Part 2 out of 4
in a minute, and, leaning low in the saddle, went bounding over
logs and rocks and down a steep hillside as if the devil were after
me. I looked back, and was nearly raked off by a bough. I could
hear horses coming in the trail behind with quick and heavy jumps.
But I was up to rough riding and had little fear they would get a
sight of me. However, crossing a long stretch of burnt timber,
they must have seen me. I heard a crack of pistols far behind; a
whiz of bullets over my head. I shook out the reins and let the
horse go, urging with cluck and spur, never slacking for rock or
hill or swale. It was a wilder ride than any I have known since or
shall again, I can promise you, for, God knows, I have been hurt
too often. Fast riding over a new trail is leaping in the dark and
worse than treason to one's self. Add to it a saddle wet with your
own blood, then you have something to give you a turn of the
stomach thinking of it.
When I was near tumbling with a kind of rib-ache and could hear no
pursuer, I pulled up. There was silence about me, save the sound
of a light breeze in the tree-tops. I rolled off my horse, and
hooked my elbow in the reins, and lay on my belly, grunting with
pain. I felt better, having got my breath, and a rod of beech to
bite upon--a good thing if one has been badly stung and has a
journey to make. In five minutes I was up and off at a slow jog,
for I knew I was near safety.
I thought much of poor D'ri and how he might be faring. The last I
had seen of him, he was making good use of pistol and legs, running
from tree to tree. He was a dead shot, little given to wasting
lead. The drums were what worried me, for they indicated a big
camp, and unless he got to the stirrups in short order, he must
have been taken by overwhelming odds. It was near sundown when I
came to a brook and falls I could not remember passing. I looked
about me. Somewhere I had gone off the old trail--everything was
new to me. It widened, as I rode on, up a steep hill. Where the
tree-tops opened, the hill was covered with mossy turf, and there
were fragrant ferns on each side of me. The ground was clear of
brush and dead timber. Suddenly I heard a voice singing--a sweet
girl voice that thrilled me, I do not know why, save that I always
longed for the touch of a woman if badly hurt. But then I have
felt that way having the pain of neither lead nor steel. The voice
rang in the silent woods, but I could see no one nor any sign of
human habitation. Shortly I came out upon a smooth roadway
carpeted with sawdust. It led through a grove, and following it, I
came suddenly upon a big green mansion among the trees, with Doric
pillars and a great portico where hammocks hung with soft cushions
in them, and easy-chairs of old mahogany stood empty. I have said
as little as possible of my aching wound: I have always thought it
bad enough for one to suffer his own pain. But I must say I was
never so tried to keep my head above me as when I came to that
door. Two figures in white came out to meet me. At first I did
not observe--I had enough to do keeping my eyes open--that they
were the Mlles. de Lambert.
"God save us!" I heard one of them say. "He is hurt; he is pale.
See the blood running off his boot-leg."
Then, as one took the bit, the other eased me down from my saddle,
calling loudly for help. She took her handkerchief--that had a
perfume I have not yet forgotten--as she supported me, and wiped
the sweat and dust from my face. Then I saw they were the splendid
young ladies I had seen at the count's table. The discovery put
new life in me; it was like a dash of water in the face. I lifted
my hat and bowed to them.
"Ladies, my thanks to you," I said in as good French as I knew. "I
have been shot. May I ask you to send for a doctor?"
A butler ran down the steps; a gardener and a stable-boy hurried
out of the grove.
"To the big room--the Louis-Quinze," said one of the girls,
excitedly, as the men came to my help.
The fat butler went puffing upstairs, and they followed, on each
side of me.
"Go for a doctor, quick," said one of them to the gardener, who was
coming behind--a Frenchman who prayed to a saint as he saw my blood.
They led me across a great green rug in a large hall above-stairs
to a chamber of which I saw little then save its size and the
wealth of its appointments. The young ladies set me down, bidding
one to take off my boots, and sending another for hot water. They
asked me where I was hurt. Then they took off my blouse and
"Mon Dieu!" said one to the other. "What can we do? Shall we cut
"Certainly. Cut the shirt," said the other. "We must help him.
We cannot let him die."
"God forbid!" was the answer. "See the blood. Poor fellow! It is
They spoke very tenderly as they cut my shirt with scissors, and
bared my back, and washed my wound with warm water. I never felt a
touch so caressing as that of their light fingers, but, gods of
war! it did hurt me. The bathing done, they bound me big with
bandages and left the room until the butler had helped me into bed.
They came soon with spirits and bathed my face and hands. One
leaned over me, whispering, and asking what I would like to eat.
Directly a team of horses came prancing to the door.
"The colonel!" one of them whispered, listening.
"The colonel, upon my soul!" said the other, that sprightly
Louison, as she tiptoed to the window. They used to call her
"Tiptoes" at the Hermitage.
The colonel! I remembered she was none other than the Baroness de
Ferre; and thinking of her and of the grateful feeling of the
sheets of soft linen, I fell asleep.
The doctor came that night, and took out of my back a piece of
flattened lead. It had gone under the flesh, quite half round my
body, next to the ribs, without doing worse than to rake the bone
here and there and weaken me with a loss of blood. I woke awhile
before he came. The baroness and the fat butler were sitting
beside me. She was a big, stout woman of some forty years, with
dark hair and gray eyes, and teeth of remarkable whiteness and
symmetry. That evening, I remember, she was in full dress.
"My poor boy!" said she, in English and in a sympathetic tone, as
she bent over me.
Indeed, my own mother could not have been kinder than that good
woman. She was one that had a heart and a hand for the sick-room.
I told her how I had been hurt and of my ride. She heard me
through with a glow in her eyes.
"What a story!" said she. "What a daredevil! I do not see how it
has been possible for you to live."
She spoke to me always in English of quaint wording and quainter
accent. She seemed not to know that I could speak French.
An impressive French tutor--a fine old fellow, obsequious and
bald-headed--sat by me all night to give me medicine. In the
morning I felt as if I had a new heart in me, and was planning to
mount my horse. I thought I ought to go on about my business, but
I fear I thought more of the young ladies and the possibility of my
seeing them again. The baroness came in after I had a bite to eat.
I told her I felt able to ride,
"You are not able, my child. You cannot ride the horse now," said
she, feeling my brow; "maybe not for a ver' long time. I have a
large house, plenty servant, plenty food. Parbleu! be content. We
shall take good care of you. If there is one message to go to your
chief, you know I shall send it."
I wrote a brief report of my adventure with the British, locating
the scene as carefully as might be, and she sent it by mounted
messenger to "the Burg."
"The young ladies they wish to see you," said the baroness. "They
are kind-hearted; they would like to do what they can. But I tell
them no; they will make you to be very tired."
"On the contrary, it will rest me. Let them come," I said.
"But I warn you," said she, lifting her finger as she left the
room, "do not fall in love. They are full of mischief. They do
not study. They do not care. You know they make much fun all day."
The young ladies came in presently. They wore gray gowns admirably
fitted to their fine figures. They brought big bouquets and set
them, with a handsome courtesy, on the table beside me. They took
chairs and sat solemn-faced, without a word, as if it were a Quaker
meeting they had come to. I never saw better models of sympathetic
propriety. I was about to speak. One of them shook her head, a
finger on her lips.
"Do not say one word," she said solemnly in English. "It will make
you ver' sick."
It was the first effort of either of them to address me in English.
As I soon knew, the warning had exhausted her vocabulary. The
baroness went below in a moment. Then the one who had spoken came
over and sat near me, smiling.
"She does not know you can speak French," said she, whispering and
addressing me in her native tongue, as the other tiptoed to the
door. "On your life, do not let her know. She will never permit
us to see you. She will keep us under lock and key. She knows we
cannot speak English, so she thinks we cannot talk with you. It is
a great lark. Are you better?"
What was I to do under orders from such authority? As they bade
me, I hope you will say, for that is what I did. I had no easy
conscience about it, I must own. Day after day I took my part in
the little comedy. They came in Quaker-faced if the baroness were
at hand, never speaking, except to her, until she had gone.
Then--well, such animation, such wit, such bright eyes, such
brilliancy, I have never seen or heard.
My wound was healing. War and stern duty were as things of the far
past. The grand passion had hold of me. I tried to fight it down,
to shake it off, but somehow it had the claws of a tiger. There
was an odd thing about it all: I could not for the life of me tell
which of the two charming girls I loved the better. It may seem
incredible; I could not understand it myself. They looked alike,
and yet they were quite different. Louison was a year older and of
stouter build. She had more animation also, and always a quicker
and perhaps a brighter answer. The other had a face more serious,
albeit no less beautiful, and a slower tongue. She had little to
say, but her silence had much in it to admire, and, indeed, to
remember. They appealed to different men in me with equal force, I
did not then know why. A perplexing problem it was, and I had to
think and suffer much before I saw the end of it, and really came
to know what love is and what it is not.
[Illustration: "I could not for the life of me tell which of the
two charming girls I loved the better."]
Shortly I was near the end of this delightful season of illness. I
had been out of bed a week. The baroness had read to me every day,
and had been so kind that I felt a great shame for my part in our
deception. Every afternoon she was off in a boat or in her
caleche, and had promised to take me with her as soon as I was able
"You know," said she, "I am going to make you to stay here a full
month. I have the consent of the general."
I had begun to move about a little and enjoy the splendor of that
forest home. There were, indeed, many rare and priceless things in
it that came out of her chateau in France. She had some curious
old clocks, tokens of ancestral taste and friendship. There was
one her grandfather had got from the land of Louis XIV.--_Le Grand
Monarque_, of whom my mother had begun to tell me as soon as I
could hear with understanding. Another came from the bedchamber of
Philip II of Spain--a grand high clock that had tolled the hours in
that great hall beyond my door. A little thing, in a case of
carved ivory, that ticked on a table near my bed, Moliere had given
to one of her ancestors, and there were many others of equal
Her walls were adorned with art treasures of the value of which I
had little appreciation those days. But I remember there were
canvases of Correggio and Rembrandt and Sir Joshua Reynolds. She
was, indeed, a woman of fine taste, who had brought her best to
America; for no one had a doubt, in the time of which I am writing,
that the settlement of the Compagnie de New York would grow into a
great colony, with towns and cities and fine roadways, and the full
complement of high living. She had built the Hermitage,--that was
the name of the mansion,--fine and splendid as it was, for a mere
temporary shelter pending the arrival of those better days.
