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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesReckoning - Chapter 4. Sunset And Dark
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Reckoning - Chapter 4. Sunset And Dark Post by :CalGolden Category :Long Stories Author :Robert W. Chambers Date :May 2012 Read :1293

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Reckoning - Chapter 4. Sunset And Dark


It was six o'clock in the early evening, the sun still shining, and in the air a sea-balm most delicious. Sir Peter and Captain Butler had gone to see Sir Henry, Butler desiring to be presented by so grand a personage as Sir Peter, I think, through mere vanity; for his own rank and title and his pressing mission should have been sufficient credentials. Sir Henry Clinton was not too difficult of approach.

Meanwhile I, finding neither Lady Coleville nor the Hon. Elsin Grey at home, had retired to my chambers to write to Colonel Willett concerning Butler's violent designs on the frontier. When I finished I made a sealed packet of all papers accumulated, and, seizing hat, snuff-box, and walking-stick, went out into Wall Street, through the dismal arcades of the City Hall, and down to Hanover Square. Opposite Mr. Goelet's Sign of the Golden Key, and next door to Mr. Minshall's fashionable Looking-Glass Store, was the Silver Box, the shop of Ennis the Tobacconist, a Boston man in our pay; and it was here that for four years I was accustomed to bring the dangerous despatches that should go north to his Excellency or to Colonel Willett, passed along from partizan to partizan and from agent to agent, though who these secret helpers along the route might be I never knew, only that Ennis charged himself with what despatches I brought, and a week or more later they were at Dobbs Ferry, West Point, or in Albany. John Ennis was there when I entered; he bowed his dour and angular New England bow, served a customer with snuff, bowed him to the door, then returned grinning to me, rubbing his long, lean, dangerous hands upon his apron--hands to throttle a Tryon County wolf!

"Butler's in town," he said harshly, through his beak of a nose. "I guess there's blood to be smelled somewhere in the north when the dog-wolf's abroad at sunup. He came by sloop this morning," he added, taking the packet from my hands and laying it upon a table in plain sight--the best way to conceal anything.

"How do you know?" I asked.

"A Bull's-Head drover whistled it an hour since," he said carelessly. "That same drover and his mate desire to see you, Mr. Renault. Could you, by chance, take the air at dusk--say on Great George Street--until you hear a whippoorwill?"

I nodded.

"You will not fail, then, sir? This drover and his fellow go north to-night, bearing the cross o' fire."

"I shall not fail them," I said, drawing a triple roll of guineas from my pocket. "This money goes to the prison-ships; they are worse off there than under Cunningham. See to it, Ennis. I shall bring more to-morrow."

He winked; then with grimace and circumstance and many a stiff-backed bow conducted me to the door, where I stood a moment, snuff-box in hand, as though testing some new and most delicious brand just purchased from the Silver Box.

There were many respectable folk abroad in Hanover Square, thronging the foot-paths, crowding along the gay shop-windows, officers lagging by the jeweler's show, sober gentlemen clustering about the book-stalls, ladies returning from their shopping or the hair-dresser's, young bucks, arm in arm, swaggering in and out of coffee-house and tavern.

As I stood there, making pretense to take snuff, I noticed a sedan-chair standing before Mrs. Ballin's millinery-shop, and seeing that the bearers were Lady Coleville's men, I crossed the street.

As I came up they touched their hats, and at the same moment the shop-door opened and out tripped, not Lady Coleville at all, but the Hon. Elsin Grey in the freshest of flowered gowns, wearing a piquant chip hat a la Gunning, with pink ribbons tied under her dainty chin.

"You!" she cried. "Of all men, to be caught a-raking in Hanover Square like some mincing macaroni, peeping into strange sedan-chairs!"

"I knew it was Lady Coleville's chair," I said, laughing, yet a little vexed, too.

"It isn't; it's Mrs. Barry's," she said. "Our chairs are all at the varnishers. Now what excuse can you trump up?"

"The bearers are Lady Coleville's," I said. "Don't be disagreeable. I came to walk with you."

"Expecting to meet Rosamund Barry! Thank you, Carus. And I may add that I have seen little of you since Friday; not that I had noticed your absence, but meeting you on your favorite promenade reminded me how recreant are men. Heigho! and alas! You may hand me to my chair before you leave me to go ogling Broad Street for your Sacharissa."

I conducted her to the curb in silence, tucking her perfumed skirts in as she seated herself. The bearers resumed the bars, and I, hat under one arm and stick at a fashionable angle, strolled along beside the chair as it proceeded up Wall Street. It was but a step to Broadway. I opened the chair door and aided her to descend, then dismissed the bearers and walked slowly with her toward the stoop.

"This silence is truly soothing," she observed, nose in the air, "but one can not expect everything, Mr. Renault."

"What is it that you lack?" I asked.

