The Hidden Children
Robert W. Chambers, 1914
TO MY MOTHER
Whatever merit may lie in this book is due to her wisdom, her sympathy and her teaching
No undue liberties with history have been attempted in this romance. Few characters in the story are purely imaginary. Doubtless the fastidious reader will distinguish these intruders at a glance, and very properly ignore them. For they, and what they never were, and what they never did, merely sugar-coat a dose disguised, and gild the solid pill of fact with tinselled fiction.
But from the flames of Poundridge town ablaze, to the rolling smoke of Catharines-town, Romance but limps along a trail hewed out for her more dainty feet by History, and measured inch by inch across the bloody archives of the nation.
The milestones that once marked that dark and dreadful trail were dead men, red and white. Today a spider-web of highways spreads over that Dark Empire of the League, enmeshing half a thousand towns now all a-buzz by day and all a-glow by night.
Empire, League, forest, are vanished; of the nations which formed the Confederacy only altered fragments now remain. But their memory and their great traditions have not perished; cities, mountains, valleys, rivers, lakes, and ponds are endowed with added beauty from the lovely names they wear—a tragic yet a charming legacy from Kanonsis and Kanonsionni, the brave and mighty people of the Long House, and those outside its walls who helped to prop or undermine it, Huron and Algonquin.
Perhaps of all national alliances ever formed, the Great Peace, which is called the League of the Iroquois, was as noble as any. For it was a league formed solely to impose peace. Those who took up arms against the Long House were received as allies when conquered—save only the treacherous Cat Nation, or Eries, who were utterly annihilated by the knife and hatchet or by adoption and ultimate absorption in the Seneca Nation.
As for the Lenni-Lenape, when they kept faith with the League they remained undisturbed as one of the "props" of the Long House, and their role in the Confederacy was embassadorial, diplomatic and advisory—in other words, the role of the Iroquois married women. And in the Confederacy the position of women was one of importance and dignity, and they exercised a franchise which no white nation has ever yet accorded to its women.
But when the Delawares broke faith, then the lash fell and the term "women" as applied to them carried a very different meaning when spat out by Canienga lips or snarled by Senecas.
Yet, of the Lenape, certain tribes, offshoots, and clans remained impassive either to Iroquois threats or proffered friendship. They, like certain lithe, proud forest animals to whom restriction means death, were untamable. Their necks could endure no yoke, political or purely ornamental. And so they perished far from the Onondaga firelight, far from the open doors of the Long House, self-exiled, self-sufficient, irreconcilable, and foredoomed. And of these the Mohicans were the noblest.
In the four romances—of which, though written last of all, this is the third, chronologically speaking—the author is very conscious of error and shortcoming. But the theme was surely worth attempting; and if the failure to convince be only partial then is the writer grateful to the Fates, and well content to leave it to the next and better man.
Early Spring, 1913. ___________
During the serial publication of "The Hidden Children" the author received the following interesting letters relating to the authorship of the patriotic verses quoted in Chapter X., These letters are published herewith for the general reader as well as for students of American history.
R. W. C.
149 WEST EIGHTY-EIGHTH STREET,
NEW YORK CITY.
MRS. HELEN DODGE KNEELAND:
DEAR MADAM: Some time ago I accidentally came across the verses written by Samuel Dodge and used by R. W. Chambers in story "Hidden Children." I wrote to him, inviting him to come and look at the original manuscript, which has come down to me from my mother, whose maiden name was Helen Dodge Cocks, a great-granddaughter of Samuel Dodge, of Poughkeepsie, the author of them.
So far Mr. Chambers has not come, but he answered my note, inclosing your note to him. I have written to him, suggesting that he insert a footnote giving the authorship of the verses, that it would gratify the descendants of Samuel Dodge, as well as be a tribute to a patriotic citizen.
These verses have been published a number of times. About three years ago by chance I read them in the December National Magazine, p. 247 (Boston), entitled "A Revolutionary Puzzle," and stating that the author was unknown. Considering it my duty to place the honor where it belonged, I wrote to the editor, giving the facts, which he courteously published in the September number, 1911, p. 876.
Should you be in New York any time, I will take pleasure in showing you the original manuscripts.
Very truly yours,
ROBERT S. MORRIS, M.D.
MR. ROBERT CHAMBERS,
DEAR SIR: I have not replied to your gracious letter, as I relied upon Dr. Morris to prove to you the authorship of the verses you used in your story of "The Hidden Children." I now inclose a letter from him, hoping that you will carry out his suggestion. Is it asking too much for you to insert a footnote in the next magazine or in the story when it comes out in book form? I think with Dr. Morris that this should be done as a "tribute to a patriotic citizen."
Trusting that you will appreciate the interest we have shown in this matter, I am
HELEN DODGE KNEELAND.
May 21st, 1914.
Ann Arbor, Michigan.
MRS. FRANK G. KNEELAND,
727 E. University Avenue. ___________
THE LONG HOUSE
"Onenh jatthondek sewarih-wisa-anongh-kwe kaya-renh-kowah! Onenh wa-karigh-wa-kayon-ne. Onenh ne okne joska-wayendon. Yetsi-siwan-enyadanion ne Sewari-wisa-anonqueh."
"Now listen, ye who established the Great League! Now it has become old. Now there is nothing but wilderness. Ye are in your graves who established it."
"At the Wood's Edge." ___________
When the West kindles red and low, Across the sunset's sombre glow, The black crows fly—the black crows fly! High pines are swaying to and fro In evil winds that blow and blow. The stealthy dusk draws nigh—draws nigh, Till the sly sun at last goes down, And shadows fall on Catharines-town.
Oswaya swaying to and fro.
By the Dark Empire's Western gate Eight stately, painted Sachems wait For Amochol—for Amochol! Hazel and samphire consecrate The magic blaze that burns like Hate, While the deep witch-drums roll—and roll. Sorceress, shake thy dark hair down! The Red Priest comes from Catharines-town.
Ha-ai! Karenna! Fate is Fate.
Now let the Giants clothed in stone Stalk from Biskoonah; while, new grown, The Severed Heads fly high—fly high! White-throat, White-throat, thy doom is known! O Blazing Soul that soars alone Like a Swift Arrow to the sky, High winging—fling thy Wampum down, Lest the sky fall on Catharines-town.
White-throat, White-throat, thy course is flown.
R. W. C. ___________
I THE BEDFORD ROAD II POUNDRIDGE III VIEW HALLOO! IV A TRYST V THE GATHERING VI THE SPRING WAIONTHA VII LOIS VIII OLD FRIENDS IX MID-SUMMER X IN GARRISON XI A SCOUT OF SIX XII AT THE FORD XIII THE HIDDEN CHILDREN XIV NAI TIOGA! XV BLOCK-HOUSE NO. 2 XVI LANA HELMER XVII THE BATTLE OF CHEMUNG XVIII THE RITE OF THE HIDDEN CHILDREN XIX AMOCHOL XX YNDAIA XXI CHINISEE CASTLE XXII MES ADIEUX
THE BEDFORD ROAD
In the middle of the Bedford Road we three drew bridle. Boyd lounged in his reeking saddle, gazing at the tavern and at what remained of the tavern sign, which seemed to have been a new one, yet now dangled mournfully by one hinge, shot to splinters.
The freshly painted house itself, marred with buckshot, bore dignified witness to the violence done it. A few glazed windows still remained unbroken; the remainder had been filled with blue paper such as comes wrapped about a sugar cone, so that the misused house seemed to be watching us out of patched and battered eyes.
It was evident, too, that a fire had been wantonly set at the northeast angle of the house, where sill and siding were deeply charred from baseboard to eaves.
Nor had this same fire happened very long since, for under the eaves white-faced hornets were still hard at work repairing their partly scorched nest. And I silently pointed them out to Lieutenant Boyd.
"Also," he nodded, "I can still smell the smoky wood. The damage is fresh enough. Look at your map."
He pushed his horse straight up to the closed door, continuing to examine the dismantled sign which hung motionless, there being no wind stirring.
"This should be Hays's Tavern," he said, "unless they lied to us at Ossining. Can you make anything of the sign, Mr. Loskiel?"
"Nothing, sir. But we are on the highway to Poundridge, for behind us lies the North Castle Church road. All is drawn on my map as we see it here before us; and this should be the fine dwelling of that great villain Holmes, now used as a tavern by Benjamin Hays."
"Rap on the door," said Boyd; and our rifleman escort rode forward and drove his rifle-butt at the door, "There's a man hiding within and peering at us behind the third window," I whispered.
"I see him," said Boyd coolly.
Through the heated silence around us we could hear the hornets buzzing aloft under the smoke-stained eaves. There was no other sound in the July sunshine.
The solemn tavern stared at us out of its injured eyes, and we three men of the Northland gazed back as solemnly, sobered once more to encounter the trail of the Red Beast so freshly printed here among the pleasant Westchester hills.
And to us the silent house seemed to say: "Gentlemen, gentlemen! Look at the plight I'm in—you who come from the blackened North!" And with never a word of lip our heavy thoughts responded: "We know, old house! We know! But at least you still stand; and in the ashes of our Northland not a roof or a spire remains aloft between the dwelling of Deborah Glenn and the ford at the middle fort."
