Robert W. Chambers.

The Maid-At-Arms online

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"Take me, too," sniffed Ruyven.

"Eh! What?" cried the patroon. "I'll take you; oh yes - over my knee, you
impudent puppy! Let me catch you sneaking off to this war and I'll - "

Ruyven relapsed into silence, staring at me in troubled fascination.

"The house is yours, George," grunted the patroon. "Help yourself to
what you need for your journey."

"Thank you, sir; say good-bye to the children, kiss them all for me,
Cecile. And don't run away and get married until I come back."

A stifled snivel was my answer.

Then into the room shuffled old Cato, and began to extinguish the
candles; and I saw the green curtain twitch, and everybody
whispered "Ah-h!"

General Schuyler arose in the dim light when the last candle was blown
out. "You are to guess the title of this picture!" he said, in his even,
pleasant voice. "It is a famous picture, familiar to all present, I
think, and celebrated in the Old World as well as in the New.... Draw
the curtain, Cato!"

Suddenly the curtain parted, and there stood the living, breathing
figure of the "Maid-at-Arms." Her thick, gold hair clouded her cheeks,
her eyes, blue as wood-violets, looked out sweetly from the shadowy
background, her armor glittered.

A stillness fell over the dark room; slowly the green curtains closed;
the figure vanished.

There was a roar of excited applause in my ears as I stumbled forward
through the darkness, groping my way towards the dim gun-room through
which she must pass to regain her chamber by the narrow stairway which
led to the attic.

She was not there; I waited a moment, listening in the darkness, and
presently I heard, somewhere overhead, a faint ringing sound and the
deadened clash of armed steps on the garret floor.

"Dorothy!" I called.

The steps ceased, and I mounted the steep stairway and came out into the
garret, and saw her standing there, her armor outlined against the
window and the pale starlight streaming over her steel shoulder-pieces.

I shall never forget her as she stood looking at me, her steel-clad
figure half buried in the darkness, yet dimly apparent in its youthful
symmetry where the starlight fell on the curve of cuisse and greave,
glimmering on the inlaid gorget with an unearthly light, and stirring
pale sparks like fire-flies tangled in her hair.

"Did I please you?" she whispered. "Did I not surprise you? Cato scoured
the armor for me; it is the same armor she wore, they say - the
Maid-at-Arms. And it fits me like my leather clothes, limb and body.
Hark!... They are applauding yet! But I do not mean to spoil the magic
picture by a senseless repetition.... And some are sure to say a ghost
appeared.... Why are you so silent?... Did I not please you?"

She flung casque and sword on the floor, cleared her white forehead from
its tumbled veil of hair; then bent nearer, scanning my eyes closely.

"Is aught amiss?" she asked, under her breath.

I turned and slowly traversed the upper hallway to her chamber door, she
walking beside me in silence, striving to read my face.

"Let your maids disarm you," I whispered; "then dress and tap at my
door. I shall be waiting."

"Tell me now, cousin."

"No; dress first."

"It will take too long to do my hair. Oh, tell me! You have frightened

"It is nothing to frighten you," I said. "Put off your armor and come to
my door. Will you promise?"

"Ye-es," she faltered; and I turned and hastened to my own chamber, to
prepare for the business which lay before me.

I dressed rapidly, my thoughts in a whirl; but I had scarcely slung
powder-horn and pouch, and belted in my hunting-shirt, when there came a
rapping at the door, and I opened it and stepped out into the
dim hallway.

At sight of me she understood, and turned quite white, standing there in
her boudoir-robe of China silk, her heavy, burnished hair in two loose
braids to her waist.

In silence I lifted her listless hands and kissed the fingers, then the
cold wrists and palms. And I saw the faint circlet of the ghost-ring on
her bridal finger, and touched it with my lips.

Then, as I stepped past her, she gave a low cry, hiding her face in her
hands, and leaned back against the wall, quivering from head to foot.

"Don't go!" she sobbed. "Don't go - don't go!"

And because I durst not, for her own sake, turn or listen, I reeled on,
seeing nothing, her faint cry ringing in my ears, until darkness and a
cold wind struck me in the face, and I saw horses waiting, black in the
starlight, and the gigantic form of a man at their heads, fringed cape
blowing in the wind.

"All ready?" I gasped.

"All is ready and the night fine! We ride by Broadalbin, I think....
Whoa! back up! you long-eared ass! D'ye think to smell a Mohawk?... Or
is it your comrades on the picket-rope that bedevil you?... Look at
the troop-horses, sir, all a-rolling on their backs in the sand, four
hoofs waving in the air. It's easier on yon sentry than when they're all
a-squealin' and a-bitin' - This way, sir. We swing by the bush and pick
up the Iroquois trail 'twixt the Hollow and Mayfield."



