Robert W. Chambers
Part 5 out of 7
"Mount," I said, sharply, "you and Murphy and Beacraft will eat your
breakfast at once--and be quick about it." And I motioned Murphy into
the house and sat down on an old plough to wait.
Through the open door I could see the two big riflemen plying spoon and
knife, while Beacraft picked furtively at his johnny-cake, eyes
travelling restlessly from Mount to Murphy, from Sir George to the
My riflemen ate like hounds after a chase, tipping their porridge-dishes
to scrape them clean, then bolted eggs and smoking corn-bread in a
trice, and rose, taking Beacraft with them to the doorway.
"Fill your pipes, lads," I said. "Sit out in the sun yonder. Mr.
Beacraft may have some excellent stories to tell you."
"I must do my work," said Beacraft, angrily, but Mount and Murphy each
took an arm and led the unwilling man across the strip of potato-hills
to a grassy knoll under a big oak, from whence a view of the house and
clearing could be obtained. When I entered the house again, Sir George
was busy removing soiled plates and arranging covers for three; and I
sat down close to the fire, drawing the square of blue paper from my
pouch and spreading it to the blaze. When it was piping hot I laid it
upon my knees and examined the design. What I had before me was a
well-drawn map of the Kingsland district, made in white outline, showing
trails and distances between farms. And, out of fifty farms marked,
forty-three bore the word "Rebel," and were ornamented by little
Also, to every house was affixed the number, sex, and age of its
inhabitants, even down to the three-months babe in the cradle, the
number of cattle, the amount of grain in the barns.
Further, the Kingsland district of the county was divided into three
sections, the first marked "McCraw's Operations," the second "Butler and
Indians," the third "St. Leger's Indians and Royal Greens." The paper
was signed by Uriah Beacraft.
After a few moments I folded this carefully prepared plan for deliberate
and wholesale murder and placed it in my wallet.
Sir George looked up at me with a question in his eyes. I nodded,
saying: "We have enough to arrest Beacraft. If you cannot persuade
Magdalen Brant, we must arrest her, too. You had best use all your art,
"I will do what I can," he said, gravely.
A moment later a light step sounded on the stairs; we both sprang to our
feet and removed our hats. Magdalen Brant appeared, fresh and sweet as a
rose-peony on a dewy morning.
"Sir George!" she exclaimed, in flushed dismay--"and you, too, Mr.
Sir George bowed, laughingly, saying that our journey had brought us so
near her that we could not neglect to pay our respects.
"Where is Mr. Beacraft?" she said, bewildered, and at the same moment
caught sight of him through the open doorway, seated under the oak-tree,
apparently in delightful confab with Murphy and Mount.
"I do not quite understand," she said, gazing steadily at Sir George.
"We are King's people here. And you--"
She looked at his blue-and-buff uniform, shaking her head, then glanced
at me in my fringed buckskins.
"I trust this war cannot erase the pleasant memories of other days, Miss
Brant," said Sir George, easily. "May we not have one more hour together
before the storm breaks?"
"What storm, Sir George?" she asked, coloring up.
"The British invasion," I said. "We have chosen our colors; your kinsmen
have chosen theirs. It is a political, not a personal difference, Miss
Brant, and we may honorably clasp hands until our hands are needed for
Sir George, graceful and debonair, conducted her to her place at the
rough table; I served the hasty-pudding, making a jest of the situation.
And presently we were eating there in the sunshine of the open doorway,
chatting over the dinner at Varicks', each outvying the others to make
the best of an unhappy and delicate situation.
Sir George spoke of the days in Albany spent with his aunt, and she
responded in sensitive reserve, which presently softened under his
gentle courtesy, leaving her beautiful, dark eyes a trifle dim and her
scarlet mouth quivering,
"It is like another life," she said. "It was too lovely to last. Ah,
those dear people in Albany, and their great kindness to me! And now I
shall never see them again."
"Why not?" asked Sir George. "My aunt Livingston would welcome you."
"I cannot abandon my own kin, Sir George," she said, raising her
distressed eyes to his.
"There are moments when it is best to sever such ties," I observed.
"Perhaps," she said, quickly; "but this is not the moment, Mr. Ormond.
