THE MASTER OF APPLEBY
A Novel Tale Concerning Itself in Part with the Great Struggle in the Two Carolinas; but Chiefly with the Adventures Therein of Two Gentlemen Who Loved One and the Same Lady
Illustrations by T. de Thulstrup
New York Grosset & Dunlap Publishers Copyright 1902 The Bowen-Merrill Company October
TO Mr. Edward G. Richmond OF CHATTANOOGA, TENNESSEE, WHOSE KINDNESS AND ENCOURAGEMENT MUST ALWAYS BE HELD IN LIVELY REMEMBRANCE BY THE AUTHOR THIS BOOK IS GRATEFULLY INSCRIBED
I I WHET MY FATHER'S SWORD 1
II KNITS UP SOME BROKEN ENDS 15
III MY ENEMY SCORES FIRST 25
IV MAY BE PASSED OVER LIGHTLY 36
V I LOST WHAT I HAD NEVER GAINED 47
VI RED WRATH MAY HEAL A WOUND 60
VII MY LADY HATH NO PART 75
VIII I TASTE THE QUALITY OF MERCY 88
IX A GOLDEN KEY UNLOCKED A DOOR 98
X A FORLORN HOPE CAME TO GRIEF 107
XI A LIE WAS MADE THE VERY TRUTH 114
XII THE NEWS CAME TO UNWELCOME EARS 129
XIII A PILGRIMAGE BEGINS 141
XIV THE BARONET PLAYED ROUGE-ET-NOIR 150
XV A HATCHET SINGS A MAN TO SLEEP 164
XVI JENNIFER THREW A MAIN WITH DEATH 171
XVII LOVE TOOK TOLL OF FRIENDSHIP 183
XVIII WE HEAR NEWS FROM THE SOUTH 194
XIX A STUMBLING HORSE BROUGHT TIDINGS 207
XX WE STRIVE AS MEN TO RUN A RACE 217
XXI WE KEPT LENTEN VIGILS IN TRINITYTIDE 228
XXII THE FATES GAVE LARGESS OF DESPAIR 235
XXIII WE KEPT THE FEAST OF BITTER HERBS 251
XXIV WE FOUND THE SUNKEN VALLEY 259
XXV UNCANOOLA TRAPPED THE GREAT BEAR 269
XXVI THE CHARRED STICK FOR A GUIDE 279
XXVII A KING'S TROOPER BECAME A WASTREL 287
XXVIII I SADDLE THE BLACK MARE 296
XXIX HAVING DANCED, WE PAY THE PIPER 309
XXX EPHRAIM YATES PRAYED FOR HIS ENEMIES 324
XXXI WE MAKE A FORCED MARCH 336
XXXII I AM BEDDED IN A GARRET 351
XXXIII I HEAR CHANCEFUL TIDINGS 361
XXXIV I MET A GREAT LORD AS MAN TO MAN 369
XXXV I FIGHT THE DEVIL WITH FIRE 376
XXXVI I RODE POST ON THE KING'S BUSINESS 382
XXXVII WHAT BEFELL AT KING'S CREEK 395
XXXVIII WE FIND THE GUN-MAKER 412
XXXIX THE THUNDER OF THE CAPTAINS 418
XL VAE VICTIS 432
XLI I PLAYED THE HOST AT MY OWN FIRESIDE 446
XLII MY LORD HAS HIS MARCHING ORDERS 454
XLIII I DRINK A DISH OF TEA 460
XLIV WE COME TO THE BEGINNING OF THE END 470
XLV WE FIND WHAT WE NEVER SOUGHT 480
XLVI OUR PIECE MISSED FIRE AT HARNDON ACRES 488
XLVII ARMS AND THE MAN 505
XLVIII WE KEPT TRYST AT APPLEBY 517
XLIX A LAWYER HATH HIS FEE 531
L RICHARD COVERDALE'S DEBT WAS PAID 549
LI THE GOOD CAUSE GAINS A CONVERT 562
LII BRINGS US TO THE JOURNEY'S END 573
IN WHICH I WHET MY FATHER'S SWORD
The summer day was all but spent when Richard Jennifer, riding express, brought me Captain Falconnet's challenge.
'Twas a dayfall to be marked with a white stone, even in our Carolina calendar. The sun, reaching down to the mountain-girt horizon in the west, filled all the upper air with the glory of its departing, and the higher leaf plumes of the great maples before my cabin door wrought lustrous patterns in gilded green upon a zenith background of turquoise shot with crimson, like the figurings of some rich old tapestries I had once seen in my field-marshal's castle in the Mark of Moravia.
Beyond the maples a brook tinkled and plashed over the stones on its way to the near-by Catawba; and its peaceful brawling, and the evensong of a pair of clear-throated warblers poised on the topmost twigs of one of the trees, should have been sweet music in the ears of a returned exile. But on that matchless bride's-month evening of dainty sunset arabesques and brook and bird songs, I was in little humor for rejoicing.
The road made for the river lower down and followed its windings up the valley; but Jennifer came by the Indian trace through the forest. I can see him now as he rode beneath the maples, bending to the saddle horn where the branches hung lowest; a pretty figure of a handsome young provincial, clad in fashions three years behind those I had seen in London the winter last past. He rode gentleman-wise, in small-clothes of rough gray woolen and with stout leggings over his hose; but he wore his cocked hat atilt like a trooper's, and the sword on his thigh was a good service blade, and no mere hilt and scabbard for show such as our courtier macaronis were just then beginning to affect.
Now I had known this handsome youngster when he was but a little lad; had taught him how to bend the Indian bow and loose the reed-shaft arrow in those happier days before the tyrant Governor Tryon turned hangman, and the battle of the Great Alamance had left me fatherless. Moreover, I had drunk a cup of wine with him at the Mecklenburg Arms no longer ago than yesterweek—this to a renewal of our early friendship. Hence, I must needs be somewhat taken aback when he drew rein at my door-stone, doffed his hat with a sweeping bow worthy a courtier of the great Louis, and said, after the best manner of Sir Charles Grandison:
"I have the honor of addressing Captain John Ireton, sometime of his Majesty's Royal Scots Blues, and late of her Apostolic Majesty's Twenty-ninth Regiment of Hussars?"
It was but an euphuism of the time, this formal preamble, declaring that his errand had to do with the preliminaries of a private quarrel between gentlemen. Yet I could scarce restrain a smile. For these upcroppings of courtier etiquette have ever seemed to march but mincingly with the free stride of our western backwoods. None the less, you are to suppose that I made shift to match his bow in some fashion, and to say: "At your service, sir."
Whereupon he bowed again, clapped hat to head and tendered me a sealed packet.
"From Sir Francis Falconnet, Knight Bachelor of Beaumaris, volunteer captain in his Majesty's German Legion," he announced, with stern dignity.
Having no second to refer him to, I broke the seal of the cartel myself. Since my enemy had seen fit to come thus far on the way to his end in some gentlemanly manner, it was not for me to find difficulties among the formalities. In good truth, I was overjoyed to be thus assured that he would fight me fair; that he would not compel me to kill him as one kills a wild beast at bay. For certainly I should have killed him in any event: so much I had promised my poor Dick Coverdale on that dismal November morning when he had choked out his life in my arms, the victim first of this man's treachery, and, at the last, of his sword. So, as I say, I was nothing loath, and yet I would not seem too eager.
"I might say that I have no unsettled quarrel with Captain Falconnet," I demurred, when I had read the challenge. "He spoke slightingly of a lady, and I did but—"
"Your answer, Captain Ireton!" quoth my youngster, curtly. "I am not empowered to give or take in the matter of accommodations."
"Not so fast, if you please," I rejoined. "I have no wish to disappoint your principal, or his master, the devil. Let it be to-morrow morning at sunrise in the oak grove which was once my father's wood field, each man with his own blade. And I give you fair warning, Master Jennifer; I shall kill your bullyragging captain of light-horse as I would a vermin of any other breed."
At this Jennifer flung himself from his saddle with a great laugh.
"If you can," he qualified. "But enough of these 'by your leave, sirs.' I am near famished, and as dry as King David's bottle in the smoke. Will you give me bite and sup before I mount and ride again? 'Tis a long gallop back to town on an empty stomach, and with a gullet as dry as Mr. Gilbert Stair's wit."
Here was my fresh-hearted Dick Jennifer back again all in a breath; and I made haste to shout for Darius, and for Tomas to take his horse, and otherwise to bestir myself to do the honors of my poor forest fastness as well as I might.
Luckily, my haphazard larder was not quite empty, and there were presently a bit of cold deer's to eat and some cakes of maize bread baked in the ashes to set before the guest. Also there was a cup of sweet wine, home-pressed from the berries the Indian scuppernong, to wash them down. And afterward, though the evening was no more than mountain-breeze cool, we had a handful of fire on the hearth for the cheer of it while we smoked our reed-stemmed pipes.
It was over the pipes that Jennifer unburdened himself of the gossip of the day in Queensborough.
