"You look like a low, dishonorable, soulless tyrant," she said to Hamilton, "and if you get my flag, how shall I know that you will keep your promise and let Papa Roussillon go free?"
"I am sorry to say that you will have to trust me, unless you'll take Captain Farnsworth for security. The Captain is a gentleman, I assure you. Will you stand good for my veracity and sincerity, Captain Farnsworth?"
The young man smiled and bowed.
Alice felt the irony; and her perfectly frank nature preferred to trust rather than distrust the sincerity of others. She looked at Farnsworth, who smiled encouragingly.
"The flag is under Father Beret's floor," she said.
"Under the church floor?"
"No, under the floor of his house."
"Where is his house?"
She gave full directions how to reach it.
"Untie the prisoner," Hamilton ordered, and it was quickly done. "Monsieur Roussillon, I congratulate you upon your narrow escape. Go to the priest's house, Monsieur, and bring me that flag. It would be well, I assure you, not to be very long about it. Captain Farnsworth, you will send a guard with Monsieur Roussillon, a guard of honor, fitting his official dignity, a Corporal and two men. The honorable Mayor of this important city should not go alone upon so important an errand. He must have his attendants."
"Permit me to go myself and get it," said Alice, "I can do it quickly. May I, please, Monsieur?"
Hamilton looked sharply at her.
"Why, certainly, Mademoiselle, certainly. Captain Farnsworth, you will escort the young lady."
"It is not necessary, Monsieur."
"Oh, yes, it is necessary, my dear young lady, very necessary; so let's not have further words. I'll try to entertain his honor, the Mayor, while you go and get the flag. I feel sure, Mademoiselle, that you'll return with it in a few minutes. But you must not go alone."
Alice set forth immediately, and Farnsworth, try as hard as he would, could never reach her side, so swift was her gait.
When they arrived at Father Beret's cabin, she turned and said with imperious severity:
"Don't you come in; you stay out here: I'll get it in a minute."
Farnsworth obeyed her command.
The door was wide open, but Father Beret was not inside; he had gone to see a sick child in the outskirts of the village. Alice looked about and hesitated. She knew the very puncheon that covered the flag; but she shrank from lifting it. There seemed nothing else to do, however; so, after some trouble with herself, she knelt upon the floor and turned the heavy slab over with a great thump. The flag did not appear. She peeped under the other puncheons. It was not there. The only thing visible was a little ball of paper fragments not larger than an egg.
Farnsworth heard her utter a low cry of surprise or dismay, and was on the point of going in when Father Beret, coming around the corner of the cabin, confronted him. The meeting was so sudden and unexpected that both men recoiled slightly, and then, with a mutual stare, saluted.
"I came with a young lady to get the flag," said Farnsworth. "She is inside. I hope there is no serious intrusion. She says the flag is hidden under your floor."
Father Beret said nothing, but frowning as if much annoyed, stepped through the doorway to Alice's side, and stooping where she knelt, laid a hand on her shoulder as she glanced up and recognized him.
"What are you doing, my child?"
"Oh, Father, where is the flag?" It was all that she could say. "Where is the flag?"
"Why, isn't it there?"
"No, you see it isn't there! Where is it?"
The priest stood as if dumfounded, gazing into the vacant space uncovered by the puncheon.
"Is it gone? Has some one taken it away?"
They turned up all the floor to no avail. La banniere d'Alice Roussillon had disappeared, and Captain Farnsworth went forthwith to report the fact to his commander. When he reached the shed at the angle of the fort he found Governor Hamilton sitting stupid and dazed on the ground. One jaw was inflamed and swollen and an eye was half closed and bloodshot. He turned his head with a painful, irregular motion and his chin sagged.
Farnsworth sprang to him and lifted him to his feet; but he could scarcely stand. He licked his lips clumsily.
"What is the matter? What hurt you?"
The Governor rubbed his forehead trying to recollect.
"He struck me," he presently said with difficulty. "He hit me with his fist Where—where is he?"
"That big French idiot—that Roussillon—go after him, take him, shoot him—quick! I have been stunned; I don't know how long he's been gone. Give the alarm—do something!"
Hamilton, as he gathered his wits together, began to foam with rage, and his passion gave his bruised and swollen face a terrible look.
The story was short, and may be quickly told. M. Roussillon had taken advantage of the first moment when he and Hamilton were left alone. One herculean buffet, a swinging smash of his enormous fist on the point of the Governors jaw, and then he walked out of the fort unchallenged, doubtless on account of his lordly and masterful air.
"Ziff!" he exclaimed, shaking himself and lifting his shoulders, when he had passed beyond hearing of the sentinel at the gate, "ziff! I can punch a good stiff stroke yet, Monsieur le Gouverneur. Ah, ziff!" and he blew like a porpoise.
Every effort was promptly made to recapture M. Roussillon; but his disappearance was absolute; even the reward offered for his scalp by Hamilton only gave the Indians great trouble—they could not find the man.
Such a beginning of his administration of affairs at Vincennes did not put Hamilton into a good humor. He was overbearing and irascible at best, and under the irritation of small but exceedingly unpleasant experiences he made life well-nigh unendurable to those upon whom his dislike chanced to fall. Beverley quickly felt that it was going to be very difficult for him and Hamilton to get along agreeably. With Helm it was quite different; smoking, drinking, playing cards, telling good stories—in a word, rude and not unfrequently boisterous conviviality drew him and the commandant together.
Under Captain Farnsworth's immediate supervision the fort was soon in excellent repair and a large blockhouse and comfortable quarters for the men were built. Every day added to the strength of the works and to the importance of the post as a strategic position for the advance guard of the British army.
Hamilton was ambitious to prove himself conspicuously valuable to his country. He was dreaming vast dreams and laying large plans. The Indians were soon anxious to gain his favor; and to bind them securely to him he offered liberal pay in rum and firearms, blankets, trinkets and ammunition for the scalps of rebels. He kept this as secret as possible from his prisoners; but Beverley soon suspected that a "traffic in hair," as the terrible business had been named, was going on. Savages came in from far away with scalps yet scarcely dry dangling at their belts. It made the young Virginian's blood chill in his heart, and he regretted that he had given Hamilton his parole of honor not to attempt to escape.
Among the Indians occasionally reporting to Hamilton with their ghastly but valuable trophies was Long-Hair, who slipped into the fort and out again rather warily, not having much confidence in those Frenchmen who had once upon a time given him a memorable run for his life.
Winter shut down, not cold, but damp, changeable, raw. The work on the fort was nearly completed, and Rene de Ronville would have soon been relieved of his servile and exasperating employment under the Irish Corporal; but just at the point of time when only a few days' work remained for him, he became furious, on account of an insulting remark, and struck the Corporal over the head with a handspike. This happened in a wood some miles from town, where he was loading logs upon a sled. There chanced to be no third person present when the deed was done, and some hours passed before they found the officer quite cold and stiff beside the sled. His head was crushed to a pulp.
Hamilton, now thoroughly exasperated, began to look upon the French inhabitants of Vincennes as all like M. Roussillon and Rene, but waiting for an opportunity to strike him unawares. He increased his military vigilance, ordered the town patrolled day and night, and forbade public gatherings of the citizens, while at the same time he forced them to furnish him a large amount of provisions.
When little Adrienne Bourcier heard of Renews terrible act, followed by his successful escape to the woods, and of the tempting reward offered by Hamilton for his scalp, she ran to Roussillon place well-nigh crazed with excitement. She had always depended upon Alice for advice, encouragement and comfort in her troubles; but in the present case there was not much that her friend could do to cheer her. With M. Roussillon and Rene both fugitives, tracked by wily savages, a price on their heads, while every day added new dangers to the French inhabitants of Vincennes, no rosy view could possibly be taken of the situation. Alice did her best, however, to strengthen her little friend's faith in a happy outcome. She quoted what she considered unimpeachable authority to support her optimistic argument.
"Lieutenant Beverley says that the Americans will be sure to drive Hamilton out of Vincennes, or capture him. Probably they are not so very far away now, and Rene may join them and come back to help punish these brutal Englishmen. Don't you wish he would, Adrienne? Wouldn't it be romantic?"
"He's armed, I know that," said Adrienne, brightening a little, "and he's brave, Alice, brave as can be. He came right back into town the other night and got his gun and pistols. He was at our house, too, and, oh!—"
She burst out crying again. "O Alice! It breaks my heart to think that the Indians will kill him. Do you think they will kill him, Alice?"
"He'll come nearer killing them," said Alice confidently, with her strong, warm arms around the tiny lass; "he's a good woodsman, a fine shot—he's not so easy to kill, my dear. If he and Papa Roussillon should get together by chance they would be a match for all the Indians in the country. Anyway, I feel that it's much better for them to take their chances in the woods than to be in the hands of Governor Hamilton. If I were a man I'd do just as Papa Roussillon and Rene did; I'd break the bigoted head of every Englishman that mistreated me, I'll do it, girl as I am, if they annoy me, see if I don't!"
She was thinking of Captain Farnsworth, who had been from the first untiring in his efforts to gain something more than a passing acquaintance. As yet he had not made himself unbearable; but Alice's fine intuition led her to the conclusion that she must guard against him from the outset.
Adrienne's simple heart could not grasp the romantic criterion with which Alice was wont to measure action. Her mind was single, impulsive, narrow and direct in all its movements. She loved, hated, desired, caressed, repulsed, not for any assignable reason more solid or more luminous than "because." She adored Rene and wanted him near her. He was a hero in her imagination, no matter what he did. Little difference was it to her whether he hauled logs for the English or smoked his pipe in idleness by the winter fire—what could it matter which flag he served under, so that he was true to her? Or whom he served if she could always have him coming to see her and calling her his little pet? He might crush an Irish Corporal's head every day, if he would but stroke her hair and say: "My sweet little one."
"Why couldn't he be quiet and do as your man, Lieutenant Beverley, did?" she cried in a sudden change of mood, the tears streaming down her cheeks. "Lieutenant Beverley surrendered and took the consequences. He didn't kill somebody and run off to be hunted like a bear. No wonder you're happy, Alice; I'd be happy, too, if Rene were here and came to spend half of every day with me. I—"
"Why, what a silly girl you are!" Alice exclaimed, her face reddening prettily. "How foolishly you prattle! I'm sure I don't trouble myself about Lieutenant Beverley—what put such absurd nonsense into your head, Adrienne?"
