"And good riddance," said John Duff. "Boys, we're Rebels now. Steer clear of the Ha'r Buyer."
For one more day we floated downward on the face of the waters between the forest walls of the wilderness, and at length we landed in a little gully on the north shore of the river, and there we hid our boats.
"Davy," said Colonel Clark, "let's walk about a bit. Tell me where you learned to be so silent?"
"My father did not like to be talked to," I answered, "except when he was drinking."
He gave me a strange look. Many the stroll I took with him afterwards, when he sought to relax himself from the cares which the campaign had put upon him. This night was still and clear, the west all yellow with the departing light, and the mists coming on the river. And presently, as we strayed down the shore we came upon a strange sight, the same being a huge fort rising from the waterside, all overgrown with brush and saplings and tall weeds. The palisades that held its earthenwork were rotten and crumbling, and the mighty bastions of its corners sliding away. Behind the fort, at the end farthest from the river, we came upon gravelled walks hidden by the rank growth, where the soldiers of his Most Christian Majesty once paraded. Lost in thought, Clark stood on the parapet, watching the water gliding by until the darkness hid it,—nay, until the stars came and made golden dimples upon its surface. But as we went back to the camp again he told me how the French had tried once to conquer this vast country and failed, leaving to the Spaniards the endless stretch beyond the Mississippi called Louisiana, and this part to the English. And he told me likewise that this fort in the days of its glory had been called Massacre, from a bloody event which had happened there more than three-score years before.
"Threescore years!" I exclaimed, longing to see the men of this race which had set up these monuments only to abandon them.
"Ay, lad," he answered, "before you or I were born, and before our fathers were born, the French missionaries and soldiers threaded this wilderness. And they called this river 'La Belle Riviere,'—the Beautiful River."
"And shall I see that race at Kaskaskia?" I asked, wondering.
"That you shall," he cried, with a force that left no doubt in my mind.
In the morning we broke camp and started off for the strange place which we hoped to capture. A hundred miles it was across the trackless wilds, and each man was ordered to carry on his back provisions for four days only.
"Herr Gott!" cried Swein Poulsson, from the bottom of a flatboat, whence he was tossing out venison flitches, "four day, und vat is it ve eat then?"
"Frenchies, sure," said Terence; "there'll be plenty av thim for a season. Faith, I do hear they're tinder as lambs."
"You'll no set tooth in the Frenchies," the pessimistic McAndrew put in, "wi' five thousand redskins aboot, and they lying in wait. The Colonel's no vera mindful of that, I'm thinking."
"Will ye hush, ye ill-omened hound!" cried Cowan, angrily. "Pitch him in the crick, Mac!"
Tom was diverted from this duty by a loud quarrel between Captain Harrod and five men of the company who wanted scout duty, and on the heels of that came another turmoil occasioned by Cowan's dropping my drum into the water. While he and McCann and Tom were fishing it out, Colonel Clark himself appeared, quelled the mutiny that Harrod had on his hands, and bade the men sternly to get into ranks.
"What foolishness is this?" he said, eying the dripping drum.
"Sure, Colonel," said McCann, swinging it on his back, "we'd have no heart in us at Kaskasky widout the rattle of it in our ears. Bill Cowan and me will not be feeling the heft of it bechune us."
"Get into ranks," said the Colonel, amusement struggling with the anger in his face as he turned on his heel. His wisdom well knew when to humor a man, and when to chastise.
"Arrah," said Terence, as he took his place, "I'd as soon l'ave me gun behind as Davy and the dhrum."
Methinks I can see now, as I write, the long file of woodsmen with their swinging stride, planting one foot before the other, even as the Indian himself threaded the wilderness. Though my legs were short, I had both sinew and training, and now I was at one end of the line and now at the other. And often with a laugh some giant would hand his gun to a neighbor, swing me to his shoulder, and so give me a lift for a weary mile or two; and perchance whisper to me to put down my hand into the wallet of his shirt, where I would find a choice morsel which he had saved for his supper. Sometimes I trotted beside the Colonel himself, listening as he talked to this man or that, and thus I got the gravest notion of the daring of this undertaking, and of the dangers ahead of us. This north country was infested with Indians, allies of the English and friends of the French their subjects; and the fact was never for an instant absent from our minds that our little band might at any moment run into a thousand warriors, be overpowered and massacred; or, worst of all, that our coming might have been heralded to Kaskaskia.
For three days we marched in the green shade of the primeval wood, nor saw the sky save in blue patches here and there. Again we toiled for hours through the coffee-colored waters of the swamps. But the third day brought us to the first of those strange clearings which the French call prairies, where the long grass ripples like a lake in the summer wind. Here we first knew raging thirst, and longed for the loam-specked water we had scorned, as our tired feet tore through the grass. For Saunders, our guide, took a line across the open in plain sight of any eye that might be watching from the forest cover. But at length our column wavered and halted by reason of some disturbance at the head of it. Conjectures in our company, the rear guard, became rife at once.
"Run, Davy darlin,' an' see what the throuble is," said Terence.
Nothing loath, I made my way to the head of the column, where Bowman's company had broken ranks and stood in a ring up to their thighs in the grass. In the centre of the ring, standing on one foot before our angry Colonel, was Saunders.
"Now, what does this mean?" demanded Clark; "my eye is on you, and you've boxed the compass in this last hour."
Saunders' jaw dropped.
"I'm guiding you right," he answered, with that sullenness which comes to his kind from fear, "but a man will slip his bearings sometimes in this country."
Clark's eyes shot fire, and he brought down the stock of his rifle with a thud.
"By the eternal God!" he cried, "I believe you are a traitor. I've been watching you every step, and you've acted strangely this morning."
"Ay, ay," came from the men round him.
"Silence!" cried Clark, and turned again to the cowering Saunders. "You pretend to know the way to Kaskaskia, you bring us to the middle of the Indian country where we may be wiped out at any time, and now you have the damned effrontery to tell me that you have lost your way. I am a man of my word," he added with a vibrant intensity, and pointed to the limbs of a giant tree which stood at the edge of the distant forest. "I will give you half an hour, but as I live, I will leave you hanging there."
The man's brown hand trembled as he clutched his rifle barrel.
"'Tis a hard country, sir," he said. "I'm lost. I swear it on the evangels."
"A hard country!" cried Clark. "A man would have to walk over it but once to know it. I believe you are a damned traitor and perjurer,—in spite of your oath, a British spy."
Saunders wiped the sweat from his brow on his buckskin sleeve.
"I reckon I could get the trace, Colonel, if you'd let me go a little way into the prairie."
"Half an hour," said Clark, "and you'll not go alone." Sweeping his eye over Bowman's company, he picked out a man here and a man there to go with Saunders. Then his eye lighted on me. "Where's McChesney?" he said. "Fetch McChesney."
I ran to get Tom, and seven of them went away, with Saunders in the middle, Clark watching them like a hawk, while the men sat down in the grass to wait. Fifteen minutes went by, and twenty, and twenty-five, and Clark was calling for a rope, when some one caught sight of the squad in the distance returning at a run. And when they came within hail it was Saunders' voice we heard, shouting brokenly:—
"I've struck it, Colonel, I've struck the trace. There's a pecan at the edge of the bottom with my own blaze on it."
"May you never be as near death again," said the Colonel, grimly, as he gave the order to march.
The fourth day passed, and we left behind us the patches of forest and came into the open prairie,—as far as the eye could reach a long, level sea of waving green. The scanty provisions ran out, hunger was added to the pangs of thirst and weariness, and here and there in the straggling file discontent smouldered and angry undertone was heard. Kaskaskia was somewhere to the west and north; but how far? Clark had misled them. And in addition it were foolish to believe that the garrison had not been warned. English soldiers and French militia and Indian allies stood ready for our reception. Of such was the talk as we lay down in the grass under the stars on the fifth night. For in the rank and file an empty stomach is not hopeful.
The next morning we took up our march silently with the dawn, the prairie grouse whirring ahead of us. At last, as afternoon drew on, a dark line of green edged the prairie to the westward, and our spirits rose. From mouth to mouth ran the word that these were the woods which fringed the bluff above Kaskaskia itself. We pressed ahead, and the destiny of the new Republic for which we had fought made us walk unseen. Excitement keyed us high; we reached the shade, plunged into it, and presently came out staring at the bastioned corners of a fort which rose from the centre of a clearing. It had once defended the place, but now stood abandoned and dismantled. Beyond it, at the edge of the bluff, we halted, astonished. The sun was falling in the west, and below us was the goal for the sight of which we had suffered so much. At our feet, across the wooded bottom, was the Kaskaskia River, and beyond, the peaceful little French village with its low houses and orchards and gardens colored by the touch of the evening light. In the centre of it stood a stone church with its belfry; but our searching eyes alighted on the spot to the southward of it, near the river. There stood a rambling stone building with the shingles of its roof weathered black, and all around it a palisade of pointed sticks thrust in the ground, and with a pair of gates and watch-towers. Drooping on its staff was the standard of England. North and south of the village the emerald common gleamed in the slanting light, speckled red and white and black by grazing cattle. Here and there, in untidy brown patches, were Indian settlements, and far away to the westward the tawny Father of Waters gleamed through the cottonwoods.
Through the waning day the men lay resting under the trees, talking in undertones. Some cleaned their rifles, and others lost themselves in conjectures of the attack. But Clark himself, tireless, stood with folded arms gazing at the scene below, and the sunlight on his face illumined him (to the lad standing at his side) as the servant of destiny. At length, at eventide, the sweet-toned bell of the little cathedral rang to vespers,—a gentle message of peace to war. Colonel Clark looked into my upturned face.
"Davy, do you know what day this is?" he asked.
"No, sir," I answered.
"Two years have gone since the bells pealed for the birth of a new nation—your nation, Davy, and mine—the nation that is to be the refuge of the oppressed of this earth—the nation which is to be made of all peoples, out of all time. And this land for which you and I shall fight to-night will belong to it, and the lands beyond," he pointed to the west, "until the sun sets on the sea again." He put his hand on my head. "You will remember this when I am dead and gone," he said.
I was silent, awed by the power of his words.