As we galloped into Broadalbin Bush a house on our right loomed up black
and silent, and I saw shutters and doors swinging wide open, and the
stars shining through. There was something sinister in this stark and
tenantless homestead, whose void casements stared, like empty

"They have gone to the Middle Fort - all of them except the Stoners,"
said Mount, pushing his horse up beside mine. "Look, sir! See what this
red terror has already done to make a wilderness of County Try on - and
not a blow struck yet!"

We passed another house, doorless, deserted; and as I rode abreast of
it, to my horror I saw two shining eyes staring out at me from the
empty window.

"A wolf - already!" muttered Mount, tugging at his bridle as his horse
sheered off, snorting; and I saw something run across the front steps
and drop into the shadows.

The roar of the Kennyetto sounded nearer. Woods gave place to
stump-fields in which the young corn sprouted, silvered by the stars.
Across a stony pasture we saw a rushlight burning in a doorway; and,
swinging our horses out across a strip of burned stubble, we came
presently to Stoner's house and heard the noise of the stream rushing
through the woods below.

I saw Sir George Covert immediately; he was sitting on a log under the
window, dressed in his uniform, a dark military cloak mantling his
shoulders and knees. When he recognized me he rose and came to my side.

"Well, Ormond," he said, quietly, "it's a comfort to see you. Leave your
horses with Elerson. Who is that with you - oh, Jack Mount? These are the
riflemen, Elerson and Murphy - Morgan's men, you know."

The two riflemen saluted me with easy ceremony and sauntered over to
where Mount was standing at our horses' heads.

"Hello, Catamount Jack," said Elerson, humorously. "Where 'd ye steal
the squaw-buckskins? Look at the macaroni, Tim - all yellow and
purple fringe!"

Mount surveyed the riflemen in their suits of brown holland and belted

"Dave Elerson, you look like a Quakeress in a Dutch jerkin," he

"'Tis the nate turrn to yere leg he grudges ye," said Murphy to Elerson.
"Wisha, Dave, ye've the legs av a beau!"

"Bow-legs, Dave," commented Mount. "It's not your fault, lad. I've seen
'em run from the Iroquois as fast as Tim's - "

The bantering reply of the big Irishman was lost to me as Sir George led
me out of earshot, one arm linked in mine.

I told him briefly of my mission, of my new rank in the army. He
congratulated me warmly, and asked, in his pleasant way, for news of the
manor, yet did not name Dorothy, which surprised me to the verge of
resentment. Twice I spoke of her, and he replied courteously, yet seemed
nothing eager to learn of her beyond what I volunteered.

And at last I said: "Sir George, may I not claim a kinsman's privilege
to wish you joy in your great happiness?"

"What happiness?" he asked, blankly; then, in slight confusion, added:
"You speak of my betrothal to your cousin Dorothy. I am stupid beyond
pardon, Ormond; I thank you for your kind wishes.... I suppose Sir Lupus
told you," he added, vaguely.

"My cousin Dorothy told me," I said.

"Ah! Yes - yes, indeed. But it is all in the future yet, Ormond." He
moved on, switching the long weeds with a stick he had found. "All in
the future," he murmured, absently - "in fact, quite remote, Ormond....
By-the-way, you know why you were to meet me?"

"No, I don't," I replied, coldly.

"Then I'll tell you. The General is trying to head off Walter Butler and
arrest him. Murphy and Elerson have just heard that Walter Butler's
mother and sister, and a young lady, Magdalen Brant - you met her at
Varicks' - are staying quietly at the house of a Tory named Beacraft. We
must strive to catch him there; and, failing that, we must watch
Magdalen Brant, that she has no communication with the Iroquois." He
hesitated, head bent. "You see, the General believes that this young
girl can sway the False-Faces to peace or war. She was once their
pet - as a child.... It seems hard to believe that this lovely and
cultivated young girl could revert to such savage customs.... And yet
Murphy and Elerson credit it, and say that she will surely appear at the
False-Faces' rites.... It is horrible, Ormond; she is a sweet child - by
Heaven, she would turn a European court with her wit and beauty!"

"I concede her beauty," I said, uneasy at his warm praise, "but as to
her wit, I confess I scarcely exchanged a dozen words with her that
night, and so am no judge."

"Ah!" he said, with an absent-minded stare.

"I naturally devoted myself to my cousin Dorothy," I added, irritated,
without knowing why.

