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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesReckoning - Chapter 5. The Artillery Ball
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Reckoning - Chapter 5. The Artillery Ball Post by :CalGolden Category :Long Stories Author :Robert W. Chambers Date :May 2012 Read :2400

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Reckoning - Chapter 5. The Artillery Ball


When I descended from my chamber to the south drawing-room I found there a respectable company of gentlemen assembled, awaiting the ladies who had not yet appeared. First I greeted Sir Henry Clinton, who had at that moment entered, followed by his staff and by two glittering officers of his Seventh Light Dragoons. He appeared pale and worn, his eyes somewhat inflamed from overstudy by candle-light, but he spoke to me pleasantly, as did Oliver De Lancey, the Adjutant-General, who had succeeded poor young Andre--an agreeable and accomplished gentleman, and very smart in his brilliant uniform of scarlet loaded with stiff gold.

O'Neil, in his gay dress of the Seventeenth Dragoons, and Harkness, wearing similar regimentals, were overflushed and frolicksome, no doubt having already begun their celebration for the victory of the Flatbush birds, which they had backed so fortunately at the Coq d'Or. Sir Peter, too, was in mischievous good spirits, examining my very splendid costume as though he had not chosen it for me at his own tailor's.

"Gad, Carus!" he exclaimed, "has his Majesty appointed a viceroy in North America--or is it the return of that Solomon whose subjects rule the Dock Ward still?"

O'Neil and Harkness, too, were merry, making pretense that my glitter set them blinking; but the grave, gray visage of Sir Henry, and his restless pacing of the polished floor, gave us all pause; and presently, as by common accord, voices around him dropped to lower tones, and we spoke together under breath, watching askance the commander-in-chief, who now stood, head on his jeweled breast, hands clasped loosely behind his back.

"Sir Peter," he said, looking up with a forced laugh, "I have irritating news. The rebel dragoons are foraging within six miles of our lines at Kingsbridge."

For a month we here in New York had become habituated to alarms. We had been warned to expect the French fleet; we had known that his Excellency was at Dobbs Ferry, with quarters at Valentine's; we had seen, day by day, the northern lines strengthened, new guns mounted on the forts and batteries, new regiments arrive, constant alarms for the militia, and the city companies under arms, marching up Murray Hill, only, like that celebrated army of a certain King of France, to march down again with great racket of drums and overfierce officers noisily shouting commands. But even I had not understood how near to us the siege had drawn, closing in steadily, inch by inch, from the green Westchester hills.

A little thrill shot through me as I noted the newer, deeper lines etched in Sir Henry's pallid face, and the grave silence of De Lancey, as he stood by the window, arms folded, eying his superior under knitted brows.

"Why not march out, bands playing?" suggested Sir Peter gaily.

"By God, we may do that yet to the tune they choose for us!" blurted out Sir Henry.

"I meant an assault," said Sir Peter, the smile fading from his handsome face.

"I know what you meant," returned Sir Henry wearily. "But that is what they wish. I haven't the men, gentlemen."

There was a silence. He stood there, swaying slowly to and fro on his polished heels, buried in reflection; but I, who stood a little to one side, could see his fingers clasped loosely behind his back, nervously working and picking at one another.

"What do they expect?" he said suddenly, lifting his head but looking at no one--"what do they expect of me in England? I have not twelve thousand effectives, and of these not nine thousand fit for duty. _They have eleven thousand, counting the French, not a dozen miles north of us. Suppose I attack? Suppose I beat them? They have but a mile to fall back, and they are stronger posted than before. I can not pass the Harlem with any chance of remaining, unless I leave here in New York a garrison of at least six thousand regulars. This gives me but three thousand regulars for a sortie." He moved his head slowly, his eyes traveled from one to another with that heavy, dazed expression which saw nothing.

"Thirty thousand men could not now force Fordham Heights--and but a single bridge left across the Harlem. To boat it means to be beaten in detail. I tell you, gentlemen, that the only chance I might have in an attempt upon any part of Washington's army must be if he advances. In formal council, Generals Kniphausen, Birch, and Robertson sustain me; and, believing I am right, I am prepared to suffer injustice and calumny in silence from my detractors here in New York and at home."

His heavy eyes hardened; a flash lighted them, and he turned to Sir Peter, adding:

"I have listened to a very strange proposition from the gentleman you presented to me, Sir Peter. His ideas of civilized warfare and mine do not run in like channels."

"So I should imagine," replied Sir Peter dryly. "But he is my guest, and at his pressing solicitation I went with him to wait upon you."

Sir Henry smiled, for Sir Peter had spoken very distinctly, though without heat.

"My dear friend," said the general gently, "are you to blame for the violent views of this gentleman who so--ah--_distinguished himself at Cherry Valley?"

