The Maid-At-Arms
by Robert W. Chambers
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Sir Lupus nodded a welcome and blew a great cloud of smoke into the air.

"Ah," observed Sir George, languidly, "Vesuvius in irruption?"

"How de do," said Sir Lupus, suspiciously.

"The mountain welcomes Mohammed," commented Sir George. "Mohammed greets the mountain! How de do, Sir Lupus! Ah!" He turned gracefully towards me, bowing. "Pray present me, Sir Lupus."

"My cousin, George Ormond," said Sir Lupus. "George first, George second," he added, with a sneer.

"No relation to George III., I trust, sir?" inquired Sir George, anxiously, offering his cool, well-kept hand.

"No," said I, laughing at his serious countenance and returning his clasp firmly.

"That's well, that's well," murmured Sir George, apparently vastly relieved, and invited me to take snuff with him.

We had scarcely exchanged a civil word or two ere the servant announced Captain Walter Butler, and I turned curiously, to see a dark, graceful young man enter and stand for a moment staring haughtily straight at me. He wore a very elegant black-and-orange uniform, without gorget; a black military cloak hung from his shoulders, caught up in his sword-knot.

With a quick movement he raised his hand and removed his officer's hat, and I saw on his gauntlets of fine doeskin the Ormond arms, heavily embroidered. Instantly the affectation displeased me.

"Come to the mountain, brother prophet," said Sir George, waving his hand towards the seated patroon. He came, lightly as a panther, his dark, well-cut features softening a trifle; and I thought him handsome in his uniform, wearing his own dark hair unpowdered, tied in a short queue; but when he turned full face to greet Sir George Covert, I was astonished to see the cruelty in his almost perfect features, which were smooth as a woman's, and lighted by a pair of clear, dark-golden eyes.

Ah, those wonderful eyes of Walter Butler—ever-changing eyes, now almost black, glimmering with ardent fire, now veiled and amber, now suddenly a shallow yellow, round, staring, blank as the eyes of a caged eagle; and, still again, piercing, glittering, narrowing to a slit. Terrible mad eyes, that I have never forgotten—never, never can forget.

As Sir Lupus named me, Walter Butler dropped Sir George's hand and grasped mine, too eagerly to please me.

"Ormond and Ormond-Butler need no friends to recommend them each to the other," he said. And straightway fell a-talking of the greatness of the Arrans and the Ormonds, and of that duke who, attainted, fled to France to save his neck.

I strove to be civil, yet he embarrassed me before the others, babbling of petty matters interesting only to those whose taste invites them to go burrowing in parish records and ill-smelling volumes written by some toad-eater to his patron.

For me, I am an Ormond, and I know that it would be shameful if I turned rascal and besmirched my name. As to the rest—the dukes, the glory, the greatness—I hold it concerns nobody but the dead, and it is a foolishness to plague folks' ears by boasting of deeds done by those you never knew, like a Seminole chanting ere he strikes the painted post.

Also, this Captain Walter Butler was overlarding his phrases with "Cousin Ormond," so that I was soon cloyed, and nigh ready to damn the relationship to his face.

Sir Lupus, who had managed to rise by this time, waddled off into the drawing-room across the hallway, motioning us to follow; and barely in time, too, for there came, shortly, Sir John Johnson with a company of ladies and gentlemen, very gay in their damasks, brocades, and velvets, which the folds of their foot-mantles, capuchins, and cardinals revealed.

The gentlemen had come a-horseback, and all wore very elegant uniforms under their sober cloaks, which were linked with gold chains at the throat; the ladies, prettily powdered and patched, appeared a trifle over-colored, and their necks and shoulders, innocent of buffonts, gleamed pearl-tinted above their gay breast-knots. And they made a sparkling bevy as they fluttered up the staircase to their cloak-room, while Sir John entered the drawing-room, followed by the other gentlemen, and stood in careless conversation with the patroon, while old Cato disembarrassed him of cloak and hat.

Sir John Johnson, son of the great Sir William, as I first saw him was a man of less than middle age, flabby, cold-eyed, heavy of foot and hand. On his light-colored hair he wore no powder; the rather long queue was tied with a green hair-ribbon; the thick, whitish folds of his double chin rested on a buckled stock.

For the rest, he wore a green-and-gold uniform of very elegant cut—green being the garb of his regiment, the Royal Greens, as I learned afterwards—and his buff-topped boots and his metals were brilliant and plainly new.

When the patroon named me to him he turned his lack-lustre eyes on me and offered me a large, damp hand.

In turn I was made acquainted with the several officers in his suite—Colonel John Butler, father of Captain Walter Butler, broad and squat, a withered prophecy of what the son might one day be; Colonel Daniel Claus, a rather merry and battered Indian fighter; Colonel Guy Johnson, of Guy Park, dark and taciturn; a Captain Campbell, and a Captain McDonald of Perth.

All wore the green uniform save the Butlers; all greeted me with particular civility and conducted like the respectable company they appeared to be, politely engaging me in pleasant conversation, desiring news from Florida, or complimenting me upon my courtesy, which, they vowed, had alone induced me to travel a thousand miles for the sake of permitting my kinsmen the pleasure of welcoming me.

One by one the gentlemen retired to exchange their spurred top-boots for white silk stockings and silken pumps, and to arrange their hair or stick a patch here and there, and rinse their hands in rose-water to cleanse them of the bridle's odor.

They were still thronging the gun-room, and I stood alone in the drawing-room with Sir George Covert, when a lady entered and courtesied low as we bowed together.

And truly she was a beauty, with her skin of rose-ivory, her powdered hair a-gleam with brilliants, her eyes of purest violet, a friendly smile hovering on her fresh, scarlet mouth.

"Well, sir," she said, "do you not know me?" And to Sir George: "I vow, he takes me for a guest in my own house!"

And then I knew my cousin Dorothy Varick.

She suffered us to salute her hand, gazing the while about her indifferently; and, as I released her slender fingers and raised my head, she, rounded arm still extended as though forgotten, snapped her thumb and forefinger together in vexation with a "Plague on it! There's that odious Sir John!"

"Is Sir John Johnson so offensive to your ladyship?" inquired Sir George, lazily.

"Offensive! Have you not heard how the beast drank wine from my slipper! Never mind! I cannot endure him. Sir George, you must sit by me at table—and you, too, Cousin Ormond, or he'll come bothering." She glanced at the open door of the gun-room, a frown on her white brow. "Oh, they're all here, I see. Sparks will fly ere sun-up. There's Campbell, and McDonald, too, wi' the memory of Glencoe still stewing betwixt them; and there's Guy Johnson, with a price on his head—and plenty to sell it for him in County Tryon, gentlemen! And there's young Walter Butler, cursing poor Cato that he touched his spur in drawing off his boots—if he strikes Cato I'll strike him! And where are their fine ladies, Sir George? Still primping at the mirror? Oh, la!" She stepped back, laughing, raising her lovely arms a little. "Look at me. Am I well laced, with nobody to aid me save Cecile, poor child, and Benny to hold the candles—he being young enough for the office?"

"Happy, happy Benny!" murmured Sir George, inspecting her through his quizzing-glass from head to toe.

"If you think it a happy office you may fill it yourself in future, Sir George," she said. "I never knew an ass who failed to bray in ecstasy at mention of a pair o' stays."

Sir George stared, and said, "Aha! clever—very, very clever!" in so patronizing a tone that Dorothy reddened and bit her lip in vexation.

"That is ever your way," she said, "when I parry you to your confusion. Take your eyes from me, Sir George! Cousin Ormond, am I dressed to your taste or not?"

She stood there in her gown of brocade, beautifully flowered in peach color, dainty, confident, challenging me to note one fault. Nor could I, from the gold hair-pegs in her hair to the tip of her slim, pompadour shoes peeping from the lace of her petticoat, which she lifted a trifle to show her silken, flowered hose.

And—"There!" she cried, "I gowned myself, and I wear no paint. I wish you would tell them as much when they laugh at me."

Now came the ladies, rustling down the stairway, and the gentlemen, strolling in from their toilet and stirrup-cups in the gun-room, and I noted that all wore service-swords, and laid their pistols on the table in the drawing-room.

"Do they fear a surprise?" I whispered to Sir George Covert.

"Oh yes; Jack Mount and the Stoners are abroad. But Sir John has a troop of his cut-throat horsemen picketed out around us. You see, Sir John broke his parole, and Walter Butler is attainted, and it might go hard with some of these gentlemen if General Schuyler's dragoons caught them here, plotting nose to nose."

"Who is this Jack Mount?" I asked, curiously, remembering my companion of the Albany road.

"One of Cresap's riflemen," he drawled, "sent back here from Boston to raise the country against the invasion. They say he was a highwayman once, but we Tories"—he laughed shamelessly—"say many things in these days which may not help us at the judgment day. Wait, there's that little rosebud, Claire Putnam, Sir John's flame. Take her in to table; she's a pretty little plaything. Lady Johnson, who was Polly Watts, is in Montreal, you see." He made a languid gesture with outspread hands, smiling.

The girl he indicated, Mistress Claire Putnam, was a fragile, willowy creature, over-thin, perhaps, yet wonderfully attractive and pretty, and there was much of good in her face, and a tinge of pathos, too, for all her bright vivacity.

