"Is aught amiss, Carus?" asked Sir Peter, catching my eye.
"Yes, the cruelty practised yonder!" I blurted out. Never before had I said as much to any man.
"You mean the debtors—or those above in the chain-room?" he asked, surprised.
"I was not speaking of the Bridewell, but of the Prison," I said.
"What cruelty, Carus? You mean the rigor Cunningham uses?"
"Rigor!" I said, laughing, and my laugh was unpleasant.
He looked at me narrowly. We rode past Warren Street and the Upper Barracks in silence, saluting an officer here and there with preoccupied punctiliousness. Already I was repenting of my hardiness in mixing openly with politics or war—matters I had ever avoided or let pass with gay indifference.
"Carus," he said, patting his horse's mane, "you will lay a bet for the honor of the family this time—will you not?"
"I have no money," I replied, surprised; for never before had he offered to suggest an interference into my own affairs—never by word or look.
"No money!" he repeated, laughing. "Gad, you rake, what do you do with it all?" And as I continued silent, he said more gravely, "May I speak plainly to a kinsman and dear friend?"
"Always," I said uneasily.
"Then, without offense, Carus, I think that, were I you, I should bet a little—now and again—fling the guineas for a change—now and then—if I were you, Carus."
"If you were I you would not," I said, reddening to the temples.
"I think I should, nevertheless," he persisted, smiling. "Carus, you know that if you need money to bet with——"
"I'll tell you what I need, Sir Peter," said I, looking him in the eye. "I need your faith in me that I am not by choice a niggard."
"God forbid!" he cried.
"Yet I pass among many for that," I said hotly. "I know it, I suffer. Yet I can not burn a penny; it belongs to others, that's all."
"A debt!" he murmured.
"Call it as you will. The money you overpay me for my poor services is not even my own to enjoy."
Sir Peter dropped his bridle and slapped his gloved hands together with a noise that made his horse jump. "I knew it," he cried, "I knew it, and so I told Elsin when she came to me, troubled, because in you this one flaw appeared; yet though she questioned me, in the same breath she vowed the marble perfect, and asked me if you had parents or kin dependent. She is a rare maid, my pretty kinswoman—" He hesitated, glancing cornerwise at me.
"Do you know Walter Butler well?" I asked carelessly.
"No, only a little. Why, Carus?"
"Is he married?"
"I never heard it. He is scarcely known to me save through Sir John Johnson, and that his zeal led him to what some call a private reprisal."
"Yes, he burned our house, or his Indians did, making pretense that they did not know who lived there, but thought the whole Bush a rebel hotbed. It is true the house was new, built while Sir John lay brooding there in Canada over his broken parole. Perhaps Walter Butler did not know the house was ours."
"You are very generous, Carus," said Sir Peter gravely.
"No, not very. You see, my father and my mother were in France, and I here, and Butler's raiders only murdered one old man—a servant, all alone there, a man too old and deaf to understand their questions. I know who slew that ancient body-servant to my father, who often held me on his knees. No, Sir Peter, I am not generous, as you say. But there are matters which must await the precedence of great events ere their turn comes in the mills which grind so slow, so sure, and so exceeding fine."
Sir Peter looked at me in silence, and in silence we rode on until we came to the tavern called the Coq d'Or.
They were there, the early risers of the Fifty-fourth—a jolly, noisy crowd, all scarlet and gold; and they set up a cheer, which was half welcome, half defiance, when we rode into the tavern yard and dismounted, bowing right and left; and the landlord came to receive us, and servants followed with champagne-cup, iced; and there was old Horrock, too, hat in hand, to attend Sir Peter, with a shake of his wise old head and a smile on his furrowed face—Horrock, the prince of handlers, with his chicken-men, and his scales, and his Flatbush birds a-crowing defiance to the duck-wings, spangles, pyles, and Lord knows what, that his Majesty's Fifty-fourth Regiment of Foot had backed to win with every penny and farthing they could scrape to lay against us.
I heard old Horrock whisper to Sir Peter, who was reading over the match-list, "They're the best we can do, sir; combs low-cut, wings rounded, hackle and saddle trimmed to a T, and the vanes perfect." He laughed: "What more can I do, sir? They had aniseed in their bread on the third day, and on the weighing-day sheep-heart, and not two teacups of water in the seven. They came from the walks in prime condition, and tartar and jalap did the rest. They sparred free in the boots and took to the warm ale and sweet-wort, and the rooms were dark except at feeding. What more can I do, sir, except heel them to a hair's-breadth?"
"You have no peer, Horrock, and you know it," said Sir Peter, kindly, and the old man's furrowed face shone as he trotted off to the covert-room.
Meanwhile I had been hailed by a dozen friends of a dozen different regiments, good fellows all: Major Jamison of the Partisans; Ensign Halvar, young Caryl of the Fortieth Foot; Helsing of the Artillery, and apparently every available commissioned officer of the Fifty-fourth, including Colonel Eyre, a gentleman with a scientific taste for the pit that gained him the title of "The Game 'Un" from saucy subalterns, needless to say without his knowledge.
"A good bird, well handled, freely backed—what more can a gentleman ask?" said Major Neville, waddling beside Sir Peter as we filed into the tavern. "My wife calls it a shameful sport, but the cockpit is a fashionable passion, damme! and a man out o' fashion is worse than an addled cluck-egg! Eh, Renault? Good gad, sir! Do not cocks fight unurged, and are not their battles with nature's spurs more cruel than when matched by man and heeled with steel or even silver, which mercifully ends the combat in short order? And so I tell my wife, Sir Peter, but she calls me brute," he panted plaintively.
"Pooh!" said Sir Peter, laughing, "I can always find a reason for any transgression in the list from theft to murder, and justify each crime by logic—if I put my mind to do so. But my mind is not partial to logic. I fight game-fowl and like it, be the fashion and the ethics what they may."
He was unjust to himself as usual; to him there was no difference between the death of a pheasant afield and the taking off of a good bird in the pit.
Seated around the pit, there was some delay in showing, and Dr. Carmody of the brigade staff gave me, unsolicited, his mature opinions upon game-fowl:
"Show me a bird of bold carriage, comb bright red and upright, eye full and bright, beak strong and in good socket, breast full, body broad at shoulder and tapering to tail, thigh short, round, and hard as a nail, leg stout, flat-footed, and spur low—a bird with bright, hard feathers, strong in a quill, warm and firm to the hand—and I care not what breed he be, spangle or black-red, I'll lay my last farthing with you, Mr. Renault, if it shall please you."
"And what am I to back?" said I, laughing—"a full plume, a long, soft hackle, a squirrel-tail, a long-thighed, in-kneed, weak-beaked, coarse-headed henning-fowl selected by you?"
The little doctor roared with laughter; the buzz and hum of conversation increased around us—bits of banter, jests tossed from friend to friend.
"Who dubs your birds for you. Sir Peter?" cried Helsing—"the Bridewell barber?"
"Ten guineas to eight with you on the first battle," retorted Sir Peter, courteously; and, "Done with you, sir!" said Helsing, noting the bet, while Sir Peter booked his memorandum and turned to meet a perfect shower of offers, all of which he accepted smilingly. And I—oh, I was sick to sit there without a penny laid to show my loyalty to Sir Peter. But it must be so, and I bit my lip and strove to smile and parry with a jest the well-meant offers which now and then came flying my way. But O'Neil and Harkness backed the Flatbush birds right loyally, cautioned by Sir Peter, who begged that they wait; but they would not—and one was Irish—so nothing would do but a bold front and an officer snapped with, "Done, sir!"
The judges and the referee had been chosen, the color-writers selected, and Sir Peter had won the draw, choosing, of course, to weigh first, the main being governed by rules devised by the garrison regiments, partly Virginian, partly New York custom. Matches had been made in camera, the first within the half-ounce, and allowing a stag four ounces; round heels were to be used; all cutters, twists, and slashers barred; the metal was steel, not silver.
And now the pitters had taken station, Horrock and a wall-eyed Bat-man of the Train, and the birds had billed three times and had been fairly delivered on the score—a black brass-back of ours against a black-red of the Fifty-fourth. Scarcely a second did they eye one another when crack! slap! they were at it, wing and gaffle. Suddenly the black-red closed and held, struck like lightning five or six times, and it was all over with Sir Peter's Flatbush brass-back, done for in a single heat.
"Fast work," observed Sir Peter calmly, taking snuff, with a pleasant nod to the enemy.
Then odds on the main flew like lightning, all taken by Sir Peter and O'Neil and a few others of ours, and I biting my lip and fixing my eyes on the roof. Had I not dreaded to hurt Sir Peter I should never, never have come.
We again showed a brass-back and let him run in the pit before cutting a feather, whereupon Sir Peter rashly laid ten to five and few takers, too, for the Fifty-fourth showed a pyle of five-pounds-three—a shuffler which few fancied. But Lord! the shuffler drummed our brass-back to the tune of Sir Daniel O'Day, and though two ounces light, took just eight minutes to crow for victory.
Again we showed, this time a duck-wing, and the Fifty-fourth a blue hackle, heavily backed, who proved a wheeler, but it took twenty minutes for him to lay the duck-wing upon the carpet; and we stood three to the bad, but game, though the odds on the main were heavily against us. Our fourth, a blinker, blundered to victory; our fifth hung himself twice to the canvas and finally to the heels of a bewildered spangle; our sixth, a stag, and a wheeling lunatic at that, gave to the Fifty-fourth a bad quarter of an hour, and then, when at the last moment our victory seemed certain, was sent flying to eternity in one last feathered whirlwind, leaving us four to split and four to go, with hopeless odds against us, and Sir Peter calmly booking side-bets on anything that anybody offered.
When the call came we all rose, leaving the pit by the side-entrance, which gave on the cherry garden, where tables were spread for luncheon and pipes fetched for all who cared not to scorch their lips with Spanish cigars.
Sir Peter, hard hit, moved about in great good humor, a seed-cake in one hand, a mug of beer in t'other; and who could suppose he stood to lose the thousand guineas he had such need of—and more besides!—so much more that it turned me cold to think of Duke Street, and how on earth I was to find funds for the bare living, luxuries aside.
As for O'Neil, the crazy, warm-hearted Irishman went about blustering for odds—pure, generous bravado!—and the Fifty-fourth, to their credit, let him go unharmed, and Harkness, too. As for me, I was very quiet, holding my peace and my opinions to myself, which was proper, as I had laid not one penny on a feather that day.
Sir Peter, seeing me sitting alone under a cherry-tree, came strolling over, followed by Horrock.
