MY LADY OF DOUBT
BY RANDALL PARRISH
AUTHOR OF "LOVE UNDER FIRE," "MY LADY OF THE NORTH," ETC., ETC.
WITH FOUR ILLUSTRATIONS IN FULL COLOR BY ALONZO KIMBALL
CHICAGO A. C. McCLURG & CO. 1911
Copyright A. C. McCLURG & CO. 1911
Published October, 1911
Entered at Stationers' Hall, London, England
PRESS OF THE VAIL COMPANY COSHOCTON, U. S. A.
CHAPTER I A PERILOUS MISSION 9 CHAPTER II WITHIN THE ENEMY'S LINES 18 CHAPTER III THE FETE OF THE AFTERNOON 27 CHAPTER IV THE MISCHIANZA 38 CHAPTER V THE BEGINNING OF TROUBLE 48 CHAPTER VI THE THREAT OF SWORDS 59 CHAPTER VII THE ONE HOPE 70 CHAPTER VIII THE BLACKSMITH 80 CHAPTER IX TANGLING THREADS 92 CHAPTER X WITH MINUTE MEN 103 CHAPTER XI THE CAPTURE OF THE WAGON TRAIN 113 CHAPTER XII A CAPTURE 124 CHAPTER XIII INTRODUCING PETER 134 CHAPTER XIV I INTERVIEW PETER 144 CHAPTER XV A NEW COMBINATION 154 CHAPTER XVI AGAIN THE LADY 164 CHAPTER XVII ENTOMBED 175 CHAPTER XVIII THE REMAINS OF TRAGEDY 186 CHAPTER XIX THE QUEEN'S RANGERS 196 CHAPTER XX AT CROSS PURPOSES 207 CHAPTER XXI AGAIN THE CELLAR-ROOM 219 CHAPTER XXII THE LADY'S PLAN 230 CHAPTER XXIII WORDS OF LOVE 241 CHAPTER XXIV I UNCOVER CAPTAIN GRANT 250 CHAPTER XXV BETWEEN LOVE AND DUTY 260 CHAPTER XXVI FORCING CLINTON TO BATTLE 269 CHAPTER XXVII THE FIGHT AT MONMOUTH 281 CHAPTER XXVIII THE ROAD TO PHILADELPHIA 291 CHAPTER XXIX THE ESCORT 301 CHAPTER XXX BEFORE GENERAL ARNOLD 310 CHAPTER XXXI I RUN ACROSS ERIC 320 CHAPTER XXXII WE ATTAIN THE HOUSE 332 CHAPTER XXXIII THEY SEND FOR CLAIRE 342 CHAPTER XXXIV A THREATENED MARRIAGE 351 CHAPTER XXXV THE FIGHT IN THE HALL 359 CHAPTER XXXVI SEARCHING FOR CLAIRE 367 CHAPTER XXXVII A CONFESSION OF LOVE 375
"I studied the list a moment, bending down closer to the 16 nearest candle"
"You have not suspected?" she asked. "You did not know this 166 was my home?"
"Let me pass, sir! This is my father's house" 354
MY LADY OF DOUBT
A PERILOUS MISSION
Several of us had remained rather late that evening about the cheerful fire in front of my hut,—for the nights were still chilly, although it was May, and the dreadful winter passed,—discussing the improved condition of our troops, the rigid discipline of Baron de Steuben, and speculating on what would probably be attempted now that Sir Henry Clinton had succeeded to the command of the forces opposing us. I remember Maxwell joined us, together with Knox of the artillery, each man with a different theory of campaign, but alike agreeing that, in spite of all we had endured during those months of suffering and privation at Valley Forge, the time to strike once again was near at hand, although our numbers were barely half that of the enemy.
It must have been midnight when I crept into a bunk, and, even then, found sleep absent, my eyes gazing out through the open door to where the embers of the fire glowed red, and a sentinel paced back and forth in regular monotony. Suddenly he halted, and challenged hoarsely, flinging forward his gun. There was an indistinguishable answer, and, as I straightened up, the figure of a man blotted out the doorway.
"Yes. What is it?" I swung to the floor, unable to recognize the voice. The man's hand rose to salute.
"I am Colonel Gibbs' orderly. General Hamilton wishes you to report at once at headquarters."
"The Potts house?"
I dressed hastily, my pulses throbbing with eagerness. Whatever the message meant, there was certainly some purpose of vital importance in sending for me at this unusual hour, and I was boy enough still to welcome any form of active service. No duty of the war had so tried me as the long winter of waiting. Yet, rapidly as I moved, the orderly had disappeared before I got outside, and I picked my way as best I could alone through the darkness, along the rear of McIntosh's huts, until I reached the low fence surrounding the Potts house. Here a sentinel challenged, calling the corporal of the guard, and in his company I trudged up the path to the front door. There was a light showing through a window to the left, although the shade was closely drawn, and a guard stood within the hall. At the first sound of our approach, however, a side door was flung open, letting forth a gleam of illumination, and I perceived the short, slight figure of Hamilton, as he peered forward to get a better glimpse of my face.
"All right, Corporal," he said tersely, gripping my hand. "Come in, Major; your promptness would seem to indicate a readiness to get into service once more."
"I had not yet fallen asleep," I explained, "but we are all eager enough for action of any description."
He smiled cheerily.
"You will soon be busy, never fear." He closed the door behind us, and, with a glance, I viewed the room and its occupants. It was a small, low ceilinged apartment, containing a table, a dozen chairs, and a high commode. A few coals glowed in the wide fireplace, and the walls were dingy with smoke. Three candles, already burning low, gave fitful illumination, revealing four occupants, all known to me. At an open door to the right stood a sweet-faced woman, glancing back curiously at my entrance, and I whipped off my hat bowing low. Once before I had seen her, Mistress Washington, and welcomed the gracious recognition in her eyes. Colonel Gibbs stood before the fireplace motionless, but my glance swept past him to the calm, uplifted face above the pile of papers littering the table. He was not looking at me, but his eyes were turned toward his wife.
"It is not necessary for you to retire," he said quietly. "We shall not detain this gentleman except for a few moments."
"It is not because of the Major's coming I withdraw," she replied pleasantly, "but the hour is late, and I am very tired. Good-night, all."
Washington's eyes were upon the door until it closed; then he turned slightly, facing me. Before he spoke again, Hamilton broke in:
"This is the officer, sir, recommended by General Maxwell—Major Lawrence of the Maryland Line."
I bowed silently, and the commander rose to his feet, extending his hand.
"No doubt we have met before," he said slowly. "You have been with us for some time?"
"My first action was at Harlem, sir."
"You could not have been at Valley Forge during the past winter, however?"
"I was with the Marquis de la Fayette at Albany."
"Ah, yes," his face clouding at the recollection. "A young officer, Hamilton, but capable, no doubt. You have used him before, you said?"
"Yes, at Long Island, and he entered New York once at my request."
Washington's gray eyes were still on my face.
"Lawrence is a Massachusetts name."
"Not exclusively," I returned, "as our branch are Virginians."
The stern lines about the mouth relaxed into a smile.
"Indeed; from the Eastern shore then. I recall now having once met a Judge John Lawrence, whose wife was a Lee."
"My father, sir."
His hand rested firm on my shoulder, as his glance turned to Hamilton.
"I require no further commendation, Colonel. You will find the papers in the second drawer. Please explain all the details carefully to Major Lawrence."
He bowed toward me, and sank back once more into his chair, one hand shading the eyes that still regarded us. Hamilton opened the drawer designated, extracted an official document, and addressed me rapidly in lowered voice.
"This is a simple duty, Major, but may prove a dangerous one. You have been selected because of previous successful efforts of a similar nature, but the Commander-in-chief does not order your going; we seek a volunteer."
"Without asking the nature of the service," I answered sincerely, "I rejoice at the privilege."
"I knew that, Lawrence," heartily. "That answer accords with your well earned reputation throughout the army. I will explain briefly the situation. Early this evening our pickets—or rather some partisan scouts near Newtown—captured a British officer, in field uniform, on his way from New York to Sir William Howe in Philadelphia. The prisoner was brought here, and on examination proved to be Lieutenant Edgar Fortesque of the 42nd Regiment of Foot. These troops came over with the last detachment, and arrived in New York less than a month ago. On searching Fortesque's clothing we found this despatch," holding out the sealed paper, "which we opened. It is not of any great military importance, being merely an order for Howe to proceed at once to New York, taking with him certain officers of his staff, and placing a naval vessel at his disposal."
He paused, turning the paper over in his hands.