She had a curious fad, this hermit baroness of the big woods. She
loved nature and was a naturalist of no poor attainments. Wasps
and hornets were the special study of this remarkable woman. There
were at least a score of their nests on her front portico--big and
little, and some of them oddly shaped. She hunted them in wood and
field. When she found a nest she had it moved carefully after
nightfall, under a bit of netting, and fastened somewhere about the
gables. Around the Hermitage there were many withered boughs and
briers holding cones of wrought fibre, each a citadel of these
uniformed soldiers of the air and the poisoned arrow. They were
assembled in colonies of yellow, white, blue, and black wasps, and
white-faced hornets. She had no fear of them, and, indeed, no one
of the household was ever stung to my knowledge. I have seen her
stand in front of her door and feed them out of a saucer. There
were special favorites that would light upon her palm, overrunning
its pink hollow and gorging at the honey-drop.
"They will never sting," she would say, "if one does not declare
the war. To strike, to make any quick motion, it gives them anger.
Then, mon cher ami! it is terrible. They cause you to burn, to
ache, to make a great noise, and even to lie down upon the ground.
If people come to see me, if I get a new servant, I say: 'Make to
them no attention, and they will not harm you.'"
In the house I have seen her catch one by the wings on a window
and, holding it carefully ask me to watch her captive--sometimes a
a great daredevil hornet, lion-maned--as he lay stabbing with his
"Now," said she, "he is angry; he will remember. If I release him
he will sting me when I come near him again. So I do not permit
him to live--I kill him."
Then she would impale him and invite me to look at him with the
One day the baroness went away to town with the young ladies. I
was quite alone with the servants. Father Joulin of the chateau
came over and sat awhile with me, and told me how he had escaped
the Parisian mob, a night in the Reign of Terror. Late in the
afternoon I walked awhile in the grove with him. When he left I
went slowly down the trail over which I had ridden. My strength
was coming fast. I felt like an idle man, shirking the saddle,
when I should be serving my country. I must to my horse and make
an end to dallying. With thoughts like these for company, I went
farther than I intended. Returning over the bushy trail I came
suddenly upon--Louison! She was neatly gowned in pink and white.
"Le diable!" said she. "You surprise me. I thought you went
"Or you would not have taken this one," I said.
"Of course not," said she. "One does not wish to find men if she
is hunting for--for--" she hesitated a moment, blushing--"mon Dieu!
for bears," she added.
I thought then, as her beautiful eyes looked up at me smiling, that
she was incomparable, that I loved her above all others--I felt
sure of it.
"And why do you hunt bears?" I inquired.
"I do not know. I think it is because they are so--so beautiful,
so amiable!" she answered.
"And such good companions."
"Yes; they never embarrass you," she went on. "You never feel at
loss for a word."
"I fear you do not know bears."
"Dieu! better than men. Voila!" she exclaimed, touching me with
the end of her parasol. "You are not so terrible. I do not think
you would bite."
"No; I have never bitten anything but--but bread and doughnuts, or
something of that sort."
"Come, I desire to intimidate you. Won't you please be afraid of
me? Indeed, I can be very terrible. See! I have sharp teeth."
She turned with a playful growl, and parting her crimson lips,
showed them to me--white and shapely, and as even as if they had
been wrought of ivory. She knew they were beautiful, the vixen.
"You terrify me. I have a mind to run," I said, backing off,
"Please do not run," she answered quickly. "I should be afraid
She hesitated a moment, stirring the moss with one dainty foot.
"That you might not return," she added, smiling as she looked up at
"Then--then perhaps it will do as well if I climb a tree."
"No, no; I wish to talk with you."
"Ma'm'selle, you honor me," I said.
"And dishonor myself, I presume, with so much boldness," she went
on. "It is only that I have something to say; and you know when a
woman has something to--to say--"
"It is a fool that does not listen if she be as fair as you," I put
"You are--well, I shall not say what I think of you, for fear--for
fear of giving offence," said she, blushing as she spoke. "Do you
like the life of a soldier?"
"Very much, and especially when I am wounded, with such excellent
care and company."
"But your side--it was so horribly torn. I did feel very
sorry--indeed I did. You will go again to the war?"
"Unless--unless--Ah, yes, ma'm'selle, I shall go again to the war,"
I stammered, going to the brink of confession, only to back away
from it, as the blood came hot to my cheeks.
She broke a tiny bough and began stripping its leaves.
"Tell me, do you love the baroness?" she inquired as she whipped a
swaying bush of brier.
The question amazed me. I laughed nervously.
"I respect, I admire the good woman--she would make an excellent
mother," was my answer.
"Well spoken!" she said, clapping her hands. "I thought you were a
fool. I did not know whether you were to blame or--or the Creator."
"Or the baroness," I added, laughing.
"Well," said she, with a pretty shrug, "is there not a man for
every woman? The baroness she thinks she is irresistible. She has
money. She would like to buy you for a plaything--to marry you.
But I say beware. She is more terrible than the keeper of the
Bastile. And you--you are too young!"
"My dear girl," said I, in a voice of pleading, "it is terrible.
Save me! Save me, I pray you!"
"Pooh! I do not care!"--with a gesture of indifference, "I am
trying to save myself, that is all."
"Another relative. Parbleu! I have enough." She stamped her foot
impatiently as she spoke. "I should be very terrible to you. I
should say the meanest things. I should call you grandpapa and
give you a new cane every Christmas."
"And if you gave me also a smile, I should be content."
More than once I was near declaring myself that day, but I had a
mighty fear she was playing with me, and held my tongue. There was
an odd light in her eyes. I knew not, then, what it meant.
"You are easily satisfied," was her answer.
"I am to leave soon," I said. "May I not see you here to-morrow?"
"Alas! I do not think you can," was her answer.
"And why not?"
"Because it would not be proper," said she, smiling as she looked
up at me.
"Not proper! I should like to know why."
"It would make me break another engagement," she went on, laughing.
"I am to go with the baroness to meet the count if he comes--she
has commanded. The day after, in the morning, at ten o'clock, by
the cascade--will that do? Good! I must leave you now. I must
not return with you. Remember!" she commanded, pointing at me with
her tapered forefinger. "Remember--ten o'clock in the morning."
Then she took a bypath and went out of sight. I returned to the
mansion as deep in love as a man could be. I went to dinner with
the rest that evening. Louison came in after we were all seated.
"You are late, my dear," said the baroness.
"Yes; I went away walking and lost something, and was not able to
find it again."
Next morning the baroness went away in her glittering caleche with
Louison. Each shining spoke and golden turret flashed the sunlight
back at me as I looked after them at the edge of the wood. The
baroness had asked me to go with her, but I thought the journey too
long. Louise came out and sat by me awhile as I lay in the
hammock. She was all in white. A trifle taller and a bit more
slender than her sister, I have sometimes thought her beauty was
statelier, also, and more statuesque. The sight of her seemed to
kindle in me the spirit of old chivalry. I would have fought and
died for her with my best lance and plume. In all my life I had
not seen a woman of sweeter graces of speech and manner, and, in
truth, I have met some of the best born of her sex.
She had callers presently--the Sieur Michel and his daughter. I
went away, then, for a walk, and, after a time, strolled into the
north trail. Crossing a mossy glade, in a circle of fragrant
cedar, I sat down to rest. The sound of falling water came to my
ear through thickets of hazel and shadberry. Suddenly I heard a
sweet voice singing a love-song of Provence--the same voice, the
same song, I had heard the day I came half fainting on my horse.
Somebody was coming near. In a moment I saw Louise before me.
"What, ma'm'selle!" I said; "alone in the woods!"
"Not so," said she. "I knew you were here--somewhere,
and--and--well, I thought you might be lonely."
"You are a good angel," I said, "always trying to make others
"Eh bien," said she, sitting beside me, "I was lonely myself. I
cannot read or study. I have neglected my lessons; I have insulted
the tutor--threw my book at him, and walked away, for he sputtered
at me. I do not know what is the matter. I know I am very wicked.
Perhaps--ah me! perhaps it is the devil."
"Ma'm'selle, it is appalling!" I said. "You may have injured the
poor man. You must be very bad. Let me see your palm."
I held her dainty fingers in mine, that were still hard and brown,
peering into the pink hollow of her hand. She looked up curiously.
"A quick temper and a heart of gold," I said. "If the devil has
it, he is lucky, and--well, I should like to be in his confidence."
"Ah, m'sieur," said she, seriously, a little tremor on her lips, "I
have much trouble--you do not know. I have to fight with myself."
"You have, then, a formidable enemy," I answered.
"But I am not quarrelsome," said she, thoughtfully. "I am only
weary of the life here. I should like to go away and be of some
use in the world. I suppose it is wicked, for my papa wishes me to
stay. And bah! it is a prison--a Hopital de Salpetriere!"
"Ma'm'selle," I exclaimed, "if you talk like that I shall take you
on my horse and fly with you. I shall come as your knight, as your
deliverer, some day."
"Alas!" said she, with a sigh, "you would find me very heavy. One
has nothing to do here but grow lazy and--ciel!--fat."
If my meeting with her sister had not made it impossible and
absurd, I should have offered my heart to this fair young lady then
and there. Now I could not make it seem the part of honor and
decency. I could not help adoring her simplicity, her frankness,
her beautiful form and face.
"It is no prison for me," I said. "I do not long for deliverance.
I cannot tell you how happy I have been to stay--how unhappy I
shall be to leave."
"Captain," she said quickly, "you are not strong; you are no
"Yes; I must be off to the wars."
"And that suggests an idea," said she, thoughtfully, her chin upon
"That my wealth is ill-fortune," she went on, with a sigh. "Men
and women are fighting and toiling and bleeding and dying to make
the world better, and I--I am just a lady, fussing, primping,
peering into a looking-glass! I should like to do something, but
they think I am too good--too holy."
