The Hidden Children by Robert W. Chambers - HTML preview

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Chapter 8. Old Friends

The sunrise gun awoke me. I rolled out of my blanket, saw the white cannon-smoke floating above the trees, ran down to the river, and plunged in.

When I returned, the Sagamore had already broken his fast, and once more was engaged in painting himself-- this time in a most ghastly combination of black and white, the startling parti-coloured decorations splitting his visage into two equal sections, so that his eyes gleamed from a black and sticky mask, and his mouth and chin and jaw were like the features of a weather-bleached skull.

"More war, O Mayaro, my brother?" I asked in a bantering voice. "Every day you prepare for battle with a confidence forever new; every night the army snores in peace. Yet, at dawn, when you have greeted the sun, you renew your war-paint. Such praiseworthy perseverance ought to be rewarded."

"It has already been rewarded," remarked the Indian, with quiet humour.

 

"In what manner?" I asked, puzzled.

 

"In the manner that all warriors desire to be rewarded," he replied, secretly amused.

 

"I thought," said I, "that the reward all warriors desire is a scalp taken in battle."

 

He cast a sly glance at me and went on painting.

 

"Mayaro," said I, disturbed, "is it possible that you have been out forest-running while I've slept?"

 

He shot a quick look at me, full of delighted malice.

And "Ho!" said he. "My brother sleeps sounder than a winter bear. Three Erie scalps hang stretched, hooped, and curing in the morning sun, behind the bush-hut. Little brother, has the Sagamore done well?"

Straightway I whirled on my heel and walked out and around the hut. Strung like drying fish on a willow wand three scalps hung in the sunshine, the soft July breeze stirring the dead hair. And as soon as I saw them I knew they were indeed Erie scalps.

Repressing my resentment and disgust, I lingered a moment to examine them, then returned to the hut, where the Siwanois, grave as a catamount at his toilet, squatted in a patch of sunshine, polishing his features.
"So you've done this business every night as soon as I slept," said I. "You've crept beyond our outer pickets, risking your life, imperilling the success of this army, merely to satisfy your vanity. This is not well, Mayaro."

He said proudly: "Mayaro is safe. What warrior of the Cat-People need a Sagamore of the Siwanois dread?"

 

"Do you count them warriors then, or wizards?"

 

"Demons have teeth and claws. Look upon their scalp-locks, Loskiel!"

 

I strove to subdue my rising anger.

"You are the only reliable guide in the army today who can take us straight to Catharinestown," I said. "If we lose you we must trust to Hanierri and his praying Oneidas, who do not know the way even to Wyalusing as well as you do. Is this just to the army? Is it just to me, O Sagamore? My formal orders are that you shall rest and run no risk until this army starts from Lake Otsego. My brother Mayaro knew this. I trusted him and set no sentry at the hut door. Is this well, brother?"

The Sagamore looked at me with eyes utterly void of expression.

 

"Is Mayaro a prisoner, then?" he asked quietly.

Instantly I knew that he was not to be dealt with that way. The slightest suspicion of any personal restraint or of any military pressure brought to bear on him might alienate him from our cause, if not, perhaps, from me personally.

I said: "The Siwanois are free people. No lodge door is locked on them, not even in the Long House. They are at liberty to come and go as the eight winds rise and wane-- to sleep when they choose, to wake when it pleases them, to go forth by day or night, to follow the war-trail, to strike their enemies where they find them.

"But now, to one of them-- to the Mohican Mayaro, Sagamore of the Siwanois, Sachem of the Enchanted Clan, is given the greatest mission ever offered to any Delaware since Tamenund put on his snowy panoply of feathers and flew through the forest and upward into the air-ocean of eternal light.

"A great army of his embattled brothers trusts in him to guide them so that the Iroquois Confederacy shall be pierced from Gate to Gate, and the Long House go roaring up in flames.

"There are many valiant deeds to be accomplished on this coming march-- deeds worthy of a war-chief of the Lenni-Lenape-- deeds fitted to do honour to a Sagamore of the Magic Wolf.
"I only ask of my friend and blood-brother that he reserve himself for these great deeds and not risk a chance bullet in ambush for the sake of an Erie scalp or two-- for the sake of a patch of mangy fur which grows on these Devil-Cats of Amochol."

At first his countenance was smooth and blank; as I proceeded, he became gravely attentive; then, as I ended, he gave me a quick, unembarrassed, and merry look.

"Loskiel," he said laughingly, "Mayaro plays with the Cat-People. A child's skill only is needed to take their half-shed fur and dash them squalling and spitting and kicking into Biskoonah!"

He resumed his painting with a shrug of contempt, adding:

"Amochol rages in vain. Upon this wizard a Mohican spits! One by one his scalped acolytes tumble and thump among the dead and bloody forest leaves. The Siwanois laugh at them. Let the red sorcerer of the Senecas make strong magic so that his cats return to life, and the vile fur grows once more where a Mohican has ripped it out!"

"Each night you go forth and scalp. Each morning you paint. Is this to continue, Sagamore?"

 

"My brother sees," he said proudly. "Cats were made for skinning."

 

There was nothing to do about it; no more to be said. I now comprehended this, as I stood lacing my rifle-shirt and watching him at his weird self-embellishment.

 

"The war-paint you have worn each day has seemed to me somewhat unusual," I said curiously.

 

He glanced sharply up at me, scowled, then said gravely:

"When a Sagamore of the Mohicans paints for a war against warriors, the paint is different. But," he added, and his eyes blazed, and the very scalp-lock seemed to bristle on his shaven head, "when a Lenape Sachem of the Enchanted Clan paints for war with Seneca sorcerers, he wears also the clean symbols of his sacred priesthood, so that he may fight bad magic with good magic, sorcery with sorcery, and defy this scarlet priest-- this vile, sly Warlock Amochol!"

Truly there was no more for me to say. I dared not let him believe that his movements were either watched or under the slightest shadow of restraint. I knew it was useless to urge on him the desirability of inaction until the army moved. Be might perhaps have understood me and listened to me, were the warfare he was now engaged in only the red knight-errantry of an Indian seeking glory. But he had long since won his spurs.

And this feud with Amochol was something far more deadly than mere warfare; it was the clash of a Mohican Sagamore of the Sacred Clan with the dreadful and abhorred priesthood of the Senecas-- the hatred and infuriated contempt of a noble and ordained priest for the black-magic of a sorcerer-- orthodoxy, militant and terrible, scourging blasphemy and crushing its perverted acolytes at the very feet of their Antichrist.

I began to understand this strange, stealthy slaughter in the dark, which only the eyes of the midnight sky looked down on, while I lay soundly sleeping. I knew that nothing I could say would now keep this Siwanois at my side at night. Yet, he had been given me to guard. What should I do? Major Parr might not understand-- might even order the Sagamore confined to barracks under guard. The slightest mistake in dealing with the Siwanois might prove fatal to all our hopes of him.

All the responsibility, therefore, must rest on me; and I must use my judgment and abide by the consequences.

Had it been, as I have said, any other nation but the Senecas, I am certain that I could have restrained the Indian. But the combination of Seneca, Erie, and Amochol prowling around our picket-line was too much for the outraged Sagamore of the Spirit Wolf. And I now comprehended it thoroughly.

As I sat thinking at our bush-hut door, the endless lines of wagons were still passing toward Otsego Lake, piled high with stores, and I saw Schott's riflemen filing along in escort, their tow-cloth rifle-frocks wide open to their sweating chests.

Almost all the troops had already marched to the lake and had pitched tents there, while Alden's chastened regiment was damming the waters so that when our boats were ready the dam might be broken and the high water carry our batteaux over miles of shallow water to Tioga Point, where our main army now was concentrating.

When were the Rifles to march? I did not know. Sitting there in the sun, moodily stripping a daisy of its petals, I thought of Lois, troubled, wondering how her security and well-being might be established.

The hour could not be very distant now before our corps marched to the lake. What would she do? What would become of her if she still refused to be advised by me?

As for her silly desire to go to Catharines-town, the more I thought about it the less serious consideration did I give it. The thing was, of course, impossible. No soldiers' wives were to be permitted to go as far as Wyalusing or Wyoming. Even here, at this encampment, the officers' ladies had left, although perhaps many of them might have remained longer with their husbands had it been known that the departure of the troops for Otsego Lake was to be delayed by the slow arrival of cattle and provisions.

In the meantime, the two companies of my regiment attached to this brigade were still out on scout with Major Parr; and when they returned I made no doubt that we would shoulder packs, harness our wagons, and take the lake road next morning. And what would become of Lois? Perplexed and dejected, I wandered about the willowrun, pondering the situation; sat for a while on the river-bank to watch the batteaux and the Oneida canoes; then, ever restless with my deepening solicitude for Lois, I walked over to the fort. And the first man I laid eyes on was Lieutenant Boyd, conversing with some ladies on the parade.

He did not see me. He had evidently returned from the main body with a small scout the night before, and now was up and dressed in his best, spick and span and gay, fairly shining in the sunlight as he stood leaning against a log prop, talking with these ladies where they were seated on one of the rustic settles lately made by Alden's men.

Venturing nearer, I found that I knew all of the ladies, for one was the handsome wife of Captain Bleecker, of the 3rd New York, and another proved to be Angelina Lansing, wife of Gerrit Lansing, Ensign in the same regiment.

The third lady was a complete surprise to me, she being that pretty and vivacious Magdalene Helmer-- called Lana-- the confidante of Clarissa Putnam-- a bright-eyed, laughing beauty from Tribes Hill, whom I had known very well at Guy Park, where she often stayed with her friend, Miss Putnam, when Sir John Johnson was there.

As I recognised them, Boyd chanced to glance around, and saw me. He smiled and spoke to the ladies; all lifted their heads and looked in my direction; and Lana Helmer waved her handkerchief and coolly blew me a kiss from her finger-tips.

So, cap in hand, I crossed the parade, made my best bow and respects to each in turn, replaced my cap, and saluted Lieutenant Boyd, who returned my salute with pretended hauteur, then grinned and offered his hand.

"See what a bower of beauty is blossomed over night in these dreary barracks, Loskiel. There seems to be some happiness left in the world for the poor rifleman."

 

"Do you remain?" I asked of Mrs. Bleecker.

"Indeed we do," she said, laughing, "provided that my husband's regiment remains. As soon as we understood that they had not been ordered into the Indian country we packed our boxes and came up by batteau last night. The news about my husband's regiment is true, is it not?"

"Colonel Gansevoort's regiment is not to join General Sullivan, but is to be held to guard the Valley. I had the news yesterday for certain."

"What luck!" said Boyd, his handsome eyes fixed on Lana Helmer, who shot at him a glance as daring. And it made me uneasy to see she meant to play coquette with such a man as Boyd; and I remembered her high spirits and bright daring at the somewhat loose gatherings at Guy Park, where every evening too much wine was drunk, and Sir John and Clarissa made no secret of the flame that burned between them.
Yet, of Lana Helmer never a suspicious word had been breathed that ever I had heard-- for it seemed she could dare where others dared not; say and do and be what another woman might not, as though her wit and beauty licensed what had utterly damned another. Nor did her devotion and close companionship with Clarissa ever seem to raise a question as to her own personal behaviour. And well I remember a gay company being at cards and wine one day in the summer house on the river hew she answered a disrespect of Sir John with a contemptuous rebuke which sent the muddy blood into his face and left him ashamed-- the only time I ever saw him so.

Ensign Chambers came a-mincing up, was presented to the ladies, languidly made preparations for taking Mrs. Lansing by storm; and the first deadly grace he pictured for her was his macaroni manner of taking snuff-- with which fascinating ceremony he had turned many a silly head in New York ere we marched out and the British marched in.

I talked for a while with Mrs. Bleecker of this and that, striving the while to catch Lana Helmer's eye. For not only did her coquetry with Boyd make me uneasy, knowing them both as I did, but on my own account I desired to speak to her in private when opportunity afforded. Alone and singly either of these people stood in no danger from the outer world. Pitted against each other, what their recklessness might lead to I did not know. For since Boyd's attempted gallantries toward Lois-- he believing her to be as youthful and depraved as seemed the case-- a deep and growing distrust for this man which I had never before felt had steadily invaded my friendship for him. Also, he had already an affair with a handsome wench at the Middle Fort, one Dolly Glenn, and the poor young thing was plainly mad about him.

I heard Mrs. Lansing propose a stroll to the river before dinner, on the chance of meeting her husband's regiment returning, which suggestion seemed to suit all; and in the confusion of chatter and laughter and the tying of a sun-mask by Mrs. Bleecker, aided by Boyd and by the exquisite courtier, I cleverly contrived to supplant Boyd with Lana Helmer, and not only stuck to her side, but managed to secure the rear of the strolling column.

All this manoeuvre did not escape her, and as we fell a few paces behind, she looked up at me with a most deadly challenge in her violet eyes.

 

"Now," she said, "that you have driven off your rival, I am resigned to be courted.... Heaven knows you wasted opportunities enough at Guy Park."

 

I laughed.

"How strange it is, Lana," I said, "to be here with you; I in rifle dress and thrums, hatchet, and knife at my Mohawk girdle; you in chip hat and ribbons and dainty gown, lifting your French petticoat over the muddy ruts cut on the King's Highway by rebel artillery!"

"Who would have dreamed it three years ago?" she said, her face now sober enough. "I thought your people were Tory," said I.

 

"Not mine, Euan; Clarissa's."

