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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesReckoning - Chapter 9. Into The North
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Reckoning - Chapter 9. Into The North Post by :CalGolden Category :Long Stories Author :Robert W. Chambers Date :May 2012 Read :2757

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Reckoning - Chapter 9. Into The North


Head winds, which began with a fresh breeze off King's Ferry and culminated in a three days' hurricane, knocked us about the Tappan Zee, driving us from point to cove; and for forty-eight hours I saw our gunboats, under bare poles, tossing on the gray fury of the Hudson, and a sloop of war, sprit on the rocks, buried under the sprouting spray below Dobbs Ferry. Safer had we been in the open ocean off the Narrows, where the great winds drive bellowing from the Indies to the Pole; but these yelling gales that burst from the Highlands struck us like the successive discharges of cannon, and the _Wind-Flower staggered and heeled, reeling through the Tappan Zee as a great water-fowl, crippled and stung to terror, drives blindly into the spindrift, while shot on shot strikes, yet ends not the frantic struggle.

Once we were beaten back so far that, in the dark whirlwind of dawn, I saw a fire-ball go whirring aloft and spatter the eastern horizon. Then, through the shrilling of the tempest, a gun roared to starboard, and at the flash a gun to port boomed, shaking our decks. We had beaten back within range of the British lines, and the batteries on Cock Hill opened on us, and a guard-ship to the west had joined in. Southeast a red glare leaped, and died out as Fort Tryon fired a mortar, while the _Wind-Flower_, bulwarks awash, heeled and heeled, staggering to the shelter of Tetard's Hill. Southward we saw the beacons ablaze, marking the _chevaux de frise below Fort Lee, and on the Jersey shore the patrol's torches flashing along the fort road. But we had set a bit o' rag under Tetard's Hill, and slowly we crept north again past Yonkers, struggling desperately at Phillips, but making Boar's Hill and Dobbs Ferry by mid-afternoon. And that night the wind shifted so suddenly that from Tappan to Tarrytown was but a jack-snipe's twist, and we lay snug in Haverstraw Bay, under the lee of the Heights of North Castle, scarce an hour's canoe-paddle from the wharf where we had embarked four days before.

And now delay followed delay, a gunboat holding us twenty-four hours at Dobbs Ferry--why, I never knew--and, at the Chain, two days' delay were required before they let us pass.

When at last we signaled West Point, at the close of one long, calm August afternoon, through the flaming mountain sunset, the black fortress beckoned us to anchor, nor had we any choice but to obey the silent summons from those grim heights, looming like a thunder-cloud against the cinders of the dying sun.

That night a barge put out, and an officer boarded us, subjecting us to a most rigid scrutiny. Since the great treason a savage suspicion had succeeded routine vigilance; the very guns among the rocks seemed alive, alert, listening, black jaws parted to launch a thunderous warning. A guard was placed on deck; we were not allowed to send a boat ashore; not even permitted to communicate with the fishing-smack and rowboats that hovered around us, curious as gulls around a floating plank.

And all this time--from the very instant of departure, through three days and a night of screaming winds and cataracts of water, through the delays where we rode at anchor below the Chain and Dobbs Ferry, under a vertical sun that started the pitch in every seam--Elsin Grey, radiant, transfigured, drenched to the skin, faced storm and calm in an ecstasy of reckless happiness.

Wild winds from the north, shouting among the mountains, winds of the forests, that tore the cries of exultation from our lips and scattered sound into space, winds of my own northland that poured through our veins, cleansing us of sordid care and sad regret and doubt, these were the sorcerers that changed us back to children while the dull roaring of their incantations filled the world. We two alone on earth, and the vast, veiled world spread round, outstretching to the limits of eternity, all ours to conquer, ours for our pleasure, ours to reign in till the moon cracked and the stars faded, and the sun went down forever and a day, and all was chaos save for the blazing trail of blessed souls, soaring to glory through the majesty of endless night.

In the sunlit calms, riding at our moorings, much we discussed eternity and creation. Doctrines once terrible seemed now harmless and without menace, dogmas dissolved into thinnest air, blown to the nothingness from whence they came; for, strangely, all teachings and creeds and laws of faith narrowed to the oldest of precepts; and, ponder and question as we might, citing prophet and saint and holy men inspired, all came to the same at last, expressed in that cardinal precept so safe in its simplicity--the one law embodied in one word governing heaven and commanding earth.

