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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesReckoning - Chapter 7. The Blue Fox
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Reckoning - Chapter 7. The Blue Fox Post by :CalGolden Category :Long Stories Author :Robert W. Chambers Date :May 2012 Read :1709

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Reckoning - Chapter 7. The Blue Fox


Elsin had slept all the bright morning through in her little room at the Blue Fox Tavern, whither Colonel Sheldon's horsemen had conducted us. My room adjoined hers, the window looking out upon the Bronx where it flowed, shallow and sunny, down from the wooded slopes of North Castle and Chatterton's Hill. But I heeded neither the sparkling water nor the trees swaying in the summer wind, nor the busy little hamlet across the mill-dam, nor Abe Case, the landlord, with his good intentions, pressed too cordially, though he meant nothing except kindness.

"Listen to me," I said, boots in hand, and laying down the law; "we require neither food nor drink nor service nor the bridal-chambers which you insist upon. The lady will sleep where she is, I here; and if you dare awaken me before noonday I shall certainly discharge these boots in your direction!"

Whereupon he seemed to understand and bowed himself out; and I, lying there on the great curtained bed, watched the sunlight stealing through the flowered canopy until the red roses fell to swaying in an unfelt wind, and I, dreaming, wandered in a garden with that lady I sometimes saw in visions. And, Lord! how happy we were there together, only at moments I felt abashed and sorry, for I thought I saw Elsin lying on the grass, so still, so limp, that I knew she must be dead, and I heard men whispering that she had died o' love, and that I and my lady were to dig the grave at moonrise.

A fitful slumber followed, threaded by dreams that vaguely troubled me--visions of horsemen riding, and of painted faces and dark heads shaved for war. Again into my dream a voice broke, repeating, "Thendara! Thendara!" until it grew to a dull and deadened sound, like the hollow thud of Wyandotte witch-drums.

I slept, yet every loosened nerve responded to the relaxing tension of excitement. Twice I dreamed that some one roused me, and that I was dressing in mad haste, only to sink once more into a sleep which glimmered ever with visions passing, passing in processional, until at noon I awoke of my own accord, and was bathed and partly dressed ere the landlord came politely scratching at my door to know my pleasure.

"A staff-officer from his Excellency, Mr. Renault," he said, as I bade him enter, tying my stock the while.

"Very well," I said; "show him up. And, landlord, when the lady awakes, you may serve us privately."

He bowed himself out, and presently I heard spurs and a sword jingling on the stairs, and turned to receive his Excellency's staff-officer--a very elegant and polite young man in a blue uniform, faced with buff, and white-topped boots.

"Mr. Renault?" he asked, raising his voice and eyebrows a trifle; and I think I never saw such a careless, laughing, well-bred countenance in which were set two eyes as shrewdly wise as the eyes of this young man.

"I am Mr. Renault," I said amiably, smiling at the mirth which twitched the gravity he struggled to assume.

"Colonel Hamilton of his Excellency's family," he said, making as elegant a bow as I ever had the honor to attempt to match.

We were very ceremonious, bowing repeatedly as we seated ourselves, he lifting his sword and laying it across his knees. And I admired his hat, which was new and smartly laced, and cocked in the most fashionable manner--which small details carry some weight with me, I distrusting men whose dress is slovenly from indifference and not from penury. His Excellency was ever faultless in attire; and I remember that he wrote in general orders on New Year's day in '76: "If a soldier can not be induced to take pride in his person, he will soon become a sloven and indifferent to everything."

"Mr. Renault," began Colonel Hamilton, "his Excellency has your letters. He regrets that a certain sphere of usefulness is now closed to you through your own rashness."

I reddened, bowing.

"It appears, however," continued Colonel Hamilton placidly, "that your estimate of yourself is too humble. His Excellency thanks you, applauds your modesty and faithfulness in the most trying service a gentleman can render to his country, and desires me to express the same----"

He rose and bowed. I was on my feet, confused, amazed, tingling with pleasure.

"His Excellency said--_that!_" I repeated incredulously.

"Indeed he did, Mr. Renault, and he regrets that--ahem--under the circumstances--it is not advisable to publicly acknowledge your four years' service--not even privately, Mr. Renault--you understand that such services as yours must be, in a great measure, their own reward. Yet I know that his Excellency hesitated a long while to send me with this verbal message, so keenly did he desire to receive you, so grateful is he for the service rendered."