 

"Where is that child?" I asked pityingly.

 

"Clarissa? Poor lamb-- she's in Albany still."

 

I did not speak, but it was as though she divined my unasked question.

"Aye, she is in love with him yet. I never could understand how that could be after he married Polly Watts. But she has not changed.... And that beast, Sir John, installed her in the Albany house."

I said: "He's somewhere out yonder with the marauders against whom we are to march. They're all awaiting us, it is said; the whole crew-- Johnson's Greens, Butler's Rangers, McDonald's painted Tories, Brant's Mohawks-- and the Senecas with their war-chiefs and their sorcerer, Amochol-- truly a motley devil's brood, Lana; and I pray only that one of Morgan's men may sight Walter Butler or Sir John over his rifle's end."

"To think," she murmured, "that you and I have dined and wined with these same gentlemen you now so ardently desire to slay.... And young Walter Butler, too! I saw his mother and his sister in Albany a week ago-- two sad and pitiable women, Euan, for every furtive glance cast after them seemed to shout aloud the infamy of their son and brother, the Murderer of Cherry Valley."

"To my mind," said I, "he is not sane at all, but gone stark blood-mad. Heaven! How impossible it seems that this young man with his handsome face and figure, his dreamy melancholy, his charming voice and manners, his skill in verse and music, can be this same Walter Butler whose name is cursed wherever righteousness and honour exist in human breasts. Why, even Joseph Brant has spurned him, they say, since Cherry Valley! Even his own father stood aghast before such infamy. Old John Butler, when he heard the news, dashed his hands to his temples, groaning out: 'I would have crawled from this place to Cherry Valley on my hands and knees to save those people; and why my son did not spare them, God only knows.'"

Lana shook her pretty head.

"I can not seem to believe it of him even yet. I try to think of Walter as a murderer of little children, and it is not possible. Why, it seems but yesterday that I stood plaguing him on the stone doorstep at Guy Park-- calling him Walter Ninny and Walter Noodle to vex him. You remember, Euan, that his full name is Walter N. Butler, and that he never would tell us what the N. stands for, but we guessed it stood for Nellis, in honour of Nellis Fonda.... Lord! What a world o' trouble for us all in these three years!"

"I had supposed you married long ago, Lana. The young Patroon was very ardent." "I? The sorry supposition! I marry-- in the face of the sad and miserable examples all my friends afford me! Not I, Euan, unless----" She smiled at me with pretty malice. "---- you enter the lists. Do you then enter?" I reddened and laughed, and she, always enchanted to plague and provoke me, began her art forthwith, first innocently slipping her arm through mine, as though to support her flagging steps, then, as if by accident, letting one light finger slip along my sleeve to touch my hand and linger lightly.

Years ago, when we were but seventeen, she had delighted to tease and embarrass me with her sweetly malicious coquetry, ever on the watch to observe my features redden. I remember she sometimes offered to exchange kisses with me; but I was a ninny, and a serious and hopeless one at that, and would have none of her.

I believe we were thinking of the same thing now, and when I caught her eye the gay malice of it was not to be mistaken.

"Lanette," said I, "take care! I am a soldier since you had your saucy way with me. You know that the military are not to be dealt with lightly. And I am grown up in these three years."

"Grown soberer, perhaps. You always did conduct like a pious Broad-brim, Euan."

 

"I've a mind to kiss you now," said I, vexed.

 

"Kiss away, kind sir. You have me in the rear o! them. Now's your opportunity!"

 

"Doubtless you'd cry out."

 

"Doubtless I wouldn't."

 

"Wait for some moonlit evening when we're unobserved "Broad-brim!"

 

I laughed, and so did she, saying:

 

"I warrant you that your pretty Lieutenant Boyd had never waited for my challenge twice!"

 

"Best look out for Boyd," said I. "He's of your own careless, reckless kind, Lanette. Sparks fly when flint and steel encounter."

 

"Cold sparks, friend Broad-brim!"

 

"Not too cold to set tinder afire."

"Am I then tinder? You should know me better." "In every one of us," said I, "there is an element which, when it meets its fellow in another, unites with it, turning instantly to fire and burning to the very soul."

"How wise have you become in alchemy and metaphysics!" she exclaimed in mock admiration.

 

"Oh, I am not wise in anything, and you know it, Lana."

"I don't know it. You've been wise enough to keep clear of me, if that be truly wisdom. Come, Euan, what do you think? Do you and I contain these fellow elements, that you seem to dread our mutual conflagration if you kiss me?"

"You know me better."

"Do I? No, I don't. Young sir, caper not too confidently in your coat of many colours! If you flout me once too often I may go after you, as a Mohawk follows a scalp too often flaunted by the head that wears it!"

I tried to sustain her delighted gaze and reddened, and the impudent little beauty laughed and clung to my arm in a very ecstasy of malice, made breathless by her own mirth.

"Come, court me prettily, Euan. It is my due after all these grey and Quaker years when I made eyes at you from the age of twelve, and won only a scowl or two for my condescension."

But we had reached the river bank, and there the group came once more together, the ladies curious to see the batteaux arriving, loaded with valley sheep, we officers pointing out to them the canoes of our corps of Oneida guides, and Hanierri and the Reverend Mr. Kirkland reading their Testaments under the shade of the trees, gravely absorbed in God.

"A good man," said I, "and brave. But his honest Stockbridge Indians know no more of Catharines-town than do the converted Oneidas yonder,"

 

Boyd nodded: "I prophesy they quit us one and all within an arrow-flight of Wyalusing. Do you take me, Loskiel?"

"No, you are right," I said. "The fear of the Long House chains them, and their long servitude has worn like fetters to their very bones. Redcoats they can face, and have done so gallantly. But there is in them a fear of the Five Nations past all understanding of a white man."

I spoke to a diminished audience, for already Boyd and Lana Helmer had strolled a little way together, clearly much interested in each other's conversation. Presently our precious senior Consign sauntered the other way with pretty Mistress Lansing on his arm. As for me, I was contented to see them go-- had been only waiting for it. And what I had thought I might venture to say to Lana Helmer by warrant of old acquaintance, I was now glad that I had not said at all-- the years having in no wise subdued the mischief in her, nor her custom of plaguing me. And how much she had ever really meant I could not truly guess. No, it had been anything but wise to speak to her of Lois. But now I meant to mention Lois to Mrs. Bleecker.

We had seated ourselves on the sun-crisped Indian grass, and for a while I let her chatter of Guy Park and our pleasant acquaintance there, and of Albany, too, where we had met sometimes at the Ten Broecks, the Schuylers, and the Patroons. And all the while I was debating within my mind how this proud and handsome, newly-married girl might receive my halting story. For it would not do to conceal anything vital to the case. Her clear, wise eyes would see instantly through any evasion, not to say deception-- even a harmless deception. No; if she were to be of any aid in this deeply-perplexing business, I must tell her the story of Lois-- not betraying anything that the girl might shrink from having others know, but stating her case and her condition as briefly and as honestly as I might.

And no sooner did I come to this conclusion than I spoke; and after the first word or two Mrs. Bleecker put off her sun-mask and turned, looking me directly in the eyes.

I said that the young lady's name was Lois de Contrecoeur-- and if it were not that it was nothing, and human creatures require a name! But this I did not say to her, nor thought it necessary to mention any doubt as to the girl's parentage, only to say she was the child of captives taken by the Senecas after the Lake George rout.

I told of her dreary girlhood, saying merely that her foster parents were now dead and that the child had conceived the senseless project of penetrating to Catharines-town, where she believed her mother, at least, was still held captive.

The tall, handsome girl beside me listened without a word, her intent gaze never leaving me; and when I had done, and the last word in my brief for Lois had been uttered, she bent her head in thought, and so continued minute after minute while I sat there waiting.

At last she looked up at me again, suddenly, as though to surprise my secret reflections; and if she did so I do not know, for she smiled and held out her hand to me with so pretty a confidence that my lips trembled as I pressed them to her fingers. And now something within her seemed to have been reassured, for her eyes and her lips became faintly humorous.

"And where is this most forlorn and errant damsel, Sir Euan?" she inquired. "For if I doubt her when I see her, no more than I doubt you when I look at you, something should be done in her behalf without delay.... The poor, unhappy child! And what a little fool! The Lord looks after his lambs, surely, surely-- drat the little hussy! It mads me to even think of her danger. Did a body ever hear the like of it! A-gypsying all alone-- loitering around this army's camp! Mercy! And what a little minx it is to so conduct-- what with our godless, cursing headlong soldiery, and the loud, swaggering forest-runners! Lord! But it chills me to the bone! The silly, saucy baggage!" She shuddered there in the hot sunshine, then shot at me a look so keen and penetrating that I felt my ears go red. Which sudden distress on my part again curved her lips into an indulgent smile.

"I always thought I knew you, Euan Loskiel," she said. "I think so still.... As for your fairy damsel in distress-- h'm-- when may I see her?"

In a low voice I confessed the late raggedness of Lois, and how she now wore an Oneida dress until the boxes, which I had commanded, might arrive from Albany. I had to tell her this, had to explain how I had won from Lois this privilege of giving, spite of her pride.

"If I could bring her to you," said I, "fittingly equipped and clothed, the pride in her would suffer less. Were you to go with me now in your pretty silk and scarf, and patch and powder, and stand before her in the wretched hut which shelters her-- the taint of charity would poison everything. For she is like you, Mrs. Bleecker, lacking only what does not make, but merely and prettily confirms your quality and breeding-- clothing and shelter, and the means to live fittingly.... For it is not condescension, not the lesser charity I ask, or she could receive; it is the countenance that birth lends to its equal in dire adversity."

Curious and various were the emotions which passed in rapid succession over her pretty features; and not all seemed agreeable. Then suddenly her eyes reflected a hidden laughter, and presently it came forth, a merry peal, and sweet withal.

"Oh, Euan, what a boy you are! Had I been any other woman-- but let it go. You are as translucent as a woodland brook, and-- at times you babble like one, confident that your music pleases everyone who hears it.... I pray you let me judge whether the errant lady be what a poet's soul would have her.... I am not speaking with any unkind thought or doubt.... But woman must judge woman. It is the one thing no man can ever do for her. And the less he interferes during the judgment the better."

"Then I'll say no more," said I, forcing a smile.

"Oh, say all you please, as long as you do not tell me what you think about her. Tell me facts, not what your romantic heart surmises. And if she were the queen of Sheba in disguise, or if she were a titled Saint James drab, no honest woman but who would see through and through her, and, ere she rose from her low reverence, would know her truly for exactly what she is."

"Lord!" said I. "Is that the way you read us, also?"

"No. Women may read women. But never one who lived has read truly any man, humble or high. Say that to the next pretty baggage who vows she reads you like a book! And in her secret heart she will know you say the truth-- and know it, raging even while her smile remains unaltered. For it is true, Euan; true concerning you men, also. Not one among you all has ever really read us right. The difference is this; we know we can not read you, but scorn to admit it; you honestly believe that you can read us, and often boast of doing it. Which sex is the greater fool, judge you? I have my own opinion,"

We both laughed; after a moment she put on her sun-mask and I tied it.

 

"Where do you and Mrs. Lansing lodge until your husband's regiment returns?" I asked.

"They have given us the old Croghan house. What it lacks in elegance of appointment it gains in hospitality. If we had a dish of tea to brew for you gentlemen we would do it; but Indian willow makes a vile and bitter tea, and I had as lief go tealess, as I do and expect to continue until our husbands teach the Tory King his manners."

She rose, giving me her pretty hand to aid her, shook out her dainty skirts, put up her quizzing glass, and inspected me, smilingly.

 

"Bring her when you think it time," she said. "Somehow I already believe that she may be something of what your fancy paints her. And that would be a miracle."

 

"Truly she is a miracle," I said earnestly.

"Then remember not to say it to Angelina Lansing-- and above all never hint as much to Lana Helmer. Women are human; and pretty women perhaps a little less than human. Leave them to me. For if this romantic damsel be truly what you picture her, I'll have to tell a pretty fib or two concerning her and you, I warrant you. Leave that saucy baggage, Lanette, to me, Euan. And you keep clear of her, too. She's murderous to men's peace of mind-- more fatal than ever since Clarissa played the fool."

"I was assassinated by Lana long ago," said I, smiling. "I am proof."

"Nevertheless, beware!" she whispered, as Boyd and Lana came sauntering up. And there seemed to me to be now about them both a careless indifference, almost studied, and in noticeable contrast to their bright limation when they had left us half an hour ago.

"Such a professional heart-breaker as your Mr. Boyd is," observed Lana coolly to us both. "I never before encountered such assurance. What he must be in queue and powder, silk and small-sword, I dare not surmise. A pitying heaven has protected me so far, and," she added, looking deliberately at Boyd, "I ought to be grateful, ought I not, sir?"

Boyd made her a too low and over-courtly bow.

"Always the gallant and victorious adversary salutes the vanquished as you, fair lady, have saluted me-- imputing to my insignificant prowess the very skill and address which has overthrown me."

"Are you overthrown?" "Prone in the dust, mademoiselle! Draw Mr. Loskiel's knife and end me now in mercy."

 

"Then I will strike.... Who is the handsome wench who passed us but a moment since, and who looked at you with her very heart trembling in her eyes?"

 

"How should I know?"