Darkness fell, and still we waited, impatient for the order. And when at last it came the men bustled hither and thither to find their commands, and we picked our way on the unseen road that led down the bluff, our hearts thumping. The lights of the village twinkled at our feet, and now and then a voice from below was caught and borne upward to us. Once another noise startled us, followed by an exclamation, "Donnerblitzen" and a volley of low curses from the company. Poor Swein Poulsson had loosed a stone, which had taken a reverberating flight riverward.
We reached the bottom, and the long file turned and hurried silently northward, searching for a crossing. I try to recall my feelings as I trotted beside the tall forms that loomed above me in the night. The sense of protection they gave me stripped me of fear, and I was not troubled with that. My thoughts were chiefly on Polly Ann and the child we had left in the fort now so far to the south of us, and in my fancy I saw her cheerful, ever helpful to those around her, despite the load that must rest on her heart. I saw her simple joy at our return. But should we return? My chest tightened, and I sped along the ranks to Harrod's company and caught Tom by the wrist.
"Davy," he murmured, and, seizing my hand in his strong grip, pulled me along with him. For it was not given to him to say what he felt; but as I hurried to keep pace with his stride, Polly Ann's words rang in my ears, "Davy, take care of my Tom," and I knew that he, too, was thinking of her. A hail aroused me, the sound of a loud rapping, and I saw in black relief a cabin ahead. The door opened, a man came out with a horde of children cowering at his heels, a volley of frightened words pouring from his mouth in a strange tongue. John Duff was plying him with questions in French, and presently the man became calmer and lapsed into broken English.
"Kaskaskia—yes, she is prepare. Many spy is gone out—cross la riviere. But now they all sleep."
Even as he spoke a shout came faintly from the distant town.
"What is that?" demanded Clark, sharply.
The man shrugged his shoulders. "Une fete des negres, peut-etre,—the negro, he dance maybe."
"Are you the ferryman?" said Clark.
"Oui—I have some boat."
We crossed the hundred and fifty yards of sluggish water, squad by squad, and in the silence of the night stood gathered, expectant, on the farther bank. Midnight was at hand. Commands were passed about, and men ran this way and that, jostling one another to find their places in a new order. But at length our little force stood in three detachments on the river's bank, their captains repeating again and again the part which each was to play, that none might mistake his duty. The two larger ones were to surround the town, while the picked force under Simon Kenton himself was to storm the fort. Should he gain it by surprise and without battle, three shots were to be fired in quick succession, the other detachments were to start the war-whoop, while Duff and some with a smattering of French were to run up and down the streets proclaiming that every habitan who left his house would be shot. No provision being made for the drummer boy (I had left my drum on the heights above), I chose the favored column, at the head of which Tom and Cowan and Ray and McCann were striding behind Kenton and Colonel Clark. Not a word was spoken. There was a kind of cow-path that rose and fell and twisted along the river-bank. This we followed, and in ten minutes we must have covered the mile to the now darkened village. The starlight alone outlined against the sky the houses of it as we climbed the bank. Then we halted, breathless, in a street, but there was no sound save that of the crickets and the frogs. Forward again, and twisting a corner, we beheld the indented edge of the stockade. Still no hail, nor had our moccasined feet betrayed us as we sought the river side of the fort and drew up before the big river gates of it. Simon Kenton bore against them, and tried the little postern that was set there, but both were fast. The spikes towered a dozen feet overhead.
"Quick!" muttered Clark, "a light man to go over and open the postern."
Before I guessed what was in his mind, Cowan seized me.
"Send the lad, Colonel," said he.
"Ay, ay," said Simon Kenton, hoarsely.
In a second Tom was on Kenton's shoulders, and they passed me up with as little trouble as though I had been my own drum. Feverishly searching with my foot for Tom's shoulder, I seized the spikes at the top, clambered over them, paused, surveyed the empty area below me, destitute even of a sentry, and then let myself down with the aid of the cross-bars inside. As I was feeling vainly for the bolt of the postern, rays of light suddenly shot my shadow against the door. And next, as I got my hand on the bolt-head, I felt the weight of another on my shoulder, and a voice behind me said in English:—
"In the devil's name!"
I gave the one frantic pull, the bolt slipped, and caught again. Then Colonel Clark's voice rang out in the night:—
"Open the gate! Open the gate in the name of Virginia and the Continental Congress!"
Before I could cry out the man gave a grunt, leaned his gun against the gate, and tore my fingers from the bolt-handle. Astonishment robbed me of breath as he threw open the postern.
"In the name of the Continental Congress," he cried, and seized his gun. Clark and Kenton stepped in instantly, no doubt as astounded as I, and had the man in their grasp.
"Who are you?" said Clark.
"Name o' Skene, from Pennsylvanya," said the man, "and by the Lord God ye shall have the fort."
"You looked for us?" said Clark.
"Faith, never less," said the Pennsylvanian. "The one sentry is at the main gate."
"And the governor?"
"Rocheblave?" said the Pennsylvanian. "He sleeps yonder in the old Jesuit house in the middle."
Clark turned to Tom McChesney, who was at his elbow.
"Corporal!" said he, swiftly, "secure the sentry at the main gate! You," he added, turning to the Pennsylvanian, "lead us to the governor. But mind, if you betray me, I'll be the first to blow out your brains."
The man seized a lantern and made swiftly over the level ground until the rubble-work of the old Jesuit house showed in the light, nor Clark nor any of them stopped to think of the danger our little handful ran at the mercy of a stranger. The house was silent. We halted, and Clark threw himself against the rude panels of the door, which gave to inward blackness. Our men filled the little passage, and suddenly we found ourselves in a low-ceiled room in front of a great four-poster bed. And in it, upright, blinking at the light, were two odd Frenchified figures in tasselled nightcaps. Astonishment and anger and fear struggled in the faces of Monsieur de Rocheblave and his lady. A regard for truth compels me to admit that it was madame who first found her voice, and no uncertain one it was.
First came a shriek that might have roused the garrison.
"Villains! Murderers! Outragers of decency!" she cried with spirit, pouring a heap of invectives, now in French, now in English, much to the discomfiture of our backwoodsmen, who peered at her helplessly.
"Nom du diable!" cried the commandant, when his lady's breath was gone, "what does this mean?"
"It means, sir," answered Clark, promptly, "that you are my prisoner."
"And who are you?" gasped the commandant.
"George Rogers Clark, Colonel in the service of the Commonwealth of Virginia." He held out his hand restrainingly, for the furious Monsieur Rocheblave made an attempt to rise. "You will oblige me by remaining in bed, sir, for a moment."
"Coquins! Canailles! Cochons!" shrieked the lady.
"Madame," said Colonel Clark, politely, "the necessities of war are often cruel."
He made a bow, and paying no further attention to the torrent of her reproaches or the threats of the helpless commandant, he calmly searched the room with the lantern, and finally pulled out from under the bed a metal despatch box. Then he lighted a candle in a brass candlestick that stood on the simple walnut dresser, and bowed again to the outraged couple in the four-poster.
"Now, sir," he said, "you may dress. We will retire."
"Pardieu!" said the commandant in French, "a hundred thousand thanks."
We had scarcely closed the bedroom door when three shots were heard.
"The signal!" exclaimed Clark.
Immediately a pandemonium broke on the silence of the night that must have struck cold terror in the hearts of the poor Creoles sleeping in their beds. The war-whoop, the scalp halloo in the dead of the morning, with the hideous winding notes of them that reached the bluff beyond and echoed back, were enough to frighten a man from his senses. In the intervals, in backwoods French, John Duff and his companions were heard in terrifying tones crying out to the habitants to venture out at the peril of their lives.
Within the fort a score of lights flew up and down like will-o'-the-wisps, and Colonel Clark, standing on the steps of the governor's house, gave out his orders and despatched his messengers. Me he sent speeding through the village to tell Captain Bowman to patrol the outskirts of the town, that no runner might get through to warn Fort Chartres and Cohos, as some called Cahokia. None stirred save the few Indians left in the place, and these were brought before Clark in the fort, sullen and defiant, and put in the guard-house there. And Rocheblave, when he appeared, was no better, and was put back in his house under guard.
As for the papers in the despatch box, they revealed I know not what briberies of the savage nations and plans of the English. But of other papers we found none, though there must have been more. Madame Rocheblave was suspected of having hidden some in the inviolable portions of her dress.
At length the cocks crowing for day proclaimed the morning, and while yet the blue shadow of the bluff was on the town, Colonel Clark sallied out of the gate and walked abroad. Strange it seemed that war had come to this village, so peaceful and remote. And even stranger it seemed to me to see these Arcadian homes in the midst of the fierce wilderness. The little houses with their sloping roofs and wide porches, the gardens ablaze with color, the neat palings,—all were a restful sight for our weary eyes. And now I scarcely knew our commander. For we had not gone far ere, timidly, a door opened and a mild-visaged man, in the simple workaday smock that the French wore, stood, hesitating, on the steps. The odd thing was that he should have bowed to Clark, who was dressed no differently from Bowman and Harrod and Duff; and the man's voice trembled piteously as he spoke. It needed not John Duff to tell us that he was pleading for the lives of his family.
"He will sell himself as a slave if your Excellency will spare them," said Duff, translating.
But Clark stared at the man sternly.
"I will tell them my plans at the proper time," he said and when Duff had translated this the man turned and went silently into his house again, closing the door behind him. And before we had traversed the village the same thing had happened many times. We gained the fort again, I wondering greatly why he had not reassured these simple people. It was Bowman who asked this question, he being closer to Clark than any of the other captains. Clark said nothing then, and began to give out directions for the day. But presently he called the Captain aside.
"Bowman," I heard him say, "we have one hundred and fifty men to hold a province bigger than the whole of France, and filled with treacherous tribes in the King's pay. I must work out the problem for myself."
Bowman was silent. Clark, with that touch which made men love him and die for him, laid his hand on the Captain's shoulder.
"Have the men called in by detachments," he said, "and fed. God knows they must be hungry,—and you."
Suddenly I remembered that he himself had had nothing. Running around the commandant's house to the kitchen door, I came unexpectedly upon Swein Poulsson, who was face to face with the linsey-woolsey-clad figure of Monsieur Rocheblave's negro cook. The early sun cast long shadows of them on the ground.
"By tam," my friend was saying, "so I vill eat. I am choost like an ox for three days, und chew grass. Prairie grass, is it?"
"Mo pas capab', Michie," said the cook, with a terrified roll of his white eyes.
