determined to make an effort to see the man to whom I believe I owed my life. When I represented the matter to Mr. Hamilton and to the Marquis de Lafayette, I put my request on the ground that Mr. Andre had here no one who could be called a friend, excepting only myself, and that to refuse me an interview were needlessly cruel. I wrote my application with care, the marquis, who was most kind throughout, charging himself with the business of placing it favourably before our chief. The execution had been ordered for October 1, but, upon receipt of some communication from Sir Henry Clinton, it was postponed until noon on October 2.
On the 30th I rode out into the hills back of Tappan, and tried to compose myself by my usual and effective remedy of a hard ride. It was useless now. I came back to my friend's quarters and tried to read, finding a stray volume of the "Rambler" on his table. It was as vain a resort.
Never at any time in my memory have I spent two days of such unhappiness. I could get no rest and no peace of mind. To be thus terribly in the grip of events over which you have no control is to men of my temper a maddening affliction. My heart seemed all the time to say, "Do something," and my reason to reply, "There is nothing to do." It was thus in the jail when my cousin was on my mind; now it was as to Andre, and as to the great debt I owed him, and how to pay it. People who despair easily do not fall into the clutches of this intense craving for some practical means of relief where none can be. It is the hopeful, the resolute, and such as are educated by success who suffer thus. But why inflict on others the story of these two days, except to let those who come after me learn how one of their blood looked upon a noble debt which, alas! like many debts, must go to be settled in another world, and in other ways than ours.
Hamilton, who saw my agitation, begged me to prepare for disappointment. I, however, could see no reason to deny a man access to one doomed, when no other friend was near. Nor was I wrong. About seven in the evening of the 1st, the marquis came in haste to find me. He had asked for my interview with Mr. Andre as a favour to himself. His Excellency had granted the request in the face of objections from two general officers, whom the marquis did not name. As I thanked him he gave me this order:
"_To Major Tallmadge:_
"The bearer, Hugh Wynne, Esq., Captain, Second Company, Third Regiment of Pennsylvania foot, has herewith permission to visit Major Andre.
"October 1, 1780."
I went at once--it was now close to eight in the evening--to the small house of one Maby, where the prisoner was kept. It was but an hundred yards from his Excellency's quarters. Six sentries marched to and fro around it, and within the room two officers remained day and night with drawn swords. My pass was taken at the door of the house, while I waited on the road without. In a few minutes an officer came to me with Major Tallmadge's compliments, and would I be pleased to enter?
I sometimes think it strange how, even in particulars, the natural and other scenery of this dark drama remains distinct in my memory, unaffected by the obliterating influence of the years which have effaced so much else I had been more glad to keep.
I can see to-day the rising moon, the yellowish road, the long, gray stone farm-house of one story, with windows set in an irregular frame of brickwork. The door opens, and I find myself in a short hall, where two officers salute as I pass. My conductor says, "This way, Captain Wynne," and I enter a long, cheerless-looking apartment, the sitting-room of a Dutch farm-house. Two lieutenants, seated within at the doorway, rose as I entered, and, saluting me, sat down again. I stood an instant looking about me. A huge log fire roared on the hearth, so lighting the room that I saw its glow catch the bayonet tips of the sentinels outside as they went and came. There were a half-dozen wooden chairs, and on a pine table four candles burning, a bottle of Hollands, a decanter and glasses. In a high-backed chair sat a man with his face to the fire. It was Andre. He was tranquilly sketching, with a quill pen, a likeness of himself. [Footnote: My acquaintance, Captain Tomlinson, has it.] He did not turn or leave off drawing until Captain Tomlinson, one of the officers in charge, seeing me pause, said:
"Your pardon, major. Here is a gentleman come to visit you."
As he spoke the prisoner turned, and I was at once struck by the extreme pallor of his face even as seen in the red light of the fire. His death-like whiteness at this time brought out the regular beauty of his features as his usual ruddiness of colour never did. I have since seen strong men near to certain death, but I recall no one who, with a serene and untroubled visage, was yet as white as was this gentleman.
