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The Maid-At-Arms
by Robert W. Chambers
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In an instant all around me men were swaying, striking, shooting, panting, locked in a deadly embrace. A sweating, red-faced soldier closed with me; chin to chin, breast to breast we wrestled; and I shall never forget the stifling struggle—every detail remains, his sunburned face, wet with sweat and powder-smeared; his irregular teeth showing when I got him by the throat, and the awful change that came over his visage when Jack Mount shoved the muzzle of his rifle against the struggling fellow and shot him through the stomach.

Freed from his death-grip, I stood breathing convulsively, hands clinched, one foot on my fallen rifle. An Indian ran past me, chased by Elerson and Murphy, but the savage dodged into the underbrush, shrieking, "Oonah! Oonah! Oonah!" and Elerson came back, waving his deer-hide cap.

Everywhere Tories, Royal Greens, and Indians were running into the woods; the wailing cry, "Oonah! Oonah!" rose on all sides now. Gardinier's Caughnawaga men were shooting rapidly; the Palatines, master of their reeking brush-field, poured a heavy fire into the detachment of retreating Greens, who finally broke and ran, dropping sack and rifle in their flight, and leaving thirty of their dead under the feet of the Palatines.

The soldiers of the Canajoharie regiment came up, swarming over a wooded knoll on the right, only to halt and stand, silently leaning on their rifles.

For the battle of Oriskany was over.

There was no cheering from the men of Tryon County. Their victory had been too dearly bought; their losses too terrible; their triumph sterile, for they could not now advance the crippled fragments of their regiments and raise the siege in the face of St. Leger's regulars and Walter Butler's Rangers.

Their combat with Johnson's Greens and Brant's Mohawks had been fought; and, though masters of the field, they could do no more than hold their ground. Perhaps the bitter knowledge that they must leave Stanwix to its fate, and that, too, through their own disobedience, made the better soldiers of them in time. But it was a hard and dreadful lesson; and I saw men crying, faces hidden in their powder-blackened hands, as the dying General was borne through the ranks, lying gray and motionless on his hemlock litter.

And this is all that I myself witnessed of that shameful ambuscade and murderous combat, fought some two miles north of the dirty camp, and now known as the Battle of Oriskany.

That night we buried our dead; one hundred on the field where they had fallen, two hundred and fifty in the burial trenches at Oriskany—thirty-five wagon-loads in all. Scarcely an officer of rank remained to lead the funeral march when the muffled drums of the Palatines rolled at midnight, and the smoky torches moved, and the dead-wagons rumbled on through the suffocating darkness of a starless night. We had few wounded; we took no prisoners; Oriskany meant death. We counted only thirty men disabled and some score missing.

"God grant the missing be safely dead," prayed our camp chaplain at the burial trench. We knew what that meant; worse than dead were the wretched men who had fallen alive into the hands of old John Butler and his son, Walter, and that vicious drunkard, Barry St. Leger, who had offered, over his own signature, two hundred and forty dollars a dozen for prime Tryon County scalps.

I slept little that night, partly from the excitement of my first serious combat, partly because of the terrible heat. Our outposts, now painfully overzealous and alert, fired off their muskets at every fancied sound or movement, and these continual alarms kept me awake, though Mount and Murphy slept peacefully, and Elerson yawned on guard.

Towards sunrise rain fell heavily, but brought no relief from the heat; the sun, a cherry-red ball, hung a hand's-breadth over the forests when the curtain of rain faded away. The riflemen, curled up in the hay on the barn floor, snored on, unconscious; the batt-horses crunched and munched in the manger; flies whirled and swarmed over a wheelbarrow piled full of dead soldier's shoes, which must to-day be distributed among the living.

All the loathsome and filthy side of war seemed concentrated around the barn-yard, where sleepy, unshaven, half-dressed soldiers were burning the under-clothes of a man who had died of the black measles; while a great, brawny fellow, naked to the waist and smeared from hair to ankles with blood, butchered sheep, so that the army might eat that day.

The thick stench of the burning clothing, the odor of blood, the piteous bleating of the doomed creatures sickened me; and I made my way out of the barn and down to the river, where I stripped and waded out to wash me and my clothes.

A Caughnawaga soldier gave me a bit of soap; and I spent the morning there. By noon the fierce heat of the sun had dried my clothes; by two o'clock our small scout of four left the Stanwix and Johnstown road and struck out through the unbroken wilderness for German Flatts.



XIX

THE HOME TRAIL

For eleven days we lay at German Flatts, Colonel Visscher begging us to aid in the defence of that threatened village until the women and children could be conveyed to Johnstown. But Sir John Johnson remained before Stanwix, and McCraw's riders gave the village wide berth, and on the 18th of August we set out for Varicks'.

Warned by our extreme outposts, we bore to the south, forced miles out of our course to avoid the Oneida country, where a terrific little war was raging. For the Senecas, Cayugas, a few Mohawks, and McCraw's renegade Tories, furious at the neutral and pacific attitude of the Oneidas towards our people, had suddenly fallen upon them, tooth and nail, vowing that the Oneida nation should perish from the earth for their treason to the Long House.

We skirted the doomed region cautiously, touching here and there the fringe of massacre and fire, often scenting smoke, sometimes hearing a distant shot. Once we encountered an Oneida runner, painted blue and white, and naked save for the loin-cloth, who told us of the civil war that was already rending the Long House; and I then understood more fully what Magdalen Brant had done for our cause, and how far-reaching had been the effects of her appearance at the False-Faces' council-fire.

The Oneida appeared to be disheartened. He sullenly admitted to us that the Cayugas had scattered his people and laid their village in ashes; he cursed McCraw fiercely and promised a dreadful retaliation on any renegade captured. He also described the fate of the Oriskany prisoners and some bateaux-men taken by Walter Butler's Rangers near Wood Creek; and I could scarcely endure to listen, so horrid were the details of our soldiers' common fate, where Mohawk and Tory, stripped and painted alike, conspired to invent atrocities undreamed of for their wretched victims.

It was then that I heard for the second time the term "Blue-eyed Indian," meaning white men stained, painted, and disguised as savages. More terrifying than the savages themselves, it appeared, were the blue-eyed Indians to the miserable settlers of Tryon. For hellish ingenuity and devilish cruelty these mock savages, the Oneida assured us, had nothing to learn from their red comrades; and I shall never be able to efface from my mind the memory of what we saw, that very day, in a lonely farm-house on the flats of the Mohawk; nor was it necessary that McCraw should have left his mark on the shattered door—a cock crowing, drawn in outline by a man's forefinger steeped in blood—to enlighten those who might not recognize the ghastly work as his.

We stayed there for three hours to bury the dead, an old man and woman, a young mother, and five children, the youngest an infant not a year old. All had been scalped; even the watch-dog lay dead near the bloody cradle. We dug the shallow graves with difficulty, having nothing to work with save our hunting-knives and some broken dishes which we found in the house; and it was close to noon before we left the lonely flat and pushed forward through miles of stunted willow growth towards the river road which led to Johnstown.

I shall never forget Mount's set face nor Murphy's terrible, vacant stare as we plodded on in absolute silence. Elerson led us on a steady trot hour after hour, till, late in the afternoon, we crossed the river road and wheeled into it exhausted.

The west was all aglow; cleared land and fences lay along the roadside; here and there houses loomed up in the red, evening light, but their inhabitants were gone, and not a sign of life remained about them save for the circling swallows whirling in and out of the blackened chimneys.

So still, so sad this solitude that the sudden chirping of a robin in the evening shadows startled us.

The sun sank behind the forest, turning the river to a bloody red; a fox yapped and yapped from a dark hill-side; the moon's yellow light flashed out through the trees; and, with the coming of the moon, far in the wilderness the owls began and the cries of the night-hawks died away in the sky.

The first human being that we encountered was a miller riding an ancient horse towards a lane which bordered a noisy brook.

When he discovered us he whipped out a pistol and bade us stand where we were; and it took all my persuasion to convince him that we were not renegades from McCraw's band.

We asked for news, but he had none, save that a heavy force of our soldiers was lying by the roadside some two miles below on their way to relieve Fort Stanwix. The General, he believed, was named Arnold, and the troops were Massachusetts men; that was all he knew.

He seemed stupid or perhaps stunned, having lost three sons in a battle somewhere near Bennington, and had that morning received word of his loss. How the battle had gone he did not know; he was on his way up the creek to lock his mill before joining the militia at Johnstown. He was not too old to carry the musket he had carried at Braddock's battle. Besides, his boys were dead, and there was no one in his family except himself to help our Congress fight the red-coats.

We watched him ride off into the darkness, gray head erect, pistol shining in his hand; then moved on, searching the distance for the outpost we knew must presently hail us. And, sure enough, from the shadow of a clump of trees came the smart challenge: "Halt! Who goes there?"

"Officer from Herkimer and scout of three with news for General Schuyler!" I answered.

"Halt, officer with scout! Sergeant of the guard! Post number three!"

Dark figures swarmed in the road ahead; a squad of men came up on the double.