"A man to talk to," she said disdainfully. "For goodness sake, Carus, change that sulky face for a brighter mask and find a civil word for me. I do not aspire to a compliment, but, for mercy's sake, say something!"

"Will you walk with me a little way?" I inquired stiffly.

"Walk with you? Oh, what pleasure! Where? On Broadway? On Crown Street? On Queen Street? Or do you prefer Front Street and Old Slip? I wish to be perfectly agreeable, Carus, and I'll do anything to please you, even to running away with you in an Italian chaise!"

"I may ask you to do that, too," I said.

"Ask me, then! Mercy on the man! was there ever so willing a maid? Give me a moment to fetch a sun-mask and I'm off with you to any revel you please--short of the Coq d'Or," she added, with a daring laugh--"and I might be persuaded to that--as far as the cherry-trees--with _you_, Carus, and let my reputation go hang!"

We had walked on into Broadway and along the foot-path under the lime-trees where the robins were singing that quaint evening melody I love, and the pleasant scent of grass and salt breeze mingled in exquisite freshness.

"I had a dish of tea with some very agreeable people in Queen Street," she remarked. "Lady Coleville is there still. I took Mrs. Barry's chair to buy me a hat--and how does it become me?" she ended, tipping her head on one side for my inspection.

"It is modish," I replied indifferently.

"Certainly it is modish," she said dryly--"a Gunning hat, and cost a penny, too. Oh, Carus, when I think what that husband of mine must pay to maintain me----"

"What husband?" I said, startled.

"Why, _any husband!" She made a vague gesture. "Did I say that I had picked him out yet, silly? But there must be one some day, I suppose."

We had strolled as far as St. Paul's and had now returned as far as Trinity. The graves along the north transept of the ruined church were green and starred with wild flowers, and we turned into the churchyard, walking very slowly side by side.

"Elsin," I began.

"Ah! the gentleman has found his tongue," she exclaimed softly. "Speak, Sir Frippon; thy Sacharissa listens."

"I have only this to ask. Dance with me once to-night, will you?--nay, twice, Elsin?"

She seated herself upon a green mound and looked up at me from under her chip hat. "I have not at all made up my mind," she said. "Captain Butler is to be there. He may claim every dance that Sir Henry does not claim."

"Have you seen him?" I asked sullenly.

"Mercy, yes! He came at noon while you and Sir Peter were gambling away your guineas at the Coq d'Or."

"He waited upon _you_?"

"He waited on Lady Coleville. I was there."

"Were you not surprised to see him in New York?"

"Not very"--she considered me with a far-away smile--"not very greatly nor very--agreeably surprised. I have told you his sentiments regarding me."

"I can not understand," I said, "what you see in him to fascinate you."

"Nor I," she replied so angrily that she startled me. "I thought to-day when I met him, Oh, dear! Now I'm to be harrowed with melancholy and passion, when I was having such an agreeable time! But, Carus, even while I pouted I felt the subtle charm of that very sadness, the strange, compelling influence of those melancholy eyes." She sighed and plucked a late violet, drawing the stem slowly between her white teeth and staring at the ruined church.

After a while I said: "Do you regret that you are so soon to leave us?"

"Regret it?" She looked at me thoughtfully. "Carus," she said, "you are wonderfully attractive to me. I wish you had acquired that air of gentle melancholy--that poet's pallor which becomes a noble sadness--and I might love you, if you asked me."

"I'm sad enough at your going," I said lightly.

"Truly, are you sorry? And when I am gone will you forget la belle Canadienne? Ah, monsieur, l'amitie est une chose si rare, que, n'eut-elle dure qu'un jour, on doit en respecter jusqu'au souvenir."

"It is not I who shall forget to respect it, madam, jusqu'au souvenir."

"Nor I, mon ami. Had I not known that love is at best a painful pleasure I might have mistaken my happiness with you for something very like it."

"You babble of love," I blurted out, "and you know nothing of it! What foolish whim possesses you to think that fascination Walter Butler has for you is love?"

"What is it, then?" she asked, with a little shudder.

"How do I know? He has the devil's own tenacity, bold black eyes and a well-cut head, and a certain grace of limb and bearing nowise remarkable. But"--I waved my hand helplessly--"how can a sane man understand a woman's preference?--nay, Elsin, I do not even pretend to understand _you_. All I know is that our friendship began in an instant, opened to full sweetness like a flower overnight, and, like a flower, is nearly ended now--nearly ended."

"Not ended; I shall remember."

"Well, and if we both remember--to what purpose?"

"To what purpose is friendship, Carus, if not to remember when alone?"

I listened, head bent. Then, pursuing my own thoughts aloud: "It is not wise for a maid to plight her troth in secret, I care not for what reasons. I know something of men; it is a thing no honest man should ask of any woman. Why do you fear to tell Sir Frederick Haldimand?"

"Captain Butler begged me not to."

"Why?" I asked sharply.

