renegade! A rebel against his king! A black-hearted
traitor! You dare to tell me that you love George
Winthrop! Son of canting, lying Ezra Winthrop!
By the Eternal, I’ll shoot him on sight if he
comes this side!”
While old John Bedell was speaking,
he tore and flung away a letter, reached for his long
rifle on its pins above the chimney-place, [Page
251] dashed its butt angrily to the floor,
and poured powder into his palm.
“For Heaven’s sake,
father! You would not! You could not!
The war is over. It would be murder!” cried
Ruth Bedell, sobbing.
He poured the powder in. “Yes, by gracious,
quicker’n I’d kill a rattlesnake!”
He placed the round bullet on the little square of greased
rag at the muzzle of his rifle. “A rank
traitor—bone and blood of those who drove out
loyal men!”—he crowded the tight lead home,
dashed the ramrod into place, looking to the flint.
“Rest there,—wake up for George Winthrop!”
and the fierce old man replaced rifle and powder-horn
on their pegs.
Bedell’s hatred for the
foes who had beaten down King George’s cause,
and imposed the alternative of confiscation or the oath
of allegiance on the vanquished, was considered intense,
even by his brother Loyalists of the Niagara frontier.
“The Squire kind o’
sees his boys’ blood when the sky’s red,”
said they in explanation. But Bedell was so much
an enthusiast that he could almost rejoice because his
three stark sons had gained the prize of death in battle.
He was too brave to hate the fighting-men he had so
often confronted; but he abhorred the politicians, especially
the intimate civic enemies on whom he had poured scorn
before the armed struggle began. More than any
he hated Ezra Winthrop, the lawyer, arch-revolutionist
of their native town, who had never used a weapon but
his tongue. And now his Ruth, the beloved and
only child left to his exiled age, had confessed her
love for Ezra Winthrop’s son! They had been
boy and girl, pretty maiden and bright stripling together,
without the Squire suspecting— he could not, even
now, conceive clearly so wild a thing as their affection!
The confession burned in his heart like veritable fire,—a
raging anguish of mingled loathing and love. He
stood now gazing at Ruth dumbly, his [Page 253]
hands clenched, head sometimes mechanically quivering,
anger, hate, love, grief, tumultuous in his soul.
Ruth glanced up—her father
seemed about to speak—she bowed again, shuddering
as though the coming words might kill. Still there
was silence,—a long silence. Bedell stood
motionless, poised, breathing hard—the silence
oppressed the girl—each moment her terror increased—expectant
attention became suffering that demanded his voice—and
still was silence—save for the dull roar of Niagara
that more and more pervaded the air. The torture
of waiting for the words—a curse against her,
she feared—overwore Ruth’s endurance.
She looked up suddenly, and John Bedell saw in hers
the beloved eyes of his dead wife, shrinking with intolerable
fear. He groaned heavily, flung up his hands despairingly,
and strode out toward the river.
How crafty smooth the green
Niagara sweeps toward the plunge beneath that perpetual
[Page 254] white cloud above the Falls!
From Bedell’s clearing below Navy Island, two
miles above the Falls, he could see the swaying and
rolling of the mist, ever rushing up to expand and overhand.
The terrible stream had a profound fascination for him,
with its racing eddies eating at the shore; its long
weeds, visible through the clear water, trailing close
down to the bottom; its inexorable, eternal, onward
pouring. Became it was so mighty and so threatening,
he rejoiced grimly in the awful river. To float,
watching cracks and ledges of its flat bottom-rock drift
quickly upward; to bend to his oars only when white
crests of the rapids yelled for his life; to win escape
by sheer strength from points so low down that he sometimes
doubted but the greedy forces had been tempted too long;
to stake his life, watching tree-tops for a sign that
he could yet save it, was the dreadful pastime by which
Bedell often quelled passionate promptings to revenge
his exile. “The Falls is bound to get the
Squire [Page 255] some day,”
said the banished settlers. But the Squire’s
skiff was clean built as a pickerel, and his old arms
iron-strong. Now when he had gone forth from the
beloved child, who seemed to him so traitorous to his
love and all loyalty, he went instinctively to spend
his rage upon the river.
