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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesReckoning - Chapter 8. Destiny
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Reckoning - Chapter 8. Destiny Post by :CalGolden Category :Long Stories Author :Robert W. Chambers Date :May 2012 Read :1844

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Reckoning - Chapter 8. Destiny

CHAPTER VIII. DESTINY

On 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, where 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 early packet, which was to sail as soon as the long-expected French fleet arrived from the West Indies.

I delivered my letter to the staff-officer detailed for that duty, and then, hearing military music, went back to the Blue Fox in time to see a funeral of an officer slowly passing eastward, gun-carriage, horses, men, in strange silhouette against the level and dazzling white disk of the rising sun. Truly, the slow cortege seemed moving straight into the flaming gates of heaven, the while their solemn music throbbed and throbbed with the double drum-beat at the finish of each line. The tune was called "Funeral Thoughts." They changed to "Roslyn Castle" as they crossed the bridge; yet an hour had scarce passed when I heard their volley-firing not very far away, and back they came, the Fife-Major leading, drums, fifes, and light-infantry horns gaily sounding "The Pioneer," and the men swinging back briskly to fall in with the Church details, now marching in from every direction to the admonitory timing of a single drum-beat.

The music had awakened Elsin, and presently she came a-tapping at my door, barefoot, her cardinal tightly wrapped around her, hair tumbled, drowsily rubbing her heavy lids.

"Good morning, Carus," she said sleepily. "I should dearly like to hear a good, strong sermon on damnation to-day--being sensible of my present state of sin, and of yours. Do they preach hell-fire in Rebeldom?"

"The landlord says that Hazen's mixed brigade and other troops go to service in the hay-field above the bridge," I answered, laughing. "Shall we ride thither?"

She nodded, yawning, then pulling her foot-mantle closer about her shoulders, pattered back into her chamber, and I went below and ordered our horses saddled, and breakfast to be served us as soon as might be.

And so it happened that, ere the robins had done caroling their morning songs, and the far, sweet anthems of the hermit-birds still rang in dewy woodlands, Elsin and I dismounted in Granger's hay-field just as the troops marched up in a long, dense column, the massed music of many regiments ahead, but only a single drum timing the steady tread.

All was done in perfect decorum and order. A hay-wagon was the pulpit; around it the drummers piled their drums, tier rising on tier; the ensigns draped the national colors over the humble platform, setting regimental and state standards at the corners; and I noted there some curious flags, one borne by a Massachusetts battalion, white, with a green tree on it; another, a yellow naval flag with a coiled rattlesnake; another, carried by a company of riflemen, on which was this design:


1776.
XI VIRGINIA REG'T,


and I knew that I was looking upon the famous regimental standard of Morgan's Rifles.

Without confusion, with only a low-spoken command here and there, battalion after battalion marched up, stacked arms, forming three sides of a hollow square, the pulpit, with its flags and tiers of drums, making the fourth side. The men stood at ease, hands loosely clasped and hanging in front of them. The brigade chaplain quietly crossed the square to his rude pulpit, mounted it, and, as he bowed his head in prayer, every cocked hat came off, every head was lowered.

Country-folk, yokels, farmers, had gathered from all directions; invalids from the camp hospitals were there, too, faces clay-color, heads and limbs heavily bandaged. One of these, a sergeant of the New York line, who wore a crimson heart sewed on his breast, was led to his place between two comrades, he having both eyes shot out; and the chaplain looked at him hard for a moment, then gave out the hymn, leading the singing in a deep, full voice:


"Through darkest night
I know that Thou canst see.
Night blinds my sight,
Yet my small voice shall praise Thee constantly.
Under Thy wing,
Whose shadow blinds mine eyes,
Fearless I sing
Thy sweetness and Thy mercy to the skies!"


The swelling voices of the soldiers died away. Standing there between our horses, Elsin's young voice still echoing in my ears, I looked up at the placid face of the preacher, saw his quiet glance sweep the congregation, saw something glimmer in his eyes, and his lips tighten as he laid open his Bible, and, extending his right arm, turn to the south, menacing the distant city with his awful text:

"The horseman lifteth up the bright sword and the glittering spear!

"Woe to the bloody city! The chariots shall rage in the streets, they shall jostle one against another in the _broad ways_! They shall seem like torches, they shall run like the lightnings. They shall make haste to the wall; the defense shall be prepared.