"He is poor. You must surely know what the rebels have done--how their commissioners of sequestration seized land and house from the Tryon County loyalists. Captain Butler desires me to say nothing until, through his own efforts and by his sword, he has won back his own in the north. And I consented. Meanwhile," she added airily, "he has a glove of mine to kiss, I refusing him my hand to weep upon. And so we wait for one another, and pin our faith upon his sword."

"To wait for him--to plight your troth and wait for him until he and Sir John Johnson have come into their own again?"

"Yes, Carus."

"And then you mean to wed him?"

She was silent. The color ebbed in her cheeks.

I stood looking at her through the evening light. Behind her, gilded by the level rays of the sinking sun, a new headstone stood, and on it I read:


Michael Cresap, First Cap't
Of the Rifle Battalions,
And Son to Col. Thomas
Cresap, Who Departed this
Life, Oct. 18, A.D. 1775.

Cresap, the generous young captain, whose dusty column of Maryland riflemen I myself had seen when but a lad, pouring through Broadalbin Bush on the way to Boston siege! This was his grave; and a Tory maid in flowered petticoat and chip hat was seated on the mound a-prattling of rebels!

"When do you leave us?" I asked grimly.

"Captain Butler has gone to see Sir Henry to ask for a packet. We sail as soon as may be."

"Does _he go with you?" I demanded, startled.

"Why, yes--I and my two maids, and Captain Butler. Sir Frederick Haldimand knows."

"Yes, but he does not know that Captain Butler has presumed--has dared to press a clandestine suit with you!" I retorted angrily. "It does not please me that you go under such doubtful escort, Elsin."

"And pray, who are you to please, sir?" she asked in quick displeasure. "You speak of presumption in others, Mr. Renault, and, unsolicited, you offer an affront to me and to a gentleman who is not here to answer."

"I wish he were," I said between my teeth.

Her fair face hardened.

"Wishes are very safe, sir," she said in a low voice.

At that, suddenly, such a blind anger flooded me that the setting sun swam in my eyes and the blood dinned in ears and brain as though to burst them. At such moments, which are rare with me, I fall silent; and so I stood, while the strange rage shook me, and passed, leaving me cold and very quiet.

"I think we had best go," I said.

She held out her hand. I aided her to rise; and she kept my hand in hers, laying the other over it, and looked up into my eyes.

"Forgive me, Carus," she whispered. "No man can be more gallant and more sweet than you."

"Forgive me, Elsin. No maid so generous and just as you."

And that was all, for we crossed the street, and I mounted the stoop of our house with her, and bowed her in when the great door opened.

"Are you not coming in?" she asked, lingering in the doorway.

"No. I shall take the air."

"But we sup in a few moments."

"I may sup at the Coq d'Or," I said. Still she stood there, the wind blowing through the doorway fluttering the pink bows tied under her chin--a sweet, wistful face turned up to mine, and the early candle-light from the hall sconces painting one rounded cheek with golden lusters.

"Have you freely forgiven me, Carus?"

"Yes, freely. You know it."

"And you will be at the Fort? I shall give you that dance you ask to-night, shall I not?"

"If you will."

There was a silence; she stretched out one hand. Then the door was closed and I descended the steps once more, setting my hat on my head and tucking my walking-stick under one arm, prepared to meet my drover friend, who, Ennis said, desired to speak with me.

But I had no need to walk out along Great George Street to find my bird; for, as I left Wall Street and swung the corner into Broadway, the husky, impatient whisper of a whippoorwill broke out from the dusk among the ruins of Trinity, and I started and turned, crossing the street. Wild birds there were a-plenty in the city, yet the whippoorwill so seldom came into the streets that the note alone would have attracted me had Ennis not warned me of the signal.

And so I strolled once more into the churchyard and among the felled trees which the soldiers had cut down for fire-wood, as they were scorched past hope of future growth; and presently, prowling through the dusk among the graves by Lambert Street, I came upon my drover, seated upon a mound, smoking his clay as innocent as any tavern slug in the sun.

"Good even, friend," he said, looking up. "I thought I heard a whippoorwill but now, and being country bred, stole in to listen. Did you hear it, sir?"

"I thought I did," said I, amused. "I thought it sang, Pro Gloria in Excelsis----"

"Hush!" whispered the drover, smiling; "sit here beside me and we'll listen. Perhaps the bird may sing that anthem once again."

I seated myself on the green mound, and the next moment sprang to my feet as a shape before me seemed to rise out of the very ground; then, hearing my drover laugh, I resumed my place as the short figure came toward us.

"Another drover," said my companion, "and a famous one, Mr. Renault, for he drove certain wild cattle at a headlong gallop from the pastures at Saratoga--he and I and another drover they call Dan'l Morgan. We have been strolling here among these graves, a-prying for old friends--brother drovers. We found one drover's grave--a lad called Cresap--hard by the arch there to the north."