"Because, that's what, and you know it's so, too. You love him just as much as I love Rene, and that's just all the love in the world, and you needn't deny it, Alice Roussillon!"
Alice laughed and hugged the wee, brown-faced mite of a girl until she almost smothered her.
It was growing dusk when Adrienne left Roussillon place to go home. The wind cut icily across the commons and moaned as it whirled around the cabins and cattle-sheds. She ran briskly, muffled in a wrap, partly through fear and partly to keep warm, and had gone two-thirds of her way when she was brought to an abrupt stop by the arms of a man. She screamed sharply, and Father Beret, who was coming out of a cabin not far away, heard and knew the voice.
"Ho-ho, my little lady!" cried Adrienne's captor in a breezy, jocund tone, "you wouldn't run over a fellow, would you?" The words were French, but the voice was that of Captain Farnsworth, who laughed while he spoke. "You jump like a rabbit, my darling! Why, what a lively little chick of a girl it is!"
Adrienne screamed and struggled recklessly.
"Now don't rouse up the town," coaxed the Captain. He was just drunk enough to be quite a fool, yet sufficiently sober to imagine himself the most proper person in the world. "I don't mean you any harm, Mademoiselle; I'll just see you safe home, you know; 'scort you to your residence; come on, now—that's a good girl."
Father Beret hurried to the spot, and when in the deepening gloom he saw Adrienne flinging herself violently this way and that, helplessly trying to escape from the clasp of a man, he did to perfection what a priest is supposed to be the least fitted to do. Indeed, considering his age and leaving his vocation out of the reckoning, his performance was amazing. It is not certain that the blow dealt upon Governor Hamilton's jaw by M. Roussillon was a stiffer one than that sent straight from the priest's shoulder right into the short ribs of Captain Farnsworth, who there-upon released a mighty grunt and doubled himself up.
Adrienne recognized her assailant at the first and used his name freely during the struggle. When Father Beret appeared she cried out to him—
"Oh, Father—Father Beret! help me! help me!"
When Farnsworth recovered from the breath-expelling shock of the jab in his side and got himself once more in a vertical position, both girl and priest were gone. He looked this way and that, rapidly becoming sober, and beginning to wonder how the thing could have happened so easily. His ribs felt as if they had been hit with a heavy hammer.
"By Jove!" he muttered all to himself, "the old prayer-singing heathen! By Jove!" And with this very brilliant and relevant observation he rubbed his sore side and went his way to the fort.
A SWORD AND A HORSE PISTOL
We hear much about the "days that tried men's souls"; but what about the souls of women in those same days? Sitting in the liberal geniality of the nineteenth century's sunset glow, we insist upon having our grumble at the times and the manners of our generation; but if we had to exchange places, periods and experiences with the people who lived in America through the last quarter of the eighteenth century, there would be good ground for despairing ululations. And if our men could not bear it, if it would try their souls too poignantly, let us imagine the effect upon our women. No, let us not imagine it; but rather let us give full credit to the heroic souls of the mothers and the maidens who did actually bear up in the center of that terrible struggle and unflinchingly help win for us not only freedom, but the vast empire which at this moment is at once the master of the world and the model toward which all the nations of the earth are slowly but surely tending.
If Alice was an extraordinary girl, she was not aware of it; nor had she ever understood that her life was being shaped by extraordinary conditions. Of course it could not but be plain to her that she knew more and felt more than the girls of her narrow acquaintance; that her accomplishments were greater; that she nursed splendid dreams of which they could have no proper comprehension, but until now she had never even dimly realized that she was probably capable of being something more than a mere creole lass, the foster daughter of Gaspard Roussillon, trader in pelts and furs. Even her most romantic visions had never taken the form of personal desire, or ambition in its most nebulous stage; they had simply pleased her fresh and natural fancy and served to gild the hardness and crudeness of her life,—that was all.
Her experiences had been almost too terrible for belief, viewed at our distance from them; she had passed through scenes of incredible horror and suffering, but her nature had not been chilled, stunted or hardened. In body and in temper her development had been sound and beautiful. It was even thus that our great-grandmothers triumphed over adversity, hardship, indescribable danger. We cannot say that the strong, lithe, happy-hearted Alice of old Vincennes was the only one of her kind. Few of us who have inherited the faded portraits of our revolutionary forbears can doubt that beauty, wit and great lovableness flourished in the cabins of pioneers all the way from the Edisto to the Licking, from the Connecticut to the Wabash.
Beverley's advent could not fail to mean a great deal in the life of a girl like Alice; a new era, as it were, would naturally begin for her the moment that his personal influence touched her imagination; but it is well not to measure her too strictly by the standard of our present taste and the specialized forms of our social and moral code. She was a true child of the wilderness, a girl who grew, as the wild prairie rose grew, not on account of innumerable exigencies, accidents and hardships, but in spite of them. She had blushed unseen, and had wasted divine sweets upon a more than desert air. But when Beverley came near her, at first carelessly droning his masculine monotonies, as the wandering bee to the lonely and lovely rose, and presently striking her soul as with the wings of Love, there fell a change into her heart of hearts, and lo! her haunting and elusive dreams began to condense and take on forms that startled her with their wonderful splendor and beauty. These she saw all the time, sleeping or waking; they made bright summer of the frozen stream and snapping gale, the snowdrifts and the sleet. In her brave young heart, swelled the ineffable song—the music never yet caught by syrinx or flute or violin, the words no tongue can speak.
Ah, here may be the secret of that vigorous, brave, sweet life of our pioneer maids, wives, and mothers. It was love that gave those tender hearts the iron strength and heroic persistence at which the world must forever wonder. And do we appreciate those women? Let the Old World boast its crowned kings, its mailed knights, its ladies of the court and castle; but we of the New World, we of the powerful West, let us brim our cups with the wine of undying devotion, and drink to the memory of the Women of the Revolution,—to the humble but good and marvelously brave and faithful women like those of old Vincennes.
But if Alice was being radically influenced by Beverley, he in turn found a new light suffusing his nature, and he was not unaware that it came out of her eyes, her face, her smiles, her voice, her soul. It was the old, well-known, inexplicable, mutual magnetism, which from the first has been the same on the highest mountain-top and in the lowest valley. The queen and the milkmaid, the king and the hind may come together only to find the king walking off with the lowly beauty and her fragrant pail, while away stalks the lusty rustic, to be lord and master of the queen. Love is love, and it thrives in all climes, under all conditions.
There is an inevitable and curious protest that comes up unbidden between lovers; it takes many forms in accordance with particular circumstances. It is the demand for equality and perfection. Love itself is without degrees—it is perfect—but when shall it see the perfect object? It does see it, and it does not see it, in every beloved being. Beverley found his mind turning, as on a pivot, round and round upon the thought that Alice might be impossible to him. The mystery of her life seemed to force her below the line of his aristocratic vision, so that he could not fairly consider her, and yet with all his heart he loved her. Alice, on the other hand, had her bookish ideal to reckon with, despite the fact that she daily dashed it contemptuously down. She was different from Adrienne Bourcier, who bewailed the absence of her un-tamable lover; she wished that Beverley had not, as she somehow viewed it, weakly surrendered to Hamilton. His apparently complacent acceptance of idle captivity did not comport with her dream of knighthood and heroism. She had been all the time half expecting him to do something that would stamp him a hero.
Counter protests of this sort are never sufficiently vigorous to take a fall out of Love; they merely serve to worry his temper by lightly hindering his feet. And it is surprising how Love does delight himself with being entangled.
Both Beverley and Alice day by day felt the cord tightening which drew their hearts together—each acknowledged it secretly, but strove not to evince it openly. Meantime both were as happy and as restlessly dissatisfied as love and uncertainty could make them.
Amid the activities in which Hamilton was engaged—his dealings with the Indians and the work of reconstructing the fort—he found time to worry his temper about the purloined flag. Like every other man in the world, he was superstitious, and it had come into his head that to insure himself and his plans against disaster, he must have the banner of his captives as a badge of his victory. It was a small matter; but it magnified itself as he dwelt upon it. He suspected that Alice had deceived him. He sharply questioned Father Beret, only to be half convinced that the good priest told the truth when he said that he knew nothing whatever on the subject beyond the fact that the banner had mysteriously disappeared from under his floor.
Captain Farnsworth scarcely sympathized with his chief about the flag, but he was nothing if not anxious to gain Hamilton's highest confidence. His military zeal knew no bounds, and he never let pass even the slightest opportunity to show it. Hence his persistent search for a clue to the missing banner. He was no respecter of persons. He frankly suspected both Alice and Father Beret of lying. He would himself have lied under the existing circumstances, and he considered himself as truthful and trustworthy as priest or maiden.
"I'll get that flag for you," he said to Hamilton, "if I have to put every man, woman and child in this town on the rack. It lies, I think, between Miss Roussillon and the priest, although both insistently deny it. I've thought it over in every way, and I can't see how they can both be ignorant of where it is, or at least who got it."
Hamilton, since being treated to that wonderful blow on the jaw, was apt to fall into a spasm of anger whenever the name Roussillon was spoken in his hearing. Involuntarily he would put his hand to his cheek, and grimace reminiscently.
"If it's that girl, make her tell," he savagely commanded. "Let's have no trifling about it. If it's the priest, then make him tell, or tie him up by the thumbs. Get that flag, or show some good reason for your failure. I'm not going to be baffled."
The Captain's adventure with Father Beret came just in time to make it count against that courageous and bellicose missionary in more ways than one. Farnsworth did not tell Hamilton or any other person about what the priest had done to him, but nursed his sore ribs and his wrath, waiting patiently for the revenge that he meant soon to take.
Alice heard from Adrienne the story of Farnsworth's conduct and his humiliating discomfiture at the hands of Father Beret. She was both indignant and delighted, sympathizing with Adrienne and glorying in the priest's vigorous pugilistic achievement.