"For that day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness.

"A day of the trumpet and alarm against _fenced cities_, and against high towers.

"For the horseman lifteth up the bright sword.... Woe to the bloody city!"

Out over the sunlit fields rang the words of Zephaniah and of Nahum. I saw the motionless ranks suddenly straighten; a thousand sunburned faces were upturned, a thousand pairs of eyes fastened themselves upon the steady eyes of the preacher.

For an hour he spoke to them, beginning with his Excellency's ever-to-be-remembered admonition: "To the character of a patriot it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of a Christian"; then continued upon that theme nearest the hearts of all, the assault upon New York, which everybody now deemed imminent, thrilling the congregation with hope, inspiring them with high endeavor. I remember that he deprecated revenge, although the score was heavy enough! I remember he preached dignity and composure in adversity, mercy in victory, and at the word his voice rang with prophecy, and the long ranks stirred as dry leaves stir in a sudden wind.

When at last he asked the blessing, and the ranks had knelt in the stubble, Elsin and I on our knees breathed the Amen, lifted our sun-dazzled eyes, and rose together to mount and ride back through the dust to the Blue Fox, where we were to confer concerning the long-delayed letter which decency required us to write to Sir Peter and Lady Coleville, and also take counsel in other matters touching the future, which seemed as obscure as ever.

Since that first visit from Colonel Hamilton I had received orders from headquarters to be ready to leave for the north at an hour's notice, and that suitable quarters would be ready at West Point for my wife.

There were a dozen officers lodged at the tavern, but my acquaintance with them advanced nothing beyond a civil greeting, for I cared not to join them in the coffee-room, where sooner or later some question concerning Elsin must annoy me. It was sufficient that they knew my name and nothing more either of my business or myself or Elsin. No doubt some quiet intimation from headquarters had spared us visits from quartermasters and provost marshals, for nobody interfered with us, and, when at the week's end I called for our reckoning--my habits of method ever uppermost in my mind--the landlord refused to listen, saying that our expenses were paid as long as we remained at the Blue Fox, and that if we lacked for anything I was to write to Colonel Hamilton.

This I had done, being sadly in need of fresh linen, and none to be had in the shops opposite. Also I enclosed a list of apparel urgently desired by Elsin, she having writ the copy, which was as long as I am tall; but I sent it, nevertheless, and we expected to hear from Colonel Hamilton before evening. For all we had was the clothing we wore on our backs, and though for myself I asked nothing but linen, I should have been glad of a change of outer garments, too.

We dined together at our little table by the window, decorously discussing damnation, predestination, and other matters fitting that sunny Sabbath noontide. And at moments, very, very far away, I heard the faint sound of church-bells, perhaps near North Castle, perhaps at Dobbs Ferry, so sweet, so peaceful, that it was hard to believe in eternal punishment and in a God of wrath; hard, too, to realize that war ruled half a continent, and that the very dogs of war, unchained, prowled all around us, fangs bared, watching the sad city at the river's ends.

When the servants had removed the cloth, and had fetched the materials for writing which I had ordered, we drew our chairs up side by side, and leaned upon the table to confer in regard to a situation which could not, of course, continue much longer.

"The first thing to consider," said I, "is the flag to take you north." And I looked curiously at Elsin.

"How can we decide that yet?" she asked, aggrieved. "I shall not require a flag if we--fall in love."

"We've had a week to try," I argued, smiling.

"Yes, but we have not tried; we have been too happy to try. Still, Carus, we promised one another to attempt it."

"Well, shall we attempt it at once?"

"Goodness, I'm too lazy, too contented, too happy, to worry over such sad matters as love!"

"Well, then, I had better write to Hamilton asking a flag----"

"I tell you not to hasten!" she retorted pettishly. "Moonlight changes one's ideas. My noonday sentiments never correspond to my evening state of mind."

"But," I persisted, "if we only cherish certain sentiments when the moon shines----"

"Starlight, too, silly! Besides, whenever I take time to think of your late peril, I straightway experience a tender sentiment for you. I tell you be not too hasty to ask a flag for me. Come, let us now consider and be wise. Once in Canada all is ended, for Sir Frederick Haldimand would sooner see me fall from Cape Eternity to the Saguenay than hear of me in love with you. Therefore I say, let us remember, consider, and await wisdom."

