Alice and Beverley were soon in the whirl of the dance, forgetful of everything but an exhilaration stirred to its utmost by Oncle Jazon's music.
A side remark here may be of interest to those readers who enjoy the dream that on some fortunate day they will invade a lonely nook, where amid dust and cobwebs, neglected because unrecognized, reposes a masterpiece of Stradivari or some other great fiddle-maker. Oncle Jazon knew nothing whatever about old violins. He was a natural musician, that was all, and flung himself upon his fiddle with the same passionate abandon that characterizes a healthy boy's assault when a plum pudding is at his mercy. But his fiddle was a Carlo Bergonzi; and now let the search be renewed, for the precious instrument was certainly still in Vincennes as late as 1819, and there is a vague tradition that Governor Whitcomb played on it not long before he died. The mark by which it may be identified is the single word "Jazon" cut in the back of its neck by Oncle Jazon himself.
When their dance was ended Alice and Beverley followed the others of their set out into the open air while a fresh stream of eager dancers poured in. Beverley insisted upon wrapping Alice in her mantle of unlined beaver skin against the searching winter breath. They did not go to the fire, but walked back and forth, chatting until their turn to dance should come again, pausing frequently to exchange pleasantries with some of the people. Curiously enough both of them had forgotten the fact that other young men would be sure to ask Alice for a dance, and that more than one pretty creole lass was rightfully expecting a giddy turn with the stalwart and handsome Lieutenant Beverley.
Rene de Ronville before long broke rudely into their selfish dream and led Alice into the house. This reminded Beverley of his social duty, wherefore seeing little Adrienne Bourcier he made a rush and secured her at a swoop from the midst of a scrambling circle of mutually hindered young men.
"Allons, ma petite!" he cried, quite in the gay tone of the occasion, and swung her lightly along with him.
It was like an eagle dancing with a linnet, or a giant with a fairy, when the big Lieutenant led out la petite Adrienne, as everybody called her. The honor of Beverley's attention sat unappreciated on Adrienne's mind, for all her thoughts went with her eyes toward Rene and Alice. Nor was Beverley so absorbed in his partner's behalf that he ever for a moment willingly lost sight of the floating buff gown, the shining brown hair and the beautiful face, which formed, indeed, the center of attraction for all eyes.
Father Beret was present, sharing heartily in the merriment of his flock. Voices greeted him on all sides with intonations of tender respect. The rudest man there was loyal to the kind-hearted priest, and would as soon have thought of shooting him as of giving him any but the most reverent attention. It is to be noted, however, that their understanding of reverence included great freedom and levity not especially ecclesiastical in its nature. Father Beret understood the conditions around him and had the genius to know what not to hear, what not to see; but he never failed when a good word or a fatherly touch with his hand seemed worth trying on a sheep that appeared to be straying dangerously far from the fold. Upon an occasion like this dance at the river house, he was no less the faithful priest because of his genial sympathy with the happiness of the young people who looked to him for spiritual guidance.
It was some time before Beverley could again secure Alice for a dance, and he found it annoying him atrociously to see her smile sweetly on some buckskin-clad lout who looked like an Indian and danced like a Parisian. He did not greatly enjoy most of his partners; they could not appeal to any side of his nature just then. Not that he at all times stood too much on his aristocratic traditions, or lacked the virile traits common to vigorous and worldly-minded men; but the contrast between Alice and the other girls present was somehow an absolute bar to a democratic freedom of the sort demanded by the occasion. He met Father Beret and passed a few pleasant words with him.
"They have honored your flag, my son, I am glad to see," the priest said, pointing with a smile to where, in one corner, the banner that bore Alice's name was effectively draped.
Beverley had not noticed it before, and when he presently got possession of Alice he asked her to tell him the story of how she planted it on the fort, although he had heard it to the last detail from Father Beret just a moment ago. They stood together under its folds while she naively sketched the scene for him, even down to her picturesquely disagreeable interview with Long-Hair, mention of whom led up to the story of the Indian's race with the stolen dame jeanne of brandy under his arm on that memorable night, and the subsequent services performed for him by Father Beret and her, after she and Jean had found him in the mud beyond the river.
The dancing went on at a furious pace while they stood there. Now and again a youth came to claim her, but she said she was tired and begged to rest awhile, smiling so graciously upon each one that his rebuff thrilled him as if it had been the most flattering gift of tender partiality, while at the same time he suspected that it was all for Beverley.
Helm in his most jovial mood was circulating freely among those who formed the periphery of the dancing-area; he even ventured a few clumsy capers in a cotillion with Madame Godere for partner. She danced well; but he, as someone remarked, stumbled all over himself.
There was but one thing to mar the evening's pleasure: some of the men drank too much and grew boisterous. A quarrel ended in a noisy but harmless fight near one of the fires. M. Roussillon rushed to the spot, seized the combatants, tousled them playfully, as if they had been children, rubbed their heads together, laughed stormily and so restored the equilibrium of temper.
It was late when fathers and mothers in the company began to suggest adjournment. Oncle Jazon's elbow was tired and the enthusiasm generated by his unrecognized Bergonzi became fitful, while the relaxing crowd rapidly encroached upon the space set apart for the dancers. In the open lamps suspended here and there the oil was running low, and the rag wicks sputtered and winked with their yellow flames.
"Well," said M. Roussillon, coming to where Alice and Beverley stood insulated and isolated by their great delight in each other's company, "it's time to go home."
Beverley looked at his watch; it was a quarter to three!
Alice also looked at the watch, and saw engraved and enameled on its massive case the Beverley crest, but she did not know what it meant. There was something of the sort in the back of her locket, she remembered with satisfaction.
Just then there was a peculiar stir in the flagging crowd. Someone had arrived, a coureur de bois from the north. Where was the commandant? the coureur had something important for him.
Beverley heard a remark in a startled voice about the English getting ready for a descent upon the Wabash valley. This broke the charm which thralled him and sent through his nerves the bracing shock that only a soldier can feel when a hint of coming battle reaches him.
Alice saw the flash in his face.
"Where is Captain Helm? I must see him immediately. Excuse me," he said, abruptly turning away and looking over the heads of the people; "yonder he is, I must go to him."
The coureur de bois, Adolphe Dutremble by name, was just from the head waters of the Wabash. He was speaking to Helm when Beverley came up. M. Roussillon followed close upon the Lieutenant's heels, as eager as he to know what the message amounted to; but Helm took the coureur aside, motioning Beverley to join them. M. Roussillon included himself in the conference.
After all it was but the gossip of savages that Dutremble communicated; still the purport was startling in the extreme. Governor Hamilton, so the story ran, had been organizing a large force; he was probably now on his way to the portage of the Wabash with a flotilla of batteaux, some companies of disciplined soldiers, artillery and a strong body of Indians.
Helm listened attentively to Dutremble's lively sketch, then cross-questioned him with laconic directness.
"Send Mr. Jazon to me," he said to M. Roussillon, as if speaking to a servant.
The master Frenchman went promptly, recognizing Captain Helm's right to command, and sympathizing With his unpleasant military predicament if the news should prove true.
Oncle Jazon came in a minute, his fiddle and bow clamped under his arm, to receive a verbal commission, which sent him with some scouts of his own choosing forthwith to the Wabash portage, or far enough to ascertain what the English commander was doing.
After the conference Beverley made haste to join Alice; but he found that she had gone home.
"One hell of a fix we'll be in if Hamilton comes down here with a good force," said Helm.
Beverley felt like retorting that a little forethought, zeal and preparation might have lessened the prospective gloom. He had been troubled all the time about Helm's utter lack of military precaution. True, there was very little material out of which that optimistic officer could have formed a body of resistance against the army probably at Hamilton's command; but Beverley was young, energetic, bellicose, and to him everything seemed possible; he believed in vigilance, discipline, activity, dash; he had a great faith in the efficacy of enthusiasm.
"We must organize these Frenchmen," he said; "they will make good fighters if we can once get them to act as a body. There's no time to be lost; but we have time enough in which to do a great deal before Hamilton can arrive, if we go at it in earnest."
"Your theory is excellent, Lieutenant, but the practice of it won't be worth a damn," Helm replied with perfect good nature. "I'd like to see you organize these parly-voos. There ain't a dozen of 'em that wouldn't accept the English with open arms. I know 'em. They're good hearted, polite and all that; they'll hurrah for the flag; that's easy enough; but put 'em to the test and they'll join in with the strongest side, see if they don't. Of course there are a few exceptions. There's Jazon, he's all right, and I have faith in Bosseron, and Legrace, and young Ronville."
