Long-Hair sprang in at the last moment to make doubly certain the securing of his most important captive. He flung his long and powerful arms around Beverley from behind and made a great effort to throw him upon the ground. The young man, feeling this fresh and vigorous clasp, turned himself about to put forth one more mighty spurt of power. He lifted the stalwart Indian bodily and dashed him headlong against the buttressed root of a tree half a rod distant, breaking the smaller bone of his left fore-arm and well-nigh knocking him senseless.
It was a fine exhibition of manly strength; but there could be nothing gained by it. A blow on the back of his head the next instant stretched Beverley face downward and unconscious on the ground. The savages turned him over and looked satisfied when they found that he was not dead. They bound him with even greater care than they had shown in securing the others, while Long-Hair stood by stolidly looking on, meantime supporting his broken fore-arm in his hand.
"Ugh! dog!" he grunted, and gave Beverley a kick in the side. Then turning a fiendish stare upon Oncle Jazon he proceeded to deliver against his old, dry ribs three or four like contributions with resounding effect. "Polecat! Little old greasy woman!" he snarled, "make good fire for warrior to dance by!" Kenton also received his full share of the kicks and verbal abuse, after which Long-Hair gave orders for fires to be built. Then he looked to his hurt arm and had the bone set and bandaged, never so much as wincing the while.
It was soon apparent that the Indians purposed to celebrate their successful enterprise with a feast. They cooked a large amount of buffalo steak; then, each with his hands full of the savory meat, they began to dance around the fires, droning meantime an atrociously repellant chant.
"They're a 'spectin' to hev a leetle bit o' fun outen us," muttered Oncle Jazon to Beverley, who lay near him. "I onderstan' what they're up to, dad dast 'em! More'n forty years ago, in Ca'lina, they put me an' Jim Hipes through the ga'ntlet, an' arter thet, in Kaintuck, me an' Si Kenton tuck the run. Hi, there, Si! where air ye?"
"Shut yer fool mouth," Kenton growled under his breath. "Ye'll have that Injun a kickin' our lights out of us again."
Oncle Jazon winked at the gray sky and puckered his mouth so that it looked like a nutgall on an old, dry leaf.
"What's the diff'ence?" he demanded. "I'd jest as soon be kicked now as arter while; it's got to come anyhow."
Kenton made no response. The thongs were torturing his arms and legs. Beverley was silent, but consciousness had returned, and with it a sense of despair. All three of the prisoners lay face upward quite unable to move, knowing full well that a terrible ordeal awaited them. Oncle Jazon's grim humor could not be quenched, even by the galling agony of the thongs that buried themselves in the flesh, and the anticipation of torture beside which death would seem a luxury.
"Yap! Long-Hair, how's yer arm?" he called jeeringly. "Feels pooty good, hay?"
Long-Hair, who was not joining in the dance and song, turned when he heard these taunting words, and mistaking whence they came, went to Beverley's side and kicked him again and again.
Oncle Jazon heard the loud blows, and considered the incident a remarkably good joke.
"He, he, he!" he snickered, as soon as Long-Hair walked away again. "I does the talkin' an' somebody else gits the thumpin'! He, he, he! I always was devilish lucky. Them kicks was good solid jolts, wasn't they, Lieutenant? Sounded like they was. He, he, he!"
Beverley gave no heed to Oncle Jazon's exasperating pleasantry; but Kenton, sorely chafing under the pressure of his bonds, could not refrain from making retort in kind.
"I'd give ye one poundin' that ye'd remember, Emile Jazon, if I could get to ye, ye old twisted-face, peeled-headed, crooked-mouthed, aggravatin' scamp!" he exclaimed, not thinking how high his naturally strong voice was lifted. "I can stand any fool but a damn fool!"
Long-Hair heard the concluding epithet and understood its meaning. Moreover, he thought himself the target at which it was so energetically launched. Wherefore he promptly turned back and gave Kenton a kicking that made his body resound not unlike a drum.
And here it was that Oncle Jazon overreached himself. He was so delighted at Kenton's luck that he broke forth giggling and thereby drew against his own ribs a considerable improvement of Long-Hair's pedal applications.
"Ventrebleu!" whined the old man, when the Indian had gone away again. "Holy Mary! Jee-ru-sa-lem! They's nary bone o' me left 'at's not splintered as fine as toothpickers! S'pose yer satisfied now, ain't ye, Si Kenton? Ef ye ain't I'm shore to satisfy ye the fust time I git a chance at ye, ye blab-mouthed eejit!"
Before this conversation was ended a rain began to fall, and it rapidly thickened from a desultory shower to a roaring downpour that effectually quenched not only the fires around which the savages were dancing, but the enthusiasm of the dancers as well. During the rest of the afternoon and all night long the fall was incessant, accompanied by a cold, panting, wailing southwest wind.
Beverley lay on the ground, face upward, the rawhide strings torturing his limbs, the chill of cold water searching his bones. He could see nothing but the dim, strange canopy of flying rain, against which the bare boughs of the scrub oaks were vaguely outlined; he could hear nothing but the cry of the wind and the swash of the water which fell upon him and ran under him, bubbling and gurgling as if fiendishly exultant.
The night dragged on through its terrible length, dealing out its indescribable horrors, and at last morning arrived, with a stingy and uncertain gift of light slowly increasing until the dripping trees appeared forlornly gray and brown against clouds now breaking into masses that gave but little rain.
Beverley lived through the awful trial and even had the hardihood to brighten inwardly with the first flash of sunlight that shot through a cloud-crack on the eastern horizon. He thought of Alice, as he had done all night; but now the thought partook somehow of the glow yonder above old Vincennes, although he could only see its reflection.
There was great stir among the Indians. Long-Hair stalked about scrutinizing the ground. Beverley saw him come near time and again with a hideous, inquiring scowl on his face. Grunts and laconic exclamations passed from mouth to mouth, and presently the import of it all could not be mistaken. Kenton and Jazon were gone—had escaped during the night—and the rain had completely obliterated their tracks.
The Indians were furious. Long-Hair sent out picked parties of his best scouts with orders to scour the country in all directions, keeping with himself a few of the older warriors. Beverley was fed what he would eat of venison, and Long-Hair made him understand that he would have to suffer some terrible punishment on account of the action of his companions.
Late in the day the scouts straggled back with the report that no track or sign of the fugitives had been discovered, and immediately a consultation was held. Most of the warriors, including all of the young bucks, demanded a torture entertainment as compensation for their exertions and the unexpected loss of their own prisoners; for it had been agreed that Beverley belonged exclusively to Long-Hair, who objected to anything which might deprive him of the great reward offered by Hamilton for the prisoner if brought to him alive.
In the end it was agreed that Beverley should be made to run the gauntlet, provided that no deadly weapons were used upon him during the ordeal.
A PRISONER OF LOVE
Alice put on her warmest clothes and followed Captain Farnsworth to the fort, realizing that no pleasant experience awaited her. The wind and rain still prevailed when they were ready to set forth, and, although it was not extremely cold, a searching chill went with every throb that marked the storm's waves. No lights shone in the village houses. Overhead a gray gloom covered stars and sky, making the darkness in the watery streets seem densely black. Farnsworth offered Alice his arm, but she did not accept it.
"I know the way better than you do," she said. "Come on, and don't be afraid that I am going to run. I shall not play any trick on you."
"Very well, Mademoiselle, as you like. I trust you."
He followed her from the house. He was so filled with the bitterness of what he was doing that he carried her sword in his hand all the way to the fort, quite unaware that its point often touched her dress so that she plainly felt it. Indeed, she thought he was using that ruffianly and dangerous means of keeping pace with her. He had sent the patrol on its rounds, taking upon himself the responsibility of delivering her to Hamilton. She almost ran, urged by the strange excitement that burned in her heart, and he followed somewhat awkwardly, stumbling over the unfamiliar way in the rain and darkness.
At every step he was wishing that she would escape from him. Coarse as his nature was and distorted by hardening experiences, it was rooted in good English honesty and imbued with a chivalric spirit. When, as happened too often, he fell under the influence of liquor, the bad in him promptly came uppermost; but at all other times his better traits made him a good fellow to meet, genial, polite, generous, and inclined to recognize the finer sentiments of manliness. To march into his commander's presence with Alice as his prisoner lacked everything of agreeing with his taste; yet he had not been willing to give her over into the hands of the patrol. If his regard for military obligation had not been exceptionally strong, even for an English soldier, he would have given way to the temptation of taking her to some place of hiding and safety, instead of brutally subjecting her to Hamilton's harsh judgment. He anticipated a trying experience for her on account of this new transgression.
They hastened along until a lantern in the fort shot a hazy gleam upon them.
"Stop a moment, Mademoiselle," Farnsworth called. "I say, Miss Roussillon, stop a moment, please."
