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hidden depths he found plenty of hiding places, from which he could make rapid excursions against the foe in all directions, and in which safe shelter always awaited him. His men, like himself, were hardy, well seasoned fellows, used to a warm climate and marshy surroundings, bred to hardship and privation, and able to subsist and keep well in that sickly region where few not trained to the situation and mode of life could have retained health and strength.
Marion's headquarters were on Snow's Island, at the point where Lynch's Creek flows into the Pedee. Here he found islands of high land in the midst of the reedy swamps, with an abundance of game and the forest for covering. Wet thicket and cane-brakes spread around, with paths known only to the partisans, who kept their secrets well. Within was noble woodland growth, equal to that haunted of old by Robin Hood and his men, splendid moss-laden trees, and dry grassy soil, where the horses fed in content and on which the men dwelt in wild freedom like a band of forest outlaws.
There is a very interesting story about their mode of life, which has often been told but will bear telling again. A young British officer was sent from Georgetown under a flag of truce, to arrange with Marion about an exchange of prisoners. He was brought to the camp blindfolded, by way of devious paths through the swamps, and when the bandage was removed from his eyes he looked around with admiration and surprise on the magnificent woodland scene in which he found himself and at the ragged band who lay or lounged in rustic ease around. His surprise was doubled when he gazed on Marion, and instead of the burly giant his fancy had conceived saw before him a swarthy, smokedried little man, dressed in the shabbiest of clothes, that seemed more rags than attire. The group of sunburnt, yellow-legged fellows around, some roasting potatoes, some stretched out asleep on the green sward, could these be the men that had so often vexed and defied the British forces ?
He soon learned that this diminutive chap was the renowned Marion and quickly settled the business on which he came, the wildwood champion being willing enough to rid himself of his prisoners. The officer then signified his purpose to return.
Not so, my dear sir,” said Marion. “It is our time for dining, and I hope you will give me the pleasure of your company at dinner.”
“I shall be delighted,” said the officer politely, but he looked round with wondering eyes. Where were any of the essentials of a dinner, the board, the tableware, the food ?
We dine here in simple, woodland fashion, captain," said Marion, with a smile. “Pray be seated.Come, Tom," he called to one of the men, "bring us our dinner.”
Seating himself on a mossy log, he pointed to an opposite one for the officer. In a few minutes Tom appeared, coming from a fire of brushwood at a distance, and carrying on a large piece of bark some well roasted sweet potatoes.
“Help yourself, captain,” said Marion, taking up a brown-skinned potato from the platter, breaking it in half, and beginning to eat with a forest appetite.
The surprised officer, a well-bred man, followed his example, though with more politeness than relish. He at length broke out into a hearty laugh.
“I beg your pardon, general,” he said. “I was thinking of the droll looks of some of my brother officers, if our government were to give them such a bill of fare as this."
“I suppose, then, it is not equal to your usual style of dining?"
“No, indeed. And I judge it must be a sort of Lenten repast with you. No doubt, you usually live much better."
“Rather worse, usually,” said Marion, "for often we do not get enough of these."
“ But then you probably make up in pay what you lack in provisions.”
Not a cent, sir; not a cent."
Good Heavens! You must be in a bad box, indeed. I don't see how you stand it.”
“Why, captain," said Marion, smiling, “these things depend on feeling."
When the captain returned to Georgetown he was in a thoughtful mood. To his superior officer he said:
“Sir, I have seen an American general and his officers, serving without pay and almost without clothes, living on roots and drinking water: and all for liberty! How can we ever succeed against men like these?”
Of the exploits of Marion we can give but a few examples; they were too many to be told in detail. He was constantly darting about, striking detached parties, cutting off wanderers, breaking up convoys, always appearing where least expected, dealing sharp blows in such quick succession and at such widely separated points that it seemed impossible that a single band could give all this trouble. Not a detachment or a convoy could go abroad without danger of being cut off by the alert Swamp-Fox.
The annoyance grew so great that Colonel Wemyss, one of the best British cavalry leaders, was sent to try and take him by surprise during one of his distant raids. Wemyss got on his trail and hotly pursued him, but Marion led him such a dance, through grimy morasses and over deep streams, up into North Carolina and back again, always just beyond reach, that Wemyss at last gave up the chase in disgust, and sent out his men to harry the country. As soon as the pursuit ceased Marion, with only sixty men behind him, rode to the desolated district, where he found numbers of recruits among the incensed people. Quickly afterwards he fell on a large body of Tories near Georgetown and fairly cut them to pieces, while losing but a single man from his ranks.
The British, more angered than ever, now sent Tarleton, the hard-riding marauder, to run him down and crush him, but Tarleton found that he had taken the hardest task of his life. He could ruin the country, but he could not catch Marion, though he felt the sharp bite of the Swamp-Fox at a dozen points. At length he too gave it up, swearing hotly against this persistent fellow, who “would not fight like a gentleman."
In 1781, another cavalry leader, Colonel Watson, took up the same task, with a force of five hundred men. Marion was now at Snow's Island, and as active
One of his movements brought him unexpectedly into contact with Watson and a fight ensued. Watson's field-pieces gave him the advantage and Marion was obliged to fall back. Reaching a bridge over Black River, he kept back the foe until he was able to burn the bridge and throw the stream between them. Then an odd sort of fight began. The two forces marched down the sides of the river firing across the water, for ten miles, until darkness ended the fight. For ten days Watson remained there, not able to get at Marion, and so annoyed by the constant attacks of his active foe, that to escape complete destruction, he was forced to make a midnight flight. Like Tarleton, he came to the decision that Marion “would not fight like a gentleman or a Christian."
There is one other story of Marion's career, with which we must close. The mansion of Mrs. Rebecca Motte, a rich widow of South Carolina, had been taken possession of by the British and converted into a stronghold which they named Fort Motte. It was attacked in May, 1781, by Marion and Major Lee in conjunction. After some days of siege, word came that Lord Rawdon was approaching with a strong force. They must finish their work quickly or it would be too late.
Lee determined to try and burn the house, whose roof was then very dry from several days of hot sunshine. He suggested this to Mrs. Motte, not knowing how she would like it. But the patriotic woman took it cheerfully and even offered to provide for the purpose a fine bow and arrows of East Indian make, which she possessed.
Flaming arrows were shot at the roof and soon the shingles were in a blaze. The soldiers sent up to extinguish the flames were driven back by fire from a field-piece. There was no hope for the garrison but to surrender, and this they did. The firing ceased, the flames were extinguished and an hour afterwards the victorious and captive officers were seated together at an ample repast at Mrs. Motte's table, over which that lady presided with the utmost grace and urbanity.