"Herr Gott!" cried Swein Poulsson, "I am red face. Aber Herr Gott, I thank thee I am not a nigger. Und my hair is bristles, yes. Davy" (spying me), "I thank Herr Gott it is not vool. Let us in the kitchen go."
"I am come to get something for the Colonel's breakfast," said I, pushing past the slave, through the open doorway. Swein Poulsson followed, and here I struck another contradiction in his strange nature. He helped me light the fire in the great stone chimney-place, and we soon had a pot of hominy on the crane, and turning on the spit a piece of buffalo steak which we found in the larder. Nor did a mouthful pass his lips until I had sped away with a steaming portion to find the Colonel. By this time the men had broken into the storehouse, and the open place was dotted with their breakfast fires. Clark was standing alone by the flagstaff, his face careworn. But he smiled as he saw me coming.
"What's this?" says he.
"Your breakfast, sir," I answered. I set down the plate and the pot before him and pressed the pewter spoon into his hand.
"Davy," said he.
"Sir?" said I.
"What did you have for your breakfast?"
My lip trembled, for I was very hungry, and the rich steam from the hominy was as much as I could stand. Then the Colonel took me by the arms, as gently as a woman might, set me down on the ground beside him, and taking a spoonful of the hominy forced it between my lips. I was near to fainting at the taste of it. Then he took a bit himself, and divided the buffalo steak with his own hands. And when from the camp-fires they perceived the Colonel and the drummer boy eating together in plain sight of all, they gave a rousing cheer.
"Swein Poulsson helped get your breakfast, sir, and would eat nothing either," I ventured.
"Davy," said Colonel Clark, gravely, "I hope you will be younger when you are twenty."
"I hope I shall be bigger, sir," I answered gravely.
HOW THE KASKASKEIANS WERE MADE CITIZENS
Never before had such a day dawned upon Kaskaskia. With July fierceness the sun beat down upon the village, but man nor woman nor child stirred from the darkened houses. What they awaited at the hands of the Long Knives they knew not,—captivity, torture, death perhaps. Through the deserted streets stalked a squad of backwoodsmen headed by John Duff and two American traders found in the town, who were bestirring themselves in our behalf, knocking now at this door and anon at that.
"The Colonel bids you come to the fort," he said, and was gone.
The church bell rang with slow, ominous strokes, far different from its gentle vesper peal of yesterday. Two companies were drawn up in the sun before the old Jesuit house, and presently through the gate a procession came, grave and mournful. The tone of it was sombre in the white glare, for men had donned their best (as they thought) for the last time,—cloth of camlet and Cadiz and Limbourg, white cotton stockings, and brass-buckled shoes. They came like captives led to execution. But at their head a figure held our eye,—a figure that spoke of dignity and courage, of trials borne for others. It was the village priest in his robes. He had a receding forehead and a strong, pointed chin; but benevolence was in the curve of his great nose. I have many times since seen his type of face in the French prints. He and his flock halted before our young Colonel, even as the citizens of Calais in a bygone century must have stood before the English king.
The scene comes back to me. On the one side, not the warriors of a nation that has made its mark in war, but peaceful peasants who had sought this place for its remoteness from persecution, to live and die in harmony with all mankind. On the other, the sinewy advance guard of a race that knows not peace, whose goddess of liberty carries in her hand a sword. The plough might have been graven on our arms, but always the rifle.
The silence of the trackless wilds reigned while Clark gazed at them sternly. And when he spoke it was with the voice of a conqueror, and they listened as the conquered listen, with heads bowed—all save the priest.
Clark told them first that they had been given a false and a wicked notion of the American cause, and he spoke of the tyranny of the English king, which had become past endurance to a free people. As for ourselves, the Long Knives, we came in truth to conquer, and because of their hasty judgment the Kaskaskians were at our mercy. The British had told them that the Kentuckians were a barbarous people, and they had believed.
He paused that John Duff might translate and the gist of what he had said sink in. But suddenly the priest had stepped out from the ranks, faced his people, and was himself translating in a strong voice. When he had finished a tremor shook the group. But he turned calmly and faced Clark once more.
"Citizens of Kaskaskia," Colonel Clark went on, "the king whom you renounced when the English conquered you, the great King of France, has judged for you and the French people. Knowing that the American cause is just, he is sending his fleets and regiments to fight for it against the British King, who until now has been your sovereign."
Again he paused, and when the priest had told them this, a murmur of astonishment came from the boldest.
"Citizens of Kaskaskia, know you that the Long Knives come not to massacre, as you foolishly believed, but to release from bondage. We are come not against you, who have been deceived, but against those soldiers of the British King who have bribed the savages to slaughter our wives and children. You have but to take the oath of allegiance to the Continental Congress to become free, even as we are, to enjoy the blessings of that American government under which we live and for which we fight."
The face of the good priest kindled as he glanced at Clark. He turned once more, and though we could not understand his words, the thrill of his eloquence moved us. And when he had finished there was a moment's hush of inarticulate joy among his flock, and then such transports as moved strangely the sternest men in our ranks. The simple people fell to embracing each other and praising God, the tears running on their cheeks. Out of the group came an old man. A skullcap rested on his silvered hair, and he felt the ground uncertainly with his gold-headed stick.
"Monsieur," he said tremulously "you will pardon an old man if he show feeling. I am born seventy year ago in Gascon. I inhabit this country thirty year, and last night I think I not live any longer. Last night we make our peace with the good God, and come here to-day to die. But we know you not," he cried, with a sudden and surprising vigor; "ha, we know you not! They told us lies, and we were humble and believed. But now we are Americains," he cried, his voice pitched high, as he pointed with a trembling arm to the stars and stripes above him. "Mes enfants, vive les Bostonnais! Vive les Americains! Vive Monsieur le Colonel Clark, sauveur de Kaskaskia!"
The listening village heard the shout and wondered. And when it had died down Colonel Clark took the old Gascon by the hand, and not a man of his but saw that this was a master-stroke of his genius.
"My friends," he said simply, "I thank you. I would not force you, and you will have some days to think over the oath of allegiance to the Republic. Go now to your homes, and tell those who are awaiting you what I have said. And if any man of French birth wish to leave this place, he may go of his own free will, save only three whom I suspect are not our friends."
They turned, and in an ecstasy of joy quite pitiful to see went trooping out of the gate. But scarce could they have reached the street and we have broken ranks, when we saw them coming back again, the priest leading them as before. They drew near to the spot where Clark stood, talking to the captains, and halted expectantly.
"What is it, my friends?" asked the Colonel.
The priest came forward and bowed gravely.
"I am Pere Gibault, sir," he said, "cure of Kaskaskia." He paused, surveying our commander with a clear eye. "There is something that still troubles the good citizens."
"And what is that, sir?" said Clark.
The priest hesitated.
"If your Excellency will only allow the church to be opened—" he ventured.
The group stood wistful, fearful that their boldness had displeased, expectant of reprimand.
"My good Father," said Colonel Clark, "an American commander has but one relation to any church. And that is" (he added with force) "to protect it. For all religions are equal before the Republic."
The priest gazed at him intently.
"By that answer," said he, "your Excellency has made for your government loyal citizens in Kaskaskia."
Then the Colonel stepped up to the priest and took him likewise by the hand.
"I have arranged for a house in town," said he. "Monsieur Rocheblave has refused to dine with me there. Will you do me that honor, Father?"
"With all my heart, your Excellency," said Father Gibault. And turning to the people, he translated what the Colonel had said. Then their cup of happiness was indeed full, and some ran to Clark and would have thrown their arms about him had he been a man to embrace. Hurrying out of the gate, they spread the news like wildfire, and presently the church bell clanged in tones of unmistakable joy.
"Sure, Davy dear, it puts me in mind of the Saints' day at home," said Terence, as he stood leaning against a picket fence that bordered the street, "savin' the presence of the naygurs and thim red divils wid blankets an' scowls as wud turrn the milk sour in the pail."
He had stopped beside two Kaskaskia warriors in scarlet blankets who stood at the corner, watching with silent contempt the antics of the French inhabitants. Now and again one or the other gave a grunt and wrapped his blanket more tightly about him.
"Umrrhh!" said Terence. "Faith, I talk that langwidge mesilf when I have throuble." The warriors stared at him with what might be called a stoical surprise. "Umrrh! Does the holy father praych to ye wid thim wurrds, ye haythens? Begorra, 'tis a wondher ye wuddent wash yereselves," he added, making a face, "wid muddy wather to be had for the askin'."
We moved on, through such a scene as I have seldom beheld. The village had donned its best: women in cap and gown were hurrying hither and thither, some laughing and some weeping; grown men embraced each other; children of all colors flung themselves against Terence's legs,—dark-haired Creoles, little negroes with woolly pates, and naked Indian lads with bow and arrow. Terence dashed at them now and then, and they fled screaming into dooryards to come out again and mimic him when he had passed, while mothers and fathers and grandfathers smiled at the good nature in his Irish face. Presently he looked down at me comically.
"Why wuddent ye be doin' the like, Davy?" he asked. "Amusha! 'tis mesilf that wants to run and hop and skip wid the childher. Ye put me in mind of a wizened old man that sat all day makin' shoes in Killarney,—all savin' the fringe he had on his chin."
"A soldier must be dignified," I answered.
"The saints bar that wurrd from hiven," said Terence, trying to pronounce it. "Come, we'll go to mass, or me mother will be visitin' me this night."
We crossed the square and went into the darkened church, where the candles were burning. It was the first church I had ever entered, and I heard with awe the voice of the priest and the fervent responses, but I understood not a word of what was said. Afterwards Father Gibault mounted to the pulpit and stood for a moment with his hand raised above his flock, and then began to speak. What he told them I have learned since. And this I know, that when they came out again into the sunlit square they were Americans. It matters not when they took the oath.
As we walked back towards the fort we came to a little house with a flower garden in front of it, and there stood Colonel Clark himself by the gate. He stopped us with a motion of his hand.
"Davy," said he, "we are to live here for a while, you and I. What do you think of our headquarters?" He did not wait for me to reply, but continued, "Can you suggest any improvement?"
"You will be needing a soldier to be on guard in front, sir," said I.
"Ah," said the Colonel, "McChesney is too valuable a man. I am sending him with Captain Bowman to take Cahokia."