"But," I argued, "something must be settled before fresh orders from headquarters send me north and you to West Point."

"Oh, I shall go north, too," she observed calmly.

"Into battle, for example?" I asked, amused.

"I shall certainly not let you go into battle all alone! You are a mere child when it comes to taking precaution in danger."

"You mean you would actually gallop into battle to see I came to no mischief?" I demanded, laughing.

"Aye, clip my hair and dress the trooper, jack-boots and all, if you drive me to it!" she exclaimed, irritated. "You may as well know it, Carus; you shall not go floundering about alone, and that's flat! See what a mess of it you were like to make in New York!"

"Then," said I, still laughing, yet touched to the heart, "I shall instruct you in the duties and amenities of wedded life, and we may as well marry and be done with it. Once married, I, of course, shall do as I please in the matter of battles----"

"No, you shall not! You shall consider me! Do you think to go roaming about, nose in the air, and leaving me to sit quaking at home, crying my eyes out over your foolishness? Do I not already know the terror of it with you in New York there, and only ten minutes to save your neck from Cunningham? Thank you, I am already instructed in the amenities of wedded life--if they be like the pleasures of betrothal--though I cared not a whit what happened to Walter Butler, it is true, yet fell sick o' worry when you and Rosamund Barry went a-sailing--not that I feared you'd drown, either. O Carus, Carus, you distract me, you worry me; you tell me nothing, nothing, and I never knew what you were about there in New York when you were not with me!--doubtless a-courting every petticoat on Hanover Square, for all I know!"

"Well," said I, amazed and perplexed, "if you think, under the circumstances, there is any prospect of our falling in love after marriage, and so continuing, I will wed you--now----"

"No!" she interrupted angrily; "I shall not marry you, nor even betroth myself. It may be that I can see you leave me and bid you a fair journey, unmoved. I would to God I could! I feel that way now, and may continue, if I do not fall a-pondering, and live over certain hours with you that plague me at times into a very passion. But at moments like this I weary of you, so that all you say and do displeases, and I'm sick of the world and I know not what! O Carus, I am sick of life--and I dare not tell you why!"

She rested her head on her hands, staring down at her blurred image, reflected in the polished table-top.

"I have sometimes thought," she mused, "that the fault lay with you--somewhat."

"With me!"

"That you could force me to love you, if you dared. The rest would not matter, then. Misery me! I wish that we had never met! And yet I can not let you go, because you do not know how to care for yourself. If you will sail to France on the next packet, and remain with your mother, I'll say nothing. I'll go with a flag I care not where--only to know you are safe. Will you? O Carus, I would my life were done and all ended!"

She was silent for a while, leaning on the table, tracing with her finger the outline of her dull reflection in the shining surface. Presently she looked up gaily, a smile breaking in her eyes.

"All that I said is false. I desire to live, Carus. I am not unhappy. Pray you, begin your writing!"

I drew the paper to me, dipped a quill full of ink from the musty horn, rested my elbow, pen lifted, and began, dating the letter from the Blue Fox, and addressing it most respectfully to Sir Peter and Lady Coleville.

First I spoke of the horses we had taken, and would have promised payment by draft enclosed, but that Elsin, looking over my shoulder, stayed my pen.

"Did you not see me leave a pile of guineas?" she demanded. "That was to pay for our stable theft!"

"But not for the horse I took?"

"Certainly, for your horse, too."

"But you could not know that I was to ride saddle to the Coq d'Or!" I insisted.

"No, but I saddled _two horses," she replied, delighted at my wonder, "two horses, monsieur, one of which stood ready in the stalls of the Coq d'Or! So when you came a-horseback, it was not necessary to use the spare mount I had led there at a gallop. _Now do you see, Mr. Renault? All this I did for you, inspired by--foresight, which you lack!"

"I see that you are as wise and witty as you are beautiful!" I exclaimed warmly, and caught her fingers to kiss them, but she would have none of my caress, urging me to write further, and make suitable excuse for what had happened.

"It is not best to confess that we are still unwedded," I said, perplexed.

