Transcribed from pages 216-225 of the 1838 Carey, Lea and Blanchard text of James Fenimore Cooper's The Spy. Originally published in 1821.
As the black appeared on the threshold of the room, making a low reverence, which has been interpreted for some centuries into "dinner waits," Mr. Wharton, clad in a dress of drab, and loaded with enormous buttons, advanced formally to Miss Singleton, and bending his powdered head to near the level of the hand he extended, received hers in return.
Dr. Sitgreaves offered the same homage to Miss Peyton, and met with equal favour; the lady first pausing, with stately grace, to draw on her gloves.
Colonel Wellmere was honoured with a smile from Sarah, while performing a similar duty; and Frances gave the ends of her taper fingers to Captain Lawton, with a manner that said so much to the corps, and so little to the man.
Much time and some trouble, was expended before the whole party were, to the great joy of Cæsar, comfortably arranged around the table, with proper attention to all points of etiquette and precedence. The black well knew the viands were getting cold, and felt his honour concerned in the event.
For the first ten minutes, all but the Captain of the dragoons found themselves in a situation much to their liking; but he felt himself a little soured at the multiplicity of the questions and offers of the host which were meant to be conducive to his enjoyments, but which in truth had an exactly contrary effect. The Captain could not eat and give answers in a breath, and the demands for the latter somewhat interfered with the execution of the former.
Next came the drinking with the ladies; but as the wine was excellent, and the glasses of very ample size, the trooper bore this interruption with consummate good nature. Nay, so fearful was he of giving offence, and omitting any of the nicer points of punctilio, that having commenced this courtesy with the lady who sat next him, he persevered until not one of his fair companions could, with justice, reproach him with partiality in this particular.
At length Colonel Wellmere broke silence by saying aloud to Captain Lawton—
"I suppose, sir, this Mr. Dunwoodie will receive promotion in the rebel army, for the advantage my misfortune gave him over my command."
The trooper had supplied the wants of nature to his perfect satisfaction; and, perhaps, with the exception of Washington and his immediate commander, there was no mortal whose displeasure he regarded a tittle: he was free to converse or to fight; to him it mattered nought. First helping himself, therefore, to a little of his favourite bottle, he replied with admirable coolness—
"Colonel Wellmere, your pardon; Major Dunwoodie owes his allegiance to the confederated states of North America, and where he owes it he pays it, and is no rebel. Promoted I hope he may be, both because he deserves it, and I am next in rank in the corps; and I know not what you call a misfortune, unless you deem meeting the Virginia horse as such."
"We will not differ about terms, sir," said the Colonel, haughtily; "I spoke as duty to my sovereign prompted; but do you not call the loss of a commander a misfortune to a party?"
"It certainly may be so," said the trooper, with great emphasis.
"There is no term more doubtful than that word misfortune," said the surgeon, regardless of the nice manœ of the host: "some deem one thing a misfortune, others its opposite: misfortune begets misfortune: life is a misfortune, for it may be the means of enduring misfortune; and death is a misfortune, as it abridges the enjoyments of life."
"It is a misfortune that our mess has no such wine as this," interrupted the trooper, and laying in a stock to supply the deficiency.
"We will pledge you a sentiment in it, sir, as it seems to suit your taste," said Mr. Wharton, still uncertain what would be the termination of all these misfortunes.
Filling to the brim, Lawton said, looking hard at the English Colonel—"A clear field and no favour."
"I drink your toast, Captain Lawton," said the surgeon, gravely; "inasmuch as courtesy requires no less at my hands; but I wish never to see your troop nearer to an enemy than long pistol shot."
"Let me tell you, Mr. Archibald Sitgreaves," said the dragoon, hastily, "that's a damned unneighbourly wish."
The ladies bridled, and Miss Peyton made a motion to withdraw, which was instantly obeyed by her fair bevy of juniors.
The suddenness of the movement somewhat appalled the trooper, and he stammered out an apology to the Frances, who stood next to him, which the laughing maid received very good-naturedly, out of regard to the coat he wore, although she knew it would afford matter of triumph to her sister for a month to come.
" 'Tis unneighbourly to wish a man at such a distance from his friends," said the Captain, good-humouredly, in a manner that spoke his willingness to atone; it was, however, too late, and the ladies retired with much dignity, amidst the bows and compliments of all but the chop-fallen dragoon. The discomfiture produced an utter stagnation in the thoughts of the trooper; and Mr. Wharton, making a profusion of apologies to his guests, arose and left the room, followed by his son, and together both quitted the house. The retreat of the ladies was the signal for the appearance of the surgeon's segar, which, being comfortably established in a corner of his mouth in a certain knowing way, caused not the slightest interruption to the following discourse—
"If any thing can sweeten captivity and wounds, it must be the happiness of suffering in the society of the ladies who have left us," said the Colonel, gallantly, feeling something of the kind due to the hospitality he experienced, and, perhaps, also, moved by a softer sentiment.
