The Hidden Children by Robert W. Chambers - HTML preview
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Chapter 5. The Gathering
Now, no sooner had we broken camp, covered our fire, packed, saddled, and mounted, than all around us, as we advanced, the wilderness began to wear an aspect very different to that brooding solitude which hitherto had been familiar to us-- our shelter and our menace also.
For we had proceeded on our deeply-trodden war trail no more than a mile or two before we encountered the raw evidences of an army's occupation. Everywhere spotted leads, game trails, and runways had been hacked, trimmed, and widened into more open woodwalks; foot-paths enlarged to permit the passage of mounted men; cattle-roads cleared, levelled, made smoother for wagons and artillery; log bridges built across the rapid streams that darkled westward, swamps and swales paved with logs, and windfalls hewn in twain and the huge abattis dragged wide apart or burnt to ashes where it lay. Yet, still the high debris bristling from some fallen forest giant sprawling athwart the highway often delayed us. Our details had not yet cleared out the road entirely.
We were, however, within a wolf-hound's easy run to Cherry Valley, Fort Hunter, and the Mohawk-- the outer edges of my own country. Northeast of us lay Schenectady behind its fort; north of us lay my former home, Guy Park, and near it old Fort Johnson and Johnson Hall. Farther still to the northward stretched the Vlaie and silvery Sacandaga with its pretty Fish House settlement now in ashes; and Summer House Point and Fonda's Bush were but heaps of cinders, too, the brave Broadalbin yeomen prisoners, their women and children fled to Johnstown, save old man Stoner and his boys, and that Tory villain Charlie Cady who went off with Sir John.
Truly I should know something of these hills and brooks and forests that we now traversed, and of the silent, solitary roads that crept into the wilderness, penetrating to distant, lonely farms or grist mills where some hardy fellow had cleared the bush and built his cabin on the very borders of that dark and fearsome empire which we were gathering to enter and destroy.Here it lay, close on our left flank-- so close that its strange gigantic shadow fell upon us, like a vast hand, stealthy and chill.
And it was odd, but on the edges of these trackless shades, here, even with fresh evidences on every side that our own people lately passed this way-- yes, even when we began to meet or overtake men of our own color-- the stupendous desolation yielded nothing of its brooding mystery and dumb magnificence.
Westward, the green monotony of trees stretched boundless as an ocean, and as trackless and uncharted-- gigantic forests in the depths of which twilight had brooded since first the world was made.
Here, save for the puny, man-made trail-- save for the tiny scars left by his pygmy hacking at some high forest monument, all this magic shadow-land still bore the imprint of our Lord's own fingers.
The stillness and the infinite majesty, the haunting fragrance clinging to the craftsmanship of hands miraculous; all the sweet odour and untainted beauty which enveloped it in the making, and which had remained after creation's handiwork was done, seemed still to linger in this dim solitude. And it was as though the twilight through the wooded aisles was faintly tinctured still, where the sweet-scented garments of the Lord had passed.
There was no underbrush, no clinging sprays or fairy brambles intertwined under the solemn arches of the trees; only the immemorial strata of dead leaves spread one above another in endless coverlets of crumbling gold; only a green and knee-deep robe of moss clothing the vast bases of the living columns.
And into this enchanted green and golden dusk no sunlight penetrated, save along the thread-like roads, or where stark-naked rocks towered skyward, or where, in profound and velvet depths, crystalline streams and rivers widened between their Indian willow bottoms. And these were always set with wild flowers, every bud and blossom gilded by the sun.
As we journeyed on, the first wayfarer we encountered after passing our outer line of pickets was an express rider from General Sullivan's staff, one James Cook, who told us that the right division of the army, General James Clinton's New York brigade, which was ours, was still slowly concentrating in the vicinity of Otsego Lake; that innumerable and endless difficulties in obtaining forage and provisions had delayed everything; that the main division, Sullivan's, was now arriving at Easton and Wyoming; and that, furthermore, the enemy had become vastly agitated over these ominous preparations of ours, but still believed, from their very magnitude, that we were preparing for an advance into Canada."Ha-ha!" said Boyd merrily. "So much the better, for if they continue to believe that, they will keep their cursed scalping parties snug at home." "No, sir," said the express soberly. "Brant and his Mohawks are out somewhere or other, and so is Walter Butler and his painted crew." "In this same district?"
"No doubt of it, sir. Indians fired on our pickets last week. It will go hard with the outlying farms and settlements. Small doubt, too, that they will strike heavily and strive to draw this army from whatever plan it meditated."
"Then," said Boyd with a careless laugh, "it is for us to strike more heavily still and draw them with the very wind of our advance into a common vortex of destruction with the Iroquois."
The express rode on, and Boyd, in excellent humour, continued talking to me, saying that he knew our Commander-in-Chief, and that he was an officer not to be lightly swayed or turned from the main purpose, but would hew to the line, no matter what destruction raged and flamed about him.
"No, Loskiel, they may murder and burn to right and left of us, and it may wring his heart and ours to hear the agonized appeals for aid; but if I judge our General, he will not be halted or drawn aside until the monstrous, loathesome body of this foul empire lies chopped to bits, writhing and dying in the flames of Catharines-town.""He must truly be a man of iron," said I, "if we win through." "We will win through, Loskiel," he said gaily, "-- to Catharines-town or paradise-- to hell or heaven. And what a tale to tell our children-- we who survive!" An odd expression came into his handsome face, and he said in a low and dreamy voice: "I think that almost every man will live to tell that story-- yet, I can never hear myself telling the tale in years to come."
On paths and new-made highways we began to encounter people and cattle-- now a long line of oxen laden with military stores or with canoes and flatboats, and conducted by batt-men in smock and frock, now a sweating company of military surveyors from headquarters, burdened with compass, chain, and Jacob-staff, already running their lines into the wilderness. Here trudged the frightened family of some settler, making toward the forts; there a company of troops came gaily marching out on some detail, or perhaps, with fixed bayonets, herded sheep and cattle down some rutted road.
It seemed scarce possible that we were already within scouting range of that never-to-beforgotten region of Wyoming, where just one year ago old John Butler with his Rangers, his hell-born Senecas, and Johnson's Greens, had done their bloody business; where, in "The Shades of Death," a hundred frightened women and little children had perished in that ghastly darkness. Also, we were but a few miles from that scene of terror where, through the wintry dawn at Cherry Valley, young Walter Butler damned his soul for all eternity while men, women, and children, old and young, died horribly amid the dripping knives and bayonets of his painted fiends, or fell under the butchering hatchets of his Senecas.
I could see that Boyd also was thinking of this ghastly business, as I caught his sombre eye. He seemed to shudder, then:
"Patience," he muttered grimly, with a significant nod toward the Siwanois, who strode silently between our horses. "We have our guide at last. A Siwanois hates the Iroquois no more fiercely than do we white-skins. Wait till he leads our van within rifle-range of Catharines-town! And if Walter Butler be there, or that bloodless beast Sir John, or Brant, or any of that hell-brood, and if we let them get away, may God punish us with the prisoner's fire! Amen."
Never before had I heard him speak that way, or with such savage feeling; and his manner of expression, and the uncanny words he used concerning fire caused me to shudder, too-- knowing that if he had ever dreaded anything it was the stake, and the lingering death that lasted till the very soul lay burnt to cinders before the tortured body died. We exchanged no further conversation; many people passed and repassed us; the woods opened somewhat; the jolly noise of axes resounded near at hand among the trees.
Just ahead of us the road from Mattisses' Grist Mill and Stoney Kill joined ours, where stood the Low Dutch Church. Above us lay the Middle Fort, and the roads to Cherry Valley and Schenectady forked beyond it by the Lutheran Church and the Lower Fort. We took the Cherry Valley Road.
Here, through this partly cleared and planted valley of the Scoharie Kill, between the river and the lake, was now gathering a great concourse of troops and of people; and all the roads were lively with their comings and goings. Every woodland rang with the racket of their saws and axes; over the log bridges rumbled their loaded transport wagons; road and trail were filled with their crowding cattle; the wheels of Eckerson's and Becker's grist mills clattered and creaked under the splash of icy, limpid waters, and everywhere men were hammering and sawing and splitting, erecting soldiers' huts, huts for settlers, sheds, stables, store-houses, and barracks to shelter this motley congregation assembling here under the cannon of the Upper Fort, the Lower, and the Middle.
As we rode along, many faces we passed were familiar to us; we encountered officers from our own corps and from other regiments, with whom we were acquainted, and who greeted us gaily or otherwise, according to their temper and disposition. But everybody-- officers, troops, batt-men-- looked curiously at our Siwanois Indian, who returned the compliment not at all, but with stately stride and expressionless visage moved straight ahead of him, as though he noticed nothing.
Twice since we had started at daybreak that morning, I had managed to lag behind and question him concerning the maid who now shared well-nigh every thought of mine-- asking if he knew who she was, and where she came from, and why she journeyed, and whither.
He answered-- when he replied at all-- that he had no knowledge of these things. And I knew he lied, but did not know how I might make him speak.
Nor would he tell me how and when she had slipped away from me the night before, or where she had likely gone, pretending that I had been mistaken when I told him I had seen him watching us beside the star-illumined stream.
"Mayaro slept," he said quite calmly. "The soldier, Mount, stood fire-guard. Of what my brother Loskiel and this strange maiden did under the Oneida Dancers and the Belt of Tamanund, Mayaro has no knowledge."
Why should he lie? I did not know. And even were I to attempt to confound his statement by an appeal to Mount, the rifleman must corroborate him, because doubtless the wily Siwanois had not awakened Mount to do his shift at sentry until the maid had vanished, leaving me sleeping."Mayaro," I said, "I ask these things only because I pity her and wish her well. It is for her safety I fear. Could you tell me where she may have gone?" "Fowls to the home-yard; the wild bird to the wood," he said gravely. "Where do the rosy-throated pigeons go in winter? Does my brother Loskiel know where?"
"Sagamore," I said earnestly, "this maid is no wild gypsy thing-- no rose-tinted forest pigeon. She has been bred at home, mannered and schooled. She knows the cote, I tell you, and not the bush, where the wild hawk hangs mewing in the sky. Why has she fled to the wilderness alone?"The Indian said cunningly: "Why has my brother Loskiel abandoned roof and fire for a bed on the forest moss?" "A man must do battle for his own people, Sagamore." "A white maid may do what pleases her, too, for aught I know," he said indifferently. "Why does it please her to roam abroad alone?" "How should I know?" "You do know!" "Loskiel," he said, "if I know why, perhaps I know of other matters, too. Ask me some day-- before they send you into battle." "What matters do you know of?"
"Ask me no more, Loskiel-- until your conch-horns blowing in the forest summon Morgan's men to battle. Then ask; and a Sagamore will answer-- a Siwanois Mohican-- of the magic clan. Hiero!"
That ended it; he had spoken, and I was not fool enough to urge him to another word.
And now, as I rode, my mind was still occupied with my growing concern for the poor child I had come to pity so. Within me a furtive tenderness was growing which sometimes shamed, sometimes angered me, or left me self-contemptuous, restless, or dully astonished that my pride permitted it. For in my heart such sentiments for such a maid as this-- tenderness, consciousness of some subtlety about her that attracted me-should have no place. There was every reason why I should pity her and offer aid; none why her grey eyes should hold my own; none why the frail body of her in her rags should quicken any pulse of mine; none why my nearness to her should stop my heart and breath.
Yet, all day long her face and slim shape haunted me-- a certain sullen sweetness of the lips, too-- and I remembered the lithe grace of her little hands as she broke the morsels of that midnight meal and lifted the cup of chilly water in which I saw the star-light dancing. And "Lord!" thought I, amazed at my own folly. "What madness lies in these midsummer solitudes, that I should harbor such fantastic thoughts?"
Seldom, as yet, had dream of woman vexed me-- and when I dreamed at all it was but a tinselled figment that I saw-- the echo, doubtless, of some tale I read concerning raven hair and rosy lips, and of a vague but wondrous fairness adorned most suitably in silks and jewels.
Dimly I was resigned toward some such goal, first being full of honours won with sword and spur, laden with riches, too, and territories stretching to those sunset hills piled up like sapphires north of Frenchman's Creek.Out of the castled glory of the dawn, doubtless, I thought, would step one day my vision-- to admire my fame and riches. And her I'd marry-- after our good King had knighted me.
Alas! For our good King had proved a bloody knave; my visionary lands and riches all had vanished; instead of silk attire and sword, I wore a rifle-shirt and skinning-knife; and out of the dawn-born glory of the hills had stepped no silken damsel of romance to pause and worship me-- only a slender, ragged, grey-eyed waif who came indifferent as the chilly wind in spring; who went as April shadows go, leaving no trace behind.
We were riding by the High Dutch Church at last, and beyond, between the roads to Duansboro and Cobus-Kill, we saw the tents and huts of the New York brigade-- or as much of it as had arrived-- from which we expected soon to be detached.
On a cleared hill beyond the Lower Fort, where the Albany Road runs beside the FoxKill, we saw the headquarters flag of the 4th brigade, and Major Nicholas Fish at his tent door, talking to McCrea, our brigade surgeon.