They stood looking smilingly at each other; and their smile did not seem quite genuine to me, but too clear, and a trifle hard, as though somehow it was a sort of mask for some subtler defiance. I reflected uneasily that no real understanding could be possible between these two in such a brief acquaintance; and, reassured, turned to greet our macaroni Ensign and Mistress Angelina Lansing, now approaching us.

That our regimental fop had sufficient diverted her was patent, she being over-flushed and smiling, and at gay swords' points already with him, while he whisked his nose with his laced hanker and scattered the perfume of his snuff to the four winds.

So, two and two, we walked along the road to Croghan's house, where was a negro wench to aid them and a soldier-servant to serve them. And the odd bits of furniture that had been used at our General's headquarters had been taken there to eke out with rough makeshifts, fashioned by Alden's men, a very scanty establishment for these three ladies.

Lana Helmer, to my surprise, motioned me to walk beside her; and all the way to Croghan's house she continued close to me, seeming to purposely avoid Boyd. And he the same, save that once or twice he looked at her, which was more than she did to him, I swear.

She was now very serious and sweet with me on our way to Croghan's, not jeering at me or at any of her teasing tricks, but conversing reasonably and prettily, and with that careless confidence which to a man is always pleasant and sometimes touching.

Of the old days we spoke much; the past was our theme-- which is not an unusual topic for the young, although they live, generally, only in the future. And it was "Do you recall this?" and "Do you remember that?" and "Do you mind the day" when this and that occurred? Incidents we both had nigh forgotten were recalled gravely or smilingly, but there was no laughter-- none, somehow, seemed to be left either in her heart or mine.

Twice I spoke of Clarissa, wishing, with kindliest intention, to hear more of the unhappy child; but in neither instance did Lana appear to notice what I had said, continuing silent until I, too, grew reticent, feeling vaguely that something had somehow snapped our mutual thread of sympathy.

At the door of Croghan's house we gathered to make our adieux, then first went mincing our Ensign about his precious business; and then Boyd took himself off, as though with an effort; and Lana and Angelina Lansing went indoors.
"Bring her to me when I am alone," whispered Betty Bleecker, with a very friendly smile. "And let the others believe that you stand for nothing in this affair."

And so I went away, thinking of many things-- too many and too perplexing, perhaps, for the intellect of a very young man deeply in love-- a man who knows he is in love, and yet remains incredulous that it is indeed love which so utterly bewilders and afflicts him.

Chapter 9. Mid-Summer

Since our arrival from Westchester the weather had been more or less unsettled-- fog, rain, chilling winds alternating with days of midsummer heat. But now the exhausting temperature of July remained constant; fiery days of sunshine were succeeded by nights so hot and suffocating that life seemed well-nigh insupportable under tents or in barracks, and officers and men, almost naked, lay panting along the river bank through the dreadful hours of darkness which brought no relief from the fiery furnace of the day.

Schott's riflemen mounted guard stripped to the waist; the Oneidas and Stockbridge scouts strode about unclothed save for the narrow clout and sporran; and all day and all night our soldiers splashed in the river where our horses also stood belly deep, heads hanging, under the willows.

During that brief but scorching period I went to Mrs. Rannock's every evening after dark, and usually found Lois lying in the open under the stars, the garret being like an oven, so she said.

Here we had made up our quarrel, and here, on the patch of uncut English grass, we lay listlessly, speaking only at intervals, gasping for air and coolness, which neither darkness nor stars had brought to this sun-cursed forest-land.

But for the last two nights I had not found Lois waiting for me, nor did Mrs. Rannock seem to know whither she had gone, which caused me much uneasiness.

The third evening I went to find her at Mrs. Rannock's before the after-glow had died from the coppery zenith, and I encountered her moving toward the Spring path, just entering the massed elder bloom. Her face was dewy with perspiration, pale, and somewhat haggard.

"Lois, why have you avoided me?" I exclaimed. "All manner of vague forebodings have assailed me these two days past

 

"Listen to this silly lad!" she said impatiently. "As though a few hours' absence lessen loyalty and devotion!"

 

"But where have you been?"

 

"Where I may not take you, Euan."

"And where is that?" I asked bluntly. "Lord! What a catechism is this for a free girl to answer willy-nilly! If you must know, I have played the maid of ancient Greece these two nights past. Otherwise, I had died, I think."

And seeing my perplexed mien, she began to laugh.

 

"Euan, you are stupid! Did not the Grecian maids spend half their lives in the bath?"

 

The slight flush of laughter faded from her face; the white fatigue came back; and she passed the back of one hand wearily across her brow, clearing it of the damp curls.

"The deadly sultriness of these nights," she sighed. "I was no longer able to endure the heat under the eaves among my dusty husks. So lately I have stolen at night to the Spring Waiontha to bathe in the still, cold pools. Oh, Euan, it is most delicious! I have slept there until dawn, lying up to my throat in the crystal flood." She laughed again. "And once, lying so, asleep, my body slipped and in I slid, deep, deep in, and awoke in a dreadful fright half drowned."

"Is it wise to sleep so in the Water?" I asked uneasily.

"Oh! Am I ever wise?" she said wearily. "And the blood beats in my veins these heated nights so that I am like to suffocate. I made a bed for me by Mrs. Rannock, but she sobbed in her sleep all night and I could not close my eyes, So I thought of the Spring Waiontha, and the next instant was on my way there, feeling the path with naked feet through the starlight, and dropped my clothing from me in the darkness and sank into the cool, sweet pool. Oh, it was heaven, Euan! I would you might come also."

"I can walk as far as the pool with you, at all events," said I.

 

"Wonderful! And will you?"

 

"Do I ever await asking to follow you anywhere?" said I sentimentally.

But she only laughed at me and led the way across the dreary strip of clearing, moving with a swift confidence in her knowledge of the place, which imitating, I ran foul of a charred stump, and she heard what I said.

"Poor lad!" she exclaimed contritely, slipping her hand into mine. "I should have guided you. Does it pain you?"

 

"Not much."

Our hands were clasped, and she pressed mine with all the sweet freedom of a comradeship which means nothing deeper. For I now had learned from her own lips, sadly enough, how it was with her-- how she regarded our friendship. It was to her a deep and living thing-- a noble emotion, not a passion-- a belief founded on gratitude and reason, not a confused, blind longing and delight possessing every waking moment, ever creating for itself a thousand tender dreams or fanciful and grotesque apprehensions.

Clear-headed so far, reasonable in her affection, gay or tender as the mood happened, convinced that what I declared to be my love for her was but a boy's exaggeration for the same sentiments she entertained toward me, how could she have rightly understood the symptoms of this amazing malady that possessed me-- these reasonless extremes of ardour, of dejection, of a happiness so keen and thrilling that it pained sometimes, and even at moments seemed to make me almost drunk.

Nor did I myself entirely comprehend what ailed me, never having been able to imagine myself in love, or ever dreamed that I possessed the capacity for such a violent devotion to any woman. I think now, at that period, somewhere under all the very real excitement and emotion of an adolescent encountering for the first time the sweet appeal of youthful mind and body, that I seemed to feel there might be in it all something not imperishable. And caught myself looking furtively and a little fearfully at her, at times, striving to conceive myself indifferent.

When we came to the Spring Waiontha I had walked straight into the water except for her, so dark it was around us. And:

 

"How can you ever get back alone?" said she.

 

"Oho!" said I, laughing, "I left the willow-tips a-dangle, breaking them with my left hand. I am woodsman enough to feel my way out."

 

"But not woodsman enough to spare your shins in the clearing," she said saucily.

 

"Shall we sit and talk?" I said.

 

"Oh, Euan! And my bath! I am fairly melting as I stand here."

 

"But I have not seen you for two entire nights, Lois."

 

"I know, poor boy, but you seem to have survived."

 

"When I do not see you every day I am most miserable."

 

"So am I-- but I am reasonable, too. I say to myself, if I don't see Euan today I will nevertheless see him to-morrow, or the day after, or the next, God willing----"

 

"Lois!"

 

"What?"

"How can you reason so coldly?" "I-- reason coldly? There is nothing cold in me where you are concerned. But I have to console myself for not seeing you----"

"I am inconsolable," said I fervently.

 

"No more than am I," she retorted hotly, as though jealous that I should arrogate to myself a warmer feeling concerning her than she entertained for me.

 

"I care so much for you, Lois," said I.

 

"And I for you."

 

"Not as I care for you."

 

"Exactly as you care for me. Do you think me insensible to gratitude and affection?"

 

"I do not desire your gratitude for a few articles----"

 

"It isn't for them-- though I'm grateful for those things too! It's gratitude to God for giving me you, Euan Loskiel! And you ought to take shame to yourself for doubting it!"

I said nothing, being unable to see her in the darkness, much less perceive what expression she wore for her rebuke to me. Then as I stood silent, I felt her little hands groping on my arm; and my own closed on them and I laid my lips to them. "Ai-me!" she said softly. "Why do we fight and fret each other? Why do I, who adore you so, let you vex me and stir me to say what I do not mean at all. Always remember, Euan-- always, always-- that whatever I am unkind enough to say or do to vex you, in my secret mind I know that no other man on earth is comparable to you-- and that you reign first in my heart-- first, and all by yourself, alone."

"And will you try to love me some day, Lois?"

 

"I do."

 

"I mean----"

 

"Oh, Euan, I do-- I do! Only-- you know-- not in the manner you once spoke of----"

 

"But I love you in that manner."

"No, you do not! If you did, doubtless I would respond; no doubt at all that I also would confess such sentiments in your regard. But it isn't true for either of us. You're a man. All men are prone to harp on those strings.... But-- there is no harmony in them to me.... I know my own mind, although you say I don't-- and-- I do know yours, too. And if a day ever comes that neither you nor I are longer able to think clearly and calmly with our minds, but begin to reason with our emotions, then I shall consider that we are really entering into a state of love-- such as you sometimes have mentioned to me-- and will honestly admit as much to you.... And if you then desire to wed me, no doubt that I shall desire it, too. And I promise in that event to love you-- oh, to death, Euan!" she said, pressing my hands convulsively. "If ever I love-- that way-- it truly will be love! Are you content with what I say?"

"I must be."

"What an ungracious answer! I could beat you soundly for it! Euan, you sometimes vex me so that I could presently push you into that pool.... I do not mean it, dearest lad. You know you already have my heart-- perhaps only a child's heart yet, though I have seen ages pass away.... And my eyes have known tears.... Perhaps for that reason I am come out into this new sunshine which you have made for me, to play as children play-- having never done so in my youth. Bear with me, Euan. You would not want me if there were nothing in me to respond to you. If there ever is, it will not remain silent. But first I want my play-day in the sunshine you have promised me-- the sunlight of a comrade's kindness. Be not too blunt with me. You have my heart, I tell you. Let it lie quiet and safe in your keeping, like some strange, frail chrysalis. I myself know there is a miracle within it; but what that miracle may be, I may not guess till it reveals itself."

"I am a fool," I said. "God never before sent any man such a comrade as He has sent in you to me."

 

"That was said sweetly and loyally. Thank you. If hearts are to be awakened and won, I think it might be done that way-- with such pleasant phrases-- given always time."

 

Presently she withdrew her hands and slipped away from me in the dark.

 

"Be careful," said I, "or you will slip overboard."

 

"I mean to presently."

 

"Then-- must I go so soon?"

 

She did not answer. Once I thought I heard her moving softly, but the sound came from the wrong direction.

 

"Lois!"

 

No reply.

 

"Lois!" I repeated uneasily.

 

There was a ripple in the pool, silence, then somewhere in the darkness a faint splash.

"Good Lord!" said I. "Have you fallen in?" "Not fallen in. But I am truly in, Euan. I couldn't endure it any longer; and you didn't seem to want to go.... So please remain where you now are."

"Do you mean to say----" I began incredulously.

 

And, "Yes, I do!" she said, defiant. "And I think this ought to teach you what a comrade's perfect confidence can be. Never complain to me of my want of trust in you again."

In astonished and uneasy silence, I stood listening. The unseen pool rippled in the darkness with a silvery sound, as though a great fish were swirling there in the pallid lustre of the stars.

After a while she laughed outright-- the light, mischievous laughter of a child.

"I feel like one of those smooth and lurking naiads which haunt lost pools-- or like some ambushed water-sprite meditating malice, and slyly alert to do you a harm. Have a care, else I transform you into a fish and chase you under the water, and pinch and torment you!"

And presently her voice came again from the more distant darkness somewhere:

 

"Has the box which you commanded arrived yet, Euan?"

 

"It is at my hut. A wagon will bring it to you in the morning."

 

I could hear her clap her wet little hands; and she cried out softly:

"Oh!" and "Oh!" Then she said: "I did not understand at first how much I wished for everything you offered. Only when I saw the ladies at Croghan's house, as I was coming with my mending from the fort-- then I knew I wanted everything you have bespoken for me.... Everything, dear lad! Oh, you don't know how truly grateful I shall be. No, you don't, Euan! And if the box is really come, when am I going with you to be made known to Mistress Bleecker?"

"I think it is better that I first bring her to you."

 

"Would she condescend to come?"

 

"I think so."

 

There was a pause. I seated myself. Then the soft and indecisive sound of ripples stirred by an idle hand broke the heated silence.

 

"You say they all are your good friends?" she remarked thoughtfully.

 

"I know them all. Lana Helmer I have known intimately since we were children." "Then why is it not better to present me to her first-- if you know her so very well?"

 

"Mrs. Bleecker is older."