"However," he went on slowly, "it affords us the opportunity we have long been seeking of getting a competent military observer into Philadelphia. Now that Sir Henry Clinton is in command of the British forces directly opposing us, it is necessary that we know accurately their number, state of discipline, guns, and any point of weakness in the defences of the city. We require also information regarding the division of troops under Sir Henry's command—the proportion of British, Hessians, and Tories, together with some inkling as to Clinton's immediate plans. There is a rumor abroad that Philadelphia is to be evacuated, and that the British forces contemplate a retreat overland to New York. Civilian fugitives drift into our camp constantly, bearing all manner of wild reports, but these accounts are so varied as to be practically valueless. We must possess accurate details, and to gain these a man would need to be in the city several days, free to move about, observe, and converse with the officers of the garrison. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, sir; you propose forwarding the despatch by an officer who shall impersonate this captured Lieutenant."
"Exactly. Fortesque is a young fellow about your age, and build. He has been in the army only eight months, and in this country less than thirty days. It is scarcely probable he is known personally to any of the present Philadelphia garrison. There is a risk, of course, but in this case it would seem to be small." He picked up a paper from off the table. "Here is an officer's roster of the 42nd Regiment. It might be well for you to familiarize yourself with a few of the names."
I studied the list a moment, bending down closer to the nearest candle, while rapidly reviewing in my own mind the duty required. I had no thought of refusal, yet appreciated to the full the possible danger of the venture, and felt anxious to make no serious mistake. I had achieved a reputation for reckless daring, yet this kind of service was hardly to my liking. To wear British uniform meant my condemnation as a spy, if discovered, and a death of disgrace. I had been within the lines of the enemy often before, but always as a scout, wearing the homespun of the Maryland Line, but this was to be a masquerade, a juggling with chance. I was not greatly afraid of being unmasked by the officers of the garrison, but there were those then in Philadelphia who knew me—loyalists, secret sympathizers with our cause, and not a few deserters from the army—whom I might encounter at any turn in the road. The prospect was not alluring, yet a glance aside at the profile of Washington, now bending low over a mass of papers, instantly stiffened my resolve. It was work I had no excuse to shirk—indeed no inclination—so I returned Hamilton's glance of inquiry frankly.
"You wish me to go at once?"
"The earlier the better. I will furnish passports through our lines, and hard riding will put you across the neutral ground by daylight."
"One moment, Major," interrupted Washington quietly. "You were doubtless acquainted with our late Inspector-General?"
"Yes," my face darkening.
"He is now in Philadelphia, and it might be safer were you to avoid meeting him."
"General Washington," I said frankly, "I have been loyal to you through all this controversy, but, nevertheless, have retained my friendship with General Conway. I believe the misunderstanding between you is entirely personal, and in no way affects his loyalty to the cause. Whatever his present relations may be with the British commander, I have the utmost faith that he would not betray me to either death, or imprisonment."
"I am glad to hear your words," and the kindly face instantly brightened. "This entire controversy has been most unfortunate, with wrong no doubt upon both sides. Unquestionably you are right, yet I felt it my duty to warn you of his presence at Clinton's headquarters. God bless you, my boy, good-bye."
I grasped the hand extended across the table, and followed Hamilton from the room, Gibbs still standing motionless and silent before the fireplace.
WITHIN THE ENEMY'S LINES
A long cavalry cape concealing the British uniform I wore, my horse and myself were ferried across the Schuylkill, just below the mouth of Valley Creek, and there, amid the silence and darkness of the eastern shore, I parted with Hamilton, who had accompanied me thus far, whispering final words of instruction. My horse was a fresh one, chosen from the stables of the Life Guard, but the trappings were of the British service. Within five minutes I was out of sight of the picket fire on the river bank, riding steadily southeast through the night, every nerve alert. An hour's riding found me well beyond our outermost pickets, yet, in fear that I might encounter some body of irregulars, scouting the neutral ground, I held on to my passport until I perceived the first flush of dawn in the east. Then, convinced of close proximity to the British guard-lines, I tore the paper into fragments. Avoiding all roads, and seeking every bit of concealment possible, it was already sunrise before I plunged suddenly into a Hessian picket-post, the distant smoke of the Philadelphia chimneys darkening the sky ahead. Unable to speak German, my uniform won sufficient courtesy, so that I was escorted back under guard to an outpost of the Queen's Rangers, where I explained my presence and rank to a red-faced Captain in Tory green, so insolent in manner as to be insulting, until I exhibited the sealed despatch, and demanded to be escorted at once to Sir William Howe. This brought results, and I entered the city under escort of a dozen horsemen, their green coats faced with dingy white, cocked hats flapping as they rode.
It was thus we came to Callowhill, and the encampment of British grenadiers, an officer of the 55th Regiment volunteering to guide me to Howe's quarters in High Street. He was a genial fellow, and pointed out various places of interest, as we rode more slowly through the streets close along the river-side, questioning me often upon affairs in New York, to which I returned such vague answers as pleased me, paying small heed to the truth. I had never known Philadelphia well, but now it was so strange as to be peculiarly interesting, many of the houses deserted, with doors and windows boarded; several of the churches made over into barracks, or riding-schools; the market closed; the State House filled with lounging officers; and the streets thronged, even at this early hour, by a varied uniformed soldiery, speaking Cockney English, the jargon of the counties, Scottish Gaelic, or guttural German, as they elbowed their passage, the many scarlet jackets interspersed with the blue of artillery and cavalry, the Hessian red and yellow, the green of the rifle-corps, or the kilts of the Highlanders. Lancers and Huzzars, Grenadiers, Light Dragoons and Queen's Rangers mixed, and commingled, apparently enjoying holiday. There was scarcely a woman to be seen; the few who did appear being of the lower sort. All along the river were redoubts, well garrisoned, with black gun muzzles pointing out across the water. Many houses had been razed, and their debris, together with the fire ruin of the past winter, gave to everything a look of desolation. Much artillery was parked in the State House yard, and several vessels of war were lying at anchor in the stream, while the entire shore line was filled with barges, decorated as for a fete, a large force of men laboring about them. My companion, observing my interest attracted in that direction, reined up his horse to explain.
"Those are the galleys being made ready for the Mischianza, Fortesque," he said, waving his hand. "You came to us at a lucky hour."
"The Mischianza?" I asked, puzzled by the strange term. "Some festival, you mean?—some gala day?"
"'Tis an Italian word, they tell me, signifying medley. The officers give it in farewell to Sir William, who will sail to-morrow. A pretty penny it costs. See, there is Major O'Hara now, one of the managers; there are three others, Sir John Wrottlesly, Major Gardiner, and the chief engineer, Montresor. Do you know them? No? Oh, I had forgotten you have only just arrived. You will know them 'ere long, however, for they are the leaders in such affairs. That is Captain Andre there with O'Hara." He waved his hand, and the younger officer lifted his cocked hat in acknowledgment. "Let us spur over there, Lieutenant, until I get you a ticket of invitation."
I followed, careless of the loss of time so I could both see and hear.
"Andre, this is Lieutenant Fortesque just in from New York with despatches for Howe. I have promised him a ticket for to-night."
The young officer laughingly extended a hand.
"The more the merrier, Craig. With the 42nd I see, sir; knew your Colonel well. You'll find America isn't so bad, after you get used to it. We've had a gay time here, eh, O'Hara? The best of liquor, and the prettiest of girls, and now we'll show the town something it won't forget in a hurry." He held out a card to me. "Rather ornate, considering the printers in these colonies; designed it myself."
It was certainly a handsome souvenir, perhaps six inches by four in size, engraved as in a shield, yielding a view of the sea, with the setting sun, and on a wreath the words, "Lucco discendens, ancto splendore resurgam," while at the top was the General's crest, bearing the words, "Vive Vale." I have it yet, but as I looked at it then, sitting my horse on the river bank, and listening to the careless laughter of those about me, I could think only of that other half-starved army in whose camp I had been the evening before, and of those scenes of suffering witnessed during the past winter at Valley Forge—the shoeless feet, the shivering forms, the soldiers dying from cold and hunger, the snow drifting over us as we slept. What a contrast between this foolish boy's play, and the stern man's work yonder. Somehow the memory stiffened me to the playing of my own part, helping me to crush back bitter words that I might exhibit the same spirit of recklessness shown by those about me.
"A fine conceit, indeed," I confessed, "and if the pageant be equal to its promise 'twill be well worth the seeing. What is the purpose, gentlemen?"
"To give Sir William fit farewell," returned Andre, pleased at my unstinted praise. "And now that the Lord has sent us a fine day, I can promise a festival worthy the herald. But, Fortesque, if you would have audience with Howe, I advise you to get on, for he will have few spare moments between now and day-dawn to-morrow."