"If Sir John Johnson put her away when he wedded Miss Watts," said Sir George, coolly, "I think he did it from interest and selfish calculation, not because he ceased to love her in his bloodless, fishy fashion. And now that Lady Johnson has fled to Canada, Sir John makes no pretence of hiding his amours in the society which he haunts; nor does that society take umbrage at the notorious relationship so impudently renewed. We're a shameless lot, Mr. Ormond."

At that moment I heard Sir John Johnson, at my elbow, saying to Sir Lupus: "Do you know what these damned rebels have had the impudence to do? I can scarce credit it myself, but it is said that their Congress has adopted a flag of thirteen stripes and thirteen stars on a blue field, and I'm cursed if I don't believe they mean to hoist the filthy rag in our very faces!"



Under a flare of yellow candle-light we entered the dining-hall and seated ourselves before a table loaded with flowers and silver, and the most beautiful Flemish glass that I have ever seen; though they say that Sir William Johnson's was finer.

The square windows of the hall were closed, the dusty curtains closely drawn; the air, though fresh, was heavily saturated with perfume. Between each window, and higher up, small, square loop-holes pierced the solid walls. The wooden flap-hoods of these were open; through them poured the fresh night air, stirring the clustered flowers and the jewelled aigrets in the ladies' hair.

The spectacle was pretty, even beautiful; at every lady's cover lay a gift from the patroon, a crystal bosom-glass, mounted in silver filigree, filled with roses in scented water; and, at the sight, a gust of hand-clapping swept around the table, like the rattle of December winds through dry palmettos.

In a distant corner, slaves, dressed fancifully and turbaned like Barbary blackamoors, played on fiddles and guitars, and the music was such as I should have enjoyed, loving all melody as I do, yet could scarcely hear it in the flutter and chatter rising around me as the ladies placed the bosom-bottles in their stomachers and opened their Marlborough fans to set them waving all like restless wings.

Yet, under this surface elegance and display, one could scarcely choose but note how everywhere an amazing shiftlessness reigned in the patroon's house. Cobwebs canopied the ceiling-beams with their silvery, ragged banners afloat in the candle's heat; dust, like a velvet mantle, lay over the Dutch plates and teapots, ranged on shelves against the panelled wall midway 'twixt ceiling and unwaxed floor; the gaudy yellow liveries of the black servants were soiled and tarnished and ill fitting, and all wore slovenly rolls, tied to imitate scratch-wigs, the effect of which was amazing. The passion for cleanliness in the Dutch lies not in their men folk; a Dutch mistress of this manor house had died o' shame long since—or died o' scrubbing.

I felt mean and ungracious to sit there spying at my host's table, and strove to forget it, yet was forced to wipe furtively spoon and fork upon the napkin on my knees ere I durst acquaint them with my mouth; and so did others, as I saw; but they did it openly and without pretence of concealment, and nobody took offence.

Sir Lupus cared nothing for precedence at table, and said so when he seated us, which brought a sneer to Sir John Johnson's mouth and a scowl to Walter Butler's brow; but this provincial boorishness appeared to be forgotten ere the decanters had slopped the cloth twice, and fair faces flushed, and voices grew gayer, and the rattle of silver assaulting china and the mellow ring of glasses swelled into a steady, melodious din which stirred the blood to my cheeks.

We Ormonds love gayety—I choose the mildest phrase I know. Yet, take us at our worst, Irish that we are, and if there be a taint of license to our revels, and if we drink the devil's toast to the devil's own undoing, the vital spring of our people remains unpolluted, the nation's strength and purity unsoiled, guarded forever by the chastity of our women.

Savoring my claret, I glanced askance at my neighbors; on my left sat my cousin Dorothy Varick, frankly absorbed in a roasted pigeon, yet wielding knife and fork with much grace and address; on my right Magdalen Brant, step-cousin to Sir John, a lovely, soft-voiced girl, with velvety eyes and the faintest dusky tint, which showed the Indian blood through the carmine in her fresh, curved cheeks.

I started to speak to her, but there came a call from the end of the table, and we raised our glasses to Sir Lupus, for which civility he expressed his thanks and gave us the ladies, which we drank standing, and reversed our glasses with a cheer.

Then Walter Butler gave us "The Ormonds and the Earls of Arran," an amazing vanity, which shamed me so that I sat biting my lip, furious to see Sir John wink at Colonel Claus, and itching to fling my glass at the head of this young fool whose brain seemed cracked with brooding on his pedigree.

Meat was served ere I was called on, but later, a delicious Burgundy being decanted, all called me with a persistent clamor, so that I was obliged to ask permission of Sir Lupus, then rise, still tingling with the memory of the silly toast offered by Walter Butler.

"I give you," I said, "a republic where self-respect balances the coronet, where there is no monarch, no high-priest, but only a clean altar, served by the parliament of a united people. Gentlemen, raise your glasses to the colonies of America and their ancient liberties!"

And, amazed at what I had said, and knowing that I had not meant to say it, I lifted my glass and drained it.

Astonishment altered every face. Walter Butler mechanically raised his glass, then set it down, then raised it once more, gazing blankly at me; and I saw others hesitate, as though striving to recollect the exact terms of my toast. But, after a second's hesitation, all drank sitting. Then each looked inquiringly at me, at neighbors, puzzled, yet already partly reassured.

"Gad!" said Colonel Claus, bluntly, "I thought at first that Burgundy smacked somewhat of Boston tea."

"The Burgundy's sound enough," said Colonel John Butler, grimly.

"So is the toast," bawled Sir Lupus. "It's a pacific toast, a soothing sentiment, neither one thing not t'other. Dammy, it's a toast no Quaker need refuse."

"Sir Lupus, your permission!" broke out Captain Campbell. "Gentlemen, it is strange that not one of his Majesty's officers has proposed the King!" He looked straight at me and said, without turning his head: "All loyal at this table will fill. Ladies, gentlemen, I give you his Majesty the King!"

The toast was finished amid cheers. I drained my glass and turned it down with a bow to Captain Campbell, who bowed to me as though greatly relieved.

The fiddles, bassoons, and guitars were playing and the slaves singing when the noise of the cheering died away; and I heard Dorothy beside me humming the air and tapping the floor with her silken shoe, while she moistened macaroons in a glass of Madeira and nibbled them with serene satisfaction.

"You appear to be happy," I whispered.

"Perfectly. I adore sweets. Will you try a dish of cinnamon cake? Sop it in Burgundy; they harmonize to a most heavenly taste.... Look at Magdalen Brant, is she not sweet? Her cousin is Molly Brant, old Sir William's sweetheart, fled to Canada.... She follows this week with Betty Austin, that black-eyed little mischief-maker on Sir John's right, who owes her diamonds to Guy Johnson. La! What a gossip I grow! But it's county talk, and all know it, and nobody cares save the Albany blue-noses and the Van Cortlandts, who fall backward with standing too straight—"

"Dorothy," I said, sharply, "a blunted innocence is better than none, but it's a pity you know so much!"

"How can I help it?" she asked, calmly, dipping another macaroon into her glass.

"It's a pity, all the same," I said.

"Dew on a duck's back, my friend," she observed, serenely. "Cousin, if I were fashioned for evil I had been tainted long since."

She sat up straight and swept the table with a heavy-lidded, insolent glance, eyebrows raised. The cold purity of her profile, the undimmed innocence, the childish beauty of the curved cheek, touched me to the quick. Ah! the white flower to nourish here amid unconcealed corruption, with petals stainless, with bloom undimmed, with all its exquisite fragrance still fresh and wholesome in an air heavy with wine and the odor of dying roses.

I looked around me. Guy Johnson, red in the face, was bending too closely beside his neighbor, Betty Austin. Colonel Claus talked loudly across the table to Captain McDonald, and swore fashionable oaths which the gaunt captain echoed obsequiously. Claire Putnam coquetted with her paddle-stick fan, defending her roses from Sir George Covert, while Sir John Johnson stared at them in cold disapproval; and I saw Magdalen Brant, chin propped on her clasped hands, close her eyes and breathe deeply while the wine burned her face, setting torches aflame in either cheek. Later, when I spoke to her, she laughed pitifully, saying that her ears hummed like bee-hives. Then she said that she meant to go, but made no movement; and presently her dark eyes closed again, and I saw the fever pulse beating in her neck.

Some one had overturned a silver basin full of flowers, and a servant, sopping up the water, had brushed Walter Butler so that he flew into a passion and flung a glass at the terrified black, which set Sir Lupus laughing till he choked, but which enraged me that he should so conduct in the presence of his host's daughter.

Yet if Sir Lupus could not only overlook it, but laugh at it, I, certes, had no right to rebuke what to me seemed a gross insult.

Toasts flew fast now, and there was a punch in a silver bowl as large as a bushel—and spirits, too, which was strange, seeing that the ladies remained at table.

Then Captain Campbell would have all to drink the Royal Greens, standing on chairs, one foot on the table, which appeared to be his regiment's mess custom, and we did so, the ladies laughing and protesting, but finally planting their dainty shoes on the edge of the table; and Magdalen Brant nigh fell off her chair—for lack of balance, as Sir George Covert protested, one foot alone being too small to sustain her.

"That Cinderella compliment at our expense!" cried Betty Austin, but Sir Lupus cried: "Silence all, and keep one foot on the table!" And a little black slave lad, scarce more than a babe, appeared, dressed in a lynx-skin, bearing a basket of pretty boxes woven out of scented grass and embroidered with silk flowers.

At every corner he laid a box, all exclaiming and wondering what the surprise might be, until the little black, arching his back, fetched a yowl like a lynx and ran out on all fours.