Boyd broke silence with an effort; and his voice was once more cool and careless, if a little forced:
"So it's this way hereabouts, too," he said with a shrug and a sign to me to dismount. Which I did stiffly; and our rifleman escort scrambled from his sweatty saddle and gathered all three bridles in his mighty, sunburnt fist.
"Either there is a man or a ghost within," I said again, "Whatever it is has moved."
"A man," said Boyd, "or what the inhumanity of man has left of him."
And it was true, for now there came to the door and opened it a thin fellow wearing horn spectacles, who stood silent and cringing before us. Slowly rubbing his workworn hands, he made us a landlord's bow as listless and as perfunctory as ever I have seen in any ordinary. But his welcome was spoken in a whisper.
"God have mercy on this house," said Boyd loudly. "Now, what's amiss, friend? Is there death within these honest walls, that you move about on tiptoe?"
"There is death a-plenty in Westchester, sir," said the man, in a voice as colorless as his drab smalls and faded hair. Yet what he said showed us that he had noted our dress, too, and knew us for strangers.
"Cowboys and skinners, eh?" inquired Boyd, unbuckling his belt.
"And leather-cape, too, sir."
My lieutenant laughed, showing his white teeth; laid belt, hatchet, and heavy knife on a wine-stained table, and placed his rifle against it. Then, slipping cartridge sack, bullet pouch, and powder horn from his shoulders, stood eased, yawning and stretching his fine, powerful frame.
"I take it that you see few of our corps here below," he observed indulgently.
The landlord's lack-lustre eyes rested on me for an instant, then on Boyd:
"Do you know the uniform, landlord?"
"Rifles," he said indifferently.
"Yes, but whose, man? Whose?" insisted Boyd impatiently.
The other shook his head.
"Morgan's!" exclaimed Boyd loudly. "Damnation, sir! You should know Morgan's! Sixth Company, sir; Major Parr! And a likelier regiment and a better company never wore green thrums on frock or coon-tail on cap!"
"Yes, sir," said the man vacantly.
Boyd laughed a little:
"And look that you hint as much to the idle young bucks hereabouts—say it to some of your Westchester squirrel hunters——" He laid his hand on the landlord's shoulder. "There's a good fellow," he added, with that youthful and winning smile which so often carried home with it his reckless will—where women were concerned—"we're down from Albany and we wish the Bedford folk to know it. And if the gallant fellows hereabout desire a taste of true glory—the genuine article—why, send them to me, landlord—Thomas Boyd, of Derry, Pennsylvania, lieutenant, 6th company of Morgan's—or to my comrade here, Mr. Loskiel, ensign in the same corps."
He clapped the man heartily on the shoulder and stood looking around at the stripped and dishevelled room, his handsome head a little on one side, as though in frankest admiration. And the worn and pallid landlord gazed back at him with his faded, lack-lustre eyes—eyes that we both understood, alas—eyes made dull with years of fear, made old and hopeless with unshed tears, stupid from sleepless nights, haunted with memories of all they had looked upon since His Excellency marched out of the city to the south of us, where the red rag now fluttered on fort and shipping from King's Bridge to the Hook.
Nothing more was said. Our landlord went away very quietly. An hostler, presently appearing from somewhere, passed the broken windows, and we saw our rifleman go away with him, leading the three tired horses. We were still yawning and drowsing, stretched out in our hickory chairs, and only kept awake by the flies, when our landlord returned and set before us what food he had. The fare was scanty enough, but we ate hungrily, and drank deeply of the fresh small beer which he fetched in a Liverpool jug.
When we two were alone again, Boyd whispered:
"As well let them think we're here with no other object than recruiting. And so we are, after a fashion; but neither this state nor Pennsylvania is like to fill its quota here. Where is your map, once more?"
I drew the coiled linen roll from the breast of my rifle shirt and spread it out. We studied it, heads together.
"Here lies Poundridge," nodded Boyd, placing his finger on the spot so marked. "Roads a-plenty, too. Well, it's odd, Loskiel, but in this cursed, debatable land I feel more ill at ease than I have ever felt in the Iroquois country."
"You are still thinking of our landlord's deathly face," I said. "Lord! What a very shadow of true manhood crawls about this house!"
"Aye—and I am mindful of every other face and countenance I have so far seen in this strange, debatable land. All have in them something of the same expression. And therein lies the horror of it all, Mr. Loskiel God knows we expect to see deathly faces in the North, where little children lie scalped in the ashes of our frontier—where they even scalp the family hound that guards the cradle. But here in this sleepy, open countryside, with its gentle hills and fertile valleys, broad fields and neat stone walls, its winding roads and orchards, and every pretty farmhouse standing as though no war were in the land, all seems so peaceful, so secure, that the faces of the people sicken me. And ever I am asking myself, where lies this other hell on earth, which only faces such as these could have looked upon?"
"It is sad," I said, under my breath. "Even when a lass smiles on us it seems to start the tears in my throat."
"Sad! Yes, sir, it is. I supposed we had seen sufficient of human degradation in the North not to come here to find the same cringing expression stamped on every countenance. I'm sick of it, I tell you. Why, the British are doing worse than merely filling their prisons with us and scalping us with their savages! They are slowly but surely marking our people, body and face and mind, with the cursed imprint of slavery. They're stamping a nation's very features with the hopeless lineaments of serfdom. It is the ineradicable scars of former slavery that make the New Englander whine through his nose. We of the fighting line bear no such marks, but the peaceful people are beginning to—they who can do nothing except endure and suffer."
"It is not so everywhere," I said, "not yet, anyway."
"It is so in the North. And we have found it so since we entered the 'Neutral Ground.' Like our own people on the frontier, these Westchester folk fear everybody. You yourself know how we have found them. To every question they try to give an answer that may please; or if they despair of pleasing they answer cautiously, in order not to anger. The only sentiment left alive in them seems to be fear; all else of human passion appears to be dead. Why, Loskiel, the very power of will has deserted them; they are not civil to us, but obsequious; not obliging but subservient. They yield with apathy and very quietly what you ask, and what they apparently suppose is impossible for them to retain. If you treat them kindly they receive it coldly, not gratefully, but as though you were compensating them for evil done them by you. Their countenances and motions have lost every trace of animation. It is not serenity but apathy; every emotion, feeling, thought, passion, which is not merely instinctive has fled their minds forever. And this is the greatest crime that Britain has wrought upon us." He struck the table lightly with doubled fist, "Mr. Loskiel," he said, "I ask you—can we find recruits for our regiment in such a place as this? Damme, sir, but I think the entire land has lost its manhood."
We sat staring out into the sunshine through a bullet-shattered window.
"And all this country here seems so fair and peaceful," he murmured half to himself, "so sweet and still and kindly to me after the twilight of endless forests where men are done to death in the dusk. But hell in broad sunshine is the more horrible."
"Look closer at this country," I said. "The highways are deserted and silent, the very wagon ruts overgrown with grass. Not a scythe has swung in those hay fields; the gardens that lie in the sun are but tangles of weeds; no sheep stir on the hills, no cattle stand in these deep meadows, no wagons pass, no wayfarers. It may be that the wild birds are moulting, but save at dawn and for a few moments at sundown they seem deathly silent to me."
He had relapsed again into his moody, brooding attitude, elbows on the table, his handsome head supported by both hands. And it was not like him to be downcast. After a while he smiled.
"Egad," he said, "it is too melancholy for me here in the open; and I begin to long for the dusk of trees and for the honest scalp yell to cheer me up. One knows what to expect in county Tryon—but not here, Loskiel—not here."
"Our business here is like to be ended tomorrow," I remarked.
"Thank God for that," he said heartily, rising and buckling on his war belt. He added: "As for any recruits we have been ordered to pick up en passant, I see small chance of that accomplishment hereabout. Will you summon the landlord, Mr. Loskiel?"
I discovered the man standing at the open door, his warn hands clasped behind him, and staring stupidly at the cloudless sky. He followed me back to the taproom, and we reckoned with him. Somehow, I thought he had not expected to be paid a penny—yet he did not thank us.
"Are you not Benjamin Hays?" inquired Boyd, carelessly retying his purse.
The fellow seemed startled to hear his own name pronounced so loudly, but answered very quietly that he was.
"This house belongs to a great villain, one James Holmes, does it not?" demanded Boyd.
"Yes, sir," he whispered.
"How do you come to keep an ordinary here?"
"The town authorities required an ordinary. I took it in charge, as they desired."
"Oh! Where is this rascal, Holmes?"
"Gone below, sir, some time since."
"I have heard so. Was he not formerly Colonel of the 4th regiment?"
"And deserted his men, eh? And they made him Lieutenant-Colonel below, did they not?"
"Colonel—of what?" snarled Boyd in disgust.
"Of the Westchester Refugee Irregulars."
"Oh! Well, look out for him and his refugees. He'll be back here one of these days, I'm thinking."
"He has been back."
"What did he do?"
The man said listlessly: "It was like other visits. They robbed, tortured, and killed. Some they burnt with hot ashes, some they hung, cut down, and hung again when they revived. Most of the sheep, cattle, and horses were driven off. Last year thousands of bushels of fruit decayed in the orchards; the ripened grain lay rotting where wind and rain had laid it; no hay was cut, no grain milled."
"Was this done by the banditti from the lower party?"
