D'RI AND I
A TALE of DARING DEEDS in the SECOND WAR with the BRITISH.
Being the Memoirs of Colonel Ramon Bell, U.S.A.
BY IRVING BACHELLER, author of "Eben Holden."
TO MY WIFE
This is a tale of the adventurous and rugged pioneers, who, unconquered by other foes, were ever at war with the ancient wilderness, pushing the northern frontier of the white man farther and farther to the west. Early in the last century they had striped the wild waste of timber with roadways from Lake Champlain to Lake Ontario, and spotted it with sown acres wide and fair; and still, as they swung their axes with the mighty vigor of great arms, the forest fell before them,
In a long valley south of the St. Lawrence, sequestered by river, lake, and wilderness, they were slow to lose the simplicity, the dialect, and the poverty of their fathers.
Some Frenchmen of wealth and title, having fled the Reign of Terror, bought a tract of wild country there (six hundred and thirty thousand acres) and began to fill it with fine homes. It was said the great Napoleon himself would some day build a chateau among them. A few men of leisure built manor-houses on the river front, and so the Northern Yankee came to see something of the splendor of the far world, with contempt, as we may well imagine, for its waste of time and money.
Those days the North country was a theatre of interest and renown. Its play was a tragedy; its setting the ancient wilderness; its people of all conditions from king to farm hand. Chateau and cabin, trail and forest road, soldier and civilian, lake and river, now moonlit, now sunlit, now under ice and white with snow, were of the shifting scenes in that play. Sometimes the stage was overrun with cavalry and noisy with the clang of steel and the roar of the carronade.
The most important episodes herein are of history,—so romantic was the life of that time and region. The marriage is almost literally a matter of record.
A good part of the author's life has been spent among the children of those old raiders—Yankee and Canadian—of the north and south shores of the big river. Many a tale of the camp and the night ride he has heard in the firelight of a winter's evening; long familiar to him are the ruins of a rustic life more splendid in its day than any north of Virginia. So his color is not all of books, but of inheritance and of memory as well.
The purpose of this tale is to extend acquaintance with the plain people who sweat and bled and limped and died for this Republic of ours. Darius, or "D'ri" as the woods folk called him, was a pure-bred Yankee, quaint, rugged, wise, truthful; Ramon had the hardy traits of a Puritan father, softened by the more romantic temperament of a French mother. They had no more love of fighting than they had need of it.
CHAPTER I. II. III. IV. V. VI. VII. VIII. IX. X. XI. XII. XIII. XIV. XV. XVI. XVII. XVIII. XIX. XX. XXI. XXII. XXIII. XXIV. XXV. XXVI. XXVII.
[Transcriber's Note: The chapters in the original text were numbered, but had no titles.]
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
D'RI AND I
I COULD NOT TELL WHICH OF THE TWO GIRLS I LOVED THE BETTER
HE WOULD HAVE FOUGHT TO THE DEATH IF I HAD BUT GIVEN HIM WORD
"COME, NOW, MY PRETTY PRISONER"
"WE 'LL TEK CARE O' THE OL' BRIG"
WE WERE BOTH NEAR BREAKING DOWN
"THEN I LEAVE ALL FOR YOU"
From a letter of Captain Darius Hawkins, U. S. A., introducing Ramon Bell to the Comte de Chaumont:—
"MY DEAR COUNT: I commend to your kind offices my young friend Ramon Bell, the son of Captain Bell, a cavalry officer who long ago warmed his sword in the blood of the British on many a battle-field. The young man is himself a born soldier, as brave as he is tall and handsome. He has been but a month in the army, yet I have not before seen a man who could handle horse and sword as if they were part of him. He is a gentleman, also, and one after your own heart, I know, my dear count, you will do everything you can to further the work intrusted to him.
"Your obedient servant, "DARIUS HAWKINS."
From a letter of Joseph Bonaparte, Comte de Survilliers, introducing his friend Colonel Ramon Bell to Napoleon III of France:—
"He has had a career romantic and interesting beyond that of any man I have met in America. In the late war with England he was the master of many situations most perilous and difficult. The scars of ten bullets and four sabre-thrusts are on his body. It gives me great pleasure, my dear Louis, to make you to know one of the most gallant and chivalrous of men. He has other claims upon your interest and hospitality, with which he will acquaint you in his own delightful way."
D'RI AND I
A poet may be a good companion, but, so far as I know, he is ever the worst of fathers. Even as grandfather he is too near, for one poet can lay a streak of poverty over three generations. Doubt not I know whereof I speak, dear reader, for my mother's father was a poet—a French poet, too, whose lines had crossed the Atlantic long before that summer of 1770 when he came to Montreal. He died there, leaving only debts and those who had great need of a better legacy—my mother and grandmother.
As to my father, he had none of that fatal folly in him. He was a mountaineer of Vermont—a man of steely sinews that took well to the grip of a sword. He cut his way to fame in the Northern army when the British came first to give us battle, and a bloody way it was. I have now a faded letter from Ethan Allen, grim old warrior, in which he calls my father "the best swordsman that ever straddled a horse." He was a "gallous chap" in his youth, so said my grandmother, with a great love of good clothes and gunpowder. He went to Montreal, as a boy, to be educated; took lessons in fencing, fought a duel, ran away from school, and came home with little learning and a wife. Punished by disinheritance, he took a farm, and left the plough to go into battle.
I wonder often that my mother could put up with the stress and hardship of his life, for she had had gentle breeding, of which I knew little until I was grown to manhood, when I came to know also what a woman will do for the love of her heart. I remember well those tales of knights and ladies she used to tell me as we sat together of an evening, and also those adventures of her own knight, my good father, in the war with the British. My love of arms and of a just quarrel began then.
After the war came hard times. My father had not prospered handsomely, when, near the end of the summer of 1803, he sold his farm, and we all started West, over rough trails and roadways. There were seven of us, bound for the valley of the St. Lawrence—my father and mother, my two sisters, my grandmother, D'ri, the hired man, and myself, then a sturdy boy of ten. We had an ox-team and -cart that carried our provision, the sacred feather beds of my mother, and some few other things.
We drove with us the first flock of sheep that ever went West. There were forty of them, and they filled our days with trouble. But for our faithful dog Rover, I fear we should have lost heart and left them to the wild wolves. The cart had a low cover of canvas, and my mother and grandmother sat on the feather beds, and rode with small comfort even where the roads were level. My father let me carry my little pet rooster in a basket that hung from the cart-axle when not in my keeping. The rooster had a harder time than any of us, I fancy, for the days were hot and the roads rough. He was always panting, with open mouth and thoughtful eye, when I lifted the cover. But every day he gave us an example of cheerfulness not wholly without effect. He crowed triumphantly, betimes, in the hot basket, even when he was being tumbled about on the swamp ways. Nights I always found a perch for him on the limb of a near tree, above the reach of predatory creatures. Every morning, as the dawn showed faintly in the tree-tops, he gave it a lusty cheer, napping his wings with all the seeming of delight. Then, often, while the echo rang, I would open my eyes and watch the light grow in .the dusky cavern of the woods. He would sit dozing awhile after the first outbreak, and presently as the flood of light grew clearer, lift himself a little, take another peep at the sky, and crow again, turning his head to hear those weird, mocking roosters of the timber-land. Then, shortly, I would hear my father poking the fire or saying, as he patted the rooster: "Sass 'em back, ye noisy little brat! Thet 's right: holler. Tell D'ri it's time t' bring some wood fer the fire."
In a few minutes the pot and kettle would be boiling and the camp all astir. We had trout and partridge and venison a-plenty for our meals, that were served in dishes of tin. Breakfast over, we packed our things. The cart went on ahead, my father bringing the oxen, while I started the sheep with D'ri.
Those sheep were as many thorns in our flesh that day we made off in the deep woods from Lake Champlain. Travel was new to them, and what with tearing through thickets and running wild in every slash, they kept us jumping. When they were leg-weary and used to travel, they began to go quietly. But slow work it was at best, ten or twelve miles a day being all we could do, for the weather was hot and our road like the way of the transgressor. Our second night in the woods we could hear the wolves howling as we camped at dusk. We built our fire near the shore of a big pond, its still water, framed in the vivid green of young tamaracks. A great hill rose on the farther side of it, with galleries of timber sloping to the summit, and peopled with many birds. We huddled the sheep together in a place where the trees were thick, while father brought from the cart a coil of small rope. We wound it about the trees, so the sheep were shut in a little yard. After supper we all sat by the fire, while D'ri told how he had been chased by wolves in the beaver country north of us.
D'ri was an odd character. He had his own way of expressing the three degrees of wonder, admiration, and surprise. "Jerushy!"—accented on the second syllable—was the positive, "Jerushy Jane!" the comparative, and "Jerushy Jane Pepper!" the superlative. Who that poor lady might be I often wondered, but never ventured to inquire. In times of stress I have heard him swear by "Judas Priest," but never more profanely. In his youth he had been a sailor on the lake, when some artist of the needle had tattooed a British jack on the back of his left hand—a thing he covered, of shame now, when he thought of it. His right hand had lost its forefinger in a sawmill. His rifle was distinguished by the name of Beeswax,—"Ol' Beeswax" he called it sometimes,—for no better reason than that it was "easy spoke an' hed a kind uv a powerful soun' tew it." He had a nose like a shoemaker's thumb: there was a deep incurve from its wide tip to his forehead. He had a large, gray, inquiring eye and the watchful habit of the woodsman. Somewhere in the midst of a story he would pause and peer thoughtfully into the distance, meanwhile feeling the pipe-stem with his lips, and then resume the narrative as suddenly as he had stopped. He was a lank and powerful man, six feet tall in his stockings. He wore a thin beard that had the appearance of parched grass on his ruddy countenance. In the matter of hair, nature had treated him with a generosity most unusual. His heavy shock was sheared off square above his neck.