"Did you know him?" I asked.

"Yes, lad. I was a herder of his at Dunmore's slaughter-house. I saw him jailed at Fortress Pitt; I saw him freed, too. And one fine day in '76, a-lolling at my ease in the north, what should I hear but a jolly conch-horn blowing in the forest, and out of it rolled a torrent of men in buckskin, Cresap leading, bound for that famous cattle-drive at Boston town. So I, being by chance in buckskin, and by merest chance bearing a rifle, fell in and joined the merry ranks--I and my young friend Cardigan, who is now with certain mounted drovers called, I think, Colonel Washington's Dragoons, harrying those Carolina cattle owned by Tarleton."

He glanced up at his comrade, who stood silently beside him in the darkness.

"He, too, was there, Mr. Renault--my fellow drover here, at your service. Weasel, remove thy hat and make a bow to Mr. Renault--our brother drover."

The little withered man uncovered with a grace astonishing. So perfect was his bearing and his bow that I rose instinctively to meet it, and match his courtesy with the best I could.

"When like meets like 'tis a duel of good manners," said the big drover quietly. "Mr. Renault, you salute a man as gently bred as any man who wears a gilt edge to his hat in County Tryon. I call him the Weasel with all the reverence with which I say 'your lordship.'"

The Weasel and I exchanged another bow, and I vow he outmatched me, too, in composure, dignity, and grace, and I wondered who he might be.

"Tempus," observed the giant drover, "fugits like the devil in this dawdling world o' sin, as the poet has it--eh, Weasel? So, not even taking time to ask your pardon for my Latin, sir, I catch Time by the scalplock and add a nick to my gun-stock. Lord, sir! That's no language for a peaceful, cattle-driving yokel, is it now? Ah, Mr. Renault, I see you suspect us, and we have only to thank God you're not a lobster-back to bawl for the sergeant and his lanthorn."

"Who are you?" I asked, smiling.

"Did you ever hear of a vile highwayman called Jack Mount?" he asked, pretending horror.

"Yes," I said.

"You wouldn't shake hands with him, would you?"

"Let's try it," I replied seriously, holding out my hand.

He took it with a chuckle, his boyish face wreathed in smiles. "A purse from a magistrate here and there," he muttered--"a Tory magistrate, overfat and proud--what harm, sir? And I never could abide fat magistrates, Mr. Renault," he confided in a whisper. "It is strange; you will scarce credit me, sir, when I tell you that when I'm near a magistrate, and particularly when he's fat, and the moon's low over the hills, why, my pistols leap from my belt of their own accord, and I must snatch them with both hands lest they go flying off like rockets and explode to do a harm to that same portly magistrate."

"He does not mean all that," said the Weasel, laying his wrinkled hand affectionately on Mount's great arm. "He has served nobly, sir, with Cresap and with Morgan."

"But when I'm alone," sighed Mount, "I'm in very bad company, and mischief follows, sure as a headache follows a tavern revel. I do not mean to stop these magistrates, Mr. Renault, only they _will wander on the highway, under my very pistols, provoking 'em to fly out!" He looked at me and furtively licked the stem of his clay pipe.

"So you leave for the north to-night?" I asked, amused.

"Yes, sir. There's a certain Walter Butler in this town, arrived like a hen-hawk from the clouds, and peep! peep! we downy chicks must scurry to the forest, lad, or there'll be a fine show on the gallows yonder and two good rifles idle in the hills of Tryon."

"You know Walter Butler?"

"Know him? Yes, sir. I had him at my mercy once--over my rifle-sights! Ah, well--he rode away--and had it not been young Cardigan who stayed my trigger-finger--But let that pass, too. What is he here for?"

"To ask Sir Henry Clinton's sanction of a plan to burn New York and fling the army on West Point, while he and Sir John Johnson and Colonel Ross strike the grain country in the north and lay it and the frontier in ashes."

There was a silence, then a quiet laugh from Mount.

"West Point is safe, I think," he murmured.

"But Tryon?" urged the Weasel; "how will it go with Tryon County, Jack?"

Another silence.

"We'd best be getting back to Willett," said Mount quietly. "As for me, my errand is done, and the strange, fishy smells of New York town stifle me. I'm stale and timid, and I like not the shape of the gallows yonder. My health requires the half-light of the woods, Mr. Renault, and the friendly shadows which lie at hand like rat-holes in a granary. I've drunk all the ale at the Bull's-Head--weak stuff it was--and they've sent for more, but I can't wait. So we're off to the north to-night, friend, and we'll presently rinse our throats of this salt wind, which truly inspires a noble thirst, yet tells nothing to a nose made to sniff the inland breezes."

He held out his hand, saying, "So you can learn no news of this place called Thendara?"

"I may learn yet. Walter Butler said to-day that I knew it. Yet I can not recall anything save the name. Is it Delaware? And yet I know it must be Iroquois, too."