My kinsmen are exiled fugitives, deprived of their own lands by those
who have risen in rebellion against our King. How can I, whom they loved
in their prosperity, leave them in their adversity?"
"You speak of Guy Johnson and Sir John?" I asked.
"Yes; and of those brave people whose blood flows in my veins," she
said, quietly. "Where is the Mohawk nation now, Sir George? This is
their country, secured to them by solemn oath and covenant, inviolate
for all time. Their belts lie with the King of England; his belts lie
still with my people, the Mohawks. Where are they?"
"Fled to Oswego with Sir John," I said.
"And homeless!" she added, in a low, tense voice--"homeless, without
clothing, without food, save what Guy Johnson gives them; their women
and children utterly helpless, the graves of their fathers abandoned,
their fireplace at Onondaga cold, and the brands scattered for the first
time in a thousand years I This have you Boston people done--done
already, without striking a blow."
She turned her head proudly and looked straight at Sir George.
"Is it not the truth?" she asked.
"Only in part," he said, gently. Then, with infinite pains and delicacy,
he told her of our government's desire that the Iroquois should not
engage in the struggle; that if they had consented to neutrality they
might have remained in possession of their lands and all their ancient
rights, guaranteed by our Congress.
He pointed out the fatal consequences of Guy Johnson's councils, the
effect of Butler's lying promises, the dreadful results of such a
struggle between Indians, maddened by the loss of their own homes, and
settlers desperately clinging to theirs.
"It is not the Mohawks I blame," he said, "it is those to whom
opportunity has given wider education and knowledge--the Tories, who are
attempting to use the Six Nations for their own selfish and terrible
ends!... If in your veins run a few drops of Mohawk blood, my child,
English blood runs there, too. Be true to your bright Mohawk blood; be
true to the generous English blood. It were cowardly to deny
either--shameful to betray the one for the other."
She gazed at him, fascinated; his voice swayed her, his handsome, grave
face held her. Whether it was reason or emotion, mind or heart, I know
not, but her whole sensitive being seemed to respond to his voice; and
as he played upon this lovely human instrument, varying his deep theme,
she responded in every nerve, every breath. Reason, hope, sorrow,
tenderness, passion--all these I read in her deep, velvet eyes, and in
the mute language of her lips, and in the timing pulse-beat under the
lace on her breast.
I rose and walked to the door. She did not heed my going, nor did Sir
Under the oak-tree I found Murphy and Mount, smoking their pipes and
watching Beacraft, who lay with his rough head pillowed on his arms,
"Why did you mark so many houses with the red hatchet?" I asked,
He did not move a muscle, but over his face a deep color spread to the
neck and hair.
"Murphy," I said, "take that prisoner to General Schuyler!"
Beacraft sprang up, glaring at me out of bloodshot eyes.
"Shoot him if he breaks away," I added.
From his convulsed and distorted lips a torrent of profanity burst as
Murphy laid a heavy hand on his shoulder and faced him eastward. I drew
the blue paper from my wallet, whispered to Murphy, and handed it to
him. He shoved it inside the breast of his hunting-shirt, cocked his
rifle, and tapped Beacraft on the arm.
So they marched away across the sunlit pasture, where blackbirds walked
among the cattle, and the dew sparkled in tinted drops of fire.
In all my horror of the man I pitied him, for I knew he was going to his
death, there through the fresh, sweet morning, under the blue heavens.
Once I saw him look up, as though to take a last long look at a free
sky, and my heart ached heavily. Yet he had plotted death in its most
dreadful shapes for others who loved life as well as he--death to
neighbors, death to strangers--whole families, whom he had perhaps never
even seen--to mothers, to fathers, old, young, babes in the cradle,
babes at the breast; and he had set down the total of one hundred and
twenty-nine scalps at twenty dollars each, over his own signature.
Schuyler had said to me that it was not the black-eyed Indians the
people of Tryon County dreaded, but the blue-eyed savages. And I had
scarcely understood at that time how the ferocity of demons could lie
dormant in white breasts.
Standing there with Mount under the oak, I saw Sir George and Magdalen
Brant leave the house and stroll down the path towards the stream. Sir
George was still speaking in his quiet, earnest manner; her eyes were
fixed on him so that she scarce heeded her steps, and twice long sprays
of sweetbrier caught her gown, and Sir George freed her. But her eyes
never wandered from him; and I myself thought he never looked so
handsome and courtly as he did now, in his officer's uniform and
Where their pathway entered the alders, below the lane, they vanished
from our sight; and, leaving Mount to watch I went back to the house, to
search it thoroughly from cellar to the dark garret beneath the eaves.