"Advance officer!" rang out the summons; a torch blazed, throwing a red glare around us; a red-faced old officer in brown and scarlet walked up and took the packet of papers which I extended.

"Are you Captain Ormond?" he asked, curiously, glancing at the endorsement on my papers.

I replied that I was, and named Murphy, Elerson, and Mount as my scout.

When the soldiers standing about heard the notorious names of men already famed in ballad and story, they craned their necks to see, as my tired riflemen filed into the lines; and the staff-officer made himself exceedingly agreeable and civil, conducting us to a shelter made of balsam branches, before which a smudge was burning.

"General Arnold has despatches for you, Captain Ormond," he said; "I am Drummond, Brigade Major; we expected you at Varick Manor on the ninth—you wrote to your cousin, Miss Varick, from Oriskany, you know."

A soldier came up with two headquarters lanterns which he hung on the cross-bar of the open-faced hut; another soldier brought bread and cheese, a great apple-pie, a jug of spring water, and a bottle of brandy, with the compliments of Brigadier-General Arnold, and apologies that neither cloth, glasses, nor cutlery were included in the camp baggage.

"We're light infantry with a vengeance, Captain Ormond," said Major Drummond, laughing; "we left at twenty-four hours' notice! Gad, sir! the day before we started the General hadn't a squad under his orders; but when Schuyler called for volunteers, and his brigadiers began to raise hell at the idea of weakening the army to help Stanwix, Arnold came out of his fit of sulks on the jump! 'Who'll follow me to Stanwix?' he bawls; and, by gad, sir, the Massachusetts men fell over each other trying to sign the rolls."

He laughed again, waving my papers in the air and slapping them down on a knapsack.

"You will doubtless wish to hand these to the General yourself," he said, pleasantly. "Pray, sir, do not think of standing on ceremony; I have dined, Captain."

Mount, who had been furtively licking his lips and casting oblique glances at the bread and cheese, fell to at a nod from me. Murphy and Elerson joined him, bolting huge mouthfuls. I ate sparingly, having little appetite left after the sights I had seen in that lonely house on the Mohawk flats.

The gnats swarmed, but the smoke of the green-moss smudge kept them from us in a measure. I asked Major Drummond how soon it might be convenient for General Arnold to receive me, and he sent a young ensign to headquarters, who presently returned saying that General Arnold was making the rounds and would waive ceremony and stop at our post on his return.

"There's a soldier, sir!" said Major Drummond, emphasizing his words with a smart blow of his riding-cane on his polished quarter-boots. "He's had us on a dog-trot since we started; up hill, down dale, across the cursed Sacandaga swamps, through fords chin-high! By gad, sir! allow me to tell you that nothing stopped us! We went through windfalls like partridges; we crossed the hills like a herd o' deer in flight! We ran as though the devil were snapping at our shanks! I'm half dead, thank you—and my shins!—you should see where that razor-boned nag of mine shaved bark enough off the trees with me to start every tannery between the Fish-House and Half-moon!"

The ruddy-faced Major roared at the recital of his own misfortunes. Mount and Murphy looked up with sympathetic grins; Elerson had fallen asleep against the side of the shack, a bit of pie, half gnawed, clutched in his brier-torn fist.

I had a pipe, but no tobacco; the Major filled my pipe, purring contentedly; a soldier, at a sign from him, took Mount and Murphy to the nearest fire, where there was a gill of grog and plenty of tobacco. I roused Elerson, who gaped, bolted his pie with a single mighty effort, and stumbled off after his comrades. Major Drummond squatted down cross-legged before the smudge, lighting his corn-cob pipe from a bit of glowing moss, and leaned back contentedly, crossing his arms behind his head.

"I'm tired, too," he said; "we march again at midnight. If it's no secret, I should like to know what's going on ahead there."

"It's no secret," I said, soberly; "the Senecas and Cayugas are harrying the Oneidas; the renegades are riding the forest, murdering women and infants. St. Leger is firing bombs at Stanwix, and Visscher is holding German Flatts with some Caughnawaga militia."

"And Herkimer?" asked Drummond, gravely.

"Dead," I replied, in a low voice.

"Good gad, sir! I had not heard that!" he exclaimed.

"It is true, Major. The old man died while I was at German Flatts. They say the amputation of his leg was a wretched piece of work.... He died bolt upright in his bed, smoking his pipe, and reading aloud the thirty-eighth Psalm.... His men are wild with grief, they say.... They called him a coward the morning of Oriskany."

After a silence the Major's emotion dimmed his twinkling eyes; he dragged a red bandanna handkerchief from his coat-tails and blew his nose violently.

"All flesh is grass—eh, Captain? And some of it devilish poor grass at that, eh? Well, well; we can't make an army in a day. But, by gad, sir, we've done uncommonly well. You've heard of—but no, you haven't, either. Here's news for you, friend, since you've been in the woods. On the sixth, while you fellows were shooting down some three hundred and fifty of the Mohawks, Royal Greens, and renegades, that sly old wolverine, Marinus Willett, slipped out of the fort, fell on Sir John's camp, and took twenty-one wagon-loads of provisions, blankets, ammunition, and tools; also five British standards and every bit of personal baggage belonging to Sir John Johnson, including his private papers, maps, memoranda, and all orders and instructions for the completed plans of campaign.... Wait, if you please, sir. That is not all.

"On the sixteenth, old John Stark fell upon Baum's and Breyman's Hessians at Bennington, killed and wounded over two hundred, captured seven hundred; took a thousand stand of arms, a thousand fine dragoon sabres, and four excellent field-cannon with limbers, harness, and caissons.... And lost fourteen killed!"

Speechless at the good news, I could only lean across the smudge and shake hands with him while he chuckled and slapped his knee, growing ruddier in the face every moment.

"Where are the red-coats now?" he cried. "Look at 'em! Burgoyne, scared witless, badgered, dogged from pillar to post, his army on the defensive from Still water down to Half-moon; St. Leger, destitute of his camp baggage, caught in his own wolf-pit, flinging a dozen harmless bombs at Stanwix, and frightened half to death at every rumor from Albany; McDonald chased out of the county; Mann captured, and Sir Henry Clinton dawdling in New York and bothering his head over Washington while Burgoyne, in a devil of a plight, sits yonder yelling for help!

"Where's the great invasion, Ormond? Where's the grand advance on the centre? Where's the gigantic triple blow at the heart of this scurvy rebellion? I don't know; do you?"

I shook my head, smilingly; he beamed upon me; we had a swallow of brandy together, and I lay back, deathly tired, to wait for Arnold and my despatches.

"That's right," commented the genial Major, "go to sleep while you can; the General won't take it amiss—eh? What? Oh, don't mind me, my son. Old codgers like me can get along without such luxuries as sleep. It's the young lads who require sleep. Eh? Yes, sir; I'm serious. Wait till you see sixty year! Then you'll understand.... So I'll just sit here, ... and smoke, ... and talk away in a buzz-song, ... and that will fix—"

* * * * *

I looked up with a start; the Major had disappeared. In my eyes a lantern was shining steadily. Then a shadow moved, and I turned and stumbled to my feet, as a cloaked figure stepped into the shelter and stood before me, peering into my eyes.

"I'm Arnold; how d'ye do," came a quick, nervous voice from the depths of the military cloak. "I've a moment to stay here; we march in ten minutes. Is Herkimer dead?"

I described his death in a few words.

"Bad, bad as hell!" he muttered, fingering his sword-hilt and staring off into the darkness. "What's the situation above us? Gansevoort's holding out, isn't he? I sent him a note to-night. Of course he's holding out; isn't he?"

I made a short report of the situation as I knew it; the General looked straight into my eyes as though he were not listening.

"Yes, yes," he said, impatiently. "I know how to deal with St. Leger and Sir John—I wrote Gansevoort that I understood how to deal with them. He has only to sit tight; I'll manage the rest."

His dark, lean, eager visage caught the lantern light as he turned to scan the moonlit sky. "Ten minutes," he muttered; "we should strike German Flatts by sundown to-morrow if our supplies come up." And, aloud, with an abrupt and vigorous gesture, "McCraw's band are scalping the settlers, they say?"

I told him what I had seen. He nodded, then his virile face changed and he gave me a sulky look.

"Captain Ormond," he said, "folk say that I brood over the wrongs done me by Congress. It's a lie; I don't care a damn about Congress—but let it pass. What I wish to say is this: On the second of August the best general in these United States except George Washington was deprived of his command and superseded by a—a—thing named Gates.... I speak of General Philip Schuyler, my friend, and now my fellow-victim."

Shocked and angry at the news of such injustice to the man whose splendid energy had already paralyzed the British invasion of New York, I stiffened up, rigid and speechless.

"Ho!" cried Arnold, with a disagreeable laugh. "It mads you, does it? Well, sir, think of me who have lived to see five men promoted over my head—and I left in the anterooms of Congress to eat my heart out! But let that pass, too. By the eternal God, I'll show them what stuff is in me! Let it pass, Ormond, let it pass."

He began to pace the ground, gnawing his thick lower lip, and if ever the infernal fire darted from human eyes, I saw its baleful flicker then.