A sour grimace stamped the visage of every officer present; the name of Cherry Valley was not pleasant to New York ears.

At that moment Walter Butler entered, halted on the threshold, glancing haughtily around him, advanced amid absolute silence, made his bow to Sir Peter, turned and rendered a perfect salute to Sir Henry, then, as Sir Peter quietly named him to every man present, greeted each with ceremony and a graceful reserve that could not but stamp him as a gentleman of quality and breeding.

To me, above all, was his attitude faultless; and I, relinquishing to a tyrant conscience all hopes of profiting by my blunder in angering him, and giving up all hopes of a duel and consequently of freedom from my hateful business in New York, swallowed pride and repulsion at a single gulp, and crossed the room to where he stood alone, quite at his ease amid the conversation which excluded him.

"Mr. Butler," I said, "I spoke hastily and thoughtlessly an hour since. I come to say so."

He bowed instantly, regarding me with curious eyes.

"I know not how to make further amends," I began, but he waved his hand with peculiar grace, a melancholy smile on his pale visage.

"I only trust, Mr. Renault, that you may one day understand me better. No amends are necessary. I assure you that I shall endeavor to so conduct that in future neither you nor any man may misapprehend my motives." He glanced coolly across at Sir Henry, then very pleasantly spoke of the coming rout at the Fort, expressing pleasure in gaiety and dancing.

"I love music, too," he said thoughtfully, "but have heard little for a year save the bellow of conch-horns from the rebel riflemen of Morgan's corps."

Mr. De Lancey had come up, moved by the inbred courtesy which distinguished not Sir Henry, who ostentatiously held Sir Peter in forced consultation, his shoulder turned to Walter Butler. And, of the twain, Mr. Butler cut the better figure, and spite of his true character, I was secretly gratified to see how our Tryon County gentry suffered nothing in comparison of savoir faire with the best that England sent us. Courtesy to an enemy--that is a creed no gentleman can renounce save with his title. I speak not of disputes in hot blood, but of a chance meeting upon neutral ground; and Sir Henry was no credit to his title and his country in his treatment there of Walter Butler.

One by one all spoke to Mr. Butler; laughter among us broke out as wine was served and compliments exchanged.

"The hardest lesson man is born to is that lesson which teaches him to await the dressing of his lady," said De Lancey.

"Aye, and await it, too, without impatience!" said Captain Harkness.

"And in perfect good-humor," echoed De Lancey gravely. O'Neil sat down at the piano and played "The World Turned Upside-Down," all drifting into the singing, voice after voice; and the beauty of Walter Butler's voice struck all, so that presently, one by one, we fell silent, and he alone carried the quaint old melody to its end.

"I have a guitar hereabouts," blurted out Sir Peter, motioning a servant.

The instrument was brought, and Walter Butler received it without false modesty or wearying protestation, and, touching it dreamily, he sang:

"Ninon! Ninon! Que fais-tu de la vie?
L'heure s'enfuit, le jour succede au jour,
Rose, ce soir--demain fletrie
Comment vis-tu, toi qui n'as pas d'amour?

* * *

Ouvrez-vous, jeunes fleurs
Si la mort vous enleve,
La vie est un sommeil, l'amour en est le reve!"

Sad and sweet the song faded, lingering like perfume, as the deep concord of the strings died out. All were moved. We pressed him to sing more, and he sang what we desired in perfect taste and with a simplicity that fascinated all.

I, too, stood motionless under the spell, yet struggling to think of what I had heard of the nearness of his Excellency to New York, and how I might get word to him at once concerning the Oneidas' danger and the proposed attempt upon the frontier granaries. The ladies had as yet given no sign of readiness; all present, even Sir Henry, stood within a circle around Walter Butler. So I stepped quietly into the hallway and hastened up the stairs to my chamber, which I locked first, then seized paper and quill and fell to scribbling:


"_Sir_--I regret to report that, through thoughtlessness and inadvertence, I have made a personal enemy of Captain Walter Butler of the Rangers, who is now here on a mission to enlist the aid of Sir Henry Clinton in a new attempt on the frontier. His purpose in this enterprise is to ruin our granaries, punish the Oneidas friendly to us, and, if aided from below, seize Albany, or at least Johnstown, Caughnawaga, and Schenectady. Sir John Johnson, Major Ross, and Captain Butler are preparing to gather at Niagara Fort. They expect to place a strong, swift force in the field--Rangers, Greens, Hessians, Regulars, and partizans, not counting Brant's Iroquois of the Seneca, Cayuga, and Mohawk nations.

