Father Beret was, indeed, present at the church, as Hamilton had dreaded; and the two duelists gave each other a rapier-like eye-thrust. Neither spoke, however, and Clark immediately demanded a settlement of the matter in hand. He was brusque and imperious to a degree, apparently rather anxious to repel every peaceful advance.
It was a laconic interview, crisp as autumn ice and bitter as gallberries. Colonel Clark had no respect whatever for Hamilton, to whom he had applied the imperishable adjective "hair-buyer General." On the other hand Governor Hamilton, who felt keenly the disgrace of having to equalize himself officially and discuss terms of surrender with a rough backwoodsman, could not conceal his contempt of Clark.
The five men of history, Hamilton, Helm, Hay, Clark and Bowman, were not distinguished diplomats. They went at their work rather after the hammer-and-tongs fashion. Clark bluntly demanded unconditional surrender. Hamilton refused. They argued the matter. Helm put in his oar, trying to soften the situation, as was his custom on all occasions, and received from Clark a stinging reprimand, with the reminder that he was nothing but a prisoner on parole, and had no voice at all in settling the terms of surrender.
"I release him, sir," said Hamilton. "He is no longer a prisoner. I am quite willing to have Captain Helm join freely in our conference."
"And I refuse to permit his acceptance of your favor," responded Clark. "Captain Helm, you will return with Mr. Hamilton to the fort and remain his captive until I free you by force. Meantime hold your tongue."
Father Beret, suave looking and quiet, occupied himself at the little altar, apparently altogether indifferent to what was being said; but he lost not a word of the talk.
"Qui habet aures audiendi, audiat," he inwardly repeated, smiling blandly. "Gaudete in illa die, et exultate!"
Hamilton rose to go; deep lines of worry creased his face; but when the party had passed outside, he suddenly turned upon Clark and said:
"Why do you demand impossible terms of me?"
"I will tell you, sir," was the stern answer, in a tone in which there was no mercy or compromise. "I would rather have you refuse. I desire nothing so much as an excuse to wreak full and bloody vengeance on every man in that fort who has engaged in the business of employing savages to scalp brave, patriotic men and defenseless women and children. The cries of the widows and the fatherless on our frontiers require the blood of the Indian partisans at my hands. If you choose to risk the massacre of your garrison to save those despicable red-handed partisans, have your pleasure. What you have done you know better than I do. I have a duty to perform. You may be able to soften its nature. I may take it into my head to send for some of our bereaved women to witness my terrible work and see that it is well done, if you insist upon the worst."
Major Hay, who was Hamilton's Indian agent, now, with some difficulty clearing his throat, spoke up.
"Pray, sir," said he, "who is it that you call Indian partisans?"
"Sir," replied Clark, seeing that his words had gone solidly home, "I take Major Hay to be one of the principals."
This seemed to strike Hay with deadly force. Clark's report says that he was "pale and trembling, scarcely able to stand," and that "Hamilton blushed, and, I observed, was much affected at his behavior. "Doubtless, if the doughty American commander had known more about the Governor's feelings just then, he would have added that an awful fear, even greater than the Indian agent's, did more than anything else to congest the veins in his face."
The parties separated without reaching an agreement; but the end had come. The terror in Hamilton's soul was doubled by a wild scene enacted under the walls of his fort; a scene which, having no proper place in this story, strong as its historical interest unquestionably is, must be but outlined. A party of Indians returning from a scalping expedition in Kentucky and along the Ohio, was captured on the outskirts of the town by some of Clark's men, who proceeded to kill and scalp them within full view of the beleaguered garrison, after which their mangled bodies were flung into the river.
If the British commander needed further wine of dread to fill his cup withal, it was furnished by ostentatious marshaling of the American forces for a general assault. His spirit broke completely, so that it looked like a godsend to him when Clark finally offered terms of honorable surrender, the consummation of which was to be postponed until the following morning. He accepted promptly, appending to the articles of capitulation the following reasons for his action: "The remoteness from succor; the state and quantity of provisions, etc.; unanimity of officers and men in its expediency; the honorable terms allowed; and, lastly, the confidence in a generous enemy."
Confidence in a generous enemy! Abject fear of the vengeance just wreaked upon his savage emissaries would have been the true statement. Beverley read the paper when Clark sent for him; but he could not join in the extravagant delight of his fellow officers and their brave men. What did all this victory mean to him? Hamilton to be treated as an honorable prisoner of war, permitted to strut forth from the feat with his sword at his side, his head up—the scalp-buyer, the murderer of Alice! What was patriotism to the crushed heart of a lover? Even if his vision had been able to pierce the future and realize the splendor of Anglo-Saxon civilization which was to follow that little triumph at Vincennes, what pleasure could it have afforded him? Alice, Alice, only Alice; no other thought had influence, save the recurring surge of desire for vengeance upon her murderer.
And yet that night Beverley slept, and so forgot his despair for many hours, even dreamed a pleasant dream of home, where his childhood was spent, of the stately old house on the breezy hill-top overlooking a sunny plantation, with a little river lapsing and shimmering through it. His mother's dear arms were around him, her loving breath stirred his hair; and his stalwart, gray-headed father sat on the veranda comfortably smoking his pipe, while away in the wide fields the negroes sang at the plow and the hoe. Sweeter and sweeter grew the scene, softer the air, tenderer the blending sounds of the water-murmur, leaf-rustle, bird-song, and slave-song, until hand in hand he wandered with Alice in greening groves, where the air was trembling with the ecstacy of spring.
A young officer awoke him with an order from Clark to go on duty at once with Captains Worthington and Williams, who, under Colonel Clark himself, were to take possession of the fort. Mechanically he obeyed. The sun was far up, shining between clouds of a leaden, watery hue, by the time everything was ready for the important ceremony. Beside the main gate of the stockade two companies of patriots under Bowman and McCarty were drawn up as guards, while the British garrison filed out and was taken in charge. This bit of formality ended, Governor Hamilton, attended by some of his officers, went back into the fort and the gate was closed.
Clark now gave orders that preparations be made for hauling down the British flag and hoisting the young banner of liberty in its place, when everything should be ready for a salute of thirteen guns from the captured battery.
Helm's round face was beaming. Plainly it showed that his happiness was supreme. He dared not say anything, however; for Clark was now all sternness and formality; it would be dangerous to take any liberties; but he could smile and roll his quid of tobacco from cheek to cheek.
Hamilton and Farnsworth, the latter slightly wounded in the left arm, which was bandaged, stood together somewhat apart from their fellow officers, while preliminary steps for celebrating their defeat and capture were in progress. They looked forlorn enough to have excited deep sympathy under fairer conditions.
Outside the fort the creoles were beginning a noise of jubilation. The rumor of what was going to be done had passed from mouth to mouth, until every soul in the town knew and thrilled with expectancy. Men, women and children came swarming to see the sight, and to hear at close range the crash of the cannon. They shouted, in a scattering way at first, then the tumult grew swiftly to a solid rolling tide that seemed beyond all comparison with the population of Vincennes. Hamilton heard it, and trembled inwardly, afraid lest the mob should prove too strong for the guard.
One leonine voice roared distinctly, high above the noise. It was a sound familiar to all the creoles,—that bellowing shout of Gaspard Roussillon's. He was roaming around the stockade, having been turned back by the guard when he tried to pass through the main gate.
"They shut me out!" he bellowed furiously. "I am Gaspard Roussillon, and they shut me out, me! Ziff! me voici! je vais entrer immediatement, moi!"
He attracted but little attention, however; the people and the soldiery were all too excited by the special interest of the occasion, and too busy with making a racket of their own, for any individual, even the great Roussillon, to gain their eyes or ears. He in turn scarcely heard the tumult they made, so self-centered were his burning thoughts and feelings. A great occasion in Vincennes and he, Gaspard Roussillon, not recognized as one of the large factors in it! Ah, no, never! And he strode along the wall of the stockade, turning the corners and heavily shambling over the inequalities till he reached the postern. It was not fastened, some one having passed through just before him.