Ruth Bedell, gazing at the loaded
rifle, shuddered, not with dread only, but a sense of
having been treacherous to her father. She had
not told him all the truth. George Winthrop himself,
having made his way secretly through the forest from
Lake Ontario, had given her his own letter asking leave
from the Squire to visit his newly made cabin.
From the moment of arrival her lover had implored her
to fly with him. But filial love was strong in
Ruth to give hope that her father would yield to the
yet stronger affection freshened in her heart.
Believing their union might be permitted, she had pledged
herself to escape with her love if it were forbidden.
Now he waited [Page 256] by the hickory
wood for a signal to conceal himself or come forward.
When Ruth saw her father far
down the river, she stepped to the flagstaff he had
raised before building the cabin—his first duty
being to hoist the Union Jack! It was the largest
flag he could procure; he could see it flying defiantly
all day long; at night he could hear its glorious folds
whipping in the wind; the hot old Loyalist loved to
fancy his foeman cursing at it from the other side,
nearly three miles away. Ruth hauled the flag
down a little, then ran it up to the mast-head again.
At that, a tall young fellow
came springing into the clearing, jumping exultantly
over brush-heaps and tree-trunks, his queue waggling,
his eyes bright, glad, under his three-cornered hat.
Joying that her father had yielded, he ran forward till
he saw Ruth’s tears.
It was the signal to come on,” cried he.
“Yes; to see you sooner,
George. Father [Page 257] is
out yonder. But no, he will never, never consent.”
“Then you will come with
me, love,” he said, taking her hands.
“No, no; I dare not,”
sobbed Ruth. “Father would overtake us.
He swears to shoot you on sight! Go, George!
Escape while you can! Oh, if he should find you
“But, darling love, we
need not fear. We can escape easily. I know
the forest path. But—” Then
he thought how weak her pace.
“We might cross here before
he could come up!” cried Winthrop, looking toward
where the Squire’s boat was now a distant blotch.
“No, no,” wailed
Ruth, yet yielding to his embrace. “This
is the last time I shall see you forever and forever.
Go, dear,—good-bye, my love, my love.”
But he clasped her in his strong
arms, kissing, imploring, cheering her,—and how
should true love choose hopeless renunciation? [Page
. . .
Tempting, defying, regaining
his lost ground, drifting down again, trying hard to
tire out and subdue his heart-pangs, Bedell dallied
with death more closely than ever. He had let
his skiff drift far down toward the Falls. Often
he could see the wide smooth curve where the green volume
first lapses vastly on a lazy slope, to shoulder up
below as a huge calm billow, before pitching into the
madness of waves whose confusion of tossing and tortured
crests hurries to the abyss. The afternoon grew
toward evening before he pulled steadily home, crawling
away from the roarers against the cruel green, watching
the ominous cloud with some such grim humor as if under
observation by an overpowering but baffled enemy.
Approaching his landing, a shout
drew Bedell’s glance ashore to a group of men
excitedly gesticulating. They seemed motioning
him to watch the American shore. Turning, he saw
a boat in midstream, where no craft then on the river,
except his own skiff, could be safe, unless [Page
259] manned by several good men. Only
two oars were flashing. Bedell could make out
two figures indistinctly. It was clear they were
doomed,—though still a full mile above the point
whence he had come, they were much farther out than
he when near the rapids. Yet one life might be
saved! Instantly Bedell’s bow turned outward,
and cheers flung to him from ashore.
At that moment he looked to
his own landing-place, and saw that his larger boat
was gone. Turning again, he angrily recognized
it, but kept right on—he must try to rescue even
a thief. He wondered Ruth had not prevented the
theft, but had no suspicion of the truth. Always
he had refused to let her go out upon the river—mortally
fearing it for her.