"It might be Cayuga, for all I know," he said. "I never learned their cursed jargon and never mean to. My business is to stop their forest-loping--and I do when I can." He spoke bitterly, like that certain class of forest-runners who never spare an Indian, never understand that anything but evil can come of any blood but white. With them argument is lost, so I said nothing.

"Have you anything for Colonel Willett?" he asked, after a pause.

"Tell him that I sent despatches this very day. Tell him of Butler's visit here, and of his present plans. If I can learn where this Thendara lies I will write him at once. That is all, I think."

I shook their hands, one by one.

"Have a care, sir," warned the Weasel as we parted. "This Walter Butler is a great villain, and, like all knaves, suspicious. If he once should harbor misgivings concerning you, he would never leave your trail until he had you at his mercy. We know him, Jack and I. And I say, God keep you from that man's enmity or suspicion. Good-by, Mr. Renault."

I retained his hand, gazing earnestly into his faded, kindly eyes.

"Do you know aught reflecting on his honor?" I asked.

"I know of Cherry Valley," he replied simply.

"Yes; but I mean his dealings with men in time of peace. Is he upright?"

"He is so considered, though they would have hanged him for a spy in Albany in '78-'79, had not young Lafayette taken pity on him and had him removed from jail to a private house, he pleading illness. Once uncaged, he gnawed through, and was off to the Canadas in no time, swearing to repay tenfold every moment's misery he spent in jail. He did repay--at Cherry Valley. Think, sir, what bloody ghosts must haunt his couch at night--unless he be all demon and not human at all, as some aver. Yet he has a wife, they say----"


"He has a wife," repeated Mount--"or a mistress. It's all one to him."

"Where?" I asked quietly.

"She was at Guy Park, the Oneidas told me; and when Sullivan moved on Catharinestown she fled with all that Tory rabble, they say, to Butlersbury, and from thence to the north--God knows where! I saw her once; she is French, I think--and very young--a beauty, sir, with hair like midnight, and two black stars for eyes. I have seen an Oneida girl with such eyes." He shrugged his shoulders. "Walter Butler makes little of women--like Sir John Johnson," he added in disgust.

I was silent.

"We go north by Valentine's and North Castle, the Albany road being unhealthy traveling at night," said Mount, with a grin; "and I think, Cade, we'd best pull foot. I trust, Mr. Renault, that you may not hear of our being taken and hung to disgrace any friends of ours. Come, Cade, old friend, our fair accomplice, the moon, is hid, so lift thy little legs and trot! Au large!"

They pulled off their hats with a gay flourish, turned, and plunged shoulder-deep into the weeds.

And so they left me, creeping away through the low foliage into Greenwich Street, while I, rousing myself, turned my steps toward home. I had no desire to sup; my appetite's edge had been turned by what I heard concerning Walter Butler. Passing slowly through the graveyard and skirting the burned church, I entered Broadway, where here and there a street-lamp was burning. Few people strolled under the lime-trees; cats prowled and courted and fought in the gutters, scattering in silent, shadowy flight before me as I crossed the street to the great house; and so buried in meditation was I that I presently found myself in my own room, and could not remember how I passed the door or mounted the long stairway to my chambers.

Dennis came to do my hair, but I drove him out with boots in a sudden, petty fury new to my nature. Indeed, lying there in my stuffed armchair, I scarcely knew myself, so strangely sad and sullen ran my thoughts--not thoughts, either, for at first I followed no definite train, but a certain irritable despondency clothed me, and trifles enraged me, leaving me bitter and sick at heart, bearing a weight of apprehension concerning nothing at all.

Oh, for a week of liberty from this pit of intrigue! Oh, for a day's freedom to ride like those blue dragoons of Heath I had seen along the Hudson! Oh, to be free to dog-trot back to the north with those two gallant scamps of Morgan, and wear a hunting-shirt once more, and lay the long brown rifle level in this new quarrel coming soon between these Butlers and these Johnsons and our yeomanry of County Tryon!

"By God!" I muttered, "I care not if they take me, for I'm sick of spying and lying, so let them hoist me out upon that leafless tree where better men have swung, and have done with the wretched business once for all!" Which I meant not, and was silly to fume, and thankless, too, to anger the Almighty with ingratitude for His long and most miraculous protection. But I was in a foul humor with the world and myself, and I knew not what ailed me, either. True, the insolence of that libertine, Walter Butler, affronted me, and it gave me a sour pleasure to think how I should quiet his swagger with one plain word aside.

Following this lead, I fell to thinking in earnest. What would it mean--a quarrel? Dare he deny the charge? No; I should command, and he obey, and I'd send him slinking north by the same accursed schooner that brought him; and Elsin Grey should go when she pleased, escorted by a proper retinue. But I'd make no noise about it--not a word to set tongues wagging and eyes peeping--for Elsin's sake. Lord! the silly maid, to steer so near the breakers and destruction!