"No. They suppose we are; let be as it is," she answered. "And you shall not say that you were a spy, either, for that must only pain Sir Peter and his lady. They will never believe Walter Butler, for they think I fled with you because I could not endure him. And--perhaps I did," she added; and that strange smile colored her eyes to deepest azure.

"Then what remains to say?" I asked, regarding her thoughtfully.

"Say we are happy, Carus."

"Are you?"

"Truly I am, spite of all I complain of. Write it!"

I wrote that we were happy; and, as I traced the words, a curious thrill set my pen shaking.

"And that we love--them."

I wrote it slowly, half-minded to write "one another" instead of "them." Never had I been so near to love.

"And--and--let me see," she mused, finger on lip--"I think it not too impudent to ask their blessing. It _may happen, you know, though Destiny fight against it; and if it does, why there we have their blessing all ready!"

I thought for a long while, then wrote, asking their blessing upon our wedded union.

"_That word 'wedded,'" observed Elsin, "commits us. Scratch it out. I have changed my mind. Destiny may accept the challenge, and smite me where I sit."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"I mean--nothing. Yet that word 'wedded' must not stand. It is an affront to--to Destiny!"

"I fear nothing from Destiny--with you, Elsin."

"If you write that word, then, I tell you we must betroth ourselves this instant!--and fight Fate to its knees. Dare you?"

"I am ready," said I coolly.

She looked at me sidewise in quick surprise, chin resting in her clasped hands. Then she turned, facing me, dropping her elbows on the polished table.

"You would wed me, Carus?" she said slowly.

"Yes."

"Because--because--you--love me?"

"Yes."

A curious tremor possessed my body; it was not as though I spoke; something within me had stirred and awakened and was twitching at my lips. I stared at her through eyes not my own--eyes that seemed to open on her for the first time. And, as I stared, her face whitened, her eyes closed, and she bowed her head to her hands.

"Keep pity for others," she said wearily; "keep your charity for some happier maid who may accept it, Carus. I would if I dared. I have no pride left. But I dare not. This is the end of all, I think. I shall never ask alms of Love again."

Then a strange thing happened, quick as a thrust; and my very soul leaped, quivering, smitten through and through with love of her. In the overwhelming shock I stretched out my hand like a man dazed, touching her fingers, and the thrill of it seemed to stun me.

Never, never could I endure to have her look at another as she looked at me when our hands touched, but I could not utter a word; and I saw her lip quiver, and the hopeless look deaden her eyes again.

I rose blindly to my feet, speechless, heart hammering at my throat, and made to speak, but could not.

She, too, had risen, gazing steadily at me; and still I could not utter a word, the blood surging through me and my senses swimming. Love! It blinded me with its clamor; it frightened me with its rushing tide; it dinned in my ears, it ran riot, sweeping every vein, choking speech, while it surged on, wave on wave mounting in flame.

She stood there, pallidly uncertain, looking on the conflagration love had wrought. Then something of its purport seemed to frighten her, and she shrank away step by step, passing the portal of her chamber, retreating, yet facing me still, fascinated eyes on mine.

I heard a voice unlike my own, saying: "I love you, Elsin. Why do you repulse me?"

And as she answered nothing, I went to her and took her hand. But the dismayed eyes only widened, the color faded from her parted lips.

"Can you not see," I whispered, "can you not see I love you?"

"You--_love_--me!"

I caught her in my arms. A bright blush stained neck and face, and she threw back her head, avoiding my lips.

(Illustration: She threw back her head, avoiding my lips.)

"Elsin, I beg you--I beg you to love me! Can you not see what you have done to me?--how I am awakened?"

"Wait," she pleaded, resisting me, "wait, Carus. I--I am afraid----"

"Of love, sweetheart?"

"Wait," she panted--"give me time--till morning--then if I change not--if my heart stirs again so loudly when you hold me--thus--and--and crush me so close to you--so close--and promise to love me----"

"Elsin, Elsin, I love you!"

"Wait--wait, Carus!--my darling. Oh, you must not--kiss me--until you know--what I am----"

Her face burned against mine; her eyes closed. Through the throbbing silence her head drooped, lower, lower, yielding her mouth to mine; then, with a cry she turned in my arms, twisting to her knees, and dropped her head forward on the bed. And, as I bent beside her, she gasped: "No--no--wait, Carus! I know myself! I know myself! Take your lips from my hands--do not touch me! My brain has gone blind, I tell you! Leave me to think--if I can----"

"I will not leave you here in tears. Elsin, Elsin, look at me!"

