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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesReckoning - Chapter 6. A Night And A Morning
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Reckoning - Chapter 6. A Night And A Morning Post by :CalGolden Category :Long Stories Author :Robert W. Chambers Date :May 2012 Read :1999

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Reckoning - Chapter 6. A Night And A Morning

CHAPTER VI. A NIGHT AND A MORNING

As our coach passed Crown Street I could no longer doubt whither we were bound. The shock of certainty aroused me from the stunned lethargy which had chained me to silence. At the same moment Sir Peter thrust his head from the window and called to his coachman:

"Drive home first!" And to me, resuming his seat: "We had nigh forgotten the case of pistols, Carus."

The horses swung west into Maiden Lane, then south through Nassau Street, across Crown, Little Queen, and King Streets, swerving to the right around the City Hall, then sharp west again, stopping at our own gate with a clatter and clash of harness.

Sir Peter leaped out lightly, and I followed, leaving Dr. Carmody, with his surgical case, to await our return.

Under the door-lanthorn Sir Peter turned, and in a low voice asked me if I could remember where the pistol-case was laid.

My mind was now clear and alert, my wits already busily at work. To prevent Sir Peter's facing Walter Butler; to avoid Cunningham's gallows; could the first be accomplished without failure in the second? Arrest might await me at any instant now, here in our own house, there at the Coq d'Or, or even on the very field of honor itself.

"Where did you leave the pistol-case that day you practised in the garden?" I asked coolly.

"'Twas you took it, Carus," he said. "Were you not showing the pistols to Elsin Grey?"

I dropped my head, pretending to think. He waited a moment, then drew out his latch-key and opened the door very softly. A single sconce-candle flared in the hall; he lifted it from the gilded socket and passed into the state drawing-room, holding the light above his head, and searching over table and cabinet for the inlaid case.

Standing there in the hall I looked up the dark and shadowy stairway. There was no light, no sound. In the drawing-room I heard Sir Peter moving about, opening locked cupboards, lacquered drawers, and crystal doors, the shifting light of his candle playing over wall and ceiling. Why he had not already found the case where I had placed it on the gilded French table I could not understand, and I stole to the door and looked in. The French table stood empty save for a vase of shadowy flowers; Sir Peter was on his knees, candle in hand, searching the endless lines of book-shelves in the library. A strange suspicion stole into my heart which set it drumming on my ribs. Had Elsin Grey removed the pistols? Had she wit enough to understand the matters threatening?

I looked up at the stairs again, then mounted them noiselessly, and traversed the carpeted passage to her door. There was a faint light glimmering under the sill. I laid my face against the panels and whispered, "Elsin!"

"Who is there?" A movement from within, a creak from the bed, a rustle of a garment, then silence. Listening there, ear to her door, I heard distinctly the steady breathing of some one also listening on the other side.

"Elsin!"

"Is it you, Carus?"

She opened the door wide and stood there, candle in one hand, rubbing her eyes with the other, lace night-cap and flowing, beribboned robe stirring in the draft of air from the dark hallway. But under the loosened neck-cloth I caught a gleam of a metal button, and instantly I was aware of a pretense somewhere, for beneath the flowing polonaise of chintz, or Levete, which is a kind of gown and petticoat tied on the left hip with a sash of lace, she was fully dressed, aye, and shod for the street.

Instinctively I glanced at the bed, made a quick step past her, and drew the damask curtain. The bed had not been slept in.

"What are you thinking of, Carus?" she said hotly, springing to the curtain. There was a sharp sound of cloth tearing; she stumbled, caught my arm, and straightened up, red as fire, for the hem of her Levete was laid open to the knee, and displayed a foot-mantle, under which a tiny golden spur flashed on a lacquered boot-heel.

"What does this mean?" I said sternly. "Whither do you ride at such an hour?"

She was speechless.

"Elsin! Elsin! If you had wit enough to hide Sir Peter's pistols, render them to me now. Delay may mean my ruin."

She stood at bay, eying me, uncertain but defiant.

"Where are they?" I urged impatiently.

"He shall not fight that man!" she muttered. "If I am the cause of this quarrel I shall end it, too. What if he were killed by Walter Butler?"

"The pistols are beneath your mattress!" I said suddenly. "I must have them."

Quick as thought she placed herself between me and the bed, blue eyes sparkling, arms wide.

"Will you go?" she whispered fiercely. "How dare you intrude here!"

Taken aback by the sudden fury that flashed out in my very face, I gave ground.

"You little wildcat," I said, amazed, "give me the pistols! I know how to act. Give them, I say! Do you think me a poltroon to allow Sir Peter to face this rascal's fire?"

She straightened with a sudden quiver.

"You! The pistols were for _you!_"

"For me and Walter Butler," I said coolly. "Give them, Elsin. What has been done this night has set me free of my vow. Can you not understand? I tell you he stands in my light, throwing the shadow of the gallows over me! May a man not win back to life but a chit of a maid must snatch his chance away? Give them, or I swing at dawn upon the common!"

A flush of horror swept her cheeks, leaving her staring. Her wide-flung arms dropped nervelessly and hung beside her.

"Is it _true_," she faltered--"what he came here to tell us on his way to that vile tavern? I gave him the lie, Carus. I gave him the lie there in the hall below." She choked, laying her white hand on her throat. "Speak!" she said harshly; "do you fear to face this dreadful charge he flung in my teeth? I"--she almost sobbed--"I told him that he lied."

"He did not lie. I am a spy these four years here," I said wearily. "Will you give me those pistols now?--or I take them by force!"

"Carus," called Sir Peter from the hall, "if Lady Coleville has my pistols, she must render them to you on the instant."

His passionless voice rang through the still, dark house.

"She has gone to the Coq d'Or," muttered Elsin Grey, motionless before me.