And what then? Well, I should never see her again, once she was safe among her kin in the Canadas. And she was doubtless the fairest woman I had ever looked upon--but light--not in an evil sense, God wot! but prone to impulse and caprice--a kitten, soft as silk, now staring at the world out of two limpid eyes, now frisking after breeze-blown rose-leaves. A man may admire such a child, nay, learn to love her dearly, in a way most innocent. But love! She did not know its meaning, and how could she inspire it in a man of the world. No, I did not love her--could not love a maid, unripe and passionless, and overpert at times, flouting a man like me with her airs and vapors and her insolent lids and lashes. Lord! but she carried it high-handed with me at times, plaguing me, teasing, pouting when my attention wandered midway in the pretty babble with which she condescended to entertain me. And with all that--and after all is said--there was something in me that warmed to her--perhaps the shadow of kinship--perhaps because of her utter ignorance of all she prated of so wisely. Her very crudity touched the chord of chivalry which is in all men, strung tight or loose, answering to a touch or a blow, but always answering in some faint degree, I think. Yet, if this is so, how could Walter Butler find it in his heart to trouble her?

That he meant her real evil I did not credit, she being what she was. Doubtless he hoped to find some means of ridding him of a wife no longer loved; there were laws complacent for that sort of work. Yet, grant him free, how could he find it in his heart to cherish passion for a child? He was no boy--this pallid rake of thirty-five--this melancholy squire of dames who, ere he was twenty, had left a trail in Albany and Tryon none too savory, if wide report be credited--he and Sir John Johnson!--as pretty a brace of libertines as one might find even in that rotten town of London.

Well, I would send him on his business without noise or scandal, and I'd hold a seance, too, with Mistress Elsin, wherein a curtain-lecture should be read, kindly, gravely, but with firmness fitting!

I lay back, stretching out my legs luxuriously, pleasantly contemplating the stern yet kindly role I was to play: first send him skulking, next enact the solemn father to this foolish maid. Then, admonishing and smiling forgiveness in one breath, retire as gravely as I entered--a highly interesting figure, magnanimous and moral----

A rapping at my chamber-door aroused me disagreeably from this flattering rhapsody.

"Enter!" I said ungraciously, and lay back, frowning to see there in the flesh the man whose punishment I had been complacently selecting.

"Mr. Renault," he said, "am I overbold in this intrusion on your privacy? Pray, sir, command me, for my business must await your pleasure."

I bowed, rising, and pointing to a chair. "It is business, then, not pleasure, as I take it, Captain Butler, that permits me to receive you?"

"The business and the pleasure both are mine, Mr. Renault," he said, which was stilted enough to be civil. "The business, sir, is this: Sir Henry Clinton received me like a gentleman, but as soon as Sir Peter had retired he listened to me as though I were demented when I exposed my plan to burn New York and take the field. I say he used me with scant civility, and bowed me out, like the gross boor he is!"

"He is commander-in-chief, Mr. Butler."

"What do I care!" burst out Butler, his dark eyes a golden blaze. "Am I not an Ormond-Butler? Why should a Clinton affront an Ormond-Butler? By Heaven! I must swallow his airs and his stares and his shrugs because he is my superior; but I may one day rise in military rank as high as he--and I shall do so, mark me well, Mr. Renault!--and when I am near enough in the tinseled hierarchy to reach him at thirty paces I shall use the privilege, by God!"

"There are," said I blandly, "many subalterns on his staff who might serve your present purpose, Captain Butler."

"No, no," he said impatiently, his dark eyes wandering about the chamber, "I have too much at stake to call out fledglings for a sop to injured pride. No, Mr. Renault, I shall first take vengeance for a deeper wrong--and the north lies like an unreaped harvest for the sickle that Death and I shall set a-swinging there."

I bent my head, meditating; then looking up:

"You say I know where this Thendara lies?"

"Yes," he answered sullenly. "You know as well as I do _what is written in the Book of Rites."

At first his words rang meaningless, then far in my memory a voice called faintly, and a pale ray of light grew through the darkened chambers of my brain. And now I knew, now I remembered, now I understood where that lost town must lie--the town of Thendara, lost ever and forever, only to be forever found again as long as the dark Confederacy should endure.

Awed, I sat in silence; and he turned his gloomy eyes now on me, now on the darkened window, gnawing his lip in savage retrospection.

Instantly I was aware that he doubted me, and why. I looked up at him, astounded; he lifted his brooding head and I made a rapid sign, saying in the Mohawk tongue: "Karon-ta-Ke?--at the Tree?"

"Karon-ta-Kowa-Kon--at the great tree. Sat-Kah-tos--thou seest. There lies the lost town of Thendara. And, save for the council, where you and I have a Wolf's clan-right, no living soul could know what that word Thendara means. God help the Oneida who betrays!"