"Well, Carus," he said, smiling blandly, "more dealing with Duke Street, eh? Pooh! There's balm in Gilead and a few shillings left still in the Dock-Ward!" He laughed, but I said nothing. "Speak out, man!" he said gaily; "what do you read by the pricking of your thumbs?"
"Ask Horrock," I said bluntly. He turned to the grim-visaged retainer, laying his hand familiarly on the old man's shoulder.
"Horrock begs me to ride for an even break," he said; "don't you, O paragon among pitters?"
"Yes, sir, I do. Ask Mr. Renault what Sir William Johnson's Huron Reds did to the Patroon's Tartars in every main fought 'twixt Johnstown and Albany in '72 and '73."
I looked up, astounded. "Have you four Hurons to show?" I asked Sir Peter, incredulously.
"I have," he said.
A desperate hope glimmered in my mind—nay, not merely a hope but a fair certainty that ruin could be held at arm's length for a while. So possessed was I by absolute faith in Sir William Johnson's strain, called Hurons, that I listened approvingly to Sir Peter's plans for a dashing recoup. After all, it was now or never; the gamblers' fever seized me, too, in a vise-like grip. Why should I not win a thousand guineas for my prisoners, risking but a few hundred on such a hazard!
"You will be there, of course," he said. And after a long silence, I answered:
"No, I shall walk in the garden until you finish. The main should be ended at five."
"As you choose, Carus," he answered pleasantly, glancing at his watch. Then turning, he cried: "Time, gentlemen—and four to ten we split the main!"
"Done with you, Sir Peter!" came the answering shout as from a single throat; and Sir Peter, smiling to himself, booked briefly and sauntered toward the tavern door, old Horrock trotting faithfully at heel.
I had risen and was nervously pacing the grass under the cherry-trees, miserable, full of bitterness, depressed, already bitterly regretting the chance lost, arguing that it was a certainty and no hazard. Yet, deep in my heart, I knew no gentleman can bet on certainty, and where there is no certainty there is risk. That risk I had not taken; the prisoners were to gain or suffer nothing. Thinking of these matters I started to stroll through the cherry grove, and as I stepped from the shade out upon the sunny lawn the shadow of an advancing figure warned me, and I looked up to behold a young officer, in a black and green uniform, crossing my path, his head turned in my direction, his dark, luminous gaze fastened curiously upon me.
Dazzled somewhat by the sun in my eyes, I peered at him as he passed, noting the strange cut of his regimentals, the silver buttons stamped with a motto in relief, the curious sword-knot of twisted buck-thong heavily embroidered in silver and scarlet wampum. Wampum? And what was that devil's device flashing on button and shoulder-knot?
Slowly I turned to stare; he halted, looking back at me, a slim, graceful figure in forest-green, his own black hair gathered in a club, his dark amber eyes fixed on mine with that veiled yet detached glare I had not forgotten.
"Captain Butler," I said mechanically.
Hats in hand, heels together, we bowed low in the sunshine—so low that our hands on our hilts alone retained the blades in their scabbards, while our hats swept the short grass on the lawn; then, leisurely erect, once more we stood face to face, a yard of sod betwixt us, the sunshine etching our blue shadows motionless.
"Mr. Renault," he said, in that colorless voice he used at times, "I had thought to know you, but you are six years older. Time's alchemy"—he hesitated, then with a perfect bow—"refines even the noblest metal. I trust your health and fortune are all that you could desire. Is madam, your mother, well, and your honorable father?"
"I thank you, Captain Butler."
He looked at me a moment, then with a melancholy smile and a gesture wholly graceful: "It is poor reparation to say that I regret the error of my Cayugas which committed your house to the flames."
"The fortune of war, Captain Butler. I trust your home at Butlersbury still survives intact."
A dull color crept into his pallid cheeks.
"The house at Butlersbury stands," he said, "as do Johnson Hall, Guy Park, and old Fort Johnson. We hope erelong to open them again to our friends, Mr. Renault."
"I have understood so," I said politely. "When do you march from Thendara?"
Again the dark color came into his face. "Sir Frederick Haldimand is a babbler!" he said, between tightening lips. "Never a secret, never a plan, but he must bawl it aloud to all who care to listen, or sound it as he gads about from camp to city—aye, and chatters it to the forest trees for lack of audience, I suppose. All New York is humming with it, is it not, Mr. Renault?"
"And if it is, what harm?" I said pleasantly. "Who ever heard of Thendara, save as a legend of a lost town somewhere in the wilderness? Who in New York knows where Thendara lies?"
He looked at me with unwinking eyes—the empty stare of a bird of prey.
"You know, for one," he said; and his eyes suddenly became piercing.
I smiled at him without comprehension, and he took the very vagueness of my smile for acquiescence.
Like the luminous shadow of summer lightning the flame flickered in his eyes, and went out, leaving them darkly drowned in melancholy. He stepped nearer.
"Let us sit under the trees for a moment—if I am not detaining you, Mr. Renault," he said in a low, pleasant voice. I bowed. We turned, walking shoulder to shoulder toward the shade of the cherry-trees, now in full foliage and heavily fruited. With perfect courtesy he halted, inclining his head, a gesture for me to pass before him. We seated ourselves at a rustic table beneath the trees; and I remember the ripe cherries which had dropped upon it from the clusters overhead, and how, as we talked, I picked them up, tasting them one by one.
"I am here," he began abruptly, "of my own idea. No one, not even Sir Henry, is aware that I am in New York. I came from Halifax by the Gannet, schooner, landing at Coenties Slip among the fishing-smack in time for breakfast; then to Sir Peter Coleville's, learning he was here—cock-fighting!" A trace of a sneer edged his finely cut nostrils.
"If you desire concealment, is it wise to wear that uniform?" I asked.
"I am known on the fighting-line, not in this peaceful garrison of New York," he said haughtily. "We of the landed gentry of Tryon County make as little of New York as New York makes of us!" A deeper sneer twitched his upper lip. "Had I my way, this port should be burned from river to river, fort, shipping, dock—all, even to the farms outlying on the hills—and the enervated garrison marched out to take the field!" He made a violent gesture toward the north. "I should fling every man and gun pell-mell on that rebels' rat-nest called West Point, and uproot and tear it from the mountain flank! I should sweep the Hudson with fire; I should hurl these rotting regiments into Albany and leave it a smoking ember, and I should tread the embers into the red-wet earth! That is the way to make war! But this—" He stared south across the meadows where in the distance the sunlit city lay, windows a-glitter, spires swimming in the blue, and on the bay white sails glimmering off shores of living green.
"Mr. Renault," he said, "I am here to submit this plan to Sir Henry Clinton. Lord Cornwallis advocated the abandonment of New York last May. I am here to urge it. If Sir Henry will approve, then the war ends before the snow flies; if he will not, I still shall act my part, and lay the north in ashes so that not one ear of corn may be garnered for the rebel army, not one grain of wheat be milled, not a truss of hay remain betwixt Johnstown and Saratoga! Nothing in the north but blackened desolation and the silence of annihilation. That is how I make war."
"That is your reputation," I said calmly.
His smile was ghastly—a laugh without sound, that touched neither eyes nor mouth.
At that moment I heard cries and laughter and a great babel of voices from the tavern. He rose instantly, I also; the stable-lads were bringing up the horses; the tavern door was flung wide, and out of it poured the cockers, a turbulent river of scarlet and gold, the noisy voices and laughter increasing to tumult as the officers mounted with jingle of spur and scabbard, draining the stirrup-cup and hastening to their duties.
"By gad, sir!" cried Jamison, turning in his saddle as he passed me, "those Hurons did the trick for Sir Peter. He's split the main, so help me! and stands to win a fortune."
And Dr. Carmody, galloping past, waved his hand with a hopeless laugh. "We're cleaned out! cleaned out!" he cried; "that main has beggared the brigade staff. Damme, he's beggared the entire garrison!"
Others rode by, gaily uproarious in defeat, clean, gallant sportsmen all, saluting misfortune as cheerily and as recklessly as they might have greeted victory.
"Have at thee, buck!" shouted young Caryl, waving his hand as he passed me. "We'll try it again, you villain, if there's life left in our fasting mess!"
And Helsing, passing at a canter, grinned and beat his gold-laced breast in mock despair, shouting back to me: "I'm for Duke Street and Mendoza! Dine well, Carus, you who can afford to sup on chicken!"
Then came Sir Peter, cool, debonair, surrounded by a crowd afoot, Horrock at heel, his old eyes dim with joy, his grim mouth set; and after him two lads leading our horses, and O'Neil and Harkness mounted, curbing the triumph that glittered in their eyes.
"Yonder comes Sir Peter," I said to Walter Butler. "Shall I have the honor of making you known to one another?"
"He has forgotten me, I think," said Butler slowly, as Sir Peter raised his hat in triumphant greeting to me and then included Butler in a graver salute.
"You have heard the news, Carus?" he asked gaily.
"I give you joy," I said. Then, with colorless ceremony, I made them known to one another, and with greater ceremony they exchanged salutes and compliments—a pair matched in flawless breeding and the usages of perfect courtesy.
"I bear a letter," said Walter Butler, "and have this morning done myself the honor of waiting upon Lady Coleville and the 'Hon. Elsin Grey.'"
And as Sir Peter acknowledged the courtesy, I looked suddenly at Walter Butler, remembering what Elsin Grey had told me.
"The letter is from General Sir Frederick Haldimand," he said pleasantly, "and I fear it bears you news not too agreeable. The Hon. Miss Grey is summoned home, Sir Peter—pending a new campaign."
"Home!" exclaimed Sir Peter, surprised. "Why, I thought—I had hoped we were to have her with us until winter. Gad! It is as you say, not too agreeable news, Captain Butler. Why, she has been the life of the town, sir; she has waked us and set us all a-dancing like yokels at a May-pole or a ring-around-a-rosy! Split me! Captain Butler, but Lady Coleville will be sorry to learn this news—and I, too, sir, and every man in New York town."
He looked at me in genuine distress. My face was perfectly expressionless.
"This should hit you hard, Carus," he said meaningly. Then, without seeing, I felt Walter Butler's head slowly turning, and was aware of his eyes on me.
"Come, gentlemen," said Sir Peter, "the horses are here. Is not that fine chestnut your mount, Captain Butler? You will ride with us, will you not? Where is your baggage? At Flocks? I shall send for it—no, sir, I take no excuse. While you are in New York you shall be my guest, Captain Butler."
And so, Sir Peter naming Butler to O'Neil and Harkness, and salutes being decently exchanged, we mounted and cantered off along Great George Street, Horrock on his hunter bringing up the rear.
And at every stride of my horse a new misgiving, a deeper distrust of this man Butler stirred in my troubled heart.
