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Rolf in the Woods(Chapter79)

2006-09-08 20:01

  CHAPTER LXXIX The Last of Sir George Prevost

  The battle was over at Plattsburg town, though it had not been fought; for the spirit of MacDonough was on land and water, and it was felt by the British general, as well as the Yankee riflemen, as soon as the Union Jack had been hauled from the mast of the Confiance.

  Now Sir George Prevost had to face a momentous decision: He could force the passage of the Saranac and march on to Albany, but his communications would be cut, and he must rely on a hostile country for supplies. Every day drew fresh bands of riflemen from the hills. Before he could get to Albany their number might exceed his, and then what? Unless Great Britain could send a new army or a fleet to support him, he must meet the fate of Burgoyne. Prevost proposed to take no such chances and the night of the 11th eight hours after MacDonough's victory, he gave the order "Retire to Canada."

  To hide the move as long as possible, no change was made till after sundown; no hint was given to the beleaguered town; they must have no opportunity to reap the enormous advantages, moral and material, of harrying a retreating foe. They must arise in the morning to find the enemy safely over the border. The plan was perfect, and would have been literally carried out, had not he had to deal with a foe as clever as himself.

  How eagerly Rolf took in the scene on Chazy Road; how much it meant! how he longed to fly at his fastest famous speed with the stirring news. In two hours and a half he could surely let his leader know. And he gazed with a sort of superior pride at the martial pomp and bravery of the invaders driven forth.

  Near the last was a gallant array of gentlemen in gorgeous uniforms of scarlet and gold; how warlike they looked, how splendid beside the ill-clad riflemen of Vermont and the rude hunters of the Adirondacks. How much more beautiful is an iron sword with jewels, than a sword of plain gray steel.

  Dame Hubbell stood in her door as they went by. Each and all saluted politely; her guard was ordered to join his regiment. The lady waved her sun-bonnet in response to their courteous good-bye, and could not refrain from calling out:

  "How about my prophecy, Sir George, and those purses?"

  Rolf could not see his hostess, but he heard her voice, and he saw the astonishing effect:

  The British general reined in his horse. "A gentleman's word is his bond, madam," he said. "Let every officer now throw his purse at the lady's feet," and he set the example. A dozen rattling thuds were heard and a dozen officers saluting, purseless, rode away.

  A round thousand dollars in gold the lady gathered on her porch that morning, and to this day her grand-kin tell the tale.

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