The Tory's Conversion

: Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land

In his firelit parlor, in his little house at Valley Forge, old Michael

Kuch sits talking with his daughter. But though it is Christmas eve the

talk has little cheer in it. The hours drag on until the clock strikes

twelve, and the old man is about to offer his evening prayer for the

safety of his son, who is one of Washington's troopers, when hurried

steps are heard in the snow, there is a fumbling at the latch, then the

> door flies open and admits a haggard, panting man who hastily closes it

again, falls into a seat, and shakes from head to foot. The girl goes to

him. John! she says. But he only averts his face. What is wrong with

thee, John Blake? asks the farmer. But he has to ask again and again ere

he gets an answer. Then, in a broken voice, the trembling man confesses

that he has tried to shoot Washington, but the bullet struck and killed

his only attendant, a dragoon. He has come for shelter, for men are on

his track already. Thou know'st I am neutral in this war, John Blake,

answered the farmer,--although I have a boy down yonder in the camp. It

was a cowardly thing to do, and I hate you Tories that you do not fight

like men; yet, since you ask me for a hiding-place, you shall have it,

though, mind you, 'tis more on the girl's account than yours. The men are

coming. Out--this way--to the spring-house. So!

Before old Michael has time to return to his chair the door is again

thrust open, this time by men in blue and buff. They demand the assassin,

whose footsteps they have tracked there through the snow. Michael does

not answer. They are about to use violence when, through the open door,

comes Washington, who checks them with a word. The general bears a

drooping form with a blood splash on its breast, and deposits it on the

hearth as gently as a mother puts a babe into its cradle. As the

firelight falls on the still face the farmer's eyes grow round and big;

then he shrieks and drops upon his knees, for it is his son who is lying

there. Beside him is a pistol; it was dropped by the Tory when he

entered. Grasping it eagerly the farmer leaps to his feet. His years have

fallen from him. With a tiger-like bound he gains the door, rushes to the

spring-house where John Blake is crouching, his eyes sunk and shining,

gnawing his fingers in a craze of dismay. But though hate is swift, love

is swifter, and the girl is there as soon as he. She strikes his arm

aside, and the bullet he has fired lodges in the wood. He draws out his

knife, and the murderer, to whom has now come the calmness of despair,

kneels and offers his breast to the blade. Before he can strike, the

soldiers hasten up, and seizing Blake, they drag him to the house--the

little room--where all had been so peaceful but a few minutes before.

The culprit is brought face to face with Washington, who asks him what

harm he has ever suffered from his fellow countrymen that he should turn

against them thus. Blake hangs his head and owns his willingness to die.

His eyes rest on the form extended on the floor, and he shudders; but his

features undergo an almost joyous change, for the figure lifts itself,

and in a faint voice calls, Father! The young man lives. With a cry of

delight both father and sister raise him in their arms. You are not yet

prepared to die, says Washington to the captive. I will put you under

guard until you are wanted. Take him into custody, my dear young lady,

and try to make an American of him. See, it is one o'clock, and this is

Christmas morning. May all be happy here. Come. And beckoning to his men

he rides away, though Blake and his affianced would have gone on their

knees before him. Revulsion of feeling, love, thankfulness and a latent

patriotism wrought a quick change in Blake. When young Kuch recovered

Blake joined his regiment, and no soldier served the flag more honorably.