Alice halted and turned facing him so short and so suddenly that the rapier in his hand pricked through her wraps and slightly scratched her arm.
"What do you mean, sir?" she demanded, thinking that he had thrust purposely. "Do I deserve this brutality?"
"You mistake me, Miss Roussillon. I cannot be brutal to you now. Do not fear me; I only had a word to say."
"Oh, you deem it very polite and gentle to jab me with your sword, do you? If I had one in my hand you would not dare try such a thing, and you know it very well."
He was amazed, not knowing that the sword-point had touched her. He could not see her face, but there was a flash in her voice that startled him with its indignant contempt and resentment.
"What are you saying, Miss Roussillon? I don't understand you. When did I ever—when did I jab you with my sword? I never thought of such a thing."
"This moment, sir, you did, and you know you did. My arm is bleeding now."
She spoke rapidly in French; but he caught her meaning, and for the first became aware of the rapier in his hand. Even then its point was toward her and very near her breast. He lowered it instantly while the truth rushed into his mind.
"Forgive me," he murmured, his words barely audible in the tumult of wind and rain, but charged with the intensest feeling.
"Forgive me; I did not know—it was an accident—I could not do such a thing purposely. Believe me, believe me, Miss Roussillon. I did not mean it."
She stood facing him, trying to look right into his eyes. A quality in his voice had checked her hot anger. She could only see his dim outlines in the dull gleam from the fort's lantern. He seemed to be forlornly wretched.
"I should like to believe you," she presently said, "but I cannot. You English are all, all despicable, mean, vile!"
She was remembering the young officer who had assaulted her with his sword in the house a while ago. And (what a strange thing the human brain is!) she at the same time comforted herself with the further thought that Beverley would never, never, be guilty of rudeness to a woman.
"Some time you shall not say that," Farnsworth responded. "I asked you to stop a moment that I might beg you to believe how wretchedly sorry I am for what I am doing. But you cannot understand me now. Are you really hurt, Miss Roussillon? I assure you that it was purely accidental."
"My hurt is nothing," she said.
"I am very glad."
"Well, then, shall we go on to the fort?"
"You may go where you please, Mademoiselle."
She turned her back upon him and without an answering word walked straight to the lantern that hung by the gate of the stockade, where a sentinel tramped to and fro. A few moments later Captain Farnsworth presented her to Hamilton, who had been called from his bed when the news of the trouble at Roussillon place reached the fort.
"So you've been raising hell again, have you, Miss?" he growled, with an ugly frown darkening his face.
"I beg your pardon," said Farnsworth, "Miss Roussillon was not to blame for—"
"In your eyes she'd not be to blame, sir, if she burned up the fort and all of us in it," Hamilton gruffly interrupted. "Miss, what have you been doing? What are you here for? Captain Farnsworth, you will please state the particulars of the trouble that I have just heard about. And I may as well notify you that I wish to hear no special lover's pleading in this girl's behalf."
Farnsworth's face whitened with anger; he bit his lip and a shiver ran through his frame; but he had to conquer the passion. In a few words, blunt and direct as musket-balls, he told all the circumstances of what had taken place, making no concealments to favor Alice, but boldly blaming the officer of the patrol, Lieutenant Barlow, for losing his head and attacking a young girl in her own home.
"I will hear from Barlow," said Hamilton, after listening attentively to the story. "But take this girl and confine her. Show her no favors. I hold you responsible for her until to-morrow morning. You can retire."
There was no room for discussion. Farnsworth saluted and turned to Alice.
"Come with me," he gently said.
Hamilton looked after them as they went out of his room, a curious smile playing around his firmly set lips.
"She's the most beautiful vixen that I ever saw," he thought. "She doesn't look to be a French girl, either—decidedly English." He shrugged his shoulders, then laughed dryly. "Farnsworth's as crazy as can be, the beggar; in love with her so deep that he can't see out. By Jove, she IS a beauty! Never saw such eyes. And plucky to beat the devil. I'll bet my head Barlow'll be daft about her next!"
Still, notwithstanding the lightness of his inward comments, Hamilton regarded the incident as rather serious. He knew that the French inhabitants were secretly his bitter enemies, yet probably willing, if he would humor their peculiar social, domestic and commercial prejudices, to refrain from active hostilities, and even to aid him in furnishing his garrison with a large amount of needed supplies. The danger just now was twofold; his Indian allies were deserting him, and a flotilla loaded with provisions and ammunition from Detroit had failed to arrive. He might, if the French rose against him and were joined by the Indians, have great difficulty defending the fort. It was clear that M. Roussillon had more influence with both creoles and savages than any other person save Father Beret. Urgent policy dictated that these two men should somehow be won over. But to do this it would be necessary to treat Alice in such a way that her arrest would aid, instead of operating against the desired result,—a thing not easy to manage.
Hamilton was not a man of fine scruples, but he may have been, probably was, better than our American historians have made him appear. His besetting weakness, which, as a matter of course, he regarded as the highest flower of efficiency, was an uncontrollable temper, a lack of fine human sympathy and an inability to forgive. In his calmest moments, when prudence appealed to him, he would resolve to use diplomatic means; but no sooner was his opinion questioned or his purpose opposed than anger and the thirst for revenge overpowered every gentler consideration. He returned to his bed that night fully resolved upon a pleasant and successful interview with Alice next morning.
Captain Farnsworth took his fair prisoner straight-way from Hamilton's presence to a small room connected with a considerable structure in a distant angle of the stockade. Neither he nor Alice spoke on the way. With a huge wooden key he unlocked the door and stepped aside for her to enter. A dim lamp was burning within, its yellowish light flickering over the scant furniture, which consisted of a comfortable bed, a table with some books on it, three chairs, a small looking-glass on the wall, a guitar and some articles of men's clothing hanging here and there. A heap of dull embers smouldered in the fireplace. Alice did not falter at the threshold, but promptly entered her prison.
"I hope you can be comfortable," said Farnsworth in a low tone. "It's the best I can give you."
"Thank you," was the answer spoken quite as if he had handed her a glass of water or picked up her handkerchief.
He held the door a moment, while she stopped, with her back toward him, in the middle of the room; then she heard him close and lock it. The air was almost too warm after her exposure to the biting wind and cold dashes of rain. She cast off her outer wraps and stood by the fireplace. At a glance she comprehended that the place was not the one she had formerly occupied as a prisoner, and that it belonged to a man. A long rifle stood in a corner, a bullet-pouch and powder-horn hanging on a projecting hickory ramrod; a heavy fur top-coat lay across one of the chairs.
Alice felt her situation bitterly enough; but she was not of the stuff that turns to water at the touch of misfortune. Pioneer women took hardships as a matter of course, and met calamity with admirable fortitude. There was no wringing of hands, no frantic wailing, no hollow, despairing groan. While life lasted hope flourished, even in most tragic surroundings; and not unfrequently succor came, at the last verge of destruction, as the fitting reward of unconquerable courage. A girl like Alice must be accepted in the spirit of her time and surroundings. She was born amid experiences scarcely credible now, and bred in an area and an atmosphere of incomparable dangers. Naturally she accepted conditions of terrible import with a sang froid scarcely possible to a girl of our day. She did not cry, she did not sink down helpless when she found herself once more imprisoned with some uncertain trial before her; but simply knelt and repeated the Lord's prayer, then went to bed and slept; even dreamed the dream of a maid's first love.
Meantime Farnsworth, who had given Alice his own apartment, took what rest he could on the cold ground under a leaky shed hard by. His wound, not yet altogether healed, was not benefited by the exposure.
In due time next morning Hamilton ordered Alice brought to his office, and when she appeared he was smiling with as near an approach to affability as his disposition would permit. He rose and bowed like a courtier.
"I hope you rested well, Mademoiselle," he said in his best French. He imagined that the use of her language would be agreeable to begin with.
The moment that Alice saw him wearing that shallow veneering of pleasantness on his never prepossessing visage, she felt a mood of perversity come over her. She, too, smiled, and he mistook her expression for one of reciprocal amenity. She noticed that her sword was on his table.
"I am sorry, Monsieur, that I cannot say as much to you," she glibly responded. "If you lay upon a bed of needles the whole night through, your rest was better than you deserved. My own sleep was quite refreshing, thank you."
Instantly Hamilton's choler rose. He tried to suppress it at first; but when he saw Alice actually laughing, and Farnsworth (who had brought her in) biting his lip furiously to keep from adding an uproarious guffaw, he lost all hold of himself. He unconsciously picked up the rapier and shook it till its blade swished.
"I might have known better than to expect decency from a wench of your character," he said. "I hoped to do you a favor; but I see that you are not capable of accepting kindness politely."
"I am sure, Monsieur, that I have but spoken the truth plainly to you. You would not have me do otherwise, I hope."