"To stop this duel?"

"To stop it. Oh, my God!"

There was a silence, broken by a quick tread on the stairs. The next moment Sir Peter appeared, staring at us there, candle flaring in his hand, his fingers striped with running wax.

"What does this mean?" he asked, confused. "Where is Lady Coleville?"

"She has gone to the Coq d'Or," I said. "Your pistols are hidden, sir."

He paled, gazing at Elsin Grey.

"She guessed that I meant to--to exchange a shot with Captain Butler?" he stammered.

"It appears," said I, "that Mr. Butler, with that delicacy for which he is notorious, stopped here on his way to the tavern. You may imagine Lady Coleville could not let this matter proceed."

He gazed miserably at Elsin, passing his hand over his haggard face. Then, slowly turning to me: "My honor is engaged, Carus. What is best now? I am in your hands."

I laid my arm in his, quietly turning him and urging him to the stairs. "Leave it to me," I whispered, taking the candle he held. "Go to the coach and wait there. I will be with you in a moment."

The door of Elsin's chamber closed behind us. He descended the black stairway, feeling his way by touch along the slim rail of the banisters, and I waited there, lighting him from above until the front doors clashed behind him. Then I turned back to the closed door of Elsin's chamber and knocked loudly.

She flung it wide again, standing this time fully dressed, a gilt-edged tricorn on her head, and in her hands riding-whip and gloves.

"I know what need be done," she said haughtily. "Through this meshed tangle of treachery and dishonor there leads but one clean path. That I shall tread, Mr. Renault!"

"Let the words go," I said between tightening lips, "but give me that pair of pistols, now!"

"For Sir Peter's use?"

"No, for mine."

"I shall not!"

"Oh, you would rather see me hanged, like Captain Hale?"

She whitened where she stood, tugging at her gloves, teeth set in her lower lip.

"You shall neither fight nor hang," she said, her blue eyes fixed on space, busy with her gloves the while--so busy that her whip dropped, and I picked it up.

There was a black loup-mask hanging from her girdle. When her gloves were fitted to suit her she jerked the mask from the string and set it over her eyes.

"My whip?" she asked curtly.

I gave it.

"Now," she said, "your pistol-case lies hid beneath my bed-covers. Take it, Mr. Renault, but it shall serve a purpose that neither you nor Walter Butler dream of!"

I stared at her without a word. She opened the beaded purse at her girdle, took from it a heaping handful of golden guineas, and dropped them on her dresser, where they fell with a pleasant sound, rolling together in a shining heap. Then, looking through her mask at me, she fumbled at her throat, caught a thin golden chain, snapped it in two, and drew a tiny ivory miniature from her breast; and still looking straight into my eyes she dropped it face upward on the polished floor. It bore the likeness of Walter Butler. She set her spurred heel upon it and crushed it, grinding the fragments into splinters. Then she walked by me, slowly, her eyes still on mine, the hem of her foot-mantle slightly lifted; and so, turning her head to watch me, she passed the door, closed it behind her, and was gone.

What the strange maid meant to do I did not know, but I knew what lay before me now. First I flung aside the curtains of her bed, tore the fine linen from it, burrowing in downy depths, under pillow, quilt, and valance, until my hands encountered something hard; and I dragged out the pistol-case and snapped it open. The silver-chased weapons lay there in perfect order; under the drawer that held them was another drawer containing finest priming-powder, shaped wads, ball, and a case of flints.

So all was ready and in order. I closed the case and hurried up the stairway to my room, candle in hand. Ha! The wainscot cupboard I had so cunningly devised was swinging wide. In it had been concealed that blotted sheet rejected from the copy of my letter to his Excellency--nothing more; yet that alone was quite enough to hang me, and I knew it as I stood there, my candle lighting an empty cupboard.

Suddenly terror laid an icy hand upon me. I shook to my knees, listening. Why had he not denounced me, then? And in the same instant the answer came: _He was to profit by my disgrace; _he was to be aggrandized by my downfall. The drama he had prepared was to be set in scenery of his own choosing. His savant fingers grasped the tiller, steering me inexorably to my destruction.

Yet, as I stood there, teeth set, tearing my finery from me, flinging coat one way, waistcoat another, and dressing me with blind haste in riding-clothes and boots, I felt that just a single chance was left to me with honor; and I seized the passes that Sir Henry had handed me for Sir Peter and his lady, and stuffed them into my breast-pocket.

Gloved, booted, spurred, I caught up the case of pistols, ran down the stairs, flung open the door, and slammed it behind me.

Sir Peter stood waiting by the coach; and when he saw me with his pistol-case he said: "Well done, Carus! I had no mind to go hammering at a friend's door to beg a brace of pistols at such an hour."

I placed the case after he had entered the coach. Dr. Carmody made room for me, but I shook my head.

"I ride," I said. "Wait but an instant more."

"Why do you ride?" asked Sir Peter, surprised.

"You will understand later," I said gaily. "Be patient, gentlemen;" and I ran for the stables. Sleepy hostlers in smalls and bare feet tumbled out in the glare of the coach-house lanthorn at my shout.

"The roan," I said briefly. "Saddle for your lives!"

The stars were no paler in the heavens as I stood there on the grass, waiting, yet dawn must be very near now; and, indeed, the birds' chorus broke out as I set foot to stirrup, though still all was dark around me.

"Now, gentlemen," I said, spurring up to the carriage-door. I nodded to the coachman, and we were off at last, I composed and keenly alert, cantering at Sir Peter's coach-wheels, perfectly aware that I was riding for my liberty at last, or for a fall that meant the end of all for me.

There was a chaise standing full in the light of the tavern windows when we clattered up--a horse at the horse-block, too, and more horses tied to the hitching-ring at the side-door.