"But it is a hard business--the labors and quarrels of the great
world," I suggested.
"Well--it is God's business," she continued. "And am I not one of
his children, and 'wist ye not that I must be about my Father's
business?' It was not too good for the man who said that."
"But what would you do?"
"I do not know. I suppose I can do nothing because--alas! because
my father has bought my obedience with a million francs. Do you
not see that I am in bondage?"
"Be patient; the life of a rich demoiselle is not barren of
"To be gay--oh! one might as well be a peacock; to say pretty
things, one might better be a well-trained parrot; to grace the
court or the salon, I had as soon be a statue in the corner--it has
more comfort, more security; to be admired, to hear fine
compliments--well, you know that is the part of a pet poodle. I
say, captain, to be happy one must be free to do."
I looked into her big eyes, that were full of their new discovery.
"I should like to be among the wounded soldiers," said she, her
face brightening. "It did make me very happy to sit by your
bedside and do for you."
There was a very tender look in her eyes then.
She started to rise. A brier, stirring in the breeze, had fallen
across her hair. She let me loose the thorns, and, doing so, I
kissed her forehead--I could not help it.
"M'sieur!" she exclaimed in a whisper. Then she turned quickly
away and stood tearing a leaf in her fingers.
"Forgive me!" I pleaded, for I saw she was crying. "It was the
impulse of a moment. Pray forgive me!"
She stood motionless and made no answer, I never felt such a stir
in me, for I had a fear, a terrible fear, that I had lost what I
might never have again.
"It was honorable admiration," I continued, rising to my full
height beside her. "Tell me, ma'm'selle, have I hurt you?"
"No," said she, in a voice that trembled. "I am thinking--I am
thinking of somebody else."
The words, spoken so slowly, so sweetly, seemed, nevertheless, to
fly at me. "Of somebody else!" Whom could she mean? Had her
sister told her? Did she know of my meeting with Louison? I was
about to confess how deeply, how tenderly, I loved her. I had
spoken the first word when this thought flashed upon me, and I
halted. I could not go on.
"Ma'm'selle," I said, "I--I--if it is I of whom you are thinking,
give me only your pity, and I can be content. Sometime, perhaps, I
may deserve more. If I can be of any service to you, send for
me--command me. You shall see I am not ungrateful. Ah,
ma'm'selle," I continued, as I stood to my full height, and felt a
mighty uplift in my heart that seemed to toss the words out of me,
"I have a strong arm and a good sword, and the love of honor and
She wiped her eyes, and turned and looked up at me. I was no
longer a sick soldier.
"It is like a beautiful story," she said thoughtfully; "and
you--you are like a knight of old. We must go home. It is long
past luncheon hour. We must hurry."
She gave me her arm up the hill, and we walked without speaking.
"I am very well to-day," I remarked as we came to the road. "If
you will wait here until I get to the big birch, I shall go around
to see if I can beat you to the door."
"It is not necessary," said she, smiling, "and--and, m'sieur, I am
not ashamed of you or of what I have done."
The baroness and Louison had not yet returned. M. Pidgeon was at
luncheon with us in the big dining room, and had much to say of the
mighty Napoleon and the coalition he was then fighting.
The great monsieur stayed through the afternoon, as the baroness
had planned a big houseparty for the night, in celebration of the
count's return. My best clothes had come by messenger from the
Harbor, and I could put myself in good fettle. The baroness and
the count and Louison came early, and we sat long together under
The dinner was at seven. There were more than a dozen guests,
among whom were a number I had seen at the chateau--Mr. David
Parish of Ogdensburg, who arrived late in a big, two-wheeled cart
drawn by four horses that came galloping to the door, and General
Wilkinson, our new commander in the North, a stout, smooth-faced
man, who came with Mr. Parish in citizen's dress.
At dinner the count had much to say of scenes of excitement in
Albany, where he had lately been. The baroness and her wards were
resplendent in old lace and sparkling jewels. Great haunches of
venison were served from a long sideboard; there was a free flow of
old Madeira and Burgundy and champagne and cognac. Mr. Parish and
the count and the general and Moss Kent and M. Pidgeon sat long at
the table, with cigars and coffee, after the rest of us had gone to
the parlors, and the big room rang with their laughter. The young
Marquis de Gonvello and Mr. Marc Isambert Brunel of the Compagnie,
who, afterward founded the great machine-shops of the Royal Navy
Yard at Portsmouth and became engineer of the Thames tunnel, and
Pierre Chassinis, Jr., and I waltzed with the ladies. Presently I
sat down near the baroness, who was talking in French with Therese
Le Ray, the count's daughter.
"Pardon my using French," said the baroness, turning to me, "for I
believe you do not use it, and, my friend, it is a misfortune, for
you miss knowing what good company is the Ma'm'selle Le Ray."
"And I miss much pleasure and mayhap a duel with the marquis," I
said, laughing; "but I beg you to proceed with your talk. I have
learned many words since I came here, and I love the sound of it."
"We saw British soldiers to-day," she continued to Ma'm'selle Le
Ray, in French. "They crossed the road near us on their horses."
Louison came over and sat by them.
"They were not in uniform," the baroness continued, "but I knew
they were English; you cannot mistake them."
"And what do you think ?" said Louison, eagerly. "One of them
threatened to kiss me."
"Indeed, that was terrible," said Ma'm'selle Le Ray. "You must
have been afraid."
"Yes," said she, smiling, "afraid he wouldn't. They were a
"I do not think he was speaking of you at all," said the baroness.
"He was looking at me when--"
"Ciel!" exclaimed Louison, laughing. "That is why they turned
suddenly and fled into the fields."
I fled, too,--perhaps as suddenly as the Britishers,--to save
myself the disgrace of laughter.
The great clock in the hall above-stairs tolled the hour of two.
The ladies had all gone to bed save the baroness. The butler had
started upstairs, a candelabrum in his hand. Following him were
the count and Mr. Parish, supporting the general between them. The
able soldier had overrated his capacity. All had risen to go to
their rooms. Of a sudden we were startled by a loud rap on the
front door. A servant opened it, and immediately I heard the
familiar voice of D'ri.
"Is they anybody here by the name o' Mister Bell?" he asked.
I ran to the door, and there stood D'ri, his clothes wet, his boots
muddy, for it had been raining. Before he could speak I had my
arms around him, and he sank to his knees in my embrace. He was
"Tired out--thet's whut's the matter," he muttered, leaning over on
one hand. "Come through the woods t' save yer life, I did, an'
they was tight up t' me all the way."
"Poor fellow!" said the baroness, who stood at the door. "Help him
in at once and give him a sip of brandy."
"Tuk me prisoner over there 'n the woods thet day," said he,
sinking into a chair and leaning forward, his head on his hands.
"They tuk 'n' they toted me over t' Canady, an' I tuk 'n' got away,
'n' they efter me. Killed one on 'em thet was chasin' uv me over
'n the Beaver medders on the bog trail. Hoss got t' wallerin' so
he hed t' come down. Riz up out o' the grass 'n' ketched holt uv
'im 'fore he c'u'd pull a weepon. Tuk this out uv his pocket, an'
I tried to git the boss out o' the mire, but didn't hev time."
He sat erect and proudly handed me a sheet of paper. I opened it,
and read as follows:--
"To CAPTAIN ELIAS WILKINS, _Royal Fusiliers_.
"_My dear Captain_: You will proceed at once across the river with
a detail of five men mounted and three days' rations, and, if
possible, capture the prisoner who escaped early this morning,
making a thorough search of the woods in Jefferson County. He has
information of value to the enemy, and I regard his death or
capture of high and immediate importance. I am informed that the
young desperado who murdered my Lord of Pickford in the forest
below Clayton June 29, escaping, although badly wounded, is lying
at the country-seat of the Baroness de Ferre, a Frenchwoman, at
Leraysville, Jefferson County, New York. It would gratify me if
you could accomplish one or both captures. With respect, I am,
"Your Obedient Servant,
"R. SHEAFFER, _General Commanding_."
"They 'll be here," said D'ri. "They 'll be here jest es sure es
God--'fore daylight, mebbe. But I can't fight er dew nothin' till
I 've tied some vittles."
"You shall have supper," said the baroness, who, without delay,
went to the kitchen herself with a servant to look after it. The
butler brought a pair of slippers and a dry coat, while I drew off
the boots of my good friend. Then I gave him my arm as he limped
to the kitchen beside me. The baroness and I sat near him as he
"Go upstairs and call the gentlemen," said she to the butler, "Do
not make any disturbance, but say I should like to speak with them
in the dining room."
"Is thet air hired man o' yours a Britisher?" D'ri inquired as
soon as the butler was gone.
"He is--from Liverpool," said she.
"Thet's the hole 'n the fence," said he. "Thet's where the goose
"The goose! The geese!" said the baroness, thoughtfully. "I do
not understand you."
"Went 'n' blabbed, thet's whut he done," said D'ri. "Mebbe wrote
'em a letter, gol-dum his pictur'."
"Oh, I perceive! I understand," said she; "and I send him away
"Neck's broke with hunger," said D'ri. "Never threw no vittles 'n
my basket with sech a splendid taste tew 'em es these hev."
The baroness looked at him with some show of worry.
"I beg your pardon," said she, "did you say the neck of you was
I explained the idiom.
"Ain't hed nothin' t' eat since day 'fore yistiddy," said D'ri.
"Judas Priest! I 'm all et up with hunger."
With old Burgundy and biscuit and venison and hot coffee he was
"I 'm wondering where I will hide you both," said the baroness,
"Hed n't orter hev no rumpus here, 'n' go t' shootin' 'n' mebbe
spile yer house 'n' furnicher," said D'ri. "'T ain't decent er 't
ain't nice. We 'd better mek tracks an' put a mild er tew 'twixt
us 'n' here 'fore we hev any trouble. 'T ain't a-goin' t' be no
Sunday School. Ef they can, they 're a-goin't' tek us dead er
'live. Ef they ever tuk us we would n't be wuth shucks, nuther on
us, efter court martial."