"Would you have Terence, sir?" I ventured, while Terence grinned. Whereupon Colonel Clark sent him to report to his captain that he was detailed for orderly duty to the commanding officer. And within half an hour he was standing guard in the flower garden, making grimaces at the children in the street. Colonel Clark sat at a table in the little front room, and while two of Monsieur Rocheblave's negroes cooked his dinner, he was busy with a score of visitors, organizing, advising, planning, and commanding. There were disputes to settle now that alarm had subsided, and at noon three excitable gentlemen came in to inform against a certain Monsieur Cerre, merchant and trader, then absent at St. Louis. When at length the Colonel had succeeded in bringing their denunciations to an end and they had departed, he looked at me comically as I stood in the doorway.
"Davy," said he, "all I ask of the good Lord is that He will frighten me incontinently for a month before I die."
"I think He would find that difficult, sir," I answered.
"Then there's no hope for me," he answered, laughing, "for I have observed that fright alone brings a man into a fit spiritual state to enter heaven. What would you say of those slanderers of Monsieur Cerre?"
Not expecting an answer, he dipped his quill into the ink-pot and turned to his papers.
"I should say that they owed Monsieur Cerre money," I replied.
The Colonel dropped his quill and stared. As for me, I was puzzled to know why.
"Egad," said Colonel Clark, "most of us get by hard knocks what you seem to have been born with." He fell to musing, a worried look coming on his face that was no stranger to me later, and his hand fell heavily on the loose pile of paper before him. "Davy," says he, "I need a commissary-general."
"What would that be, sir," I asked.
"A John Law, who will make something out of nothing, who will make money out of this blank paper, who will wheedle the Creole traders into believing they are doing us a favor and making their everlasting fortune by advancing us flour and bacon."
"And doesn't Congress make money, sir?" I asked.
"That they do, Davy, by the ton," he replied, "and so must we, as the rulers of a great province. For mark me, though the men are happy to-day, in four days they will be grumbling and trying to desert in dozens."
We were interrupted by a knock at the door, and there stood Terence McCann.
"His riverence!" he announced, and bowed low as the priest came into the room.
I was bid by Colonel Clark to sit down and dine with them on the good things which Monsieur Rocheblave's cook had prepared. After dinner they went into the little orchard behind the house and sat drinking (in the French fashion) the commandant's precious coffee which had been sent to him from far-away New Orleans. Colonel Clark plied the priest with questions of the French towns under English rule: and Father Gibault, speaking for his simple people, said that the English had led them easily to believe that the Kentuckians were cutthroats.
"Ah, monsieur," he said, "if they but knew you! If they but knew the principles of that government for which you fight, they would renounce the English allegiance, and the whole of this territory would be yours. I know them, from Quebec to Detroit and Michilimackinac and Saint Vincennes. Listen, monsieur," he cried, his homely face alight; "I myself will go to Saint Vincennes for you. I will tell them the truth, and you shall have the post for the asking."
"You will go to Vincennes!" exclaimed Clark; "a hard and dangerous journey of a hundred leagues!"
"Monsieur," answered the priest, simply, "the journey is nothing. For a century the missionaries of the Church have walked this wilderness alone with God. Often they have suffered, and often died in tortures—but gladly."
Colonel Clark regarded the man intently.
"The cause of liberty, both religious and civil, is our cause," Father Gibault continued. "Men have died for it, and will die for it, and it will prosper. Furthermore, Monsieur, my life has not known many wants. I have saved something to keep my old age, with which to buy a little house and an orchard in this peaceful place. The sum I have is at your service. The good Congress will repay me. And you need the money."
Colonel Clark was not an impulsive man, but he felt none the less deeply, as I know well. His reply to this generous offer was almost brusque, but it did not deceive the priest.
"Nay, monsieur," he said, "it is for mankind I give it, in remembrance of Him who gave everything. And though I receive nothing in return, I shall have my reward an hundred fold."
In due time, I know not how, the talk swung round again to lightness, for the Colonel loved a good story, and the priest had many which he told with wit in his quaint French accent. As he was rising to take his leave, Pere Gibault put his hand on my head.
"I saw your Excellency's son in the church this morning," he said.
Colonel Clark laughed and gave me a pinch.
"My dear sir," he said, "the boy is old enough to be my father."
The priest looked down at me with a puzzled expression in his brown eyes.
"I would I had him for my son," said Colonel Clark, kindly; "but the lad is eleven, and I shall not be twenty-six until next November."
"Your Excellency not twenty-six!" cried Father Gibault, in astonishment. "What will you be when you are thirty?"
The young Colonel's face clouded.
"God knows!" he said.
Father Gibault dropped his eyes and turned to me with native tact.
"What would you like best to do, my son?" he asked.
"I should like to learn to speak French," said I, for I had been much irritated at not understanding what was said in the streets.
"And so you shall," said Father Gibault; "I myself will teach you. You must come to my house to-day."
"And Davy will teach me," said the Colonel.
DAYS OF TRIAL
But I was not immediately to take up the study of French. Things began to happen in Kaskaskia. In the first place, Captain Bowman's company, with a few scouts, of which Tom was one, set out that very afternoon for the capture of Cohos, or Cahokia, and this despite the fact that they had had no sleep for two nights. If you will look at the map, you will see, dotted along the bottoms and the bluffs beside the great Mississippi, the string of villages, Kaskaskia, La Prairie du Rocher, Fort Chartres, St. Philip, and Cahokia. Some few miles from Cahokia, on the western bank of the Father of Waters, was the little French village of St. Louis, in the Spanish territory of Louisiana. From thence eastward stretched the great waste of prairie and forest inhabited by roving bands of the forty Indian nations. Then you come to Vincennes on the Wabash, Fort St. Vincent, the English and Canadians called it, for there were a few of the latter who had settled in Kaskaskia since the English occupation.
 The best map which the editor has found of this district is in vol. VI, Part 11, of Winsor's "Narrative and Critical History of America," p. 721.
We gathered on the western skirts of the village to give Bowman's company a cheer, and every man, woman, and child in the place watched the little column as it wound snakelike over the prairie on the road to Fort Chartres, until it was lost in the cottonwoods to the westward.
Things began to happen in Kaskaskia. It would have been strange indeed if things had not happened. One hundred and seventy-five men had marched into that territory out of which now are carved the great states of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, and to most of them the thing was a picnic, a jaunt which would soon be finished. Many had left families in the frontier forts without protection. The time of their enlistment had almost expired.
There was a store in the village kept by a great citizen,—not a citizen of Kaskaskia alone, but a citizen of the world. This, I am aware, sounds like fiction, like an attempt to get an effect which was not there. But it is true as gospel. The owner of this store had many others scattered about in this foreign country: at Vincennes, at St. Louis, where he resided, at Cahokia. He knew Michilimackinac and Quebec and New Orleans. He had been born some thirty-one years before in Sardinia, had served in the Spanish army, and was still a Spanish subject. The name of this famous gentleman was Monsieur Francois Vigo, and he was the Rothschild of the country north of the Ohio. Monsieur Vigo, though he merited it, I had not room to mention in the last chapter. Clark had routed him from his bed on the morning of our arrival, and whether or not he had been in the secret of frightening the inhabitants into making their wills, and then throwing them into transports of joy, I know not.
Monsieur Vigo's store was the village club. It had neither glass in the window nor an attractive display of goods; it was merely a log cabin set down on a weedy, sun-baked plot. The stuffy smell of skins and furs came out of the doorway. Within, when he was in Kaskaskia, Monsieur Vigo was wont to sit behind his rough walnut table, writing with a fine quill, or dispensing the news of the villages to the priest and other prominent citizens, or haggling with persistent blanketed braves over canoe-loads of ill-smelling pelts which they brought down from the green forests of the north. Monsieur Vigo's clothes were the color of the tobacco he gave in exchange; his eyes were not unlike the black beads he traded, but shrewd and kindly withal, set in a square saffron face that had the contradiction of a small chin. As the days wore into months, Monsieur Vigo's place very naturally became the headquarters for our army, if army it might be called. Of a morning a dozen would be sitting against the logs in the black shadow, and in the midst of them always squatted an unsavory Indian squaw. A few braves usually stood like statues at the corner, and in front of the door another group of hunting shirts. Without was the paper money of the Continental Congress, within the good tafia and tobacco of Monsieur Vigo. One day Monsieur Vigo's young Creole clerk stood shrugging his shoulders in the doorway. I stopped.
"By tam!" Swein Poulsson was crying to the clerk, as he waved a worthless scrip above his head. "Vat is money?"
This definition the clerk, not being a Doctor Johnson, was unable to give offhand.
"Vat are you, choost? Is it America?" demanded Poulsson, while the others looked on, some laughing, some serious. "And vich citizen are you since you are ours? You vill please to give me one carrot of tobacco." And he thrust the scrip under the clerk's nose.
The clerk stared at the uneven lettering on the scrip with disdain.
"Money," he exclaimed scornfully, "she is not money. Piastre—Spanish dollare—then I give you carrot."
"By God!" shouted Bill Cowan, "ye will take Virginny paper, and Congress paper, or else I reckon we'll have a drink and tobacey, boys, take or no take."
"Hooray, Bill, ye're right," cried several of our men.
"Lemme in here," said Cowan. But the frightened Creole blocked the doorway.
"Sacre'!" he screamed, and then, "Voleurs!"
The excitement drew a number of people from the neighborhood. Nay, it seemed as if the whole town was ringed about us.
"Bravo, Jules!" they cried, "garde-tu la porte. A bas les Bostonnais! A bas les voleurs!"
"Damn such monkey talk," said Cowan, facing them suddenly. I knew him well, and when the giant lost his temper it was gone irrevocably until a fight was over. "Call a man a squar' name."
"Hey, Frenchy," another of our men put in, stalking up to the clerk, "I reckon this here store's ourn, ef we've a mind to tek it. I 'low you'll give us the rum and the 'bacey. Come on, boys!"