SUNSET AND DARK
It was six o'clock in the early evening, the sun still shining, and in the air a sea-balm most delicious. Sir Peter and Captain Butler had gone to see Sir Henry, Butler desiring to be presented by so grand a personage as Sir Peter, I think, through mere vanity; for his own rank and title and his pressing mission should have been sufficient credentials. Sir Henry Clinton was not too difficult of approach.
Meanwhile I, finding neither Lady Coleville nor the Hon. Elsin Grey at home, had retired to my chambers to write to Colonel Willett concerning Butler's violent designs on the frontier. When I finished I made a sealed packet of all papers accumulated, and, seizing hat, snuff-box, and walking-stick, went out into Wall Street, through the dismal arcades of the City Hall, and down to Hanover Square. Opposite Mr. Goelet's Sign of the Golden Key, and next door to Mr. Minshall's fashionable Looking-Glass Store, was the Silver Box, the shop of Ennis the Tobacconist, a Boston man in our pay; and it was here that for four years I was accustomed to bring the dangerous despatches that should go north to his Excellency or to Colonel Willett, passed along from partizan to partizan and from agent to agent, though who these secret helpers along the route might be I never knew, only that Ennis charged himself with what despatches I brought, and a week or more later they were at Dobbs Ferry, West Point, or in Albany. John Ennis was there when I entered; he bowed his dour and angular New England bow, served a customer with snuff, bowed him to the door, then returned grinning to me, rubbing his long, lean, dangerous hands upon his apron—hands to throttle a Tryon County wolf!
"Butler's in town," he said harshly, through his beak of a nose. "I guess there's blood to be smelled somewhere in the north when the dog-wolf's abroad at sunup. He came by sloop this morning," he added, taking the packet from my hands and laying it upon a table in plain sight—the best way to conceal anything.
"How do you know?" I asked.
"A Bull's-Head drover whistled it an hour since," he said carelessly. "That same drover and his mate desire to see you, Mr. Renault. Could you, by chance, take the air at dusk—say on Great George Street—until you hear a whippoorwill?"
"You will not fail, then, sir? This drover and his fellow go north to-night, bearing the cross o' fire."
"I shall not fail them," I said, drawing a triple roll of guineas from my pocket. "This money goes to the prison-ships; they are worse off there than under Cunningham. See to it, Ennis. I shall bring more to-morrow."
He winked; then with grimace and circumstance and many a stiff-backed bow conducted me to the door, where I stood a moment, snuff-box in hand, as though testing some new and most delicious brand just purchased from the Silver Box.
There were many respectable folk abroad in Hanover Square, thronging the foot-paths, crowding along the gay shop-windows, officers lagging by the jeweler's show, sober gentlemen clustering about the book-stalls, ladies returning from their shopping or the hair-dresser's, young bucks, arm in arm, swaggering in and out of coffee-house and tavern.
As I stood there, making pretense to take snuff, I noticed a sedan-chair standing before Mrs. Ballin's millinery-shop, and seeing that the bearers were Lady Coleville's men, I crossed the street.
As I came up they touched their hats, and at the same moment the shop-door opened and out tripped, not Lady Coleville at all, but the Hon. Elsin Grey in the freshest of flowered gowns, wearing a piquant chip hat a la Gunning, with pink ribbons tied under her dainty chin.
"You!" she cried. "Of all men, to be caught a-raking in Hanover Square like some mincing macaroni, peeping into strange sedan-chairs!"
"I knew it was Lady Coleville's chair," I said, laughing, yet a little vexed, too.
"It isn't; it's Mrs. Barry's," she said. "Our chairs are all at the varnishers. Now what excuse can you trump up?"
"The bearers are Lady Coleville's," I said. "Don't be disagreeable. I came to walk with you."
"Expecting to meet Rosamund Barry! Thank you, Carus. And I may add that I have seen little of you since Friday; not that I had noticed your absence, but meeting you on your favorite promenade reminded me how recreant are men. Heigho! and alas! You may hand me to my chair before you leave me to go ogling Broad Street for your Sacharissa."
I conducted her to the curb in silence, tucking her perfumed skirts in as she seated herself. The bearers resumed the bars, and I, hat under one arm and stick at a fashionable angle, strolled along beside the chair as it proceeded up Wall Street. It was but a step to Broadway. I opened the chair door and aided her to descend, then dismissed the bearers and walked slowly with her toward the stoop.
"This silence is truly soothing," she observed, nose in the air, "but one can not expect everything, Mr. Renault."
"What is it that you lack?" I asked.
"A man to talk to," she said disdainfully. "For goodness sake, Carus, change that sulky face for a brighter mask and find a civil word for me. I do not aspire to a compliment, but, for mercy's sake, say something!"
"Will you walk with me a little way?" I inquired stiffly.
"Walk with you? Oh, what pleasure! Where? On Broadway? On Crown Street? On Queen Street? Or do you prefer Front Street and Old Slip? I wish to be perfectly agreeable, Carus, and I'll do anything to please you, even to running away with you in an Italian chaise!"
"I may ask you to do that, too," I said.
"Ask me, then! Mercy on the man! was there ever so willing a maid? Give me a moment to fetch a sun-mask and I'm off with you to any revel you please—short of the Coq d'Or," she added, with a daring laugh—"and I might be persuaded to that—as far as the cherry-trees—with you, Carus, and let my reputation go hang!"
We had walked on into Broadway and along the foot-path under the lime-trees where the robins were singing that quaint evening melody I love, and the pleasant scent of grass and salt breeze mingled in exquisite freshness.
"I had a dish of tea with some very agreeable people in Queen Street," she remarked. "Lady Coleville is there still. I took Mrs. Barry's chair to buy me a hat—and how does it become me?" she ended, tipping her head on one side for my inspection.
"It is modish," I replied indifferently.
"Certainly it is modish," she said dryly—"a Gunning hat, and cost a penny, too. Oh, Carus, when I think what that husband of mine must pay to maintain me——"
"What husband?" I said, startled.
"Why, any husband!" She made a vague gesture. "Did I say that I had picked him out yet, silly? But there must be one some day, I suppose."
We had strolled as far as St. Paul's and had now returned as far as Trinity. The graves along the north transept of the ruined church were green and starred with wild flowers, and we turned into the churchyard, walking very slowly side by side.
"Elsin," I began.
"Ah! the gentleman has found his tongue," she exclaimed softly. "Speak, Sir Frippon; thy Sacharissa listens."
"I have only this to ask. Dance with me once to-night, will you?—nay, twice, Elsin?"
She seated herself upon a green mound and looked up at me from under her chip hat. "I have not at all made up my mind," she said. "Captain Butler is to be there. He may claim every dance that Sir Henry does not claim."
"Have you seen him?" I asked sullenly.
"Mercy, yes! He came at noon while you and Sir Peter were gambling away your guineas at the Coq d'Or."
"He waited upon you?"
"He waited on Lady Coleville. I was there."
"Were you not surprised to see him in New York?"
"Not very"—she considered me with a far-away smile—"not very greatly nor very—agreeably surprised. I have told you his sentiments regarding me."
"I can not understand," I said, "what you see in him to fascinate you."
"Nor I," she replied so angrily that she startled me. "I thought to-day when I met him, Oh, dear! Now I'm to be harrowed with melancholy and passion, when I was having such an agreeable time! But, Carus, even while I pouted I felt the subtle charm of that very sadness, the strange, compelling influence of those melancholy eyes." She sighed and plucked a late violet, drawing the stem slowly between her white teeth and staring at the ruined church.
After a while I said: "Do you regret that you are so soon to leave us?"
"Regret it?" She looked at me thoughtfully. "Carus," she said, "you are wonderfully attractive to me. I wish you had acquired that air of gentle melancholy—that poet's pallor which becomes a noble sadness—and I might love you, if you asked me."
"I'm sad enough at your going," I said lightly.
"Truly, are you sorry? And when I am gone will you forget la belle Canadienne? Ah, monsieur, l'amitie est une chose si rare, que, n'eut-elle dure qu'un jour, on doit en respecter jusqu'au souvenir."
"It is not I who shall forget to respect it, madam, jusqu'au souvenir."
"Nor I, mon ami. Had I not known that love is at best a painful pleasure I might have mistaken my happiness with you for something very like it."
"You babble of love," I blurted out, "and you know nothing of it! What foolish whim possesses you to think that fascination Walter Butler has for you is love?"
"What is it, then?" she asked, with a little shudder.
"How do I know? He has the devil's own tenacity, bold black eyes and a well-cut head, and a certain grace of limb and bearing nowise remarkable. But"—I waved my hand helplessly—"how can a sane man understand a woman's preference?—nay, Elsin, I do not even pretend to understand you. All I know is that our friendship began in an instant, opened to full sweetness like a flower overnight, and, like a flower, is nearly ended now—nearly ended."
"Not ended; I shall remember."
"Well, and if we both remember—to what purpose?"
"To what purpose is friendship, Carus, if not to remember when alone?"
I listened, head bent. Then, pursuing my own thoughts aloud: "It is not wise for a maid to plight her troth in secret, I care not for what reasons. I know something of men; it is a thing no honest man should ask of any woman. Why do you fear to tell Sir Frederick Haldimand?"
"Captain Butler begged me not to."
"Why?" I asked sharply.
"He is poor. You must surely know what the rebels have done—how their commissioners of sequestration seized land and house from the Tryon County loyalists. Captain Butler desires me to say nothing until, through his own efforts and by his sword, he has won back his own in the north. And I consented. Meanwhile," she added airily, "he has a glove of mine to kiss, I refusing him my hand to weep upon. And so we wait for one another, and pin our faith upon his sword."
"To wait for him—to plight your troth and wait for him until he and Sir John Johnson have come into their own again?"
"And then you mean to wed him?"
She was silent. The color ebbed in her cheeks.
I stood looking at her through the evening light. Behind her, gilded by the level rays of the sinking sun, a new headstone stood, and on it I read:
IN MEMORY OF
Michael Cresap, First Cap't Of the Rifle Battalions, And Son to Col. Thomas Cresap, Who Departed this Life, Oct. 18, A.D. 1775.
Cresap, the generous young captain, whose dusty column of Maryland riflemen I myself had seen when but a lad, pouring through Broadalbin Bush on the way to Boston siege! This was his grave; and a Tory maid in flowered petticoat and chip hat was seated on the mound a-prattling of rebels!
"When do you leave us?" I asked grimly.
"Captain Butler has gone to see Sir Henry to ask for a packet. We sail as soon as may be."
"Does he go with you?" I demanded, startled.