"I shall not permit you to go," said the baroness. "They may be
here now, about the house in the dark. They would shoot you, they
would stab you, they would cause you to die as you went. No, I
shall permit you not to go, There are four of them? Very well, we
shall fight here, we shall conquer. We have a general, a count, a
millionnaire, a marquis, a lawyer, an astronomer, a scout, and,"
she added, patting me on the shoulder, "_le brave capitaine_! I
have four guns and three pistols, and M'sieur Bell has arms also.
We shall conquer. We shall make them to bite the dust."
"Guns; did ye say? Jerushy Jane! Le' 's hev 'em," said D'ri.
"What did he call me? Mon Dieu! Jerushy Jane! It is not I," said
Again I explained the difficulty.
"Ain't very proper-spoke," said D'ri, apologetically. "Jest wan't'
say et them 'air guns er likely t' come handy here 'most any
minute. Give us guns, 'n' we 'll sock it to 'em."
"We shall sock it to them, we shall indeed," said she, hurrying out
of the room. "We shall make them to run for their lives."
They were all in the dining room--the men of the party--save the
general, who could not he awakened. Guns and pistols were loaded.
I made a novel plan of defence that was unanimously approved. I
posted a watch at every window. A little after dawn the baroness,
from behind a curtain, saw a squad of horsemen coming through the
"Ici! they have come!" said she, in a loud whisper. "There are not
four; there are many."
I took my detail of six men above-stairs. Each had a strip of
lumber we had found in the shop, and each carefully raised a
window, waiting the signal. I knew my peril, but I was never so
cool in my life. If I had been wiser, possibly I should have felt
it the more. The horsemen promptly deployed, covering every side
of the mansion. They stood close, mounted, pistol and sabre ready.
Suddenly I gave the signal. Then each of us thrust out the strip
of lumber stealthily, prodding the big drab cones on every side.
Hornets and wasps, a great swarm of them, sprang thick as seeds
from the hand of a sower. It was my part to unhouse a colony of
the long, white-faced hornets. Goaded by the ruin of their nests,
they saw the nodding heads below them, and darted at man and horse
like a night of arrows. They put their hot spurs into flank and
face and neck. I saw them strike and fall; they do hit hard, those
big-winged _Vespae_. It was terrible, the swift charge of that
winged battalion of the air. I heard howls of pain below me, and
the thunder of rushing feet. The horses were rearing and plunging,
the men striking with their hats.
I heard D'ri shouting and laughing at his window.
"Give 'em hell, ye little blue devils!" he yelled; and there was
all evidence that they understood him.
Then, again, every man of us opened his window and fired a volley
at the scurrying mass.
One horse, rearing and leaping on his hind legs, came down across
the back of another, and the two fell heavily in a rolling,
convulsive heap. One, as if blinded, bumped a tree, going over on
his withers, all fours flashing in the air. Some tore off in the
thickets, as unmanageable as the wild moose. More than half threw
their riders. Not a man of them pulled a trigger: they were busy
enough, God knows. Not one of them could have hit the sky with any
certainty. I never saw such a torrent of horsehair and red caps.
"Whut! Been on the back o' one o' 'em hosses?" said D'ri, telling
of it a long time after. "'D ruther o' been shet up 'n a barrel
with a lot o' cats 'n' rolled downhill. Good deal better fer my
health, an' I 'd 'a' luked more like a human bein' when I come out.
Them fellers--they did n't luk fit t' 'sociate with nuthin' er
nobody when we led 'em up t' the house--nut one on 'em."
Only one Britisher was brought down by our bullets, and he had been
the mark of D'ri: with him a rifle was never a plaything. Five
others lay writhing in the grass, bereft of horse, deserted by
their comrades. The smudges were ready, and the nets. D'ri and I
put on the latter and ran out, placing a smudge row on every side
of the Hermitage. The winged fighters were quickly driven away.
Of the helpless enemy one had staggered off in the brush; the
others lay groaning, their faces lumpy and one-sided. A big
sergeant had a nose of the look and diameter of a goose-egg; one
carried a cheek as large and protuberant as the jowl of a porker's
head; and one had ears that stuck out like a puffed bladder. They
were helpless. We disarmed them and brought them in, doing all we
could for their comfort with blue clay and bruised plantain. It
was hard on them, I have often thought, but it saved an ugly fight
among ladies, and, no doubt, many lives. I know, if they had taken
us, D'ri and I would never have got back.
I have saved myself many a time by strategy, but chose the sword
always if there were an even chance. And, God knows, if one had
ever a look at our bare bodies, he would see no sign of shirking on
either D'ri or me.
The shooting and shouting and the tramp of horse and man had roused
everybody in the big house. Even the general came down to know
what was the matter. The young ladies came, pale and frightened,
but in faultless attire. I put an armed guard by the prisoners at
the door, under command of D'ri. Then I had them bare the feet of
the four Britishers, knowing they could not run bootless in the
brush. We organized a convoy,--the general and I,--and prepared to
start for the garrison. We kept the smudges going, for now and
then we could hear the small thunder of hornet-wings above us.
There is a mighty menace in it, I can tell you, if they are angry.
"Jerushy Jane Pepper!" said D'ri, as he sat, rifle on his knee,
looking at his prisoners. "Never thought nobody c'u'd luk s'
joemightyful cur'us. Does mek a man humly t' hev any trouble with
them air willy-come-bobs." He meant wasps.
I had had no opportunity for more than a word with the young
ladies. I hoped it might come when I went in for a hasty breakfast
with the baroness, the count, the general, and Mr. Parish. As we
were eating, Louison came in hurriedly. She showed some agitation.
"What is the trouble, my dear?" said the baroness, in French.
"Eh bien, only this," said she: "I have dropped my ring in the
brook. It is my emerald. I cannot reach it."
"Too bad! She has dropped her ring in the brook," said the
baroness, in English, turning to me.
"If she will have the kindness to take me there," I said to the
hostess, rising as I spoke, "I shall try to get it for her."
"M'sieur le Capitaine, you are very obliging," said she. Then,
turning to Louison, she added in French: "Go with him. He will
recover it for you."
It pleased and flattered me, the strategy of this wonderful young
creature. She led me, with dainty steps, through a dewy garden
walk into the trail.
"Parbleu!" she whispered, "is it not a shame to take you from your
meat? But I could not help it. I had to see you; there is
something I wish to say."
"A pretty girl is better than meat," I answered quickly. "I am
indebted to you."
"My! but you have a ready tongue," said she. "It is with me a
pleasure to listen. You are going away? You shall not
She was trying to look very gay and indifferent, but in her voice I
could detect a note of trouble. The flame of passion, quenched for
a little time by the return of peril and the smoke of gunpowder,
flashed up in me.
"It is this," she went on: "I may wish you to do me a favor. May I
have your address?"
"And you may command me," I said as I gave it to her.
"Have a care!" she said, laughing. "I may ask you to do desperate
things--you may need all your valor. The count and the
baroness--they may send us back to France."
"Which will please you," I remarked.
"Perhaps," she said quickly. "Mon Dieu! I do not know what I
want; I am a fool. Take this. Wear it when you are gone. Not
that I care--but--it will make you remember."
She held in her fingers a flashing emerald on a tiny circlet of
gold. Before I could answer she had laid it in my hard palm and
shut my hand upon it.
"Dieu!" she exclaimed, whispering, "I must return--I must hurry.
Remember, we did not find the ring."
I felt a great impulse to embrace her and confess my love. But I
was not quick enough. Before I could speak she had turned away and
was running. I called to her, but she did not turn or seem to hear
me. She and my opportunity were gone.
We stowed the prisoners in the big coach at the baroness, behind a
lively team of four. Then my horse and one for D'ri were brought
"Do not forget," said the baroness, holding my hand, "you are
always welcome in my house. I hope, ma foi! that you will never
find happiness until you return."
The young ladies came not to the step where we were, but stood by
the count waving adieux. Louison had a merry smile and a pretty
word of French for me; Louise only a sober look that made me sad,
if it did not speak for the same feeling in her. The count was to
remain at the Hermitage, having sent to the chateau for a squad of
his armed retainers. They were to defend the house, if, by chance,
the British should renew their attack. Mr. Parish and his footman
and the general went with us, the former driving. D'ri and I rode
on behind as the coach went off at a gallop.
He was a great whip, that man David Parish, who had built a big
mansion at Ogdensburg and owned so much of the north country those
days. He was a gentleman when the founders of the proud families
of to-day were dickering in small merchandise. Indeed, one might
look in vain for such an establishment as his north of Virginia.
This side the Atlantic there was no stable of horses to be compared
with that he had--splendid English thoroughbreds, the blood of
which is now in every great family of American horses. And, my
faith! he did love to put them over the road. He went tearing up
hill and down at a swift gallop, and the roads were none too smooth
in that early day. Before leaving home he had sent relays ahead to
await his coming every fifteen miles of the journey: he always did
that if he had far to go. This time he had posted them clear to
the Harbor. The teams were quickly shifted; then we were off again
with a crack of the whip and a toot of the long horn. He held up
in the swamps, but where footing was fair, the high-mettled horses
had their heads and little need of urging. We halted at an inn for
a sip of something and a bite to eat.
"Parish," said the general, rising on stiffened legs, "I like your
company and I like your wine, but your driving is a punishment."
D'ri was worn out with lack of sleep and rest, but he had hung
doggedly to his saddle.
"How do you feel?" I asked him as we drew up on each side of the
"Split t' the collar," said he, soberly, as he rested an elbow on
We got to headquarters at five, and turned over the prisoners. We
had never a warmer welcome than that of the colonel.
"I congratulate you both," he said as he brought the rum-bottle
after we had made our report. "You've got more fight in you than a
wolverene. Down with your rum and off to your beds, and report
here at reveille. I have a tough job for you to-morrow."
It was, indeed, tougher business than we had yet known--a dash into
the enemy's country, where my poor head was in excellent demand.