In between him and the clerk leaped a little, robin-like man with a red waistcoat, beside himself with rage. Bill Cowan and his friends stared at this diminutive Frenchman, open-mouthed, as he poured forth a veritable torrent of unintelligible words, plentifully mixed with sacres, which he ripped out like snarls. I would as soon have touched him as a ball of angry bees or a pair of fighting wildcats. Not so Bill Cowan. When that worthy recovered from his first surprise he seized hold of some of the man's twisting arms and legs and lifted him bodily from the ground, as he would have taken a perverse and struggling child. There was no question of a fight. Cowan picked him up, I say, and before any one knew what happened, he flung him on to the hot roof of the store (the eaves were but two feet above his head), and there the man stuck, clinging to a loose shingle, purpling and coughing and spitting with rage. There was a loud gust of guffaws from the woodsmen, and oaths like whip-cracks from the circle around us, menacing growls as it surged inward and our men turned to face it. A few citizens pushed through the outskirts of it and ran away, and in the hush that followed we heard them calling wildly the names of Father Gibault and Clark and of Vigo himself. Cowan thrust me past the clerk into the store, where I stood listening to the little man on the roof, scratching and clutching at the shingles, and coughing still.
But there was no fight. Shouts of "Monsieur Vigo! Voici Monsieur Vigo!" were heard, the crowd parted respectfully, and Monsieur Vigo in his snuff-colored suit stood glancing from Cowan to his pallid clerk. He was not in the least excited.
"Come in, my frens," he said; "it is too hot in the sun." And he set the example by stepping over the sill on to the hard-baked earth of the floor within. Then he spied me. "Ah," he said, "the boy of Monsieur le Colonel! And how are you called, my son?" he added, patting me kindly.
"Davy, sir," I answered.
"Ha," he said, "and a brave soldier, no doubt."
I was flattered as well as astonished by this attention. But Monsieur Vigo knew men, and he had given them time to turn around. By this time Bill Cowan and some of my friends had stooped through the doorway, followed by a prying Kaskaskian brave and as many Creoles as could crowd behind them. Monsieur Vigo was surprisingly calm.
"It make hot weather, my frens," said he. "How can I serve you, messieurs?"
"Hain't the Congress got authority here?" said one.
"I am happy to say," answered Monsieur Vigo, rubbing his hands, "for I think much of your principle."
"Then," said the man, "we come here to trade with Congress money. Hain't that money good in Kaskasky?"
There was an anxious pause. Then Monsieur Vigo's eyes twinkled, and he looked at me.
"And what you say, Davy?" he asked.
"The money would be good if you took it, sir," I said, not knowing what else to answer.
"Sapristi!" exclaimed Monsieur Vigo, looking hard at me. "Who teach you that?"
"No one, sir," said I, staring in my turn.
"And if Congress lose, and not pay, where am I, mon petit maitre de la haute finance?" demanded Monsieur Vigo, with the palms of his hands outward.
"You will be in good company, sir," said I.
At that he threw back his head and laughed, and Bill Cowan and my friends laughed with him.
"Good company—c'est la plupart de la vie," said Monsieur Vigo. "Et quel garcon—what a boy it is!"
"I never seed his beat fer wisdom, Mister Vigo," said Bill Cowan, now in good humor once more at the prospect of rum and tobacco. And I found out later that he and the others had actually given to me the credit of this coup. "He never failed us yet. Hain't that truth, boys? Hain't we a-goin' on to St. Vincent because he seen the Ha'r Buyer sculped on the Ohio?"
The rest assented so heartily but withal so gravely, that I am between laughter and tears over the remembrance of it.
"At noon you come back," said Monsieur Vigo. "I think till then about rate of exchange, and talk with your Colonel. Davy, you stay here."
I remained, while the others filed out, and at length I was alone with him and Jules, his clerk.
"Davy, how you like to be trader?" asked Monsieur Vigo.
It was a new thought to me, and I turned it over in my mind. To see the strange places of the world, and the stranger people; to become a man of wealth and influence such as Monsieur Vigo; and (I fear I loved it best) to match my brains with others at a bargain,—I turned it all over slowly, gravely, in my boyish mind, rubbing the hard dirt on the floor with the toe of my moccasin. And suddenly the thought came to me that I was a traitor to my friends, a deserter from the little army that loved me so well.
"Eh bien?" said Monsieur Vigo.
I shook my head, but in spite of me I felt the tears welling into my eyes and brushed them away shamefully. At such times of stress some of my paternal Scotch crept into my speech.
"I will no be leaving Colonel Clark and the boys," I cried, "not for all the money in the world."
"Congress money?" said Monsieur Vigo, with a queer expression.
It was then I laughed through my tears, and that cemented the friendship between us. It was a lifelong friendship, though I little suspected it then.
In the days that followed he never met me on the street that he did not stop to pass the time of day, and ask me if I had changed my mind. He came every morning to headquarters, where he and Colonel Clark sat by the hour with brows knit. Monsieur Vigo was as good as his word, and took the Congress money, though not at such a value as many would have had him. I have often thought that we were all children then, and knew nothing of the ingratitude of republics. Monsieur Vigo took the money, and was all his life many, many thousand dollars the poorer. Father Gibault advanced his little store, and lived to feel the pangs of want. And Colonel Clark? But I must not go beyond the troubles of that summer, and the problems that vexed our commander. One night I missed him from the room where we slept, and walking into the orchard found him pacing there, where the moon cast filmy shadows on the grass. By day as he went around among the men his brow was unclouded, though his face was stern. But now I surprised the man so strangely moved that I yearned to comfort him. He had taken three turns before he perceived me.
"Davy," he said, "what are you doing here?"
"I missed you, sir," I answered, staring at the furrows in his face.
"Come!" he said almost roughly, and seizing my hand, led me back and forth swiftly through the wet grass for I know not how long. The moon dipped to the uneven line of the ridge-pole and slipped behind the stone chimney. All at once he stopped, dropped my hand, and smote both of his together.
"I WILL hold on, by the eternal!" he cried. "I will let no American read his history and say that I abandoned this land. Let them desert! If ten men be found who will stay, I will hold the place for the Republic."
"Will not Virginia and the Congress send you men, sir?" I asked wonderingly.
He laughed a laugh that was all bitterness.
"Virginia and the Continental Congress know little and care less about me," he answered. "Some day you will learn that foresight sometimes comes to men, but never to assemblies. But it is often given to one man to work out the salvation of a people, and be destroyed for it. Davy, we have been up too long."
At the morning parade, from my wonted place at the end of the line, I watched him with astonishment, reviewing the troops as usual. For the very first day I had crossed the river with Terence, climbed the heights to the old fort, and returned with my drum. But no sooner had I beaten the retreat than the men gathered here and there in groups that smouldered with mutiny, and I noted that some of the officers were amongst these. Once in a while a sentence like a flaming brand was flung out. Their time was up, their wives and children for all they knew sculped by the red varmints, and, by the etarnal, Clark or no man living could keep them.
"Hi," said one, as I passed, "here's Davy with his drum. He'll be leadin' us back to Kaintuck in the morning."
"Ay, ay," cried another man in the group, "I reckon he's had his full of tyranny, too."
I stopped, my face blazing red.
"Shame on you for those words!" I shouted shrilly. "Shame on you, you fools, to desert the man who would save your wives and children. How are the redskins to be beaten if they are not cowed in their own country?" For I had learned much at headquarters.
They stood silent, astonished, no doubt, at the sight of my small figure a-tremble with anger. I heard Bill Cowan's voice behind me.
"There's truth for ye," he said, "that will slink home when a thing's half done."
"Ye needn't talk, Bill Cowan; it's well enough for ye. I reckon your wife'd scare any redskin off her clearin'."
"Many the time she scart me," said Bill Cowan.
And so the matter went by with a laugh. But the grumbling continued, and the danger was that the French would learn of it. The day passed, yet the embers blazed not into the flame of open mutiny. But he who has seen service knows how ominous is the gathering of men here and there, the low humming talk, the silence when a dissenter passes. There were fights, too, that had to be quelled by company captains, and no man knew when the loud quarrel between the two races at Vigo's store would grow into an ugly battle.
What did Clark intend to do? This was the question that hung in the minds of mutineer and faithful alike. They knew the desperation of his case. Without money, save that which the generous Creoles had advanced upon his personal credit; without apparent resources; without authority, save that which the weight of his character exerted,—how could he prevent desertion? They eyed him as he went from place to place about his business,—erect, thoughtful, undisturbed. Few men dare to set their will against a multitude when there are no fruits to be won. Columbus persisted, and found a new world; Clark persisted, and won an empire for thoughtless generations to enjoy.
That night he slept not at all, but sat, while the candles flickered in their sockets, poring over maps and papers. I dared not disturb him, but lay the darkness through with staring eyes. And when the windows on the orchard side showed a gray square of light, he flung down the parchment he was reading on the table. It rolled up of itself, and he pushed back his chair. I heard him call my name, and leaping out of bed, I stood before him.
"You sleep lightly, Davy," he said, I think to try me.
I did not answer, fearing to tell him that I had been awake watching him.
"I have one friend, at least," said the Colonel.
"You have many, sir," I answered, "as you will find when the time comes."
"The time has come," said he; "to-day I shall be able to count them. Davy, I want you to do something for me."
"Now, sir?" I answered, overjoyed.
"As soon as the sun strikes that orchard," he said, pointing out of the window. "You have learned how to keep things to yourself. Now I want you to impart them to others. Go out, and tell the village that I am going away."
"That you are going away, sir?" I repeated.
"That I am going away," he said, "with my army, (save the mark!), with my army and my drummer boy and my paper money. Such is my faith in the loyalty of the good people of these villages to the American cause, that I can safely leave the flag flying over their heads with the assurance that they will protect it."
I stared at him doubtfully, for at times a pleasantry came out of his bitterness.
"Ay," he said, "go! Have you any love for me?"
"I have, sir," I answered.
"By the Lord, I believe you," he said, and picking up my small hunting shirt, he flung it at me. "Put it on, and go when the sun rises."
As the first shaft of light over the bluff revealed the diamonds in the orchard grass I went out, wondering. SUSPECTING would be a better word for the nature I had inherited. But I had my orders. Terence was pacing the garden, his leggings turned black with the dew. I looked at him. Here was a vessel to disseminate.
"Terence, the Colonel is going back to Virginia with the army."
"Him!" cried Terence, dropping the stock of his Deckard to the ground. "And back to Kaintuckee! Arrah, 'tis a sin to be jokin' before a man has a bit in his sthummick. Bad cess to yere plisantry before breakfast."
"I'm telling you what the Colonel himself told me," I answered, and ran on. "Davy, darlin'!" I heard him calling after me as I turned the corner, but I looked not back.
