A LEGEND OF THE CONGAREE
by James M. Legaré
Fades in the west, the latest flush
Of summer's gorgeous eve;
With ceaseless moan, of Congaree
The dusky waters heave:
For one unknown the nightly bird
Commenceth now to grieve.
And twilight deepens to a night
In every forest glade,
Save one, wherein the soldiers' care
A blazing heap has made,
And in the circle of its light
Their toil-worn limbs are laid.
Their arms propped round the rugged trunks,
Or glitter from the ground:
Their steeds the scanty herbage crop,
Within the tether's bound:
Nor watch without the camp is there,
Nor wary sentry's round.
Some feed the flame, or seeking bring
Snapt twigs of sun-dried pine:
Tend well the haunch of buck, whereon
At once to sup and dine.
Or lazily, half blanket-wrapt,
With nodding brows recline.
While others sing wild songs, and pass
The cup from hand to hand;
Recount how none of rebel breed
Fierce Tarleton's arm withstand;
And boast of bloody laurels won
From outlawed Marion's band.
And here and there, in dizzy flight
The merry sparkles dart:
To mirthful life on every side
Old forest's echoes start.
One only, sad, with drooping head,
Sits from the rest apart.
As weeping days in budding May,
More lovely in their tears,
Is she who, warm and soft as they,
A captive's fetters wears.
A simple tale of love is hers,
And on my subject bears.
Of gentle blood; her sire's sire,
A Refugee from France,
Had in the noble Condé's cause
Unfailing couched his lance.
His son now, sword in hand, beheld
St. George's flag advance.
One came; brave, generous, fair of form,
Strong armed to aid the weak;
They loved, bright Laura, brave Du Saye.
Love learneth soon to speak!
Why need I say she blushing gave
The hand none else might seek?
The day is set, the friends are met,
The priest in surplice stands;
The oaths are said, the prayers are read,
He joins their willing hands.
Lo! through the open portals swarm
The ruthless tory bands!
Unarmed, beset, with frantic rage,
These struggle toward the door;
Borne in their midst, the bride. Their blood
Streams redly down the floor
In vain; across their faltering path,
The others furious pour.
Fast ebbs their strength—back, back they reel
The dripping blades before.
Oh, for a rank of Rebel steel!
One volley—all is o'er:
Fast bleeds Du Saye at Laura's side;
He fell,—she knew no more.
And now comes one with breathless haste,
And looks that fear denote.
"The Swamp-fox scents our trail," he cries,
"Fly!—man with speed the boat."
While yet he speaks, sounds from afar
A bugle's lengthen'd note.
Unconscious all, with lagging gait,
The rescuing squadron nears;
On flight intent the others throng
The wide piazza's stairs;
They gain the water's verge, their chief
The lifeless Laura bears.
But keen-eyed Marion marked the crew,
And bid his men divide.
With fierce Horry in hot pursuit,
A score of troopers ride;
Too late they win the beach; the bark
Shoots swiftly down the tide.
* * * * * *
Broad shines the blaze; with noisy mirth
Old forest rings around.
And all save grief is loud of tongue
Within the covert's bound.
Nor watch without the camp is there,
Nor wary sentry's round.
Beyond the forest's giant growth
Soft smiles the morning sky;
Deep in the shade, the embers round,
The slumbering warriors lie:
Chafes in its banks the stream, as if
Its comrade old to fly.
And forest leaf, and soldier's cloak,
And bank of russet hue;
And stately bough of cypress grey
The wave that seems to woo;
All sleep beneath the mantle fresh
Of summer's night-shed dew.
Up darts a startled bird with wheel
Of wing, and warning note:
Beneath the nest-hung branch soft glides
A lightly rocking boat;
Close to the shore, the oar-man's grasp
Essays the skiff to float.
And steppeth to the beach Du Saye,
Whom Marion's troop had found,
Stretched in his hall, and with rude skill
His recent wound had bound:
But love is aye the surest leech,
Revenge, the staunchest hound.
A fox-skin cap, and huntsman's frock
Of grey, the other wore;
A hunter stout, whose swarthy cheek
The Indian's knife-scar bore:
With care he scanned the turf, as one
Well skilled in forest lore.
"Hard by this swamp (he said) last eve
Their oozy footpath lay:
Nor far from here their camp.—Yet long
Is Marion's toilsome way.
Thy heart is stout, thy arm is strong.
What need of longer stay!"
"Now," cried Du Saye, and led the way,
"Thou well hast spoke my mind."