We parted with much bowing, Craig and I guiding our horses through the crowded streets, being kept too busy avoiding accidents to exchange conversation. Howe's headquarters on High Street were not pretentious, and, except for a single sentinel posted at the door, were unguarded. I was admitted without delay, being ushered into a large room containing merely tables and chairs, the latter littered with papers. An aide took my name, and within a very few moments Sir William himself entered through a rear door, attired in field uniform. He was of imposing figure, fully six feet in height, well proportioned, and with a thoughtful, kindly face. He greeted me with much affability, glancing hastily over the papers handed him, and then into my face.
"These do not greatly change my former plans," he said, "but I am glad to know I can retain my present staff. There was no special news in New York, Lieutenant?"
"None of particular importance, I believe, sir. We landed only a short time ago."
"Yes. I understand. You were fortunate to get through here so easily—the Jerseys are a hotbed of rebellion. Do you return with me by water?"
"I believe that was left to my own discretion. I should be glad of a day or two in Philadelphia."
"Easily arranged. While I shall leave the city to-morrow so as to give Clinton a fair field, I shall remain on Lord Howe's flag-ship for some little time previous to final departure for New York. You had better mess here with my staff. Mabry," turning to the aide, "see that Lieutenant Fortesque has breakfast, and procure him a pass good indefinitely within our lines. You will pardon my withdrawal, as the officers of the garrison promise me an exceedingly busy day. We will meet again, no doubt."
He clasped my hand warmly, and withdrew, leaving me alone with the aide, half-ashamed, I confess, of having been compelled to deceive. Yet the very ease of it all stimulated endeavor, and I conversed lightly with Mabry over the mess table, and, when the orderly returned with the necessary pass, I was keen to start upon my round of inspection, utterly forgetful of having been up, and in saddle, all night. Mabry could not leave his duties to accompany me, but courteously furnished a fresh horse, and assigned a private of dragoons to guide me about the city. By ten o'clock we were off, my only fear being the possible meeting with some acquaintance.
In this, however, I was happily disappointed, as there were few civilians on the streets, the throngs of soldiers, off duty for a holiday, with all discipline relaxed, being boisterous, and considerably under the influence of liquor. Quarrels between them were frequent, the British regulars and Loyalists seldom meeting without exchange of words and blows. The uniform worn, together with my dragoon guard, saved me from trouble, and I found the fellow sufficiently intelligent to be of value. I dare not make notes, and yet recall clearly even now the stations of the troops, together with a clear mental outline of the main defences of the city. I made no attempt to pass beyond the limits, but, from statements of the dragoon, and various officers with whom I conversed, mapped in my mind the entire scheme of defence. Briefly stated, the line of intrenchments from the Delaware to the Schuylkill extended from the mouth of Conoquonaque Creek, just above Willow Street, to the Upper Ferry, nearly on a line with Callowhill Street. These consisted of ten redoubts, connected with strong palisades, all redoubts well garrisoned by seasoned troops, the Queen's Rangers being at the extreme right. Within the city proper were the reserves, so scattered in various encampments as to be easily mobilized, and yet kept separated. To the north were the Hessians, and next to these came three regiments of British Grenadiers, with a body of Fusileers. Eight regiments of the line occupied the slight eminence known as Bush's Hill, while close to the Ferry was another encampment of Hessians. The Yagers, horse and foot, were upon another hill near the river, and below them a large body of infantry of the line. The Light Dragoons and three infantry regiments were near a small pond. At the Middle Ferry was the 71st Regiment, and a body of Yagers were at the Point House, opposite Gloucester. Many of these locations were then outside the city, which extended at that time from Christian Street on the south, to Callowhill on the north, being widest between Arch and Walnut, where it expanded from Delaware to Ninth. However, I visited a number of these encampments, finding in each merely a small guard retained for the day, the majority of the troops being off on liberty. Soon after noon these began to throng the water front, eager to view the coming spectacle. I was, myself, in the Yager's camp, finishing a late lunch, with a few officers, when the announcement came that the water procession had started.
THE FETE OF THE AFTERNOON
I confess that up to this time I had experienced little interest in the affair. After Valley Forge it was hard for an American soldier to admire such boy's play, or to enter into the spirit of British fun making. Besides the danger of my position, the fear of some slip of tongue betraying me, the knowledge that I was in the very heart of the enemy's camp, with grim, stern duties to perform and a return journey to accomplish, kept me nerved to a point where I thought of little else than my task. But now I dared not remain indifferent, and, indeed, the enthusiasm of my companions became contagious, and I joined with them eagerly, as they hurried forth to the best point of view. Once there the sight revealed aroused me to an enthusiasm scarcely less than that of those crowding about. Few, indeed, have ever witnessed so gorgeous a spectacle as that river presented, and I have found many since who have questioned my description. Yet I write down here only what I saw with my own eyes, little understanding at the time its importance to my future life.
Well out in the stream lay the vessels of war—the Fanny, Roebuck, and Vigilant—together with a long line of transports, stretching as far as the eye could see, flags flying, and decks crowded with spectators. At the fore-mast head of the Roebuck fluttered the Admiral's flag, and the shoreline was jammed with soldiery, the varied uniforms a maze of colors. The pageant came down with the tide, moving in three divisions to the inspiring music of several bands, the oars of galleys and barges keeping exact intervals. These were decked out with all manner of colors and streamers, and above fluttered the division flag. As they passed us, the officers beside me named the various occupants, but I recall now only the first and last, because of my interest in those aboard. In the leading galley were Sir William, Lord Howe, Sir Henry Clinton, the officers of their suites, and some ladies. Lord Howe was facing the other way, but I noticed that Clinton was short and fat, with a full face and prominent nose. In the last of the boats stood General Knyphausen, the Hessian commander, very much of a German in appearance, not tall, but slender and straight. Between these were flat-boats, covered with green cloth, loaded with ladies and gentlemen, or else containing bands. Six barges, darting here and there, kept open space amid the swarms of small boats. Everywhere the eye swept over a riot of color, and the ear caught a babel of sound. As the last barge glided by, the man next me growled in disgust:
"Those are lucky dogs off duty to-day." His eye caught mine. "Why don't you go after them, Fortesque? There will be plenty of fun afoot yonder where they land."
"Where is that?"
"At the old fort; follow the crowd, and you'll not go astray. Have you a ticket?"
"Captain Andre honored me with one this morning."
"Then you are good for the first row. Don't miss it, man," with enthusiasm. "'T will be such a sight as has not been witnessed since the Field of the Cloth of Gold."
"A passage at arms, you mean?"
"Ay! as gorgeous as those of the old-time knights; a fair conceit as I read the programme. I'd be there now but for the damned orders that hold me here. If you ride hard you can make the spot before they come ashore."
There was no reason I should not go, and much in the glittering prospect appealed to me. Five minutes later I was trotting out of the Yager camp, pressing passage through the crowds, already headed southward, the dragoon riding silently at my heels. Mounted men that day were few, and, doubtless believing we were connected with the pageant, the jam sullenly parted, and gave us opening, so we reached the site of the old fort as the barges began discharging their occupants. A glance about, however, convinced me as to where the lists were to be run, and I headed my horse in that direction, anxious to gain some point of vantage, before the throng poured in. Yet, Heaven knows, there were enough present even then, the green sward overrun, and the few stands crowded. Quite a considerable space, leading back from the river landing, had been roped off, and Light Dragoons rode along the lines to keep out invaders; others guarded the main platform until the more distinguished guests were seated. Few Philadelphia residents were present, although I saw some black coats, the crowd being mostly composed of soldiers bent upon frolic. In the occupied stands, however, were loyalists in plenty, with a considerable sprinkling of ladies, gaily attired. I saw all this while striving to spur my horse forward toward where a band played "God save the King," but should have failed to make it, had not Major O'Hara caught glimpse of my face above the press. A moment he stared at me in perplexity, and then with a dab of his spur forced the black horse he rode against the ropes.
"Damn me if I knew you, Fortesque," he exclaimed cordially. "But come on through; there's a gate yonder. Fall back now, lads, and let the officer pass. That's it; ride 'em down if they won't make way. Here's a spot where you can see the whole field from the saddle."