Along the stream were the huts lately tenanted by Colonel Philip Van Cortlandt's Second New York Regiment, which had gone off toward Wyalusing. Schott's riflemen camped there now, and, as we rode by, the soldiers stared at our Indian. Then we passed Gansevoort's Third Regiment, under tents and making ready to march; and the log cantonment of Colonel Lamb's artillery, where the cannoneers saluted, then, for no reason, cheered us. Beyond were camped Alden's Regiment, I think, and in the rear the Fourth and Fifth New York. A fort flew our own regimental flag beside the pretty banner of our new nation."Oho!" said Boyd, with an oath. "I'm damned if I care for barracks when a bed in the open is good enough. Why the devil have they moved us indoors, do you think?" I knew no more than did he, and liked our new quarters no better.
At the fort gate the sentry saluted, and we dismounted. Our junior ensign, Benjamin Chambers, a smart young dandy, met us at the guard-house, directed Boyd to Captain Simpson's log quarters, and then led the Sagamore inside."Is this our Moses?" whispered the young ensign in my ear. "Egad, Loskiel, he looks a treacherous devil, in his paint, to lead us to the promised land." "He is staunch, I think," said I. "But for heaven's sake, Benny, are we to sleep in filthy barracks in July?"
"Not you, I hear," he said, laughing, "---- though they're clean enough, by the way! But the Major's orders were to build a hut for you and this pretty and fragrant aborigine down by the river, and lodge him there under your eye and nose and rifle. I admit very freely, Loskiel, no man in Morgan's envies you your bed-fellow!" And he whisked his nose with a scented handkerchief.
"They would envy me if they knew this Sagamore as I think I know him," said I, delighted that I was not to lie in barracks foul or clean. "Where is this same humble hut, my fashionable friend?""I'll show you presently. I think that Jimmy Parr desires to see your gentle savage," he added flippantly.
We seated ourselves on the gate-bench to await the Major's summons; the dandified young ensign crossed the parade, mincing toward the quarters of Major Parr. And I saw him take a pinch o' the scented snuff he affected, and whisk his supercilious nose again with his laced hanker. It seemed odd that a man like that should have saved our Captain Simpson's life at Saratoga.
Riflemen, drovers, batt-men, frontier farmers, and some of the dirty flotsam-- trappers, forest-runners, and the like-- were continually moving about the parade, going and coming on petty, sordid business of their own; and there were women there, too-- pallid refugees from distant farms, and now domiciled within the stockade; gaunt wives of neighbouring settlers, bringing baskets of eggs or pails of milk to sell; and here and there some painted camp-wanton lingering by the gateway on mischief bent, or gossiping with some sister trull, their bold eyes ever roving.Presently our mincing ensign came to us again, saying that the Sagamore and I were to report ourselves to the Major.
"Jimmy Parr is in good humour," he whispered. "Leave him in that temper, for mercy's sake, Loskiel; he's been scarcely amiable since you left to catch this six-foot savage for him."
He was a brave soldier, our Major, a splendid officer, and a kind and Christian man, but in no wise inclined to overlook the delinquencies of youthful ensigns; and he had rapped our knuckles soundly more than once. But we all loved him in our small mess of five-- Captain Simpson, Lieutenant Boyd, and we two ensigns; and I think he knew it. Had we disliked him, among ourselves we would have dubbed him James, intending thereby disrespect; but to us he was Jimmy, flippantly, perhaps, but with a sure affection under all our impudence. And I think, too, that he knew we spoke of him among ourselves as Jimmy, and did not mind.
"Well, sir," he said sternly, as I entered with the Sagamore and gave him the officer's salute, "I have a good report of you from Lieutenant Boyd. I am gratified, Mr. Loskiel, that my confidence in your ability and in your knowledge of the Indians was not misplaced. And you may inform me now, sir, how it is proper for me to address this Indian guide."I glanced at Captain Simpson and Lieutenant Boyd, hesitating for a moment. Then I said:
"Mayaro is a Sagamore, Major-- a noble and an ensign of a unique clan-- the Siwanois, or magic clan, of the Mohican tribe of the great Delaware nation. You may address him as an equal. Our General Schuyler would so address him. The corps of officers in this regiment can scarce do less, I think."
Major Parr nodded, quietly offered his hand to the silent Siwanois, and, holding that warrior's sinewy fist in an iron grip that matched it, named him to Captain Simpson. Then, looking at me, he said slowly, in English:
"Mayaro is a great chief among his people-- great in war, wise in council and debate. The Sagamore of the Siwanois Mohicans is welcome in this army and at the headquarters of this regiment. He is now one of us; his pay is the pay of a captain in the rifles. By order of General Clinton, commanding the Fourth, or New York, Brigade, I am requested to say to the Mohican Sagamore that valuable presents will be offered him for his services by General Sullivan, commander-in-chief of this army. These will be given when the Mohican successfully conducts this army to the Genessee Castle and to Catharines-town. I have spoken."And to me he added bluntly: "Translate, Mr. Loskiel." "I think the Sagamore has understood, sir," said I. "Is it not so, Sagamore?" "Mayaro has understood," said the Indian quietly. "Does the great Mohican Sagamore accept?"
"My elder brother," replied the Sagamore calmly, "Mayaro has pledged his word to his younger brother Loskiel. A Mohican Sagamore never lies. Loskiel is my friend. Why should I lie to him? A Sagamore speaks the truth."
Which was true in a measure, at least as far as wanton or idle lying is concerned, or cowardly lying either, But he had lied to me concerning his knowledge of the strange maid, Lois, which kind of untruth all Indians consider more civil than a direct refusal to answer a question.
Boyd stood by, smiling, as the Major very politely informed me of the disposition he had made of the Sagamore and myself, recommended Mayaro to my most civil attention, and added that, for the present, I was relieved from routine duty with my battalion.
If the Siwanois perceived any undue precaution in the Major's manner of lodging him, he did not betray by the quiver of an eyelash that he comprehended he was practically under guard. He stalked forth and across the parade beside me, head high, bearing dignified and tranquil.
At the outer gate our junior ensign languidly dusted a speck of snuff from his wristband, and indicated the roof of our hut, which was visible above the feathery river willows. So we proceeded thither, I resigning my horse to the soldier, Mount, who had been holding him, and who was now detailed to act as soldier-servant to me still.
"Jack," said I, "if there be fresh-baked bread in the regimental ovens yonder, fetch a loaf, in God's name. I could gnaw black-birch and reindeer moss, so famished am I-- and the Sagamore, too, no doubt, could rattle a flam with a wooden spoon."
But our chief baker was a Low-Dutch dog from Albany; and it was not until I had bathed me in the Mohawk, burrowed into my soldier's chest, and put on clean clothing that Jack Mount managed to steal the loaf he had asked for in vain. And this, with a bit of salt beef and a bowl of fresh milk, satisfied the Siwanois and myself.
I had been relieved of all routine duty, and was henceforth detailed to foregather with, amuse, instruct and casually keep an eye on my Mohican. In other words, my only duty, for the present, was to act as mentor to the Sagamore, keep him pleasantly affected toward our cause, see that he was not tampered with, and that he had his bellyful three times a day. Also, I was to extract from him in advance any information concerning the Iroquois country that he might have knowledge of.
It was a warm and pleasant afternoon along the river where the batteaux, loaded with stores and soldiers, were passing up, and Oneida canoes danced across the sparkling water toward Fort Plain.
Many of our soldiers were bathing, sporting like schoolboys in the water; Lamb's artillerymen had their horses out to let them swim; many of the troops were washing their shirts along the gravelly reaches, or, seated cross-legged on the bank, were mending rents with needle and thread. Half a dozen Oneida Indians sat gravely smoking and blinking at the scene-- no doubt belonging to our corps of runners, scouts, and guides, for all were shaved, oiled, and painted for war, and, under their loosened blankets, I could see their lean and supple bodies, stark naked, except for clout and ankle moccasin.
I sat in the willow-shade before the door of our hut, cross-legged, too, writing in my journal of what had occurred since last I set down the details of the day. This finished, I pouched quill, ink-horn, and journal, and sat a-thinking for a while of that strange maid, and what mischance might come of her woodland roving all alone-- with Indian Butler out, and all that vile and painted, blue-eyed crew under McDonald.
Sombre thoughts assailed me there on that sunny July afternoon; I rested my elbow on my knee, forehead pressed against my palm, pondering. And ever within my breast was I conscious of a faint, dull aching-- a steady and perceptible apprehension which kept me restless, giving my mind no peace, my brooding thoughts no rest.
That this shabby, wandering girl had so gained me, spite of the rudeness with which she used me, I could never seem to understand; for she had done nothing to win even my pity, and she was but a ragged gypsy thing, and had conducted with scant courtesy.
Why had I given her my ring? Was it only because I pitied her and desired to offer her a gift she might sell when necessary? Why had I used her as a comrade-- who had been but the comrade of an hour? Why had I been so loath to part with her whom I scarce had met? What was it in her that had fixed my attention? What allure? What unusual quality? What grace of mind or person?A slender, grey-eyed gypsy-thing in rags! And I could no longer rid my mind of her!
What possessed me? To what lesser nature in me was such a woman as this appealing? I would have been ashamed to have any officer or man of my corps see me abroad in company with her. I knew it well enough. I knew that if in this girl anything was truly appealing to my unquiet heart I should silence even the slightest threat of any response-- discourage, ignore, exterminate the last unruly trace of sentiment in her regard.Yet I remained there motionless, thinking, thinking-- her faded rosebud lying in my hand, drooping but still fragrant.
Dismiss her from my thoughts I could not. The steady, relentless desire to see her; the continual apprehension that some mischance might overtake her, left me no peace of mind, so that the memory of her, not yet a pleasure even, nagged, nagged, nagged, till every weary nerve in me became unsteady.I stretched out above the river bank, composing my body to rest-- sleep perhaps. But flies and sun kept me awake, even if I could have quieted my mind.
So up again, and walked to the hut door, where within I beheld the Sagamore gravely repainting himself with the terrific emblems of death. He was seated cross-legged on the floor, my camp mirror before him-- a superb specimen of manhood, naked save for clout, beaded sporran, and a pair of thigh moccasins, the most wonderful I had ever seen.I admired his war-girdle and moccasins, speaking somewhat carelessly of the beautiful shell-work designs as "wampum"-- an Iroquois term.
"Seawan," he said coldly, correcting me and using the softer Siwanois term. Then, with that true courtesy which ever seeks to ease a merited rebuke, he spoke pleasantly concerning shell-beads, and how they were made and from what, and how it was that the purple beads were the gold, the white beads the silver, and the black beads the copper equivalents in English coinage. And so we conducted very politely and agreeably there in the hut, the while he painted himself like a ghastly death, and brightened the scarlet clansymbol tatooed on his breast by touching its outlines with his brilliant paint. Also, he rebraided his scalp-lock with great care, doubtless desiring that it should appear a genteel trophy if taken from him, and be an honour to his conqueror and himself.
These matters presently accomplished, he drew from their soft and beaded sheaths hatchet and knife, and fell to shining them up as industriously as a full-fed cat polishes her fur."Mayaro," said I, amused, "is a battle then near at hand that you make so complete a preparation for it?" A half-smile appeared for a moment on his lips: "It is always well to be prepared for life or death, Loskiel, my younger brother." "Oho!" said I, smiling. "You understood the express rider when he said that Indians had fired on our pickets a week ago!" The stern and noble countenance of the Sagamore relaxed into the sunniest of smiles. "My little brother is very wise. He has discovered that the Siwanois have ears like white men."
"Aye-- but, Sagamore, I was not at all certain that you understood in English more than 'yes' and 'no.'"
"Is it because," he inquired with a merry glance at me, "my brother has only heard as yet the answer 'no' from Mayaro?"
At the same time, I realized on what a friendly footing I already stood with this Mohican. Few white men ever see an Iroquois or a Delaware laugh; few ever witness any relaxation in them or see their coldly dignified features alter, except in scorn, suspicion, pride, and anger. Only in time of peace and amid their own intimates or families do our Eastern forest Indians put off the expressionless and dignified mask they wear, and become what no white man believes them capable of becoming-- human, tender, affectionate, gay, witty, talkative, as the moment suits.
At Guy Park, even, I had never seen an Iroquois relax in dignity and hauteur, though, of course, it was also true that Guy Johnson was never a man to inspire personal confidence or any intimacy. Nor was Walter Butler either; and Brant and his Mohawks detested and despised him.
But I had been told that Indians-- I mean the forest Indians, not the vile and filthy nomad butchers of the prairies-- were like ourselves in our own families; and that, naturally, they were a kindly, warm-hearted, gay, and affectionate people, fond of their wives and children, and loyal to their friends.
Now, I could not but notice how, from the beginning, this Siwanois had conducted, and how, when first we met, his eye and hand met mine. And ever since, also-- even when I was watching him so closely-- in my heart I really found it well-nigh impossible to doubt him.
He spoke always to me in a manner very different to that of any Indian I had ever known. And now it seemed to me that from the very first I had vaguely realized a sense of unwonted comradeship with this Siwanois.