The doctor cast a glance of silent observation on the black scarf around the neck of the Englishman, and knocking the ashes from his segar with his little finger, in the manner of an adept, replied—
"Sympathy and kindness have, doubtless, their genial influence on the human system. The conexion is intimate between the moral and physical feelings; but still, to accomplish a cure, and restore nature to the healthy tone it has lost from disease or accident, requires more than can flow from unguided sympathies. In such cases, the lights"—the surgeon accidentally caught the eye of the trooper, which was fast regaining its complacency. Taking two or three hasty puffs in huge disdain, he essayed to finish the sentence—"Yes, sir, in such cases, the knowledge that flows from the—the lights"—
"You were saying, sir—" said Colonel Wellmere, sipping his wine—
"Yes sir," said the operator, turning his back abruptly on Lawton; "I was saying that a bread poultice would not set a broken arm."
"More is the pity," cried the trooper, venturing again to trust the sound of his own voice.
"Now, Colonel Wellmere, to you, as a man of education," said the surgeon, with great earnestness, "I can with safety appeal." The Colonel bowed complacently. "You must have noticed the dreadful havoc made in your ranks by the men who were led by this gentleman;" the Colonel looked grave again; "how, when blows lighted on their frames, life was invariably extinguished, beyond all hope of scientific reparation; how certain yawning wounds were inflicted, that must prove fatal to the art of the most experienced practitioner; now, sir, to you I triumphantly appeal, to know whether your detachment would not have been as effectually defeated, if the men had all lost a right arm, for instance, as if they had all lost their heads."
"The triumph of your appeal is somewhat hasty, sir," said Wellmere, nettled at the unfortunate conjunction of terms in the doctor's question.
"Is the cause of liberty advanced a step by such injudicious harshness in the field?" continued the surgeon, disregarding the other's equivocation, and bent on the favourite principle of his life.
"I am yet to learn that the cause of liberty is any manner advanced by the services of any gentleman in the rebel army," said the Colonel, promptly.
"Not liberty!" said the appalled operator, in astonishment; "Good God, for what then are we contending?"
"Slavery, sir, yes, even slavery," cried the Englishman, with confidence in his infallibility; "you are putting the tyrrany of a mob on the throne of a kind of lenient prince; where is the consistency of your boasted liberty?"
"Consistency," repeated the surgeon, looking about him a little wildly, at hearing such sweeping charges against a cause he had so long thought to be holy.
"Aye, sir, your consistency. Your congress of sages have published a manifesto, wherein they set forth the equality of political rights."
"Tis true, and it is done most ably."
"I say nothing of its ability; but if true, why not set your slaves at liberty?" cried Wellmere, in a tone that plainly showed he had transferred the triumph to his own standard.
Every American feels humbled at the necessity of vindicating his country from the inconsistency and injustice of this practice; his emotions are much like those of an honourable man who is compelled to exonerate himself from a disgraceful charge, although he may know the accusation to be false. At the bottom, Sitgreaves had much good sense, and thus called on, he took up the cudgels of argument in downright earnest.
"We deem it a liberty to have a voice in the councils by which we are governed. We think it a hardship to be ruled by a people who live at a distance of three thousand miles from us, and who cannot, and who do not, feel a single political interest in common with ourselves. I say nothing of oppression; the child was of age, and was entitled to the privileges of majority. In such cases, there is but one tribunal to which to appeal for a nation's rights—it is power, and we now make the appeal."
"Such doctrines may suit your present purposes," said Wellmere, with a sneer of contempt; "but I apprehend it is opposed to all the opinions and practices of civilized nations."
"It is in conformity with the practices of all nations," said the surgeon, returning the nod, and drinking to Lawton, who enjoyed the good sense of his comrade as much as he disliked what he called 'medical talk.' "Who would be ruled when he can rule; the only rational ground to take is, that every community has a right to govern itself, so that in no manner it violates the laws of God."
"And is holding your fellow creatures in bondage, in conformity to those laws?" asked the Colonel, impressively."
The surgeon took another glass, and hemming once, returned to combat.
"Sir," said he, "slavery is of very ancient origin, and seems to have been confined to no particular religion or form of government; every nation of civilized Europe does, or has held their fellow creatures in this kind of duresse."
"You will except Great Britain, sir," cried the Colonel, proudly.
"No sir," continued the surgeon, confidently, feeling that he was now carrying the war out of his own country; "I cannot except Great Britan. It was her children, her ships, and her laws, that first introduced the practice into these states; and on her institutions the judgement must fall. It is true, we continue the practice; but we must come gradually to the remedy, or create an evil greater than that which we endure at present: doubtless, as we advance, the manumission of our slaves will accompany us, until happily these fair regions will exist, without a single image of the Creator that is held in a state which disqualifies him to judge of that Creator's goodness."
It will be remembered that Doctor Sitgreaves spoke forty years ago, and Wellmere was unable to contradict his prophetic assertion.