"Yes, sir; and by the leather-caps, too. The leather-caps stood guard while the Tories plundered and killed. It is usually that way, sir. And our own renegades are as bad. We in Westchester have to entertain them all."
"But they burn no houses?"
"Not yet, sir. They have promised to do so next time."
"Are there no troops here?"
"Colonel Thomas's Regiment and Sheldon's Horse and the Minute Men."
"Well, what the devil are they about to permit this banditti to terrify and ravage a peaceful land?" demanded Boyd.
"The country is of great extent," said the man mildly. "It would require many troops to cover it. And His Excellency has very, very few."
"Yes," said Boyd, "that is true. We know how it is in the North—with hundreds of miles to guard and but a handful of men. And it must be that way." He made no effort to throw off his seriousness and nodded toward me with a forced smile. "I am twenty-two years of age," he said, "and Mr. Loskiel here is no older, and we fully expect that when we both are past forty we will still be fighting in this same old war. Meanwhile," he added laughing, "every patriot should find some lass to wed and breed the soldiers we shall require some sixteen years hence."
The man's smile was painful; he smiled because he thought we expected it; and I turned away disheartened, ashamed, burning with a fierce resentment against the fate that in three years had turned us into what we were—we Americans who had never known the lash—we who had never learned to fear a master.
Boyd said: "There is a gentleman, one Major Ebenezer Lockwood, hereabouts. Do you know him?"
"What? Why, that seems strange!"
The man's face paled, and he remained silent for a few moments. Then, furtively, his eyes began for the hundredth time to note the details of our forest dress, stealing stealthily from the fringe on legging and hunting shirt to the Indian beadwork on moccasin and baldrick, devouring every detail as though to convince himself. I think our pewter buttons did it for him.
Boyd said gravely: "You seem to doubt us, Mr. Hays," and read in the man's unsteady eyes distrust of everything on earth—and little faith in God.
"I do not blame you," said I gently. "Three years of hell burn deep."
"Yes," he said, "three years. And, as you say, sir, there was fire."
He stood quietly silent for a space, then, looking timidly at me, he rolled back his sleeves, first one, then the other, to the shoulders. Then he undid the bandages.
"What is all that?" asked Boyd harshly.
"The seal of the marauders, sir."
"They burnt you? God, man, you are but one living sore! Did any white man do that to you?"
"With hot horse-shoes. It will never quite heal, they say."
I saw the lieutenant shudder. The only thing he ever feared was fire—if it could be said of him that he feared anything. And he had told me that, were he taken by the Iroquois, he had a pistol always ready to blow out his brains.
Boyd had begun to pace the room, doubling and undoubling his nervous fingers. The landlord replaced the oil-soaked rags, rolled down his sleeves again, and silently awaited our pleasure.
"Why do you hesitate to tell us where we may find Major Lockwood?" I asked gently.
For the first time the man looked me full in the face. And after a moment I saw his expression alter, as though some spark—something already half dead within him was faintly reviving.
"They have set a price on Major Lockwood's head," he said; and Boyd halted to listen—and the man looked him in the eyes for a moment.
My lieutenant carried his commission with him, though contrary to advice and practice among men engaged on such a mission as were we. It was folded in his beaded shot-pouch, and now he drew it out and displayed it.
After a silence, Hays said:
"The old Lockwood Manor House stands on the south side of the village of Poundridge. It is the headquarters and rendezvous of Sheldon's Horse. The Major is there."
"Poundridge lies to the east of Bedford?"
"Yes, sir, about five miles."
"Where is the map, Loskiel?"
Again I drew it from my hunting shirt; we examined it, and Hays pointed out the two routes.
Boyd looked up at Hays absently, and said: "Do you know Luther Kinnicut?"
This time all the colour fled the man's face, and it was some moments before the sudden, unreasoning rush of terror in that bruised mind had subsided sufficiently for him to compose his thoughts. Little by little, however, he came to himself again, dimly conscious that he trusted us—perhaps the first strangers or even neighbours whom he had trusted in years.
"Yes, sir, I know him," he said in a low voice.
"Where is he?"
"Below—on our service."
But it was Luther Kinnicut, the spy, whom we had come to interview, as well as to see Major Lockwood, and Boyd frowned thoughtfully.
I said: "The Indians hereabout are Mohican, are they not, Mr. Hays?"
"They were," he replied; and his very apathy gave the answer a sadder significance.
"Have they all gone off?" asked Boyd, misunderstanding.
"There were very few Mohicans to go. But they have gone."
"Oh, no, sir. They and the Stockbridge Indians, and the Siwanois are friendly to our party."
"There was a Sagamore," I said, "of the Siwanois, named Mayaro. We believe that Luther Kinnicut knows where this Sagamore is to be found. But how are we to first find Kinnicut?"
"Sir," he said, "you must ask Major Lockwood that. I know not one Indian from the next, only that the savages hereabout are said to be favourable to our party."
Clearly there was nothing more to learn from this man. So we thanked him and strapped on our accoutrements, while he went away to the barn to bring up our horses. And presently our giant rifleman appeared leading the horses, and still munching a bough-apple, scarce ripe, which he dropped into the bosom of his hunting shirt when he discovered us watching him.
Boyd laughed: "Munch away, Jack, and welcome," he said, "only mind thy manners when we sight regular troops. I'll have nobody reproaching Morgan's corps that the men lack proper respect—though many people seem to think us but a parcel of militia where officer and man herd cheek by jowl."
On mounting, he turned in his saddle and asked Hays what we had to fear on our road, if indeed we were to apprehend anything.
"There is some talk of the Legion Cavalry, sir—Major Tarleton's command."
"No, sir—only the talk when men of our party meet. And Major Lockwood has a price on his head."
"Oh! Is that all?"
"That is all, sir."
Boyd nodded laughingly, wheeled his horse, and we rode slowly out into the Bedford Road, the mounted rifleman dogging our heels.
From every house in Bedford we knew that we were watched as we rode; and what they thought of us in our flaunting rifle dress, or what they took us to be—enemy or friend—I cannot imagine, the uniform of our corps being strange in these parts. However, they must have known us for foresters and riflemen of one party or t'other; and, as we advanced, and there being only three of us, and on a highway, too, very near to the rendezvous of an American dragoon regiment, the good folk not only peeped out at us from between partly closed shutters, but even ventured to open their doors and stand gazing after we had ridden by.
Every pretty maid he saw seemed to comfort Boyd prodigiously, which was always the case; and as here and there a woman smiled faintly at him the last vestige of sober humour left him and he was more like the reckless, handsome young man I had come to care for a great deal, if not wholly to esteem.
The difference in rank between us permitted him to relax if he chose; and though His Excellency and our good Baron were ever dinning discipline and careful respect for rank into the army's republican ears, there was among us nothing like the aristocratic and rigid sentiment which ruled the corps of officers in the British service.
Still, we were not as silly and ignorant as we were at Bunker Hill, having learned something of authority and respect in these three years, and how necessary to discipline was a proper maintenance of rank. For once—though it seems incredible—men and officers were practically on a footing of ignorant familiarity; and I have heard, and fully believe, that the majority of our reverses and misfortunes arose because no officer represented authority, nor knew how to enforce discipline because lacking that military respect upon which all real discipline must be founded.
Of all the officers in my corps and in my company, perhaps Lieutenant Boyd was slowest to learn the lesson and most prone to relax, not toward the rank and file—yet, he was often a shade too easy there, also—but with other officers. Those ranking him were not always pleased; those whom he ranked felt vaguely the mistake.
As for me, I liked him greatly; yet, somehow, never could bring myself to a careless comradeship, even in the woods or on lonely scouts where formality and circumstance seemed out of place, even absurd. He was so much of a boy, too—handsome, active, perfectly fearless, and almost always gay—that if at times he seemed a little selfish or ruthless in his pleasures, not sufficiently mindful of others or of consequences, I found it easy to forgive and overlook. Yet, fond as I was of him, I never had become familiar with him—why, I do not know. Perhaps because he ranked me; and perhaps there was no particular reason for that instinct of aloofness which I think was part of me at that age, and, except in a single instance, still remains as the slightest and almost impalpable barrier to a perfect familiarity with any person in the world.
"Loskiel," he said in my ear, "did you see that little maid in the orchard, how shyly she smiled on us?"
"On you," I nodded, laughing.
"Oh, you always say that," he retorted.
And I always did say that, and it always pleased him.
"On this accursed journey south," he complained, "the necessity for speed has spoiled our chances for any roadside sweethearts. Lord! But it's been a long, dull trail," he added frankly. "Why, look you, Loskiel, even in the wilderness somehow I always have contrived to discover a sweetheart of some sort or other—yes, even in the Iroquois country, cleared or bush, somehow or other, sooner or later, I stumble on some pretty maid who flutters up in the very wilderness like a partridge from under my feet!"
"That is your reputation," I remarked.
"Oh, damme, no!" he protested. "Don't say it is my reputation!"
But he had that reputation, whether he realised it or not; though as far as I had seen there was no real harm in the man—only a willingness to make love to any petticoat, if its wearer were pretty. But my own notions had ever inclined me toward quality. Which is not strange, I myself being of unknown parentage and birth, high or low, nobody knew; nor had anybody ever told me how I came by my strange name, Euan Loskiel, save that they found the same stitched in silk upon my shift.