At all events, it was plain enough now that, for some reason unknown to me, this Mohican not only liked me, but so far trusted me-- entertained, in fact, so unusual a confidence in me-- that he even permitted himself to relax and speak to me playfully, and with the light familiarity of an elder brother."Sagamore," I said, "my heart is very anxious for the safety of this little forest-running maid. If I could find her, speak to her again, I think I might aid her." Mayaro's features became smooth and blank. "What maiden is this my younger brother fears for?" he asked mildly. "Her name is Lois. You know well whom I mean." "Hai!" he exclaimed, laughing softly. "Is it still the rosy-throated pigeon of the forest for whom my little brother Loskiel is spreading nets?" My face reddened again, but I said, smilingly: "If Mayaro laughs at what I say, all must be well with her. My elder brother's heart is charitable to the homeless." "And to children, also," he said very quietly. And added, with a gleam of humour, "All children, O Loskiel, my littlest brother! Is not my heart open to you?" "And mine to you, Mayaro, my elder brother." "Yet, you watched me at the fire, every night," he said, with keenest delight sparkling in his dark eyes. "And yet I tracked and caught you after all!" I said, smiling through my slight chagrin. "Is my little brother very sure I did not know he followed me?" he asked, amused. "Did you know, Mayaro?" The Siwanois made a movement of slight, but good-humoured, disdain: "Can my brother who has no wings track and follow the October swallow?" "Then you were willing that I should see the person to whom you brought food under the midnight stars?" "My brother has spoken." "Why were you willing that I should see?" "Where there are wild pigeons there are hawks, Loskiel. But perhaps the rosy throat could not understand the language of a Siwanois." "You warned her not to rove alone?" He inclined his head quietly. "She refused to heed you! Is that true? She left Westchester in spite of your disapproval?"
"Loskiel does not lie." "She must be mad!" I said, with some heat. "Had she not managed to keep our camp in view, what had become of her now, Sagamore?" I added, reluctantly admitting by implication yet another defeat for me."Of course I know that you must have kept in communication with her-- though how you did so I do not know." The Siwanois smiled slyly.
"Who is she? What is she, Mayaro? Is she, after all, but a camp-gypsy of the better class? I can not believe it-- yet-- she roves the world in tatters, haunting barracks and camps. Can you not tell me something concerning her?"The Indian made no reply. "Has she made you promise not to?' He did not answer, but I saw very plainly that this was so.
Mystified, perplexed, and more deeply troubled than I cared to admit to myself, I rose from the door-sill, buckled on belt, knife, and hatchet, and stood looking out over the river in silence for a while.The Siwanois said pleasantly, yet with a hidden hint of malice: "If my brother desires to walk abroad in the pleasant weather, Mayaro will not run away. Say so to Major Parr." I blushed furiously at the mocking revelation that he had noted and understood the precautions of Major Parr.
"Mayaro," I said, "I trust you. See! You are confided to me, I am responsible for you. If you leave I shall be disgraced. But-- Siwanois are free people! The Sagamore is my elder brother who will not blacken my face or cast contempt upon my uniform. See! I trust my brother Mayaro, I go."
The Sagamore looked me square in the eye with a face which was utterly blank and expressionless. Then he gathered his legs under him, sprang noiselessly to his feet, laid his right hand on the hilt of my knife, and his left one on his own, drew both bright blades with a simultaneous and graceful movement, and drove his knife into my sheath, mine into his own.
My heart stood still; I had never expected even to witness such an act-- never dared believe that I should participate in it.
The Siwanois drew my knife from his sheath, touched the skin of his wrist with the keen edge. I followed his example; on our wrists two bright spots of blood beaded the skin.
Then in silence still, he lifted the cup to his lips, tasted it, and passed it to me. I wet my lips, offered it to him again. And very solemnly he sprinkled the scarcely tinted contents over the grass at the door-sill.So was accomplished between this Mohican and myself the rite of blood brotherhood-- an alliance of implicit trust and mutual confidence which only death could end.
Chapter 6. The Spring Waiontha
It happened the following afternoon that, having written in my journal, and dressed me in my best, I left the Mohican in the hut a-painting and shining up his weapons, and walked abroad to watch the remaining troops and the artillery start for Otsego Lake.
A foot regiment-- Colonel Gansevoort's-- had struck tents and marched with its drums and colours early that morning, carrying also the regimental wagons and batteaux. However, I had been told that this veteran regiment was not to go with the army into the Iroquois country, but was to remain as a protection to Tryon County. But now Colonel Lamb's remaining section of artillery was to march to the lake; and whether this indicated that our army at last was fairly in motion, nobody knew. Yet, it seemed scarcely likely, because Lieutenant Boyd had been ordered out with a scout of twenty men toward the West branch of the Delaware, and he told me that he expected to be absent for several days. Besides, it was no secret that arms had not yet been issued and distributed to all the recruits in the foot regiments; that Schott's riflemen had not yet drawn their equipment, and that as yet we had not collected half the provisions required for an extensive campaign, although nearly every day the batteaux came up the river with stores from Schenectady and posts below.
Strolling up from the river that afternoon, very fine in my best, and, I confess, content with myself except for the lack of hair powder, queue, and ribbon, which ever disconcerted me, I saw already the two guns of the battalion of artillery moving out of their cantonment, the limbers, chests, and the forge well horsed and bright with polish and paint, the men somewhat patched and ragged, but with queues smartly tied and heads well floured.
Had our cannoneers been properly and newly uniformed, it had been a fine and stirring sight, with the artillery bugle-horn sounding the march, and the camp trumpets answering, and Colonel Lamb riding ahead with his mounted officers, very fine and nobly horsed, the flag flying smartly and most beautiful against the foliage of the terraced woods.
A motley assembly had gathered to see them march out; our General Clinton and his staff, in the blue and buff of the New York Line, had come over, and all the officers and soldiers off duty, too, as well as the people of the vicinity, and a horde of workmen, batteaux-men, and forest runners, including a dozen Oneida Indians of the guides.
Poor Alden's 6th Massachusetts foot regiment, which was just leaving for the lake on its usual road-mending detail, stood in spiritless silence to see the artillery pass; their Major, Whiting, as well as the sullen rank and file, seeming still to feel the disgrace of Cherry Valley, where their former colonel lost his silly life, and Major Stacia was taken, and still remained a prisoner.
As for us of Morgan's, we were very sorry for the mortified New Englanders, yet not at all forgetful of their carping and insolent attitude toward the ragged New York Line-- where at least the majority of our officers were gentlemen and where proper and military regard for rank was most decently maintained. Gad! To hear your New Englander talk, a man might think that this same war was being maintained and fought by New England alone. And, damn them, they got Schuyler laid aside after all. But the New York Line went about its grim and patient business, unheeding their New England arrogance as long as His Excellency understood the truth concerning the wretched situation. And I for one marvelled that the sniffling 'prentices of Massachusetts and the Connecticut barbers and tin-peddlers had the effrontery to boast of New England valour while that archmalcontent, Ethan Allen, and his petty and selfish yokels of Vermont, openly defied New York and Congress, nor scrupled to conduct most treasonably, to their everlasting and black disgrace. No Ticonderoga, no Bennington, could wipe out that outrageous treachery, or efface the villainy of what was done to Schuyler-- the man who knew no fear, the officer without reproach.
The artillery jolted and clinked away down the rutty road which their wheels and horses cut into new and deeper furrows; a veil of violet dust hung in their wake, through which harness, cannon, and drawn cutlass glittered and glimmered like sunlit ripples through a mist.
Then came our riflemen marching as escort, smart and gay in their brown forest-dress, the green thrums rippling and flying from sleeve and leggin' and open double-cape, and the raccoon-tails all a-bobbing behind their caps like the tails that April lambkins wriggle.
Always the sight of my own corps thrilled me. I thanked God for those big, sun-masked men with their long, silent, gliding stride, their shirts open to their mighty chests, and the heavy rifles all swinging in glancing unison on their caped shoulders, carried as lightly as so many reeds.
I stood at salute as our Major and Captain Simpson strode by; grinned ever so little as Boyd came swinging along, his naked cutlass drawn, scarlet fringes tossing on his painted cape. He whispered as he passed:"Murphy and Elerson took two scalps last night. They're drying on hoops in the barracks. Look and see if they be truly Seneca."
At that I was both startled and disgusted; but it was well-nigh impossible to prevent certain of our riflemen who had once been wood-runners from treating the Iroquois as the Iroquois treated them. And they continued to scalp them as naturally as they once had clipped pads and ears from panther and wolf. Mount and the rifleman Renard no longer did it, and I had thought to have persuaded Murphy and Elerson to conduct more becoming. But it seemed that I had failed.
My mind was filled with resentful thoughts as I entered the Lower Fort and started across the swarming parade toward the barracks, meaning to have a look at these ghastly trophies and judge to what nation they belonged.
People of every walk in life were passing and repassing where our regimental wagons were being loaded, and I threaded my way with same difficulty amid a busy throng, noticing nobody, unless it were one of my own corps who saluted my cockade.
Halfway across, a young woman bearing a gunny-sack full of linen garments and blankets to be washed blocked my passage, and being a woman I naturally gave her right of way. And the next instant saw it was Lois.She had averted her head, and was now hurriedly passing on, and I turned sharply on my heel and came up beside her. "Lois," I managed to say with a voice that was fairly steady, "have you forgotten me?" Her head remained resolutely averted; and as I continued beside her, she said, without looking at me: "Do you not understand that you are disgracing yourself by speaking to me on the parade? Pass on, sir, for your own sake," "I desire to speak to you," I said obstinately. "No. Pass on before any officers see you!"
My face, I know, was fiery red, and for an instant all the ridicule, the taunts, the shame which I might well be storing up for myself, burned there for anyone to see. But stronger than fear of ridicule rose a desperate determination not to lose this maid again, and whether what I was doing was worthy, and for her sake, or unworthy, and for my own, I did not understand or even question."I wish to talk with you," I said doggedly. "I shall not let you go this time." "Are you mad to so conduct under the eyes of the whole fort?" she whispered. "Go your way!" "I'd be madder yet to let you get away again. My way is yours." She halted, cheeks blazing, and looked at me for the first time.
"I ask you not to persist," she said, "---- for my sake if not for yours. What an officer or a soldier says to a girl in this fort makes her a trull in the eyes of any man who sees. Do you so desire to brand me, Mr. Loskiel?"
"No," I said between my teeth, and turned to leave her. And, I think, it was something in my face that made her whisper low and hurriedly:
I scarcely heard, so tight emotion had me by the throat, and walked on blindly, all aquiver. Yet, in my ears the strange wards sounded: "Waiontha-- Waiontha-- come to the Spring Waiontha-- if you needs must see me."On a settle before the green-log barrack, some of Schott's riflemen were idling, and now stood, seeing an officer. "Boys," I said, "where is this latest foolery of Tim Murphy hung to dry?" They seemed ashamed, but told me, As I moved on, I said carelessly, partly turning: "Where is the Spring Waiontha?" "On the Lake Trail, sir-- first branch of the Stoney-Kill." "Is there a house there?" "Rannock's." "A path to find it?" "A sheep walk only. Rannock is dead. The destructives murdered him when they burned Cherry Valley. Mrs. Rannock brings us eggs and milk." I walked on and entered the smoky barracks, and the first thing I saw was a pair o' scalps, stretched and hooped, a-dangling from the rafters.
Doubtless, Murphy and Elerson meant to sew them to their bullet pouches when cured and painted. And there was one reckless fellow in my company who wore a baldrick fringed with Shawanese scalps; but as these same Shawanese had murdered his father, mother, grandmother, and three little brothers, no officer rebuked him, although it was a horrid and savage trophy; but if the wearing of it were any comfort to him I do not know.
I looked closely at the ornamented scalps, despite my repugnance. They were not Mohawk, not Cayuga, nor Onondaga. Nor did they seem to me like Seneca, being not oiled and braided clean, but tagged at the root with the claws of a tree-lynx. They were not Oneida, not Lenape. Therefore, they must be Seneca scalps. Which meant that Walter Butler and that spawn of satan, Sayanquarata, were now prowling around our outer pickets. For the ferocious Senecas and their tireless war-chief, Sayanquarata, were Butler's people; the Mohawks and Joseph Brant holding the younger Butler in deep contempt for the cruelty he did practice at Cherry Valley.
Suddenly a shaft of fear struck me like a swift arrow in the breast, as I thought of Butler and of his Mountain Snakes, and of that mad child, Lois, a-gypsying whither her silly inclination led her; and Death in the forest-dusk watching her with a hundred staring eyes.
"This time," I muttered, "I shall put a stop to all her forest-running!" And, at the thought, I turned and passed swiftly through the doorway, across the thronged parade, out of the gate.
Hastening my pace along the Lake Road, meeting many people at first, then fewer, then nobody at all, I presently crossed the first little brook that feeds the Stoney-Kill, leaping from stone to stone. Here in the woods lay the Oneida camp. I saw some squaws there sewing.
The sheep walk branched a dozen yards beyond, running northward through what had been a stump field. It was already grown head-high in weeds and wild flowers, and saplings of bird-cherry, which spring up wherever fire has passed. A few high corn-stalks showed what had been planted there a year ago.
After a few moments following the path, I found that the field ended abruptly, and the solid walls of the forest rose once more like green cliffs towering on every side. And at their base I saw a house of logs, enclosed within a low brush fence, and before it a field of brush.
Shirts and soldiers' blankets lay here and there a-drying on the bushes; a wretched garden-patch showed intensely green between a waste of fire-blackened stumps. I saw chickens in a coop, and a cow switching forest flies. A cloud of butterflies flew up as I approached, where the running water of a tiny rill made muddy hollows on the path. This doubtless must be the outlet to Waiontha Spring, for there to the left a green lane had been bruised through the elder thicket; and this I followed, shouldering my way amid fragrant blossom and sun-hot foliage, then through an alder run, and suddenly out across a gravelly reach where water glimmered in a still and golden pool.
Lois knelt there on the bank. The soldiers' linen I had seen in her arms was piled beside her. In a willow basket, newly woven, I saw a heap of clean, wet shirts and tow-cloth rifle-frocks.