"Why, yes—I and my two maids, and Captain Butler. Sir Frederick Haldimand knows."
"Yes, but he does not know that Captain Butler has presumed—has dared to press a clandestine suit with you!" I retorted angrily. "It does not please me that you go under such doubtful escort, Elsin."
"And pray, who are you to please, sir?" she asked in quick displeasure. "You speak of presumption in others, Mr. Renault, and, unsolicited, you offer an affront to me and to a gentleman who is not here to answer."
"I wish he were," I said between my teeth.
Her fair face hardened.
"Wishes are very safe, sir," she said in a low voice.
At that, suddenly, such a blind anger flooded me that the setting sun swam in my eyes and the blood dinned in ears and brain as though to burst them. At such moments, which are rare with me, I fall silent; and so I stood, while the strange rage shook me, and passed, leaving me cold and very quiet.
"I think we had best go," I said.
She held out her hand. I aided her to rise; and she kept my hand in hers, laying the other over it, and looked up into my eyes.
"Forgive me, Carus," she whispered. "No man can be more gallant and more sweet than you."
"Forgive me, Elsin. No maid so generous and just as you."
And that was all, for we crossed the street, and I mounted the stoop of our house with her, and bowed her in when the great door opened.
"Are you not coming in?" she asked, lingering in the doorway.
"No. I shall take the air."
"But we sup in a few moments."
"I may sup at the Coq d'Or," I said. Still she stood there, the wind blowing through the doorway fluttering the pink bows tied under her chin—a sweet, wistful face turned up to mine, and the early candle-light from the hall sconces painting one rounded cheek with golden lusters.
"Have you freely forgiven me, Carus?"
"Yes, freely. You know it."
"And you will be at the Fort? I shall give you that dance you ask to-night, shall I not?"
"If you will."
There was a silence; she stretched out one hand. Then the door was closed and I descended the steps once more, setting my hat on my head and tucking my walking-stick under one arm, prepared to meet my drover friend, who, Ennis said, desired to speak with me.
But I had no need to walk out along Great George Street to find my bird; for, as I left Wall Street and swung the corner into Broadway, the husky, impatient whisper of a whippoorwill broke out from the dusk among the ruins of Trinity, and I started and turned, crossing the street. Wild birds there were a-plenty in the city, yet the whippoorwill so seldom came into the streets that the note alone would have attracted me had Ennis not warned me of the signal.
And so I strolled once more into the churchyard and among the felled trees which the soldiers had cut down for fire-wood, as they were scorched past hope of future growth; and presently, prowling through the dusk among the graves by Lambert Street, I came upon my drover, seated upon a mound, smoking his clay as innocent as any tavern slug in the sun.
"Good even, friend," he said, looking up. "I thought I heard a whippoorwill but now, and being country bred, stole in to listen. Did you hear it, sir?"
"I thought I did," said I, amused. "I thought it sang, Pro Gloria in Excelsis——"
"Hush!" whispered the drover, smiling; "sit here beside me and we'll listen. Perhaps the bird may sing that anthem once again."
I seated myself on the green mound, and the next moment sprang to my feet as a shape before me seemed to rise out of the very ground; then, hearing my drover laugh, I resumed my place as the short figure came toward us.
"Another drover," said my companion, "and a famous one, Mr. Renault, for he drove certain wild cattle at a headlong gallop from the pastures at Saratoga—he and I and another drover they call Dan'l Morgan. We have been strolling here among these graves, a-prying for old friends—brother drovers. We found one drover's grave—a lad called Cresap—hard by the arch there to the north."
"Did you know him?" I asked.
"Yes, lad. I was a herder of his at Dunmore's slaughter-house. I saw him jailed at Fortress Pitt; I saw him freed, too. And one fine day in '76, a-lolling at my ease in the north, what should I hear but a jolly conch-horn blowing in the forest, and out of it rolled a torrent of men in buckskin, Cresap leading, bound for that famous cattle-drive at Boston town. So I, being by chance in buckskin, and by merest chance bearing a rifle, fell in and joined the merry ranks—I and my young friend Cardigan, who is now with certain mounted drovers called, I think, Colonel Washington's Dragoons, harrying those Carolina cattle owned by Tarleton."
He glanced up at his comrade, who stood silently beside him in the darkness.
"He, too, was there, Mr. Renault—my fellow drover here, at your service. Weasel, remove thy hat and make a bow to Mr. Renault—our brother drover."
The little withered man uncovered with a grace astonishing. So perfect was his bearing and his bow that I rose instinctively to meet it, and match his courtesy with the best I could.
"When like meets like 'tis a duel of good manners," said the big drover quietly. "Mr. Renault, you salute a man as gently bred as any man who wears a gilt edge to his hat in County Tryon. I call him the Weasel with all the reverence with which I say 'your lordship.'"
The Weasel and I exchanged another bow, and I vow he outmatched me, too, in composure, dignity, and grace, and I wondered who he might be.
"Tempus," observed the giant drover, "fugits like the devil in this dawdling world o' sin, as the poet has it—eh, Weasel? So, not even taking time to ask your pardon for my Latin, sir, I catch Time by the scalplock and add a nick to my gun-stock. Lord, sir! That's no language for a peaceful, cattle-driving yokel, is it now? Ah, Mr. Renault, I see you suspect us, and we have only to thank God you're not a lobster-back to bawl for the sergeant and his lanthorn."
"Who are you?" I asked, smiling.
"Did you ever hear of a vile highwayman called Jack Mount?" he asked, pretending horror.
"Yes," I said.
"You wouldn't shake hands with him, would you?"
"Let's try it," I replied seriously, holding out my hand.
He took it with a chuckle, his boyish face wreathed in smiles. "A purse from a magistrate here and there," he muttered—"a Tory magistrate, overfat and proud—what harm, sir? And I never could abide fat magistrates, Mr. Renault," he confided in a whisper. "It is strange; you will scarce credit me, sir, when I tell you that when I'm near a magistrate, and particularly when he's fat, and the moon's low over the hills, why, my pistols leap from my belt of their own accord, and I must snatch them with both hands lest they go flying off like rockets and explode to do a harm to that same portly magistrate."
"He does not mean all that," said the Weasel, laying his wrinkled hand affectionately on Mount's great arm. "He has served nobly, sir, with Cresap and with Morgan."
"But when I'm alone," sighed Mount, "I'm in very bad company, and mischief follows, sure as a headache follows a tavern revel. I do not mean to stop these magistrates, Mr. Renault, only they will wander on the highway, under my very pistols, provoking 'em to fly out!" He looked at me and furtively licked the stem of his clay pipe.
"So you leave for the north to-night?" I asked, amused.
"Yes, sir. There's a certain Walter Butler in this town, arrived like a hen-hawk from the clouds, and peep! peep! we downy chicks must scurry to the forest, lad, or there'll be a fine show on the gallows yonder and two good rifles idle in the hills of Tryon."
"You know Walter Butler?"
"Know him? Yes, sir. I had him at my mercy once—over my rifle-sights! Ah, well—he rode away—and had it not been young Cardigan who stayed my trigger-finger—But let that pass, too. What is he here for?"
"To ask Sir Henry Clinton's sanction of a plan to burn New York and fling the army on West Point, while he and Sir John Johnson and Colonel Ross strike the grain country in the north and lay it and the frontier in ashes."
There was a silence, then a quiet laugh from Mount.
"West Point is safe, I think," he murmured.
"But Tryon?" urged the Weasel; "how will it go with Tryon County, Jack?"
"We'd best be getting back to Willett," said Mount quietly. "As for me, my errand is done, and the strange, fishy smells of New York town stifle me. I'm stale and timid, and I like not the shape of the gallows yonder. My health requires the half-light of the woods, Mr. Renault, and the friendly shadows which lie at hand like rat-holes in a granary. I've drunk all the ale at the Bull's-Head—weak stuff it was—and they've sent for more, but I can't wait. So we're off to the north to-night, friend, and we'll presently rinse our throats of this salt wind, which truly inspires a noble thirst, yet tells nothing to a nose made to sniff the inland breezes."
He held out his hand, saying, "So you can learn no news of this place called Thendara?"
"I may learn yet. Walter Butler said to-day that I knew it. Yet I can not recall anything save the name. Is it Delaware? And yet I know it must be Iroquois, too."
"It might be Cayuga, for all I know," he said. "I never learned their cursed jargon and never mean to. My business is to stop their forest-loping—and I do when I can." He spoke bitterly, like that certain class of forest-runners who never spare an Indian, never understand that anything but evil can come of any blood but white. With them argument is lost, so I said nothing.
"Have you anything for Colonel Willett?" he asked, after a pause.
"Tell him that I sent despatches this very day. Tell him of Butler's visit here, and of his present plans. If I can learn where this Thendara lies I will write him at once. That is all, I think."
I shook their hands, one by one.
"Have a care, sir," warned the Weasel as we parted. "This Walter Butler is a great villain, and, like all knaves, suspicious. If he once should harbor misgivings concerning you, he would never leave your trail until he had you at his mercy. We know him, Jack and I. And I say, God keep you from that man's enmity or suspicion. Good-by, Mr. Renault."
I retained his hand, gazing earnestly into his faded, kindly eyes.
"Do you know aught reflecting on his honor?" I asked.
"I know of Cherry Valley," he replied simply.
"Yes; but I mean his dealings with men in time of peace. Is he upright?"
"He is so considered, though they would have hanged him for a spy in Albany in '78-'79, had not young Lafayette taken pity on him and had him removed from jail to a private house, he pleading illness. Once uncaged, he gnawed through, and was off to the Canadas in no time, swearing to repay tenfold every moment's misery he spent in jail. He did repay—at Cherry Valley. Think, sir, what bloody ghosts must haunt his couch at night—unless he be all demon and not human at all, as some aver. Yet he has a wife, they say——"
"He has a wife," repeated Mount—"or a mistress. It's all one to him."
"Where?" I asked quietly.
"She was at Guy Park, the Oneidas told me; and when Sullivan moved on Catharinestown she fled with all that Tory rabble, they say, to Butlersbury, and from thence to the north—God knows where! I saw her once; she is French, I think—and very young—a beauty, sir, with hair like midnight, and two black stars for eyes. I have seen an Oneida girl with such eyes." He shrugged his shoulders. "Walter Butler makes little of women—like Sir John Johnson," he added in disgust.
I was silent.
"We go north by Valentine's and North Castle, the Albany road being unhealthy traveling at night," said Mount, with a grin; "and I think, Cade, we'd best pull foot. I trust, Mr. Renault, that you may not hear of our being taken and hung to disgrace any friends of ours. Come, Cade, old friend, our fair accomplice, the moon, is hid, so lift thy little legs and trot! Au large!"