"Roussillon—" Beverley began.
"Is much of a blow-hard," Helm interrupted with a laugh. "Barks loud, but his biting disposition is probably not vicious."
"He and Father Beret control the whole population at all events," said Beverley.
"Yes, and such a population!"
While joining in Captain Helm's laugh at the expense of Vincennes, Beverley took leave to indulge a mental reservation in favor of Alice. He could not bear to class her with the crowd of noisy, thoughtless, mercurial beings whom he heard still singing gay snatches and calling to one another from distance to distance, as they strolled homeward in groups and pairs. Nor could the impending danger of an enforced surrender to the English and Indians drive from his mind her beautiful image, while he lay for the rest of the night between sleeping and waking on his primitive bed, alternately hearing over again her every phrase and laugh, and striving to formulate some definite plan for defending the town and fort. His heart was full of her. She had surprised his nature and filled it, as with a wonderful, haunting song. His youth, his imagination, all that was fresh and spontaneously gentle and natural in him, was flooded with the magnetic splendor of her beauty. And yet, in his pride (and it was not a false pride, but rather a noble regard for his birthright) he vaguely realized how far she was from him, how impossible.
THE DILEMMA OF CAPTAIN HELM
Oncle Jazon, feeling like a fish returned to the water after a long and torturing captivity in the open air, plunged into the forest with anticipations of lively adventure and made his way toward the Wea plains. It was his purpose to get a boat at the village of Ouiatenon and pull thence up the Wabash until he could find out what the English were doing. He chose for his companions on this dangerous expedition two expert coureurs de bois, Dutremble and Jacques Bailoup. Fifty miles up the river they fell in with some friendly Indians, well known to them all, who were returning from the portage.
The savages informed them that there were no signs of an English advance in that quarter. Some of them had been as far as the St. Joseph river and to within a short distance of Detroit without seeing a white man or hearing of any suspicious movements on the part of Hamilton. So back came Oncle Jazon with his pleasing report, much disappointed that he had not been able to stir up some sort of trouble.
It was Helm's turn to laugh.
"What did I tell you?" he cried, in a jolly mood, slapping Beverley on the shoulder. "I knew mighty well that it was all a big story with nothing in it. What on earth would the English be thinking about to march an army away off down here only to capture a rotten stockade and a lot of gabbling parly-voos?"
Beverley, while he did not feel quite as confident as his chief, was not sorry that things looked a little brighter than he had feared they would turn out to be. Secretly, and without acknowledging it to himself, he was delighted with the life he was living. The Arcadian atmosphere of Vincennes clothed him in its mists and dreams. No matter what way the weather blew its breath, cold or warm, cloudy or fair, rain or snow, the peace in his soul changed not. His nature seemed to hold all of its sterner and fiercer traits in abeyance while he domiciled himself absolutely within his narrow and monotonous environment. Since the dance at the river house a new content, like a soft and diffused sweetness, had crept through his blood with a vague, tingling sense of joy.
He began to like walking about rather aimlessly in the town's narrow streets, with the mud-daubed cabins on either hand. This simple life under low, thatched roofs had a charm. When a door was opened he could see a fire of logs on the ample hearth shooting its yellow tongues up the sooty chimney-throat. Soft creole voices murmured and sang, or jangled their petty domestic discords. Women in scant petticoats, leggings and moccasins swept snow from the squat verandas, or fed the pigs in little sties behind the cabins. Everybody cried cheerily: "Bon jour, Monsieur, comment allez-vous?" as he went by, always accompanying the verbal salute with a graceful wave of the hand.
When he walked early in the morning a waft of broiling game and browning corn scones was abroad. Pots and kettles occupied the hearths with glowing coals heaped around and under. Shaggy dogs whined at the doors until the mensal remnants were tossed out to them in the front yard.
But it was always a glimpse of Alice that must count for everything in Beverley's reckonings, albeit he would have strenuously denied it. True he went to Roussillon place almost every day, it being a fixed part of his well ordered habit, and had a talk with her. Sometimes, when Dame Roussillon was very busy and so quite off her guard, they read together in a novel, or in certain parts of the odd volume of Montaigne. This was done more for the sweetness of disobedience than to enjoy the already familiar pages.
Now and again they repeated their fencing bout; but never with the result which followed the first. Beverley soon mastered Alice's tricks and showed her that, after all, masculine muscle is not to be discounted at its own game by even the most wonderful womanly strength and suppleness. She struggled bravely to hold her vantage ground once gained so easily, but the inevitable was not to be avoided. At last, one howling winter day, he disarmed her by the very trick that she had shown him. That ended the play and they ran shivering into the house.
"Ah," she cried, "it isn't fair. You are so much bigger than I; you have so much longer arms; so much more weight and power. It all counts against me! You ought to be ashamed of yourself!" She was rosy with the exhilarating exercise and the biting of the frosty breeze. Her beauty gave forth a new ray.
Deep in her heart she was pleased to have him master her so superbly; but as the days passed she never said so, never gave over trying to make him feel the touch of her foil. She did not know that her eyes were getting through his guard, that her dimples were stabbing his heart to its middle.
"You have other advantages," he replied, "which far overbalance my greater stature and stronger muscles." Then after a pause he added: "After all a girl must be a girl."
Something in his face, something in her heart, startled her so that she made a quick little move like that of a restless bird.
"You are beautiful and that makes my eyes and my hand uncertain," he went on. "Were I fencing with a man there would be no glamour."
He spoke in English, which he did not often do in conversation with her. It was a sign that he was somewhat wrought upon. She followed his rapid words with difficulty; but she caught from them a new note of feeling. He saw a little pale flare shoot across her face and thought she was angry.
"You should not use your dimples to distract my vision," he quickly added, with a light laugh. "It would be no worse for me to throw my hat in your face!"
His attempt at levity was obviously weak; she looked straight into his eyes, with the steady gaze of a simple, earnest nature shocked by a current quite strange to it. She did not understand him, and she did. Her fine intuition gathered swiftly together a hundred shreds of impression received from him during their recent growing intimacy. He was a patrician, as she vaguely made him out, a man of wealth, whose family was great. He belonged among people of gentle birth and high attainments. She magnified him so that he was diffused in her imagination, as difficult to comprehend as a mist in the morning air—and as beautiful.
"You make fun of me," she said, very deliberately, letting her eyes droop; then she looked up again suddenly and continued, with a certain naive expression of disappointment gathering in her face. "I have been too free with you. Father Beret told me not to forget my dignity when in your company. He told me you might misunderstand me. I don't care; I shall not fence with you again." She laughed, but there was no joyous freedom in the sound.
"Why, Alice—my dear Miss Roussillon, you do me a wrong; I beg a thousand pardons if I've hurt you," he cried, stepping nearer to her, "and I can never forgive myself. You have somehow misunderstood me, I know you have!"
On his part it was exaggerating a mere contact of mutual feelings into a dangerous collision. He was as much self-deceived as was she, and he made more noise about it.
"It is you who have misunderstood me," she replied, smiling brightly now, but with just a faint, pitiful touch of regret, or self-blame lingering in her voice. "Father Beret said you would. I did not believe him; but—"
"And you shall not believe him," said Beverley. "I have not misunderstood you. There has been nothing. You have treated me kindly and with beautiful friendliness. You have not done or said a thing that Father Beret or anybody else could criticise. And if I have said or done the least thing to trouble you I repudiate it—I did not mean it. Now you believe me, don't you, Miss Roussillon?"
He seemed to be falling into the habit of speaking to her in English. She understood it somewhat imperfectly, especially when in an earnest moment he rushed his words together as if they had been soldiers he was leading at the charge-step against an enemy. His manner convinced her, even though his diction fell short.
"Then we'll talk about something else," she said, laughing naturally now, and retreating to a chair by the hearthside. "I want you to tell me all about yourself and your family, your home and everything."
She seated herself with an air of conscious aplomb and motioned him to take a distant stool.
There was a great heap of dry logs in the fireplace, with pointed flames shooting out of its crevices and leaping into the gloomy, cave-like throat of the flue. Outside a wind passed heavily across the roof and bellowed in the chimney-top.
Beverley drew the stool near Alice, who, with a charred stick, used as a poker, was thrusting at the glowing crevices and sending showers of sparks aloft.