"The tears help me--help us both," she sobbed. "I know what I know. Leave me--lest the very sky fall to crush us in our madness----"

I bent beside her, a new, fierce tenderness choking me; and at my touch she straightened up, tear-stained face lifted, and flung both arms around my neck.

"I love you, Carus! I love you!" she stammered. "I care for that, only--only for that! If it be for a week, if it be for a day, an hour, an instant, it is what I was made for, it is what I was fashioned for--to love you, Carus! There is nothing else--nothing else in all the world! Love me, take me, do with me what you will! I yield all you ask, all you beg, all you desire--all save wedlock!"

She swayed in my arms. A deadly pallor whitened her; then her knees trembled and she gave way, sinking to the floor, her head buried in the flowering curtains of the bed; and I to drop on my knees beside her, seeking to lift her face while the sobs shook her slender body, and she wept convulsively, head prostrate in her arms.

"I--I am wicked!" she wailed. "Oh, I have done that which has damned me forever, Carus!--forever and ever. I can not wed you--I love you so!--yet I can not wed you! What wild folly drove me to go with you? What devil has dragged me here to tempt you--whom I love so truly? Oh, God pity us both--God pity us!"

"Elsin," I said hoarsely, "you are mad to say it! Is there anything on earth to bar us from wedlock?"

"Yes, Carus, yes!" she cried. "It is--it is too late!"

"Too late!" I repeated, stunned.

"Aye--for I am a wedded wife! Now you know! Oh, this is the end of all!"

A while she lay there sobbing her heart out, I upright on my knees beside her, staring at blank space, which reeled and reeled, so that the room swam all awry, and I strove to steady it with fixed gaze, lest the whole world come crashing upon us.

At last she spoke, lifting her tear-marred face from the floor to the bed, forehead resting heavily in her hands:

"I ask your pardon--for the sin I have committed. Hear me out--that is my penance; spurn me--that is my punishment!"

She pressed her wet eyes, shuddering. "Are you listening, Carus? The night before I sailed from Canada--_he sought me----"

"Who?" My lips found the question, but no sound came.

"Walter Butler! O God! that I have done this thing!"

In the dreadful silence I heard her choking back the cry that strangled her. And after a while she found her voice again: "I was a child--a vain, silly thing of moods and romance, ignorant of men, innocent of the world, flattered by the mystery with which he cloaked his passion, awed, fascinated by this first melancholy lover who had wrung from me through pity, through vanity, through a vague fear of him, perhaps, a promise of secret betrothal."

She lifted her head and set her chin on one clinched hand, yet never looked at me:

"Sir Frederick was abed; I all alone in the great arms-gallery, nose to the diamond window-panes, and looking out at the moon--and waiting for him. Suddenly I saw him there below.... Heaven is witness I meant no harm nor dreamed of any. He was not alone. My heart and my affections were stirred to warmth--I sailing from Canada and friends next day at dawn--and I went down to the terrace and out among the trees where he stood, his companion moving off among the trees. I had come only to bid him the farewell I had promised, Carus--I never dreamed of what he meant to do."

She cleared her hair from her brow.

"I--I swear to you, Carus, that never has Walter Butler so much as laid the weight of his little finger on my person! Yet he swayed me there--using that spell of melancholy, clothed in romance--and--I know not how it was--or how I listened, or how consented--it is scarce more than a dreadful dream--the trees in the moonlight, his voice so gentle, so pitiful, trembling, beseeching--and he had brought a clergyman"--again her hands covered her eyes--"and, ere I was aware of it, frightened, stunned in the storm of his passion, he had his way with me. The clergyman stood between us, saying words that bound me. I heard them, I was mute, I shrank from the ring, yet suffered it--for even as he ringed me he touched me not with his hand. Oh, if he had, I think the spell had broken!"