"The trysting-place is named as Thendara. Only an Iroquois, adopted or native, can understand how Thendara is to be found. It is a town that has no existence--a fabled town that has existed and will exist again, but does not now exist. It is a mystic term used in council, and understood only by those clan ensigns present at the Rite of Condolence. At a federal council of the Five Nations, at a certain instant in the ceremonies, that spot which for a week shall be chosen to represent the legendary and lost town of Thendara, is designated to the clan attestants.

"Now, sir, as our allies the Oneidas dare not answer to a belt summons for federal council, there is no one who can discover for you the location of the trysting-spot, Thendara. I, however, am an Oneida councilor, having conformed to the law of descent by adoption; and having been raised up to ensign by the Wolf-Clan of the Oneida Nation, beg leave to place my poor services at your Excellency's disposal. There may be a chance that I return alive; and you, sir, are to judge whether any attempt of mine to answer the Iroquois belt, which surely I shall receive, is worth your honorable consideration. In the meanwhile I am sending copies of this letter to Colonel Willett and to Gen'l Schuyler."

I hastily signed, seized more writing-paper, and fell to copying furiously. And at length it was accomplished, and I wrapped up the letters in a box of snuff, tied and sealed the packet, and called Dennis.

"Take this snuff back to Ennis, in Hanover Square," I said peevishly, "and inform him that Mr. Renault desires a better quality."

My servant took the box and hastened away. I stood an instant, listening. Walter Butler was still singing. I cast my eyes about, picked up a half-written sheet I had discarded for fault of blots, crumpled it, and reached for a candle to burn it. But at that instant I heard the voices of the ladies on the landing below, so quickly opening my wainscot niche I thrust the dangerous paper within, closed the panel, and hastened away down-stairs to avoid comment for my absence.

In the merry company now assembled below I could scarcely have been missed, I think, for the Italian chaises had but just that moment appeared to bear us away to the Fort, and the gentlemen were clustered about Lady Coleville, who, encircled by a laughing bevy of pretty women, was designating chaise-partners, reading from a list she held in her jeweled hands. Those already allotted to one another had moved apart, standing two and two, and as I entered the room I saw Walter Butler give his arm to Rosamund Barry at Lady Coleville's command, a fixed smile hiding his disappointment, which turned to a white grimace as Lady Coleville ended with: "Carus, I entrust to your escort the Hon. Elsin Grey, and if you dare to run off with her there are some twenty court-swords ready here to ask the reason why. Sir Henry, will you take me as your penance?"

"Now, gentlemen," cried Sir Peter gaily, "the chaises are here; and please to remember that there is no Kissing-Bridge between Wall Street and the Battery."

Elsin Grey turned to me, laying her soft white hand on mine.

"Did you hear Mr. Butler sing?" she whispered. "Is it not divine enough to steal one's heart away?"

"He sings well," I said, gazing in wonder at her ball-gown--pale turquoise silk, with a stomacher of solid brilliants and petticoat of blue and silver. "Elsin, I think I never saw so beautiful a maid in all my life, nor a beautiful gown so nobly borne."

"Do you really think so?" she asked, delighted at my bluntness. "And you, too, Carus--why, you are like a radiant one from the sky! I have ever thought you handsome, but not as flawless as you now reveal yourself. Lord! we should cut a swathe to-night, you and I, sir, blinding all eyes in our proper glitter. I could dance all night, and all day too! I never felt so light, so gay, so eager, so reckless. I'm quivering with delight, Carus, from throat to knee; and, for the rest, my head is humming with the devil's tattoo and my feet keeping time."

She raised the hem of her petticoat a hand's breadth, and tapped the floor with one little foot--a trifle only. "That ballet figure that we did at Sir Henry's--do you remember?--and the heat of the ballroom, and the French red running from the women's cheeks? To-night is perfect, cool and fragrant. I shall dance until I die, and go up to heaven in one high, maddened whirl--zip!--like a burning soul!"

We were descending the stoop now. Our chaise stood ready. I placed her and followed, and away we rolled down Broadway.

"Am I to have two dances?" I asked.

"Two? Why, you blessed man, you may have twenty!"

She turned to me, eyes sparkling, fan half spread, a picture of exquisite youth and beauty. Her jewels flashed in the chaise-lamps, her neck and shoulders glowed clear and softly fair.

"Is that French red on lip and cheek?" I asked, to tease her.

"If there were a certain sort of bridge betwixt Wall Street and the Fort you might find out without asking," she said, looking me daringly in the eyes. "Lacking that same bridge, you have another bridge and another problem, Mr. Renault."

"For lack of a Kissing-Bridge I must solve the _pons asinorum_, I see," said I, imprisoning her hands. There was a delicate hint of a struggle, a little cry, and I had kissed her. Breathless she looked at me; the smile grew fixed on her red lips.