Her voice, absolutely witching in its softness, freshness and suavity, helped the assault of her eyes, while her dimples twinkled and her hair shone. Hamilton felt his heart move strangely; but he could not forbear saying in English:
"If you are so devilish truthful, Miss, you will probably tell me where the flag is that you stole and hid."
It was always the missing banner that came to mind when he saw her.
"Indeed I will do nothing of the sort," she promptly replied. "When you see that flag again you will be a prisoner and I will wave it high over your head."
She lifted a hand as she spoke and made the motion of shaking a banner above him. It was exasperation sweetened almost to delight that took hold of the sturdy Briton. He liked pluck, especially in a woman; all the more if she was beautiful. Yet the very fact that he felt her charm falling upon him set him hard against her, not as Hamilton the man, but as Hamilton the commander at Vincennes.
"You think to fling yourself upon me as you have upon Captain Farnsworth," he said, with an insulting leer and in a tone of prurient innuendo. "I am not susceptible, my dear." This more for Farnsworth's benefit than to insult her, albeit he was not in a mood to care.
"You are a coward and a liar!" she exclaimed, her face flushing with hot shame. "You stand here," she quickly added, turning fiercely upon Farnsworth, "and quietly listen to such words! You, too, are a coward if you do not make him retract! Oh, you English are low brutes!"
Hamilton laughed; but Farnsworth looked dark and troubled, his glance going back and forth from Alice to his commander, as if another word would cause him to do something terrible.
"I rather think I've heard all that I care to hear from you, Miss," Hamilton presently said. "Captain Farnsworth, you will see that the prisoner is confined in the proper place, which, I suggest to you, is not your sleeping quarters, sir."
"Colonel Hamilton," said Farnsworth in a husky voice, "I slept on the ground under a shed last night in order that Miss Roussillon might be somewhat comfortable."
"Humph! Well, see that you do not do it again. This girl is guilty of harboring a spy and resisting a lawful attempt of my guards to capture him. Confine her in the place prepared for prisoners and see that she stays there until I am ready to fix her punishment."
"There is no place fit for a young girl to stay in," Farnsworth ventured. "She can have no comfort or—"
"Take her along, sir; any place is good enough for her so long as she behaves like a—"
"Very well," Farnsworth bluntly interrupted, thus saving Alice the stroke of a vile comparison. "Come with me, please, Miss Roussillon."
He pulled her toward the door, then dropped the arm he had grasped and murmured an apology.
She followed him out, holding her head high. No one looking on would have suspected that a sinking sensation in her heart made it difficult for her to walk, or that her eyes, shining like stars, were so inwardly clouded with distress that she saw her way but dimly.
It was a relief to Hamilton when Helm a few minutes later entered the room with something breezy to say.
"What's up now, if I may ask?" the jolly American demanded. "What's this I hear about trouble with the French women? Have they begun a revolution?"
"That elephant, Gaspard Roussillon, came back into town last night," said Hamilton sulkily.
"Well, he went out again, didn't he?"
"Stepped on somebody's toe first, eh?"
"The guard tried to capture him, and that girl of his wounded Lieutenant Barlow in the neck with a sword. Roussillon fought like a tiger and the men swear that the devil himself appeared on the scene to help the Frenchman out."
"Moral: Be generous in your dealings with Frenchmen and Frenchwomen and so get the devil on your side."
"I've got the girl a prisoner, and I swear to you that I'll have her shot this time if—"
"Why not shoot her yourself? You oughtn't to shirk a dirty job like that and force it upon your men."
Hamilton laughed and elevated his shoulders as if to shake off an annoying load. Just then a young officer with a white bandage around his neck entered and saluted. He was a small, soft-haired, blue-eyed man of reckless bearing, with marks of dissipation sharply cut into his face. He saluted, smiling self-consciously.
"Well, Barlow," said Hamilton, "the kitten scratched you, did she?"
"Yes, slightly, and I don't think I've been treated fairly in the matter, sir."
"I stood the brunt and now Captain Farnsworth gets the prize." He twisted his mouth in mock expression of maudlin disappointment. "I'm always cheated out of the sweets. I never get anything for gallant conduct on the field."
"Poor boy! It is a shame. But I say, Lieutenant, has Roussillon really escaped, or is he hidden somewhere in town? Have you been careful?"
"Oh, it's the Indians. They all swear by these Frenchmen. You can't get any help from them against a fellow like Roussillon. In fact they aid him; he's among them now."
"Moral again," Helm interposed; "keep on the good side of the French!"
"That's sensible talk, sir," assented Barlow.
"Bah!" exclaimed Hamilton. "You might as well talk of keeping on the good side of the American traitors—a bloody murrain seize the whole race!"
"That's what I say," chimed in the Lieutenant, with a sly look at Helm.
"They have been telling me a cock-and-bull story concerning the affair at the Roussillon cabin," Hamilton said, changing his manner. "What is this about a disguised and wonderful man who rushed in and upset the whole of you. I want no romancing; give me the facts."
Barlow's dissolute countenance became troubled.
"The facts," he said, speaking with serious deliberation, "are not clear. It was like a clap of thunder, the way that man performed. As you say, he did fling the whole squad all of a heap, and it was done that quickly," he snapped his thumb and finger demonstratively with a sharp report; "nobody could understand it."
Hamilton looked at his subaltern with a smile of unlimited contempt and said:
"A pretty officer of His Majesty's army, you are, Lieutenant Barlow! First a slip of a girl shows herself your superior with the sword and wounds you, then a single man wipes up the floor of a house with you and your guard, depriving you at the same time of both vision and memory, so that you cannot even describe your assailant!"
"He was dressed like a priest," muttered Barlow, evidently frightened at his commander's scathing comment. "That was all there was to see."
"A priest! Some of the men say the devil. I wonder—" Hamilton hesitated and looked at the floor.
"This Father Beret, he is too old for such a thing, isn't he?"
"I have thought of him—it was like him—but he is, as you say, very old to be so tremendously strong and active. Why, I tell you that men went from his hands against the walls and floor as if shot out of a mortar. It was the strangest and most astounding thing I ever heard of."
A little later Barlow seized a favorable opportunity and withdrew. The conversation was not to his liking.
Hamilton sent for Father Beret and had a long talk with him, but the old man looked so childishly inoffensive in spirit and so collapsed physically that it seemed worse than foolishness to accuse him of the exploit over which the entire garrison was wondering. Farnsworth sat by during the interview. He looked the good priest curiously and critically over from head to foot, remembering, but not mentioning, the most unclerical punch in the side received from that energetic right arm now lying so flabbily across the old man's lap.
When the talk ended and Father Beret humbly took his leave, Hamilton turned to Farnsworth and said:
"What do you think of this affair? I have cross-questioned all the men who took part in it, and every one of them says simply priest or devil. I think old Beret is both; but plainly he couldn't hurt a chicken, you can see that at a glance."
Farnsworth smiled, rubbing his side reminiscently; but he shook his head.
"I'm sure it's puzzling, indeed."
Hamilton sat in thoughtful silence for a while, then abruptly changed the subject.
"I think, Captain, that you had better send out Lieutenant Barlow and some of the best woodsmen to kill some game. We need fresh venison, and, by George! I'm not going to depend upon these French traitors any longer. I have set my foot down; they've got to do better or take the consequences." He paused for a breath, then added: "That girl has done too much to escape severest punishment. The garrison will be demoralized if this thing goes on without an example of authority rigidly enforced. I am resolved that there shall be a startling and effective public display of my power to punish. She shot you; you seem to be glad of it, but it was a grave offence. She has stabbed Barlow; that is another serious crime; but worst of all she aided a spy and resisted arrest. She must be punished."
Farnsworth knew Hamilton's nature, and he now saw that Alice was in dreadful danger of death or something even worse. Whenever his chief talked of discipline and the need of maintaining his authority, there was little hope of softening his decisions. Moreover, the provocation to apply extreme measures really seemed sufficient, regarded from a military point of view, and Captain Farnsworth was himself, under ordinary circumstances, a disciplinarian of the strictest class. The fascination, however, by which Alice held him overbore every other influence, and his devotion to her loosened every other tie and obligation to a most dangerous extent. No sooner had he left headquarters and given Barlow his instructions touching the hunting expedition, than his mind began to wander amid visions and schemes by no means consistent with his military obligations. In order to reflect undisturbed he went forth into the dreary, lane-like streets of Vincennes and walked aimlessly here and there until he met Father Beret.
Farnsworth saluted the old man, and was passing him by, when seeing a sword in his hand, half hidden in the folds of his worn and faded cassock, he turned and addressed him.
"Why are you armed this morning, Father?" he demanded very pleasantly. "Who is to suffer now?"
"I am not on the war-path, my son," replied the priest. "It is but a rapier that I am going to clean of rust spots that are gathering on its blade."
"Is it yours, Father? Let me see it." He held out his hand.
"No, not mine."