There was a single sound in the street. A thin, bronzed Indian lad squatted against the pickets with his fingers on a reed, his cheeks distended. He broke off with a wild, mournful note to stare at me. A wisp of smoke stole from a stone chimney, and the smell that corn-pone and bacon leave was in the air. A bolt was slammed back, a door creaked and stuck, was flung open, and with a "Va t'en, mechant!" a cotton-clad urchin was cast out of the house, and fled into the dusty street. Breathing the morning air in the doorway, stood a young woman in a cotton gown, a saucepan in hand. She had inquisitive eyes, a pointed, prying nose, and I knew her to be the village gossip, the wife of Jules, Monsieur Vigo's clerk. She had the same smattering of English as her husband. Now she stood regarding me narrowly between half-closed lids.
"A la bonne heure! Que fais-tu donc? What do you do so early?"
"The garrison is getting ready to leave for Kentucky to-day," I answered.
"Ha! Jules! Ecoute-toi! Nom de dieu! Is it true what you say?"
The visage of Jules, surmounted by a nightcap and heavy with sleep, appeared behind her.
"Ha, e'est Daveed!" he said. "What news have you?"
I repeated, whereupon they both began to lament.
"And why is it?" persisted Jules.
"He has such faith in the loyalty of the Kaskaskians," I answered, parrot-like.
"Diable!" cried Jules, "we shall perish. We shall be as the Acadians. And loyalty—she will not save us, no."
Other doors creaked. Other inhabitants came in varied costumes into the street to hear the news, lamenting. If Clark left, the day of judgment was at hand for them, that was certain. Between the savage and the Briton not one stone would be left standing on another. Madame Jules forgot her breakfast, and fled up the street with the tidings. And then I made my way to the fort, where the men were gathering about the camp-fires, talking excitedly. Terence, relieved from duty, had done the work here.
"And he as little as a fox, wid all that in him," he cried, when he perceived me walking demurely past the sentry. "Davy, dear, come here an' tell the b'ys am I a liar."
"Davy's monstrous cute," said Bill Cowan; "I reckon he knows as well as me the Colonel hain't a-goin' to do no such tomfool thing as leave."
"He is," I cried, for the benefit of some others, "he's fair sick of grumblers that haven't got the grit to stand by him in trouble."
"By the Lord!" said Bill Cowan, "and I'll not blame him." He turned fiercely, his face reddening. "Shame on ye all yere lives," he shouted. "Ye're making the best man that ever led a regiment take the back trail. Ye'll fetch back to Kaintuck, and draw every redskin in the north woods suckin' after ye like leaves in a harricane wind. There hain't a man of ye has the pluck of this little shaver that beats the drum. I wish to God McChesney was here."
He turned away to cross the parade ground, followed by the faithful Terence and myself. Others gathered about him: McAndrew, who, for all his sourness, was true; Swein Poulsson, who would have died for the Colonel; John Duff, and some twenty more, including Saunders, whose affection had not been killed, though Clark had nearly hanged him among the prairies.
"Begob!" said Terence, "Davy has inflooence wid his Excellency. It's Davy we'll sind, prayin' him not to lave the Frinch alone wid their loyalty."
It was agreed, and I was to repeat the name of every man that sent me.
Departing on this embassy, I sped out of the gates of the fort. But, as I approached the little house where Clark lived, the humming of a crowd came to my ears, and I saw with astonishment that the street was blocked. It appeared that the whole of the inhabitants of Kaskaskia were packed in front of the place. Wriggling my way through the people, I had barely reached the gate when I saw Monsieur Vigo and the priest, three Creole gentlemen in uniform, and several others coming out of the door. They stopped, and Monsieur Vigo, raising his hand for silence, made a speech in French to the people. What he said I could not understand, and when he had finished they broke up into groups, and many of them departed. Before I could gain the house, Colonel Clark himself came out with Captain Helm and Captain Harrod. The Colonel glanced at me and smiled.
"Parade, Davy," he said, and walked on.
I ran back to the fort, and when I had gotten my drum the three companies were falling into line, the men murmuring in undertones among themselves. They were brought to attention. Colonel Clark was seen to come out of the commandant's house, and we watched him furtively as he walked slowly to his place in front of the line. A tremor of excitement went from sergeant to drummer boy. The sentries closed the big gates of the fort.
The Colonel stood for a full minute surveying us calmly,—a disquieting way he had when matters were at a crisis. Then he began to talk.
"I have heard from many sources that you are dissatisfied, that you wish to go back to Kentucky. If that be so, I say to you, 'Go, and God be with you.' I will hinder no man. We have taken a brave and generous people into the fold of the Republic, and they have shown their patriotism by giving us freely of their money and stores." He raised his voice. "They have given the last proof of that patriotism this day. Yes, they have come to me and offered to take your places, to finish the campaign which you have so well begun and wish to abandon. To-day I shall enroll their militia under the flag for which you have fought."
When he had ceased speaking a murmur ran through the ranks.
"But if there be any," he said, "who have faith in me and in the cause for which we have come here, who have the perseverance and the courage to remain, I will reenlist them. The rest of you shall march for Kentucky," he cried, "as soon as Captain Bowman's company can be relieved at Cahokia. The regiment is dismissed."
For a moment they remained in ranks, as though stupefied. It was Cowan who stepped out first, snatched his coonskin hat from his head, and waved it in the air.
"Huzzay for Colonel Clark!" he roared. "I'll foller him into Canady, and stand up to my lick log."
They surrounded Bill Cowan, not the twenty which had flocked to him in the morning, but four times twenty, and they marched in a body to the commandant's house to be reenlisted. The Colonel stood by the door, and there came a light in his eyes as he regarded us. They cheered him again.
"Thank you, lads," he said; "remember, we may have to whistle for our pay."
"Damn the pay!" cried Bill Cowan, and we echoed the sentiment.
"We'll see what can be done about land grants," said the Colonel, and he turned away.
At dusk that evening I sat on the back door-step, by the orchard, cleaning his rifle. The sound of steps came from the little passage behind me, and a hand was on my head.
"Davee," said a voice (it was Monsieur Vigo's), "do you know what is un coup d'e'tat?"
"Ha! You execute one to-day. Is it not so, Monsieur le Colonel?"
"I reckon he was in the secret," said Colonel Clark. "Did you think I meant to leave Kaskaskia, Davy?"
"He is not so easy fool," Monsieur Vigo put in. "He tell me paper money good if I take it. C'est la haute finance!"
Colonel Clark laughed.
"And why didn't you think I meant to leave?" said he.
"Because you bade me go out and tell everybody," I answered. "What you really mean to do you tell no one."
"Nom du bon Dieu!" exclaimed Monsieur Vigo.
Yesterday Colonel Clark had stood alone, the enterprise for which he had risked all on the verge of failure. By a master-stroke his ranks were repleted, his position recovered, his authority secured once more.
Few men recognize genius when they see it. Monsieur Vigo was not one of these.
DAVY GOES TO CAHOKIA
I should make but a poor historian, for I have not stuck to my chronology. But as I write, the vivid recollections are those that I set down. I have forgotten two things of great importance. First, the departure of Father Gibault with several Creole gentlemen and a spy of Colonel Clark's for Vincennes, and their triumphant return in August. The sacrifice of the good priest had not been in vain, and he came back with the joyous news of a peaceful conquest. The stars and stripes now waved over the fort, and the French themselves had put it there. And the vast stretch of country from that place westward to the Father of Waters was now American.
And that brings me to the second oversight. The surprise and conquest of Cahokia by Bowman and his men was like that of Kaskaskia. And the French there were loyal, too, offering their militia for service in the place of those men of Bowman's company who would not reenlist. These came to Kaskaskia to join our home-goers, and no sooner had the hundred marched out of the gate and taken up their way for Kentucky than Colonel Clark began the drilling of the new troops.
Captain Leonard Helm was sent to take charge of Vincennes, and Captain Montgomery set out across the mountains for Williamsburg with letters praying the governor of Virginia to come to our assistance.
For another cloud had risen in the horizon: another problem for Clark to face of greater portent than all the others. A messenger from Captain Bowman at Cohos came riding down the street on a scraggly French pony, and pulled up before headquarters. The messenger was Sergeant Thomas McChesney, and his long legs almost reached the ground on either side of the little beast. Leaping from the saddle, he seized me in his arms, set me down, and bade me tell Colonel Clark of his arrival.
It was a sultry August morning. Within the hour Colonel Clark and Tom and myself were riding over the dusty trace that wound westward across the common lands of the village, which was known as the Fort Chartres road. The heat-haze shimmered in the distance, and there was no sound in plain or village save the tinkle of a cowbell from the clumps of shade. Colonel Clark rode twenty paces in front, alone, his head bowed with thinking.
"They're coming into Cahokia as thick as bees out'n a gum, Davy," said Tom; "seems like there's thousands of 'em. Nothin' will do 'em but they must see the Colonel,—the varmints. And they've got patience, they'll wait thar till the b'ars git fat. I reckon they 'low Clark's got the armies of Congress behind him. If they knowed," said Tom, with a chuckle, "if they knowed that we'd only got seventy of the boys and some hundred Frenchies in the army! I reckon the Colonel's too cute for 'em."
The savages in Cahokia were as the leaves of the forest. Curiosity, that mainspring of the Indian character, had brought the chiefs, big and little, to see with their own eyes the great Captain of the Long Knives. In vain had the faithful Bowman put them off. They would wait. Clark must come. And Clark was coming, for he was not the man to quail at such a crisis. For the crux of the whole matter was here. And if he failed to impress them with his power, with the might of the Congress for which he fought, no man of his would ever see Kentucky again.
As we rode through the bottom under the pecan trees we talked of Polly Ann, Tom and I, and of our little home by the Salt River far to the southward, where we would live in peace when the campaign was over. Tom had written her, painfully enough, an affectionate scrawl, which he sent by one of Captain Linn's men. And I, too, had written. My letter had been about Tom, and how he had become a sergeant, and what a favorite he was with Bowman and the Colonel. Poor Polly Ann! She could not write, but a runner from Harrodstown who was a friend of Tom's had carried all the way to Cahokia, in the pocket with his despatches, a fold of nettle-bark linen. Tom pulled it from the bosom of his hunting shirt to show me, and in it was a little ring of hair like unto the finest spun red-gold. This was the message Polly Ann had sent,—a message from little Tom as well.