At the sound of our wheels Mr. Jessop appeared, hastening from the cherry grove, and we exchanged salutes very gravely, I asking pardon for the delay, he protesting at apology; saying that an encounter by starlight was, after all, irregular, and that his principal desired to wait for dawn if it did not inconvenience us too much.

Then, hat in hand, he asked Sir Peter's indulgence for a private conference with me, and led me away by the arm into a sweet-smelling lane, all thick with honeysuckle and candleberry shrub.

"Carus," he said, "this is painfully irregular. We are proceeding as passion dictates, not according to code. Mr. Butler has no choice but to accept, yet he is innocent of wrong intent, and has so informed me."

"Does he deny his marriage?" I asked.

"Yes, sir, most solemnly. The lady was his mistress, since discarded. He is quite guiltless of this affront to Sir Peter Coleville, and desires nothing better than to say so."

"That concerns us all," I said seriously. "I am acting for Sir Peter, and I assume the responsibility without consulting him. Where is Mr. Butler?"

"In the tap-room parlor."

"Say to him that Sir Peter will receive him in the coffee-room," I said quietly.

Jessop impulsively laid his honest hand upon my shoulder as we turned toward the tavern.

"Thank you, Carus," he said. "I am happy that I have to deal with you instead of some fire-eating, suspicious bullhead sniffing for secret mischief where none lies hid."

"I hear that Lady Coleville is come to stop the duel at any cost," I observed, halting at the door. "May we not hope to avoid a distressing scene, Jessop?"

"We must," he answered, as I left him in the hallway and entered the coffee-room where Sir Peter waited, seated alone, his feet to the empty fireplace.

"Where is Lady Coleville?" he asked, as I stepped up. "She must not remain here, Carus."

"You are not to fight," I said, smiling.

"Not to fight!" he repeated, slowly rising, eyes ablaze.

"Pray trust me with your honor," I replied impatiently, opening the door to a servant's knock. And to the wide-eyed fellow I said: "Go and say to Lady Coleville that Sir Peter is not to fight. Say to her----"

I stopped short. Lady Coleville appeared in an open doorway across the hall, her gaze passing my shoulder straight to Sir Peter, who stood facing her behind me.

"What pleasantry is this?" she asked, advancing, a pale smile stamped on her lovely face.

I made way. She stepped before me, walking straight to Sir Peter. I followed, closing the door behind me.

"Have I ever, ever in all these years, counseled you to dishonor?" she asked. "Then listen now. There is no honor in this thing you seek to do, but in it there lies a dreadful wrong to me."

"He offered insult to our kin--our guest. I can not choose but ask the only reparation he can give," said Sir Peter steadily.

"And leave me to the chance of widowhood?"

Sir Peter whitened to a deathly hue; his distressed eyes traveled from her to me; he made to speak, but no sound came.

"This is all useless," I said quietly, as a knock came at the door. I stepped back and opened it to Walter Butler.

When he saw me his dark eyes lit up with that yellow glare I knew already. Then he turned, bowing to Lady Coleville and to Sir Peter, who, pale and astounded, stared at the man as though the fiend himself stood there before him.

"Sir Peter," began his enemy, "I have thought----"

But I cut him short with a contemptuous laugh.

"Sir Peter," I said, "Mr. Butler is here to say that he is not wedded to his Tryon County mistress--that is all; and as he therefore has not offended you, there is no reason for you to challenge him. Now, sir, I pray you take Lady Coleville and return. Go, in God's name, Sir Peter, for time spurs me, and I have business here to keep me!"

"Let Sir Peter remain," said Butler coldly. "My quarrel is not with him, nor his with me."

"No," said I gaily, "it is with me, I think."

"Carus," cried Lady Coleville, "I forbid you! What senseless thing is this you seek?"

"Pray calm yourself, madam," said Mr. Butler; "he stands in more danger of the gallows than of me."

Sir Peter pushed forward. I caught his arm, forcing him aside, but he struggled, saying: "Did you not hear the man? Let me go, Carus; do you think such an insult to you can pass me like a puff of sea-wind?"

"It strikes me first," I said. "It is to me that Mr. Butler answers."

"No, gentlemen, to _me!_" said a low voice behind us--the voice of Elsin Grey.

Amazed, we turned, passion still marring our white faces. Calm, bright-eyed, a smile that I had never seen imprinted on her closed lips, she walked to the table, unlocked the case of pistols, lifted them, and laid them there in the yellow lamplight.

"Elsin! Elsin!" stammered Lady Coleville; "have you, too, gone mad?"

"This is _my quarrel," she said, turning on me so fiercely that I stepped back. "If any shot is fired in deference to me, _I fire it; if any bullet is sped to defend my honor, _I speed it, gentlemen. Why"--and she turned like a flash upon Sir Peter--"why do you assume to interfere in this? Is not an honest man's duty to his own wife first? Small honor you do yourself or her!--scant love must you bear her to risk your life to chance in a quarrel that concerns not you!"

Astounded and dumb, we stood there as though rooted to the floor.

She looked at Butler and laughed; picked up a pistol, loaded it with incredible deftness, laid it on the table, and began loading the other.

"Elsin! Elsin!" cried Lady Coleville, catching her by the waist, "what is this wild freak of yours? Have you all gone mad to-night?"

"You shake my hand and spill the powder," said the Hon. Miss Grey, smiling.

"Elsin," murmured Walter Butler, "has this fellow Renault poisoned you against me?"

"Why, no, sir. You are married to a wife and dare to court me! There lies the poison, Mr. Butler!"

"Hush, Elsin!" murmured Lady Coleville. "It was a mistake, dear. Mr. Butler is not married to the--the lady--to anybody. He swears it!"

