Robert W. Chambers.

The Maid-At-Arms online

. (page 23 of 23)
Online LibraryRobert W. ChambersThe Maid-At-Arms → online text (page 23 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


violence have you and Dorothy done yourselves and each other - and me,
Ormond! - and yet another very dear to me - with your mad obstinacy and
mistaken chivalry!"

I saw the grave, kind eyes searching mine, I heard his unsteady voice,
but I could not respond. An immense fatigue chained mind and tongue;
intelligence was there, but the tension had relaxed, and I stood dull,
nerveless, my hands limp in his.

"Ormond," he said, gently, "we ride south in a few moments; you will be
leaving for Stillwater in an hour. Gates's left wing is marching on
Balston, and news is in by an Oneida runner that Arnold has swept all
before him; Stanwix is safe; St. Leger routed. Do you understand? Every
man in Tryon County is marching on Burgoyne! You, too, will be on the
way towards headquarters within the hour!"

Trembling from weakness and excitement, I could only look at him in
silence.

"So all is well," he said, gravely, holding my hands tighter. "Do you
understand? All is well, Ormond.... We struck McCraw at Schell's last
night and tore him to atoms. We punished the Senecas dreadfully. We
have cleared the land of the Johnsons, the Butlers, the McDonalds, and
the Mohawks, and now we're concentrating on Burgoyne. Ormond, he is a
doomed man! He can never leave this land save as a prisoner!"

His grip tightened; a smile lighted his careworn face as though a ray of
pure sunshine had struck his eyes.

"Ormond," he said, "I have bred much mischief among us all, yet with the
kindest motives in the world. If honor and modesty forbids an
explanation, at least let me repair what I can. I have given your cousin
Dorothy her freedom; and now, before I go, I ask your friendship. Nay,
give me more - give me joy, Ormond! Man, man, must I speak more plainly
still? Must I name the bravest maid in county Tryon? Must I say that the
woman I love loves me - Magdalen Brant?"

He laughed like a boy in his excitement. "We wed in Albany on Thursday!
Think of it, man! I showed her no mercy, I warrant you, soon as I
was free!"

He colored vividly. "Nay, that's ungallant to our Maid-at-Arms," he
stammered. "I'm flustered - you will pardon that. She rides with us to
Albany - I mean Magdalen - we wed at my aunt's house - "

The trumpet of the Legion was sounding persistently; the clatter of
spurred boots filled the hallway; Ruyven burst in, sabre banging, and
flung himself into my arms.

"Good-bye! Good-bye!" he cried. "We are marching with the left wing to
Balston. I'll write you, cousin, when we take Burgoyne - I'll write you
all about it and exactly how I conducted!"

I felt the parting clasp of their hands, but scarcely saw them through
the tears of sheer weakness that filled my eyes. The capacity for deep
emotion was deadened in me; the strain had been too great; the reaction
had left me scarcely capable of realizing the instant portent of events.

The mellow trampling of horses came from below. I hobbled to the window
and looked down where the troopers were riding in fours, falling in
behind a train of artillery which passed jolting and bumping along
the stockade.

A young girl, superbly mounted, came galloping by, and behind her
spurred Sir George Covert and Ruyven. At full speed she turned her head
and looked up at my window, and I think I never saw such radiant
happiness in any woman's face as in Magdalen Brant's when she swept past
with a gesture of adieu and swung her horse out into the road. A
general's escort and staff checked their horses to make way for her. The
officers lifted their black cockaded hats; a slim, boyish officer, in a
white-and-gold uniform, rode forward to receive her, with a low salute
that only a Frenchman could imitate.

So, escorted by prancing, clattering cavalry, and surrounded by a
brilliant staff, Magdalen Brant rode away from Varicks'; and beside her,
alert, upright, transfigured, rode Sir George Covert, whose life she had
accepted only after she had paid her debt to Dorothy by offering her own
life to rescue mine.

Dim-eyed, I stared at the passing troops, the blurred colors of their
uniforms ever changing as the regiments succeeded each other, now brown
and red, now green and red, now gray and yellow, as Massachusetts
infantry, New York line, and Morgan's Rifles poured steadily by in
unbroken columns.

