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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

In the Freebooter’s Camp

By John Pendleton Kennedy (1795–1870)

[Born in Baltimore, Md., 1795. Died at Newport, R. I., 1870. From Horse-Shoe Robinson. 1835.—Revised Edition. 1852.]

IT was near midnight when Black Jack, having prepared some faggots of pitch-pine, and selected three or four of the best marksmen, left the bivouac to look for deer. Habershaw himself, though lazy and inordinately impressed with a sense of his own dignity, and now confused with liquor, could not resist the attraction of this sport. He accordingly, not long after the others had departed, took a rifle, and, attended by his bull-dog, whom he never parted from on any occasion, slowly followed in the direction chosen by the hunters.

Those in advance had scarcely walked along the margin of the river a mile before they lighted their faggots, and began to beat the neighboring thickets; and their search was not protracted many minutes when the light of their torches was thrown full upon the eyes of a buck. A shot from one of the marksmen told with unerring precision in the forehead of the animal.

The report and the light brought the corpulent captain into the neighborhood. He had almost walked himself out of breath; and, as he did not very well preserve his perpendicularity, or a straight line of march, he had several times been tripped up by the roots of trees, or by rocks and briers in his path. Exhausted, at length, and puzzled by the stupefaction of his own brain, as well as by the surrounding darkness, he sat down at the foot of a tree, determined to wait the return of the hunting party. His faithful and congenial “Beauty,” not less pursy and short-winded than himself, and not more savage or surly in disposition, now couched upon his haunches immediately between his master’s legs; and here this pair of beastly friends remained, silent and mutually soothed by their own companionship. During this interval the person who bore the fire, followed by one of the marksmen, crept slowly onward to the vicinity of the spot where the captain had seated himself. The lapse of time had proved too much for Habershaw’s vigilance, and he had, at length, with his head resting against the trunk of the tree, fallen into a drunken slumber. The short crack of a rifle at hand, and the yell of his dog awakened him. He started upon his feet with sudden surprise, and stepping one pace forward, stumbled and fell over the dead body of his favorite Beauty, who lay beneath him weltering in blood. The shot was followed by a rush of the hunter up to the spot; it was Gideon Blake.

“Buck or doe, it is my shot!” cried Gideon, as he halted immediately beside Habershaw.

“May all the devils blast you, Gideon Blake!” thundered out the incensed captain. “You have sought my life, you murdering wolf, and your bullet has killed Beauty.”

“I shot at the eyes of what I thought a deer,” returned Blake. “You were a fool, Hugh Habershaw, to bring a dog into such a place.”

“My poor dog! my brave dog! Beauty was worth ten thousand such bastard villains as you! And to have him killed! May the devil feast upon your soul this night, Gideon Blake! Go! and account for your wickedness. Take that, snake! tiger! black-hearted whig and rebel! and be thankful that you didn’t come to your end by the help of hemp!” and in this gust of passion he struck his knife into the bosom of the trooper, who groaned, staggered, and fell.

At this moment the person bearing the fire, hearing the groan of his comrade, rushed up to the spot and seized Habershaw’s arm, just as the monster was raising it over the fallen man to repeat the blow.

“Damn him! see what he has done!” exclaimed the captain, as he lifted up the dead body of the dog so as to show in the light the wound inflicted by the ball between the eyes; “this poor, faithful, dumb beast, was worth a hundred such hell-hounds as he!”

“I am murdered,” said the wounded man; “I am murdered in cold blood.”

The noise at this place brought together the rest of the hunters, who were now returning with the buck thrown across a horse that had been led by one of the party. Blake’s wound was examined by them, and some linen applied to staunch the blood. The man had fainted, but it was not ascertained whether the stab was mortal. Habershaw stood sullenly looking on during the examination, and, finding that life had not instantly fled, he coolly wiped his knife and restored it to his girdle.

“The fellow has no idea of dying,” he said with a visible concern, “and has got no more than he deserves. He will live to be hung yet. Take him to quarters.”

“Make a hurdle for him,” said one of the by-standers, and, accordingly, two men cut a few branches from the neighboring wood, and twisting them together, soon constructed a litter upon which they were able to bear the body of the wounded hunter to the rendezvous. The others, scarcely uttering a word as they marched along, followed slowly with the buck, and in half an hour the troop was once more assembled under the chestnut.

For a time there was a sullen and discontented silence amongst the whole crew, that was only broken by the groans of the wounded trooper. Occasionally there was a slight outburst of sedition from several of the troop, as a sharper scream, indicating some sudden increase of pain, from Gideon Blake, assailed their ears. Then there were low and muttered curses pronounced by Habershaw, in a tone that showed his apprehension of some vengeance against himself; and these imprecations were mingled with hints of the disloyalty of the trooper, and charges of a pretended purpose to betray his fellow-soldiers, evidently insinuated by the captain to excuse his act of violence. Then he approached the sick man and felt his pulse, and examined his wound, and pronounced the hurt to be trifling. “It will do him good,” he said, with affected unconcern, “and teach him to be more true to his comrades hereafter.” But still the fate of the man was manifestly doubtful, and the rising exasperation of the troop became every instant more open. Alarmed and faint-hearted at these symptoms of discontent, Habershaw at last called the men into a circle and made them a speech, in which he expressed his sorrow for the act he had committed, endeavored to excuse himself by the plea of passion at the loss of his dog, and, finally, perceiving that these excuses did not satisfy his hearers, acknowledged his drunken condition and his unconsciousness of the deed he had done until the horrible consequences of it were before his eyes. Here Peppercorn interposed in his favor, alleging that he had examined the wound, and that, in his opinion, the trooper’s life was not in danger.

“And as the captain is sorry for it, lads,” he concluded, “why, what is to be done but let the thing drop? So, if there’s another canteen in the squad, we will wet our whistles, boys, and go to sleep.”

This appeal was effectual, and was followed by a hearty cheer. So, draining the dregs of the last flask, this debauched company retired to rest—Habershaw sneaking away from them with a heart loaded with malice and revenge.

A few men were employed, for a short time, in burying the bodies of the troopers who were killed in the fray; and, excepting the guard, who busied themselves in skinning the buck and broiling some choice slices before the fire, and in watching the prisoners, or attending upon their sick comrade, all were sunk into silence if not repose.