With a heave of his chest and a scowl, he controlled his voice, stopping in his nervous walk to face me again.

"Ormond, you've gone up higher—the commission is here." He pulled a packet of papers from his breast-pocket and thrust them at me. "Schuyler did it. He thinks well of you, sir. On the first of August he learned that he was to be superseded. He told Clinton that you deserved a commission for what you did at that Iroquois council-fire. Here it is; you're to raise a regiment of rangers for local defence of the Mohawk district.... I congratulate you, Colonel Ormond."

He offered his bony, nervous hand; I clasped it, dazed and speechless.

"Remember me," he said, eagerly. "Let me count on your voice at the next council of war. You will not regret it, Colonel. Even if you go higher—even if you rise over my luckless head, you will not regret the friendship of Benedict Arnold. For, by Heaven, sir, I have it in me to lead men; and they shall not keep me down, and they shall not fetter me—no, not even this beribboned lap-dog Gates!... Stand my friend, Ormond. I need every friend I have. And I promise you the world shall hear of me one day!"

I shall never forget his worn and shadowy face, the long nose, the strong, selfish chin, the devouring flame burning his soul out through his eyes.

"Luck be with you!" he said, abruptly, extending his hand. Once more that bony, fervid clasp, and he was gone.

A moment later the ground vibrated; a dark, massed column of troops appeared in the moonlight, marching swiftly without drum-tap or spoken command; the dim forms of mounted officers rode past like shadows against the stars; vague shapes of wagons creaked after, rolling on muffled wheels; more troops followed quickly; then the shadowy pageant ended; and there was nothing before me but the moon in the sky above a world of ghostly wilderness.

One camp lantern had been left for my use; by its nickering light I untied the documents left me by Arnold; and, sorting the papers, chose first my orders, reading the formal notice of my transfer from Morgan's Rifles to the militia; then the order detailing me to the Mohawk district, with headquarters at Varick Manor; and, finally, my commission on parchment, signed by Governor Clinton and by Philip Schuyler, Major-General Commanding the Department of the North.

It was, perhaps, the last official act as chief of department of this generous man.

The next letter was in his own handwriting. I broke the heavy seal and read:

"ALBANY,

"August 10, 1777. "Colonel George Ormond"

"MY DEAR YOUNG FRIEND,—As you have perhaps heard rumors that General Gates has superseded me in command of the army now operating against General Burgoyne, I desire to confirm these rumors for your benefit.

"My orders I now take from General Gates, without the slightest rancor, I assure you, or the least unworthy sentiment of envy or chagrin. Congress, in its wisdom, has ordered it; and I count him unspeakably base who shall serve his country the less ardently because of a petty and personal disappointment in ambitions unfulfilled.

"I remain loyal in heart and deed to my country and to General Gates, who may command my poor talents in any manner he sees fitting.

"I say this to you because I am an older man, and I know something of younger men, and I have liked you from the first. I say it particularly because, now that you also owe duty and instant obedience to General Gates, I do not wish your obedience retarded, or your sense of duty confused by any mistaken ideas of friendship to me or loyalty to my person.

"In these times the individual is nothing, the cause everything. Cliques, cabals, political conspiracies are foolish, dangerous—nay, wickedly criminal. For, sir, as long as the world endures, a house divided against itself must fall.

"Which leads me with greatest pleasure to mention your wise and successful diplomacy in the matter of the Long House. That house you have most cleverly divided against itself; and it must fall—it is tottering now, shaken to its foundations of centuries. Also, I have the pleasure to refer to your capture of the man Beacraft and his papers, disclosing a diabolical plan of murder. The man has been condemned by a court on the evidence as it stood, and he is now awaiting execution.

"I have before me Colonel Visscher's partial report of the battle of Oriskany. Your name is not mentioned in this report, but, knowing you as I believe I do, I am satisfied that you did your full duty in that terrible affair; although, in your report to me by Oneida runner, you record the action as though you yourself were a mere spectator.

"I note with pleasure your mention of the gallantry of your riflemen, Mount, Murphy, and Elerson, and have reported it to their company captain, Mr. Long, who will, in turn, bring it to the attention of Colonel Morgan.

"I also note that you have not availed yourself of the war-services of the Oneidas, for which I beg to thank you personally.

"I recall with genuine pleasure my visit to your uncle, Sir Lupus Varick, where I had the fortune to make your acquaintance and, I trust, your friendship.

"Mrs. Schuyler joins me in kindest remembrance to you, and to Sir Lupus, whose courtesy and hospitality I have to-day had the honor to acknowledge by letter. Through your good office we take advantage of this opportunity to send our love to Miss Dorothy, who has won our hearts.

"I am, sir, your most obedient, PHILIP SCHUYLER, Major-General.

"P.S.—I had almost forgotten to congratulate you on your merited advancement in military rank, for which you may thank our wise and good Governor Clinton.

"I shall not pretend to offer you unasked advice upon this happy occasion, though it is an old man's temptation to do so, perhaps even his prerogative. However, there are younger colonels than you, sir, in our service—ay, and brigadiers, too. So be humble, and lay not this honor with too much unction to your heart. Your friend,

"PH. SCHUYLER."

I sat for a while staring at this good man's letter, then opened the next missive.

"HEADQUARTERS, DEPARTMENT OF THE NORTH, STILLWATER, August 12, 1777.

"Colonel George Ormond, on Scout:

"SIR,—By order of Major-General Gates, commanding this department, you will, upon reception of this order, instantly repair to Varick Manor and report your arrival by express or a native runner to be trusted, preferably an Oneida. At nine o'clock, the day following your arrival at Varicks', you will leave on your journey to Stillwater, where you will report to General Gates for further orders.

"Your small experience in military matters of organization renders it most necessary that you should be aided in the formation of your regiment of rangers by a detail from Colonel Morgan's Rifles, as well as by the advice of General Gates.

"You will, therefore, retain the riflemen composing your scout, but attempt nothing towards enlisting your companies until you receive your instructions personally and in full from headquarters.

"I am, sir,

"Your very obedient servant,

"WILKINSON, Adjutant-General. "For Major-General Gates, commanding."

"Why, in Heaven's name, should I lose time by journeying to headquarters?" I said, aloud, looking up from my letter. Ah! There was the difference between Schuyler, who picked his man, told him what he desired, and left him to fulfil it, and Gates, who chose a man, flung his inexperience into his face, and bade him twirl his thumbs and sit idle until headquarters could teach him how to do what he had been chosen to do, presumably upon his ability to do it!

A helpless sensation of paralysis came over me—a restless, confused impression of my possible untrustworthiness, and of unfriendliness to me in high quarters, even of a thinly veiled hostility to me.

What a letter! That was not the way to get work out of a subordinate—this patronizing of possible energy and enthusiasm, this cold dampening of ardor, as though ardor in itself were a reproach and zeal required reproof.

Wondering why they had chosen me if they thought me a blundering and, perhaps, mischievous zealot, I picked up a parcel, undirected, and broke the string.

Out of it fell two letters. The writing was my cousin Dorothy's; and, trembling all over in spite of myself, I broke the seal of the first. It was undated:

"DEAREST,—Your letter from Oriskany is before me. I am here in your room, the door locked, alone with your letter, overwhelmed with love and tenderness and fear for you.

"They tell me that you have been made colonel of a regiment, and the honor thrills yet saddens me—all those colonels killed at Oriskany! Is it a post of special danger, dear?

"Oh, my brave, splendid lover! with your quiet, steady eyes and your bright hair—you angel on earth who found me a child and left me an adoring woman—can it be that in this world there is such a thing as death for you? And could the world last without you?

* * * * *

"Ah me! dreary me! the love that is in me! Who could believe it? Who could doubt that it is divine and not inspired by hell as I once feared; it is so beautiful, so hopelessly beautiful, like that faint thrill of splendor that passes shadowing a dream where, for an instant, we think to see a tiny corner of heaven sparkling out through a million fathoms of terrific night.... Did you ever dream that?

* * * * *

"We have been gay here. Young Mr. Van Rensselaer came from Albany to heal the breach with father. We danced and had games. He is a good young man, this patroon and patriot. Listen, dear: he permitted all his tenants to join the army of Gates, cancelled their rent-rolls during their service, and promised to provide for their families. It will take a fortune, but his deeds are better than his words.

"Only one thing, dear, that troubled me. I tell it to you, as I tell you everything, knowing you to be kind and pitiful. It is this: he asked father's permission to address me, not knowing I was affianced. How sad is hopeless love!

"There was a battle at Bennington, where General Stark's men whipped the Brunswick troops and took equipments for a thousand cavalry, so that now you should see our Legion of Horse, so gay in their buff-and-blue and their new helmets and great, spurred jack-boots and bright sabres!

"Ruyven was stark mad to join them; and what do you think? Sir Lupus consented, and General Schuyler lent his kind offices, and to-day, if you please, my brother is strutting about the yard in the uniform of a Cornet of Legion cavalry!