Father Beret seemed not to notice Farnsworth's desire to handle the weapon, and the young man, instead of repeating his words, reached farther, nearly grasping the scabbard.
"I cannot let you take it, my son," said Father Beret "You have its mate, that should satisfy you."
"No, Colonel Hamilton took it," Farnsworth quickly replied. "If I could I would gladly return it to its owner. I am not a thief, Father, and I am ashamed of—of—what I did when I was drunk."
The priest looked sharply into Farnsworth's eyes and read there something that reassured him. His long experience had rendered him adept at taking a man's value at a glance. He slightly lifted his face and said: "Ah, but the poor little girl! why do you persecute her? She really does not deserve it. She is a noble child. Give her back to her home and her people. Do not soil and spoil her sweet life."
It was the sing-song voice used by Father Beret in his sermons and prayers; but something went with it indescribably touching. Farnsworth felt a lump rise in his throat and his eyes were ready to show tears. "Father," he said, with difficulty making his words distinct, "I would not harm Miss Roussillon to save my own life, and I would do anything—" he paused slightly, then added with passionate force; "I would do anything, no matter what, to save her from the terrible thing that now threatens her."
Father Beret's countenance changed curiously as he gazed at the young man and said:
"If you really mean what you say, you can easily save her, my son."
"Father, by all that is holy, I mean just what I say."
"Swear not at all, my son, but give me your hand."
The two men stood with a tight grip between them and exchanged a long, steady, searching gaze.
A drizzling rain had begun to fall again, with a raw wind creeping from the west.
"Come with me to my house, my son," Father Beret presently added; and together they went, the priest covering Alice's sword from the rain with the folds of his cassock.
VIRTUE IN A LOCKET
Long-Hair stood not upon ceremony in conveying to Beverley the information that he was to run the gauntlet, which, otherwise stated, meant that the Indians would form themselves in two parallel lines facing each other about six feet apart, and that the prisoner would be expected to run down the length of the space between, thus affording the warriors an opportunity, greatly coveted and relished by their fiendish natures, to beat him cruelly during his flight. This sort of thing was to the Indians, indeed, an exquisite amusement, as fascinating to them as the theater is to more enlightened people. No sooner was it agreed upon that the entertainment should again be undertaken than all the younger men began to scurry around getting everything ready for it. Their faces glowed with a droll cruelty strange to see, and they further expressed their lively expectations by playful yet curiously solemn antics.
The preparations were simple and quickly made. Each man armed himself with a stick three feet long and about three-quarters of an inch in diameter. Rough weapons they were, cut from boughs of scrub-oak, knotty and tough as horn. Long-Hair unbound Beverley and stripped his clothes from his body down to the waist. Then the lines formed, the Indians in each row standing about as far apart as the width of the space in which the prisoner was to run. This arrangement gave them free use of their sticks and plenty of room for full swing of their lithe bodies.
In removing Beverley's clothes Long-Hair found Alice's locket hanging over the young man's heart. He tore it rudely off and grunted, glaring viciously, first at it, then at Beverley. He seemed to be mightily wrought upon.
"White man damn thief," he growled deep in his throat; "stole from little girl!"
He put the locket in his pouch and resumed his stupidly indifferent expression.
When everything was ready for the delightful entertainment to begin, Long-Hair waved his tomahawk three times over Beverley's head, and pointing down between the waiting lines said:
But Beverley did not budge. He was standing erect, with his arms, deeply creased where the thongs had sunk, folded across his breast. A rush of thoughts and feelings had taken tumultuous possession of him and he could not move or decide what to do. A mad desire to escape arose in his heart the moment that he saw Long-Hair take the locket. It was as if Alice had cried to him and bidden him make a dash for liberty.
The order was accompanied with a push of such violence from Long-Hair's left elbow that Beverley plunged and fell, for his limbs, after their long and painful confinement in the raw-hide bonds, were stiff and almost useless. Long-Hair in no gentle voice bade him get up. The shock of falling seemed to awaken his dormant forces; a sudden resolve leaped into his brain. He saw that the Indians had put aside their bows and guns, most of which were leaning against the boles of trees here and yonder. What if he could knock Long-Hair down and run away? This might possibly be easy, considering the Indian's broken arm. His heart jumped at the possibility. But the shrewd savage was alert and saw the thought come into his face.
"You try git 'way, kill dead!" he snarled, lifting his tomahawk ready for a stroke. "Brains out, damn!"
Beverley glanced down the waiting and eager lines. Swiftly he speculated, wondering what would be his chance for escape were he to break through. But he did not take his own condition into account.
Again the elbow of Long-Hair's hurt arm pushed him toward the expectant rows of Indians, who flourished their clubs and uttered impatient grunts.
This time he did not fall; but in trying to run he limped stiffly at first, his legs but slowly and imperfectly regaining their strength and suppleness from the action. Just before reaching the lines, however, he stopped short. Long-Hair, who was close behind him, took hold of his shoulder and led him back to the starting place. The big Indian's arm must have given him pain when he thus used it, but he did not wince. "Fool—kill dead!" he repeated two or three times, holding his tomahawk on high with threatening motions and frequent repetitions of his one echo from the profanity of civilization. He was beginning to draw his mouth down at the corners, and his eyes were narrowed to mere slits.
Beverley understood now that he could not longer put off the trial. He must choose between certain death and the torture of the gauntlet, as frontiersmen named this savage ordeal. An old man might have preferred the stroke of the hatchet to such an infliction as the clubs must afford, considering that, even after all the agony, his captivity and suffering would be only a little nearer its end. Youth, however, has faith in the turn of fortune's wheel, and faith in itself, no matter how dark the prospect. Hope blows her horn just over the horizon, and the strain bids the young heart take courage and beat strong. Moreover, men were men, who led the van in those days on the outmost lines of our march to the summit of the world. Beverley was not more a hero than any other young, brave, unconquerable patriot of the frontier army. His situation simply tried him a trifle harder than was common. But it must be remembered that he had Love with him, and where Love is there can be no cowardice, no surrender.
Long-Hair once again pushed him and said
Beverley made a direct dash for the narrow lane between the braced and watchful lines. Every warrior lifted his club; every copper face gleamed stolidly, a mask behind which burned a strangely atrocious spirit. The two savages standing at the end nearest Beverley struck at him the instant he reached than, but they taken quite by surprise when he checked himself between them and, leaping this way and that, swung out two powerful blows, left and right, stretching one of them flat and sending the other reeling and staggering half a dozen paces backward with the blood streaming from his nose.
This done, Beverley turned to run away, but his breath was already short and his strength rapidly going.
Long-Hair, who was at his heels, leaped before him when he had gone but a few steps and once more flourished the tomahawk. To struggle was useless, save to insist upon being brained outright, which just then had no part in Beverley's considerations. Long-Hair kicked his victim heavily, uttering laconic curses meanwhile, and led him back again to the starting-point.
A genuine sense of humor seems almost entirely lacking in the mind of the American Indian. He smiles at things not in the least amusing to us and when he laughs, which is very seldom, the cause of his merriment usually lies in something repellantly cruel and inhuman. When Beverley struck his two assailants, hurting them so that one lay half stunned, while the other spun away from his fist with a smashed nose, all the rest of the Indians grunted and laughed raucously in high delight. They shook their clubs, danced, pointed at their discomfited fellows and twisted their painted faces into knotted wrinkles, their eyes twinkling with devilish expression of glee quite indescribable.
"Ugh, damn, run!" said Long-Half, this time adding a hard kick to the elbow-shove he gave Beverley.
The young man, who had borne all he could, now turned upon him furiously and struck straight from the shoulder, setting the whole weight of his body into the blow. Long-Hair stepped out of the way and quick as a flash brought the flat side of his tomahawk with great force against Beverley's head. This gave the amusement a sudden and disappointing end, for the prisoner fell limp and senseless to the ground. No more running the gauntlet for him that day. Indeed it required protracted application of the best Indian skill to revive him so that he could fairly be called a living man. There had been no dangerous concussion, however, and on the following morning camp was broken.
Beverley, sore, haggard, forlornly disheveled, had his arms bound again and was made to march apace with his nimble enemies, who set out swiftly eastward, their disappointment at having their sport cut short, although bitter enough, not in the least indicated by any facial expression or spiteful act.
Was it really a strange thing, or was it not, that Beverley's mind now busied itself unceasingly with the thought that Long-Hair had Alice's picture in his pouch? One might find room for discussion of a cerebral problem like this; but our history cannot be delayed with analyses and speculations; it must run its direct course unhindered to the end. Suffice it to record that, while tramping at Long-Hair's side and growing more and more desirous of seeing the picture again, Beverley began trying to converse with his taciturn captor. He had a considerable smattering of several Indian dialects, which he turned upon Long-Hair to the best of his ability, but apparently without effect. Nevertheless he babbled at intervals, always upon the same subject and always endeavoring to influence that huge, stolid, heartless savage in the direction of letting him see again the child face of the miniature.