"Well," she remarked, with one of her infectious trills of laughter, "so far the French have the best of it, anyway! Papa Roussillon knocked the Governor's cheek nearly off, then Rene cracked the Irish Corporal's head, and now Father Beret has taught Captain Farnsworth a lesson in fisticuffs that he'll not soon forget! If the good work can only go on a little longer we shall see every English soldier in Vincennes wearing the mark of a Frenchman's blow." Then her mood suddenly changed from smiling lightness to almost fierce gravity, and she added:
"Adrienne Bourcier, if Captain Farnsworth ever offers to treat me as he did you, mark my words, I'll kill him—kill him, indeed I will! You ought to see me!"
"But he won't dare touch you," said Adrienne, looking at her friend with round, admiring eyes. "He knows very well that you are not little and timid like me. He'd be afraid of you."
"I wish he would try it. How I would love to shoot him into pieces, the hateful wretch! I wish he would."
The French inhabitants all, or nearly all, felt as Alice did; but at present they were helpless and dared not say or do anything against the English. Nor was this feeling confined to the Creoles of Vincennes; it had spread to most of the points where trading posts existed. Hamilton found this out too late to mend some of his mistakes; but he set himself on the alert and organized scouting bodies of Indians under white officers to keep him informed as to the American movements in Kentucky and along the Ohio. One of these bands brought in as captive Colonel Francis Vigo, of St. Louis, a Spaniard by birth, an American by adoption, a patriot to the core, who had large influence over both Indians and Creoles in the Illinois country.
Colonel Vigo was not long held a prisoner. Hamilton dared not exasperate the Creoles beyond their endurance, for he knew that the savages would closely sympathize with their friends of long standing, and this might lead to revolt and coalition against him,—a very dangerous possibility. Indeed, at least one of the great Indian chieftains had already frankly informed him that he and his tribe were loyal to the Americans. Here was a dilemma requiring consummate diplomacy. Hamilton saw it, but he was not of a diplomatic temper or character. With the Indians he used a demoralizing system of bribery, while toward the whites he was too often gruff, imperious, repellant. Helm understood the whole situation and was quick to take advantage of it. His personal relations with Hamilton were easy and familiar, so that he did not hesitate to give advice upon all occasions. Here his jovial disposition helped him.
"You'd better let Vigo return to St. Louis," he said. They had a bowl of something hot steaming between them. "I know him. He's harmless if you don't rub him too hard the wrong way. He'll go back, if you treat him well, and tell Clark how strong you are here and how foolish it would be to think of attacking you. Clark has but a handful of men, poorly supplied and tired with long, hard marches. If you'll think a moment you cannot fail to understand that you'd better be friends with this man Vigo. He and Father Gibault and this old priest here, Beret, carry these Frenchmen in their pockets. I'm not on your side, understand, I'm an American, and I'd blow the whole of you to kingdom come in a minute, if I could; but common sense is common sense all the same. There's no good to you and no harm to Clark in mistreating, or even holding this prisoner. What harm can he do you by going back to Clark and telling him the whole truth? Clark knew everything long before Vigo reached here. Old Jazon, my best scout, left here the day you took possession, and you may bet he got to Kaskaskia in short order. He never fails. But he'll tell Clark to stay where he is, and Vigo can do no more."
What effect Helm's bold and apparently artless talk had upon Hamilton's mind is not recorded; but the meager historical facts at command show that Vigo was released and permitted to return under promise that he would give no information to the enemy ON HIS WAY to Kaskaskia.
Doubtless this bit of careless diplomacy on the Governor's part did have a somewhat soothing effect upon a large class of Frenchmen at Vincennes; but Farnsworth quickly neutralized it to a serious extent by a foolish act while slightly under the influence of liquor.
He met Father Beret near Roussillon place, and feeling his ribs squirm at sight of the priest, he accosted him insolently, demanding information as to the whereabouts of the missing flag.
A priest may be good and true—Father Beret certainly was—and yet have the strongest characteristics of a worldly man. This thing of being bullied day after day, as had recently been the rule, generated nothing to aid in removing a refractory desire from the priest's heart—the worldly desire to repeat with great increment of force the punch against Famsworth's lower ribs.
"I order you, sir, to produce that rebel flag," said Farnsworth. "You will obey forthwith or take the consequences. I am no longer in the humor to be trifled with. Do you understand?"
"I might be forced to obey you, if I could," said the priest, drawing his robe about him; "but, as I have often told you, my son, I do not know where the flag is or who took it. I do not even suspect any person of taking it. All that I know about it is the simple fact that it is gone."
Father Beret's manner and voice were very mild, but there must have been a hint of sturdy defiance somewhere in them. At all events Farnsworth was exasperated and fell into a white rage. Perhaps it was the liquor he had been drinking that made him suddenly desperate.
"You canting old fool!" he cried, "don't lie to me any longer; I won't have it. Don't stand there grinning at me. Get that flag, or I'll make you."
"What is impossible, my son, is possible to God alone. Apud homines hoc impossible est, apud Deum autem omnia possibilia sunt."
"None of your Jesuit Latin or logic to me—I am not here to argue, but to command. Get that flag. Be in a hurry about it, sir."
He whipped out his sword, and in his half drunken eyes there gathered the dull film of murderous passion.
"Put up your weapon, Captain; you will not attack an unarmed priest. You are a soldier, and will not dare strike an old, defenceless man."
"But I will strike a black-robed and black-hearted French rebel. Get that flag, you grinning fool!"
The two men stood facing each other. Father Beret's eyes did not stir from their direct, fearless gaze. What Farnsworth had called a grin was a peculiar smile, not of merriment, a grayish flicker and a slight backward wrinkling of the cheeks. The old man's arms were loosely crossed upon his sturdy breast.
"Strike if you must," he said very gently, very firmly. "I never yet have seen the man that could make me afraid." His speech was slightly sing-song in tone, as it would have been during a prayer or a blessing.
"Get the flag then!" raged Farnsworth, in whose veins the heat of liquor was aided by an unreasoning choler.
"I cannot," said Father Beret.
"Then take the consequences!"
Farnsworth lifted his sword, not to thrust, but to strike with its flat side, and down it flashed with a noisy whack. Father Beret flung out an arm and deftly turned the blow aside. It was done so easily that Farnsworth sprang back glaring and surprised.
"You old fool!" he cried, leveling his weapon for a direct lunge. "You devilish hypocrite!"
It was then that Father Beret turned deadly pale and swiftly crossed himself. His face looked as if he saw something startling just beyond his adversary. Possibly this sudden change of expression caused Farnsworth to hesitate for a mere point of time. Then there was the swish of a woman's skirts; a light step pattered on the frozen ground, and Alice sprang between the men, facing Farnsworth. As she did this something small and yellow,—the locket at her throat,—fell and rolled under her feet. Nobody saw it.
In her hand she held an immense horse pistol, which she leveled in the Captain's face, its flaring, bugle-shaped muzzle gaping not a yard from his nose. The heavy tube was as steady as if in a vise.
"Drop that sword!"
That was all she said; but her finger was pressing the trigger, and the flint in the backward slanting hammer was ready to click against the steel. The leaden slugs were on the point of leaping forth.
"Drop that sword!"
The repetition seemed to close the opportunity for delay.
Farnsworth was on his guard in a twinkling. He set his jaw and uttered an ugly oath; then quick as lightning he struck sidewise at the pistol with his blade. It was a move which might have taken a less alert person than Alice unawares; but her training in sword-play was ready in her wrist and hand. An involuntary turn, the slightest imaginable, set the heavy barrel of her weapon strongly against the blow, partly stopping it, and then the gaping muzzle spat its load of balls and slugs with a bellow that awoke the drowsy old village.
Farnsworth staggered backward, letting fall his sword. There was a rent in the clothing of his left shoulder. He reeled; the blood spun out; but he did not fall, although he grew white.
Alice stood gazing at him with a look on her face he would never forget. It was a look that changed by wonderful swift gradations from terrible hate to something like sweet pity. The instant she saw him hurt and bleeding, his countenance relaxing and pale, her heart failed her. She took a step toward him, her hand opened, and with a thud the heavy old pistol fell upon the ground beside her.
Father Beret sprang nimbly to sustain Farnsworth, snatching up the pistol as he passed around Alice.
"You are hurt, my son," he gently said, "let me help you." He passed his arm firmly under that of Farnsworth, seeing that the Captain was unsteady on his feet.
"Lean upon me. Come with me, Alice, my child, I will take him into the house."
Alice picked up the Captain's sword and led the way.
It was all done so quickly that Farnsworth, in his half dazed condition, scarcely realized what was going on until he found himself on a couch in the Roussillon home, his wound (a jagged furrow plowed out by slugs that the sword's blade had first intercepted) neatly dressed and bandaged, while Alice and the priest hovered over him busy with their careful ministrations.
Hamilton and Helm were, as usual, playing cards at the former's quarters when a guard announced that Mademoiselle Roussillon wished an audience with the Governor.
"Bring the girl in," said Hamilton, throwing down his cards and scowling darkly.
"Now you'd better be wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove," remarked Helm. "There is something up, and that gun-shot we heard awhile ago may have a good deal to do with it. At any rate, you'll find kindness your best card to play with Alice Roussillon just at the present stage of the game."
Of course they knew nothing of what had happened to Farnsworth; but they had been discussing the strained relations between the garrison and the French inhabitants when the roar of Alice's big-mouthed pistol startled them. Helm was slyly beating about to try to make Hamilton lose sight of the danger from Clark's direction. To do this he artfully magnified the insidious work that might be done by the French and their Indian friends should they be driven to desperation by oppressive or exasperating action on the part of the English.
Hamilton felt the dangerous uncertainty upon which the situation rested; but, like many another vigorously self-reliant man, he could not subordinate his passions to the dictates of policy. When Alice was conducted into his presence he instantly swelled with anger. It was her father who had struck him and escaped, it was she who had carried off the rebel flag at the moment of victory.
"Well, Miss, to what do I owe the honor of this visit?" he demanded with a supercilious air, bending a card between his thumb and finger on the rude table.