D'ri and I were to cross the lake with a band of raiders, a troop
of forty, under my command. We were to rescue some prisoners in a
lockup on the other side. They were to be shot in the morning, and
our mission therefore admitted of no delay. Our horses had been
put aboard a brig at midnight, and soon after the noon mess we
dropped down the lake, going into a deep, wooded cove south of the
Grenadier Island. There we lay waiting for nightfall. A big wind
was howling over the woods at sunset, and the dark came on its
wings an hour ahead of time. The night was black and the lake
noisy when we got under way, bound for a flatboat ferry. Our
skipper, it turned out, had little knowledge of those waters. He
had shortened sail, and said he was not afraid of the weather. The
wind, out of the southeast, came harder as it drove us on. Before
we knew it, the whole kit and boodle of us were in a devil of a
shakeup there in the broad water. D'ri and I were down among the
horses and near being trampled under in the roll. We tried to put
about then, but the great gusts of wind made us lower sail and drop
anchor in a hurry. Soon the horses were all in a tumble and one on
top of the other. We had to jump from back to back to save
ourselves. It was no pretty business, I can tell you, to get to
the stairway. D'ri was stripped of a boot-leg, and I was cut in
the chin by a front hoof, going ten feet or so to the upper deck.
To the man who was never hit in the chin by a horse's hoof let me
say there is no such remedy for a proud spirit. Bullets are much
easier to put up with and keep a civil tongue in one's head. That
lower deck was a kind of horses' hell. We had to let them alone.
They got astraddle of one another's necks, and were cut from ear to
fetlock--those that lived, for some of them, I could see, were
being trampled to death. How many I never knew, for suddenly we
hit a reef there in the storm and the black night. I knew we had
drifted to the north shore, and as the sea began to wash over us it
was every man for himself. The brig went up and down like a
sledge-hammer, and at every blow her sides were cracking and
caving. She keeled over suddenly, and was emptied of horse and
man. A big wave flung me far among the floundering horses. My
fingers caught in a wet mane; I clung desperately between crowding
flanks. Then a big wave went over us. I hung on, coming up
astride my capture. He swam vigorously, his nose high, blowing
like a trumpet. I thought we were in for a time of it, and had
very little hope for any landing, save in kingdom come. Every
minute I was head under in the wash, and the roaring filled me with
that mighty terror of the windfall. But, on my word, there is no
captain like a good horse in bad water. Suddenly I felt him hit
the bottom and go forward on his knees. Then he reared up, and
began to jump in the sand. A big wave washed him down again. He
fell on his side in a shallow, but rose and ran wearily over a soft
beach. In the blackness around me I could see nothing. A branch
whipped me in the face, and I ducked. I was not quick enough; it
was like fencing in the dark. A big bough hit me, raking the
withers of my horse, and I rolled off headlong in a lot of bushes.
The horse went on, out of hearing, but I was glad enough to lie
still, for I had begun to know of my bruises. In a few minutes I
took off my boots and emptied them, and wrung my blouse, and lay
back, cursing my ill luck.
But that year of 1813 had the kick of ill fortune in it for every
mother's son of us there in the North country. I have ever noticed
that war goes in waves of success or failure; If we had had Brown
or Scott to lead us that year, instead of Wilkinson, I believe it
had had a better history. Here was I in the enemy's country. God
knew where, or how, or when I should come out of it. I thought of
D'ri and how it had gone with him in that hell of waters. I knew
it would be hard to drown him. We were so near shore, if he had
missed the rocks I felt sure he would come out safely. I thought
of Louison and Louise, and wondered if ever I should see them
again. Their faces shone upon me there in the windy darkness, and
one as brightly as the other. Afterwhiles I drew my wet blouse
over me and went asleep, shivering.
A familiar sound woke me--that of the reveille. The sun was
shining, the sky clear, the wind had gone down. A crow sat calling
in a tree above my head. I lay in a strip of timber, thin and
narrow, on the lake shore. Through the bushes I could see the
masts of the brig slanting out of water some rods away. Beyond the
timber was a field of corn, climbing a side-hill that sloped off to
a level, grassy plain. Beyond the hill-top, reveille was still
sounding. A military camp was near me, and although I made no
move, my mind was up and busy as the drumsticks over the hill. I
sat as quiet as a cat at a mouse-hole, looking down at my uniform,
not, indeed, the most healthful sort of dress for that country.
All at once I caught sight of a scarecrow in the corn. I laughed
at the odd grotesquery of the thing--an old frock-coat and trousers
of olive-green, faded and torn and fat with straw. A stake driven
through its collar into the earth, and crowned with an ancient,
tall hat of beaver, gave it a backbone. An idea came to me. I
would rob the scarecrow and hide my uniform. I ran out and hauled
it over, and pulled the stuffing out of it. The coat and trousers
were made for a stouter man. I drew on the latter, fattening my
figure with straw to fill them. That done, I quickly donned the
coat. Each sleeve-end fell to my fingertips, and its girth would
have circled a flour-barrel and buttoned with room to spare. But
with my stuffing of straw it came around me as snug at the belt as
the coat of a bear. I took alarm as I closed the buttons. For
half a minute I had heard a drum-tap coming nearer. It was the
measured _tap! tap! tap-tap-tap_! so familiar to me. Now I could
hear the tread of feet coming with it back of the hill. How soon
they would heave in sight I was unable to reckon, but I dared not
run for cover. So I thrust my scabbard deep in the soft earth,
pulled down the big beaver hat over my face, muffled my neck with
straw, stuck the stake in front of me to steady myself, and stood
stiff as any scarecrow in Canada. Before I was done a column,
scarlet-coated, came out in the level beyond the hillside. Through
a hole in the beaver I could see them clearly. They came on, rank
after rank. They deployed, forming an open square, scarlet-sided,
on the green turf, the gap toward me. Then came three, walking
stiffly in black coats, a squad leading them. The thing I had
taken for a white visor was a blindfold. Their heads were bare. I
could see, now, they were in shackles, their arms behind them.
They were coming to their death--some of my unlucky comrades. God
pity them! A spy might as well make his peace with Heaven, if he
were caught those days, and be done with hope. Suspicion was
enough to convict on either side of the water that year. As my
feet sank deeper in the soft earth I felt as if I were going down
to my grave. The soldiers led them into the gap, standing them
close together, backs to me, The squad drew off. The prisoners
stood erect, their faces turning up a little, as if they were
looking into the clear, blue sky. I could see them waver as they
stood waiting. The sharpshooters advanced, halting as they raised
their rifles. To my horror, I saw the prisoners were directly
between me and them. Great God! was I also of that little company
about to die? But I dared not move a step. I stood still,
watching, trembling. An officer in a shining helmet was speaking
to the riflemen. His helmet seemed to jump and quiver as he moved
away. Those doomed figures began to reel and sway as they waited.
The shiny barrels lifted a little, their muzzles pointing at them
and at me. The corn seemed to duck and tremble as it waited the
volley. A great black ball shot across the sky in a long curve,
and began to fall. Then came the word, a flash of fire, a cloud of
smoke, a roar of rifles that made me jump in my tracks. I heard
bullets cuffing the corn, I felt the dirt fly up and scatter over
me, but was unhurt, a rigid, motionless man of straw. I saw my
countrymen reel, their legs go limp as rags, their bodies fall
silently forward. The soldiers stood a moment, then a squad went
after the dead with litters. Forming in fours, they marched away
as they had come, their steps measured by that regular _rap! rap!
rap-rap-rap_! of the drum. The last rank went out of sight. I
moved a little and pulled the stake, and quickly stuck it again,
for there were voices near. I stood waiting as stiff as a poker.
Some men were running along the beach, two others were coming
through the corn. They passed within a few feet of me on each
side. I heard them talking with much animation. They spoke of the
wreck. When they were well by me I faced about, watching them.
They went away in the timber, down to a rocky point, where I knew
the wreck was visible.
They were no sooner out of sight than I pulled the stake and sabre,
and shoved the latter under my big coat. Then I lifted the beaver
and looked about me. There was not a soul in sight. From that
level plain the field ran far to a thick wood mounting over the
hill. I moved cautiously that way, for I was in the path of people
who would be coming to see the wreck. I got near the edge of the
distant wood, and hearing a noise, halted, and stuck my stake, and
drew my hands back in the sleeves, and stood like a scarecrow,
peering through my hat. Near me, in the woods, I could hear a
cracking of sticks and a low voice. Shortly two Irishmen stuck
their heads out of a bush. My heart gave a leap in me, for I saw
they were members of my troop.
"Hello, there!" I called in a loud voice, It startled them. They
turned their heads to see where the voice came from, and stood
motionless. I pulled my stake and made for them on the run. I
should have known better, for the sight of me would have tried the
legs of the best trooper that ever sat in a saddle. As they told
me afterward, it was enough to make a lion yelp.
"Holy Mother!" said one, as they broke through the bush, running
for their lives. I knew not their names, but I called them as
loudly as I dared. They went on, never slacking pace. It was a
bad go, for I was burning for news of D'ri and the rest of them.
Now I could hear some heavy animal bounding in the brush as if
their running had startled him. I went back to the corn for
another stand. Suddenly a horse came up near me, cropping the
brush. I saw he was one off the boat, for he had bridle and
saddle, a rein hanging in two strings, and was badly cut. My
friend! the sight of a horse did warm me to the toes. He got a
taste of the tender corn presently, and came toward me as he ate.
In a moment I jumped to the saddle, and he went away leaping like a
wild deer. He could not have been more frightened if I had dropped
on him out of the sky. I never saw such energy in flesh and blood
before. He took a mighty fright as my hand went to his withers,
but the other had a grip on the pommel, and I made the stirrups. I
leaned for the strings of the rein, but his neck was long, and I
could not reach them. Before I knew it we were tearing over the
hill at a merry pace, I can tell you. I was never so put to it for
the right thing to do, but I clung on. The big hat shook down upon
my collar. In all my life I never saw a hat so big. Through the
break in it I could see a farm-house. In a jiffy the horse had
cleared a fence, and was running, with the feet of terror, in a
dusty road. I grew angry at myself as we tore along--I knew not
why. It was a rage of discomfort, I fancy, for somehow, I never
felt so bound and cluttered, so up in the air and out of place in
my body. The sabre was working loose and hammering my knee; the
big hat was rubbing my nose, the straw chafing my chin. I had
something under my arm that would sway and whack the side of the
horse every leap he made. I bore upon it hard, as if it were the
jewel of my soul. I wondered why, and what it might be. In a
moment the big hole of my hat came into conjunction with my right
eye. On my word, it was the stake! How it came there I have never
known, but, for some reason, I held to it. I looked neither to
right nor left, but sat erect, one hand on the hilt of my sabre,
the other in the mane of my horse, knowing full well I was the most
hideous-looking creature in the world. If I had come to the gate
of heaven I believe St. Peter would have dropped his keys. The
straw worked up, and a great wad of it hung under my chin like a
bushy beard. I would have given anything for a sight of myself,
and laughed to think of it, although facing a deadly peril, as I
knew. But I was young and had no fear in me those days. Would
that a man could have his youth to his death-bed! It was a leap in
the dark, but I was ready to take my chances.