For it is best, perhaps, that I say now how it was with me from the beginning, which, until this memoir is read, only one man knew—and one other. For I was discovered sleeping beside a stranded St. Regis canoe, where the Mohawk River washes Guy Park gardens. And my dead mother lay beside me.
He who cared for me, reared me and educated me, was no other than Guy Johnson of Guy Park. Why he did so I learned only after many days; and at the proper time and place I will tell you who I am and why he was kind to me. For his was not a warm and kindly character, nor a gentle nature, nor was he an educated man himself, nor perhaps even a gentleman, though of that landed gentry which Tryon County knew so well, and also a nephew of the great Sir William, and became his son-in-law.
I say he was not liked in Tryon County, though many feared him more than they feared young Walter Butler later; yet he was always and invariably kind to me. And when with the Butlers, and Sir John, and Colonel Claus, and the other Tories he fled to Canada, there to hatch most hellish reprisals upon the people of Tryon who had driven him forth, he wrote to me where I was at Harvard College in Cambridge to bid me farewell.
He said to me in that letter that he did not ask me to declare for the King in the struggle already beginning; he merely requested, if I could not conscientiously so declare, at least that I remain passive, and attend quietly to my studies at Cambridge until the war blew over, as it quickly must, and these insolent people were taught their lesson.
The lesson, after three years and more, was still in progress; Guy Park had fallen into the hands of the Committee of Sequestration and was already sold; Guy Johnson roamed a refugee in Canada, and I, since the first crack of a British musket, had learned how matters stood between my heart and conscience, and had carried a rifle and at times my regiment's standard ever since.
I had no home except my regiment, no friends except Guy Johnson's, and those I had made at College and in the regiment; and the former would likely now have greeted me with rifle or hatchet, whichever came easier to hand.
So to me my rifle regiment and my company had become my only home; the officers my parents; my comrades the only friends I had.
I wrote to Guy Johnson, acquainting him of my intention before I enlisted, and the letter went to him with other correspondence under a flag.
In time I had a reply from him, and he wrote as though something stronger than hatred for the cause I had embraced was forcing him to speak to me gently.
God knows it was a strange, sad letter, full of bitterness under which smouldered something more terrible, which, as he wrote, he strangled. And so he ended, saying that, through him, no harm should ever menace me; and that in the fullness of time, when this vile rebellion had been ended, he would vouch for the mercy of His Most Christian Majesty as far as I was concerned, even though all others hung in chains.
Thus I had left it all—not then knowing who I was or why Guy Johnson had been kind to me; nor ever expecting to hear from him again.
Thinking of these things as I rode beside Lieutenant Boyd through the calm Westchester sunshine, all that part of my life—which indeed was all of my life except these last three battle years—seemed already so far sway, so dim and unreal, that I could scarce realise I had not been always in the army—had not always lived from day to day, from hour to hour, not knowing one night where I should pillow my head the next.
For at nineteen I shouldered my rifle; and now, at Boyd's age, two and twenty, my shoulder had become so accustomed to its not unpleasant weight that, at moments, thinking, I realised that I would not know what to do in the world had I not my officers, my company, and my rifle to companion me through life.
And herein lies the real danger of all armies and of all soldiering. Only the strong character and exceptional man is ever fitted for any other life after the army becomes a closed career to him.
I now remarked as much to Boyd, who frowned, seeming to consider the matter for the first time.
"Aye," he nodded, "it's true enough, Loskiel. And I for one don't know what use I could make of the blessings of peace for which we are so madly fighting, and which we all protest that we desire."
"The blessings of peace might permit you more leisure with the ladies," I suggested smilingly. And he threw back his handsome head and laughed.
"Lord!" he exclaimed. "What chance have I, a poor rifleman, who may not even wear his hair clubbed and powdered."
Only field and staff now powdered in our corps. I said: "Heaven hasten your advancement, sir."
"Not that I'd care a fig," he protested, "if I had your yellow, curly head, you rogue. But with my dark hair unpowdered and uncurled, and no side locks, I tell you, Loskiel, I earn every kiss that is given me—or forgiven. Heigho! Peace would truly be a blessing if she brought powder and pretty clothing to a crop-head, buck-skinned devil like me."
We were now riding through a country which had become uneven and somewhat higher. A vast wooded hill lay on our left; the Bedford highway skirted it. On our right ran a stream, and there was some swampy land which followed. Rock outcrops became more frequent, and the hard-wood growth of oak, hickory and chestnut seemed heavier and more extensive than in Bedford town. But there were orchards; the soil seemed to be fertile and the farms thrifty, and it was a pleasant land save for the ominous stillness over all and the grass-grown highway. Roads and lanes, paths and pastures remained utterly deserted of man and beast.
This, if our map misled us not, should be the edges of the town of Poundridge; and within a mile or so more we began to see a house here and there. These farms became more frequent as we advanced. After a few moments' riding we saw the first cattle that we had seen in many days. And now we began to find this part of the Westchester country very different, as we drew nearer to the village, for here and there we saw sheep feeding in the distance, and men mowing who leaned on their scythes to see us pass, and even saluted us from afar.
It seemed as though a sense of security reigned here, though nobody failed to mark our passing or even to anticipate it from far off. But nobody appeared to be afraid of us, and we concluded that the near vicinity of Colonel Sheldon's Horse accounted for what we saw.
It was pleasant to see women spinning beside windows in which flowers bloomed, and children gazing shyly at us from behind stone walls and palings. Also, in barnyards we saw fowls, which was more than we had seen West of us—and now and again a family cat dozing on some doorstep freshly swept.
"I had forgotten there was such calm and peace in the world," said Boyd. "And the women look not unkindly on us—do you think, Loskiel?"
But I was intent on watching a parcel of white ducks leaving a little pond, all walking a-row and quacking, and wriggling their fat tails. How absurd a thing to suddenly close my throat so that I could not find my voice to answer Boyd; for ever before me grew the almost forgotten vision of Guy Park, and of our white waterfowl on the river behind the house, where I had seen them so often from my chamber window leaving the water's edge at sundown.
A mile outside the town a leather-helmeted dragoon barred our way, but we soon satisfied him.
We passed by the Northwest road, crossed the Stamford highway, and, consulting our map, turned back and entered it, riding south through the village.
Here a few village folk were abroad; half a dozen of Sheldon's dragoons lounged outside the tavern, to the rail of which their horses were tied; and we saw other men with guns, doubtless militia, though few wore any fragment of uniform, save as their hats were cocked or sprigged with green.
Nobody hailed us, not even the soldiers; there was no levity, no jest directed toward our giant rifleman, only a courteous but sober salute as we rode through Poundridge town and out along the New Canaan highway where houses soon became fewer and soldiers both afoot and ahorse more frequent.
We crossed a stream and two roads, then came into a street with many houses which ran south, then, at four corners, turned sharp to the east. And there, across a little brook, we saw a handsome manor house around which some three score cavalry horses were picketed.
Yard, lawn, stables and barns were swarming with people—dragoons of Sheldon's Regiment, men of Colonel Thomas's foot regiment, militia officers, village gentlemen whose carriages stood waiting; and some of these same carriages must have come from a distance, perhaps even from Ridgefield, to judge by the mud and dust that clotted them.
Beyond the house, on a road which I afterward learned ran toward Lewisboro, between the Three Lakes, Cross Pond, and Bouton's, a military convoy was passing, raising a prodigious cloud of dust. I could see, and faintly hear, sheep and cattle; there was a far crack of whips, a shouting of drovers and teamsters, and, through the dust, we caught the sparkle of a bayonet here and there.
Somewhere, doubtless, some half starved brigade of ours was gnawing its nails and awaiting this same convoy; and I silently prayed God to lead it safely to its destination.
"Pretty women everywhere!" whispered Boyd in my ear. "Our friend the Major seems to have a houseful. The devil take me if I leave this town tomorrow!"
As we rode into the yard and dismounted, and our rifleman took the bridles, across the crowded roadway we could see a noble house with its front doors wide open and a group of ladies and children there and many gentlemen saluting them as they entered or left the house.
"A respectable company," I heard Boyd mutter to himself, as he stood slapping the dust from hunting-shirt and leggings and smoothing the fringe. And, "Damme, Loskiel," he said, "we're like to cut a most contemptible figure among such grand folk—what with our leather breeches, and saddle-reek for the only musk we wear. Lord! But yonder stands a handsome girl—and my condition mortifies me so that I could slink off to the mews for shame and lie on straw with the hostlers."
There was, I knew, something genuine in his pretense of hurt vanity, even under the merry mask he wore; but I only laughed.
A great many people moved about, many, I could see, having arrived from the distant country; and there was a great noise of hammering, too, from a meadow below, where, a soldier told us, they were erecting barracks for Sheldon's and for other troops shortly expected.
"There is even talk of a fort for the ridge yonder," he said. "One may see the Sound from there."
We glanced up at the ridge, then gazed curiously around, and finally walked down along the stone wall to a pasture. Here, where they were building the barracks, there had been a camp; and the place was still smelling stale enough. Tents were now being loaded on ox wagons; and a company of Colonel Thomas's regiment was filing out along the road after the convoy which we had seen moving through the dust toward Lewisboro.
People stood about looking on; some poked at the embers of the smoky fires, some moused and prowled about to see what scrap they might pick up.