A stone, one of our travel-scarred and mysterious western granite bowlders brought from the far north by the ancient ice, would show as much sympathy as did the face of Long-Hair. Once in a while he gave Beverley a soulless glance and said "damn" with utter indifference. Nothing, however, could quench or even in the slightest sense allay the lover's desire. He talked of Alice and the locket with constantly increasing volubility, saying over and over phrases of endearment in a half-delirious way, not aware that fever was fermenting his blood and heating his brain. Probably he would have been very ill but for the tremendous physical exercise forced upon him. The exertion kept him in a profuse perspiration and his robust constitution cast off the malarial poison. Meantime he used every word and phrase, every grunt and gesture of Indian dialect that he could recall, in the iterated and reiterated attempt to make Long-Hair understand what he wanted.
When night came on again the band camped under some trees beside a swollen stream. There was no rain falling, but almost the entire country lay under a flood of water. Fires of logs were soon burning brightly on the comparatively dry bluff chosen by the Indians. The weather was chill, but not cold. Long-Hair took great pains, however, to dry Beverley's clothes and see that he had warm wraps and plenty to eat. Hamilton's large reward would not be forthcoming should the prisoner die, Beverley was good property, well worth careful attention. To be sure his scalp, in the worst event, would command a sufficient honorarium, but not the greatest. Beverley thought of all this while the big Indian was wrapping him snugly in skins and blankets for the night, and there was no comfort in it, save that possibly if he were returned to Hamilton he might see Alice again before he died.
A fitful wind cried dolefully in the leafless treetops, the stream hard by gave forth a rushing sound, and far away some wolves howled like lost souls. Worn out, sore from head to foot, Beverley, deep buried in the blankets and skins, soon fell into a profound sleep. The fires slowly crumbled and faded; no sentinel was posted, for the Indians did not fear an attack, there being no enemies that they knew of nearer than Kaskaskia. The camp slumbered as one man.
At about the mid-hour of the night Long-Hair gently awoke his prisoner by drawing a hand across his face, then whispered in his ear:
Beverley tried to rise, uttering a sleepy ejaculation under his breath. "No talk," hissed Long-Hair. "Still!"
There was something in his voice that not only swept the last film of sleep out of Beverley's brain, but made it perfectly clear to him that a very important bit of craftiness was being performed; just what its nature was, however, he could not surmise. One thing was obvious, Long-Hair did not wish the other Indians to know of the move he was making. Deftly he slipped the blankets from around Beverley, and cut the thongs at his ankles.
"Still!" he whispered. "Come 'long."
Under such circumstances a competent mind acts with lightning celerity. Beverley now understood that Long-Hair was stealing him away from the other savages and that the big villain meant to cheat them out of their part of the reward. Along with this discovery came a fresh gleam of hope. It would be far easier to escape from one Indian than from nearly a score. Ah, he would follow Long-Hair, indeed he would! The needed courage came with the thought, and so with immense labor he crept at the heels of that crawling monster. It was a painful process, for his arms were still fast bound at the wrists with the raw-hide strings; but what was pain to him? He shivered with joy, thinking of what might happen. The voice of the wind overhead and the noisy bubbling of the stream near by were cheerful and cheering sounds to him now. So much can a mere shadow of hope do for a human soul on the verge of despair! Already he was planning or trying to plan some way by which he could kill Long-Hair when they should reach a safe distance from the sleeping camp.
But how could the thing be done? A man with his hands tied, though they are in front of him, is in no excellent condition to cope with a free and stalwart savage armed to the teeth. Still Beverley's spirits rose with every rod of distance that was added to their slow progress.
Their course was nearly parallel with that of the stream, but slightly converging toward it, and after they had gone about a furlong they reached the bank. Here Long-Hair stopped and, without a word, cut the thongs from Beverley's wrists. This was astounding; the young man could scarcely realize it, nor was he ready to act.
"Swim water," Long-Hair said in a guttural murmur barely audible. "Swim, damn!"
Again it was necessary for Beverley's mind to act swiftly and with prudence. The camp was yet within hailing distance. A false move now would bring the whole pack howling to the rescue. Something told him to do as Long-Hair ordered, so with scarcely a perceptible hesitation he scrambled down the bushy bank and slipped into the water, followed by Long-Hair, who seized him by one arm when he began to swim, and struck out with him into the boiling and tumbling current.
Beverley had always thought himself a master swimmer, but Long-Hair showed him his mistake. The giant Indian, with but one hand free to use, fairly rushed through that deadly cold and turbulent water, bearing his prisoner with him despite the wounded arm, as easily as if towing him at the stern of a pirogue. True, his course was down stream for a considerable distance, but even when presently he struck out boldly for the other bank, breasting a current in which few swimmers could have lived, much less made headway, he still swung forward rapidly, splitting the waves and scarcely giving Beverley freedom enough so that he could help in the progress. It was a long, cold struggle, and when at last they touched the sloping low bank on the other side, Long-Hair had fairly to lift his chilled and exhausted prisoner to the top.
"Ugh, cold," he grunted, beginning to pound and rub Beverley's arms, legs and body. "Make warm, damn heap!"
All this he did with his right hand, holding the tomahawk in his left.
It was a strange, bewildering experience out of which the young man could not see in any direction far enough to give him a hint upon which to act. In a few minutes Long-Hair jerked him to his feet and said:
It was just light enough to see that the order had a tomahawk to enforce it withal. Long-Hair indicated the direction and drove Beverley onward as fast as he could.
"Try run 'way, kill, damn!" he kept repeating, while with his left hand on the young man's shoulder he guided him from behind dexterously through the wood for some distance. Then he stopped and grunted, adding his favorite expletive, which he used with not the least knowledge of its meaning. To him the syllable "damn" was but a mouthful of forcible wind.
They had just emerged from a thicket into an open space, where the ground was comparatively dry. Overhead the stars were shining in great clusters of silver and gold against a dark, cavernous looking sky, here and there overrun with careering black clouds. Beverley shivered, not so much with cold as on account of the stress of excitement which amounted to nervous rigor. Long-Hair faced him and leaned toward him, until his breathing was audible and his massive features were dimly outlined. A dragon of the darkest age could not have been more repulsive.
"Ugh, friend, damn!"
Beverley started when these words were followed by a sentence in an Indian dialect somewhat familiar to him, a dialect in which he had tried to talk with Long-Hair during the day's march. The sentence, literally translated, was:
"Long-Hair is friendly now."
A blow in the face could not have been so surprising. Beverley not only started, but recoiled as if from a sudden and deadly apparition. The step between supreme exhilaration and utter collapse is now and then infinitesimal. There are times, moreover, when an expression on the face of Hope makes her look like the twin sister of Despair. The moment falling just after Long-Hair spoke was a century condensed in a breath.
"Long-Hair is friendly now; will white man be friendly?"
Beverley heard, but the speech seemed to come out of vastness and hollow distance; he could not realize it fairly. He felt as if in a dream, far off somewhere in loneliness, with a big, shadowy form looming before him. He heard the chill wind in the thickets round about, and beyond Long-Hair rose a wall of giant trees.
"Ugh, not understand?" the savage presently demanded in his broken English.
"Yes, yes," said Beverley, "I understand."
"Is the white man friendly now?" Long-Hair then repeated in his own tongue, with a certain insistence of manner and voice.
Beverley said this absently in a tone of perfunctory dryness. His throat was parched, his head seemed to waver. But he was beginning to comprehend that Long-Hair, for some inscrutable reason of his own, was desirous of making a friendship between them. The thought was bewildering.
Long-Hair fumbled in his pouch and took out Alice's locket, which he handed to Beverley. "White man love little girl?" he inquired in a tone that bordered upon tenderness, again speaking in Indian.
Beverley clutched the disk as soon as he saw it gleam in the star-light.
"White man going to have little girl for his squaw—eh?"
"Yes, yes," cried Beverley without hearing his own voice. He was trying to open the locket but his hands were numb and trembling. When at last he did open it he could not see the child face within, for now even the star-light was shut off by a scudding black cloud.
"Little girl saved Long-Hair's life. Long-Hair save white warrior for little girl."
A dignity which was almost noble accompanied these simple sentences. Long-Hair stood proudly erect, like a colossal dark statue in the dimness.
The great truth dawned upon Beverley that here was a characteristic act. He knew that an Indian rarely failed to repay a kindness or an injury, stroke for stroke, when opportunity offered. Long-Hair was a typical Indian. That is to say, a type of inhumanity raised to the last power; but under his hideous atrocity of nature lay the indestructible sense of gratitude so fixed and perfect that it did its work almost automatically.
