« ZurückWeiter »
In these debates and delays, mingled with an appeal to De Guichen in the West Indies, the summer was fast wearing away, and, by way of addition, early in September came tidings of the battle of Camden, and the utter rout of Gates's army. Despite his own needs and trials, Washington's first idea was to stem the current of disaster at the south, and he ordered the fresh Maryland troops to turn back at once and march to the Carolinas, but Gates fled so fast and far that it was some time before anything was heard of him. As more
came of Camden and its beaten general, Washington wrote to Rutledge that he should ultimately come southward. Meantime, he could only struggle with his own difficulties, and rack his brains for men and means to rescue the south. It must have seemed to Washington, in those lovely September days, as if fate could not have any worse trials in store, and that if he could only breast the troubles now surging about him, he might count on sure and speedy success. Yet the bitterest trial of all was even then hanging over his head, and with a sort of savage sarcasm
him in one of those rare moments when he had an hour of rest and sunshine.
The story of Arnold's treason is easily told. Its romantic side has made it familiar to all Americans, and given it a factitious importance. Had it succeeded it would have opened vast opportunities of disaster to America. It failed, and had no result whatever. It has passed into history simply
it came upon
as a picturesque episode, charged with possibilities which fascinate the imagination, but having, in itself, neither meaning nor consequences beyond the two conspirators. To us it is of interest, because it shows Washington in one of the sharpest and bitterest experiences of his life. Let us see how he met it and dealt with it.
From the day when the French landed, both De Rochambeau and Washington had been most anxious to meet. The French general had been particularly urgent, but it was difficult for Washington to get away. As he wrote on August 21st: 66 We are about ten miles from the
Our popular government imposes a necessity of great circumspection. If any misfortune should happen in my absence, it would be attended with every inconvenience. I will, however, endeavor if possible, and as soon as possible, to meet you at some convenient rendezvous." In accordance with this promise, a few weeks later, he left Greene in command of the army, and, not without misgivings, started on September 18th to meet De Rochambeau. On his way he had an interview with Arnold, who came to him to show a letter from the loyalist Colonel Robinson, and thus disarm suspicion as to his doings. On the 20th, the day when André and Arnold met to arrange the terms of the sale, Washington was with De Rochambeau at Hartford. News had arrived, meantime, that De Guichen had sailed for Europe ; the command of the sea was therefore lost, and the opportunity for
action had gone by. There was no need for further conference, and Washington accordingly set out on his return at once, two or three days earlier than he had intended.
He was accompanied by his own staff, and by Knox and Lafayette with their officers. With him, too, went the young Count Dumas, who has left a description of their journey, and of the popular enthusiasm displayed in the towns through which they passed. In one village, which they reached after nightfall, all the people turned out, the children bearing torches, and men and women hailed Washington as father, and pressed about him to touch the hem of his garments. Turning to Dumas he said, “ We may be beaten by the English; it is the chance of war; but there is the army they will never conquer.'
Political leaders grumbled, and military officers caballed, but the popular feeling went out to Washington with a sure and utter confidence. The people in that little village recognized the great and unselfish leader as they recognized Lincoln a century later, and from the masses of the people no one ever heard the cry that Washington was cold or unsympathetic. They loved him, and believed in him, and such a manifestation of their devotion touched him deeply. His spirits rose under the spell of appreciation and affection, always so strong upon human nature, and he rode away from Fishkill the next morning at daybreak with a light heart.
The company was pleasant and lively, the morn
ing was fair, and as they approached Arnold's headquarters at the Robinson house, Washington turned off to the redoubts by the river, telling the young men that they were all in love with Mrs. Arnold and would do well to go straight on and breakfast with her. Hamilton and McHenry followed his advice, and while they were at breakfast a note was brought to Arnold. It was the letter of warning from André announcing his capture, which Colonel Jameson, who ought to have been cashiered for doing it, had forwarded. Arnold at once left the table, and saying that he was going to West Point, jumped into his boat and was rowed rapidly down the river to the British man-of-war. Washington on his arrival was told that Arnold had gone to the fort, and so after a hasty breakfast he went over there himself. On reaching West Point no salute broke the stillness, and no guard turned out to receive him. He was astonished to learn that his arrival was unexpected, and that Arnold had not been there for two days. Still unsuspecting he inspected the works, and then returned.
Meantime, the messenger sent to Hartford with the papers taken on André reached the Robinson house and delivered them to Hamilton, together with a letter of confession from André himself. Hamilton read them, and hurrying out met Washington just coming up from the river. He took his chief aside, said a few words to him in a low voice, and they went into the house together. When they came out, Washington looked as calm as ever,
and calling to Lafayette and Knox gave them the papers, saying simply, “ Whom can we trust now?" He despatched Hamilton at once to try to intercept Arnold at Verplanck's Point, but it was too late ; the boat had passed, and Arnold was safe on board the Vulture. This done, Washington bade his staff sit down with him to dinner, as the general was absent, and Mrs. Arnold was ill in her room. Dinner over, he immediately set about guarding the post, which had been so near betrayal. To Colonel Wade at West Point he wrote: “ Arnold has
gone to the enemy; you are in command, be vigilant.” To Jameson he sent word to guard André closely. To the colonels and commanders of various outlying regiments he sent orders to bring up their troops. Everything was done that should have been done, quickly, quietly, and without comment. The most sudden and appalling treachery had failed to shake his nerve, or confuse his mind.
Yet the strong and silent man was wrung to the quick, and when everything possible had been done, and he had retired to his room, the guard outside the door heard him marching back and forth through all the weary night. The one thing he least expected, because he least understood it, had come to pass. He had been a good and true friend to the villain who had fled, for Arnold's reckless bravery and dare-devil fighting had appealed to the strongest passion of his nature, and he had stood by him always. He had grieved over the refusal of Congress to promote him in due order, and bad inter