"Your experience in such trifles is a blessing to the untaught," she said. "You have not crumpled a ribbon. Truly, Carus, only long and intense devotion to the art could turn you out a perfect master."

"My compliments to you, Elsin; I take no credit that your gown is smooth and the lace unruffled."

"Thank you; but if you mean that I, too, am practised in the art, you are wrong."

The fixed smile trembled a little, but her eyes were wide and bright.

"Would you laugh, Carus, if I said it: what you did to me--is the first--the very first in all my life?"

"Oh, no," I said gravely, "I should not laugh if you commanded otherwise."

She looked at me in silence, the light from the chaise-lamps playing over her flushed face. Presently she turned and surveyed the darkness where, row on row, ruins of burned houses stood, the stars shining down through roofless walls.

Into my head came ringing the song that Walter Butler sang:

"Ninon! Ninon! thy sweet life flies!
Wasted in hours day follows day.
The rose to-night to-morrow dies:
Wilt thou disdain to love alway?
How canst thou live unconscious of Love's fire,
Immune to passion, guiltless of desire?"

Now all around us lamplight glimmered as we entered Bowling Green, where coach and chaise and sedan-chair were jumbled in a confusion increased by the crack of whips, the trample of impatient horses, and the cries of grooms and chairmen. In the lamp's increasing glare I made out a double line of soldiers, through which those invited to the Fort were passing; and as our chaise stopped and I aided Elsin to descend, the fresh sea-wind from the Battery struck us full, blowing her lace scarf across my face.

Through lines of servants and soldiers we passed, her hand nestling closely to my arm, past the new series of outworks and barricades, where bronze field-pieces stood shining in the moonlight, then over a dry moat by a flimsy bridge, and entered the sally-port, thronged with officers, all laughing and chatting, alert to watch the guests arriving, and a little bold, too, with their stares and their quizzing-glasses. There is, at times, something almost German in the British lack of delicacy, which is, so far, rare with us here, though I doubt not the French will taint a few among us. But insolence in stare and smirk is not among our listed sins, though, doubtless, otherwise the list is full as long as that of any nation, and longer, too, for all I know.

Conducting Elsin Grey, I grew impatient at the staring, and made way for her without ceremony, which caused a mutter here and there.

In the great loft-room of the Barracks, held by the naval companies, the ball was to be given. I relinquished my pretty charge to Lady Coleville at the door of the retiring-room, and strolled off to join Sir Peter and the others, gathering in knots throughout the cloak-room, where two sailors, cutlasses bared, stood guard.

"Well, Carus," he said, smilingly approaching me, "did you heed those chaste instructions I gave concerning the phantom Kissing-Bridge?"

"I did not run away with her," I said, looking about me. "Where is Walter Butler?"

"He returned to the house in a chaise for something forgotten--or so he said. I did not understand him clearly, and he was in great haste."

"He went back to _our house?" I asked uneasily.

"Yes--a matter of a moment, so he said. He returns to move the opening dance with Rosamund."

Curiously apprehensive, I stood there listening to the chatter around me. Sir Peter drummed with his fingers on his sword-hilt, and nodded joyously to every passer-by.

"You have found Walter Butler more agreeable, I trust, than our friend Sir Henry found him," he said, turning his amused eyes on me.

"Perhaps," I said.

"Perhaps? Damme, Carus, that is none too cordial! What is it in the man that keeps men aloof? Eh? He's a gentleman, a graceful, dark, romantic fellow, in his forest-green regimentals and his black hair worn unpowdered. And did you ever hear such a voice?"

"No, I never did," I replied sulkily.

"Delicious," said Sir Peter--"a voice prettily cultivated, and sweet enough to lull suspicion in a saint." He laughed: "Rosamund made great eyes at him, the vixen, but I fancy he's too cold to catch fire from a coquette. Did you learn if he is married?"

"Not from him, sir."

"From whom?"

I was silent.

"From whom?" he asked curiously.

"Why, I had it from one or two acquaintances, who say they knew his wife when she fled with other refugees from Guy Park," I answered.

Sir Peter shrugged his handsome shoulders, dusted his nose with a whisk of his lace handkerchief, and looked impatiently for a sign of his wife and the party of ladies attending her.

"Carus," he said under his breath, "you should enter the lists, you rogue."

"What lists?" I answered carelessly.

"Lord! he asks me what lists!" mimicked Sir Peter. "Why don't you court her? The match is suitable and desirable. You ninny, do you suppose it was by accident that Elsin Grey became our guest? Why, lad, we're set on it--and, damme! but I'm as crafty a matchmaker as my wife, planning the pretty game together in the secret of our chambers after you and Elsin are long abed, and--Lord! I came close to saying 'snoring'--for which you should have called me out, sir, if you are champion of Elsin Grey."