At two o'clock in the afternoon Sir George and Magdalen Brant had not
returned. I called Mount into the house, and we cooked some eggs and
johnny-cake to stay our stomachs. An hour later I sent Mount out to make
a circle of a mile, strike the Iroquois trail and hang to it till dark,
following any traveller, white or red, who might be likely to lead him
towards the secret trysting-place of the False-Faces.
Left alone at the house, I continued to rummage, finding nothing of
importance, however; and towards dusk I came out to see if I might
discover Sir George and Magdalen Brant. They were not in sight. I waited
for a while, strolling about the deserted garden, where a few poppies
turned their crimson disks towards the setting sun, and a peony lay dead
and smelling rank, with the ants crawling all over it. In the mellow
light the stillness was absolute, save when a distant white-throat's
silvery call, long drawn out, floated from the forest's darkening edge.
The melancholy of the deserted home oppressed me, as though I had
wronged it; the sad little house seemed to be watching me out of its
humble windows, like a patient dog awaiting another blow. Beacraft's
worn coat and threadbare vest, limp and musty as the garments of a dead
man, hung on a peg behind the door. I searched the pockets with
repugnance and found a few papers, which smelled like the covers of
ancient books, memoranda of miserable little transactions--threepence
paid for soling shoes, twopence here, a penny there; nothing more. I
threw the papers on the grass, dipped up a bucket of well-water, and
rinsed my fingers. And always the tenantless house watched me furtively
from its humble windows.
The sun's brassy edge glittered above the blue chain of hills as I
walked across the pasture towards the path that led winding among the
alders to the brook below. I followed it in the deepening evening light
and sat down on a log, watching the water swirling through the flat
stepping-stones where trout were swarming, leaping for the tiny winged
creatures that drifted across the dusky water. And as I sat there I
became aware of sounds like voices; and at first, seeing no one, I
thought the noises came from the low bubbling monotone of the stream.
Then I heard a voice murmuring: "I will do what you ask me--I will do
everything you desire."
Fearful of eavesdropping, I rose, peering ahead to make myself known,
but saw nothing in the deepening dusk. On the point of calling, the
words died on my lips as the same voice sounded again, close to me:
"I pray you let me have my way. I will obey you. How can you doubt it?
But I must obey in my own way."
And Sir George's deep, pleasant voice answered: "There is danger to you
in this. I could not endure that, Magdalen."
They were on a path parallel to the trail in which I stood, separated
from me by a deep fringe of willow. I could not see them, though now
they were slowly passing abreast of me.
"What do you care for a maid you so easily persuade?" she asked, with a
little laugh that rang pitifully false in the dusk.
"It is her own merciful heart that persuades her," he said, under his
"I think my heart is merciful," she said--"more merciful than even I
knew. The restless blood in me set me afire when I saw the wrong done to
these patient people of the Long House.... And when they appealed to me
I came here to justify them, and bid them stand for their own
hearths.... And now you come, teaching me the truth concerning right and
wrong, and how God views justice and injustice; and how this tempest,
once loosened, can never be chained until innocent and guilty are alike
ingulfed.... I am very young to know all these things without
counsel.... I needed aid--and wisdom to teach me--your wisdom. Now, in
my turn, I shall teach; but you must let me teach in my way. There is
only one way that the Long House can be taught.... You do not believe
it, but in this I am wiser than you--I know."
"Will you not tell me what you mean to do, Magdalen?"
"No, Sir George."
"When will you tell me?"
"Never. But you will know what I have done. You will see that I hold
three nations back. What else can you ask? I shall obey you. What more
Her voice lingered in the air like an echo of flowing water, then died
away as they moved on, until nothing sounded in the forest stillness
save the low ripple of the stream. An hour later I picked my way back to
the house and saw Sir George standing in the starlight, and Mount beside
him, pointing towards the east.
"I've found the False-Faces' trysting-place," said Mount, eagerly, as I
came up. "I circled and struck the main Iroquois trail half a mile
yonder in the bottom land--a smooth, hard trail, worn a foot deep, sir.