"Not wedded?" She stared, then turned scarlet to her hair. And Walter Butler, I think, mistook the cause and meaning of that crimson shame, for he smiled, and drawing a paper from his coat, spread it to Sir Peter's eyes.

"I spoke of the gallows, Sir Peter, and you felt yourself once more affronted. Yet, if you will glance at this----"

"What is it?" asked Sir Peter, looking him in the eye.

"Treason, Sir Peter--a letter--part of one--to the rebel Washington, written by a spy!"

"A lie! _I wrote it!" said the Hon. Miss Grey.

Walter Butler turned to her, amazed, doubting his ears.

"A jest," she continued carelessly, "to amuse Mr. Renault."

"Amuse _him_! It is in his own hand!" stammered Butler.

"Apparently. But I wrote it, imitating his hand to plague him. It is indifferently done," she added, with a shrug. "I hid it in the cupboard he uses for his love-letters. How came it in your fingers, Mr. Butler?"

In blank astonishment he stood there, the letter half extended, his eyes almost starting from his face. Slowly she moved forward, confronting him, insolent eyes meeting his; and, ere he could guess what she purposed, she had snatched the blotted fragment from him and crushed it in her hand, always eying him until he crimsoned in the focus of her white contempt.

"Go!" she said. Her low voice was passionless.

He turned his burning eyes from her to Lady Coleville, to Sir Peter, then bent his gaze on me. What he divined in my face I know not, but the flame leaped in his eyes, and that ghastly smile stretched the muscles of his visage.

"My zeal, it seems, has placed me at a sorry disadvantage," he said. "Error piled on error growing from a most unhappy misconstruction of my purposes has changed faith to suspicion, amity to coldness. I know not what to say to clear myself--" He turned his melancholy face to Elsin; all anger had faded from it, and only deepest sadness shadowed the pale brow. "I ventured to believe, in days gone by, that my devotion was not utterly displeasing--that perhaps the excesses of a stormy and impetuous youth might be condoned in the humble devotion of an honest passion----"

The silence was intense. He turned dramatically to Sir Peter, his well-shaped hand opening in graceful salute as he bowed.

"I ask you, sir, to lend a gentle judgment till I clear myself. And of your lady, I humbly beg that mercy also." Again he bowed profoundly, hand on hilt, a perfect figure of faultless courtesy, graceful, composed, proudly enduring, proudly subduing pride.

Then he slowly raised his dark head and looked at me. "Mr. Renault," he said, "it is my misfortune that our paths have crossed three times. I trust they cross no more, but may run hereafter in pleasant parallel. I was hasty, I was wrong to judge you by what you said concerning the Oneidas. I am impatient, over-sensitive, quick to fire at what I deem an insult to my King. I serve him as my hot blood dictates--and, burning with resentment that you should dare imperil my design, I searched your chamber to destroy the letter you had threatened warning the Oneidas of their coming punishment. How can you blame me if I took this lady's playful jest for something else?"

"I do not blame you, Captain Butler," I said disdainfully.

"Then may we not resume an intercourse as entertaining as it was full of profit to myself?"

"Time heals--but Time must not be spurred too hard," I answered, watching him.

His stealthy eyes dropped as he inclined his head in acquiescence.

Then Sir Peter spoke, frankly, impetuously, his good heart dictating ever to his reason; and what he said was amiable and kind, standing there, his sweet lady's arm resting on his own. And she, too, spoke graciously but gravely, with a gentle admonition trailing at the end.

But when he turned to Elsin Grey, she softened nothing, and her gesture committed him to silence while she spoke: "End now what you have said so well, nor add one word to that delicate pyramid of eloquence which you have raised so high to your own honor, Captain Butler. I am slow-witted and must ask advice from that physician, Time, whom Mr. Renault, too, has called in council."

"Am I, then, banished?" he asked below his breath.

"Ask yourself, Mr. Butler. And if you find no reply, then I shall answer you."

All eyes were on her. What magic metamorphosis had made this woman from a child in a single night! Where had vanished that vague roundness of cheek and chin in this drawn beauty of maturity? that untroubled eye, that indecision of caprice, that charming restlessness, that childish confidence in others, accepting as a creed what grave lips uttered as a guidance to the lesser years that rested lightly on her?

And Walter Butler, too, had noted some of this, perplexed at the reserve, the calm self-confidence, the unimagined strength and cold composure which he had once swayed by his passion, as a fair and clean-stemmed sapling tosses in tempests that uproot maturer growth.

His furtive, unconvinced eyes sought the floor as he took his leave with every ceremony due himself and us. Dawn already whitened the east. He mounted by the tavern window, and I saw him against the pallid sky in silhouette, riding slowly toward the city, Jessop beside him, and their horses' manes whipping the rising sea-wind from the west.

"What a nightmare this has been!" whispered Lady Coleville, her husband's hands imprisoned in her own. And to Elsin: "Child! what scenes have we dragged you through! Heaven forgive us!--for you have learned a sorry wisdom here concerning men!"

"I have learned," she said steadily, "more than you think, madam. Will you forgive me if I ask a word alone with Mr. Renault?"

"Not here, child. Look! Day comes creeping on us yonder in the hills. Come home before you have your talk with Carus. You may ride with him if you desire, but follow us."

Sir Peter turned to gather up his pistols; but Elsin laid her hand on them, saying that I would care for everything.

"Sure, she means to have her way with us as well as with Walter Butler," he said humorously. "Come, sweetheart, leave them to this new wisdom Elsin found along the road somewhere between the Coq d'Or and Wall Street. They may be wiser than they seem; they could not well be less wise than they are."

The set smile on Elsin's lips changed nothing as Sir Peter led his lady, all reluctant, from the coffee-room, where the sunken candles flickered in the pallid light of morning.