"The gentlemen will open the boxes! Ladies, keep one foot on the table!" bawled Sir Lupus. We bent to open the boxes; Magdalen Brant and Dorothy Varick, each resting a hand on my shoulder to steady them, peeped curiously down to see. And, "Oh!" cried everybody, as the lifted box-lids discovered snow-white pigeons sitting on great gilt eggs.

The white pigeons fluttered out, some to the table, where they craned their necks and ruffled their snowy plumes; others flapped up to the loop-holes, where they sat and watched us.

"Break the eggs!" cried the patroon.

I broke mine; inside was a pair of shoe-roses, each set with a pearl and clasped with a gold pin.

Betty Austin clapped her hands in delight; Dorothy bent double, tore off the silken roses from each shoe in turn, and I pinned on the new jewelled roses amid a gale of laughter.

"A health to the patroon!" cried Sir George Covert, and we gave it with a will, glasses down. Then all settled to our seats once more to hear Sir George sing a song.

A slave passed him a guitar; he touched the strings and sang with good taste a song in questionable taste:

"Jeanneton prend sa faucille."

A delicate melody and neatly done; yet the verse—

"Le deuxieme plus habile L'embrassant sous le menton"—

made me redden, and the envoi nigh burned me alive with blushes, yet was rapturously applauded, and the patroon fell a-choking with his gross laughter.

Then Walter Butler would sing, and, I confess, did it well, though the song was sad and the words too melancholy to please.

"I know a rebel song," cried Colonel Claus. "Here, give me that fiddle and I'll fiddle it, dammy if I don't—ay, and sing it, too!"

In a shower of gibes and laughter the fiddle was fetched, and the Indian fighter seized the bow and drew a most distressful strain, singing in a whining voice:

"Come hearken to a bloody tale, Of how the soldiery Did murder men in Boston, As you full soon shall see. It came to pass on March the fifth Of seventeen-seventy, A regiment, the twenty-ninth. Provoked a sad affray!"

"Chorus!" shouted Captain Campbell, beating time:

"Fol-de-rol-de-rol-de-ray— Provoked a sad affray!"

"That's not in the song!" protested Colonel Claus, but everybody sang it in whining tones.

"Continue!" cried Captain Campbell, amid a burst of laughter. And Claus gravely drew his fiddle-bow across the strings and sang:

"In King Street, by the Butcher's Hall The soldiers on us fell, Likewise before their barracks (It is the truth I tell). And such a dreadful carnage In Boston ne'er was known; They killed Samuel Maverick— He gave a piteous groan."

And, "Fol-de-rol!" roared Captain Campbell, "He gave a piteous groan!"

"John Clark he was wounded, On him they did fire; James Caldwell and Crispus Attucks Lay bleeding in the mire; Their regiment, the twenty-ninth, Killed Monk and Sam I Gray, While Patrick Carr lay cold in death And could not flee away—

"Oh, tally!" broke out Sir John; "are we to listen to such stuff all night?"

More laughter; and Sir George Covert said that he feared Sir John Johnson had no sense of humor.

"I have heard that before," said Sir John, turning his cold eyes on Sir George. "But if we've got to sing at wine, in Heaven's name let us sing something sensible."

"No, no!" bawled Claus. "This is the abode of folly to-night!" And he sang a catch from "Pills to Purge Melancholy," as broad a verse as I cared to hear in such company.

"Cheer up, Sir John!" cried Betty Austin; "there are other slippers to drink from—"

Sir John stood up, exasperated, but could not face the storm of laughter, nor could Dorothy, silent and white in her anger; and she rose to go, but seemed to think better of it and resumed her seat, disdainful eyes sweeping the table.

"Face the fools," I whispered. "Your confusion is their victory."

Captain McDonald, stirring the punch, filled all glasses, crying out that we should drink to our sweethearts in bumpers.

"Drink 'em in wine," protested Captain Campbell, thickly. "Who but a feckless McDonald wud drink his leddy in poonch?"

"I said poonch!" retorted McDonald, sternly. "If ye wish wine, drink it; but I'm thinkin' the Argyle Campbells are better judges o' blood than of red wine.

"Stop that clan-feud!" bawled the patroon, angrily.

But the old clan-feud blazed up, kindled from the ever-smouldering embers of Glencoe, which the massacre of a whole clan had not extinguished in all these years.

"And why should an Argyle Campbell judge blood?" cried Captain Campbell, in a menacing voice.

"And why not?" retorted McDonald. "Breadalbane spilled enough to teach ye."

"Teach who?"

"Teach you!—and the whole breed o' black Campbells from Perth to Galway and Fonda's Bush, which ye dub Broadalbin. I had rather be a Monteith and have the betrayal of Wallace cast in my face than be a Campbell of Argyle wi' the memory o' Glencoe to follow me to hell."

"Silence!" roared the patroon, struggling to his feet. Sir George Covert caught at Captain Campbell's sleeve as he rose; Sir John Johnson stood up, livid with anger.

"Let this end now!" he said, sternly. "Do officers of the Royal Greens conduct like yokels at a fair? Answer me, Captain Campbell! And you, Captain McDonald! Take your seat, sir; and if I hear that cursed word 'Glencoe' 'again, the first who utters it faces a court-martial!"

Partly sobered, the Campbell glared mutely at the McDonald; the latter also appeared to have recovered a portion of his senses and resumed his seat in silence, glowering at the empty glasses before him.

"Now be sensible, gentlemen," said Colonel Claus, with a jovial nod to the patroon; "let pass, let pass. This is no time to raise the fiery cross in the hills. Gad, there's a new pibroch to march to these days—

"Pibroch o' Hirokoue! Pibroch o' Hirokonue!"

he hummed, deliberately, but nobody laughed, and the grave, pale faces of the women turned questioningly one to the other.

Enemies or allies, there was terror in the name of "Iroquois." But Walter Butler looked up from his gloomy meditation and raised his glass with a ghastly laugh.

"I drink to our red allies," he said, slowly drained his glass till but a color remained in it, then dipped his finger in the dregs and drew upon the white table-cloth a blood-red cross.

"There's your clan-sign, you Campbells, you McDonalds," he said, with a terrifying smile which none could misinterpret.

Then Sir George Covert said: "Sir William Johnson knew best. Had he lived, there had been no talk of the Iroquois as allies or as enemies."

I said, looking straight at Walter Butler: "Can there be any serious talk of turning these wild beasts loose against the settlers of Tryon County?"

"Against rebels," observed Sir John Johnson, coldly. "No loyal man need fear our Mohawks."

A dead silence followed. Servants, clearing the round table of silver, flowers, cloth—all, save glasses and decanters—stepped noiselessly, and I knew the terror of the Iroquois name had sharpened their dull ears. Then came old Cato, tricked out in flame-colored plush, bearing the staff of major-domo; and the servants in their tarnished liveries marshalled behind him and filed out, leaving us seated before a bare table, with only our glasses and bottles to break the expanse of polished mahogany and soiled cloth.

Captain McDonald rose, lifted the steaming kettle from the hob, and set it on a great, blue tile, and the gentlemen mixed their spirits thoughtfully, or lighted long, clay pipes.

The patroon, wreathed in smoke, lay back in his great chair and rattled his toddy-stick for attention—an unnecessary noise, for all were watching him, and even Walter Butler's gloomy gaze constantly reverted to that gross, red face, almost buried in thick tobacco-smoke, like the head of some intemperate and grotesquely swollen Jupiter crowned with clouds.

The plea of the patroon for neutrality in the war now sweeping towards the Mohawk Valley I had heard before. So, doubtless, had those present.

He waxed pathetic over the danger to his vast estate; he pointed out the conservative attitude of the great patroons and lords of the manors of Livingston, Cosby, Phillipse, Van Rensselaer, and Van Cortlandt.

"What about Schuyler?" I asked.

"Schuyler's a fool!" he retorted, angrily. "Any landed proprietor here can become a rebel general in exchange for his estate! A fine bargain! A thrifty dicker! Let Philip Schuyler enjoy his brief reign in Albany. What's the market value of the glory he exchanged for his broad acres? Can you appraise it, Sir John?"

Then Sir John Johnson arose, and, for the only moment in his career, he stood upon a principle—a fallacious one, but still a principle; and for that I respected him, and have never quite forgotten it, even through the terrible years when he razed and burned and murdered among a people who can never forget the red atrocities of his devastations.

Glancing slowly around the table, with his pale, cold eyes contracting in the candle's glare, he spoke in a voice absolutely passionless, yet which carried the conviction to all that what he uttered was hopelessly final:

"Sir Lupus complains that he hazards all, should he cast his fortunes with his King. Yet I have done that thing. I am to-day a man with a price set on my head by these rebels of my own country. My lands, if not already confiscated by rebel commissioners, are occupied by rebels; my manor-houses, my forts, my mills, my tenants' farms are held by the rebels and my revenues denied me. I was confined on parole within the limits of Johnson Hall. They say I broke my parole, but they lie. It was only when I had certain news that the Boston rebels were coming to seize my person and violate a sacred convention that I retired to Canada."

He paused. The explanation was not enough to satisfy me, and I expected him to justify the arming of Johnson Hall and his discovered intrigues with the Mohawks which set the rebels on the march to seize his person. He gave none, resuming quietly:

"I have hazarded a vast estate, vaster than yours, Sir Lupus, greater than the estates of all these gentlemen combined. I do it because I owe obedience to the King who has honored me, and for no other reason on earth. Yet I do it in fullest confidence and belief that my lands will be restored to me when this rebellion is stamped on and trodden out to the last miserable spark."