That evening, as he lay on his elbow in the firelight, D'ri had just entered the eventful field of reminiscence. The women were washing the dishes; my father had gone to the spring for water. D'ri pulled up suddenly, lifted his hat of faded felt, and listened, peering into the dusk.
"Seems t' me them wolves is comin' nearer," he said thoughtfully.
Their cries were echoing in the far timber. We all rose and listened. In a moment my father came hurrying back with his pail of water.
"D'ri," said he, quietly, as he threw some wood on the fire, "they smell mutton. Mek the guns ready. We may git a few pelts. There's a big bounty on 'em here 'n York State."
We all stood about the fire listening as the wolves came nearer.
"It 's the sheep thet brings 'em," said my father.
"Quite a consid'able number on 'em, tew," said D'ri, as he stood cleaning the bore of his rifle.
My young sisters began to cry.
"Need n't be scairt," said father. "They won't come very near. 'Fraider of us 'n we are o' 'em, a good deal."
"Tow-w-w!" said D'ri, with a laugh. "They 'll be apt t' stub ther toes 'fore they git very nigh us."
This did not quite agree with the tales he had previously been telling. I went for my sword, and buckled its belt about me, the scabbard hanging to my heels. Presently some creature came bounding over the brush. I saw him break through the wall of darkness and stop quickly in the firelight. Then D'ri brought him down with his rifle.
"Started him up back there 'n the woods a few mild," said D'ri. "He was mekin' fer this 'ere pond—thet 's what he was dewin'."
"What for?" I inquired.
"'Cause fer the reason why he knowed he would n't mek no tracks 'n the water, ner no scent," said D'ri, with some show of contempt for my ignorance.
The deer lay floundering in the briers some fifty feet away. My father ran with his knife and put him quickly out of misery. Then we hauled the carcass to clear ground.
"Let it lie where 't is fer now," said he, as we came back to the fire. Then he got our two big traps out of the cart and set them beside the carcass and covered them with leaves. The howling of the wolves had ceased. I could hear only the creaking of a dead limb high above us, and the bellow of frogs in the near pond. We had fastened the trap chains and were coming back to the fire, when the dog rose, barking fiercely; then we heard the crack of D'ri's rifle.
"More 'n fifty wolves eroun' here," he whispered as we ran up to him. "Never see sech a snag on 'em."
The sheep were stirring nervously. Near the pen a wolf lay kicking where D'ri had dropped him.
"Rest on 'em snooked off when the gun hollered," he went on, whispering as before.
My mother and grandmother sat with my sisters in the cart, hushing their murmurs of fear. Early in the evening I had tied Rover to the cart-wheel, where he was growling hotly, impatient of the leash.
"See?" said D'ri, pointing with his finger. "See 'em?—there 'n the dark by thet air big hemlock."
We could make out a dim stir in the shadows where he pointed. Presently we heard the spring and rattle of a trap. As we turned that way, the other trap took hold hard; as it sprang, we could hear a wolf yelp.
"Meks 'em holler," said D'ri, "thet ol' he-trap does, when it teks holt. Stay here by the sheep, 'n' I 'll go over 'n' give 'em somethin' fer spraint ankles."
Other wolves were swarming over the dead deer, and the two in the traps were snarling and snapping at them. My father and D'ri fired at the bunch, killing one of the captives and another—the largest wolf I ever saw. The pack had slunk away as they heard the rifles. Our remaining captive struggled to get free, but in a moment D'ri had brained him with an axe. He and my father reset our traps and hauled the dead wolves into the firelight. There they began to skin them, for the bounty was ten dollars for each in the new towns—a sum that made our adventure profitable. I built fires on the farther side of the sheep, and, as they brightened, I could see, here and there, the gleaming eyes of a wolf in the darkness. I was up all night heaping wood upon the fires, while D'ri and my father skinned the wolves and dressed the deer. I remember, as they worked, D'ri calmed himself with the low-sung, familiar music of:—
Li too rul I oorul I oorul I ay.
They had just finished when the cock crew.
"Holler, ye gol-dum little cuss!" D'ri shouted as he went over to him. "Can't no snookin' wolf crack our bones fer us. Peeled 'em—thet 's what we done tew 'em! Tuk 'n' knocked 'em head over heels. Judas Priest! He can peck a man's finger some, can't he?"
The light was coming, and he went off to the spring for water, while I brought the spider and pots. The great, green-roofed temple of the woods, that had so lately rung with the howl of wolves, began to fill with far wandering echoes of sweet song.
"They was a big cat over there by the spring las' night," said D'ri, as we all sat down to breakfast. "Tracks bigger 'n a griddle! Smelt the mutton, mos' likely."
"Like mutton?" I inquired.
"Yis-sir-ee, they dew," said he. "Kind o' mince-pie fer 'em. Like deer-meat, tew. Snook eroun' the ponds efter dark. Ef they see a deer 'n the water they wallop 'im quicker 'n lightnin'; jump right in k'slap 'n' tek 'im."
We were off at sunrise, on a road that grew rougher every mile. At noon we came to a river so swollen as to make a dangerous ford. After dinner my father waded in, going hips under where the water was deep and swift. Then he cut a long pole and took my mother on his shoulders and entered the broad stream, steadying himself with the pole. When she had got down safe on the other side, he came back for grandmother and my sisters, and took them over in the same way. D'ri, meanwhile, bound up the feather beds and carried them on his head, leaving the dog and me to tend the sheep. All our blankets and clothing were carried across in the same manner. Then I mounted the cart, with my rooster, lashing the oxen till they took to the stream. They had tied the bell-wether to the axle, and, as I started, men and dog drove the sheep after me. The oxen wallowed in the deep water, and our sheep, after some hesitation, began to swim. The big cart floated like a raft part of the way, and we landed with no great difficulty. Farther on, the road became nothing better than a rude trail, where, frequently, we had to stop and chop through heavy logs and roll them away. On a steep hillside the oxen fell, breaking the tongue, and the cart tipped sidewise and rolled bottom up. My rooster was badly flung about, and began crowing and flapping as the basket settled. When I opened it, he flew out, running for his life, as if finally resolved to quit us. Fortunately, we were all walking, and nobody was hurt. My father and D'ri were busy half a day "righting up," as they called it, mending the tongue and cover, and getting the cart on its wheels and down the steep pitch.
After two days of trail travel we came out on the Chateaugay road, stopping awhile to bait our sheep and cattle on the tame grass and tender briers. It was a great joy to see the clear road, with here and there a settler's cabin, its yard aglow with the marigold, the hollyhock, and the fragrant honeysuckle. We got to the tavern at Chateaugay about dusk, and put up for the night, as becomes a Christian.
Next afternoon we came to rough roads again, camping at sundown along the shore of a noisy brook. The dog began to bark fiercely while supper was making, and scurried off into a thicket.
D'ri was stooping over, cooking the meat. He rose and listened.
"Thet air dog's a leetle scairt," said he. "Guess we better go 'n' see whut 's the matter."
He took his rifle and I my sword,—I never thought of another weapon,—making off through the brush. The dog came whining to D'ri and rushing on, eager for us to follow. We hurried after him, and in a moment D'ri and the dog, who were ahead of me, halted suddenly.
"It 's a painter," said D'ri, as I came up. "See 'im in thet air tree-top. I 'll larrup 'im with Ol' Beeswax, then jes' like es not he 'll mek some music. Better grab holt o' the dog. 'T won't dew fer 'im to git tew rambunctious, er the fust thing he knows he won't hev no insides in 'im."
I could see the big cat clinging high in the top boughs of a birch and looking calmly down at us. The tree-top swayed, quivering, as it held the great dun beast. My heart was like to smother me when D'ri raised his rifle and took aim. The dog broke away at the crack of it. The painter reeled and spat; then he came crashing through the branches, striking right and left with his fore paws to save himself. He hit the ground heavily, and the dog was on him. The painter lay as if dead. Before I could get near, Rover began shaking him by the neck. He came to suddenly, and struck the dog with a front claw, dragging him down. A loud yelp followed the blow. Quick as a flash D'ri had caught the painter by the tail and one hind leg. With a quick surge of his great, slouching shoulders, he flung him at arm's-length. The lithe body doubled on a tree trunk, quivered, and sank down, as the dog came free. In a jiffy I had run my sword through the cat's belly and made an end of him.
"Knew 'f he got them hind hooks on thet air dog he 'd rake his ribs right off," said D'ri, as he lifted his hat to scratch his head. "Would n't 'a' left nothin' but the backbone,—nut a thing,—an' thet would n't 'a' been a real fust-class one, nuther."
When D'ri was very positive, his words were well braced with negatives.
We took the painter by the hind legs and dragged him through the bushes to our camp. The dog had a great rip across his shoulder, where the claws had struck and made furrows; but he felt a mighty pride in our capture, and never had a better appetite for a meal.
There were six more days of travel in that journey—travel so fraught with hardships, I wonder that some days we had the heart to press on. More than all, I wonder that the frail body of my mother was equal to it. But I am writing no vain record of endurance. I have written enough to suggest what moving meant in the wilderness. There is but one more color in the scenes of that journey. The fourth day after we left Chateaugay my grandmother fell ill and died suddenly there in the deep woods. We were far from any village, and sorrow slowed our steps. We pushed on, coming soon to a sawmill and a small settlement. They told us there was neither minister nor undertaker within forty miles. My father and D'ri made the coffin of planed lumber, and lined it with deerskin, and dug the grave on top of a high hill. When all was ready, my father, who had always been much given to profanity, albeit I know he was a kindly and honest man with no irreverence in his heart, called D'ri aside.