"Ziff!" he ejaculated, stepping into the area and shaking himself after the manner of a dusty mastiff. "C'est moi! Gaspard Roussillon!" His massive under jaw was set like that of a vise, yet it quivered with rage, a rage which was more fiery condensation of self-approval than anger.
Outside the shouting, singing and huzzahs gathered strength and volume, until the sound became a hoarse roar. Clark was uneasy; he had overheard much of a threatening character during the siege. The creoles were, he knew, justly exasperated, and even his own men had been showing a spirit which might easily be fanned into a dangerous flame of vengeance. He was very anxious to have the formalities of taking possession of the fort over with, so that he could the better control his forces. Sending for Beverley he assigned him to the duty of hauling down the British flag and running up that of Virginia. It was an honor of no doubtful sort, which under different circumstances would have made the Lieutenant's heart glow. As it was, he proceeded without any sense of pride or pleasure, moving as a mere machine in performing an act significant beyond any other done west of the mountains, in the great struggle for American independence and the control of American territory.
Hamilton stood a little way from the foot of the tall flag-pole, his arms folded on his breast, his chin slightly drawn in, his brows contracted, gazing steadily at Beverley while he was untying the halyard, which had been wound around the pole's base about three feet above the ground. The American troops in the fort were disposed so as to form three sides of a hollow square, facing inward. Oncle Jazon, serving as the ornamental extreme of one line, was conspicuous for his outlandish garb and unmilitary bearing. The silence inside the stockade offered a strong contrast to the tremendous roar of voices outside. Clark made a signal, and at the tap of a drum, Beverley shook the ropes loose and began to lower the British colors. Slowly the bright emblem of earth's mightiest nation crept down in token of the fact that a handful of back-woodsmen had won an empire by a splendid stroke of pure heroism. Beverley detached the flag, and saluting, handed it to Colonel Clark. Hamilton's breast heaved and his iron jaws tightened their pressure until the lines of his cheeks were deep furrows of pain.
Father Beret, who had just been admitted, quietly took a place at one side near the wall. There was a fine, warm, benignant smile on his old face, yet his powerful shoulders drooped as if weighted down with a heavy load. Hamilton was aware when he entered, and instantly the scene of their conflict came into his memory with awful vividness, and he saw Alice lying outstretched, stark and, cold, the shining strand of hair fluttering across her pallid cheek. Her ghost overshadowed him.
Just then there was a bird-like movement, a wing-like rustle, and a light figure flitted swiftly across the area. All eyes were turned upon it. Hamilton recoiled, as pale as death, half lifting his hands, as if to ward off a deadly blow, and then a gay flag was flung out over his head. He saw before him the girl he had shot; but her beautiful face was not waxen now, nor was it cold or lifeless. The rich red blood was strong under the browned, yet delicate skin, the eyes were bright and brave, the cherry lips, slightly apart, gave a glimpse of pearl white teeth, and the dimples,—those roguish dimples,—twinkled sweetly.
Colonel Clark looked on in amazement, and in spite of himself, in admiration. He did not understand; the sudden incident bewildered him; but his virile nature was instantly and wholly charmed. Something like a breath of violets shook the tenderest chords of his heart.
Alice stood firmly, a statue of triumph, her right arm outstretched, holding the flag high above Hamilton's head; and close by her side the little hunchback Jean was posed in his most characteristic attitude, gazing at the banner which he himself had stolen and kept hidden for Alice's sake, and because he loved it.
There was a dead silence for some moments, during which Hamilton's face showed that he was ready to collapse; then the keen voice of Oncle Jazon broke forth:
"Vive Zhorzh Vasinton! Vim la banniere d'Alice Roussillon!"
He sprang to the middle of the area and flung his old cap high in air, with a shrill war-whoop.
"H'ist it! h'ist it! hissez la banniere de Mademoiselle Alice Roussillon! Voila, que c'est glorieuse, cette banniere la! H'ist it! h'ist it!"
He was dancing with a rickety liveliness, his goatish legs and shriveled body giving him the look of an emaciated satyr.
Clark had been told by some of his creole officers the story of how Alice raised the flag when Helm took the fort, and how she snatched it from Hamilton's hand, as it were, and would not give it up when he demanded it. The whole situation pretty soon began to explain itself, as he saw what Alice was doing. Then he heard her say to Hamilton, while she slowly swayed the rippling flag back and forth:
"I said, as you will remember, Monsieur le Gouverneur, that when you next should see this flag, I should wave it over your head. Well, look, I am waving it! Vive la republique! Vive George Washington! What do you think of it, Monsieur le Gouverneur?"
The poor little hunchback Jean took off his cap and tossed it in rhythmical emphasis, keeping time to her words.
And now from behind the hollow square came a mighty voice:
"C'est moi, Gaspard Roussillon; me voici, messieurs!"
There was a spirit in the air which caught from Alice a thrill of romantic energy. The men in the ranks and the officers in front of them felt a wave of irresistible sympathy sweep through their hearts. Her picturesque beauty, her fine temper, the fitness of the incident to the occasion, had an instantaneous power which moved all men alike.
"Raise her flag! Run up the young lady's flag!" some one shouted, and then every voice seemed to echo the words. Clark was a young man of noble type, in whose veins throbbed the warm chivalrous blood of the cavaliers. A waft of the suddenly prevailing influence bore him also quite off his feet. He turned to Beverley and said:
"Do it! It will have a great effect. It is a good idea; get the young lady's flag and her permission to run it up."
Before he finished speaking, indeed at the first glance, he saw that Beverley, like Hamilton, was white as a dead man; and at the same time it came to his memory that his young friend had confided to him during the awful march through the prairie wilderness, a love-story about this very Alice Roussillon. In the worry and stress of the subsequent struggle, he had forgotten the tender basis upon which Beverley had rested his excuse for leaving Vincennes. Now, it all reappeared in justification of what was going on. It touched the romantic core of his southern nature.
"I say, Lieutenant Beverley," he repeated, "beg the young lady's permission to use her flag upon this glorious occasion; or shall I do it for you?"
There were no miracles in those brave days, and the strain of life with its terrible realities braced all men and women to meet sudden explosions of surprise, whether of good or bad effect, with admirable equipoise; but Beverley's trial, it must be admitted, was extraordinary; still he braced himself quickly and his whole expression changed when Clark moved to go to Alice. For he realized now that it was, indeed, Alice in flesh and blood, standing there, the center of admiration, filling the air with her fine magnetism and crowning a great triumph with her beauty. He gave her a glad, flashing smile, as if he had just discovered her, and walked straight to her, his hands extended. She was not looking toward him; but she saw him and turned to face him. Hers was the advantage; for she had known, for some hours, of his presence in Vincennes, and had prepared herself to meet him courageously and with maidenly reserve.
There is no safety, however, where Love lurks. Neither Beverley nor Alice was as much agitated at Hamilton, yet they both forgot, what he remembered, that a hundred grim frontier soldiers were looking on. Hamilton had his personal and official dignity to sustain, and he fairly did it, under what a pressure of humiliating and surprising circumstances we can fully comprehend. Not so with the two young people, standing as it were in a suddenly bestowed and incomparable happiness, on the verge of a new life, each to the other an unexpected, unhoped-for resurrection from the dead. To them there was no universe save the illimitable expanse of their love. In that moment of meeting, all that they had suffered on account of love was transfused and poured forth,—a glowing libation for love's sake,—a flood before which all barriers broke.
Father Beret was looking on with a strange fire in his eyes, and what he feared would happen, did happen. Alice let the flag fall at Hamilton's feet, when Beverley came near her smiling that great, glad smile, and with a joyous cry leaped into his outstretched arms.
Jean snatched up the fallen banner and ran to Colonel Clark with it. Two minutes later it was made fast and the halyard began to squeak through the rude pulley at the top of the pole. Up, up, climbed the gay little emblem of glory, while the cannon crashed from the embrasures of the blockhouse hard by, and outside the roar of voices redoubled. Thirteen guns boomed the salute, though it should have been fourteen,—the additional one for the great Northwestern Territory, that day annexed to the domain of the young American Republic. The flag went up at old Vincennes never to come down again, and when it reached its place at the top of the staff, Beverley and Alice stood side by side looking at it, while the sun broke through the clouds and flashed on its shining folds, and love unabashed glorified the two strong young faces.