"Have you heard the newest? But I know you haven't, since the post-riders came only this morning. The war has shifted from the North in good earnest at last, and we are like to have a taste of the harryings the Jerseymen have had since '76. My Lord Cornwallis is come as far as Camden, they say; and Colonel Tarleton has crossed the Catawba."
"So? Then Mr. Rutherford is like to have his work cut out for him, I take it."
Jennifer eyed me curiously. "Grif Rutherford is a stout Indian fighter; no West Carolinian will gainsay that. But he is never the man to match Cornwallis. We'll have help from the North."
"De Kalb?" I suggested.
Again the curious eyeshot. "Nay, John Ireton, you need not fear me, though I am just now this redcoat captain's next friend. You know more about the Baron de Kalb's doings than anybody else in Mecklenburg."
"I? What should I know?"
"You know a deal—or else the gossips lie most recklessly."
"They do lie if they connect me with the Baron de Kalb, or with any other of the patriot side. What are they saying?"
"That you come straight from the baron's camp in Virginia—to see what you can see."
"A spy, eh? 'Tis cut out of whole cloth, Dick, my lad. I've never took the oath on either side."
He looked vastly disappointed. "But you will, Jack? Surely, you have not to think twice in such a cause?"
"As between King and Congress, you mean? 'Tis no quarrel of mine."
"Now God Save us, John Ireton!" he burst out in a fine fervor of youthful enthusiasm that made him all the handsomer, "I had never thought to hear your father's son say the like!"
"And why not, pray? The king's minion, Tryon, hanged my father and gave his estate to his minion's minion, Gilbert Stair. So, in spite of your declarations and your confiscations and your laws against alien landholders, I come back to find myself still the son of the outlawed Roger Ireton, and this same Gilbert Stair firmly lodged in my father's seat."
Jennifer shrugged in his turn.
"Gilbert Stair—for sweet Madge's sake I'm loath to say it—Gilbert Stair blows hot or cold as the wind sets fair or stormy. And I will say this for him: no other Tryon legatee of them all has steered so fine a course through these last five upsetting years. How he trims so skilfully no man knows. A short month since, he had General Rutherford and Colonel Sumter as guests at Appleby Hundred; now it is Sir Francis Falconnet and the British light-horse officers who are honored. But let him rest: the cause of independence is bigger than any man, or any man's private quarrel, friend John; and I had hoped—"
I laid a hand on his knee. "Spare yourself, Dick. My business in Queensborough was to learn how best I might reach Mr. Rutherford's rendezvous."
For a moment he sat, pipe in air, staring at me as if to make sure that he had heard aright. Then he clipt my hand and wrung it, babbling out some boyish brava that I made haste to put an end to.
"Softly, my lad," I said; "'tis no great thing the Congress will gain by my adhesion. But you, Richard; how comes it that I find you taking your ease at Jennifer House and hobnobbing with his Majesty's officers when the cause you love is still in such desperate straits?"
He blushed like a girl at that, and for a little space only puffed the harder at his pipe.
"I did go out with the Minute Men in '76, if you must know, and smelt powder at Moore's Creek. When my time was done I would have 'listed again; but just at that my father died and the Jennifer acres were like to go to the dogs, lacking oversight. So I came home and—and—"
He stopped in some embarrassment, and I thought to help him on.
"Nay, out with it, Dick. If I am not thy father, I am near old enough to stand in his stead. 'Twas more than husbandry that rusted the sword in its scabbard, I'll be bound."
"You are right, Jack; 'twas both more and less," he confessed, shamefacedly. "'Twas this same Margery Stair. As I have said, her father blows hot or cold as the wind sets, but not she. She is the fiercest little Tory in the two Carolinas, bar none. When I had got Jennifer in order and began to talk of 'listing again, she flew into a pretty rage and stamped her foot and all but swore that Dick Jennifer in buff and blue should never look upon her face again with her good will."
I had a glimpse of Jennifer the lover as he spoke, and the sight went somewhat on the way toward casting out the devil of sullen rage that had possessed me since first I had set returning foot in this my native homeland. 'Twas a life lacking naught of hardness, but much of human mellowing, that lay behind the home-coming; and my one sweet friend in all that barren life was dead. What wonder, then, if I set this frank-faced Richard in the other Richard's stead, wishing him all the happiness that poor Dick Coverdale had missed? I needed little: would need still less, I thought, before the war should end; and through this love-match my lost estate would come at length to Richard Jennifer. It was a meliorating thought, and while it held I could be less revengeful.
"Dost love her, Dick?" I asked.
"Aye, and have ever since she was in pinafores, and I a hobbledehoy in Master Wytheby's school."
"So long? I thought Mr. Stair was a later comer in Mecklenburg."
"He came eight years ago, as one of Tryon's underlings. Madge was even then motherless; the same little wilful prat-a-pace she has ever been. I would you knew her, Jack. 'Twould make this shiftiness of mine seem less the thing it is."
"So you have stayed at home a-courting while others fought to give you leisure," said I, thinking to rally him. But he took it harder than I meant.
"'Tis just that, Jack; and I am fair ashamed. While the fighting kept to the North it did not grind so keen; but now, with the redcoats at our doors, and the Tories sacking and burning in every settlement, 'tis enough to flay an honest man alive. God-a-mercy, Jack! I'll go; I've got to go, or die of shame!"
He sat silent after that, and as there seemed nothing that a curst old campaigner could say at such a pass, I bore him company.
By and by he harked back to the matter of his errand, making some apology for his coming to me as the baronet's second.
"'Twas none of my free offering, you may be sure," he added. "But it so happened that Captain Falconnet once did me a like turn. I had chanced to run afoul of that captain of Hessian pigs, Lauswoulter, at cards, and Falconnet stood my friend—though now I bethink me, he did seem over-anxious that one or the other of us should be killed."
"As how?" I inquired.
"When Lauswoulter slipped and I might have spitted him, and didn't, Falconnet was for having us make the duel a outrance. But that's beside the mark. Having served me then, he makes the point that I shall serve him now."
"'Tis a common courtesy, and you could not well refuse. I love you none the less for paying your debts; even to such a villain as this volunteer captain."
"True, 'tis a debt, as you say; but I like little enough the manner of its paying. How came you to quarrel with him, Jack?"
Now even so blunt a soldier as I have ever been may have some prickings of delicacy where the truth might breed gossip—gossip about a tale which I had said should die with Richard Coverdale and be buried in his grave. So I evaded the question, clumsily enough, as has ever been my hap in fencing with words.
"The cause was not wanting. If any ask, you may say he trod upon my foot in passing."
"And for that you struck him? Heavens, man! you hold your life carelessly. Do you happen to know that this volunteer captain of light-horse is accounted the best blade in the troop?"
"Who should know that better than—" I was fairly on the brink of betraying the true cause of quarrel, but drew rein in time. "I care not if he were the best in the army. I have crossed steel before—and with a good swordsman now and then."
"Anan?" said Jennifer, as one who makes no doubt. And then: "But this toe-pinching story is but a dry crust to offer a friend. You spoke of a lady; who was she? Or was that only another way of telling me to mind my own affairs?"
"Oh, as to that; the lady was real enough, and Falconnet did grossly asperse her. But I know not who she is, nor aught about her, save that she is sweet and fair and good to look upon."
"And you say you do not know her? Let me see her through your eyes and mayhap I can name her for you."
"That I can not. Mr. Peale's best skill would be none too great for the painting of any picture that should do her justice. But she is small, with the airs and graces of a lady of the quality; also, she has witching blue eyes, and hair that has the glint of summer sunshine in it. Also, she sits a horse as if bred to the saddle."
To my amazement, Jennifer leaped up with an oath and flung his pipe into the fire.
"Curse him!" he cried. "And he dared lay a foul tongue to her, you say? Tell me what he said! I have a good right to know!"
I shook my head. "Nay, Richard; I may not repeat it to you, since you are the man's second. Truly, there is more than this at the back of our quarrel; but of itself it was enough, and more than enough, inasmuch as the lady had just done him the honor to recognize him."
"His words—his very words, Jack, if you love me!"
"No; the quarrel is mine."
"By God! it is not yours!" he stormed, raging back and forth before the fire. "What is Margery Stair to you, Jack Ireton?"
I smiled, beginning now to see some peephole in this millstone of mystery.
"Margery Stair? She is no more than a name to me, I do assure you; the daughter of the man who sits in my father's seat at Appleby Hundred."
"But you are going to fight for her!" he retorted.
"Am I? I pledge you my word I did not know it. But in any case I should fight Sir Francis Falconnet; aye, and do my best to kill him, too. Sit you down and fill another pipe. Whatever the quarrel, it is mine."
"Mayhap; but it is mine, too," he broke in, angrily. "At all events, I'll see this king's volunteer well hanged before I second him in such a cause."
"That as you choose. But you are bound in honor, are you not?"
"No." He filled a fresh pipe, lighted it with a coal from the hearth, and puffed away in silence for a time. When he spoke again it was not as Falconnet's next friend.