She stood before him tall and straight, well bundled in furs. She was not pale; her blood was too rich and brilliant for that; but despite a half-smile and the inextinguishable dimples, there was a touch of something appealingly pathetic in the lines of her mouth. She did not waver or hesitate, however, but spoke promptly and distinctly.
"I have come, Monsieur, to tell you that I have hurt Captain Farnsworth. He was about to kill Father Beret, and I shot him. He is in our house and well cared for. I don't think his wound is bad. And—" here she hesitated at last and let her gaze fall,—"so here I am." Then she lifted her eyes again and made an inimitable French gesture with her shoulders and arms. "You will do as you please, Monsieur, I am at your mercy."
Hamilton was astounded. Helm sat staring phlegmatically. Meantime Beverley entered the room and stopped hat in hand behind Alice. He was flushed and evidently excited; in fact, he had heard of the trouble with Farnsworth, and seeing Alice enter the floor of Hamilton's quarters he followed her in, his heart stirred by no slight emotion. He met the Governor's glare and parried it with one of equal haughtiness. The veins on his forehead swelled and turned dark. He was in a mood to do whatever desperate act should suggest itself.
When Hamilton fairly comprehended the message so graphically presented by Alice, he rose from his seat by the fire.
"What's this you tell me?" he blurted. "You say you've shot Captain Farnsworth?"
He stared a moment, then his features beamed with hate.
"And I'll have you shot for it, Miss, as sure as you stand there in your silly impudence ogling me so brazenly!"
He leaned toward her as he spoke and sent with the words a shock of coarse, passionate energy from which she recoiled as if expecting a blow to follow it.
An irresistible impulse swept Beverley to Alice's side, and his attitude was that of a protector. Helm sprang up.
A Lieutenant came in and respectfully, but with evident over-haste, reported that Captain Farnsworth had been shot and was at Roussillon place in care of the surgeon.
"Take this girl into custody. Confine her and put a strong guard over her."
In giving the order Hamilton jerked his thumb contemptuously toward Alice, and at the same time gave Beverley a look of supreme defiance and hatred. When Helm began to speak he turned fiercely upon him and stopped him with:
"None of your advice, sir. I have had all I want of it. Keep your place or I'll make you."
Then to Beverley:
"Retire, sir. When I wish to see you I'll send for you. At present you are not needed here."
The English Lieutenant saluted his commander, bowed respectfully to Alice and said:
"Come with me, Miss, please."
Helm and Beverley exchanged a look of helpless and enquiring rage. It was as if they had said: "What can we do? Must we bear it?" Certainly they could do nothing. Any interference on their part would be sure to increase Alice's danger, and at the same time add to the weight of their own humiliation.
Alice silently followed the officer out of the room. She did not even glance toward Beverley, who moved as if to interfere and was promptly motioned back by the guard. His better judgement returning held him from a rash and futile act, until Hamilton spoke again, saying loudly as Alice passed through the door:
"I'll see who's master of this town if I have to shoot every French hoyden in it!"
"Women and children may well fear you, Colonel Hamilton," said Beverley. "That young lady is your superior."
"You say that to me, sir!"
"It is the best I could possibly say of you."
"I will send you along with the wench if you do not guard your language. A prisoner on parole has no license to be a blackguard."
"I return you my parole, sir, I shall no longer regard it as binding," said Beverley, by a great effort, holding back a blow; "I will not keep faith with a scoundrel who does not know how to be decent in the presence of a young girl. You had better have me arrested and confined. I will escape at the first opportunity and bring a force here to reckon with you for your villainy. And if you dare hurt Alice Roussillon I will have you hanged like a dog!"
Hamilton looked at him scornfully, smiling as one who feels safe in his authority and means to have his own way with his victim. Naturally he regarded Beverley's words as the merest vaporings of a helpless and exasperated young man. He saw very clearly that love was having a hand in the affair, and he chuckled inwardly, thinking what a fool Beverley was.
"I thought I ordered you to leave this room," he said with an air and tone of lofty superiority, "and I certainly mean to be obeyed. Go, sir, and if you attempt to escape, or in any way break your parole, I'll have you shot."
"I have already broken it. From this moment I shall not regard it. You have heard my statement. I shall not repeat it. Govern yourself accordingly."
With these words Beverley turned and strode out of the house, quite beside himself, his whole frame quivering.
Hamilton laughed derisively, then looked at Helm and said:
"Helm, I like you; I don't wish to be unkind to you; but positively you must quit breaking in upon my affairs with your ready-made advice. I've given you and Lieutenant Beverley too much latitude, perhaps. If that young fool don't look sharp he'll get himself into a beastly lot of trouble. You'd better give him a talk. He's in a way to need it just now."
"I think so myself," said Helm, glad to get back upon fair footing with the irascible Governor. "I'll wait until he cools off somewhat, and then I can manage him. Leave him to me."
"Well, come walk with me to see what has really happened to Farnsworth. He's probably not much hurt, and deserves what he's got. That girl has turned his head. I think I understand the whole affair. A little love, a little wine, some foolishness, and the wench shot him."
Helm genially assented; but they were delayed for some time by an officer who came in to consult with Hamilton on some pressing Indian affairs. When they reached Roussillon place they met Beverley coming out; but he did not look at them. He was scarcely aware of them. A little way outside the gate, on going in, he had picked up Alice's locket and broken chain, which he mechanically put into his pocket. It was all like a dream to him, and yet he had a clear purpose. He was going away from Vincennes, or at least he would try, and woe be to Hamilton on his coming back. It was so easy for an excited young mind to plan great things and to expect success under apparently impossible conditions. Beverley gave Jean a note for Alice; it was this that took him to Roussillon place; and no sooner fell the night than he shouldered a gun furnished him by Madame Godere, and guided by the woodsman's fine craft, stole away southward, thinking to swim the icy Wabash some miles below, and then strike across the plains of Illinois to Kaskaskia.
It was a desperate undertaking; but in those days desperate undertakings were rather the rule than the exception. Moreover, love was the leader and Beverley the blind follower. Nothing could daunt him or turn him back, until he found an army to lead against Hamilton. It seems but a romantic burst of indignation, as we look back at it, hopelessly foolish, with no possible end but death in the wilderness. Still there was a method in love's madness, and Beverley, with his superb physique, his knowledge of the wilderness and his indomitable self-reliance, was by no means without his fighting chance for success.
MANON LESCAUT. AND A RAPIER-THRUST
Beverley's absence was not noticed by Hamilton until late on the following day, and even then he scouted Helm's suggestion that the young man was possibly carrying out his threat to disregard his parole.
"He would be quite justified in doing it; you know that very well," said Helm with a laugh, "and he's just the man to undertake what is impossible. Of course, however, he'll get scalped for his trouble, and that will cost you something, I'm happy to say."
"It's a matter of small importance," Hamilton replied; "but I'll wager you the next toddy that he's not at the present moment a half-mile from this spot. He may be a fool, I readily grant that he is, but even a fool is not going to set out alone in this kind of weather to go to where your rebel friends are probably toasting their shins by a fire of green logs and half starving over yonder on the Mississippi."
"Joking aside, you are doubtless right. Beverley is hot-headed, and if he could he'd get even with you devilish quick; but he hasn't left Vincennes, I think. Miss Roussillon would keep him here if the place were on fire!"
Hamilton laughed dryly. He had thought just what Helm was saying. Beverley's attentions to Alice had not escaped his notice.
"Speaking of that girl," he remarked after a moment's silence, "what am I do to do with her? There's no place to keep her, and Farnsworth insists that she wasn't to blame." He chuckled again and added:
"It's true as gospel. He's in love with her, too. Seems to be glad she shot him. Says he's ashamed of himself for ever suspecting her of anything but being a genuine angel. Why, he's got as flabby as a rabbit and mumbles like a fool!"
"Same as you or I at his age," said Helm, taking a chew of tobacco. "She IS a pretty thing. Beverley don't know his foot from his shoulder-blade when she's anywhere near him. Boys are boys. I'm a sort of a boy myself."
"If she'd give up that flag he'd let her go," said Hamilton. "I hate like the devil to confine her; it looks brutal, and makes me feel like a tyrant."
"Have you ever happened to notice the obvious fact, Governor Hamilton, that Alice Roussillon and Father Beret are not all the French in Vincennes?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that I don't for a moment believe that either the girl or the priest knows a thing about where that flag is. They are both as truthful and honorable as people ever get to be. I know them. Somebody else got that flag from under the priest's floor. You may depend upon that. If Miss Roussillon knew where it is she'd say so, and then dare you to make her tell where it's hidden."
"Oh, the whole devilish town is rotten with treason; that's very clear. There's not a loyal soul in it outside of my forces."
"Thank you for not including me among the loyalists."
"Humph, I spoke of these French people; they pretend to be true; but I believe they are all traitors."
"You can manage them if you try. A little jolly kindness goes a long way with 'em. I had no trouble while I held the town."
Hamilton bit his lip and was silent. Helm was exasperatingly good tempered, and his jocularity was irresistible. While he was yet speaking a guard came up followed by Jean, the hunchback, and saluting said to Hamilton:
"The lad wants to see the young lady, sir."
Hamilton gazed quizzically at Jean, who planted himself in his habitual attitude before him and stared up into his face with the grotesque expression which seems to be characteristic of hunchbacks and unfledged birds—the look of an embodied and hideous joke.
"Well, sir, what will you have?" the Governor demanded.
"I want to see Alice, if you please."
"I want to give her a book to read."
"Ah, indeed. Where is it? Let me see it."
Jean took from the breast of his loose jerkin a small volume, dog-eared and mildewed, and handed it to Hamilton. Meantime he stood first on one foot, then the other, gnawing his thumb-nail and blinking rapidly.
"Well, Helm, just look here!"
"And what's that?"
"Haven't you ever read it?"
"This novel—Manon Lescaut."
"Never read a novel in my life. Never expect to."
Hamilton laughed freely at Helm's expense, then turned to Jean and gave him back the book.
It would have been quite military, had he taken the precaution to examine between the pages for something hidden there, but he did not.