"D'ri," said he, "ye 've alwus been more proper-spoken than I hev. Say a word o' prayer?"
"Don't much b'lieve I could," said he, thoughtfully. "I hev been t' meeting but I hain't never been no great hand fer prayin'."
"'T wouldn't sound right nohow, fer me t' pray," said my father, "I got s' kind o' rough when I was in the army."
"'Fraid it 'll come a leetle unhandy fer me," said D'ri, with a look of embarrassment, "but I don't never shirk a tough job ef it hes t' be done."
Then he stepped forward, took off his faded hat, his brow wrinkling deep, and said, in a drawling preacher tone that had no sound of D'ri in it: "O God, tek care o' gran'ma. Help us t' go on careful, an' when we 're riled, help us t' keep er mouths shet. O God, help the ol' cart, an' the ex in pertic'lar. An' don't be noway hard on us. Amen."
June was half over when we came to our new home in the town of Madrid—then a home only for the foxes and the fowls of the air and their wild kin of the forest. The road ran through a little valley thick with timber and rock-bound on the north. There were four families within a mile of us, all comfortably settled in small log houses. For temporary use we built a rude bark shanty that had a partition of blankets, living in this primitive manner until my father and D'ri had felled the timber and built a log house. We brought flour from Malone,—a dozen sacks or more,—and while they were building, I had to supply my mother with fish and game and berries for the table—a thing easy enough to do in that land of plenty. When the logs were cut and hewn I went away, horseback, to Canton for a jug of rum. I was all day and half the night going and coming, and fording the Grasse took me stirrups under.
Then the neighbors came to the raising—a jolly company that shouted "Hee, oh, hee!" as they lifted each heavy log to its place, and grew noisier quaffing the odorous red rum, that had a mighty good look to me, although my father would not hear of my tasting it. When it was all over, there was nothing to pay but our gratitude.
While they were building bunks, I went off to sawmill with the oxen for boards and shingles. Then, shortly, we had a roof over us, and floors to walk on, and that luxury D'ri called a "pyaz," although it was not more than a mere shelf with a roof over it. We chinked the logs with moss and clay at first, putting up greased paper in the window spaces. For months we knew not the luxury of the glass pane.
That summer we "changed work" with the neighbors, and after we had helped them awhile they turned to in the clearing of our farm. We felled the trees in long, bushy windrows, heaping them up with brush and small wood when the chopping was over. That done, we fired the rows, filling the deep of heaven with smoke, as it seemed to me, and lighting the night with great billows of flame.
By mid-autumn we had cleared to the stumps a strip half down the valley from our door. Then we turned to on the land of our neighbors, my time counting half, for I was sturdy and could swing the axe to a line, and felt a joy in seeing the chips fly. But my father kept an eye on me, and held me back as with a leash,
My mother was often sorely tried for the lack of things common as dirt these better days. Frequently our only baking-powder was white lye, made by dropping ash-cinders into wafer. Our cinders were made by letting the sap of green timber drip into hot ashes. Often deer's tallow, bear's grease, or raccoon's oil served for shortening, and the leaves of the wild raspberry for tea. Our neighbors went to mill at Canton—a journey of five days, going and coming, with an ox-team, and beset with many difficulties. Then one of them hollowed the top of a stump for his mortar and tied his pestle to the bough of a tree. With a rope he drew the bough down, which, as it sprang back, lifted the pestle that ground his grain.
But money was the rarest of all things in our neighborhood those days. Pearlash, black-salts, West India pipe-staves, and rafts of timber brought cash, but no other products of the early settler. Late that fall my mother gave a dance, a rude but hearty pleasuring that followed a long conference in which my father had a part. They all agreed to turn to, after snowfall, on the river-land, cut a raft of timber, and send it to Montreal in the spring. Our things had come, including D'ri's fiddle, so that we had chairs and bedsteads and other accessories of life not common among our neighbors. My mother had a few jewels and some fine old furniture that her father had given her,—really beautiful things, I have since come to know,—and she showed them to those simple folk with a mighty pride in her eyes.
Business over, D'ri took down his fiddle, that hung on the wall, and made the strings roar as he tuned them. Then he threw his long right leg over the other, and, as be drew the bow, his big foot began to pat the floor a good pace away. His chin lifted, his fingers flew, his bow quickened, the notes seemed to whirl and scurry, light-footed as a rout of fairies. Meanwhile the toe of his right boot counted the increasing tempo until it came up and down like a ratchet.
Darius Olin was mostly of a slow and sober manner. To cross his legs and feel a fiddle seemed to throw his heart open and put him in full gear. Then his thoughts were quick, his eyes merry, his heart was a fountain of joy. He would lean forward, swaying his head, and shouting "Yip!" as the bow hurried. D'ri was a hard-working man, but the feel of the fiddle warmed and limbered him from toe to finger. He was over-modest, making light of his skill if he ever spoke of it, and had no ear for a compliment. While our elders were dancing, I and others of my age were playing games in the kitchen—kissing-games with a rush and tumble in them, puss-in-the-corner, hunt-the-squirrel, and the like. Even then I thought I was in love with pretty Rose Merriman. She would never let me kiss her, even though I had caught her and had the right. This roundelay, sung while one was in the centre of a circling group, ready to grab at the last word, brings back to me the sweet faces, the bright eyes, the merry laughter of that night and others like it:
Oh, hap-py is th' mil-ler who lives by him-self! As th' wheel gos round, he gath-ers in 'is wealth, One hand on the hop-per and the oth-er on the bag; As the wheel goes round, he cries out, "Grab!" Oh, ain't you a lit-tle bit a-shamed o' this, Oh, ain't you a lit-tle bit a-sham'd o' this, Oh, ain't you a lit-tle bit a-sham'd o' this—To stay all night for one sweet kiss? Oh, etc.
[Transcriber's note: A Lilypond (www.lilypond.org) rendition of this song is at the end of this e-book.]
My mother gave me all the schooling I had that winter. A year later they built a schoolhouse, not quite a mile away, where I found more fun than learning. After two years I shouldered my axe and went to the river-land with the choppers every winter morning.
My father was stronger than any of them except D'ri, who could drive his axe to the bit every blow, day after day. He had the strength of a giant, and no man I knew tried ever to cope with him. By the middle of May we began rolling in for the raft. As soon as they were floating, the logs were withed together and moored in sections. The bay became presently a quaking, redolent plain of timber.
When we started the raft, early in June, that summer of 1810, and worked it into the broad river with sweeps and poles, I was aboard with D'ri and six other men, bound for the big city of which I had heard so much. I was to visit the relatives of my mother and spend a year in the College de St. Pierre. We had a little frame house on a big platform, back of the middle section of the raft, with bunks in it, where we ate and slept and told stories. Lying on the platform, there was a large flat stone that held our fires for both cooking and comfort. D'ri called me in the dusk of the early morning, the first night out, and said we were near the Sault. I got up, rubbed my eyes, and felt a mighty thrill as I heard the roar of the great rapids and the creaking withes, and felt the lift of the speeding water. D'ri said they had broken the raft into three parts, ours being hindmost. The roaring grew louder, until my shout was as a whisper in a hurricane. The logs began to heave and fall, and waves came rushing through them. Sheets of spray shot skyward, coming down like a shower. We were shaken as by an earthquake in the rough water. Then the roar fell back of us, and the raft grew steady.
"Gin us a tough twist," said D'ri, shouting down at me—"kind uv a twist o' the bit 'n' a kick 'n the side."
It was coming daylight as we sailed into still water, and then D'ri put his hands to his mouth and hailed loudly, getting an answer out of the gloom ahead.
"Gol-dum ef it hain't the power uv a thousan' painters!" D'ri continued, laughing as he spoke. "Never see nothin' jump 'n' kick 'n' spit like thet air, 'less it hed fur on—never 'n all my born days."
D'ri's sober face showed dimly now in the dawn. His hands were on his hips; his faded felt hat was tipped sideways. His boots and trousers were quarrelling over that disputed territory between his knees and ankles. His boots had checked the invasion.
"Smooth water now," said he, thoughtfully, "Seems terrible still. Hain't a breath uv air stirrin'. Jerushy Jane Pepper! Wha' does thet mean?"
He stepped aside quickly as some bits of bark and a small bough of hemlock fell at our feet. Then a shower of pine needles came slowly down, scattering over us and hitting the timber with a faint hiss. Before we could look up, a dry stick as long as a log fell rattling on the platform.
"Never see no sech dom's afore," said D'ri, looking upward. "Things don't seem t' me t' be actin' eggzac'ly nat'ral—nut jest es I 'd like t' see 'em."
As the light came clearer, we saw clouds heaped black and blue over the tree-tops in the southwest. We stood a moment looking. The clouds were heaping higher, pulsing with light, roaring with thunder. What seemed to be a flock of pigeons rose suddenly above the far forest, and then fell as if they had all been shot. A gust of wind coasted down the still ether, fluttering like a rag and shaking out a few drops of rain.
"Look there!" I shouted, pointing aloft.
"Hark!" said D'ri, sharply, raising his hand of three fingers.
We could hear a far sound like that of a great wagon rumbling on a stony road.
"The Almighty 's whippin' his hosses," said D'ri. "Looks es ef he wus plungin' 'em through the woods 'way yender. Look a' thet air sky."