"What you have told me puts a new face on the matter, Jack. Sir Francis may find him another second where he can. If he has aught to say, I shall tell him plain he lied to me about the quarrel, as he did. Now who is there to see fair play on your side, John Ireton?"
At the question an overwhelming sense of my own sorry case grappled me. Fifteen years before, I had left Appleby Hundred and my native province as well befriended as the son of Roger Ireton was sure to be. And now—
"Dick, my lad, I am like to fight alone," said I.
He swore again at that; and here, lest I should draw my loyal Richard as he was not, let me say, once for all, that his oaths were but the outgushings of a warm and impulsive heart, rarely bitter, and never, as I believe, backed by surly rancor or conscious irreverence.
"That you shall not, Jack," he asserted, stoutly. "I must be a-gallop now to tell this king's captain to look elsewhere for his next friend; but to-morrow morning I'll meet you in the road between this and the Stair outlands, and we'll fare on together."
After this he would brook no more delay; and when Tomas had fetched his horse I saw him mount and ride away under the low-hanging maples—watched him fairly out of sight in the green and gold twilight of the great forest before turning back to my lonely hearth and its somber reminders.
I stirred the dying embers, throwing on a pine knot for better light. Then I took down my father's sword from its deer-horn brackets over the chimney-piece, and set myself to fine its edge and point with a bit of Scotch whinstone. It was a good blade; a true old Andrea Ferara got in battle in the seventeenth century by one of the Nottingham Iretons.
I whetted it well and carefully. It was not that I feared my enemy's strength of wrist or tricks of fence; but fighting had been my trade, and he is but a poor craftsman who looks not well to see that his tools are in order against their time of using.
WHICH KNITS UP SOME BROKEN ENDS
It was in the autumn of the year '64, as I was coming of age, that my father made ready to send me to England. Himself a conscience exile from Episcopal Virginia, and a descendant of those Nottingham Iretons whose best-known son fought stoutly against Church and King under Oliver Cromwell, he was yet willing to humor my bent and to use the interest of my mother's family to enter me in the king's service.
Accordingly, I took ship at Norfolk for "home," as we called it in those days; and, after a stormy passage and overmuch waiting as my cousins' guest in Lincolnshire, had my pair of colors in the Scots Blues, lately home from garrison duty in the Canadas.
Of the life in barracks of a young ensign with little wit and less wisdom, and with more guineas in his purse than was good for him, the less said the better. But of this you may like to know that, what with a good father's example, and some small heritage of Puritan decency come down to me from the sound-hearted old Roundhead stock, I won out of that devil's sponging-house, an army in the time of peace, with somewhat less to my score than others had to theirs.
It was in this barrack life that I came to know Richard Coverdale and his evil genius, the man Francis Falconnet. Coverdale was an ensign in my own regiment, and we were sworn friends from the first. His was a clean soul and a brave; and it was to him that I owed escape from many of the grosser chargings on that score above-named.
As for Falconnet, he was even then a ruffler and a bully, though he was not of the army. He was a younger son, and at that time there were two lives between him and the baronetcy; but with a mother's bequeathings to purchase idleness and to gild his iniquities, he was a fair example of the jeunesse doree of that England; a libertine, a gamester, a rakehell; brave as the tiger is brave, and to the full as pitiless. He was a boon companion of the officers' mess; and for a time—and purpose—posed as Coverdale's friend, and mine.
Since I would not tell my poor Dick's story to Richard Jennifer, I may not set it down in cold words here for you. It was the age-old tragic comedy of a false friend's treachery and a woman's weakness; a duel, and the wrong man slain. And you may know this; that Falconnet's most merciful role in it was the part he played one chill November morning when he put Richard Coverdale to the wall and ran him through.
As you have guessed, I was Coverdale's next friend and second in this affair, and but for the upsetting news of the Tryon tyranny in Carolina,—news which reached me on the very day of the meeting,—I should there and then have called the slayer to his account.
How my father who, Presbyterian and Ireton though he was, had always been of the king's side, came to espouse the cause of the "Regulators," as they called themselves, I know not. In my youthful memories of him he figures as the feudal lord of his own domain, more absolute than many of the petty kinglings I came afterward to know in the German marches. But this, too, I remember; that while his rule at Appleby Hundred was stern and despotic enough, he was ever ready to lend a willing ear to any tale of oppression. And if what men say of the tyrant Tryon's tax-gatherers and law-court robbers be no more than half truth, there was need for any honest gentleman to oppose them.
What that opposition came to in '71 is now a tale twice told. Taken in arms against the governor's authority, and with an estate well worth receiving, my father had little justice and less mercy accorded him. With many others he was outlawed; his estates were declared forfeit; and a few days later he, with Benjamin Merrill and four more captivated at the Alamance, was given some farce of a trial and hanged.
When the news of this came to me you may well suppose that I had no heart to continue in the service of the king who could sanction and reward such villainies as these of the butcher William Tryon. So I threw up my lieutenant's commission in the Blues, took ship for the Continent, and, after wearing some half-dozen different uniforms in Germany, was lucky enough to come at length to serviceable blows under my old field-marshal on the Turkish frontier.
To you of a younger generation, born in the day of swift mail-coaches and well-kept post-roads, the slowness with which our laggard news traveled in that elder time must needs seem past belief. It was early in the year '79 before I began to hear more than vague camp-fire tales of the struggle going on between the colonies and the mother country; and from that to setting foot once more upon the soil of my native Carolina was still another year.
What I found upon landing at New Berne and saw while riding a jog-trot thence to the Catawba was a province rent and torn by partizan warfare. Though I came not once upon the partizans themselves in all that long faring, there were trampled fields and pillaged houses enough to serve as mile-stones; and in my native Mecklenburg a mine full charged, with slow-match well alight for its firing.
Charleston had fallen, and Colonel Tarleton's outposts were already widespread on the upper waters of the Broad and the Catawba. Thus it was that the first sight which greeted my eyes when I rode into Queensborough was the familiar trappings of my old service, and I was made to know that in spite of Mr. Jefferson's boldly written Declaration of Independence, and that earlier casting of the king's yoke by the patriotic Mecklenburgers themselves, my boyhood home was for the moment by sword-right a part of his Majesty's province of North Carolina.
You are not to suppose that these things moved me greatly. As yet I was chiefly concerned with my own affair and anxious to learn at first hands the cost to me of my father's connection with the Regulators.
Touching this, I was not long kept in ignorance. Of all the vast demesne of Appleby Hundred there was no roof to shelter the son of the outlawed Roger Ireton save that of this poor hunting lodge in the mighty forest of the Catawba, overlooked, with the few runaway blacks inhabiting it, in the intaking of an estate so large that I think not even my father knew all the metes and bounds of it.
I shall not soon forget the interview with the lawyer in which I was told the inhospitable truth. Nor shall I forget his truculent leer when he hinted that I had best be gone out of these parts, since it was not yet too late to bring down the sentence of outlawry from the father to the son.
It was well for him that I knew not at the time that he was Gilbert Stair's factor. For I was mad enough to have throttled him where he sat at his writing table, matching his long fingers and smirking at me with his evil smile. But of this man more in his time and place. His name was Owen Pengarvin. I would have you remember it.
For a week and a day I lingered on at Queensborough, for what I knew not, save that all the world seemed suddenly to have grown stale and profitless, and my life a thing of small account. One day I would be minded to go back to my old field-marshal and the keeping of the Turkish border; the next I would ride over some part of my stolen heritage and swear a great oath to bide till I should come to my own again. And on these alternating days the storm of black rage filled my horizons and I became a derelict to drive on any rock or shoal in this uncharted sea of wrath.
On one of these gallops farthest afield I chanced upon the bridle-path that led to our old hunting lodge in the forest depths. Tracing the path to its end among the maples I found the cabin, so lightly touched by time that the mere sight of it carried me swiftly back to those happy days when my father and I had stalked the white-tailed deer in the hill glades beyond, with this log-built cabin for a rest-camp. I spurred up under the low-hanging trees. The door stood wide, and a thin wreath of blue smoke curled upward from the mouth of the wattled chimney.
Then and there I had my first welcome home. Old black Darius—old when I had last seen him at Appleby Hundred, and a very grandsire of ancients now—was one of the runaways who made the forest lodge a refuge. He had been my father's body-servant, and, notwithstanding all the years that lay between, he knew me at once.
Thereupon, as you would guess, I came immediately into some small portion of my kingdom. Though Darius was the patriarch, the other blacks were also fugitives from Appleby Hundred; and for the son of Roger Ireton there was instant vassalage and loyal service. But best of all, on my first evening before the handful of fire in the great fire-place, Darius brought me a package swathed in many wrappings of Indian-tanned deerskin. It contained my father's sword, and, more precious than this, a message from the dead. My father's farewell was written upon a leaf torn from his journal, and was but a hasty scrawl. I here transcribe it.
I know not if this will ever come into your hands, but it and my sword shall be left in trust with the faithful Darius. We have made our ill-timed cast for liberty and it has failed, and to-morrow I and five others are to die at the rope's end. I bequeath you my sword—'tis all the tyrant hath left me to devise—and my blessing to go with it when you, or another Ireton, shall once more bare the true old blade in the sacred cause of liberty.