She heard me behind her-- I took care that she should-- but she made no sign that she had heard or knew that I was there. Even when I spoke she continued busy with her suds and shirts; and I walked around the gravelly basin and seated myself near her, cross-legged on the sand, both hands clasping my knees.
"Well?" she asked, still scrubbing, and her hair was fallen in curls about her brow-- hair thicker and brighter, though scarce longer, than my own. But Lord! The wild-rose beauty that flushed her cheeks as she laboured there! And when she at last looked up at me her eyes seemed like two grey stars, full of reflections from the golden pool. "I have come," said I, "to speak most seriously.""What is it you wish?" "A comrade's privilege." "And what may that be, sir?" "The right to be heard; the right to be answered-- and a comrade's privilege to offer aid." "I need no aid." "None living can truthfully say that," said I pleasantly. "Oh! Do you then require charity from this pleasant world we live in?" "I did not offer charity to you." "You spoke of aid," she said coldly. "Lois-- is there in our brief companionship no memory that may warrant my speaking as honestly as I speak to you?" "I know of none, Do you?" I had been looking at her chilled pink fingers. My ring was gone. "A ring for a rose is my only warrant," I said.
She continued to soap the linen and to scrub in silence. After she had finished the garment and wrung it dry, she straightened her supple figure where she was kneeling, and, turning toward me, searched in her bosom with one little, wet hand, drawing from it a faded ribbon on which my ring hung."Do you desire to have it of me again?" she asked, without any expression on her sunfreckled face. "What? The ring?" "Aye "Desire it!" I repeated, turning red. "No more than you desire the withered bud you left beside me while I slept." "What bud, sir?" "Did you not leave me a rose-bud?" "I?" "And a bit of silver birch-bark scratched with a knife point?"
"Now that I think of it, perhaps I may have done so-- or some such thing-- scarce knowing what I was about-- and being sleepy. What was it that I wrote? I can not now remember-- being so sleepy when I did it.""And that is all you thought about it, Lois?" "How can one think when half asleep'' "Here is your rose," I said angrily. "I will take my ring again." She opened her grey eyes at that.
"Lord!" she murmured in an innocent and leisurely surprise. "You have it still, my rose? Are roses scarce where you inhabit, sir? For if you find the flower so rare and curious I would not rob you of it-- no!" And, bending, soaked and soaped another shirt."Why do you mock me, Lois?" "I! Mock you! La! Sir, you surely jest." "You do so! You have done so ever since we met. I ask you why?" I repeated, curbing my temper.
"Lord!" she murmured, shaking her head. "The young man is surely going stark! A girl in my condition-- such a girl as I mock at an officer and a gentleman? No, it is beyond all bounds; and this young man is suffering from the sun.""Were it not," said I angrily, "that common humanity brought me here and bids me remain for the moment, I would not endure this."
"Heaven save us all!" she sighed. "How very young is this young man who comes complaining here that he is mocked-- when all I ventured was to marvel that he had found a wild rose-bud so rare and precious!"
I said to myself: "Damn! Damn!" in fierce vexation, yet knew not how to take her nor how to save my dignity. And she, with head averted, was laughing silently; I could see that, too; and never in my life had I been so flouted to my face.
"Listen to me!" I broke out bluntly. "I know not who or what you are, why you are here, whither you are bound. But this I do know, that beyond our pickets there is peril in these woods, and it is madness for man or maid to go alone as you do."
The laughter had died out in her face. After a moment it became grave.
"Yes, Two days ago our pickets were fired on by Indians. Last night two riflemen of our corps took as many Seneca scalps. Do you suppose that when I heard of these affairs I did not think of you-- remembering what was done but yesterday at Cherry Valley?""Did you-- remember-- me?"
"Good God, yes!" I exclaimed, my nerves on edge again at the mere memory of her rashness. "I came here as a comrade-- wishing to be of service, and-- you have used me--
"I say it, Mr. Loskiel. And yet-- I told you where to find me. That is much for me to tell to any man. Let that count a little to my damaged credit with you.... And-- I still wear the ring you gave.... And left a rose for you, Let these things count a little in my favour. For you can scarcely guess how much of courage it had cost me." She knelt there, her bared arms hanging by her side, the sun bright on her curls, staring at me out of those strange, grey eyes.
"Since I have been alone," she said in a low voice, "no man-- unless by a miracle it be you-- has offered me a service or a kindness except that he awaited his reward. Soon or late their various songs became the same familiar air. It is the only song I've heard from men-- with endless variations, truly, often and cunningly disguised-- yet ever the same and sorry theme.... Men are what God made them; God has seemed to fashion me to their liking-- I scarce know how-- seeing I walk in rags, unkempt, and stained with wind and rain, and leaf and earth and sunShe made a childish gesture, sweeping the curls aside with both her hands:
"I sheared my hair! Look at me, sir-- a wild thing in a ragged shift and tattered gown-- all burnt and roughened with the sun and wind-- not even clean to look on-- yet that I am!-and with no friend to speak to save an Indian.... I ask you, sir, what it is in me-- and what lack of pride must lie in men that I can not trust myself to the company of one among them-- not one! Be he officer, or common soldier-- all are the same."
She dropped her head, and, thoughtfully, her hands again crept up and wandered over her cheeks and hair, the while her grey eyes, fixed and remote, seemed lost in speculation. Then she looked up again:
"Why should I think to find you different?" she asked, "Is any man different from his fellows, humble or great? Is it not man himself, not only men, that I must face as I have faced you-- with silence, or with sullen speech, or with a hardness far beyond my years, and a gaiety that means nothing more kind than insolence?"
"Lois," I said, trying to think clearly, "I do not know that other men and I are different. Once I believed so. But-- lately-- I do not know. Yet, I know this: selfish or otherwise, I can not endure the thought of you in peril."She looked at me very gravely; then dropped her head once more.
"I don't know," I said desperately, "I wish to be honest-- tell you no lie-- tell none to myself. I-- your beauty-- has touched me-- or whatever it is about you that attracts. And, whatever gown you go in, I scarcely see it-- somehow-- finding you so-- so strangely-- lovely-- in speech also-- and in-- every way.... And now that I have not lied to you-- or to myself-- in spite of what I have said, let me be useful to you. For I can be; and perhaps these other sentiments will pass away----"
She looked up so suddenly that I ceased speaking, fearful of a rebuff; but saw only the grave, grey eyes looking straight into mine, and a sudden, deeper colour waning from her cheeks.
"Whatever I am," said I, "I can be what I will. Else I were no man. If your-- beauty-- has moved me, that need not concern you-- and surely not alarm you. A woman's beauty is her own affair. Men take their chance with it-- as I take mine with yours-- that it do me no deep damage. And if it do, or do not, our friendship is still another matter; for it means that I wish you well, desire to aid you, ease your burdens, make you secure and safe, vary your solitude with a friendly word-- I mean, Lois, to be to you a real comrade, if you will. Will you?"After a moment she said: "What was it that you said about my-- beauty?" "I take my chances that it do me no deep damage." "Oh! Am I to take my chance, too?" "What chance?" "That-- your kindness do me-- no damage?" "What senseless talk is this you utter?" She shook her head slowly, then: "What a strange boy! I do not fear you." "Fear me?" I repeated, flushing hotly. "What is there to fear? I am neither yokel nor beast." "They say a gentleman should be more dreaded." I stared at her, then laughed: "Ask yourself how far you need have dread of me-- when, if you desire it, you can leave me dumb, dismayed, lip-bound by your mocking tongue-- which God knows well I fear." "Is my tongue so bitter then? I did not know it." "I know it," said I with angry emphasis. "And I tell you very freely that----"
She stole a curious glance at me. Something halted me-- an expression I had never yet seen there in her face, twitching at her lips-- hovering on them now-- parting them in a smile so sweet and winning that, silenced by the gracious transformation, unexpected, I caught my breath, astonished."What is your given name?" she asked, still dimpling at me, and her eyes now but two blue wells of light. "Euan," I said, foolish as a flattered schoolboy, and as awkward.
"Euan," she said, still smiling at me, "I think that I could be your friend-- if you do truly wish it. What is it you desire of me? Ask me once more, and make it very clear and plain.""Only your confidence; that is all I ask." "Oh! Is that all you ask of me?" she mimicked mockingly; but so sweet her smile, and soft her voice, that I did not mind her words. "Remember," said I, "that I am older than you. You are to tell me all that troubles you." "When?"
"Now." "No. I have my washing to complete, And you must go. Besides, I have mending, darning, and my knitting yet to do. It all means bed and bait to me.""Will you not tell me why you are alone here, Lois?" "Tell you what? Tell you why I loiter by our soldiers' camps like any painted drab? I will tell you this much; I need no longer play that shameless role." "You need not use those words in the same breath when speaking of yourself," I answered hotly. "Then-- you do not credit ill of me?" she asked, a bright but somewhat fixed and painful smile on her red lips. "No!" said I bluntly. "Nor did I ever." "And yet I look the part, and seem to play it, too. And still you believe me honest?" "I know you are." "Then why should I be here alone-- if I am honest, Euan?" "I do not know; tell me." "But-- are you quite certain that you do not ask because you doubt me?" I said impatiently: "I ask, knowing already you are good above reproach. I ask so I may understand how best to aid you." A lovely colour stole into her cheeks.
"You are kind, Euan. And it is true-- though-- " and she shrugged her shoulders, "what other man would credit it?" She lifted her head a little and looked at me with clear, proud eyes:
"Well, let them say what they may in fort and barracks twixt this frontier and Philadelphia. The truth remains that I have been no man's mistress and am no trull. Euan, I have starved that I might remain exactly what I am at this moment. I swear to you that I stand here unsullied and unstained under this untainted sky which the same God made who fashioned me. I have known shame and grief and terror; I have lain cold and ill and sleepless; I have wandered roofless, hunted, threatened, mocked, beset by men and vice. Soldiers have used me roughly-- you yourself saw, there at the Poundridge barracks! And only you among all men saw truly. Why should I not give to you my friendship, unashamed?"
"Give it," I said, more deeply moved than ever I had been. "I do! I do! Rightly or wrongly, now, at last, and in the end, I give my honest heart and friendship to a man!" And with a quick and winning gesture she offered me her hand; and I took it firmly in my clasp, and fell a-trembling so I could not find a word to utter.
"Come to me to-night, Euan," she said. "I lodge yonder. There is a poor widow there-- a Mrs. Rannock-- who took me in. They killed her husband in November. I am striving to repay her for the food and shelter she affords me. I have been given mending and washing at the fort. You see I am no leech to fasten on a body and nourish me for nothing. So I do what I am able. Will you come to me this night?""Yes." But I could not yet speak steadily.
"Come then; I-- I will tell you something of my miserable condition-- if you desire to know.... Truly I think, speaking to no one, this long and unhappy silence has eaten and corroded part of me within-- so ill am I at moments with the pain and shame I've borne so long-- so long, Euan! Ah-- you do not-- know.... And it may be that when you do come to-night I have repented of my purposes-- locked up my wounded heart again. But I shall try to tell you-- something. For I need somebody-- need kindly council very sorely, Euan. And even the Sagamore now fails me-- on the threshold----""What?" "He means it for the best; he fears for me. I will tell you how it is with me when you come to-night. I truly desire to tell you-- I-- I need to tell you. Will you come to me?" "On my honour, Lois."
"Then-- if you please, will you leave me now? I must do my washing and mending-- and
---" she smiled, "if you only knew how desperately I need what money I may earn. My garments, Euan, are like to fall from me if these green cockspur thorns give way."
"But, Lois," I said, "I have brought you money!" And I fished from any hunting shirt a great, thick packet of those poor paper dollars, now in such contempt that scarce five hundred of them counted for a dozen good, hard shillings."What are you doing?" she said, so coldly that I ceased counting the little squares of currency and looked up at her surprised. "I am sharing my pay with you," said I. "I have no silver-- only these." "I can not take-- money!" "What?" "Did you suppose I could?" "Comrades have a common purse; Why not?" For a few moments her face wore the same strange expression, then, of a sudden her eyes filled and closed convulsively, and she turned her head, motioning me to leave her. "Will you not share with me?" I asked, very hot about the ears. She shook her head and I saw her shoulders heave once or twice.
"Lois," I said gravely, "did you fear I hoped for some-- reward? Child-- little comrade-- only the happiness of aiding you is what I ask for. Share with me then, I beg you. I am not poor.""No-- I can not, Euan," she answered in a stifled voice. "Is there any shame to you in sharing with me?" "Wait," she whispered. "Wait till you hear. And-- thank you-- for-- your kindness." "I will be here to-night," I said. "And when we know each other better we will share a common purse." She did not answer me.
I lingered for a moment, desiring to reassure and comfort her, but knew not how. And so, as she did not turn, I finally went away through the sunlit willows, leaving her kneeling there alone beside the golden pool, her bright head drooping and her hands still covering her face.
As I walked back slowly to the fort, I pondered how to be of aid to her; and knew not how. Had there been the ladies of any officers with the army now, I should have laid her desperate case before them; but all had gone back to Albany before our scout of three returned from Westchester.
Here on the river, within our lines, while the army remained, she would be safe enough from forest peril. Yet I burned and raged to think of the baser peril ever threatening her among men of her own speech and colour. I suppose, considering her condition, they had a right to think her that which she was not and never had been. For honesty and maiden virtue never haunted camps. Only two kinds of women tramped with regiments-- the wives of soldiers, and their mistresses.