The cloud-masses were looming rapidly. They had a glow like that of copper.
"Tryin' t' put a ruf on the world," my companion shouted. "Swingin' ther hammers hard on the rivets."
A little peak of green vapor showed above the sky-line. It loomed high as we looked. It grew into a lofty column, reeling far above the forest. Below it we could see a mighty heaving in the tree-tops. Something like an immense bird was hurtling and pirouetting in the air above them. The tower of green looked now like a great flaring bucket hooped with fire and overflowing with darkness. Our ears were full of a mighty voice out of the heavens. A wind came roaring down some tideway of the air like water in a flume. It seemed to tap the sky. Before I could gather my thoughts we were in a torrent of rushing air, and the raft had begun to heave and toss. I felt D'ri take my hand in his. I could just see his face, for the morning had turned dark suddenly. His lips were moving, but I could hear nothing he said. Then he lay flat, pulling me down. Above and around were all the noises that ever came to the ear of man—the beating of drums, the bellowing of cattle, the crash of falling trees, the shriek of women, the rattle of machinery, the roar of waters, the crack of rifles, the blowing of trumpets, the braying of asses, and sounds the like of which I have never heard and pray God I may not hear again, one and then another dominating the mighty chorus. Behind us, in the gloom, I could see, or thought I could see, the reeling mass of green ploughing the water, like a ship with chains of gold flashing over bulwarks of fire. In a moment something happened of which I have never had any definite notion. I felt the strong arm of D'ri clasping me tightly. I heard the thump and roll and rattle of the logs heaping above us; I felt the water washing over me; but I could see nothing. I knew the raft had doubled; it would fall and grind our bones: but I made no effort to save myself. And thinking how helpless I felt is the last I remember of the great windfall of June 3, 1810, the path of which may be seen now, fifty years after that memorable day, and I suppose it will be visible long after my bones have crumbled. I thought I had been sleeping when I came to; at least, I had dreamed. I was in some place where it was dark and still. I could hear nothing but the drip of water; I could feel the arm of D'ri about me, and I called to him, and then I felt him stir.
"Thet you, Ray?" said he, lifting his head.
"Yes," I answered. "Where are we?"
"Judas Priest! I ain' no idee. Jes' woke up. Been a-layin' here tryin' t' think. Ye hurt?"
"Guess not," said I.
"Ain't ye got no pains or aches nowhere 'n yer body?"
"Head aches a little," said I.
He rose to his elbow, and made a light with his flint and tinder, and looked at me.
"Got a goose-egg on yer for'ard," said he, and then I saw there was blood on his face.
"Ef it hed n't been fer the withes they 'd 'a' ground us t' powder."
We were lying alongside the little house, and the logs were leaning to it above us.
"Jerushy Jane Pepper!" D'ri exclaimed, rising to his knees. "'S whut I call a twister."
He began to whittle a piece of the splintered platform. Then he lit a shaving.
"They 's ground here," said he, as he began to kindle a fire, "ground a-plenty right under us."
The firelight gave us a good look at our cave under the logs. It was about ten feet long and probably half as high. The logs had crashed through the side of the house in one or two places, and its roof was a wreck.
"Hungry?" said D'ri, as he broke a piece of board on his knee.
"Yes," I answered.
"So 'm I," said he, "hungrier 'n a she-wolf. They 's some bread 'n' ven'son there 'n the house; we better try t' git 'em."
An opening under the logs let me around the house corner to its door. I was able to work my way through the latter, although it was choked with heavy timbers. Inside I could hear the wash of the river, and through its shattered window on the farther wall I could see between the heaped logs a glow of sunlit water. I handed our axe through a break in the wall, and then D'ri cut away some of the baseboards and joined me. We had our meal cooking in a few minutes—our dinner, really, for D'ri said it was near noon. Having eaten, we crawled out of the window, and then D'ri began to pry the logs apart.
"Ain't much 'fraid o' their tumblin' on us," said he. "They 're withed so they 'll stick together."
We got to another cave under the logs, at the water's edge, after an hour of crawling and prying. A side of the raft was in the water.
"Got t' dive," said D'ri, "an' swim fer daylight."
A long swim it was, but we came up in clear water, badly out of breath. We swam around the timber, scrambling over a dead cow, and up-shore. The ruined raft was torn and tumbled into a very mountain of logs at the edge of the water. The sun was shining clear, and the air was still. Limbs of trees, bits of torn cloth, a broken hay-rake, fragments of wool, a wagon-wheel, and two dead sheep were scattered along the shore. Where we had seen the whirlwind coming, the sky was clear, and beneath it was a great gap in the woods, with ragged walls of evergreen. Here and there in the gap a stub was standing, trunk and limbs naked.
"Jerushy Jane Pepper!" D'ri exclaimed, with a pause after each word. "It's cut a swath wider 'n this river. Don't b'lieve a mouse could 'a' lived where the timber 's down over there."
Our sweepers and the other sections of the raft were nowhere in sight.
We left the logs, and walked to Cornwall, and took a sloop down the river. It was an American boat, bound for Quebec with pipe-staves. It had put in at Cornwall when the storm began. The captain said that the other sections of our raft had passed safely. In the dusk of the early evening a British schooner brought us to.
"Wonder what that means?" said the skipper, straining his eyes in the dusk,
A small boat, with three officers, came along-side. They climbed aboard, one of them carrying a lantern. They were armed with swords and pistols. We sat in silence around the cockpit. They scanned each of us carefully in the light of the lantern. It struck me as odd they should look so closely at our hands.
"Wha' d' ye want?" the skipper demanded. "This man," said one of them, pointing to D'ri. "He's a British sailor. We arrest him—"
He got no farther. D'ri's hand had gone out like the paw of a painter and sent him across the cockpit. Before I knew what was up, I saw the lank body of D'ri leaping backward into the river. I heard a splash and a stroke of his long arms, and then all was still. I knew he was swimming under water to get away. The officers made for their boat. My blood was up, and I sprang at the last of them, giving him a hard shove as he was climbing over, so that he fell on the boat, upsetting it. They had business enough then for a little, and began hailing for help. I knew I had done a foolish thing, and ran forward, climbing out upon the bowsprit, and off with my coat and vest, and dived into the dark water. I swam under as long as I could hold my breath, and then came up quietly, turning on my back in the quick current, and floating so my face only was above water. It had grown dark, and I could see nothing but the glimmer of the stars above me. My boots were heavy and dragged hard. I was going fast with the swift water, for at first I had heard a great hubbub on the schooner; but now its voices had grown faint. Other sounds were filling my ear.
After dark it is weird business to be swimming in strange water—the throne of mystery, of a thousand terrors. It is as if one's grave, full of the blackness of the undiscovered country, were pursuing him and ever yawning beneath his body. And that big river is the very tiger of waters, now stealing on pussy-footed, now rushing with cat-like swiftness, hissing and striking with currents that have in them mighty sinews. I was now companion of those cold-mouthed monsters of the river bottom, many of which I had seen. What if one should lay hold on me and drag me under? Then I thought of rapids that might smother me with their spray or dash me to hidden rocks. Often I lifted my ears, marvelling at the many voices of the river. Sometimes I thought I heard a roaring like that of the Sault, but it was only a ripple growing into fleecy waves that rocked me as in a cradle. The many sounds were above, below, and beside me, some weird and hollow and unearthly. I could hear rocks rolling over in their sleep on the bottom, and, when the water was still, a sound like the cropping of lily-pads away off on the river-margin. The bellowing of a cow terrified me as it boomed over the sounding sheet of water. The river rang like a mighty drum when a peal of far thunder beat upon it. I put out my hands to take a stroke or two as I lay on my back, and felt something floating under water. The feel of it filled me with horror. I swam faster; it was at my heels. I knew full well what my hand had touched—a human head floating face downward: I could feel the hair in my fingers. I turned and swam hard, but still it followed me. My knees hit upon it, and then my feet. Again and again I could feel it as I kicked. Its hand seemed to be clutching my trousers. I thought I should never get clear of the ghastly thing. I remember wondering if it were the body of poor D'ri. I turned aside, swimming another way, and then I felt it no more.
In the dead of the night I heard suddenly a kind of throbbing in the breast of the river. It grew to a noisy heart-beat as I listened. Again and again I heard it, striking, plashing, like a footfall, and coming nearer. Somehow I got the notion of a giant, like those of whom my mother had told me long ago, striding in the deep river. I could hear his boots dripping as he lifted them. I got an odd fear that he would step on me. Then I heard music and lifted my ears above water. It was a voice singing in the distance,—it must have been a mile off,—and what I had taken for a near footfall shrank away. I knew now it was the beat of oars in some far bay.
A long time after I had ceased to hear it, something touched my shoulder and put me in a panic. Turning over, I got a big mouthful of water. Then I saw it was a gang of logs passing me, and quickly caught one. Now, to me the top side of a log was as easy and familiar as a rocking-chair. In a moment I was sitting comfortably on my captive. A bit of rubbish, like that the wind had sown, trailed after the gang of logs, I felt it over, finding a straw hat and a piece of board some three feet long, with which latter I paddled vigorously.
It must have been long past midnight when I came to an island looming in the dark ahead. I sculled for it, stranding on a rocky beach, and alighted, hauling the log ashore. The moon came out as I stood wringing my trouser legs. I saw the island rose high and narrow and was thickly wooded. I remember saying something to myself, when I heard a quick stir in the bushes near me. Looking up, I saw a tall figure. Then came a familiar voice:—
"Thet you, Ray? Judas Priest!"