"Aye," said she, "but how interpret it? For a misstep means certain damnation, Carus. Once when I spelled out 'Love' for you, I stumbled and should have fallen had you not held me up."

"You held _me up, sweetheart! I was closer to the brink than you."

She looked thoughtfully at the fortress; the shore was so near that, through the calm darkness, we could hear the sentinels calling from post to post and the ripple of the Hudson at the base of the rocks.

But these conferences concerning the philosophy of ethics overweighted two hearts as young as ours; and while our new love and the happiness of it at times reacted in solemn argument and the naive searching of our souls, mostly a reckless delight in one another and in our freedom dominated; and we lived for the moment only, chary and shy of stirring slumbering embers that must one day die out or flash to a flame as fierce as that blaze that bars the gates of heaven from lost souls.

Knowing the need of haste, and having in my pocket instructions which I believed overweighed even the voiceless orders of the West Point cannon, I argued with the officer of the guard on deck, day after day, to let us go; but it was only after fifteen days' detention there at anchor that I found out that it was an order from his Excellency himself which held us there.

Then, one morning in early September, boats from the fortress put off loaded with provisions for the _Wind-Flower_; the guard disembarked in their barge, and an officer, in a cockle-shell, shouted: "Good luck to you! The Mouse-trap's sprung, and the Mouse is squeaking!" And with that he tossed a letter on deck. It was addressed to me:



"_Sir_--On receipt of this order you will immediately proceed from your anchorage off West Point to Albany, disembark, and travel by way of Schenectady to Johnstown, and from there to Butlersbury, where you will establish yourself in the manor-house, making it your headquarters, unless force of circumstances prevent. Fifty Tryon County Rangers, to be employed as one scout or several, are placed under your authority; the militia, and such companies of Continental troops as are now or may later be apportioned to Tryon County, will continue under the orders of Colonel Marinus Willett. Your duties you are already familiar with; your policy must emanate from your own nature and deliberate judgment concerning the situation as it is or as it threatens. Close and cordial cooperation with Colonel Willett, and with the various civil and military authorities in Tryon County, should eventually accomplish the object of your mission, which is, first, to prevent surprise from all invasion; second, to prevent a massacre of the Oneida Nation.

"Authority is herewith given you to open and read the sealed orders delivered to you by myself on your departure."

The letter was signed by Colonel Hamilton. I stared at his signature, then at the name of the city from whence the letter was dated--_Philadelphia_. What in Heaven's name were "Headquarters" doing in Philadelphia? Was his Excellency there? Was the army there? Impossible--the army which for months had been preparing to storm New York?--impossible!

I thrust my hand into the breast-pocket of my coat, drew out the sealed orders, tore them open, and read:

"Until further notice such reports as you are required to render to his Excellency, the Commander-in-Chief, should be sent to headquarters, near Yorktown, Virginia----"

Virginia! The army that I had seen at Dobbs Ferry, at White Plains, at North Castle, was that army on its way to Virginia? What! hurl an entire army a thousand miles southward? And had Sir Henry Clinton permitted it?

In a sort of stupor I read and reread the astonishing words: "Virginia? There was a British army in Virginia. Yorktown? Yes, that British army was at Yorktown, practically at bay, with a youth of twenty-three--my own age--harassing it--the young General Lafayette! Greene, too, was there, his chivalry cutting up the light troops of General Lord Cornwallis----"

"By Heaven!" I cried, springing to my feet, "his Excellency never meant to storm New York! The French fleet has sailed for the Chesapeake! Lafayette is there, Greene is there, Morgan, Sumter, Lee, Pickens, all are there! His Excellency has gone to catch Cornwallis in a mouse-trap, and Sir Henry is duped!"

Mad with excitement and delight, I looked up at the great fortress on the river, and knew that it was safe in its magnificent isolation--safe with its guns and ramparts and its four thousand men--knew that the key to the Hudson was ours, and would remain ours, although the army, like a gigantic dragon, had lifted its great wings and soared southward, so silently that none, not even the British spies, had dreamed its destination was other than the city of New York.

And, as I looked, the signals on the fortress changed; the guard-boats hailed us, the harmless river-craft gave us right of way, and we spread our white sails once more, drawing slowly northward, under the rocky pulpits of the heights, past shore forests yet unbroken, edged with acres of reeds and marshes, from which the water-fowl arose in clouds; past pine-crowned capes and mountains, whose bases were bathed in the great river; past lonely little islands, on, on, into the purple mystery of the silent north.