And first comes an Onondaga war-party, stripped and painted something
sickening, and I dogged 'em till they turned off into the bush to shoot
a doe full of arrows--though all had guns!--and left 'em eating. Then
comes three painted devils, all hung about with witch-drums and rattles,
and I tied to them. And, would you believe it, sir, they kept me on a
fox-trot straight east, then south along a deer-path, till they struck
the Kennyetto at that sulphur spring under the big cliff--you know, Sir
George, where Klock's old line cuts into the Mohawk country?"
"I know," said Sir George.
Mount took off his cap and scratched his ear.
"The forest is full of little heaps of flat stones. I could see my
painted friends with the drums and rattles stop as they ran by, and each
pull a flat stone from the river and add it to the nearest heap. Then
they disappeared in the ravine--and I guess that settles it,
Sir George looked at me, nodding.
"That settles it, Ormond," he said.
I bade Mount cook us something to eat. Sir George looked after him as he
entered the house, then began a restless pacing to and fro, arms loosely
clasped behind him.
"About Magdalen Brant," he said, abruptly. "She will not speak to the
three nations for Butler's party. The child had no idea of this wretched
conspiracy to turn the savages loose in the valley. She thought our
people meant to drive the Iroquois from their own lands--a black
disgrace to us if we ever do!... They implored her to speak to them in
council. Did you know they believe her to be inspired? Well, they do.
When she was a child they got that notion, and Guy Johnson and Walter
Butler have been lying to her and telling her what to say to the Oneidas
He turned impatiently, pacing the yard, scowling, and gnawing his lip.
"Where is she?" I asked.
"She has gone to bed. She would eat nothing. We must take her back with
us to Albany and summon the sachems of the three nations, with belts."
"Yes," I said, slowly. "But before we leave I must see the False-Faces."
"Did Schuyler make that a point?"
"Yes, Sir George."
"They say the False-Faces' rites are terrific," he muttered. "Thank
God, that child will not be lured into those hideous orgies by
We walked towards the house where Mount had prepared our food. I sat
down on the door-step to eat my porridge and think of what lay before me
and how best to accomplish it. And at first I was minded to send Sir
George back with Magdalen Brant and take only Mount with me. But whether
it was a craven dread of despatching to Dorothy the man she was pledged
to wed, or whether a desire for his knowledge and experience prompted me
to invite his attendance at the False-Faces' rites, I do not know
clearly, even now. He came out of the house presently, and I asked him
if he would go with me.
"One of us should stay here with Magdalen Brant," he said, gravely.
"Is she not safe here?" I asked.
"You cannot leave a child like that absolutely alone," he answered.
"Then take her to Varicks'," I said, sullenly. "If she remains here some
of Butler's men will be after her to attend the council."
"You wish me to go up-stairs and rouse her for a journey--now?"
"Yes; it is best to get her into a safe place," I muttered. "She may
change her ideas, too, betwixt now and dawn."
He re-entered the house. I heard his spurs jingling on the stairway,
then his voice, and a rapping at the door above.
Jack Mount appeared, rifle in hand, wiping his mouth with his fingers;
and together we paced the yard, waiting for Sir George and Magdalen
Brant to set out before we struck the Iroquois trail.
Suddenly Sir George's heavy tread sounded on the stairs; he came to the
door, looking about him, east and west. His features were pallid and
set and seamed with stern lines; he laid an unsteady hand on my arm and
drew me a pace aside.
"Magdalen Brant is gone," he said.
"Gone!" I repeated. "Where?"
"I don't know!" he said, hoarsely.
I stared at him in astonishment. Gone? Where? Into the tremendous
blackness of this wilderness that menaced us on all sides like a sea?
And they had thought to tame her like a land-blown gull among
"Those drops of Mohawk blood are not in her veins for nothing," I said,
bitterly. "Here is our first lesson."
He hung his head. She had lied to him with innocent, smooth face, as all
such fifth-castes lie. No jewelled snake could shed her skin as deftly
as this young maid had slipped from her shoulders the frail garment of
The man beside me stood as though stunned. I was obliged to speak to him
thrice ere he roused to follow Jack Mount, who, at a sign from me, had
started across the dark hill-side to guide us to the trysting-place of
the False-Faces' clan.