They pulled off their hats with a gay flourish, turned, and plunged shoulder-deep into the weeds.
And so they left me, creeping away through the low foliage into Greenwich Street, while I, rousing myself, turned my steps toward home. I had no desire to sup; my appetite's edge had been turned by what I heard concerning Walter Butler. Passing slowly through the graveyard and skirting the burned church, I entered Broadway, where here and there a street-lamp was burning. Few people strolled under the lime-trees; cats prowled and courted and fought in the gutters, scattering in silent, shadowy flight before me as I crossed the street to the great house; and so buried in meditation was I that I presently found myself in my own room, and could not remember how I passed the door or mounted the long stairway to my chambers.
Dennis came to do my hair, but I drove him out with boots in a sudden, petty fury new to my nature. Indeed, lying there in my stuffed armchair, I scarcely knew myself, so strangely sad and sullen ran my thoughts—not thoughts, either, for at first I followed no definite train, but a certain irritable despondency clothed me, and trifles enraged me, leaving me bitter and sick at heart, bearing a weight of apprehension concerning nothing at all.
Oh, for a week of liberty from this pit of intrigue! Oh, for a day's freedom to ride like those blue dragoons of Heath I had seen along the Hudson! Oh, to be free to dog-trot back to the north with those two gallant scamps of Morgan, and wear a hunting-shirt once more, and lay the long brown rifle level in this new quarrel coming soon between these Butlers and these Johnsons and our yeomanry of County Tryon!
"By God!" I muttered, "I care not if they take me, for I'm sick of spying and lying, so let them hoist me out upon that leafless tree where better men have swung, and have done with the wretched business once for all!" Which I meant not, and was silly to fume, and thankless, too, to anger the Almighty with ingratitude for His long and most miraculous protection. But I was in a foul humor with the world and myself, and I knew not what ailed me, either. True, the insolence of that libertine, Walter Butler, affronted me, and it gave me a sour pleasure to think how I should quiet his swagger with one plain word aside.
Following this lead, I fell to thinking in earnest. What would it mean—a quarrel? Dare he deny the charge? No; I should command, and he obey, and I'd send him slinking north by the same accursed schooner that brought him; and Elsin Grey should go when she pleased, escorted by a proper retinue. But I'd make no noise about it—not a word to set tongues wagging and eyes peeping—for Elsin's sake. Lord! the silly maid, to steer so near the breakers and destruction!
And what then? Well, I should never see her again, once she was safe among her kin in the Canadas. And she was doubtless the fairest woman I had ever looked upon—but light—not in an evil sense, God wot! but prone to impulse and caprice—a kitten, soft as silk, now staring at the world out of two limpid eyes, now frisking after breeze-blown rose-leaves. A man may admire such a child, nay, learn to love her dearly, in a way most innocent. But love! She did not know its meaning, and how could she inspire it in a man of the world. No, I did not love her—could not love a maid, unripe and passionless, and overpert at times, flouting a man like me with her airs and vapors and her insolent lids and lashes. Lord! but she carried it high-handed with me at times, plaguing me, teasing, pouting when my attention wandered midway in the pretty babble with which she condescended to entertain me. And with all that—and after all is said—there was something in me that warmed to her—perhaps the shadow of kinship—perhaps because of her utter ignorance of all she prated of so wisely. Her very crudity touched the chord of chivalry which is in all men, strung tight or loose, answering to a touch or a blow, but always answering in some faint degree, I think. Yet, if this is so, how could Walter Butler find it in his heart to trouble her?
That he meant her real evil I did not credit, she being what she was. Doubtless he hoped to find some means of ridding him of a wife no longer loved; there were laws complacent for that sort of work. Yet, grant him free, how could he find it in his heart to cherish passion for a child? He was no boy—this pallid rake of thirty-five—this melancholy squire of dames who, ere he was twenty, had left a trail in Albany and Tryon none too savory, if wide report be credited—he and Sir John Johnson!—as pretty a brace of libertines as one might find even in that rotten town of London.
Well, I would send him on his business without noise or scandal, and I'd hold a seance, too, with Mistress Elsin, wherein a curtain-lecture should be read, kindly, gravely, but with firmness fitting!
I lay back, stretching out my legs luxuriously, pleasantly contemplating the stern yet kindly role I was to play: first send him skulking, next enact the solemn father to this foolish maid. Then, admonishing and smiling forgiveness in one breath, retire as gravely as I entered—a highly interesting figure, magnanimous and moral——
A rapping at my chamber-door aroused me disagreeably from this flattering rhapsody.
"Enter!" I said ungraciously, and lay back, frowning to see there in the flesh the man whose punishment I had been complacently selecting.
"Mr. Renault," he said, "am I overbold in this intrusion on your privacy? Pray, sir, command me, for my business must await your pleasure."
I bowed, rising, and pointing to a chair. "It is business, then, not pleasure, as I take it, Captain Butler, that permits me to receive you?"
"The business and the pleasure both are mine, Mr. Renault," he said, which was stilted enough to be civil. "The business, sir, is this: Sir Henry Clinton received me like a gentleman, but as soon as Sir Peter had retired he listened to me as though I were demented when I exposed my plan to burn New York and take the field. I say he used me with scant civility, and bowed me out, like the gross boor he is!"
"He is commander-in-chief, Mr. Butler."
"What do I care!" burst out Butler, his dark eyes a golden blaze. "Am I not an Ormond-Butler? Why should a Clinton affront an Ormond-Butler? By Heaven! I must swallow his airs and his stares and his shrugs because he is my superior; but I may one day rise in military rank as high as he—and I shall do so, mark me well, Mr. Renault!—and when I am near enough in the tinseled hierarchy to reach him at thirty paces I shall use the privilege, by God!"
"There are," said I blandly, "many subalterns on his staff who might serve your present purpose, Captain Butler."
"No, no," he said impatiently, his dark eyes wandering about the chamber, "I have too much at stake to call out fledglings for a sop to injured pride. No, Mr. Renault, I shall first take vengeance for a deeper wrong—and the north lies like an unreaped harvest for the sickle that Death and I shall set a-swinging there."
I bent my head, meditating; then looking up:
"You say I know where this Thendara lies?"
"Yes," he answered sullenly. "You know as well as I do what is written in the Book of Rites."
At first his words rang meaningless, then far in my memory a voice called faintly, and a pale ray of light grew through the darkened chambers of my brain. And now I knew, now I remembered, now I understood where that lost town must lie—the town of Thendara, lost ever and forever, only to be forever found again as long as the dark Confederacy should endure.
Awed, I sat in silence; and he turned his gloomy eyes now on me, now on the darkened window, gnawing his lip in savage retrospection.
Instantly I was aware that he doubted me, and why. I looked up at him, astounded; he lifted his brooding head and I made a rapid sign, saying in the Mohawk tongue: "Karon-ta-Ke?—at the Tree?"
"Karon-ta-Kowa-Kon—at the great tree. Sat-Kah-tos—thou seest. There lies the lost town of Thendara. And, save for the council, where you and I have a Wolf's clan-right, no living soul could know what that word Thendara means. God help the Oneida who betrays!"
"Since when and by what nation have you been raised up to sit in the council of condolence?" I asked haughtily; for, strange as it may appear to those who know not what it means to wear the Oneida clan-mark of nobility, I, clean-blooded and white-skinned, was as fiercely proud of this Iroquois honor as any peer of England newly invested with the garter. And it was strange, too, for I was but a lad when chosen for the mystic rite; but never except once—the day before I left the north to serve his Excellency's purpose in New York—had I been present when that most solemn rite was held, and the long roll of dead heroes called in honor of the Great League's founder, Hiawatha.
And so, though I am pure white in blood and bone and every instinct, and having nigh forgotten that I wore the Wolf—and, too, the Long House being divided and I siding with the Oneidas, and so at civil war with the shattered league that served King George—yet I turned on Walter Butler as a Mohawk might turn upon a Delaware, scornfully questioning his credentials, demanding his right to speak as one who had heard the roll-call of those Immortals who founded the "Great Peace" three hundred years ago.
"The Delawares named me, and the council took me," he said with perfect calmness. "The Delaware nation mourned their dead; and now I sit for the Wolf Clan—my elder brother, Renault."
"A Delaware clan is not named in the Rite," I said coldly—"nor is there kinship between us because you are adopted by the Delawares. I am aware that clanship knows no nations; and I, an Oneida Wolf, am brother to a Cayuga Wolf; but I am not brother to you."
"And why not to the twin clan of my adopted nation?" he asked angrily.
"Yours is a cleft ensign and a double clan," I sneered; "which are you, Gray Wolf or Yellow Wolf?"
"Yellow," he said, struggling to keep his temper; "and if we Delawares of the Wolf-Clan are not named in the Book of Rites, nevertheless we sit as ensigns among the noble, and on the same side of the council-lodge as your proud Oneidas. We have three in the council as well as you, Mr. Renault. If you were a Mohawk I should hold my peace, but a Delaware may answer an Oneida. And so I answer you, sir."
How strange it seems now—we two white men, gentlemen of quality, completely oblivious to blood, birth, tradition, breeding—our primal allegiance, our very individualities sunk in the mystical freemasonry of a savage tie which bound us to the two nations we assumed to speak for, Oneida and Delaware—two nations of the great Confederacy of the Iroquois that had adopted us, investing us with that clan nobility of which we bore the ensign.
And we were in deadly earnest, too, standing proudly, fiercely, for our prerogatives; he already doubly suspicious of me because the Oneida nation which had adopted me stood for the rebel cause, yet, in his mealy-mouthed way, assuming that by virtue of Wolf clanship, as well as by that sentiment he supposed was loyalty to the King, I would do nothing to disrupt the council which I now knew must decide upon the annihilation of the Oneida nation, as well as upon the raid he contemplated.
"Do you imagine that I shall sit with head averted while four nations and your Delawares combine to plan the murder of my Oneidas?" I demanded passionately. "When the council sits at Thendara I shall send a belt to every clan in the Oneida nation, and I care not who knows it!"
He rose, pale and menacing. "Mr. Renault," he said, "do you understand that a word from you would be a treason to the King? You can be a clansman of the Wolf and at the same time be loyal to the King and to the Iroquois Confederacy; but you can not send a single string of wampum to the Oneidas and be either loyal to the Six Nations or to your King. The Oneidas are marked for punishment; the frontier is doomed—doomed, even though this frittering commander in New York will neither aid me nor his King. A word of warning to the Oneidas is a warning to the rebels. And that, sir, I can not contemplate, and you must shrink from."