Yet, somehow her safety must be now arranged, her worth and virtue clearly understood, her needs and dire necessities made known, so that when our army moved she might find a shelter, kind and respectable, within the Middle Fort, or at Schenectady, or anywhere inside our lines.
My pay was small; yet, having no soul dependent on my bounty and needing little myself, I had saved these pitiable dollars that our Congress paid us. Besides, I had a snug account with my solicitor in Albany. She might live on that. I did not need it; seldom drew a penny; my pay more than sufficing. And, after the war had ended-- ended----
Just here my heart beat out o' step, and thought was halted for a moment. But with the warm thought and warmer blood tingling me once again, I knew and never doubted that we had not done with one another yet, nor were like to, war or no war. For in all the world, and through all the years of youth, I had never before encountered any woman who had shared with me my waking thoughts and the last and conscious moment ere I slept. But from the time I lost this woman out of my life, something seemed also missing from the world. And when again I found her, life and the world seemed balanced and well rounded once again. And in my breast a strange calm rested me.
As I walked along the rutty lake road, all hatched and gashed by the artillery, I made up my mind to one matter. "She must have clothes!" thought I, "and that's flat!" Perhaps not such as befitted her, but something immediate, and not in tatters-- something stout that threatened not to part and leave her naked. For the brier-torn rags she wore scarce seemed to hold together; and her small, shy feet peeped through her gaping shoon in snowy hideand-seek.
Now, coming hither from the fort, I had already noticed on the Stoney-Kill where our Oneidas lay encamped. So when I sighted the first painted tree and saw the stone pipe hanging, I made for it, and found there the Indians smoking pipes and not in war paint; and their women and children were busy with their gossip, near at hand.As I had guessed, there by the fire lay a soft and heavy pack of doeskins, open, and a pretty Oneida matron sewing Dutch wampum on a painted sporran for her warrior lord. The lean and silent warriors came up as I approached, sullenly at first, not knowing what treatment to expect-- more shame to the skin we take our pride in! One after another took the hand I offered in self-respecting silence.
"Brothers," I said, "I come to buy. Sooner or later your young men will put on red paint and oil their bodies. Even now I see your rifles and your hatchets have been polished. Sooner or later the army will move four hundred miles through a wilderness so dark that neither sun nor moon nor stars can penetrate. The old men, the women, the children, and the littlest ones still strapped to the cradle-board, must then remain behind. Is it the truth I speak, my brothers?""It is the truth," they answered very quietly, "Then," said I, "they will require food and money to buy with. Is it not true, Oneidas?"
"It is true, brother." I smiled and turned toward the women who were listening, and who now looked up at me with merry faces.
"I have," said I, "four hundred dollars. It is for the Oneida maid or matron who will sell to me her pretty bridal dress of doeskin-- the dress which she has made and laid aside and never worn. I buy her marriage dress. And she will make another for herself against the hour of need."
Two or three girls leaped laughing to their feet; but, "Wait!" said I. "This is for my little sister; and I must judge you where you stand, Oneida forest flowers, so I may know which one among you is most like my little sister in height and girth and narrow feet.""Is our elder brother's little sister fat and comely?" inquired one giggling and over-plump Oneida maid. "Not plump," I said; and they all giggled. Another short one stood on tip-toe, asking bashfully if she were not the proper height to suit me. But there was a third, graceful and slender, who had risen with the rest, and who seemed to me nearer a match to Lois. Also, her naked, dusky feet were small and shapely.
At a smiling nod from me she hastened into the family lodge and presently reappeared with the cherished clothing. Fresh and soft and new, she cast the garments on the moss and spread them daintily and proudly to my view for me to mark her wondrous handiwork. And it was truly pretty-- from the soft, wampum-broidered shirt with its hanging thrums, to the clinging skirt and delicate thigh-moccasins, wonderfully fringed with purple and inset in most curious designs with painted quills and beads and blue diamond-fronds from feathers of a little jay-bird's wing.
Bit by bit I counted out the currency; and it took some little time. But when it was done she took it eagerly enough, laughing her thanks and dancing away toward her lodge. And if her dusky sisters envied her they smiled on me no less merrily as I took my leave of them. And very courteously a stately chief escorted me to the campfire's edge. The Oneidas were ever gentlemen; and their women gently bred.
Once more at my own hut door, I entered, with a nod to Mayaro, who sat smoking there in freshened war paint. One quick and penetrating glance he darted at the Oneida garment on my arm, but except for that betrayed no curiosity."Well, Mayaro," said I, in excellent spirits, "you still wear war paint hopefully, I see. But this army will never start within the week." The Siwanois smiled to himself and smoked. Then he passed the pipe to me. I drew it twice, rendered it. "Come," said I, "have you then news that we take the war-trail soon?"
"The war-trail is always open for those who seek it. When my younger brother makes ready for a trail, does he summon it to come to him by magic, or does he seek it on his two legs?""Are you hoping to go out with the scout to-night?" I asked. "That would not do." "I go to-night with my brother Loskiel-- to take the air," he said slyly. "That may not be," I protested, disconcerted. "I have business abroad to-night," "And I," he said very seriously; but he glanced again at the pretty garments on my arm and gave me a merry look.
"Yes," said I, smilingly, "they are for her. The little lady hath no shoon, no skirt that holds together, save by the grace of cockspur thorns that bind the tatters. Those I have bought of an Oneida girl. And if they do not please her, yet these at least will hold together. And I shall presently write a letter to Albany and send it by the next batteau to my solicitor, who will purchase for her garments far more suitable, and send them to the fort where soon, I trust, she will be lodged in fashion more befitting."
The Sagamore's face had become smooth and expressionless. I laid aside the garments, fished out quill and inkhorn, and, lying flat on the ground, wrote my letter to Albany, describing carefully the maid who was to be fitted, her height, the smallness of her waist and foot as well as I remembered. I wrote, too, that she was thin, but not too thin. Also I bespoke a box of French hair-powder for her, and buckled shoes of Paddington, and stockings, and a kerchief.
"You know better than do I," I wrote, "having a sister to care for, how women dress. They should have shifts, and hair-pegs, and a scarf, and fan, and stays, and scent, and hankers, and a small laced hat, not gilded; cloak, foot-mantle, sun-mask, and a chip hat to tie beneath the chin, and one such as they call after the pretty Mistress Gunning. If women wear banyans, I know not, but whatever they do wear in their own privacy at morning chocolate, in the French fashion, and whatever they do sleep in, buy and box and send to me. And all the money banked with you, put it in her name as well as mine, so that her draughts on it may all be honoured. And this is her name----"
I stopped, dismayed, I did not know her name! And I was about to sign for her full power to share my every penny! Yet, my amazing madness did not strike me as amazing or grotesque, that, within the hour, a maid in a condition such as hers was to divide my tidy fortune with me. Nay, more-- for when I signed this letter she would be free to take what she desired and even leave me destitute.
I laughed at the thought-- so midsummer mad was I upon that sunny July afternoon; and within me, like a hidden thicket full of birds, my heart was singing wondrous tunes I never knew one note of.
"Loskiel, my friend, and now my own blood-brother, what magic singing birds have so enchanted your two ears. She is but a child, lonely and ragged-- a tattered leaf still green, torn from the stem by storm and stress, blown through the woodlands and whirled here and yonder by every breath of wind. Is it fit that my brother Loskiel should notice such a woman?""She is in need, my brother." "Give, and pass on, Loskiel." "That is not giving, O my brother." "Is it to give alone, Loskiel? Or is it to give-- that she may render all?" "Yes, honestly to give. Not to take." "And yet you know her not, Loskiel."
"But I shall know her yet! She has so promised. If she is friendless, she shall be our friend. For you and I are one, O Sagamore! If she is cold, naked, or hungry, we will build for her a fire, and cover her, and give her meat. Our lodge shall be her lodge; our friends hers, her enemies ours. I know not how this all has come to me, Mayaro, my friend-- even as I know not how your friendship came to me, or how now our honour is lodged forever in each other's keeping. But it is true. Our blood has made us of one race and parentage.""It is the truth," he said. "Then tell me her name, that I may write it to my friend in Albany." "I do not know it," he said quietly. "She never told you?"
"Never," he said. "Listen, Loskiel. What I now tell to you with heart all open and my tongue unloosened, is all I know of her. It was in winter that she came to Philipsburgh, all wrapped in her red cloak. The White Plains Indians were there, and she was ever at their camp asking the same and endless question.""What question, Mayaro?" "That I shall also tell you, for I overheard it. But none among the White Plains company could answer her; no, nor no Congress soldier that she asked.
"The soldiers were not unkind; they offered food and fire-- as soldiers do, Loskiel," he added, with a flash of Contempt for men who sought what no Siwanois, no Iroquois, ever did seek of any maiden or any chaste and decent woman, white or red."I know," I said. "Continue."
"I offered shelter," he said simply. "I am a Siwanois. No women need to dread Mohicans. She learned this truth from me for the first time, I think. Afterward, pitying her, I watched her how she went from camp to camp. Some gave her mending to do, some washing, enabling her to live. I drew clothing and arms and rations as a Hudson guide enrolled, and together she and I made out to live. Then, in the spring, Major Lockwood summoned me to carry intelligence between the lines. And she came with me, asking at every camp the same strange question; and ever the soldiers laughed and plagued and courted her, offering food and fire and shelter-- but not the answer to her question. And one day-- the day you came to Poundridge-town-- and she had sought for me through that wild storm-- I met her by the house as I came from North Castle with news of horsemen riding in the rain."He leaned forward, looking at me steadily.
"Loskiel," he said, "when first I heard your name from her, and that it was you who wanted Mayaro, suddenly it seemed to me that magic was being made. And-- I myself gave her her answer-- the answer to the question she had asked at every camp."
"Good God!" said I, "did you, then know the answer all the while? And never told her?" But at the same moment I understood how perfectly characteristic of an Indian had been his conduct."I knew," he said tranquilly, "but I did not know why this maiden wished to know. Therefore was I silent." "Why did you not ask her?" But before he spake I knew why too. "Does a Sagamore ask idle questions of a woman?" he said coldly. "Do the Siwanois babble?" "No. And yet-- and yet----" "Birds sing, maidens chatter. A Mohican considers ere his tongue is loosed." "Aye-- it is your nature, Sagamore.... But tell me-- what was it in the mention of my name that made you think of magic?" "Loskiel, you came two hundred miles to ask of me the question that this maid had asked in every camp." "What question?" "Where lay the trail to Catharines-town," he said. "Did she ask that?" I demanded in astonishment. "It was ever the burden of her piping-- this rosy-throated pigeon of the woods." "That is most strange," said I. "It is doubtless sorcery that she should ask of me an interview with you who came two hundred miles to ask of me the very question." "But, Mayaro, she did not then know why I had come to seek you." "I knew as quickly as I heard your name." "How could you know before you saw me and I had once made plain my business?" "Birds come and go; but eagles see their natal nest once more before they die." "I do not understand you, Mayaro." He made no answer. "Merely to hear my name from this child's lips, you say you guessed my business with you?" "Surely, Loskiel-- surely. It was all done by magic. And, at once, I knew that I should also speak to her, there in the storm, and answer her her question." "And did you do so?" "Yes, Loskiel. I said to her: 'Little sad rosy-throated pigeon of the woods, the vale Yndaia lies by a hidden river in the West. Some call it Catharines-town.'" I shook my head, perplexed, and understanding nothing. "Yndaia? Did you say Yndaia, Mayaro?"
Then, as he looked me steadily in the eye, my gaze became uneasy, shifted, fell by an accident upon the blood-red bear reared on his hind legs, pictured upon his breast. And through and through me passed a shock, like the dull thrill of some forgotten thing clutched suddenly by memory-- yet clutched in vain.
Vain was the struggle, too, for the faint gleam passed from my mind as it had come; and if the name Yndaia had disturbed me, or seeing the scarlet ensign on his breast, or perhaps both coupled, had seemed to stir some distant memory, I did not know. Only it seemed as though, in mental darkness, I had felt the presence of some living and familiar thing-- been conscious of its nearness for an instant ere it had vanished utterly.The Sagamore's face had become a smooth, blank mask again. "What has this maid, Lois, to do with Catharines-town?" I asked. "Devils live there in darkness." "She did not say." "You do not know?" "No, Loskiel." "But," said I, troubled, "why did she journey hither?" "Because she now believes that only I in all the world could guide her to the vale Yndaia; and that one day I will pity her and take her there." "Doubtless," I said anxiously, "she has heard at the forts or hereabouts that we are to march on Catharines-town." "She knows it now, Loskiel" "And means to follow?" I exclaimed in horror. "My brother speaks the truth." "God! What urges the child thither?"
"I do not know, Loskiel. It seems as though a madness were upon her that she must go to Catharines-town. I tell you there is sorcery in all this. I say it-- I, a Sagamore of the Enchanted Wolf. Who should know magic when it stirs but I, of the Siwanois-- the Magic Clan? Say what you will, my comrade and blood-brother, there is sorcery abroad; and well I know who wrought it, spinning with spiders' webs there by the lost Lake of Kendaia----" He shuddered slightly. "There by the black waters of the lake-- that hag-- and all her spawn!""Catharine Montour!" "The Toad-woman herself-- and all her spawn." "The Senecas?" "And the others," he said in a low voice. A sudden and terrible misgiving assailed me. I swallowed, and then said slowly:
"Two scalps were taken late last night by Murphy and Elerson. And the scalps were not of the Mohawk. Not Oneida, nor Onondaga, nor Cayuga. Mayaro!" I gasped. "So help me God, those scalps are never Seneca!"
