Bayard Taylor was born at Kennett Square, Penn., in 1825. He received a limited school education, but at an early age displayed great energy and talent. He was a great traveler, and a fluent, graceful writer, both of prose and verse. The following selection is adapted from "The Story of Kennett". He died in 1878.
The black, dreary night, seemed interminable. He could only guess, here and there, at a landmark, and was forced to rely more upon Roger's instinct of the road than upon the guidance of his senses. Toward midnight, as he judged, by the solitary crow of a cock, the rain almost entirely ceased。
The wind began to blow sharp and keen, and the hard vault of the sky to lift a little. He fancied that the hills on his right had fallen away, and that the horizon was suddenly depressed towards the north. Roger's feet began to splash in constantly deepening water, and presently a roar, distinct from that of the wind, filled the air。
It was the Brandywine. The stream had overflowed its broad meadow bottoms, and was running high and fierce beyond its main channel. The turbid waters made a dim, dusky gleam around him; soon the fences disappeared, and the flood reached to his horse's body。
But he knew that the ford could be distinguished by the break in the fringe of timber; moreover, that the creek bank was a little higher than the meadows behind it, and so far, at least, he might venture. The ford was not more than twenty yards across, and he could trust Roger to swim that distance。
The faithful animal pressed bravely on, but Gilbert soon noticed that he seemed at fault. The swift water had forced him out of the road, and he stopped from time to time, as if anxious and uneasy. The timber could now be discerned, only a short distance in advance, and in a few minutes they would gain the bank。
What was that? A strange, rustling, hissing sound, as of cattle trampling through dry reeds — a sound which quivered and shook, even in the breath of the hurrying wind! Roger snorted, stood still, and trembled in every limb; and a sensation of awe and terror struck a chill through Gilbert's heart. The sound drew swiftly nearer, and became a wild, seething roar, filling the whole breadth of the valley。
"The dam! The dam!" cried Gilbert, "the dam has given way!" He turned Roger's head, gave him the rein, struck, spurred, cheered, and shouted. The brave beast struggled through the impeding flood, but the advance wave of the coming inundation already touched his side. He staggered; a line of churning foam bore down upon them, the terrible roar was all around and over them, and horse and rider were whirled away。
What happened during the first few seconds, Gilbert could never distinctly recall. Now they were whelmed in the water, now riding its careering tide, torn through the tops of brushwood, jostled by floating logs and timbers of the dam, but always, as it seemed, remorselessly held in the heart of the tumult and the ruin。
He saw at last that they had fallen behind the furious onset of the flood, but Roger was still swimming with it, desperately throwing up his head from time to time, and snorting the water from his nostrils. All his efforts to gain a foothold failed; his strength was nearly spent, and unless some help should come in a few minutes it would come in vain. And in the darkness, and the rapidity with which they were borne along, how should help come?
All at once Roger's course stopped. He became an obstacle to the flood, which pressed him against some other obstacle below, and rushed over horse and rider. Thrusting out his hand, Gilbert felt the rough bark of a tree. Leaning towards it, and clasping the log in his arms, he drew himself from the saddle, while Roger, freed from his burden, struggled into the current and instantly disappeared。
As nearly as Gilbert could ascertain, several timbers, thrown over each other, had lodged, probably upon a rocky islet in the stream, the uppermost one projecting slantingly out of the flood. It required all his strength to resist the current which sucked, and whirled, and tugged at his body, and to climb high enough to escape its force, without overbalancing his support. At last, though still half immerged, he found himself comparatively safe for a time, yet as far as ever from a final rescue。
Yet a new danger now assailed him, from the increasing cold. There was already a sting of frost, a breath of ice, in the wind. In another hour the sky was nearly swept bare of clouds, and he could note the lapse of the night by the sinking of the moon. But he was by this time hardly in a condition to note anything more。
The moon was low in the west, and there was a pale glimmer of the coming dawn in the sky, when Gilbert Potter suddenly raised his head. Above the noise of the water and the whistle of the wind, he heard a familiar sound — the shrill, sharp neigh of a horse. Lifting himself with great exertion, to a sitting posture, he saw two men, on horseback, in the flooded meadow, a little below him. They stopped, seemed to consult, and presently drew nearer。
Gilbert tried to shout, but the muscles of his throat were stiff, and his lungs refused to act. The horse neighed again. This time there was no mistake;it was Roger that he heard! Voice came to him, and he cried aloud — a hoarse, strange, unnatural cry。
The horsemen heard it, and rapidly pushed up the bank, until they reached a point directly opposite to him. The prospect of escape brought a thrill of life to his frame; he looked around and saw that the flood had indeed fallen。
"We have no rope," he heard one of the men say. "How shall we reach him?"