"Quite so - quite so," he mused. "As I was saying, it seems cruel to
suspect Magdalen Brant, but the General believes she can sway the
Oneidas and Tuscaroras.... It is a ghastly idea. And if she does attempt
this thing, it will be through the infernal machinations and devilish
persuasions of the Butlers - mark that, Ormond!"

He turned short in his tracks and made a fierce gesture with his stick.
It broke short, and he flung the splintered ends into the darkness.

"Why," he said, warmly, "there is not a gentler, sweeter disposition in
the world than Magdalen Brant's, if no one comes a-tampering to wake the
Iroquois blood in her. These accursed Butlers seem inspired by hell
itself - and Guy Johnson! - What kind of a man is that, to take this young
girl from Albany, where she had forgotten what a council-fire meant, and
bring her here to these savages - sacrifice her! - undo all those years of
culture and education! - rouse in her the dormant traditions and passions
which she had imbibed with her first milk, and which she forgot when she
was weaned! That is the truth, I tell you! I know, sir! It was my uncle
who took her from Guy Park and sent her to my aunt Livingston. She had
the best of schooling; she was reared in luxury; she had every advantage
that could be gained in Albany; my aunt took her to London that she
might acquire those graces of deportment which we but roughly
imitate.... Is it not sickening to see Guy Johnson and Sir John exercise
their power of relationship and persuade her from a good home back to
this?... Think of it, Ormond!"

"I do think of it," said I. "It is wrong - it is cruel and shameful!"

"It is worse," said Sir George, bitterly. "Scarce a year has she been
at Guy Park, yet to-day she is in full sympathy with Guy and Sir John
and her dusky kinsman, Brant. Outwardly she is a charming, modest maid,
and I do not for an instant mean you to think she is not chaste! The
Irish nation is no more famed for its chastity than the Mohawk, but I
know that she listens when the forest calls - listens with savant ears,
Ormond, and her dozen drops of dusky blood set her pulses flying to the
free call of the Wolf clan!"

"Do you know her well?" I asked.

"I? No. I saw her at my aunt Livingston's. It was the other night that I
talked long with her - for the first time in my life."

He stood silent, knee-deep in the dewy weeds, hand worrying his
sword-hilt, long cloak flung back.

"You have no idea how much of a woman she is," he said, vaguely.

"In that case," I replied, "you might influence her."

He raised his thoughtful face to the stars, studying the Twin Pointers.

"May I try?" he asked.

"Try? Yes, try, in Heaven's name, Sir George! If she must speak to the
Oneidas, persuade her to throw her influence for peace, if you can. At
all events, I shall know whether or not she goes to the fire, for I am
charged by the General to find the False-Faces and report to him every
word said.... Do you speak Tuscarora, Sir George?"

"No; only Mohawk," he said. "How are you going to find the False-Faces'

"If Magdalen Brant goes, I go," said I. "And while I'm watching her,
Jack Mount is to range, and track any savage who passes the Iroquois
trail.... What do you mean to do with Murphy and Elerson?"

"Elerson rides back to the manor with our horses; we've no further use
for them here. Murphy follows me.... And I think we should be on our
way," he added, impatiently.

We walked back to the house, where old man Stoner and his two big boys
stood with our riflemen, drinking flip.

"Elerson," I said, "ride my mare and lead the other horses back to
Varicks'. Murphy, you will pilot us to Beacraft's. Jack, go forward
with Murphy."

Old Stoner wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, bit into a twist
of tobacco, spat derisively, and said: "This pup Beacraft swares he'll
lift my haar 'fore he gits through with me! Threatened men live long.
Kindly tell him me an' my sons is to hum. Sir George."

The big, lank boys laughed, and winked at me as I passed.

"Good trail an' many skelps to ye!" said old Stoner. "If ye see Francy
McCraw, jest tell him thar's a rope an' a apple-tree waitin' fur him
down to Fundy's Bush!"

"Tell Danny Redstock an' Billy Bones that the Stoner boys is smellin'
almighty close on their trail!" called out the elder youth.

Elerson, in his saddle, gathered the bridles that Mount handed him and
rode off into the darkness, leading Mount's horse and Sir George's at a
trot. We filed off due west, Murphy and Mount striding in the lead, the
noise of the river below us on our left. A few rods and we swung south,
then west into a wretched stump-road, which Sir George said was the
Mayfield road and part of the Sacandaga trail.

The roar of the Kennyetto accompanied us, then for a while was lost in
the swaying murmur of the pines. Twice we passed trodden carrying-places
before the rushing of the river sounded once more far below us in a
gorge; and we descended into a hollow to a ford from which an Indian
trail ran back to the north. This was the Balston trail, which joined
the Fish-House road; and Sir George said it was the trail I should have
followed had it not been necessary for me to meet him at Fonda's Bush to
relieve him of his horse.