Wrapped in my chamber-robe, head supported on my hand, I sat by the
window, dully content, striving to think, to realize all that had
befallen me. The glitter of the passing rifles, the constantly changing
hues and colors, the movement, the noise, set my head swimming. Yet I
must prepare to leave within the hour, for the stable bells were ringing
for eight o'clock.

Cato scratched at the door and entered, bringing me hot water, and
hovering around me with napkin, salve, and basin, till my battered body
had been bathed, my face shaved, and my bruised head washed where the
Seneca castete had glanced, tearing the skin. Clothed in fresh linen and
a new uniform, sent by Schuyler, I bade him call Sir Lupus; who came
presently, his mouth full of toast, a mug of cooled ale in one hand,
clay pipe in the other.

He laid his pipe on the mantel, set his mug on a chair, and embraced me,
shaking his head in solemn silence; and we sat for a space, considering
one another, while Cato filled my bowl with chocolate and removed the
cover from my smoking porridge-dish.

"They beat all," said Sir Lupus, at length; "don't they, George?"

"Do you mean our troops, sir?" I asked.

"No, sir, I don't. I mean our women."

He struck his fat leg with his palm, drew a long breath, and regarded
me, arms akimbo.

"Mad, sir; all stark, raving mad! Look at those two chits of girls! The
Legion had gone tearing off after you to Schell's with an Oneida scout;
Sir George pops in with his tale of your horrid plight, then pelts off
to find his troopers and do what he could to save you. Gad, George! it
looked bad for you. I - I was half out o' my senses, thinking of you; and
what with the children a-squalling and the household rushing up stairs
and down, and the militia marching to the grist-mill bridge, I did
nothing. What the devil was I to do? Eh?"

"You did quite right, sir," I said, gravely.

He lay back, staring at me, shoving his fat hands into his breeches
pockets.

"If I'd known what that baggage o' mine was bent on, I'd ha' locked her
in the cellar!... George, you won't hold that against me, will you?
She's my own daughter. But the hussy was gone with Magdalen Brant before
I dreamed of it - gone on the maddest moonlight quest that mortal ever
dared conceive! - one in rags cut from a red blanket, t'other in that
rotten old armor that your aunt thought fit to ship from England when
her father stripped the house to cross an ocean and build in the forests
of a new world. George, she's all Ormond, that girl o' mine. A Varick
would never have thought to cut such a caper, I tell you. It isn't in
our line; it isn't in Dutch blood to imagine such things, or do
'em either!"

He seized pipe and mug, swearing under his breath.

"It was the bravest thing I ever knew," I said, huskily.

He dipped his nose into his mug, pulled at his long pipe, and eyed me
askance.

"What the devil's this between you and Dorothy?" he growled.

"Nothing, I trust now, sir," I answered, in a low voice.

"Oh! 'nothing, you trust now, sir!'" he mimicked, striving to turn a
sour face. "Dammy, d' ye know that I meant her for Sir George Covert?"
His broad face softened; he attempted to scowl, and failed utterly.
"Thank God, the land's clear of these bandits of St. Leger, anyhow!" he
snorted. "I'll work my mills and I'll scrape enough to pay my debts. I
suppose I'll have you on my hands when you've finished with Burgoyne."

"No," I said, smiling, "the blow that Arnold struck at Stanwix will be
felt from Maine to the Florida Keys. The blow to be delivered twenty
miles north of us will settle any questions of land confiscation. No,
Sir Lupus, I shall not be on your hands, but ... you may be on mine if
you turn Tory!"

"You impudent rogue!" he cried, struggling to his feet; then, still
clutching pipe and pewter, he embraced me, and choked and chuckled,
laying his fat head on my shoulder. "Be a son to me, George," he
whimpered, sentimentally; "if you won't, you're a damned
ungrateful pup!"

And he took himself off, sniffing, and sucking at his long clay, which
had gone out.

I turned to the window, drawing in deep breaths of sweet, pure morning
air. Troops were still passing in solid column, grim, dirty soldiers in
heavy cowhide knapsacks, leather gaiters, and blue great-coats buttoned
back at the skirts; and I heard the militia at the quarters calling
across the stable-yard that these grimy battalions were some of
Washington's veterans, hurried north from West Point by his Excellency
to stiffen the backbone of Lincoln's militia, who prowled, growling and
snarling, around Burgoyne's right flank.