"Since when and by what nation have _you been raised up to sit in the council of condolence?" I asked haughtily; for, strange as it may appear to those who know not what it means to wear the Oneida clan-mark of nobility, I, clean-blooded and white-skinned, was as fiercely proud of this Iroquois honor as any peer of England newly invested with the garter. And it was strange, too, for I was but a lad when chosen for the mystic rite; but never except once--the day before I left the north to serve his Excellency's purpose in New York--had I been present when that most solemn rite was held, and the long roll of dead heroes called in honor of the Great League's founder, Hiawatha.

And so, though I am pure white in blood and bone and every instinct, and having nigh forgotten that I wore the Wolf--and, too, the Long House being divided and I siding with the Oneidas, and so at civil war with the shattered league that served King George--yet I turned on Walter Butler as a Mohawk might turn upon a Delaware, scornfully questioning his credentials, demanding his right to speak as one who had heard the roll-call of those Immortals who founded the "Great Peace" three hundred years ago.

"The Delawares named me, and the council took me," he said with perfect calmness. "The Delaware nation mourned their dead; and now I sit for the Wolf Clan--my elder brother, Renault."

"A Delaware clan is not named in the Rite," I said coldly--"nor is there kinship between us because you are adopted by the Delawares. I am aware that clanship knows no nations; and I, an Oneida Wolf, am brother to a Cayuga Wolf; but I am not brother to you."

"And why not to the twin clan of my adopted nation?" he asked angrily.

"Yours is a cleft ensign and a double clan," I sneered; "which are you, Gray Wolf or Yellow Wolf?"

"Yellow," he said, struggling to keep his temper; "and if we Delawares of the Wolf-Clan are not named in the Book of Rites, nevertheless we sit as ensigns among the noble, and on the same side of the council-lodge as your proud Oneidas. We have three in the council as well as you, Mr. Renault. If you were a Mohawk I should hold my peace, but a Delaware may answer an Oneida. And so I answer you, sir."

How strange it seems now--we two white men, gentlemen of quality, completely oblivious to blood, birth, tradition, breeding--our primal allegiance, our very individualities sunk in the mystical freemasonry of a savage tie which bound us to the two nations we assumed to speak for, Oneida and Delaware--two nations of the great Confederacy of the Iroquois that had adopted us, investing us with that clan nobility of which we bore the ensign.

And we were in deadly earnest, too, standing proudly, fiercely, for our prerogatives; he already doubly suspicious of me because the Oneida nation which had adopted me stood for the rebel cause, yet, in his mealy-mouthed way, assuming that by virtue of Wolf clanship, as well as by that sentiment he supposed was loyalty to the King, I would do nothing to disrupt the council which I now knew must decide upon the annihilation of the Oneida nation, as well as upon the raid he contemplated.

"Do you imagine that I shall sit with head averted while four nations and your Delawares combine to plan the murder of my Oneidas?" I demanded passionately. "When the council sits at Thendara I shall send a belt to every clan in the Oneida nation, and I care not who knows it!"

He rose, pale and menacing. "Mr. Renault," he said, "do you understand that a word from you would be a treason to the King? You can be a clansman of the Wolf and at the same time be loyal to the King and to the Iroquois Confederacy; but you can not send a single string of wampum to the Oneidas and be either loyal to the Six Nations or to your King. The Oneidas are marked for punishment; the frontier is doomed--doomed, even though this frittering commander in New York will neither aid me nor his King. A word of warning to the Oneidas is a warning to the rebels. And that, sir, I can not contemplate, and you must shrink from."

"Do you deceive yourself that I shall stand silent and see the Oneida nation ruined?" I asked between my teeth.

"Are you Oneida, or are you a British subject of King George? Are you an Iroquois renegade of the renegade Oneida nation, or are you first of all an Iroquois of the Wolf-Clan? As a white man, you are the King's subject; as an Iroquois, you are still his subject. As an Oneida only, you must be as black a rebel as George Washington himself. That is the limpid logic of the matter, Mr. Renault. A belt to the Oneidas, and you become traitor to the Confederacy and a traitor to your King. And that, I say, you can not contemplate!"

I fairly ground my teeth, subduing the rage and contempt that shook me. "Since when, Captain Butler," I sneered, "have the Oneidas learned to swallow Delaware threats? By God, sir, the oldest man among the council can not remember when a Delaware dared speak without permission of an Iroquois! As an Iroquois and an Oneida, I bid the Delawares to speak only when addressed. But as a white man, I answer you that I require no instruction concerning my conduct, and shall merely thank you for your good intentions and your kind advice, which is the more generous because unsolicited and wholly undesired!"

Again that menacing glare came into his eyes as he stood staring at me. But I cared not; he was not my guest, and he had outraged no roof of mine that the law of hospitality must close my mouth lest I betray the salt he had eaten within my walls.

"I am thinking," he said slowly, "that we did well to burn a certain house in Tryon Bush."