Evidently I was nearing a village. Groups of men were in the shady
thoroughfare; children thronged the dooryards. There was every
sign of a holiday. As we neared them I caught my sabre under my
knee, and drew my hands into the long sleeves and waved them
wildly, whooping like an Indian. They ran back to the fences with
a start of fear. As I passed them they cheered loudly, waving
their hats and roaring with laughter. An old horse, standing
before an inn, broke his halter and crashed over a fence. A scared
dog ran for his life in front of me, yelping as he leaped over a
stone wall. Geese and turkeys flew in the air as I neared them.
The people had seemed to take me for some village youth on a
masquerade. We flashed into the open country before the sound of
cheering had died away. On we went over a long strip of hard soil,
between fields, and off in the shade of a thick forest. My horse
began to tire. I tried to calm him by gentle words, but I could
give him no confidence in me. He kept on, laboring hard and
breathing heavily, as if I were a ton's weight. We came to another
clearing and fields of corn. A little out of the woods, and near
the road, was a log house white-washed from earth to eaves. By the
gate my horse went down. I tumbled heavily in the road, and
turning, caught him by the bits. The big hat had shot off my head;
the straw had fallen away. A woman came running out of the open
door. She had bare feet, a plump and cheery face.
"Tonnerre!" said she. "Qu'est ce que cela?"
"My countrywoman," said I, in French, feeling in my under-trousers
for a bit of silver, and tossing it to her, "I am hungry."
"And I have no food to sell," said she, tossing it back. "You
should know I am of France and not of England. Come, you shall
have enough, and for no price but the eating. You have a tired
horse. Take him to the stable, and I will make you a meal."
I led my horse to the stable, scraped him of lather and dirt, gave
him a swallow of water, and took the same myself, for I had a
mighty thirst in me. When I came in, she had eggs and potatoes and
bacon over the fire, and was filling the tea-kettle.
"On my soul," said she, frankly, "you are the oddest-looking man I
ever saw. Tell me, why do you carry the long club?"
I looked down. There it was under my arm. It surprised me more
than anything I ever found myself doing.
"Madame, it is because I am a fool," I said as I flung it out of
"It is strange," said she. "Your clothes--they are not your own;
they are as if they were hung up to dry. And you have a sabre and
"Of that the less said the better," I answered, pulling out the
sabre. "Unless--unless, madame, you would like me to die young."
"Mon Dieu!" she whispered. "A Yankee soldier?"
"With good French blood in him," I added, "who was never so hungry
in all his life."
I went out of the door as I spoke, and shoved my sabre under the
"I have a daughter on the other side of the lake," said she,
"married to a Yankee, and her husband is fighting the British with
the rest of you."
"God help him!" said I.
"Amen!" said she, bringing my food to the table. "The great
Napoleon he will teach them a lesson."
She was a widow, as she told me, living there alone with two young
daughters who were off at a picnic in the near town. We were
talking quietly when a familiar voice brought me standing.
"Judas Priest!" it said. D'ri stood in the doorway, hatless and
one boot missing--a sorry figure of a man.
"Hidin' over 'n th' woods yender," he went on as I took his hand.
"See thet air brown hoss go by. Knew 'im soon es I sot eyes on
'im--use' t' ride 'im myself. Hed an idee 't wus you 'n the
saddle--sot s' kind o' easy. But them air joemightyful do's!
Jerushy Jane! would n't be fit t' skin a skunk in them do's, would
"Got 'em off a scarecrow," I said.
"'Nough t' mek a painter ketch 'is breath, they wus."
The good woman bade him have a chair at the table, and brought more
"Neck 's broke with hunger, 't is sartin," said he, as he began to
eat. "Hev t' light out o' here purty middlin' soon. 'T ain' no
safe place t' be. 'T won' never dew fer us t' be ketched."
We ate hurriedly, and when we had finished, the good woman gave us
each an outfit of apparel left by her dead husband. It was rather
snug for D'ri, and gave him an odd look. She went out of doors
while we were dressing. Suddenly she came back to the door.
"Go into the cellar," she whispered. "They are coming!"
I found the door, and D'ri flung our "duds" into the darkness that
lay beyond it. Then he made down the ladder, and I after him. It
was pitch-dark in the cellar--a deep, dank place with a rank odor
of rotting potatoes. We groped our way to a corner, and stood
listening. We heard the tramp of horses in the dooryard and the
clinic of spurs on the stone step.
"Ah, my good woman," said a man with a marked English accent, "have
you seen any Yankees? Woods are full of them around here. No?
Well, by Jove! you're a good-looking woman. Will you give me a
kiss?" He crossed the floor above us, and she was backing away.
"Come, come, don't be so shy, my pretty woman," said he, and then
we could hear her struggling up and down the floor. I was climbing
the ladder, in the midst of it, my face burning with anger, and
D'ri was at my heels. As the door opened, I saw she had fallen.
The trooper was bending to kiss her. I had him by the collar and
had hauled him down before he discovered us. In a twinkling D'ri
had stripped him of sword and pistol. But it was one of the most
hopeless situations in all my life. Many muzzles were pointing at
us through the door and window. Another hostile move from either
would have ended our history then and there. I let go and stood
back. The man got to his feet--a handsome soldier in the full
uniform of a British captain.
"Ah, there's a fine pair!" he said coolly, whipping a leg of his
trousers with his glove. "I 'll teach you better manners, my young
fellow. Some o' those shipwrecked Yankees," he added, turning to
his men. "If they move without an order, pin 'em up to the wall."
He picked up his hat leisurely, stepping in front of D'ri.
"Now, my obliging friend," said he, holding out his hand, "I'll
trouble you for my sword and pistol."
D'ri glanced over at me, an ugly look in his eye. He would have
fought to his death then and there if I had given him the word. He
was game to the core when once his blood was up, the same old D'ri.
[Illustration: "He would have fought to his death then and there if
I had given him the word."]
"Don't fight," I said.
He had cocked the pistol, and stood braced, the sword in his right
hand. I noticed a little quiver in the great sinews of his wrist.
I expected to see that point of steel shoot, with a quick stab,
into the scarlet blouse before me.
"Shoot 'n' be damned!" said D'ri. "'Fore I die ye'll hev a hole er
tew 'n thet air karkiss o' yourn. Sha'n't give up no weepon till
ye've gin me yer word ye 'll let thet air woman alone."
I expected a volley then. A very serious look came over the face
of the captain. He wiped his brow with a handkerchief. I could
see that he had been drinking.
"Ah, I see! You have an interest in her. Well, my man, I want no
share in your treasures. I accept the condition."
Evil as was the flavor of this poor concession, D'ri made the best
"She's an honest woman for all I know," said he, handing over the
weapons. "Ain't a-goin' t' see no ledy mishused--nut ef I can help
We gave ourselves up hand and foot to the enemy; there was no way
out of it. I have read in the story-books how men of great nerve
and skill have slaughtered five to one, escaping with no great loss
of blood. Well, of a brave man I like to believe good things. My
own eyes have seen what has made me slow to doubt a story of
prowess that has even the merit of possibility. But when there are
only two of you, and one without arms, and you are in a corner, and
there are ten pistols pointing at you a few feet away, and as many
sabres ready to be drawn, I say no power less remarkable than that
of God or a novelist can bring you out of your difficulty. You
have your choice of two evils--surrender or be cut to pieces. We
had neither of us any longing to be slashed with steel and bored
with bullets, and to no end but a good epitaph.
They searched the cellar and found our clothes, and wrapped them in
a bundle. Then they tied our hands behind us and took us along the
road on which I had lately ridden. A crowd came jeering to the
highway as we passed the little village. It was my great fear that
somebody would recognize either one or both of us.
Four of our men were sitting in a guardhouse at the British camp.
After noon mess a teamster drove up with a big wagon. Guards came
and shackled us in pairs, D'ri being wrist to wrist with me. They
put a chain and ball on D'ri's leg also. I wondered why, for no
other was treated with like respect. Then they bundled us all
into the wagon, now surrounded by impatient cavalry. They put a
blindfold over the eyes of each prisoner, and went away at a lively
pace. We rode a long time, as it seemed to me, and by and by I
knew we had come to a city, for I could hear the passing of many
wagons and the murmur of a crowd. Some were shouting, "Shoot the
d--d Yankees!" and now and then a missile struck among us. There
is nothing so heartless and unthinking as a crowd, the world over.
I could tell presently, by the creak of the evener and the stroke
of the hoofs, that we were climbing a long hill. We stopped
shortly; then they began helping us out. They led us forward a few
paces, the chain rattling on a stone pavement. When we heard the
bang of an iron door behind us, they unlocked the heavy fetter.
This done, they led us along a gravel walk and over a sounding
stretch of boards,--a bridge, I have always thought,--through
another heavy door and down a winding flight of stone steps. They
led us on through dark passages, over stone paving, and halted us,
after a long walk, letting our eyes free. We were in black
darkness. There were two guards before and two behind us bearing
candles. They unshackled us, and opened a lattice door of heavy
iron, bidding us enter. I knew then that we were going into a
dungeon, deep under the walls of a British fort somewhere on the
frontier. A thought stung me as D'ri and I entered this black hole
and sat upon a heap of straw. Was this to be the end of our
fighting and of us?