"To-night the squadron leaves to chase some of McDonald's renegades out of Broadalbin. You remember Captain McDonald, the Glencoe brawler?—it's the same one, and he's done murder, they say, on the folk of Tribes Hill. I am thankful that Ruyven is in Sir George Covert's squadron.

"And, dear, what do you think? Walter Butler was taken, three days since, by some of Sir George Covert's riders, while visiting his mother and sister at a farm-house near Johnstown. He was taken within our lines, it seems, and in civilian's clothes; and the next day he was tried by a drum-court at Albany and condemned to death as a spy. Is it not awful? He has not yet been sentenced. It touches us, too, that an Ormond-Butler should die on the gallows. What horrors men commit! What horrors! God pity his mother!

* * * * *

"I am writing at a breathless pace, quill flying, sand scattered by the handful—for my feverish gossip seems to help me to endure.

"Time, space, distance vanish while I write; and I am with you ... until my letter ends.

"Then, quick! my budget of gossip! I said that we had been gay, and that is true, for what with the Legion camping in our quarters and General Arnold's men here for two days, and Schuyler's and Gates's officers coming and going and always remaining to dine, at least, we have danced and picnicked and played music and been frightened when McDonald's men came too near. And oh, the terrible pall that fell on our company when news came of poor Janet McCrea's murder by Indians—you did not know her, but I did, and loved her dearly in school—the dear little thing! But Burgoyne's Indians murdered her, and a fiend called The Wyandot Panther scalped her, they say—all that beautiful, silky, long hair! But Burgoyne did not hang him, Heaven only knows why, for they said Burgoyne was a gentleman and an honorable soldier!

"Then our company forgot the tragedy, and we danced—think of it, dear! How quickly things are forgotten! Then came the terrible news from Oriskany! I was nearly dead with fright until your letter arrived.... So, God help us I we danced and laughed and chattered once more when Arnold's troops came.

"I did not quite share the admiration of the women for General Arnold. He is not finely fibred; not a man who appeals to me; though I am very sorry for the slight that the Congress has put upon him; and it is easy to see that he is a brave and dashing officer, even if a trifle coarse in the grain and inclined to be a little showy. What I liked best about him was his deep admiration and friendship for our dear General Schuyler, which does him honor, and doubly so because General Schuyler has few friends in politics, and Arnold was perfectly fearless in showing his respect and friendship for a man who could do him no favors.

* * * * *

"Dear, a strange and amusing thing has happened. A few score of friendly Oneidas and lukewarm Onondagas came here to pay their respects to Magdalen Brant, who, they heard, was living at our house.

"Magdalen received them; she is a sweet girl and very good to her wild kin; and so father permitted them to camp in the empty house in the sugar-bush, and sent them food and tobacco and enough rum to please them without starting them war-dancing.

"Now listen. You have heard me tell of the Stonish Giants—those legendary men of stone whom the Iroquois, Hurons, Algonquins, and Lenape stood in such dread of two hundred years ago, and whom our historians believe to have been some lost company of Spaniards in armor, strayed northward from Cortez's army.

"Well, then, this is what occurred:

"They were all at me to put on that armor which hangs in the hall—the same suit which belonged to the first Maid-at-Arms, and which she is painted in, and which I wore that last memorable night—you remember.

"So, to please them, I dressed in it—helmet and all—and came down. Sir George Covert's horse stood at the stockade gate, and somebody—I think it was General Arnold—dared me to ride it in my armor.

"Well, ... I did. Then a mad desire for a gallop seized me—had not mounted a horse since that last ride with you—and I set spurs to the poor beast, who was already dancing under the unaccustomed burden, and away we tore.

"My conscience! what a ride that was! and the clang of my armor set the poor horse frantic till I could scarce govern him.

"Then the absurd happened. I wheeled the horse into the pasture, meaning to let him tire himself, for he was really running away with me; when, all at once, I saw a hundred terror-stricken savages rush out of the sugar-house, stand staring a second, then take to their legs with most doleful cries and hoots and piteous howls.

"'Oonah! The Stonish Giants have returned! Oonah! Oonah! The Giants of Stone!'

"My vizor was down and locked. I called out to them in Delaware, but at the sound of my voice they ran the faster—five score frantic barbarians! And, dear, if they have stopped running yet I do not know it, for they never came back.

"But the most absurd part of it all is that the Onondagas, who are none too friendly with us, though they pretend to be, have told the Cayugas that the Stonish Giants have returned to earth from Biskoona, which is hell. And I doubt not that the dreadful news will spread all through the Six Nations, with, perhaps, some astonishing results to us. For scouts have already come in, reporting trouble between General Burgoyne and his Wyandots, who declare they have had enough of the war and did not enlist to fight the Stonish Giants—which excuse is doubtless meaningless to him.

"And other scouts from the northwest say that St. Leger can scarce hold the Senecas to the siege of Stanwix because of their great loss at Oriskany, which they are inclined to attribute to spells cast by their enemies, who enjoy the protection of the Stonish Giants.

"Is it not all mad enough for a child's dream?

"Ay, life and love are dreams, dear, and a mad world spins them out of nothing.... Forgive me ... I have been sewing on my wedding-gown again. And it is nigh finished.

"Good-night. I love you. D."

Blindly I groped for the remaining letter and tore the seal.

"Sir George has just had news of you from an Oneida who says you may be here at any moment! And I, O God I terrified at my own mad happiness, fearing myself in that meeting, begged him to wed me on the morrow. I was insane, I think, crazed with fear, knowing that, were I not forever beyond you, I must give myself to you and abide in hell for all eternity!

"And he was astonished, I think, but kind, as he always is; and now the dreadful knowledge has come to me that for me there is no refuge, no safety in marriage which I, poor fool, fled to for sanctuary lest I do murder on my own soul!

"What shall I do? What can I do? I have given my word to wed him on the morrow. If it be mortal sin to show ingratitude to a father and deceive a lover, what would it be to deceive a husband and disgrace a father?

"And I, silly innocent, never dreamed but that temptation ceased within the holy bonds of wedlock—though sadness might endure forever.

"And now I know! In the imminent and instant presence of my marriage I know that I shall love you none the less, shall tempt and be tempted none the less. And, in this resistless, eternal love, I may fall, dragging you down with me to our endless punishment.

"It was not the fear of punishment that kept me true to my vows before; it was something within me, I don't know what.

"But, if I were wedded with him, it would be fear of punishment alone that could save me—not terror of flames; I could endure them with you, but the new knowledge that has come to me that my punishment would be the one thing I could not endure—eternity without you!

"Neither in heaven nor in hell may I have you. Is there no way, my beloved? Is there no place for us?

* * * * *

"I have been to the porch to tell Sir George that I must postpone the wedding. I did not tell him. He was standing with Magdalen Brant, and she was crying. I did not know she had received bad news. She said the news was bad. Perhaps Sir George can help her.

"I will tell him later that the wedding must be postponed.... I don't know why, either. I cannot think. I can scarcely see to write. Oh, help me once more, my darling! Do not come to Varicks'! That is all I desire on earth! For we must never, never, see each other again!"

* * * * *

Stunned, I reeled to my feet and stumbled out into the moonlight, staring across the misty wilderness into the east, where, beyond the forests, somewhere, she lay, perhaps a bride.

A deathly chill struck through and through me. To a free man, with one shred of pity, honor, unselfish love, that appeal must be answered. And he were the basest man in all the world who should ignore it and show his face at Varick Manor—were he free to choose.

But I was not free; I was a military servant, pledged under solemn oath and before God to obedience—instant, unquestioning, unfaltering obedience.

And in my trembling hand I held my written orders to report at Varick Manor.



XX

COCK-CROW

At dawn we left the road and struck the Oneida trail north of the river, following it swiftly, bearing a little north of east until, towards noon, we came into the wagon-road which runs over the Mayfield hills and down through the outlying bush farms of Mayfield and Kingsborough.

Many of the houses were deserted, but not all; here and there smoke curled from the chimney of some lonely farm; and across the stump pasture we could see a woman laboring in the sun-scorched fields and a man, rifle in hand, standing guard on a vantage-point which overlooked his land.

Fences and gates became more frequent, crossing the rough road every mile or two, so that we were constantly letting down and replacing cattle-bars, unpinning rude gates, or climbing over snake fences of split rails.

Once we came to a cross-roads where the fence had been demolished and a warning painted on a rough pine board above a wayside watering-trough.

"WARNING!

All farmers and townsfolk are hereby requested and ordered to remove gates, stiles, cow-bars, and fences, which includes all obstructions to the public highway, in order that the cavalry may pass without difficulty. Any person found felling trees across this road, or otherwise impeding the operations of cavalry by building brush, stump, rail, or stone fences across this road, will be arrested and tried before a court on charge of aiding and giving comfort to the enemy. G. COVERT,

"Captain Commanding Legion."

Either this order did not apply to the cross-road which we now filed into, or the owners of adjacent lands paid no heed to it; for presently, a few rods ahead of us, we saw a snake fence barring the road and a man with a pack on his back in the act of climbing over it.