Thy father, Roger Ireton.
You may be sure I conned these few brave words till I had them well by heart; and later, when my voice was surer and my eyes less dim, I summoned Darius and bade him tell me all he knew. And it was thus I learned what I have here set down of my father's end.
The next day, all indecision gone, I rode to Queensborough to ascertain, if so I might, how best to throw the weight of the good old Andrea into the patriot scale, meaning to push on thence to Charlotte when I had got the bearings of the nearest patriot force.
'Twas none so easy to learn what I needed to know; though, now I sought for information, a curious thing or two developed. One was that this light-horse outpost in our hamlet was far in advance of the army of invasion—so far that it was dangersomely isolated, and beyond support. Another was the air of secrecy maintained, and the holding of the troop in instant readiness for fight or flight.
Why this little handful of British regulars should stick and hang so far from Lord Cornwallis's main, which was then well down upon the Wateree, I could not guess. But for the secrecy and vigilance there were good reasons and sufficient. The patriot militia had been called out, and was embodying under General Rutherford but a few miles distant near Charlotte.
I had this information in guarded whispers from mine host of the tavern, and was but a moment free of the tap-room, when I first saw Margery Stair and so drank of the cup of trembling with madness in its lees. She was riding, unmasked, down the high road, not on a pillion as most women rode in that day, but upon her own mount with a black groom two lengths in the rear. I can picture her for you no better than I could for Richard Jennifer; but this I know, that even this first sight of her moved me strangely, though the witching beauty of her face and the proudness of it were more a challenge than a beckoning.
A blade's length at my right where I was standing in front of the tavern, three redcoat officers lounged at ease; and to one of them my lady tossed a nod of recognition, half laughing, half defiant. I turned quickly to look at the favored one. He stood with his back to me; a man of about my own bigness, heavy-built and well-muscled. He wore a bob-wig, as did many of the troop officers, but his uniform was tailor-fine, and the hand with which he was resettling his hat was bejeweled—overmuch bejeweled, to my taste.
Something half familiar in the figure of him made me look again. In the act he turned, and then I saw his face—saw and recognized it though nine years lay between this and my last seeing of it across the body of Richard Coverdale.
"So!" thought I. "My time has come at last." And while I was yet turning over in my mind how best to bait him, the lady passed out of earshot, and I heard him say to the two, his comrades, that foul thing which I would not repeat to Jennifer; a vile boast with which I may not soil my page here for you.
"Oh, come, Sir Frank! that's too bad!" cried the younger of the twain; and then I took two strides to front him fairly.
"Sir Francis Falconnet, you are a foul-lipped blackguard!" I said; and, lest that should not be enough, I smote him in the face so that he fell like an ox in the shambles.
IN WHICH MY ENEMY SCORES FIRST
True to his promise, Richard Jennifer met me in the cool gray birthlight of the new day at a turn in the river road not above a mile or two from the rendezvous, and thence we jogged on together.
After the greetings, which, as you may like to know, were grateful enough on my part, I would fain inquire how the baronet had taken his second's defection; but of this Jennifer would say little. He had broken with his principal, whether in anger or not I could only guess; and one of Falconnet's brother officers, that younger of the twain who had cried shame at the baronet's vile boast, was to serve in his stead.
It was such a daydawn as I have sometimes seen in the Carpathians; cool and clear, but with that sweet dewy wetness in the lower air which washes the over-night cobwebs from the brain, and is both meat and drink to one who breathes it. On the left the road was overhung by the bordering forest, and where the branches drooped lowest we brushed the fragrance from the wild-grape bloom in passing. On the right the river, late in flood, eddied softly; and sounds other than the murmuring of the waters, the matin songs of the birds, and the dust-muffled hoof-beats of our horses there were none. Peace, deep and abiding, was the key-note of nature's morning hymn; and in all this sylvan byway there was naught remindful of the fierce internecine warfare aflame in all the countryside. Some rough forging of this thought I hammered out for Jennifer as we rode along, and his laugh was not devoid of bitterness.
"Old Mother Nature ruffles her feathers little enough for any teapot tempest of ours," he said. "But speaking of the cruelties, we provincial savages, as my Lord Cornwallis calls us, have no monopoly. The post-riders from the south bring blood-curdling stories of Colonel Tarleton's doings. 'Tis said he overtook some of Mr. Lincoln's reinforcements come too late. They gave battle but faint-heartedly, being all unready for an enemy, and presently threw down their arms and begged for quarter—begged, and were cut down as they stood."
"Faugh!" said I. "That is but hangman's work. And yet in London I heard that this same Colonel Tarleton was with Lord Howe in Philadelphia and was made much of by the ladies."
Jennifer's laugh was neither mirthful nor pleasant.
"'Tis a weakness of the sex," he scoffed. "The women have a fondness for a man with a dash of the brute in him."
I laughed also, but without bitterness.
"You say it feelingly. Do you speak by the book?"
"Aye, that I do. Now here is my lady Madge preaching peace and all manner of patience to me in one breath, and upholding in the next this baronet captain who, though I would have seconded him at a pinch, is but a pattern of his brutal colonel."
I put two and two together.
"So Falconnet is on terms at Appleby Hundred, is he?"
"Oh, surely. Gilbert Stair keeps open house for any and all of the winning hand, as I told you."
The thought of this unspoiled young maiden having aught to do with such a thrice-accursed despoiler of women made my blood boil afresh; and in the heat of it I let my secret slip, or rather some small part of it.
"Sir Francis had ever a sure hand with the women," I said; and then I could have bitten my masterless tongue.
"So?" queried Jennifer. "Then this is not your first knowing of him?"
"No." So much I said and no more.
We rode on in silence for a little space, and then my youthling must needs break out again in fresh beseechings.
"Tell me what you know of him, and what it was he said of Madge," he entreated. "You can't deny me now, Jack."
"I can and shall. It matters not to you or to any what he is or has been."
"Because, as God gives me strength and skill, I shall presently run him through, and so his account will be squared once for all with all men—and all women, as well."
"God speed you," quoth my loyal ally. "I knew not your quarrel with him was so bitter."
"It is to the death."
"So it seems. In that case, if by any accident he—"
I divined what he would say and broke in upon him.
"Nay, Dick; if he thrusts me out, you must not take up my quarrel. I know not where you learned to twirl the steel, or how, but you may be sure he would spit you like a trussed fowl in the first bout. I have seen him kill a man who was reckoned the best short sword in my old regiment of the Blues."
"Content yourself," said my young Hotspur, grandly. "If you spare him he shall answer to me for that thing he said of Madge Stair; this though I know not what it was he said."
I smiled at his fuming ardor, and glancing at the pair of pistols hanging from his saddle-bow, asked if he could shoot.
"Then make him challenge you and choose your own weapon. 'Tis your only hope, and poor enough at that, I fear. I have heard he can clip a guinea at ten paces."
From that we fell silent again, being but a little way from the rendezvous, and so continued until, at a sudden turn in the road, we came in sight of a rude barricade of felled trees barring the way. Jennifer saw it first and pulled up short, loosing his pistols in their cases as he drew rein.
"'Ware the wood!" he said sharply, and none too soon, for even as he spoke the glade at our left filled as by magic with a motley troop deploying into the road as to surround us.
"Now who are these?" I asked; "friends or foes?"
"Foes who will hang you in your own halter strap; Jan Howart's Tories—the same that burned the Westcotts in their cabin a fortnight since. Will your horse take that barricade, think you?"
"Aye,—standing, if need be."
"Then at them, in God's name. Charge!"
It needed but the word and we were in the thick of it. I remembered my old field-marshal's maxim, Von Feinden umringt, ist die Zeit zu zerschmettern; and truly, being so plentifully outnumbered, we did strike both first and hard.
A line of the ragged horsemen strung itself awkwardly across the road to guard the flimsy barricade, and at this we charged, stirrup to stirrup. In the dash there was a scattering volley from the wood, answered instantly by the bellowings of Jennifer's great pistols; and then we came to the steel.
It was my first fleshing of the good old Andrea, and a better balanced blade I had never swung in hand-to-hand mellay. As we closed with the half-dozen defenders of the barrier, Jennifer reined aside to give me room to play to right and left, and in the midst of it went nigh to death because he held his hand to watch a cut and double thrust of mine.
"Over with you!" I shouted, pricking the man who would have mowed him down with a great scythe handled as a sword.
Our horses took the barrier in a flying leap, straining themselves for the race beyond. When we had pulled them down to a foot pace we were safely out of rifle shot and there was space to count the cost.
There was no cost worth counting. A saddle horn bullet-shattered for me, and the back of Jennifer's sword hand scored lightly across by another of the random missiles summed up our woundings. Dick whipped out his kerchief to twist about the scored hand, while I glanced back to see if any Tory cared to follow.
"Lord, Jack! I owe you one to keep and one to pay back," quoth my youngster, warmly. "I never saw a swordsman till this day!"
