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The Phantom Drummer






Category: ON AND NEAR THE DELAWARE

Source: Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land

Colonel Howell, of the king's troops, was a gay fellow, framed to make
women false; but when he met the rosy, sweet-natured daughter of farmer
Jarrett, near Valley Forge, he attempted no dalliance, for he fell too
seriously in love. He might not venture into the old man's presence, for
Jarrett had a son with Washington, and he hated a red-coat as he did the
devil; but the young officer met the girl in secret, and they plighted
troth beneath the garden trees, hidden in gray mist. As Howell bent to
take his first kiss that night, a rising wind went past, bringing from
afar the roll of a drum, and as they talked the drum kept drawing nearer,
until it seemed at hand. The officer peered across the wall, then hurried
to his mistress' side, as pale as death. The fields outside were empty of
life.

Louder came the rattling drum; it seemed to enter the gate, pass but a
yard away, go through the wall, and die in the distance. When it ceased,
Howell started as if a spell had been lifted, laxed his grip on the
maiden's hand, then drew her to his breast convulsively. Ruth's terror
was more vague but no less genuine than his own, and some moments passed
before she could summon voice to ask him what this visitation meant. He
answered, Something is about to change my fortunes for good or ill;
probably for ill. Important events in my family for the past three
generations have been heralded by that drum, and those events were
disasters oftener than benefits. Few more words passed, and with another
kiss the soldier scaled the wall and galloped away, the triple beat of
his charger's hoofs sounding back into the maiden's ears like drum-taps.
In a skirmish next day Colonel Howell was shot. He was carried to farmer
Jarrett's house and left there, in spite of the old man's protest, for he
was willing to give no shelter to his country's enemies. When Ruth saw
her lover in this strait she was like to have fallen, but when she
learned that it would take but a few days of quiet and care to restore
him to health, she was ready to forgive her fellow-countrymen for
inflicting an injury that might result in happiness for both of them.

It took a great deal of teasing to overcome the scruples of the farmer,
but he gruffly consented to receive the young man until his hurt should
heal. Ruth attended him faithfully, and the cheerful, manly nature of the
officer so won the farmer's heart that he soon forgot the color of
Howell's coat. Nor was he surprised when Howell told him that he loved
his daughter and asked for her hand; indeed, it had been easy to guess
their affection, and the old man declared that but for his allegiance to
a tyrant he would gladly own him as a son-in-law. It was a long struggle
between love and duty that ensued in Howell's breast, and love was
victor. If he might marry Ruth he would leave the army. The old man gave
prompt consent, and a secret marriage was arranged. Howell had been
ordered to rejoin his regiment; he could not honorably resign on the eve
of an impending battle, and, even had he done so, a long delay must have
preceded his release. He would marry the girl, go to the country, live
there quietly until the British evacuated Philadelphia, when he would
return and cast his lot with the Jarrett household.

Howell donned citizen's dress, and the wedding took place in the spacious
best room of the mansion, but as he slipped the ring on the finger of his
bride the roll of a drum was heard advancing up the steps into the room,
then on and away until all was still again. The young colonel was pale;
Ruth clung to him in terror; clergymen and guests looked at each other in
amazement. Now there were voices at the porch, the door was flung open,
armed men entered, and the bridegroom was a prisoner. He was borne to his
quarters, and afterward tried for desertion, for a servant in the Jarrett
household, hating all English and wishing them to suffer, even at each
other's hands, had betrayed the plan of his master's guest. The
court-martial found him guilty and condemned him to be shot. When the
execution took place, Ruth, praying and sobbing in her chamber, knew that
her husband was no more. The distant sound of musketry reverberated like
the roll of a drum.





Next: The Missing Soldier Of Valley Forge

Previous: Delaware Water Gap



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