"Why, there wouldn't be much to tell," he said, glad to feel secure again. "Our home is a big old mansion named Beverley Hall on a hill among trees, and half surrounded with slave cabins. It overlooks the plantation in the valley where a little river goes wandering on its way." He was speaking French and she followed him easily now, her eyes beginning to fling out again their natural sunny beams of interest. "I was born there twenty-six years ago and haven't done much of anything since. You see before you, Mademoiselle, a very undistinguished young man, who has signally failed to accomplish the dream of his boyhood, which was to be a great artist like Raphael or Angelo. Instead of being famous I am but a poor Lieutenant in the forces of Virginia."
"You have a mother, father, brothers and sisters?" she interrogated. She did not understand his allusion to the great artists of whom she knew nothing. She had never before heard of them. She leaned the poker against the chimney jamb and turned her face toward him.
"Mother, father, and one sister," he said, "no brothers. We were a happy little group. But my sister married and lives in Baltimore. I am here. Father and mother are alone in the old house. Sometimes I am terribly homesick." He was silent a moment, then added: "But you are selfish, you make me do all the telling. Now I want you to give me a little of your story, Mademoiselle, beginning as I did, at the first."
"But I can't," she replied with childlike frankness, "for I don't know where I was born, nor my parents' names, nor who I am. You see how different it is with me. I am called Alice Roussillon, but I suppose that my name is Alice Tarleton; it is not certain, however. There is very little to help out the theory. Here is all the proof there is. I don't know that it is worth anything."
She took off her locket and handed it to him.
He handled it rather indifferently, for he was just then studying the fine lines of her face. But in a moment he was interested.
"Tarleton, Tarleton," he repeated. Then he turned the little disc of gold over and saw the enameled drawing on the back,—a crest clearly outlined.
He started. The crest was quite familiar.
"Where did you get this?" he demanded in English, and with such blunt suddenness that she was startled. "Where did it come from?"
"I have always had it."
"Always? It's the Tarleton crest. Do you belong to that family?"
"Indeed I do not know. Papa Roussillon says he thinks I do."
"Well, this is strange and interesting," said Beverley, rather to himself than addressing her. He looked from the miniature to the crest and back to the miniature again, then at Alice. "I tell you this is strange," he repeated with emphasis. "It is exceedingly strange."
Her cheeks flushed quickly under their soft brown and her eyes flashed with excitement.
"Yes, I know." Her voice fluttered; her hands were clasped in her lap. She leaned toward him eagerly. "It is strange. I've thought about it a great deal."
"Alice Tarleton; that is right; Alice is a name of the family. Lady Alice Tarleton was the mother of the first Sir Garnett Tarleton who came over in the time of Yardley. It's a great family. One of the oldest and best in Virginia." He looked at her now with a gaze of concentrated interest, under which her eyes fell. "Why, this is romantic!" he exclaimed, "absolutely romantic. And you don't know how you came by this locket? You don't know who was your father, your mother?"
"I do not know anything."
"And what does Monsieur Roussillon know?"
"Just as little."
"But how came he to be taking you and caring for you? He must know how he got you, where he got you, of whom he got you? Surely he knows—"
"Oh, I know all that. I was twelve years old when Papa Roussillon took me, eight years ago. I had been having a hard life, and but for him I must have died. I was a captive among the Indians. He took me and has cared for me and taught me. He has been very, very good to me. I love him dearly."
"And don't you remember anything at all about when, where, how the Indians got you?"
"No." She shook her head and seemed to be trying to recollect something. "No, I just can't remember; and yet there has always been something like a dream in my mind, which I could not quite get hold of. I know that I am not a Catholic. I vaguely remember a sweet woman who taught me to pray like this: 'Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.'"
And Alice went on through the beautiful and perfect prayer, which she repeated in English with infinite sweetness and solemnity, her eyes uplifted, her hands clasped before her. Beverley could have sworn that she was a shining saint, and that he saw an aureole.
"I know," she continued, "that sometime, somewhere, to a very dear person I promised that I never, never, never would pray any prayer but that. And I remember almost nothing else about that other life, which is far off back yonder in the past, I don't know where,—sweet, peaceful, shadowy; a dream that I have all but lost from my mind."
Beverley's sympathy was deeply moved. He sat for some minutes looking at her without speaking. She, too, was pensive and silent, while the fire sputtered and sang, the great logs slowly melting, the flames tossing wisps of smoke into the chimney still booming to the wind.
"I know, too, that I am not French," she presently resumed, "but I don't know just how I know it. My first words must have been English, for I have always dreamed of talking in that language, and my dimmest half recollections of the old days are of a large, white house, and a soft-voiced black woman, who sang to me in that language the very sweetest songs in the world."
It must be borne in mind that all this was told by Alice in her creole French, half bookish, half patois, of which no translation can give any fair impression.
Beverley listened, as one who hears a clever reader intoning a strange and captivating poem. He was charmed. His imagination welcomed the story and furnished it with all that it lacked of picturesque completeness. In those days it was no uncommon thing for a white child to be found among the Indians with not a trace left by which to restore it to its people. He had often heard of such a case. But here was Alice right before him, the most beautiful girl that he had ever seen, telling him the strangest story of all. To his mind it was clear that she belonged to the Tarleton family of Virginia. Youth always concludes a matter at once. He knew some of the Tarletons; but it was a widely scattered family, its members living in almost every colony in America. The crest he recognized at a glance by the dragon on the helmet with three stars. It was not for a woman to bear; but doubtless it had been enameled on the locket merely as a family mark, as was often done in America.
"The black woman was your nurse, your mammy," he said. "I know by that and by your prayer in English, as well as by your locket, that you are of a good old family."
Like most Southerners, he had strong faith in genealogy, and he held at his tongue's tip the names of all the old families. The Carters, the Blairs, the Fitzhughs, the Hansons, the Randolphs, the Lees, the Ludwells, the Joneses, the Beverleys, the Tarletons—a whole catalogue of them stretched back in his memory. He knew the coat of arms displayed by each house. He could repeat their legends.
"I wish you could tell me more," he went on. "Can't you recollect anything further about your early childhood, your first impressions—the house, the woman who taught you to pray, the old black mammy? Any little thing might be of priceless value as evidence."
Alice shrugged her shoulders after the creole fashion with something of her habitual levity of manner, and laughed. His earnestness seemed disproportioned to the subject, as she fancied he must view it, although to her it had always been something to dream over. It was impossible for her to realize, as he did, the importance of details in solving a problem like that involved in her past history. Nor could she feel the pathos and almost tragic fascination with which her story had touched him.
"There is absolutely nothing more to tell," she said. "All my life I have tried to remember more, but it's impossible; I can't get any further back or call up another thing. There's no use trying. It's all like a dream—probably it is one. I do have such dreams. In my sleep I can lift myself into the air, just as easy, and fly back to the same big white house that I seem to remember. When you told me about your home it was like something that I had often seen before. I shall be dreaming about it next!"
Beverley cross-questioned her from every possible point of view; he was fascinated with the mystery; but she gave him nothing out of which the least further light could be drawn. A half-breed woman, it seemed, had been her Indian foster-mother; a silent, grave, watchful guardian from whom not a hint of disclosure ever fell. She was, moreover, a Christian woman, had received her conversion from an English-speaking Protestant missionary. She prayed with Alice, thus keeping in the child's mind a perfect memory of the Lord's prayer.
"Well," said Beverley at last, "you are more of a mystery to me, the longer I know you."
"Then I must grow every day more distasteful to you."
"No, I love mystery."
He went away feeling a new web of interest binding him to this inscrutable maiden whose life seemed to him at once so full of idyllic happiness and so enshrouded in tantalizing doubt. At the first opportunity he frankly questioned M. Roussillon, with no helpful result. The big Frenchman told the same meager story. The woman was dying in the time of a great epidemic, which killed most of her tribe. She gave Alice to M. Roussillon, but told him not a word about her ancestry or previous life. That was all.
A wise old man, when he finds himself in a blind alley, no sooner touches the terminal wall than he faces about and goes back the way he came. Under like circumstances a young man must needs try to batter the wall down with his head. Beverley endeavored to break through the web of mystery by sheer force. It seemed to him that a vigorous attempt could not fail to succeed; but, like the fly in the spider's lines, he became more hopelessly bound at every move he made. Moreover against his will he was realizing that he could no longer deceive himself about Alice. He loved her, and the love was mastering him body and soul. Such a confession carries with it into an honest masculine heart a sense of contending responsibilities. In Beverley's case the clash was profoundly disturbing. And now he clutched the thought that Alice was not a mere child of the woods, but a daughter of an old family of cavaliers!
With coat buttoned close against the driving wind, he strode toward the fort in one of those melodramatic moods to which youth in all climes and times is subject. It was like a slap in the face when Captain Helm met him at the stockade gate and said:
"Well, sir, you are good at hiding."