SOME TRANSACTIONS IN SCALPS
History would be a very orderly affair, could the dry-as-dust historians have their way, and doubtless it would be thrillingly romantic at every turn if the novelists were able to control its current. Fortunately neither one nor the other has much influence, and the result, in the long run, is that most novels are shockingly tame, while the large body of history is loaded down with picturesque incidents, which if used in fiction, would be thought absurdly romantic and improbable.
Were our simple story of old Vincennes a mere fiction, we should hesitate to bring in the explosion of a magazine at the fort with a view to sudden confusion and, by that means, distracting attention from our heroine while she betakes herself out of a situation which, although delightful enough for a blessed minute, has quickly become an embarrassment quite unendurable. But we simply adhere to the established facts in history. Owing to some carelessness there was, indeed, an explosion of twenty-six six-pound cartridges, which made a mighty roar and struck the newly installed garrison into a heap, so to say, scattering things terribly and wounding six men, among them Captains Bowman and Worthington.
After the thunderous crash came a momentary silence, which embraced both the people within the fort and the wild crowd outside. Then the rush and noise were indescribable. Even Clark gave way to excitement, losing command of himself and, of course, of his men. There was a stampede toward the main gate by one wing of the troops in the hollow square. They literally ran over Beverley and Alice, flinging them apart and jostling them hither and yonder without mercy. Of course the turmoil quickly subsided. Clark and Beverley got hold of themselves and sang out their peremptory orders with excellent effect. It was like oil on raging water; the men obeyed in a straggling way, getting back into ranks as best they could.
"Ventrebleu!" squeaked Oncle Jazon, "ef I didn't think the ole world had busted into a million pieces!"
He was jumping up and down not three feet from Beverley's toes, waving his cap excitedly.
"But wasn't I skeert! Ya, ya, ya! Vive la banniere d'Alice Roussillon! Vive Zhorzh Vasinton!"
Hearing Alice's name caused Beverley to look around. Where was she? In the distance he saw Father Beret hurrying to the spot where some of the men burnt and wounded by the explosion were being stripped and cared for. Hamilton still stood like a statue. He appeared to be the only cool person in the fort.
"Where is Alice?—Miss Roussillon—where did Miss Roussillon go?" Beverley exclaimed, staring around like a lost man. "Where is she?"
"D'know," said Oncle Jazon, resuming his habitual expression of droll dignity, "she shot apast me jes' as thet thing busted loose, an' she went like er hummin' bird, skitch!—jes' thet way—an' I didn't see 'r no more. 'Cause I was skeert mighty nigh inter seven fits; 'spect that 'splosion blowed her clean away! Ventrebleu! never was so plum outen breath an' dead crazy weak o' bein' afeard!"
"Lieutenant Beverley," roared Clark in his most commanding tone, "go to the gate and settle things there. That mob outside is trying to break in!"
The order was instantly obeyed, but Beverley had relapsed. Once more his soul groped in darkness, while the whole of his life seemed unreal, a wavering, misty, hollow dream. And yet his military duty was all real enough. He knew just what to do when he reached the gate.
"Back there at once!" he commanded, not loudly, but with intense force, "back there!" This to the inward surging wedge of excited outsiders. Then to the guard.
"Shoot the first man who crosses the line!"
"Ziff! me voici! moi! Gaspard Roussillon. Laissez-moi passer, messieurs."
A great body hurled itself frantically past Beverley and the guard, going out through the gateway against the wall of the crowd, bearing everything before it and shouting:
"Back, fools! you'll all be killed—the powder is on fire! Ziff! run!"
Wild as a March hare, he bristled with terror and foamed at the mouth. He stampeded the entire mass. There was a wild howl; a rush in the other direction followed, and soon enough the esplanade and all the space back to the barricades and beyond were quite deserted.
Alice was not aware that a serious accident had happened. Naturally she thought the great, rattling, crashing noise of the explosion a mere part of the spectacular show. When the rush followed, separating her and Beverley, it was a great relief to her in some way; for a sudden recognition of the boldness of her action in the little scene just ended, came over her and bewildered her. An impulse sent her running away from the spot where, it seemed to her, she had invited public derision. The terrible noises all around her were, she now fancied, but the jeering and hooting of rude men who had seen her unmaidenly forwardness.
With a burning face she flew to the postern and slipped out, once more taking the course which had become so familiar to her feet. She did not slacken her speed until she reached the Bourcier cabin, where she had made her home since the night when Hamilton's pistol ball struck her. The little domicile was quite empty of its household, but Alice entered and flung herself into a chair, where she sat quivering and breathless when Adrienne, also much excited, came in, preceded by a stream of patois that sparkled continuously.
"The fort is blown up!" she cried, gesticulating in every direction at once, her petite figure comically dilated with the importance of her statement. "A hundred men are killed, and the powder is on fire!"
She pounced into Alice's arms, still talking as fast as her tongue could vibrate, changing from subject to subject without rhyme or reason, her prattle making its way by skips and shies until what was really upper-most in her sweet little heart disclosed itself.
"And, O Alice! Rene has not come yet!"
She plunged her dusky face between Alice's cheek and shoulder; Alice hugged her sympathetically and said:
"But Rene will come, I know he will, dear."
"Oh, but do you know it? is it true? who told you? when will he come? where is he? tell me about him!"
Her head popped up from her friend's neck and she smiled brilliantly through the tears that were still sparkling on her long black lashes.
"I didn't mean that I had heard from him, and I don't know where he is; but—but they always come back."
"You say that because your man—because Lieutenant Beverley has returned. It is always so. You have everything to make you happy, while I—I—"
Again her eyes spilled their shower, and she hid her face in her hands which Alice tried in vain to remove.
"Don't cry, Adrienne. You didn't see me crying—"
"No, of course not; you didn't have a thing to cry about. Lieutenant Beverley told you just where he was going and just what—"
"But think, Adrienne, only think of the awful story they told—that he was killed, that Governor Hamilton had paid Long-Hair for killing him and bringing back his scalp—oh dear, just think! And I thought it was true."
"Well, I'd be willing to think and believe anything in the world, if Rene would come back," said Adrienne, her face, now uncovered, showing pitiful lines of suffering. "O Alice, Alice, and he never, never will come!"
Alice exhausted every device to cheer, encourage and comfort her. Adrienne had been so good to her when she lay recovering from the shock of Hamilton's pistol bullet, which, although it came near killing her, made no serious wound—only a bruise, in fact. It was one of those fortunate accidents, or providentially ordered interferences, which once in a while save a life. The stone disc worn by Alice chanced to lie exactly in the missile's way, and while it was not broken, the ball, already somewhat checked by passing through several folds of Father Beret's garments, flattened itself upon it with a shock which somehow struck Alice senseless.
Here again, history in the form of an ancient family document (a letter written in 1821 by Alice herself), gives us the curious brace of incidents, to wit, the breaking of the miniature on Beverley's breast by a British musket-ball, and the stopping of Hamilton's bullet over Alice's heart by the Indian charm-stone.
"Which shows the goodness of God," the letter goes on, "and also seems to sustain the Indian legend concerning the stone, that whoever might wear it could not be killed. Unquestionable (sic) Mr. Hamilton's shot, which was aimed at poor, dear old Father Beret, would have pierced my heart, but for that charm-stone. As for my locket, it did not, as some have reported, save Fitzhugh's life when the musket-ball was stopped. The ball was so spent that the blow was only hard enough to spoil temporary (sic) the face of the miniature, which was afterwards restored fairly well by an artist in Paris. When it did actually save Fitzhugh's life was out on the Illinois plain. The savage, Long-Hair, peace to his memory, worked the miracle of restoring to me—" Here a fold in the paper has destroyed a line of the writing.
The letter is a sacred family paper, and there is not justification for going farther into its faded and, in some parts, almost obliterated writing. But so much may pass into these pages as a pleasant authentication of what otherwise might be altogether too sweet a double nut for the critic's teeth to crack.