It must be said, and it may or may not be to the white man's shame, that Beverley did not respond with absolute promptness and sincerity to Long-Hair's generosity. He had suffered terribly at the hands of this savage. His arms and legs were raw from the biting of the thongs; his body ached from the effect of blows and kicks laid upon him while bound and helpless. Perhaps he was not a very emotional man. At all events there was no sudden recognition of the favor he was receiving. And this pleased Long-Hair, for the taste of the American Indian delights in immobility of countenance and reserve of feeling under great strain.
"Wait here a little while," Long-Hair presently said, and without lingering for reply, turned away and disappeared in the wood. Beverley was free to run if he wished to, and the thought did surge across his mind; but a restraining something, like a hand laid upon him, would not let his limbs move. Down deep in his heart a calm voice seemed to be repeating Long-Hair's Indian sentence—"Wait here a little while."
A few minutes later Long-Hair returned bearing two guns, Beverley's and his own, the latter, a superb weapon given him by Hamilton. He afterward explained that he had brought these, with their bullet-pouches and powder-horns, to a place of concealment near by before he awoke Beverley. This meant that he had swum the cold river three times since night-fall; once over with the guns and accouterments; once back to camp, then over again with Beverley! All this with a broken arm, and to repay Alice for her kindness to him.
Beverley may have been slow, but at last his appreciation was, perhaps, all the more profound. As best he could he expressed it to Long-Hair, who showed no interest whatever in the statement. Instead of responding in Indian, he said "damn" without emphasis. It was rather as if he had yawned absently, being bored.
Delay could not be thought of. Long-Hair explained briefly that he thought. Beverley must go to Kaskaskia. He had come across the stream in the direction of Vincennes in order to set his warriors at fault. The stream must be recrossed, he said, farther down, and he would help Beverley a certain distance on his way, then leave him to shift for himself. He had a meager amount of parched corn and buffalo meat in his pouch, which would stay hunger until they could kill some game. Now they must go.
The resilience of a youthful and powerful physique offers many a problem to the biologist. Vital force seems to find some mysterious reservoir of nourishment hidden away in the nerve-centers. Beverley set out upon that seemingly impossible undertaking with renewed energy. It could not have been the ounce of parched corn and bit of jerked venison from which he drew so much strength; but on the other hand, could it have been the miniature of Alice, which he felt pressing over his heart once more, that afforded a subtle stimulus to both mind and body? They flung miles behind them before day-dawn, Long-Hair leading, Beverley pressing close at his heels. Most of the way led over flat prairies covered with water, and they therefore left no track by which they could be followed.
Late in the forenoon Long-Hair killed a deer at the edge of a wood. Here they made a fire and cooked a supply which would last them for a day or two, and then on they went again. But we cannot follow them step by step. When Long-Hair at last took leave of Beverley, the occasion had no ceremony. It was an abrupt, unemotional parting. The stalwart Indian simply said in his own dialect, pointing westward:
"Go that way two days. You will find your friends."
Then, without another look or word, he turned about and stalked eastward at a marvelously rapid gait. In his mind he had a good tale to tell his warrior companions when he should find them again: how Beverley escaped that night and how he followed him a long, long chase, only to lose him at last under the very guns of the fort at Kaskaskia. But before he reached his band an incident of some importance changed his story to a considerable degree. It chanced that he came upon Lieutenant Barlow, who, in pursuit of game, had lost his bearings and, far from his companions, was beating around quite bewildered in a watery solitude. Long-Hair promptly murdered the poor fellow and scalped him with as little compunction as he would have skinned a rabbit; for he had a clever scheme in his head, a very audacious and outrageous scheme, by which he purposed to recoup, to some extent, the damages sustained by letting Beverley go.
Therefore, when he rejoined his somewhat disheartened and demoralized band he showed them the scalp and gave them an eloquent account of how he tore it from Beverley's head after a long chase and a bloody hand to hand fight. They listened, believed, and were satisfied.
FATHER BERET'S OLD BATTLE
The room in which Alice was now imprisoned formed part of the upper story of a building erected by Hamilton in one of the four angles of the stockade. It had no windows and but two oblong port-holes made to accommodate a small swivel, which stood darkly scowling near the middle of the floor. From one of these apertures Alice could see the straggling roofs and fences of the dreary little town, while from the other a long reach of watery prairie, almost a lake, lay under view with the rolling, muddy Wabash gleaming beyond. There seemed to be no activity of garrison or townspeople. Few sounds broke the silence of which the cheerless prison room seemed to be the center.
Alice felt all her courage and cheerfulness leaving her. She was alone in the midst of enemies. No father or mother, no friend—a young girl at the mercy of soldiers, who could not be expected to regard her with any sympathy beyond that which is accompanied with repulsive leers and hints. Day after day her loneliness and helplessness became more agonizing. Farnsworth, it is true, did all he could to relieve the strain of her situation; but Hamilton had an eye upon what passed and soon interfered. He administered a bitter reprimand, under which his subordinate writhed in speechless anger and resentment.
"Finally, Captain Farnsworth," he said in conclusion, "you will distinctly understand that this girl is my prisoner, not yours; that I, not you, will direct how she is to be held and treated, and that hereafter I will suffer no interference on your part. I hope you fully understand me, sir, and will govern yourself accordingly."
Smarting, or rather smothering, under the outrageous insult of these remarks, Farnsworth at first determined to fling his resignation at the Governor's feet and then do whatever desperate thing seemed most to his mood. But a soldier's training is apt to call a halt before the worst befalls in such a case. Moreover, in the present temptation, Farnsworth had a special check and hindrance. He had had a conference with Father Beret, in which the good priest had played the part of wisdom in slippers, and of gentleness more dove-like than the dove's. A very subtle impression, illuminated with the "hope that withers hope," had come of that interview; and now Farnsworth felt its restraint. He therefore saluted Hamilton formally and walked away.
Father Beret's paternal love for Alice,—we cannot characterize it more nicely than to call it paternal,—was his justification for a certain mild sort of corruption insinuated by him into the heart of Farnsworth. He was a crafty priest, but his craft was always used for a good end. Unquestionably Jesuitic was his mode of circumventing the young man's military scruples by offering him a puff of fair weather with which to sail toward what appeared to be the shore of delight. He saw at a glance that Farnsworth's love for Alice was a consuming passion in a very ardent yet decidedly weak heart. Here was the worldly lever with which Father Beret hoped to raze Alice's prison and free her from the terrible doom with which she was threatened.
The first interview was at Father Beret's cabin, to which, as will be remembered, the priest and Farnsworth went after their meeting in the street. It actually came to nothing, save an indirect understanding but half suggested by Father Beret and never openly sanctioned by Captain Farnsworth. The talk was insinuating on the part of the former, while the latter slipped evasively from every proposition, as if not able to consider it on account of a curious obtuseness of perception. Still, when they separated they shook hands and exchanged a searching look perfectly satisfactory to both.
The memory of that interview with the priest was in Farnsworth's mind when, boiling with rage, he left Hamilton's presence and went forth into the chill February air. He passed out through the postern and along the sodden and queachy aedge of the prairie, involuntarily making his way to Father Beret's cabin. His indignation was so great that he trembled from head to foot at every step. The door of the place was open and Father Beret was eating a frugal meal of scones and sour wine (of his own make, he said), which he hospitably begged to share with his visitor. A fire smouldered on the hearth, and a flat stone showed, by the grease smoking over its hot surface, where the cakes had been baked.
"Come in, my son," said the priest, "and try the fare of a poor old man. It is plain, very plain, but good." He smacked his lips sincerely and fingered another scone. "Take some, take some."
Farnsworth was not tempted. The acid bouquet of the wine filled the room with a smack of vinegar, and the smoke from rank scorching fat and wheat meal did not suggest an agreeable feast.
"Well, well, if you are not hungry, my son, sit down on the stool there and tell me the news."
Farnsworth took the low seat without a word, letting his eyes wander over the walls. Alice's rapier, the mate to that now worn by Hamilton, hung in its curiously engraved scabbard near one corner. The sight of it inflamed Farnsworth.
"It's an outrage," he broke forth. "Governor Hamilton sent a man to Roussillon place with orders to bring him the scabbard of Miss Roussillon's sword, and he now wears the beautiful weapon as if he had come by it honestly. Damn him!"
"My dear, dear son, you must not soil your lips with such language!" Father Beret let fall the half of a well bitten cake and held up both hands.
"I beg your pardon, Father; I know I ought to be more careful in your presence; but—but—the beastly, hellish scoundrel—"
"Bah! doucement, mon fils, doucement." The old man shook his head and his finger while speaking. "Easy, my son, easy. You would be a fine target for bullets were your words to reach Hamilton's ears. You are not permitted to revile your commander."
"Yes, I know; but how can a man restrain himself under such abominable conditions?"
Father Beret shrewdly guessed that Hamilton had been giving the Captain fresh reason for bitter resentment. Moreover, he was sure that the moving cause had been Alice. So, in order to draw out what he wished to hear, he said very gently:
"How is the little prisoner getting along?"
