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For Love or Country

GEOFFREY Hardin was seated in his comfortable easy chair, drawn close to the crackling logs in the old New England fireplace. He was gazing dreamily at the flames as they leaped about from log to log, now enveloping them in a merry blaze, now lapsing into drowsy inactivity. From his long quaint pipe, widening circles of pale gray smoke were followed by a thin trailing vapor. This too, vanished, leaving only its mellow fragrance in the air. His pipe had gone out.

Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze

Meanwhile grandma too, was dreaming, dreaming of the days of her childhood spent so long ago along the banks of the majestic Potomac. Her knitting had fallen to her lap, and her motionless hands dropped beside it. She stole a loving glance at grandfather and peered over her spectacles to see if he were really asleep, while a sweet smile overspread her kind face. Her thoughts reverted to the time when as an ardent suitor he had wooed and won her. The tender affection which each had then felt for the other had been lasting as it had been unselfish. As she wandered on in the dreamland of pleasant recollections, a simple event that that occurred that very day excited her curiosity. She tiptoed to grandfather's chair and playfully put her hands over his eyes.

"Mary!" the old man exclaimed in mock severity, "why do you disturb me in my nap?"

"Now, grandpa, do behave," cried grandma, and in accusing tones, "who was that old gentlewoman you met at church this morning?"

For a moment grandfather was embarrassed and a faint blush overspread his countenance. He pretended to fall asleep again, but grandma was persistent, and at length he answered.

"Agnes Gordon, a former friend of mine."

"Indeed!" continued grandma, "you must have been very intimate friends, for I noticed that she called you 'John.' Won't you tell me about her ?"

Grandfather was caught; but with an effort he gathered his wits together and said:

"She was indeed an intimate friend." Then realizing his blunder he continued, "that is, she was an intimate family friend."

"Now, John," cried grandma, pointing an accusing finger at poor grandpa, "was she merely a family friend?"

"Mary!" exclaimed grandpa, "how annoying you are!"

A faint frown of disappointment overspread grandma's forehead.

"Come, come," cried grandpa, "I'll tell you all about her if you promise not to tease me."

With the utmost gravity grandmother consented.

"Well," he began, "it was in the year 1775 that I reached the age of twenty-one. I was taken into the firm, and a few days later, father sent me to New York to deliver an important communication to a business friend. This friend had a very beautiful daughter, and as I was detained in the city for some weeks, we saw much of each other. A mutual affection sprang up between us, and this soon blossomed into open love. Just at the point when I was about to ask her to be my wife, an urgent message arrived, ordering me to come back home at once. Agnes was out of town visiting at the time, so I had no opportunity to bid her good-bye.

My father at that time lived in Lexington, not far from Concord. It was the twenty-second of April when I reached home. What was my sorrow and dismay to learn that my father had been killed in that famous engagement which was the first step in throwing off the yoke of England.

Fired by the spirit of patriotism, and thirsting for revenge, I immediately enlisted in the patriots' army which was gathering near Boston. Soon after we fought the memorable battle of Bunker Hill, and I shall never forget the gallant resistance of our troops. With victory almost in our grasp, our amunition gave out and we were forced to retreat. I received a slight wound in that battle, which though not serious in itself, brought on an attack of fever, and I was confined to my bed for several months. At length I recovered and again joined the Continental troops. I was assigned to General Washington's army, and after our exploit at Trenton, was raised to the rank of Captain, and made a member of Washington's staff.

A few days later, while leading a scouting party, we suddenly came upon a body of British troops, bent on the same purpose. A skirmish ensued, in which after a fierce fight the British were routed. Several of our men were injured but none seriously, while over a score of the enemy were either killed or wounded. Among the latter I noticed one who had evidently been felled by the butt of a musket, for he lay quite still despite the fact that no serious wound could be found. My men lifted him up together with the rest of the wounded, and we brought our prisoners back to camp. In the midst of all the excitement I had not paid much attention to the stunned prisoner, but when I approached him, I recognized him as the father of Agnes Gordon. He was still unconscious, so 1 could do nothing but gaze at him for a moment and pass on.

That same night I was called to Washington's headquarters, and did not return until about midnight. I was just about to enter my tent, when I discovered the dark form of a man emerging from beneath the sides of the hospital tent. He continued to crawl stealthily in my direction, and I, certain that he meant no good, threw myself upon him and bore him to the ground. In an instant I had planted my knee on his breast, and was about to call for the corporal of the guard, when a hoarse whisper smote my ear. I turned and recognized my captive, James Gordon, Agnes' father.

He begged me to set him free, pledging me his daughter in marriage, and a large sum of money if I would comply with his request.

'Then you are a spy,' I exclaimed, 'now I understand how you happened to be unconscious from a blow on the head. It was a clever ruse, but it won't succeed.'

He renewed his pleading and for several evil moments I was a prey to a terrible temptation. It was a moment when love for Agnes fought against love of country in a fierce battle. But thanks to the memory of my dear father, I remained loyal to my country and my patriotism triumphed. I handed over Agnes' father to General Washington, to be treated as he saw fit.

But our benevolent leader, hearing my story, and learning the great love that I had for his daughter, pardoned Mr. Gordon on the condition that he would never take up arms against the colonies.

Later on when England forever lost her hold on us after the surrender of Cornwallis, I visited the home of my former sweetheart, but she and her father had departed for England, leaving me a note full of bitterness, and repudiation. Some years ago her father died, and she has come back to America to revisit the scenes of her childhood. Now Mary, I suppose your curiosity has been satisfied," concluded grandpa with a chuckle.

But grandma was already nodding, so grandpa filled his pipe and was soon puffing vigorously while he gazed reminiscently at a picture of "Washington crossing the Delaware," which hung on the wall.

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