He hesitated, wiped his thin mouth with his laced handkerchief, and turned directly towards the patroon.

"You ask me to remain neutral. You promise me that, even at this late hour, my surrender and oath of neutrality will restore me my estates and guarantee me a peaceful, industrious life betwixt two tempests. It may be so, Sir Lupus. I think it would be so. But, my friend, to fail my King when he has need of me is a villainy I am incapable of. The fortunes of his Majesty are my fortunes; I stand or fall with him. This is my duty as I see it. And, gentlemen, I shall follow it while life endures."

He resumed his seat amid absolute silence. Presently the patroon raised his eyes and looked at Colonel John Butler.

"May we hear from you, sir?" he asked, gravely.

"I trust that all may, one day, hear from Butler's Rangers," he said.

"And I swear they shall," broke in Walter Butler, his dark eyes burning like golden coals.

"I think the Royal Greens may make some little noise in the world," said Captain Campbell, with an oath.

Guy Johnson waved his thin, brown hand towards the patroon: "I hold my King's commission as intendant of Indian affairs for North America. That is enough for me. Though they rob me of Guy Park and every acre, I shall redeem my lands in a manner no man can ever forget!"

"Gentlemen," added Colonel Claus, in his bluff way, "you all make great merit of risking property and life in this wretched teapot tempest; you all take credit for unchaining the Mohawks. But you give them no credit. What have the Iroquois to gain by aiding us? Why do they dig up the hatchet, hazarding the only thing they have—their lives? Because they are led by a man who told the rebel Congress that the covenant chain which the King gave to the Mohawks is still unspotted by dishonor, unrusted by treachery, unbroken, intact, without one link missing! Gentlemen, I give you Joseph Brant, war-chief of the Mohawk nation! Hiro!"

All filled and drank—save three—Sir George Covert, Dorothy Varick, and myself.

I felt Walter Butler's glowing eyes upon me, and they seemed to burn out the last vestige of my patience.

"Don't rise! Don't speak now!" whispered Dorothy, her hand closing on my arm.

"I must speak," I said, aloud, and all heard me and turned on me their fevered eyes.

"Speak out, in God's name!" said Sir George Covert, and I rose, repeating, "In God's name, then!"

"Give no offence to Walter Butler, I beg of you," whispered Dorothy.

I scarcely heard her; through the candle-light I saw the ring of eyes shining, all watching me.

"I applaud the loyal sentiments expressed by Sir John Johnson," I said, slowly. "Devotion to principle is respected by all men of honor. They tell me that our King has taxed a commonwealth against its will. You admit his Majesty's right to do so. That ranges you on one side. Gentlemen," I said, deliberately, "I deny the right of Englishmen to take away the liberties of Englishmen. That ranges me on the other side."

A profound silence ensued. The ring of eyes glowed.

"And now," said I, gravely, "that we stand arrayed, each on his proper side, honestly, loyally differing one from the other, let us, if we can, strive to avert a last resort to arms. And if we cannot, let us draw honorably, and trust to God and a stainless blade!"

I bent my eyes on Walter Butler; he met them with a vacant glare.

"Captain Butler," I said, "if our swords be to-day stainless, he who first dares employ a savage to do his work forfeits the right to bear the arms and title of a soldier."

"Mr. Ormond! Mr. Ormond!" broke in Colonel Claus. "Do you impeach Lord George Germaine?"

"I care not whom I impeach!" I said, hotly. "If Lord George Germaine counsels the employment of Indians against Englishmen, rebels though they be, he is a monstrous villain and a fool!"

"Fool!" shouted Colonel Campbell, choking with rage. "He'd be a fool to let these rebels win over the Iroquois before we did!"

"What rebel has sought to employ the Indians?" I asked. "If any in authority have dreamed of such a horror, they are guilty as though already judged and damned!"

"Mr. Ormond," cut in Guy Johnson, fairly trembling with fury, "you deal very freely in damnation. Do you perhaps assume the divine right which you deny your King?"

"And do you find merit in crass treason, sir?" burst out McDonald, striking the table with clinched fist.

"Treason," cut in Sir John Johnson, "was the undoing of a certain noble duke in Queen Anne's time."

"You are in error," I said, calmly.

"Was James, Duke of Ormond, not impeached by Mr. Stanhope in open Parliament?" shouted Captain McDonald.

"The House of Commons," I replied, calmly, "dishonored itself and its traditions by bringing a bill of attainder against the Duke of Ormond. That could not make him a traitor."

"He was not a traitor," broke out Walter Butler, white to the lips, "but you are!"

"A lie," I said.

With the awful hue of death stamped on his face, Walter Butler rose and faced me; and though they dragged us to our seats, shouting and exclaiming in the uproar made by falling chairs and the rush of feet, he still kept his eyes on me, shallow, yellow, depthless, terrible eyes.

"A nice scene to pass in women's presence!" roared the patroon. "Dammy, Captain Butler, the fault lies first with you! Withdraw that word 'traitor,' which touches us all!"

"He has so named himself," said Walter Butler, "Withdraw it! You foul your own nest, sir!"

A moment passed. "I withdraw it," motioned Butler, with parched lips.

"Then I withdraw the lie," I said, watching him.

"That is well," roared the patroon. "That is as it should be. Shall kinsmen quarrel at such a time? Offer your hand, Captain Butler. Offer yours, George."

"No," I said, and gazed mildly at the patroon.

Sir George Covert rose and sauntered over to my chair. Under cover of the hubbub, not yet subsided, he said: "I fancy you will shortly require a discreet friend."

"Not at all, sir," I replied, aloud. "If the war spares Mr. Butler and myself, then I shall call on you. I've another quarrel first." All turned to look at me, and I added, "A quarrel touching the liberties of Englishmen." Sir John Johnson sneered, and it was hard to swallow, being the sword-master that I am.

But the patroon broke out furiously. "Mr. Ormond honors himself. If any here so much as looks the word 'coward,' he will answer to me—old and fat as I am! I've no previous engagement; I care not who prevails, King or Congress. I care nothing so they leave me my own! I'm free to resent a word, a look, a breath—ay, the flutter of a lid, Sir John!"

"Thanks, uncle," I said, touched to the quick. "These gentlemen are not fools, and only a fool could dream an Ormond coward."

"Ay, a fool!" cried Walter Butler. "I am an Ormond! There is no cowardice in the blood. He shall have his own time; he is an Ormond!"

Dorothy Varick raised her bare, white arm and pointed straight at Walter Butler. "See that your sword remains unspotted, sir," she said, in a clear voice. "For if you hire the Iroquois to do your work you stand dishonored, and no true man will meet you on the field you forfeit!"

"What's that?" cried Sir John, astonished, and Sir George Covert cried:

"Brava! Bravissima! There speaks the Ormond through the Varick!"

Walter Butler leaned forward, staring at me. "You refuse to meet me if I use our Mohawks?"

And Dorothy, her voice trembling a little, picked up the word from his grinning teeth. "Mohawks understand the word 'honor' better than do you, Captain Butler, if you are found fighting in their ranks!"

She laid her hand on my arm, still facing him.

"My cousin shall not cross blade with a soiled blade! He dare not—if only for my own poor honor's sake!"

Then Colonel Claus rose, thumping violently on the table, and, "Here's a pretty rumpus!" he bawled, "with all right and all wrong, and nobody to snuff out the spreading flame, but every one a-flinging tallow in a fire we all may rue! My God! Are we not all kinsmen here, gathered to decent council how best to save our bacon in this pot a-boiling over? If Mr. Ormond and Captain Butler must tickle sword-points one day, that is no cause for dolorous looks or hot words—no! Rather is it a family trick, a good, old-fashioned game that all boys play, and no harm, either. Have I not played it, too? Has any gentleman present not pinked or been pinked on that debatable land we call the field of honor? Come, kinsmen, we have all had too much wine—or too little."

"Too little!" protested Captain Campbell, with a forced laugh; and Betty Austin loosed her tongue for the first time to cry out that her mouth was parched wi' swallowing so many words all piping-hot. Whereat one or two laughed, and Colonel John Butler said:

Neither Mr. Ormond nor Sir George Covert are rebels. They differ from us in this matter touching on the Iroquois. If they think we soil our hands with war-paint, let them keep their own wristbands clean, but fight for their King as sturdily as shall we this time next month."

"That is a very pleasant view to take," observed Sir George, with a smile.

"A sensible view," suggested Campbell.

"Amiable," said Sir George, blandly.

"Oh, let us fill to the family!" broke in McDonald, impatiently. "It's dry work cursing your friends! Fill up, Campbell, and I'll forget Glencoe ... while I'm drinking."

"Mr. Ormond," said Walter Butler, in a low voice, "I cannot credit ill of a man of your name. You are young and hot-blooded, and you perhaps lack as yet a capacity for reflection. I shall look for you among us when the time comes. No Ormond can desert his King."

"Let it rest so, Captain Butler," I said, soberly. "I will say this: when I rose I had not meant to say all that I said. But I believe it to be the truth, though I chose the wrong moment to express it. If I change this belief I will say so."

And so the outburst of passion sank to ashes; and if the fire was not wholly extinguished, it at least lay covered, like the heart of a Seminole council-fire after the sachems have risen and departed with covered heads.