Farnsworth ground his teeth and swore; but Father Beret appeared not to hear; he bit deep into a scone, took a liberal sip of the muddy red wine and added:
"Has she a comfortable place? Do you think Governor Hamilton would let me visit her?"
"It is horrible!" Farnsworth blurted. "She's penned up as if she were a dangerous beast, the poor girl. And that damned scoundrel—"
"Oh, it's no use to try, I can't help it, Father. The whelp—"
"We can converse more safely and intelligently if we avoid profanity, and undue emotion, my son. Now, if you will quit swearing, I will, and if you will be calm, so will I."
Farnsworth felt the sly irony of this absurdly vicarious proposition. Father Beret smiled with a kindly twinkle in his deep-set eyes.
"Well, if you don't use profane language, Father, there's no telling how much you think in expletives. What is your opinion of a man who tumbles a poor, defenseless girl into prison and then refuses to let her be decently cared for? How do you express yourself about him?"
"My son, men often do things of which they ought to be ashamed. I heard of a young officer once who maltreated a little girl that he met at night in the street. What evil he would have done, had not a passing kind-hearted man reminded him of his honor by a friendly punch in the ribs, I dare not surmise."
"True, and your sarcasm goes home as hard as your fist did, Father. I know that I've been a sad dog all my life. Miss Roussillon saved you by shooting me, and I love her for it. Lay on, Father, I deserve more than you can give me."
"Surely you do, my son, surely you do; but my love for you will not let me give you pain. Ah, we priests have to carry all men's loads. Our backs are broad, however, very broad, my son."
"And your fists devilish heavy, Father, devilish heavy."
The gentle smile again flickered over the priest's weather-beaten face as he glanced sidewise at Farnsworth and said:
"Sometimes, sometimes, my son, a carnal weapon must break the way for a spiritual one. But we priests rarely have much physical strength; our dependence is upon—"
"To be sure; certainly," Farnsworth interrupted, rubbing his side, "your dependence is upon the first thing that offers. I've had many a blow; but yours was the solidest that ever jarred thy mortal frame, Father Beret."
The twain began to laugh. There is nothing like a reminiscence to stir up fresh mutual sympathy.
"If your intercostals were somewhat sore for a time, on account of a contact with priestly knuckles, doubtless there soon set in a corresponding uneasiness in the region of your conscience. Such shocks are often vigorously alterative and tonic—eh, my son?"
"You jolted me sober, Father, and then I was ashamed of myself. But where does all your tremendous strength lie? You don't look strong."
While speaking Farnsworth leaned near Father Beret and grasped his arm. The young man started, for his fingers, instead of closing around a flabby, shrunken old man's limb, spread themselves upon a huge, knotted mass of iron muscles. With a quick movement Father Beret shook off Farnsworth's hand, and said:
"I am no Samson, my son. Non sum qualis eram." Then, as if dismissing a light subject for a graver one, he sighed and added; "I suppose there is nothing that can be done for little Alice."
He called the tall, strong girl "little Alice," and so she seemed to him. He could not, without direct effort, think of her as a magnificently maturing woman. She had always been his spoiled pet child, perversely set against the Holy Church, but dear to him nevertheless.
"I came to you to ask that very question, Father," said Farnsworth.
"And what do I know? Surely, my son, you see how utterly helpless an old priest is against all you British. And besides—"
"Father Beret," Farnsworth huskily interrupted, "is there a place that you know of anywhere in which Miss Roussillon could be hidden, if—"
"My dear son."
"But, Father, I mean it."
"Mean what? Pardon an old man's slow understanding. What are you talking about, my son?"
Father Beret glanced furtively about, then quickly stepped through the doorway, walked entirely around the house and came in again before Farnsworth could respond. Once more seated on his stool he added interrogatively:
"Did you think you heard something moving outside?"
"You were saying something when I went out. Pardon my interruption."
Farnsworth gave the priest a searching and not wholly confiding look.
"You did not interrupt me, Father Beret. I was not speaking. Why are you so watchful? Are you afraid of eavesdroppers?"
"You were speaking recklessly. Your words were incendiary: ardentia verba. My son, you were suggesting a dangerous thing. Your life would scarcely satisfy the law were you convicted of insinuating such treason. What if one of your prowling guards had overheard you? Your neck and mine might feel the halter. Quod avertat dominus." He crossed himself and in a solemn voice added in English:
"May the Lord forbid! Ah, my son, we priests protect those we love."
"And I, who am not fit to tie a priest's shoe, do likewise. Father, I love Alice Roussillon."
"Love is a holy thing, my son. Amare divinum est et humanum."
"Father Beret, can you help me?"
"Spiritually speaking, my son?"
"I mean, can you hide Mademoiselle Roussillon in some safe place, if I take her out of the prison yonder? That's just what I mean. Can you do it?"
"Your question is a remarkable one. Have you thought upon it from all directions, my son? Think of your position, your duty as an officer."
A shrewd polemical expression beamed from Father Beret's eyes, and a very expert physiogomist might have suspected duplicity from certain lines about the old man's mouth.
"I simply know that I cannot stand by and see Alice—Mademoiselle Roussillon, forced to suffer treatment too beastly for an Indian thief. That's the only direction there is for me to look at it from, and you can understand my feelings if you will; you know that very well, Father Beret. When a man loves a girl, he loves her; that's the whole thing.".
The quiet, inscrutable half-smile flickered once more on Father Beret's face; but he sat silent some time with a sinewy forefinger lying alongside his nose. When at last he spoke it was in a tone of voice indicative of small interest in what he was saying. His words rambled to their goal with the effect of happy accident.
"There are places in this neighborhood in which a human being would be as hard to find as the flag that you and Governor Hamilton have so diligently and unsuccessfully been in quest of for the past month or two. Really, my son, this is a mysterious little town."
Farnsworth's eyes widened and a flush rose in his swarthy cheeks.
"Damn the flag!" he exclaimed. "Let it lie hidden forever; what do I care? I tell you, Father Beret, that Alice Roussillon is in extreme danger. Governor Hamilton means to put some terrible punishment on her. He has a devil's vindictiveness. He showed it to me clearly awhile ago."
"You showed something of the same sort to me, once upon a time, my son."
"Yes, I did, Father Beret, and I got a load of slugs in my shoulder for it from that brave girl's pistol. She saved your life. Now I ask you to help me save hers; or, if not her life, what is infinitely more, her honor."
"Her honor!" cried Father Beret, leaping to his feet so suddenly and with such energy that the cabin shook from base to roof. "What do you say, Captain Farnsworth? What do you mean?"
The old man was transformed. His face was terrible to see, with its narrow, burning eyes deep under the shaggy brows, its dark veins writhing snakelike on the temples and forehead, the projected mouth and chin, the hard lines of the jaws, the iron-gray gleam from all the features—he looked like an aged tiger stiffened for a spring.
Farnsworth was made of right soldierly stuff; but he felt a distinct shiver flit along his back. His past life had not lacked thrilling adventures and strangely varied experiences with desperate men. Usually he met sudden emergencies rather calmly, sometimes with phlegmatic indifference. This passionate outburst on the priest's part, however, surprised him and awed him, while it stirred his heart with a profound sympathy unlike anything he had ever felt before.
Father Beret mastered himself in a moment, and passing his hand over his face, as if to brush away the excitement, sat down again on his stool. He appeared to collapse inwardly.
"You must excuse the weakness of an old man, my son," he said, in a voice hoarse and shaking. "But tell me what is going to be done with Alice. Your words—what you said—I did not understand."
He rubbed his forehead slowly, as one who has difficulty in trying to collect his thoughts.
"I do not know what Governor Hamilton means to do, Father Beret. It will be something devilish, however,—something that must not happen," said Farnsworth.
Then he recounted all that Hamilton had done and said. He described the dreary and comfortless room in which Alice was confined, the miserable fare given her, and how she would be exposed to the leers and low remarks of the soldiers. She had already suffered these things, and now that she could no longer have any protection, what was to become of her? He did not attempt to overstate the case; but presented it with a blunt sincerity which made a powerfully realistic impression.
Father Beret, like most men of strong feeling who have been subjected to long years of trial, hardship, multitudinous dangers and all sorts of temptation, and who have learned the lessons of self-control, had an iron will, and also an abiding distrust of weak men. He saw Farnsworth's sincerity; but he had no faith in his constancy, although satisfied that while resentment of Hamilton's imperiousness lasted, he would doubtless remain firm in his purpose to aid Alice. Let that wear off, as in a short time it would, and then what? The old man studied his companion with eyes that slowly resumed their expression of smouldering and almost timid geniality. His priestly experience with desperate men was demanding of him a proper regard for that subtlety of procedure which had so often compassed most difficult ends.