While Adrienne and Alice were still discussing the probability of Rene de Ronville's return, M. Roussillon came to the door. He was in search of Madame, his wife, whom he had not yet seen.
He gathered the two girls in his mighty arms, tousling them with rough tenderness. Alice returned his affectionate embrace and told him where to find Madame Roussillon, who was with Dame Godere, probably at her house.
"Nobody killed," he said, in answer to Alice's inquiry about the catastrophe at the fort. "Some of 'em hurt and burnt a little. Great big scare about nearly nothing. Ziff! my children, you should have seen me quiet things. I put out my hands, this way—omme ca—pouf! It was all over. The people went home."
His gestures indicated that he had borne back an army with open hands. Then he chucked Adrienne under the chin with his finger and added in his softest voice:
"I saw somebody's lover the other day, over yonder in the Indian village. He spoke to me about somebody—eh, ma petite, que voulez-vous dire?"
"Oh, Papa Roussillon! we were just talking about Rene!" cried Alice. "Have you seen him?"
"I saw you, you little minx, jumping into a man's arms right under the eyes of a whole garrison! Bah! I could not believe it was my little Alice!"
He let go a grand guffaw, which seemed to shake the cabin's walls. Alice blushed cherry red. Adrienne, too bashful to inquire about Rene, was trembling with anxiety. The truth was not in Gaspard Roussillon, just then; or if it was it stayed in him, for he had not seen Rene de Ronville. It was his generous desire to please and to appear opulent of knowledge and sympathy that made him speak. He knew what would please Adrienne, so why not give her at least a delicious foretaste? Surely, when a thing was so cheap, one need not be so parsimonious as to withhold a mere anticipation. He was off before the girls could press him into details, for indeed he had none.
"There now, what did I tell you?" cried Alice, when the big man was gone. "I told you Rene would come. They always come back!"
Father Beret came in a little later. As soon as he saw Alice he frowned and began to shake his head; but she only laughed, and imitating his hypocritical scowl, yet fringing it with a twinkle of merry lines and dimples, pointed a taper finger at him and exclaimed:
"You bad, bad, man! why did you pretend to me that Lieutenant Beverley was dead? What sinister ecclesiastical motive prompted you to describe how Long-Hair scalped him? Ah, Father—"
The priest laid a broad hand over her saucy mouth. "Something or other seems to have excited you mightily, ma fille, you are a trifle impulsively inclined to-day."
"Yes, Father Beret; yes I know, and I am ashamed. My heart shrinks when I think of what I did; but I was so glad, such a grand joy came all over me when I saw him, so strong and brave and beautiful, coming toward me, smiling that warm, glad smile and holding out his arms—ah, when I saw all that—when I knew for sure that he was not dead—I, why, Father—I just had to, I couldn't help it!"
Father Beret laughed in spite of himself, but quickly managed to resume his severe countenance.
"Ta! ta!" he exclaimed, "it was a bold thing for a little girl to do."
"So it was, so it was. But it was also a bold thing for him to do—to come back after he was dead and scalped and look so handsome and grand! I'm ashamed and sorry, Father; but—but, I'm afraid I might do it again if—well, I don't care if I did—so there, now!"
"But what in the world are you talking about?" interposed Adrienne. Evidently they were discussing a most interesting matter of which she knew nothing, and that did not suit her feminine curiosity. "Tell me." She pulled Father Beret's sleeve. "Tell me, I say!"
It is probable that Father Beret would have pretended to betray Alice's source of mingled delight and embarrassment, had not the rest of the Bourcier household returned in time to break up the conversation. A little later Alice gave Adrienne a vividly dramatic account of the whole scene.
"Ah, mon Dieu!" exclaimed the petite brunette, after she had heard the exciting story. "That was just like you, Alice. You always do superb things. You were born to do them. You shoot Captain Farnsworth, you wound Lieutenant Barlow, you climb onto the fort and set up your flag—you take it down again and run away with it—you get shot and you do not die—you kiss your lover right before a whole garrison! Bon Dieu! if I could but do all those things!"
She clasped her tiny hands before her and added rather dejectedly: "But I couldn't, I couldn't. I couldn't kiss a man in that way!"
Late in the evening news came to Roussillon place, where Gaspard Roussillon was once more happy in the midst of his little family, that the Indian Long-Hair had just been brought to the fort, and would be shot on the following day. A scouting party captured him as he approached the town, bearing at his belt the fresh scalp of a white man. He would have been killed forthwith, but Clark, who wished to avoid a repetition of the savage vengeance meted out to the Indians on the previous day, had given strict orders that all prisoners should be brought into the fort, where they were to have a fair trial by court martial.
Both Helm and Beverley were at Roussillon place, the former sipping wine and chatting with Gaspard, the latter, of course, hovering around Alice, after the manner of a hungry bee around a particularly sweet and deliciously refractory flower. It was raining slowly, the fine drops coming straight down through the cold, still February air; but the two young people found it pleasant enough for them on the veranda, where they walked back and forth, making fair exchange of the exciting experiences which had befallen them during their long separation. Between the lines of these mutual recitals sweet, fresh echoes of the old, old story went from heart to heart, an amoebaean love-bout like that of spring birds calling tenderly back and forth in the blooming Maytime woods.
Both Captain Helm and M. Roussillon were delighted to hear of Long-Hair's capture and certain fate, but neither of them regarded the news as of sufficient importance to need much comment. They did not think of telling Beverley and Alice. Jean, however, lying awake in his little bed, overheard the conversation, which he repeated to Alice next morning with great circumstantiality.
Having the quick insight bred of frontier experience, Alice instantly caught the terrible significance of the dilemma in which she and Beverley would be placed by Long-Hair's situation. Moreover, something in her heart arose with irresistible power demanding the final, the absolute human sympathy and gratitude. No matter what deeds Long-Hair had committed that were evil beyond forgiveness, he had done for her the all-atoning thing. He had saved Beverley and sent him back to her.
With a start and a chill of dread, she thought: "What if it is already too late!"
But her nature could not hesitate. To feel the demand of an exigency was to act. She snatched a wrap from its peg on the wall and ran as fast as she could to the fort. People who met her flying along wondered, staring after her, what could be urging her so that she saw nobody, checked herself for nothing, ran splashing through the puddles in the street, gazing ahead of her, as if pursuing some flying object from which she dared not turn her eyes.
And there was, indeed, a call for her utmost power of flight, if she would be of any assistance to Long-Hair, who even then stood bound to a stake in the fort's area, while a platoon of riflemen, those unerring shots from Kentucky and Virginia, were ready to make a target of him at a range of but twenty yards.
Beverley, greatly handicapped by the fact that the fresh scalp of a white man hung at Long-Hair's belt, had exhausted every possible argument to avert or mitigate the sentence promptly spoken by the court martial of which Colonel Clark was the ruling spirit. He had succeeded barely to the extent of turning the mode of execution from tomahawking to shooting. All the officers in the fort approved killing the prisoner, and it was difficult for Colonel Clark to prevent the men from making outrageous assaults upon him, so exasperated were they at sight of the scalp.
Oncle Jazon proved to be one of the most refractory among those who demanded tomahawking and scalping as the only treatment due Long-Hair. The repulsive savage stood up before them stolid, resolute, defiant, proudly flaunting the badge which testified to his horrible efficiency as an emissary of Hamilton's. It had been left in his belt by Clark's order, as the best justification of his doom.
"L' me hack 'is damned head," Oncle Jazon pleaded. "I jes' hankers to chop a hole inter it. An' besides I want 'is scelp to hang up wi' mine an' that'n o' the Injun what scelped me. He kicked me in the ribs, the stinkin' varmint."