"Do you deceive yourself that I shall stand silent and see the Oneida nation ruined?" I asked between my teeth.
"Are you Oneida, or are you a British subject of King George? Are you an Iroquois renegade of the renegade Oneida nation, or are you first of all an Iroquois of the Wolf-Clan? As a white man, you are the King's subject; as an Iroquois, you are still his subject. As an Oneida only, you must be as black a rebel as George Washington himself. That is the limpid logic of the matter, Mr. Renault. A belt to the Oneidas, and you become traitor to the Confederacy and a traitor to your King. And that, I say, you can not contemplate!"
I fairly ground my teeth, subduing the rage and contempt that shook me. "Since when, Captain Butler," I sneered, "have the Oneidas learned to swallow Delaware threats? By God, sir, the oldest man among the council can not remember when a Delaware dared speak without permission of an Iroquois! As an Iroquois and an Oneida, I bid the Delawares to speak only when addressed. But as a white man, I answer you that I require no instruction concerning my conduct, and shall merely thank you for your good intentions and your kind advice, which is the more generous because unsolicited and wholly undesired!"
Again that menacing glare came into his eyes as he stood staring at me. But I cared not; he was not my guest, and he had outraged no roof of mine that the law of hospitality must close my mouth lest I betray the salt he had eaten within my walls.
"I am thinking," he said slowly, "that we did well to burn a certain house in Tryon Bush."
"Think as you please, Captain Butler," I said, bowing. "The door swings open yonder for your convenience."
He surveyed me scornfully. "I trust," he said pleasantly, "to resume this discussion at a time more opportune."
"That also shall be at your convenience," I said. Suddenly such a loathing for the man came over me that I could scarce return his salute and maintain that courteous calm which challenged men must wear at such a moment.
He went away; and I, pacing my chamber lightly, whistled for Dennis, and when he came bade him curl and frizz and powder and perfume me as he had never done before. So to my bath, and then to court the razor, lathered cheek and chin, nose in the air, counting the posies on the wall, as I always did while Dennis shaved me of the beard I fondly feared might one day suddenly appear.
And all the while, singing in my ears, I heard the meaning phrase he used at parting. Challenged? Not quite, but threatened with a challenge. The cards were mine to play—a pretty hand, with here and there a trump. Could I meet him and serve my country best? Aye, if I killed him. And, strangely, I never thought that he might kill me; I only weighed the chances. If I killed him he could not blab and danger me with hints of meddling or of rank disloyalty; but if I only maimed him he would never rest until suspicious eyes must make my mission useless. Suddenly I was aware that I had been a fool to anger him, if I wished to stay here in New York; nay, it was patent that unless I killed him he must one day work a mischief to our cause through me. A sneaking and unworthy happiness crept slowly over me, knowing that once my mission terminated here I was free to hoist true colors, free to bear arms, free to maintain openly the cause I had labored for so long in secret. No more mole's work a-burrowing into darkness for a scrap to stay my starving country's maw; no more slinking, listening, playing the stupid indifferent!
And all the while my conscience was at work, urging me to repair the damage my forgetful passion had wrought, urging me to heal the breach with Butler, using what skill I might command, so that I could stay here where his Excellency had set me, plying my abhorred trade in useful, unendurable obscurity.
It was a battle now 'twixt pride and conscience, 'twixt fierce desire and a loathed duty—doubly detested since I had spied a way to freedom and had half tasted a whiff of good free air, untainted by deception.
"O Lord!" I groaned within myself, "will no one set me free of this pit of intrigue and corruption in which I'm doomed to lurk? Must I, in loyalty to his Excellency, repair this fault—go patch up all with Butler, and deceive him so that his hawk's eyes and forked tongue may not set folk a-watching this house sidewise?"
But while Dennis's irons were in my hair I thought: "Nevertheless, I must send a belt to our allies, the Oneidas; and then I dare not stay! Oh, joy!"
But the joy was soon dashed. My belt must go first to Colonel Willett, and then to his Excellency, and it might be that he would judge it best to let the Oneidas fight their own battles and so decline to send my belt.
By the time I had arrived so far in my mental argument Dennis had curled, powdered, and tied my hair in the most fashionable manner, using a black flamboyant ribbon for the clubbed queue, a pearl-gray powder a la Rochambeau; but I was not foolish enough to permit him to pass a diamond pin into my hair, for I had once seen that fashion affected by Murray, Earl of Dunmore, that Royal Governor of Virginia who had laid Norfolk in ashes out of pure vindictiveness.
My costume I shall describe, not, I hope, from any unworthy vanity, but because I love beautiful things. Therefore, for the pleasure of others who also admire, and prompted alone by a desire to gratify, I neither seek nor require excuses for recalling what I wore that night at the Artillery ball. The lace at the stock was tied full and fastened with brilliants; the coat of ivory silk, heavily embroidered with golden filigree, fell over a waistcoat of clouded ivory and gold mesh, fashionably short, and made by Thorne. My breeches were like the coat, ivory silk, buckled with gold; the stockings were white silk, a bunch of ribbon caught by the jeweled buckles at either knee; and upon my double-channeled pumps, stitched by Bass, buckles of plain dull gold. There was blond lace at throat and cuff. I confess that, although I did not wear two watches, a great bunch of seals dangled from the fob; and the small three-cornered French hat I tucked beneath my arm was laced like a Nivernois, and dressed and cocked by the most fashionable hatter in Hanover Square.
The mirror before which I stood was but half long enough, so I bade Dennis place it upon the floor, whence it should reflect my legs and gilded court-sword. Pleased, I obtained several agreeable views of my costume, Dennis holding two mirrors for me while I pondered, hesitating where to place the single patch of black.
"Am I fine, Dennis?" I asked.
"Now God be good to the ladies, sir!" he said, so seriously that I laughed like a boy, whisked out my sword, and made a pass at my mirrored throat.
"At all events," I thought, "I'll be handsomely clothed if there's a scratch-quarrel with Walter Butler—which God avert!" Then for the first time it occurred to me that it might not be Walter Butler, but I myself, lying stretched on the lawn behind the Coq d'Or, and I was comforted to know that, however low misfortune might lay me, I should be clothed suitably and as befitted a Renault.
THE ARTILLERY BALL
When I descended from my chamber to the south drawing-room I found there a respectable company of gentlemen assembled, awaiting the ladies who had not yet appeared. First I greeted Sir Henry Clinton, who had at that moment entered, followed by his staff and by two glittering officers of his Seventh Light Dragoons. He appeared pale and worn, his eyes somewhat inflamed from overstudy by candle-light, but he spoke to me pleasantly, as did Oliver De Lancey, the Adjutant-General, who had succeeded poor young Andre—an agreeable and accomplished gentleman, and very smart in his brilliant uniform of scarlet loaded with stiff gold.
O'Neil, in his gay dress of the Seventeenth Dragoons, and Harkness, wearing similar regimentals, were overflushed and frolicksome, no doubt having already begun their celebration for the victory of the Flatbush birds, which they had backed so fortunately at the Coq d'Or. Sir Peter, too, was in mischievous good spirits, examining my very splendid costume as though he had not chosen it for me at his own tailor's.
"Gad, Carus!" he exclaimed, "has his Majesty appointed a viceroy in North America—or is it the return of that Solomon whose subjects rule the Dock Ward still?"
O'Neil and Harkness, too, were merry, making pretense that my glitter set them blinking; but the grave, gray visage of Sir Henry, and his restless pacing of the polished floor, gave us all pause; and presently, as by common accord, voices around him dropped to lower tones, and we spoke together under breath, watching askance the commander-in-chief, who now stood, head on his jeweled breast, hands clasped loosely behind his back.
"Sir Peter," he said, looking up with a forced laugh, "I have irritating news. The rebel dragoons are foraging within six miles of our lines at Kingsbridge."
For a month we here in New York had become habituated to alarms. We had been warned to expect the French fleet; we had known that his Excellency was at Dobbs Ferry, with quarters at Valentine's; we had seen, day by day, the northern lines strengthened, new guns mounted on the forts and batteries, new regiments arrive, constant alarms for the militia, and the city companies under arms, marching up Murray Hill, only, like that celebrated army of a certain King of France, to march down again with great racket of drums and overfierce officers noisily shouting commands. But even I had not understood how near to us the siege had drawn, closing in steadily, inch by inch, from the green Westchester hills.
A little thrill shot through me as I noted the newer, deeper lines etched in Sir Henry's pallid face, and the grave silence of De Lancey, as he stood by the window, arms folded, eying his superior under knitted brows.
"Why not march out, bands playing?" suggested Sir Peter gaily.
"By God, we may do that yet to the tune they choose for us!" blurted out Sir Henry.
"I meant an assault," said Sir Peter, the smile fading from his handsome face.
"I know what you meant," returned Sir Henry wearily. "But that is what they wish. I haven't the men, gentlemen."
There was a silence. He stood there, swaying slowly to and fro on his polished heels, buried in reflection; but I, who stood a little to one side, could see his fingers clasped loosely behind his back, nervously working and picking at one another.
"What do they expect?" he said suddenly, lifting his head but looking at no one—"what do they expect of me in England? I have not twelve thousand effectives, and of these not nine thousand fit for duty. They have eleven thousand, counting the French, not a dozen miles north of us. Suppose I attack? Suppose I beat them? They have but a mile to fall back, and they are stronger posted than before. I can not pass the Harlem with any chance of remaining, unless I leave here in New York a garrison of at least six thousand regulars. This gives me but three thousand regulars for a sortie." He moved his head slowly, his eyes traveled from one to another with that heavy, dazed expression which saw nothing.
"Thirty thousand men could not now force Fordham Heights—and but a single bridge left across the Harlem. To boat it means to be beaten in detail. I tell you, gentlemen, that the only chance I might have in an attempt upon any part of Washington's army must be if he advances. In formal council, Generals Kniphausen, Birch, and Robertson sustain me; and, believing I am right, I am prepared to suffer injustice and calumny in silence from my detractors here in New York and at home."
His heavy eyes hardened; a flash lighted them, and he turned to Sir Peter, adding:
"I have listened to a very strange proposition from the gentleman you presented to me, Sir Peter. His ideas of civilized warfare and mine do not run in like channels."
"So I should imagine," replied Sir Peter dryly. "But he is my guest, and at his pressing solicitation I went with him to wait upon you."
Sir Henry smiled, for Sir Peter had spoken very distinctly, though without heat.
"My dear friend," said the general gently, "are you to blame for the violent views of this gentleman who so—ah—distinguished himself at Cherry Valley?"
A sour grimace stamped the visage of every officer present; the name of Cherry Valley was not pleasant to New York ears.