"Go, give it to her," he said, "and tell her I send my compliments, with great admiration of her taste in literature." He motioned the soldier to show Jean to Alice. "It's a beastly French story," he added, addressing Helm; "immoral enough to make a pirate blush. That's the sort of girl Mademoiselle Roussillon is!"
"I don't care what kind of a book she reads," blurted Helm, "she's a fine, pure, good girl. Everybody likes her. She's the good angel of this miserable frog-hole of a town. You'd like her yourself, if you'd straighten up and quit burning tow in your brain all the time. You're always so furious about something that you never have a chance to be just to yourself, or pleasant to anybody else."
Hamilton turned fiercely on Helm, but a glimpse of the Captain's broad good-humored face heartily smiling, dispelled his anger. There was no ground upon which to maintain a quarrel with a person so persistently genial and so absurdly frank. And in fact Hamilton was not half so bad as his choleric manifestations seemed to make him out. Besides, Helm knew just how far to go, just when to stop.
"If I had got furious at you every time there was overwhelming provocation for it," Hamilton said, "you'd have been long since hanged or shot. I fancy that I have shown angelic forbearance. I've given you somewhat more than a prisoner's freedom."
"So you have, so you have," assented Helm. "I've often been surprised at your generous partiality in my case. Let's have some hot water with something else in it, what do you say? I won't give you any more advice for five minutes by your watch."
"But I want some advice at once."
"Turn her loose. That's easy and reputable."
"I'll have to, I presume; but she ought to be punished."
"If you'll think less about punishment, revenge and getting even with everybody and everything, you'll soon begin to prosper."
Hamilton winced, but smiled as one quite sure of himself.
Jean followed the soldier to a rickety log pen on the farther side of the stockade, where he found the prisoner restlessly moving about like a bird in a rustic cage. It had no comforts, that gloomy little room. There was no fireplace, the roof leaked, and the only furniture consisted of a bench to sit on and a pile of skins for bed. Alice looked charmingly forlorn peeping out of the wraps in which she was bundled against the cold, her hair fluffed and rimpled in shining disorder around her face.
The guard let Jean in and closed the door, himself staying outside.
Alice was as glad to see the poor lad as if they had been parted for a year. She hugged him and kissed his drawn little face.
"You dear, good Jean!" she murmured, "you did not forget me."
"I brought you something," he whispered, producing the book.
Alice snatched it, looked at it, and then at Jean.
"Why, what did you bring this for? you silly Jean! I didn't want this. I don't like this book at all. It's hateful. I despise it. Take it back."
"There's something in it for you, a paper with writing on it; Lieutenant Beverley wrote it on there. It's shut up between the leaves about the middle."
"Sh-s-sh! not so loud, the guard'll hear you," Alice breathlessly whispered, her whole manner changing instantly. She was trembling, and the color had been whisked from her face, as the flame from a candle in a sudden draught.
She found the note and read it a dozen times without a pause, her eyes leaping along the lines back and forth with pathetic eagerness and concentration. Presently she sat down on the bench and covered her face with her hands. A tremor first, then a convulsive sobbing, shook her collapsed form. Jean regarded her with a drolly sympathetic grimace, elevating his long chin and letting his head settle back between his shoulders.
"Oh, Jean, Jean!" she cried at last, looking up and reaching out her arms; "O Jean, he is gone, gone, gone!"
Jean stepped closer to her while she sobbed again like a little child.
She pulled him to her and held him tightly against her breast while she once more read the note through blinding tears. The words were few, but to her they bore the message of desolation and despair. A great, haunting, hollow voice in her heart repeated them until they echoed from vague distance to distance.
It was written with a bit of lead on the half of a mildewed fly-leaf torn from the book:
"I am going away. When you read this, think of me as hurrying through the wilderness to reach our army and bring it here. Be brave, as you always have been; be good, as you cannot help being; wait and watch for me; love me, as I love you. I will come. Do not doubt it, I will come, and I will crush Hamilton and his command. Courage, Alice dear; courage, and wait for me.
"Faithfully ever, "Beverley."
She kissed the paper with passionate fervor, pouring her tears upon it in April showers between which the light of her eyes played almost fiercely, so poignant was her sense of a despair which bordered upon desperation. "Gone, gone!" It was all she could think or say. "Gone, gone."
Jean took the offending novel back home with him, hidden under his jerkin; but Beverley's note lay upon Alice's heart, a sweet comfort and a crushing weight, when an hour later Hamilton sent for her and she was taken before him. Her face was stained with tears and she looked pitifully distressed and disheveled; yet despite all this her beauty asserted itself with subtle force.
Hamilton felt ashamed looking at her, but put on sternness and spoke without apparent sympathy:
"Miss Roussillon, you came near committing a great crime. As it is, you have done badly enough; but I wish not to be unreasonably severe. I hope you are sorry for your act, and feel like doing better hereafter."
She was trembling, but her eyes looked steadily straight into his. They were eyes of baby innocence, yet they irradiated a strong womanly spirit just touched with the old perverse, mischievous light which she could neither banish nor control. When she did not make reply, Hamilton continued:
"You may go home now, and I shall expect to have no more trouble on your account." He made a gesture indicative of dismissal; then, as she turned from him, he added, somewhat raising his voice:
"And further, Miss Roussillon, that flag you took from here must positively be returned. See that it is done."
She lifted her head high and walked away, not deigning to give him a word.
"Humph! what do you think now of your fine young lady?" he demanded, turning to Helm with a sneering curl of his mouth. "She gives thanks copiously for a kindness, don't you think?"
"Poor girl, she was scared nearly out of her life," said Helm. "She got away from you, like a wounded bird from a snare. I never saw a face more pitiful than hers."
"Much pity she needs, and greatly like a wounded bird she acts, I must say; but good riddance if she'll keep her place hereafter. I despise myself when I have to be hard with a woman, especially a pretty one. That girl's a saucy and fascinating minx, and as dangerous as twenty men. I'll keep a watch on her movements from this on, and if she gets into mischief again I'll transport her to Detroit, or give her away to the Indians, She must stop her high-handed foolishness."
Helm saw that Hamilton was talking mere wind, VOX ET PRAETEREA NIHIL, and he furthermore felt that his babbling signified no harm to Alice; but Hamilton surprised him presently by saying:
"I have just learned that Lieutenant Beverley is actually gone. Did you know of his departure?"
"What are you saying, sir?"
Helm jumped to his feet, not angry, but excited.
"Keep cool, you need not answer if you prefer silence or evasion. You may want to go yourself soon."
Helm burst out laughing, but quickly growing serious said:
"Has Beverley been such a driveling fool as that? Are you in earnest?"
"He killed two of my scouts, wounded another, and crossed the Wabash in their canoe. He is going straight towards Kaskaskia."
"The idiot! Hurrah for him! If you catch your hare you may roast him, but catch him first, Governor!"
"You'll joke out of the other corner of your mouth, Captain Helm, if I find out that you gave him aid or countenance in breaking his parole."
"Aid or countenance! I never saw him after he walked out of this room. You gave him a devil of a sight more aid and countenance than I did. What are you talking about! Broke his parole! He did no such thing. He returned it to you fairly, as you well know. He told you he was going."
"Well, I've sent twenty of my swiftest Indians after him to bring him back. I'll let you see him shot. That ought to please you."
"They'll never get him, Governor. I'll bet high on him against your twenty scalp-lifters any day. Fitzhugh Beverley is the best Indian fighter, Daniel Boone and Simon Kenton excepted, in the American colonies."
On her way home Alice met Father Beret, who turned and walked beside her. He was so overjoyed at her release that he could scarcely speak; but held her hand and stroked it gently while she told him her story. It was beginning to rain, a steady, cold shower, when they reached the house, and for many days and nights thereafter the downfall continued almost incessantly.
"Dear child," said Father Beret, stopping at the gate and looking beseechingly into Alice's face, "you must stay at home now—stay in the house—it will be horribly dangerous for you to pass about in the village after your—after what has happened."
"Do not fear, Father, I will be careful. Aren't you coming in? I'll find you a cake and a glass of wine."
"No, child, not now."
"Then good-bye, good-bye," she said, turning from him to run into the house. "Come soon, I shall be so lonesome."
On the veranda she suddenly stopped, running her fingers about her neck and into her bosom.
"Oh, Father, Father Beret, I've lost my locket!" she cried. "See if I dropped it there."
She went back to the gate, searching the ground with her eyes. Of course she did not find the locket. It was miles and miles away close to the heart of her lover. If she could but have known this, it would have comforted her. Beverley had intended to leave it with Jean, but in his haste and excitement he forgot; writing the note distracted his attention; and so he bore Alice's picture on his breast and in his heart while pursuing his long and perilous journey.
Four of Hamilton's scouts came upon Beverley twenty miles south of Vincennes, but having the advantage of them, he killed two almost immediately, and after a running fight, the other two attempted escape in a canoe on the Wabash. Here, firing from a bluff, he wounded a third. Both then plunged head-foremost into the water, and by keeping below the surface, got away. The adventure gave Beverley new spirit and self-reliance; he felt that he could accomplish anything necessary to his undertaking. In the captured pirogue he crossed the river, and, to make his trail hard to find, sent the little craft adrift down the current.
Then alone, in the dead of winter, he took his bearings and struck across the dreary, houseless plain toward St. Louis.
As soon as Hamilton's discomfited scouts reported to him, he sent Long-Hair with twenty picked savages, armed and supplied for continuous and rapid marching, in pursuit of Beverley. There was a large reward for bringing him in alive, a smaller one for his scalp.
When Alice heard of all this, her buoyant and happy nature seemed entirely to desert her for a time. She was proud to find out that Beverley had shown himself brave and capable; it touched her love of heroism; but she knew too much about Indian warfare to hope that he could hold his own against Long-Hair, the wiliest and boldest of scalp-hunters, and twenty of the most experienced braves in Hamilton's forces. He would almost certainly be killed and scalped, or captured and brought back to be shot or hanged in Vincennes. The thought chilled and curdled her blood.
Both Helm and Father Beret tried to encourage and comfort her by representing the probabilities in the fairest light.