Boyd's roving gaze had been arrested by a little scene enacting just around the corner of the partly-erected barracks, where half a dozen soldiers had gathered around some camp-women, whose sullen attitude discouraged their gallantries. She was dressed in shabby finery. On her hair, which was powdered, she wore a jaunty chip hat tied under her chin with soiled blue ribbons, and a kerchief of ragged lace hid her bosom, pinned with a withered rose. The scene was sordid enough; and, indifferent, I gazed elsewhere.
"A shilling to a penny they kiss her yet!" he said to me presently, and for the second time I noticed the comedy—if you choose to call it so—for the wench was now struggling fiercely amid the laughing men.
"A pound to a penny!" repeated Boyd; "Do you take me, Loskiel?"
The next moment I had pushed in among them, forcing the hilarious circle to open; and I heard her quick, uneven breathing as I elbowed my way to her, and turned on the men good-humoredly.
"Come, boys, be off!" I said. "Leave rough sport to the lower party. She's sobbing." I glanced at her. "Why, she's but a child, after all! Can't you see, boys? Now, off with you all in a hurry!"
There had evidently been some discipline drilled into Colonel Thomas's regiments the men seemed instantly to know me for an officer, whether by my dress or voice I know not, yet Morgan's rifle frock could be scarcely familiar to them.
A mischievous sergeant saluted me, grinning, saying it was but idle sport and no harm meant; and so, some laughing, others seeming to be ashamed, they made haste to clear out. I followed them, with a nod of reassurance to the wench, who might have been their drab for aught I knew, all camps being full of such poultry.
"Gallantly done!" exclaimed Boyd derisively, as I came slowly back to where he stood. "But had I been fortunate enough to think of intervening, egad, I believe I would have claimed what she refused the rest, Loskiel!"
"From a ruddied camp drab?" I asked scornfully.
"Her cheeks and lips are not painted. I've discovered that," he insisted, staring back at her.
"Lord!" said I. "Would you linger here making sheep's eyes at yonder ragged baggage? Come, sir, if you please."
"I tell you, I would give a half year's pay to see her washed and clothed becomingly!"
"You never will," said I impatiently, and jogged his elbow to make him move. For he was ever a prey to strange and wayward fancies which hitherto I had only smiled at. But now, somehow—perhaps because there might have been some excuse for this one—perhaps because what a man rescues he will not willingly leave to another—even such a poor young thing as this plaything of the camp—for either of these reasons, or for none at all, this ogling of her did not please me.
Most unwillingly he yielded to the steady pressure of my elbow; and we moved on, he turning his handsome head continually. After a while he laughed.
"Nevertheless," said he, "there stands the rarest essence of real beauty I have ever seen, in lady born or beggar; and I am an ass to go my way and leave it for the next who passes."
I said nothing.
He grumbled for a while below his breath, then:
"Yes, sir! Sheer beauty—by the roadside yonder—in ragged ribbons and a withered rose. Only—such Puritans as you perceive it not."
After a silence, and as we entered the gateway to the manor house:
"I swear she wore no paint, Loskiel—whatever she is like enough to be."
"Good heavens!" said I. "Are you brooding on her still?"
Yet, I myself was thinking of her, too; and because of it a strange, slow anger was possessing me.
"Thank God," thought I to myself, "no woman of the common class could win a second glance from me. In which," I added with satisfaction, "I am unlike most other men."
A Philistine thought the same, one day—if I remember right.
We now approached the door of the manor house, where we named ourselves to the sentry, who presently fetched an officer of Minute Men, who looked us over somewhat coldly.
"You wish to see Major Lockwood?" he asked.
"Yes," said Boyd, "and you may say to him that we are come from headquarters express to speak with him on private business."
"From whom in Albany do you come, sir?"
"Well, sir, if you must have it, from General Clinton," returned Boyd in a lower voice. "But we would not wish it gossipped aloud."
The man seemed to be perplexed, but he went away again, leaving us standing in the crowded hall where officers, ladies of the family, and black servants were continually passing and repassing.
Very soon a door opened on our left, and we caught a glimpse of a handsome room full of officers and civilians, where maps were scattered in confusion over tables, chairs, and even on the floor. An officer in buff and blue came out of the room, glanced keenly at us, made a slight though courteous inclination, but instead of coming forward to greet us turned into another room on the right, which was a parlour.
Then the minute officer returned, directed us where to place our rifles, insisted firmly that we also leave under his care our war axes and the pistol which Boyd carried, and then ushered us into the parlour. And it occurred to me that the gentleman on whose head the British had set a price was very considerably inclined toward prudence.
Now this same gentleman, Major Lockwood, who had been seated behind a table when we entered the parlour, rose and received us most blandly, although I noted that he kept the table between himself and us, and also that the table drawer was open, where I could have sworn that the papers so carelessly heaped about covered a brace of pistols.
For to this sorry pass the Westchester folk had come, that they trusted no stranger, nor were like to for many a weary day to come. Nor could I blame this gentleman with a heavy price on his head, and, as I heard later, already the object of numerous and violent attempts in which, at times, entire regiments had been employed to take him.
But after he had carefully read the letter which Boyd bore from our General of Brigade, he asked us to be seated, and shut the table drawer, and came over to the silk-covered sofa on which we had seated ourselves.
"Do you know the contents of this letter?" he asked Boyd bluntly.
"Yes, Major Lockwood."
"And does Mr. Loskiel know, also?"
"Yes, sir," I answered.
The Major sat musing, turning over and over the letter between thumb and forefinger.
He was a man, I should say, of forty or a trifle more, with brown eyes which sometimes twinkled as though secretly amused, even when his face was gravest and most composed; a gentleman of middle height, of good figure and straight, and of manners so simple that the charm of them struck one afterward as a pleasant memory.
"Gentlemen," he said, looking up at us from his momentary abstraction, "for the first part of General Clinton's letter I must be brief with you and very frank. There are no recruits to be had in this vicinity for Colonel Morgan's Rifles. Riflemen are of the elite; and our best characters and best shots are all enlisted—or dead or in prison——" He made a significant gesture toward the south. And we thought of the Prison Ships and the Provost, and sat silent.
"There is," he added, "but one way, and that is to pick riflemen from our regiments here; and I am not sure that the law permits it in the infantry. It would be our loss, if we lose our best shots to your distinguished corps; but of course that is not to be considered if the interests of the land demand it. However, if I am not mistaken, a recruiting party is to follow you."
"Then, sir, you may report accordingly. And now for the other matters. General Clinton, in this letter, recommends that we speak very freely together. So I will be quite frank, gentlemen. The man you seek, Luther Kinnicut, is a spy whom our Committee of Safety maintains within the lines of the lower party. If it be necessary I can communicate with him, but it may take a week. Might I ask why you desire to question him so particularly?"
Boyd said: "There is a Siwanois Indian, one Mayaro, a Sagamore, with whom we have need to speak. General Clinton believes that this man Kinnicut knows his whereabouts."
"I believe so, too," said the Major smiling. "But I ask your pardon, gentlemen; the Sagamore, Mayaro, although a Siwanois, was adopted by the Mohicans, and should be rated one."
"Do you know him, sir?"
"Very well indeed. May I inquire what it is you desire of Mayaro?"
"This," said Boyd slowly; "and this is the real secret with which I am charged—a secret not to be entrusted to paper—a secret which you, sir, and even my comrade, Mr. Loskiel, now learn for the first time. May I speak with safety in this room, Major?"
The Major rose, opened the door into the hall, dismissed the sentry, closed and locked the door, and returned to us.
"I am," he said smiling, "almost ashamed to make so much circumstance over a small matter of which you have doubtless heard. I mean that the lower party has seen fit to distinguish me by placing a price upon my very humble head; and as I am not only Major in Colonel Thomas's regiment, but also a magistrate, and also, with my friend Lewis Morris, a member of the Provincial Assembly, and of the Committee of Safety, I could not humour the lower party by permitting them to capture so many important persons in one net," he added, laughing. "Now, sir, pray proceed. I am honoured by General Clinton's confidence."
"Then, sir," said Boyd very gravely, "this is the present matter as it stands. His Excellency has decided on a daring stroke to be delivered immediately; General Sullivan has been selected to deal it, General Clinton is to assist. A powerful army is gathering at Albany, and another at Easton and Tioga. The enemy know well enough that we are concentrating, and they have guessed where the blow is to be struck. But, sir, they have guessed wrong!"
"Not Canada, then?" inquired the Major quietly.
"No, sir. We demonstrate northward; that is all. Then we wheel west by south and plunge straight into the wilderness, swift as an arrow files, directly at the heart of the Long House!"
"Sir!" he exclaimed, astonished.
"Straight at the heart o! the Iroquois Confederacy, Major! That is what is to be done—clean out, scour out, crush, annihilate those hell-born nations which have so long been terrorizing the Northland. Major Lockwood, you have read in the New England and Pennsylvania papers how we have been threatened, how we have been struck, how we have fought and suffered. But you, sir, have only heard; you have not seen. So I must tell you now that it is far worse with us than we have admitted. The frontier of New York State is already in ashes; the scalp yell rings in our forests day and night; and the red destructives under Brant, and the painted Tories under Walter Butler, spare neither age nor sex—for I myself have seen scalps taken from the tender heads of cradled infants—nay, I have seen them scalp the very hound on guard at the cabin door! And that is how it goes with us, sir. God save you, here, from the blue-eyed Indians!"