I was quite giddy with delight now. Never, never had I imagined that the Commander-in-Chief could single me out for such generous praise--me, a man who had lent himself to a work abhorrent--a work taken up only because there was none better fitted to accomplish a thing that all shrank from.

Seated once more, I looked up to see Colonel Hamilton regarding me with decorous amusement.

"It may interest you, Mr. Renault, to know what certain British agents reported to Sir Henry Clinton concerning you."

"What did they say?" I asked curiously.

"They said, 'Mr. Renault is a rich young man who thinks more of his clothes than he does of politics, and is safer than a guinea wig-stand!'"

His face was perfectly grave, but the astonished chagrin on my countenance set his keen eyes glimmering, and in a moment more we both went off into fits of laughter.

"Lord, sir!" he exclaimed, dusting his eyes with a lace handkerchief, "what a man we lost when you lost your head! Why on earth did you affront Walter Butler?"

I leaned forward, emphasizing every point with a noiseless slap on my knee, and recounted minutely and as frankly as I could every step which led to the first rupture between Walter Butler and myself. He followed my story, intelligent eyes fixed on me, never losing an accent, a shade of expression, as I narrated our quarrel concerning the matter of the Oneidas, and how I had forgotten myself and had turned on him as an Iroquois on a Delaware, a master on an insolent slave.

"From that instant he must have suspected me," I said, leaning back in my chair. "And now, Colonel Hamilton, my story is ended, and my usefulness, too, I fear, unless his Excellency will find for me some place--perhaps a humble commission--say in the dragoons of Major Talmadge----"

"You travel too modestly," said Hamilton, laughing. "Why, Mr. Renault, any bullet-headed, reckless fellow who has done as much as you have done may ask for a commission and have it, too. Look at me! I never did anything, yet they found me good enough for a gun captain, and they gave me a pair o' cannon, too. But, sir, there are other places with few to fill them--far too few, I assure you. Why, what a shame to set you with a noisy, galloping herd of helmets, chasing skinners and cowboys with a brace of gad-a-mercy pistols in your belt!--what a shame, I say, when in you there lie talents we seek in vain for among the thousand and one numskulls who can drill a battalion or maneuver a brigade!"

"What talents?" I asked, astonished.

"Lord! he doesn't even suspect them!" cried Hamilton gaily. "I wish you might meet a few of our talented brigadiers and colonels; _they have no doubts concerning their several abilities!" Then, suddenly serious: "Listen, sir. You know the north; you were bred and born to a knowledge of the Iroquois, their language, character, habits, their intimate social conditions, nay, you are even acquainted with what no other living white man comprehends--their secret rites, their clan and family laws and ties, their racial instincts, their most sacred rituals! You are a sachem! Sir William Johnson was one, but he is dead. Who else living, besides yourself, can speak to the Iroquois with clan authority?"

"I do not know," I said, troubled. "Walter Butler may know something of the Book of Rites, because he was raised up in place of some dead Delaware dog!--" I clinched my hand, and stood silent in angry meditation. Lifting my eyes I saw Hamilton watching me, amazed, interested, delighted.

"I ask your indulgence," I said, embarrassed, "but when I think of the insolence of that fellow--and that he dared call me brother and claim clan kindred with a Wolf--the yellow Delaware mongrel!--" I laughed, glancing shamefacedly at Colonel Hamilton.

"In another moment," I said, "you will doubt there is white blood in me. It is strange how faithfully I cling to that dusky foster-mother, the nation that adopted me. I was but a lad, Colonel Hamilton, and what the Oneidas saw in me, or believed they saw, I never have accurately learned--I do not really know to this day!--but when a war-chief died they came to my father, asking that he permit them to adopt me and raise me up. The ceremony took place. I, of course, never lived with them--never even left my own roof--but I was adopted into the Wolf Clan, the noble clan of the Iroquois. And--I have never forgotten it--nor them. What touches an Oneida touches me!"

He nodded gravely, watching me with bright eyes.