Thrusting his skiff mightily
forward,—often it glanced, half-whirled by up-whelming
and spreading spaces of water,—the old Loyalist’s
heart was quit of his pangs, and sore only with certainty
that he must abandon one human soul [Page 260]
to death. By the time he could reach the larger
boat his would be too near the rapids for escape with
When George Winthrop saw Bedell
in pursuit, he bent to his ash-blades more strongly,
and Ruth, trembling to remember her father’s threats,
urged her lover to speed. They feared the pursuer
only, quite unconscious that they were in the remorseless
grasp of the river. Ruth had so often seen her
father far lower down than they had yet drifted that
she did not realize the truth, and George, a stranger
in the Niagara district, was unaware of the length of
the cataracts above the Falls. He was also deceived
by the stream’s treacherous smoothness, and instead
of half-upward, pulled straight across, as if certainly
able to land anywhere he might touch the American shore.
Bedell looked over his shoulder
often. When he distinguished a woman, he put on
more force, but slackened soon—the pull home would
tax his endurance, he reflected. In [Page
261] some sort it was a relief to know that
one was a woman; he had been anticipating trouble
with two men equally bent on being saved. That
the man would abandon himself bravely, the Squire took
as a matter of course. For a while he thought
of pulling with the woman to the American shore, more
easily to be gained from the point where the rescue
must occur. But he rejected the plan, confident
he could win back, for he had sworn never to set foot
on the soil unless in war. Had it been possible
to save both, he would have been forced to disregard
that vow; but the Squire knew that it was impossible
for him to reach the New York Shore with two passengers—two
would overload his boat beyond escape. Man or
woman—one must go over the Falls.
Having carefully studied landmarks
for his position, Bedell turned to look again at the
doomed boat, and a well-known ribbon caught his attention!
The old man dropped his oars, confused with horror.
“My God, my God! it’s [Page
262] Ruth!” he cried, and the whole truth
came with another look, for he had not forgotten George
“Your father stops, Ruth.
Perhaps he is in pain,” said George to the quaking
She looked back. “What
can it be?” she cried, filial love returning overmasteringly.
“Perhaps he is only tired.”
George affected carelessness,—his first wish was
to secure his bride,—and pulled hard away to get
all advantage from Bedell’s halt.
“Tired! He is in
danger of the Falls, then!” screamed Ruth.
“Stop! Turn! Back to him!”
Winthrop instantly prepared
to obey. “Yes, darling,” he said,
“we must not think of ourselves. We must
go back to save him!” Yet his was a sore
groan at turning; what Duty ordered was so hard,—he
must give up his love for the sake of his enemy.
But while Winthrop was still
pulling round, the old Loyalist resumed rowing, with
a more rapid stroke that soon brought him alongside.
In those moments of waiting,
all Bedell’s life, his personal hatreds, his loves,
his sorrows, had been reviewed before his soul.
He had seen again his sons, the slain in battle, in
the pride of their young might; and the gentle eyes
of Ruth had pleaded with him beneath his dead wife’s
brow. Into those beloved, unforgotten, visionary
eyes he looked with an encouraging, strengthening gaze,—now
that the deed to be done was as clear before him as
the face of Almighty God. In accepting it the
darker passions that had swayed his stormy life fell
suddenly away from their hold on his soul. How
trivial had been old disputes! how good at heart
old well-known civic enemies! how poor seemed
hate! how mean and poor seemed all but Love and
Resolution and deep peace had
come upon the man.
The lovers wondered at his look.
No wrath was there. The old eyes were calm and
cheerful, a gentle smile flickered about his lips. [Page
264] Only that he was very pale, Ruth would
have been wholly glad for the happy change.
“Forgive me, father,”
she cried, as he laid hand on their boat.
“I do, my child,”
he answered. “Come now without an instant’s
delay to me.”
“Oh, father, if you would
let us be happy!” cried Ruth, heart-torn by two
“Dear, you shall be happy.
I was wrong, child; I did not understand how you loved
him. But come! You hesitate! Winthrop,
my son, you are in some danger. Into this boat
instantly! both of you! Take the oars, George.
Kiss me, dear, my Ruth, once more. Good-bye, my
little girl. Winthrop, be good to her. And
may God bless you both forever!”
As the old Squire spoke, he
stepped into the larger boat, instantly releasing the
skiff. His imperative gentleness has secured his
object without loss of time, and the boats were apart
with Winthrop’s readiness to pull.
“Now row! Row for
her life to yonder [Page 265] shore!