 

"Oh! Is this Miss Helmer then so young?"

 

"Your age."

 

"Oh! My age.... And pretty?"

 

"The world thinks so."

 

"Oh! And what do you think, Euan?"

 

"Yes, she is pretty," said I carelessly.

 

There was a long silence. I sat there, my knees gathered in my arms, staring up at the stars.

 

Then, faintly came her voice:

 

"Good-night, Euan."

I rose, laid hold of the willow bush that scraped my shoulders, felt over it until I found the dangling broken branch; stepped forward, groping, until I touched the next broken branch. Then, knowing I was on my trail, I turned around and called back softly through the darkness:

"Good-night, little Lois!"

"Good-night, and sweet dreams, Euan. I will be dressed and waiting for you in the morning to go to Mrs. Bleecker, or to receive her as you and she think fitting.... Is there a looking glass in that same wonder-box?"

"Two, Lois."

"You dear and generous lad!... And are there hair-pegs? Heaven knows if my clipped poll will hold them. Anyway, I can powder and patch, and-- oh, Euan! Is there lip-red and curd-lily lotion for the skin? Not that I shall love you any less if there be none----"

"I bespoke of Mr. Hake," said I, laughing, "a full beauty battery, such as I once saw Betty Schuyler show to Walter Butler, having but then received it from New York. And all I know, Lois, is that it was full of boxes, jars, and flasks, and smelled like a garden in late June. And if Mr. Hake has not chosen with discretion I shall go South and scalp him!"

"Euan, I adore you!" "You adore your battery," said I, not convinced.

"That, too. But you more than my mirrors, and my lip-red, and the lily lotion-- more than my darling shifts and stays and shoon and gowns!... I had never dreamed I could accept them from you. But you had become so dear to me-- and I could read you through and through-- and found you so like myself-- and it gave me a new pleasure to humble my pride to your desires. That is how it came about. Also, I saw those ladies.... And I do not think I shall be great friends with your Lana Helmer-- even when I am fine and brave in gown and powder to face her on equal terms----"

"Lois, what in the world are you babbling?"

 

"Let me babble, Euan. Never have I been so happy, so content, so excited yet so confident.... Listen; do you dread tomorrow?"

 

"I?"

"Yes-- that I might not do you honour before your fashionable friends?... And I say to you, have no fear. If my gowns are truly what I think they are, I shall conduct without a tremour-- particularly if your Lana be there, and that careless, rakish friend of yours, Lieutenant Boyd."

"Do you remember what you are to say to Boyd if he seems in any wise to think he has met you elsewhere?"

 

"I can avoid a lie and deal with him," she said with calm contempt. "But there is not a chance he'd know me in my powder,"

 

There was a silence. Then the unseen water rippled and splashed.

"Poor Euan!" she said. "I wish you might dare swim here in this heavenly place with me. But we are not god and goddess, and the fabled age is vanished.... Good-night, dear lad.... And one thing more.... All you are to me-- all you have done for me-- don't you understand that I could not take it from you unless, in my secret heart, I knew that one day I must be to you all you desire-- and all I, too, shall learn to wish for?"

"It is written," I said unsteadily. "It must come to pass."

 

"It must come," she said, in the hushed voice of a child who dreams, wide-eyed awake, murmuring of wonders.

I slept on the river-sand, not soundly, for all night long men and horses splashed in the water all around me, and I was conscious of many people stirring, of voices, the dip of paddles, and of the slow batteaux passing with the wavelets slapping on their bows. Then, the next I knew-- bang! And the morning gun jarred me awake.
I had bathed and dressed, but had not yet breakfasted when one of our regimental wagons came to take the box to Lois-- a fine and noble box indeed, in its parti-coloured cowhide cover, and a pretty pattern of brass nails all over it, making here a star and there a sunburst, around the brass plate engraven with her name: "Lois de Contrecoeur."

Then the wagon drove away, and the Sagamore and I broke bread together, seated in the willow shade, the heat in our bush-hut being insupportable.

 

"No more scalps, Mayaro?" I taunted him, having already inspected the unpleasant trophies behind the hut. "How is this, then? Are the Cats all skinned?"

 

He smiled serenely. "They have crept westward to lick their scars, Loskiel. A child may safely play in the forest now from the upper castle and Torloch to the Minnisink."

 

"Has Amochol gone?"

 

"To make strong magic for his dead Cats, little brother. The Siwanois hatchets are still sticking in the heads of Hiokatoo's Senecas. Let their eight Sachems try to pull them out."

 

"So you have managed to wound a Seneca or two?"

"Three, Loskiel-- but the rifle was one of Sir William's, and carried to the left, and only a half-ounce ball. My brother Loskiel will make proper requisition of the Commissary of Issues and draw a weapon fit for a Mohican warrior."

"Indeed I will," said I, smilingly, knowing well enough that the four-foot, Indian-trade, smooth bore was no weapon for this warrior; nor was it any kindness in such times as these to so arm our corps of Oneida scouts.

After breakfast I went to the fort and found that Major Parr and his command had come in the night before from their long and very arduous scout beyond the Canajoharrie Castle.

The Major received me, inquiring particularly whether I had contrived to keep the Sagamore well affected toward our cause; and seemed much pleased when I told him that this Siwanois and I had practiced the rite of blood-brotherhood.

"Excellent," said he. "And I don't mind admitting to you that I place very little reliance on the mission Indians as guides-- neither on the Stockbridge runners nor on the Oneidas, who have come to us more in fear of the Long House than out of any particular loyalty or desire to aid us."

"That is true, sir. They had as soon enter hell as Catharines-town."

 

The Major nodded and continued to open and read the letters which had arrived during his absence.

 

"May I draw one of our rifles for my Mohican, sir?" I asked.

 

"We have very few. Schott's men have not yet all drawn their arms."

 

"Nevertheless----"

 

"You think it necessary?"

 

"I think it best to properly arm the only reliable guide this army has in its service, Major."

"Very well, Mr. Loskiel.... And see that you keep this fellow in good humour. Use your own wit and knowledge; do as you deem best. All I ask of you is to keep this wild beast full fed and properly flattered until we march."

"Yes, sir," I said gravely, thinking to myself in a sad sort of wonder how utterly the majority of white men mistook their red brethren of the forest, and how blind they were not to impute to them the same humanity that they arrogated to themselves.

So much could have been done had men of my blood and colour dealt nobly with a noble people. Yet, even Major Parr, who was no fool and who was far more enlightened than many, spoke of a Mohican Sagamore as "this wild beast," and seriously advised me to keep him "full fed and properly flattered!"

"Yes, sir," I repeated, saluting, and almost inclined to laugh in his face.

So I first made requisition for the lang rifle, then reported to my captain, although being on special detail under Major Parr's personal orders, this was nothing more than a mere courtesy.

The parade already swarmed with our men mustering for inspection; I met Lieutenant Boyd, and we conversed for a while, he lamenting the impossibility of making a boating party with the ladies, being on duty until three o'clock. And:

"Who is this new guest of Mrs. Bleecker?" he asked curiously. "I understand that you are acquainted with her. What is her name? A Miss de Contrecoeur?"

I had not been prepared for that, never expecting that Mrs. Bleecker had already started to prepare the way; but I kept my countenance and answered coolly enough that I had the honour of knowing Miss de Contrecoeur.

"She came by batteau from Albany?"

 

"Her box," said I, "has just arrived from Albany by batteau."

 

"Is the lady young and handsome?" he asked, smiling. "Both, Mr. Boyd."

 

"Well," he said, with a polite oath, "she must be something more, too, if she hopes to rival Lana Helmer."

So it had already come to such terms of intimacy that he now spoke of her as Lana. For the last few days I had not been to Croghan's house to pay my respects, the heat leaving me disinclined to stir from the shade of the river trees. Evidently it had not debarred Boyd from presenting himself, or her from receiving him, although a note brought to me from Mrs. Bleecker by her black wench said that both she and Angelina Lansing were ill with the heat and kept their rooms.

"We are bidden to cake and wine at five," said I. "Are you going?"

 

He said he would be present, and so I left him buckling on his belt, and the conch-horn's blast echoing over the parade, sounding the assembly.

 

At the gate I encountered Lana and Mrs. Lansing and our precious Ensign, come to view the inspection, and exchanged a gay greeting with them.

 

Then, mending my pace, I hastened to Croghan's house, and found Mrs. Bleecker pacing the foot-path and nibbling fennel.

"How agreeably cool it is growing," she said as I bent over her fingers. "I truly believe we are to have an endurable day at last." She smiled at me as I straightened up, and continued to regard me very intently, still slightly smiling.

"What has disturbed your usual equanimity, Euan? You seem as flushed and impatient as-- as a lover at a tryst, for example."

 

At that I coloured so hotly that she laughed and took my arm, saying:

 

"There is no sport in plaguing so honest a heart as yours, dear lad. Come; shall we walk over to call upon your fairy princess? Or had you rather bring her here to me?"

 

"She also leaves it to your pleasure," I said; "Naturally," said Mrs. Bleecker, with a touch of hauteur; then, softening, smiled as much at herself as at me, I think.

 

"Come," she said gaily. "Sans cérémonie, n'est-ce pas?"

 

And we sauntered dawn the road.

 

"Her box arrived last evening," said I. "God send that Mr. Hake has chosen to please her."

 

"Is he married?" "No."

"Lord!" said she gravely. "Then it is well enough that you pray.... Perhaps, however," and she gave me a mischievous look, "you have entrusted such commissions to Mr. Hake before."

"I never have!" I said earnestly, then was obliged to join in her delighted laughter.

 

"I knew you had not, Euan. But had I asked that question of your friend, Mr. Boyd, and had he answered me as you did, I might have thought he lied."

 

I said nothing.

 

"He is at our house every day, and every moment when he is not on duty," she remarked.

 

"What gallant man would not do the like, if privileged?" I said lightly.

"Lana talks with him too much. Angelina and I have kept our rooms, as I wrote you, truly dreading a stroke of the sun. But Lana! Lord! She was up and out and about with her lieutenant; and he had an Oneida to take them both boating-- and then he had the canoe only, and paddled it himself.... They were gone too long to suit me," she added curtly.

"When?"

"Every night. I wish I knew where they go in their canoe. But I can do nothing with Lana.... You, perhaps, might say a friendly word to Mr. Boyd-- if you are on that footing with him-- to consider Lana's reputation a little more, and his own amusement a little less."

I said slowly: "Whatever footing I am on with him, I will say that to him, if you wish."

 

"I don't wish you to provoke him."

 

"I shall take pains not to."

She said impatiently: "There are far too many army duels now. It sickens me to hear of them. Besides, Lana did ever raise the devil beyond bounds with any man she could ensnare-- and no harm done."

"No harm," I said. "Walter Butler had a hurt of her bright eyes, and sulked for months. And many another, Mrs. Bleecker. But somehow, Mr. Boyd-- "

 

She nodded: "Yes-- he's too much like her-- but, being a man, scarcely as innocent of intention, I've said as much to her, and left her pouting-- the silly little jade."

 

We said nothing more, having come in sight of the low house of logs where Lois dwelt. "The poor child," said Mrs. Bleecker softly. "Lord! What a kennel for a human being!"

As we approached we saw Mrs. Rannock crossing the clearing in the distance, laden with wash from the fort; and I briefly acquainted my handsome companion with her tragic history. Then, coming to the door, I knocked. A lovely figure opened for us.

So astonished was I-- it having somehow gone from my mind that Lois could be so changed, that for a moment I failed to recognise her in this flushed and radiant young creature advancing in willowy beauty from the threshold.

As she sank very low in her pretty reverence, I saw her curly hair all dusted with French powder, under the chip hat with its lilac ribbons tied beneath her chin-- and the beautypatch on her cheek I saw, and how snowy her hands were, where her fingers held her flowered gown spread.

Then, recovering, she rose gracefully from her reverence, and I saw her clear grey eyes star-brilliant as I had never seen them, and a breathless little smile edging her lips.

On Mrs. Bleecker the effect she produced was odd, for that proud and handsome young matron had flushed brightly at first, lips compressed and almost stern; and her courtesy had been none too supple either.

Then in a stupid way I went forward to make my compliments and bend low over the little hand; and as I recovered myself I found her eyes on me for the first time-- and for a brief second they lingered, soft and wonderful, sweet, tender, wistful. But the next moment they were clear and brilliant again with controlled excitement, as Mrs. Bleecker stepped forward, putting out both hands impulsively. Afterward she said to me:

"It was her eyes, and the look she gave you, Euan, that convinced me."

 

But now, to Lois, she said very sweetly:

 

"I am certain that we are to become friends if you wish it as much as I do."

 

Lois laid her hands in hers.

 

"I do wish it," she said.

"Then the happy accomplishment is easy," said Mrs. Bleecker, smiling. "I had expected to yield to you very readily my interest and sympathy, but I had scarce expected to yield my heart to you at our first meeting."

Lois stood mute, the smile still stamped on her lips. Suddenly the tears sprang to her eyes, and she turned away hastily; and Mrs. Bleecker's arm went 'round her waist. They walked into the house together, and I, still dazed and mazed with the enchanted revelation of her new loveliness, wandered about among the charred stumps, my thoughts a heavenly chaos, as though a million angels were singing in my ears. I could even have seen them, save for a wondrous rosy mist that rolled around them.