Beverley pleaded eloquently and well, but even the genial Major Helm laughed at his sentiment of gratitude to a savage who at best but relented at the last moment, for Alice's sake, and concluded not to sell him to Hamilton. It is due to the British commander to record here that he most positively and with what appeared to be high sincerity, denied the charge of having offered rewards for the taking of human scalps. He declared that his purposes and practices were humane, and that while he did use the Indians as military allies, his orders to them were that they must forego cruel modes of warfare and refrain from savage outrage upon prisoners. Certainly the weight of contemporary testimony seems overwhelmingly against him, but we enter his denial. Long-Hair himself, however, taunted him with accusations of unfaithfulness in carrying out some very inhuman contracts, and to add a terrible sting, volunteered the statement that poor Barlow's scalp had served his turn in the place of Beverley's.
With conditions so hideous to contend against, Beverley, of course, had no possible means of succoring the condemned savage.
"Him a kickin' yer ribs clean inter ye, an' a makin' ye run the ga'ntlet, an' here ye air a tryin' to save 'is life!" whined Oncle Jazon, "W'y man, I thought ye hed some senterments! Dast 'is Injin liver, I kin feel them kicks what he guv me till yit. Ventrebleu! que diable voulez-vous?"
Clark simply pushed Beverley's pleadings aside as not worth a moment's consideration. He easily felt the fine bit of gratitude at the bottom of it all; but there was too much in the other side of the balance; justice, the discipline and confidence of his little army, and the claim of the women and children on the frontier demanded firmness in dealing with a case like Long-Hair's.
"No, no," he said to Beverley, "I would do anything in the world for you, Fitz, except to swerve an inch from duty to my country and the defenceless people down yonder in Kentucky, I can't do it. There's no use to press the matter further. The die is cast. That brute's got to be killed, and killed dead. Look at him—look at that scalp! I'd have him killed if I dropped dead for it the next instant."
Beverley shuddered. The argument was horribly convincing, and yet, somehow, the desire to save Long-Hair overbore everything else in his mind. He could not cease his efforts; it seemed to him as if he were pleading for Alice herself. Captain Farnsworth, strange to say, was the only man in the fort who leaned to Beverley's side; but he was reticent, doubtless feeling that his position as a British prisoner gave him no right to speak, especially when every lip around him was muttering something about "infamous scalp-buyers and Indian partisans," with whom he was prominently counted by the speakers.
As Clark had said, the die was cast. Long-Hair, bound to a stake, the scalp still dangling at his side, grimly faced his executioners, who were eager to fire. He appeared to be proud of the fact that he was going to be killed.
"One thing I can say of him," Helm remarked to Beverley; "he's the grandest specimen of the animal—I might say the brute—man that I ever saw, red, white or black. Just look at his body and limbs! Those muscles are perfectly marvelous."
"He saved my life, and I must stand here and see him murdered," the young man replied with intense bitterness. It was all that he could think, all that he could say. He felt inefficient and dejected, almost desperate.
Clark himself, not willing to cast responsibility upon a subordinate, made ready to give the fatal order. Turning to Long-Hair first, he demanded of him as well as he could in the Indian dialect of which he had a smattering, what he had to say at his last moment.
The Indian straightened his already upright form, and, by a strong bulging of his muscles, snapped the thongs that bound him. Evidently he had not tried thus to free himself; it was rather a spasmodic expression of savage dignity and pride. One arm and both his legs still were partially confined by the bonds, but his right hand he lifted, with a gesture of immense self-satisfaction, and pointed at Hamilton.
"Indian brave; white man coward," he said, scowling scornfully. "Long-Hair tell truth; white man lie, damn!"
Hamilton's countenance did not change its calm, cold expression. Long-Hair gazed at him fixedly for a long moment, his eyes flashing most concentrated hate and contempt. Then he tore the scalp from his belt and flung it with great force straight toward the captive Governor's face. It fell short, but the look that went with it did not, and Hamilton recoiled.
At that moment Alice arrived. Her coming was just in time to interrupt Clark, who had turned to the waiting platoon with the order of death on his lips. She made no noise, save the fluttering of her skirts, and her loud and rapid panting on account of her long, hard run. She sprang before Long-Hair and faced the platoon.
"You cannot, you shall not kill this man!" she cried in a voice loaded with excitement. "Put away those guns!"
Woman never looked more thrillingly beautiful to man than she did just then to all those rough, stern backwoodsmen. During her flight her hair had fallen down, and it glimmered like soft sunlight around her face. Something compelling flashed out of her eyes, an expression between a triumphant smile and a ray of irresistible beseechment. It took Colonel Clark's breath when he turned and saw her standing there, and heard her words.
"This man saved Lieutenant Beverley's life," she presently added, getting better control of her voice, and sending into it a thrilling timbre; "you shall not harm him—you must not do it!"
Beverley was astounded when he saw her, the thing was so unexpected, so daring, and done with such high, imperious force; still it was but a realization of what he had imagined she would be upon occasion. He stood gazing at her, as did all the rest, while she faced Clark and the platoon of riflemen. To hear his own name pass her quivering lips, in that tone and in that connection, seemed to him a consecration.
"Would you be more savage than your Indian prisoner?" she went on, "less grateful than he for a life saved? I did him a small, a very small, service once, and in memory of that he saved Lieutenant Beverley's life, because—because—" she faltered for a single breath, then added clearly and with magnetic sweetness—"because Lieutenant Beverley loved me, and because I loved him. This Indian Long-Hair showed a gratitude that could overcome his strongest passion. You white men should be ashamed to fall below his standard."
Her words went home. It was as if the beauty of her face, the magnetism of her lissome and symmetrical form, the sweet fire of her eyes and the passionate appeal of her voice gave what she said a new and irresistible force of truth. When she spoke of Beverley's love for her, and declared her love for him, there was not a manly heart in all the garrison that did not suddenly beat quicker and feel a strange, sweet waft of tenderness. A mother, somewhere, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a sweetheart, called through that voice of absolute womanhood.
"Beverley, what can I do?" muttered Clark, his bronze face as pale as it could possibly become.
"Do!" thundered Beverley, "do! you cannot murder that man. Hamilton is the man you should shoot! He offered large rewards, he inflamed the passions and fed the love of rum and the cupidity of poor wild men like the one standing yonder. Yet you take him prisoner and treat him with distinguished consideration. Hamilton offered a large sum for me taken alive, a smaller one for my scalp. Long-Hair saved me. You let Hamilton stand yonder in perfect safety while you shoot the Indian. Shame on you, Colonel Clark! shame on you, if you do it."
Alice stood looking at the stalwart commander while Beverley was pouring forth his torrent of scathing reference to Hamilton, and she quickly saw that Clark was moved. The moment was ripe for the finishing stroke. They say it is genius that avails itself of opportunity. Beverley knew the fight was won when he saw what followed. Alice suddenly left Long-Hair and ran to Colonel Clark, who felt her warm, strong arms loop round him for a single point of time never to be effaced from his memory; then he saw her kneeling at his feet, her hands upstretched, her face a glorious prayer, while she pleaded the Indian's cause and won it.
Doubtless, while we all rather feel that Clark was weak to be thus swayed by a girl, we cannot quite blame him. Alice's flag was over him; he had heard her history from Beverley's cunning lips; he actually believed that Hamilton was the real culprit, and besides he felt not a little nauseated with executing Indians. A good excuse to have an end of it all did not go begging.
But Long-Hair was barely gone over the horizon from the fort, as free and as villainous a savage as ever trod the earth, when a discovery made by Oncle Jazon caused Clark to hate himself for what he had done.
The old scout picked up the scalp, which Long-Hair had flung at Hamilton, and examined it with odious curiosity. He had lingered on the spot with no other purpose than to get possession of that ghastly relic. Since losing his own scalp the subject of crownlocks had grown upon his mind until its fascination was irresistible. He studied the hair of every person he saw, as a physiognomist studies faces. He held the gruesome thing up before him, scrutinizing it with the expression of a connoisseur who has discovered, on a grimy canvas, the signature of an old master.
"Sac' bleu!" he presently broke forth. "Well I'll be—Look'ee yer, George Clark! Come yer an' look. Ye've been sold ag'in. Take a squint, ef ye please!"
Colonel Clark, with his hands crossed behind him, his face thoughtfully contracted, was walking slowly to and fro a little way off. He turned about when Oncle Jazon spoke.
"What now, Jazon?"