He stopped, hesitated, then, softly smiting one fist within the other:
"But now I think their doom is sounding—Seneca, lying Cayuga, traitorous Onondaga, Mohawk, painted renegade—all are to go down into utter annihilation. Nor is that all. We mean to sweep their empire from end to end, burn every town, every castle, every orchard, every grain field—lay waste, blacken, ravage, leave nothing save wind-blown ashes of that great Confederacy, and of the vast granary which has fed the British northern armies so long. Nothing must remain of the Long House; the Senecas shall die at the Western door; the Keepers of the Eastern door shall die. Only the Oneida may be spared—as many as have remained neutral or loyal to us—they and such of the Tuscaroras and Lenni-Lenape as have not struck us; and the Stockbridge and White Plains tribes, and the remnants of the Mohicans.
"And that is why we have come here for riflemen, and that is why we are here to find the Sagamore, Mayaro. For our Oneidas have told us that he knows where the castles of the Long House lie, and that he can guide our army unerringly to that dark, obscure and fearsome Catharines-town where the hag, Montour, reigns in her shaggy wilderness."
There was a long silence; and I for one, amazed at what I had heard—for I had made certain that we were to have struck at Canada—was striving to reconcile this astounding news with all my preconceived ideas. Yet, that is ever the way with us in the regiments; we march, not knowing whither; we camp at night not knowing why. Unseen authority moves us, halts us; unseen powers watch us, waking and sleeping, think for us, direct our rising and our lying down, our going forth and our return—nay, the invisible empire envelops us utterly in sickness and in health, ruling when and how much we eat and sleep, controlling every hour and prescribing our occupation for every minute. Only our thoughts remain free; and these, as we are not dumb, unthinking beasts, must rove afield to seek for the why and wherefore, garnering conclusions which seldom if ever are corroborated.
So I; for I had for months now made sure that our two armies in the North were to be flung pell mell on Quebec and on Niagara. Only regarding the latter place had I nearly hit the mark; for it seemed reasonable that our army, having once swept the Long House, could scarcely halt ere we had cleaned out that rat's nest of Indians and painted Tories which is known as Fort Niagara, and from which every dreadful raid of the destructives into Tryon County had been planned and executed.
Thinking of these things, my deep abstraction was broken by the pleasant voice of Major Lockwood.
"Mr. Boyd," he said, "I realise now how great is your need of riflemen to fill the State's quota. If there is anything I or my associates can do, under the law, it shall be done; and when we are able to concentrate, and when your recruiting party arrives, I will do what I can, if permitted, to select from the dragoons of Sheldon and Moylan, and from my own regiment such men as may, by marksmanship and character, qualify for the corps d'lite."
He rose and began to pace the handsome parlour, evidently worried and perplexed; and presently he halted before us, who had of course risen in respect.
"Gentlemen," he said, "I must lay bare to you our military necessity, embarrassment, and mortification in this country of Westchester, so that you may clearly understand the difficulty of furnishing the recruits you ask for.
"South of us, from New York to North Castle, our enemy is in possession. We are attempting to hold this line; but it is a vast country. We can count on very few Continental troops; our militia has its various rendezvous, and it turns out at every call. The few companies of my regiment of foot are widely scattered; one company left here as escort to the military train an hour ago. Sheldon's 2nd Light Dragoons are scattered all over the country. Two troops and headquarters remain now here at my house."
He waved his hand westward: "So desperate is our condition, gentlemen, that Colonel Moylan's Dragoons have been ordered here, and are at this moment, I suppose, on the march to join us. And—I ask you, gentlemen—considering that in New York City, just below us, there are ten thousand British regulars, not counting the partizan corps, the irregulars, the Tory militia, the numberless companies of marauders—I ask you how you can expect to draw recruits from the handful of men who have been holding—or striving to hold—this line for the last three years!"
Boyd shook his head in silence. As for me, it was not my place to speak, nor had I anything to suggest.
After a moment the Major said, more cheerfully:
"Well, well, gentlemen, who knows after all? We may find ways and means. And now, one other matter remains to be settled, and I think I may aid you."
He went to the door and opened it. The sentry who stood across the hall came to him instantly and took his orders; and in a few moments there entered the room four gentlemen to whom we were made known by Major Lockwood. One of these was our Captain of Minute Men. They were, in order, Colonel Sheldon, a fretful gentleman with a face which seemed to me weak, almost stupid; Colonel Thomas, an iron-grey, silent officer, stern but civil; Captain William Fancher, a Justice of the Peace, Judge of the Court of Common Pleas, and holding his commission as Captain of Minute Men; and a Mr. Alsop Hunt, a Quaker, son-in-law of Major Lockwood, and a most quiet and courteous gentleman.
With one accord we drew chairs around the handsome centre table, where silver candlesticks glimmered and a few books lay in their fine, gilded bindings.
It was very evident to us that in the hands of these five gentlemen lay the present safety of Westchester County, military and civil. And to them Major Lockwood made known our needs—not, however, disturbing them in their preconceived notion, so common everywhere, that the blow to be struck from the North was to be aimed at the Canadas.
Colonel Sheldon's weak features turned red and he said almost peevishly that no recruits could be picked up in Westchester, and that we had had our journey for our pains. Anyway, he'd be damned if he'd permit recruiting for riflemen among his dragoons, it being contrary to law and common sense.
"I've a dozen young fellows who might qualify," said Colonel Thomas bluntly, "but if the law permits Mr. Boyd to take them my regiment's volleys wouldn't stop a charge of chipmunks!"
We all laughed a little, and Captain Fancher said:
"Minute Men are Minute Men, Mr. Boyd. You are welcome to any you can enlist from my company."
Alsop Hunt, being a Quaker, and personally opposed to physical violence, offered no suggestion until the second object of our visit was made known. Then he said, very quietly:
"Mayaro, the Mohican Sagamore, is in this vicinity."
"How do you know that, Alsop?" asked Major Lockwood quickly.
"I saw him yesterday."
"Here in Poundridge?"
Mr. Hunt glanced at Colonel Thomas, then with a slight colour mounting to his temples:
"The Sagamore was talking to one of the camp-women last evening—toward sundown on the Rock Hills. We were walking abroad for the air, my wife and I——" he turned to Major Lockwood: "Betsy whispered to me, 'There is a handsome wench talking to an Indian!' And I saw the Sagamore standing in the sunset light, conversing with one of the camp-women who hang about Colonel Thomas's regiment.".
"Would you know the slattern again?" asked Colonel Thomas, scowling.
"I think so, Colonel. And to tell the truth she was scarce a slattern, whatever else she may be—a young thing—and it seemed sad to us—to my wife and me."
"And handsome?" inquired Boyd, smiling at me.
"I may not deny it, sir," said Mr. Hunt primly. "The child possessed considerable comeliness."
"Why," said Boyd to me, laughingly, "she may be the wench you so gallantly rescued an hour since." And he told the story gayly enough, and with no harm meant; but it embarrassed and annoyed me.
"If the wench knows where the Sagamore may be found," said Major Lockwood, "it might be well for Mr. Loskiel to look about and try to find her."
"Would you know her again?" inquired Colonel Thomas.
"No, sir, I——" And I stopped short, because what I was about to say was not true. For, when I had sent the soldiers about their business and had rejoined Boyd—and when Boyd had bidden me turn again because the girl was handsome, there had been no need to turn. I had seen her; and I knew that when he said she was beautiful he said what was true. And the reason I did not turn, to look again was because beauty in such a woman should inspire no interest in me.
I now corrected myself, saying coolly enough:
"Yes, Colonel Thomas, on second thought I think I might know her if I see her."
"Perhaps," suggested Captain Fancher, "the wench has gone a-gypsying after the convoy."
"These drabs change lovers over night," observed Colonel Thomas grimly. "Doubtless Sheldon's troopers are already consoling her."
Colonel Sheldon, who had been fiddling uneasily with his sword-knot, exclaimed peevishly:
"Good God, sir! Am I also to play chaplain to my command?"
There was a curious look in Colonel Thomas's eyes which seemed to say: "You might play it as well as you play the Colonel;" but Sheldon was too stupid and too vain, I think, to perceive any affront.
And, "Where do you lodge, gentlemen?" inquired our Major, addressing us both; and when he learned that we were roofless he insisted that we remain under his roof, nor would he hear of any excuses touching the present unsuitability of our condition and attire.
"Gentlemen, gentlemen! I will not accept a refusal," he said. "We are plain folk and live plainly, and both bed and board are at your disposal. Lord, sir! And what would Clinton think were I to send two officers of his corps d'lite to a village ordinary!"
We had all risen and were moving toward the door. A black servant came when the Major pulled the bell card, and showed Boyd and myself to two pretty chambers, small, but very neat, where the linen on the beds smelled fresh and sweet, and the westering sun struck golden through chintz curtains drawn aside.
"Gad!" said Boyd, eying the bed. "It's long since my person has been intimately acquainted with sheet and pillow. What a pretty nest, Loskiel. Lord! And here's a vase of posies, too! The touch feminine—who could mistake it in the sweet, fresh whiteness of this little roam!"