The captain did not present me, and for a moment I stood with a kind of choking in the throat, which came, I suppose, of the great shock Andre's appearance gave me. He was thus the first to speak;
"Pardon me," he said, as he rose; "the name escaped me."
"Mr. Hugh Wynne," I said, getting myself pulled together--it was much needed.
"Oh, Wynne!" he cried quite joyously; "I did not know you. How delightful to see a friend; how good of you to come! Sit down. Our accommodations are slight. Thanks to his Excellency, here are Madeira and Hollands; may I offer you a glass?"
"No, no," I said, as we took chairs by the fire, on which he cast a log, remarking how cold it was. Then he added:
"Well, Wynne, what can I do for you?" And then, smiling, "Pshaw! what a thing is habit! What can I do for you, or, indeed, my dear Wynne, for any one? But, Lord! I am as glad as a child."
It was all so sweet and natural that I was again quite overcome. "My God!" I cried, "I am so sorry, Mr. Andre! I came down from King's Ferry in haste when I heard of this, and have been three days getting leave to see you. I have never forgotten your great kindness at the Mischianza. If there be any service I can render you, I am come to offer it."
He smiled and said: "How strange is fate, Mr. Wynne! Here am I in the same sad trap in which you might have been. I was thinking this very evening of your happier escape." Then he went on to tell me that he had instantly recognised me at the ball, and also--what in my confusion at the time I did not hear--that Miss Peniston had cried out as she was about to faint, "No, no, Mr. Andre!" Afterward he had wondered at what seemed an appeal to him rather than to my cousin.
At last he said it would be a relief to him if he might speak to me out of ear-shot of the officers. I said as much to these gentlemen, and after a moment's hesitation they retired outside of the still open doorway of the room, leaving us freer to say what we pleased. He was quiet and, as always, courteous to a fault; but I did not fail to observe that at times, as we talked and he spoke a word of his mother, his eyes filled with tears. In general he was far more composed than I.
He said: "Mr. Wynne, I have writ a letter, which I am allowed to send to General Washington. Will you see that he has it in person? It asks that I may die a soldier's death. All else is done. My mother--but no matter. I have wound up my earthly affairs. I am assured, through the kindness of his Excellency, that my letters and effects will reach my friends and those who are still closer to me. I had hoped to see Mr. Hamilton to-night, that I might ask him to deliver to your chief the letter I now give you. But he has not yet returned, and I must trust it to you to make sure that it does not fail to be considered. That is all, I think."
I said I would do my best, and was there no more--no errand of confidence--nothing else?
"No," he replied thoughtfully; "no, I think not. I shall never forget your kindness." Then he smiled and added, "My 'never' is a brief day for me, Wynne, unless God permits us to remember in the world where I shall be to-morrow."
I hardly recall what answer I made. I was ready to cry like a child. He went on to bid me say to the good Attorney-General Chew that he had not forgotten his pleasant hospitalities, and he sent also some amiable message to the women of his house and to my aunt and to the Shippens, speaking with the ease and unrestraint of a man who looks to meet you at dinner next week, and merely says a brief good-by.
I promised to charge myself with his messages, and said at last that many officers desired me to express to him their sorrow at his unhappy situation, and that all men thought it hard that the life of an honest soldier was to be taken in place of that of a villain and coward who, if he had an atom of honour, would give himself up.
"May I beg of you, sir," he returned, "to thank these gentlemen of your army? 'Tis all I can do; and as to General Arnold--no, Wynne, he is not one to do that; I could not expect it."
Before I rose to go on his errand I said,--and I was a little embarrassed,--"May I be pardoned, sir, if I put to you a quite personal question?"
"Assuredly," he returned. "What is it, and how can a poor devil in my situation oblige you?"
I said: "I have but of late learned that the exchanges were all settled when I met my cousin, Arthur Wynne, at Amboy. Could it have been that the
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