He was going in the same direction that we were, and seemed to be a fur-trader laden with packets of peltry.

I said this to Murphy, who laughed and looked at Mount.

"Who carries pelts to Quebec in August?" asked Elerson, grinning.

"There's the skin of a wolverine dangling from his pack," I said, in a low voice.

Murphy touched Mount's arm, and they halted until the man ahead had rounded a turn in the road; then they sprang forward, creeping swiftly to the shelter of the undergrowth at the bend of the road, while Elerson and I followed at an easy pace.

"What is it?" I asked, as we rejoined them where they were kneeling, looking after the figure ahead.

"Nothing, sir; we only want to see them pelts, Tim and me."

"Do you know the man?" I demanded.

Murphy gazed musingly at Mount through narrowed eyes. Mount, in a brown study, stared back.

"Phwere th' divil have I seen him, I dunnoa!" muttered Murphy. "Jack, 'tis wan mush-rat looks like th' next, an' all thrappers has the same cut to them! Yonder's no thrapper!"

"Nor peddler," added Mount; "the strap of the Delaware baskets never bowed his legs."

"Thrue, avick! Wisha, lad, 'tis horses he knows better than snow-shoes, bed-plates, an' thrip-sticks! An' I've seen him, I think!"

"Where?" I asked.

He shook his head, vacantly staring. Moved by the same impulse, we all started forward; the man was not far ahead, but our moccasins made no noise in the dust and we closed up swiftly on him and were at his elbow before he heard us.

Under the heavy sunburn the color faded in his cheeks when he saw us. I noted it, but that was nothing strange considering the perilous conditions of the country and the sudden shock of our appearance.

"Good-day, friend," cried Mount, cheerily.

"Good-day, friends," he replied, stammering as though for lack of breath.

"God save our country, friend," added Elerson, gravely.

"God save our country, friends," repeated the man.

So far, so good. The man, a thick, stocky, heavy-eyed fellow, moistened his broad lips with his tongue, peered furtively at me, and instantly dropped his eyes. At the same instant memory stirred within me; a vague recollection of those heavy, black eyes, of that broad, bow-legged figure set me pondering.

"Me fri'nd," purred Murphy, persuasively, "is th' Frinch thrappers balin' August peltry f'r to sell in Canady?"

"I've a few late pelts from the lakes," muttered the man, without looking up.

"Domned late," cried Murphy, gayly. "Sure they do say, if ye dhraw a summer mink an' turrn th' pelt inside out like a glove, the winther fur will sprout inside—wid fashtin' an' prayer."

The man bent his eyes obstinately on the ground; instead of smiling he had paled.

"Have you the skin of a wampum bird in that bale?" asked Mount, pleasantly.

Elerson struck the pack with the flat of his hand; the mangy wolverine pelt crackled.

"Green hides! Green hides!" laughed Mount, sarcastically. "Come, my friend, we're your customers. Down with your bales and I'll buy."

Murphy had laid a heavy hand on the man's shoulder, halting him short in his tracks; Elerson, rifle cradled in the hollow of his left arm, poked his forefinger into the bales, then sniffed at the aperture.

"There are green hides there!" he exclaimed, stepping back. "Jack, slip that pack off!"

The man started forward, crying out that he had no time to waste, but Murphy jerked him back by the collar and Elerson seized his right arm.

"Wait!" I said, sharply. "You cannot stop a man like this on the highway!"

"You don't know us, sir," replied Mount, impudently.

"Come, Colonel Ormond," added Elerson, almost savagely. "You're our captain no longer. Give way, sir. Answer for your own men, and we'll answer to Danny Morgan!"

Mount, struggling to unfasten the pack, looked over his huge shoulders at me.

"Not that we're not fond of you, sir; but we know this old fox now—"

"You lie!" shrieked the man, hurling his full weight at Murphy and tearing his right arm free from Elerson's grip.

There came a flash, an explosion; through a cloud of smoke I saw the fellow's right arm stretched straight up in the air, his hand clutching a smoking pistol, and Elerson holding the arm rigid in a grip of steel.



Instantly Mount tripped the man flat on his face in the dust, and Murphy jerked his arms behind his back, tying them fast at the wrists with a cord which Elerson cut from the pack and flung to him.

"Rip up thim bales, Jack!" said Murphy. "Yell find them full o' powther an' ball an' cutlery, sorr, or I'm a liar!" he added to me. "This limb o' Lucifer is wan o' Francy McCraw's renegados!—Danny Redstock, sorr, th' tirror av the Sacandaga!"

Redstock! I had seen him at Broadalbin that evening in May, threatening the angry settlers with his rifle, when Dorothy and the Brandt-Meester and I had ridden over with news of smoke in the hills.

Murphy tied the prostrate man's legs, pulled him across the dusty road to the bushes, and laid him on his back under a great maple-tree.

Mount, knife in hand, ripped up the bales of crackling peltry, and Elerson delved in among the skins, flinging them right and left in his impatient search.

"There's no powder here," he exclaimed, rising to his knees on the road and staring at Mount; "nothing but badly cured beaver and mangy musk-rat."

"Well, he baled 'em to conceal something!" insisted Mount. "No man packs in this moth-eaten stuff for love of labor. What's that parcel in the bottom?"

"Not powder," replied Elerson, tossing it out, where it rebounded, crackling.

"Squirrel pelts," nodded Mount, as I picked up the packet and looked at the sealed cords. The parcel was addressed: "General Barry St. Leger, in camp before Stanwix." I sat down on the grass and began to open it, when a groan from the prostrate prisoner startled me. He had struggled to a sitting posture, and was facing me, eyes bulging from their sockets. Every vestige of color had left his visage.

"For God's sake don't open that!" he gasped—"there is naught there, sir—"

"Silence!" roared Mount, glaring at him, while Murphy and Elerson, dropping their armfuls of pelts, came across the road to the bank where I sat.

"I will not be silent!" screamed the man, rocking to and fro on the ground. "I did not do that!—I know nothing of what that packet holds! A Mohawk runner gave it to me—I mean that I found it on the trail—"

The riflemen stared at him in contempt while I cut the strings of the parcel and unrolled the bolt of heavy miller's cloth.

At first I did not comprehend what all that mass of fluffy hair could be. A deep gasp from Mount enlightened me, and I dropped the packet in a revulsion of horror indescribable. For the parcel was fairly bursting with tightly packed scalps.

In the deathly silence I heard Redstock's hoarse breathing. Mount knelt down and gently lifted a heavy mass of dark, silky hair.

At last Elerson broke the silence, speaking in a strangely gentle and monotonous voice.

"I think this hair was Janet McCrea's. I saw her many times at Half-moon. No maid in Tryon County had hair like hers."

Shuddering, Mount lifted a long braid of dark-brown hair fastened to a hoop painted blue. And Elerson, in that strange monotone, continued speaking:

"The hair on this scalp is braided to show that the woman was a mother; the skin stretched on a blue hoop confirms it.

"The murderer has painted the skin yellow with red dots to represent tears shed for the dead by her family. There is a death-maul painted below in black; it shows how she was killed."

He laid the scalp back very carefully. Under the mass of hair a bit of paper stuck out, and I drew it from the dreadful packet. It was a sealed letter directed to General St. Leger, and I opened and read the contents aloud in the midst of a terrible silence.

"SACANDAGA VLAIE, August 17, 1777

"General Barry St. Leger

"SIR,—I send you under care of Daniel Redstock the first packet of scalps, cured, dried, hooped, and painted; four dozen in all, at twenty dollars a dozen, which will be eighty dollars. This you will please pay to Daniel Redstock, as I need money for tobacco and rum for the men and the Senecas who are with me.

"Return invoice with payment acquitted by the bearer, who will know where to find me. Below I have prepared a true invoice. Your very humble servant,

"F. MCCRAW.

"Invoice.

(6) Six scalps of farmers, green hoops to show they were killed in their fields; a large white circle for the sun, showing it was day; black bullet mark on three; hatchet on two.

(2) Two of settlers, surprised and killed in their houses or barns; hoops red; white circle for the sun; a little red foot to show they died fighting. Both marked with bullet symbol.

(4) Four of settlers. Two marked by little yellow flames to show how they died. (My Senecas have had no prisoners for burning since August third.) One a rebel clergyman, his band tied to the scalp-hoop, and a little red foot under a red cross painted on the skin. (He killed two of my men before we got him.) One, a poor scalp, the hair gray and thin; the hoop painted brown. (An old man whom we found in bed in a rebel house.)

(12) Twelve of militia soldiers; stretched on black hoops four inches in diameter, inside skin painted red; a black circle showing they were outposts surprised at night; hatchet as usual.

(12) Twelve of women; one unbraided—a very fine scalp (bought of a Wyandot from Burgoyne's army), which I paid full price for; nine braided, hoops blue, red tear-marks; two very gray; black hoops, plain brown color inside; death-maul marked in red.

(6) Six of boys' scalps; small green hoops; red tears; symbols in black of castete, knife, and bullet.

(5) Five of girls' scalps; small yellow hoops. Marked with the Seneca symbol to whom they were delivered before scalping.