I was filled with joy at the sight of D'ri, and put my arms about him and lifted him off his feet, and, faith! I know my eyes were wet as my trousers. Then, as we sat down, I told him how I had taken to the river.
"Lucky ye done it!" said he. "Jerushy Jane! It is terrible lucky! They 'd 'a' tuk ye sartin. Somebody see thet jack on the back o' my hand, there 'n Cornwall, 'n' put 'em efter me. But I was bound 'n' detarmined they 'd never tek me alive, never! Ef I ever dew any fightin', 't ain't a-goin' t' be fer England, nut by a side o' sole-leather. I med up my mind I 'd begin the war right then an' there."
"That fellow never knew what hit him," I remarked. "He did n't get up for half a minute."
"Must 'a' swatted 'im powerful," said D'ri, as he felt his knuckles. "Gol-dum ther picturs! Go 'n' try t' yank a man right off a boat like thet air when they hain' no right t' tech 'im. Ef I 'd 'a' hed Ol' Beeswax, some on 'em 'd 'a' got hurt."
"How did you get here?" I inquired.
"Swum," said he. "Could n't go nowheres else. Current fetched me here. Splits et the head o' the island—boun' ter land ye right here. Got t' be movin'. They 'll be efter us, mebbe—'s the fust place they 'd look."
A few logs were stranded on the stony point of the island. We withed three others to mine, setting sail with two bits of driftwood for paddles. We pulled for the south shore, but the current carried us rapidly down-river. In a bay some two miles below we found, to our joy, the two sections of the big raft undergoing repairs. At daybreak D'ri put off in the woods for home.
"Don't like the idee o' goin' int' the British navy," said he. "'D ruther chop wood 'n' ketch bears over 'n St. Lawrence County. Good-by, Ray! Tek care o' yerself."
Those were the last words he said to me, and soon I was on the raft again, floating toward the great city of my dreams. I had a mighty fear the schooner would overhaul us, but saw nothing more of her. I got new clothes in Montreal, presenting myself in good repair. They gave me hearty welcome, those good friends of my mother, and I spent a full year in the college, although, to be frank, I was near being sent home more than once for fighting and other deviltry.
It was midsummer when I came back again. I travelled up the river road, past our island refuge of that dark night; past the sweeping, low-voiced currents that bore me up; past the scene of our wreck in the whirlwind; past the great gap in the woods, to stand open God knows how long. I was glad to turn my face to the south shore, for in Canada there was now a cold welcome for most Yankees, and my fists were sore with resenting the bitter taunt. I crossed in a boat from Iroquois, and D'ri had been waiting for me half a day at the landing. I was never so glad to see a man—never but once. Walking home I saw corn growing where the forest had been—acres of it.
"D'ri," said I, in amazement, "how did you ever do it? There 's ten years' work here."
"God helped us," said he, soberly. "The trees went over 'n the windfall,—slammed 'em down luk tenpins fer a mild er more,—an' we jes' burnt up the rubbish."
April was near its end. The hills were turning green, albeit we could see, here and there on the high ledge above us, little patches of snow—the fading footprints of winter. Day and night we could hear the wings of the wild fowl roaring in the upper air as they flew northward. Summer was coming,—the summer of 1812,—and the war with the British. The President had called for a hundred thousand volunteers to go into training for battle. He had also proclaimed there would be no more whipping in the ranks. Then my father told me that, since I could have no peace at home, I should be off to the war and done with it.
We were working near the road that day Thurst Miles came galloping out of the woods, waving his cap at us. We ran to meet him—my father and I and the children. He pulled up a moment, his horse lathered to the ears.
"Injuns!" he shouted. "Git out o' here quick 'n' mek fer the Corners! Ye 'll be all massacreed ef ye don't."
Then he whacked the wet flank of his horse with a worn beech bough, and off he went.
We ran to the house in a great panic. I shall never forget the crying of the children. Indians had long been the favorite bugbear of the border country. Many a winter's evening we had sat in the firelight, fear-faced, as my father told of the slaughter in Cherry Valley; and, with the certainty of war, we all looked for the red hordes of Canada to come, in paint and feathers.
"Ray," my father called to me, as he ran, "ketch the cow quick an' bring 'er 'long."
I caught her by the horn and brought her to the door quickly. Mother was throwing some clothes into a big bundle. Father met me with a feather bed in his arms. He threw it over the back of the cow and bound it on with a bed-cord. That done, he gave me the leading-rope to tie about her horns. The hoofs of the flying horse were hardly out of hearing when we were all in the road. My mother carried the baby, and my father his sword and rifle and one of the little ones. I took the three older children and set them on the feather bed that was bound to the back of the cow. They clung to the bed-cord, their hair flying, as the old cow ran to keep up with us, for at first we were all running. In a moment we could hear the voices of people coming behind. One of the women was weeping loudly as she ran. At the first cross-road we saw Arv Law and his family coming, in as great a hurry as we, Arv had a great pike-pole in his hand. Its upper end rose twenty feet above his head.
"What ye goin' t' dew with thet?" my father asked him.
"Goin' t' run it through the fust Injun I see," said he. "I 've broke the lock o' my gun."
There was a crowd at Jerusalem Four Corners when we got there. Every moment some family was arriving in a panic—the men, like my father, with guns and babies and baskets. The women, with the young, took refuge at once in the tavern, while the men surrounded it. Inside the line were youths, some oddly armed with slings or clubs or cross-guns. I had only the sword my father gave me and a mighty longing to use it. Arv Law rested an end of his pike-pole and stood looking anxiously for "red devils" among the stumps of the farther clearing. An old flint-lock, on the shoulder of a man beside him, had a barrel half as long as the pole. David Church was equipped with axe and gun, that stood at rest on either side of him.
Evening came, and no sign of Indians. While it was growing dusk I borrowed a pail of the innkeeper and milked the cow, and brought the pail, heaped with froth, to my mother, who passed brimming cups of milk among the children. As night fell, we boys, more daring than our fathers, crept to the edge of the timber and set the big brush-heaps afire, and scurried back with the fear of redmen at our heels. The men were now sitting in easy attitudes and had begun to talk.
"Don't b'lieve there's no Injuns comin'," said Bill Foster. "Ef they wus they 'd come."
"'Cordin' t' my observation," said Arv Law, looking up at the sky, "Injuns mos' gen'ally comes when they git ready."
"An' 't ain't when yer ready t' hev 'em, nuther," said Lon Butterfield.
"B'lieve they come up 'n' peeked out o' the bushes 'n' see Arv with thet air pike-pole, 'n' med up their minds they hed n't better run up ag'in' it," said Bill Foster. "Scairt 'em—thet's whut's th' matter."
"Man 'et meks light o' this pole oughter hev t' carry it," said Arv, as he sat impassively resting it upon his knee.
"One things sure," said Foster; "ef Arv sh'u'd cuff an Injun with thet air he 'll squ'sh 'im."
"Squ'sh 'im!" said Arv, with a look of disgust. "'T ain't med t' squ'sh with, I cal'late t' p'int it at 'em 'n' jab."
And so, as the evening wore away and sleep hushed the timid, a better feeling came over us. I sat by Rose Merriman on the steps, and we had no thought of Indians. I was looking into her big hazel eyes, shining in the firelight, and thinking how beautiful she was. And she, too, was looking into my eyes, while we whispered together, and the sly minx read my thoughts, I know, by the look of her.
Great flames were now leaping high as the timber-tops at the edge of the clearing. A dead spruce caught fire as we were looking. The flames threw over it a lacy, shimmering, crackling net of gold. Then suddenly it burst into a red, leaping tower. A few moments, and the cavern of the woods, along the timber side, was choked with fire. The little hamlet had become a spring of light in the darkness. We could see the stumps and houses far afield, as if it had been noonday. Suddenly we all jumped to our feet. A wild yell came echoing through the woods.
"There they be!" said Asher Eastman, as he cocked his gun. "I tol' ye so."
As a matter of fact, he had told us nothing of the kind. He was the one man who had said nothing.
Arv Law stood erect, his pike-pole poised in both hands, and we were all ready for action. We could hear the rattle of many hoofs on the road. As soon as the column showed in the firelight, Bill Foster up with his musket and pulled the trigger. I could hear the shot scatter on stump and stone. Every man had his gun to his eye.
"Wait till they come nearer," said Asher Eastman.
The Indians had halted. Far behind them we could hear the wild hallooing of many voices. In a moment we could see those on horseback go galloping off in the direction whence they had come. Back in the house a number of the women were praying. My mother came out, her face whiter than I had ever seen it before, and walked to my father, and kissed him without ever saying a word. Then she went back into the house.
"Scairt?" I inquired, turning to Rose, who now stood beside me.
"I should think I was," she whispered. "I 'm all of a tremble."
"If anything happens, I 'd like something to remember you by."
"What?" she whispered.
I looked at her beautiful red lips. She had never let me kiss them.
"A kiss, if nothing more," I answered.
She gave me a kiss then that told me something of what was in her heart, and went away into the house.
"Goin' t' surround us," said Arv Law—"thet 's whut 's th' matter."
"Mus' be ready t' rassle 'em any minute," said Asher Eastman, as he sidled over to a little group.
A young man came out of the house and took his place in line with a big squirt-gun and a pail of steaming-hot water.
The night wore on; our fires burned low. As the approaching day began to light the clearing, we heard a sound that brought us all to our feet. A burst of bugle notes went chasing over the timber-land to the tune of "Yankee Doodle." We looked at one another in surprise. Then there came a thunder of hoofs in the distance, the ragged outline of a troop of cavalry.
"Soldiers!" said Arv, as he raised his pike.