"You can have a candle a day," said a guard as he blew out the one
he carried, laying it, with a tinder-box, on a shelf in the wall of
rock beside me. Then they filed out, and the narrow door shut with
a loud bang. We peered through at the fading flicker of the
candles. They threw wavering, ghostly shadows on every wall of the
dark passage, and suddenly went out of sight. We both stood
listening a moment.
"Curse the luck!" I whispered presently.
"Jest as helpless es if we was hung up by the heels," said D'ri,
groping his way to the straw pile. "Ain' no use gittin' wrathy."
"What 'll we do?" I whispered.
"Dunno," said he; "an' when ye dunno whut t' dew, don' dew nuthin'.
Jest stan' still; thet's whut I b'lieve in."
He lighted the candle, and went about, pouring its glow upon every
wall and into every crack and corner of our cell--a small chamber
set firm in masonry, with a ceiling so far above our heads we could
see it but dimly, the candle lifted arm's-length.
"Judas Priest!" said D'ri, as he stopped the light with thumb and
finger. "I 'm goin' t' set here 'n th' straw luk an ol' hen 'n'
ile up m' thinker 'n' set 'er goin'. One o' them kind hes t' keep
'is mouth shet er he can't never dew ho thinkin'. Bymby, like es
not, I 'll hev suthin' t1 say et 'll 'mount t' suthin'."
We lay back on the straw in silence. I did a lot of thinking that
brought me little hope. Thoughts of Louison and Louise soon led me
out of prison. After a little time I went philandering in the
groves of the baroness with the two incomparable young ladies. I
would willingly have stood for another bullet if I could have had
another month of their company. The next thought of my troubles
came with the opening of the iron door. I had been sound asleep.
A guard came in with water and a pot of stewed beef and potatoes.
"Thet air's all right," said D'ri, dipping into it with a spoon.
We ate with a fine relish, the guard, a sullen, silent man with a
rough voice that came out of a bristling mustache, standing by the
"Luk a-here," said D'ri to the guard as we finished eating, "I want
t' ast you a question. Ef you hed a purty comf'table hum on
t'other side, 'n' few thousan' dollars 'n the bank, 'n' bosses 'n'
everything fixed fer a good time, 'n' all uv a sudden ye found
yerself 'n sech a gol-dum dungeon es this here, what 'u'd you dew?"
The guard was fixing the wick of his candle, and made no answer.
"Want ye t' think it all over," said D'ri. "See ef ye can't think
o' suthin' soothin' t' say. God knows we need it."
The guard went away without answering.
"Got him thinkin'," said D'ri, as he lighted the candle. "He can
help us some, mebbe. Would n't wonder ef he was good et cipherin'."
"If he offered to take the two thousand, I don't see how we'd give
it to him," said I. "He would n't take our promise for it."
"Thet ain' a-goin' t' bother us any," said D'ri. "Hed thet all
figgered out long ago."
He gave me the candle and lay down, holding his ear close to the
stone floor and listening. Three times he shifted his ear from one
point to another. Then he beckoned to me.
"Jest hol' yer ear there 'n' listen," he whispered.
I gave him the candle, and with my ear to the floor I could hear
the flow of water below us. The sound went away in the distance
and then out of hearing. "After a while it came again.
"What does it mean?" I asked.
"Cipherin' a leetle over thet air," said he, as he made a long
scratch on the floor with his flint. Then he rubbed his chin,
looking down at it. "Hain' jest eggzac'ly med up my mind yit," he
We blew out the light and lay back, whispering. Then presently we
heard the coming of footsteps. Two men came to the door with a
candle, one being the guard we knew.
"Come, young fellow," said the latter, as he unlocked the door and
beckoned to me; "they want you upstairs."
We both got to our feet.
"Not you," he growled, waving D'ri back. "Not ready fer you yet."
He laid hold of my elbow and snapped a shackle on my wrist. Then
they led me out, closing the door with a bang that echoed in the
far reaches of the dark alley, and tied a thick cloth over my eyes.
"Good luck!" D'ri cried out as they took me away.
"For both," I answered as cheerfully as I could.
They led me through winding passages and iron doors, with that
horrible clank of the prison latch, and up flights of stone till I
felt as lost as one might who falls whirling in the air from a
great height. We soon came out upon a walk of gravel, where I
could feel the sweet air blowing into my face. A few minutes more
and we halted, where the guard, who had hold of my elbow, rang a
bell. As the door swung open they led me in upon a soft carpet.
Through the cloth I could see a light.
"Bring him in, bring him in!" a voice commanded impatiently--a
deep, heavy voice the sound of which I have not yet forgotten. The
guard was afraid of it. His hand trembled as he led me on.
"Take off the blindfold," said that voice again.
As it fell away, I found myself in a large and beautiful room. My
eyes were dazzled by the light of many candles, and for a little I
had to close them. I stood before two men. One sat facing me at a
black table of carved oak--a man of middle age, in the uniform of a
British general. Stout and handsome, with brown eyes, dark hair
and mustache now half white, and nose aquiline by the least turn,
he impressed me as have few men that ever crossed my path. A young
man sat lounging easily in a big chair beside him, his legs
crossed, his delicate fingers teasing a thin mustache. I noticed
that his hands were slim and hairy. He glanced up at me as soon as
I could bear the light. Then he sat looking idly at the carpet,
The silence of the room was broken only by the scratch of a quill
in the hand of the general. I glanced about me. On the wall was a
large painting that held my eye: there was something familiar in
the face. I saw presently it was that of the officer I had fought
in the woods, the one who fell before me. I turned my head; the
young man was looking up at me. A smile had parted his lips. They
were the lips of a rake, it seemed to me. A fine set of teeth
showed between them.
"Do you know him?" he asked coolly.
"I have not the honor," was my reply.
"What is your name?" the general demanded in the deep tone I had
"Pardon me," said the young man, quietly, as if he were now weary
of the matter, "I do not think it necessary."
There was a bit of silence. The general looked thoughtfully at the
"If your Lordship will let me--" he went on.
"My dear sir," the other interrupted, in the same weary and
lethargic manner, "I can get more reliable knowledge from other
sources. Let the fellow go back."
"That will do," said the general to the guard, who then covered my
eyes and led me back to prison.
Lying there in the dark, I told D'ri all I knew of my mysterious
journey. My account of the young man roused him to the soul.
"Wha' kind uv a nose hed he?" he inquired.
"Roman," I said.
"Bent in at the p'int a leetle?"
"And black hair shingled short?"
"An' tall, an' a kind uv a nasty, snookin', mis'able-lookin' cuss?"
"Just about the look of him," I said.
"Judas Priest! He's one o' them sneks et tuk me when you was
fightin' t' other feller over there 'n the woods."
"Looks rather bad for us," I remarked.
"Does hev a ruther squeaky luk tew it," said he. "All we got t'
dew is t' keep breathin' jest es nat'ral 'n' easy es can be till we
fergit how. May fool 'em fust they know."
I had a high notion, those days, of the duty of a soldier. My
father had always told me there was no greater glory for anybody
than that of a brave death. Somehow the feeling got to be part of
me. While I had little fear of death, I dreaded to be shot like a
felon. But I should be dying for my country, and that feeling
seemed to light the shadows. When I fell asleep, after much worry,
it was to dream of my three countrymen who had fallen to their
faces there by the corn. I awoke to find the guard in our cell,
and D'ri and he whispering together. He had come with our
"All I want," D'ri was saying, "is a piece of iron, with a sharp
end, half es long es yer arm."
He made no answer, that big, sullen, bull-dog man who brought our
food to us. When he had gone, D'ri lay over and began laughing
under his breath.
"His thinker's goin' luk a sawmill," he whispered. "Would n't
wonder ef it kep' 'im awake nights. He was askin' 'bout thet air
tew thousan' dollars. Ef they 'll let us alone fer three days, we
'll be out o' here. Now, you mark my word."
"How?" I inquired.
"Jest a leetle job o' slidin' downhill," he said. "There's a big
drain-pipe goes under this cell--t' the river, prob'ly. He says
it's bigger 'n a barrel."
We saved our candle that day, and walked up and down, from wall to
wall, for exercise. Our hopes were high when we heard footsteps,
but they fell suddenly, for, as we listened, we could hear the
tramp of a squad of men. They came to our cell, and took us
upstairs, blind-folded as before, to a bath-room, where the
uniforms, discarded the day of our capture, were waiting for us,
newly pressed. Our bath over, they directed us to put them on.
They gave us new hats, for our own had been lost the night of the
wreck, covered our eyes, and led us through many doors and alleys
into the open air. It was dark, I knew, for as we entered a
carriage I could see dimly the glow of a lantern hanging over the
wheel. The carriage went away swiftly on a level road. We sat
knee to knee, with two men facing us, and not a word was spoken.
We could hear hoofs falling, the rattle of bit and rein, the creak
of saddle-leather on each side of us. We must have gone a long
journey when the carriage halted. They pulled us out roughly and
led us up three steps and across a deep veranda. A bell rang, a
door swung open, a flood of light fell on us, filtering to our
eyes. Entering, we could feel a carpet under us, and took a dozen
paces or more before they bade us halt. We heard only the
low-spoken order and the soft tread of our feet. There was a dead
silence when they removed our fetters and unbound our eyes. We
were standing in a big and sumptuous drawing-room. A company of
gentlemen sat near us in arm-chairs; there were at least a score of
them. Round tables of old mahogany stood near, on which were
glasses and packs of cards and wine-bottles. The young man who sat
with the general and answered to "your Lordship" was approaching
me, hand extended.
"Glad to see you; sit down," he said in the same quiet, languid,
forceful tone I had heard before.
It was all very odd. The guards were gone; we were apparently as
free as any of them.
"I shall try to make you comfortable," he remarked. A servant
began filling a row of glasses. "We have here wine and wit and all
the accessories, including women. I should introduce you, but I
have not the honor of your acquaintance. Let it suffice to say
these are my friends" (he turned to those who sat about), "and,
gentlemen, these are my enemies," he added, turning to us. "Let us
hope they may die happy."