"To-day the Long House is not the Five Nations," I continued. "The Tuscaroras are the Sixth Nation; the Delawares now have come in, and have been accepted as the Seventh Nation. But, as you know, the Long House is split. The Onondagas are sullenly neutral--or say they are--the Mohawks, Cayugas, Senecas, are openly leagued against us; the Oneidas alone are with us--what is left of them after the terrible punishment they received from the Mohawks and Senecas."

"And now you say that the Iroquois have determined to punish the Oneidas again?"

"Yes, sir, to annihilate them for espousing our cause. And," I added contemptuously, "Walter Butler dared believe that I would sit idle and never lift a warning finger. True, I am first of all a Wolf--but next am I an Oneida. And, as I may not sit in national council with my clan to raise my voice against this punishment, and, as the Long House is rent asunder forever, why, sir, I am an Oneida first of all--after my allegiance to my own country--and I shall so conduct that Walter Butler and the Delaware dogs of a cleft and yellow clan will remember that when an Oneida speaks, they remain silent, they obey!"

I began to pace the chamber, arms folded, busy with my thoughts. Hamilton sat buried in meditation for a space. Finally he arose, extending his hand with that winning frankness so endearing to all. I asked him to dine with us, but he excused himself, pleading affairs of moment.

"Listen, Mr. Renault. I understand that his Excellency has certain designs upon your amiability, and he most earnestly desires you to remain here at the Blue Fox until such time as he summons you or sends you orders. You are an officer of Tryon County militia, are you not?"

"Only ensign in the Rangers, but I never have even seen their colors, much less carried them."

"You know Colonel Willett?"

"I have that very great honor," I said warmly.

"It _is an honor to know such a man. Excepting Schuyler, I think he is the bravest, noblest gentleman in County Tryon." He walked toward the door, head bowed in reflection, turned, offered his hand again with a charming freedom, and bowed himself out.

Pride and deepest gratitude possessed my heart that his Excellency should have found me worthy of his august commendation. In my young head rang the words of Colonel Hamilton. I stood in the center of the sunny room, repeating to myself the wonderful message, over and over, until it seemed my happiness was too great to bear alone; and I leaned close to the dividing door, calling "Elsin! Elsin! Are you awake?"

A sleepy voice bade me enter, and I opened the door and stood at the sill, while the brightly flowered curtains of her bed rustled and twitched. Presently she thrust a sleepy head forth, framed in chintz roses--the flushed face of a child, drowsy eyes winking at the sunbeams, powdered hair twisted up in a heavy knot.

"Goodness me," she murmured, "I am so hungry--so sleepy--" She yawned shamelessly, blinked with her blue eyes, looked at me, and smiled.

"What o'clock is it, Carus?" she began; then a sudden consternation sobered her, and she cried, "Oh, I forgot where we are! Mercy! To think that I should wake to find myself a runaway! Carus, Carus, what in the world is to become of me now? Where are we, Carus?"

"At the Blue Fox, near North Castle," I said gaily. "Why, Elsin--why, child, what on earth is the matter?"--for the tears had rushed to her eyes, and her woful little face quivered. A single tear fell, then the wet lashes closed.

"O Carus! Carus!" she said, "what will become of me? You did it--you made me do it! I've run away with you--why did you make me do it? Oh, why, why?"

Dumb, miserable, I could only look at her, finding no word of comfort--amazed, too, that the feverish spirit, the courage, the amazing energy of the night before had exhaled, distilling now in the tears which dazed me.

"I don't know why I came here with you," she whimpered, eyes closed on her wet cheeks--"I must have been mad to do so. What will they say?--what will Rosamund say? Why don't you speak to me, Carus? Why don't you tell me what to do?"

And this from that high-strung, nerveless maid who had matured to womanhood in the crisis of the night before--seizing command of a menacing situation through sheer effrontery and wit, compelling fate itself to swerve aside as she led our galloping horses through the slowly closing gates of peril.

Her head drooped and lay on the edge of the bed pillowed by the flowered curtains; she rubbed the tears from her eyes with white fingers, drawing a deep, unsteady breath or two.

I had found my voice at last, assuring her that all was well, that she should have a flag when she desired it, that here nobody knew who she was, and that when she was dressed I was ready to discuss the situation and do whatever was most advisable.

"If there's a scandal," she said dolefully, "I suppose I must ask a flag at once."

"That would be best," I admitted.

"But there's no scandal yet," she protested.

