THE VILLAGE PRIZE
By Joseph Ingraham
In one of the loveliest villages of old Virginia there
lived, in the year 175– and odd, an old man, whose
daughter was declared, by universal consent, to be the
loveliest maiden in all the country round. The veteran,
in his youth, had been athletic and muscular above
all his fellows; and his breast, where he always wore
them, could show the adornment of three medals, received
for his victories in gymnastic feats when a young
man. His daughter was now eighteen, and had been
sought in marriage by many suitors. One brought
wealth—another, a fine person—another, industry—another,
military talents—another this, and another
that. But they were all refused by the old man, who
became at last a by-word for his obstinacy among the
young men of the village and neighborhood. At length,
the nineteenth birthday of Annette, his charming daughter,
who was as amiable and modest as she was beautiful,
arrived. The morning of that day, her father invited
all the youth of the country to a hay-making frolic.
Seventeen handsome and industrious young men assembled.
They came not only to make hay, but also
to make love to the fair Annette. In three hours they
had filled the father's barns with the newly dried grass,
and their own hearts with love. Annette, by her father's
command, had brought them malt liquor of her
own brewing, which she presented to each enamored
swain with her own fair hands.
"Now my boys," said the old keeper of the jewel
they all coveted, as leaning on their pitch-forks they
assembled around his door in the cool of the evening—"Now
my lads, you have nearly all of you made proposals
for my Annette. Now you see, I don't care
any thing about money nor talents, book larning nor
soldier larning—I can do as well by my gal as any
man in the county. But I want her to marry a man
of my own grit. Now, you know, or ought to know,
when I was a youngster, I could beat any thing in all
Virginny in the way o' leaping. I got my old woman
by beating the smartest man on the Eastern Shore, and
I have took the oath and sworn it, that no man shall
marry my daughter without jumping for it. You understand
me boys. There's the green, and here's
Annette," he added, taking his daughter, who stood
timidly behind him, by the hand, "Now the one that
jumps the furthest on a 'dead level,' shall marry Annette
this very night."
This unique address was received by the young men
with applause. And many a youth as he bounded
gaily forward to the arena of trial, cast a glance of
anticipated victory back upon the lovely object of village
chivalry. The maidens left their looms and
quilting frames, the children their noisy sports, the
slaves their labors, and the old men their arm-chairs
and long pipes, to witness and triumph in the success
of the victor. All prophesied and many wished that it
would be young Carroll. He was the handsomest and
best-humored youth in the county, and all knew that
a strong and mutual attachment existed between him
and the fair Annette. Carroll had won the reputation
of being the "best leaper," and in a country where
such athletic achievements were the sine qua non of a
man's cleverness, this was no ordinary honor. In a
contest like the present, he had therefore every advantage
over his fellow athletæ.
The arena allotted for this hymeneal contest, was a
level space in front of the village-inn, and near the
centre of a grass-plat, reserved in the midst of the village
denominated "the green." The verdure was
quite worn off at this place by previous exercises of a
similar kind, and a hard surface of sand more befittingly
for the purpose to which it was to be used, supplied
The father of the lovely, blushing, and withal happy
prize, (for she well knew who would win,) with three
other patriarchal villagers were the judges appointed
to decide upon the claims of the several competitors.
The last time Carroll tried his skill in this exercise, he
"cleared"—to use the leaper's phraseology—twenty-one
feet and one inch.
The signal was given, and by lot the young men
stepped into the arena.
"Edward Grayson, seventeen feet," cried one of
the judges. The youth had done his utmost. He
was a pale, intellectual student. But what had intellect
to do in such an arena? Without looking at the
maiden he slowly left the ground.
"Dick Boulden, nineteen feet." Dick with a laugh
turned away, and replaced his coat.
"Harry Preston, nineteen feet and three inches."
"Well done Harry Preston," shouted the spectators,
"you have tried hard for the acres and homestead."