"Hiding! what do you mean, Captain Helm?" he demanded, not in the mildest tone.
"I mean, sir, that I've been hunting you for an hour and more, over the whole of this damned town. The English and Indians are upon us, and there's no time for fooling. Where are all the men?"
Beverley comprehended the situation in a second. Helm's face was congested with excitement. Some scouts had come in with the news that Governor Hamilton, at the head of five or six hundred soldiers and Indians, was only three or four miles up the river.
"Where are all the men?" Helm repeated.
"Buffalo hunting, most of them," said Beverley.
"What in hell are they off hunting buffaloes for?" raged the excited captain.
"You might go to hell and see," Beverley suggested, and they both laughed in sheer masculine contempt of a predicament too grave for anything but grim mirth.
What could they do? Even Oncle Jazon and Rene de Ronville were off with the hunters. Helm sent for M. Roussillon in the desperate hope that he could suggest something; but he lost his head and hustled off to hide his money and valuables. Indeed the French people all felt that, so far as they were concerned, the chief thing was to save what they had. They well knew that it mattered little which of the two masters held over them—they must shift for themselves. In their hearts they were true to France and America; but France and America could not now protect them against Hamilton; therefore it would be like suicide to magnify patriotism or any other sentiment objectionable to the English. So they acted upon M. Roussillon's advice and offered no resistance when the new army approached.
"My poor people are not disloyal to your flag and your cause," said good Father Beret next morning to Captain Helm, "but they are powerless. Winter is upon us. What would you have us do? This rickety fort is not available for defense; the men are nearly all far away on the plains. Isn't it the part of prudence and common sense to make the best of a desperate situation? Should we resist, the British and their savage allies would destroy the town and commit outrages too horrible to think about. In this case diplomacy promises much more than a hopeless fight against an overwhelming force."
"I'll fight 'em," Helm ground out between his teeth, "if I have to do it single-handed and alone! I'll fight 'em till hell freezes over!"
Father Beret smiled grimly, as if he, too, would enjoy a lively skirmish on the ice of Tophet, and said:
"I admire your courage, my son. Fighting is perfectly proper upon fair occasion. But think of the poor women and children. These old eyes of mine have seen some terrible things done by enraged savages. Men can die fighting; but their poor wives and daughters—ah, I have seen, I have seen!"
Beverley felt a pang of terror shoot through his heart as Father Beret's simple words made him think of Alice in connection with an Indian massacre.
"Of course, of course it's horrible to think of," said Helm; "but my duty is clear, and that flag," he pointed to where la banniere d'Alice Roussillon was almost blowing away in the cold wind, "that flag shall not come down save in full honor."
His speech sounded preposterously boastful and hollow; but he was manfully in earnest; every word came from his brave heart.
Father Beret's grim smile returned, lighting up his strongly marked face with the strangest expression imaginable.
"We will get all the women inside the fort," Helm began to say.
"Where the Indians will find them ready penned up and at their mercy," quickly interpolated the priest "That will not do."
"Well, then, what can be done?" Beverley demanded, turning with a fierce stare upon Father Beret. "Don't stand there objecting to everything, with not a suggestion of your own to offer."
"I know what is best for my people," the old man replied softly, still smiling, "I have advised them to stay inside their houses and take no part in the military event. It is the only hope of averting an indiscriminate massacre, and things worse."
The curt phrase, "things worse," went like a bullet-stroke through Beverley's heart. It flashed an awful picture upon his vision. Father Beret saw his face whiten and his lips set themselves to resist a great emotion.
"Do not be angry with me, my son," he said, laying a hand on the young man's arm. "I may be wrong, but I act upon long and convincing experience."
"Experience or no experience," Helm exclaimed with an oath, "this fort must be manned and defended. I am commanding here!"
"Yes, I recognize your authority," responded the priest in a firm yet deferential tone, "and I heartily wish you had a garrison; but where is your command, Captain Helm?" Then it was that the doughty Captain let loose the accumulated profanity with which he had been for some time well-nigh bursting. He tiptoed in order to curse with extremest violence. His gestures were threatening. He shook his fists at Father Beret, without really meaning offence.
"Where is my garrison, you ask! Yes, and I can tell you. It's where you might expect a gang of dad blasted jabbering French good-for-nothings to be, off high-gannicking around shooting buffaloes instead of staying here and defending their wives, children, homes and country, damn their everlasting souls! The few I have in the fort will sneak off, I suppose."
"The French gave you this post on easy terms, Captain," blandly retorted Father Beret.
"Yes, and they'll hand it over to Hamilton, you think, on the same basis," cried Helm, "but I'll show you! I'll show you, Mr. Priest!"
"Pardon me, Captain, the French are loyal to you and to the flag yonder. They have sworn it. Time will prove it. But in the present desperate dilemma we must choose the safer horn."
Saying this Father Beret turned about and went his way. He was chuckling heartily as he passed out of the gate.
"He is right," said Beverley after a few moments of reflection, during which he was wholly occupied with Alice, whose terrified face in his anticipation appealed to him from the midst of howling savages, smoking cabins and mangled victims of lust and massacre. His imagination painted the scene with a merciless realism that chilled his blood. All the sweet romance fell away from Vincennes.
"Well, sir, right or wrong, your, duty is to obey orders," said Helm with brutal severity.
"We had better not quarrel, Captain," Beverley replied. "I have not signified any unwillingness to obey your commands. Give them, and you will have no cause to grumble."
"Forgive me, old fellow," cried the impulsive commander. "I know you are true as steel. I s'pose I'm wound up too tight to be polite. But the time is come to do something. Here we are with but five or six men—"
He was interrupted by the arrival of two more half-breed scouts.
Only three miles away was a large flotilla of boats and canoes with cannon, a force of Indians on land and the British flag flying,—that was the report.
"They are moving rapidly," said the spokesman, "and will be here very soon. They are at least six hundred strong, all well armed."
"Push that gun to the gate, and load it to the muzzle, Lieutenant Beverley," Helm ordered with admirable firmness, the purple flush in his face giving way to a grayish pallor. "We are going to die right here, or have the honors of war."
Beverley obeyed without a word. He even loaded two guns instead of one—charging each so heavily that the last wad looked as if ready to leap from the grimy mouth.
Helm had already begun, on receiving the first report, a hasty letter to Colonel Clark at Kaskaskia. He now added a few words and at the last moment sent it out by a trusted man, who was promptly captured by Hamilton's advance guard. The missive, evidently written in installments during the slow approach of the British, is still in the Canadian archives, and runs thus:
"Dear Sir—At this time there is an army within three miles of this place; I heard of their coming several days beforehand. I sent spies to find the certainty—the spies being taken prisoner I never got intelligence till they got within three miles of town. As I had called the militia and had all assurances of their integrity I ordered at the firing of a cannon every man to appear, but I saw but few. Captain Buseron behaved much to his honor and credit, but I doubt the conduct of a certain gent. Excuse haste, as the army is in sight. My determination is to defend the garrison, (sic) though I have but twenty-one men but what has left me. I refer you to Mr. Wmes (sic) for the rest. The army is within three hundred yards of the village. You must think how I feel; not four men that I really depend upon; but am determined to act brave—think of my condition. I know it is out of my power to defend the town, as not one of the militia will take arms, though before sight of the army no braver men. There is a flag at a small distance, I must conclude.
"Your humble servant,
"Leo'd Helm. Must stop."
"To Colonel Clark."
Having completed this task, the letter shows under what a nervous strain, Helm turned to his lieutenant and said:
"Fire a swivel with a blank charge. We'll give these weak-kneed parly-voos one more call to duty. Of course not a frog-eater of them all will come. But I said that a gun should be the signal. Possibly they didn't hear the first one, the damned, deaf, cowardly hounds!"
Beverley wheeled forth the swivel and rammed a charge of powder home. But when he fired it, the effect was far from what it should have been. Instead of calling in a fresh body of militia, it actually drove out the few who up to that moment had remained as a garrison; so that Captain Helm and his Lieutenant found themselves quite alone in the fort, while out before the gate, deployed in fine open order, a strong line of British soldiers approached with sturdy steps, led by a tall, erect, ruddy-faced young officer.