Presently came our rifleman, Jack Mount, bearing our saddle-bags; and we stripped and washed us clean, and put on fresh linen and our best uniforms of soft doeskin, which differed from the others only in that they were clean and new, and that the thrums were gayer and the Iroquois beadwork more flamboyant.
"If I but had my hair in a snug club, and well powdered," sighed Boyd, lacing his shirt. "And I tell you, Loskiel, though I would not boast, this accursed rifle-shirt and these gaudy leggings conceal a supple body and a leg as neatly turned as any figure more fortunately clothed in silken coat and stockings!"
I began to laugh, and he laughed, too, vowing he envied me my hair, which was yellow and which curled of itself so that it needed no powder.
I can see him yet, standing there in the sunshine, both hands gripping his dark hair in pretense of grief, and vowing that he had a mind to scalp himself for very vexation. Alas! That I remember now such idle words, spoken in the pride and strength and gayety of youth! And always when I think of him I remember his dread of fire—the only fear he ever knew. These things—his brown eyes and quick, gay smile—his lithe and supple person—and his love of women—these I remember always, even while already much that concerned this man and me begins to fade with the stealthy years.
While the sun still hung high in the west, and ere any hint of evening was heard either in the robin's note or from the high-soaring martins, we had dressed. Boyd went away first, saying carelessly that he meant to look to the horses before paying his respects to the ladies. A little later I descended, a black servant conducting me to the family sitting room.
Here our gallant Major made me known to his lady and to his numerous family—six young children, and still a seventh, the pretty maid whom we had seen on approaching the house, who proved to be a married daughter. Betsy, they called her—and she was only seventeen, but had been two years the wife of Alsop Hunt.
As for the Major's lady, who seemed scarce thirty and was six years older, she so charmed me with her grace, and with the bright courage she so sweetly maintained in a home which every hour of the day and night menaced, that even Mrs. Hunt, with her gay spirits, imperious beauty, and more youthful attractions, no more than shared my admiration for her mother.
In half an hour Lieutenant Boyd came in, was presented, and paid his homage gayly, as he always did. Yet, I thought a slight cloud rested on his brow, but this soon passed, and I forgot it.
So we talked of this and that as lightly as though no danger threatened this house; and Boyd was quickly at his best with the ladies. As for me, I courted the children. And I remember there were two little maids of fourteen and eleven, Ruhannah and Hannah, sweet and fresh as wild June roses, who showed me the tow cloth for our army which they were spinning, and blushed at my praise of their industry. And there was Mary, ten, and Clarissa, eight, and two little boys, one a baby—all save the last two children carding or spinning flax and tow.
It was not easy to understand that this blooming matron could be mother of all of these, so youthful she seemed in her Quaker-cut gown of dove-colour—though it was her handsome, high-spirited daughter who should have worn the sober garb.
"Not I," said she, laughing at Boyd. "I'd sooner don jack-boots and be a dragoon—and we would completely represent a holy cause, my husband with his broad-brim and I with my sword. What do you say, Mr. Boyd?"
"I beg of you first to consider the rifle-frock if you must enlist!" urged Boyd, with such fervour that we all laughed at his gallant effort to recruit such beauty for our corps; for even a mental picture of Betsy Hunt in rifle-frock seemed too adorable. Mr. Hunt, entering, smiled in his quiet, embarrassed way; and I thought that this wise and gentle-mannered man must have more than a handful in his spirited young wife, whose dress was anything but plain.
I had taken the tiny maid, Clarissa, upon my knees and was telling her of the beauty of our Northland, and of that great, dusky green ocean of giant pines, vast as the sea and as silent and uncharted, when Major Lockwood bent over me saying in a quiet voice that it might be well for me to look about in the town for the wench who knew the whereabouts of Mayaro.
"While there is still daylight," he added, as I set Clarissa on the floor and stood up, "and if she be yet here you should find her before supper time. We sup at six, Mr. Loskiel."
I bowed, took leave of the ladies, exchanged an irritated glance for Boyd's significant grin, and went out to the porch, putting on my light round cap of moleskin. I liked neither my present errand, nor Boyd's smile either.
Now, I had not thought to take with me my side-arms, but a slave waited at the door with my belt. And as I buckled it and hung war-axe and heavy hunting blade, I began to comprehend something of the imminent danger which so apparently lurked about this country. For all military men hereabouts went armed; and even in the house I had noticed that Major Lockwood wore his sword, as did the other officers—some even carrying their pistols.
The considerable throng of people whom we had first seen in the neighborhood of the house had scattered or gone off when the infantry had left. Carpenters were still sawing and hammering on the flimsy new barracks down in the meadow, and there seemed to be a few people there. But on strolling thither I saw nothing of the wench; so turned on my heel and walked briskly up the road.
About the village itself there was nothing to be seen of the girl, nor did I know how to make inquiries—perhaps dreading to do so lest my quest be misunderstood or made a jest of by some impertinent fellow.
In the west a wide bank of cloud had pushed up over the horizon and was already halving the low-hanging sun, which presently it entirely swallowed; and the countryside grew luminously grey and that intense green tinged the grass, which is with us the forerunner of an approaching storm.
But I thought it far off, not then knowing the Hudson's midsummer habits, nor the rapid violence of the July storms it hatches and drives roaring among the eastern hills and across the silvery Sound.
So, with a careless glance aloft, I pursued my errand, strolling hither and thither through the pleasant streets and lanes of old Poundridge, always approaching any groups of soldiers that I saw because I thought it likely that the wench might haunt her kind.
I did not find her; and presently I began to believe it likely that she had indeed gone off a-gypsying after the escort companies toward Lewisboro.
There is a road which, skirting the Stone Hills, runs east by north between Cross Pond and the Three Lakes; and, pursuing it, I came on a vidette of Sheldon's regiment, most carelessly set where he could see nothing, and yet be seen a mile away.
Supposing he would halt me, I walked up to him; and he continued to munch the green bough-apple he was eating, making me a most slovenly salute.
Under his leather helmet I saw that my dragoon was but a child of fifteen—scarce strong enough to swing the heavy sabre at his pommel or manage the sawed-off musket which he bore, the butt resting wearily on his thigh. And it made me sober indeed to see to what a pass our country had come, that we enlisted boys and were obliged to trust to their ignorance for our protection.
"It will rain before sundown," he said, munching on his apple; "best seek shelter, sir. When it comes it will come hard."
"Where runs this road?" I asked.
"And what is Boutonville?"
"It's where the Boutons live—a mile or two north, sir. They're a wild parcel."
"Are they of our party?"
"Oh, yes, sir. But they hunt the leather-caps as we hunt quail—scare up a company, fire, and then track down the scattered."
"No, sir, not skinners. They farm it until the British plague them beyond endurance. Then," he added significantly, "they go a-hunting with their dogs."
I had already turned to retrace my steps when it occurred to me that perhaps an inquiry of this lad might not be misunderstood.
So I walked up to his horse and stood caressing the sorry animal while I described to him the wench I was seeking.
"Yes, sir," he said seriously, "that's the one the boys are ever plaguing to make her rage."
"Do you know her?"
"By sight, yes, sir."
"She is one of the camp followers, I take it," said I carelessly.
"I don't know. The boys are ever plaguing her. She came from the North they say. All I know is that in April she was first seen here, loitering about the camp where the White Plains Indians were embodied. But she did not go off with the Continentals."
"She was loitering this afternoon by the camp of Colonel Thomas's men," I said.
"Very like, sir. Did the men plague her?"
He bit into his apple, unconcerned:
"They are all after her. But I never saw her kind to any man—whatever she may be."
Why, I did not know, but what he said gave me satisfaction.
"You do not know which way she went?" I asked.
"No, sir. I have been here but the half hour. She knows the Bouton boys yonder. I have seen her coming and going on this road, sometimes with an Indian——"
"With a Sagamore?"
He continued his munching. Having swallowed what he chewed, he said:
"I know nothing of savages or Sagamores. The Indian may have been a Sagamore."
"Do you know where he is to be found?"
"No, sir, I do not."
"Perhaps this young girl knows?"
"Doubtless she does, seeing she journeys about with him on the ridge yonder, which we call the Rock Hills."
"Do you know her name, soldier?"
"They call her Lois, I believe."
And that was all the news I could get of her; and I thanked the boy and slowly started to retrace my steps toward the village.
Already in the air there was something of that stillness which heralds storms; no leaves on bush and tree were now stirring; land and sky had grown sombre all around me; and the grass glimmered intensely green.
Where the road skirted the Stone Hills were no houses, nothing, in fact, of human habitation to be seen save low on the flank of the rocky rampart a ruined sugar house on the edge of a maple ridge, I do not know what made me raise my head to give it a second glance, but I did; and saw among the rocks near it a woman moving.
Nor do I know, even now, how at that distance and in the dusk of a coming storm I could perceive that it was she whom I was now seeking. But so certain was I of this that, without even taking thought to consider, I left the highway, turned to the right, and began to mount the hillside where traces of a path or sheep-walk were faintly visible under foot among the brambles. Once or twice I glanced upward to see whether she observed me, but the scrubby foliage now hid her as well as the sap-house, and I hastened because the light was growing very dim now, and once or twice, far away, I thought I heard the muttering of thunder.
It was not long before I perceived the ramshackle sap-house ahead of me among the maples. Then I caught sight of her whom I was seeking.