At Prairie du Rocher, at St. Philippe, the inhabitants lined the streets to do homage to this man of strange power who rode, unattended and unafraid, to the council of the savage tribes which had terrorized his people of Kentucky. From the ramparts of Fort Chartres (once one of the mighty chain of strongholds to protect a new France, and now deserted like Massacre), I gazed for the first time in awe at the turgid flood of the Mississippi, and at the lands of the Spanish king beyond. With never ceasing fury the river tore at his clay banks and worried the green islands that braved his charge. And my boyish fancy pictured to itself the monsters which might lie hidden in his muddy depths.
We lay that night in the open at a spring on the bluffs, and the next morning beheld the church tower of Cahokia. A little way from the town we perceived an odd gathering on the road, the yellowed and weathered hunting shirts of Bowman's company mixed with the motley dress of the Creole volunteers. Some of these gentlemen wore the costume of coureurs du bois, others had odd regimental coats and hats which had seen much service. Besides the military was a sober deputation of citizens, and hovering behind the whole a horde of curious, blanketed braves, come to get a first glimpse of the great white captain. So escorted, we crossed at the mill, came to a shady street that faced the little river, and stopped at the stone house where Colonel Clark was to abide.
On that day, and for many days more, that street was thronged with warriors. Chiefs in gala dress strutted up and down, feathered and plumed and blanketed, smeared with paint, bedecked with rude jewellery,—earrings and bracelets. From the remote forests of the north they had come, where the cold winds blow off the blue lakes; from the prairies to the east; from the upper running waters, where the Mississippi flows clear and undefiled by the muddy flood; from the villages and wigwams of the sluggish Wabash; and from the sandy, piny country between the great northern seas where Michilimackinac stands guard alone,—Sacs and Foxes, Chippeways and Maumies and Missesogies, Puans and Pottawattomies, chiefs and medicine men.
Well might the sleep of the good citizens be disturbed, and the women fear to venture to the creek with their linen and their paddles!
The lives of these people hung in truth upon a slender thing—the bearing of one man. All day long the great chiefs sought an audience with him, but he sent them word that matters would be settled in the council that was to come. All day long the warriors lined the picket fence in front of the house, and more than once Tom McChesney roughly shouldered a lane through them that timid visitors might pass. Like a pack of wolves, they watched narrowly for any sign of weakness. As for Tom, they were to him as so many dogs.
"Ye varmints!" he cried, "I'll take a blizz'rd at ye if ye don't keep the way clear."
At that they would give back grudgingly with a chorus of grunts, only to close in again as tightly as before. But they came to have a wholesome regard for the sun-browned man with the red hair who guarded the Colonel's privacy. The boy who sat on the door-step, the son of the great Pale Face Chief (as they called me), was a never ending source of comment among them. Once Colonel Clark sent for me. The little front room of this house was not unlike the one we had occupied at Kaskaskia. It had bare walls, a plain table and chairs, and a crucifix in the corner. It served as dining room, parlor, bedroom, for there was a pallet too. Now the table was covered with parchments and papers, and beside Colonel Clark sat a grave gentleman of about his own age. As I came into the room Colonel Clark relaxed, turned toward this gentleman, and said:—
"Monsieur Gratiot, behold my commissary-general, my strategist, my financier." And Monsieur Gratiot smiled. He struck me as a man who never let himself go sufficiently to laugh.
"Ah," he said, "Vigo has told me how he settled the question of paper money. He might do something for the Congress in the East."
"Davy is a Scotchman, like John Law," said the Colonel, "and he is a master at perceiving a man's character and business.
"What would you call me, at a venture, Davy?" asked Monsieur Gratiot.
He spoke excellent English, with only a slight accent.
"A citizen of the world, like Monsieur Vigo," I answered at a hazard.
"Pardieu!" said Monsieur Gratiot, "you are not far away. Like Monsieur Vigo I keep a store here at Cahokia. Like Monsieur Vigo, I have travelled much in my day. Do you know where Switzerland is, Davy?"
I did not.
"It is a country set like a cluster of jewels in the heart of Europe," said Monsieur Gratiot, "and there are mountains there that rise among the clouds and are covered with perpetual snows. And when the sun sets on those snows they are rubies, and the skies above them sapphire."
"I was born amongst the mountains, sir," I answered, my pulse quickening at his description, "but they were not so high as those you speak of."
"Then," said Monsieur Gratiot, "you can understand a little my sorrow as a lad when I left it. From Switzerland I went to a foggy place called London, and thence I crossed the ocean to the solemn forests of the north of Canada, where I was many years, learning the characters of these gentlemen who are looking in upon us." And he waved his arm at the line of peering red faces by the pickets. Monsieur Gratiot smiled at Clark. "And there's another point of resemblance between myself and Monsieur Vigo."
"Have you taken the paper money?" I demanded.
Monsieur Gratiot slapped his linen breeches. "That I have," and this time I thought he was going to laugh. But he did not, though his eyes sparkled. "And do you think that the good Congress will ever repay me, Davy?"
"No, sir," said I.
"Peste!" exclaimed Monsieur Gratiot, but he did not seem to be offended or shaken.
"Davy," said Colonel Clark, "we have had enough of predictions for the present. Fetch this letter to Captain Bowman at the garrison up the street." He handed me the letter. "Are you afraid of the Indians?"
"If I were, sir, I would not show it," I said, for he had encouraged me to talk freely to him.
"Avast!" cried the Colonel, as I was going out. "And why not?"
"If I show that I am not afraid of them, sir, they will think that you are the less so."
"There you are for strategy, Gratiot," said Colonel Clark, laughing. "Get out, you rascal."
Tom was more concerned when I appeared.
"Don't pester 'em, Davy," said he; "fer God's sake don't pester 'em. They're spoilin' fer a fight. Stand back thar, ye critters," he shouted, brandishing his rifle in their faces. "Ugh, I reckon it wouldn't take a horse or a dog to scent ye to-day. Rank b'ar's oil! Kite along, Davy."
Clutching the letter tightly, I slipped between the narrowed ranks, and gained the middle of the street, not without a quickened beat of my heart. Thence I sped, dodging this group and that, until I came to the long log house that was called the garrison. Here our men were stationed, where formerly a squad from an English regiment was quartered. I found Captain Bowman, delivered the letter, and started back again through the brown, dusty street, which lay in the shade of the great forest trees that still lined it, doubling now and again to avoid an idling brave that looked bent upon mischief. For a single mischance might set the tide running to massacre. I was nearing the gate again, the dust flying from my moccasined feet, the sight of the stalwart Tom giving me courage again. Suddenly, with the deftness of a panther, an Indian shot forward and lifted me high in his arms. To this day I recall my terror as I dangled in mid-air, staring into a hideous face. By intuition I kicked him in the stomach with all my might, and with a howl of surprise and rage his fingers gripped into my flesh. The next thing I remember was being in the dust, suffocated by that odor which he who has known it can never forget. A medley of discordant cries was in my ears. Then I was snatched up, bumped against heads and shoulders, and deposited somewhere. Now it was Tom's face that was close to mine, and the light of a fierce anger was in his blue eyes.
"Did they hurt ye, Davy?" he asked.
I shook my head. Before I could speak he was at the gate again, confronting the mob of savages that swayed against the fence, and the street was filled with running figures. A voice of command that I knew well came from behind me. It was Colonel Clark's.
"Stay where you are, McChesney!" he shouted, and Tom halted with his hand on the latch.
"With your permission, I will speak to them," said Monsieur Gratiot, who had come out also.
I looked up at him, and he was as calm as when he had joked with me a quarter of an hour since.
"Very well," said Clark, briefly.
Monsieur Gratiot surveyed them scornfully.
"Where is the Hungry Wolf, who speaks English?" he said.
There was a stir in the rear ranks, and a lean savage with abnormal cheek bones pushed forward.
"Hungry Wolf here," he said with a grunt.
"The Hungry Wolf knew the French trader at Michilimackinac," said Monsieur Gratiot. "He knows that the French trader's word is a true word. Let the Hungry Wolf tell his companions that the Chief of the Long Knives is very angry."
The Hungry Wolf turned, and began to speak. His words, hoarse and resonant, seemed to come from the depths of his body. Presently he paused, and there came an answer from the fiend who had seized me. After that there were many grunts, and the Hungry Wolf turned again.
"The North Wind mean no harm," he answered. "He play with the son of the Great White Chief, and his belly is very sore where the Chief's son kicked him."
"The Chief of the Long Knives will consider the offence," said Monsieur Gratiot, and retired into the house with Colonel Clark. For a full five minutes the Indians waited, impassive. And then Monsieur Gratiot reappeared, alone.
"The Chief of the Long Knives is mercifully inclined to forgive," he said. "It was in play. But there must be no more play with the Chief's son. And the path to the Great Chief's presence must be kept clear."
Again the Hungry Wolf translated. The North Wind grunted and departed in silence, followed by many of his friends. And indeed for a while after that the others kept a passage clear to the gate.
As for the son of the Great White Chief, he sat for a long time that afternoon beside the truck patch of the house. And presently he slipped out by a byway into the street again, among the savages. His heart was bumping in his throat, but a boyish reasoning told him that he must show no fear. And that day he found what his Colonel had long since learned to be true that in courage is the greater safety. The power of the Great White Chief was such that he allowed his son to go forth alone, and feared not for his life. Even so Clark himself walked among them, nor looked to right or left.
Two nights Colonel Clark sat through, calling now on this man and now on that, and conning the treaties which the English had made with the various tribes—ay, and French and Spanish treaties too—until he knew them all by heart. There was no haste in what he did, no uneasiness in his manner. He listened to the advice of Monsieur Gratiot and other Creole gentlemen of weight, to the Spanish officers who came in their regimentals from St. Louis out of curiosity to see how this man would treat with the tribes. For he spoke of his intentions to none of them, and gained the more respect by it. Within the week the council began; and the scene of the great drama was a field near the village, the background of forest trees. Few plays on the world's stage have held such suspense, few battles such excitement for those who watched. Here was the spectacle of one strong man's brain pitted against the combined craft of the wilderness. In the midst of a stretch of waving grass was a table, and a young man of six-and-twenty sat there alone. Around him were ringed the gathered tribes, each chief in the order of his importance squatted in the inner circle, their blankets making patches of bright color against the green. Behind the tribes was the little group of hunting shirts, the men leaning on the barrels of their long rifles, indolent but watchful. Here and there a gay uniform of a Spanish or Creole officer, and behind these all the population of the village that dared to show itself.