Harry also laughed and swore he only "jumped for
the fun of the thing." Harry was a rattle-brained fellow,
but never thought of matrimony. He loved to
walk and talk, and laugh and romp with Annette, but
sober marriage never came into his head. He only
jumped "for the fun of the thing." He would not
have said so, if sure of winning.
"Charley Simms, fifteen feet and a half." "Hurrah
for Charley! Charley'll win!" cried the crowd
good-humoredly. Charley Simms was the cleverest
fellow in the world. His mother had advised him to
stay at home, and told him if he ever won a wife, she
would fall in love with his good temper, rather than
his legs. Charley however made the trial of the latter's
capabilities and lost. Many refused to enter the
lists altogether. Others made the trial, and only one
of the leapers had yet cleared twenty feet.
"Now," cried the villagers, "let's see Henry Carroll.
He ought to beat this," and every one appeared,
as they called to mind the mutual love of the last competitor
and the sweet Annette, as if they heartily wished
Henry stepped to his post with a firm tread. His
eye glanced with confidence around upon the villagers
and rested, before he bounded forward, upon the
face of Annette, as if to catch therefrom that spirit and
assurance which the occasion called for. Returning
the encouraging glance with which she met his own,
with a proud smile upon his lip, he bounded forward.
"Twenty-one feet and a half!" shouted the multitude,
repeating the announcement of one of the judges,
"twenty-one feet and a half. Harry Carroll forever.
Annette and Harry." Hands, caps, and kerchiefs
waved over the heads of the spectators, and the eyes
of the delighted Annette sparkled with joy.
When Harry Carroll moved to his station to strive
for the prize, a tall, gentlemanly young man in a military
undress frock-coat, who had rode up to the inn,
dismounted and joined the spectators, unperceived,
while the contest was going on, stepped suddenly forward,
and with a "knowing eye," measured deliberately
the space accomplished by the last leaper. He
was a stranger in the village. His handsome face and
easy address attracted the eyes of the village maidens,
and his manly and sinewy frame, in which symmetry
and strength were happily united, called forth the admiration
of the young men.
"Mayhap, sir stranger, you think you can beat that,"
said one of the by-standers, remarking the manner in
which the eye of the stranger scanned the area. "If
you can leap beyond Harry Carroll, you'll beat the
best man in the colonies." The truth of this observation
was assented to by a general murmur.
"Is it for mere amusement you are pursuing this
pastime?" inquired the youthful stranger, "or is
there a prize for the winner?"
"Annette, the loveliest and wealthiest of our village-maidens,
is to be the reward of the victor," cried one
of the judges.
"Are the lists open to all?"
"All, young sir!" replied the father of Annette,
with interest,—his youthful ardour rising as he surveyed
the proportions of the straight-limbed young stranger.
"She is the bride of him who out-leaps Henry
Carroll. If you will try, you are free to do so. But
let me tell you, Harry Carroll has no rival in Virginny.
Here is my daughter, sir, look at her and make your
The young officer glanced upon the trembling maiden
about to be offered on the altar of her father's unconquerable
monomania, with an admiring eye. The
poor girl looked at Harry, who stood near with a troubled
brow and angry eye, and then cast upon the new
competitor an imploring glance.
Placing his coat in the hands of one of the judges, he
drew a sash he wore beneath it tighter around his waist,
and taking the appointed stand, made, apparently without
effort, the bound that was to decide the happiness
or misery of Henry and Annette.
"Twenty two feet one inch!" shouted the judge.
The announcement was repeated with surprise by the
spectators, who crowded around the victor, filling the
air with congratulations, not unmingled, however, with
loud murmurs from those who were more nearly interested
in the happiness of the lovers.
The old man approached, and grasping his hand exultingly,
called him his son, and said he felt prouder
of him than if he were a prince. Physical activity
and strength were the old leaper's true patents of nobility.