"It's like hunting for a needle in a haystack, going out to find a man in that wilderness," said Helm with optimistic cheerfulness; "and besides Beverley is no easy dose for twenty red niggers to take. I've seen him tried at worse odds than that, and he got out with a whole skin, too. Don't you fret about him, Miss Roussillon."
Little help came to her from attempts of this sort. She might brighten up for a while, but the dark dread, and the terrible gnawing at her heart, the sinking and despairing in her soul, could not be cured.
What added immeasurably to her distress was the attention of Farnsworth, whose wound troubled him but a short time. He seemed to have had a revelation and a change of spirit since the unfortunate rencounter and the subsequent nursing at Alice's hands. He was grave, earnest, kindly, evidently striving to play a gentle and honorable part. She could feel that he carried a load of regret, that he wanted to pay a full price in good for the evil that he had done; his sturdy English heart was righting itself nobly, yet she but half understood him, until his actions and words began to betray his love; and then she hated him unreasonably. Realizing this, Farnsworth bore himself more like a faithful dog than in the manner hitherto habitual to him. He simply shadowed Alice and would not be rebuffed.
There can be nothing more painful to a finely sympathetic nature than regret for having done a kindness. Alice experienced this to the fullest degree. She had nursed Farnsworth but a little while, yet it was a while of sweet influence. Her tender woman nature felt the blessedness of doing good to her enemy lying helpless in her house and hurt by her own hand. But now she hated the man, and with all her soul she was sorry that she had been kind to him; for out of her kindness he had drawn the spell of a love under which he lived a new life, and all for her. Yet deep down in her consciousness the pity and the pathos of the thing hovered gloomily and would not be driven out.
The rain in mid-winter gave every prospect a sad, cold, sodden gray appearance. The ground was soaked, little rills ran in the narrow streets, the small streams became great rivers, the Wabash overflowed its banks and made a sea of all the lowlands on either side. It was hard on the poor dwellers in the thatched and mostly floorless cabins, for the grass roofs gradually let the water through and puddles formed on the ground inside. Fuel was distant and had to be hauled in the pouring rain; provisions were scarce and hunting almost impossible. Many people, especially children, were taken ill with colds and fever. Alice found some relief from her trouble in going from cabin to cabin and waiting upon the sufferers; but even here Farnsworth could not be got rid of; he followed her night and day. Never was a good soldier, for he was that from head to foot, more lovelorn and love-docile. The maiden had completely subdued the man.
About this time, deep in a rainy and pitch-black night, Gaspard Roussillon came home. He tapped on the door again and again. Alice heard, but she hesitated to speak or move. Was she growing cowardly? Her heart beat like a drum. There was but one person in all the world that she could think of—it was not M. Roussillon. Ah, no, she had well-nigh forgotten her gigantic foster father.
"It is I, ma cherie, it is Gaspard, my love, open the door," came in a booming half-whisper from without. "Alice, Jean, it is your Papa Roussillon, my dears. Let me in."
Alice was at the door in a minute, unbarring it. M. Roussillon entered, armed to the teeth, the water dribbling from his buckskin clothes.
"Pouf!" he exclaimed, "my throat is like dust." His thoughts were diving into the stores under the floor. "I am famished. Dear children, dear little ones! They are glad to see papa! Where is your mama?"
He had Alice in his arms and Jean clung to his legs. Madame Roussillon, to be sure of no mistake, lighted a lamp with a brand that smoldered on the hearth and held it up, then, satisfied as to her husband's identity, set it on a shelf and flung herself into the affectionate group with clumsy abandon, making a great noise.
"Oh, my dear Gaspard!" she cried as she lunged forward. "Gaspard, Gaspard!" Her voice fairly lifted the roof; her great weight, hurled with such force, overturned everybody, and all of them tumbled in a heap, the rotund and solid dame sitting on top.
"Ouf! not so impetuous, my dear," puffed M. Roussillon, freeing himself from her unpleasant pressure and scrambling to his feet. "Really you must have fared well in my absence, Madame, you are much heavier." He laughed and lifted her up as if she had been a child, kissing her resonantly.
His gun had fallen with a great clatter. He took it from the floor and examined it to see if it had been injured, then set it in a corner.
"I am afraid we have been making too much noise," said Alice, speaking very low. "There is a patrol guard every night now. If they should hear you—"
"Shh!" whispered M. Roussillon, "we will be very still. Alice, is there something to eat and a drop of wine handy? I have come many miles; I am tired, hungry, thirsty,—ziff!"
Alice brought some cold roast venison, a loaf, and a bottle of claret. These she set before him on a little table.
"Ah, this is comfort," he said after he had gulped a full cup. "Have you all been well?"
Then he began to tell where he had been, what he had seen, and the many things he had done. A Frenchman must babble while he eats and drinks. A little wine makes him eloquent. He talks with his hands, shoulders, eyes. Madame Roussillon, Alice and Jean, wrapped in furs, huddled around him to hear. He was very entertaining, and they forgot the patrol until a noise startled them. It was the low of a cow. They laughed and the master of the house softened his voice.
M. Roussillon had been the guest of a great Indian chieftain, who was called the "Gate of the Wabash," because he controlled the river. The chief was an old acquaintance and treated him well.
"But I wanted to see you all," Gaspard said. "I was afraid something might have happened to you. So I came back just to peep in. I can't stay, of course; Hamilton would kill me as if I were a wolf. I can remain but an hour and then slip out of town again before daylight conies. The rain and darkness are my friends."
He had seen Simon Kenton, who said he had been in the neighborhood of Vincennes acting as a scout and spy for Clark. Presently and quite casually he added:
"And I saw Lieutenant Beverley, too. I suppose you know that he has escaped from Hamilton, and—" Here a big mouthful of venison interfered.
Alice leaned toward him white and breathless, her heart standing still.
Then the door, which had been left unbarred, was flung open and, along with a great rush of wind and rain, the patrol guard, five in number, sprang in.
M. Roussillon reached his gun with one hand, with the other swung a tremendous blow as he leaped against the intruders. Madame Roussillon blew out the light. No cave in the depth of earth was ever darker than that room. The patrolmen could not see one another or know what to do; but M. Roussillon laid about him with the strength of a giant. His blows sounded as if they smashed bones. Men fell heavily thumping on the floor where he rushed along. Some one fired a pistol and by its flash they all saw him; but instantly the darkness closed again, and before they could get their bearings he was out and gone, his great hulking form making its way easily over familiar ground where his would-be captors could have proceeded but slowly, even with a light to guide them. There was furious cursing among the patrolmen as they tumbled about in the room, the unhurt ones trampling their prostrate companions and striking wildly at each other in their blindness and confusion. At last one of them bethought him to open a dark lantern with which the night guards were furnished. Its flame was fluttering and gave forth a pale red light that danced weirdly on the floors and walls.
Alice had snatched down one of her rapiers when the guards first entered. They now saw her facing them with her slender blade leveled, her back to the wall, her eyes shining dangerously. Madame Roussillon had fled into the adjoining room. Jean had also disappeared. The officer, a subaltern, in charge of the guard, seeing Alice, and not quickly able to make out that it was a woman thus defying him, crossed swords with her. There was small space for action; moreover the officer being not in the least a swordsman, played awkwardly, and quick as a flash his point was down. The rapier entered just below his thread with a dull chucking stab. He leaped backward, feeling at the same time a pair of arms clasp his legs. It was Jean, and the Lieutenant, thus unexpectedly tangled, fell to the floor, breaking but not extinguishing the guard's lantern as he went down. The little remaining oil spread and flamed up brilliantly, as if eager for conflagration, sputtering along the uneven boards.
"Kill that devil!" cried the Lieutenant, in a strangling voice, while trying to regain his feet. "Shoot! Bayonet!"
In his pain, rage and haste, he inadvertently set his hand in the midst of the blazing oil, which clung to the flesh with a seething grip.
"Hell!" he screamed, "fire, fire!"
Two or three bayonets were leveled upon Alice. Some one kicked Jean clean across the room, and he lay there curled up in his hairy night-wrap looking like an enormous porcupine.
At this point a new performer came upon the stage, a dark-robed thing, so active that its outlines changed elusively, giving it no recognizable features. It might have been the devil himself, or some terrible unknown wild animal clad somewhat to resemble a man, so far as the startled guards could make out. It clawed right and left, hurled one of them against the wall, dashed another through the door into Madame Roussillon's room, where the good woman was wailing at the top of her voice, and felled a third with a stroke like that of a bear's paw.
Consternation was at high tide when Farnsworth, who always slept with an ear open, reached Roussillon place and quickly quieted things. He was troubled beyond expression when he found out the true state of the affair, for there was nothing that he could do but arrest Alice and take her to Hamilton. It made his heart sink. He would have thought little of ordering a file of soldiers to shoot a man under the same conditions; but to subject her again to the Governor's stern cruelty—how could he do it? This time there would be no hope for her.
Alice stood before him flushed, disheveled, defiant, sword in hand, beautiful and terrible as an angel. The black figure, man or devil, had disappeared as strangely as it had come. The sub-Lieutenant was having his slight wound bandaged. Men were raging and cursing under their breath, rubbing their bruised heads and limbs.
"Alice—Mademoiselle Roussillon, I am so sorry for this," said Captain Farnsworth. "It is painful, terrible—"
He could not go on, but stood before her unmanned. In the feeble light his face was wan and his hurt shoulder, still in bandages, drooped perceptibly.
"I surrender to you," she presently said in French, extending the hilt of her rapier to him. "I had to defend myself when attacked by your Lieutenant there. If an officer finds it necessary to set upon a girl with his sword, may not the girl guard her life if she can?"
She was short of breath, so that her voice palpitated with a touching plangency that shook the man's heart.
Farnsworth accepted the sword; he could do nothing less. His duty admitted of no doubtful consideration; yet he hesitated, feeling around in his mind for a phrase with which to evade the inevitable.
"It will be safer for you at the fort, Mademoiselle; let me take you there."