Drinking began again. The ladies gathered in a group, whispering and laughing their relief at the turn affairs were taking—all save Dorothy, who sat serenely beside me, picking the kernels from walnut-shells and sipping a glass of port.

Sir John Johnson found a coal in the embers on the hearth, and, leaning half over the table, began to draw on the table-cloth a rude map of Tryon County.

"All know," he said, "that the province of New York is the key to the rebel strength. While they hold West Point and Albany and Stanwix, they hold Tryon County by the throat. Let them occupy Philadelphia. Who cares? We can take it when we choose. Let them hold their dirty Boston; let the rebel Washington sneak around the Jerseys. Who cares? There'll be the finer hunting for us later. Gentlemen, as you know, the invasion of New York is at hand—has already begun. And that's no secret from the rebels, either; they may turn and twist and double here in New York province, but they can't escape the trap, though they saw it long ago."

He raised his head and glanced at me.

"Here is a triangle," he said; "that triangle is New York province. Here is Albany, the objective of our three armies, the gate of Tryon County, the plague-spot we are to cleanse, and the military centre. Now mark! Burgoyne moves through the lakes, south, reducing Ticonderoga and Edward, routing the rats out of Saratoga, and approaches Albany—so. Clinton moves north along the Hudson to meet him—so—forcing the Highlands at Peekskill, taking West Point or leaving it for later punishment. Nothing can stop him; he meets Burgoyne here, at Albany."

Again he looked at me. "You see, sir, that from two angles of the triangle converging armies depart towards a common objective."

"I see," I said.

"Now," he resumed, "the third force, under Colonel Barry St. Leger—to which my regiment and the regiment of Colonel Butler have the honor to be attached—embarks from Canada, sails up the St. Lawrence, disembarks at Oswego, on Lake Erie, marches straight on Stanwix, reduces it, and joins the armies of Clinton and Burgoyne at Albany."

He stood up, casting his bit of wood-coal on the cloth before him.

"That, sir," he said to me, "is the plan of campaign, which the rebels know and cannot prevent. That means the invasion of New York, the scouring out of every plague-spot, the capture and destruction of every rebel between Albany and the Jerseys."

He turned with a cold smile to Colonel Butler. "I think my estates will not remain long in rebel hands," he said.

"Do you not understand, Mr. Ormond?" cried Captain Campbell, twitching me by the sleeve, an impertinence I passed, considering him overflushed with wine. "Do you not comprehend how hopeless is this rebellion now?"

"How hopeless?" drawled Sir George, looking over my shoulder, and, as though by accident, drawing Campbell's presumptuous hand through his own arm.

"How hopeless?" echoed Campbell. "Why, here are three armies of his Majesty's troops concentrating on the heart of Tryon County. What can the rebels do?"

"The patroons are with us, or have withdrawn from the contest," said Sir John; "the great folk, military men, and we of the landed gentry are for the King. What remains to defy his authority?"

"Of what kidney are these Tryon County men?" I asked, quietly. Sir John Johnson misunderstood me.

"Mr. Ormond," said Sir John, "Tryon County is habited by four races. First, the Scotch-Irish, many of them rebels, I admit, but many also loyal. Balance these against my Highlanders, and cross quits. Second, the Palatines—those men whose ancestors came hither to escape the armies of Louis XIV. when they devastated the Palatinate. And again I admit these to be rebels. Third, those of Dutch blood, descended from brave ancestors, like our worthy patroon here. And once more I will admit that many of these also are tainted with rebel heresies. Fourth, the English, three-quarters of whom are Tories. And now I ask you, can these separate handfuls of mixed descent unite? And, if that were possible, can they stand for one day, one hour, against the trained troops of England?"

"God knows," I said.



I had stepped from the dining-hall out to the gun-room. Clocks in the house were striking midnight. In the dining-room the company had now taken to drinking in earnest, cheering and singing loyal songs, and through the open door whirled gusts of women's laughter, and I heard the thud of guitar-strings echo the song's gay words.

All was cool and dark in the body of the house as I walked to the front door and opened it to bathe my face in the freshening night. I heard the whippoorwill in the thicket, and the drumming of the dew on the porch roof, and far away a sound like ocean stirring—the winds in the pines.

The Maker of all things has set in me a love for whatsoever He has fashioned in His handiwork, whether it be furry beast or pretty bird, or a spray of April willow, or the tiny insect-creature that pursues its dumb, blind way through this our common world. So come I by my love for the voices of the night, and the eyes of the stars, and the whisper of growing things, and the spice in the air where, unseen, a million tiny blossoms hold up white cups for dew, or for the misty-winged things that woo them for their honey.

Now, in the face of this dark, soothing truce that we call night, which is a buckler interposed between the arrows of two angry suns, I stood thinking of war and the wrong of it. And all around me in the darkness insects sang, and delicate, gauzy creatures chirked and throbbed and strummed in cadence, while the star's light faintly silvered the still trees, and distant monotones of the forest made a sustained and steady rushing sound like the settling ebb of shallow seas. That to my conscience I stood committed, I could not doubt. I must draw sword, and draw it soon, too—not for Tory or rebel, not for King or Congress, not for my estates nor for my kin, but for the ancient liberties of Englishmen, which England menaced to destroy.

That meant time lost in a return to my own home; and yet—why? Here in this county of Tryon one might stand for liberty of thought and action as stanchly as at home. Here was a people with no tie or sympathy to weld them save that common love of liberty—a scattered handful of races, without leaders, without resources, menaced by three armies, menaced, by the five nations of the great confederacy—the Iroquois.

To return to the sea islands on the Halifax and fight for my own acres was useless if through New York the British armies entered to the heart of the rebellion, splitting the thirteen colonies with a flaming wedge.

At home I had no kin to defend; my elder brother had sailed to England, my superintendent, my overseers, my clerks were all Tory; my slaves would join the Minorcans or the blacks in Georgia, and I, single-handed, could not lift a finger to restrain them.

But here, in the dire need of Tryon County, I might be of use. Here was the very forefront of battle where, beyond the horizon, invasion, uncoiling hydra folds, already raised three horrid, threatening crests.

Ugh!—the butcher's work that promised if the Iroquois were uncaged! It made me shudder, for I knew something of that kind of war, having seen a slight service against the Seminoles in my seventeenth year, and against the Chehaws and Tallassies a few months later. Also in November of 1775 I accompanied Governor Tonyn to Picolata, but when I learned that our mission was the shameful one of securing the Indians as British allies I resigned my captaincy in the Royal Rangers and returned to the Halifax to wait and watch events.

And now, thoughtful, sad, wondering a little how it all would end, I paced to and fro across the porch. The steady patter of the dew was like the long roll beating—low, incessant, imperious—and my heart leaped responsive to the summons, till I found myself standing rigid, staring into the darkness with fevered eyes.

The smothered, double drumming of a guitar from the distant revel assailed my ears, and a fresh, sweet voice, singing:

"As at my door I chanced to be A-spinning, Spinning, A grenadier he winked at me A-grinning, Grinning! As at my door I chanced to be A grenadier he winked at me. And now my song's begun, you see!

"My grenadier he said to me. So jolly, Jolly, 'We tax the tea, but love is free, Sweet Molly, Molly!' My grenadier he said to me, 'We tax the tea, but love is free!' And so my song it ends, you see, In folly, Folly!"

I listened angrily; the voice was Dorothy Varick's, and I wondered that she had the heart to sing such foolishness for men whose grip was already on her people's throats.

In the dining-hall somebody blew the view-halloo on a hunting-horn, and I heard cheers and the dulled roar of a chorus:

"—Rally your men! Campbell and Cameron, Fox-hunting gentlemen, Follow the Jacobite back to his den! Run with the runaway rogue to his runway, Stole-away! Stole-away! Gallop to Galway, Back to Broadalbin and double to Perth; Ride! for the rebel is running to earth!"

And the shrill, fierce Highland cry, "Gralloch him!" echoed the infamous catch, till the night air rang faintly in the starlight.

"Cruachan!" shouted Captain Campbell; "the wild myrtle to clan Campbell, the heather to the McDonalds! An't—Arm, chlanna!"

And a great shout answered him: "The army! Sons of the army!"

Sullen and troubled and restless, I paced the porch, and at length sat down on the steps to cool my hot forehead in my hands.

And as I sat, there came my cousin Dorothy to the porch to look for me, fanning her flushed face with a great, plumy fan, the warm odor of roses still clinging to her silken skirts.

"Have they ended?" I asked, none too graciously.

"They are beginning," she said, with a laugh, then drew a deep breath and waved her fan slowly. "Ah, the sweet May night!" she murmured, eyes fixed on the north star. "Can you believe that men could dream of war in this quiet paradise of silence?"

I made no answer, and she went on, fanning her hot cheeks: "They're off to Oswego by dawn, the whole company, gallant and baggage." She laughed wickedly. "I don't mean their ladies, cousin."

"How could you?" I protested, grimly.

"Their wagons," she said, "started to-day at sundown from Tribes Hill; Sir John, the Butlers, and the Glencoe gentlemen follow at dawn. There are post-chaises for the ladies out yonder, and an escort, too. But nobody would stop them; they're as safe as Catrine Montour."

"Dorothy, who is this Catrine Montour?" I asked.

"A woman, cousin; a terrible hag who runs through the woods, and none dare stop her."

"A real hag? You mean a ghost?"

"No, no; a real hag, with black locks hanging, and long arms that could choke an ox."

"Why does she run through the woods?" I asked, amused.

