Myths and Legends of our Own Land, by Charles M. Skinner, , at sacred-texts.com
When the story of bloodshed at Bunker Hill reached Bohemia Hall, in Cecil County, Maryland, Albert De Courcy left his brother Ernest to support the dignity of the house and make patriotic speeches, while he went to the front, conscious that Helen Carmichael, his affianced wife, was watching, in pride and sadness, the departure of his company. Letters came and went, as they always do, until rumor came of a sore defeat to the colonials at Long Island; then the letters ceased.
It was a year later when a ragged soldier, who had stopped at the hall for supper, told of Albert's heroism in covering the retreat of Washington. The gallant young officer had been shot, he said, as he attempted to swim the morasses of Gowanus. But this soldier was in error. Albert had been vexatiously bogged on the edge of the creek. While floundering in the mud a half dozen sturdy red-coats had lugged him out and he was packed off to the prison-ships anchored in the Wallabout. In these dread hulks, amid darkness and miasma, living on scant, unwholesome food, compelled to see his comrades die by dozens every day and their bodies flung ashore where the tide lapped away the sand thrown over them, De Courcy wished that death instead of capture had been his lot, for next to his love he prized his liberty.
One day he was told off, with a handful of others, for transfer to a stockade on the Delaware, and how his heart beat when he learned that the new prison was within twenty miles of home! His flow of spirits returned, and his new jailers liked him for his frankness and laughed at his honest expletives against the king. He had the liberty of the enclosure, and was not long in finding where the wall was low, the ditch narrow, and the abatis decayed—knowledge that came useful to him sooner than he expected, for one day a captured horse was led in that made straight for him with a whinny and rubbed his nose against his breast.
"Why!" he cried,—"it's Cecil! My horse, gentlemen—or, was. Not a better hunter in Maryland!"
"Yes," answered one of the officers. "We've just taken him from your brother. He's been stirring trouble with his speeches and has got to be quieted. But we'll have him to-day, for he's to be married, and a scouting party is on the road to nab him at the altar."
"Married! My brother! What! Ernest, the lawyer, the orator? Ho, ho! Ah, but it's rather hard to break off a match in that style!"
"Hard for him, maybe; but they say the lady feels no great love for him. He made it seem like a duty to her, after her lover died."
"How's that? Her own—what's her name?"
"Helen—Helen Carmichael, or something like that."
Field and sky swam before De Courcy's eyes for a moment; then he resumed, in a calm voice, and with a pale, set face, "Well, you're making an unhappy wedding-day for him. If he had Cecil here he would outride you all. Ah, when I was in practice I could ride this horse and snatch a pebble from the ground without losing pace!"
"Could you do it now?"
"I'm afraid long lodging in your prison-ships has stiffened my joints, but I'd venture at a handkerchief."
"Then try," said the commandant.
De Courcy mounted into the saddle heavily, crossed the grounds at a canter, and dropped a handkerchief on the grass. Then, taking a few turns for practice, he started at a gallop and swept around like the wind. His seat was so firm, his air so noble, his mastery of the steed so complete, that a cheer of admiration went up. He seemed to fall headlong from the saddle, but was up again in a moment, waving the handkerchief gayly in farewell—for he kept straight on toward the weak place in the wall. A couple of musket-balls hummed by his ears: it was neck or nothing now! A tremendous leap! Then a ringing cry told the astonished soldiers that he had reached the road in safety. Through wood and thicket and field he dashed as if the fiend were after him, and never once did he cease to urge his steed till he reached the turnpike, and saw ahead the scouting party on its way to arrest his brother.
Turning into a path that led to the rear of the little church they were so dangerously near, he plied hands and heels afresh, and in a few moments a wedding party was startled by the apparition of a black horse, all in a foam, ridden by a gaunt man, in torn garments, that burst in at the open chancel-door. The bridegroom cowered, for he knew his brother. The bride gazed in amazement. "'Tis the dead come to life!" cried one. De Courcy had little time for words. He rode forward to the altar, swung Helen up behind him, and exclaimed, "Save yourselves! The British are coming! To horse, every one, and make for the manor!" There were shrieks and fainting—and perhaps a little cursing, even if it was in church,—and when the squadron rode up most of the company were in full flight. Ernest was taken, and next morning held his brother's place on the prison-list, while, as arrangements had been made for a wedding, there was one, and a happy one, but Albert was the bridegroom.