"Think as you please, Captain Butler," I said, bowing. "The door swings open yonder for your convenience."

He surveyed me scornfully. "I trust," he said pleasantly, "to resume this discussion at a time more opportune."

"That also shall be at your convenience," I said. Suddenly such a loathing for the man came over me that I could scarce return his salute and maintain that courteous calm which challenged men must wear at such a moment.

He went away; and I, pacing my chamber lightly, whistled for Dennis, and when he came bade him curl and frizz and powder and perfume me as he had never done before. So to my bath, and then to court the razor, lathered cheek and chin, nose in the air, counting the posies on the wall, as I always did while Dennis shaved me of the beard I fondly feared might one day suddenly appear.

And all the while, singing in my ears, I heard the meaning phrase he used at parting. Challenged? Not quite, but threatened with a challenge. The cards were mine to play--a pretty hand, with here and there a trump. Could I meet him and serve my country best? Aye, if I killed him. And, strangely, I never thought that he might kill me; I only weighed the chances. If I killed him he could not blab and danger me with hints of meddling or of rank disloyalty; but if I only maimed him he would never rest until suspicious eyes must make my mission useless. Suddenly I was aware that I had been a fool to anger him, if I wished to stay here in New York; nay, it was patent that unless I killed him he must one day work a mischief to our cause through me. A sneaking and unworthy happiness crept slowly over me, knowing that once my mission terminated here I was free to hoist true colors, free to bear arms, free to maintain openly the cause I had labored for so long in secret. No more mole's work a-burrowing into darkness for a scrap to stay my starving country's maw; no more slinking, listening, playing the stupid indifferent!

And all the while my conscience was at work, urging me to repair the damage my forgetful passion had wrought, urging me to heal the breach with Butler, using what skill I might command, so that I could stay here where his Excellency had set me, plying my abhorred trade in useful, unendurable obscurity.

It was a battle now 'twixt pride and conscience, 'twixt fierce desire and a loathed duty--doubly detested since I had spied a way to freedom and had half tasted a whiff of good free air, untainted by deception.

"O Lord!" I groaned within myself, "will no one set me free of this pit of intrigue and corruption in which I'm doomed to lurk? Must I, in loyalty to his Excellency, repair this fault--go patch up all with Butler, and deceive him so that his hawk's eyes and forked tongue may not set folk a-watching this house sidewise?"

But while Dennis's irons were in my hair I thought: "Nevertheless, I must send a belt to our allies, the Oneidas; and then I dare not stay! Oh, joy!"

But the joy was soon dashed. My belt must go first to Colonel Willett, and then to his Excellency, and it might be that he would judge it best to let the Oneidas fight their own battles and so decline to send my belt.

By the time I had arrived so far in my mental argument Dennis had curled, powdered, and tied my hair in the most fashionable manner, using a black flamboyant ribbon for the clubbed queue, a pearl-gray powder a la Rochambeau; but I was not foolish enough to permit him to pass a diamond pin into my hair, for I had once seen that fashion affected by Murray, Earl of Dunmore, that Royal Governor of Virginia who had laid Norfolk in ashes out of pure vindictiveness.

My costume I shall describe, not, I hope, from any unworthy vanity, but because I love beautiful things. Therefore, for the pleasure of others who also admire, and prompted alone by a desire to gratify, I neither seek nor require excuses for recalling what I wore that night at the Artillery ball. The lace at the stock was tied full and fastened with brilliants; the coat of ivory silk, heavily embroidered with golden filigree, fell over a waistcoat of clouded ivory and gold mesh, fashionably short, and made by Thorne. My breeches were like the coat, ivory silk, buckled with gold; the stockings were white silk, a bunch of ribbon caught by the jeweled buckles at either knee; and upon my double-channeled pumps, stitched by Bass, buckles of plain dull gold. There was blond lace at throat and cuff. I confess that, although I did not wear two watches, a great bunch of seals dangled from the fob; and the small three-cornered French hat I tucked beneath my arm was laced like a Nivernois, and dressed and cocked by the most fashionable hatter in Hanover Square.

The mirror before which I stood was but half long enough, so I bade Dennis place it upon the floor, whence it should reflect my legs and gilded court-sword. Pleased, I obtained several agreeable views of my costume, Dennis holding two mirrors for me while I pondered, hesitating where to place the single patch of black.

"Am I fine, Dennis?" I asked.

"Now God be good to the ladies, sir!" he said, so seriously that I laughed like a boy, whisked out my sword, and made a pass at my mirrored throat.

"At all events," I thought, "I'll be handsomely clothed if there's a scratch-quarrel with Walter Butler--which God avert!" Then for the first time it occurred to me that it might not be Walter Butler, but I myself, lying stretched on the lawn behind the Coq d'Or, and I was comforted to know that, however low misfortune might lay me, I should be clothed suitably and as befitted a Renault.

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