(l) One box of birch-bark containing an infant's scalp; very little hair, but well dried and cured. (I must ask full price for this.)

48 scalps assorted, @ 20 dollars a dozen..............80 dollars.

"Received payment, F. McCRAW."

The ghastly face of the prisoner turned livid, and he shrieked as Mount caught him by the collar and dragged him to his feet.

"Jack," I said, hoarsely, "the law sends that man before a court."

"Court be damned!" growled Mount, as Elerson uncoiled the pack-rope, flung one end over a maple limb above, and tied a running noose on the other end.

Murphy crowded past me to seize the prisoner, but I caught him by the arm and pushed him aside.

"Men!" I said, angrily; "I don't care whose command you are under. I'm an officer, and you'll listen to me and obey me with respect. Murphy!"

The Irishman gave me a savage stare.

"By God!" I cried, cocking my rifle, "if one of you dares disobey, I'll shoot him where he stands! Murphy! Stand aside! Mount, bring that prisoner here!"

There was a pause; then Murphy touched his cap and stepped back quietly, nodding to Mount, who shuffled forward, pushing the prisoner and darting a venomous glance at me.

"Redstock," I said, "where is McCraw?"

A torrent of filthy abuse poured out of the prisoner's writhing mouth. He cursed us, threatening us with a terrible revenge from McCraw if we harmed a hair of his head.

Astonished, I saw that he had mistaken my attitude for one of fear. I strove to question him, but he insolently refused all information. My men ground their teeth with impatience, and I saw that I could control them no longer.

So I gave what color I could to the lawless act of justice, partly to save my waning authority, partly to save them the consequences of executing a prisoner who might give valuable information to the authorities in Albany.

I ordered Elerson to hold the prisoner and adjust the noose; Murphy and Mount to the rope's end. Then I said: "Prisoner, this field-court finds you guilty of murder and orders your execution. Have you anything to say before sentence is carried out?"

The wretch did not believe we were in earnest. I nodded to Elerson, who drew the noose tight; the prisoner's knees gave way, and he screamed; but Mount and Murphy jerked him up, and the rope strangled the screech in his throat.

Sickened, I bent my head, striving to count the seconds as he hung twisting and quivering under the maple limb.

Would he never die? Would those spasms never end?

"Shtep back, sorr, if ye plaze, sorr," said Murphy, gently. "Sure, sorr, ye're as white as a sheet. Walk away quiet-like; ye're not used to such things, sorr."

I was not, indeed; I had never seen a man done to death in cold blood. Yet I fought off the sickening faintness that clutched at my heart; and at last the dangling thing hung limp and relaxed, turning slowly round and round in mid-air.

Mount nodded to Murphy and fell to digging with a sharpened stick. Elerson quietly lighted his pipe and aided him, while Murphy shaved off a white square of bark on the maple-tree under the slow-turning body, and I wrote with the juice of an elderberry:

"Daniel Redstock, a child murderer, executed by American Riflemen for his crimes, under order of George Ormond, Colonel of Rangers, August 19, 1777. Renegades and Outlaws take warning!"

When Mount and Elerson had finished the shallow grave, they laid the scalps of the murdered in the hole, stamped down the earth, and covered it with sticks and branches lest a prowling outlaw or Seneca disinter the remains and reap a ghastly reward for their redemption from General the Hon. Barry St. Leger, Commander of the British, Hessians, Loyal Colonials, and Indians, in camp before Fort Stanwix.

As we left that dreadful spot, and before I could interfere to prevent them, the three riflemen emptied their pieces into the swinging corpse—a useless, foolish, and savage performance, and I said so sharply.

They were very docile and contrite and obedient now, explaining that it was a customary safeguard, as hanged men had been revived more than once—a flimsy excuse, indeed!

"Very well," I said; "your shots may draw McCraw's whole force down on us. But doubtless you know much more than your officers—like the militia at Oriskany."

The reproof struck home; Mount muttered his apology; Murphy offered to carry my rifle if I was fatigued.

"It was thoughtless, I admit that," said Elerson, looking backward, uneasily. "But we're close to the patroon's boundary."

"We're within bounds now," said Mount. "Fonda's Bush lies over there to the southeast, and the Vlaie is yonder below the mountain-notch. This wagon-track runs into the Fish-House road."

"How far are we from the manor?" I asked.

"About two miles and a half, sir," replied Mount. "Doubtless some of Sir George Covert's horsemen heard our shots, and we'll meet 'em cantering out to investigate."

I had not imagined we were as near as that. A painful thrill passed through me; my heart leaped, beating feverishly in my breast.

Minute after minute dragged as we filed swiftly onward, mechanically treading in each other's tracks. I strove to consider, to think, to picture the sad, strange home-coming—to see her as she would stand, stunned, astounded that I had ignored her appeal to help her by my absence.

I could not think; my thoughts were chaos; my brain throbbed heavily; I fixed my hot eyes on the road and strode onward, numbed, seeing, hearing nothing.

And, of a sudden, a shout rang out ahead; horsemen in line across the road, rifles on thigh, moved forward towards us; an officer reversed his sword, drove it whizzing into the scabbard, and spurred forward, followed by a trooper, helmet flashing in the sun.

"Ormond!" cried the officer, flinging himself from his horse and holding out both white-gloved hands.

"Sir George, ... I am glad to see you.... I am very—happy," I stammered, taking his hands.

"Cousin Ormond!" came a timid voice behind me.

I turned; Ruyven, in full uniform of a cornet, flung himself into my arms.

I could scarce see him for the mist in my eyes; I pressed the boy close to my breast and kissed him on both cheeks.

Utterly unable to speak, I sat down on a log, holding Sir George's gloved hand, my arm on Ruyven's laced shoulder. An immense fatigue came over me; I had not before realized the pace we had kept up for these two months nor the strain I had been under.

"Singleton!" called out Sir George, "take the men to the barracks; take my horse, too—I'll walk back. And, Singleton, just have your men take these fine fellows up behind"—with a gesture towards the riflemen. "And see that they lack for nothing in quarters!"

Grinning sheepishly, the riflemen climbed up behind the troopers assigned them; the troop cantered off, and Sir George pointed to Ruyven's horse, indicating that it was for me when I was rested.

"We heard shots," he said; "I mistrusted it might be a salute from you, but came ready for anything, you see—Lord! How thin you've grown, Ormond!"

"I'm cornet, cousin!" burst out Ruyven, hugging me again in his excitement. "I charged with the squadron when we scattered McDonald's outlaws! A man let drive at me—"

"Oh, come, come," laughed Sir George, "Colonel Ormond has had more bullets driven at him than our Legion pouches in their bullet-bags!"

"A man let drive at me!" breathed Ruyven, in rapture. "I was not hit, cousin! A man let drive at me, and I heard the bullet!"

"Nonsense!" said Sir George, mischievously; "you heard a bumble-bee!"

"He always says that," retorted Ruyven, looking at me. "I know it was a bullet, for it went zo-o-zip-tsing-g! right past my ear; and Sergeant West shouted, 'Cut him down, sir!' ... But another trooper did that. However, I rode like the devil!"

"Which way?" inquired Sir George, in pretended anxiety. And we all laughed.

"It's good to see you back all safe and sound," said Sir George, warmly. "Sir Lupus will be delighted and the children half crazed. You should hear them talk of their hero!"

"Dorothy will be glad, too," said Ruyven. "You'll be in time for the wedding."

I strove to smile, facing Sir George with an effort. His face, in the full sunlight, seemed haggard and careworn, and the light had died out in his eyes.

"For the wedding," he repeated. "We are to be wedded to-morrow. You did not know that, did you?"

"Yes; I did know it. Dorothy wrote me," I said. A numbed feeling crept over me; I scarce heard the words I uttered when I wished him happiness. He held my proffered hand a second, then dropped it listlessly, thanking me for my good wishes in a low voice.

There was a vague, troubled expression in his eyes, a strange lack of feeling. The thought came to me like a stab that perhaps he had learned that the woman he was to wed did not love him.

"Did Dorothy expect me?" I asked, miserably.

"I think not," said Sir George.

"She believed you meant to follow Arnold to Stanwix," broke in Ruyven. "I should have done it! I regard General Arnold as the most magnificent soldier of the age!" he added.

"I was ordered to Varick Manor," I said, looking at Sir George. "Otherwise I might have followed Arnold. As it is I cannot stay for the wedding; I must report at Stillwater, leaving by nine o'clock in the morning."

"Lord, Ormond, what a fire-eater you have become!" he said, smiling from his abstraction. "Are you ready to mount Ruyven's nag and come home to a good bed and a glass of something neat?"

"Let Ruyven ride," I said; "I need the walk, Sir George."

"Need the walk!" he exclaimed. "Have you not had walks enough?—and your moccasins and buckskins in rags!"

But I could not endure to ride; a nerve-racking restlessness was on me, a desire for movement, for utter exhaustion, so that I could no longer have even strength to think.

Ruyven, protesting, climbed into his dragoon-saddle; Sir George walked beside him and I with Sir George.