The ceremonies began with the kindling of the council fire,—a rite handed down through unknown centuries of Indian usage. By it nations had been made and unmade, broad lands passed, even as they now might pass. The yellow of its crackling flames was shamed by the summer sun, and the black smoke of it was wafted by the south wind over the forest. Then for three days the chiefs spoke, and a man listened, unmoved. The sound of these orations, wild and fearful to my boyish ear, comes back to me now. Yet there was a cadence in it, a music of notes now falling, now rising to a passion and intensity that thrilled us.
Bad birds flying through the land (the British agents) had besought them to take up the bloody hatchet. They had sinned. They had listened to the lies which the bad birds had told of the Big Knives, they had taken their presents. But now the Great Spirit in His wisdom had brought themselves and the Chief of the Big Knives together. Therefore (suiting the action to the word) they stamped on the bloody belt, and rent in pieces the emblems of the White King across the water. So said the interpreters, as the chiefs one after another tore the miniature British flags which had been given them into bits. On the evening of the third day the White Chief rose in his chair, gazing haughtily about him. There was a deep silence.
"Tell your chiefs," he said, "tell your chiefs that to-morrow I will give them an answer. And upon the manner in which they receive that answer depends the fate of your nations. Good night."
They rose and, thronging around him, sought to take his hand. But Clark turned from them.
"Peace is not yet come," he said sternly. "It is time to take the hand when the heart is given with it."
A feathered headsman of one of the tribes gave back with dignity and spoke.
"It is well said by the Great Chief of the Pale Faces," he answered; "these in truth are not the words of a man with a double tongue."
So they sought their quarters for the night, and suspense hung breathless over the village.
There were many callers at the stone house that evening,—Spanish officers, Creole gentlemen, an English Canadian trader or two. With my elbow on the sill of the open window I watched them awhile, listening with a boy's eagerness to what they had to say of the day's doings. They disputed amongst themselves in various degrees of English as to the manner of treating the red man,—now gesticulating, now threatening, now seizing a rolled parchment treaty from the table. Clark sat alone, a little apart, silent save a word now and then in a low tone to Monsieur Gratiot or Captain Bowman. Here was an odd assortment of the races which had overrun the new world. At intervals some disputant would pause in his talk to kill a mosquito or fight away a moth or a June-bug, but presently the argument reached such a pitch that the mosquitoes fed undisturbed.
"You have done much, sir," said the Spanish commandant of St. Louis, "but the savage, he will never be content without present. He will never be won without present."
Clark was one of those men who are perforce listened to when they begin to speak.
"Captain de Leyba," said he, "I know not what may be the present policy of his Spanish Majesty with McGillivray and his Creeks in the south, but this I do believe," and he brought down his fist among the papers, "that the old French and Spanish treaties were right in principle. Here are copies of the English treaties that I have secured, and in them thousands of sovereigns have been thrown away. They are so much waste paper. Gentlemen, the Indians are children. If you give them presents, they believe you to be afraid of them. I will deal with them without presents; and if I had the gold of the Bank of England stored in the garrison there, they should not touch a piece of it."
But Captain de Leyba, incredulous, raised his eyebrows and shrugged.
"Por Dios," he cried, "whoever hear of one man and fifty militia subduing the northern tribes without a piastre?"
After a while the Colonel called me in, and sent me speeding across the little river with a note to a certain Mr. Brady, whose house was not far away. Like many another citizen of Cahokia, Mr. Brady was terror-ridden. A party of young Puan bucks had decreed it to be their pleasure to encamp in Mr. Brady's yard, to peer through the shutters into Mr. Brady's house, to enjoy themselves by annoying Mr. Brady's family and others as much as possible. During the Indian occupation of Cahokia this band had gained a well-deserved reputation for mischief; and chief among them was the North Wind himself, whom I had done the honor to kick in the stomach. To-night they had made a fire in this Mr. Brady's flower-garden, over which they were cooking venison steaks. And, as I reached the door, the North Wind spied me, grinned, rubbed his stomach, made a false dash at me that frightened me out of my wits, and finally went through the pantomime of scalping me. I stood looking at him with my legs apart, for the son of the Great Chief must not run away. And I marked that the North Wind had two great ornamental daubs like shutter-fastenings painted on his cheeks. I sniffed preparation, too, on his followers, and I was sure they were getting ready for some new deviltry. I handed the note to Mr. Brady through the crack of the door that he vouchsafed to me, and when he had slammed and bolted me out, I ran into the street and stood for some time behind the trunk of a big hickory, watching the followers of the North Wind. Some were painting themselves, others cleaning their rifles and sharpening their scalping knives. All jabbered unceasingly. Now and again a silent brave passed, paused a moment to survey them gravely, grunted an answer to something they would fling at him, and went on. At length arrived three chiefs whom I knew to be high in the councils. The North Wind came out to them, and the four blanketed forms stood silhouetted between me and the fire for a quarter of an hour. By this time I was sure of a plot, and fled away to another tree for fear of detection. At length stalked through the street the Hungry Wolf, the interpreter. I knew this man to be friendly to Clark, and I acted on impulse. He gave a grunt of surprise when I halted before him. I made up my mind.
"The son of the Great Chief knows that the Puans have wickedness in their hearts to-night," I said; "the tongue of the Hungry Wolf does not lie."
The big Indian drew back with another grunt, and the distant firelight flashed on his eyes as on polished black flints.
"Umrrhh! Is the Pale Face Chief's son a prophet?"
"The anger of the Pale Face Chief and of his countrymen is as the hurricane," I said, scarce believing my own ears. For a lad is imitative by nature, and I had not listened to the interpreters for three days without profit.
The Hungry Wolf grunted again, after which he was silent for a long time. Then he said:—
"Let the Chief of the Long Knives have guard tonight." And suddenly he was gone into the darkness.
I waded the creek and sped to Clark. He was alone now, the shutters of the room closed. And as I came in I could scarce believe that he was the same masterful man I had seen at the council that day, and at the conference an hour gone. He was once more the friend at whose feet I sat in private, who talked to me as a companion and a father.
"Where have you been, Davy?" he asked. And then, "What is it, my lad?"
I crept close to him and told him in a breathless undertone, and I knew that I was shaking the while. He listened gravely, and when I had finished laid a firm hand on my head.
"There," he said, "you are a brave lad, and a canny."
He thought a minute, his hand still resting on my head, and then rose and led me to the back door of the house. It was near midnight, and the sounds of the place were stilling, the crickets chirping in the grass.
"Run to Captain Bowman and tell him to send ten men to this door. But they must come man by man, to escape detection. Do you understand?" I nodded and was starting, but he still held me. "God bless you, Davy, you are a brave boy."
He closed the door softly and I sped away, my moccasins making no sound on the soft dirt. I reached the garrison, was challenged by Jack Terrill, the guard, and brought by him to Bowman's room. The Captain sat, undressed, at the edge of his bed. But he was a man of action, and strode into the long room where his company was sleeping and gave his orders without delay.
Half an hour later there was no light in the village. The Colonel's headquarters were dark, but in the kitchen a dozen tall men were waiting.
So far as the world knew, the Chief of the Long Knives slept peacefully in his house. And such was his sense of power that not even a sentry paced the street without. For by these things is the Indian mind impressed. In the tiny kitchen a dozen men and a boy tried to hush their breathing, and sweltered. For it was very hot, and the pent-up odor of past cookings was stifling to men used to the open. In a corner, hooded under a box, was a lighted lantern, and Tom McChesney stood ready to seize it at the first alarm. On such occasions the current of time runs sluggish. Thrice our muscles were startled into tenseness by the baying of a hound, and once a cock crew out of all season. For the night was cloudy and pitchy black, and the dawn as far away as eternity.
Suddenly I knew that every man in the room was on the alert, for the skilled frontiersman, when watchful, has a sixth sense. None of them might have told you what he had heard. The next sound was the faint creaking of Colonel Clark's door as it opened. Wrapping a blanket around the lantern, Tom led the way, and we massed ourselves behind the front door. Another breathing space, and then the war-cry of the Puans broke hideously on the night, and children woke, crying, from their sleep. In two bounds our little detachment was in the street, the fire spouting red from the Deckards, faint, shadowy forms fading along the line of trees. After that an uproar of awakening, cries here and there, a drum beating madly for the militia. The dozen flung themselves across the stream, I hot in their wake, through Mr. Brady's gate, which was open; and there was a scene of sweet tranquillity under the lantern's rays,—the North Wind and his friends wrapped in their blankets and sleeping the sleep of the just.
"Damn the sly varmints," cried Tom, and he turned over the North Wind with his foot, as a log.
With a grunt of fury the Indian shed his blanket and scrambled to his feet, and stood glaring at us through his paint. But suddenly he met the fixed sternness of Clark's gaze, and his own shifted. By this time his followers were up. The North Wind raised his hands to heaven in token of his innocence, and then spread his palms outward. Where was the proof?
"Look!" I cried, quivering with excitement; "look, their leggings and moccasins are wet!"
"There's no devil if they beant!" said Tom, and there was a murmur of approval from the other men.
"The boy is right," said the Colonel, and turned to Tom. "Sergeant, have the chiefs put in irons." He swung on his heel, and without more ado went back to his house to bed. The North Wind and two others were easily singled out as the leaders, and were straightway escorted to the garrison house, their air of injured innocence availing them not a whit. The militia was dismissed, and the village was hushed once more.
But all night long the chiefs went to and fro, taking counsel among themselves. What would the Chief of the Pale Faces do?
The morning came with a cloudy, damp dawning. Within a decent time (for the Indian is decorous) blanketed deputations filled the archways under the trees and waited there as the minutes ran into hours. The Chief of the Long Knives surveyed the morning from his door-step, and his eyes rested on a solemn figure at the gate. It was the Hungry Wolf. Sorrow was in his voice, and he bore messages from the twenty great chiefs who stood beyond. They were come to express their abhorrence of the night's doings, of which they were as innocent as the deer of the forest.