Now there remained no high sky-bastion to halt us with voiceless signal and dumb cannon, nothing beyond but Albany; and, beyond Albany, the frontier; and beyond the frontier a hellish war of murder and the torch, a ceaseless conflict of dreadful reprisals, sterile triumphs, terrible vengeance, a saturnalia of private feuds, which spared neither the infirm nor the infant--nay, the very watch-dog at the door received no quarter in the holocaust.

Elsin had begged and begged that she should not be left there at West Point, saying that Albany was safer, though I doubted the question of safety weighed in her choice; but she pleaded so reasonably, so sweetly, arms around my neck, and her lips whispering so that my cheek felt their soft flutter, that I consented. There I was foolish, for no sooner were we in sight of the Albany hills than arms and lips were persuading again, guilelessly explaining how simple it would be for her to live at Johnstown, while I, at Butlersbury, busied myself with my own affairs.

And so we stood in earnest conference, while nearer and nearer loomed the hills, with the Dutch town atop, brick houses, tiled roofs, steep streets, becoming plainer and plainer to the eye.

There seemed to be an unusual amount of shipping at the Albany wharves as we glided in, and a great number of wagons and people scurrying about. In fact, I had never before observed such a bustle in Albany streets, but thought nothing of it at the moment, for I had not seen the town since war began. As the schooner dropped anchor at the wharf we were still arguing; as, arm in arm, we followed our two horses and our sea-chests which the men bore shoreward and up the steep hill to the Half-Moon Tavern, we argued every step; at the tavern we argued, she in her chamber, I in mine, the door open between; argued and argued, finally rising in our earnestness and meeting on the common threshold to continue a discussion in which tears, lips, and arms soon supplanted logic and reason.

Had she remained at West Point, although that fortress could not have been taken except by a regular siege, still she might have been subjected to all the horrors of blockade and bombardment, for since his Excellency had abandoned the Hudson with his army and was already half-way to Virginia, nothing now stood between West Point and the heavy British garrison of New York.

It was my knowledge of that more than her pleading that reconciled me to leave her in Albany.

But I was soon to learn that she was by no means secure in the choice I had made for her; for presently she retired to her own chamber and lay down on her bed to rest for an hour or so before supper, in order to recover from the fatigue and the constant motion of the long voyage; and I went out into the town to inquire where Colonel Willett might be found.

The sluggish Dutch burghers of Albany appeared to be active enough that lovely September afternoon; hurrying hither and thither through the streets, and not one among them sufficiently civil to stop and give me an answer to my question concerning Colonel Willett. At first I could make nothing of this amazing bustle and hurry; wagons, loaded with household furniture, clattered through the streets or toiled up and down the hills, discharging bedding, pots and pans, chairs, tables, the family clock, and Heaven knows what, on to the wharves, where a great many sloops and other craft were moored, the _Wind-Flower among them.

In the streets, too, wagons were standing before fine residences and shops; servants and black slaves piled them high with all manner of goods. I even saw a green parrot in a cage, perched atop of a pile of corded bedding, and the bird cocked his head and called out continually: "Gad-a-mercy! Gad-a-mercy! Gad-a-mercy!"

An invalid soldier of Colonel Livingston's regiment, his right arm bandaged in splints, was standing across the street, apparently vastly amused by the bird in the wagon; and I crossed over to him and asked what all this exodus might signify.

"Why, the town is in a monstrous fright, friend," he drawled, cradling his shattered arm and puffing away at his cob-pipe. "Since April, when them red-devils of Brant's struck Cherry Valley for the second time, and cleaned up some score and odd women and children, these here thrifty Dutchmen in Albany have been ready to pack up and pull foot at the first breath o' foul news."

"But," said I, "what news has alarmed them now?"

"Hey? Scairt 'em? Waal, rumors is thicker than spotted flies in the sugar-bush. Some say the enemy are a-scalping at Torlock, some say Little Falls. We heard last week that Schenectady was threatened. It may be true, for there's a pest o' Tories loose in the outlying county, and them there bloody Iroquois skulk around the farms and shoot little children in their own dooryards."

"Do you believe there is any danger in Albany?" I asked incredulously.

He shrugged his shoulders, nursing his bandaged arm.