Again her tears welled up, falling silently; and presently the strength returned to her voice, and she went on:

"From the first moment that I saw you, Carus, I understood what love might be. From the very first I closed my ears to the quick cry of caution. I saw you meet coquetry unmoved, I knew the poison of my first passion was in me, stealing through every vein; and every moment with you was the more hopeless for me. I played a hundred roles--you smiled indifference on all. A mad desire to please you grew with your amused impatience of me. Curiosity turned to jealousy. I longed for your affection as I never longed for anything on earth--or heaven. I had never had a lover to love before. O Carus, I had never loved, and love crazed me! Day after day I wondered if I had been fashioned to inspire love in such a man as you. I was bewildered by my passion and your coldness; yet had I not been utterly mad I must have known the awful end of such a flame once kindled. But could I inspire love? Could you love me? That was all in the world I cared about--thinking nothing of the end, knowing all hope was dead for me, and nothing in life unless you loved me. O Carus, if I have inspired one brief moment of tenderness in you, deal mercifully with the sin! Guilty as I am, false as I am, I can not add a lie and say that I am sorry that you love me, that for one blessed moment you said you loved me. Now it is ended. I can not be your wife. I am too mean, too poor a thing for hate. Deal with me gently, Carus, lest your wrath strike me dead here at the altar of outraged Love!"

I rose to my feet, feeling blindly for support, and rested against the great carved columns of the bed. A cold rage froze me, searching every vein with icy numbness that left me like a senseless thing. That passed; I roused, breathing quietly and deeply, and looked about, furtive, lest the familiar world around had changed to ashes, too.

Presently my dull senses were aware of what was at my feet, kneeling there, face buried in clasped hands, too soft, too small, too frail to hold a man's whole destiny. And, as I bent to kiss them, I scarce dared clasp them, scarce dared lift her to my arms, scarce dared meet the frightened wonder in her eyes, and the full sweetness of them, and the love breaking through their azure, as I think day must dawn in paradise!

"Now, in the name of God," I breathed, "we two, always forever one, through life, through death, here upon earth, and afterward! I wed you now with heart and soul, and ring your body with my arms! I stand your champion, I kneel your lover, Elsin, till that day breaks on a red reckoning with him who did this sin! Then I shall wed you. Will you take me?"

She placed her hands on my shoulders, gazing at me from her very soul.

"You need not wed me--so that you love me, Carus."

Arms enlacing one another, we walked the floor in silence, slowly passing from her chamber into mine, and back again, heads erect, challenging that Destiny whose shadowy visage we could now gaze on unafraid.

The dusk of day was dissolving to a silvery night, through which the white-throat's song floated in distant, long-drawn sweetness. The little stream's whisper grew louder, too; and I heard the trees stirring in slumber, and the breeze in the river-reeds.

There, at the open window, standing, she lifted her sweet face, looking into mine.

"What will you do with me? I am yours."

"Wait for you."

"You need not wait, if it be your will."

"It is not my will that we ever part. Nor shall we, wedded or not. Yet we must wait our wedded happiness."

"You need not, Carus."

"I know it and I wait."

"So then--so then you hold me innocent--you raise me back to the high place I fell from, blinded by love----"

"You never fell from your high place, Elsin."

"But my unpardonable sin----"

"What sin? The evil lies with him."

"Yet, wedded, I sought you--I loved you--I love you now--I offer my amends to you--myself to do with as it pleases you."

"Sweetheart, you could not stir from the high place where you reign enthroned though I and Satan leagued to pull you down. I, not you, owe the amends; I, not you, await your pleasure. Yours to command, mine to obey. Now, tell me, love, where my honor lies?"

"Linked with mine, Carus."

"And yours?"

"In the high places, where I sit unsullied, waiting for you."

For a long while we stood there together at the window. Candle-light faded from the dim casements of the shops; the patrol passed, muskets glittering in the starlight, and the tavern lamp went out.

And when the last tap-room loiterer had slunk away to camp or cabin, and when the echo of the patrol's tread had died out in the fragrant darkness, came one to the door below, hammering the knocker; and I saw his spurs and scabbard shining in the luster of the stars, and in my heart a still voice repeated, "This is Destiny came a-knocking, armed with Fate. This is the place and the hour!"

And it was so, for presently the landlord came to the door, calling me softly. "I come," I answered, and turned to Elsin. "Shall I to-morrow find you the same sweet maid I have loved from the first all blindly?--the same dear tyrant, plaguing me, coaxing me, blaming, praising, unreasoning, inconstant--the same brave, impulsive, loyal friend that one day, God willing, shall become my wife?"

"Yes, Carus."