From the front windows we saw the coach drive up, and Lady Coleville, looking back in protest, enter; and after her Sir Peter, and Dr. Carmody with his cases.

"Come to the door and make as though we meant to mount and follow," she said quietly. "Here, take these pistols. Raise the pan and lower the hammers. They are loaded. Thrust them somewhere--beneath your coat. Now follow me."

I obeyed in silence. As we came out of the tavern-door Lady Coleville nodded, and her coach moved off, passing our horses, which the hostlers were bringing round.

I put Elsin up, then swung astride my roan, following her out into the road--a rod or two only ere she wheeled into the honeysuckle lane, reining in so that I came abreast of her.

"Now ride!" she said in an unsteady voice. "I know the man you have to deal with. There is no mercy in him, I tell you, and no safety now for you until you make the rebel lines."

"I know it," I said; "but what of you?"

"What of me?" She laughed a bitter laugh, striking her horse so that he bounded forward down the sandy lane, I abreast of her, stride for stride. "What of me? Why, I lied to him, that is all, Mr. Renault. _And he knew it!_"

"Is that all?" I asked.

"No, not all. _He told the truth to you and to Sir Peter. And _I knew it."

"In what did he tell the truth?"

"In what he said about--his mistress." Her face crimsoned, but she held her head steady and high, nor faltered at the word.

"How is it that you know?"

"How does a woman know? Tell me and I'll confess it. I know because a woman knows such things. Let it rest there--a matter scarcely fitted for discussion between a maid and a man--though I am being soundly schooled, God wot, in every branch of infamy."

"Then turn here," I said, reining in, "and ride no more with what men call a spy."

But she galloped on, head set, flushed and expressionless, and I spurred to overtake her.

"Turn back!" I said hoarsely. "It may go hard with you if I am taken at the lines!"

"Those passes that Sir Henry gave you--you have them?"

"Yes."

"For Sir Peter and his lady?"

"So they are made out."

"Do they know you at Kingsbridge?"

"Yes. The Fifty-fourth guard it."

"Then how can you hope to pass?"

"I shall pass one way or another," I said between my teeth.

She drew from her breast a crumpled paper, unfolded it, and passed it to me, galloping beside me all the while. I scanned it carefully; it was a pass signed by Sir Henry Clinton, permitting her and me to pass the lines, and dated that very night.

"How in Heaven's name did you secure this paper in the last nick of time?" I cried, astounded.

"I knew you needed it--from what you said there in my chamber. Do you remember that Sir Henry left the Fort for a council? It is not far to Queen Street; and when I left you I mounted and galloped thither."

"But--but what excuse----"

"Ask me not, Carus," she said impatiently, while a new color flowed through cheek and temple. "Sir Henry first denied me, then he began to laugh; and I--I galloped here with the ink all wet upon the pass. Whither leads this lane?"

"To the Kingsbridge road."

"Would they stop and search us if dissatisfied?"

"I think not."

"Well, I shall take no risk," she said, snatching the blotted paper from her bosom--the paper she had taken from Walter Butler, and which was written in my hand. "Hide it under a stone in the hedgerow, and place the passes that you had for Sir Peter with it," she said, drawing bridle and looking back.

I dismounted, turned up a great stone, thrust the papers under, then dropped it to its immemorial bed once more.

"Quick!" she whispered. "I heard a horse's iron-shod foot striking a pebble."

"Behind us?"

"Yes. Now gallop!"

Our horses plunged on again, fretting at the curb. She rode a mare as black as a crow save for three silvery fetlocks, and my roan's stride distressed her nothing. Into the Kingsbridge road we plunged in the white river-mist that walled the hedges from our view, and there, as we galloped through the sand, far behind us I thought to hear a sound like metal clipping stone.

"You shall come no farther," I said. "You can not be found in company with me. Turn south, and strike the Greenwich road."

"Too late," she said calmly. "You forget I compromised myself with that same pass you carry."

"Why in God's name did you include yourself in it?" I asked.

"Because the pass was denied me until I asked it for us both."

"You mean----"

"I mean that I lied again to Sir Henry Clinton, Mr. Renault. Spare me now."

Amazed, comprehending nothing, I fell silent for a space, then turned to scan her face, but read nothing in its immobility.

"Why did you do all this for me, a spy?" I asked.

"For that reason," she answered sharply--"lest the disgrace bespatter my kinsman, Sir Peter, and his sweet lady."

"But--what will be said when you return alone and I am gone?"

"Nothing, for I do not return."

"You--you----"

"I ask you to spare me. Once the lines are passed there is no danger that disgrace shall fall on any one--not even on you and me."

"But how--what will folk say----"

"They'll say we fled together to be wedded!" she cried, exasperated. "If you will force me, learn then that I made excuse and got my pass for that! I told Sir Henry that I loved you and that I was plighted to Walter Butler. And Sir Henry, hating Mr. Butler, laughed until he could not see for the tears, and scratched me off my pass for Gretna Green, with his choicest blessing on the lie I offered in return! There, sir, is what I have done. I said I loved you, and I lied. I shall go with you, then ask a flag of the rebels to pass me on to Canada. And so you see, Mr. Renault, that no disgrace can fall on me or mine through any infamy, however black, that others must account for!"

And she drew her sun-mask from her belt and put it on.

Her wit, her most amazing resource, her anger, so amazed me that I rode on, dazed, swaying in the stride of the tireless gallop. Then in a flash, alert once more, I saw ahead the mist rising from the Harlem, the mill on the left, with its empty windows and the two poplar-trees beside it, the stone piers and wooden railing of the bridge, the sentinels on guard, already faced our way, watching our swift approach.

As we drew bridle in a whirlwind of sand the guard came tumbling out at the post's loud bawling, and the officer of the guard followed, sauntering up to our hard-breathing horses and peering up into our faces.