I was somewhat to the right of the big stand, the restive heels of my horse keeping the crowd away, and with a clear view as far as the river bank. O'Hara was too busy to stop long, but I was not sorry, as there was sufficient occurring to rivet attention. It was, maybe, four hundred yards down a gentle slope to the water's edge, where the line was forming. This passageway was lined with onlookers, held back by numerous guards, while to my left extended a square lawn, perhaps one hundred and fifty yards each way, surrounded by a double rank of grenadiers, the bayonets gleaming on their guns. This open space was equipped with everything needed for the coming tourney, and on three sides were tiers of raised seats. I had barely observed all this when the guns of the Roebuck, echoed by those of the Vigilant, began to boom a salute, and the head of the column of marchers began slowly mounting the slope. All the bands of the garrison were in front, followed by the managers, richly attired, with badges of blue and white ribbon on their breasts. Behind these appeared, in full dress uniform, gleaming with decorations and medals, the three specially honored guests, the two generals and the admiral, the others of the gay party following two by two in long, interesting procession. The costumes worn were as varied as those of a masquerade, representing all the changes since the days of chivalry. The whole line glowed with color, and gleamed with steel.
Like some great serpent, glittering in the sun, this procession passed under the triumphal arches, and disappeared as its members took prescribed positions on the stands, or in the pavilions bordering the field of contest. As thus arranged the grouping of colors was most brilliant. In the front of each pavilion were seven young ladies, attired picturesquely in Turkish costume, wearing in their turbans those favors with which they meant to reward the knights contending in their honor. Behind these, and occupying all the upper seats, were the maidens representing the two divisions of the day's sports—ladies of the Blended Rose, and ladies of the Burning Mountain. The first wore a white silk, called a polonaise, forming a flowing robe, open to the waist; the pink sash was six inches wide, and filled with spangles; the shoes and stockings were also spangled, and, above all, arose a towering head-dress, filled with a profusion of pearls and jewels; the veil was spangled, and edged with silver lace. The ladies of the Burning Mountain were similarly dressed, except that they wore white sashes, edged with black, and all their trimmings were of that color. As the veils were thrown back, and I looked on the bright, animated faces, I thought I had never before seen such an array of beauty. From the crowd surging around I heard name after name mentioned, as famous Philadelphia belles were pointed out, not a few familiar to me, through remembrance of our own former occupancy of the city—Miss Craig, the Misses Chew, Miss Redmond, Miss Bond, the Misses Shippen, and others, all of loyalist families, yet content to play the game of hearts with both armies. Even as I gazed upon that galaxy of beauty, half angry that Americans should take part in such a spectacle of British triumph, the field was cleared for the lists, and a sound of trumpets came to us from a distance.
Out into the opening rode the contending knights, attended by esquires on foot, dressed in ancient habits of white and red silk, and mounted on gray horses. From the other direction appeared their opponents, in black and orange, riding black steeds, while to the centre advanced the herald loudly proclaiming the challenge. I knew not who they all were, but they made a gallant show, and I overheard many a name spoken of soldiers met in battle—Lord Cathcart, Captain Andre, Major Tarlton, Captain Scott. Ay! and they fought well that day, those White and Black Knights on the mimic field, first charging together, shivering their spears; the second and third encounters discharging pistols; and in the fourth attacking with swords in most gallant combat. At last the two chiefs—Lord Cathcart for the Whites, and Captain Watson, of the Guards, for the Blacks—were alone contending furiously, when the marshal of the field rushed in between, and struck up their weapons, declaring the contest done, the honor of each side proven. As the company broke up, flowing forward to the great house beyond, the vast crowd of onlookers burst through the guard-lines, and, like a mighty torrent, swept over the field. It was a wild, jubilant, yelling mass, so dense as to be irresistible, even those of us on horseback being pressed forward, helpless chips on the stream.
I endeavored to press back, but my restive animal, startled by the dig of the spur, the yells, the waving of arms, refused to face the tumult, and whirled madly about. For a moment I all but lost control, yet, even as he plunged rearing into the air, I saw before me the appealing face of a woman. How she chanced to be there alone, in the path of that mob, I know not; where her escort had disappeared, and how she had become separated from her party, has never been made clear. But this I saw, even as I struggled with the hard-mouthed brute under me—a slender, girlish figure attired as a lady of the Blended Rose, a white, frightened face, arms outstretched, and dark blue eyes beseeching help. Already the front of the mob was upon her, unable to swerve aside because of the thousands pushing behind. In another moment she would be underfoot, or hurled into the air. Reckless of all else I dug in my spurs, yelling to the Light Dragoon beside me, even as my horse leaped. I felt the crush of bodies, hands gripped my legs; soldiers were hurled right and left, cursing as they fell. I must have hurt some, but had no thought except to reach her before it was too late. I was struck twice by missiles, yet burst through, my horse, by this time, frenzied with fear. I scarcely know what happened, or how it was accomplished—only I had the reins gripped in my teeth, both my hands free. That instant I caught her; the next she was on my arm, swung safely to the saddle, held to me with a grip of steel, the animal dashing forward beneath his double burden into the open field. Then the Dragoon, riding madly, gripped the bit, and the affair was over, although we must have galloped a hundred yards before the trembling horse was brought to a stand. Leaving him to the control of the soldier, I sprang to the ground, bearing the lady with me. We were behind one of the pavilions, facing the house, and she reeled as her feet touched the earth, so that I held her from falling. Then her lashes lifted, and the dark blue eyes looked into my face.
"You must pardon my roughness," I apologized, "but there was no time for ceremony."
She smiled, a flood of color coming back into the clear cheeks, as she drew slightly away.
"I appreciate that, sir," frankly, shaking out her ruffled skirts, "and you have made knighthood real."
"Then," I ventured, "may I hope to receive the reward, fair lady?"
She laughed, a little tremor of nervousness in the sound, but her eyes full of challenge.
"And what is that?"
"Your name; the hope of better acquaintance."
Her eyes swept my uniform questioningly.
"You are not of the garrison?"
"No; a courier just arrived from New York."
"Yet an officer; surely then you will be present to-night?"
"The privilege is mine; if sufficiently tempted I may attend."
"Tempted! How, sir?"
"By your pledging me a dance."
She laughed again, one hand grasping the long silken skirt.
"You ask much—my name, a better acquaintance, a dance—all this for merely saving me from a mob. You are not a modest knight, I fear. Suppose I refuse?"
"Then am I soldier enough to come unasked, and win my welcome."
"I thought as much," the long lashes opening up to me the depths of the blue eyes. "I promise nothing then, nor forbid. But there is Captain Grant seeking me. If I do not speak of gratitude, it is nevertheless in my heart, sir," she swept me a curtsey, to which I bowed hat in hand, "and now, Au revoir."
I stood as she left me, staring while she crossed the lawn and joined a dark-faced officer of Rangers. Once she glanced back over her shoulder, and then disappeared in the crowd of revellers.
I had not intended to remain in Philadelphia through the night. Already I had secured the information sought, and now must consider the safest and quickest method of escape. It seemed to me this night, given up to revelry, afforded the best possible opportunity for my safely passing the British guard-lines. To-morrow discipline would be resumed, the soldiers would return to their posts and the citizens of the city would again appear on the streets. This would greatly intensify my danger, for, at any moment, I might encounter some one who knew me, who might denounce me to the authorities.
That this was the exact truth of the situation could not be denied, yet, now, every reckless impulse of my disposition urged me to remain; the invitation of those laughing blue eyes, the challenge I read in the lady's fair face, the unsolved mystery of her identity, all combined in a temptation I found it impossible to resist. As I rode slowly northward, out of the denser crowd into the almost deserted streets, the shades of evening already closing about me, the memory of the girl I had encountered so strangely, and parted with so suddenly, became more and more alluring, more and more vivid. My thoughts dwelt upon the arch face, the red lips, smiling to reveal the white teeth, the flushing cheeks, the mass of soft brown hair revealed beneath the turban, the mocking laughter in the depths of the blue eyes, and the straight, lithe figure, as she moved swiftly away to rejoin her friends. Who was she, this lady of the Blended Rose? this girl with the dignity of rank, and the carelessness of youth? I must know the answer; it was not in young blood to run away. Certain facts regarding her were at least clear already—she must be the daughter of a loyalist, or else related to some of the English officers; her very presence proved this, while her selection as one of the ladies of honor, was evidence of high standing socially. And she had dared me, challenged me with her eyes, to remain, and learn more. There was no promise, no word spoken I could construe into a pledge, and yet there was invitation, a suggestion, vague but comprehended, which youth could not easily ignore. My veins throbbed with anticipation—already was my arm about the slender waist, my eyes looking into her own. For a dance with her, a possible understanding, I was willing to venture life itself.
I turned about and glanced at the Dragoon riding behind, half tempted to question him, but I refrained, not willing to make her the subject of camp-fire gossip. It would be a more manly course to work this out myself, and surely I should meet officers at the ball who would gladly present me to the lady. I should be compelled to attend in field uniform, yet circumstances would excuse that, and what little I had seen of her convinced me she was no stickler for conventionality. The duty soldier was more apt to interest such a personality than any dandy on dress parade. With a word I dismissed my companion, and turned in to the camp of the Yagers, sure of a welcome at their mess-table, and a chance to brush up my soiled clothes.