"Why? Who knows? She is always seen running."

"Where does she run to?"

"I don't know. Once Henry Stoner, the hunter, followed her, and they say no one but Jack Mount can outrun him; but she ran and ran, and he after her, till the day fell down, and he fell gasping like a foundered horse. But she ran on."

"Oh, tally," I said; "do you believe that?"

"Why, I know it is true," she replied, ceasing her fanning to stare at me with calm, wide eyes. "Do you doubt it?"

"How can I?" said I, laughing. "Who is this busy hag, Catrine Montour?"

"They say," said Dorothy, waving her fan thoughtfully, "that her father was that Count Frontenac who long ago governed the Canadas, and that her mother was a Huron woman. Many believe her to be a witch. I don't know. Milk curdles in the pans when she is running through the forest ... they say. Once it rained blood on our front porch."

"Those red drops fall from flocks of butterflies," I said, laughing. "I have seen red showers in Florida."

"I should like to be sure of that," said Dorothy, musing. Then, raising her starry eyes, she caught me laughing.

"Tease me," she smiled. "I don't care. You may even make love to me if you choose."

"Make love to you!" I repeated, reddening.

"Why not? It amuses—and you're only a cousin."

Astonishment was followed by annoyance as she coolly disqualified me with a careless wave of her fan, wafting the word "cousin" into my very teeth.

"Suppose I paid court to you and gained your affections?" I said.

"You have them," she replied, serenely.

"I mean your heart?"

"You have it."

"I mean your—love, Dorothy?"

"Ah," she said, with a faint smile, "I wish you could—I wish somebody could."

I was silent.

"And I never shall love; I know it, I feel it—here!" She pressed her side with a languid sigh that nigh set me into fits o' laughter, yet I swallowed my mirth till it choked me, and looked at the stars.

"Perhaps," said I, "the gentle passion might be awakened with patience ... and practice."

"Ah, no," she said.

"May I touch your hand?"

Indolently fanning, she extended her fingers. I took them in my hands.

"I am about to begin," I said.

"Begin," she said.

So, her hand resting in mine, I told her that she had robbed the skies and set two stars in violets for her eyes; that nature's one miracle was wrought when in her cheeks roses bloomed beneath the snow; that the frosted gold she called her hair had been spun from December sunbeams, and that her voice was but the melodies stolen from breeze and brook and golden-throated birds.

"For all those pretty words," she said, "love still lies sleeping."

"Perhaps my arm around your waist—"




And, after a silence:

"Has love stirred?"

"Love sleeps the sounder."

"And if I touched your lips?"

"Best not."


"I'm sure that love would yawn."

Chilled, for unconsciously I had begun to find in this child-play an interest unexpected, I dropped her unresisting fingers.

"Upon my word," I said, almost irritably, "I can believe you when you say you never mean to wed."

"But I don't say it," she protested.

"What? You have a mind to wed?"

"Nor did I say that, either," she said, laughing.

"Then what the deuce do you say?"

"Nothing, unless I'm entreated politely."

"I entreat you, cousin, most politely," I said.

"Then I may tell you that, though I trouble my head nothing as to wedlock, I am betrothed."

"Betrothed!" I repeated, angrily disappointed, yet I could not think why.


"To whom?"

"To a man, silly."

"A man!"

"With two legs, two arms, and a head, cousin."

"You ... love him?"

"No," she said, serenely. "It's only to wed and settle down some day."

"You don't love him?"

"No," she repeated, a trifle impatiently.

"And you mean to wed him?"

"Listen to the boy!" she exclaimed. "I've told him ten times that I am betrothed, which means a wedding. I am not one of those who break paroles."

"Oh ... you are now free on parole."

"Prisoner on parole," she said, lightly. "I'm to name the day o' punishment, and I promise you it will not be soon."

"Dorothy," I said, "suppose in the mean time you fell in love?"

"I'd like to," she said, sincerely.

"But—but what would you do then?"

"Love, silly!"

"And ... marry?"

"Marry him whom I have promised."

"But you would be wretched!"

"Why? I can't fancy wedding one I love. I should be ashamed, I think. I—if I loved I should not want the man I loved to touch me—not with gloves."

"You little fool!" I said. "You don't know what you say."

"Yes, I do!" she cried, hotly. "Once there was a captain from Boston; I adored him. And once he kissed my hand and I hated him!"

"I wish I'd been there," I muttered.

She, waving her fan to and fro, continued: "I often think of splendid men, and, dreaming in the sunshine, sometimes I adore them. But always these day-dream heroes keep their distance; and we talk and talk, and plan to do great good in the world, until I fall a-napping.... Heigho! I'm yawning now." She covered her face with her fan and leaned back against a pillar, crossing her feet. "Tell me about London," she said. But I knew no more than she.

"I'd be a belle there," she observed. "I'd have a train o' beaux and macaronis at my heels, I warrant you! The foppier, the more it would please me. Think, cousin—ranks of them all a-simper, ogling me through a hundred quizzing-glasses! Heigho! There's doubtless some deviltry in me, as Sir Lupus says."

She yawned again, looked up at the stars, then fell to twisting her fan with idle fingers.

"I suppose," she said, more to herself than to me, "that Sir John is now close to the table's edge, and Colonel Claus is under it.... Hark to their song, all off the key! But who cares?... so that they quarrel not.... Like those twin brawlers of Glencoe, ... brooding on feuds nigh a hundred years old.... I have no patience with a brooder, one who treasures wrongs, ... like Walter Butler." She looked up at me.

"I warned you," she said.

"It is not easy to avoid insulting him," I replied.

"I warned you of that, too. Now you've a quarrel, and a reckoning in prospect."

"The reckoning is far off," I retorted, ill-humoredly.

"Far off—yes. Further away than you know. You will never cross swords with Walter Butler."

"And why not?"

"He means to use the Iroquois."

I was silent.

"For the honor of your women, you cannot fight such a man," she added, quietly.

"I wish I had the right to protect your honor," I said, so suddenly and so bitterly that I surprised myself.

"Have you not?" she asked, gravely. "I am your kinswoman."

"Yes, yes, I know," I muttered, and fell to plucking at the lace on my wristbands.

The dawn's chill was in the air, the dawn's silence, too, and I saw the calm morning star on the horizon, watching the dark world—the dark, sad world, lying so still, so patient, under the ancient sky.

That melancholy—which is an omen, too—left me benumbed, adrift in a sort of pained contentment which alternately soothed and troubled, so that at moments I almost drowsed, and at moments I heard my heart stirring, as though in dull expectancy of beatitudes undreamed of.

Dorothy, too, sat listless, pensive, and in her eyes a sombre shadow, such as falls on children's eyes at moments, leaving their elders silent.

Once in the false dawn a cock crowed, and the shrill, far cry left the raw air emptier and the silence more profound. I looked wistfully at the maid beside me, chary of intrusion into the intimacy of her silence. Presently her vague eyes met mine, and, as though I had spoken, she said: "What is it?"

"Only this: I am sorry you are pledged."

"Why, cousin?"

"It is unfair."

"To whom?"

"To you. Bid him undo it and release you."

"What matters it?" she said, dully.

"To wed, one should love," I muttered.

"I cannot," she answered, without moving. "I would I could. This night has witched me to wish for love—to desire it; and I sit here a-thinking, a-thinking.... If love ever came to me I should think it would come now—ere the dawn; here, where all is so dark and quiet and close to God.... Cousin, this night, for the first moment in all my life, I have desired love."

"To be loved?"

"No, ... to love."

I do not know how long our silence lasted; the faintest hint of silver touched the sky above the eastern forest; a bird awoke, sleepily twittering; another piped out fresh and clear, another, another; and, as the pallid tint spread in the east, all the woodlands burst out ringing into song.

In the house a door opened and a hoarse voice muttered thickly. Dorothy paid no heed, but I rose and stepped into the hallway, where servants were guiding the patroon to bed, and a man hung to the bronze-cannon post, swaying and mumbling threats—Colonel Claus, wig awry, stock unbuckled, and one shoe gone. Faugh! the stale, sour air sickened me.

Then a company of gentlemen issued from the dining-hall, and, as I stepped back to the porch to give them room, their gray faces were turned to me with meaningless smiles or blank inquiry.

"Where's my orderly?" hiccoughed Sir John Johnson. "Here, you, call my rascals; get the chaises up! Dammy, I want my post-chaise, d' ye hear?"

Captain Campbell stumbled out to the lawn and fumbled about his lips with a whistle, which he finally succeeded in blowing. This accomplished, he gravely examined the sky.

"There they are," said Dorothy, quietly; and I saw, in the dim morning light, a dozen horsemen stirring in the shadows of the stockade. And presently the horses were brought up, followed by two post-chaises, with sleepy post-boys sitting their saddles and men afoot trailing rifles.

Colonel Butler came out of the door with Magdalen Brant, who was half asleep, and aided her to a chaise. Guy Johnson followed with Betty Austin, his arm around her, and climbed in after her. Then Sir John brought Claire Putnam to the other chaise, entering it himself behind her. And the post-boys wheeled their horses out through the stockade, followed at a gallop by the shadowy horsemen.

And now the Butlers, father and son, set toe to stirrup; and I saw Walter Butler kick the servant who held his stirrup—why, I do not know, unless the poor, tired fellow's hands shook.