"Mount," I whispered, as he lingered waiting for us at the
stepping-stones in the dark, "some one has passed this trail since I
stood here an hour ago." And, bending down, I pointed to a high, flat
stepping-stone, which glimmered wet in the pale light of the stars.
Sir George drew his tinder-box, struck steel to flint, and lighted a
short wax dip.
"Here!" whispered Mount.
On the edge of the sand the dip-light illuminated the small imprint of a
woman's shoe, pointing southeast.
Magdalen Brant had heard the voices in the Long House.
"The mischief is done," said Sir George, steadily. "I take the blame
and disgrace of this."
"No; I take it," said I, sternly. "Step back, Sir George. Blow out that
dip! Mount, can you find your way to that sulphur spring where the flat
stones are piled in little heaps?"
The big fellow laughed. As he strode forward into the depthless sea of
darkness a whippoorwill called.
"That's Elerson, sir," he said, and repeated the call twice.
The rifleman appeared from the darkness, touching his cap to me. "The
horses are safe, sir," he said. "The General desires you to send your
report through Sir George Covert and push forward with Mount
He drew a sealed paper from his pouch and handed it to me, saying that I
was to read it.
Sir George lighted his dip once more. I broke the seal and read my
orders under the feeble, flickering light:
VARICK MANOR, June 1, 1777.
To Captain Ormond, on scout:
Sir,--The General commanding this department desires you to
employ all art and persuasion to induce the Oneidas,
Tuscaroras, and Onondagas to remain quiet. Failing this, you
are again reminded that the capture of Magdalen Brant is of
the utmost importance. If possible, make Walter Butler also
prisoner, and send him to Albany under charge of Timothy
Murphy; but, above all, secure the person of Magdalen Brant
and send her to Varick Manor under escort of Sir George
Covert. If, for any reason, you find these orders impossible
of execution, send your report of the False-Faces' council
through Sir George Covert, and push forward with the riflemen
Mount, Murphy, and Elerson until you are in touch with
Gansevoort's outposts at Stanwix. Warn Colonel Gansevoort
that Colonel Barry St. Leger has moved from Oswego, and order
out a strong scout towards Fort Niagara. Although Congress
authorizes the employment of friendly Oneidas as scouts,
General Schuyler trusts that you will not avail yourself of
this liberty. Noblesse oblige! The General directs you to
return only when you have carried out these orders to the
best of your ability. You will burn this paper before you set
out for Stanwix. I am, sir,
"Your most humble and obedient servant,
"JOHN HARROW, Major and A. D. C. to the Major-General
Commanding. (Signed) PHILIP SCHUYLER, Major-General
Commanding the Department of the North."
Hot with mortification at the wretched muddle I had already made of my
mission, I thrust the paper into my pouch and turned to Elerson.
"You know Magdalen Brant?" I asked, impatiently.
"There is a chance," I said, "that she may return to that house on the
hill behind us. If she comes back you will see that she does not leave
the house until we return."
Sir George extinguished the dip once more. Mount turned and set off at a
swinging pace along the invisible path; after him strode Sir George; I
followed, brooding bitterly on my stupidity, and hopeless now of
securing the prisoner in whose fragile hands the fate of the
For a long time we had scented green birch smoke, and now, on hands and
knees, we were crawling along the edge of a cliff, the roar of the river
in our ears, when Mount suddenly flattened out and I heard him breathing
heavily as I lay down close beside him.
"Look!" he whispered, "the ravine is full of fire!"
A dull-red glare grew from the depths of the ravine; crimson shadows
shook across the wall of earth and rock. Above the roaring of the stream
I heard an immense confused murmur and the smothered thumping rhythm of
"Go on," I whispered.
Mount crawled forward, Sir George and I after him. The light below
burned redder and redder on the cliff; sounds of voices grew more
distinct; the dark stream sprang into view, crimson under the increasing
furnace glow. Then, as we rounded a heavy jutting crag, a great light
flared up almost in our faces, not out of the kindling ravine, but
breaking forth among the huge pines on the cliffs.
"Their council-fire!" panted Mount. "See them sitting there!"