"Mere tricks, Dick, my lad; I have had fifteen years in which to learn them. And these were but country yokels armed with farming tools. The two with swords had little wit to use them."
"Oh, come!" said he. "I know a pretty bit of sword play when I see it. If we come whole out of this adventure with the baronet you shall teach me some of these 'mere tricks' of yours."
I promised, glancing back toward the dust-veiled barrier in the distance.
"Dick, you passed this way an hour ago; was that breastwork in the road then?"
"Not a stick of it."
"Then we may dare say our volunteer captain fights unwillingly."
"How so?" he demanded, being much too straightforward himself to suspect duplicity in others.
"'Tis plain enough. This was a trap, meant to stop or delay us, and I'll wager high it was the baronet who set and baited it. It would please him well to be able to say what our failure to come would give him warrant for. Let us gallop a bit, lest we be late and so play into his hand."
Jennifer smiled grimly and gave his horse the rein. "I think you'd charge the Fall of Man to him if that would give you better leave to kill him. I'd hate to own you for my enemy, John Ireton."
For all our swift speeding we were yet a little late at the rendezvous under the tall oaks. When we came on the ground the baronet was walking up and down arm in arm with his second, a broad-shouldered young Briton, fair of skin and ruddy of face.
If Falconnet had set the Tory trap for us he veiled his disappointment at its failure. His face, dark and inscrutable as it always was, was made more sinister by the plasters knitting up his broken cheek, but I was right glad to make sure that my blow had spared his eyes. Richly as he deserved his fate, I thought it would be ill to think on afterward that I had had him at a disadvantage of my own making.
There was little time wasted in the preliminaries. When Falconnet saw us he dropped his second's arm and began to make ready. I gave my sword to Jennifer, and the seconds went apart together. There was some measuring and balancing of weapons, and then Richard came back.
"The baronet's sword is a good inch longer than yours in the blade, and is somewhat heavier. Tybee has brought a pair of French short-swords which he offers. Will you change your terms?"
"No; I am content to fight with my own weapon."
Jennifer nodded. "So I told him." And then: "There was no surgeon to be had in town, Dr. Carew having gone with the Minute Men to join Mr. Rutherford. Tybee says 'tis scarce in accordance with the later rulings to fight without one."
"To the devil with their hairsplittings!" said I. "Let us have done with them and be at it."
Falconnet was removing his coat, and I stripped mine. The seconds chose the ground where the turf was short and firm, and yet yielding enough to give good footing. We faced each other, my antagonist baring an arm which, despite the bejeweled hand, was to the full as big-muscled as my own. My glance went from his weapon, a rather heavy German blade, straight and slender-pointed, to his face. He was smiling as one who strives to make the outer man a mask to cover all emotion, and the plasters on his cheek drew the smile into a grimace that was all but devilish.
The seconds fell back, but when Jennifer would have given the signal I stopped him.
"One moment, if you please. Sir Francis Falconnet, you know me?"
The thin-lidded eyes were veiled for an instant, and then he lied smoothly.
"Your pardon, Captain Ireton; I have not that honor."
"'Tis a small matter, but you do lie this morning as basely as you lied to Richard Coverdale nine years agone," said I; and then I signed Jennifer to give the word.
"Attention, gentlemen! On guard!"
My enemy's sword leaped to meet mine, and at the same instant I heard another click of steel betokening that the seconds had fallen to in a bit of by-play between themselves, as was then the fashion. After that I heard nothing for a time save the sibilant whisperings of the Ferara and the German long-sword, and saw nothing save the fierce eyes glaring at me out of the midst of the plaster-marred smile.
Recreant though he was, I must do my adversary the justice to say that he was a skilful master of fence, agile as a French dancer, and withal well-breathed and persevering. Twice, nay, thrice, before I found my advantage he had pricked me lightly with that extra inch of slender point. But when I had fairly felt his wrist I knew that his heavier weapon would shortly prove his undoing; knew that the quick parry and lightning-like thrust would presently lag a little, and then I should have him.
Something of this prophecy of triumph he must have read in my eyes, for on the instant he was up and at me like a madman, and I had my work well cut out to hold him at the blade's length. I was so holding him; was, in my turn, beginning to press him slowly, when there came a drumming of hoofbeats on the soft turf, and then a woman's cry.
I looked aside, and to my dying day I shall swear that my antagonist did likewise. What I saw was Mistress Margery Stair riding down upon us at a hand-gallop, and I lowered my point, as any gentleman would.
In the very act—'twas while Jennifer was clutching at her bridle rein to stay her from riding fair between us—I felt the hot-wire prick of the steel in my shoulder and knew that my enemy had run me through as I stood.
Of what befell afterward I have but dim memories. There were more hoof-tramplings, and then I felt the dewy turf under my hands and soft fingers tremblingly busy at my neckerchief. Then I saw swimmingly, as through a veil of mist, a woman's face just above my own, and it was full of horror; and I heard my enemy say: "'Twas most unfortunate and I do heartily regret it, Mr. Jennifer. I saw not why he had lowered his point. Can I say more?"
How Richard Jennifer made answer to this lie I know not; nor do I know aught else, save by hear-say, of any further happening in that grassy glade beneath my father's oaks. For the big German blade was a shrewd blood-letter, and I fell asleep what time my lady was trying to stanch with her kerchief the ebbing tide of life.
WHICH MAY BE PASSED OVER LIGHTLY
When I came back to some clearer sensing of things, I found myself abed in a room which was strange and yet strangely familiar. Barring a great oaken clothes-press in one corner, a raree-show of curious china on the shelves where the books should have been, and the face of an armored soldier staring down at me from its frame over the chimney piece, where I should have looked to see my mother's portrait, the room was a counterpart of my old bedchamber at Appleby Hundred. There was even a faint odor of lavender in the bed-linen; and the sense of smell, which hath ever a better memory than any other, carried me swiftly back to my boyhood, and to the remembrance that my mother had always kept a spray or two of that sweet herb in her linen closet.
At the bedside there was a claw-footed table, which also had the look of an old friend; and on it a dainty porringer, filled with cuttings of fragrant sweetbriar. This was some womanly conceit, I said to myself; and then I laughed, though the laugh set a pair of wolf's jaws at work on my shoulder. For you must know that I had lived the full half of King David's span of three-score and ten years, and more, and what womanly softness had fallen to my lot had been well got and paid for.
I closed my eyes the better to remember what had befallen, and when I opened them again was fain to wonder if the moment of back-reaching stood not for some longer time. In the deep bay of the window was a great chair of Indian wickerwork, and I could have sworn it had but now been empty. Yet when I looked again a woman sat in it.
Now of a truth I had seen this woman's face but twice; and once it wore a smile of teasing mockery and once was full of terror; but I thought I should live long and suffer much before the winsome challenging beauty of it would let me be as I had been before I had looked upon it.
She knew not that I was awake and slaking the thirst of my eyes upon the sweetness of her, and so I saw her then as few ever saw her, I think, with the womanly barriers of defense all down. 'Tis a hard test, and one that makes a blank at rest of many a face beautiful enough in action; but though this lady's face was to the full as changeful as any April sky, it was never less than triumphantly beautiful.
I had said her eyes were blue, but now they were deep wells reflecting the soft gray of the clouded sky beyond the window-panes. I had made sure that her lips lent themselves most readily to mocking smiles scornful of any wit less trenchant than her own; but now these mocking lips were pensive, and with the rounded cheek and chin gave her the look of a sweet child wanting to be kissed. I had said her hair was bright in the sunlight, and so, indeed, it was; but lacking the sun it still held the dull luster of burnished copper in its masses, and her simple, care-free dressing of it at a time when les grandes dames were frizzing and powdering and adding art to art to mar the woman's crown of glory, gave her yet more the look of a child.
Lastly, I had called her small, and certainly her figure was girlish beside those grenadier dames of Maria Theresa's court to whom my old field-marshal had once presented me. But when she rose and went to stand in the window-bay I marked this; that not any duchess or margravine of them all had a more queenly bearing, or, with all their stays and furbelows, could match her supple grace and lissom figure.
What with the blood-lettings and the wound fever, coupled with the subtle witchery of her presence thus in my sick room, it is little to be wondered at that a curious madness came over me, or that I forgot for the moment the loyalty due to my dear lad. Could I have stood before her and, reading but half consent in the deep-welled eyes, have clipt her in my arms and laid my lips to hers, I would have run to pay the price, in earth or heaven or hell, I thought, deeming the fierce joy of it well worth any penalty.
At this I should have stirred, I suppose, for she came quickly and stood beside me.
"You have slept long and well, Captain Ireton," she said; and in all the thrilling joy of her nearer presence I found space to mark that her voice had in it that sweet quality of sympathy which is all womanly. "They say I am good only to fetch and carry—may I fetch you anything?"
I fear the madness of the moment must still have been upon me, for I said: "Since you are here yourself, dear lady, I need naught else."
At a flash I had my whipping in a low dipped curtsy and a mocking smile like that she had flung to Falconnet.