"The British?" somebody asked.
"Dunno," said he. "Ain' no Injuns, I don't b'lieve."
A troop of cavalry was approaching at a gallop. They pulled up a few rods away and jammed into a big crescent of rearing, trampling horses. We could see they were American soldiers. We all lowered our guns.
"Who are you?" one of them shouted.
"Citizens," my father answered.
"Why are you armed?"
"To fight Injuns."
A chorus of laughter came from the cavalry.
They loosed rein, letting their horses advance.
"My dear man," said one of them, a big shako on his head, "there ain't an Indian 'tween here an' St. Regis. We thought you were British, an' it's lucky we did n't charge in the dark; we 'd have cut you all to pieces before we knew who you were,"
A body of infantry was marching down the pike. They were the volunteers of Captain Darius Hawkins, on their way to Ogdensburg, with an escort of cavalry from Sackett's Harbor. The scare was over. Women came out, laughing and chattering. In a few moments they were all in the road, going home—men, women, and children.
I enlisted with Captain Hawkins, and hurried to the house, and packed my things, and bade them all good-by.
I followed the camp and took my place in the ranks at Ogdensburg. We went immediately into barracks—a structure long and low and weather-stained, overlooking the St. Lawrence. There was a fine level field in front of it, and a flag waving at the top of a high staff. The men cheered lustily that afternoon as they passed it, where stood General Jacob Brown, his cocked hat in his hand—a splendid figure of a man, My delight in the life of a soldier began that hour, and has never left me.
There was a lot of horse-play that night, in which some of the green boys were roughly handled. They told me, I remember, that all new recruits had to fight a duel; but when they gave me the choice of weapons I was well content. I had the sure eye of my father, and the last time I had fenced with him, there at home, he said my arm was stronger and quicker than his had ever been. Indeed, I was no sooner tall enough to swing a sword than he began teaching me how to use it. In the wood back of the barracks that night, they learned I was not a man to be fooled with. The tall sergeant who stood before me saw his sword go flying in the gloom the second thrust he made at me, and ran for his life, amid roars of laughter. I had no lack of friends after that day.
It was a year of surprises in the Northern army, and D'ri was the greatest of all. That long, wiry, sober-faced Yankee conquered the smartness of the new camp in one decisive and immortal victory. At first they were disposed to poke fun at him.
"Looks a little tired," said the sergeant of the guard.
"Needs rest—that's what's matter o' him," said the captain.
"Orter be turned out t' grass a leetle while," the adjutant suggested.
The compliments he failed to hear soon came to him indirectly, and he had much to put up with. He kept his temper and smoked thoughtfully, and took it ail in good part. The night after he came they put him on guard duty—a greenhorn, with no knowledge of any orders but gee and haw. They told him he should allow nobody to pass him while on duty, but omitted to mention the countersign. They instructed him in the serious nature of his task, adding that his failure to comply with orders would incur the penalty of death. D'ri looked very sober as he listened. No man ever felt a keener sense of responsibility. They intended, I think, to cross the lines and take his gun away and have fun with him, but the countersign would have interfered with their plans.
D'ri went to his post a little after sundown. The guard was posted. The sergeant, with his party of six, started back to the guard-house, but they never got there. They went as far as D'ri. He stood with his gun raised.
"Come another step," said he, "an' I'll let the moonlight through ye."
They knew he meant it, and they stood still.
"Come for'ard—one et a time," said D'ri, "Drop yer guns 'n' set down. Ye look tired."
They did as he commanded, for they could see he meant business, and they knew he had the right to kill.
Another man came along shortly.
"Halt! Who comes there?" D'ri demanded,
"Friend with the countersign," he replied.
"Can't fool me," said D'ri. "Come up here 'n' set down 'n' mek yerself t' hum. Drop yer gun fust. Drop it, er I 'll drop you."
He dropped his gun promptly and accepted the invitation to sit down. This last man had some arguments to offer, but D'ri stood sternly and made no reply.
At eleven o'clock Captain Hawkins sent out inquiries for the sergeant of the guard and his relief. He could find nobody who had seen them since dark. A corporal was also missing. The captain sent a man to look for them. He got as far as D'ri and sat down. They waited for him in vain. The captain stood looking into the darkness and wondering about his men. He conferred with Adjutant Church. Then he set out with two men to go the rounds. They got as far as D'ri.
"Halt! Who comes there?" he demanded.
"Grand rounds," was the answer of the captain.
"Lay down yer arms," said D'ri, "an" come up here 'n' set down."
"Haven't time," said the captain, failing at first to grasp the situation.
"You tek time, er I 'll put a hole 'n yer jacket," said D'ri.
One of the privates turned quickly and ran. D'ri sent a shot after him, that only grazed a leg, and he kept on. Then D'ri gave all attention to his new prisoners. They could see no amusement in dodging bullets; they threw their arms on the side-hill and sat down with the others.
The captain swore as he submitted,
"Don't rile yerself," said D'ri; "you need rest."
"No, I don't, nuther," said the captain.
"Ye'll hev t' hev it, anyway," said D'ri.
"This beats h—!" the captain answered, with a laugh.
A feeling of alarm began to spread. The adjutant was standing in a group of men at headquarters soon after midnight. They were ears under in the mystery. The escaped soldier came running toward them out of the dark. He was breathing heavily; his leg was bleeding and sore.
"Wall, what is it?" the adjutant demanded.
"D'ri!" the man gasped, and dropped down exhausted.
"D'ri?" the officer inquired.
"D'ri!" the man repeated. "It's thet air man they call D'ri. He's roped in everybody thet come his way. They 're all settin' on the hill up there beside him. Won't let a man move when he gits him."
The adjutant snickered as he spat an oath. He was made of iron, that man Church.
"Post a guard around him," said he, turning to an officer. "The dem fool 'd tek the hull garrison ef we did n't. I 'll go 'n' try t' pull him off his perch."
"He 'll lay ye up," said the returned private, baring his bloody leg. "Eff ye try t' fool with him ye'll limp. See what he done t' me."
The adjutant swore again.
"Go t' the hospital," he commanded.
Then he strode away, but he did not return that night.
The moon was shining as the adjutant came, in sight and hailed the group of prisoners.
"What ye settin' there fer?" he shouted.
"You 'll know 'n a minute," said one of them.
"Halt! Who comes there?" D'ri demanded.
"Don't ye purten' t' be my friend," D'ri answered. "'T won't work. Come up here 'n' set down."
"Stop foolin', man," said the adjutant.
"I ain't a-foolin'."
"He ain't a-foolin'; he means business," said one of the prisoners.
"Don't ye tamper with me. I 'll teach you—" the adjutant threatened.
"Ain't a-goin' t' tamper with ye a minute," said D'ri. "If ye don't set down here quick, I 'll put a hole in ye."
"Lunatic! wha' d' ye mean?"
"I mean t' turn ye out t' grass a leetle while," D'ri answered soberly. "Ye look tired."
The officer made at him, but in a flash D'ri had knocked him down with his musket. The adjutant rose and, with an oath, joined the others.
"Dunno but he 'll tek the hull garrison 'fore sunrise," he muttered. "Let 'em come—might es well hev comp'ny."
A little before daylight a man sick in the hospital explained the situation. He had given D'ri his orders. They brought him out on a stretcher. The orders were rescinded, the prisoners released.
Captain Hawkins, hot to his toes with anger, took D'ri to headquarters. General Brown laughed heartily when he heard the facts, and told D'ri he was made of the right stuff.
"These greenhorns are not nice to play with," he said. "They're like some guns—loaded when you don't expect it. We 've had enough skylarking."
And when the sick man came out of hospital he went to the guard-house.
After we had shown our mettle the general always had a good word for D'ri and me, and he put us to the front in every difficult enterprise.
We had been four months in Ogdensburg, waiting vainly for some provocation to fight. Our own drilling was the only sign of war we could see on either side of the river. At first many moved out of the village, but the mill was kept running, and after a little they began to come back. The farms on each side of the river looked as peaceful as they had ever looked. The command had grown rapidly. Thurst Miles of my own neighborhood had come to enlist shortly after D'ri and I enlisted, and was now in my company.
In September, General Brown was ordered to the Western frontier, and Captain Forsyth came to command us. Early in the morning of October 2, a man came galloping up the shore with a warning, saying that the river was black with boats a little way down. Some of us climbed to the barracks roof, from which we could see and count them. There were forty, with two gunboats. Cannonading began before the town was fairly awake. First a big ball went over the house-tops, hitting a cupola on a church roof and sending bell and timbers with a crash into somebody's dooryard. Then all over the village hens began to cackle and children to wail. People came running out of doors half dressed. A woman, gathering chips in her dooryard, dropped them, lifted her dress above her head, and ran for the house. Unable to see her way, she went around in a wide circle for a minute or two, while the soldiers were laughing. Another ball hit a big water-tank on top of the lead-works. It hurled broken staves and a big slop of water upon the housetops, and rolled a great iron hoop over roofs into the street below, where it rolled on, chasing a group of men, who ran for their lives before it. The attack was an odd sort of comedy all through, for nobody was hurt, and all were frightened save those of us who were amused. Our cannon gave quick reply, and soon the British stopped firing and drew near. We knew that they would try to force a landing, and were ready for them. We drove them back, when they put off, and that was the end of it.