How long I wandered I do not know, but presently the door opened, and Lois beckoned me, and I went in to find Mrs. Bleecker down on her knees on the puncheon floor, among the mass of pretty finery overflowing from the box.

"Did Mr. Hake's selection please you?" I asked, "Oh, Euan, how can I make you understand! Everything is too beautiful to be real, and I am certain that a dreadful Cinderella awakening is in store for me."

"Yes-- but she wore the slipper in the end."

 

Lois gave me a shy, sweet look, then, suddenly animated, turned eagerly once more to discuss her wardrobe with her new friend.

"Your Mr. Hake has excellent taste, Euan," observed Mrs. Bleecker. "Or," she added laughingly, "perhaps your late prayer helped." And to Lois she said mischievously: "You know, my dear, that Mr. Loskiel was accustomed to petition God very earnestly that your wardrobe should please you."

Lois looked at me, the smile curving her lips into a happy tenderness.

 

"He is so wonderful," she said, with no embarrassment. And I saw Mrs. Bleecker look up at her, then smilingly at me, with the slightest possible nod of approbation.

For two hours and more that pair of women remained happy among the ribbons and laces; and every separate article Lois brought to me naively, for me to share her pleasure. And once or twice I saw Mrs. Bleecker watching us intently; and when discovered she only laughed, but with such sweetness and good will that it left me happy and reassured.

"We have arranged that Miss de Contrecoeur is to share my room with me at Croghan's," said Mrs. Bleecker. "And, Euan, I think you should send a wagon for her box at once. The distance is short; we will stroll home together."

I took my leave of them, contented, and walked back to the fort alone, my heart full of thankfulness for what God had done for her that day.

Chapter 10. In Garrison

The end of the month was approaching, and as yet we had received no marching orders, although every evening the heavy-laden batteaux continued to arrive from Albany, and every morning the slow wagon train left for the lake, escorted by details from Schott's irregulars, and Franklin's Wyoming militia.

But our veteran rifle battalion did not stir, although all the other regular regiments had marched to Otsego; and Colonel Gansevoort's 3rd N. Y. Regiment of the Line, which was now under orders to remain and guard the Valley, had not yet returned, although early in the week an Oneida runner had come in with letters for Mrs. Bleecker and Mrs. Lansing from their husbands, saying that the regiment was on its way to the fort, and that they, the ladies, should continue at Croghan's as long as Morgan's Rifles were remaining there in garrison.

Cooler weather had set in with an occasional day of heavy summer rain; and now our garrison life became exceedingly comfortable, especially agreeable because of the ladies' hospitality at Croghan's new house.

Except for Lois and for them my duties on special detail would have become most irksome to me, shut off from the regiment as I was, with only the Mohican to keep an eye on, and nothing else whatever to do except to write at sundown every evening in my daily journal.

Not that I had not come to care a great deal for the Siwanois; indeed, I was gradually becoming conscious of a very genuine affection for this tall Mohican, who, in the calm confidence of our blood-brotherhood, was daily revealing his personality to me in a hundred naive and different ways, and with a simplicity that alternately touched and amused me.

For, after his own beliefs and his own customs, he was every inch a man-- courteous, considerate, proud, generous, loyal, and brave. Which seem to me to be the general qualifications for a gentleman.

Except the Seneca Mountain Snakes, the nations of the Long House, considering their beliefs, customs, and limited opportunities, were not a whit inferior to us as men. And the Mohicans have always been their peers.

For, contrary to the general and ignorant belief, except for the Senecas, the Iroquois were civilised people; their Empire had more moral reasons for its existence than any other empire I ever heard of; because the League which bound these nations into a confederacy, and which was called by them "The Great Peace," had been established, not for the purpose of waging war, but to prevent it.
Until men of my own blood and colour had taught them treachery and ferocity and deceit, they had been, as a confederacy, guiltless of these things. Before the advent of the white man, a lie among the Iroquois was punished by death; also, among them, unchastity was scarcely known so rare was it. Even now, that brutal form of violence toward women, white or red, either in time of war or peace, was absolutely non-existent. No captive woman needed to fear that. Only the painted Tories-- the blue-eyed Indians-- remained to teach the Iroquois that such wickedness existed. For, as they said of themselves, the People of the Morning were "real men."

They had a federal constitution; they had civil and political ceremonies as wisely conceived and as dignified as they were impressive, romantic, and beautiful. Their literature, historical and imaginative, was handed down from generation to generation; and if memory were at fault, there were the wampum belts in their archives to corroborate tradition.

Their federal, national, tribal, sept, and clan systems were devised solely to prevent international decadence and fraternal strife; their secret societies were not sinister; their festivals and dances not immodest; their priesthood not ignoble. They were sedentary and metropolitan people-- dwellers in towns-- not nomads; they had cattle and fowls, orchards and grain-fields, gardens for vegetables, corrals for breeding stock. They had many towns-- some even of two hundred houses, of which dwellings many were cellared, framed, and glazed.

They had their well-built and heavily stockaded forts which, because the first Frenchmen called them chateaux, were still known to us as "castles."

Their family life was, typically, irreproachable; they were tender and indulgent husbands and fathers, charitable neighbours, gay and good-humoured among their friends; and their women were deferred to, respected, and honoured, and had a distinct and important role to play in the social and political practices of the Confederacy.

If they, by necessity, were compelled to decimate the Eries, crush the Hurons, and subdue the Lenape and "make women of them," the latter term meant only that the Lenape could not be trusted to bear arms as allies.

Yet, with truest consideration and courtesy toward these conquered ones, and with a kindly desire to disguise and mitigate a necessary and humiliating restriction, the Iroquois had recognised their priesthood and their clans; had invested the Lenape with the firerights at Federal Councils; and had even devised for them a diplomatic role. They were henceforward the ambassadors of the Confederacy, the diplomats and political envoys of the Long House.

And if the Delawares never forgot or forgave their position as a subject nation, yet had the Iroquois done all they dared to soften a nominal servitude which they believed was vitally necessary to the peace and well-being of the entire Iroquois Confederacy. Of this kind of people, then, were the Iroquois, naturally-- not, alas, wholly so after the white man had drugged them with rum, cheated them, massacred them, taught them every vice, inoculated them with every disease.

For I must bear witness to the truth of this, spite of the incredulity of my own countrymen; and, moreover, it is true that the Mohicans were, in all virtuous and noble things, the peers of the civilised people of the Long House.

Those vile, horse-riding, murdering, thieving nomad Indians of the plains-- those homeless, wandering, plundering violators of women and butchers of children, had nothing whatever in common with our forest Indians of the East-- were a totally different race of people, mentally, spiritually, and physically. And these two species must ever remain distinct-- the Gens des Prairies and the Gens du Bois.

Only the Senecas resembled the degraded robbers of the Western plains in having naturally evil and debased propensities, and entertaining similar gross and monstrous customs and most wicked superstitions. But in the Long House the Senecas were really aliens; every nation felt this, from the Canienga and Oneida peoples, whose skin was almost as white as our own, to the dusky Onondaga, Tuscarora, and Cayuga-- darker people, but no less civilised than the tall, stalwart, and handsome keepers of the Eastern Gate.

I have ventured to say this much concerning the Iroquois so that it may better be understood among my own countrymen how it was possible for me, a white man of unmixed blood, to love and respect a red man of blood as pure and unmixed as mine. A dog-trader learns many things about dogs by dealing in them; an interpreter who deals with men never, ultimately, mistakes a real man, white or red.

My isolation from the regiment, as I say, was now more than compensated by the presence of the ladies at Croghan's house. And Lois had now been lodged with them for more than a week. How much of her sad history Mrs. Bleecker had seen fit to impart to Lana Helmer and Angelina Lansing I did not know. But it seemed to be generally understood in the garrison that Lois had arrived from Albany on Mrs. Bleecker's invitation, and that the girl was to remain permanently under her protection.

The romantic fact that Lois was the orphan of white captives to the Senecas, and had living neither kith nor kin, impressed Angelina sentimentally, and Lana with an insatiable curiosity, if not with suspicion.

As for Boyd, he had not recognised her at all, in her powder, patches, and pretty gowns. That was perfectly plain to Lois and to me. And I could understand it, too, for I hardly recognised her myself. And after the novelty of meeting her had worn off he paid her no particular attention-- no doubt because of his headlong, impatient, and undisguised infatuation for Lana, which, with her own propensity for daring indiscretion, embarrassed us all more or less.
No warrant had been given me to interfere; I was on no such intimate terms with Boyd; and as for Lana, she heeded Mrs. Bleecker's cautious sermons as lightly as a bluebird, drifting, heeds the soft air that thrills with his careless flight-song.

What officers there were, regular and militia, who had not yet gone to Otsego Lake, came frequently to Croghan's to pay their respects; and every afternoon there were most agreeable parties at Croghan's; nor was our merriment any less restrained for our lack of chairs and tables and crockery to contain the cakes and nougats, syllabubs and custards, that the black wench, Gusta, contrived for us. Neither were there glasses sufficient to hold the sweet native wines, or enough cups to give each a dish of the rare tea which had come from France, and which Mr. Hake had sent to me from Albany, the thoughtful soul!

If I did not entirely realise it at the time, nevertheless it was a very happy week for me. To see Lois at last where she belonged; to see her welcomed, respected, and admired by the ladies and gentlemen at Croghan's-- courted, flattered, sought after in a company so respectable, and so naturally and sweetly holding her own among them without timidity or effort, was to me a pleasure so wonderful that even the quick, light shafts of jealousy-which ignoble but fiery darts were ever buzzing about my ass's ears, sometimes stinging me-- could not fatally wound my satisfaction or my deep thankfulness that her dreadful and wretched trials were ended at last, after so many years.

What seemed to Angelina and Lana an exceedingly quick intimacy between Lois and me sentimentally interested the former, and, as I have said, aroused the mischievous, yet not unkindly, curiosity of the latter. Like all people who are deep in intrigue themselves, any hint of it in others excited her sophisticated curiosity. So when we concluded it might be safe to call each other Lois and Euan, Lana's curiosity leaped over all bounds to the barriers of impertinence.

There was, as usual, a respectable company gathered at Croghan's that afternoon; and a floating-island and tea and a punch. Lois, in her usual corner by the northern window, was so beset and surrounded by officers of ours, and Schott's, Franklin's, and Spalding's, and staff-officers halted for the day, that I had quite despaired of a word with her for the present; and had somewhat sulkily seated myself on the stairs to bide my time. What between love, jealousy, and hurt pride that she had not instantly left her irksome poppinjays at the mere sight of me, and flown to me under the noses of them all, I was in two minds whether I would remain in the house or no-- so absurd and horridly unbalanced is a young man's mind when love begins meddling with and readjusting its accustomed mechanism. Long, long were my ears in those first days of my heart's undoing!

Solemnly brooding on woman's coldness, fickleness, and general ingratitude, and silently hating every gallant who crowded about her to hold her cup, her fan, her plate, pick up her handkerchief or a bud fallen from her corsage, I could not, however, for the life of me keep my eyes from the cold-blooded little jilt.
She had evidently been out walking before I arrived, for she still wore her coquette garden-hat-- the chipstraw affair, with the lilac ribbons tied in a bow under her rounded chin; and a white, thin gown, most ravishing, and all bestrewn with sprigs and posies, which displayed her smooth and delicately moulded throat above the low-pinned kerchief, and her lovely arms from the creamy elbow lace down to her finger tips.

The French hair-powder she wore was not sprinkled in any vulgar profusion; it merely frosted the rich curls, making her pink checks pinker and her grey eyes a darker and purpler grey, and rendering her lips fresh and dewy in vivid contrast. And she wore a patch on her smooth left cheek-bone. And it was a most deadly thing to do, causing me a sentimental anguish unspeakable.

As I sat there worshipping, enchanted, resentful, martyred, alternately aching with loneliness and devotion, and at the same time heartily detesting every man on whom she chanced to smile, comes a sly and fragrant breath in my ear. And, turning, I discover Lana perched on a step of the stairs above me, her mocking eyes brilliant with unkind delight.

"Poor swain a-sighing!" said she. "Love is sure a thorny way, Euan."

 

"Have a care for your own skirts then," said I ungraciously.

 

"My skirts!"

 

"Yours, Lanette. Your petticoat needs mending now."

 

"If love no more than rend my petticoat I ought to be content," she said coolly.

 

Silenced by her effrontery, which truly passed all bounds, I merely glared at her, and presently she laughed outright.

"Broad-brim," said she, "I was not born yesterday. Have no worries concerning me, but look to yourself, for I think you have been sorely hit at last. And God knows such wounds go hard with a truly worthy and good young man."

"I make nothing of your nonsense," said I coldly.

 

"What? Nothing? And yonder sits its pretty and romantic inspiration? I am glad I have lived to see the maid who dealt you your first wound!"

 

"Do you fancy that I am in love?" said I defiantly.

 

"Why not admit what your lop-ears and moony mien yell aloud to the world entire?"

 

"Have you no common sense, Lana? Do you imagine a man can fall in love in a brief week?"

 

"I have been wondering," said she coolly, "whether you have ever before seen her."

 

"Continue to wonder," said I bluntly.

"I do.... Because you call her 'Lois' so readily-- and you came near it the first day you had apparently set eyes on her. Also, she calls you 'Euan' with a tripping lack of hesitation-- even with a certain natural tenderness--

I turned on her, exasperated:

 

"Come," said I, controlling my temper with difficulty,. "I am tired of playing butt to your silly arrows."