Then, troubled and apprehensive, I asked him where I might find Colonel Willett, and he said that a scout was now out toward Johnstown, and that Willett led it. This was all he knew, all the information I could get from him. Returning along the dusty, steep streets to the Half-Moon Tavern, I called in the stolid Dutch landlord, requesting information; but he knew nothing at all except that a number of timid people were packing up because an express had come in the night before with news that a body of Tories and Indians had attacked Cobleskill, taken a Mr. Warner, and murdered the entire family of a Captain Dietz--father, mother, wife, four little children, and a Scotch servant-girl, Jessie Dean.

Observing the horror with which I received the news he shook his head, pulled at his long pipe for a few moments in thoughtful silence, and said:

"What shall we do, sir? They kill us everywhere. Better die at home than in the bush. I think a man's as safe here in Albany as in any place, unless he quits all and leaves affairs to go to ruin to skulk in one o' the valley forts. But they've even burned Stanwix now, and the blockhouses are poor defense against Iroquois fire-arrows. If I had a wife I'd take her to Johnstown Fort; it's built of stone, they say. Besides, Marinus Willett is there. I wish to God he were here!"

We lingered in the empty tap-room for a while, talking in low voices of the peril; and I was certainly amazed, so utterly unprepared was I to find such a town as Albany in danger from the roaming scalping parties infesting the frontier.

Still, had my own headquarters been in Albany, I should have considered it the proper place for Elsin; but under these ominous, unlooked-for conditions I dared not leave her here, even domiciled with some family of my acquaintance, as I had intended. Indeed, I learned that the young patroon himself had gone to Heldeberg to arm his tenantry, and I knew that when Stephen Van Rensselaer took alarm it was not at the idle whistling of a kill-deer plover.

As far as I could see there was now nothing for Elsin but to go forward with me--strange irony of fate!--to Johnstown, perhaps to Butlersbury, the late residence of that mortal enemy of mine, who had brought upon her this dreadful trouble. How great a trouble it might prove to be I dared not yet consider, for the faint hope was ever in me that this unholy marriage might not stand the search of Tryon County's parish records--that the poor creature he had cast off might not have been his mistress after all, but his wife. Yes, I dared hope that he had lied, remembering what Mount and the Weasel told me. At any rate, I had long since determined to search what parish records might remain undestroyed in a land where destruction had reigned for four terrible years. That, and the chance that I might slay him if he appeared as he had threatened, were the two fixed ideas that persisted. There was little certainty, however, in either case, for, as I say, the records, if extant, might only confirm his pledged word, and, on the other hand, I was engaged by all laws of honor not to permit a private enmity to swerve me from my public duty. Therefore, I could neither abandon all else to hunt him down if he appeared as he promised to appear, nor take time in record-searching, unless the documents were close at hand.

Perplexed, more than anxious, I went up-stairs and entered my chamber. The door between our rooms still swung open, and, as I stepped forward to close it, I saw Elsin there, asleep on her bed, fingers doubled up in her rosy palms. So young, so pitifully alone she seemed, lying there sleep-flushed, face upturned, that my eyes dimmed as I gazed. Bitter doubts assailed me. I knew that I should have asked a flag and sent her north to Sir Frederick Haldimand--even though it meant a final separation for us--rather than risk the chances of my living through the armed encounter, the intrigues, the violence which were so surely approaching. I could do so still; it was not too late. Colonel Willett would give me a flag!

Miserable, undecided, overwhelmed with self-reproach, I stood there looking upon the unconscious sleeper. Sunlight faded from the patterned wall; that violet tint, which lingers with us in the north after the sun has set, deepened to a sadder color, then slowly thickened to obscurity; and from the window I saw the new moon hanging through tangled branches, dull as a silver-poplar leaf in November.

What if I die here on the frontier? The question persisted, repeating itself again and again. And my thoughts ran on in somber disorder: If I die--then we shall never know wedded happiness--never know the sweetest of intimacies. Our lives, uncompleted, what meaning is there in such lives? As for me, were my life to end all incomplete, why was I born? To live on, year after year, escaping the perils all are heir to, and then, when for the first instant life's true meaning is disclosed, to die, sterile, blighting, desolating another life, too? And must we put away offered happiness to wait on custom at our peril?--to sit cowed before convention, juggling with death and passion?