"Erie!" he exclaimed with a mixture of rage and horror. And I saw his sinewy hand quivering on his knife-hilt. "Listen, Loskiel! I knew it! No one has told me. I have sat here all the day alone, making my steel bright and my paint fresher, and singing to myself my people's songs. And ever as I sat at the lodge door, something in the summer wind mocked at me and whispered to me of demons. And when I rose and stood at gaze, troubled, and minding every river-breeze, faintly I seemed to scent the taint of evil. If those two scalps be Erie, then where the Cat-People creep their Sorcerer will be found.""Amochol," I repeated under my breath. And shivered.
For, deep in the secret shadows of that dreadful place where this vile hag, Catharine Montour, ruled it in Catharines-town, dwelt also all that now remained of the Cat-Nation
- Eries-- People of the Cat-- a dozen, it was rumoured, scarcely more-- and demons all, serving that horrid warlock, Amochol, the Sorcerer of the Senecas.
What dreadful rites this red priest and his Eries practiced there, none knew, unless it were true that the False Faces knew. But rumour whispered with a thousand tongues of horrors viewless, nameless, inconceivable; and that far to the westward Biskoonah yawned, so close indeed to the world's surface that the waters boiling deep in hell burst into burning fountains in the magic garden where the red priest made his sorcery, alone.
These things I had heard, but vaguely, here and there-- a word perhaps at Johnson Hall, a whisper at Fort Johnson, rumours discussed at Guy Park and Schenectady when I was young. But ever the same horror of it filled me, though I believed it not, knowing full well there were no witches, sorcerers, or warlocks in the world; yet, in my soul disturbed concerning what might pass deep in the shadows of that viewless Empire."Mayaro," I said seriously, "do you go instantly to the fort and view those scalps." "Were the braids fastened at the roots with tree-cat claws?" "Aye!" "No need to view them, then, Loskiel." "Are they truly Erie?" "Cats!" He spat the word from his lips and his eyes blazed. "And-- Amochol!" I asked unsteadily. "The Cat People creep with the Seneca high priest, mewing under the moon." "Then-- he is surely here?" "Aye, Loskiel."
"God!" said I, now all a-quiver; "only to slay him! Only to end this demon-thing, this poison spawn of the Woman-Toad! Only to glimpse his scarlet rags fairly along my rifle sight!""No bullets touch him." "That is nonsense, Mayaro----" "No, Loskiel." "I tell you he is human! There are no sorcerers on earth. There never were-- except the Witch of Endor----"
"I never heard of her. But the Witch of Catharines-town is living. And her warlock offspring, Amochol!" He squared his broad shoulders, shaking them. "What do I care?" he said. "I am a Sagamore of the Enchanted Clan!" He struck the painted symbol on his chest. "What do I care for this red priest's sorcery-- I, who wear the great Witch Bear rearing in scarlet here across my breast!
"Let the Cat People make their magic! Let Amochol sacrifice to Leshi in Biskoonah! Let their accursed Atensi watch the Mohicans from behind the moon. Mayaro is a Sagamore and his clan are Sachems; and the clan was old-- old-- old, O little brother, before their Hiawatha came to them and made their League for them, and returned again to The Master of Life in his silver cloud-canoe!
"And I say to you, O my blood-brother, that between this sorcerer and me is now a war such as no Mohican ever waged and no man living, white or red, has ever seen. His magic will I fight with magic; his knife and hatchet shall be turned on mine! And I shall deceive and trick and mock him-- him and his Erie Cats, till one by one their scalps shall swing above a clean Mohican fire. O Loskiel, my brother, and my other self, a warrior and a Sagamore has spoken. Go, now, to your evening tryst in peace and leave me. For in my ears the Seven Chiefs are whispering-- The Thunderers. And Tamanund must hear my speech and read my heart. And the long roll of our Mohican dead must be recited-- here and alone by me-- the only one who has that right since Uncas died and the Mohican priesthood ended, save for the Sagamores of the Magic Clan."Go, now, my brother. Go in peace."
Chapter 7. Lois
When I came to the log house by the Spring Waiontha, lantern in hand and my packet tucked beneath my arm, it was twilight, and the starless skies threatened rain. Road and field and forest were foggy and silent; and I thought of the first time I had ever set eyes on Lois, in the late afternoon stillness which heralded a coming storm.
I had with me, as I say, a camp lantern which enabled me to make my way through the thicket to the Spring Waiontha. Not finding her there, I retraced my steps and crossed the charred and dreary clearing to the house of logs.No light burned within; doubtless this widow woman was far too poor to afford a light of any sort. But my lantern still glimmered, and I went up to the splintered door and rapped. Lois opened it, her knitting gathered in her hand, and stood aside for me to enter.
At first, so dusky was the room that I perceived no other occupant beside ourselves. Then Lois said: "Mrs. Rannock, Mr. Loskiel, of whom I spoke at supper, is to be made known to you."
Then first I saw a slight and ghostly figure rise, take shape in the shadows, and move slowly into my lantern's feeble beams---- a frail and pallid woman, who made her reverence as though dazed, and uttered not a word.Lois whispered in my ear:
"She scarcely seems to know she is alive, since Cherry Valley. A Tory slew her little sister with a hatchet; then her husband fell; and then, before her eyes, a blue-eyed Indian pinned her baby to its cradle with a bayonet."I crossed the room to where she stood, offering my hand; and she laid her thin and workworn fingers listlessly in mine.
"Madam," I said gently, "there are today two thousand widows such as you betwixt Oriska and Schenectady. And, to our cause, each one of you is worth a regiment of men, your sorrows sacred to us all, strengthening our vows, steeling us to a fierce endeavour. No innocent death in this long war has been in vain; no mother's agony. Yet, only God can comfort such as you."She shook her head slowly.
"No God can comfort me," she said, in a voice so lifeless that it sounded flat as the words that sleepers utter, dreaming of trouble.
"Shall we be seated outside on the door-sill?" whispered Lois. "The only seat within is on the settle, where she sits."
She looked up quickly and drew back a step, "Oh, but such a little gift, Lois-- a nothing-- a mere jest of mine which we shall enjoy between us. Take it as I offer it, lightly, and without constraint."
Reluctantly she permitted me to lay the packet in her arms, displeasure still darkening her brow. Then I set my lantern on the puncheon floor and stepped outside, closing the hatchet-battered door behind me.
How long I paced the foggy strip of clearing I do not know. The mist had thickened to rain when I heard the door creak; and, turning in my tracks, caught the lantern's sparkle on the threshold, and the dull gleam of her Oneida finery.I picked up the lantern and held it high above us.
Smiling and bashful she stood there in her clinging skirt and wampum-broidered vest, her slender, rounded limbs moulded into soft knee-moccasins of fawn-skin, and the Virgin's Girdle knotted across her thighs in silver-tasselled seawan.And, "Lord!" said I, surprised by the lovely revelation. "What a miracle are you in your forest masquerade!" "Am I truly fine to please you, Euan?" I said, disturbed, but striving to speak lightly:
"Little Oneida goddess in your bridal dress, the Seven Dancers are laughing at me from your eyes; and the Day-Sun and the Night-Sun hang from your sacred girdle, making it flash like silvery showers of seawan. Salute, O Watcher at the Gates of Dawn! Onwa oyah! Na-i! A-i! Lois!" And I drew my light war-hatchet from its sheath and raised it sparkling, in salute.She laughed a little, blushed a little, and bent her dainty head to view her finery once more, examining it gravely to the last red quill sewed to the beaded toe-point. Then, still serious, she lifted her grey eyes to me:
"I seem to find no words to thank you, Euan. But my heart is-- very-- full----" She hesitated, then stretched forth her hand to me, smiling; and as I touched it ceremoniously with finger-tip and lip:"Ai-me!" she exclaimed, withdrawing under shelter. "It is raining, Euan! Your rifle-shirt is wet already, and you are like to take a chill! Come under shelter instantly!"
"Fancy a man of Morgan's with a chill!" I said, but nevertheless obeyed her, set the lantern on the puncheon floor, brushed the fine drops from thrums and hatchet-sheath, rubbed the bright-edged little axe with buck-skinned elbow, and wiped my heavy knife from hilt to blade.
As I looked up, busy with my side-arms, I caught her eye. We smiled at each other; then, as though a common instinct stirred us to caution, we turned and looked silently toward the settle in the corner, where the widow sat brooding alone."May we speak freely here, Lois?" I whispered. She cast a cautious glance at the shadowy figure, then, lowering her voice and leaning nearer:
"I scarcely know whether she truly heeds and hears. She may not-- yet-- she may. And I do not care to share my confidences with anyone-- save you. I promised to tell you something about myself.... I mean to, some day.""Then you will not tell me now?" "How can I, Euan?"
We stood silent, thinking. Presently my eyes fell on the rough ladder leading to the loft above. She followed my gaze, hesitated, shot a keen and almost hostile glance at me, softened and coloured, then stole across the room to the ladder's foot.
I lifted the lantern, followed her, and mounted, lighting the way for her along lowhanging eaves among the rustling husks. She dropped the trap-door silently, above the ladder, took the lantern from my hand, set it on the floor, and seated herself beside it on the husks, her cheeks still brightly flushed."Is this then your intimate abode?" I asked, half-smiling.
"Could I desire a snugger one?" she answered gaily. "Here is both warmth and shelter; and a clean bed of husks; and if I am lonely, there be friendly little mice to bear me company o' nights. And here my mice and I lie close and listen to the owls." "And you were reared in comfort!" I said with sudden bitterness.She looked up quickly, then, shrugging her shoulders: "There is still some comfort for those who can remember their brief day of ease-- none for those who never knew it. I have had days of comfort." "What age are you, Lois?" "Twenty, I think." "Scarce that!" I insisted. "Do I not seem so?" she asked, smiling. "Eighteen at most-- save for the-- sadness-- in your eyes that now and then surprises me-if it be sadness that I read there." "Perhaps it is the wisdom I have learned-- a knowledge that means sadness, Euan. Do my eyes betray it, then, so plainly?" "Sometimes," I said, A faint sound from below arrested our attention. Lois whispered:
"It is Mrs. Rannock weeping. She often weeps like that at night. And so would I, Euan, had I beheld the horrors which this poor thing was born to look upon-- God comfort her! Have you never heard how the destructives slew her husband, her baby, and her little sister eight years old? The baby lay in its cradle smiling up at its murderers. Even the cruel Senecas turned aside, forbearing to harm it. But one of Walter Butler's painted Tories spies it and bawls out: 'This also will grow to be a rebel!' And with that he speared the little smiling creature on his bayonet, tossed it, and caught it-- Oh, Euan-- Euan!" Shuddering, she flung her arm across her face as though to shut out the vision.
"That villainy," said I, "was done by Newberry or Chrysler, if I remember. And Newberry we caught and hung before we went to Westchester. I saw him hang with that wretched Lieutenant Hare. God! how we cheered by regiments marching back to camp!"Through the intense stillness I could still hear the woman sobbing in the dark below. "Lois-- little Lois," I whispered, touching her trembling arm with a hand quite as unsteady.
She dropped her arm from her face, looking up at me with eyes widened still in horror. I said: "Do you then wonder that the thought of you, roaming these woods alone, is become a living dread to me, so that I think of nothing else?"She smiled wanly, and sat thinking for a while, her pale face pressed between her hands. Presently she looked up. "Are we so truly friends then, Euan? At the Spring Waiontha it almost seemed as though it could come true." "You know it has come true." "Do I?" "Do you not know it, little Lois?"
"I seem to know it, somehow.... Tell me, Euan, does a true and deathless friendship with a man-- with you-- mean that I am to strip my heart of every secret, hiding nothing from you?""Dare you do it, Lois?" I said laughingly, yet thrilled with the candour of her words.
"I could not let you think me better than I am. That would be stealing friendship from you. But if you give it when you really know me-- that will be dear and wonderful----" She drew a swift breath and smiled.Surprised, then touched, I met the winning honesty of her gaze in silence.
"Unless you truly know me-- unless you know to whom you give your friendship-- you can not give it rightly. Can you, Euan? You must learn all that I am and have been, Is not this necessary?""I-- I ask you nothing," I stammered. "All that I know of you is wonderful enough----" Suddenly the danger of the moment opened out before me, checking my very thoughts. She laid both hands against her temple, pressing them there till her cheeks cooled. So she pondered for a while, her gaze remote. Then, looking fearlessly at me:
"Euan, I am of that sad company of children born without name. I have lately dared to guess who was my father. Presently I will tell you who he was." Her grey and troubled eyes gazed into space now, dreamily. "He died long since. But my mother is living. And I believe she lives near Catharines-town to-day!""What! Why do you think so?" I exclaimed, astounded. "Is not the Vale Yndaia there, near Catharines-town?" "Yes. But why----"
"Then listen, Euan. Every year upon a certain day-- the twelfth of May-- no matter where I chance to be, always outside my door I find two little beaded moccasins. I have had them thirteen times in thirteen years. And every year-- save the last two-- the moccasins have been made a little larger, as though to fit my growing years. Now, for the last two years, they have remained the same in size, fitting me perfectly. And-- I never yet have worn them more than to fit them on and take them off.""Why?" I asked vaguely. "I save them for my journey." "What journey?" "The long trail through the Long House-- straight through it, Euan, to the Western Door. That is the trail I dream of." "Who leaves these strange moccasins at your threshold every year?" "I do not know." "From where do you suppose they come?" I asked, amazed. "From Catharines-town." "Do you believe your mother sends them?" "Oh, Euan, I know it now! Until two years ago I did not understand. But now I know it!" "Why are you so certain Lois? Is any written message sent with them?" "Always within one of each pair of moccasins is sewed a strip of silver birch. Always the message written is the same; and this is what is always written:
"Swift moccasins for little feet as swift against the day that the long trail is safe. Then, in the Vale Yndaia, little Lois, seek her who bore you, saved you, lost you, but who love you always."Pray every day for him who died in the Regiment de la Reine. "Pray too for her who waits for you, in far Yndaia." "What a strange message!" I exclaimed. "I must heed it," she said under her breath. "The trail is open, and my hour is come." "But, Lois, that trail means death!" "Your army makes it safe at last. And now the time is come when I must follow it." "Is that why you have followed us?"