THE HONORS OF WAR
Gaspard Roussillon was thoroughly acquainted with savage warfare, and he knew all the pacific means so successfully and so long used by French missionaries and traders to control savage character; but the emergency now upon him was startling. It confused him. The fact that he had taken a solemn oath of allegiance to the American government could have been pushed aside lightly enough upon pressing occasion, but he knew that certain confidential agents left in Vincennes by Governor Abbott had, upon the arrival of Helm, gone to Detroit, and of course they had carried thither a full report of all that happened in the church of St. Xavier, when Father Gibault called the people together, and at the fort, when the British flag was hauled down and la banniere d'Alice Roussillon run up in its place. His expansive imagination did full credit to itself in exaggerating the importance of his part in handing the post over to the rebels. And what would Hamilton think of this? Would he consider it treason? The question certainly bore a tragic suggestion.
M. Roussillon lacked everything of being a coward, and treachery had no rightful place in his nature. He was, however, so in the habit of fighting windmills and making mountains of molehills that he could not at first glance see any sudden presentment with a normal vision. He had no love for Englishmen and he did like Americans, but he naturally thought that Helm's talk of fighting Hamilton was, as his own would have been in a like case, talk and nothing more. The fort could not hold out an hour, he well knew. Then what? Ah, he but too well realized the result.
Resistance would inflame the English soldiers and madden the Indians. There would be a massacre, and the belts of savages would sag with bloody scalps. He shrugged his shoulders and felt a chill creep up his back.
The first thing M. Roussillon did was to see Father Beret and take counsel of him; then he hurried home to dig a great pit under his kitchen floor in which he buried many bales of fur and all his most valuable things. He worked like a giant beaver all night long. Meantime Father Beret went about over the town quietly notifying the inhabitants to remain in their houses until after the fort should surrender, which he was sure would happen the next day.
"You will be perfectly safe, my children," he said to them. "No harm can come to you if you follow my directions."
Relying implicitly upon him, they scrupulously obeyed in every particular.
He did not think it necessary to call at Roussillon place, having already given M. Roussillon the best advice he could command.
Just at the earliest break of day, while yet the gloom of night scarcely felt the sun's approach, a huge figure made haste along the narrow streets in the northern part of the town. If any person had been looking out through the little holes, called windows, in those silent and rayless huts, it would have been easy to recognize M. Roussillon by his stature and his gait, dimly outlined as he was. A thought, which seemed to him an inspiration of genius, had taken possession of him and was leading him, as if by the nose, straight away to Hamilton's lines. He was freighted with eloquence for the ear of that commander, and as he strode along facing the crisp morning air he was rehearsing under his breath, emphasizing his periods in tragic whispers with sweeping gestures and liberal facial contortions. So absorbed was he in his oratorical soliloquy that he forgot due military precaution and ran plump into the face of a savage picket guard who, without respect for the great M. Roussillon's dignity, sprang up before him, grunted cavernously, flourished a tomahawk and spoke in excellent and exceedingly guttural Indian:
It is probable that no man ever complied with a modest request in a more docile spirit than did M. Roussillon upon that occasion. In fact his promptness must have been admirable, for the savage grunted approval and straightway conducted him to Hamilton's headquarters on a batteau in the river.
The British commander, a hale man of sandy complexion and probably under middle age, was in no very pleasant humor. Some of his orders had been misunderstood by the chief of his Indian allies, so that a premature exposure of his approach had been made to the enemy.
"Well, sir, who are you?" he gruffly demanded, when M. Roussillon loomed before him.
"I am Gaspard Roussillon, the Mayor of Vincennes," was the lofty reply. "I have come to announce to you officially that my people greet you loyally and that my town is freely at your command." He felt as important as if his statements had been true.
"Humph, that's it, is it? Well, Mr. Mayor, you have my congratulations, but I should prefer seeing the military commander and accepting his surrender. What account can you give me of the American forces, their numbers and condition?"
M. Roussillon winced, inwardly at least, under Hamilton's very undeferential air and style of address. It piqued him cruelly to be treated as a person without the slightest claim to respect. He somehow forgot the rolling and rhythmical eloquence prepared for the occasion.
"The American commander naturally would not confide in me, Monsieur le Gouverneur, not at all; we are not very friendly; he ousted me from office, he offended me—" he was coughing and stammering.
"Oh, the devil! what do I care? Answer my question, sir," Hamilton gruffly interrupted. "Tell me the number of American troops at the fort, sir."
"I don't know exactly. I have not had admittance to the fort. I might be deceived as to numbers; but they're strong, I believe, Monsieur le Gouverneur, at least they make a great show and much noise."
Hamilton eyed the huge bulk before him for a moment, then turning to a subaltern said:
"Place this fellow under guard and see that he doesn't get away. Send word immediately to Captain Farnsworth that I wish to see him at once."
The interview thereupon closed abruptly. Hamilton's emissaries had given him a detailed account of M. Roussillon's share in submitting Vincennes to rebel dominion, and he was not in the least inclined toward treating him graciously.
"I would suggest to you, Monsieur le Gouverneur, that my official position demands—" M. Roussillon began; but he was fastened upon by two guards, who roughly hustled him aft and bound him so rigidly that he could scarcely move finger or toe.
Hamilton smiled coldly and turned to give some orders to a stalwart, ruddy young officer who in a canoe had just rowed alongside the batteau.
"Captain Farnsworth," he said, acknowledging the military salute, "you will take fifty men and make everything ready for a reconnaissance in the direction of the fort. We will move down the river immediately and choose a place to land. Move lively, we have no time to lose."
In the meantime Beverley slipped away from the fort and made a hurried call upon Alice at Roussillon place. There was not much they could say to each other during the few moments at command. Alice showed very little excitement; her past experience had fortified her against the alarms of frontier life; but she understood and perfectly appreciated the situation.
"What are you going to do?" Beverley demanded in sheer despair. He was not able to see any gleam of hope out of the blackness which had fallen around him and into his soul.
"What shall you do?" he repeated.
"Take the chances of war," she said, smiling gravely. "It will all come out well, no doubt."
"I hope so, but—but I fear not."
His face was gray with trouble. "Helm is determined to fight, and that means—"
"Good!" she interrupted with spirit. "I am so glad of that. I wish I could go to help him! If I were a man I'd love to fight! I think it's just delightful."
"But it is reckless bravado; it is worse than foolishness," said Beverley, not feeling her mood. "What can two or three men do against an army?"
"Fight and die like men," she replied, her whole countenance lighting up. "Be heroic!"
"We will do that, of course; we—I do not fear death; but you—you—" His voice choked him.
A gun shot rang out clear in the distance, and he did not finish speaking.
"That's probably the beginning," he added in a moment, extending both hands to her. "Good bye. I must hurry to the fort. Good bye."
She drew a quick breath and turned so white that her look struck him like a sudden and hard blow. He stood for a second, his arms at full reach, then:
"My God, Alice, I cannot, cannot leave you!" he cried, his voice again breaking huskily.
She made a little movement, as if to take hold of his hands: but in an instant she stepped back a pace and said:
"Don't fear about me. I can take care of myself. I'm all right. You'd better return to the fort as quickly as you can. It is your country, your flag, not me, that you must think of now."
She folded her arms and stood boldly erect.
Never before, in all his life, had he felt such a rebuke. He gave her a straight, strong look in the eyes.
"You are right, Alice." he cried, and rushed from the house to the fort.
She held her rigid attitude for a little while after she heard him shut the front gate of the yard so forcibly that it broke in pieces, then she flung her arms wide, as if to clasp something, and ran to the door; but Beverley was out of sight. She turned and dropped into a chair. Jean came to her out of the next room. His queer little face was pale and pinched; but his jaw was set with the expression of one who has known danger and can meet it somehow.
"Are they going to scalp us?" he half whispered presently, with a shuddering lift of his distorted shoulders.
Her face was buried in her hands and she did not answer. Childlike he turned from one question to another inconsequently.
"Where did Papa Roussillon go to?" he next inquired. "Is he going to fight?"
She shook her head.
"They'll tear down the fort, won't they?"
If she heard him she did not make any sign.
"They'll kill the Captain and Lieutenant and get the fine flag that you set so high on the fort, won't they, Alice?"
She lifted her head and gave the cowering hunchback such a stare that he shut his eyes and put up a hand, as if afraid of her. Then she impulsively took his little misshapen form in her arms and hugged it passionately. Her bright hair fell all over him, almost hiding him. Madame Roussillon was lying on a bed in an adjoining room moaning diligently, at intervals handling her rosary and repeating a prayer. The whole town was silent outside.
"Why don't you go get the pretty flag down and hide it before they come?" Jean murmured from within the silken meshes of Alice's hair.