Now, journeying rapidly west, our faces set towards the Mayfield hills,
we passed two or three small, cold brooks, on stepping-stones, where the
dark sky, set with stars, danced in the ripples. Once, on a cleared
hill, we saw against the sky the dim bulk of a lonely barn; then nothing
more fashioned by human hands until, hours later, we found Murphy and
Mount standing beside some rough pasture bars in the forest. How they
had found them in the darkness of the woods - for we had long since left
the stump-road - I do not know; but the bars were there, and a brush
fence; and Murphy whispered that, beyond, a cow-path led to
Beacraft's house.

Now, wary of ambuscade, we moved on, rifles primed and cocked,
traversing a wet path bowered by willow and alder, until we reached a
cornfield, fenced with split rails. The path skirted this, continuing
under a line of huge trees, then ascended a stony little hill, on which
a shadowy house stood.

"Beacraft's," whispered Murphy.

Sir George suggested that we surround the house and watch it till dawn;
so Mount circled the little hill and took station in the north, Sir
George moved eastward, Murphy crept to the west, and I sat down under
the last tree in the lane, cocked rifle on my knees, pan sheltered under
my round cap of doeskin.

Sunrise was to be our signal to move forward. The hours dragged; the
stars grew no paler; no sign of life appeared in the ghostly house save
when the west wind brought to me a faint scent of smoke, invisible as
yet above the single chimney.

But after a long while I knew that dawn was on the way towards the
western hills, for a bird twittered restlessly in the tree above me, and
I began to feel, rather than hear, a multitude of feathered stirrings
all about me in the darkness.

Would dawn never come? The stars seemed brighter than ever - no, one on
the eastern horizon twinkled paler; the blue-black sky had faded;
another star paled; others lost their diamond lustre; a silvery pallor
spread throughout the east, while the increasing chorus of the birds
grew in my ears.

Then a cock-crow rang out, close by, and the bird o' dawn's clear
fanfare roused the feathered world to a rushing outpour of song.

All the east was yellow now; a rose-light quivered behind the forest
like the shimmer of a hidden fire; then a blinding shaft of light fell
across the world.

Springing to my feet, I shouldered my rifle and started across the
pasture, ankle deep in glittering dew; and as I advanced Sir George
appeared, breasting the hill from the east; Murphy's big bulk loomed in
the west; and, as we met before the door of the house, Jack Mount
sauntered around the corner, chewing a grass-stem, his long, brown rifle
cradled in his arm.

"Rap on the door, Mount," I said. Mount gave a round double rap, chewed
his grass-stem, considered, then rapped again, humming to himself in an

"Is the old fox in?
Is the old fox out?
Is the old fox gone to Glo-ry?
Oh, he's just come in,
But he's just gone out,
And I hope you like my sto-ry!
Tink-a-diddle-diddle-dum - "

"Rap louder," I said.

Mount obeyed, chewed reflectively, and scratched his ear.

"Is the Tory in?
Is the Tory out?
Is the Tory gone to Glo-ry?
Oh, he's just come in.
But he's just gone out - "

"Knock louder," I repeated.

Murphy said he could drive the door in with his gun-butt; I shook my

"Somebody's coming," observed Mount -

"Tink-a-diddle-diddle - "

The door opened and a lean, dark-faced man appeared, dressed in his
smalls and shirt. He favored us with a sour look, which deepened to a
scowl when he recognized Mount, who saluted him cheerfully.

"Hello, Beacraft, old cock! How's the mad world usin' you these palmy,
balmy days?"

"Pretty well," said Beacraft, sullenly.

"That's right, that's right," cried Mount. "My friends and I thought
we'd just drop around. Ain't you glad, Beacraft, old buck?"

"Not very," said Beacraft.

"Not very!" echoed Mount, in apparent dismay and sorrow. "Ain't you
enj'yin' good health, Beacraft?"

"I'm well, but I'm busy," said the man, slowly.

"So are we, so are we," cried Mount, with a brisk laugh. "Come in,
friends; you must know my old acquaintance Beacraft better; a King's
man, gentlemen, so we can all feel at home now!"

For a moment Beacraft looked as though he meant to shut the door in our
faces, but Mount's huge bulk was in the way, and we all followed his
lead, entering a large, unplastered room, part kitchen, part bedroom.