"Flatten out," I whispered. "Follow me!" And I crawled straight towards
the fire, where, ink-black against the ruddy conflagration, an enormous
pine lay uprooted, smashed by lightning or tempest, I know not which.
Into the dense shadows of the debris I crawled, Mount and Sir George
following, and lay there in the dark, staring at the forbidden circle
where the secret mysteries of the False-Faces had already begun.
Three great fires roared, set at regular intervals in a cleared space,
walled in by the huge black pines. At the foot of a tree sat a white
man, his elbows on his knees, his chin in his hands. The man was
On his right sat Brant, wrapped in a crimson blanket, his face painted
black and scarlet. On his left knelt a ghastly figure wearing a scowling
wooden mask painted yellow and black.
Six separate groups of Indians surrounded the fires. They were sachems
of the Six Nations, each sachem bearing in his hands the symbol of his
nation and of his clan. All were wrapped in black-and-white blankets,
and their faces were painted white above the upper lip as though they
wore skin-tight masks.
Three young girls, naked save for the beaded clout, and painted scarlet
from brow to ankle, beat the witch-drums tump-a-tump! tump-a-tump! while
a fourth stood, erect as a vermilion statue, holding a chain belt woven
in black-and-white wampum.
Behind these central figures the firelight fell on a solid semicircle of
savages, crowns shaved, feathers aslant on the braided lock, and all
oiled and painted for war.
A chief, wrapped in a blue blanket, stepped out into the circle swinging
the carcass of a white dog by the hind-legs. He tied it to a black-birch
sapling and left it dangling and turning round and round.
"This for the Keepers of the Fires," he said, in Tuscarora, and flung
the dog's entrails into the middle fire.
Three young men sprang into the ring; each threw a log onto one of the
"The name of the Holder of the Heavens may now be spoken and heard
without offence," said an old sachem, rising. "Hark! brothers. Harken, O
you wise men and sachems! The False-Faces are laughing in the ravine
where the water is being painted with firelight. I acquaint you that the
False-Faces are coming up out of the ravine!"
The witch-drums boomed and rattled in the silence that followed his
words. Far off I heard the sound of many voices laughing and talking all
together; nearer, nearer, until, torch in hand, a hideously masked
figure bounded into the circle, shaking out his bristling cloak of green
reeds. Another followed, another, then three, then six, then a dozen,
whirling their blazing torches; all horribly masked and smothered in
coarse bunches of long, black hair, or cloaked with rustling
Ha! The crimson flower!
Ha! The flower!"
they chanted, thronging around the central fire; then falling back in a
half-circle, torches lifted, while the masked figures banked solidly
behind, chanted monotonously:
"Red fire burns on the maple!
Red fire burns in the pines.
The red flower to the maple!
The red death to the pines!"
At this two young girls, wearing white feathers and white weasel pelts
dangling from shoulders to knees, entered the ring from opposite ends.
Their arms were full of those spectral blossoms called "Ghost-corn," and
they strewed the flowers around the ring in silence. Then three maidens,
glistening in cloaks of green pine-needles, slipped into the fire
circle, throwing showers of violets and yellow moccasin flowers over the
earth, calling out, amid laughter, "Moccasins for whippoorwills! Violets
for the two heads entangled!" And, their arms empty of blossoms, they
danced away, laughing while the False-Faces clattered their wooden masks
and swung their torches till the flames whistled.
Then six sachems rose, casting off their black-and-white blankets, and
each in turn planted branches of yellow willow, green willow, red osier,
samphire, witch-hazel, spice-bush, and silver birch along the edge of
the silent throng of savages.
"Until the night-sun comes be these your barriers, O Iroquois!" they
chanted. And all answered:
"The Cherry-maid shall lock the gates to the People of the Morning! A-e!
ja-e! Wild cherry and cherry that is red!"
Then came the Cherry-maid, a slender creature, hung from head to foot
with thick bunches of wild cherries which danced and swung when she
walked; and the False-Faces plucked the fruit from her as she passed
around, laughing and tossing her black hair, until she had been
despoiled and only the garment of sewed leaves hung from shoulder
A green blanket was spread for her and she sat down under the branch of
"The barrier is closed!" she said. "Kindle your coals from Onondaga, O
you Keepers of the Central Fire!"
An aged sachem arose, and, lifting his withered arm, swept it eastward.