Next came the fight on the ice in February—a thing not highly creditable to us, albeit we were then but a handful and they were many. But D'ri and I had no cause for shame of our part in it. We wallowed to our waists in the snow, and it was red enough in front of us. But the others gave way there on the edge of the river, and we had to follow. We knew when it was time to run; we were never in the rear rank even then. We made off with the others, although a sabre's point had raked me in the temple, and the blood had frozen on me, and I was a sight to scare a trooper. Everybody ran that day, and the British took the village, holding it only twenty-four hours. For our part in it D'ri got the rank of corporal and I was raised from lieutenant to captain. We made our way to Sackett's Harbor, where I went into hospital for a month.
Then came a galling time of idleness. In June we went with General Brown—D'ri and I and Thurst Miles and Seth Alexander and half a dozen others—down the river to the scene of our first fighting at Ogdensburg, camping well back in the woods. It was the evening of the 27th of June that the general sent for me. He was at the mansion of Mr. Parish, where he had been dining. He was sitting in his dress-suit. His dark side-whiskers and hair were brushed carefully forward. His handsome face turned toward me with a kindly look.
"Bell," said he, "I wish to send you on very important business. You have all the qualities of a good scout. You know the woods. You have courage and skill and tact. I wish you to start immediately, go along the river to Morristown, then cut over into the Black River country and deliver this letter to the Comte de Chaumont, at the Chateau Le Ray, in Leraysville. If you see any signs of the enemy, send a report to me at once. I shall be here three days. Take Alexander, Olin, and Miles with you; they are all good men. When your letter is delivered, report at the Harbor as soon as possible."
I was on the road with my party in half an hour. We were all good horsemen. D'ri knew the shortest way out of the woods in any part of the north country. Thurst had travelled the forest from Albany to Sackett's Harbor, and was the best hunter that ever trod a trail in my time. The night was dark, but we rode at a gallop until we had left the town far behind us. We were at Morristown before midnight, pounding on the door of the Red Tavern. The landlord stuck his head out of an upper window, peering down at us by the light of a candle.
"Everything quiet?" I asked.
"Everything quiet," said he. "Crossed the river yesterday. Folks go back 'n' forth 'bout the same as ever. Wife's in Elizabethtown now, visiting."
We asked about the west roads and went on our way. Long before daylight we were climbing the steep road at Rossie to the inn of the Travellers' Rest—a tavern famous in its time, that stood half up the hill, with a store, a smithy, and a few houses grouped about it, We came up at a silent walk on a road cushioned with sawdust. D'ri rapped on the door until I thought he had roused the whole village. At last a man came to the upper window. He, too, inspected us with a candle. Then he opened the door and gave us a hearty welcome. We put up our horses for a bite, and came into the bar.
"Anything new?" I inquired.
"They say the British are camped this side of the river, north of us," said he, "with a big tribe of Injuns. Some of their cavalry came within three miles of us to-day. Everybody scairt t' death."
He began to set out a row of glasses.
"What 'll ye hev?" he inquired.
"Guess I 'll tip a little blue ruin int' me," said D'ri, with a shiver; "'s a col' night."
Seth and I called for the same.
"An' you?" said the landlord, turning to Thurst.
"Wal," said the latter, as he stroked his thin beard, "when I tuk the pledge I swore et I hoped t' drop dead 'fore I see myself tek another drink. I 'm jest goin' t' shet my eyes 'n' hold out my glass. I don' care what ye gi' me s' long es it's somethin' powerful."
We ate crackers and cheese while the landlord was telling of the west roads and the probable location of the British. He stopped suddenly, peered over my shoulder, and blew out the candle. We could hear a horse neighing in the yard.
"Some one et the window," he whispered. Then he ran to the door and drew the bolt. "Ain' much idee who 't is," he added, peering out of the window. "By gosh! more 'n a dozen folks out here, soldiers tew, most uv 'em on horseback. Come quick."
We followed him upstairs, in the dark, as they began to pound the door. From the yard a light flashed up. They were evidently building a fire so that they would have better shooting if we came out.
"May set the house afire," said the landlord.
He quickly unwound a big hose that ran up to a tank in the peak above us.
"Plenty o' water?" D'ri whispered.
"Rivers uv it," said the landlord. "Tank's connected with the reservoir o' the lead-works on the hill up there. Big wooden pipe comes in the gable-end."
"Turn 'er on," said D'ri, quickly, "an' let me hev thet air hose."
The landlord ran up a ladder. D'ri stuck the hose out of the window. The stream shot away with a loud hiss. I stood by and saw the jet of water leap forth as big as a pikestaff. A man went off his horse, sprawling as if he had been hit with a club. The jet leaped quickly from one to another, roaring on man and beast. There was a mighty scurry. Horses went headlong down the hill, some dragging their riders. In the silence of the night, bedlam had broken loose. The shouting men, the plunging horses, the stream of water roaring on rock and road, woke the village. Men came running from behind the house to see what had happened, then rushed after their horses. Some fell cursing as the water hit them. The landlord put his mouth to my ear.
"Mek fer yer hosses," he hissed.
We were below-stairs and out of the door in a jiffy. Two men fled before us at the stable, scrambled over the fence, and went tumbling downhill. We bridled our horses with all speed, leaped upon them, and went rushing down the steep road, our swords in hand, like an avalanche. They tried to stop us at the foot of the hill, but fell away as we came near. I could hear the snap of their triggers in passing. Only one pistol-shot came after us, and that went high.
"Guess their ammunition 's a leetle wet," said D'ri, with a shout that turned into laughter as we left the British behind us.
A party of four or five mounted and gave chase; but our powder was a bit drier than theirs, and for a time we raked the road with our bullets. What befell them I know not, I only know that they held up and fell out of hearing.
Crossing a small river at daylight, we took the bed of it, making our way slowly for half a mile or so into the woods. There we built a fire, and gave the horses half the feed in our saddle-bags, and ate our mess on a flat rock.
"Never hed no sech joemightyful time es thet afore," said D'ri, as he sat down, laughing, and shook his head. "Jerushy Jane! Did n't we come down thet air hill! Luk slidin' on a greased pole."
"Comin' so luk the devil they did n't dast git 'n er way," said Thurst.
"We wus all rippin' th' air 'ith them air joemightyful big sabres, tew," D'ri went on. "Hed a purty middlin' sharp edge on us. Stuck out luk a haystack right 'n' left."
He began bringing wood as he sang the chorus of his favorite ballad:—
Li toorul I oorul I oorul I ay, etc.
Thurst knew a trail that crossed the river near by and met the Caraway Pike a few miles beyond. Having eaten, I wrote a despatch to be taken back by Thurst as soon as we reached the pike. Past ten o'clock we turned into a rough road, where the three of us went one way and Thurst another.
I rode slowly, for the horses were nearly fagged. I gave them an hour's rest when we put up for dinner. Then we pushed on, coming in sight of the Chateau Le Ray at sundown. A splendid place it was, the castle of gray stone fronting a fair stretch of wooded lawn, cut by a brook that went splashing over rocks near by, and sent its velvet voice through wood and field. A road of fine gravel led through groves of beech and oak and pine to a grassy terrace under the castle walls. A servant in livery came to meet us at the door, and went to call his master. Presently a tall, handsome man, with black eyes and iron-gray hair and mustache, came down a path, clapping his hands.
"Welcome, gentlemen! It is the Captain Bell?" said he, with a marked accent, as he came to me, his hand extended. "You come from Monsieur the General Brown, do you not?"
"I do," said I, handing him my message.
He broke the seal and read it carefully.
"I am glad to see you—ver' glad to see you!" said he, laying his hands upon my shoulders and giving me a little shake.
Two servants went away with D'ri and Seth and the horses.
"Come, captain," said my host, as he led the way. "You are in good time for dinner."
We entered a great triangular hall, lighted by wide windows above the door, and candelabra of shining brass that hung from its high ceiling. There were sliding doors of polished wood on each side of it. A great stairway filled the point of the triangle. I was shown to my room, which was as big as a ball-room, it seemed to me, and grandly furnished; no castle of my dreams had been quite so fine. The valet of the count looked after me, with offers of new linen and more things than I could see use for. He could not speak English, I remember, and I addressed him in the good French my mother had taught me.
The kind of life I saw in this grand home was not wholly new to me, for both my mother and father had known good living in their youth, and I had heard much of it. I should have been glad of a new uniform; but after I had had my bath and put on the new shirt and collar the valet had brought me, I stood before the long pier-glass and saw no poor figure of a man.
The great dining-hall of the count was lighted with many candles when we came in to dinner. It had a big fireplace, where logs were blazing, for the night had turned cool, and a long table with a big epergne of wrought silver, filled with roses, in its centre. A great silken rug lay under the table, on a polished floor, and the walls were hung with tapestry. I sat beside the count, and opposite me was the daughter of the Sieur Louis Francois de Saint-Michel, king's forester under Louis XVI. Therese, the handsome daughter of the count, sat facing him at the farther end of the table, and beside her was the young Marquis de Gonvello. M. Pidgeon, the celebrated French astronomer, Moss Kent, brother of the since famous chancellor, the Sieur Michel, and the Baroness de Ferre, with her two wards, the Misses Louise and Louison de Lambert, were also at dinner. These young ladies were the most remarkable of the company; their beauty was so brilliant, so fascinating, it kindled a great fire in me the moment I saw it. They said little, but seemed to have much interest in all the talk of the table. I looked at them more than was polite, I am sure, but they looked at me quite as often. They had big, beautiful brown eyes, and dark hair fastened high with jewelled pins, and profiles like those of the fair ladies of Sir Peter Lely, so finely were they cut. One had a form a bit fuller and stronger than the other's, but they were both as tall and trim as a young beech, with lips cherry-red and cheeks where one could see faintly the glow of their young blood. Their gowns were cut low, showing the graceful lines of neck and shoulder and full bosom. I had seen pretty girls, many of them, but few high-bred, beautiful young women. The moment I saw these two some new and mighty force came into me. There were wine and wit a-plenty at the count's table, and other things that were also new to me, and for which I retained perhaps too great a fondness.