"Not a breath!" I cried cheerfully. "You see, we have the situation in our own hands. Where is that wit, where is that gay courage you wore like magic armor through the real perils of yesterday?"

"Gone," she said, looking up at me. "I don't know where it is--I--I was not myself yesterday. I was frightened--terror spurred me to things I never dreamed of when I thought of you hanging there on the Common----"

"You blessed child!" I cried, dropping on one knee beside her.

She laid her hand on my head, looking at me for a long while in silence.

"I can not help it," she said. "I really care nothing for what folk say. All this that we have done--and my indiscretion--nay, that we have run away and I am here with you--all this alarms me not at all. Indeed," she added earnestly, "I do truly find you so agreeable that I should have fretted had you gone away alone. Now I am honest with myself and you, Carus--this matter has sobered me into gravest reflection. I have the greatest curiosity concerning you--I had from the very first--spite of all that childish silliness we committed. I don't know what it is about you that I can not let you go until I learn more of you. Perhaps I shall--we have a week here before a flag goes north, have we not?" she asked naively.

"The flag goes at your pleasure, Elsin."

"Then it is my pleasure that we remain a while--and see--and see--" she murmured, musing eyes fixed on the sunny window. "I would we could fall in love, Carus!"

"We are pledged to try," I said gaily.

"Aye, we must try. Lord-a-mercy on me, for my small head is filled with silliness, and my heart beats only for the vain pleasure of the moment. A hundred times since I have known you, Carus, I would have sworn I loved you--then something that you say or do repels me--or something, perhaps, of my own inconstancy--and only that intense curiosity concerning you remains. That is not love, is it?"

"I think not."

"Yet look how I set my teeth and drove blindly full tilt at Destiny when I thought you stood in peril! Do women do such things for friendship's sake?"

"Men do--I don't know. You are a faultless friend, at any rate. And on that friendship we must build."

"With your indifference and my vanity and inconstancy? God send it be no castle of cards, Carus! Tell me, have you, too, a stinging curiosity concerning me? Do you desire to fathom my shallow spirit, to learn what every passing smile might indicate, to understand me when I am silent, to comprehend me when I converse with others?"

"I--I have thought of these things, Elsin. Never having understood you--judging hastily, too--and being so intimately busy with the--the matters you know of--I never pursued my studies far--deeming you betrothed and--and----"

"A coquette?"

"A child, Elsin, heart-free and capricious, contradictory, imperious, and--and overyoung----"

"O Carus!"

"I meant no reproach," I said hastily. "A nectarine requires time, even though the sunlight paints it so prettily in all its unripe, flawless symmetry. And I have--I have lived all my life in sober company. My father was old, my mother placid and saddened by the loss of all her children save myself. I had few companions--none of my own age except when we went to Albany, where I learned to bear myself in company. At Johnson Hall, at Varick's, at Butlersbury, I was but a shy lad, warned by my parents to formality, for they approved little of the gaiety that I would gladly have joined in. And so I know nothing of women--nor did I learn much in New York, where the surface of life is so prettily polished that it mirrors, as you say, only one's own inquiring eyes."

I seated myself cross-legged on the floor, looking up at the sweet face on the bed's edge framed by the chintz.

"Did you never conceive an affection?" she asked, watching me.

"Why, yes--for a day or two. I think women tire of me."

"No, you tire of them."

"Only when----"

"When what?"

"Nothing," I said quietly.

"Do you mean when they fall in love with you?" she asked.

"They don't. Some have plagued me to delight in my confusion."

"Like Rosamund Barry?"

I was silent.

"She," observed Elsin musingly, "was mad about you. No, you need not laugh or shrug impatiently--_I know, Carus; she was mad to have you love her! Do you think I have neither eyes nor ears? But you treated her no whit better than you treated me. That I am certain of--did you?"

"What do you mean?"

"_Did you?"

"Did I do what?"

"Treat Rosamund Barry kinder than you did me?"

"In what way?"

"Did you kiss her?"


"Would you say 'Never!' if you had?"

"No, I should say nothing."

"I knew it!" she cried, laughing. "I was certain of it. But, mercy on us, there were scores more women in New York--and I mean to ask you about each one, Carus, each separate one--some time--but, oh, I am so hungry now!"

I sprang to my feet, and walking into my chamber closed the door.