"Yes, that is why. Until that night in the storm at Poundridge-town I had never learned where the Vale Yndaia lay. Month after month I haunted camps, asking for information concerning Yndaia and the Regiment de la Reine. But of Yndaia I learned nothing, until the Sagamore informed me that Yndaia lay near Catharines-town. And, learning you were of the army, and that the army was bound thither, I followed you.""Why did you not tell me this at Poundridge? You should have camped with us," I said. "Because of my fear of men-- except red men. And I had already quite enough of your Lieutenant Boyd." I looked at her seriously; and she comprehended the unasked questions that were troubling me.
"Shall I tell you more? Shall I tell you how I have learned my dread of men-- how it has been with me since my foster parents found me lying at their door strapped to a painted cradle-board?""You!"
"Aye; that was my shameful beginning, so they told me afterward-- long afterward. For I supposed they were my parents-- till two years ago. Now shall I tell you all, Euan? And risk losing a friendship you might have given in your ignorance of me?"Quick, hot, unconsidered words flew to my lips-- so sweet and fearless were her eyes. But I only muttered: "Tell me all."
"From the beginning, then-- to scour my heart out for you! So, first and earliest my consciousness awoke to the sound of drums. I am sure of this because when I hear them it seems as though they were the first sounds that I ever heard.... And once, lately, they were like to be the last.... And next I can remember playing with a painted mask of wood, and how the paint tasted, and its odour.... Then, nothing more can I remember until I was a little child with-- him I thought to be my father. I may not name him. You will understand presently why I do not."
She looked down, pulling idly at the thrums along her beaded leggins. "I told you I was near your age-- twenty. But I do not really know how old I am, I guess that I am twenty-- thereabouts.""You look sixteen; not more-- except the haunting sorrow----"
"I can remember full that length of time.... I must be twenty, Euan. When I was perhaps seven years old-- or thereabout-- I went to school-- first in Schenectady to a Mistress Lydon; where were a dozen children near my age. And pretty Mistress Lydon taught us A-- B-- C and manners-- and nothing else that I remember now. Then for a long while I was at home-- which meant a hundred different lodgings-- for we were ever moving on from place to place, where his employment led him, from one house to another, staying at one tavern only while his task remained unfinished, then to the road again, north, south, west, or east, wherever his fancy sped before to beckon him.... He was a strange man, Euan.""Your foster father?" "Aye. And my foster mother, too, was a strange woman." "Were they not kind to you?"
"Y-es, after their own fashion. They both were vastly different to other folk. I was fed and clothed when anyone remembered to do it, And when they had been fortunate, they sent me to the nearest school to be rid of me, I think. I have attended many schools, Euan-- in Germantown, in Philadelphia, in Boston, in New York. I stayed not long in school at New York because there our affairs went badly. And no one invited us in that city-- as often we were asked to stay as guests while the work lasted-- not very welcome guests, yet tolerated.""What was your foster father's business?"
"He painted portraits.... I do not know how well he painted. But he cared for nothing else, except his wife. When he spoke at all it was to her of Raphael, and of Titian, and particularly of our Benjamin West, who had his first three colours of the Indians, they say.""I have heard so, too." She nodded absently, fingering her leggin-fringe; then, with a sudden, indrawn breath:
"We were no more than roving gypsies, you see, living from hand to mouth, and moving on, always moving from town to town, remaining in one place while there were portraits to paint-- or tavern-signs, or wagons-- anything to keep us clothed and fed. Then there came a day in Albany when matters mended over night, and the Patroon most kindly commanded portraits of himself and family. It started our brief prosperity. "Other and thrifty Dutchmen now began to bargain for their portraits. We took an old house on Pearl Street, and I was sent to school at Mrs. Pardee's Academy for young ladies as a day pupil, returning home at evening. About that time my foster mother became ill. I remember that she lay on a couch all day, watching her husband paint. He and his art were all she cared for. Me she seldom seemed to see-- scarcely noticed when she saw me-- almost never spake to me, and there were days and weeks, when I saw nobody in that silent house, and sat at meat alone-- when, indeed, anyone remembered I was a hungry, growing child, and made provision for me.
"Schoolmates, at first, asked me to their homes. I would not go because I could not ask them to my home in turn. And so grew up to womanhood alone, and shy, and silent among my fellows; alone at home among the shadows of that old Dutch house; ever alone. Always a haunted twilight seemed to veil the living world from me, save when I walked abroad along the river, thinking, thinking.
"Yet, in one sense I was not alone, Euan, for I was fanciful; and roamed accompanied by those bright visions that unawakened souls conjure for company; companioned by all creatures of the mind, from saint to devil. Ai-me! For there were moments when I would have welcomed devils, so that they rid me of my solitude, at hell's own price!"She drew a long, light breath, smiled at me; then:
"My foster mother died. And when she died the end also began for him. I was taken from my school. So dreadfully was he broken that for months he lay abed never speaking, scarcely eating. And all day long during those dreary months I sat alone in that hushed house of death.
"Debt came first; then sheriffs; then suddenly came this war upon us. But nothing aroused him from his lethargy; and all day long he brooded there in silence, day after day, until our creditors would endure no longer, and the bailiff menaced him. Confused and frightened, I implored him to leave the city-- jails seeming to me far more terrible than death-- and at last persuaded him to the old life once more.
"So, to avoid a debtor's prison, we took the open road again. But war was ravishing the land; there was no work for him to do. We starved slowly southward, day by day, shivered and starved from town to town across the counter.
"Near to a camp of Continental troops there was a farm house. They took me there as maid-at-all-work, out of charity, I think. My father wandered over to the camp, and there, God alone knows why, enlisted-- I shall not tell you in what regiment. But it was Continental Line-- a gaunt, fierce, powder-blackened company, disciplined with iron. And presently a dreadful thing befell us. For one morning before sunrise, as I stood scouring the milk-pans by the flare of a tallow-dip, came to me a yawning sergeant of this same regiment to tell me that, as my foster father was to be shot at sunrise, therefore, he desired to see me. And I remember how he yawned and yawned, this lank and bony sergeant, showing within his mouth his yellow fangs!
"Oh, Euan! When I arrived, my foster father-- who I then supposed was my own father-- lay in a tent a condemned deserter, seeming not even to care, or to comprehend his dreadful plight. All the defence he ever made, they say was that he had tired of dirty camps and foolish drums, and wished to paint again. Euan, it was terrible. He did not understand. He was a visionary-- a man of endless silences, dreamy of eye, gentle and vague of mind-- no soldier, nor fitted to understand a military life at all.
"I remember the smoky lantern burning red within the tent, and the vast shadows it cast; and how he stood there, looking tranquilly at nothing while I, frightened, sobbed on his breast. 'Lois,' he said, smiling, 'there is a bright company aloft, and watching me. Raphael and Titian are of them. And West will come some day.' And, 'God!' he murmured, wonderingly, 'What fellowship will be there! What knowledge to be acquired a half hour hence-- and leave this petty sphere to its own vexed and petty wrangling, its kings and congresses, and its foolish noise of drums.'
"For a while he paid me no attention, save in an absent-minded way to pat my arm and say, 'There, there, child! There's nothing to it-- no, not anything to weep for. In less than half an hour my wife and I will be together, listening while Raphael speaks-- or Christ, perhaps, or Leonardo.'
"Twice the brigade chaplain came to the tent, but seeing me retired. The third time he appeared my foster father said: 'He's come to talk to me of Christ and Raphael. It is pleasant to hear his kind assurance that the journey to them is a swift one, done in the twinkling of an eye.... So-- I will say good-bye. Now go, my child.'
"Locked in my desperate embrace, his wandering gaze came back and met my terrorstricken eyes. And after another moment a slow colour came into his wasted face. 'Lois,' he said, 'before I go to join that matchless company, I think you ought to know that which will cause you to grieve less for me.... And so I tell you that I am not your father.... We found you at our door in Caughnwagha, strapped to a Seneca cradle-board. Nor had you any name. We did not seek you, but, having you so, bowed to God's will and suffered you to remain with us. We strove to do our duty by you---- ' His vague gaze wandered toward the tent door where the armed guard stood, terrible and grim and ragged. Then he unloosened my suddenly limp arms about him, muttering to himself of something he'd forgotten; and, rummaging in his pockets found it presently-- a packet laced in deerskin. 'This,' he said, 'is all we ever knew of you. It should be yours. Good-bye.'
"I strove to speak, but he no longer heard me, and asked the guard impatiently why the Chaplain tarried. And so I crept forth into the dark of dawn, more dead than living. And presently the rising sun blinded my tear-drowned eyes, where I was kneeling in a field under a tall tree.... I heard the dead-march rolling from the drums, and saw them passing, black against the sunrise.... Then, filing slowly as the seconds dragged, a thousand years passed in processional during the next half hour-- ending in a far rattle of musketry and a light smoke blowing east across the fields----"
She passed her fingers across her brow, clearing it of the clinging curls. "They played a noisy march-- afterward. I saw the ragged ranks wheel and manoeuvre, stepping out Briskly to the jolly drums and fifes.... I stood by the grave while the detail filled it cheerily.... Then I went back to the farm house, through the morning dew and sunshine.
"When I had opened my packet and had understood its contents, I made of my clothes a bundle and took the highway to ask of all the world where lay the road to the vale Yndaia, and where might be found the Regiment de la Reine. Wherever was a camp of soldiers, there I loitered, asking the same question, day after day, month after month. I asked of Indians-- our Hudson guides, and the brigaded White Plains Indians. None seemed to know-- or if they did they made no answer. And the soldiers did not know, and only laughed, taking me for some camp wanton----"Again she passed her slender hand slowly across her eyes, shaking her head.
"That I am not wholly bad amazes me at times.... I wonder if you know how hunger tampers with the will? I mean more than mere hunger; I mean that dreadful craving never completely satisfied-- so that the ceaseless famine gnaws and gnaws while the sick mind still sickens, brooding over what the body seems to need of meat and drink and warmth-day after day, night after night, endless and terrible." She flushed, but continued calmly: "I had nigh sold myself to some young officer-- some gay and heedless boy-- a dozen times that winter-- for a bit of bread-- and so I might lie warm.... The army starved at Valley Forge.... God knows where and how I lived and famished through all that bitter blackness.... An artillery horse had trodden on my hip where I lay huddled in a cow-barn under the straw close to the horses, for the sake of warmth. I hobbled for a month.... And so ill was I become in mind as well as body that had any man been kind-- God knows what had happened! And once I even crept abroad meaning to take what offered. Do you deem me vile, Euan?""No-- no-- " I could not utter another word. She sighed, gazing at space.
"And the cold! Well-- this is July, and I must try to put it from my mind. But at times it seems to be still in my bones-- deep bitten to the very marrow. Ai-me! I have seen two years of centuries. Their scars remain."She rocked slightly forward and backward where she sat, her fingers interlaced, twisting and clenching with her memories. "Ai-me! Hunger and cold and men! Hunger and-- men. But it was solitude that nigh undid me. That was the worst of all-- the endless silence." The rain now swept the roof of bark above us, gust after gust swishing across the eaves. Beyond the outer circle of the lantern light a mouse moved, venturing no nearer. "Lois?" She lifted her head. "All that is ended now. Strive to forget." She made no response.
"Ended," I said firmly. "And this is how it ends. I have with my solicitor, Mr. Simon Hake, of Albany, two thousand pounds hard sterling. How I first came by it I do not know. But Guy Johnson placed it there for me, saying that it was mine by right. Now, today, I have written to Mr. Hake a letter. In this letter I have commanded some few trifles to be bought for you, such as all women naturally require "Euan!" she exclaimed sharply."I will not listen!" said I excitedly. "Do you listen now to me, for I mean to have my way with you-- say what you may----" "I know-- I know-- but you have done too much already----" "I have done nothing! Listen! I have bespoken trifles of no value-- nothing more-- stockings, and shifts, and stays, and powder-puffs, and other articles----" "I will not suffer this!" she said, an angry colour in her cheeks. "You suffer now-- for lack even of handkerchiefs! I must insist----" "Euan! My shifts and stays and stockings are none of your affair!" she answered hotly. "I make them mine!" "No-- nor is it your privilege to offer them!" "My-- what?"
"Privilege!" she said haughtily, flushing clear to her curly hair; and left me checked. She added: "What you offer is impertinence-- however kindly meant. No friendship warrants it, and I refuse."
I know not what it was-- perhaps my hurt and burning silence under the sudden lash of her rebuff-- but presently I felt her hand steal over mine and tighten. And looked up, scowling, to see her eyes brimming with tears and merriment.