We kissed one another; hands tightened, lingered, and fell apart. And so I went away down the dim stairs, strangely aware that Destiny was waiting there for me. And it was, shaped like Colonel Hamilton, who rose to meet me, offering the hand of Fate; and I took it and held it, looking him straight between the eyes.

"I know why you have come," I said, smiling. "I am to journey north and move heaven and earth to thwart this hell's menace flung at us by Walter Butler. Ah, sir, I was certain of it--I knew it, Colonel Hamilton. You make me very, very happy. Pray you, inform his Excellency of my deep gratitude. He has chosen fire to fight fire, I think. Every thought, every nerve in me is directed to the ruin of this man. Waking, sleeping, in sickness, in health, in adversity, in prosperity, soul and body and mind are bent on his undoing. I shall speak to the Oneidas with clan authority; I shall speak to the Iroquois at Thendara; I shall listen to the long roll of the dead; I shall read the record of ages from the sacred belts. The eyes of the forest shall see for me; the ears of the wilderness listen for me; every tree shall whisper for me, every leaf spy for me; and the voices of a thousand streams shall guide me, and the eight winds shall counsel me, and the stars stretch out their beams for me, pointing the way, so that this man shall die and his wickedness be ended forever."

I held out my hand and took the written order in silence, reading it at a glance.

"It shall be done, Colonel Hamilton. When am I to leave?"

"Now. The schooner starts when you set foot aboard, Mr. Renault."

And, after a moment: "Madam goes with you?"

"To West Point."

"I trust that she finds some few comforts aboard the _Wind-Flower_. I could not fill all the list, Mr. Renault; but a needle will do much, and the French fabrics are pretty----"

He looked at me, smiling: "For you, sir, there are shirts and stockings and a forest dress of deerskin."

"A rifle, too?"

"The best to be had, and approved by Jack Mount. Murphy himself has sighted it. Have I done well?"

"Yes," said I grimly, and, opening the door of the kitchen, bade the landlord have our horses saddled and brought around, and asked him to send a servant to warn Elsin that we must leave within the quarter.

Presently I heard our horses at the block, stamping the sod, and a moment later Elsin came, eager, radiant, sweetly receiving Colonel Hamilton when I named him. He saluted her hand profoundly; then, as it still rested lightly on his fingers, he turned to me, almost bluntly: "Never, Mr. Renault, can we officers forgive you for denying us this privilege. I have heard, sir, that Mrs. Renault was beautiful and amiable; I never dreamed that such loveliness could be within our lines. One day you shall make amends for this selfishness to every lady and every officer on the Hudson."

At the word which named her as my wife her face crimsoned, but in her eyes the heavenly sweetness dawned like a star, dazzling me.

"Colonel Hamilton," she said, "in quieter days--when this storm passes--we hope to welcome you and those who care to wait upon a wife whose life is but a quiet study for her husband's happiness. Those whom he cares for I care for. We shall be glad to receive those he counts as friends."

"May I be one, Renault?" he said impulsively, offering both hands.

"Yes," I said, returning his clasp.

We stood silent a moment, Elsin's gloved fingers resting on my sleeve; then we moved to the door, and I lifted Elsin to the saddle and mounted, Hamilton walking at my stirrup, and directing me in a low voice how I must follow the road to the river, how find the wharf, what word to give to the man I should find there waiting. And he cautioned me to breathe no word of my errand; but when I asked him where my reports to his Excellency were to be sent, he drew a sealed paper from his coat and handed it to me, saying: "Open that on the first day of September, and on your honor, not one hour before. Then you shall hear of things undreamed of, and understand all that I may not tell you now. Be cautious, be wise and deadly. We know you; our four years' trust in you has proved your devotion. But his Excellency warns you against rashness, for it was rashness that made you useless in New York. And I now say to you most solemnly that I regard you as too unselfish, too good a soldier, too honorable a gentleman to let aught of a personal nature come between you and duty. And your duty is to hold the Iroquois, warn the Oneidas, and so conduct that Butler and his demons make no movement till you and Colonel Willett hold the checkmate in your proper hands. Am I clear, Mr. Renault?"

"Perfectly," I said.

He stepped aside, raising his cocked-hat; we passed him at a canter with precise salute, then spurred forward into the star-spangled night.

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