Darkness around me, darkness in my soul, I stood staring at her where she lay, arms bent back and small hands doubled up; and an overwhelming rush of tenderness and apprehension drew me forward to bend above her, hovering there, awed by the beauty of her--the pure lids, the lashes resting on the cheeks, the red mouth so exquisitely tranquil, curled like a scarlet petal of a flower fallen on snow.

Her love and mine! What cared we for laws that barred it?--what mattered any law that dared attempt to link her destiny with that man who might, perhaps, wear a title as her husband--and might not. Who joined them? No God that I feared or worshiped. Then, why should I not sunder a pact inspired by hell itself; and if the law of the land made by men of the land permitted us no sanctuary in wedlock, then why did we not seek that shelter in a happiness the law forbids, inspired by a passion no law could forbid?

I had but to reach forward, to bend and touch her, and where was Death's triumph if I fell at last? What vague and terrible justice could rob us of these hours? Never, never had I loved her as I did then. She breathed so quietly, lying there, that I could not see her body stir; her stillness awed me, fascinated me; so still, so inert, so marvelously motionless, that her very soul seemed asleep within her. Should I awake her, this child whose calm, closed lids, whose soft lashes and tinted skin, whose young soul and body were in my keeping here under a strange roof, in a strange land?

Slowly, very slowly, a fear grew in me that took the shape of horror. My reasoning was the reasoning of Walter Butler!--my argument his damning creed! Dazed, shaken, I sank to my knees, overwhelmed by my own perfidy; and she stirred in her slumber and stretched out one little hand. All the chivalry, all the manhood in me responded to that appeal in a passion of loyalty which swept my somber heart clean of selfishness.

And there in the darkness I learned the lesson that she believed I had taught to her--a lesson so easily forgotten when the heart's loud clamor drowns all else, and every pulse throbs reckless response. And it was cold reasoning and chill logic for cooling hot young blood--but it was neither reason nor logic which prevailed, I think, but something--I know not what--something inborn that conquered spite of myself, and a guilty and rebellious heart that, after all, had only asked for love, at any price--only love, but _all of it, its sweetness unbridled, its mystery unfathomed--lest the body die, and the soul, unsatisfied, wing upward to eternal ignorance.

As I crouched there beside her, in the darkness below the tall hall-clock fell a-striking; and she moved, sighed, and sat up--languid-eyed and pink from slumber.

"Carus," she murmured, "how long have I slept? How long have you been here, my darling? Heigho! Why did you wake me? I was in paradise with you but now. Where are you? I am minded to drowse, and go find you in paradise again."

She pushed her hair aside and turned, resting her chin on one hand, regarding me with sweet, sleepy, humorous eyes that glimmered like amethysts in the moonlight.

"Were ever two lovers so happy?" she asked. "Is there anything on earth that we lack?--possessing each other so completely. Tell me, Carus."

"Nothing," I said.

"Nothing," she echoed, leaning toward me and resting in my arms for a moment, then laid her hands on my shoulders, and, raising herself to a sitting posture, fell a-laughing to herself.

"While you were gone this afternoon," she said, "and I was lying here, eyes wide open, seeming to feel the bed sway like the ship, I fell to counting the ticking of the stair-clock below, and thinking how each second was recording the eternity of my love for you. And as I lay a-listening and thinking, came one by the window singing 'John O'Bail', and I heard voices in the tap-room and the clatter of pewter flagons. On a settle outside the tap-room window, full in the sun, sat the songster and his companions, drinking new ale and singing 'John O'Bail'--a song I never chanced to hear before, and I shall not soon forget it for lack of schooling"--and she sang softly, sitting there, clasping her knees, and swaying with the quaint rhythm:

"'Where do you wend your way, John O'Bail,
Where do you wend your way?'
'I follow the spotted trail
Till a maiden bids me stay,'
'Beware of the trail, John O'Bail,
Beware of the trail, I say!'

"Thus it runs, Carus, the legend of this John O'Bail, how he sought the wilderness, shunning his kind, and traveled and trapped and slew the deer, until one day at sunrise a maid of the People of the Morning hailed him, bidding him stay:

"'Turn to the fire of dawn, John O'Bail,
Turn to the fire of dawn;
The doe that waits in the vale
Was a fawn in the year that's gone!'
And John O'Bail he heeds the hail
And follows her on and on.