 

"Oh, how you squirm, Euan! Cupid and I are shooting you full as a porcupine!"

 

"If Cupid is truly shooting," said I with malice, "you had best hunt cover, Lana. For I think already a spent shaft or two has bruised you, flying at hazard from his bow."

 

She smilingly ignored what I had said.

 

"Tell me," she persisted, "are you not at her pretty feet already? Is not your very soul down on its worthy marrow-bones before this girl?"

 

"Is not every gallant gentleman who comes to Croghan's at the feet of Miss de Contrecoeur?"

 

"One or two are in the neighbourhood of my feet," she remarked.

 

"Aye, and too near to please me," said I.

 

"Who, for example?"

 

"Boyd-- for example," I replied, giving her a hearty scowl.

 

"Oh!" she drawled airily. "He is not yet near enough my ankles to please me."

 

"You little fool," said I between my teeth, "do you think you can play alley-taw and cat'scradle with a man like that?"

 

Then a cold temper flashed in her eyes.

 

"A man like that," she repeated. "And pray, dear friend, what manner of man may be 'a man like that?'"

"One who can over-match you at your own silly sport-- and carry the game to its sinister finish! I warn you, have a care of yourself, Lanette. Sir John is a tyro to this man." She said hotly: "If I should say to him what you have but now said to me, he would have you out for your impertinence!"

"If he continues to conduct as he has begun," said I, "the chances are that I may have him out for his effrontery."

 

"What! Who gave you the privilege of interfering in my affairs, you silly ninny?"

 

"So that you display ordinary prudence, I have no desire to interfere," I retorted angrily.

 

"And if I do not! If I am imprudent! If I choose to be audacious, reckless, shameless! Is it your affair?"

 

"Suppose I make it mine?"

 

"You are both silly and insulting; do you know it?"

 

Flushed, breathing rapidly, we sat facing each other; and I could have shaken the little vixen, so furious was I at myself as well as at her.

 

"Very well," said I, "continue to play with hell-fire if you like. I'm done with you and with him, too."

 

"And I with you," she said between her teeth. "And if you were not the honest-meaning marplot that you are, Mr. Boyd should teach you a lesson!"

"I'll teach him one now," said I, springing to my feet and gone quite blind with rage so that I was obliged to stand still a moment before I could discover Boyd where he stood by the open door, trying to converse with Mrs. Lansing, but watching us both with unfeigned amazement.

"Euan!"

Lana's voice arrested me, and I halted and turned, striving to remember decency and that I was conducting like a very boor. This was neither the time nor place to force a quarrel on any man.... And Lana was right. I had no earthly warrant to interfere if she gave me none; perhaps no spiritual warrant either.

Still shaken and confused by the sudden fury which had invaded me, and now sullenly mortified by my own violence and bad manners, I stood with one hand resting on the banisters, forcing myself to look at Lana and take the punishment that her scornful eyes were dealing me.

"Are you coming to your senses?"" she asked coldly.

"Yes," I said. "I ask your pardon." A moment more we gazed at each other, then suddenly her under lip trembled and her eyes filled.

"Forgive me," she stammered. "You are a better friend to me than-- many.... I am not angry, Euan."

 

At that I could scarce control my own voice:

 

"Lanette-- little Lana! Find it in your generous heart to offer me my pardon, for I have conducted like a yokel and a fool! But-- but I really do love you."

 

"I know it, Euan. I did not know it was in me to use you so cruelly. Let us be friends again. Will you?"

 

"Will you, Lana?"

"Willingly-- oh, with all my heart! And-- I am not very happy, Euan. Bear with me a little.... There is a letter come from Clarissa; perhaps it is that which edges my tongue and temper-- the poor child is so sad and lonely, so wretchedly unhappy-- and Sir John riding the West with all his hellish crew! And she has no news of him-- and asks it of me----"

She descended a step and stood on the stair beside

me, looking up at me very sweetly, and resting her hand lightly on my shoulder-- a caress so frank and unconcealed that it meant no more then its innocent significance implied. But at that moment, by chance, I encountered Lois's eyes fixed on me in cold surprise. And, being a fool, and already unnerved, I turned red as a pippin, as though I were guilty, and looked elsewhere till the heat cooled from my cheeks.

"You dear boy," said Lana gently. "If there were more men like you and fewer like-- Sir John, there'd be no Clarissas in the world." She hesitated, then smiled audaciously. "Perhaps no Lanas either.... There! Go and court your sweetheart. For she gave me a look but now which boded ill for me or for any other maid or matron who dares lay finger on a single thrum of your rifle-shirt."

"You are wrong," said I. "She cares nothing for me in that manner."

 

"What? How do you know, you astounding boy?"

 

"I know it well enough."

 

Lana shot a swift and curious look straight across the room at Lois, who now did not seem to be aware of her.

"She is beautiful... and-- not made of marble," said Lana softly to herself. "Good God, no! Scarcely made of marble.... And some man will awaken her one day.... And when he does he will unchain Aphrodite herself-- or I guess wrong." She turned to me smiling. "That girl yonder has never loved."

"Why do you think so?"

 

"I know it; but I can not tell you why I know it. Women divine where men reason; and we are oftener right than you.... Are you truly in love with her?"

 

"I can not speak of such things to you," I muttered.

 

"Lord! Is it as serious as that already? Is it arrived at the holy and sacred stage?"

 

"Lana! For heaven's sake----"

"I am not jeering; I am realising the solemn fact that you have progressed a certain distance in love and are arrived at a definite and well-known milestone.... And I am merely wondering how far she has progressed-- or if she has as yet journeyed any particular distance at all-- or any more than set out upon the road. For the look she shot at me convinces me that she has started-- in fact, has reached that turn in the thorny path where she is less inclined to defend herself than her own possessions. You seem to be one of them."

Boyd, who had awaited the termination of our tete-a-tete with an impatience perfectly apparent to anybody who chanced to observe him, now seemed able to endure it no longer; and as he approached us I felt Lana's hand on my arm tremble slightly; but the cool smile still curved her lips.

She received him with a shaft of light raillery, and he laughed and retorted in kind, and then we three sauntered over to the table where was the floating island in a huge stone bowl of Indian ware.

Around this, and the tea and punch, everybody was now gathering, and there was much talking and laughing and offering of refreshment to the ladies, and drinking of humourous or gallant toasts.

I remember that Boyd, being called upon, instantly contrived some impromptu verses amid general approbation-- for his intelligence was as lithe and graceful as his body was agile. And our foppish Ensign, who was no dolt by a long shot either, made a most deft rondeau in flattery of the ladies, turning it so neatly and unexpectedly that we all drew our side-arms and, thrusting them aloft, cheered both him and the fair subjects of his nimble verses.

I would have been glad to shine in that lively and amusing competition, but possessed no such desirable talents, and so when called upon contrived merely a commonplace toast which all applauded as in duty bound.
And I saw Lois looking at me with an odd, smiling expression, not one thing or another, yet scarcely cordial.

"And now," says Boyd, "each lady in turn should offer an impromptu toast in verse."

Whereupon they all protested that the thing was impossible. But he was already somewhat flushed with the punch and with his own success; and says he, with that occasional and over-flourishing bow of his:

"To divinity nothing is impossible; therefore, the ladies, ever divine, may venture all things."

 

"Which is why I venture to decline," remarked Lana. But he was set upon it, and would not be denied; and he began a most flowery little speech with the ladies as his inspiration:

 

"Poetry and grace in mind and body is theirs by nature," said he, "and they have but to open the rosy petals of their lips to enthrall us all with gems of----"

"Lord!" said Mrs. Bleecker, laughing, "I have never writ a verse in my life save on my sampler; and if I were to open the rosy petals of my lips, I should never have done agiggling. But I'll do it, Mr. Boyd, if you think it will enthrall you."

"As for me," quoth Angelina Lansing, "I require a workshop to manufacture my gems. It follows that they are no true gems at all, but shop-made paste. Ask Lana Helmer; she is far more adept in sugaring refusals."

All turned smilingly toward Lans, who shrugged her shoulders, saying carelessly:

"I must decline! The Muses nine No sisters are of mine. Must I repine Because I'm not divine, And may not versify some pretty story To prove to you my own immortal glory? Make no mistake. Accept; don't offer verses. Kisses received are mercies-- given, curses!"

Said Boyd instantly:

 

"A thousand poems for your couplets! Do you trade with me, Miss Helmer?"

 

"Let me hear your thousand first," retorted the coquette disdainfully, "ere I make up my mind to be damned."

 

Major Parr said grimly:

"With what are we others to trade, who can make no verses? Is there not some more common form of wampum that you might consider?"
"A kind and unselfish heart is sound currency," said Lana smiling and turning her back on Boyd; which brought her to face Lois.

"Do make a toast in verse for these importunate gentlemen," she said, "and bring the last laggard to your feet."

 

"I?" exclaimed Lois in laughing surprise. Then her face altered subtly. "I may not dream to rival you in beauty. Why should I challenge you in wit?"

 

"Why not? Your very name implies a nationality in which elegance, graceful wit, and taste are all inherent." And she curtsied very low to Lois.

For a moment the girl stood motionless, her slender forefinger crook'd in thought across her lips. Then she glanced at me; the pink spots on her cheeks deepened, and her lips parted in a breathless smile.

"It will give me a pleasure to do honour to any wish expressed by anybody," she said. "Am I to compose a toast, Euan?"

 

I gazed at her in surprise; Major Parr said loudly: "That's the proper spirit!"

 

And, "Write for us a toast to love!" cried Boyd.

 

But Lana coolly proposed a toast to please all, which, she explained, a toast to love would not by any means.

 

"And surely that is easy for you," she added sweetly, "who of your proper self please all who ever knew you."

 

"Write us a patriotic toast!" suggested Captain Simpson, "---- A jolly toast that all true Americans can drink under the nose of the British King himself."

"That's it!" cried Captain Franklin. "A toast so cunningly devised that our poor fellows in the Provost below, and on that floating hell, the 'Jersey,' may offer it boldly and unrebuked in the very teeth of their jailors! Lord! But that would be a rare bit o' verse-- if it could be accomplished," he added dubiously.

Lois stood there smiling, thinking, the tint of excitement still brilliant in her cheeks.

 

"No, I could not hope to contrive such a verse----" she mused aloud. "Yet-- I might try---" She lifted her grey eyes to mine as though awaiting my decision.

"Try," said I-- I don't know why, because I never dreamed she had a talent for such trifles.
For a second, as her eyes met mine, I had the sensation of standing there entirely alone with her. Then the clamour around us grew on my ears, and the figures of the others again took shape on every side.

And "Try!" they cried. "Try! Try!"

 

"Yes," she said slowly. "I will try----" She looked up at me. "---- If you wish it."

 

"Try," I said.

Very quietly she turned and passed behind the punch bowl and into the next room, but did not close the door. And anybody could see her there, seated at the rough pine table, quill in hand, and sometimes motionless, absorbed in her own thoughts, sometimes scratching away at the sheet of paper under her nose with all the proper frenzy of a very poet.

We had emptied the punch bowl before she reappeared, holding out to me the paper which was still wet with ink. And they welcomed her lustily, glasses aloft, but I was in a cold fright for fear she had writ nothing extraordinary, and they might think meanly of her mind, which, after all, I myself knew little of save that it was sweet and generous.

But she seemed in no manner perturbed, waiting smilingly for the noise to quiet. Then she said:

 

"This is a toast that our poor tyrant-ridden countrymen may dare to offer at any banquet under any flag, and under the very cannon of New York."

 

She stood still, absent-eyed, thinking for a moment; then, looking up at us:

"It is really two poems in one. If you read it straight across the page as it is written, then does it seem to be a boastful, hateful Tory verse, vilifying all patriots, even His Excellency-- God forgive the thought!

"But in the middle of every line there is a comma, splitting the line into two parts. And if you draw a line down through every one of these commas, dividing the written verse into two halves, each separate half will be a poem of itself, and the secret and concealed meaning of the whole will then be apparent."

She laid the paper in my hands; instantly everybody, a-tiptoe with curiosity, clustered around to see. And this is what we all read-- the prettiest and most cunningly devised and disguised verse that ever was writ-- or so it seems to me:

"Hark-- hark the trumpet sounds, the din of war's alarms O'er seas and solid grounds, doth call us all to arms, Who for King George doth stand, their honour soon shall shine, Their ruin is at hand, who with the Congress join.
The acts of Parliament, in them I much delight, I hate their cursed intent, who for the Congress fight. The Tories of the day, they are my daily toast, They soon will sneak away, who independence boast, Who non-resistant hold, they have my hand and heart, May they for slaves be sold, who act the Whiggish part. On Mansfield, North and Bute, may daily blessings pour Confusions and dispute, on Congress evermore, To North and British lord, may honours still be done, I wish a block and cord, to General Washington."

Then Major Parr took the paper, and raising one hand, and with a strange solemnity on his war-scarred visage, he pronounced aloud the lines of the two halves, reading first a couplet from the left hand side of the dividing commas, then a couplet from the right, and so down the double column, revealing the hidden and patriotic poem:

"Hark-- hark the trumpet sounds O'er seas and solid grounds! The din of war's alarms
Doth call us all to arms!
Who for King George doth stand Their ruin is at hand:
Their honour soon shall shine Who with the Congress join: The acts of Parliament
I hate their cursed intent!
In them I much delight
Who for the Congress fight. The Tories of the day
They soon will sneak away: They are my daily toast
Who independence boast.
Who non-resistant hold
May they for slaves be sold. They have my hand and heart Who act the Whiggish part. On Mansfield, North, and Bute, Confusion and dispute.
May daily blessings pour
On Congress evermore.
To North and British lord, I wish a block and cord!
May honours still be done
To General Washington!" As his ringing voice subsided, there fell a perfect silence, then a very roar of cheering filled it, and the hemlock rafters rang. And I saw the colour fly to Lois's face like a bright ensign breaking from its staff and opening in flower-like beauty.