A MEETING IN THE WILDERNESS
Beverley set out on his mid-winter journey to Kaskaskia with a tempest in his heart, and it was, perhaps, the storm's energy that gave him the courage to face undaunted and undoubting what his experience must have told him lay in his path. He was young and strong; that meant a great deal; he had taken the desperate chances of Indian warfare many times before this, and the danger counted as nothing, save that it offered the possibility of preventing him from doing the one thing in life he now cared to do. What meant suffering to him, if he could but rescue Alice? And what were life should he fail to rescue her? The old, old song hummed in his heart, every phrase of it distinct above the tumult of the storm. Could cold and hunger, swollen streams, ravenous wild beasts and scalp-hunting savages baffle him? No, there is no barrier that can hinder love. He said this over and over to himself after his rencounter with the four Indian scouts on the Wabash. He repeated it with every heart-beat until he fell in with some friendly red men, who took him to their camp, where to his great surprise he met M. Roussillon. It was his song when again he strode off toward the west on his lonely way.
We need not follow him step by step; the monotony of the woods and prairies, the cold rains, alternating with northerly winds and blinding snow, the constant watchfulness necessary to guard against a meeting with hostile savages, the tiresome tramping, wading and swimming, the hunger, the broken and wretched sleep in frozen and scant wraps,—why detail it all?
There was but one beautiful thing about it—the beauty of Alice as she seemed to walk beside him and hover near him in his dreams. He did not know that Long-Hair and his band were fast on his track; but the knowledge could not have urged him to greater haste. He strained every muscle to its utmost, kept every nerve to the highest tension. Yonder towards the west was help for Alice; that was all he cared for.
But if Long-Hair was pursuing him with relentless greed for the reward offered by Hamilton, there were friendly footsteps still nearer behind him; and one day at high noon, while he was bending over a little fire, broiling some liberal cuts of venison, a finger tapped him on the shoulder. He sprang up and grappled Oncle Jazon; at the same time, standing near by, he saw Simon Kenton, his old-time Kentucky friend. The pungled features of one and the fine, rugged face of the other swam as in a mist before Beverley's eyes. Kenton was laughing quietly, his strong, upright form shaking to the force of his pleasure. He was in the early prime of a vigorous life, not handsome, but strikingly attractive by reason of a certain glow in his face and a kindly flash in his deep-set eyes.
"Well, well, my boy!" he exclaimed, laying his left hand on Beverley's shoulder, while in the other he held a long, heavy rifle. "I'm glad to see ye, glad to see ye."
"Thought we was Injuns, eh?" said Oncle Jazon. "An' ef we had 'a' been we'd 'a' been shore o' your scalp!" The wizzened old creole cackled gleefully.
"And where are ye goin'?" demanded Kenton. "Ye're making what lacks a heap o' bein' a bee-line for some place or other."
Beverley was dazed and vacant-minded; things seemed wavering and dim. He pushed the two men from him and gazed at them without speaking. Their presence and voices did not convince him.
"Yer meat's a burnin'," said Oncle Jazon, stooping to turn it on the smouldering coals. "Ye must be hungry. Cookin' enough for a regiment."
Kenton shook Beverley with rough familiarity, as if to rouse his faculties.
"What's the matter? Fitz, my lad, don't ye know Si Kenton? It's not so long since we were like brothers, and now ye don't speak to me! Ye've not forgot me, Fitz!"
"Mebby he don't like ye as well as ye thought he did," drawled Oncle Jazon. "I HEV known o' fellers a bein' mistaken jes' thet way."
Beverley got his wits together as best he could, taking in the situation by such degrees as seemed at the time unduly slow, but which were really mere momentary falterings.
"Why, Kenton! Jazon!" he presently exclaimed, a cordial gladness blending with his surprise. "How did you get here? Where did you come from?"
He looked from one to the other back and forth with a wondering smile breaking over his bronzed and determined face.
"We've been hot on yer trail for thirty hours," said Kenton. "Roussillon put us on it back yonder. But what are ye up to? Where are ye goin'?"
"I'm going to Clark at Kaskaskia to bring him yonder." He waved his hand eastward. "I am going to take Vincennes and kill Hamilton."
"Well, ye're taking a mighty queer course, my boy, if ye ever expect to find Kaskaskia. Ye're already twenty miles too far south."
"Carryin' his gun on the same shoulder all the time," said Oncle Jazon, "has made 'im kind o' swing in a curve like. 'Tain't good luck no how to carry yer gun on yer lef' shoulder. When you do it meks yer take a longer step with yer right foot than ye do with yer lef' an' ye can't walk a straight line to save yer liver. Ventreblue! La venaison brule encore! Look at that dasted meat burnin' agin!"
He jumped back to the fire to turn the scorching cuts.
Beverley wrung Kenton's hand and looked into his eyes, as a man does when an old friend comes suddenly out of the past, so to say, and brings the freshness and comfort of a strong, true soul to brace him in his hour of greatest need.
"Of all men in the world, Simon Kenton, you were the least expected; but how glad I am! How thankful! Now I know I shall succeed. We are going to capture Vincennes, Kenton, are we not? We shall, sha'n't we, Jazon? Nothing, nothing can prevent us, can it?"
Kenton heartily returned the pressure of the young man's hand, while Oncle Jazon looked up quizzically and said:
"We're a tol'ble 'spectable lot to prevent; but then we might git pervented. I've seed better men an' us purty consid'ble pervented lots o' times in my life."
In speaking the colloquial dialect of the American backwoodsmen, Oncle Jazon, despite years of practice among them, gave to it a creole lisp and some turns of pronunciation not to be indicated by any form of spelling. It added to his talk a peculiar soft drollery. When he spoke French it was mostly that of the COUREURS DE BOIS, a PATOIS which still lingers in out-of-the-way nooks of Louisiana.
"For my part," said Kenton, "I am with ye, old boy, in anything ye want to do. But now ye've got to tell me everything. I see that ye're keeping something back. What is it?" He glanced sidewise slyly at Oncle Jazon.
Beverley was frank to a fault; but somehow his heart tried to keep Alice all to itself. He hesitated; then—
"I broke my parole with Governor Hamilton," he said. "He forced me to do it. I feel altogether justified. I told him beforehand that I should certainly leave Vincennes and go get a force to capture and kill him; and I'll do it, Simon Kenton, I'll do it!"
"I see, I see," Kenton assented, "but what was the row about? What did he do to excite ye—to make ye feel justified in breakin' over yer parole in that high-handed way? Fitz, I know ye too well to be fooled by ye—you've got somethin' in mind that ye don't want to tell. Well, then don't tell it. Oncle Jazon and I will go it blind, won't we, Jazon?"
"Blind as two moles," said the old man; "but as for thet secret," he added, winking both eyes at once, "I don't know as it's so mighty hard to guess. It's always safe to 'magine a woman in the case. It's mostly women 'at sends men a trottin' off 'bout nothin', sort o' crazy like."
Beverley looked guilty and Oncle Jazon continued: "They's a poo'ty gal at Vincennes, an' I see the young man a steppin' into her house about fifteen times a day 'fore I lef' the place. Mebbe she's tuck up wi' one o' them English officers. Gals is slippery an' onsartin'."
"Jazon!" cried Beverley, "stop that instantly, or I'll wring your old neck." His anger was real and he meant what he said. He clenched his hands and glowered.
Oncle Jazon, who was still squatting by the little fire, tumbled over backwards, as if Beverley had kicked him; and there he lay on the ground with his slender legs quivering akimbo in the air, while he laughed in a strained treble that sounded like the whining of a screech-owl.
The old scamp did not know all the facts in Beverley's case, nor did he even suspect what had happened; but he was aware of the young man's tender feeling for Alice, and he did shrewdly conjecture that she was a factor in the problem.
The rude jest at her expense did not seem to his withered and toughened taste in the least out of the way. Indeed it was a delectable bit of humor from Oncle Jazon's point of view.
"Don't get mad at the old man," said Kenton, plucking Beverley aside. "He's yer friend from his heels to his old scalped crown. Let him have his fun." Then lowering his voice almost to a whisper he continued:
"I was in Vincennes for two days and nights spyin' around. Madame Godere hid me in her house when there was need of it. I know how it is with ye; I got all the gossip about ye and the young lady, as well as all the information about Hamilton and his forces that Colonel Clark wants. I'm goin' to Kaskaskia; but I think it quite possible that Clark will be on his march to Vincennes before we get there; for Vigo has taken him full particulars as to the fort and its garrison, and I know that he's determined to capture the whole thing or die tryin'."
Beverley felt his heart swell and his blood leap strong in his veins at these words.
"I saw ye while I was in Vincennes," Kenton added, "but I never let ye see me. Ye were a prisoner, and I had no business with ye while your parole held. I felt that it was best not to tempt ye to give me aid, or to let ye have knowledge of me while I was a spy. I left two days before ye did, and should have been at Kaskaskia by this time if I hadn't run across Jazon, who detained me. He wanted to go with me, and I waited for him to repair the stock of his old gun. He tinkered at it 'tween meals and showers for half a week at the Indian village back yonder before he got it just to suit him. But I tell ye he's wo'th waiting for any length of time, and I was glad to let him have his way."
Kenton, who was still a young man in his early thirties, respected Beverley's reticence on the subject uppermost in his mind. Madame Godere had told the whole story with flamboyant embellishments; Kenton tiad seen Alice, and, inspired with the gossip and a surreptitious glimpse of her beauty, he felt perfectly familiar with Beverley's condition. He was himself a victim of the tender passion to the extent of being an exile from his Virginia home, which he had left on account of dangerously wounding a rival. But he was well touched with the backwoodsman's taste for joke and banter. He and Oncle Jazon, therefore, knowing the main feature of Beverley's predicament, enjoyed making the most of their opportunity in their rude but perfectly generous and kindly way.
By indirection and impersonal details, as regarded his feelings toward Alice, Beverley in due time made his friends understand that his whole ambition was centered in rescuing her. Nor did the motive fail to enlist their sympathy to the utmost. If all the world loves a lover, all men having the best virile instinct will fight for a lover's cause. Both Kenton and Oncle Jazon were enthusiastic; they wanted nothing better than an opportunity to aid in rescuing any girl who had shown so much patriotism and pluck. But Oncle Jazon was fond of Alice, and Beverley's story affected him peculiarly on her account.