"There is no time to get one now," the other answered. "My horse is stronger than yours. I'll go into the creek just below, where it's broader and not so deep, and work my way up to him,"
"But one horse can't carry both."
"His will follow, be sure, when it sees me."
As the last speaker moved away, Gilbert saw a led horse plunging through the water beside the other. It was a difficult and dangerous undertaking. The horseman and the loose horse entered the main stream below, where its divided channel met and broadened, but it was still above the saddle girths, and very swift。
Sometimes the animals plunged, losing their foothold; nevertheless, they gallantly breasted the current, and inch by inch worked their way to a point about six feet below Gilbert. It seemed impossible to approach nearer。
"Can you swim?" asked the man。
Gilbert shook his head. "Throw me the end of Roger's bridle!" he then cried。
The man unbuckled the bridle and threw it, keeping the end of the rein in his hand. Gilbert tried to grasp it, but his hands were too numb. He managed, however, to get one arm and his head through the opening, and relaxed his hold on the log。
A plunge, and the man had him by the collar. He felt himself lifted by a strong arm and laid across Roger's saddle. With his failing strength and stiff limbs, it was no slight task to get into place; and the return, though less laborious to the horses, was equally dangerous, because Gilbert was scarcely able to support himself without help。
"You're safe now," said the man, when they reached the bank, "but it's a downright mercy of God that you're alive!"
The other horseman joined them, and they rode slowly across the flooded meadow. They had both thrown their cloaks around Gilbert, and carefully steadied him in the saddle, one on each side. He was too much exhausted to ask how they had found him, or whither they were taking him — too numb for curiosity, almost for gratitude。
"Here's your savior!" said one of the men, patting Roger's shoulder. "It was through him that we found you. Do you wish to know how? Well — about three o'clock it was, maybe a little earlier, maybe a little later, my wife woke me up. 'Do you hear that?' she said。
"I listened and heard a horse in the lane before the door, neighing, — I can't tell you exactly how it was — as though he would call up the house. It was rather queer, I thought, so I got up and looked out of the window, and it seemed to me he had a saddle on. He stamped, and pawed, and then he gave another neigh, and stamped again。
"Said I to my wife, 'There is something wrong here,' and I dressed and went out. When he saw me, he acted in the strangest way you ever saw; thought I, if ever an animal wanted to speak, that animal does。
When I tried to catch him, he shot off, ran down the lane a bit, and then came back acting as strangely as ever。
"I went into the house and woke up my brother, here, and we saddled our horses and started. Away went yours ahead, stopping every minute to look around and see if we followed. When we came to the water I rather hesitated, but it was of no use; the horse would have us go on and on, till we found you. I never heard of such a thing before, in all my life." Gilbert did not speak, but two large tears slowly gathered in his eyes, and rolled down his cheeks. The men saw his emotion, and respected it。
In the light of the cold, keen dawn, they reached a snug farmhouse, a mile from the Brandywine. The men lifted Gilbert from the saddle, and would have carried him immediately into the house, but he first leaned upon Roger's neck, took the faithful creature's head in his arms, and kissed it。