"Oh, Carus, they sang it and sang it, hammering their pewters together, and roaring the chorus, and that last dreadful verse:

"'Where is the soul of you, John O'Bail,
Where is the soul you slew?
There's Painted Death on the trail,
And the moccasins point to you.
Shame on the name of John O'Bail----'"

She hesitated, peering through the shadows at me: "Who _was John O'Bail, Carus? What is the Painted Death, and who are the People of the Morning?"

"John O'Bail was a wandering fellow who went a-gipsying into the Delaware country. The Delawares call themselves 'People of the Morning.' This John O'Bail had a son by an Indian girl--and that's what they made the ballad about, because this son is that mongrel demon, Cornplanter, and he's struck the frontier like a catamount gone raving mad. He is the 'Painted Death.'"

"Oh," she said thoughtfully, "so that is why they curse the name of John O'Bail."

After a moment she went on again: "Well, you'll never guess who it was singing away down there! I crept to my windows and peeped out, and there, Carus, were those two queer forest-running fellows who stopped us on the hill that morning----"

"Jack Mount!" I exclaimed.

"Yes, dear, and the other--the little wrinkled fellow, who had such strangely fine manners for a Coureur-de-Bois----"

"The Weasel!"

"Yes, Carus, but very drunk, and boisterous, and cutting most amazing capers. They went off, finally, arm in arm, shuffling, reeling, and anon breaking into a solemn sort of dance; and everybody gave them wide berth on the street, and people paused to look after them, marking them with sour visages and wagging heads--" She stopped short, finger on lips, listening.

Far up the street I heard laughter, then a plaintive, sustained howling, then more laughter, drawing nearer and nearer.

Elsin nodded in silence. I sprang up and descended the stairs. The tap-room was lighted with candles, and the sober burghers who sat within, savoring the early ale, scarce noted my entrance, so intent were they listening to the approaching tumult.

The peculiar howling had recommenced. Stepping to the open door I looked out, and beheld a half-dozen forest-runners, in all the glory of deep-fringed buckskin and bright wampum, slowly hopping round and round in a circle, the center of which was occupied by an angry town watchman, lanthorn lighted, pike in hand. As they hopped, lifting their moccasined feet as majestically as turkeys walking in a muddy road, fetching a yelp at every step, I perceived in their grotesque evolutions a parody upon a Wyandotte scalp-dance, the while they yapped and yowled, chanting:

Ha! Ha!

"Dance, watchman, dance!" shouted one of the rangers, whom I knew to be Jack Mount, poking the enraged officer in the short ribs with the muzzle of his rifle; and the watchman, with a snarl, picked up his feet and began to tread a reluctant measure, calling out that he did not desire to dance, and that they were great villains and rogues and should pay for it yet.

I saw some shopkeepers putting up the shutters before their lighted windows, while the townspeople stood about in groups, agape, to see such doings in the public streets.

"Silence!" shouted Mount, raising his hand. "People of Albany, we have shown you the famous Wyandotte dance; we will now exhibit a dancing bear! Houp! Houp! Weasel, take thy tin cup and collect shillings! Ow! Ow!" And he dropped his great paws so that they dangled at the wrist, laid his head on one side, and began sidling around in a circle with the grave, measured tread of a bear, while the Weasel, drinking-cup in hand, industriously trotted in and out among the groups of scandalized burghers, thrusting the tin receptacle at them, and talking all the while: "Something for the bear, gentlemen--a trifle, if you please. Everybody is permitted to contribute--you, sir, with your bones so nicely wadded over with fat--a shilling from you. What? How dare you refuse? Stop him, Tim!"

A huge ranger strode after the amazed burgher, blocking his way; the thrifty had taken alarm, but the rangers herded them back with persuasive playfulness, while the little Weasel made the rounds, talking cheerfully all the time, and Mount, great fists dangling, minced round and round, with a huge simper on his countenance, as though shyly aware of his own grace.

"Tim Murphy should go into the shops," he called out. "There are a dozen fat Dutchmen a-peeking through the shutters at me, and I dance before no man for less than a shilling. Houp! Houp! How much is in thy cup, Cade? Lord, what a thirst is mine! Yet I dance--villains, do you mark me? Oh, Cade, yonder pretty maid who laughs and shows her teeth is welcome to the show and naught to pay--unless she likes. Tim, I can dance no more! Elerson, bring the watchman!"

The Weasel trotted up, rattling the coins so unwillingly contributed by the economical; the runner addressed as Elerson tucked his arm affectionately into the arm of the distracted watchman and strolled up, followed by Tim Murphy, the most redoubtably notorious shot in North America.