At that moment Walter Butler entered, halted on the threshold, glancing haughtily around him, advanced amid absolute silence, made his bow to Sir Peter, turned and rendered a perfect salute to Sir Henry, then, as Sir Peter quietly named him to every man present, greeted each with ceremony and a graceful reserve that could not but stamp him as a gentleman of quality and breeding.
To me, above all, was his attitude faultless; and I, relinquishing to a tyrant conscience all hopes of profiting by my blunder in angering him, and giving up all hopes of a duel and consequently of freedom from my hateful business in New York, swallowed pride and repulsion at a single gulp, and crossed the room to where he stood alone, quite at his ease amid the conversation which excluded him.
"Mr. Butler," I said, "I spoke hastily and thoughtlessly an hour since. I come to say so."
He bowed instantly, regarding me with curious eyes.
"I know not how to make further amends," I began, but he waved his hand with peculiar grace, a melancholy smile on his pale visage.
"I only trust, Mr. Renault, that you may one day understand me better. No amends are necessary. I assure you that I shall endeavor to so conduct that in future neither you nor any man may misapprehend my motives." He glanced coolly across at Sir Henry, then very pleasantly spoke of the coming rout at the Fort, expressing pleasure in gaiety and dancing.
"I love music, too," he said thoughtfully, "but have heard little for a year save the bellow of conch-horns from the rebel riflemen of Morgan's corps."
Mr. De Lancey had come up, moved by the inbred courtesy which distinguished not Sir Henry, who ostentatiously held Sir Peter in forced consultation, his shoulder turned to Walter Butler. And, of the twain, Mr. Butler cut the better figure, and spite of his true character, I was secretly gratified to see how our Tryon County gentry suffered nothing in comparison of savoir faire with the best that England sent us. Courtesy to an enemy—that is a creed no gentleman can renounce save with his title. I speak not of disputes in hot blood, but of a chance meeting upon neutral ground; and Sir Henry was no credit to his title and his country in his treatment there of Walter Butler.
One by one all spoke to Mr. Butler; laughter among us broke out as wine was served and compliments exchanged.
"The hardest lesson man is born to is that lesson which teaches him to await the dressing of his lady," said De Lancey.
"Aye, and await it, too, without impatience!" said Captain Harkness.
"And in perfect good-humor," echoed De Lancey gravely. O'Neil sat down at the piano and played "The World Turned Upside-Down," all drifting into the singing, voice after voice; and the beauty of Walter Butler's voice struck all, so that presently, one by one, we fell silent, and he alone carried the quaint old melody to its end.
"I have a guitar hereabouts," blurted out Sir Peter, motioning a servant.
The instrument was brought, and Walter Butler received it without false modesty or wearying protestation, and, touching it dreamily, he sang:
"Ninon! Ninon! Que fais-tu de la vie? L'heure s'enfuit, le jour succede au jour, Rose, ce soir—demain fletrie Comment vis-tu, toi qui n'as pas d'amour?
* * *
Ouvrez-vous, jeunes fleurs Si la mort vous enleve, La vie est un sommeil, l'amour en est le reve!"
Sad and sweet the song faded, lingering like perfume, as the deep concord of the strings died out. All were moved. We pressed him to sing more, and he sang what we desired in perfect taste and with a simplicity that fascinated all.
I, too, stood motionless under the spell, yet struggling to think of what I had heard of the nearness of his Excellency to New York, and how I might get word to him at once concerning the Oneidas' danger and the proposed attempt upon the frontier granaries. The ladies had as yet given no sign of readiness; all present, even Sir Henry, stood within a circle around Walter Butler. So I stepped quietly into the hallway and hastened up the stairs to my chamber, which I locked first, then seized paper and quill and fell to scribbling:
"TO HIS EXCELLENCY, GEN'L WASHINGTON:
"Sir—I regret to report that, through thoughtlessness and inadvertence, I have made a personal enemy of Captain Walter Butler of the Rangers, who is now here on a mission to enlist the aid of Sir Henry Clinton in a new attempt on the frontier. His purpose in this enterprise is to ruin our granaries, punish the Oneidas friendly to us, and, if aided from below, seize Albany, or at least Johnstown, Caughnawaga, and Schenectady. Sir John Johnson, Major Ross, and Captain Butler are preparing to gather at Niagara Fort. They expect to place a strong, swift force in the field—Rangers, Greens, Hessians, Regulars, and partizans, not counting Brant's Iroquois of the Seneca, Cayuga, and Mohawk nations.
"The trysting-place is named as Thendara. Only an Iroquois, adopted or native, can understand how Thendara is to be found. It is a town that has no existence—a fabled town that has existed and will exist again, but does not now exist. It is a mystic term used in council, and understood only by those clan ensigns present at the Rite of Condolence. At a federal council of the Five Nations, at a certain instant in the ceremonies, that spot which for a week shall be chosen to represent the legendary and lost town of Thendara, is designated to the clan attestants.
"Now, sir, as our allies the Oneidas dare not answer to a belt summons for federal council, there is no one who can discover for you the location of the trysting-spot, Thendara. I, however, am an Oneida councilor, having conformed to the law of descent by adoption; and having been raised up to ensign by the Wolf-Clan of the Oneida Nation, beg leave to place my poor services at your Excellency's disposal. There may be a chance that I return alive; and you, sir, are to judge whether any attempt of mine to answer the Iroquois belt, which surely I shall receive, is worth your honorable consideration. In the meanwhile I am sending copies of this letter to Colonel Willett and to Gen'l Schuyler."
I hastily signed, seized more writing-paper, and fell to copying furiously. And at length it was accomplished, and I wrapped up the letters in a box of snuff, tied and sealed the packet, and called Dennis.
"Take this snuff back to Ennis, in Hanover Square," I said peevishly, "and inform him that Mr. Renault desires a better quality."
My servant took the box and hastened away. I stood an instant, listening. Walter Butler was still singing. I cast my eyes about, picked up a half-written sheet I had discarded for fault of blots, crumpled it, and reached for a candle to burn it. But at that instant I heard the voices of the ladies on the landing below, so quickly opening my wainscot niche I thrust the dangerous paper within, closed the panel, and hastened away down-stairs to avoid comment for my absence.
In the merry company now assembled below I could scarcely have been missed, I think, for the Italian chaises had but just that moment appeared to bear us away to the Fort, and the gentlemen were clustered about Lady Coleville, who, encircled by a laughing bevy of pretty women, was designating chaise-partners, reading from a list she held in her jeweled hands. Those already allotted to one another had moved apart, standing two and two, and as I entered the room I saw Walter Butler give his arm to Rosamund Barry at Lady Coleville's command, a fixed smile hiding his disappointment, which turned to a white grimace as Lady Coleville ended with: "Carus, I entrust to your escort the Hon. Elsin Grey, and if you dare to run off with her there are some twenty court-swords ready here to ask the reason why. Sir Henry, will you take me as your penance?"
"Now, gentlemen," cried Sir Peter gaily, "the chaises are here; and please to remember that there is no Kissing-Bridge between Wall Street and the Battery."
Elsin Grey turned to me, laying her soft white hand on mine.
"Did you hear Mr. Butler sing?" she whispered. "Is it not divine enough to steal one's heart away?"
"He sings well," I said, gazing in wonder at her ball-gown—pale turquoise silk, with a stomacher of solid brilliants and petticoat of blue and silver. "Elsin, I think I never saw so beautiful a maid in all my life, nor a beautiful gown so nobly borne."
"Do you really think so?" she asked, delighted at my bluntness. "And you, too, Carus—why, you are like a radiant one from the sky! I have ever thought you handsome, but not as flawless as you now reveal yourself. Lord! we should cut a swathe to-night, you and I, sir, blinding all eyes in our proper glitter. I could dance all night, and all day too! I never felt so light, so gay, so eager, so reckless. I'm quivering with delight, Carus, from throat to knee; and, for the rest, my head is humming with the devil's tattoo and my feet keeping time."
She raised the hem of her petticoat a hand's breadth, and tapped the floor with one little foot—a trifle only. "That ballet figure that we did at Sir Henry's—do you remember?—and the heat of the ballroom, and the French red running from the women's cheeks? To-night is perfect, cool and fragrant. I shall dance until I die, and go up to heaven in one high, maddened whirl—zip!—like a burning soul!"
We were descending the stoop now. Our chaise stood ready. I placed her and followed, and away we rolled down Broadway.
"Am I to have two dances?" I asked.
"Two? Why, you blessed man, you may have twenty!"
She turned to me, eyes sparkling, fan half spread, a picture of exquisite youth and beauty. Her jewels flashed in the chaise-lamps, her neck and shoulders glowed clear and softly fair.
"Is that French red on lip and cheek?" I asked, to tease her.
"If there were a certain sort of bridge betwixt Wall Street and the Fort you might find out without asking," she said, looking me daringly in the eyes. "Lacking that same bridge, you have another bridge and another problem, Mr. Renault."
"For lack of a Kissing-Bridge I must solve the pons asinorum, I see," said I, imprisoning her hands. There was a delicate hint of a struggle, a little cry, and I had kissed her. Breathless she looked at me; the smile grew fixed on her red lips.
"Your experience in such trifles is a blessing to the untaught," she said. "You have not crumpled a ribbon. Truly, Carus, only long and intense devotion to the art could turn you out a perfect master."
"My compliments to you, Elsin; I take no credit that your gown is smooth and the lace unruffled."
"Thank you; but if you mean that I, too, am practised in the art, you are wrong."
The fixed smile trembled a little, but her eyes were wide and bright.
"Would you laugh, Carus, if I said it: what you did to me—is the first—the very first in all my life?"
"Oh, no," I said gravely, "I should not laugh if you commanded otherwise."
She looked at me in silence, the light from the chaise-lamps playing over her flushed face. Presently she turned and surveyed the darkness where, row on row, ruins of burned houses stood, the stars shining down through roofless walls.
Into my head came ringing the song that Walter Butler sang:
"Ninon! Ninon! thy sweet life flies! Wasted in hours day follows day. The rose to-night to-morrow dies: Wilt thou disdain to love alway? How canst thou live unconscious of Love's fire, Immune to passion, guiltless of desire?"
Now all around us lamplight glimmered as we entered Bowling Green, where coach and chaise and sedan-chair were jumbled in a confusion increased by the crack of whips, the trample of impatient horses, and the cries of grooms and chairmen. In the lamp's increasing glare I made out a double line of soldiers, through which those invited to the Fort were passing; and as our chaise stopped and I aided Elsin to descend, the fresh sea-wind from the Battery struck us full, blowing her lace scarf across my face.