Then every one must needs drink her health and praise her skill and wit and address-- save I alone, who seemed to have no words for her, or even to tell myself of my astonishment at her accomplishment, somehow so unexpected.

Yet, why might I not have expected accomplishments from such a pliant intelligence-- from a young and flexible mind that had not lacked schooling, irregular as it was? Far by her own confession to me, her education had been obtained, while it lasted, in schools as good as any in the land, if, indeed, all were as excellent as Mrs. Pardee's Young Ladies' Seminary in Albany, or the school kept by the Misses Primrose.

And Major Parr, the senior officer present, must have a glass of wine with her all alone, and offer her his arm to the threshold, where Lana and Boyd were busily plaiting a wreath of green maple-leaves for her, which they presently placed around her chip-straw hat. And we all acclaimed her.

As for Major Parr, that campaign-battered veteran had out his tablets and was painfully copying the verses-- he being no scholar-- while Boyd read them aloud to us all again in most excellent taste, and Lois laughed and blushed, protesting that her modest effort was not worthy such consideration.

"Egad!" said Major Parr loudly. "I maintain that verses such as these are worth a veteran battalion to any army on earth! You are an aid, an honour, and an inspiration to your country, Miss de Contrecoeur, and I shall take care that His Excellency receives a copy of these same verses----"

"Oh, Major Parr!" she protested in dismay. "I should perish with shame if His Excellency were to be so beset by every sorry scribbler."

 

"A copy for His Excellency! Hurrah!" cried Captain Simpson. "Who volunteers?"

 

"I will make it," said I, with jealous authority.

 

"And I will aid you with quill, sand, and paper," said Lana. "Come with me, Euan."

Lois, who had at first smiled at me, now looked at us both, while the smile stiffened on her flushed face as Lana caught me by the hand and drew me toward the other room where the pine camp-table stood.

While I was writing in my clear and painstaking chirography, which I try not to take a too great pride in because of its fine shading and skillful flourishes, the guests of the afternoon were making their adieux and taking their departure, some afoot, others on horseback.
When I had finished my copy and had returned to the main room, nothing remained of the afternoon party save Boyd and Lana, whispering together by a window, and the black wench, Gusta, clearing away the debris of the afternoon.

Outside in the late sunshine, I could see Mrs. Bleecker and Mrs. Lansing strolling to and fro, arm in arm, but I looked around in vain for Lois.

 

"She is doubtless gone a-boating with her elegant senior Ensign," said Lana sweetly, from the window. "If you run fast you may kill him. yet, Euan."

 

"I was looking for nobody," said I stiffly, and marched out, ridding them of my company

 

- which I think was what they both desired.

Now, among other and importunate young fops, the senior Ensign and his frippery and his marked attention to Lois, and his mincing but unfeigned devotion to her, had irritated me to the very verge of madness.

Twice, to my proper knowledge, this fellow had had her in an Oneida canoe, and with a guitar at that; and, damn him, he sang with taste and discretion. Also, when not on duty, he was ever to be found lisping compliments into her ear, or, in cool possession of her arm, promenading her to flaunt her beauty-- and his good fortune-- before the entire fort. And I had had enough of it.

So when I learned that she was off again with him, such a rage and wretchedness possessed me that I knew not what to do. Common sense yelled in my ear that no man of that stripe could seriously impress her; but where is the understanding in a very young man so violently sick with love as was I? All men who approached her I instantly suspected and mentally damned-- even honest old Simpson-- aye, even Major Parr himself. And I wonder now I had not done something to invite court-martial. For my common sense had been abruptly and completely upset, and I was at that period in a truly unhappy and contemptible plight.

I could not seem to steer my footsteps clear of the river bank, nor deny myself the fierce and melancholy pleasure of gazing at their canoe from afar, so I finally walked in that direction, cursing my own weakness and meditating quarrels and fatal duels.

But when I arrived on the river bank, I could not discover her in any of the canoes that danced in the rosy ripples of the declining sun. So, mooning and miserable, I lagged along the bank toward my bush-hut; and presently, to my sudden surprise, discovered the very lady of whom I had been thinking so intently-- not dogged as usual by that insufferable Ensign, but in earnest conversation with the Sagamore.

And, as I gazed at them outlined against the evening sky, I remembered what Betsy Hunt had said at Poundridge-- how she had encountered them together on the hill which overlooked the Sound.
Long before I reached them or they had discovered me, the Sagamore turned and took his departure, with a dignified gesture of refusal; and Lois looked after him for a moment, her hand to her cheek, then turned and gazed straight into the smouldering West, where, stretching away under its million giant pines, the vast empire of the Long House lay, slowly darkening against the crimson sunset.

She did not notice me as I came toward her through the waving Indian grass, and even when I spoke her name she did not seem startled, but turned very deliberately, her eyes still reflecting the brooding thoughts that immersed her.

"What is it that you and this Mohican have still to say to each other?" I asked apprehensively.

 

The vague expression of her features changed; she answered with heightened colour:

 

"The Sagamore is my friend as well as yours. Is it strange that I should speak with him when it pleases me to do so?"

 

There was an indirectness in her gaze, as well as in her reply, that troubled me, but I said amiably:

 

"What has become of your mincing escort? Is he gone to secure a canoe?"

 

"He is on duty and gone to the fort."

 

"Where he belongs," I growled, "and not eternally at your heels."

 

She raised her eyes and looked at me curiously.

"Are you jealous?" she demanded, beginning to smile; then, suddenly the smile vanished and she shot at me a darker look, and stood considering me with lips slightly compressed, hostile and beautiful.

"As for that fop of an Ensign----" I began-- but she took the word from my mouth:

 

"A fiddle-stick! It is I who have cause to complain of you, not you of me! You throw dust in my eyes by accusing where you should stand otherwise accused. And you know it!"

 

"I? Accused of what?"

 

"If you don't know, then I need not humiliate myself to inform you. But I think you do know, for you looked guilty enough----"

"Guilty of what?" "Of what? I don't know what you may be guilty of. But you sat on the stairs with your simpering inamorata-- and your courtship quarrels and your tender reconciliations were plain enough to-- to sicken anybody----"

"Lois! That is no proper way to speak of----"

 

"It is your own affair-- and hers! I ask your pardon-- but she flaunted her intimacy with you so openly and indiscreetly----"

 

"There is no common sense in what you say!" I exclaimed angrily. "If I----"

 

"Was she not ever drowning her very soul in your sheep's eyes? And even not scrupling to shamelessly caress you in the face of all----"

 

"Caress me!"

 

"Did she not stand for ten full minutes with her hand upon your shoulder, and a-sighing and simpering----"

 

"That was no caress! It was full innocent and----"

 

"Is she so innocent? Indeed! I had scarcely thought it of her," she said disdainfully.

 

"She is a true, good girl, innocent of any evil intention whatsoever----"

 

"I pray you, Euan, spare me your excited rhapsodies. If you prefer this most bewitching-minx----"

 

"She is no minx!" I retorted hotly; and Lois as hotly faced me, pink to her ears with exasperation.

"You do favour her! You do! You do! Say what you will, you are ever listening for the flutter of her petticoats on the stairs, ever at her French heels, ever at moony gaze with her-- and a scant inch betwixt your noses! So that you come not again to me vowing what you have vowed to me-- I care not how you and she conduct----"

"I do prefer you!" I cried, furious to be so misconstrued. "I love only one, and that one is you!"

 

"Oh, Euan, yours is a most broad and catholic heart; and any pretty penitent can find her refuge there; and any petticoat can flutter it!?'

 

"Yours can. Even your fluttering rags did that!"

 

She flushed: "Oh, if I were truly weak and silly enough to listen to you----" "You never do. You give me no hope."

 

"I do give you hope! I am ever ladling it out to you as they ladle soupaan to the militia! I say to you continually that never have I so devotedly loved any man----"

 

"That is not love!" I said, furious.

 

"I do not pretend it to be that same boiling and sputtering sentiment which men call love

 

---"

 

"Then if it be not true love, why do you care what I whisper to any woman?"

 

"I do not care," she said, biting the rose-leaf lower lip. "You may whisper any treason you please to any h-heartless woman who snares your f-fancy."

 

"You do not truly care?"

 

"I have said it. No, I do not care! Court whom you please! But if you do, my faith in man is dead, and that's flat!"

 

"What!"

 

"Certainly.... After your burning vows so lately made to me. But men have no shame. I know that much."

 

"But," said I, bewildered, "you say that you care nothing for my vows!"

 

"Did I say so?"

 

"Yes-- you----"

 

"No, I did not say so!... I-- I love your vows."

 

"How can you love my vows and not me?" I demanded angrily.

 

"I don't know I can do it, but I do.... But I will love them no longer if you make the selfsame vows to her."

 

"Now," said I, perplexed and exasperated, "what does it profit a man when a maid confesses that she loves to hear his vows, but loves not him who makes them?"

 

"For me to love even your vows," said she, looking at me sideways, "is something gained for you-- or so it seems to me. And were I minded to play the coquette-- as some do----"

 

"You play it every minute!" "I? When, pray?"

"When I came to Croghan's this afternoon there were you the centre of 'em all; and one ass in boots and spurs to wave your fan for you-- oh, la! And another of Franklin's, in his Wyandotte finery, to fetch and carry; and a dozen more young fools all ogling and sighing at your feet----"

Her lips parted in a quick, nervous laugh:

 

"Was that the way I seemed? Truly, Euan? Were you jealous? And I scarce heeding one o' them, but my eyes on the doorway, watching for you!"

 

"Oh, Lois! How can you say that to me----"

 

"Because it was so! Why did you not come to me at once? I was waiting!"

 

"There were so many-- and you seemed so gay with them-- so careless-- not even glancing at me----"

 

"I saw you none the less. I never let you escape the range of my vision."

 

"I never dreamed you noticed me. And every time you smiled on one of them I grew the gloomier----"

"And what does my gaiety mean-- save that the source of happiness lies rooted in you? What do other men count, only that in their admiration I read some recompense for you, who made me admirable. These gowns I wear are yours-- these shoon and buckles and silken stockings-- these bows of lace and furbelows-- this little patch making my rose cheeks rosier-- this frost of powder on my hair! All these I wear, Euan, so that man's delight in me may do you honour. All I am to please them-- my gaiety, my small wit, which makes for them crude verses, my modesty, my decorum, my mind and person, which seem not unacceptable to a respectable society-- all these are but dormant qualities that you have awakened and inspired----"

She broke off short, tears filling her eyes:

 

"Of what am I made, then, if my first and dearest and deepest thought be not for you? And such a man as this is jealous!"

 

I caught her hands, but she bent swiftly and laid her hot cheek for an instant against my hand which held them.

"If there is in me a Cinderella," she said unsteadily, "it is you who have discovered it-- liberated it-- and who have willed that it shall live. Did you suppose that it was in me to make those verses unless you told me that I could do it? You said, 'Try,' and instantly I dared try.... Is that not something to stir your pride? A girl as absolutely yours as that? And do not the lesser and commonplace emotions seem trivial in comparison-- all the heats and passions and sentimental vapours-- the sighs and vows and languishing all the inevitable trappings and masqueradings which bedizzen what men know as love-- do they not all seem mean and petty compared to our deep, sweet knowledge of each other?"

"You are wonderful," I said humbly. "But love is no unreal, unworthy thing, either; no sham, no trite cut-and-dried convention, made silly by sighs and vapours

"Oh, Euan, it is! I am so much more to you in my soul than if I merely loved you. You are so much more to me-- the very well-spring of my desire and pride-- my reason for pleasing, my happy consolation and my gratitude.... Seat yourself here on the pleasant, scented grasses and let me endeavour to explain it once and for all time. Will you?

"It is this," she continued, taking my hand between hers, when we were seated, and examining it very intently, as though the screed she recited were written there on my palm. "We are so marvelously matched in every measurement and feature, mental and bodily almost-- and I am so truly becoming a vital part of you and you of me, that the miracle is too perfect, too lofty, too serenely complete to vex it with the lesser magic-the passions and the various petty vexations they entail.

"For I would become-- to honour you-- all that your pride would have me. I would please the world for your sake, conquer it both with mind and person. And you must endeavour to better yourself, day by day, nobly and with high aim, so that the source of my inspiration remain ever pure and fresh, and I attain to heights unthinkable save for your faith in me and mine in you."

She smiled at me, and I said:

 

"Aye; but to what end?"

 

"To what end, Euan? Why, for our spiritual and worldly profit."

 

"Yes, but I love you----"

 

"No, no! Not in that manner----"

 

"But it is so."

 

"No, it is not! We are to be above mere sentiment. Reason rules us."

 

"Are we not to wed?"

"Oh-- as for that----" She thought for a while, closely considering my palm. "Yes-- that might some day be a part of it.... When we have attained to every honour and consideration, and our thoughts and desires are purged and lifted to serene and lofty heights of contemplation. Then it would be natural for us to marry, I suppose." "Meanwhile," said I, "youth flies; and I may not lay a finger on you to caress you."