Up into their saddles popped the Glencoe captains; then Campbell swore an oath and dismounted to look for Colonel Claus; and presently two blacks carried him out and set him in his saddle, which he clung to, swaying like a ship in distress, his riding-boots slung around his neck, stockinged toes clutching the stirrups.

Away they went, followed at a trot by the armed men on foot; fainter and fainter sounded the clink, clink of their horses' hoofs, then died away.

In the silence, the east reddened to a flame tint. I turned to the open doorway; Dorothy was gone, but old Cato stood there, withered hands clasped, peaceful eyes on me.

"Mawnin', suh," he said, sweetly. "Yaas, suh, de night done gone and de sun mos' up. H'it dat-a-way, Mars' George, suh, h'it jess natch'ly dat-a-way in dishyere world—day, night, mo' day. What de Bible say? Life, def, mo' life, suh. When we's daid we'll sho' find it dat-a-way."



Cato at my bedside with basin, towel, and razor, a tub of water on the floor, and the sun shining on my chamber wall. These, and a stale taste on my tongue, greeted me as I awoke.

First to wash teeth and mouth with orris, then to bathe, half asleep still; and yet again to lie a-thinking in my arm-chair, robed in a banyan, cheeks all suds and nose sniffing the scented water in the chin-basin which I held none too steady; and I said, peevishly, "What a fool a man is to play the fool! Do you hear me, Cato?"

He said that he marked my words, and I bade him hold his tongue and tell me the hour.

"Nine, suh."

"Then I'll sleep again," I muttered, but could not, and after the morning draught felt better. Chocolate and bread, new butter and new eggs, put me in a kinder humor. Cato, burrowing in my boxes, drew out a soft, new suit of doeskin with new points, new girdle, and new moccasins.

"Oh," said I, watching him, "am I to go forest-running to-day?"

"Mars' Varick gwine ride de boun's," he announced, cheerfully.

"Ride to hounds?" I repeated, astonished. "In May?"

"No, suh! Ride de boun's, suh."

"Oh, ride the boundaries?"

"Yaas, suh."

"Oh, very well. What time does he start?"

"'Bout noontide, suh."

The old man strove to straighten my short queue, but found it hopeless, so tied it close and dusted on the French powder.

"Curly head, curly head," he muttered to himself. "Dess lak yo' pap's!... an' Miss Dorry's. Law's sakes, dishyere hair wuf mo'n eight dollar."

"You think my hair worth more than eight dollars?" I asked, amused.

"H'it sho'ly am, suh."

"But why eight dollars, Cato?"

"Das what the redcoats say; eight dollars fo' one rebel scalp, suh."

I sat up, horrified. "Who told you that?" I demanded.

"All de gemmen done say so—Mars' Varick, Mars' Johnsing, Cap'in Butler."

"Bah! they said it to plague you, Cato," I muttered; but as I said it I saw the old slave's eyes and knew that he had told the truth.

Sobered, I dressed me in my forest dress, absently lacing the hunting-shirt and tying knee-points, while the old man polished hatchet and knife and slipped them into the beaded scabbards swinging on either hip.

Then I went out, noiselessly descending the stairway, and came all unawares upon the young folk and the children gathered on the sunny porch, busy with their morning tasks.

They neither saw nor heard me; I leaned against the doorway to see the pretty picture at my ease. The children, Sam and Benny, sat all hunched up, scowling over their books.

Close to a fluted pillar, Dorothy Varick reclined in a chair, embroidering her initials on a pair of white silk hose, using the Rosemary stitch. And as her delicate fingers flew, her gold thimble flashed like a fire-fly in the sun.

At her feet, cross-legged, sat Cecile Butler, velvet eyes intent on a silken petticoat which she was embroidering with pale sprays of flowers.

Ruyven and Harry, near by, dipped their brushes into pans of brilliant French colors, the one to paint marvellous birds on a silken fan, the other to decorate a pair of white satin shoes with little pink blossoms nodding on a vine.

Loath to disturb them, I stood smiling, silent; and presently Dorothy, without raising her eyes, called on Samuel to read his morning lesson, and he began, breathing heavily:

"I know that God is wroth at me For I was born in sin; My heart is so exceeding vile Damnation dwells therein; Awake I sin, asleep I sin, I sin with every breath, When Adam fell he went to hell And damned us all to death!"

He stopped short, scowling, partly from fright, I think.

"That teaches us to obey God," said Ruyven, severely, dipping his brush into the pink paint-cake.

"What's the good of obeying God if we're all to go to hell?" asked Cecile.

"We're not all going to hell," said Dorothy, calmly. "God saves His elect."

"Who are the elect?" demanded Samuel, faintly hopeful.

"Nobody knows," replied Cecile, grimly; "but I guess—"

"Benny," broke in Dorothy, "read your lesson! Cecile, stop your chatter!" And Benny, cheerful and sceptical, read his lines:

"When by thpectators I behold What beauty doth adorn me, Or in a glath when I behold How thweetly God did form me. Hath God thuch comeliness bethowed And on me made to dwell?— What pity thuch a pretty maid Ath I thoud go to hell!"

And Benny giggled.

"Benjamin," said Cecile, in an awful voice, "are you not terrified at what you read?"

"Huh!" said Benny, "I'm not a 'pretty maid'; I'm a boy."

"It's all the same, little dunce!" insisted Cecile.

"Doeth God thay little boyth are born to be damned?" he asked, uneasily.

"No, no," interrupted Dorothy; "God saves His elect, I tell you. Don't you remember what He says?

"'You sinners are, and such a share As sinners may expect; Such you shall have; for I do save None but my own elect.'

"And you see," she added, confidently, "I think we all are elect, and there's nothing to be afraid of. Benny, stop sniffing!"

"Are you sure?" asked Cecile, gloomily.

Dorothy, stitching serenely, answered: "I am sure God is fair."

"Oh, everybody knows that," observed Cecile. "What we want to know is, what does He mean to do with us."

"If we're good," added Samuel, fervently.

"He will damn us, perhaps," said Ruyven, sucking his paint-brush and looking critically at his work.

"Damn us? Why?" inquired Dorothy, raising her eyes.

"Oh, for all that sin we were born in," said Ruyven, absently.

"But that's not fair," said Dorothy.

"Are you smarter than a clergyman?" sneered Ruyven.

Dorothy spread the white silk stocking over one knee. "I don't know," she sighed, "sometimes I think I am."

"Pride," commented Cecile, complacently. "Pride is sin, so there you are, Dorothy."

"There you are, Dorothy!" said I, laughing from the doorway; and, "Oh, Cousin Ormond!" they all chorused, scrambling up to greet me.

"Have a care!" cried Dorothy. "That is my wedding petticoat! Oh, he's slopped water on it! Benny, you dreadful villain!"

"No, he hasn't," said I, coming out to greet her and Cecile, with Samuel and Benny hanging to my belt, and Harry fast hold of one arm. "And what's all this about wedding finery? Is there a bride in this vicinity?"

Dorothy held out a stocking. "A bride's white silken hose," she said, complacently.

"Embroidered on the knee with the bride's initials," added Cecile, proudly.

"Yours, Dorothy?" I demanded.

"Yes, but I shall not wear them for ages and ages. I told you so last night."

"But I thought Dorothy had best make ready," remarked Cecile. "Dorothy is to carry that fan and wear those slippers and this petticoat and the white silk stockings when she weds Sir George."

"Sir George who?" I asked, bluntly.

"Why, Sir George Covert. Didn't you know?"

I looked at Dorothy, incensed without a reason.

"Why didn't you tell me?" I asked, ungraciously.

"Why didn't you ask me?" she replied, a trifle hurt.

I was silent.

Cecile said: "I hope that Dorothy will marry him soon. I want to see how she looks in this petticoat."

"Ho!" sneered Harry, "you just want to wear one like it and be a bridesmaid and primp and give yourself airs. I know you!"

"Sir George Covert is a good fellow," remarked Ruyven, with a patronizing nod at Dorothy; "but I always said he was too old for you. You should see how gray are his temples when he wears no powder."

"He has fine eyes," murmured Cecile.

"He's too old; he's forty," repeated Ruyven.

"His legs are shapely," added Cecile, sentimentally.

Dorothy gave a despairing upward glance at me. "Are these children not silly?" she said, with a little shrug.

"We may be children, and we may be silly," said Ruyven, "but if we were you we'd wed our cousin Ormond."

"All of you together?" inquired Dorothy.

"You know what I mean," he snapped.

"Why don't you?" demanded Harry, vaguely, twitching Dorothy by the apron.

"Do what?"

"Wed our cousin Ormond."

"But he has not asked me," she said, smiling.

Harry turned to me and took my arm affectionately in his.

"You will ask her, won't you?" he murmured. "She's very nice when she chooses."

"She wouldn't have me," I said, laughing.

"Oh yes, she would; and then you need never leave us, which would be pleasant for all, I think. Won't you ask her, cousin?"

"You ask her," I said.

"Dorothy," he broke out, eagerly. "You will wed him, won't you? Our cousin Ormond says he will if you will. And I'll tell Sir George that it's just a family matter, and, besides, he's too old—"

"Yes, tell Sir George that," sneered Ruyven, who had listened in an embarrassment that certainly Dorothy had not betrayed. "You're a great fool, Harry. Don't you know that when people want to wed they ask each other's permission to ask each other's father, and then their fathers ask each other, and then they ask each—"

"Other!" cried Dorothy, laughing deliciously. "Oh, Ruyven, Ruyven, you certainly will be the death of me!"

"All the same," said Harry, sullenly, "our cousin wishes to wed you."