Laughing, disputing, shouting, they came surging toward the Half-Moon Tavern, dragging the watchman, on whom they lavished many endearments. The crowd parted with alacrity as Mount, thumbs in his armpits, silver-moleskin cap pushed back on his clustering curls, swaggered ahead, bowing right and left as though an applauding throng heralded the progress of an emperor and his suite.

Here and there a woman laughed at the handsome, graceless fellows; here and there a burgher managed to pull a grin, spite of the toll exacted.

"Now that our means permit us, we are going to drink your healths, good people," said Mount affably, shaking the tin cup; "and the health of that pretty maid who showed her teeth at me. Ladies of Albany, if you but knew the wealth of harmless frolic caged in the heart that beats beneath a humble rifle-frock! Eh, Tim? Off with thy coonskin, and sweep the populace with thy courtly bow!"

Murphy lifted his coonskin cap, flourishing it till the ringed fur-tail became a blur. Elerson, in a spasm of courtesy, removed the watchman's tricorn as well as his own; the little Weasel backed off, bowing step by step, until he backed past me into the tap-room, followed by the buckskinned crew.

"Now, watchman, have at thee!" roared Mount, as the sloppy pewters were brought.

And the watchman, resigned, pulled away at his mug, furtive eyes on the landlord, who, with true delicacy, looked the other way. At that moment Mount espied me and rose, pewter in hand, with a shout that brought all to their feet.

"Death to the Iroquois!" he thundered, "and a health to Captain Renault of the Rangers!"

Every eye was on me; the pewters were lifted, reversed, and emptied. The next instant I was in the midst of a trampling, buckskinned mob; they put me up on their shoulders and marched around the tap-room, singing "Morgan's Men"; they set me on their table amid the pools of spilled ale, and, joining hands, danced round and round, singing "The New Yorker" and "John O'Bail," until more ale was fetched and a cup handed up to me.

"Silence! The Captain speaks!" cried Mount.

"Captain?" said I, laughing. "I am no officer."

There was a mighty roar of laughter, amid which I caught cries of "He doesn't know." "Where's the 'Gazette'?" "Show him the 'Gazette'!"

The stolid landlord picked up a newspaper from a table, spread it deliberately, drew his horn spectacles from his pocket, wiped them, adjusted them, and read aloud a notice of my commission from Governor Clinton to be a senior captain in the Tryon County Rangers. Utterly unprepared, dumb with astonishment, I stared at him through the swelling din. Somebody thrust the paper at me. I read the item, mug in one hand, paper in t'other.

"Death to the Iroquois!" they yelled. "Hurrah for Captain Renault!"

"Silence!" bawled Mount. "Listen to the Captain!"

"Rangers of Tryon," I said, hesitating, "this great honor which our Governor has done me is incomprehensible to me. What experience have I to lead such veterans?--men of Morgan's, men of Hand's, men of Saratoga, of Oriska, of Stillwater?--I who have never laid rifle in anger--I who have never seen a man die by violence?"

The hush was absolute.

"It must be," said I, "that such service as I have had the honor to render has made me worthy, else this commission had been an affront to the Rangers of Tryon County. And so, my brothers, that I may not shame you, I ask two things: obedience to orders; respect for my rank; and if you render not respect to my character, that will be my fault, not your own."

I raised my pewter: "The sentiment I give you is: 'The Rangers! My honor in their hands; theirs in mine!' Pewters aloft! Drink!"

Then the storm broke loose; they surged about the table, cheering, shaking their rifles and pewters above their heads, crying out for me to have no fear, that they would aid me, that they would be obedient and good--a mob of uproarious, overgrown children, swayed by sentiment entirely. And I even saw the watchman, maudlin already, dancing all by himself in a corner, and waving pike and lanthorn in martial fervor.

"Lads," I said, raising my hand for silence, "there is ale here for the asking, and nothing to pay. But we leave at daybreak for Butlersbury."

There was a dead silence.

"That is all," I said, smiling; and, laying my hand on the table, leaped lightly to the floor.

"Are we to drink no more?" asked Jack Mount, coming up, with round blue eyes widening.

"I did not say so. I said that we march at day-break. You veterans of the pewter know best how much ale to carry with you to bed. All I require are some dozen steady legs in the morning."

A roar of laughter broke out.

"You may trust us, Captain! Good night, Captain! A health to you, sir! We will remember!"