"Not to caress me-- as that woman did to you----"

 

"Lois!"

 

"I can not help it. There is in her-- in all such women-- a sly, smooth, sleek and graceful beast, ever seeming to invite or offer a caress----"

 

"She is sweet and womanly; a warm friend of many years."

 

"Oh! And am I not-- womanly?"

 

"Are you, entirely?"

 

She looked at me troubled:

 

"How would you have me be more womanly?"

 

"Be less a comrade, more a sweetheart."

 

"Familiar?"

 

My heart was beating fast:

 

"Familiar to my arms. I love you."

 

"I-- do not permit myself to desire your arms. Can I help saying so-- if you ask me?"

 

"When I love you so----"

 

"No. Why are you, after all, like other men, when I once hoped----"

 

"Other men love. All men love. How can I be different----"

 

"You are more finely made. You comprehend higher thoughts. You can command your lesser passions."

 

"You say that very lightly, who have no need to command yours!"

 

"How do you know?" she said in a low voice.

 

"Because you have none to curb-- else you could better understand the greater ones."

She sat with head lowered, playing with a blade of grass. After a while she looked up at me, a trifle confused.
"Until I knew you, I entertained but one living passion-- to find my mother and hold her in my arms-- and have of her all that I had ached for through many empty and loveless years. Since I have known you that desire has never changed. She is my living passion, and my need."

She bent her head again and sat playing with the scented grasses. Then, half to herself, she said:

 

"I think I am still loyal to her if I have placed you beside her in my heart. For I have not yet invested you with a passion less innocent than that which burns for her."

 

She lifted her head slowly, propping herself up on one arm, and looked intently at me.

 

"What do you know about me, that you say I am unwomanly and cold?" Her voice was low, but the words rang a little.

"Do not deceive yourself," she said. "I am fashioned for love as thoroughly as are you-- for love sacred or profane. But who am I to dare put on my crown of womanhood? Let me first know myself-- let me know what I am, and if I truly have even a right to the very name I wear. Let me see my own mother face to face-- hold her first of all in my embrace-- give my lips first to her, yield to her my first caresses.... Else," and her face paled, "I do not know what I might become-- I do not know, I tell you-- having been all my life deprived of intimacy-- never having known familiar kindness or its lightest caress-- and half dead sometimes of the need of it!"

She straightened up, clenching her hands, then smiled her breathless little smile.

"Think of it, Euan! For twenty years I have wanted her caresses-- or such harmless kindness of somebody-- almost of anybody! My foster-mother never kissed me, never put her arm about me-- or even laid her hand lightly upon my shoulder-- as did that girl do to you on the stairs.... I tell you, to see her do it went through me like a Shawanese arrow---"

She forced a mirthless smile, and clasped her fingers across her knee:

"So bitterly have I missed affection all my life," she added calmly. "...And now you come into my life! Why, Euan-- and my sentiments were truly pure and blameless when you were there that night with me on the rock under the clustered stars-- and I left for you a rose-- and my heart with it!-- so dear and welcome was your sudden presence that I could have let you fold me in your arms, and so fallen asleep beside you, I was that deathly weary of my solitude and ragged isolation."

She made a listless gesture:

"It is too late for us to yield to demonstration of your affection now, anyway-- not until I find myself safe in the arms that bore me first. God knows how deeply it would affect me if you conquered me, or what I would do for very gratitude and happiness under the first close caress.... Stir not anything of that in me, Euan. Let me not even dream of it. It were not well for me-- not well for me. For whether I love you as I do, or-- otherwise and less purely-- it would be all the same-- and I should become-- something-- which I am not-- wedded or otherwise-- not my free self, but to my lesser self a slave, without ambition, pride-- wavering in that fixed resolve which has brought me hither.... And I should live and die your lesser satellite, unhappy to the very end."

After a silence, I said heavily:

 

"Then you have not renounced your purpose?"

 

"No."

 

"You still desire to go to Catharines-town?"

 

"I must go."

 

"That was the burden of your conversation with the Sagamore but now?"

 

"Yes."

 

"He refused to aid you?"

 

"He refused."

 

"Why, then, are you not content to wait here-- or at Albany?"

 

She sat for a long while with head lowered, then, looking up quietly:

 

"Another pair of moccasins was left outside my door last night."

 

"What! At Croghan's? Inside our line!" I exclaimed incredulously.

"Aye. But this time the message sewed within them differed from all the others. And on the shred of bark was written: 'Swift moccasins for little feet as swift. The long trail opens. Come!'"

"You think your mother wrote it?" I asked, astounded.

 

"Yes.... She wrote the others."

 

"Well?"

 

"This writing is the same." "The same hand that wrote the other messages throughout the years?"

 

"The same."

 

"Have you told the Sagamore of this?"

 

"I told him but now-- and for the first time."

 

"You told him everything?"

 

"Yes-- concerning my first finding-- and the messages that came every year with the moccasins."

 

"And did you show him the Indian writing also?"

 

"Yes."

 

"What did he say?"

"Nothing. But there flashed up suddenly in his eyes a reddish light that frightened me, and his face became so hideous and terrible that I could have cried out. But I contrived to maintain my composure, and I said: 'What do you make of it, O Sagamore?' And he spat out a word I did not clearly understand----"

"Amochol?"

 

"Yes-- it sounded like that. What did he mean, Euan?"

"I will presently ask him," said I, thoroughly alarmed. "And in the meanwhile, you must now be persuaded to remain at this post. You are contented and happy here. When we march, you will go back to Schenectady or to Albany with the ladies of the garrison, and wait there some word of our fate.

"If we win through, I swear to you that if your mother be there in Catharines-town I will bring news of her, or, God willing, bring her herself to you."

 

I rose and aided her to stand; and her hands remained limply in mine.

 

"I had rather take you from her arms," I said in a low voice, "---- if you ever deign to give yourself to me."

 

"That is sweetly said.... Such giving leaves the giver unashamed."

 

"Could you promise yourself to me?"

 

She stood with head averted, watching the last faint stain of color fade from the west. "Would you have me at any cost, Euan?"

 

"Any cost."

 

"Suppose that when I find my mother-- I find no name for myself-- save hers?"

 

"You shall have mine then."

 

"Dear lad!... But-- suppose, even then I do not love you-- as men mean love."

 

"So that you love no other man, I should still want you."

 

"Am I then so vital to you?"

 

"Utterly."

 

"To how many other women have you spoken thus?" she asked gravely.

 

"To none."

 

"Truly?"

 

"Truly, Lois."

 

She said in a low voice:

"Other men have said it to me.... I have heard them swear it with tears in their eyes and calling God to witness. And I knew all the while that they were lying-- perjuring their souls for the sake of a ragged, unripe jade, and a wild night's frolic.... Well-- God made men.... I know myself, too.... To love you as you wish is to care less for you than I already do. I would not willingly.... Yet, I may try if you wish it.... So that is all the promise I dare make you. Come-- take me home now-- if you care to walk as far with me."

"And I who am asking you to walk through life with me?" I said, forcing a laugh.

 

We turned; she took my arm, and together we moved slowly back through the falling dusk.

And, as we approached her door, came a sudden and furious sound of galloping behind us, and we sprang to the side of the road as the express thundered by in a storm of dust and driving pebbles.

"News," she whispered. "Do they bring good news as fast as bad?"

"It may mean our marching orders," I said, dejected. We had now arrived at Croghan's, and she was withdrawing her arm from mine, when the hollow sound of a conch-horn went echoing and booming through the dusk.

"It does mean your marching orders!" she exclaimed, startled.

 

"It most certainly means something," said I. "Good-night-- I must run for the fort----"

 

"Are you going to---- to leave me?"

 

"That horn is calling out Morgan's men----"

 

"Am I not to see you again?"

 

"Why, yes-- I expect so-- but if----"

 

"Oh! Is there an 'if'?' Euan, are you going away forever?"

 

"Dear maid, I don't know yet what has happened----"

 

"I do! You are going!... To your death, perhaps-- for all I know----"

 

"Hush! And good-night----"

 

She held to my offered hand tightly:

 

"Don't go-- don't go----"

 

"I will return and tell you if----"

 

"'If!' That means you will not return! I shall never see you again!"

 

I had flung one arm around her, and she stood with one hand clenched against her lips, looking blankly into my face.

 

"Good-bye," I said, and kissed her clenched hand so violently that it slipped sideways on her cheek, bruising her lips.

 

She gave a faint gasp and swayed where she stood, very white in the face.

 

"I have hurt you," I stammered; but my words were lost in a frightful uproar bursting from the fort; and:

"God!" she whispered, cowering against me, as the horrid howling swelled on the affrighted air.
"It is only the Oneidas' scalp-yell," said I. "They know the news. Their death-halloo means that the corps of guides is ordered out. Good-bye! You have means to support you now till I return. Wait for me; love me if it is in you to love such a man. Whatever the event, my devotion will not alter. I leave you in God's keeping, dear. Good-bye."

Her hand was still at her bruised lips; I bent forward; she moved it aside. But I kissed only her hand.

 

Then I turned and ran toward the fort; and in the torch-light at the gate encountered Boyd, who said to me gleefully:

"It's you and your corps of guides! The express is from Clinton. Hanierri remains; the Sagamore goes with you; but the regiment is not marching yet awhile. Lord help us! Listen to those beastly Oneidas in their paint! Did you ever hear such a wolf-pack howling! Well, Loskiel, a safe and pleasant scout to you." He offered his hand. "I'll be strolling back to Croghan's. Fare you safely!"

"And you," I said, not thinking, however, of him. But I thought of Lana, and wished to God that Boyd were with us on this midnight march, and Lana safe in Albany once more.

 

As I entered the fort, through the smoky flare of torches, I saw Dolly Glenn waiting there; and as I passed she gave a frightened exclamation.

 

"Did you wish to speak to me?" I asked.

 

"Is-- is Lieutenant Boyd going with you?" she stammered.

 

"No, child."

 

She thanked me with a pitiful sort of smile, and shrank back into the darkness.

I remained but a few moments with Major Parr and Captain Simpson; a rifleman of my own company, Harry Kent, brought me my pack and rifle-- merely sufficient ammunition and a few necessaries-- for we were to travel lightly. Then Captain Simpson went away to inspect the Oneida scouts.

"I wish you well," said the Major quietly. "Guard the Mohican as you would the apple of your eye, and-- God go with you, Euan Loskiel."

I saluted, turned squarely, and walked out across the parade to the postern. Here I saw Captain Simpson inspecting the four guides, one of whom, to me, seemed unnecessarily burdened with hunting shirt and blanket.

Running my eye along their file, where they stood in the uncertain torchlight, I saw at once that the guides selected by Major Parr were not all Oneidas. Two of them seemed to be; a third was a Stockbridge Indian; but the fourth-- he with the hunting-shirt and double blanket, wore unfamiliar paint.

"What are you?" said I in the Oneida dialect, trying to gain a square look at him in the shifty light.

 

"Wyandotte," he said quietly.

 

"Hell!" said I, turning to Captain Simpson. "Who sends me a Wyandotte?"

"General Clinton," replied Simpson in surprise. "The Wyandotte came from Fortress Pitt. Colonel Broadhead, commanding our left wing, sent him, most highly recommending him for his knowledge of the Susquehanna and Tioga."

I took another hard look at the Wyandotte.

 

"You should travel lighter," said I. "Split that Niagara blanket and roll your huntingshirt."

The savage looked at me a moment, then his sinewy arms flew up and he snatched the deerskin shirt from his naked body. The next instant his knife fairly leaped from its beaded sheath; there was a flash of steel, a ripping sound, and his blue and scarlet blanket lay divided. Half of it he flung to a rifleman, and the other half, with his shirt, he rolled and tied to his pack.

Such zeal and obedience pleased me, and I smiled and nodded to him. He showed his teeth at me, which I fancied was his mode of smiling. But it was somewhat hideous, as his nose had been broken, and the unpleasant dent in it made horridly conspicuous by a gash of blood-red paint.

I buckled my belt and pack and picked up my rifle. Captain Simpson shook hands with me. At the same moment, the rifleman sent to our bush-hut to summon the Mohican returned with him. And a finer sight I never saw; for the tall and magnificently formed Siwanois was in scarlet war-paint from crown to toe, oiled, shaven save for the lock, and crested with a single scarlet plume-- and heaven knows where he got it, for it was not dyed, but natural.

His scarlet and white beaded sporran swung to his knees; his ankle moccasins were quilled and feathered in red and white; the Erie scalps hung from his girdle, hooped in red, and he bore only a light pack-slung, besides his rifle and short red blanket.

"Salute, O Sagamore! Roya-neh!" I said in a low voice, passing him.

 

He smiled, then his features became utterly blank, as one by one the eyes of the other Indians flashed on his for a moment, then shifted warily elsewhere.

 

I made a quick gesture, turned, and started, heading the file out into the darkness.

And as we advanced noiselessly and swung west into the Otsego road, I was aware of a shadow on my right-- soft hands outstretched-- a faint whisper as I kissed her tightening fingers. Then I ran on to head that painted file once more, and for a time continued to lead at hazard, blinded with tears.

And it was some minutes before I was conscious of the Mohican's hand upon my arm, guiding my uncertain feet through the star-shot dark.