merciful "taking off"; they first heaped upon their victim the vilest
epithets, seeking in their thirst for revenge to inflict all the
terrors of death in anticipation. The good man, however, now face to
face with his fate, grew calm and resigned. Exasperated by his courage,
they began to cut and torture him with their swords and knives. Phebe
rushed forward to interpose her little form between her father and the
ruffians, and was dashed, half stunned, into a corner of the room. Even
for the sake of his sick wife, the brave farmer could not refrain from
uttering groans of anguish which brought the poor woman with faltering
steps into his presence. After one glance at the awful scene she sank,
half fainting, on a settee near the door.
When the desire for plunder got the better of their fiendish cruelty,
one of the gang threw a noosed rope over Mr. Reynolds's head, and then
they hanged him to the trammel or iron hook in the great chimney.
"You can't smoke us out this time," they shouted. "You've now got to
settle with the avengers of Claudius Smith; and you and some others
will find us ugly customers to settle with."
They then rushed off to rob the house, for the farmer was reputed to
have not a little money in his strong box. The moment they were gone
Phebe seized a knife and cut her father down. Terror and excitement
gave her almost supernatural strength, and with the aid of the boy in
her father's service she got the poor man on a bed which he had
occupied during his wife's illness. Her reviving mother was beginning
to direct her movements when the ruffians again entered; and furious
with rage, they again seized and hanged her father, while one, more
brutal than the others, whipped the poor child with a heavy rope until
he thought she was disabled. The girl at first cowered and shivered
under the blows, and then sank as if lifeless on the floor. But the
moment she was left to herself she darted forward and once more cut her
father down. The robbers then flew upon the prostrate man and cut and
stabbed him until they supposed he was dead. Toward his family they
meditated a more terrible and devilish cruelty. After sacking the house
and taking all the plunder they could carry, they relieved the
horror-stricken wife and crying, shrieking children of their presence.
Their further action, however, soon inspired Phebe with a new and more
awful fear, for she found that they had fastened the doors on the
outside and were building a fire against one of them.
For a moment an overpowering despair at the prospect of their fate
almost paralyzed her. She believed her father was dead. The boy who had
aided her at first was now dazed and helpless from terror. If aught
could be done in this supreme moment of peril she saw that it must be
done by her hands. The smoke from the kindling fire without was already
curling in through the crevices around the door. There was not a
moment, not a second to be lost. The ruffians' voices were growing
fainter and she heard the sounds of their horses' feet. Would they go
away in time for her to extinguish the fire? She ran to her attic room
and cautiously opened the shutter. Yes, they were mounting; and in the
faint light of the late-rising moon she saw that they were taking her
father's horses. A moment later, as if fearing that the blaze might
cause immediate pursuit, they dashed off toward the mountains.
The clatter of their horses' hoofs had not died away before the
intrepid girl had opened the shutter of a window nearest the ground,
and springing lightly out with a pail in her hand she rushed to the
trough near the barn, which she knew was full of water. Back and forth
she flew between the fire and the convenient reservoir with all the
water that her bruised arms and back permitted her to carry.
Fortunately the night was a little damp, and the stout thick door had
kindled slowly. To her intense joy she soon gained the mastery of the
flames, and at last extinguished them.
She did not dare to open the door for fear that the robbers might
return, but clambering in at the window, made all secure as had been
customary, for now it was her impulse to do just as her father would
She found her mother on her knees beside her father, who would indeed
have been a ghastly and awful object to all but the eyes of love.
"Oh, Phebe, I hope - I almost believe thy father lives!" cried the
woman. "Is it my throbbing palm, or does his heart still beat?"
"I'm sure it beats, mother!" cried the girl, putting her little hand on
the gashed and mangled body.
"Oh, then there's hope! Here, Abner," to the boy, "isn't there any man
in thee? Help Phebe get him on the bed, and then we must stop this
awful bleeding. Oh, that I were well and strong! Phebe, thee must now
take my place. Thee may save thy father's life. I can tell thee what to
do if thee has the courage."