"Merci! mon Capitaine," she said; and for all my wincings under the sharp lash of her sarcasm I was moved to wonder how she had the French of it. And then she added: "Is it the custom for Her Apostolic Majesty's officers to come out of a death-swound only to pay pretty compliments?"
"'Twas no compliment," I denied; and, indeed, I meant it. Then I asked where I was, and to whom indebted, though I had long since guessed the answer to both questions.
In a trice the mocking mood was gone and she became my lady hostess, steeped to her finger-tips in gracious dignity.
"You are at Appleby Hundred, sir. 'Twas here they fetched you because there was no other house so near, and you were sorely hurt. Richard Jennifer and my black boy made a litter of the saddle-cloths, and with Sir Francis and Mr. Tybee to help—"
I think she must have seen that this thrust was sharper than that of the German long-sword, for she stopped in mid-sentence and looked away from me. And, surely, I thought it was the very irony of fate that I should thus be brought half dead to the house that was my father's, with my enemy and his second to share the burden of me.
"But your father?" I queried, when the silence had grown over-long.
"My father is away at Queensborough, so you must e'en trust yourself to my tender mercies, Captain Ireton. Are you strong enough to have your wound dressed?"
She asked, but waited for no answer of mine. Summoning a black boy to hold the basin of water, she fell to upon the wound-dressing with as little ado as if she had been a surgeon's apprentice on a battle-field, and I a bloodless ancient too old to thrill at the touch of a woman's hands.
"Dear heart! 'tis a monstrous ugly hurt," she declared, replacing the wrappings with deft fingers. "How came you to go about picking a quarrel with Sir Francis?"
"'Twas not of my seeking," I returned, and then I could have cursed my foolish tongue.
"Is that generous, Captain Ireton? We hear something of the talk of the town, and that says—"
"That says I struck him without sufficient cause. I am content to let it stand so."
"Nay, but you should not be content. Is there not strife enough in this unhappy land without these causeless bickerings?"
Here was my lady turned preacher all in a breath and I with no words to answer her. But I could not let it go thus.
"I knew Sir Francis Falconnet in England," said I, hoping by this to turn her safe aside.
"Ah; then there was a cause. Tell it me."
"Nay, that I may not."
Though she was hurting me sorely in the wound-dressing, and knew it, she laughed.
"'Tis most ungallant to deny a lady, sir. But I shall know without the telling; 'twas about a woman. Tell me, Captain Ireton, is she fair?"
Seeing that her mood had changed again, I tried to give her quip for jest; but what with the pain of the sword-thrust and the sweet agony of her touches I could only set my teeth against a groan. She went on drawing the bandagings, little heedful how she racked me, I thought; and yet when all was done she stood beside me all of a tremble, as any tender-hearted woman might.
"There," she said; "'tis over for a time, and I make no doubt you are glad enough. Now you have nothing to do save to lie quiet till it heals."
"And how long will that be, think you?"
"We shall see; a long time, I hope. You shall be punished properly for your hot temper, I promise you, Captain Ireton."
With that she left me and went to stand in the window-bay; and from lying mouse-still and watching her over-steadily I fell asleep again. When I awoke the day was in its gloaming and she was gone.
After this I saw her no more for six full circlings of the clock-hands, and grew fair famished for a sight of her sweet face. But to atone, she, or some messenger of Richard Jennifer's, brought me my faithful Darius, and he it was who fetched me my food and drink and dressed my wound. From him I gleaned that the master of Appleby Hundred had returned from Queensborough, and that there were officers in red coats continually going back and forth, always with a hearty welcome from Gilbert Stair.
Now, though the master of my stolen heritage had little cause to love me, I thought he had still less to fear me; so it seemed passing strange that he came not once to my bedchamber to pass the time of day with his unbidden guest, or to ask how he fared. But in this, as in many other things, I reckoned without my enemy, though I might have known that Sir Francis would be oftenest among the red-coated officers coming and going.
But stranger than this, or than my lady's continued avoidance of me, was the lack of a visit from Richard Jennifer. Knowing well my dear lad's loyalty to the patriot cause, I could only conjecture that he had finally broken Margery's enforced truce to go and join Mr. Rutherford's militia, which, as Darius told me, was rallying to attack a Tory stronghold at Ramsour's Mill.
With this surmise I was striving to content myself on that evening of the third day, when Mistress Margery burst in upon me, bright-eyed and with her cheeks aflame.
"Captain Ireton, I will know the true cause of this quarrel which, failing in yourself, you pass on to Richard Jennifer!" she cried. "Was it not enough that you should get yourself half slain, without sending this headstrong boy to his death?"
Now in all my surmisings I had not thought of this, and truly if she had sought far and wide for a whip to scourge me with she could have found no thong to cut so deep.
"God help me!" I groaned. "Has this fiend incarnate killed my poor lad?"
"No, he is not dead," she confessed, relenting a little. "But he has the baronet's bullet through his sword-arm for the sake of your over-seas disagreement with Sir Francis."
I could not tell her that though my quarrel with this villain was but the avenging of poor Dick Coverdale's wrongs, Richard Jennifer's was for the baronet's affront to her. So I bore the blame in silence, glad enough to be assured that my dear lad was only wounded.
"Why don't you speak, sir?" she snapped, flying out at me in a passion for my lack of words.
"What should I say? I have not forgot that once you called me ungenerous."
"You should defend yourself, if you can. And you should ask my pardon for calling my father's guest hard names."
"The last I will do right heartily. 'Twas but the simple truth, but it was ill-spoken in your presence, Mistress Stair."
At this she laughed merrily; and in all my world-wanderings I had never heard a sound so gladsome as this sweet laugh of hers when she would be on the forgiving hand.
"Surely any one would know you are a soldier, Captain Ireton. No other could make an apology and renew the offense so innocently in the same breath." Then her mood changed again in the dropping of an eyelid, and she sighed and said: "Poor Dick!"
As ever when she was with me, my eyes were devouring her; and at the sigh and the trembling of the sweet lips in sympathy I found that curious love-madness coming upon me again. Then I saw that I must straightway dig some chasm impassable between this woman and me, as I should hope to be loyal to my friend. So I said: "He loves you well, Mistress Margery."
She glanced up quickly with a smile which might have been mocking or loving; I could not tell which it was.
"Did he make you his deputy to tell me so, Captain Ireton?"
Now I might have known that she was only luring me on to some pitfall of mockery, but I did not, and must needs burst out in some clumsy disclaimer meant to shield my dear lad. And in the midst of it she laughed again.
"Oh, you do amuse me mightily, mon Capitaine," she cried. "I do protest I shall come to see you oftener. Tis as good as any play!"
"Saw you ever a play in this backwoods wilderness?" I asked, glad of any excuse to change the talk and keep her by me.
"No, indeed. But you are not to think that no one has seen the great world save only yourself, Captain Ireton. What would you say if I should tell you that I, too, have seen your London, and even your Paris?"
Here I must blunder again and say that I had been wondering how else she came by the Parisian French; but at this her jesting mood vanished suddenly and she spoke softly.
"I had it of my mother, who came of the Huguenots. She spoke it always to me. But my father speaks it not, and now I am losing it for want of practice."
How is it that love transforms the once contemptible into a thing most highly to be prized? My eight years of campaigning on the Continent had given me the French speech, or so much of it as the clumsy tongue of me could master, and I had always held it in hearty English scorn. Yet now I was eager enough to speak it with her, and to take as my very own the little cry of joy wherewith she welcomed my hesitant mouthing of it.
From that we fell to talking in her mother's tongue of the hardships of those same Huguenot emigres; and when I looked not at her I could speak in terms dispassionate and cool of this or aught else; and when I looked upon her my heart beat faster and my blood leaped quickly, and I knew not always what it was I said.
After a time—'twas when Darius fetched me my supper and the candles—she went away; and so ended a day which saw the beginning of a struggle fiercer than any the turbaned Turk had ever given me. For when I had eaten, and was alone with time to think, I knew well that I loved this woman and should always love her; this in spite of honor, or loyalty to Richard Jennifer, or any other thing in heaven or earth.
HOW I LOST WHAT I HAD NEVER GAINED
Though I dared not hope she would keep her promise and was sometimes so sorely beset as to tremble at her coming, Margery looked in upon me oftener, and soon there grew up between us a comradeship the like of which, I think, had never been between a woman loved and a man who, loving her, was yet constrained to play the part of her true lover's friend.
If I played this part but stumblingly; if at times the madness of my passion would not be denied the look or word or hand-clasp not of poor cool friendship; I have this to comfort me: that in after time, when my dear lad came to know, he forgave me freely—nay, held me altogether blameless, as I was not.
Of what these looks and words and hand-clasps meant to Margery I had no hint. But in my hours of sanity, when I would pass these slippings in review, I could recall no answering flash of hers to salt the woundings of the conscience-whip. So far from it, it seemed, as this sweet comradeship budded and blossomed on the stock of a better acquaintance, she came to hold me more as if I were some cross between a father or an elder brother, and some closer confidant of her own sex.