"Enderly!" I exclaimed.

"Well, what the devil, Carus--" he began, then bit his words in two and bowed to the masked lady, perplexed eyes traveling from her to me and back again. When I held out the pass for his inspection, he took it, scrutinizing it gravely, nodded, and strolled back to the mill.

"Hurry, Enderly!" I called after him.

He struck a smarter gait, but to me it seemed a year ere he reappeared with a pass viseed, and handed it to me.

"Have a care," he said; "the country beyond swarms with cowboys and skinners, and the rebel horse ride everywhere unchecked. They've an outpost at Valentine's, and riflemen along the Bronx----"

At that instant a far sound came to my ears, distant still on the road behind us. It was the galloping of horses. Elsin Grey leaped from her saddle, lifting her mask and smiling sweetly down at Captain Enderly.

"It's a sharp run to Gretna Green," she said. "If you can detain the gentleman who follows us we will not forget the service, Captain Enderly!"

"By Heaven!" he exclaimed, his perplexed face clearing into grinning comprehension. And to the sentries: "Fall back there, lads! Free way for'ard!" he cried. "Now, Carus! Madam, your most obedient!"

The steady thud of galloping horses sounded nearer behind us. I turned, expecting to see the horsemen, but they were still screened by the hill.

"Luck to you!" muttered Enderly, as we swung into a canter, our horses' hoofs drumming thunder on the quivering planks that jumped beneath us as we spurred to a gallop. Ah! They were shouting now, behind us! They, too, had heard the echoing tattoo we beat across the bridge.

"Pray God that young man holds them!" she whispered, pale face turned. "There they are! They spy us now! They are riding at the bridge! Mercy on us! the soldiers have a horse by the bit, forcing him back. They have stopped Mr. Butler. _Now_, Carus!"

Into the sand once more we plunged, riding at a sheer run through the semidarkness of the forest that closed in everywhere; on, on, the wind whistling in our teeth, her hair blowing, and her gilt-laced hat flying from the silken cord that held it to her shoulder. How grandly her black mare bore her--the slight, pale-faced figure sitting the saddle with such perfect grace and poise!

The road swung to the east, ascending in long spirals. Then through the trees I caught the glimmer of water--the Bronx River--and beyond I saw a stubble-field all rosy in the first rays of the rising sun.

The ascent was steeper now. Our horses slackened to a canter, to a trot, then to a walk as the road rose upward, set with boulders and loose stones.

I had just turned to caution my companion, and was pointing ahead to a deep washout which left but a narrow path between two jutting boulders, when, without the slightest sound, from the shadow of these same rocks sprang two men, long brown rifles leveled. And in silence we drew bridle at the voiceless order from the muzzles of those twin barrels bearing upon us without a tremor.

(Illustration: From the shadow ... sprang two men, long brown rifles leveled.)

An instant of suspense; the rifle of the shorter fellow swept from Elsin Grey to me; and I, menaced by both weapons, sat on my heavily breathing horse, whose wise head and questioning ears reconnoitered these strange people who checked us at the rocky summit of the hill. For they were strange, silent folk, clothed in doeskin from neck to ankle, and alike as two peas in their caped hunting-shirts, belted in with scarlet wampum, and the fringe falling in soft cascades from shoulder to cuff, from hip to ankle, following the laced seams.

My roan had become nervous, shaking his head and backing, and Elsin's restive mare began sidling across their line of fire.

"Rein in, madam!" came a warning voice--"and you, sir! Stand fast there! Now, young man, from which party do you come?"

"From the lower," I answered cheerfully, "and happy to be clear of them."

"And with which party do you foregather, my gay cock o' the woods?"

"With the upper party, friend."

"Friend!" sneered the taller fellow, lowering his rifle and casting it into the hollow of his left arm. "It strikes me that you are somewhat sudden with your affections--" He came sauntering forward, a giant in his soft, clinging buckskins, talking all the while in an irritable voice: "Friend? Maybe, and maybe not," he grumbled; "all eggs don't hatch into dickey-birds, nor do all rattlers beat the long roll." He laid a sudden hand on my bridle, looking up at me with swaggering impudence, which instantly changed into amazed recognition.

"Gad-a-mercy!" he cried, delighted; "is it you, Mr. Renault?"

"It surely is," I said, drawing a long breath of relief to find in these same forest-runners my two drovers, Mount and the little Weasel.

"How far is it to the lines, friend Mount?"

"Not far, not very far, Mr. Renault," he said. "There should be a post of Jersey militia this side o' Valentine's, and we're like to see a brace of Sheldon's dragoons at any moment. Lord, sir, but I'm contented to see you, for I was loath to leave you in York, and Walter Butler there untethered, ranging the streets, free as a panther on a sunset cliff!"

The Weasel, rifle at a peaceful trail, came trotting up beside his giant comrade, standing on tiptoe to link arms with him, his solemn owl-like eyes roaming from Elsin Grey to me.

I named them to Elsin. She regarded them listlessly from her saddle, and they removed their round skull-caps of silver moleskin and bowed to her.

"I never thought to be so willing to meet rebel riflemen," she said, patting her horse's mane and glancing at me.

"Lord, Cade!" whispered Mount to his companion, "he's stolen a Tory maid from under their very noses! Make thy finest bow, man, for the credit o' Morgan's Men!"

And again the strange pair bowed low, caps in hand, the Weasel with quiet, quaint dignity, Mount with his elaborate rustic swagger, and a flourish peculiar to the forest-runner, gay, reckless, yet withal respectful.

A faint smile touched her eyes as she inclined her proud little head. Mount looked up at me. I nodded; and the two riflemen wheeled in their tracks and trotted forward, Mount leading, and his solemn little comrade following at heel, close as a hound. When they had disappeared over the hill's rocky summit our horses moved forward at a walk, breasting the crest, then slowly descended the northern slope, picking their way among the loosened slate and pebbles.