It must have been nearly nine o'clock when, in company with a young cornet, I rode up to the house given up to festivities, and, turning over our horses to the care of cavalry grooms, climbed the wide steps to the door leading into the hall. Interested as I was in observing faces, fearful of possible discovery by some one in the crowd, I failed to note definitely the many decorations, yet I remember how the wide hall was hung in green and white, each room opening from it possessing a distinct color scheme, and how, under the gleaming clusters of lights, and sparkling of glass chandeliers, the gay uniforms of the officers and the brilliant gowns of the ladies appeared resplendent. The vista of those great rooms, reflected by numerous mirrors, was a scene of confusing beauty, with flowers everywhere, soft, glowing carpets underfoot, and the surging crowds passing back and forth. There was scarcely a black coat present, to yield touch of sombreness to the picture, but scarlet and blue, green and white, glowing with profusion of gold lace, and glittering with medals, together with gleaming shoulders, ruffles of white lace, and shimmering skirts of silk. All was a riot of color, rich, bewildering, with smiling faces, and laughing lips everywhere. In such a spot, amid such surroundings, war seemed a dream, a far-off delirium.
Drawn thither by the music, we climbed the broad stairs toward the ball-room, passing as we did so, in the upper hall, four drawing-rooms containing sideboards with refreshments. The ball-room itself was a picture of Oriental magnificence—the walls were delightfully decorated, the ground-work pale blue, panelled with a small, gold bead, the interior filled with drooping festoons of flowers in their natural colors. Below the surface the ground was of rose pink, the drapery festooned with blue. The effect of these decorations was vastly increased by nearly a hundred mirrors, decked out with rose-pink ribbons and artificial flowers, while in the intermediate spaces were thirty-four branches with wax lights similarly ornamented. No pen of memory can describe the scene, nor picture in the gallant company, resplendent in coloring, now moving back and forth in the evolutions of the minuet.
My companion disappeared, and, to escape the pressure of those surging back and forth through the wide doorway, I found passage close to the wall, and half circled the room, finally discovering a halting place in the recesses of a window, where, partially concealed myself by flowing curtains, I could gaze out over the brilliant assemblage. Half ashamed of the plainness of my own attire, and feeling a stranger and an alien, I was yet consciously seeking the one face which had lured me there. I saw fair ladies in plenty, and more than once my heart leaped, only to discover its mistake. There were so many ladies of the Blended Rose on the floor as to be confusing, and with their similarity of dress, and powdered hair, I was never sure until they turned their faces toward me that my patient search was still unrewarded. Yet if she was indeed upon the floor I saw her not, and my heart grew heavy with delay. But in this survey I discovered others—of both sexes—whose names had been mentioned that afternoon, and recognized the faces of a few officers whom I had met during my wanderings. Surely some of these would present me to the lady of my dreams could I but see her, learn her name. Before the music ceased I was convinced she was not among the dancers; I would search the side rooms, and the apartments below, yet, even as the company sought seats, soldiers crossed the floor, extinguishing the lights, and amid laughter, and repartee, the throng surged toward me, hemming me in closely, as they gathered in eager bunches about the open windows.
Enough conversation reached me to disclose a promised display of fireworks on the lawn, and almost immediately, a magnificent bouquet of rockets shot up into the black sky, illuminating everything with a glare of fire. This was followed by the lighting up of the triumphal arch, and the bursting of balloons high overhead. Attracted by the spectacle, I was staring out at the dazzling scene, when a voice spoke at my shoulder.
"'Tis a relief to see even one soldier present ready for duty."
I turned to look into a pair of steady blue eyes, with a bit of mocking laughter in their depths, the face revealed clearly in the glare of the rockets.
"Necessity only," I managed to reply. "I can be as gorgeous as these others, had I brought a bag with me."
"No doubt; every British regiment tries to outdo the others in ribbons, and gold lace. Really they become tiresome with such foppery in war times. See how they play to-night, like children, the city practically unguarded from attack," she waved an ungloved hand toward the dark without. "I venture there are men out yonder, sir, who are not dancing and laughing away these hours."
My cheeks burned.
"You mean Washington's troops?"
"Aye! I saw them here in Philadelphia before Sir William came," her voice lowered, yet earnest, "and they are not playing at war; grim, silent, sober-faced men, dressed in odds and ends, not pretty to look at; some tattered and hungry, but they fight hard. Mr. Conway was telling us yesterday of how they suffered all winter long, while we danced and feasted here, Washington himself sleeping with the snow drifting over him. You do not know the Americans, for you are not long across the water, but they are not the kind to be conquered by such child's play as this."
"You are an American then?"
"By birth, yes," unhesitatingly. "We are of those loyal to the King, but—I admire men."
It was with an effort I restrained my words, eager to proclaim my service, yet comprehending instantly that I dare not even trust this plain-spoken girl with the truth. She respected the men, sympathized with the sacrifices of Washington's little army, contrasted all they endured with the profligacy of the English and Hessian troops, and yet remained loyal to the King's cause. Even as I hesitated, she spoke again.
"What is your regiment?"
"The 42nd British Foot."
"You have not yet been in action in America?"
"No, but I have just crossed the Jerseys with despatches."
She shook her head, her cheeks glowing.
"My home was there when the war began," she explained simply. "Now it is hate, pillage, and plunder everywhere. We fled to Philadelphia for our lives, and have almost forgotten we ever had a home. We loyalists are paying a price almost equal to those men with Washington. 'Tis this memory which makes me so bitter toward those who play amid the ruins."
"Yet you have seemed to enter into the gay spirit of the occasion," and my eyes swept over her costume.
"Oh, I am girl enough to enjoy the glitter, even while the woman in me condemns it all. You are a soldier—a fighting soldier, I hope—and still you are here also seeking pleasure."
"True; I yielded to temptation, but for which I should never have come."
"The dare in your eyes this afternoon," I said boldly. "But for what I read there I should be out yonder riding through the night."
She laughed, yet not wholly at ease, the long lashes drooping over her eyes.
"Always the woman; what would you do without my sex to bear your mistakes?"
"But was this a mistake? Did I read altogether wrong?"
"Don't expect a confession from me, sir," demurely. "I have no memory of any promise."
"No, the barest suggestion was all your lips gave; it was the eyes that challenged."
"You must have dreamed; perhaps you recall the suggestion?"
"I took it to mean that you would not be altogether averse to meeting me again through the kindness of some mutual friend."
"No doubt you have found such a friend?"
"I have scarcely seen a face I know to-night," I pleaded. "I cannot even guess from what place of mystery you appeared so suddenly. So now I throw myself upon your mercy."
"I wonder is it quite safe!" hesitatingly. "But, perhaps, the risk is equally great on your part. Ah! the lights go on again."
"And the band plays a Hungarian Waltz; how better could we cement friendship than to that measure?"
"You think so? I am not so sure, and there are many names already on my card—"
"Do not look," I interrupted swiftly, "for I claim first choice since this afternoon."
"You do?" and her eyes laughed into mine provokingly. "And I had forgotten it all; did I, indeed promise you?"
"Only with your eyes."
"Oh, my eyes! always my eyes! Well, for once, at least, I will redeem even that visionary pledge," and her glance swept the room hastily. "But I advise that you accept my surrender quickly, sir—I am not sure but this was Captain Grant's dance, and he is coming now."
THE BEGINNING OF TROUBLE
Her hand was in mine, my arm already around her waist, when the officer bowed before us. He had been but a dim figure in the afternoon, but now I saw him for a tall, slender man, somewhat swarthy of face, with black hair and moustache, and a keen eye, attired in the green and white of the Queen's Rangers. He smiled, but with a sarcastic curl to the upper lip not altogether pleasant.
"Your pardon, Mistress Claire," he said boldly, sweeping me with a supercilious glance, "but am I mistaken in believing this waltz was pledged to me?"
"By mistake, Captain," her lips smiling, her eyes steady. "It seems I had overlooked a promise made during the afternoon."
"Oh, indeed," he turned toward me, staring insolently. "The hero of the rescue, I presume."
I felt the restraining pressure of her hand upon my sleeve, and her voice replied calmly, before I succeeded in finding words.
"This is the gentleman who protected me from the mob, if that be what you mean. Permit me to present Captain Grant of the Queen's Rangers, Lieutenant—pardon my having already forgotten your name."
"Fortesque," I stammered, intensely hating the necessary deception.
"Ah, yes—Lieutenant Fortesque, of the 42nd British Foot."
We bowed coldly, neither extending a hand, the Captain twisting his moustache as he continued staring at me.