"But, Sir Peter," I said smiling, "I do not love the lady."

"A boorish speech!" he snapped. "Take shame, Carus, you Tryon County bumpkin!"

"I mean," said I, reddening, "and should have said, that the lady does not love me."

"That's better." He laughed, and added, "Pay your court, sir. You are fashioned for it."

"But I do not care to," I said.

"O Lord!" muttered Sir Peter, looking at the great beams above us, "my match-making is come to naught, after all, and my wife will be furious with you--furious, I say. And here she comes, too," he said, brightening, as he ever did, at sight of his lovely wife, who had remained his sweetheart, too; and this I am free to say, that, spite of the looseness of the times and of society, never, as long as I knew him, did Sir Peter forget in thought or deed those vows he took when wedded. Sportsman he was, and rake and gambler, as were we all; and I have seen him often overflushed with wine, but never heard from his lips a blasphemy or foul jest, never a word unworthy of clean lips and the clean heart he carried with him to his grave.

As Lady Coleville emerged from the ladies' cloakroom, attended by her pretty bevy, Sir Peter, followed by his guests, awaited her in the great corridor, where she took his arm, looking up into his handsome face with that indefinable smile I knew so well--a smile of delicate pride, partly tender, partly humorous, tinctured with faintest coquetry.

"Sweetheart," he said, "that villain, Carus, will have none of our match-making, and I hope Rosamund twists him into a triple lover's-knot, to teach him lessons he might learn more innocently."

Lady Coleville flushed up and looked around at me. "Why, Carus," she said softly, "I thought you a man of sense and discretion."

"But I--but she does not favor me, madam," I protested in a low voice.

"It is your fault, then, and your misfortune," she said. "Do you not know that she leaves us to-morrow? Sir Henry has placed a packet at our service. Can you not be persuaded--for my sake? It is our fond wish, Carus. How can a man be insensible to such wholesome loveliness as hers?"

"But--but she is a child--she has no heart! She is but a child yet--all caprice, innocence, and artless babble--and she loves not me, madam----"

"_You love not _her_! Shame, sir! Open those brown blind eyes of yours, that look so wise and are so shallow if such sweetness as hers troubles not their depths! Oh, Carus, Carus, you make me too unhappy!"

"Idiot!" added Sir Peter, pinching my arm. "Bring her to us, now, for we enter. She is yonder, you slow-wit! nose to nose with O'Neil. Hasten!"

But Elsin's patch-box had been mislaid, and while we searched for it I saw the marines march up, form in double rank, and heard the clear voice of their sergeant announcing:

"Sir Peter and Lady Coleville!

"Captain Tully O'Neil and the Misses O'Neil!

"Adjutant-General De Lancey and Miss Beekman!

"Sir Henry Clinton!

"Captains Harkness, Rutherford, Hallowell, and McIvor!


"Elsin," I said, "you should have been announced with Sir Peter and Lady Coleville!"

She had found her patch-box and her fan at length, and we marched in, the sergeant's loud announcement ringing through the quickly filling room:

"Mr. Carus Renault and the Honorable Elsin Grey!"

"What _will folk say to hear our banns shouted aloud in the teeth of all New York?" she whispered mischievously. "Mercy on me! if you turn as red as a Bushwick pippin they will declare we are affianced!"

"I shall confirm it if you consent!" I said, furious to burn at a jest from her under a thousand eyes.

"Ask me again," she murmured; "we make our reverences here."

She took her silk and silver petticoat between thumb and forefinger of each hand and slowly sank, making the lowest, stateliest curtsy that I ever bowed beside; and I heard a low, running murmur sweep the bright, jeweled ranks around us as we recovered and passed on, ceding our place to others next behind.

The artillerymen had made the great loft gay with bunting. Jacks and signal-flags hung from the high beams overhead, clothing the bare timbers with thickets of gayest foliage; banners and bright scarfs, caught up with trophies, hung festooned along the unpainted walls. They had made a balcony with stairs where the band was perched, the music of the artillery augmented by strings--a harp, half a dozen fiddles, cellos, bassoons, and hautboys, and there were flutes, too, and trumpets lent by the cavalry, and sufficient drums to make that fine, deep, thunderous undertone, which I love to hear, and which heats my cheeks with pleasure.

Beyond the spar-loft the sail-loft had been set aside and fashioned most elegantly for refreshment. An immense table crossed it, behind which servants stood, and behind the servants the wall had been lined with shelves covered with cakes, oranges, apples, early peaches, melons and nectarines, and late strawberries, also wines of every sort, pastry, jellies, whip-syllabub, rocky and floating island, blanc-mange, brandied preserves--and Heaven knows what! But Elsin Grey whispered me that Pryor the confectioner had orders for coriander and cinnamon comfits by the bushel, and orange, lemon, chocolate, and burned almonds by the peck.