"How much of me must you have, Euan? Even my privacy and pride? You have given me friendship; you have clothed me to your fancy. You have had scant payment in exchange-- only a poor girl's gratitude. What have I left to offer in return if you bestow more gifts? Give me no more-- so that you take from me no more than-- gratitude." "Comrades neither give nor take, Lois. What they possess belongs to both in common."
"I know-- it is so said-- but-- you have had of me for all your bounty only my thanks-- and----" she smiled tremulously, "---- a wild rose-bud. And you have given so much-- so much-- and I am far too poor to render----""What have I asked of you!" I said impatiently. "Nothing. And so I am the more inclined to give-- I know not what." "Shall I tell you what to offer me? Then offer me the privilege of giving. It is the rarest gift within your power." She sat looking at me while the soft colour waned and deepened in her cheeks. "I-- give," she said in a voice scarce audible.
"Then," said I, very happily, "I am free to tell you that I have commanded for your comfort a host of pretty things, and a big box of wood and brass, with a stout hide outside, to keep your clothing in! The lady of Captain Cresson, of the levies, has a noble one. Yours is its mate. And into yours will fit your gowns and shoon, patches and powder, and the hundred articles which every woman needs by day and night. Also I've named you to Mr. Hake, so that, first writing for me upon a slip of paper that I may send it to him-- then writing your request to him, you may make draughts for what you need upon our money, which now lies with him. Do you understand me, Lois? You will need money when the army leaves."Her head moved slightly, acquiescent.
"So far so good, then. Now, when this army moves into the wilderness, and when I go, and you remain, you will have clothing that befits you; you will have means to properly maintain you; and I shall send you by batteau to Mr. Hake, who will find lodging suitable for you-- and be your friend, and recommend you to his friends not only for my sake, but, when he sets his eyes on you, for your own sake." I smiled, and added:"Hiero! Little rosy-throated pigeon of the woods! Loskiel has spoken!"
Now, as I ended, this same and silly wild-thing fell silently a-crying; and never had I dreamed that any maid could be so full o' tears, when by all rights she should have sat dimpling there, happy and gay, and eager as I.
Out o' countenance again, and vexed in my mind, I sat silent, fidgetting, made strange and cold and awkward by her tears. The warm flush of self-approval chilled in my heart; and by and by a vague resentment grew there."Euan?" she ventured, lifting her wet eyes. "What?" said I ungraciously. "H-- have you a hanker? Else I use my scandalous skirt again----"
And the next instant we both were laughing there, she still in tears, I with blithe heart to see her now surrender at discretion, with her grey eyes smiling at me through a starry mist of tears, and the sweet mouth tremulous with her low-voiced thanks.
"Ai-me!" she said. "What manner of boy is this, to hector me and have his will? And now he sits there laughing, and convinced that when the army marches I shall wear his finery and do his bidding. And so I shall-- if I remain behind.""Lois! You can not go to Catharines-town! That's flat!" "I've wandered hungry and ragged for two years, asking the way. Do you suppose I have endured in vain? Do you suppose I shall give up now?"
"Lois!" I said seriously, "if it is true that the Senecas hold any white captives, their liberation is at hand. But that business concerns the army. And I promise you that if your mother be truly there among those unhappy prisoners she shall be brought back safely from the Vale Yndaia. I will tell Major Parr of this; he shall inform the General. Have no fear or doubt, dear maid. If she is there, and human power can save her, then is she saved already, by God's grace."She said in a quiet voice: "I must go with you. And that is why-- or partly why-- I asked you here tonight. Find me some way to go to Catharines-town. For I must go!" "Why not inquire of me the road to hell?" I asked impatiently. She said between her teeth: "Oh, any man might show me that. And guide me, too. Many have offered, Euan." "What!" "I ask your pardon. Two years of camps blunts any woman's speech." "Lois," said I uneasily, "why do you wish to go to Catharines-town, when an armed force is going?" She sat considering, then, in a low, firm voice: "To tell you why, is why I asked you here.... And first I must show you what my packet held.... Shall I show you, Euan?" "Surely, little comrade." She drew the packet from her bosom, unlaced the thong, unrolled the deer-hide covering. "Here is a roll of bark," she said. "This I have never had interpreted. Can you read it for me, Euan?" And there in the lantern light I read it, while she looked down over my shoulder. "KADON!
"Aesa-yat-yen-enghdon, Lois! "Etho! [And here was painted a white dog lying dead, its tongue hanging out sideways.] "Hen-skerigh-watonte. "Jatthon-ten-yonk, Lois!
"Jin-isaya-dawen-ken-wed-e-wayen. [Here was drawn in outline the foot and claws of a forest lynx.] "Niyi-eskah-haghs, na-yegh-nyasa-kenra-dake, niya-wennonh!" [Then a
"I never have had it read. Indians refuse, shake their heads, and look askance at me, and tell me nothing; interpreters laugh at me, saying there is no meaning in the lines. Is there, Euan?""Yes," I said. "You can interpret?" "Yes." "Will you?" I was silent, pondering the fearful meaning which had been rendered plainer and more hideous by the painted symbols. "It has to do with the magic of the Seneca priesthood," I muttered. "Here is a foul screed - and yet a message, too, to you." Then, with an effort I found courage to read, as it was written:
"I speak! Thou, Lois, mightest have been destroyed! Thus! (Here the white dog.) But I will frustrate their purpose. Keep listening to me, Lois. That which has befallen you we place it here (or, 'we draw it here'-- i. e., the severed foot and claws of a lynx). Being born white (literally, 'being born having a white neck'), this happened." And the ghastly sign of Leshi ended it.
"But what does it all signify?" she asked, bewildered. And even as she spoke, out of the dull and menacing horror of the symbols, into my mind, leaped terrible comprehension.I said coolly: "It must have been Amochol-- and his Erie sorcerers! How came you in Catharines-town?" "I? In Catharines-town!" she faltered. "Was I, then, ever there?" I pointed at the drawing of the dead white dog.
"Somebody saved you from that hellish sacrifice. I tell you it is plain enough to read. The rite is practiced only by the red sorcerers of the Senecas.... Look! It was because your 'neck' was 'white'! Look again! Here is the symbol of the Cat-People-- the Eries-- the acolytes of Amochol-- here! This spread lynx-pad with every separate claw extended! Yet, it is drawn severed-- in symbol of your escape. Lois! Lois! It is plain enough. I follow it all-- almost all-- nearly-- but not quite----"I hesitated, studying the bark intently, pausing to look at her with a new and keenly searching question in my gaze. "You have not shown me all," I said. "All that is written in the Iroquois tongue. But there were other things in the packet with this bark letter." She opened it again upon her lap. "Here is a soldier's belt-buckle," she said, offering it to me for my inspection. It was made of silver and there were still traces of French gilt upon the device.
"Regiment de la Reine," I read. "What regiment is that, Lois? I'm sure I've heard of it somewhere. Oh! Now I remember. It was a very celebrated French regiment-- cut all to pieces at Lake George by Sir William Johnson in '55. This is an officer's belt-buckle.""Was the regiment, then, totally destroyed?" "Utterly. In France they made the regiment again with new men and new officers, and call it still by the same celebrated name." "You say Sir William Johnson's men cut it to pieces-- the Regiment de la Reine?" she asked. "His Indians, British and Provincials, left nothing of it after that bloody day."
She sat thoughtful for a while, then, bestirring herself, drew from the deerhide packet a miniature on ivory, cracked across, and held together only by the narrow oval frame of gold.
There was no need to look twice. This man, whoever he might be, was this girl's father; and nobody who had ever seen her and this miniature could ever doubt it.
Presently I turned the portrait over. There was a lock of hair there under the glass-- bright, curly hair exactly like her own. And at first I saw nothing else. Then, as the glassbacked locket glanced in the lantern-light, I saw that on the glass something had been inscribed with a diamond. This is what I read, written across the glass:"Jean Coeur a son coeur cheri." I looked up at her.
"Jean Coeur," I repeated. "That is no name for a man----" Suddenly I remembered, years ago-- years and years since-- hearing Guy Johnson cursing some such man. Then in an instant all came back to me; and she seemed to divine it, for her small hand clutched my arm and her eyes were widening as I turned to meet them.
"Lois," I said unsteadily, "there was a man called Jean Coeur, deputy to the adventurer, Joncaire. Joncaire was the great captain who all but saved this Western Continent to France. Captain Joncaire was feared, detested, but respected by Sir William Johnson because he held all Canada and the Hurons and Algonquins in the hollow of his hand, and had even gained part of the Long House-- the Senecas. His clever deputy was called Jean Coeur. Never did two men know the Indians as these two did."
I thought a moment, then: "Somewhere I heard that Captain Joncaire had a daughter. But she married another man-- one Louis de Contrecoeur----" I hesitated, glanced again at the name scratched on the glass over the lock of hair, and shook my head."Jean Coeur-- Louis de Contrecoeur. The names scarce hang together-- yet----" "Look at this!" she whispered in a low, tense voice, and laid a bit of printing in my hand.
It was a stained and engraved sheet of paper-- a fly-leaf detached from a book of Voltaire. And above the scroll-encompassed title was written in faded ink: "Le Capitaine Vicomte Louis Jean de Contrecoeur du Regiment de la Reine." And under that, in a woman's fine handwriting: "Mon coeur, malgre; mon coeur, se rendre a Contrecoeur, dit Jean Coeur; coeur contre coeur.""That," she said, "is the same writing that the birch bark bears, sewed in my moccasins." "Then," I said excitedly, "your mother was born Mademoiselle Joncaire, and you are Lois de Contrecoeur!" She sat with eyes lowered, fingering the stained and faded page. After a moment she said: "I wrote to France-- to the Headquarters of the Regiment de la Reine-- asking about my-father." "You had an answer?"
"Aye, the answer came.... Merely a word or two.... The Vicomte Louis Jean de Contrecoeur fell at Lake George in '55----" She lifted her clear eyes to mine. "And died-- unmarried."A chill passed through me, then the reaction came, taking me by the throat, setting my veins afire. "Then-- by God!" I stammered. "If de Contrecoeur died unmarried, his child shall not!" "Euan! I do not credit what they wrote. If my father married here perhaps they had not heard." "Lois! Dearest of maids-- whichever is the truth I wish to marry you!" But she stopped her ears with both palms, giving me a frightened look; and checked, but burning still, I stared at her. "Is that then all you are?" she asked. "A wisp of tow to catch the first spark that flies? A brand ever smouldering, which the first breath o' woman stirs to flame?" "Never have I loved before----" "Love! Euan, are you mad?" We both were breathing fast and brokenly. "What is it then, if it be not love!" I asked angrily.
"What is it?" she repeated slowly. Yet I seemed to feel in her very voice a faint, cool current of contempt. "Why, it is what always urges men to speak, I fancy-- their natural fire-- their easily provoked emotions.... I had believed you different.""Did you not desire my friendship?" I asked in hot chagrin. "Not if it be of this kind, Euan."
"You would not have me love you?" "Love!" And the fine edge of her contempt cut clean. "Love!" she repeated coolly. "And we scarcely know each other; have never passed a day together; have never broken bread; know nothing, nothing of each other's minds and finer qualities; have awakened nothing in each other yet except emotions. Friendships have their deeps and shallows, but are deathless only while they endure. Love hath no shallows, Euan, and endures often when friendship dies.... I speak, having no knowledge. But I believe it. And, believing nobly of true love-- in ignorance of it, but still in awe-- and having been assailed by clamours of a shameful passion calling itself love-- and having builded in my heart and mind a very lofty altar for the truth, how can I feel otherwise than sorry that you spoke-- hotly, unthinkingly, as you did to me?"I was silent. She rose, lifted the lantern, laid open the trap-door. "Come," she whispered, beckoning.
I followed her as she descended, took the lantern from her hand, glanced at the shadowy heap, asleep perhaps, on the corner settle, then walked to the door and opened it. A thousand, thousand stars were sparkling overhead.On the sill she whispered: "When will you come again?" "Do you want me?" I said sullenly. She made no answer for a moment; suddenly she caught my hand and pressed it, crushing it between both of hers; and turning I saw her almost helpless with her laughter.
"Oh, what an infant have I found in this tall gentleman of Morgan's corps!" said she. "A boy one moment and a man the next-- silly and wise in the same breath-- headlong, headstrong, tender, and generous, petty and childish, grave and kind-- the sacred and wondrous being, in point of fact, known to the world as man! And now he asks, with solemn mien and sadly ruffled and reproachful dignity whether a poor, friendless, homeless, nameless girl desires his company again!"She dropped my hand, caught at her skirt's edge, and made me a mocking reverence. "Dear sir," she said, "I pray you come again to visit me tomorrow, while I am mending regimental shirts at tuppence each----" "Lois!" I said sadly. "How can you use me so!" She began to laugh again. "Oh, Euan, I can not endure it if you're solemn and sorry for yourself----" "That is too much!" I exclaimed, furious, and marched out, boiling, under the high stars. And every star o' them, I think, was laughing at the sorriest ass who ever fell in love.
Nevertheless, that night I wrote her name in my letter to Mr. Hake; and the ink on it was scarce sanded when an Oneida runner had it and was driving his canoe down the Mohawk River at a speed that promised to win for him the bonus in hard money which I had promised for a swift journey and a swift return.And far into the July morning I talked with the Sagamore of Amochol and of Catharinestown; and he listened while he sat tirelessly polishing his scalping-knife and hatchet.