"Fortesque," he repeated slowly. "Fortesque; not of this garrison, I believe."
"No, from New York," coolly. "I regret having interfered with your programme."
"Don't mention it; there are other ladies present, and, no doubt, your gallant act was worthy the reward; a pleasant evening, sir," and he drew aside, stiffly military. Eager to lose as little as possible of the measure I swung my partner forward, catching glimpse again of the man's face as we circled.
"Pleasant disposition," I ventured, without meaning to be uncivil.
"Oh, very," and her eyes met mine frankly. "But you must not quarrel with him; that is his one specialty, you know."
"Is the warning on your account, or my own?"
"Both, perhaps. Captain Grant's family and mine are neighbors—or were before war intervened—and between our fathers exists a life-long friendship. I could never consent to be the cause of his quarrelling with any one, and I have reason to know how quick tempered he is."
"I have little use for any man who swaggers about seeking trouble," I returned, as she hesitated. "It has been my experience that there is usually cowardice back of such a disposition."
"Not in this case," earnestly. "Captain Grant's courage has been sufficiently tested already. I warn you not to presume on your theory so far as he is concerned. I advise the safer course."
"What is that?"
Her eyes met mine, smiling slightly, and yet grave enough in their depths.
"To let this one dance prove sufficient reward for your act of rescue."
"You request this?"
"Oh, you must not place the entire burden of decision on me, sir. I can only suggest."
"Has Captain Grant any authority to dictate who shall be your partner?"
Her lashes lifted, and then fell before my gaze.
"He at least assumes the power, and generally with fair success. I must ask to be excused from discussing this matter further now, but—but," her voice trembled to a whisper, "I—I am sure your safety depends upon your leaving me."
Astonished by these words, suddenly wondering if she suspected me, scarcely comprehending what she meant, I stared into her face, as we circled the room. Grant stood stiffly against the wall where we left him, his eyes fastened moodily on the crowd; I realized his presence, yet my whole thought was concentrated on the girl, the strands of her hair brushing my lips, her steps lightly following the music, her eyes downcast. Into the cheeks there came a flush of pink, and she glanced up to read the surprise in my face.
"Do I need to say more?"
"Yes, you must," I insisted, "you can never believe I would leave you because of personal fear."
"I did not know—at first. Now I realize it will require a higher motive to influence you; not love of life, but love of country."
I felt the closer clasp of her fingers on my guiding hand, and knew I took a deep breath of surprise.
"Lean your head just a little closer," she whispered. "I—I know you, Major Lawrence, and—and I wish you well."
How I kept to the measure I cannot now imagine, for, in an instant, all my house of cards crumbled into nothingness. She knew me, this blue-eyed girl; knew me, and sought to aid my mission, this daughter of a loyalist, this lady of the Blended Rose. It was inconceivable, and yet a fact—my name had been whispered by her lips.
Suddenly she looked up laughing, as though to make others feel that we conversed lightly. We passed Grant, even as I held my breath, almost afraid to venture with words. Yet they would not be restrained.
"You certainly startled me; how do you know this? Surely we have never met before?"
"I refuse to be questioned, sir; it means nothing how I know—the fact that I do should be sufficient."
"But Mistress Claire—"
"Rather Mistress Mortimer."
"Yet the Captain called you Claire."
"And we were children together—you can scarcely claim such familiarity."
"I warrant you can name me."
"Allen, is it not, sir?"
What was it the witch did not know! This was no guess-work, surely, and yet how could her strange knowledge be accounted for? Sweet as the face was, greatly as it had attracted me, there was nothing to awaken a throb of memory. Surely I could never have seen her before, and forgotten; that would have been impossible. The music ceased, leaving us at the farther extremity of the hall.
"And now you will go?" she questioned eagerly.
"Do you mean, leave here?"
"Yes; you said once to-night, that but for me you would be riding yonder. I realized all you meant, and you must not remain. The guard-lines are slack to-night, and you can get through, but if you wait until to-morrow it may be too late. Believe me, I am your friend, a friend of your cause."
"I do believe you; I could not connect you with deceit, but I am bewildered at this sudden exposure. Does Captain Grant also suspect my identity?"
"I think not—not yet, at least, for if he did you would be under arrest. But there are others here who would recognize you just as I have. There is no mystery about it. I was in Philadelphia when the Continental troops were here, and you were pointed out to me then. No, we have never met, yet I was sure I recognized you this afternoon."
"I was pointed out to you by whom?"
"My brother—my twin brother on the staff of General Lee."
"Did you not inform me your family were loyalists?"
"Yes; it is true," earnestly, her foot tapping the floor, as though annoyed at such persistent questioning. "I have a father and brother in the King's service—but one is a renegade, and I—I—"
"You are what?"
"I am merely a woman, sir, unable to determine whether to finally become loyalist or rebel."
I looked gravely into her eyes until they fell, veiling their revelation of truth behind long lashes.
"Mistress Mortimer," I murmured, bending so close to her pink ear, I felt the soft touch of her hair on my lips, "you dissemble so charmingly as to even puzzle me. But if I leave you now, as you request, I must first have promise of welcome again."
"Then you mean to return—a prisoner? I am always merciful to the suffering."
"No; we are coming back to Philadelphia victors, and soon. I am not afraid to tell you. I have learned much to-day, and go back to report to Washington that the exchange of British commanders means the early evacuation of this city. When we meet again you will not be a lady of the Blended Rose, nor will I be wearing this uniform."
Her eyes sparkled brightly into mine, then dropped demurely.
"I—I rather like the colors you are wearing now, and am sure this dress is most becoming. I—I have a passion for masquerade."
"I recognize that, but have already discovered where I can read the truth beyond the masque—what is occurring now?"
She turned to look, attracted as I had been by the change and bustle about us. A few feet from where we stood conversing, large folding doors, previously concealed by draperies, were suddenly flung wide open, revealing a magnificent dining-hall. Before the crowd could recover from its first surprise, and surge that way, my eyes had taken in the full effect of the disclosure. It was a vast saloon, as I have since been informed, measuring two hundred and ten feet by forty, with a height of twenty-two feet, having three large alcoves on each side. The ceiling was the segment of a circle, the sides painted a light straw color, with vine leaves and festoons of flowers, some in bright, others in dark green. More than fifty large pier-glasses extended from floor to ceiling, reflecting the glitter of the tables, while a hundred branches of three lights each, and eighteen clusters of twenty-four, illumined the immense apartment, aided by three hundred wax tapers upon the snowy tables. These were already prepared for service, set with nearly five hundred covers, a large company of black slaves, attired in Oriental fashion, awaiting the coming of the guests. Sir William and his brother already led the way, the others pouring in as rapidly as the wide doors would permit. Dazzled by the magnificent spectacle I turned to my companion, unable to resist temptation. She must have instantly read the purpose in my face, for she grasped my sleeve.
"No; you must not think of remaining a moment longer. There will be a seat reserved for me, and Captain Grant is coming this way now. Something is wrong, I am sure; I have no time to explain, but promise me you will leave here at once—at once."
Her eyes, her words, were so insistent I could not refuse, although as I glanced about I felt convinced there was no danger in this assemblage, not a familiar face meeting mine. At the instant Grant came up, elbowing his way through the press, and staring insolently into my eyes, even as he bowed politely to the lady beside me.
"At least this is my privilege," he insisted, "unless there be another previous engagement of which I am ignorant."
"Oh, no," and she rested her hands on the green sleeve, smiling from his face into mine. "We were waiting for you to come. Good-night, Lieutenant Fortesque."
They had taken a step or two, when Grant halted, holding her arm tightly as he glanced back to where I stood.
"Would Lieutenant Fortesque spare me a moment after I have found the lady a seat?" he questioned politely.
"Gladly, if you do not keep me waiting too long."
"Then there will be no delay. Shall we say the parlor below?"
I bowed, conscious of the mute appeal in the lady's face, yet with no excuse for refusal.
"As well there as anywhere, sir."
Once again we bowed with all the punctilious ceremony of mutual dislike, and he whispered something into her ear as they disappeared in the stream of people. My cheeks burned with indignation at his cool insolence. What could it mean? Was he merely seeking a quarrel? or was there something else concealed behind this request? In either case I knew not how to act, and yet felt no inclination to avoid the meeting. Studying over the situation I pushed my way through the crowd across the floor of the ball-room. There were a few people still lingering on the stairs, but, except for the servants, the parlors below were deserted. I walked the length of one of the great rooms, and halted in front of a fireplace to await Grant's coming. I was eager to have this affair settled, and be off. I comprehended now the risk I had assumed by remaining so long, and began to feel the cords of entanglement drawing about me. There was a door opposite where I stood, and, staring toward it, I saw it open slightly, and, back in the darkness, the beckoning of a hand. Startled, yet realizing that it must mean me, I stepped closer, gripping the hilt of my sword, half suspecting treachery.