Long, soft August lights lay across the leafy road; the blackberries were in heavy fruit; scarlet thimble-berries, over-ripe, dropped from their pithy cones as we brushed the sprays with our sleeves.

Sir George was saying: "No, we have nothing more to fear from McDonald's gang, but a scout came in, three days since, bringing word of McCraw's outlaws who have appeared in the west—"

He stopped abruptly, listening to a sound that I also heard; the sudden drumming of unshod hoofs on the road behind us.

"What the devil—" he began, then cocked his rifle; I threw up mine; a shrill cock-crow rang out above the noise of tramping horses; a galloping mass of horsemen burst into view behind us, coming like an avalanche.

"McCraw!" shouted Sir George. Ruyven fired from his saddle; Sir George's rifle and mine exploded together; a horse and rider went down with a crash, but the others came straight on, and the cock-crow rang out triumphantly above the roar of the rushing horses.

"Ruyven!" I shouted, "ride for your life!"

"I won't!" he cried, furiously; but I seized his bridle, swung his frightened horse, and struck the animal across the buttocks with clubbed rifle. Away tore the maddened beast, almost unseating his rider, who lost both stirrups at the first frantic bound and clung helplessly to his saddle-pommel while the horse carried him away like the wind.

Then I sprang into the ozier thicket, Sir George at my side, and ran a little way; but they caught us, even before we reached the timber, and threw us to the ground, tying us up like basted capons with straps from their saddles. Maltreated, struck, kicked, mauled, and dragged out to the road, I looked for instant death; but a lank creature flung me across his saddle, face downward, and, in a second, the whole band had mounted, wheeled about, and were galloping westward, ventre a terre.

Almost dead from the saddle-pommel which knocked the breath from my body, suffocated and strangled with dust, I hung dangling there in a storm of flying sticks and pebbles. Twice consciousness fled, only to return with the blood pounding in my ears. A third time my senses left me, and when they returned I lay in a cleared space in the woods beside Sir George, the sun shining full in my face, flung on the ground near a fire, over which a kettle was boiling. And on every side of us moved McCraw's riders, feeding their horses, smoking, laughing, playing at cards, or coming up to sniff the camp-kettle and poke the boiling meat with pointed sticks.

Behind them, squatted in rows, sat two dozen Indians, watching us in ferocious silence.



XXI

THE CRISIS

For a while I lay there stupefied, limp-limbed, lifeless, closing my aching eyes under the glittering red rays of the westering sun.

My parched throat throbbed and throbbed; I could scarcely stir, even to close my swollen hands where they had tied my wrists, although somebody had cut the cords that bound me.

"Sir George," I said, in a low voice.

"Yes, I am here," he replied, instantly.

"Are you hurt?"

"No, Ormond. Are you?"

"No; very tired; that is all."

I rolled over; my head reeled and I held it in my benumbed hands, looking at Sir George, who lay on his side, cheek pillowed on his arms.

"This is a miserable end of it all," he said, with calm bitterness. "But that it involves you, I should not dare blame fortune for the fool I acted. I have my deserts; but it's cruel for you."

The sickening whirling in my head became unendurable. I lay down, facing him, eyes closed.

"It was not your fault," I said, dully.

"There is no profit in discussing that," he muttered. "They took us alive instead of scalping us; while there's life there's hope, ... a little hope.... But I'd sooner they'd finish me here than rot in their stinking prison-ships.... Ormond, are you awake?"

"Yes, Sir George."

"If they—if the Indians get us, and—and begin their—you know—"

"Yes; I know."

"If they begin ... that ... insult them, taunt them, sneer at them, laugh at them!—yes, laugh at them! Do anything to enrage them, so they'll—they'll finish quickly.... Do you understand?"

"Yes," I muttered; and my voice sounded miles away.

He lay brooding for a while; when I opened my eyes he broke out fretfully: "How was I to dream that McCraw could be so near!—that he dared raid us within a mile of the house! Oh, I could die of shame, Ormond! die of shame!... But I won't die that way; oh no," he added, with a frightful smile that left his face distorted and white.

He raised himself on one elbow.

"Ormond," he said, staring at vacancy, "what trivial matters a man thinks of in the shadow of death. I can't consider it; I can't be reconciled to it; I can't even pray. One absurd idea possesses me—that Singleton will have the Legion now; and he's a slack drill-master—he is, indeed!... I've a million things to think of—an idle life to consider, a misspent career to repent, but the time is too short, Ormond.... Perhaps all that will come at the instant of—of—"

"Death," I said, wearily.

"Yes, yes; that's it, death. I'm no coward; I'm calm enough—but I'm stunned. I can't think for the suddenness of it!... And you just home; and Ruyven there, snuggled close to you as a house-cat—and then that sound of galloping, like a fly-stung herd of cattle in a pasture!"

"I think Ruyven is safe," I said, closing my eyes.

"Yes, he's safe. Nobody chased him; they'll know at the manor by this time; they knew long ago.... My men will be out.... Where are we, Ormond?"

"I don't know," I murmured, drowsily. The months of fatigue, the unbroken strain, the feverish weeks spent in endless trails, the constant craving for movement to occupy my thoughts, the sleepless nights which were the more unendurable because physical exhaustion could not give me peace or rest, now told on me. I drowsed in the very presence of death; and the stupor settled heavily, bringing, for the first time since I left Varick Manor, rest and immunity from despair or even desire.

I cared for nothing: hope of her was dead; hope of life might die and I was acquiescent, contented, glad of the end. I had endured too much.

My sleep—or unconsciousness—could not have lasted long; the sun was not yet level with my eyes when I roused to find Sir George tugging at my sleeve and a man in a soiled and tarnished scarlet uniform standing over me.

But that brief respite from the strain had revived me; a bucket of cold water stood near the fire, and I thrust my burning face into it, drinking my fill, while the renegade in scarlet bawled at me and fumed and cursed, demanding my attention to what he was saying.

"You damned impudent rebel!" he yelled; "am I to stand around here awaiting your pleasure while you swill your skin full?"

I wiped my lips with my torn hands, and got to my feet painfully, a trifle dizzy for a moment, but perfectly able to stand and to comprehend.

"I'm asking you," he snarled, "why we can't send a flag to your people without their firing on it?"

"I don't know what you mean," I said.

"I do," said Sir George, blandly.

"Oh, you do, eh?" growled the renegade, turning on him with a scowl. "Then tell me why our flag of truce is not respected, if you can."

"Nobody respects a flag from outlaws," said Sir George, coolly.

The fellow's face hardened and his eyes blazed. He started to speak, then shut his mouth with a snap, turned on his heel, and strode across the treeless glade to where his noisy riders were saddling up, tightening girths, buckling straps, and examining the unshod feet of their horses or smoothing out the burrs from mane and tail. The red sun glittered on their spurs, rifles, and the flat buckles of their cross-belts. Their uniform was scarlet and green, but some wore beaded shirts of scarlet holland, belted in with Mohawk wampum, and some were partly clothed like Cayuga Indians and painted with Seneca war-symbols—a grewsome sight.

There were savages moving about the fire—or I took them for savages, until one half-naked lout, lounging near, taunted me with a Scotch burr in his throat, and I saw, in his horribly painted face, a pair of flashing eyes fixed on me. And the eyes were blue.

There was something in that ghastly masquerade so horrible, so unspeakably revolting, that a shiver of pure fear touched me in every nerve. Except for the voice and the eyes, he looked the counterpart of the Senecas moving about near us; his skin, bare to the waist, was stained a reddish copper hue; his black hair was shaved except for the knot; war-paint smeared visage and chest, and two crimson quills rose from behind his left ear, tied to the scalp-lock.

"Let him alone; don't answer him; he's worse than the Indians," whispered Sir George.

Among the savages I saw two others with light eyes, and a third I never should have suspected had not Sir George pointed out his feet, which were planted on the ground like the feet of a white man when he walked, and not parallel or toed-in.

But now the loud-voiced riders were climbing into their saddles; the officer in scarlet, who had cursed and questioned us, came towards us leading a horse.

"You treacherous whelps!" he said, fiercely; "if a flag can't go to you safely, we must send one of you with it. By Heaven! you're both fit for roasting, and it sickens me to send you! But one of you goes and the other stays. Now fight it out—and be quick!"

An amazed silence followed; then Sir George asked why one of us was to be liberated and the other kept prisoner.

"Because your sneaking rebel friends fire on the white flag, I tell you!" cried the fellow, furiously; "and we've got to get a message to them. You are Captain Sir George Covert, are you not? Very good. Your rebel friends have taken Captain Walter Butler and mean to hang him. Now you tell your people that we've got Colonel Ormond and we'll exchange you both, a colonel and a captain, for Walter Butler. Do you understand? That's what we value you at; a rebel colonel and a rebel captain for a single loyal captain."

Sir George turned to me. "There is not the faintest chance of an exchange," he said, in French.

"Stop that!" threatened the man in scarlet, laying his hand on his hanger. "Speak English or Delaware, do you hear?"