"A mighty heap right now, that's what; come yer an' let me show ye. Yer a fine sort o' eejit, now ain't ye!"
The two men walked toward each other and met. Oncle Jazon held up the scalp with one hand, pointing at it with the index finger of the other.
"This here scalp come off'n Rene de Ronville's head."
"And who is he?"
"Who's he? Ye may well ax thet. He wuz a Frenchman. He wuz a fine young feller o' this town. He killed a Corp'ral o' Hamilton's an' tuck ter the woods a month or two ago. Hamilton offered a lot o' money for 'im or 'is scalp, an' Long-Hair went in fer gittin' it. Now ye knows the whole racket. An' ye lets that Injun go. An' thet same Injun he mighty nigh kicked my ribs inter my stomach!"
Oncle Jazon's feelings were visible and audible; but Clark could not resent the contempt of the old man's looks and words. He felt that he deserved far more than he was receiving. Nor was Oncle Jazon wrong. Rene de Ronville never came back to little Adrienne Bourcier, although, being kept entirely ignorant of her lover's fate, she waited and dreamed and hoped throughout more than two years, after which there is no further record of her life.
Clark, Beverley and Oncle Jazon consulted together and agreed among themselves that they would hold profoundly secret the story of the scalp. To have made it public would have exasperated the creoles and set them violently against Clark, a thing heavy with disaster for all his future plans. As it was, the release of Long-Hair caused a great deal of dissatisfaction and mutinous talk. Even Beverley now felt that the execution ordered by the commander ought to have been sternly carried out.
A day or two later, however, the whole dark affair was closed forever by a bit of confidence on the part of Oncle Jazon when Beverley dropped into his hut one evening to have a smoke with him.
The rain was over, the sky shone like one vast luminary, with a nearly full moon and a thousand stars reinforcing it. Up from the south poured one of those balmy, accidental wind floods, sometimes due in February on the Wabash, full of tropical dream-hints, yet edged with a winter chill that smacks of treachery. Oncle Jazon was unusually talkative; he may have had a deep draught of liquor; at all events Beverley had little room for a word.
"Well, bein' as it's twixt us, as is bosom frien's," the old fellow presently said, "I'll jes' show ye somepin poorty."
He pricked the wick of a lamp and took down his bunch of scalps.
"I hev been a addin' one more to keep company o' mine an' the tothers."
He separated the latest acquisition from the rest of the wisp and added, with a heinous chuckle:
And so it was. Beverley knocked the ashes from his pipe and rose to go.
"Wen they kicks yer Oncle Jazon's ribs," the old man added, "they'd jes' as well lay down an' give up, for he's goin' to salervate 'em."
Then, after Beverley had passed out of the cabin, Oncle Jazon chirruped after him:
"Mebbe ye'd better not tell leetle Alice. The pore leetle gal hev hed worry 'nough."
CLARK ADVISES ALICE
A few days after the surrender of Hamilton, a large boat, the Willing, arrived from Kaskaskia. It was well manned and heavily armed. Clark fitted it out before beginning his march and expected it to be of great assistance to him in the reduction of the fort, but the high waters and the floating driftwood delayed its progress, so that its disappointed crew saw Alice's flag floating bright and high when their eyes first looked upon the dull little town from far down the swollen river. There was much rejoicing, however, when they came ashore and were enthusiastically greeted by the garrison and populace. A courier whom they picked up on the Ohio came with them. He bore dispatches from Governor Henry of Virginia to Clark and a letter for Beverley from his father. With them appeared also Simon Kenton, greatly to the delight of Oncle Jazon, who had worried much about his friend since their latest fredaine—as he called it—with the Indians. Meantime an expedition under Captain Helm had been sent up the river with the purpose of capturing a British flotilla from Detroit.
Gaspard Roussillon, immediately after Clark's victory, thought he saw a good opening favorable to festivity at the river house, for which he soon began to make some of his most ostentatious preparations. Fate, however, as usual in his case, interfered. Fate seemed to like pulling the big Frenchman's ear now and again, as if to remind him of the fact—which he was apt to forget—that he lacked somewhat of omnipotence.
"Ziff! Je vais donner un banquet a tout le moonde, moi!" he cried, hustling and bustling hither and thither.
A scout from up the river announced the approach of Philip Dejean with his flotilla richly laden, and what little interest may have been gathering in the direction of M. Roussillon's festal proposition vanished like the flame of a lamp in a puff of wind when this news reached Colonel Clark and became known in the town.
Beverley and Alice sat together in the main room of the Roussillon cabin—you could scarcely find them separated during those happy days—and Alice was singing to the soft tinkle of a guitar, a Creole ditty with a merry smack in its scarcely intelligible nonsense. She knew nothing about music beyond what M. Roussillon, a jack of all trades, had been able to teach her,—a few simple chords to accompany her songs, picked up at hap-hazard. But her voice, like her face and form, irradiated witchery. It was sweet, firm, deep, with something haunting in it—the tone of a hermit thrush, marvelously pure and clear, carried through a gay strain like the mocking-bird's. Of course Beverley thought it divine; and when a message came from Colonel Clark bidding him report for duty at once, he felt an impulse toward mutiny of the rankest sort. He did not dream that a military expedition could be on hand; but upon reaching headquarters, the first thing he heard was:
"Report to Captain Helm. You are to go with him up the river and intercept a British force. Move lively, Helm is waiting for you, probably."
There was no time for explanations. Evidently Clark expected neither questions nor delay. Beverley's love of adventure and his patriotic desire to serve his country came to his aid vigorously enough; still, with Alice's love-song ringing in his heart, there was a cord pulling him back from duty to the sweetest of all life's joys.
Helm was already at the landing, where a little fleet of boats was being prepared. A thousand things had to be done in short order. All hands were stimulated to highest exertion with the thought of another fight. Swivels were mounted in boats, ammunition and provisions stored abundantly, flags hoisted and oars dipped. Never was an expedition of so great importance more swiftly organized and set in motion, nor did one ever have a more prosperous voyage or completer triumph. Philip Dejean, Justice of Detroit, with his men, boats and rich cargo, was captured easily, with not a shot fired, nor a drop of blood spilled in doing it.
If Alice could have known all this before it happened, she would probably have saved herself from the mortification of a rebuke administered very kindly, but not the less thoroughly, by Colonel Clark.
The rumor came to her—a brilliant creole rumor, duly inflated—that an overwhelming British force was descending the river, and that Beverley with a few men, not sufficient to base the expedition on a respectable forlorn hope, would be sent to meet them. Her nature, as was its wont, flared into high indignation. What right had Colonel Clark to send her lover away to be killed just at the time when he was all the whole world to her? Nothing could be more outrageous. She would not suffer it to be done; not she!
Colonel Clark greeted her pleasantly, when she came somewhat abruptly to him, where he was directing a squad of men at work making some repairs in the picketing of the fort. He did not observe her excitement until she began to speak, and then it was noticeable only, and not very strongly, in her tone. She forgot to speak English, and her French was Greek to him.
"I am glad to see you, Mademoiselle," he said, rather inconsequently, lifting his hat and bowing with rough grace, while he extended his right hand cordially. "You have something to say to me? Come with me to my office."
She barely touched his fingers.
"Yes, I have something to say to you. I can tell it here," she said, speaking English now with softest Creole accent. "I wanted—I came to—" It was not so easy as she had imagined it would be to utter what she had in mind. Clark's steadfast, inscrutable eyes, kindly yet not altogether sympathetic, met her own and beat them down. Her voice failed.
He offered her his arm and gravely said:
"We will go to my office. I see that you have some important communication to make. There are too many ears here."
Of a sudden she felt like running home. Somehow the situation broke upon her with a most embarrassing effect. She did not take Clark's arm, and she began to tremble. He appeared unconscious of this, and probably was, for his mind had a fine tangle of great schemes in it just then; but he turned toward his office, and bidding her follow him, walked away in that direction.