"Quick," and I recognized the deep contralto of the voice. "Don't stop to question; there is not a moment to lose."
THE THREAT OF SWORDS
Stepping from the glare of those gleaming parlor lights into the gloom of that narrow passage, blinded me for the instant, yet a moment later, I became aware of the distant glimmer of a candle, the faint reflection revealing the girl's face.
"Please do not talk; do not ask anything—yet," she urged hurriedly, noiselessly closing the door at my back, and as instantly gripping my sleeve. Her breath came quickly; her voice trembled from suppressed excitement. "Come with me, beyond the light yonder."
I followed her guidance, bewildered, yet having every confidence the reason for this mysterious occurrence must be fully justified. The passage curved slightly, terminating at a closed door. Scarce a reflection of the candle reached us here, yet my eyes were by now sufficiently accustomed to the gloom so that I could trace the outlines of her face. A vague doubt took possession of me.
"You are causing me to run away from Grant," I protested blindly. "You are making me appear afraid to meet him."
"No, it is not that," swiftly. "He was not coming to you personally at all—you were to be arrested."
"What! He knew me then?"
"I am not sure—some one did, and mentioned his suspicions. Captain Grant was glad enough of an excuse, no doubt, but he," the soft voice faltering, "he made a mistake in twitting me for being friendly toward you."
"And you came to warn, to save me!" I exclaimed, pressing her hand.
"That was nothing; I could do no less. I am only glad I knew the way."
"You mean how you might reach me first?"
"Yes; it came to me in a flash when he first left me alone, only I was not certain in which parlor you would be waiting. I ran through the kitchen and down the back stairs; I helped the officers plan their decorations, and in that way learned of this private passage beneath the stairs. It was easy, but—oh, listen! they are in there now!"
We could hear voices through the intervening wall clearly enough to even distinguish words, as the speakers exercised little restraint. I felt the girl's slender figure press against me in the narrow space where we stood, and I clung to her hand, both remaining motionless and silent.
"The fellow has run, Grant," boomed some one hoarsely, "either afraid, or else what you say he is. See here, boy, did you see any one in here lately in scarlet jacket?"
"I don' just 'member, sah," answered a negro, hesitatingly. "I was busy over dar' cleanin' de side-boa'd."
"Well, he's not here now, that's certain," broke in Grant impatiently, "and we've been in all the parlors? What next, MacHugh?"
"Try to head him off before he can get out of the city, of course. That's his game, probably. Osborne, have Carter come here at once. Why didn't you nab the fellow upstairs, Captain? Fool play that, sending him down here."
"I didn't wish to create a row in the ball-room; he was with Claire Mortimer—"
"Oh, I see," laughing coarsely. "Something besides military duty involved, eh?"
"I'll trouble you to be a trifle more careful, MacHugh," Grant said stiffly. "The fellow did her a small service in the afternoon, and she couldn't refuse dancing with him, as he was in uniform, and apparently all right. I advise you to drop that part of the affair. Here's Carter now."
I could hear the click of the newcomer's spurs as he crossed the room. MacHugh chuckled.
"Touchy about it just the same, I see; however we'll pass up the lady. Carter, there has been a spy in here to-night, calling himself Lieutenant Fortesque, of the 42nd Regiment. He came through the lines this morning with despatches for Howe, I understand. Did you meet him?"
"No, sir, but one of my men was riding about with him all day—Watts; I heard him telling about it an hour ago."
"Is that so? Where'd they go?"
"Covered everything, I judge, from Callowhill to the Lower Battery. Watts said he asked questions of everybody they met, but he didn't take any notes. He liked the fellow, but thought he was mighty inquisitive. Where is he now, sir?"
"The devil knows, I don't, and you'll have to find out. He'll head northwest likely; he'll never try to cross the river here. How many men have you?"
"Scatter them to every north post. The fellow had no horse, and your troopers can easily get ahead of him. Hurry up now." Carter departed with click of steel, and MacHugh evidently turned to his companion.
"We'll catch the lad all right, Grant. Some of those outposts will nab him before daylight. No use our waiting around here; let's go back upstairs."
The girl's nervous grasp on my arm tightened, her lips pressed close to my ear.
"I—I must get back to my place at the table," she whispered. "Surely you know what to do; this is a rear door; there are stables a hundred feet away; you must get a horse, and ride fast—you—you will do this!"
"Yes, of course—but how can I thank you?"
"Don't try; don't ever even think of it again. I hardly know what mad impulse sent me here. Now I have but one thought—to hurry you away, and get safely back myself—you will go?"
"Not now! there is no time for explanation, promises, anything. You heard what they said; every avenue of escape will be blocked within an hour. If you go at once you can outride them—please, please go!"
She held out her hand, and I grasped it warmly, unable longer to war against the pitiful appeal in her voice.
"Yes, I'll go, at once. But I take away with me a memory which will never permit me to be satisfied until we meet again. We have been together so short a time—"
"Had it been longer," she interrupted, "you would know me better, and care less, perhaps. I am a sham; a cheat," a trifle of bitterness in the tone. "You will learn all that some day, and laugh at yourself. Oh, I know you will; so not another word, sir. I am going; then, perhaps, you will."
There was a slight pressure of her fingers, and she had vanished so quickly I could only stare blindly along the deserted passage. Yet, an instant later, the peril of my predicament flashed back upon my mind, and I faced the immediate necessity for action. What her strange words might mean could not be interpreted; I made no attempt to comprehend. Now I must find means of escape, and learn the truth later. I opened the door cautiously, and stepped without, every nerve taut, every muscle braced for action. It was a star-lit night, and the numerous rear windows of the mansion cast a glare of light for some distance. The dark shadow of a high fence alone promised concealment, and, holding my sword tightly, I crept in that direction, breathing again more freely as I reached its protection unobserved. There was a guard stationed before the stable door—a Grenadier, from the outline of his hat—and others, a little group, were sitting on the grass a dozen feet away. If they had not been already warned I might gain a horse by boldness, but the probability was that here was where Carter had mounted his squad, and I would merely walk forward into a trap. I had better chance the possibility that some visitor had left a horse tied in front, or to one of the stands. With this possibility in mind I turned, and skirted the house, making myself as inconspicuous as possible. There were soldiers on the outside steps; I heard their voices without seeing them, and was thus driven to run swiftly across an open space, memory guiding me toward the opposite pavilion. Breathless, with heart beating fast, I crouched low in the shadow, endeavoring to make out my more immediate surroundings. There were no horses there, but I could clearly distinguish the stomping of restless hoofs somewhere to the right. As I straightened up, determined upon discovering an empty saddle if possible, the figure of a man suddenly loomed directly in front, advancing toward me. In startled surprise I took one step backward, but was too late. Already the eyes of the newcomer had perceived my presence, and he sprang forward, tugging at his sword.
"Hold on there! hold on!" he commanded shortly. "Who are you? What the devil are you skulking about out here for?"
It was Grant beyond a doubt; I would recognize the peculiar snarl of that voice in a thousand. He had not gone upstairs then; had not rejoined the lady in the dining-room. What would she think of his absence? What would she do when she realized its probable meaning? Someway I was not frightened, at thus meeting him, but glad—if those others would only keep away, and let us settle the affair between us. Here was his test—a coward would cry out an alarm, summon the guard to his assistance, but, if the fellow's nerve only held, or if he hated me badly enough, he'd fight it out alone. All this came to me in a flash, and the words of challenge spoken before he even grasped the thought of who I was.
"So I have discovered you, have I? Why did you fail to keep our appointment within?"
He drew up sharply, with an oath, peering at me through the dark, bewildered by my speech.
"The spy! Ye gods, what luck! Do you mean to insinuate I ran away, sir?"
"How else could I interpret it?" I questioned coolly, determined to taunt him to action. "I waited where you told me till I was tired. Perhaps you will oblige me by explaining your purpose."
He muttered something, but without comprehending its purport I went on threateningly:
"And I think you made use of the word spy just now. Did you mistake me for another?"
"Mistake you? No; I'd know you in hell," he burst forth, anger making his voice tremble. "I called you a spy, and you are one, you sneaking night rat. You never waited for me in the parlor; if you had you'd now be under arrest."
"Oh, so that was the plan?"
"Yes, that was it, Mister Lieutenant Fortesque."