They were a gaunt, hard-eyed, firm-jawed lot, marching with a peculiar
cadence and swing which set all their muskets and buckles glittering at
one moment, as though a thousand tiny mirrors had been turned to the
light, then turned away. And, pat! pat! patter! patter! pat! went their
single company drums, and their drummers seemed to beat mechanically,
without waste of energy, yet with a dry, rattling precision that I had
never heard save in the old days when the British troops at New Smyrna
or St. Augustine marched out.

"Good - mornin', sorr," came a hearty and somewhat loud voice from below;
and I saw Murphy, Elerson, and Mount, arm in arm, swaggering past with
that saunter that none but a born forest runner may hope to imitate.
They were not sober.

I spoke to them kindly, however, asking them if their wants were fully
supplied; and they acknowledged with enthusiasm that they could desire
nothing better than Sir Lupus's buttery ale.

"Wisha, then, sorr," said Murphy, jerking his thumb towards the sombre
column passing, "thim laads is the laads f'r to twisht th' Dootch
pigtails on thim Hissians at Half-moon. They do be pigtails on th'
Dootch a fut long in the eel-skin. Faith, I saw McCraw's scalp - 'twas
wan o' Harrod's men tuk it, not I, sorr! - an' 'twas red an' ratty, wid
nary a lock to lift it, more shame to McCraw!"

Mount stood, balancing now on his heels, now on his toes, inhaling and
expelling his breath like a man who has had more than a morning
draught of cider.

He laid his head on one side, like an enormous bird, and regarded me
with a simper, as though lost in admiration.

"Three cheers for the Colonel," he observed, thickly, and took off his
cap.

"'Ray!" echoed Elerson, regarding the unsteadiness of Mount's legs with
an expression of wonder and pity.

I bade Mount saddle my mare and prepare to accompany me to headquarters.
He saluted amiably; presently they started across the yard for their
quarters, distributing morsels of wisdom and advice among the
militiamen, who stared at them with awe and pointed at their beaded
shot - pouches, which were, alas! adorned with fringes of coarse hair,
dyed scarlet.

But Morgan must worry over that. I had other matters to stir me and set
my pulses beating heavily as I walked to the door, opened it, and looked
out into the hallway.

Children's voices came from the library below; I rested my hand on the
banisters, aiding my stiffened limbs in the descent, and limped down
the stairs.

Cecile spied me first. She was sitting on the porch with a very, very
young ensign of Half-moon militia, watching the passing troops; and she
sprang to her feet and threw her arms about my neck, kissing me again
and again, a proceeding viewed with concern by the very young ensign of
Half-moon militia.

"You darling!" she whispered. "Dorothy's in the library with father and
the children. Lean on me, you poor boy! How you have suffered! And to
think that you loved her all the time! Ah!" she whispered,
sentimentally, pressing my arm, "how rare is constancy! How adorable it
must be to be adored!"

There was a rush of children as we entered, and Cecile cried, "You
little beasts, have you no manners?" But they were clinging to me, limb
and body, and I stood there, caressing them, eyes fixed on my cousin
Dorothy, who had risen from her chair.

She was very pale and quiet, and the hand she left in mine seemed
lifeless as I bent to kiss it. But, upon the bridal finger, I saw the
ghost-ring, a thin, rosy band, and I thrilled from head to foot with
happiness unspeakable.

"Get him a chair, Harry!" said Sir Lupus. "Sit down, George; and what
shall it be, my boy, cold mulled or spiced to cheer you on your journey?
Or, as the Glencoe brawlers have it, 'Wha's f'r poonch?'"

I sank into my chair, saying I desired nothing; and my eyes never left
Dorothy, who sat with golden head bent, folding and refolding the
ruffled corner of her apron, raising her lovely eyes at moments to look
across at me.

The morning had turned raw and chilly; a log-fire crackled on the
hearth, where Benny had set a row of early harvest apples to sizzle and
steam and perfume the air, the while Dorothy heard Harry, Sammy, and
Benny read their morning lessons, so that they might hurry away to
watch the passing army of their pet hero, Gates.

"Come," cried the patroon, "read your lessons and get out, you young
dunces! Now, Sammy!"