Instead of returning to my chamber to secure a few hours' rest, I went out into the dimly lighted street, and, striking a smart pace, arrived in a few moments at the house of my old friend, Peter Van Schaick, now Colonel in command of the garrison. The house was pitch-dark, and it was only after repeated rapping that the racket of the big bronze knocker aroused an ancient negro servant, who poked his woolly pate from the barred side-lights and informed me, in a quavering voice, that Colonel Van Schaick was not at home, refusing all further information concerning him.

"Joshua! Joshua!" I said gently; "don't you know me?"

There was a silence, then a trembling: "Mars' Renault, suh, is dat you?"

"It is I, Joshua, back again after four years. Tell me where I may find your master?"

"Mars' Carus, suh, de Kunnel done gone to de Foht, suh--Foht Orange on de hill."

The old slave used the ancient name of the fort, but I understood.

"Does anybody live here now except the Colonel, Joshua?"

"No, suh, nobody 'cep' de Kunnel--'scusin' me, Mars' Carus."

"Joshua," I said, under my breath, "you know all the gossip of the country. Tell me, do you remember a young gentleman who used to come here before the war--a handsome, dark-eyed gentleman--Lieutenant Walter N. Butler?"

There was an interval of silence.

"Wuz de ossifer a-sparkin' de young misses at Gin'ral Schuyler's?"

"Yes, Joshua."

"A-co'tin' Miss Betty, suh?"

"Yes, yes. Colonel Hamilton married her. That is the man, Joshua. Tell me, did you ever hear of Mr. Butler's marriage in Butlersbury?"

A longer silence, then: "No, suh. Hit wuz de talk ob de town dat Suh John Johnsing done tuk Miss Polly Watts foh his lady-wife, an' all de time po'l'l Miss Claire wuz a-settin' in Foht Johnsing, dess a-cryin' her eyes out. But Mars' Butler he done tuk an' run off 'long o' dat half-caste lady de ossifers call Carolyn Montour----"


"Yaas, suh. Dat de way Mars' Butler done carry on, suh. He done skedaddle 'long o' M'ss Carolyn. Hit wuz a Mohawk weddin', Mars' Carus."

"He never married her?"

"Mars' Butler he ain' gwine ma'hy nobody ef he ain' 'bleeged, suh. He dess lak all de young gentry, suh--'scusin' you'se'f, Mars' Carus."

I nodded in grim silence. After a moment I asked him to open the door for me, but he shook his aged head, saying: "Ef a ossifer done tell you what de Kunnel done tell me, what you gwine do, Mars' Carus, suh?"

"Obey," I said briefly. "You're a good servant, Joshua. When Colonel Van Schaick returns, say to him that Captain Renault of the Rangers marches to Butlersbury at sunup, and that if Colonel Van Schaick can spare six bat-horses and an army transport-wagon, to be at the Half-Moon at dawn, Captain Renault will be vastly obliged to him, and will certainly render a strict accounting to the proper authorities."

Then I turned, descended the brick stoop, and walked slowly back to my quarters, a prey to apprehension and bitter melancholy. For if it were true that Walter Butler had done this thing, the law of the land was on his side; and if the war ended with him still alive, the courts must sustain him in this monstrous claim on Elsin Grey. Thought halted. Was it possible that Walter Butler had dared invade the tiger-brood of Catrine Montour to satisfy his unslaked lust?

Was it possible that he dared affront the she-demon of Catherinestown by ignoring an alliance with her fiercely beautiful child?--an alliance that Catrine Montour must have considered legal and binding, however irregular it might appear to jurists.

I was astounded. Where passion led this libertine, nothing barred his way--neither fear nor pity. And he had even dared to reckon with this frightful hag, Catrine Montour--this devil's spawn of Frontenac--and her tawny offspring.

I had seen the girl, Carolyn, at Guy Park--a splendid young animal, of sixteen then, darkly beautiful, wild as a forest-cat. No wonder the beast in him had bristled at view of her; no wonder the fierce passion in her had leaped responsive to his forest courtship. By heaven, a proper mating in the shaggy hills of Danascara! Yes, but when the male beast emerges, yellow eyes fixed on the dead line that should bar him from the haunts of men, then, _then it is time that a man shall arise and stand against him--stand for honor and right and light, and drive him back to the darkness of his lair again, or slay him at the sunlit gates of that civilization he dared to challenge.

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