"Do you?" asked Dorothy, raising her amused eyes to me.

"I fear I come too late," I said, forcing a smile I was not inclined to.

"Ah, yes; too late," she sighed, pretending a doleful mien.

"Why?" demanded Harry, blankly.

Dorothy shook her head. "Sir George would never permit me such a liberty. If he would, our cousin Ormond and I could wed at once; you see I have my bride's stockings here; Cecile could do my hair, Sammy carry my prayer-book, Benny my train, Ruyven read the service—"

Harry, flushing at the shout of laughter, gave Dorothy a dark look, turned and eyed me, then scowled again at Dorothy.

"All the same," he said, slowly, "you're a great goose not to wed him.... And you'll be sorry ... when he's dead!"

At this veiled prophecy of my approaching dissolution, all were silent save Dorothy and Ruyven, whose fresh laughter rang out peal on peal.

"Laugh," said Harry, gloomily; "but you won't laugh when he's killed in the war, ... and scalped, too."

Ruyven, suddenly sober, looked up at me. Dorothy bent over her needle-work and examined it attentively.

"Are you going to the war?" asked Cecile, plaintively.

"Of course he's going; so am I," replied Ruyven, striking a careless pose against a pillar.

"On which side, Ruyven?" inquired Dorothy, sorting her silks.

"On my cousin's side, of course," he said, uneasily.

"Which side is that?" asked Cecile.

Confused, flushing painfully, the boy looked at me; and I rescued him, saying, "We'll talk that over when we ride bounds this afternoon. Ruyven and I understand each other, don't we, Ruyven?"

He gave me a grateful glance. "Yes," he said, shyly.

Sir George Covert, a trifle pallid, but bland and urbane, strolled out to the porch, saluting us gracefully. He paused beside Dorothy, who slipped her needle through her work and held out her hand for him to salute.

"Are you also going to the wars?" she asked, with a friendly smile.

"Where are they?" he inquired, pretending a fierce eagerness. "Point out some wars and I'll go to 'em post haste!"

"They're all around us," said Sammy, solemnly.

"Then we'd best get to horse and lose no time, Mr. Ormond," he observed, passing his arm through mine. In a lower voice he added: "Headache?"

"Oh no," I said, hastily.

"Lucky dog. Sir Lupus lies as though struck by lightning. I'm all a-quiver, too. A man of my years is a fool to do such things. But I do, Ormond, I do; ass that I am. Do you ride bounds with Sir Lupus?"

"If he desires it," I said.

"Then I'll see you when you pass my villa on the Vlaie, where you'll find a glass of wine waiting. Do you ride, Miss Dorothy?"

"Yes," she said.

A stable lad brought his horse to the porch. He took leave of Dorothy with a grace that charmed even me; yet, in his bearing towards her I could detect the tender pride he had in her, and that left me cold and thoughtful.

All liked him, though none appeared to regard him exactly as a kinsman, nor accorded him that vague shade of intimacy which is felt in kinship, not in comradeship alone, and which they already accorded me.

Dorothy walked with him to the stockade gate, the stable lad following with his horse; and I saw them stand there in low-voiced conversation, he lounging and switching at the weeds with his riding-crop; she, head bent, turning the gold thimble over and over between her fingers. And I wondered what they were saying.

Presently he mounted and rode away, a graceful, manly figure in the saddle, and not turning like a fop to blow a kiss at his betrothed, nor spurring his horse to show his skill—for which I coldly respected him.

Harry, Cecile, and the children gathered their paints and books and went into the house, demanding that I should follow.

"Dorothy is beckoning us," observed Ruyven, gathering up his paints.

I looked towards her and she raised her hand, motioning us to come.

"About father's watch," she said. "I have just consulted Sir George, and he says that neither I nor Ruyven have won, seeing that Ruyven used the coin he did—"

"Very well," cried Ruyven, triumphantly. "Then let us match dates again. Have you a shilling, Cousin Ormond?"

"I'll throw hunting-knives for it," suggested Dorothy.

"Oh no, you won't," retorted her brother, warily.

"Then I'll race you to the porch."

He shook his head.

She laughed tauntingly.

"I'm not afraid," said Ruyven, reddening and glancing at me.

"Then I'll wrestle you."

Stung by the malice in her smile, Ruyven seized her.

"No, no! Not in these clothes!" she said, twisting to free herself. "Wait till I put on my buckskins. Don't use me so roughly, you tear my laced apron. Oh! you great booby!" And with a quick cry of resentment she bent, caught her brother, and swung him off his feet clean over her left shoulder slap on the grass.

"Silly!" she said, cheeks aflame. "I have no patience to be mauled." Then she laughed uncertainly to see him lying there, too astonished to get up.

"Are you hurt?" she asked.

"Who taught you that hold?" he demanded, indignantly, scrambling to his feet. "I thought I alone knew that."

"Why, Captain Campbell taught you last week and ... I was at the window ... sewing," she said, demurely.

Ruyven looked at me, disgusted, muttering, "If I could learn things the way she does, I'd not waste time at King's College, I can tell you."

"You're not going to King's College, anyhow," said his sister. "York is full o' loyal rebels and Tory patriots, and father says he'll be damned if you can learn logic where all lack it."

She held out her hand, smiling. "No malice, Ruyven, and we'll forgive each other."

Her brother met the clasp; then, hands in his pockets, followed us back through the stockade towards the porch. I was pleased to see that his pride had suffered no more than his body from the fall he got, which augured well for a fair-minded manhood.

As we approached the house I heard hollow noises within, like groans; and I stopped, listening intently.

"It is Sir Lupus snoring," observed Ruyven. "He will wake soon; I think I had best call Tulip," he added, exchanging a glance with his sister; and entered the house calling, "Cato! Cato! Tulip! Tulip! I say!"

"Who is Tulip?" I asked of Dorothy, who lingered at the threshold folding her embroidery into a bundle.

"Tulip? Oh, Tulip cooks for us—black as a June crow, cousin. She is voodoo."

"Evil-eye and all?" I asked, smiling.

Dorothy looked up shyly. "Don't you believe in the evil-eye?"

I was not perfectly sure whether I did or not, but I said "No."

"To believe is not necessarily to be afraid," she added, quickly.

Now, had I believed in the voodoo craft, or in the power of an evil-eye, I should also have feared. Those who have ever witnessed a sea-island witch-dance can bear me out, and I think a man may dread a hag and be no coward either. But distance and time allay the memories of such uncanny works. I had forgotten whether I was afraid or not. So I said, "There are no witches, Dorothy."

She looked at me, dreamily. "There are none ... that I fear."

"Not even Catrine Montour?" I asked, to plague her.

"No; it turns me cold to think of her running in the forest, but I am not afraid."

She stood pensive in the doorway, rolling and unrolling her embroidery. Harry and Cecile came out, flourishing alder poles from which lines and hooks dangled. Samuel and Benny carried birchen baskets and shallow nets.

"If we're to have Mohawk chubbs," said Cecile, "you had best come with us, Dorothy. Ruyven has a book and has locked himself in the play-room."

But Dorothy shook her head, saying that she meant to ride the boundary with us; and the children, after vainly soliciting my company, trooped off towards that same grist-mill in the ravine below the bridge which I had observed on my first arrival at Varick Manor.

"I am wondering," said Dorothy, "how you mean to pass the morning. You had best steer wide of Sir Lupus until he has breakfasted."

"I've a mind to sleep," I said, guiltily.

"I think it would be pleasant to ride together. Will you?" she asked; then, laughing, she said, frankly, "Since you have come I do nothing but follow you.... It is long since I have had a young companion, ... and, when I think that you are to leave us, it spurs me to lose no moment that I shall regret when you are gone."

No shyness marred the pretty declaration of her friendship, and it touched me the more keenly perhaps. The confidence in her eyes, lifted so sweetly, waked the best in me; and if my response was stumbling, it was eager and warm, and seemed to please her.

"Tulip! Tulip!" she cried, "I want my dinner! Now!" And to me, "We will eat what they give us; I shall dress in my buckskins and we will ride the boundary and register the signs, and Sir Lupus and the others can meet us at Sir George Covert's pleasure-house on the Vlaie. Does it please you, Cousin George?"

I looked into her bright eyes and said that it pleased me more than I dared say, and she laughed and ran up-stairs, calling back to me that I should order our horses and tell Cato to tell Tulip to fetch meat and claret to the gun-room.

I whistled a small, black stable lad and bade him bring our mounts to the porch, then wandered at random down the hallway, following my nose, which scented the kitchen, until I came to a closed door.

Behind that door meats were cooking—I could take my oath o' that—so I opened the door and poked my nose in.

"Tulip," I said, "come here!"

An ample black woman, aproned and turbaned, looked at me through the steam of many kettles, turned and cuffed the lad at the spit, dealt a few buffets among the scullions, and waddled up to me, bobbing and curtsying.

"Aunt Tulip," I said, gravely, "are you voodoo?"

"Folks says ah is, Mars' Ormon'," she said, in her soft Georgia accent.

"Oh, they do, do they? Look at me, Aunt Tulip. What do my eyes tell you of me?"

Her dark eyes, fixed on mine, seemed to change, and I thought little glimmers of pure gold tinted the iris, like those marvellous restless tints in a gorgeous bubble. Certainly her eyes were strange, almost compelling, for I felt a faint rigidity in my cheeks and my eyes returned directly to hers as at an unspoken command.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse