By Frank R. Stockton
Originally published in 1896
This Web version, edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2003
THERE are so many curious and unexpected things which may happen in time of war, especially to people who live in parts of a country where the enemy may be expected to come, or where the friendly army is already encamped, that it is impossible to guard against unpleasant occurrences; and it often happens that the only thing to be depended upon when an emergency arises, is presence of mind, and quickness of wit.
In these qualities, New Jersey girls have never shown themselves behind their sisters of other parts of the country, and a very good proof of this is shown by an incident which took place near Morristown during the time that the American army was quartered in that neighborhood.
Not far from the town was a farm then known as Wick's farm, situated in a beautiful wooded country. The daughter of Mr. Wick, named Tempe (probably short for Temperance), was the owner of a very fine horse, and on this beautiful animal it was her delight to ride over the roads and through the woods of the surrounding country. She had been accustomed to horses since she was a child, and was not afraid to ride anywhere by herself.
When she first began to canter over these hills and dales, it had been in times of peace, when there was nothing in this quiet country of which any one might be afraid; and now, although these were days of war, she felt no fear. There were soldiers not far away, but these she looked upon as her friends and protectors; for Washington and his army had encamped in that region to defend the country against the approach of the enemy. If any straggling Redcoats should feel a desire to come along the hills, they would be very apt to restrain their inclinations so long as they knew that that brave American army was encamped near by.
So Miss Tempe Wick, fearing nothing, rode far and wide, as she had been in the habit of doing, and every day she and her good steed became better and better acquainted with each other. One fine afternoon, as Tempe was slowly riding homeward, within a mile of her house, she met half a dozen soldiers in Continental uniform, and two of them, stepping in front of her, called upon her to stop. When she had done so, one of them seized her bridle. She did not know the men; but still, as they belonged to Washington's army, who were her countrymen and friends, she saw no reason to be afraid, and asked them what they wanted.
At first she received no answer, for they were very busily occupied in looking at her horse and expressing their satisfaction at the fine points of the animal. Tempe had had her horse praised before; but these men were looking at him, and talking about him, very much as if he were for sale and they were thinking of buying. Presently one of the men said to her that this was a very excellent horse that she was riding, and they wanted it. To this Tempe exclaimed, in great amazement, that it was her own horse, that she wanted him herself, and had no wish to dispose of him. Some of the soldiers laughed, and one of them told her that the troops were about to move, and that good horses were greatly needed, and that they had orders to levy upon the surrounding country and take horses wherever they could find them.
Now was Tempe astonished beyond measure. If half a dozen British soldiers had surrounded her, and had declared that they intended to rob her of her horse, she would not have wondered at it, for they would have taken it as the property of an enemy. But that the soldiers of her own country, the men on whom she and all her friends and neighbors depended for protection and safety, should turn on her and rob her, as if they had been a set of marauding Hessians, was something she could scarcely comprehend.
But it did not take her long to understand, that no matter who they were or what they were, whether they thought they had a right to do what they threatened, or whether they had no regard for right and justice, they were in earnest, and intended to take her horse. When this conviction flashed into the mind of Tempe Wick, there also flashed into it a determination to show these men that a Jersey girl had a will of her own, and that if they wanted her property, they would have to do a great deal more than simply to come to her and ask her to hand it over to them. After a little parley, during which the man who held her bridle let go of it, supposing she was about to dismount, she suddenly gave her spirited horse a sharp cut with the whip, dashed between two of the soldiers, and, before they could comprehend what had happened, she was off and away.
As fast as they could run, the soldiers followed her, one or two of them firing their guns in the air, think- ing to frighten her and make her stop ; but, as though she had been a deer and her pursuers ordinary hunters, she swiftly sped away from them.
But they did not give up the chase. Some of them knew where this girl lived, and were confident that when they reached her house, they would have the horse. If they had known it was such a fine animal, they would have come after it before. According to their belief, good horses should go into the army, and people who staid at home, and expected other people to fight for them, ought to be willing to do what they could to help in the good cause, and at least give their horses to the army.
As Tempe sat upon her bounding steed, she knew very well that the soldiers could never catch her; but her heart sank within her as she thought of what would happen when they came to the farm and demanded her horse. Running away from them was only postponing her trouble for a little while, for there was no one about the place who could prevent those men from going to the barn and taking away the animal