"Do look at Lady Coleville," whispered Elsin, gently touching my sleeve; "is she not sweet as a bride with Sir Peter? And oh, that gown! with the lilac ribbons and flounce of five rows of lace. Carus, she has forty diamond buttons upon her petticoat, and her stomacher is all amethysts!"

"I wonder where Walter Butler is?" I said restlessly.

"Do you wish to be rid of me?" she asked.

"God forbid! I only marvel that he is not here--he seemed so eager for the frolic----"

My voice was drowned in the roll of martial music; we took the places assigned us, and the slow march began, ending in the Governor's set, which was danced by eight couples--a curious dance, newly fashionable, and called "En Ballet." This we danced in a very interesting fashion, sometimes two and two, sometimes three and two, or four couple and four couple, and then all together, which vastly entertained the spectators. In the final melee I had lost my lady to Mr. De Lancey, who now carried her off, leaving me with a willowy maid, whose partner came to claim her soon.

The ball now being opened, I moved a minuet with Lady Coleville, she adjuring me at every step and turn to let no precious moment slip to court Elsin; and I, bland but troubled, and astonished to learn how deep an interest she took in my undoing--I with worry enough before me, not inclusive of a courtship that I found superfluous and unimportant.

When she was rid of me, making no concealment of her disappointment and impatience, I looked for Elsin, but found Rosamund Barry, and led her out in one of those animated figures we had learned at home from the Frenchman, Grasset--dances that suited her, the rose coquette!--gay dances, where the petticoat reveals a pretty limb discreetly; where fans play, opening and closing like the painted wings of butterflies alarmed; where fingers touch, fall away, interlace and unlace; where a light waist-clasp and a vis-a-vis leaves a moment for a whisper and its answer, promise, assent, or low refusal as partners part, dropping away in low, slow reverence, which ends the frivolous figure with regretful decorum.

Askance I had seen Elsin and O'Neil, a graceful pair of figures in the frolic, and now I sought her, leaving Rosamund to Sir Henry, but that villain O'Neil had her to wine, and amid all that thirsty throng and noise of laughter I missed her in the tumult, and then lost her for two hours. I must admit those two hours sped with the gay partners that fortune sent me--and one there was whose fingers were shyly eloquent, a black-eyed beauty from Westchester, with a fresh savor of free winds and grassy hillsides clinging to her, and a certain lovely awkwardness which claims an arm to steady very often. Lord! I had her twice to ices and to wine, and we laughed and laughed at nothing, and might have been merrier, but her mother seized her with scant ceremony, and a strange young gentleman breathed hard and glared at me as I recovered dignity, which made me mad enough to follow him half across the hall ere I reflected that my business here permitted me no quarrel of my own seeking.

Robbed of my Westchester shepherdess, swallowing my disgust, I sauntered forward, finding Elsin Grey with Lady Coleville, seated together by the wall. What they had been whispering there together I knew not, but I pushed through the attendant circle of beaus and gallants who were waiting there their turns, and presented myself before them.

"I am danced to rags and ribbons, Carus," said Elsin Grey--"and no thanks to you for the pleasure, you who begged me for a dance or two; and I offered twenty, silly that I was to so invite affront!"

She was smiling when she spoke, but Lady Coleville's white teeth were in her fan's edge, and she looked at me with eyes made bright through disappointment.

"You are conducting like a silly boy," she said, "with those hoydens from Westchester, and every little baggage that dimples at your stare. Lord! Carus, I thought you grown to manhood!"

"Is there a harm in dancing at a ball, madam?" I asked, laughing.

"Fie! You are deceitful, too. Elsin, be chary of your favors. Dance with any man but him. He'll be wearing two watches to-morrow, and his hair piled up like a floating island!"

She smiled, but her eyes were not overgay. And presently she turned on Elsin with a grave shake of her head:

"You disappoint me, both of you," she said. "Elsin, I never dreamed that _you_----"

Their fans flew up, their heads dipped, then Elsin rose and asked indulgence, taking my arm, one hand lying in Lady Coleville's hand.

"Do you and Sir Peter talk over it together," she said, with a lingering wistfulness in her voice. "I shall dance with Carus, whether he will or no, and then we'll walk and talk. You may tell Sir Peter, if you so desire."

"_All?_" asked Lady Coleville, retaining Elsin's hand.

"All, madam, for it concerns all."

Sir Henry Clinton came to wait on Lady Coleville, and so we left them, slowly moving out through the brilliant sea of silks and laces, her arm resting close in mine, her fair head bent in silent meditation.

Around us swelled the incessant tumult of the ball, music and the blended harmony of many voices, rustle and whisper of skirt and silk, and the swish! swish! of feet across the vast waxed floor.

