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life. The rank of André,2 and the importance of the measures he was plotting, together with the powerful intercessions that had been made on his behalf, occasioned his execution to be stamped with greater notoriety than the ordinary events of the war. But spies were frequently arrested, and the instances occurring of summary punishment for this crime were numberless. These were facts that were well known to both Dunwoodie and the prisoner: and to their experienced judgments the preparations for the trial were indeed alarming. Notwithstanding their apprehensions, they succeeded so far in concealing them, that neither Miss Peyton nor Frances was aware of their extent. A strong guard was stationed in the outbuilding of the farmhouse where the prisoner was quartered, and several sentinels watched the avenues that approached the dwelling; one was constantly near the room of the British officer. A court was already detailed to examine into the circumstances; and upon their decision the fate of Henry rested.
The moment at length arrived, and the different actors in the approaching investigation assembled. Frances experienced a feeling like suffocation, as, after taking her seat in the midst of her family, her eyes wandered over the group who were thus collected. The judges, three in number, sat by themselves, clad in the martial vestments of their profession, and maintained a gravity worthy of the occasion, and becoming in their rank. In the centre was a man of advanced years, but whose person continued rigidly erect, and whose whole
exterior bore the stamp of early and long-tried military habits. This was the president of the court; and Frances, after taking a hasty and unsatisfactory view of his associates, turned to his benevolent countenance, as to the harbinger of mercy to her brother. There was a melting and subdued expression in the features of the veteran, that, contrasted with the rigid decency and composure of the others, could not fail to attract her notice. His attire was strictly in conformity to the prescribed rules of the service to which he belonged; but while his air was erect and military, his fingers trifled with a kind of convulsive and unconscious motion, with the crape that entwined the hilt of the sword on which his body partly reclined, and which, like himself, seemed a relic of older times. There were the workings of an unquiet soul within ; but his commanding and martial front blended awe with the pity that its exhibition excited. His associates were officers selected from the eastern troops who. held the fortresses of West Point and the adjacent passes; they were men who had attained the meridian of life, and the eye sought in vain the expression of any passion or emotion, on which it might seize as an indication of human infirmity. In their demeanour, there was a mild, but a grave intellectual reserve. If there was no ferocity or harshness to chill, neither was there compassion or interest to attract. They were men who had long acted under the dominion of a prudent reason, and whose feelings seemed trained to a perfect submission to their judgments.
Before these arbiters of his fate, Henry Wharton was ushered, under the custody of two armed men. A profound and awful silence succeeded his entrance, and the blood of Frances chilled in her veins. There was but little of pomp in the preparations to impress her imagination, but the reserved business-like air of the whole scenę, made it seem, indeed, as if the destinies of life awaited on the judgment of these men. Two of the judges sat in grave reserve, fixing their inquiring eyes on the object of their investigation, but the president continued gazing round with uneasy, .convulsive motions of the muscles of the face, that indicated a restlessness foreign to his years and duty. It was Colonel Singleton, who, but the day before, had learned the fate of Isabella, but who proudly stood forth in the discharge of a duty that his country required at his hands. The silence and expectation in every eye at length struck him, and making an effort to collect himself, he spoke, in the deep tones of one used to authority—“Bring forth the prisoner.”
The sentinels dropped the points of their bayonets towards the judges, and Henry Wharton advanced, with a firm step, into the centre of the apartment. All was now anxiety, and eager curiosity. Frances turned for a moment in grateful emotion, as the deep and perturbed breathing of Dunwoodie reached her ears; but her brother again concentrated all her interest into one feeling of intense care. In the background were arranged the inmates of the family who owned the dwelling, and behind them, again, was a row of shining faces
of ebony, glistening with pleased wonder at the scene. Amongst these was the faded lustre of Cæsar Thomson's countenance.
“You are said," continued the president, "to be Henry Wharton, a captain in His Britannic Majesty's both Regiment of Foot.”
“I like your candour, sir; it partakes of the honourable feelings of a soldier, and cannot fail to impress your judges favourably."
“ It would be prudent,” said one of his companions, “to advise the prisoner that he is bound to answer no more than he deems necessary; although we are a court of martial law, yet, in this respect, we own the principles of all free governments."
A nod of approbation from the silent member was bestowed on this remark, and the president proceeded with caution, referring to the minutes he held in his hand.
“ It is an accusation against you, that, being an officer of the enemy, you passed the pickets of the American army at the White Plains, in disguise, on the 29th of October last, whereby you are suspected of views hostile to the interests of America, and have subjected yourself to the punishment of a spy."
The mild, but steady tones of the speaker's voice, as he slowly repeated the substance of this charge, sank to the hearts of most of the listeners. The accusation was so plain, the facts so limited, the proofs so obvious, and the penalty so well established, that escape at once seemed impossible. But Henry replied with earnest grace, “That I passed your pickets in disguise is true, but—"
“Peace," interrupted the president; "the usages of war are stern enough in themselves; you need not aid them to your own condemnation.”
“The prisoner can retract that declaration if he pleases,” remarked another judge. “His confession, which must be taken, goes fully to prove the charge."
"I retract nothing that is true," said Henry, proudly.
The two nameless judges heard him in silent composure, yet there was no exultation mingled with their gravity. The president now appeared, however, to take new interest in the scene; and, with an animation unlooked for in his years, he cried : “ Your sentiment is noble, sir; I only regret that a youthful soldier should be so far misled by loyalty, as to lend himself to the purposes of deceit.”
“Deceit!" echoed Wharton, "I thought it prudent to guard against capture from my enemies."
“A soldier, Captain Wharton,” exclaimed the veteran, "should never meet his enemy but openly, and with arms in his lands. For fifty years have I served two kings of England, and now my native land; but never did I approach a foe, unless under the light of the sun, and with honest notice that an enemy was nigh.”
“You are at liberty to explain what your motives were, in entering the ground held by our army, in