In his small mind the gaudy banner was the most beautiful of all things. Every day since it was set up he had gone to gaze at it as it fluttered against the sky. The men had frequently said in his presence that the enemy would take it down if they captured the fort.
Alice heard his inquisitive voice; but it seemed to come from far off; his words were a part of the strange, wild swirl in her bosom. Beverley's look, as he turned and left her, now shook every chord of her being. He had gone to his death at her command. How strong and true and brave he was! In her imagination she saw the flag above him, saw him die like a panther at bay, saw the gay rag snatched down and torn to shreds by savage hands. It was the tragedy of a single moment, enacted in a flashlight of anticipation.
She released Jean so suddenly that he fell to the floor. She remembered what she had said to Beverley on the night of the dance when they were standing under the flag.
"You made it and set it up," he lightly remarked; "you must see that no enemy ever gets possession of it, especially the English."
"I'll take it down and hide it when there's danger of that," she said in the same spirit.
And now she stood there looking at Jean, without seeing him, and repeated the words under her breath.
"I'll take it down and hide it. They shan't have it."
Madame Roussillon began to call from the other room in a loud, complaining voice; but Alice gave no heed to her querulous demands.
"Stay here, Jean, and take care of Mama Roussillon," she presently said to the hunchback. "I am going out; I'll be back soon; don't you dare leave the house while I'm gone; do you hear?"
She did not wait for his answer; but snatching a hood-like fur cap from a peg on the wall, she put it on and hastily left the house.
Down at the fort Helm and Beverley were making ready to resist Hamilton's attack, which they knew would not be long deferred. The two heavily charged cannon were planted so as to cover the space in front of the gate, and some loaded muskets were ranged near by ready for use.
"We'll give them one hell of a blast," growled the Captain, "before they overpower us."
Beverley made no response in words; but he was preparing a bit of tinder on the end of a stick with which to fire the cannon. Not far away a little heap of logs was burning in the fort's area.
The British officer, already mentioned as at the head of the line advancing diagonally from the river's bank, halted his men at a distance of three hundred yards from the fort, and seemed to be taking a deliberately careful survey of what was before him.
"Let 'em come a little nearer, Lieutenant," said Helm, his jaw setting itself like a lion's. "When we shoot we want to hit."
He stooped and squinted along his gun.
"When they get to that weedy spot out yonder," he added, "just opposite the little rise in the river bank, we'll turn loose on 'em."
Beverley had arranged his primitive match to suit his fancy, and for probably the twentieth time looked critically to the powder in the beveled touch-hole of his old cannon. He and Helm were facing the enemy, with their backs to the main area of the stockade, when a well known voice attracted their attention to the rear.
"Any room for a feller o' my size in this here crowded place?" it demanded in a cracked but cheerful tenor. "I'm kind o' outen breath a runnin' to git here."
They turned about. It was Oncle Jazon with his long rifle on his shoulder and wearing a very important air. He spoke in English, using the backwoods lingo with the ease of long practice.
"As I's a comin' in f'om a huntin' I tuck notice 'at somepin' was up. I see a lot o' boats on the river an' some fellers wi' guns a scootin' around, so I jes' slipped by 'em all an' come in the back way. They's plenty of 'em, I tell you what! I can't shoot much, but I tuck one chance at a buck Indian out yander and jes' happened to hit 'im in the lef' eye. He was one of the gang 'at scalped me down yander in Kaintuck."
The greasy old sinner looked as if he had not been washed since he was born. He glanced about with furtive, shifty eyes, grimaced and winked, after the manner of an animal just waking from a lazy nap.
"Where's the rest o' the fighters?" he demanded quizzically, lolling out his tongue and peeping past Helm so as to get a glimpse of the English line. "Where's yer garrison? Have they all gone to breakfas'?"
The last question set Helm off again cursing and swearing in the most melodramatic rage.
Oncle Jazon turned to Beverley and said in rapid French: "Surely the man's not going to fight those fellows yonder?"
Beverley nodded rather gloomily.
"Well," added the old man, fingering his rifle's stock and taking another glance through the gate, "I can't shoot wo'th a cent, bein' sort o' nervous like; but I'll stan' by ye awhile, jes' for luck. I might accidentally hit one of 'em."
When a man is truly brave himself there is nothing that touches him like an exhibition of absolutely unselfish gameness in another. A rush of admiration for Oncle Jazon made Beverley feel like hugging him.
Meantime the young British officer showed a flag of truce, and, with a file of men, separated himself from the line, now stationary, and approached the stockade. At a hundred yards he halted the file and came on alone, waving the white clout. He boldly advanced to within easy speaking distance and shouted:
"I demand the surrender of this fort."
"Well, you'll not get it, young man," roared Helm, his profanity well mixed in with the words, "not while there's a man of us left!"
"Ye'd better use sof' soap on 'im, Cap'n," said Oncle Jazon in English, "cussin' won't do no good." While he spoke he rubbed the doughty Captain's arm and then patted it gently.
Helm, who was not half as excited as he pretended to be, knew that Oncle Jazon's remark was the very essence of wisdom; but he was not yet ready for the diplomatic language which the old trooper called "soft soap."
"Are you the British commander?" he demanded.
"No," said the officer, "but I speak for him."
"Not to me by a damned sight, sir. Tell your commander that I will hear what he has to say from his own mouth. No understrapper will be recognized by me."
That ended the conference. The young officer, evidently indignant, strode back to his line, and an hour later Hamilton himself demanded the unconditional surrender of the fort and garrison.
"Fight for it," Helm stormed forth. "We are soldiers."
Hamilton held a confab with his officers, while his forces, under cover of the town's cabins, were deploying so as to form a half circle about the stockade. Some artillery appeared and was planted directly opposite the gate, not three hundred yards distant. One blast of that battery would, as Helm well knew, level a large part of the stockade.
"S'posin' I hev' a cannon, too, seein' it's the fashion," said Oncle Jazon. "I can't shoot much, but I might skeer 'em. This little one'll do me."
He set his rifle against the wall and with Beverley's help rolled one of the swivels alongside the guns already in position.
In a few minutes Hamilton returned under the white flag and shouted:
"Upon what terms will you surrender?"
"All the honors of war," Helm firmly replied. "It's that or fight, and I don't care a damn which!"
Hamilton half turned away, as if done with the parley, then facing the fort again, said:
"Very well, sir, haul down your flag."
Helm was dumfounded at this prompt acceptance of his terms. Indeed the incident is unique in history.
As Hamilton spoke he very naturally glanced up to where la banniere d'Alice Roussillon waved brilliantly. Someone stood beside it on the dilapidated roof of the old blockhouse, and was already taking it from its place. His aid, Captain Farnsworth, saw this, and the vision made his heart draw in a strong, hot flood It was a girl in short skirts and moccasins, with a fur hood on her head, her face, thrillingly beautiful, set around with fluffs of wind-blown brown-gold hair. Farnsworth was too young to be critical and too old to let his eyes deceive him. Every detail of the fine sketch, with its steel-blue background of sky, flashed into his mind, sharp-cut as a cameo. Involuntarily he took off his hat.
Alice had come in by way of the postern. She mounted to the roof unobserved, and made her way to the flag, just at the moment when Helm, glad at heart to accept the easiest way out of a tight place, asked Oncle Jazon to lower it.
Beverley was thinking of Alice, and when he looked up he could scarcely realize that he saw her; but the whole situation was plain the instant she snatched the staff from its place; for he, too, recollected what she had said at the river house. The memory and the present scene blended perfectly during the fleeting instant that she was visible. He saw that Alice was smiling somewhat as in her most mischievous moods, and when she jerked the staff from its fastening she lifted it high and waved it once, twice, thrice defiantly toward the British lines, then fled down the ragged roof-slope with it and disappeared. The vision remained in Beverley's eyes forever afterward. The English troops, thinking that the flag was taken down in token of surrender, broke into a wild tumult of shouting.
Oncle Jazon intuitively understood just what Alice was doing, for he knew her nature and could read her face. His blood effervesced in an instant.
"Vive Zhorzh Vasinton! Vive la banniere d'Alice Roussillon!" he screamed, waving his disreputable cap round his scalpless head. "Hurrah for George Washington! Hurrah for Alice Roussillon's flag!"
It was all over soon. Helm surrendered himself and Beverley with full honors. As for Oncle Jazon, he disappeared at the critical moment. It was not just to his mind to be a prisoner of war, especially under existing conditions; for Hamilton's Indian allies had some old warpath scores to settle with him dating back to the days when he and Simon Kenton were comrades in Kentucky.