"Shall we dance?" I asked pleasantly.

She looked up, then out across the ocean of glitter and restless color.

"Now I am in two minds," she said--"to dance until there's no breath left and but a wisp of rags to cover me, or to sip a syllabub with you and rest, or go gaze at the heavens the while you court me----"

"That's three minds already," I said, laughing.

"Well, sir, which are you for?"

"And you, Elsin?"

"No, sir, you shall choose."

"Then, if it lies with me, I choose the stars and courtship," I said politely.

"I wonder," she said, "why you choose it--with a maid so pliable. Is not half the sport in the odds against you--the pretty combat for supremacy, the resisting fingers, and the defense, face covered? Is not the sport to overcome all these, nor halt short of the reluctant lips, still fluttering in voiceless protest?"

"Where did you hear all that?" I asked, piqued yet laughing.

"Rosamund Barry read me my first lesson--and, after all, though warned, I let you have your way with me there in the chaise. Oh, I am an apt pupil, Carus, with Captain Butler in full control of my mind and you of my body."

"Have you seen him yet?" I asked.

"No; he has not appeared to claim his dance. A gallant pair of courtiers I have found in you and him----"

"Couple our names no more!" I said so hotly that she stopped, looking at me in astonishment.

"Have you quarreled?" she asked.

I did not answer. We had descended the barrack-stairs and were entering the parade. Dark figures in pairs moved vaguely in the light of the battle-lanthorns set. We met O'Neil and Rosamund, who stood star-gazing on the grass, and later Sir Henry, pacing the sod alone, who, when he saw me, motioned me to stop, and drew a paper from his breast.

"Sir Peter and Lady Coleville's pass for Westchester, which he desired and I forgot. Will you be good enough to hand it to him, Mr. Renault? There is a council called to-night--it is close to two o'clock, and I must go."

He took a courtly leave of us, then wandered away, head bent, pacing the parade as though he kept account of each slow step.

"Yonder comes Knyphausen, too, and Birch," I said, as the German General emerged from the casemates, followed by Birch and a raft of officers, spurs clanking.

We stood watching the Hessians as they passed in the lamp's rays, officers smooth-shaven and powdered, wearing blue and yellow, and their long boots; soldiers with black queues in eelskin, tiny mustaches turned up at the waxed ends, and long black, buttoned spatter-dashes strapped at instep and thigh.

"Let us ascend to the parapets," she said, looking up at the huge, dark silhouette above where the southeast bastion jutted seaward.

A sentry brought his piece to support as we went by him, ascending the inclined artillery road, whence we presently came out upon the ramparts, with the vast sweep of star-set firmament above, and below us the city's twinkling lights on one side, and upon the other two great rivers at their trysting with the midnight ocean.

There were no lights at sea, none on the Hudson, and on the East River only the sad signal-spark smoldering above the _Jersey_.

Elsin had found a seat low on a gun-carriage, and, moving a little, made place for me.

"Look at that darkness," she said--"that infinite void under which an ocean wallows. It is like hell, I think. Do you understand how I fear the ocean?"

"Do you fear it, child?"

"Aye," she said, musing; "it took father and mother and brother. You knew that?"

"Lady Coleville says there is always hope that they may be alive--cast on that far continent----"

"So the attorneys say--because there is a legal limit--and I am the Honorable Elsin Grey. Ah, Carus, _I know that the sea has them fast. No port shall that tall ship enter save the last of all--the Port of Missing Ships. Heigho! Sir Frederick is kind--in his own fashion.... I would I had a mother.... There is a loneliness that I feel ... at times...."

A vague gesture, and she lifted her head, with a tremor of her shoulders, as though shaking off care as a young girl drops a scarf of lace to her waist.

Presently she turned quietly to me:

"I have told Lady Coleville," she said.

"Told her what, child?"

"Of my promise to Captain Butler. I have not yet told everything--even to you."

Roused from my calm sympathy I swung around, alert, tingling with interest and curiosity.

"I gave her leave to inform Sir Peter," she added. "They were too unhappy about you and me, Carus. Now they will understand there is no chance."

And when Sir Peter had asked me if Walter Butler was married, I had admitted it. Here was the matter already at a head, or close to it. Sudden uneasiness came upon me, as I began to understand how closely the affront touched Sir Peter. What would he do?

"What is it called, and by what name, Carus, when a man whose touch one can not suffer so dominates one's thoughts--as he does mine?"

"It is not love," I said gloomily.

"He swears it is. Do you believe there may lie something compelling in his eyes that charm and sadden--almost terrify, holding one pitiful yet reluctant?"

