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The Tory's Conversion

Myths and Legends of Our Own Lands

Charles M. Skinner

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.

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