"Talk to me through the keyhole!" she called. "I shall tie my hair in a club, and bathe me and clothe me very quickly. Are you there, Carus? Do you hear what I say?"

So I leaned against the door and chatted on about Colonel Hamilton, until I ventured to hint at some small word of praise for me from his Excellency. With that she was at the door, all eagerness: "Oh, Carus! I knew you were brave and true! Did his Excellency say so? And well he might, too!--with you, a gentleman, facing the vilest of deaths there in New York, year after year. I am so glad, so proud of you, Carus, so happy! What have they made you--a major-general?"

"Oh, not yet," I said, laughing.

"And why not?" she exclaimed hotly.

"Elsin, if you don't dress quickly I'll sit at breakfast without you!" I warned her.

"Oh, I will, I will; I'm lacing--something--this very instant! Carus, when I bid you, you may come in and tie my shoulder-points. Wait a moment, silly! Just one more second. Now!"

As I entered she came up to me, turning her shoulder, and I threaded the points clumsily enough, I suppose, but she thanked me very sweetly, turned to the mirror, patted the queue-ribbon to a flamboyant allure, and, catching my hand in hers, pointed at the glass which reflected us both.

"Look at us!" she exclaimed, "look at the two runaways! Goodness, I should never have believed it, Carus!"

We stood a moment, hand clasping hand, curiously regarding the mirrored faces that smiled back so strangely at us. Then, somewhat subdued and thoughtful, we walked out through my chamber into a sunny little breakfast-room where landlord and servant received us a trifle too solemnly, and placed us at the cloth.

"Their owlish eyes mean Gretna Green," whispered Elsin, leaning close to me; "but what do we care, Carus? And they think us married in New York. Now, sir, if you ever wished to see how a hungry maid can eat Tapaan soupaan, you shall see now!"

The Tapaan hasty-pudding was set before us, and in a twinkling we were busy as bees in clover. Pompions and clingstone peaches went the way of the soupaan; a dish of troutlings followed, and out of the corner of my eye I saw other dainties coming and rejoiced. Lord, what a pair of appetites were there! I think the Blue Fox must have licked his painted chops on the swinging sign under the window to see how we did full justice to the fare, slighting nothing set before us. And while the servants were running hither and thither with dishes and glasses I questioned the landlord, who was evidently prodigiously impressed with Colonel Hamilton's visit; and I gathered from mine host that, excepting for ourselves, all the other guests were officers of various degrees, and that, thanks to the nearness of the army and the consequent scarcity of skinners, business was brisk and profitable, for which he thanked God and his Excellency.

Elsin, resting one elbow on the table, listened and looked out into the village street where farmers and soldiers were passing, some arm in arm, gravely smoking their clay pipes and discussing matters in the sunshine, others entering or leaving the few shops where every sort of ware was exposed for sale, still others gathered on the bridge, some fishing in the Bronx, some looking on or reading fresh newspapers from New England or Philadelphia, or a stale and tattered Gazette which had found its way out of New York.

At a nod from me the landlord signaled the servants and withdrew, leaving us there alone together with a bottle of claret on the table and a dish of cakes and raisins.

"So these good folk are rebels," mused Elsin, gazing at the people in the street below. "They seem much like other people, Carus."

"They are," I said, laughing.

"Well," she said, "they told me otherwise in New York. But I can see no very great ferocity in your soldiers' countenances. Nor do they dress in rags. Mr. De Lancey told me that the Continentals scarce mustered a pair of breeches to a brigade."

"It has been almost as bad as that," I said gravely. "These troops are no doubt clothed in uniforms sent from France, but I fear there are rags and to spare in the south, where Greene and Lafayette are harrying Cornwallis--God help them!"

"Amen," she said softly, looking at me.

Touched as I had never been by her, I held out my hand; she laid hers in mine gravely.

"So that they keep clear of Canada, I say God speed men who stand for their own homes, Carus! But," she added innocently, "I could not be indifferent to a cause which you serve. Come over here to the window--draw your chair where you can see. Look at that officer, how gallant he is in his white uniform faced with green!"