When Alice snatched the banner and descended with it to the ground, she ran swiftly out through the postern, as she had once before done, and sped along under cover of the low bluff or swell, which, terrace-like, bounded the flat "bottom" lands southward of the stockade. She kept on until she reached a point opposite Father Beret's hut, to which she then ran, the flag streaming bravely behind her in the wind, her heart beating time to her steps.
It was plainly a great surprise to Father Beret, who looked up from his prayer when she rushed in, making a startling clatter, the loose puncheons shaking together under her reckless feet.
"Oh, Father, here it is! Hide it, hide it, quick!"
She thrust the flag toward him.
"They shall not have it! They shall never have it!"
He opened wide his shrewd, kindly eyes; but did not fairly comprehend her meaning.
She was panting, half laughing, half crying. Her hair, wildly disheveled, hung in glorious masses over her shoulders. Her face beamed triumphantly.
"They are taking the fort," she breathlessly added, again urging the flag upon him, "they're going in, but I got this and ran away with it. Hide it, Father, hide it, quick, quick, before they come!"
The daring light in her eyes, the witching play of her dimples, the madcap air intensified by her attitude and the excitement of the violent exercise just ended—something compounded of all these and more—affected the good priest strangely. Involuntarily he crossed himself, as if against a dangerous charm.
"Mon Dieu, Father Beret," she exclaimed with impatience, "haven't you a grain of sense left? Take this flag and hide it, I tell you! Don't stay there gazing and blinking. Here, quick! They saw me take it, they may be following me. Hurry, hide it somewhere!"
He comprehended now, rising from his knees with a queer smile broadening on his face. She put the banner into his hands and gave him a gentle push.
"Hide it, I tell you, hide it, you dear old goose!"
Without sneaking he turned the staff over and over in his hand, until the flag was closely wrapped around it, then stooping he lifted a puncheon and with it covered the gay roll from sight.
Alice caught him in her arms and kissed him vigorously on the cheek. Her warm lips made the spot tingle.
"Don't you dare to let any person have it! It's the flag of George Washington."
She gave him a strong squeeze.
He pushed her from him with both hands and hastily crossed himself; but his eyes were laughing.
"You ought to have seen me; I waved the flag at them—at the English—and one young officer took off his hat to me! Oh, Father Beret, it was like what is in a novel. They'll get the fort, but not the banner! Not the banner! I've saved it, I've saved it!"
Her enthusiasm gave a splendor to her countenance, heightening its riches of color and somehow adding to its natural girlish expression an audacious sweetness. The triumphant success of her undertaking lent the dignity of conscious power to her look, a dignity which always sits well upon a young and somewhat immaturely beautiful face.
Father Beret could not resist her fervid eloquence, and he could not run away from her or stop up his ears while she went on. So he had to laugh when she said:
"Oh, if you had seen it all you would have enjoyed it. There was Oncle Jazon squatting behind the little swivel, and there were Captain Helm and Lieutenant Beverley holding their burning sticks over the big cannon ready to shoot—all of them so intent that they didn't see me—and yonder came the English officer and his army against the three. When they got close to the gate the officer called out: 'Surrender!' and then Captain Helm yelled back: 'Damned if I do! Come another step and I'll blow you all to hell in a second!' I was mightily in hopes that they'd come on; I wanted to see a cannon ball hit that English commander right in the face; he looked so arrogant."
Father Beret shook his head and tried to look disapproving and solemn.
Meantime down at the fort Hamilton was demanding the flag. He had seen Alice take it down, and supposed that it was lowered officially and would be turned over to him. Now he wanted to handle it as the best token of his bloodless but important victory.
"I didn't order the flag down until after I had accepted your terms," said Helm, "and when my man started to obey, we saw a young lady snatch it and run away with it."
"Who was the girl?"
"I do not inform on women," said Helm.
Hamilton smiled grimly, with a vexed look in his eyes, then turned to Captain Farnsworth and ordered him to bring up M. Roussillon, who, when he appeared, still had his hands tied together.
"Tell me the name of the young woman who carried away the flag from the fort. You saw her, you know every soul in this town. Who was it, sir?"
It was a hard question for M. Roussillon to answer. Although his humiliating captivity had somewhat cowed him, still his love for Alice made it impossible for him to give the information demanded by Hamilton. He choked and stammered, but finally managed to say:
"I assure you that I don't know—I didn't look—I didn't see—It was too far off for me to—I was some-what excited—I—"
"Take him away. Keep him securely bound," said Hamilton. "Confine him. We'll see how long it will take to refresh his mind. We'll puncture the big windbag."
While this curt scene was passing, the flag of Great Britain rose over the fort to the lusty cheering of the victorious soldiers.
Hamilton treated Helm and Beverley with extreme courtesy. He was a soldier, gruff, unscrupulous and cruel to a degree; but he could not help admiring the daring behavior of these two officers who had wrung from him the best terms of surrender. He gave them full liberty, on parole of honor not to attempt escape or to aid in any way an enemy against him while they were prisoners.
Nor was it long before Helm's genial and sociable disposition won the Englishman's respect and confidence to such an extent that the two became almost inseparable companions, playing cards, brewing toddies, telling stories, and even shooting deer in the woods together, as if they had always been the best of friends.
Hamilton did not permit his savage allies to enter the town, and he immediately required the French inhabitants to swear allegiance to Great Britain, which they did with apparent heartiness, all save M. Roussillon, who was kept in close confinement and bound like a felon, chafing lugubriously and wearing the air of a martyr. His prison was a little log pen in one corner of the stockade, much open to the weather, its gaping cracks giving him a dreary view of the frozen landscape through which the Wabash flowed in a broad steel-gray current. Helm, who really liked him, tried in vain to procure his release; but Hamilton was inexorable on account of what he regarded as duplicity in M. Roussillon's conduct.
"No, I'll let him reflect," he said; "there's nothing like a little tyranny to break up a bad case of self-importance. He'll soon find out that he has over-rated himself!"
M. ROUSSILLON ENTERTAINS COLONEL HAMILTON
A day or two after the arrival of Hamilton the absent garrison of buffalo hunters straggled back to Vincennes and were duly sworn to demean themselves as lawful subjects of Great Britain. Rene de Ronville was among the first to take the oath, and it promptly followed that Hamilton ordered him pressed into service as a wood-chopper and log-hauler during the erection of a new blockhouse, large barracks and the making of some extensive repairs of the stockade. Nothing could have been more humiliating to the proud young Frenchman. Every day he had to report bright and early to a burly Irish Corporal and be ordered about, as if he had been a slave, cursed at, threatened and forced to work until his hands were blistered and his muscles sore. The bitterest part of it all was that he had to trudge past both Roussillon place and the Bourcier cabin with the eyes of Alice and Adrienne upon him.
Hamilton did not forget M. Roussillon in this connection. The giant orator soon found himself face to face with a greater trial even than Rene's. He was calmly told by the English commander that he could choose between death and telling who it was that stole the flag.
"I'll have you shot, sir, to-morrow morning if you prevaricate about this thing any longer," said Hamilton, with a right deadly strain in his voice. "You told me that you knew every man, woman and child in Vincennes at sight. I know that you saw that girl take the flag—lying does not serve your turn. I give you until this evening to tell me who she is; if you fail, you die at sunrise to-morrow."
In fact, it may be that Hamilton did not really purpose to carry out this blood-thirsty threat; most probably he relied upon M. Roussillon's imagination to torture him successfully; but the effect, as time proved, could not be accurately foreseen.
Captain Farnsworth had energy enough for a dozen ordinary men. Before he had been in Vincennes twelve hours he had seen every nook and corner of its surface. Nor was his activity due altogether to military ardor, although he never let pass an opportunity to serve the best interests of his commander; all the while his mind was on the strikingly beautiful girl whose saucy countenance had so dazzled him from the roof-top of the fort, what time she wrenched away the rebel flag.
"I'll find her, high or low," he thought, "for I never could fail to recognize that face. She's a trump."
It was not in Alice's nature to hide from the English. They had held the town and fort before Helm came, and she had not found them troublesome under Abbott. She did not know that M. Roussillon was a prisoner, the family taking it for granted that he had gone away to avoid the English. Nor was she aware that Hamilton felt so keenly the disappearance of the flag. What she did know, and it gladdened her greatly, was that Beverley had been well treated by his captor. With this in her heart she went about Roussillon place singing merry snatches of Creole songs; and when at the gate, which still hung lop-sided on account of Beverley's force in shutting it, she came unexpectedly face to face with Captain Farnsworth, there was no great surprise on her part.