Resuming his coat, the victor sought with his eye
the fair prize he had, although nameless and unknown,
so fairly won. She leaned upon her father's arm, pale
Her lover stood aloof, gloomy and mortified, admiring
the superiority of the stranger in an exercise
in which he prided himself as unrivalled, while he hated
him for his success.
"Annette, my pretty prize," said the victor, taking
her passive hand—"I have won you fairly." Annette's
cheek became paler than marble; she trembled like
an aspen-leaf, and clung closer to her father, while
her drooping eye sought the form of her lover. His
brow grew dark at the stranger's language.
"I have won you, my pretty flower, to make you a
bride!—tremble not so violently—I mean not for myself,
however proud I might be," he added with gallantry,
"to wear so fair a gem next my heart. Perhaps,"
and he cast his eyes around inquiringly, while the current
of life leaped joyfully to her brow, and a murmur
of surprise run through the crowd—"perhaps there is
some favored youth among the competitors, who has a
higher claim to this jewel. Young Sir," he continued,
turning to the surprised Henry, "methinks you
were victor in the lists before me,—I strove not for the
maiden, though one could not well strive for a fairer—but
from love for the manly sport in which I saw you
engaged. You are the victor, and as such, with the
permission of this worthy assembly, receive from my
hands the prize you have so well and honorably won."
The youth sprung forward and grasped his hand
with gratitude; and the next moment, Annette was
weeping from pure joy upon his shoulders. The welkin
rung with the acclamations of the delighted villagers,
and amid the temporary excitement produced by
this act, the stranger withdrew from the crowd, mounted
his horse, and spurred at a brisk trot through the
That night, Henry and Annette were married, and
the health of the mysterious and noble-hearted stranger,
was drunk in over-flowing bumpers of rustic beverage.
In process of time, there were born unto the married
pair, sons and daughters, and Harry Carroll had
become Colonel Henry Carroll, of the Revolutionary
One evening, having just returned home after a hard
campaign, he was sitting with his family on the gallery
of his handsome country-house, when an advance
courier rode up and announced the approach of General
Washington and suite, informing him that he should
crave his hospitality for the night. The necessary directions
were given in reference to the household preparations,
and Col. Carroll, ordering his horse, rode forward
to meet and escort to his house the distinguished
guest, whom he had never yet seen, although serving
in the same widely-extended army.
That evening at the table, Annette, now become
the dignified, matronly and still handsome Mrs. Carroll,
could not keep her eyes from the face of her illustrious
visitor. Every moment or two she would steal a
glance at his commanding features, and half-doubtingly,
half-assumedly, shake her head and look again and
again, to be still more puzzled. Her absence of mind
and embarrassment at length became evident to her
husband who, inquired affectionately if she were ill?
"I suspect, Colonel," said the General, who had
been some time, with a quiet, meaning smile, observing
the lady's curious and puzzled survey of his features—"that
Mrs. Carroll thinks she recognizes in me an old
acquaintance." And he smiled with a mysterious air,
as he gazed upon both alternately.
The Colonel stared, and a faint memory of the past
seemed to be revived, as he gazed, while the lady rose
impulsively from her chair, and bending eagerly forward
over the tea-urn, with clasped hands and an eye
of intense, eager inquiry, fixed full upon him, stood for
a moment with her lips parted as if she would speak.
"Pardon me, my dear madam—pardon me, Colonel,
I must put an end to this scene. I have become, by
dint of camp-fare and hard usage, too unwieldy to leap
again twenty-two feet one inch, even for so fair a bride
as one I wot of."
The recognition, with the surprise, delight and happiness
that followed, are left to the imagination of the
General Washington was indeed the handsome young
"leaper," whose mysterious appearance and disappearance
in the native village of the lovers, is still traditionary,
and whose claim to a substantial body of bona fide
flesh and blood, was stoutly contested by the village
story-tellers, until the happy denouement which took
place at the hospitable mansion of Col. Carroll.