Old forest's dusky mazes through
With noiseless step they wind.
They mark—they skirt the camp; apart
The heart-sick maid they find.
Lightly the captive sleeps,—she wakes,
Du Saye kneels by her side:
"Arise," he whispered soft, "and fly
With me, my own sweet bride."
His stalwart arm supports her form,
Back to the grove they glide.
Lo! from the ground a sleeper springs --
Loud to each comrade calls:
Ere well the words are said, beneath
The hunter's knife he falls.
Huzza! thou gallant Eagle, who
The Lion's lair despoils!
As arméd men where Jason sowed,
Sprang up, so at the blow,
They wake—they shout—they arm in haste;
Fast in pursuit they go!
What may avail the Eagle, when
The woodsman bends his bow!
Yet, blade to blade, and foot to foot,
They sell the pathway dear:
On either hand the matted vines
Their stubborn bulwark rear:
Behind, the river lifts his voice
Inviting still more near.
And foot to foot, and blade to blade,
The river's verge they gain,
As sudden from the swoll'n cloud
Down bursts the furious rain;
The straitened stream of baffled men
Outpoureth from the lane.
The few behold the many now
Exulting round them wheel,
Straight to the bark, a gap they seek
To open with their steel;
But faint from loss of blood and toil,
With failing steps they reel.
Well had the night-dew served their cause
In drowning out the spark
Which slumbered, powder-cased, within
The rifle's chamber dark;
For hostile steel and flint in vain
Their latent light impart.
And now a blow the hunter stout
Hath dashed upon his knee;
His weeping bride pressed to his side,
His back against a tree,
Fierce stands Du Saye, at bay: a rock
Against a stormy sea!
The hunter falls. No hope survives
In Laura's bosom now;
Her arm around her lover cast,
Her hot lips press his brow.
Faint not in heart, brave partizan;
Who would not die as thou!
He feels the kiss: a hundred lives
Throb in each bursting vein;
He lifts—he bears—the river's marge
His flying footsteps stain;
Aghast the Rider's shrink, or brave
The love-nerved arm in vain.
Close to the bank, the fragile skiff
That dances on the tide,
With last convulsive bound he wins;
The straightened cords divide!
Far out upon the water's breast
With meteor's speed they glide.
The gunwale dips—the boat drinks deep,
The currents chafe and roar,
Above their fair devoted heads
Ere yet the waters pour,
They see their Kinsmen gallantly
Come spurring to the shore.
Crash—crash, the shrubs are trampled down,
The boughs are bent aside;
Forth from the dreary forest's frown
A rank of horsemen ride.
Tall, dauntless, dark, his restless steed,
Each trooper sits astride.
Their chief commands; the horsemen wheel,
At once in circle wide,
Around the foe: on either hand
The rapid waters glide;
Nor space is there for flight, nor yet
Dark coppice where to hide.
But Marion, in whose manly breast
All kindly virtues were,
Would fain the lives within his grasp
And wasteful bloodshed spare;
When from their line a bullet-shot
Close hisseth past his ear.
With unmoved eye the chieftain glanced
Along his circling band;
Impatient paws the steed beneath
Each trooper's swarthy hand.
He spoke; like tempest-breath they sweep
Athwart the narrow strand!
And all is rage, revenge, and fear,
And shout and answering groan;
Down trampling hoof, and flash and shout,
And shot at random thrown:
Till to the river's blood-tracked beach
The remnant faint is borne.
Some cry for quarter, and receive
The mercy which they gave;
Or, struggling with the stream awhile,
But find a slower grave.
A few are Britons, and these die
As soldiers trained and brave.
The skirmish past; two troopers swim
Near to the shore their steeds,
And launch the fatal bark that lies
Embedded in the reeds;
Nor bride nor groom of yester morn
The other's pressure heeds.
Apart from where the charge had been,
They lay them gently down;
Above their heads the cypress dark,
Sun-lit, unbends his frown:
Dew weeps the stilly morn afar;
The river's plaintive sound.
The soft young cheek, the silken curl
That on the bosom lies;
The chill, damp brow of him who was
To her life's dearest prize;
The chieftain looks upon, and tears
Stand in the soldier's eyes.
James M. Legaré (1823-1859) was a native of Charleston, South Carolina, in his early years. He lived in Aiken, South Carolina in later life. Legaré studied at the College of Charleston and at St. Mary's College in Maryland. Legaré contributed to numerous publications and a collection of his verse titled "Orta-Undis" was published in 1848.