Phebe had the courage and with deft hands did her mother's bidding. She
stanched the many gaping wounds; she gave spirits at first drop by
drop, until at last the man breathed and was conscious. Even before the
dawn began to brighten over the dreaded Highlands which their ruthless
enemies were already climbing, Phebe was flying, bare-headed, across
the fields to their nearest neighbor. The good people heard of the
outrage with horror and indignation. A half-grown lad sprang on the
bare back of a young horse and galloped across the country for a
surgeon. A few moments later the farmer, equipped for chase and battle,
dashed away at headlong pace to alarm the neighborhood. The news sped
from house to house and hamlet to hamlet like fire in prairie grass.
The sun had scarcely risen before a dozen bronzed and stern-browed men
were riding into John Reynolds's farm-yard under the lead of young Hal
June - the best shot that the wars had left in the region. The surgeon
had already arrived, and before he ceased from his labors he had
dressed thirty wounds.
The story told by Phebe had been as brief as it was terrible - for she
was eager to return to her father and sick mother. She had not dreamed
of herself as the heroine of the affair, and had not given any such
impression, although more than one had remarked that she was "a plucky
little chick to give the alarm before it was light." But when the proud
mother faintly and tearfully related the particulars of the tragedy,
and told how Phebe had saved her father's life and probably her
mother's - for, "I was too sick to climb out of a window," she said;
when she told how the child after a merciless whipping had again cut
her father down from the trammel-hook, had extinguished the fire, and
had been nursing her father back to life, while all the time in almost
agony herself from the cruel blows that had been rained upon her - Phebe
was dazed and bewildered at the storm of applause that greeted her. And
when the surgeon, in order to intensify the general desire for
vengeance, showed the great welts and scars on her arms and neck,
gray-bearded fathers who had known her from infancy took her into their
arms and blessed and kissed her. For once in his life young Hal June
wished he was a gray-beard, but his course was much more to the mind of
Phebe than any number of caresses would have been. Springing on his
great black horse, and with his dark eyes burning with a fire that only
blood could quench, he shouted:
"Come, neighbors, it's time for deeds. That brave little woman ought to
make a man of every mother's son of us;" and he dashed away so
furiously that Phebe thought with a strange little tremor at her heart
that he might in his speed face the robbers all alone. The stout yeomen
clattered after him; the sound of their pursuit soon died away; and
Phebe returned to woman's work of nursing, watching, and praying.
The bandits of the hills, not expecting such prompt retaliation, were
overtaken, and then followed a headlong race over the rough mountain
roads - guilty wretches flying for life, and stern men almost reckless
in the burning desire to avenge a terrible wrong. Although the horses
of the marauders were tired, their riders were so well acquainted with
the fastnesses of the wilderness that they led the pursuers through
exceedingly difficult and dangerous paths. At last, June ever in the
van, caught sight of a man's form, and almost instantly his rifle awoke
a hundred echoes among the hills. When they reached the place, stains
of blood marked the ground, proving that at least a wound had been
given. Just beyond, the gang evidently had dispersed, each one for
himself, leaving behind everything that impeded their progress. The
region was almost impenetrable in its wildness except by those who knew
all its rugged paths. The body of the man whom June had wounded,
however, was found, clothed in a suit of Quaker drab stolen from Mr.
Reynolds. The rest of the band with few exceptions met with fates that
accorded with their deeds.
Phebe had the happiness of nursing her father back to health, and
although maimed and disfigured, he lived to a ripe old age. If the bud
is the promise of the flower, Phebe must have developed a womanhood
that was regal in its worth; at the same time I believe that she always
remained a modest, demure little Quakeress, and never thought of her
virtues except when reminded of them in plain English.
NOTE - In the preceding narrative I have followed almost literally a
family tradition of events which actually occurred.