"A King's man," repeated Mount, cordially, rubbing his hands at the
smouldering fire and looking around in apparent satisfaction. "A King's
man; what the nasty rebels call a 'Tory,' gentlemen. My! Ain't this nice
to be all together so friendly and cosey with my old friend Beacraft?
Who's visitin' ye, Beacraft? Anybody sleepin' up-stairs, old friend?"

Beacraft looked around at us, and his eyes rested on Sir George.

"Who be you?" he asked.

"This is my friend, Mr. Covert," said Mount, fairly sweating cordiality
from every pore - "my dear old friend, Mr. Covert - "

"Oh," said Beacraft, "I thought he was Sir George Covert.... And yonder
stands your dear old friend Timothy Murphy, I suppose?"

"Exactly," smiled Mount, rubbing his palms in appreciation.

The man gave me an evil look.

"I don't know you," he said, "but I could guess your business." And to
Mount: "What do you want?"

"We want to know," said I, "whether Captain Walter Butler is lodging

"He was," said Beacraft, grimly; "he left yesterday."

"And I hope you like my sto-ry!"

hummed Mount, strolling about the room, peeping into closets and
cupboards, poking under the bed with his rifle, and finally coming to a
halt at the foot of the stairs with his head on one side, like a
jay-bird immersed in thought.

Murphy, who had quietly entered the cellar, returned empty-handed, and,
at a signal from me, stepped outside and seated himself on a
chopping-block in the yard, from whence he commanded a view of the house
and vicinity.

"Now, Mr. Beacraft," I said, "whoever lodges above must come down; and
it would be pleasanter for everybody if you carried the invitation."

"Do you propose to violate the privacy of my house?" he asked.

"I certainly do."

"Where is your warrant of authority?" he inquired, fixing his
penetrating eyes on mine.

"I have my authority from the General commanding this department. My
instructions are verbal - my warrant is military necessity. I fear that
this explanation must satisfy you."

"It does not," he said, doggedly.

"That is unfortunate," I observed. "I will give you one more chance to
answer my question. What person or persons are on the floor above?"

"Captain Butler was there; he departed yesterday with his mother and
sister," replied Beacraft, maliciously.

"Is that all?"

"Miss Brant is there," he muttered.

I glanced at Sir George, who had risen to pace the floor, throwing back
his military cloak. At sight of his uniform Beacraft's small eyes seemed
to dart fire.

"What were you doing when we knocked?" I inquired.

"Cooking," he replied, tersely.

"Then cook breakfast for us all - and Miss Brant," I said. "Mount, help
Mr. Beacraft with the corn-bread and boil those eggs. Sir George, I want
Murphy to stay outside, so if you would spread the cloth - "

"Of course," he said, nervously; and I started up the flimsy wooden
stairway, which shook as I mounted. Beacraft's malignant eyes followed
me for a moment, then he thrust his hands into his pockets and glowered
at Mount, who, whistling cheerfully, squatted before the fireplace,
blowing the embers with a pair of home-made bellows.

On the floor above, four doors faced the narrow passage-way. I knocked
at one. A gentle, sleepy voice answered:

"Very well."

Then, in turn, I entered each of the remaining rooms and searched. In
the first room there was nothing but a bed and a bit of mirror framed in
pine; in the second, another bed and a clothes-press which contained an
empty cider-jug and a tattered almanac; in the third room a mattress lay
on the floor, and beside it two ink-horns, several quills, and a sheet
of blue paper, such as comes wrapped around a sugar-loaf. The sheet of
paper was pinned to the floor with pine splinters, as though a
draughtsman had prepared it for drawing some plan, but there were no
lines on it, and I was about to leave it when a peculiar odor in the
close air of the room brought me back to re-examine it on both sides.

There was no mark on the blue surface. I picked up an ink-horn, sniffed
it, and spilled a drop of the fluid on my finger. The fluid left no
stain, but the odor I had noticed certainly came from it. I folded the
paper and placed it in my beaded pouch, then descended the stairs, to
find Mount stirring the corn-bread and Sir George laying a cloth over
the kitchen table, while Beacraft sat moodily by the window, watching
everybody askance. The fire needed mending and I used the bellows. And,
as I knelt there on the hearth, I saw a milky white stain slowly spread
over the finger which I had dipped into the ink-horn. I walked to the
door and stood in the cool morning air. Slowly the white stain

"Mount," I said, sharply, "you and Murphy and Beacraft will eat your
breakfast at once - and be quick about it." And I motioned Murphy into
the house and sat down on an old plough to wait.

Through the open door I could see the two big riflemen plying spoon and
knife, while Beacraft picked furtively at his johnny-cake, eyes

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Online LibraryRobert W. ChambersThe Maid-At-Arms → online text (page 14 of 23)