Dorothy looked at me and took up her book.

"If Amos gives Joseph sixteen apples, and Joseph gives Amanda two times
one half of one half of the apples, how many will Amanda have?" demanded
Samuel, with labored breath. "And the true answer to that is six."

Dorothy nodded and stole a glance at me.

"That doesn't sound quite right to me," said Sir Lupus, wrinkling his
brows and counting on his fingers. "Is that the answer, Dorothy?"

"I don't know," she murmured, eyes fixed on me.

Sir Lupus glared at Dorothy, then at me. Then he stuffed his pipe full
of tobacco and sat in grim silence while Benny repeated:

"Theven timeth theven ith theventy-theven; theven timeth eight ith
thixty-thix." While Dorothy nodded absently and plaited the edges of her
lace apron, and looked at me under lowered lashes. And Benny lisped on:
"Theven timeth nine ith theventy-thix; theven - "

"Stop that nonsense!" burst out Sir Lupus. "Take 'em away, Cecile! Take
'em out o' my sight!"

The children, only too delighted to escape, rushed forth with whoops and
hoots, demanding to be shown their hero, General Gates. Sir Lupus looked
after them sardonically.

"We're a race o' glory - mongers these days," he said. "Gad, I never
thought to see offspring o' mine chasing the drums! Look at 'em now!
Ruyven hunting about Tryon County for a Hessian to knock him in the
head; Cecile sitting in rapture with every cornet or ensign who'll
notice her; the children yelling for Lafayette and Washington; Dorothy,
here, playing at Donna Quixota, and you starting for Stillwater to
teach that fool, Gates, how to catch Burgoyne. Set an ass to catch an
ass - eh, George? - "

He stopped, his small eyes twinkling with a softer light.

"I suppose you want me to go," he said.

We did not reply.

"Oh, I'm going," he added, fretfully; "I'm no company for a pair o'
heroes, a colonel, and - "

"Touching the colonelcy," I said, "I want to make it plain that I shall
refuse the promotion. I did nothing; the confederacy was split by
Magdalen Brant, not by me; I did nothing at Oriskany; I cannot
understand how General Schuyler should think me deserving of such
promotion. And I am ashamed to take it when such men as Arnold are
passed over, and such men as Schuyler are slighted - "

"Folderol! What the devil's this?" bawled Sir Lupus. "Do you think you
know more than your superior officers - hey? You're a colonel, George.
Let well enough alone, for if you make a donkey of yourself, they'll
make you a major-general!"

With a spasmodic effort he got on his feet, seized glass and pipe, and
waddled out of the room, slamming the door behind him.

In the ringing silence a charred log broke and fell in a shower of
sparks, tincturing the air with the perfume of sweet birch smoke.

[Illustration: "A STRANGE SHYNESS SEEMED TO HOLD US APART".]

I rose from my chair. Dorothy rose, too, trembling. A strange shyness
seemed to hold us apart. She stood there, the forced smile stamped on
her lips, watching me with the fascination of fear; and I steadied
myself on the arm of my chair, looking deep into her eyes, seeking to
recognize in her the child I had known.

The child had gone, and in her place stood this lovely, silent stranger,
with all the mystery of woman-hood in her eyes - that sweet light,
exquisitely prophetic, divinely sad.

"Dorothy," I said, under my breath. "All that is brave and adorable in
you, I love and worship. You have risen so far above me - and I am so
weak and - and broken, and unworthy - "

"I love you," she faltered, her lips scarcely moving. Then the color
surged over brow and throat; she laid her hands on her hot cheeks; I
took her in my arms, holding her imprisoned. At my touch the color faded
from her face, leaving it white as a flower.

"I fear you - maid spiritual, maid militant - Maid-at-Arms!" I stammered.

"And I fear you," she murmured, looking at me. "What lover does the
whole world hold like you? What hero can compare with you? And who am I
that I should take you away from the whole world? Sweetheart, I
am afraid."

"Then fear no more," I whispered, and bent my head. She raised her pale
face; her arms crept up around my neck and tightened, clinging closer as
her closing lips met mine.

There came a tapping at the door, a shuffle of felt-shod feet -

"Mars' Gawge, suh, yo' hoss done saddle', suh."

THE END









1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 23

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