"That is a French officer," I said. "Those three soldiers passing yonder who wear white facing on their blue coats, and black spatterdashes from ankle to thigh, are infantry of the New England line. The soldiers smoking under the tree are New York and New Jersey men; they wear buff copper-clouts, and their uniform is buff and blue. Maryland troops wear red facings; the Georgia line are faced with blue, edged around by white. There goes an artilleryman; he's all blue and scarlet, with yellow on his hat; and here stroll a dozen dragoons in helmet and jack-boots and blue jackets laced, lined, and faced with white. Ah, Elsin, these same men have limped barefoot, half-naked, through snow and sun because his Excellency led them."

"It is strange," she said, "how you turn grave and how a hush comes, a little pause of reverence, whenever you name--his Excellency. Do all so stand in awe of him?"

"None names him lightly, Elsin."

"Have you ever seen him?"

"Never, child."

"And yet you approach even his name in hushed respect."

"Yes, even his name. I should like to see him," I continued wistfully, "to hear him speak once, to meet his calm eye. But I never shall. My service is of such a nature that it is inexpedient for him to receive me openly. So I never shall see him--save, perhaps, when the long war ends--God knows----"

She dropped her hand on mine and leaned lightly back against my shoulder.

"You must not fret," she murmured. "Remember that staff-officer said he praised you."

"I do, I do remember!" I repeated gratefully. "It was a reward I never dared expect--never dreamed of. His Excellency has been kind to me, indeed."

It was now past four o'clock in the afternoon, and Elsin, who had noted the wares in the shop-windows, desired to price the few simple goods offered for sale; so we went out into the dusty village street to see what was to be seen, but the few shops we entered were full of soldiers and not overclean, and the wares offered for sale were not attractive. I remember she bought points and some stuff for stocks, and needles and a reel of thread, and when she offered a gold piece everybody looked at us, and the shopkeeper called her "My lady" and me "My lord," and gave us in change for the gold piece a great handful of paper money.

We emerged from the shop amazed, and doubtful of the paper stuff, and walked up the street and out into the country, pausing under a great maple-tree to sort this new Continental currency, of which we had enough to stuff a pillow.

Scrip by scrip I examined the legal tender of my country, Elsin, her chin on my shoulder, scrutinizing the printed slips of yellow, brown, and red in growing wonder. One slip bore three arrows on it, under which was printed:

Fifty Dollars.
Printed by H. A. L. L. and S. E. L.

Upon the other side was a pyramid in a double circle, surmounted by the legend:


And it was further decorated with the following:

"No. 16780 Fifty Dollars. This Bill entitles the
Bearer to receive Fifty Spanish milled dollars or
the value thereof in Gold or Silver, according to
the Resolution passed by Congress at Philadelphia,
September 26th, 1788.


And we had several dozen of these of equal or less denomination.

"Goodness," exclaimed Elsin, "was my guinea worth all these dollars? And do you suppose that we could buy anything with these paper bills?"

"Certainly," I said, loyal to my country's currency; "they're just as good as silver shillings--if you only have enough of them."

"But what use will they be to me in Canada?"

That was true enough. I immediately pocketed the mass of paper and tendered her a guinea in exchange, but she refused it, and we had a pretty quarrel there under the maple-tree.

"Carus," she said at last, "let us keep them, anyhow, and never, never spend them. Some day we may care to remember this July afternoon, and how you and I went a-shopping as sober as a wedded pair in Hanover Square."

There was a certain note of seriousness in her voice that sobered me, too. I drew her arm through mine, and we strolled out into the sunshine and northward along the little river, where in shallow brown pools scores of minnows stemmed the current, and we saw the slim trout lying in schools under the bush's shadows, and the great silver and blue kingfishers winging up and down like flashes of azure fire.

A mile out a sentinel stopped us, inquiring our business, and as we had none we turned back, for it mattered little to us where we sauntered. Farmers were cutting hay in the river-meadows, under the direction of a mounted sergeant of dragoons; herds of cattle and sheep grazed among the hills, shepherded by soldiers. Every now and again dragoons rode past us, convoying endless lines of wagons piled up with barrels, crates, sacks of meal, and sometimes with bolts of coarse cloth.

To escape the dust raised by so many hoofs and wheels we took to the fields and found a shady place on a hill which overlooked the country. Then for the first time I realized the nearness of the army, for everywhere in the distance white tents gleamed against the green, and bright flags were flying from hillocks, and on a level plain that stretched away toward the Hudson I saw long dark lines moving, or halted motionless, with the glimmer of steel playing through the sunshine; and I, for the first time, beheld a brigade of our army at exercise.