She was helpless. Not the slightest trace of her usual brilliant self-assertion was at her command. Saving the squad of men sawing and hacking, digging and hammering, the fort appeared as deserted as her mind. She stood gazing after Clark. He did not look back, but strode right on. If she would speak with him, she must follow. It was a surprise to her, for heretofore she had always had her own way, even if she found it necessary to use force. And where was Beverley? Where was the garrison? Colonel Clark did not seem to be at all concerned about the approach of the British—and yet those repairs—perhaps he was making ready for a desperate resistance! She did not move until he reached the door of his office where he stopped and stepped aside, as if to let her pass in first; he even lifted his hat, then looked a trifle surprised when he saw that she was not near him, frowned slightly, changed the frown to a smile and said, lifting his voice so that she felt a certain imperative meaning in it:
"Did I walk too fast for you? I beg your pardon, Mademoiselle."
He stood waiting for her, as a father waits for a lagging, wilful child.
"Come, please," he added, "if you have something to say to me; my time just now is precious—I have a great deal to do."
She was not of a nature to retreat under fire, and yet the panic in her breast came very near mastering her will. Clark saw a look in her face which made him speak again:
"I assure you, Mademoiselle, that you need not feel embarrassed. You can rely upon me to—"
She made a gesture that interrupted him; at the same time she almost ran toward him, gathering in breath, as one does who is about to force out a desperately resisting and riotous thought. The strong, grave man looked at her with a full sense of her fascination, and at the same time he felt a vague wish to get away from her, as if she were about to cast unwelcome responsibility upon him.
"Where is Lieutenant Beverley?" she demanded, now close to Clark, face to face, and gazing straight into his eyes. "I want to see him." Her tone suggested intensest excitement. She was trembling visibly.
Clark's face changed its expression. He suddenly recalled to mind Alice's rapturous public greeting of Beverley on the day of the surrender. He was a cavalier, and it did not agree with his sense of high propriety for girls to kiss their lovers out in the open air before a gazing army. True enough, he himself had been hoodwinked by Alice's beauty and boldness in the matter of Long-Hair. He confessed this to himself mentally, which may have strengthened his present disapproval of her personal inquiry about Beverley. At all events he thought she ought not to be coming into the stockade on such an errand.
"Lieutenant Beverley is absent acting under my orders he said, with perfect respectfulness, yet in a tone suggesting military finality. He meant to set an indefinite yet effective rebuke in his words.
"Absent?" she echoed. "Gone? You sent him away to be killed! You had no right—you—"
"Miss Roussillon," said Clark, becoming almost stern, "you had better go home and stay there; young girls oughtn't to run around hunting men in places like this."
His blunt severity of speech was accompanied by a slight frown and a gesture of impatience.
Alice's face blazed red to the roots of her sunny hair; the color ebbed, giving place to a pallor like death. She began to tremble, and her lips quivered pitifully, but she braced herself and tried to force back the choking sensation in her throat.
"You must not misconstrue my words," Clark quickly added; "I simply mean that men will not rightly understand you. They will form impressions very harmful to you. Even Lieutenant Beverley might not see you in the right light."
"What—what do you mean?" she gasped, shrinking from him, a burning spot reappearing under the dimpled skin of each cheek.
"Pray, Miss, do not get excited. There is nothing to make you cry." He saw tears shining in her eyes. "Beverley is not in the slightest danger. All will be well, and he'll come back in a few days. The expedition will be but a pleasure trip. Now you go home. Lieutenant Beverley is amply able to take care of himself. And let me tell you, if you expect a good man to have great confidence in you, stay home and let him hunt you up instead of you hunting him. A man likes that better."
It would be impossible to describe Alice's feelings, as they just then rose like a whirling storm in her heart. She was humiliated, she was indignant, she was abashed; she wanted to break forth with a tempest of denial, self-vindication, resentment; she wanted to cry with her face hidden in her hands. What she did was to stand helplessly gazing at Clark, with two or three bright tears on either cheek, her hands clenched, her eyes flashing. She was going to say some wild thing; but she did not; her voice lodged fast in her throat. She moved her lips, unable to make a sound.
Two of Clark's officers relieved the situation by coming up to get orders about some matter of town government, and Alice scarcely knew how she made her way home. Every vein in her body was humming like a bee when she entered the house and flung herself into a chair.
She heard Madame Roussillon and Father Beret chatting in the kitchen, whence came a fragrance of broiling buffalo steak besprinkled with garlic. It was Father Beret's favorite dish, wherefore his tongue ran freely—almost as freely as that of his hostess, and when he heard Alice come in, he called gayly to her through the kitchen door:
"Come here, ma fille, and lend us old folks your appetite; nous avons une tranche a la Bordelaise!"
"I am not hungry," she managed to say, "you can eat it without me."
The old man's quick ears caught the quaver of trouble in her voice, much as she tried to hide it. A moment later he was standing beside her with his hand on her head.
"What is the matter now, little one?" he tenderly demanded. "Tell your old Father."
She began to cry, laying her face in her crossed arms, the tears gushing, her whole frame aquiver, and heaving great sobs. She seemed to shrink like a trodden flower. It touched Father Beret deeply.
He suspected that Beverley's departure might be the cause of her trouble; but when presently she told him what had taken place in the fort, he shook his head gravely and frowned.
"Colonel Clark was right, my daughter," he said after a short silence, "and it is time for you to ponder well upon the significance of his words. You can't always be a wilful, headstrong little girl, running everywhere and doing just as you please. You have grown to be a woman in stature—you must be one in fact. You know I told you at first to be careful how you acted with—"
"Father, dear old Father!" she cried, springing from her seat and throwing her arms around his neck. "Have I appeared forward and unwomanly? Tell me, Father, tell me! I did not mean to do anything—"
"Quietly, my child, don't give way to excitement." He gently put her from him and crossed himself—a habit of his when suddenly perplexed—then added:
"You have done no evil; but there are proprieties which a young woman must not overstep. You are impulsive, too impulsive; and it will not do to let a young man see that you—that you—"
"Father, I understand," she interrupted, and her face grew very pale.
Madame Roussillon came to the door, flushed with stooping over the fire, and announced that the steak was ready.
"Bring the wine, Alice," she added, "a bottle of Bordeaux."
She stood for a breath of two, her red hands on her hips, looking first at Father Beret, then at Alice.
"Quarreling again about the romances?" she inquired. "She's been at it again?—she's found 'em again?"
"Yes," said Father Beret, with a queer, dry smile, "more romance. Yes, she's been at it again! Now fetch the Bordeaux, little one."
The following days were cycles of torture to Alice. She groveled in the shadow of a great dread. It seemed to her that Beverley could not love her, could not help looking upon her as a poor, wild, foolish girl, unworthy of consideration. She magnified her faults and crudities, she paraded before her inner vision her fecent improprieties, as they had been disclosed to her, until she saw herself a sort of monstrosity at which all mankind was gazing with disgust. Life seemed dry and shriveled, a mere jaundiced shadow, while her love for Beverley took on a new growth, luxuriant, all-embracing, uncontrollable. The ferment of spirit going on in her breast was the inevitable process of self-recognition which follows the terrible unfolding of the passion-flower, in a nature almost absolutely simple and unsophisticated.
Vincennes held its breath while waiting for news from Helm's expedition. Every day had its nimble, yet wholly imaginary account of what had happened, skipping from mouth to mouth, and from cabin to cabin. The French folk ran hither and thither in the persistent rain, industriously improving the dramatic interest of each groundless report. Alice's disturbed imagination reveled in the kaleidoscopic terrors conjured up by these swift changes of the form and color of the stories "from the front," all of them more or less tragic. To-day the party is reported as having been surprised and massacred to a man—to-morrow there has been a great fight, many killed, the result in doubt—next day the British are defeated, and so on. The volatile spirit of the Creoles fairly surpassed itself in ringing the changes on stirring rumors.
Alice scarcely left the house during the whole period of excitement and suspense. Like a wounded bird, she withdrew herself from the light and noisy chatter of her friends, seeking only solitude and crepuscular nooks in which to suffer silently. Jean brought her every picturesque bit of the ghastly gossip, thus heaping coals on the fire of her torture. But she did not grow pale and thin. Not a dimple fled from cheek or chin, not a ray of saucy sweetness vanished from her eyes. Her riant health was unalterable. Indeed, the only change in her was a sudden ripening and mellowing of her beauty, by which its colors, its lines, its subtle undercurrents of expression were spiritualized, as if by some powerful clarifying process.