"They's one question I'm a goin' to put to ye, young man," he said, after he had heard everything and they had talked it all over, "an' I want ye to answer it straight as a bullet f'om yer gun."
"Of course, Jazon, go ahead," said Beverley. "I shall be glad to answer." But his mind was far away with the gold-haired maiden in Hamilton's prison. He scarcely knew what he was saying.
"Air ye expectin' to marry Alice Roussillon?"
The three men were at the moment eating the well broiled venison. Oncle Jazon's puckered lips and chin were dripping with the fragrant grease and juice, which also flowed down his sinewy, claw-like fingers. Overhead in the bare tops of the scrub oaks that covered the prairie oasis, the February wind sang a shrill and doleful song.
Beverley started as if a blow had been aimed at him. Oncle Jazon's question, indeed, was a blow as unexpected as it was direct and powerful.
"I know it's poo'ty p'inted," the old man added after a short pause, "an' ye may think 'at I ain't got no business askin' it; but I have. That leetle gal's a pet o' mine, an' I'm a lookin' after her, an' expectin' to see 'at she's not bothered by nobody who's not goin' to do right by her. Marryin' is a mighty good thing, but—"
"What do ye know about matrimony, ye old raw-headed bachelor?" demanded Kenton, who felt impelled to relieve Beverley of the embarrassment of an answer. "Ye wouldn't know a wife from a sack o' meal!"
"Now don't git too peart an' fast, Si Kenton," cried Oncle Jazon, glaring truculently at his friend, but at the same time showing a dry smile that seemed to be hopelessly entangled in criss-cross wrinkles. "Who told ye I was a bach'lor? Not by a big jump. I've been married mighty nigh on to twenty times in my day. Mos'ly Injuns, o' course; but a squaw's a wife w'en ye marries her, an' I know how it hurts a gal to be dis'p'inted in sich a matter. That's w'y I put the question I did. I'm not goin' to let no man give sorry to that little Roussillon gal; an' so ye've got my say. Ye seed her raise thet flag on the fort, Lieutenant Beverley, an' ye seed her take it down an' git away wi' it. You know 'at she deserves nothin' but the best; an' by the Holy Virgin, she's got to have it, or I'm a goin' to know several reasons why. Thet's what made me put the question straight to ye, young man, an' I expects a straight answer."
Beverley's face paled; but not with anger. He grasped one of Oncle Jazon's greasy hands and gave it such a squeeze that the old fellow grimaced painfully.
"Thank you, Oncle Jazon, thank you!" he said, with a peculiar husky burr in his voice. "Alice will never suffer if I can help it. Let the subject drop now, my friend, until we have saved her from the hands of Hamilton." In the power of his emotion he continued to grip the old man's hand with increasing severity of pressure.
"Ventrebleu! let go! Needn't smash a feller's fingers 'bout it!" screeched Oncle Jazon. "I can't shoot wo'th a cent, nohow, an' ef ye cripple up my trigger-finger—"
Kenton had been peeping under the low-hanging scrub-oak boughs while Oncle Jazon was speaking these last words; and now he suddenly interrupted:
"The devil! look yonder!" he growled out in startling tone. "Injuns!"
It was a sharp snap of the conversation's thread, and at the same time our three friends realized that they had been careless in not keeping a better look-out. They let fall the meat they had not yet finished eating and seized their guns.
Five or six dark forms were moving toward them across a little point of the prairie that cut into the wood a quarter of a mile distant.
"Yander's more of 'em," said Oncle Jazon, as if not in the least concerned, wagging his head in an opposite direction, from which another squad was approaching.
That he duly appreciated the situation appeared only in the celerity with which he acted.
Kenton at once assumed command, and his companions felt his perfect fitness. There was no doubt from the first as to what the Indians meant; but even if there had been it would have soon vanished; for in less than three minutes twenty-one savages were swiftly and silently forming a circle inclosing the spot where the three white men, who had covered themselves as best they could with trees, waited in grim steadiness for the worst.
Quite beyond gunshot range, but near enough for Oncle Jazon to recognize Long-Hair as their leader, the Indians halted and began making signs to one another all round the line. Evidently they dreaded to test the marksmanship of such riflemen as they knew most border men to be. Indeed, Long-Hair had personal knowledge of what might certainly be expected from both Kenton and Oncle Jazon; they were terrible when out for fight; the red warriors from Georgia to the great lakes had heard of them; their names smacked of tragedy. Nor was Beverley without fame among Long-Hair's followers, who had listened to the story of his fighting qualities, brought to Vincennes by the two survivors of the scouting party so cleverly defeated by him.
"The liver-colored cowards," said Kenton, "are afeared of us in a shootin'-match; they know that a lot of 'em would have to die if they should undertake an open fight with us. It's some sort of a sneakin' game they are studyin' about just now."
"I'm a gittin' mos' too ole to shoot wo'th a cent," said Oncle Jazon, "but I'd give half o' my scalp ef thet Long-Hair would come clost enough fo' me to git a bead onto his lef' eye. It's tol'ble plain 'at we're gone goslins this time, I'm thinkin'; still it'd be mighty satisfyin' if I could plug out a lef' eye or two 'fore I go."
Beverley was silent; the words of his companions were heard by him, but not noticed. Nothing interested him save the thought of escaping and making his way to Clark. To fail meant infinitely more than death, of which he had as small fear as most brave men, and to succeed meant everything that life could offer. So, in the unlimited selfishness of love, he did not take his companions into account.
The three stood in a close-set clump of four or five scrub oaks at the highest point of a thinly wooded knoll that sloped down in all directions to the prairie. Their view was wide, but in places obstructed by the trees.
"Men," said Kenton, after a thoughtful and watchful silence, "the thing looks kind o' squally for us. I don't see much of a chance to get out of this alive; but we've got to try."
He showed by the density of his voice and a certain gray film in his face that he felt the awful gravity of the situation; but he was calm and not a muscle quivered.
"They's jes' two chances for us," said Oncle Jazon, "an' them's as slim as a broom straw. We've got to stan' here an' fight it out, or wait till night an' sneak through atween 'em an' run for it."
"I don't see any hope o' sneakin' through the line," observed Kenton. "It's not goin' to be dark tonight."
"Wa-a-l," Oncle Jazon drawled nonchalantly while he took in a quid of tobacco, "I've been into tighter squeezes 'an this, many a time, an' I got out, too."
"Likely enough," said Kenton, still reflecting while his eyes roamed around the circle of savages.
"I fit the skunks in Ferginny 'fore you's thought of, Si Kenton, an' down in Car'lina in them hills. If ye think I'm a goin' to be scalped where they ain't no scalp, 'ithout tryin' a few dodges, yer a dad dasteder fool an' I used to think ye was, an' that's makin' a big compliment to ye."
"Well, we don't have to argy this question, Oncle Jazon; they're a gittin' ready to run in upon us, and we've got to fight. I say, Beverley, are ye ready for fast shootin'? Have ye got a plenty of bullets?"
"Yes, Roussillon gave me a hundred. Do you think—"
He was interrupted by a yell that leaped from savage mouth to mouth all round the circle, and then the charge began.
"Steady, now," growled Kenton, "let's not be in a hurry. Wait till they come nigh enough to hit 'em before we shoot."
The time was short; for the Indians came on at almost race-horse speed.
Oncle Jazon fired first, the long, keen crack of his small-bore rifle splitting the air with a suggestion of vicious energy, and a lithe young warrior, who was outstripping all his fellows, leaped high and fell paralyzed.
"Can't shoot wo'th a cent," muttered the old man, deftly beginning to reload his gun the while; "but I jes' happened to hit that buck. He'll never git my scalp, thet's sartin an' sure."
Beverley and Kenton each likewise dropped an Indian; but the shots did not even check the rush. Long-Hair had planned to capture his prey, not kill it. Every savage had his orders to take the white men alive; Hamilton's larger reward depended on this.
Right on they came, as fast as their nimble legs could carry them, yelling like demons; and they reached the grove before the three white men could reload their guns. Then every warrior took cover behind a tree and began scrambling forward from bole to bole, thus approaching rapidly without much exposure.
"Our 'taters is roasted brown," muttered Oncle Jazon. He crossed himself. Possibly he prayed; but he was priming his old gun the next instant.
Kenton fired again, making a hurried and ineffectual attempt to stop the nearest warrior, who saved himself by quickly skipping behind a tree. Beverley's gun snapped, the flint failing to make fire; but Oncle Jazon bored a little hole through the head of the Indian nearest him; and then the final rush was made from every direction.
A struggle ensued, which for desperate energy has probably never been surpassed. Like three lions at bay, the white men met the shock, and lion-like they fought in the midst of seventeen stalwart and determined savages.
"Don't kill them, take them alive; throw them down and hold them!" was Long-Hair's order loudly shouted in the tongue of his tribe.
Both Kenton and Jazon understood every word and knew the significance of such a command from the leader. It naturally came into Kenton's mind that Hamilton had been informed of his visit to Vincennes and had offered a reward for his capture. This being true, death as a spy would be the certain result if he were taken back. He might as well die now. As for Beverley, he thought only of Alice, yonder as he had left her, a prisoner in Hamilton's hands, Oncle Jazon, if he thought at all, probably considered nothing but present escape, though he prayed audibly to the Blessed Virgin, even while he lay helpless upon the ground, pinned down by the weight of an enormous Indian. He could not move any part of himself, save his lips, and these mechanically put forth the wheezing supplication.
Beverley and Kenton, being young and powerful, were not so easily mastered. For a while, indeed, they appeared to be more than holding their own. They time and time again scattered the entire crowd by the violence of their muscular efforts; and after it had finally closed in upon them in a solid body they swayed and swung it back and forth and round and round until the writhing, savage mass looked as if caught in the vortex of a whirlwind. But such tremendous exertion could not last long. Eight to one made too great a difference between the contending parties, and the only possible conclusion of the struggle soon came. Seized upon by desperate, clinging, wolf-like assailants, the white men felt their arms, legs and bodies weighted down and their strength fast going.
Kenton fell next after Oncle Jazon, and was soon tightly bound with rawhide thongs. He lay on his back panting and utterly exhausted, while Beverley still kept up the unequal fight.