Bow well up! Away, or the Falls will have her!”
“But you!” cried
Winthrop, bending for his stroke. Yet he did not
comprehend Bedell’s meaning. Till the last
old man had spoken without strong excitement.
Dread of the river was not on George; his bliss was
supreme in his thought, and he took the Squire’s
order for one of exaggerated alarm.
“Row, I say, with all
your strength!” cried Bedell, with a flash of
anger that sent the young fellow away instantly.
“Row!” Concern yourself not for me.
I am going home. Row! for her life, Winthrop!
God will deliver you yet. Good-bye, children.
Remember always my blessing is freely given you.”
“God bless and keep you
forever, father!” cried Ruth, from the distance,
as her lover pulled away.
They landed, conscious of having
passed a swift current, indeed, but quite unthinking
of the price paid for their safety. Looking back
[Page 266] on the darkling river, they
saw nothing of the old man.
“Poor father!” sighed
Ruth, “how kind he was! I’m sore-hearted
for thinking of him at home, so lonely.”
Left alone in the clumsy boat,
Bedell stretched with the long, heavy oars for his own
shore, making appearance of strong exertion. But
when he no longer feared that his children might turn
back with sudden understanding, and vainly, to his aid,
he dragged the boat slowly, watching her swift drift
down—down toward the towering mist. Then
as he gazed at the cloud, rising in two distinct volumes,
came a thought spurring the Loyalist spirit in an instant.
He was not yet out of American water! Thereafter
he pulled steadily, powerfully, noting landmarks anxiously,
studying currents, considering always their trend to
or from his own shore. Half an hour had gone when
he again dropped into slower motion. Then he could
see Goat Island’s upper end between him and the
mist of the American Fall. [Page 267]
Now the old man gave himself
up to intense curiosity, looking over into the water
with fascinated inquiry. He had never been so
far down the river. Darting beside their shadows,
deep in the clear flood, were now larger fishes than
he had ever taken, and all moved up as if hurrying to
escape. How fast the long trailing, swaying, single
weeds, and the crevices in flat rock whence they so
strangely grew, went up stream and away as if drawn
backward. The sameness of the bottom to that higher
up interested him—where then did the
current begin to sweep clean? He should certainly
know that soon, he thought, without a touch of fear,
having utterly accepted death when he determined it
were base to carry his weary old life a little longer,
and let Ruth’s young love die. Now the Falls’
heavy monotone was overborne by terrible sounds—a
mingled clashing, shrieking, groaning, and rumbling,
as of great bowlders churned in their beds.
Bedell was nearing the first
long swoop downward [Page 268] at the
rapids’ head when those watching him from the
high bank below the Chippewa River’s mouth saw
him put his boat stern with the current and cease rowing
entirely, facing fairly the up-rushing mist to which
he was being hurried. Then they observed him stooping,
as if writing, for a time. Something flashed in
his hands, and then he knelt with head bowed down.
Kneeling, they prayed, too.
Now he was almost on the brink
of the cascades. Then he arose, and, glancing
backward to his home, caught sight of his friends on
the high shore. Calmly he waved a farewell.
What then? Thrice round he flung his hat, with
a gesture they knew full well. Some had seen that
exultant waving in front of ranks of battle. As
clearly as though the roar of waters had not drowned
his ringing voice, they knew that old John Bedell, at
the poise of death, cheered thrice, “Hurrah!
Hurrah! Hurrah for the King!”
They found his body a week afterward,
floating [Page 269] with the heaving
water in the gorge below the Falls. Though beaten
almost out of recognition, portions of clothing still
adhered to it, and in a waistcoat pocket they found
the old Loyalist’s metal snuff-box, with this
inscription scratched by knife-point on the cover: “God
be praised, I die in British waters! JOHN BEDELL.”
The United Empire Loyalists were American Tories who
forsook their homes and property after the Revolution
in order to live in Canada under the British Flag.
It is impossible to understand Canadian feeling for
the Crown at the present day without understanding the
U.E. Loyalist spirit, which, though Canadians are not
now unfriendly to the United States, is still the most
important political force in the Dominion, and holds
it firmly in allegiance to the Queen. [back]