"Sir George," I said, "you will go, of course. I shall remain and take the chance of exchange."

"Pardon," he said, coolly; "I remain here and pay the piper for the tune I danced to. You will relieve me of my obligations by going," he added, stiffly.

"No," I said; "I tell you I don't care. Can't you understand that a man may not care?"

"I understand," he replied, staring at me; "and I am that man, Ormond. Come, get into your saddle. Good-bye. It is all right; it is perfectly just, and—it doesn't matter."

A shrill voice broke out across the cleared circle. "Billy Bones! Billy Bones! Hae ye no flints f'r the lads that ride? Losh, mon, we'll no be ganging north the day, an' ye bide droolin' there wi' the blitherin' Jacobites!"

"The flints are in McBarron's wagon! Wait, wait, Francy McCraw!" And he hurried away, bawling for the teamster McBarron.

"Sir George," I said, "take the chance, in Heaven's name, for I shall not go. Don't dispute; don't stand there! Man, man, don't delay, I tell you, or they'll change their plan!"

"I won't go," he said, sharply. "Ormond, am I a contemptible poltroon that I should leave you here to endure the consequences of my own negligence? Do you think I could accept life at that price?"

"I tell you to go!" I said, harshly. A horrid hope, a terrible and unworthy temptation, had seized me like a thing from hell. I trembled; sweat broke out on me, and I set my teeth, striving to think as the woman I had lost would have had me think. "Quick!" I muttered, "don't wait, don't delay; don't talk to me, I tell you! Go! Go! Get out of my sight—"

And all the time, pounding in my brain, the pulse beat out a shameful thought; and mad temptations swarmed, whispering close to my ringing ears that his death was my only chance, my only possible salvation—and hers!

"Go!" I stammered, pushing him towards the horse; "get into your saddle! Quick, I tell you—I—I can't endure this! I am not made to endure everything, I tell you! Can't you have a little mercy on me and leave me?"

"I refuse," he said, sullenly.

"You refuse!" I stammered, beside myself with the torture I could no longer bear. "Then stand aside! I'll go—I'll go if it costs me—No! No! I can't; I can't, I tell you; it costs too much!... Damn you, you may have the woman I love, but you shall leave me her respect!"

"Ormond! Ormond!" he cried, in sorrowful amazement; but I was clean out of my head now, and I closed with him, dragging him towards the horse.

He shook himself free, glaring at me.

"I am ... your superior ... officer!" I panted, advancing on him; "I order you to go!"

He looked me narrowly in the eyes. "And I refuse obedience," he said, hoarsely. "You are out of your mind!"

"Then, by God!" I shrieked, "I'll force you!"

Billy Bones, Francy McCraw, and a Seneca came hastening up. I leaped on McCraw and dealt him a blow full in his bony face, splitting the lean cheek open.

They overpowered me before I could repeat the blow; they flung me down, kicking and pounding me as I lay there, but the death-stroke I awaited was withheld; the castete of the Seneca was jerked from his fist.

Then they seized Sir George and forced him into his saddle, calling on four troopers to pilot him within sight of the manor and shoot him if he attempted to return.

"You tell them that if they refuse to exchange Walter Butler for Ormond, we've torments for Colonel Ormond that won't kill him under a week!" roared Billy Bones.

McCraw, stupefied with amazement and rage, stood mopping the blood from his blotched face, staring at me out of his crazy blue eyes. For a moment his hand fiddled with his hatchet, then Bones shoved him away, and he strode off towards his horsemen, who were forming in column of fours.

"You tell 'em," shouted Bones, "that before we finish him they'll hear his screams in Albany! If they want Colonel Ormond," he added, his voice rising to a yell, "tell 'em to send a single man into the sugar-bush. But if they hang Walter Butler, or if you try to catch us with your cavalry, we'll take Ormond where we'll have leisure to see what our Senecas can do with him! Now ride! you damned—"

He struck Sir George's horse with the flat of his hanger; the horse bounded off, followed by four of McCraw's riders, pistols cocked and hatchets loosened.

Bruised, dazed, exhausted, I lay there, listening to the receding thudding of their horses' feet on the moss.

The crisis was over, and I had won—not as I might have chosen to win, but by a compromise with death for deliverance from temptation.

If it was the compromise of a crazed creature, insane from mental and physical exhaustion, it was not the compromise of a weak man; I did not desire death as long as she lived. I dreaded to leave her alone in the world. But, though she loved him not—and did love me—I could not accept the future through his sacrifice and live to remember that he had laid down his life for a friend who desired from him more than he had renounced.

I was perfectly sane now; a strange calmness came over me; my mind was clear and composed; my meditations serene. Free at last from hope, from sorrowful passion, from troubled desire, I lay there thinking, watching the long, red sun-rays slanting through the woods.

Gratitude to God for a life ended ere I fell from His grace, ere temptation entangled me beyond deliverance; humble pride in the honorable traditions that I had received and followed untainted; deep, reverent thankfulness for the strength vouchsafed me in this supreme crisis of my life—the strength of a madman, perhaps, but still strength to be true, the power to renounce—these were the meditations that brought me rest and a quietude I had never known when death seemed a long way off and life on earth eternal.

The setting sun crimsoned the pines; the riders were gathered along the hill-side, bending far out in their saddles to scan the valley below. McCraw, his white face bound with a bloody rag, drew his straight claymore and wound the tattered tartan around his wrist, motioning Billy Bones to ride on.

"March!" he cried, in his shrill voice, laying his claymore level; and the long files moved off, spurs and scabbards clanking, horses crowding and trampling in, faster and faster, till a far command set them trotting, then galloping away into the west, where the kindling sky reddened the world.

The world!—it would be the same to-morrow without me: that maple-tree would not have changed a leaf; that tiny, hovering, gauze-winged creature, drifting through the calm air, would be alive when I was dead.

It was difficult to understand. I repeated it to myself again and again, but the phrases had no meaning to me.

The sun set; cool, violet lights lay over the earth; a thrush, awakened by the sweetness of the twilight from his long summer moping, whistled timidly, tentatively; then the silvery, evanescent notes floated away, away, in endless, heavenly serenity.

A soft, leather-shod foot nudged me; I sat up, then rose, holding out my wrists. They tied me loosely; a tall warrior stepped beside me; others fell in behind with a patter of moccasined feet.

Then came an officer, pistol cocked and held muzzle up. He was the only white man left.

"Forward," he said, nervously; and we started off through the purple dusk.

Physical weariness and pain had left me; I moved as in a dream. Nothing of apprehension or dismay disturbed the strange calm of my soul; even desire for meditation left me; and a vague content wrapped me, mind and body.

Distance, time, were meaningless to me now; I could go on forever; I could lie down forever; nothing mattered; nothing could touch me now.

The moon came up, flooding the woods with a creamy light; then a little stream, sparkling like molten silver, crossed our misty path; then a bare hill-side stretched away, pale in the moonlight, vanishing into a luminous veil of vapor, floating over a hollow where unseen water lay.

We entered a grove of still trees standing wide apart—maple-trees, with the sap-pegs still in the bark. I sat down on a log; the Indians seated themselves in a wide circle around me; the renegade officer walked to the fringe of trees and stood there motionless.

Time passed serenely; I had fallen drowsing, soothed by the silvered silence; when through a dream I heard a cock-crow.

Around me the Indians rose, all listening. Far away a sound grew in the night—the dull blows of horses' hoofs on sod; a shot rang faintly, a distant cry was echoed by a long-drawn yell and a volley.

The renegade officer came running back, calling out, "McCraw has struck the Legion at the grist-mill!" In the intense silence around me the noise of the conflict grew, increasing, then became fainter and fainter until it died out to the westward and all was still.

The Indians came crowding back from the edge of the grove, shoving through the circle of those who guarded me, pushing, pressing, surging around me.

"Give him to us!" they muttered, under their breath. "The flag has not come; they will hang your Walter Butler! Give him to us! The Legion cavalry is driving your riders into the west! Give him to us! We wish to see how the Oriskany man can die!"

Dragged, pulled from one to another, I scarcely felt their clutch; I scarcely felt the furtive blows that fell on me. The officer clung to me, fighting the savages back with fist and elbow.

"Wait for McCraw!" he panted. "The flag may come yet, you fools! Would you murder him and lose Walter Butler forever? Wait till McCraw comes, I tell you!"

"McCraw is riding for his life!" said a chief, fiercely.

"It's a lie!" said the officer; "he is drawing them to ambush!"

"Give the prisoner to us!" cried the savages, closing in. "After all, what do we care for your Walter Butler!" And again they rushed forward with a shout.

Twice the officer drove them back with kicks and blows, cursing their treachery in McCraw's absence; then, as they drew their knives, clamoring, threatening, gathering for a last rush, into their midst bounded an unearthly shape—a squat and hideous figure, fluttering with scarlet rags. Arms akimbo, the thing planted itself before me, mouthing and slavering in fury.

"The Toad-woman! Catrine Montour! The Toad-witch!" groaned the Senecas, shrinking back, huddling together as the hag whirled about and pointed at them.

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