"And with a fighting chance," I added, lifting the glass without
D'ri sat, his brows lifted, his hands in his pockets, his legs
crossed. He looked curiously from one to another.
"Horton," said his Lordship, as he sat down, leaning lazily on the
arm of his chair, "will you have them bring down the prisoners?"
The servant left the room. Some of the men were talking together
in low tones; they were mostly good-looking and well dressed.
"Gentlemen," said his Lordship, rising suddenly, "I'm going to turn
you out of here for a moment--they're a shy lot. Won't you go into
They all rose and went out of a door save one, a bald man of middle
age, half tipsy, who begged of his "Ludship" the privilege of
"Sir Charles," said the young man, still lounging in his chair as
he spoke, in that cold, calm tone of his, "you annoy me. Go at
once!" and he went.
They covered our faces with napkins of white linen. Then we heard
heavy steps, the clank of scabbards on a stairway, the feet of
ladies, and the swish of their gowns. With a quick movement our
faces were uncovered. I rose to my feet, for there before me stood
Louison and the Baroness de Ferre, between two guards, and, behind
them, Louise, her eyes covered, her beautiful head bent low. I
could see that she was crying. The truth came to me in a flash of
thought. They had been taken after we left; they were prisoners
brought here to identify us. A like quickness of perception had
apparently come to all. We four stood looking at one another with
no sign of recognition. My face may have shown the surprise and
horror in me, but shortly I had recovered my stony calm. The
ladies were dressed finely, with the taste and care I had so much
admired. Louison turned away from me with a splendid dignity and
stood looking up at the wall, her hands behind her, a toe of one
shoe tapping the floor impatiently. It was a picture to remember a
lifetime. I could feel my pulse quicken as I looked upon her. The
baroness stood, sober-faced, her eyes looking down, her fan moving
slowly. His Lordship rose and came to Louise.
"Come, now, my pretty prisoner; it is disagreeable, but you must
forgive me," he said.
[Illustration: "Come, now, my pretty prisoner; it is disagreeable,
but you must forgive me."]
She turned away from him, drying her eyes. Then presently their
beauty shone upon me.
"Grace au ciel!" she exclaimed, a great joy in her eyes and voice.
"It is M'sieur Bell. Sister--baroness--it is M'sieur Bell!"
I advanced to meet her, and took her hand, kissing it reverently.
She covered her face, her hand upon my shoulder, and wept in
silence. If it meant my death, I should die thanking God I knew,
or thought I knew, that she loved me.
"Ah, yes; it is M'sieur Bell--poor fellow!" said Louison, coming
quickly to me. "And you, my dear, you are Ma'm'selle Louise."
She spoke quickly in French, as if quite out of patience with the
poor diplomacy of her sister.
"I knew it was you, for I saw the emerald on your finger," she
added, turning to me, "but I could not tell her."
"I am glad, I am delighted, that she spoke to me," I said. I
desired to save the fair girl, whose heart was ever as a child's,
any sorrow for what she had done. "I was about to speak myself.
It is so great a pleasure to see you all I could not longer endure
"They made us prisoners; they bring us here. Oh, m'sieur, it is
terrible!" said the baroness.
"And he is such a horrible-looking monkey!" said Louison.
"Do they treat you well?" I asked.
"We have a big room and enough to eat. It is not a bad prison, but
it is one terrible place," said the baroness. "There is a big
wall; we cannot go beyond it."
"And that hairy thing! He is in love with Louise. He swears he
will never let us go," said Louison, in a whisper, as she came
close to me, "unless--unless she will marry him."
"Ah! a tea-party," said his Lordship, coming toward us. "Pardon
the interruption. I have promised to return these men at nine. It
is now ten minutes of the hour. Ladies, I wish you all a very good
He bowed politely. They pressed my hand, leaving me with such
anxiety in their faces that I felt it more than my own peril,
Louison gave me a tender look out of her fine eyes, and the thought
of it was a light to my soul in many an hour of darkness. She had
seemed so cool, so nonchalant, I was surprised to feel the tremor
in her nerves. I knew not words to say when Louise took my hand.
"Forgive me--good-by!" said she.
It was a faint whisper out of trembling lips. I could see her soul
in her face then. It was lighted with trouble and a nobler beauty
than I had ever seen. It was full of tenderness and pity and
things I could not understand.
"Have courage!" I called as they went away.
I was never in such a fierce temper as when, after they had gone
above-stairs, I could hear one of them weeping. D'ri stood quietly
beside me, his arms folded.
"Whut ye goin' t' dew with them air women?" he asked, turning to
the young man.
"I beg you will give me time to consider," said his Lordship,
calmly, as he lighted a cigarette.
There was a quick move in the big tower of bone and muscle beside
me. I laid hold of D'ri's elbow and bade him stop, or I fear his
Lordship's drawing-room, his Lordship, and ourselves would
presently have had some need of repair. Four guards who seemed to
be waiting in the hall entered hurriedly, the shackles in hand.
"No haste," said his Lordship, more pleasantly than ever. "Stand
by and wait my orders."
"D' ye wan' t' know whut I think o' you?" said D'ri, looking down
at him, his eyes opening wide, his brow wrinkling into long furrows.
"I make a condition," said his Lordship: "do not flatter me."
"Yer jest a low-lived, mis'able, wuthless pup," said D'ri,
"Away with them!" said his Lordship, flicking the ashes off a
cigarette as he rose and walked hurriedly out of the room.
The waiting guards laid hold of us in a twinkling, and others came
crowding the doors. They shackled our hands behind us, and covered
our eyes again. Dark misgivings of what was to come filled me, but
I bore all in silence. They shoved us roughly out of doors, and
there I could tell they were up to no child's play. A loud jeer
burst from the mouths of many as we came staggering out. I could
hear the voices of a crowd. They hurried us into a carriage.
"We demand the prisoners!" a man shouted near me.
Then I could hear them scuffling with the guards, who, I doubt not,
were doing their best to hold them back. In a moment I knew the
mob had possession of us and the soldiers were being hustled away.
D'ri sat shoulder to shoulder with me. I could feel his muscles
tighten; I could hear the cracking of his joints and the grinding
of the shackle-chain. "Judas Pr-r-i-e-st!" he grunted, straining
at the iron. Two men leaped into the carriage. There was a crack
of the whip, and the horses went off bounding. We could hear
horsemen all about us and wagons following. I had a stout heart in
me those days, but in all my life I had never taken a ride so
little to my liking. We went over rough roads, up hill and down,
for an hour or more.
I could see in prospect no better destination than our graves, and,
indeed, I was not far wrong. Well, by and by we came to a town
somewhere--God knows where. I have never seen it, or known the
name of it, or even that of the prison where we were first immured.
I could tell it was a town by the rumble of the wheels and each
echoing hoof-beat. The cavalcade was all about us, and now and
then we could hear the sound of voices far behind. The procession
slowed up, horsemen jammed to the left of us, the carriage halted.
I could hear footsteps on a stone pavement.
"You're late," said a low voice at the carriage door. "It's near
"Lot o' fooling with the candidates," said one of the horsemen,
quietly. "Everything ready?"
"Everything ready," was the answer.
The carriage door swung open.
"We get out here," said one of the men who sat with us.
I alighted. On each side of me somebody put his hand to my
shoulder. I could see the glow of a lantern-light close to my
face. I knew there was a crowd of men around, but I could hear
nothing save now and then a whisper.
"Wall, Ray," said D'ri, who stood by my side, "hol' stiddy 'n'
don't be scairt."
"Do as they tell ye," a stranger whispered in my ear. "No matter
what 't is, do as they tell ye."
They led us into a long passage and up a steep flight of wooden
stairs. I have learned since then it was a building equipped by a
well-known secret society for its initiations. We went on
through a narrow hall and up a winding night that seemed to me
interminable. Above it, as we stopped, the man who was leading me
rapped thrice upon a rattling wooden door. It broke the silence
with a loud echoing noise. I could hear then the sliding of a
panel and a faint whispering and the sound of many feet ascending
the stairs below. The door swung open presently, and we were led
in where I could see no sign of any light. They took me alone
across a wide bare floor, where they set me down upon some sort of
platform and left me, as I thought. Then I could hear the
whispered challenge at the door and one after another entering and
crossing the bare floor on tiptoe. Hundreds were coming in, it
seemed to me. Suddenly a deep silence fell in that dark place of
evil. The blindfold went whisking off my head as if a ghostly hand
had taken it. But all around me was the darkness of the pit. I
could see and I could hear nothing but a faint whisper, high above
me, like that of pine boughs moving softly in a light breeze. I
could feel the air upon my face. I thought I must have been moved
out of doors by some magic. It seemed as if I were sitting under
trees alone. Out of the black silence an icy hand fell suddenly
upon my brow. I flinched, feeling it move slowly downward over my
shoulder. I could hear no breathing, no rustle of garments near
me. In that dead silence I got a feeling that the hand touching me
had no body behind it. I was beyond the reach of fear--I was in a
way prepared for anything but the deep, heart-shaking horror that
sank under the cold, damp touch of those fingers. They laid hold
of my elbow firmly, lifting as if to indicate that I was to rise.
I did so, moving forward passively as it drew me on. To my
astonishment I was unable to hear my own footfall or that of my
conductor. I thought we were walking upon soft earth. Crossing
our path in front of me I could see, in the darkness, a gleaming
line. We moved slowly, standing still as our toes covered it.
Then suddenly a light flashed from before and below us. A cold
sweat came out upon me; I staggered back to strong hands that were
laid upon my shoulders, forcing me to the line again. By that
flash of light I could see that I was standing on the very brink of
some black abyss--indeed, my toes had crossed the edge of it. The
light came again, flickering and then settling into a steady glow.
The opening seemed to have a grassy bottom some ten feet below. In
front of me the soil bristled, on that lower level, with some black
and pointed plant: there was at least a score of them. As I
looked, I saw they were not plants, but a square of bayonets
thrust, points up, in the ground. A curse came out of my hot
mouth, and then a dozen voices mocked it, going fainter, like a
dying echo. I heard a whisper in my ear. A tall figure in a
winding-sheet, its face covered, was leaning over me.