He lifted his hat and bowed very politely; but a bold smile broke over his somewhat ruddy face. He spoke in French, but in a drawling tone and with a bad accent:
"How do you do, Mademoiselle; I am right glad to see you again."
Alice drew back a pace or two. She was quick to understand his allusion, and she shrank from him, fearing that he was going to inquire about the flag.
"Don't be afraid," he laughed. "I am not so dangerous. I never did hurt a girl in all my life. In fact, I am fond of them when they're nice."
"I am not in the least afraid," she replied, assuming an air of absolute dismissal, "and you don't look a bit ferocious, Monsieur. You may pass on, if you please."
He flushed and bit his lip, probably to keep back some hasty retort, and thought rapidly for a moment. She looked straight at him with eyes that stirred and dazzled him. He was handsome in a coarse way, like a fine young animal, well groomed, well fed, magnetic, forceful; but his boldness, being of a sort to which she had not been accustomed, disturbed her vaguely and strangely.
"Suppose that I don't pass on?" he presently ventured, with just a suspicion of insolence in his attitude, but laughing until he showed teeth of remarkable beauty and whiteness. "Suppose that I should wish to have a little chat with you, Mademoiselle?"
"I have been told that there are men in the world who think themselves handsome, and clever, and brilliant, when in fact they are but conceited simpletons," she remarked, rather indifferently, muffling herself in her fur wrap. "You certainly would be a fairly good hitching-post for our horses if you never moved." Then she laughed out of the depth of her hood, a perfectly merry laugh, but not in the least flattering to Captain Farnsworth's vanity. He felt the scorn that it conveyed.
His face grew redder, while a flash from hers made him wish that he had been more gracious in his deportment. Here, to his surprise, was not a mere creole girl of the wild frontier.
Her superiority struck him with the force of a captivating revelation, under the light of which he blinked and winced.
She laid a shapely hand on the broken gate and pushed it open.
"I beg your pardon, Mademoiselle;" his manner softened as he spoke; "I beg your pardon; but I came to speak to you about the flag—the flag you took away from the fort."
She had been half expecting this; but she was quite unprepared, and in spite of all she could do showed embarrassment.
"I have come to get the flag; if you will kindly bring it to me, or tell me where it is I—"
She quickly found words to interrupt him with, and at the same time by a great effort pulled herself together.
"You have come to the wrong place," she flung in. "I assure you that I haven't the flag."
"You took it down, Mademoiselle."
"Oh, did I?"
"With bewitching grace you did, Mademoiselle. I saw and admired. Will you fetch it, please?"
"Indeed I won't."
The finality in her voice belied her face, which beamed without a ray of stubbornness or perversity. He did not know how to interpret her; but he felt that he had begun wrong. He half regretted that he had begun at all.
"More depends upon returning that flag than you are probably aware of," he presently said in a more serious tone. "In fact, the life of one of your townsmen, and a person of some importance here I believe, will surely be saved by it. You'd better consider, Mademoiselle. You wouldn't like to cause the death of a man."
She did not fairly grasp the purport of his words; yet the change in his manner, and the fact that he turned from French to English in making the statement, aroused a sudden feeling of dread or dark apprehension in her breast. The first distinct thought was of Beverley—that some deadly danger threatened him.
"Who is it?" she frankly demanded.
"It's the Mayor, the big man of your town, Monsieur Roussillon, I think he calls himself. He's got himself into a tight place. He'll be shot to-morrow morning if that flag is not produced. Governor Hamilton has so ordered, and what he orders is done."
"You jest, Monsieur."
"I assure you that I speak the plain truth."
"You will probably catch Monsieur Roussillon before you shoot him." She tossed her head.
"He is already a prisoner in the fort."
Alice turned pale.
"Monsieur, is this true?" Her voice had lost its happy tone. "Are you telling me that to—"
"You can verify it, Mademoiselle, by calling upon the commander at the fort. I am sorry that you doubt my veracity. If you will go with me I will show you M. Roussillon a tightly bound prisoner."
Jean had crept out of the gate and was standing just behind Alice with his feet wide apart, his long chin elevated, his head resting far back between his upthrust shoulders, his hands in his pockets, his uncanny eyes gazing steadily at Farnsworth. He looked like a deformed frog ready to jump.
Alice unmistakably saw truth in the Captain's countenance and felt it in his voice. The reality came to her with unhindered effect. M. Roussillon's life depended upon the return of the flag. She put her hands together and for a moment covered her eyes with them.
"I will go now, Mademoiselle," said Farnsworth; "but I hope you will be in great haste about returning the flag."
He stood looking at her. He was profoundly touched and felt that to say more would be too brutal even for his coarse nature; so he simply lifted his hat and went away.
Jean took hold of Alice's dress as she turned to go back into the house.
"Is he going to take the flag? Can he find it? What does he want with it? What did you do with the flag, Alice?" he whined, in his peculiar, quavering voice. "Where is it?"
Her skirt dragged him along as she walked.
"Where did you put it, Alice?"
"Father Beret hid it under his floor," she answered, involuntarily, and almost unconsciously. "I shall have to take it back and give it up."
"No—no—I wouldn't," he quavered, dancing across the veranda as she quickened her pace and fairly spun him along. "I wouldn't let 'em have it at all."
Alice's mind was working with lightning speed. Her imagination took strong grip on the situation so briefly and effectively sketched by Captain Farnsworth. Her decision formed itself quickly.
"Stay here, Jean. I am going to the fort. Don't tell Mama Roussillon a thing. Be a good boy."
She was gone before Jean could say a word. She meant to face Hamilton at once and be sure what danger menaced M. Roussillon. Of course, the flag must be given up if that would save her foster father any pain; and if his life were in question there could not be too great haste on her part.
She ran directly to the stockade gate and breathlessly informed a sentinel that she must see Governor Hamilton, into whose presence she was soon led. Captain Farnsworth had preceded her but a minute or two, and was present when she entered the miserable shed room where the commander was having another talk with M. Roussillon.
The meeting was a tableau which would have been comical but for the pressure of its tragic possibilities. Hamilton, stern and sententious, stood frowning upon M. Roussillon, who sat upon the ground, his feet and hands tightly bound, a colossal statue of injured innocence.
Alice, as soon as she saw M. Roussillon, uttered a cry of sympathetic endearment and flung herself toward him with open arms. She could not reach around his great shoulders; but she did her best to include the whole bulk.
"Papa! Papa Roussillon!" she chirruped between the kisses that she showered upon his weather-beaten face.
Hamilton and Farnsworth regarded the scene with curious and surprised interest. M. Roussillon began speaking rapidly; but being a Frenchman he could not get on well with his tongue while his hands were tied. He could shrug his shoulders; that helped him some.
"I am to be shot, MA PETITE," he pathetically growled in his deep bass voice; "shot like a dog at sunrise to-morrow."
Alice kissed M. Roussillon's rough cheek once more and sprang to her feet facing Hamilton.
"You are not such a fiend and brute as to kill Papa Roussillon," she cried. "Why do you want to injure my poor, good papa?"
"I believe you are the young lady that stole the flag?" Hamilton remarked, smiling contemptuously.
She looked at him with a swift flash of indignation as he uttered these words.
"I am not a thief. I could not steal what was my own. I helped to make that flag. It was named after me. I took it because it was mine. You understand me, Monsieur."
"Tell where it is and your father's life will be spared."
She glanced at M. Roussillon.
"No, Alice," said he, with a pathetically futile effort to make a fine gesture, "don't do it. I am brave enough to die. You would not have me act the coward."
No onlooker would have even remotely suspected the fact that M. Roussillon had chanced to overhear a conversation between Hamilton and Farnsworth, in which Hamilton stated that he really did not intend to hurt M. Roussillon in any event; he merely purposed to humiliate the "big wind-bag!"
"Ah, no; let me die bravely for honor's sake—I fear death far less than dishonor! They can shoot me, my little one, but they cannot break my proud spirit." He tried to strike his breast over his heart.
"Perhaps it would be just as well to let him be shot," said Hamilton gruffly, and with dry indifference. "I don't fancy that he's of much value to the community at best. He'll make a good target for a squad, and we need an example."
"Do you mean it?—you ugly English brute—would you murder him?" she stamped her foot.
"Not if I get that flag between now and sundown. Otherwise I shall certainly have him shot. It is all in your hands, Mademoiselle. You can tell me where the flag is." Hamilton smiled again with exquisite cruelty.
Farnsworth stood by gazing upon Alice in open admiration. Her presence had power in it, to which he was very susceptible.