He listened in silence to Farnsworth's story. When it came to an end he began to offer some but half relevant suggestions in the form of indirect cross-questions, by means of which he gradually drew out a minute description of Alice's prison, the best way to reach it, the nature of its door-fastenings, where the key was kept, and everything, indeed, likely to be helpful to one contemplating a jail delivery. Farnsworth was inwardly delighted. He felt Father Beret's cunning approach to the central object and his crafty method of gathering details.
The shades of evening thickened in the stuffy cabin room while the conversation went on. Father Beret presently lifted a puncheon in one corner of the floor and got out a large bottle, which bore a mildewed and faded French label, and with it a small iron cup. There was just light enough left to show a brownish sparkle when, after popping out the cork, he poured a draught in the fresh cup and in his own.
"We may think more clearly, my son, if we taste this old liquor. I have kept it a long while to offer upon a proper occasion. The occasion is here."
A ravishing bouquet quickly imbued the air. It was itself an intoxication.
"The Brothers of St. Martin distilled this liquor," Father Beret added, handing the cup to Farnsworth, "not for common social drinking, my son, but for times when a man needs extraordinary stimulation. It is said to be surpassingly good, because St. Martin blessed the vine."
The doughty Captain felt a sudden and imperious thirst seize his throat. The liquor flooded his veins before his lips touched the cup. He had been abstaining lately; now his besetting appetite rushed upon him. At one gulp he took in the fiery yet smooth and captivating draught. Nor did he notice that Father Beret, instead of joining him in the potation, merely lifted his cup and set it down again, smacking his lips gusto.
There followed a silence, during which the aromatic breath of the bottle increased its dangerous fascination. Then Father Beret again filled Farnsworth's cup and said:
"Ah, the blessed monks, little thought they that their matchless brew would ever be sipped in a poor missionary's hut on the Wabash! But, after all, my son, why not here as well as in sunny France? Our object justifies any impropriety of time and place."
"You are right, Father. I drink to our object. Yes, I say, to our object."
In fact, the drinking preceded his speech, and his tongue already had a loop in it The liquor stole through him, a mist of bewildering and enchanting influence. The third cup broke his sentences into unintelligible fragments; the fourth made his underjaw sag loosely, the fifth and sixth, taken in close succession, tumbled him limp on the floor, where he slept blissfully all night long, snugly covered with some of Father Beret's bed clothes.
"Per casum obliquum, et per indirectum," muttered the priest, when he had returned the bottle and cup to their hiding-place." The end justifies the means. Sleep well, my son. Ah, little Alice, little Alice, your old Father will try—will try!"
He fumbled along the wall in the dark until he found the rapier, which he took down; then he went out and sat for some time motionless beside the door, while the clouds thickened overhead. It was late when he arose and glided away shadow-like toward the fort, over which the night hung black, chill and drearily silent. The moon was still some hours high, smothered by the clouds; a fog slowly drifted from the river.
Meantime Hamilton and Helm had spent a part of the afternoon and evening, as usual, at cards. Helm broke off the game and went to his quarters rather early for him, leaving the Governor alone and in a bad temper, because Farnsworth, when he had sent for him, could not be found. Three times his orderly returned in as many hours with the same report; the Captain had not been seen or heard of. Naturally this sudden and complete disappearance, immediately after the reprimand, suggested to Hamilton an unpleasant possibility. What if Farnsworth had deserted him? Down deep in his heart he was conscious that the young man had good cause for almost any desperate action. To lose Captain Farnsworth, however, would be just now a calamity. The Indians were drifting over rapidly to the side of the Americans, and every day showed that the French could not long be kept quiet.
Hamilton sat for some time after Helm's departure, thinking over what he now feared was a foolish mistake. Presently he buckled on Alice's rapier, which he had lately been wearing as his own, and went out into the main area of the stockade. A sentinel was tramping to and fro at the gate, where a hazy lantern shone. The night was breathless and silent. Hamilton approached the soldier on duty and asked him if he had seen Captain Farnsworth, and receiving a negative reply, turned about puzzled and thoughtful to walk back and forth in the chill, foggy air.
Presently a faint yellow light attracted his attention. It shone through a porthole in an upper room of the block-house at the farther angle of the stockade. In fact, Alice was reading by a sputtering lamp a book Farnsworth had sent her, a volume of Ronsard that he had picked up in Canada. Hamilton made his way in that direction, at first merely curious to know who was burning oil so late; but after a few paces he recognized where the light came from, and instantly suspected that Captain Farnsworth was there. Indeed he felt sure of it. Somehow he could not regard Alice as other than a saucy hoyden, incapable of womanly virtue. His experience with the worst element of Canadian French life and his peculiar cast of mind and character colored his impression of her. He measured her by the women with whom the coureurs de bois and half-breed trappers consorted in Detroit and at the posts eastward to Quebec.
Alice, unable to sleep, had sought forgetfulness of her bitter captivity in the old poet's charming lyrics. She sat on the floor, some blankets and furs drawn around her, the book on her lap, the stupidly dull lamp hanging beside her on a part of the swivel. Her hair lay loose over her neck and shoulders and shimmered around her face with a cloud-like effect, giving to the features in their repose a setting that intensified their sweetness and sadness. In a very low but distinct voice was reading, with a slightly quavering emotion:
"Mignonne, allons voir si la rose, Que ce matin avoit desclose Sa robe de pourpe au soleil."
When Hamilton, after stealthily mounting the rough stairway which led to her door, peeped in through a space between the slabs and felt a stroke of disappointment, seeing at a glance that Farnsworth was not there. He gazed for some time, not without a sense of villainy, while she continued her sweetly monotonous reading. If his heart had been as hard as the iron swivel-balls that lay beside Alice, he must still have felt a thrill of something like tender sympathy. She now showed no trace of the vivacious sauciness which had heretofore always marked her features when she was in his presence. A dainty gentleness, touched with melancholy, gave to her face an appealing look all the more powerful on account of its unconscious simplicity of expression.
The man felt an impulse pure and noble, which would have borne him back down the ladder and away from the building, had not a stronger one set boldly in the opposite direction. There was a short struggle with the seared remnant of his better nature, and then he tried to open the door; but it was locked.
Alice heard the slight noise and breaking off her reading turned to look. Hamilton made another effort to enter before he recollected that the wooden key, or notched lever, that controlled the cumbrous wooden lock, hung on a peg beside the door. He felt for it along the wall, and soon laid his hand on it. Then again he peeped through to see Alice, who was now standing upright near the swivel. She had thrown her hair back from her face and neck; the lamp's flickering light seemed suddenly to have magnified her stature and enhanced her beauty. Her book lay on the tumbled wraps at her feet, and in either hand she grasped a swivel-shot.
Hamilton's combative disposition came to the aid of his baser passion when he saw once more a defiant flash from his prisoner's face. It was easy for him to be fascinated by opposition. Helm had profited by this trait as much as others had suffered by it; but, in the case of Alice, Hamilton's mingled resentment and admiration were but a powerful irritant to the coarsest and most dangerous side of his nature.
After some fumbling and delay he fitted the key with a steady hand and moved the wooden bolt creaking and jolting from its slot. Then flinging the clumsy door wide open, he stepped in.
Alice started when she recognized the midnight intruder, and a second deeper look into his countenance made her brave heart recoil, while with a sinking sensation her breath almost stopped. It was but a momentary weakness, however, followed by vigorous reaction.
"What are you here for, sir?" she demanded. "What do you want?"
"I am neither a burglar nor a murderer, Mademoiselle," he responded, lifting his hat and bowing, with a smile not in the least reassuring.
"You look like both. Stop where you are!"
"Not so loud, my dear Miss Roussillon; I am not deaf. And besides the garrison needs to sleep."
"Stop, sir; not another step."
She poised herself, leaning slightly backward, and held the iron ball in her right hand ready to throw it at him.
He halted, still smiling villainously.
"Mademoiselle, I assure you that your excitement is quite unnecessary. I am not here to harm you."
"You cannot harm me, you cowardly wretch!"
"Humph! Pride goes before a fall, wench," he retorted, taking a half-step backward. Then a thought arose in his mind which added a new shade to the repellent darkness of his countenance.
"Miss Roussillon," he said in English and with a changed voice, which seemed to grow harder, each word deliberately emphasized, "I have come to break some bad news to you."
"You would scarcely bring me good news, sir, and I am not curious to hear the bad."
He was silent for a little while, gazing at her with the sort of admiration from which a true woman draws away appalled. He saw how she loathed him, saw how impossible it was for him to get a line nearer to her by any turn of force or fortune. Brave, high-headed, strong as a young leopard, pure and sweet as a rose, she stood before him fearless, even aggressive, showing him by every line of her face and form that she felt her infinite superiority and meant to maintain it. Her whole personal expression told him he was defeated; therefore he quickly seized upon a suggestion caught from a transaction with Long-Hair, who had returned a few hours before from his pursuit of Beverley.