"I do not know. I do not understand the logic of women's minds, nor how they reason, nor why they love. I have seen delicacy mate with coarseness, wit with stupidity, humanity with brutality, religion with the skeptic, aye, goodness with evil. I, too, ask why? The answer ever is the same--because of love!"

"Because of it, is reason; is it not?"

"So women say."

"And men?"

"Aye, they say the same; but with men it is another sentiment, I think, though love is what we call it."

"Why do men love, Carus?"

"Why?" I laughed. "Men love--men love because they find it pleasant, I suppose--for variety, for family reasons."

"For nothing else?"

"For a balm to that mad passion driving them."

"And--nothing nobler?"

"There is a noble love, part chivalry, part desire, inspired by mind and body in sweetest unison."

"A mind that seeks its fellow?" she asked softly.

"No, a mind that seeks its complement, as the body seeks. This union, I think, is really love. But I speak with no experience, Elsin. This only I know, that you are too young, too innocent to comprehend, and that the sentiment awakened in you by what you think is love, is not love. Child, forgive me what I say, but it rings false as the vows of that young man who importunes you."

"Is it worthy of you, Carus, to stab him so behind his back?"

I leaned forward, my head in my hands.

"Elsin, I have endured these four years, now, a thousand little stings which I could not resent. Forgetting this, at moments I blurt out a truth which, were matters otherwise with me, I might back with--what is looked for when a man repeats what may affront his listener. It is, in a way, unworthy, as you say, that I speak lightly to you of a man I can not meet with honor to myself. Yet, Elsin, were my duty first to you--first even to myself--this had been settled now--this matter touching you and Walter Butler--and also my ancient score with him, which is as yet unreckoned."

"What keeps you, then?" she said, and her voice rang a little.

I looked at her; she sat there, proud head erect, searching me with scornful eyes.

"A small vow I made," said I carelessly.

"And when are you released, sir?"

"Soon, I hope."

"Then, Mr. Renault," she said disdainfully, "I pray you swallow your dislike of Captain Butler until such time as you may explain your enmity to him."

The lash stung. I sat dazed, then wearied, while the tingling passed. Even the silence tired me, and when I could command my voice I said: "Shall we descend, madam? There is a chill in the sea-air."

"I do not feel it," she answered, her voice not like her own.

"Do you desire to stay here?"

"No," she said, springing up. "This silence of the stars wearies me."

She passed before me across the parapet and down the inclined way, I at her heels; and so into the dark parade, where I caught up with her.

"Have I angered you without hope of pardon?" I asked.

"You have spoiled it all for me----"

She bit her lip, suddenly silent. Sir Peter Coleville stood before us.

"Lady Coleville awaits you," he said very quietly, too quietly by far. "Carus, take her to my wife. Our coach is waiting."

We stared at him in apprehension. His face was serene, but colorless and hard as steel, as he turned and strode away; and we followed without a word, drawing closer together as we moved through a covered passage-way and out along Pearl Street, where Sir Peter's coach stood, lamps shining, footman at the door.

Lady Coleville was inside. I placed Elsin Grey, and, at a motion from Sir Peter, closed the door.

"Home," he said quietly. The footman leaped to the box, the whip snapped, and away rolled the coach, leaving Sir Peter and myself standing there in Pearl Street.

"Your servant Dennis sought me out," he said, "with word that Walter Butler had been busy sounding the panels in your room."

Speech froze on my lips.

"Further," continued Sir Peter calmly, "Lady Coleville has shared with me the confidence of Elsin Grey concerning her troth, clandestinely plighted to this gentleman whom you have told me is a married man."

I could not utter a sound. Moment after moment passed in silence. The half-hour struck, then three-quarters. At last from the watch-tower on the Fort the hour sounded.

There was a rattle of wheels behind us; a coach clattered out of Beaver Street, swung around the railing of the Bowling Green, and drew up along the foot-path beside us; and Dr. Carmody leaped out, shaking hands with us both.

"I found him at Fraunce's Tavern, Sir Peter, bag and baggage. He appeared to be greatly taken aback when I delivered your cartel, protesting that something was wrong, that there could be no quarrel between you and him; but when I hinted at his villainy, he went white as ashes and stood there swaying like a stunned man. Gad! that hint about his wife took every ounce of blood from his face, Sir Peter."

"Has he a friend to care for him?" asked Sir Peter coldly.

"Jessop of the Sappers volunteered. I found him in the tap-room. They should be on their way by this time, Sir Peter."

"That will do. Carus will act for me," said Sir Peter in a dull voice.

He entered the coach; I followed, and Dr. Carmody followed me and closed the door. A heavy leather case lay beside me on the seat. I rested my throbbing head on both hands, sitting swaying there in silence as the coach dashed through Bowling Green again and sped clattering on its way up-town.

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