The count asked me to tell of our journey, and I told the story with all the spirit I could put into my words. I am happy to say it did seem to hit the mark, for I was no sooner done with our adventure than the ladies began to clap their hands, and the Misses de Lambert had much delight in their faces when the baroness retold my story in French.
Dinner over, the count invited me to the smoking-room, where, in a corner by ourselves, I had some talk with him. He told me of his father—that he had been a friend of Franklin, that he had given a ship and a cargo of gunpowder to our navy in '76. Like others I had met under his roof, the count had seen the coming of the Reign of Terror in France, and had fled with his great fortune. He had invested much of it there in the wild country. He loved America, and had given freely to equip the army for war. He was, therefore, a man of much influence in the campaign of the North, and no doubt those in authority there were instructed, while the war was on, to take special care of his property.
"And will you please tell me," I said at length, "who are the Misses de Lambert?"
"Daughters of a friend in Paris," said the count. "He is a great physician. He wishes not for them to marry until they are twenty-one. Mon Dieu! it was a matter of some difficulty. They were beautiful."
"Very beautiful!" I echoed.
"They were admired," he went on. "The young men they began to make trouble. My friend he send them here, with the baroness, to study—to finish their education. It is healthy, it is quiet, and—well, there are no young gentlemen. They go to bed early; they are up at daylight; they have the horse; they have boats; they amuse themselves ver' much. But they are impatient; they long for Paris—the salon, the theatre, the opera. They are like prisoners: they cannot make themselves to be contented. The baroness she has her villa on a lake back in the woods, and, mon ame! it is beautiful there—so still, so cool, so delightful! At present they have a great fear of the British. They lie awake; they listen; they expect to be carried off; they hear a sound in the night, and, mon Dieu! it is the soldiers coming."
The count laughed, lifting his shoulders with a gesture of both hands. Then he puffed thoughtfully at his cigarette.
"Indeed," he went on presently, "I think the invasion is not far away. They tell me the woods in the north are alive with British cavalry. I am not able to tell how many, but, Dieu! it is enough. The army should inform itself immediately. I think it is better that you penetrate to the river to-morrow, if you are not afraid, to see what is between, and to return by the woods. I shall trouble you to take a letter to the General Brown. It will be ready at any hour."
"At six?" I inquired.
"At six, certainly, if you desire to start then," he replied.
He rose and took my arm affectionately and conducted me to the big drawing-room. Two of the ladies were singing as one played the guitar. I looked in vain for the Misses de Lambert. The others were all there, but they had gone. I felt a singular depression at their absence and went to my room shortly to get my rest, for I had to be off early in the morning. Before going to bed, however, I sat down to think and do some writing. But I could not for the life of me put away the thought of the young ladies. They looked alike, and yet I felt sure they were very different. Somehow I could not recall in what particular they differed. I sat a time thinking over it. Suddenly I heard low voices, those of women speaking in French; I could not tell from where they came.
"I do wish she would die, the hateful thing!" said one. (It must be understood these words are more violent in English than they seem in French.)
"The colonel is severe to-night," said another.
"The colonel—a fine baroness indeed—vieille tyran! I cannot love her. Lord! I once tried to love a monkey and had better luck. The colonel keeps all the men to herself. Whom have I seen for a year? Dieu! women, grandpapas, greasy guides! Not a young man since we left Paris."
"My dear Louison!" said the other, "there are many things better than men."
"Au nom de Dieu! But I should like to know what they are. I have never seen them."
"But often men are false and evil," said the other, in a sweet, low voice.
"Nonsense!" said the first, impatiently. "I had rather elope with a one-legged hostler than always live in these woods."
"Louison! You ought to cross yourself and repeat a Hail Mary."
"Thanks! I have tried prayer. It is n't what I need. I am no nun like you. My dear sister, don't you ever long for the love of a man—a big, handsome, hearty fellow who could take you up in his arms and squeeze the life out of you?"
"Eh bien," said the other, with a sigh, "I suppose it is very nice. I do not dare to think of it."
"Nice! It is heaven, Louise! And to see a man like that and not be permitted to—to speak to him! Think of it! A young and handsome man—the first I have seen for a year! Honestly I could poison the colonel."
"My dear, it is the count as much as the colonel. She is under his orders, and he has an eagle eye."
"The old monkey! He enrages me! I could rend him limb from limb!"
I could not help hearing what they said, but I did not think it quite fair to share their confidence any further, so I went to one of the windows and closed a shutter noisily. The voices must have come from a little balcony just under my room.
"My dear sister, you are very terrible," said one of them, and then the shutter came to, and I heard no more.
A full moon lighted the darkness. A little lake gleamed like silver between the tree-tops. Worn out with hard travel, I fell into bed shortly, and lay a long time thinking of those young ladies, of the past, of to-morrow and its perils, and of the farther future. A new life had begun for me.
The sun was lifting above the tree-tops when the count's valet called me that morning at the Chateau Le Ray. Robins were calling under my windows, and the groves rang with tournaments of happy song. Of that dinner-party only the count was at breakfast with me. We ate hurriedly, and when we had risen the horses were at the door. As to my own, a tall chestnut thoroughbred that Mr. Parish had brought over from England, I never saw him in finer fettle. I started Seth by Caraway Pike for Ogdensburg with the count's message.
Mine host laid hold of my elbow and gave it a good shake as I left him, with D'ri, taking a trail that led north by west in the deep woods. They had stuffed our saddle-bags with a plenty for man and horse.
I could not be done thinking of the young ladies. It put my heart in a flutter when I looked back at the castle from the wood's edge and saw one of them waving her handkerchief in a window. I lifted my hat, and put my spurs to the flank with such a pang in me I dared not look again. Save for that one thing, I never felt better. The trail was smooth, and we galloped along in silence for a mile or so. Then it narrowed to a stony path, where one had enough to do with slow going to take care of his head, there were so many boughs in the way.
"Jerushy Jane!" exclaimed D'ri, as he slowed down. "Thet air's a gran' place. Never hed my karkiss in no sech bed as they gin me las' night—softer 'n wind, an' hed springs on like them new wagins ye see over 'n Vermont. Jerushy! Dreamed I was flyin'."
I had been thinking of what to do if we met the enemy and were hard pressed. We discussed it freely, and made up our minds that if there came any great peril of capture we would separate, each to take his own way out of the difficulty.
We halted by a small brook at midday, feeding the horses and ourselves out of the saddle-bags.
"Ain't jest eggzac'ly used t' this kind uv a sickle," said D'ri, as he felt the edge of his sabre, "but I 'll be dummed ef it don't seem es ef I 'd orter be ruther dang'rous with thet air 'n my hand."
He knew a little about rough fighting with a sabre. He had seen my father and me go at each other hammer and tongs there in our door-yard every day of good weather. Stormy days he had always stood by in the kitchen, roaring with laughter, as the good steel rang and the house trembled. He had been slow to come to it, but had had his try with us, and had learned to take an attack without flinching. I went at him hard for a final lesson that day in the woods—a great folly, I was soon to know. We got warm and made more noise than I had any thought of. My horse took alarm and pulled away, running into a thicket. I turned to catch him.
"Judas Priest!" said D'ri.
There, within ten feet of us, I saw what made me, ever after, a more prudent man. It was an English officer leaning on his sword, a tall and handsome fellow of some forty years, in shiny top-hoots and scarlet blouse and gauntlets of brown kid.
"You are quite clever," said he, touching his gray mustache.
I made no answer, but stood pulling myself together.
"You will learn," he added, smiling, with a tone of encouragement. "Let me show you a trick."
He was most polite in his manner, like a play-hero, and came toward me as he spoke. Then I saw four other Britishers coming out to close in upon us from behind trees.
He came at me quickly, and I met him. He seemed to think it would be no trick to unhand my weapon. Like a flash, with a whip of his sabre, he tried to wrench it away. D'ri had begun to shoot, dodging between trees, and a redcoat had tumbled over. I bore in upon my man, but he came back at me with surprising vigor. On my word, he was the quickest swordsman I ever had the honor of facing.
But he had a mean way of saying "Ha!" as he turned my point. He soon angered me, whereupon I lost a bit of caution, with some blood, for he was at me like a flash, and grazed me on the hip before I could get my head again. It was no parlor play, I can tell you. We were fighting for life, and both knew it. We fought up and down through brakes and bushes and over stones—a perilous footing. I could feel his hand weakening. I put all my speed to the steel then, knowing well that, barring accident, I should win. I could hear somebody coming up behind me.
"Keep away there," my adversary shouted, with a fairness I admire when I think of it. "I can handle him. Get the other fellow."
I went at him to make an end of it.
"I'll make you squint, you young cub," he hissed, lunging at me.
He ripped my blouse at the shoulder, and, gods of war! we made the sparks fly. Then he went down, wriggling; I had caught him in the side, poor fellow! Like a flash I was off in a thicket. One of the enemy got out of my way and sent a bullet after me. I could feel it rip and sting in the muscle as it rubbed my ribs. I kept foot and made for my horse. He had caught his reins, and I was on him and off in the bush, between bullets that came ripping the leaves about me, before they could give chase.
Drums were beating the call to arms somewhere. I struck the trail 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 waistcoat.
"Mon Dieu!" said one to the other. "What can we do? Shall we cut the shirt?"
"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 terrible!"
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?"