And now for the first time came to me a delicious thrill of exaltation in my new-found liberty. Free at last of that prison city. Free at last to look all men between the eyes. Free to bear arms, and use them, too, under a flag I had not seen in four long years save as they brought in our captured colors--a ragged, blood-blackened rag or two to match those silken standards lost at Bennington and Saratoga.

I looked up into the cloudless sky, I looked around me. I saw the tall trees tinted by the sun, I felt a free wind blowing from that wild north I loved so well.

I drew my lungs full. I opened wide my arms, easing each cramped muscle. I stretched my legs to the stirrup's length in sweetest content.

Down through a fragrant birch-grown road, smelling of fern and wintergreen and sassafras, we moved, the cool tinkle of moss-choked watercourses ever in our ears, mingling with melodies of woodland birds--shy, freedom-loving birds that came not with the robins to the city. Ah, I knew these birds, being country-bred--knew them one and all--the gray hermit, holy chorister of hymn divine, the white-throat, sweetly repeating his allegiance to his motherland of Canada, the great scarlet-tufted cock that drums on the bark in stillest depths, the lonely little creeping-birds that whimper up and down the trunks of forest trees, and the black-capped chickadee that fears not man, but cities--all these I listened to, and knew and loved as guerdons of that freedom which I had so long craved, and craved in vain.

And now I had it; it was mine! I tasted it, I embraced it with wide arms, I breathed it. And far away I heard the woodland hermits singing of freedom, and of the sweetness of it, and of the mercies of the Most High.

Thrilled with happiness, I glanced at Elsin Grey where she rode a pace or so ahead of me, her fair head bent, her face composed but colorless as the lace drooping from her stock. The fatigue of a sleepless night was telling on her, though as yet the reaction of the strain had not affected me one whit.

She raised her head as I forced my horse forward to her side. "What is it, Mr. Renault?" she asked coldly.

"I'm sorry you are fatigued, Elsin----"

"I am not fatigued."

"What! after all you have done for me----"

"I have done nothing for _you_, Mr. Renault."

"Nothing?--when I owe you everything that----"

"You owe me nothing that I care to accept."

"My thanks----"

"I tell you you owe me nothing. Let it rest so!"

Her unfriendly eyes warned me to silence, but I said bluntly:

"That Mr. Cunningham is not this moment fiddling with my neck, I owe to you. I offer my thanks, and I remain at your service. That is all."

"Do you think," she answered quietly, "that a rebel hanged could interest me unless that hanging smirched my kin?"

"Elsin! Elsin!" I said, "is there not bitterness enough in the world but you and I must turn our friendship into hate?"

"What do you care whether it turn to hate or--love?" She laughed, but there was no mirth in her eyes. "You are free; you have done your duty; your brother rebels will reward you. What further have I to do with you, Mr. Renault? You have used me, you have used my kin, my friends. Not that I blame you--nay, Mr. Renault, I admire, I applaud, I understand more than you think. I even count him brave who can go out as you have done, scornful of life, pitiless of friendships formed, reckless of pleasure, of what men call their code of honor; indifferent to the shameful death that hovers like a shadow, and the scorn of all, even of friends--for a spy has no friends, if discovered. All this, sir, I comprehend, spite of my few years which once--when we were friends--you in your older wisdom found amusing." She turned sharply away, brushing her eyelashes with gloved fingers.

Presently she looked straight ahead again, a set smile on her tight lips.

"The puppets in New York danced to the tune you whistled," she said, "and because you danced, too, they never understood that you were master of the show. Oh, we all enjoyed the dance, sir--I, too, serving your designs as all served. Now you have done with us, and it remains for us to make our exits as gracefully as may be."

She made a little salute with her riding-whip--gracious, quite free of mockery.

"The fortune of war, Mr. Renault," she said. "Salute to the conqueror!"

"Only a gallant enemy admits as much," I answered, flushing.

"Mr. Renault, am I your enemy?"

"Elsin, I fear you are."

"Why? Because you waked me from my dream?"

"What dream? That nightmare tenanted by Walter Butler that haunted you? Is it not fortunate that you awoke in time, even if you had loved him? But you never did!"

"No, I never loved him. But that was not the dream you waked me from."

"More than that, child, you do not know what love means. How should you know? Why, even I do not know, and I am twenty-three."

"Once," she said, smiling, "I told you that there is no happiness in love. It is the truth, Mr. Renault; there is no joy in it. That much I know of love. Now, sir, as you admit you know nothing of it, you can not contradict me, can you?"

She smiled gaily, leaning forward in her saddle, stroking her horse's mane.

"No, I am not your enemy," she continued. "There is enough of war in the world, is there not, Mr. Renault? And I shall soon be on my way to Canada. Were I your enemy, how impotent am I to compass your destruction--impotent as a love-sick maid who chooses as her gallant a gentleman most agreeable, gently bred, faultless in conduct and address, upon whose highly polished presence she gazes, seeking depth, and finds but her own silly face mirrored on the surface."

She turned from me and raised her head, gazing up through interlacing branches into the blue above.

"Ah, we must be friends, Carus," she said wearily; "we have cost each other too dear."

"I have cost you dear enough," I muttered.

"Not too dear for all you have taught me."

"What have I taught you?"

"To know a dream from the reality," she said listlessly.

"Better you should learn from me than from Walter Butler," I said bluntly.

"From him! Why, he taught me nothing. I fell in love again--really in love--for an hour or two--spite of the lesson he could not teach me. I tell you he taught me nothing--not even to distrust the vows of men. If it was a wrong he dared to meditate, it touches not me, Carus--touches me no more than his dishonoring hand, which he never dared to lay upon me."