"The hearth is cleansed," he said, feebly. "Brothers, attend!
She-who-runs is coming. Listen!"
A dead silence fell over the throng, broken only by the rustle of the
flames. After a moment, very far away in the forest, something sounded
like the muffled gallop of an animal, paddy-pad! paddy-pad, coming
nearer and ever nearer.
"It's the Toad-woman!" gasped Mount in my ear. "It's the Huron witch!
Ah! My God! look there!"
Hopping, squattering, half scrambling, half bounding into the firelight
came running a dumpy creature all fluttering with scarlet rags. A coarse
mat of gray hair masked her visage; she pushed it aside and raised a
dreadful face in the red fire-glow--a face so marred, so horrible, that
I felt Mount shivering in the darkness beside me.
Through the hollow boom-boom of the witch-drums I heard a murmur
swelling from the motionless crowd, like a rising wind in the pines. The
hag heard it too; her mouth widened, splitting her ghastly visage. A
single yellow fang caught the firelight.
"O you People of the Mountain! O you Onondagas!" she cried. "I am come
to ask my Cayugas and my Senecas why they assemble here on the Kennyetto
when their council-fire and yours should burn at Onondaga! O you
Oneidas, People of the Standing Stone! I am come to ask my Senecas, my
Mountain-snakes, why the Keepers of the Iroquois Fire have let it go
out? O you of the three clans, let your ensigns rise and listen. I speak
to the Wolf, the Turtle, and the Bear! And I call on the seven kindred
clans of the Wolf, and the two kindred clans of the Turtle, and the four
kindred clans of the Bear throughout the Six Nations of the Iroquois
confederacy, throughout the clans of the Lenni-Lenape, throughout the
Huron-Algonquins and their clans!
"And I call on the False-Faces of the Spirit-water and the Water of
She shook her scarlet rags and, raising her arm, hurled a hatchet into
a painted post which stood behind the central fire.
"O you Cayugas, People of the Carrying-place! Strike that war-post with
your hatchets or face the ghosts of your fathers in every trail!"
There was a deathly silence. Catrine Montour closed her horrible little
eyes, threw back her head, and, marking time with her flat foot,
began to chant.
She chanted the glory of the Long House; of the nations that drove the
Eries, the Hurons, the Algonquins; of the nation that purged the earth
of the Stonish Giants; of the nation that fought the dreadful battle of
the Flying Heads. She sang the triumph of the confederacy, the bonds
that linked the Elder Brothers and Elder Sons with the Esaurora, whose
tongue was the sign of council unity.
And the circle of savages began to sway in rhythm to her chanting,
answering back, calling their challenge from clan to clan; until,
suddenly, the Senecas sprang to their feet and drove their hatchets into
the war-post, challenging the Lenape with their own battle-cry:
"Yoagh! Yoagh! Ha-ha! Hagh! Yoagh!"
Then the Mohawks raised their war-yelp and struck the post; and the
Cayugas answered with a terrible cry, striking the post, and calling out
for the Next Youngest Son--meaning the Tuscaroras--to draw
"Have the Seminoles made women of you?" screamed Catrine Montour,
menacing the sachems of the Tuscaroras with clinched fists.
"Let the Lenape tell you of women!" retorted a Tuscarora sachem, calmly.
At this opening of an old wound the Oneidas called on the Lenape to
answer; but the Lenape sat sullen and silent, with flashing eyes fixed
on the Mohawks.
Then Catrine Montour, lashing herself into a fury, screamed for
vengeance on the people who had broken the chain-belt with the Long
House. Raving and frothing, she burst into a torrent of prophecy, which
silenced every tongue and held every Indian fascinated.
"Look!" whispered Mount. "The Oneidas are drawing their hatchets! The
Tuscaroras will follow! The Iroquois will declare for war!"
Suddenly the False-Faces raised a ringing shout:
"Kree! Ha-ha! Kre-e!"
And a hideous creature in yellow advanced, rattling his yellow mask.
Catrine Montour, slavering and gasping, leaned against the painted
war-post. Into the fire-ring came dancing a dozen girls, all strung with
brilliant wampum, their bodies and limbs painted vermilion, sleeveless
robes of wild iris hanging to their knees. With a shout they chanted:
"O False-Faces, prepare to do honor to the truth! She who Dreams has
come from her three sisters--the Woman of the Thunder-cloud, the Woman
of the Sounding Footsteps, the Woman of the Murmuring Skies!"