You are not to understand that she was always thus, nor over-often. More frequently that side of her which I soon came to call the mother's was turned to me, and I was made to stand a target for her wit and raillery. But she was ever changeful as a child, and in the midst of some light jesting mood would sober instantly and give my age its due.
In some of these, her soberer times, I felt her lean upon me as my sister might, had I had one; at others she would frankly set me in her father's place, declaring I must tell her what to say or do in this or that entanglement. Again, and this came oftener as our friendship grew, she would talk to me as surely woman never talked to any but a kinsman, telling me naively of her conquests, and sparing no gallant of them all save only Richard Jennifer.
And of Dick and his devotion she spoke now and then, as well, though never mockingly, as of the others. Nay, once when I pressed her on this point, asking her plainly if my dear lad had not good cause to hope, she would only smile and turn her face away, and say that of all the men she knew the hopeful ones pleased her best. So I was thus assured that if it were a scale for love to tip, my lady's heart would fall to Richard.
Now I took this to be a hopeful sign, that she would tell me freely of these her little heart affairs; and seeing her so safe upon the side of friendship, held the looser rein upon my own unchartered passion. So long as I could keep my love well masked and hidden what harm could come to her or any if I should give it leave to live in prison? None, I thought; and yet at times was made a very coward by the thought. For love, like other living things, will grow by what it feeds upon, and once full-grown, may haply come to laugh at bonds, however strong or cunningly devised.
With such a fever in my veins it was little wonder that my wound healed slowly. As time passed by, with never a word of news from the world without—if Margery knew aught of the fighting she would never lisp a syllable to me—and with Gilbert Stair still keeping churlishly beyond the sight or sound of me, I fretted sorely and would be gone.
Yet this was but a passing mood. When Margery was with me I was not ill-content to eat the bread of sufferance in her father's house, and angry pride had scanty footing. But when she was away this same pride took sharp revenges, getting me out of bed to bully Darius into dressing me that I might foot it up and down the room while I was still unfit for any useful thing.
One morning in the summer third of June my lady came early and surprised me at this business of pacing back and forth. Whereat she scolded me as was her wont when I grew restive.
"What weighty thing have you to do that you should be so fierce to be about it, Monsieur Impetuous?" she cried. "Fi donc! you'd try the patience of a saint!"
"Which you are not," I ventured. "But truly, Margery, I am growing stronger now, and the bed does irk me desperately, if you must know. Besides—"
"Well, what is there else besides? Do I not pamper you enough?"
I laughed. "I'll say whatever you would have me say—so it be not the truth."
"I'll have you say nothing until you sit down."
She pushed the great chair of Indian wickerwork into place before the window-bay, and when I was at rest she drew up a low hassock and sat at my feet.
"Now you may go on," she said.
"You have not told me what you would have me say."
"The truth," she commanded.
"'"What is truth," said jesting Pilate,'" I quoted. "Why do you suppose my Lord Bacon thought the Roman procurator jested at such a time and place?"
"You are quibbling, Monsieur John. I want to know why you are so impatient to be gone."
"Saw you ever a man worthy the name who could be content to bide inactive when duty calls?"
"That is not the whole truth," she said, half absently. "You think you are unwelcome here."
"'Twas you said that; not I. But I must needs know your father will be relieved when he is safely quit of me."
"'Twas you said that, not I, Monsieur John," she retorted, giving me back my own words. "Has ever word been brought you that he would speed your parting?"
"Surely not, since I am still here. But you must know that I have never seen his face, as yet."
"And is that strange? You must not forget that he is Gilbert Stair, and you are Roger Ireton's son."
"I am not likely to forget it. But still a word of welcome to the unbidden guest would not have come amiss. And it was none of my seeking—this asylum in his house."
"True; but that has naught to do with any coolness of my father's."
"What is it, then?—besides the fact that I am Roger Ireton's son?"
"I think 'twas what you said to Mr. Pengarvin."
"That little smirking wretch? What has he to say or do in this?"
She looked away from me and said: "He is my father's factor and man of affairs."
"Ah, I have always to be craving your pardon, Margery. But I said naught to this parchment-faced—to this Mr. Pengarvin, that might offend your father, or any."
"How, then, will you explain this, that you swore to drive my father from Appleby Hundred as soon as ever you had raised a following among the rebels?"
"'Tis easily explained: this thrice-accursed—oh, pardon me again, I pray you; I will not name him any name at all. What I meant to say was that he lied. I made no threats to him; to tell the plain truth, I was too fiercely mad to bandy words with him."
"What made you mad, Monsieur John?"
"'Twas his threat to me—to taint me with my father's outlawry. Do you greatly blame me, Margery?"
Thereat a silence came and sat between us, and I fell to loving her the more because of it; but when she spoke I always loved her more for speaking.
"My father has had little peace since coming here," she said, at length. "He is old and none too well; and as for king and Congress, asks nothing but his right to hold aloof. And this they will not give him."
Remembering what Jennifer had told me of Gilbert Stair's trimming, I smiled within.
"That is the way of all the world in war-time, ma petite. A partizan may suffer once for all, but both sides hold a neutral lawful prey."
'Twas as the spark to tinder; my word the spark and in her eyes the answering flash.
"I tell him so!" she cried. "I tell him always that the king will have his own again. But still he halts and hesitates; and when these rebels come and quarter on us—"
I fear she must have seen my inward smile this time, for she broke off in the midst, and I made haste to forestall her flying out at me.
"Oh, come, my dear; you should not be so fierce with him when you yourself have brought a rebel to his house to nurse alive."
She looked me fairly in the eye. "You should be the last to remind me of my treason, Monsieur John."
"Then you are free to call it treason, are you, Margery?" I said.
She looked away from me again. "How can it well be less than treason?" Then suddenly she turned and clasped her hands upon my knee. "You must not be too hard upon me, Monsieur John. I've tried to do my duty as I saw it, and I have asked no questions. And yet I know much more than you have told me."
"What do you know?"
"I know your wound has been your safety. If you should leave this room and house to-day you would never wear the buff and blue again, Captain Ireton."
"You mean they would hang me for a spy. Will you believe me, Margery, if I say I have not yet worn the buff and blue at all?"
"Oh!" The little exclamation was of pure delight. "Then they were all mistaken? You are no rebel, after all?"
Was ever man so tempted since the fall of Adam? As I have writ it down for you in measured words, I was no more than half a patriot at this time. And love has made more traitors than its opposites of lust or greed. In no uncertain sense I was a man without a country; and this fair maiden on the hassock at my feet was all the world to me. I saw in briefer time than any clock hands ever measured how much a yielding word might do for me; and then I thought of Richard Jennifer and was myself again.
"Nay, little one," I said; "there has been no mistake. For their own purposes my enemies have passed the word that I am here as the Baron de Kalb's paid spy. That is no mistake; 'tis a lie cut out of whole cloth. I came here straight from New Berne, and back of that from London and the Continent, and scarcely know the buff and blue by sight. But I am Carolina born, dear lady; and this King George's governor hanged my father. So, when God gives me strength to mount and ride—"
"Now who is fierce?" she cried. And then, like lightning: "Will you raise a band of rebels and come and take your own again?"
"You know I will not," I protested, so gravely that she laughed again, though now there were tears, from what well-spring of emotion I knew not, in her eyes.
"Oh, mercy me! Have you never one little grain of imagination, Monsieur John? You are too monstrous literal for our poor jesting age." Then she sobered quickly and added this: "And yet I fear that this is what my father fears."
I did not tell her that he might have feared it once with reason, or that now the houseless dog she petted should have life of me though mine enemy should sick him on. But I did say her father had no present cause to dread me.
"He thinks he has. And surely there is cause enough," she added.
I smiled, and, loving her the more for her fairness, must smile again.
"Nay, you have changed all that, dear lady. Truly, I did at first fly out at him and all concerned for what has made me a poor pensioner in my father's house—or rather in the house that was my father's. But that was while the hurt was new. I have been a soldier of fortune too long to think overmuch of the loss of Appleby Hundred. 'Twas my father's, certainly; but 'twas never mine."
"And yet—and yet it should be yours, John Ireton." She said it bravely, with uplifted face and eloquent eyes that one who ran might read.
"'Tis good and true of you to say so, little one; but there be two sides to that, as well. So my father's acres come at last to you and Richard Jennifer, I shall be well content, I do assure you, Margery."
She sprang up from her low seat and went to stand in the window-bay. After a time she turned and faced me once again, and the warm blood was in cheek and neck, and there was a soft light in her eyes to make them shine like stars.
"Then you would have me marry Richard Jennifer?" she asked.
'Twas but a little word that honor bade me say, and yet it choked me and I could not say it.
"Dick would have you, Margery; and Dick is my dear friend—as I am his."
"But you?" she queried. "Were you my friend, as well, is this as you would have it?"