"Well, Grant," I said sternly, "I've got just one answer to make you. You can call your guard, or you can fight it out with me here. Whichever you choose will depend upon whether you are a man, or a cur." I took a step nearer, watching him as best I could in the dark. "You are an unmitigated liar, sir," and with sudden sweep of the arm I struck him with open hand. "Probably you will realize what that means."
For an instant he remained so still I doubted him, even held him cheap; then the breath surged through his clinched teeth in a mad oath. He surged toward me, but my sword was out, the steel blocking his advance.
"You—you actually mean fight?"
"Why not? Isn't that cause enough? If not I will furnish more."
"I do not fight spies—"
"Stop! That silly charge is merely an excuse. You do not believe it yourself. You wanted a quarrel yonder in the ball-room. The expression of your eyes was an insult. Don't evade now. I am here, wearing the uniform of the British army. I have every right of a gentleman, and you will cross swords, or I'll brand you coward wherever there is an English garrison."
The fellow was certainly not afraid, yet he hesitated, not quite clear in his own mind what he had better do. I might be a spy, and I might not; he possessed no doubt a moment before, yet the very boldness of my words had already half convinced him there might be some mistake. Should he call to the men on the steps yonder, denounce me, and turn me over to the guard? That was the easiest way for him, the greater disgrace to me. Yet if, by any chance, I proved later innocent of the charge, then he would become the laughingstock of the army. I heard his teeth grate savagely as he realized his dilemma, and laughed outright.
"You do not seem altogether pleased, my friend; what are you, a toy soldier?"
"Hell's acre! I'll show you what I am."
I saw the sudden flash of his drawn blade, and flung up my own in guard.
"Wait; not here, Captain," I insisted quickly. "We're far too near your watchful friends yonder; besides the light is poor. Let's try our fortunes beyond the pavilion, where it can be simply man to man."
He turned without a word, and I followed, eager enough to have done with the business. The stars gleamed on the naked weapons held in our hands, but we exchanged no words until we had rounded the corner, and come forth into the open space beyond.
THE ONE HOPE
As he stopped and faced about, I as instantly halted.
"Perhaps this spot may satisfy your requirements," he said sarcastically. "'Tis far enough away at least, and the light is not so bad."
"It will do," I replied, and threw my scarlet jacket on the grass. "Strip to the white, sir, and then we can see fairly well where to strike. That's better. On guard!"
Neither of us had mentioned the lady, preferring to base our quarrel on other grounds, yet I fully comprehended that some unreasonable jealousy on his part had led up to all this. Whatever the relations between them might be, his desires were clear enough, as well as his methods for keeping others away. This knowledge merely nerved me to steadiness; she would hear of it all later and understand. The fellow's right to resent the small attentions I had shown to Mistress Mortimer I questioned greatly—she had plainly enough denied the existence of any relationship between them other than family friendship,—and I meant to teach this loyalist bully that I was not the sort to be driven away by loud words, or the flash of a sword.
He came at me fiercely enough, confident of his mastery of the weapon, and, no doubt, expecting me to prove an easy victim of his skill. His first onslaught, a trick thrust under my guard, caused me to give back a step or two, and this small success yielded him the over-confidence I always prefer that an opponent have. I was young, agile, cool-headed, instructed since early boyhood by my father, a rather famous swordsman, in the mysteries of the game, yet I preferred that Grant should deem me a novice. With this in mind, and in order that I might better study the man's style, I remained strictly on defence, giving way slightly before the confident play of his steel, content with barely turning aside the gleaming point before it pricked me. At first he mistook this for weakness, sneering at my parries, as he bore in with increasing recklessness.
"A club would be more in your line, I take it, Mr. Lieutenant Fortesque," he commented sarcastically, "but I'll play with you a while for practice—ah! that was a lucky turn of the wrist! So you do know a trick or two? Perhaps you have a parry for that thrust as well! Ah! an inch more and I'd have pricked you—your defence is not bad for a boy! By all the gods, I tasted blood then—now I'll give you a harder nut to crack!"
I was fighting silently, with lips closed, husbanding my breath, scarcely hearing his comments. Every stroke, every thrust, gave me insight of his school, and instinctively my blade leaped forth to turn aside his point. He was a swordsman, stronger than I, and of longer reach, yet his tricks were old, and he relied more on strength than subtlety of fence. Our swords gleamed against each other in the glitter of the stars, both content with thrust and parry, as we circled, watchful for some opening. Then, confident I had gauged my man, I began to drive in upon him, returning thrust for thrust, and trying a trick or two of my own. He countered with skill, laughing and taunting me, until his jeers made me fight grimly, with fresh determination to end the affair.
"By God! you have a right pretty thrust from the shoulder," he exclaimed. "Been out before, I take it. But I'll show you something you never learned. Odds, I'll call your boy's play!"
"Better hold your breath, for you'll need it now," I replied shortly. "The boy's play is over with."
Step by step I began sternly to force the fighting, driving my point against him so relentlessly as to hush his speech. Twice we circled, striking, countering, fighting, our blades glittering ominously in the starlight, our breathing labored with the fierceness of the fighting. Both our swords tasted blood, he slicing my forearm, I piercing his shoulder, yet neither wound sufficed to bring any cessation of effort. We were mad now with the fever of it, and struggling to kill, panting fiercely, our faces flushed, the perspiration dripping from our bodies, our swords darting swiftly back and forth. He was my match, and more, and, had we been permitted to go on to the end, would have worn me down by sheer strength. Suddenly, above the clash of steel, came the sound of voices; our blades were struck up, and the dark forms of men pressed in between us.
"Stop it, you hotheads!" some one commanded gruffly. "Hold your man, Tolston, until I get at the reason for this fighting. Who are you? Oh, Grant! What's the trouble now? The old thing, eh?"
I had no desire to wait his answer, confident that Grant was sufficiently angry to blurt out everything he knew. They were all facing his way, actuated by the recognition. Breathless still, yet quick to seize the one and only chance left, I grabbed up my jacket from the grass, and sprang into the darkness. I had gained a hundred feet before those behind grasped the meaning of my unexpected flight, and then the tumult of voices only sent me flying faster, realizing the pursuit. The only open passage led directly toward the river, and I raced through the black night down the slope as though all the fiends of hell were after me. I heard shouts, oaths, but there was no firing, and was far enough ahead to be invisible by the time I attained the bank. An open barge lay there, a mere black smudge, and I stumbled blindly across this, dropping silently over its side into the water. It was not thought, but breathless inability to attempt more, which kept me there, clinging to a slat on the side of the barge, so completely submerged in the river, as to be invisible from above. Swearing fiercely, my pursuers stormed over the barge, swinging their swords along the edges to be sure I was not there. One blade pricked me slightly, but I held on, sinking yet deeper into the stream. I could see the dim outline of heads peering over, but was not discovered. The same gruff voice which had interrupted the duel broke through the noise:
"I tell you he turned to the left; I saw him plainly enough. What did you say the fellow's name was, Grant?"
"How do I know? He called himself Fortesque."
"Sure; the same one Carter was sent out hunting after. Well, he dodged down there among those coal sheds. That is the only way he could have disappeared so suddenly. Come on, all of you, except Moore and Cartaret, and we'll beat the shore."
I heard them scramble across to the bank, but there were sounds also proving the guards left behind were still on the deck above me. Then one of the fellows sat down on the edge of the barge, his feet dangling within a few inches of my head.
"Might as well take it easy, Bill," he said lazily. "They 're like to be an hour layin' hands on the lad, an' all we got to do is see he don't fox back this way. Got any tobacco, mate?"
The other must have produced the necessary weed, for there was a scraping of flint and steel, a gleam of fire glinting on the water, and then the pungent odor wafted to me in puff of smoke. With one hand, I unbuckled my sword belt, letting it, sword and all, sink silently into the river. I must cross to the opposite bank somehow, and would have to dispense with the weapon. Inch by inch, my fingers gripping the narrow slat to which I clung, I worked slowly toward the stern of the barge, making not so much as a ripple in the water, and keeping well hidden below the bulge of the side. The voices above droned along in conversation, of which I caught a few words.
"Who was he? You mean the lad they're after down yonder? Oh, I mind now, you came up late after we'd started the chase. Holy Mother, I don't know much myself, now I come to think of it. He looked like a Britisher, what I saw of him, an' he was fightin' with a Captain of Rangers—Grant was the name; maybe you know the man?—behind one of the stands. Old Hollis heard the clash of the steel; an' he called to us, an' the whole bunch started on a run. It was too dark to see much, but we jumped in an' pulled 'em apart, never once thinkin' it was more than two young hotheads doin' a little blood-lettin'. Then this chap turned an' run for it, trippin' up Sandy McPherson to get clear, and we after him. Somebody said he was a spy, an' that's the whole I know about it."