"What do you mean?" I asked, troubled. "Have you taken a brief fancy to another? Do you imagine that you are in love again? What is it that you mean, Elsin?"

"Mean? God knows. I am tired to the soul, Carus. I have no pride left--not a shred--nothing of resentment. I fancy I love--yes--and the mad fancy drags me on, trailing pride, shame, and becoming modesty after me in the dust." She laughed, flinging her arm out in an impatient gesture: "What is this war to me, Carus, save as it concerns him? In Canada we wag our heads and talk of rebels; here we speak of red-coats and patriots; and it's all one to me, Carus, so that no dishonor touches the man I love or my own Canada. Your country here is nothing to me except for the sake of this one man."

She turned toward me from her saddle.

"You may be right, you rebels," she said. "If aught threatened Canada, no loyalty to a King whom I have never seen could stir me to forsake my own people. That is why I am so bitter, I think; not because Sir Frederick Haldimand is kin to me, but because your people dared to storm Quebec."

"Those who marched thither march no more," I said gravely.

"Then let it be peace betwixt us. My enmity stops at the grave--and they march no more, as you say."

"Do you give me your friendship again, Elsin?"

She raised her eyes and looked at me steadily.

"It was yours before you asked me, Carus. It has always been yours. It has never faltered for one moment even when I said the things that a hurt pride forced from me." She shook her head slowly, reining in. I, too, drew bridle.

"The happiest moment of my life was when I knew that I had been the instrument to unlock for you the door of safety," she said, and stripped the glove from her white fingers. "Kiss my hand and thank me, Carus. It is all I ask of friendship."

Her hand lay at my lips, pressed gently for an instant, then fell to her side.

"Dear, dear Elsin!" I cried, catching her hand in both of mine again, crushing it to my lips.

"Don't, Carus," she said tremulously. "If you--if you do that--you might--you might conceive a--a regard for me."

"Lord, child!" I exclaimed, "you but this moment confessed your fancy for a man of whose very name and quality I stand in ignorance!"

She drew her hand away, laughing, a tenderness in her eyes I never had surprised there before.

"Silly," she said, "you know how inconstant I can be; you must never again caress me as you did--that first evening--do you remember? If we do that--if I suffer you to kiss me, maybe we both might find ourselves at love's mercy."

"You mean we might really be in love?" I asked curiously.

"I do not know. Do you think so?"

I laughed gaily, bending to search her eyes.

"What is love, Elsin? Truly, I do not know, having never loved, as you mean. Sir Peter wishes it; and here we are, with all the credit of Gretna Green but none of the happiness. Elsin, listen to me. Let us strive to fall in love; shall we? And the devil take your new gallant!"

"If you desire it----"

"Why not? It would please all, would it not?"

"But, Carus, we must first please one another----"

"Let us try, Elsin. I have dreamed of a woman--not like you, but statelier, more mature, and of more experience, but I never saw such a woman; and truly I never before saw so promising a maid as you. Surely we might teach one another to love--if you are not too young----"

"I do not think I am," she said faintly.

"Then let us try. Who knows but you may grow into that ideal I cherish? I shall attend you constantly, pay court to you, take counsel with you, defer to you in all things----"

"But I shall be gone northward with the flag, Carus."

"A flag may not start for a week."

"But when it does?"

"By that time," said I, "we will be convinced in one fashion or another."

"Maybe one of us will take fire slowly."

"Let us try it, anyhow," I insisted.

She bent her head, riding in silence for a while.

"Sweetheart," I said, "are you hungry?"

"Oh!" she cried, crimson-cheeked, "have you begun already? And am I--am I to say that, too?"

"Not unless you--you want to."

"I dare not, Carus."

"It is not hard," I said; "it slipped from my lips, following my thoughts. Truly, Elsin, I love you dearly--see how easily I say it! I love you in one kind of way already. One of these days, before we know what we're doing, we'll be married, and Sir Peter will be the happiest man in New York."

"Sir Peter! Sir Peter!" she repeated impatiently; a frown gathered on her brow. She swung toward me, leaning from her saddle, face outstretched.

"Carus," she said, "kiss me! Now do it again, on the lips. Now again! There! Now that you do it of your own accord you are advanced so far. Oh, this is dreadful, dreadful! We have but a week, and we are that backward in love that I must command you to kiss me! Where shall we be this day week--how far advanced, if you think only of courting me to please Sir Peter?"

"Elsin," I said, after a moment's deliberation, "I'm ready to kiss you again."

"For Sir Peter's sake?"

"Partly."

"No, sir!" she said, turning her head; "that advances us nothing."

After a silence I said again:

"Elsin!"

"Yes, Carus."

"I'm ready."

"For Sir Peter's sake?"

"No, for my own."

"Ah," she said gaily, turning a bright face to me, "we are advancing! Now, it is best that I refuse you--unless you force me and take what you desire. I accord no more--nothing more from this moment--until I give myself! and I give not that, either, until you take it!" she added, and cast her horse forward at a gallop, I after her, leaning wide from my saddle, until our horses closed in, bounding on in perfect stride together. Now was my chance.

"Carus! I beg of you--" Her voice was stifled, for I had put my arm around her neck and pressed her half-opened lips to mine. "You advance too quickly!" she said, flushed and furious. "Do you think to win a maid by mauling whether she will or no? I took no pleasure in that kiss, and it is a shame when both are not made happy. Besides, you hurt me with your roughness. I pray you keep your distance!"

I did so, perplexed, and a trifle sulky, and for a while we jogged on in silence.

Suddenly she reined in, turning her face over her shoulder.

"Look, Carus," she whispered, "there are horsemen coming!"

A moment later a Continental dragoon trotted into sight around the curve of the road, then another and another.

We were within the lines at last.

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