My look went past her through the lead-rimmed window-panes to the great oaks and hickories on the lawn; to these and to the white road winding in and out among them. While yet I sought for words in which to give her unreservedly to my dear lad, two horsemen trotted into view. One of them was a king's man; the other a civilian in sober black. The redcoat rode as English troopers do, with a firm seat, as if the man were master of his mount; but the smaller man in black seemed little to the manner born, and daylight shuttled in and out beneath him, keeping time to the jog-trot of his beast.
I thought it passing strange that with all good will to answer her, these coming horsemen seemed to hold me silent. And, indeed, I did not speak until they came so near that I could make them out.
"I am your friend, Margery mine; as good a friend as you will let me be. And as between Richard Jennifer and another, I should be a sorry friend to Dick did I not—"
She heard the clink of horseshoes on the gravel and turned, signing to me for silence while she looked below. The window overhung the entrance on that side, and through the opened air-casement I heard some babblement of voices, though not the words.
"I must go down," she said. "'Tis company come, and my father is away."
She passed behind my chair, and, hearing her hand upon the latch, I had thought her gone—gone down to welcome my enemy and his riding mate, the factor. But while I was cursing my unready tongue and repenting that I had not given her some small word of warning, she spoke again.
"You say 'Richard Jennifer or another.' What know you of any other, Monsieur John?"
"Nay, I know nothing save what you have told me; and from that I have been hoping there was no other."
"But if I say there may be?"
My heart went sick at that. True, I had thought to give her generously to Dick, whose right was paramount; but to another—
"Margery, come hither where I may see you." And when she stood before me like a bidden child: "Tell me, little comrade, who is that other?"
But now her mood was changed again, and from standing sweet and pensive she fell a-laughing.
"What impudence!" she cried. "Ma foi! You should borrow Pere Matthieu's cassock and breviary; then, mayhap, I might confess to you. But not before."
But still I pressed her.
"Tell me, Margery."
She tossed her head and would not look at me. "Dick Jennifer is but a boy; suppose this other were a man full-grown."
"And a soldier."
The sickness in my heart became a fire.
"O Margery! Don't tell me it is this fiend who came just now!"
All in a flash the jesting mood was gone, but that which took its place was strange to me. Tears came; her bosom heaved. And then she would have passed me but I caught her hands and held them fast.
"Margery, one moment: for your own sweet sake, if not for Dick's or mine, have naught to do with this devil's emissary of a man. If you only knew—if I dared tell you—"
But for once, it seemed, I had stretched my privilege beyond the limit. She whipped her hands from my hold and faced me coldly.
"Sir Francis says you are a brave gentleman, Captain Ireton, and though he knows well what you would be about, he has not sent a file of men to put you in arrest. And in return you call him names behind his back. I shall not stay to listen, sir."
With that she passed again behind my chair, and once again I heard her hand upon the latch. But I would say my say.
"Forgive me, Margery, I pray you; 'twas only what you said that made me mad. 'Tis less than naught if you'll deny it."
I waited long and patiently, and thought she must have gone before her answer came. And this is what she said:
"If I must tell you then;'tis now two weeks and more since Sir Francis Falconnet asked me to marry him. I—I hope you do feel better, Captain Ireton."
And with these bitterest of all words to her leave-taking, she left me to endure as best I might the hell of torment they had lighted for me.
SHOWING HOW RED WRATH MAY HEAL A WOUND
It was full two days after the coming of the baronet and the factor-lawyer Pengarvin before I saw my lady's face near-hand again, and sometimes I was glad for Richard Jennifer's sake, but oftener would curse and swear because I was bound hand and foot and could not balk my enemy.
I knew Sir Francis and the lawyer still lingered on at Appleby Hundred—indeed, I saw them daily from my window—and Darius would be telling me that they waited upon the coming of some courier from the south. But this I disbelieved. Some such-like lie the baronet might have told, I thought; but when I saw him walk abroad with Margery on his arm, pacing back and forth beneath the oaks and bending low to catch her lightest word with grave and courtly deference that none knew better how to feign, I knew wherefore he stayed—knew and raged afresh at my own impotence, and for the thought that Margery was wholly at the mercy of this devil.
Yours is a colder century than was ours, my dears. Your art has tempered love and passion into sentiment, and hate you have learned to call aversion or dislike. But we of that simple-hearted elder time were more downright; and I have writ the word I mean in saying that my love was at the mercy of this fiend.
I know not how it is or why, but there are men who have this gift—some winning way to turn a woman's head or touch her heart; and I knew well this gift was his. 'Twas not his face, for that was something less than handsome, to my fancy; nor yet his figure, though that was big and soldierly enough. It was rather in some subtlety of manner, some power of simulation whereby in any womanly heart he seemed to stand at will for that which he was not.
As I have said, I knew him well enough; knew him incapable of love apart from passion, and that to him there was no sacredness in maiden chastity or wifely vows. So he but gained his end he cared no whit what followed after; ruin, broken hearts, lost souls, a man slain now and then to keep the scale from tipping—all were as one to him, or to the Francis Falconnet I knew.
And touching marriage, with Margery or any other, I feared that love would have no word to say. Passion there might be, and that fierce desire to have and wear which burns like any miser's fever in the blood; but never love as lovers measure it. Why, then, had he proposed to Margery? The answer did not tarry. Since he was now but a gentleman volunteer it was plain that he had squandered his estate, and so might brook the marriage chain if it were linked up with my father's acres.
It was a bait to lure such a gamester strongly. As matters stood with us in that wan summer of exhaustion and defeat, the king's cause waxed and grew more hopeful day by day. And in event of final victory a landless baronet, marrying Margery's dower of Appleby Hundred, might snap his fingers at the Jews who, haply, had driven him forth from England.
And as for Margery? Truly, she had told me, or as good as told me, that her maiden love had pledged itself a pawn for Jennifer's redeeming. But there be other things than love to sway a woman's will. This volunteer captain with the winning way was of the haute noblesse, and he could make her Lady Falconnet. Moreover, he was with her day by day; and you may mark this as you will; that a present suitor hath ever the trump cards to play against the absent lover.
So, brooding over this, I wore out two most dismal days—the first in many I had had to pass alone. But on the morning of the third the sky was lightened, though then the light was but a flash and darkness followed quickly after. She came again and brought me a visitor; it was this same Father Matthieu with whom she had jestingly compared me, and lest I should take my punishment too lightly, stayed but to make the good priest known to me.
Now I was born and bred an heretic, by any papist's reckoning, but I have ever held it witless in that man who lets a creed obstruct a friendship. Moreover, this sweet-faced cleric was the friendliest of men; friendly, and yet the wiliest Jesuit of them all, since he read me at a glance and fell straightway to praising Margery.
"A truly sweet young demoiselle," he said, by way of foreword, no sooner was the door closed behind her, and while he preached a sermon on this text I grew to know and love him.
He was a little man, as bone and muscle go, with deep-set eyes, and features kind and mild and fine as any woman's; some such face as Leonardo gave St. John, could that have been less youthful. I could not tell his order, though from his well-worn cassock girded at the waist with a frayed bit of hempen cord he might have been a Little Brother of the Poor. But this I noted; that he was not tonsured, and his white hair, soft and fine as Margery's, was like an aureole to the finely chiseled features. As missionary men of any creed are apt, he looked far older than he really was; and when he came to tell me of his life among the Indians, it was patent how the years had multiplied upon him.
I listened, well enough content to learn him better by his own report.
"But you must find it thankless work; this gospeling in the wilderness," I ventured, when all was said. "'Tis but a hermit's life for any man of parts; and after all, when you have done your utmost, your converts are but savages, as they were."
At this he smiled and shook his head. "Non, Monsieur, not so. You are a soldier and can not see beyond your point of sword. Mais, mon ami, they have souls to save, these poor children of the forest, and they are far more sinned against than sinning. I find them kind and true and faithful; and some of them are noble, in their way."
I laughed. "I've read about those noble ones," I said. "'Twas in a book called 'Hakluyt's Voyages.' Truly, I know them not as you do, for in my youth I knew them most in war. We called them brave but cruel then; and when I was a boy I could have shown you where, within a mile of this, they burned poor Davie Davidson at the stake."
"Ah, yes; there has been much of that," he sighed. "But you must confess, Captain Ireton, that you English carry fire and sword among them, too."
From that he would have told me more about the savages, but I was interested nearer home. As I have said, I was like any prisoner in a dungeon for lack of news, and so by degrees I fetched him round to telling me of what was going on beyond my window-sight of lawn and forest.
Brave deeds were to the fore, it seemed. At Ramsour's Mill, a few miles north and west, some little handful of determined patriots had bested thrice their number of the king's partizans, and that without a leader bigger than a county colonel. Lord Rawdon, in command of Lord Cornwallis's van, had come as far as Waxhaw Creek, but, being unsupported, had withdrawn to Hanging Rock. Our Mr. Rutherford was on his way to the Forks of Yadkin to engage the Tories gathering under Colonel Bryan. As yet, it seemed, we had no force of any consequence to take the field against Cornwallis, though there were flying rumors of an army marching from Virginia, with a new-appointed general at its head.