It was three soldiers, escaping from the rout of Braddock’s forces, who caught the alleged betrayer of their general and put him to the death. They threw his purse of ill-gotten louis d’or into the river, and sent him swinging from the edge of a ravine, with a vine about his neck and a placard on his breast. And so they left him.
Twenty years pass, and the war-fires burn more fiercely in the vales of Pennsylvania, but, too old to fight, the schoolmaster sits at his door near Chad’s Ford and smokes and broods upon the past. He thinks of the time when he marched with Washington, when with two wounded comrades he returned along the lonely trail; then comes the vision of a blackening face, and he rises and wipes his brow. “It was right,” he mutters. “He sent a thousand of his brothers to their deaths.”
Gilbert Gates comes that evening to see the old man’s daughter: a smooth, polite young fellow, but Mayland cannot like him, and after some short talk he leaves him, pleading years and rheumatism, and goes to bed. But not to sleep; for toward ten o’clock his daughter goes to him and urges him to fly, for men are gathering near the house—Tories, she is sure,—and they mean no good. Laughing at her fears, but willing to relieve her anxiety, the old man slips into his clothes, goes into the cellar, and thence starts for the barn, while the girl remains for a few minutes to hide the silver.
He does not go far before Gates is at his elbow with the whispered words, “Into the stack-quick. They are after you.” Mayland hesitates with distrust, but the appearance of men with torches leaves no time for talk. With Gilbert’s help he crawls deep into the straw and is covered up. Presently a rough voice asks which way he has gone. Gilbert replies that he has gone to the wood, but there is no need for getting into a passion, and that on no account would it be advisable to fire the stack. “Won’t we though?” cries one of the party. “We’ll burn the rebel out of house and home,” and thrusting his torch into the straw it is ablaze in an instant. The crowd hurries away toward the wood, and does not hear the stifled groan that comes out of the middle of the fire. Gates takes a paper from his pocket, and, after reading it for the last time, flings it upon the flame. It bears the inscription, “Isaac Gates, Traitor and Spy, hung by three soldiers of his majesty’s army. Isaac Mayland.”
From his moody contemplation he rouses with a start, for Mayland’s daughter is there. Her eyes are bent on a distorted thing that lies among the embers, and in the dying light of the flames it seems to move. She studies it close, then with a cry of pain and terror she falls upon the hot earth, and her senses go out, not to be regained in woful years. With head low bowed, Gilbert Gates trudges away. In the fight at Brandywine next day, Black Samson, a giant negro, armed with a scythe, sweeps his way through the red ranks like a sable figure of Time. Mayland had taught him; his daughter had given him food. It is to avenge them that he is fighting. In the height of the conflict he enters the American ranks leading a prisoner—Gilbert Gates. The young man is pale, stern, and silent. His deed is known, he is a spy as well as a traitor, but he asks no mercy. It is rumored that next day he alone, of the prisoners, was led to a wood and lashed by arms and legs to a couple of hickory trees that had been bent by a prodigious effort and tied together by their tops. The lashing was cut by a rifle-ball, the trees regained their straight position with a snap like whips, and that was the way Gilbert Gates came to his end.