In the winter of 1779, General Putnam was stationed at Reading, Connecticut, with a band of ill-fed, unpaid troops. He was quartered at the Marvin house, and Mary, daughter of farmer Marvin, won her way to the heart of this rough soldier through the excellence of her dumplings and the invigorating quality of her flip. He even took her into his confidence, and, being in want of a spy in an emergency, he playfully asked her if she knew any brave fellow who could be trusted to take a false message into the British lines that would avert an impending attack. Yes, she knew such an one, and would guarantee that he would take the message if the fortunes of the colonial army would be helped thereby. Putnam assured her that it would aid the patriot cause, and, farther, that he would reward her; whereat, with a smile and a twinkling eye, the girl received the missive and left the room.
When daylight had left the sky, Mary slipped out of the house, crossed a pasture, entered a ravine, and in a field beyond reached a cattle shelter. On the instant a tall form stepped from the shadows and she sank into its embrace. There was a kiss, a moment of whispered talk, and the girl hurriedly asked her lover if he would carry a letter to the British headquarters, near Ridgefield. Of course he would. But he must not read it, and he must on no account say from whom he had it. The young man consented without a question—that she required it was sufficient; so, thrusting the tiny paper into his hand and bidding him God-speed, she gave him another kiss and they parted—he to go on his errand, she to pass the night with the clergyman’s daughter at the parsonage. At about ten o’clock Putnam was disturbed by the tramping of feet and a tall, goodlooking fellow was thrust into his room by a couple of soldiers. The captive had been found inside the lines, they said, in consultation with some unknown person who had escaped the eye of the sentry in the darkness. When captured he had put a piece of paper into his mouth and swallowed it. He gave the name of Robert Lockwood, and when Putnam demanded to know what he had been doing near the camp without a permit he said that he was bound by a promise not to tell.
“Are you a patriot?” asked the general.
“I am a royalist. I do not sympathize with rebellion. I have been a man of peace in this war.”
Putnam strode about the room, giving vent to his passion in language neither choice nor gentle, for he had been much troubled by spies and informers since he had been there. Then, stopping, he said:
“Some one was with you to-night-some of my men. Tell me that traitor’s name and I’ll spare your life and hang him before the whole army.”
The prisoner turned pale and dropped his head. He would not violate his promise.
“You are a British spy, and I’ll hang you at sunrise!” roared Putnam.
In vain the young man pleaded for time to appeal to Washington. He was not a spy, he insisted, and it would be found, perhaps too late, that a terrible mistake had been committed. His words were unheeded: he was led away and bound, and as the sun was rising on the next morning the sentence of courtmartial was executed upon him.
At noon Mary returned from the parsonage, her eyes dancing and her mouth dimpling with smiles. Going to Putnam, she said, with a dash of sauciness, “I have succeeded, general. I found a lad last night to take your message. I had to meet him alone, for he is a Tory; so he cannot enter this camp. The poor fellow had no idea that he was doing a service for the rebels, for he did not know what was in the letter, and I bound him not to tell who gave it to him. You see, I punished him for abiding by the king.”
The general laughed and gazed at her admiringly.
“You’re a brave girl,” he said, “and I suppose you’ve come for your reward. Well, what is it to be?”
“I want a pass for Robert Lockwood. He is the royalist I spoke of, but he will not betray you, for he is not a soldier; and—his visits make me very happy.”
“The spy you hanged this morning,” whispered an aide in Putnam’s ear.
“Give her the pass and say nothing of what has happened.”
The general started, changed color, and paused; then he signed the order with a dash, placed it in the girl’s hand, gravely kissed her, watched her as she ran lightly from the house, and going to his bedroom closed the door and remained alone for an hour. From that time he never spoke of the affair, but when his troops were ordered away, soon after, he almost blenched as he gave good-by to Mary Marvin, and met her sad, reproachful look, though to his last day he never learned whether or no she had discovered Robert Lockwood’s fate.