Tremendous is the effect of a soul surprised by passion and brought hard up against an opposing force which dashes it back upon itself with a flare and explosion of self-revealment. Nor shall we ever be able to foretell just how small a circumstance, just how slight an exigency, will suffice to bring on the great change. The shifting of a smile to the gloom of a frown, the snap of a string on the lute of our imagination, just at the point when a rich melody is culminating; the waving of a hand, a vanishing face—any eclipse of tender, joyous expectation—dashes a nameless sense of despair into the soul. And a young girl's soul—who shall uncover its sacred depths of sensitiveness, or analyze its capacity for suffering under such a stroke?
On the fifth day of March, back came the victorious Helm, having surrounded and captured seven boats, richly loaded with provisions and goods, and Dejean's whole force. Then again the little Creole town went wild with rejoicing. Alice heard the news and the noise; but somehow there was no response in her heart. She dreaded to meet Beverley; indeed, she did not expect him to come to her. Why should he?
M. Roussillon, who had volunteered to accompany Helm, arrived in a mood of unlimited proportions, so far as expressing self-admiration and abounding delight was concerned. You would have been sure that he had done the whole deed single-handed, and brought the flotilla and captives to town on his back. But Oncle Jazon for once held his tongue, being too disgusted for words at not having been permitted to fire a single shot. What was the use of going to fight and simply meeting and escorting down the river a lot of non-combatants?
There is something inscrutably delightful about a girl's way of thinking one thing and doing another. Perversity, thy name is maidenhood; and maidenhood, thy name is delicious inconsequence! When Alice heard that Beverley had come back, safe, victorious, to be greeted as one of the heroes of an important adventure, she immediately ran to her room frightened and full of vague, shadowy dread, to hide from him, yet feeling sure that he would not come! Moreover, she busied herself with the preposterous task of putting on her most attractive gown—the buff brocade which she wore that evening at the river house—how long ago it seemed!—when Beverley thought her the queenliest beauty in the world. And she was putting it on so as to look her prettiest while hiding from him!
It is a toss-up where happiness will make its nest. The palace, the hut, the great lady's garden, the wild lass's bower,—skip here, alight there,—the secret of it may never be told. And love and beauty find lodgment, by the same inexplicable route, in the same extremes of circumstances. The wind bloweth where it listeth, finding many a matchless flower and many a ravishing fragrance in the wildest nooks of the world.
No sooner did Beverley land at the little wharf than, rushing to his quarters, he made a hasty exchange of water-soaked apparel for something more comfortable, and then bolted in the direction of Roussillon place.
Now Alice knew by the beating of her heart that he was coming. In spite of all she could do, trying to hold on hard and fast to her doubt and gloom, a tide of rich sweetness began to course through her heart and break in splendid expectation from her eyes, as they looked through the little unglazed window toward the fort. Nor had she long to wait. He came up the narrow wet street, striding like a tall actor in the height of a melodrama, his powerful figure erect as an Indian's, and his face glowing with the joy of a genuine, impatient lover, who is proud of himself because of the image he bears in his heart.
When Alice flung wide the door (which was before Beverley could cross the veranda), she had quite forgotten how she had gowned and bedecked herself; and so, without a trace of self-consciousness, she flashed upon him a full-blown flower—to his eyes the loveliest that ever opened under heaven.
Gaspard Roussillon, still overflowing with the importance of his part in the capture of Dejean, came puffing homeward just in time to see a man at the door holding Alice a-tiptoe in his arms.
"Ziff!" he cried, as he pushed open the little front gate of the yard, "en voila assez, vogue la galere!"
The two forms disappeared within the house, as if moved by his roaring voice.
The letter to Beverley from his father was somewhat disturbing. It bore the tidings of his mother's failing health. This made it easier for the young Lieutenant to accept from Clark the assignment to duty with a party detailed for the purpose of escorting Hamilton, Farnsworth and several other British officers to Williamsburg, Virginia. It also gave him a most powerful assistance in persuading Alice to marry him at once, so as to go with him on what proved to be a delightful wedding journey through the great wilderness to the Old Dominion. Spring's verdure burst abroad on the sunny hills as they slowly went their way; the mating birds sang in every blooming brake and grove by which they passed, and in their joyous hearts they heard the bubbling of love's eternal fountain.
AND SO IT ENDED
Our story must end here, because at this point its current flows away forever from old Vincennes; and it was only of the post on the Wabash that we set out to make a record. What befell Alice and Beverley after they went to Virginia we could go on to tell; but that would be another story. Suffice it to say, they lived happily ever after, or at least somewhat beyond three score and ten, and left behind them a good name and numerous descendants.
How Alice found out her family in Virginia, we are not informed; but after a lapse of some years from the date of her marriage, there appears in one of her letters a reference to an estate inherited from her Tarleton ancestors, and her name appears in old records signed in full, Alice Tarleton Beverley. A descendant of hers still treasures the locket, with its broken miniature and battered crest, which won Beverley's life from Long-Hair, the savage. Beside it, as carefully guarded, is the Indian charm-stone that stopped Hamilton's bullet over Alice's heart The rapiers have somehow disappeared, and there is a tradition in the Tarleton family that they were given by Alice to Gaspard Roussillon, who, after Madame Roussillon's death in 1790, went to New Orleans, where he stayed a year or two before embarking for France, whither he took with him the beautiful pair of colechemardes and Jean the hunchback.
Oncle Jazon lived in Vincennes many years after the war was over; but he died at Natchez, Mississippi, when ninety-three years old. He said, with almost his last breath, that he couldn't shoot very well, even in his best days; but that he had, upon various occasions, "jes' kind o' happened to hit a Injun in the lef' eye." They used to tell a story, as late as General Harrison's stay in Vincennes, about how Oncle Jazon buried his collection of scalps, with great funeral solemnity, as his part of the celebration of peace and independence about the year 1784.
Good old Father Beret died suddenly soon after Alice's marriage and departure for Virginia. He was found lying face downward on the floor of his cabin. Near him, on a smooth part of a puncheon, were the mildewed fragments of a letter, which he had been arranging, as if to read its contents. Doubtless it was the same letter brought to him by Rene de Ronville, as recorded in an early chapter of our story. The fragments were gathered up and buried with him. His dust lies under the present Church of St. Xavier,—the dust of as noble a man and as true a priest as ever sacrificed himself for the good of humanity.
In after years Simon Kenton visited Beverley and Alice in their Virginia home. To his dying day he was fond of describing their happy and hospitable welcome and the luxuries to which they introduced him. They lived in a stately white mansion on a hill overlooking a vast tobacco plantation, where hundreds of negro slaves worked and sang by day and frolicked by night. Their oldest child was named Fitzhugh Gaspard. Kenton died in 1836.
There remains but one little fact worth recording before we close the book. In the year 1800, on the fourth of July, a certain leading French family of Vincennes held a patriotic reunion, during which a little old flag was produced and its story told. Some one happily proposed that it be sent to Mrs. Alice Tarleton Beverley with a letter of explanation, and in profound recognition of the glorious circumstances which made it the true flag of the great Northwest.
And so it happened that Alice's little banner went to Virginia and is still preserved in an old mansion not very far from Monticello; but it seems likely that the Wabash Valley will soon again possess the precious relic. The marriage engagement of Miss Alice Beverley to a young Indiana officer, distinguished for his patriotism and military ardor, has been announced at the old Beverley homestead on the hill, and the high contracting parties have planned that the wedding ceremony shall take place under the famous little flag, on the anniversary of dark's capture of Post Vincennes. When the bride shall be brought to her new home on the banks of the Wabash, the flag will come with her; but Oncle Jazon will not be on hand with his falsetto shout: "VIVE LA BANNIERE D'ALICE ROUSSILLON! VIVE ZHORZZH VASINTON!"