Through lines of servants and soldiers we passed, her hand nestling closely to my arm, past the new series of outworks and barricades, where bronze field-pieces stood shining in the moonlight, then over a dry moat by a flimsy bridge, and entered the sally-port, thronged with officers, all laughing and chatting, alert to watch the guests arriving, and a little bold, too, with their stares and their quizzing-glasses. There is, at times, something almost German in the British lack of delicacy, which is, so far, rare with us here, though I doubt not the French will taint a few among us. But insolence in stare and smirk is not among our listed sins, though, doubtless, otherwise the list is full as long as that of any nation, and longer, too, for all I know.
Conducting Elsin Grey, I grew impatient at the staring, and made way for her without ceremony, which caused a mutter here and there.
In the great loft-room of the Barracks, held by the naval companies, the ball was to be given. I relinquished my pretty charge to Lady Coleville at the door of the retiring-room, and strolled off to join Sir Peter and the others, gathering in knots throughout the cloak-room, where two sailors, cutlasses bared, stood guard.
"Well, Carus," he said, smilingly approaching me, "did you heed those chaste instructions I gave concerning the phantom Kissing-Bridge?"
"I did not run away with her," I said, looking about me. "Where is Walter Butler?"
"He returned to the house in a chaise for something forgotten—or so he said. I did not understand him clearly, and he was in great haste."
"He went back to our house?" I asked uneasily.
"Yes—a matter of a moment, so he said. He returns to move the opening dance with Rosamund."
Curiously apprehensive, I stood there listening to the chatter around me. Sir Peter drummed with his fingers on his sword-hilt, and nodded joyously to every passer-by.
"You have found Walter Butler more agreeable, I trust, than our friend Sir Henry found him," he said, turning his amused eyes on me.
"Perhaps," I said.
"Perhaps? Damme, Carus, that is none too cordial! What is it in the man that keeps men aloof? Eh? He's a gentleman, a graceful, dark, romantic fellow, in his forest-green regimentals and his black hair worn unpowdered. And did you ever hear such a voice?"
"No, I never did," I replied sulkily.
"Delicious," said Sir Peter—"a voice prettily cultivated, and sweet enough to lull suspicion in a saint." He laughed: "Rosamund made great eyes at him, the vixen, but I fancy he's too cold to catch fire from a coquette. Did you learn if he is married?"
"Not from him, sir."
I was silent.
"From whom?" he asked curiously.
"Why, I had it from one or two acquaintances, who say they knew his wife when she fled with other refugees from Guy Park," I answered.
Sir Peter shrugged his handsome shoulders, dusted his nose with a whisk of his lace handkerchief, and looked impatiently for a sign of his wife and the party of ladies attending her.
"Carus," he said under his breath, "you should enter the lists, you rogue."
"What lists?" I answered carelessly.
"Lord! he asks me what lists!" mimicked Sir Peter. "Why don't you court her? The match is suitable and desirable. You ninny, do you suppose it was by accident that Elsin Grey became our guest? Why, lad, we're set on it—and, damme! but I'm as crafty a matchmaker as my wife, planning the pretty game together in the secret of our chambers after you and Elsin are long abed, and—Lord! I came close to saying 'snoring'—for which you should have called me out, sir, if you are champion of Elsin Grey."
"But, Sir Peter," I said smiling, "I do not love the lady."
"A boorish speech!" he snapped. "Take shame, Carus, you Tryon County bumpkin!"
"I mean," said I, reddening, "and should have said, that the lady does not love me."
"That's better." He laughed, and added, "Pay your court, sir. You are fashioned for it."
"But I do not care to," I said.
"O Lord!" muttered Sir Peter, looking at the great beams above us, "my match-making is come to naught, after all, and my wife will be furious with you—furious, I say. And here she comes, too," he said, brightening, as he ever did, at sight of his lovely wife, who had remained his sweetheart, too; and this I am free to say, that, spite of the looseness of the times and of society, never, as long as I knew him, did Sir Peter forget in thought or deed those vows he took when wedded. Sportsman he was, and rake and gambler, as were we all; and I have seen him often overflushed with wine, but never heard from his lips a blasphemy or foul jest, never a word unworthy of clean lips and the clean heart he carried with him to his grave.
As Lady Coleville emerged from the ladies' cloakroom, attended by her pretty bevy, Sir Peter, followed by his guests, awaited her in the great corridor, where she took his arm, looking up into his handsome face with that indefinable smile I knew so well—a smile of delicate pride, partly tender, partly humorous, tinctured with faintest coquetry.
"Sweetheart," he said, "that villain, Carus, will have none of our match-making, and I hope Rosamund twists him into a triple lover's-knot, to teach him lessons he might learn more innocently."
Lady Coleville flushed up and looked around at me. "Why, Carus," she said softly, "I thought you a man of sense and discretion."
"But I—but she does not favor me, madam," I protested in a low voice.
"It is your fault, then, and your misfortune," she said. "Do you not know that she leaves us to-morrow? Sir Henry has placed a packet at our service. Can you not be persuaded—for my sake? It is our fond wish, Carus. How can a man be insensible to such wholesome loveliness as hers?"
"But—but she is a child—she has no heart! She is but a child yet—all caprice, innocence, and artless babble—and she loves not me, madam——"
"You love not her! Shame, sir! Open those brown blind eyes of yours, that look so wise and are so shallow if such sweetness as hers troubles not their depths! Oh, Carus, Carus, you make me too unhappy!"
"Idiot!" added Sir Peter, pinching my arm. "Bring her to us, now, for we enter. She is yonder, you slow-wit! nose to nose with O'Neil. Hasten!"
But Elsin's patch-box had been mislaid, and while we searched for it I saw the marines march up, form in double rank, and heard the clear voice of their sergeant announcing:
"Sir Peter and Lady Coleville!
"Captain Tully O'Neil and the Misses O'Neil!
"Adjutant-General De Lancey and Miss Beekman!
"Sir Henry Clinton!
"Captains Harkness, Rutherford, Hallowell, and McIvor!
"Elsin," I said, "you should have been announced with Sir Peter and Lady Coleville!"
She had found her patch-box and her fan at length, and we marched in, the sergeant's loud announcement ringing through the quickly filling room:
"Mr. Carus Renault and the Honorable Elsin Grey!"
"What will folk say to hear our banns shouted aloud in the teeth of all New York?" she whispered mischievously. "Mercy on me! if you turn as red as a Bushwick pippin they will declare we are affianced!"
"I shall confirm it if you consent!" I said, furious to burn at a jest from her under a thousand eyes.
"Ask me again," she murmured; "we make our reverences here."
She took her silk and silver petticoat between thumb and forefinger of each hand and slowly sank, making the lowest, stateliest curtsy that I ever bowed beside; and I heard a low, running murmur sweep the bright, jeweled ranks around us as we recovered and passed on, ceding our place to others next behind.
The artillerymen had made the great loft gay with bunting. Jacks and signal-flags hung from the high beams overhead, clothing the bare timbers with thickets of gayest foliage; banners and bright scarfs, caught up with trophies, hung festooned along the unpainted walls. They had made a balcony with stairs where the band was perched, the music of the artillery augmented by strings—a harp, half a dozen fiddles, cellos, bassoons, and hautboys, and there were flutes, too, and trumpets lent by the cavalry, and sufficient drums to make that fine, deep, thunderous undertone, which I love to hear, and which heats my cheeks with pleasure.
Beyond the spar-loft the sail-loft had been set aside and fashioned most elegantly for refreshment. An immense table crossed it, behind which servants stood, and behind the servants the wall had been lined with shelves covered with cakes, oranges, apples, early peaches, melons and nectarines, and late strawberries, also wines of every sort, pastry, jellies, whip-syllabub, rocky and floating island, blanc-mange, brandied preserves—and Heaven knows what! But Elsin Grey whispered me that Pryor the confectioner had orders for coriander and cinnamon comfits by the bushel, and orange, lemon, chocolate, and burned almonds by the peck.
"Do look at Lady Coleville," whispered Elsin, gently touching my sleeve; "is she not sweet as a bride with Sir Peter? And oh, that gown! with the lilac ribbons and flounce of five rows of lace. Carus, she has forty diamond buttons upon her petticoat, and her stomacher is all amethysts!"
"I wonder where Walter Butler is?" I said restlessly.
"Do you wish to be rid of me?" she asked.
"God forbid! I only marvel that he is not here—he seemed so eager for the frolic——"
My voice was drowned in the roll of martial music; we took the places assigned us, and the slow march began, ending in the Governor's set, which was danced by eight couples—a curious dance, newly fashionable, and called "En Ballet." This we danced in a very interesting fashion, sometimes two and two, sometimes three and two, or four couple and four couple, and then all together, which vastly entertained the spectators. In the final melee I had lost my lady to Mr. De Lancey, who now carried her off, leaving me with a willowy maid, whose partner came to claim her soon.
The ball now being opened, I moved a minuet with Lady Coleville, she adjuring me at every step and turn to let no precious moment slip to court Elsin; and I, bland but troubled, and astonished to learn how deep an interest she took in my undoing—I with worry enough before me, not inclusive of a courtship that I found superfluous and unimportant.
When she was rid of me, making no concealment of her disappointment and impatience, I looked for Elsin, but found Rosamund Barry, and led her out in one of those animated figures we had learned at home from the Frenchman, Grasset—dances that suited her, the rose coquette!—gay dances, where the petticoat reveals a pretty limb discreetly; where fans play, opening and closing like the painted wings of butterflies alarmed; where fingers touch, fall away, interlace and unlace; where a light waist-clasp and a vis-a-vis leaves a moment for a whisper and its answer, promise, assent, or low refusal as partners part, dropping away in low, slow reverence, which ends the frivolous figure with regretful decorum.
Askance I had seen Elsin and O'Neil, a graceful pair of figures in the frolic, and now I sought her, leaving Rosamund to Sir Henry, but that villain O'Neil had her to wine, and amid all that thirsty throng and noise of laughter I missed her in the tumult, and then lost her for two hours. I must admit those two hours sped with the gay partners that fortune sent me—and one there was whose fingers were shyly eloquent, a black-eyed beauty from Westchester, with a fresh savor of free winds and grassy hillsides clinging to her, and a certain lovely awkwardness which claims an arm to steady very often. Lord! I had her twice to ices and to wine, and we laughed and laughed at nothing, and might have been merrier, but her mother seized her with scant ceremony, and a strange young gentleman breathed hard and glared at me as I recovered dignity, which made me mad enough to follow him half across the hall ere I reflected that my business here permitted me no quarrel of my own seeking.