We were too far away to see, yet it was a sight to stir one who had endured that prison city so long, never seeing a Continental soldier except as a prisoner marched through the streets to the jails or the hulks in the river. But there they were--those men of White Plains, of Princeton, of Camden, and of the Wilderness--the men of Long Island, and Germantown, and Stony Point!--there they were, wheeling by the right flank, wheeling by the left, marching and countermarching, drilling away, busy as bees in the July sun.

"Ah, Elsin," I said, "when they storm New York the man who misses that splendid climax will miss the best of his life--and never forget that he has missed it as long as he lives to mask his vain regret!"

"Why is it that you are not content?" she asked. "For four years you have moved in the shadow of destruction."

"But I have never fought in battle," I said; "never fired a single shot in earnest, never heard the field-horn of the light infantry nor the cavalry-trumpet above the fusillade, never heard the officers shouting, the mad gallop of artillery, the yelling onset--why, I know nothing of the pleasures of strife, only the smooth deceit and bland hypocrisy, only the eavesdropping and the ignoble pretense! At times I can scarcely breathe in my desire to wash my honor in the rifle flames--to be hurled pell-mell among the heaving, straining melee, thrusting, stabbing, cutting my fill, till I can no longer hear or see. Four years, Elsin! think of it--think of being chained in the midst of this magnificent activity for four years! And now, when I beg a billet among the dragoons, they tell me I am fashioned for diplomacy, not for war, and hint of my usefulness on the frontier!"

"What frontier?" she asked quickly.

"Tryon County, I suppose."

"Where that dreadful work never ceases?"

"Hatchet and scalping-knife are ever busy there," I said grimly. "Who knows? I may yet have my fill and to spare!"

She sat silent for so long that I presently turned from the distant martial spectacle to look at her inquiringly. She smiled, drawing a long breath, and shaking her head.

"I never seem to understand you, Carus," she said. "You have done your part, yet it appears already you are planning to go hunting about for some obliging savage to knock you in the head with a death-maul."

"But the war is not ended, Elsin."

"No, nor like to be until it compasses your death. Then, indeed, will it be ended for me, and the world with it!"

"Why, Elsin!" I laughed, "this is a new note in your voice."

"Is it? Perhaps it is. I told you, Carus, that there is no happiness in love. And, just now, I love you. It is strange, is it not?--when aught threatens you, straightway I begin to sadden and presently fall in love with you; but when there's no danger anywhere, and I have nothing to sadden me, why, I'm not at all sure that I love you enough to pass the balance of the day in your companionship--only that when you are away I desire to know where you are and what you do, and with whom you walk and talk and laugh. Deary me! deary me! I know not what I want, Carus. Let us go to the Blue Fox and drink a dish of tea."

We walked back to the inn through the sweetest evening air that I had breathed in many a day, Elsin stopping now and then to add a blossom to the great armful of wild flowers that she had gathered, I lingering, happy in my freedom as a lad loosed from school, now pausing to skip flat stones across the Bronx, now creeping up to the bank to surprise the trout and see them scatter like winged shadows over the golden gravel, now whistling to imitate that rosy-throated bird who sits so high in his black-and-white livery and sings into happiness all who hear him.

The sun was low over the Jersey highlands; swarms of swallows rose, soared, darted, and dipped in the evening sky. I heard the far camp-bugles playing softly, the dulled roll of drums among the eastern hills; then, as the red sun went out behind the wooded heights, bang! the evening gun's soft thunder shook the silence. And our day was ended.

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Reckoning - Chapter 8. Destiny Reckoning - Chapter 8. Destiny

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CHAPTER VIII. DESTINYOn Sunday, having risen early--though not so early as the post relief, whose day begins as soon as a sentry can see clearly for a thousand yards--I dressed me by the rosy light of the rising sun, and, before I breakfasted, wrote a long letter to my parents, who, as I have said, were now residing near Paris my great-grandfather's estate lay. When I had finished my letter, sanded and sealed it, I went out to leave it with the packages of post matter collected from the French regiments across the Hudson, and destined for France by an

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CHAPTER VI. A NIGHT AND A MORNINGAs 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