It was plain that she had not yet discovered me, though she heard me moving in the thicket. She stood in a half-crouching, listening attitude, then slowly began to retreat, not cowering, but sullenly and with a certain defiance in her lithe movement, like some disturbed and graceful animal which is capable of defending itself but prefers to get away peaceably if permitted.
I stepped out into the clearing and called to her through the increasing gloom; and for a moment thought she had gone. Then I saw her, dimly, watching me from the obscurity of the dark doorway.
"You need have no fear of me," I called to her pleasantly. "You know me now, do you not?"
She made no answer; and I approached the doorway and stood peering into her face through the falling twilight. And for a moment I thought I had been mistaken; but it was she after all.
Yet now she wore neither the shabby chip hat with its soiled blue ribbon tied beneath her chin, nor any trace of hair powder, nor dotted kerchief cross-fastened at her breast and pinned with the withered rose.
And she seemed younger and slimmer and more childish than I had thought her, her bosom without its kerchief meagre or unformed, and her cheeks not painted either, but much burned by the July sun. Nor were her eyes black, as I had supposed, but a dark, clear grey with black lashes; and her unpowdered hair seemed to be a reddish-chestnut and scarce longer than my own, but more curly.
"Child," I said, smiling at her, I know not why, "I have been searching for you ever since I first saw you——"
And: "What do you want of me?" said she, scarce moving her lips.
"Best mount your cobbler's mare and go a-jogging back, my pretty lad."
The calm venom in her voice and her insolent grey eyes took me aback more than her saucy words.
"Doubtless," I said, "you have not recognized in me the officer who was at some slight pains to be of service——"
"What is it you desire?" said she, so rudely that I felt my face burn hot.
"See here, my lass," said I sharply, "you seem to misunderstand my errand here."
"And am like to," said she, "unless you make your errand short and plainer—though I have learned that the errands which bring such men as you to me are not too easily misunderstood."
"Such men as I——"
"You and your friend with the bold, black eyes. Ask him how much change he had of me when he came back."
"I did not know he had seen you again," said I, still redder. And saw that she believed me not.
"Birds sing; men lie," said she. "So if——"
"Be silent! Do you hear!" I cut her short with such contempt that I saw the painful colour whip her cheeks and her eyes quiver.
Small doubt that what she had learned of men had not sweetened her nor taught her confidence. But whatever she had been, and whatever she was, after all concerned not me that I should take pains to silence her so brutally.
"I am sorry I spoke as I did," said I, "—however mistaken you are concerning my seeking you here."
She said nothing.
"Also," I added, with a sudden resurgance of bitterness that surprised myself, "my conduct earlier in your behalf might have led you to a wiser judgment."
"I am wise enough—after my own fashion," she said indifferently.
"Does a man save and then return to destroy?"
"Many a hunter has saved many a spotted fawn from wolf and fox—so he might kill it himself, one day."
"You do yourself much flattery, young woman," I said, so unpleasantly that again the hot colour touched her throat and brow.
"I reason as I have been taught," she said defiantly. "Doubtless you are self-instructed."
"No; men have taught me. You witnessed, I believe, one lesson. And your comrade gave me still another."
"I care to witness nothing," I said, furious; "far less desire to attempt your education. Is all plain now?"
"Your words are," she said, with quiet contempt.
"My words are one with my intention," said I, angrily; far in spite of my own indifference and contempt, hers was somehow arousing me with its separate sting hidden in every word she uttered. "And now," I continued, "all being plain and open between us, let me acquaint you with the sole object of my visit here to you."
She shrugged her shabby shoulders and waited, her eyes, her expression, her very attitude indifferent, yet dully watchful.
"You know the Sagamore, Mayaro?" I asked.
"You say so."
"Where is he to be found?" I continued patiently.
"Why do you desire to know?"
The drab was exasperating me, and I think I looked it, for the slightest curl of her sullen lips hinted a scornful smile.
"Come, come, my lass," said I, with all the patience I could still command, "there is a storm approaching, and I do not wish to get wet. Answer my civil question and I'll thank you and be off about my business. Where is this Sagamore to be found?"
"Why do you wish to know?"
"Because I desire to consult him concerning certain matters."
"Matters which do not concern you!" I snapped out.
"Are you sure of that, pretty boy?"
"Am I sure?" I repeated, furious. "What do you mean? Will you answer an honest question or not?"
"Why do you desire to see this Sagamore?" she repeated so obstinately that I fairly clenched my teeth.
"Answer me," I said. "Or had you rather I fetched a file of men up here?"
"Fetch a regiment, and I shall tell you nothing unless I choose."
"Good God, what folly!" I exclaimed. "For whom and for what do you take me, then, that you refuse to answer the polite and harmless question of an American officer!"
"You had not so named yourself."
"Very well, then; I am Euan Loskiel, Ensign in Morgan's rifle regiment!"
"You say so."
"Do you doubt it?"
"Birds sing," she said. Suddenly she stepped from the dark doorway, came to where I stood, bent forward and looked me very earnestly in the eyes—so closely that something—her nearness—I know not what—seemed to stop my heart and breath for a second.
Then, far on the western hills lightning glimmered; and after a long while it thundered.
"Do you wish me to find this Sagamore for you?" she asked very quietly.
"Will you do so?"
A drop of rain fell; another, which struck her just where the cheek curved under the long black lashes, fringing them with brilliancy like tears.
"Where do you lodge?" she asked, after a silent scrutiny of me.
"This night I am a guest at Major Lockwood's. Tomorrow I travel north again with my comrade, Lieutenant Boyd."
She was looking steadily at me all the time; finally she said:
"Somehow, I believe you to be a friend to liberty. I know it—somehow."
"It is very likely, in this rifle dress I wear," said I smiling.
"Yet a man may dress as he pleases."
"You mistrust me for a spy?"
"If you are, why, you are but one more among many hereabouts. I think you have not been in Westchester very long. It does not matter. No boy with the face you wear was born to betray anything more important than a woman."
I turned hot and scarlet with chagrin at her cool presumption—and would not for worlds have had her see how the impudence stung and shamed me.
For a full minute she stood there watching me; then:
"I ask pardon," she said very gravely.
And somehow, when she said it I seemed to experience a sense of inferiority—which was absurd and monstrous, considering what she doubtless was.
It had now begun to rain in very earnest; and was like to rain harder ere the storm passed. My clothes being my best, I instinctively stepped into the doorway; and, of a sudden, she was there too, barring my entry, flushed and dangerous, demanding the reason of my intrusion.
"Why," said I astonished, "may I not seek shelter from a storm in a ruined sugar-house, without asking by your leave?"
"This sap-house is my own dwelling!" she said hotly. "It is where I live!"
"Oh, Lord," said I, bewildered, "—if you are like to take offense at everything I say, or look, or do, I'll find a hospitable tree somewhere——"
"One moment, sir——"
She stood looking at me in the doorway, then slowly dropped her eyes, and in the same law voice I had heard once before:
"I ask your pardon once again," she said. "Please to come inside—and close the door. An open door draws lightning."
It was already drawing the rain in violent gusts.
The thunder began to bang with that metallic and fizzling tone which it takes on when the bolts fall very near; flash after flash of violet light illuminated the shack at intervals, and the rafters trembled as the black shadows buried us.
"Have you a light hereabout?" I asked.
For ten minutes or more the noise of the storm made it difficult to hear or speak. I could scarce see her now in the gloom. And so we waited there in silence until the roar of the rain began to die away, and it slowly grew lighter outside and the thunder grew more distant.
I went to the door, looked out into the dripping woods, and turned to her.
"When will you bring the Sagamore to me?" I demanded.
"I have not promised."
"But you will?"
She waited a while, then:
"Yes, I will bring him."
"And if it rains again''
"It will rain all night, but I shall send you the Sagamore. Best go, sir. The real tempest is yet to break. It hangs yonder above the Hudson. But you have time to gain the Lockwood House."
I said to her, with a slight but reassuring smile, most kindly intended:
"Now that I am no longer misunderstood by you, I may inform you that in what you do for me you serve our common country." It did not seem a pompous speech to me.
"If I doubted that," she said, "I had rather pass the knife you wear around my throat than trouble myself to oblige you."
Her words, and the quiet, almost childish voice, seemed so oddly at variance that I almost laughed; but changed my mind.
"I should never ask a service of you for myself alone," I said so curtly that the next moment I was afraid I had angered her, and fearing she might not keep her word to me, smiled and frankly offered her my hand.
Very slowly she put forth her own—a hand stained and roughened, but slim and small. And so I went away through the dripping bush, and down the rocky hill. A slight sense of fatigue invaded me; and I did not then understand that it came from my steady and sustained efforts to ignore what any eyes could not choose but see—this young girl's beauty—yes, despite her sorry mien and her rags—a beauty that was fashioned to trouble men; and which was steadily invading my senses whether I would or no.
Walking along the road and springing over the puddles, I thought to myself that it was small wonder such a wench was pestered in a common soldier's camp. For she had about her everything to allure the grosser class—a something—indescribable perhaps—but which even such a man as I had become unwillingly aware of. And I must have been very conscious of it, for it made me restless and vaguely ashamed that I should condescend so far as even to notice it. More than that, it annoyed me not a little that I should bestow any thought upon this creature at all; but what irritated me most was that Boyd had so demeaned himself as to seek her out behind my back.