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The Maid-At-Arms   By: (1865-1933)

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A Novel


Robert W. Chambers

Illustrated by

Howard Chandler Christy





After a hundred years the history of a great war waged by a successful nation is commonly reviewed by that nation with retrospective complacency.

Distance dims the panorama; haze obscures the ragged gaps in the pageant until the long lines of victorious armies move smoothly across the horizon, with never an abyss to check their triumph.

Yet there is one people who cannot view the past through a mirage. The marks of the birth pangs remain on the land; its struggle for breath was too terrible, its scars too deep to hide or cover.

For us, the pages of the past turn all undimmed; battles, brutally etched, stand clear as our own hills against the sky for in this land we have no haze to soften truth.

Treading the austere corridor of our Pantheon, we, too, come at last to victory but what a victory! Not the familiar, gracious goddess, wide winged, crowned, bearing wreaths, but a naked, desperate creature, gaunt, dauntless, turning her iron face to the west.

The trampling centuries can raise for us no golden dust to cloak the flanks of the starved ranks that press across our horizon.

Our ragged armies muster in a pitiless glare of light, every man distinct, every battle in detail.

Pangs that they suffered we suffer.

The faint hearted who failed are judged by us as though they failed before the nation yesterday; the brave are re enshrined as we read; the traitor, to us, is no grotesque Guy Fawkes, but a living Judas of to day.

We remember that Ethan Allen thundered on the portal of all earthly kings at Ticonderoga; but we also remember that his hatred for the great state of New York brought him and his men of Vermont perilously close to the mire which defiled Charles Lee and Conway, and which engulfed poor Benedict Arnold.

We follow Gates's army with painful sympathy to Saratoga, and there we applaud a victory, but we turn from the commander in contempt, his brutal, selfish, shallow nature all revealed.

We know him. We know them all Ledyard, who died stainless, with his own sword murdered; Herkimer, who died because he was not brave enough to do his duty and be called a coward for doing it; Woolsey, the craven Major at the Middle Fort, stammering filthy speeches in his terror when Sir John Johnson's rangers closed in; Poor, who threw his life away for vanity when that life belonged to the land! Yes, we know them all great, greater, and less great our grandfather Franklin, who trotted through a perfectly cold and selfishly contemptuous French court, aged, alert, cheerful to the end; Schuyler, calm and imperturbable, watching the North, which was his trust, and utterly unmindful of self or of the pack yelping at his heels; Stark, Morgan, Murphy, and Elerson, the brave riflemen; Spencer, the interpreter; Visscher, Helmer, and the Stoners.

Into our horizon, too, move terrible shapes not shadowy or lurid, but living, breathing figures, who turn their eyes on us and hold out their butcher hands: Walter Butler, with his awful smile; Sir John Johnson, heavy and pallid pallid, perhaps, with the memory of his broken parole; Barry St. Leger, the drunken dealer in scalps; Guy Johnson, organizer of wholesale murder; Brant, called Thayendanegea, brave, terrible, faithful, but a Mohawk; and that frightful she devil, Catrine Montour, in whose hot veins seethed savage blood and the blood of a governor of Canada, who smote us, hip and thigh, until the brawling brooks of Tryon ran blood!

No, there is no illusion for us; no splendid armies, banner laden, passing through unbroken triumphs across the sunset's glory; no winged victory, with smooth brow laurelled to teach us to forget the holocaust. Neither can we veil our history, nor soften our legends. Romance alone can justify a theme inspired by truth; for Romance is more vital than history, which, after all, is but the fleshless skeleton of Romance... Continue reading book >>

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