And, joining hands, they cried, sweetly: "Come, O Little Rosebud
Woman!--Ke-neance-e-qua! O-gin-e-o-qua!--Woman of the Rose!"
And all together the False-Faces cried: "Welcome to Ta-lu-la, the
leaping waters! Here is I-e-nia, the wanderer's rest! Welcome, O Woman
of the Rose!"
Then the grotesque throng of the False-Faces parted right and left; a
lynx, its green eyes glowing, paced out into the firelight; and behind
the tawny tree-cat came slowly a single figure--a young girl, bare of
breast and arm; belted at the hips with silver, from which hung a
straight breadth of doeskin to the instep of her bare feet. Her dark
hair, parted, fell in two heavy braids to her knees; her lips were
tinted with scarlet; her small ear-lobes and finger-tips were stained a
In the breathless silence she raised her head. Sir George's crushing
grip clutched my arm, and he fell a-shuddering like a man with ague.
The figure before us was Magdalen Brant.
The lynx lay down at her feet and looked her steadily in the face.
Slowly she raised her rounded arm, opened her empty palm; then from
space she seemed to pluck a rose, and I saw it there between her
forefinger and her thumb.
A startled murmur broke from the throng. "Magic! She plucks blossoms
from the empty air!"
"O you Oneidas," came the sweet, serene voice, "at the tryst of the
False-Faces I have kept my tryst.
"You wise men of the Six Nations, listen now attentively; and you,
ensigns and attestants, attend, honoring the truth which from my twin
lips shall flow, sweetly as new honey and as sap from April maples."
She stooped and picked from the ground a withered leaf, holding it out
in her small, pink palm.
"Like this withered leaf is your understanding. It is for a maid to
quicken you to life, ... as I restore this last year's leaf to life,"
she said, deliberately.
In her open palm the dry, gray leaf quivered, moved, straightened,
slowly turned moist and fresh and green. Through the intense silence the
heavy, gasping breath of hundreds of savages told of the tension they
She dropped the leaf to her feet; gradually it lost its green and curled
up again, a brittle, ashy flake.
"O you Oneidas!" she cried, in that clear voice which seemed to leave a
floating melody in the air, "I have talked with my Sisters of the
Murmuring Skies, and none but the lynx at my feet heard us."
She bent her lovely head and looked into the creature's blazing orbs;
after a moment the cat rose, took three stealthy steps, and lay down at
her feet, closing its emerald eyes.
The girl raised her head: "Ask me concerning the truth, you sachems of
the Oneida, and speak for the five war-chiefs who stand in their paint
An old sachem rose, peering out at her from dim, aged eyes.
"Is it war, O Woman of the Rose?" he quavered.
"Neah!" she said, sweetly.
An intense silence followed, shattered by a scream from the hag,
"A lie! It is war! You have struck the post, Cayugas! Senecas! Mohawks!
It is a lie! Let this young sorceress speak to the Oneidas; they are
hers; the Tuscaroras are hers, and the Onondagas and the Lenape! Let
them heed her and her dreams and her witchcraft! It concerns not you, O
Mountain-snakes! It concerns only these and False-Faces! She is their
prophetess; let her dream for them. I have dreamed for you, O Elder
Brothers! And I have dreamed of war!!"
"And I of peace!" came the clear, floating voice, soothing the harsh
echoes of the hag's shrieking appeal. "Take heed, you Mohawks, and you
Cayuga war-chiefs and sachems, that you do no violence to this
"The Oneidas are women!" yelled the hag.
Magdalen Brant made a curiously graceful gesture, as though throwing
something to the ground from her empty hand. And, as all looked,
something did strike the ground--something that coiled and hissed and
rattled--a snake, crouched in the form of a letter S; and the lynx
turned its head, snarling, every hair erect.
"Mohawks and Cayugas!" she cried; "are you to judge the Oneidas?--you
who dare not take this rattlesnake in your hands?"
There was no reply. She smiled and lifted the snake. It coiled up in her
palm, rattling and lifting its terrible head to the level of her eyes.
The lynx growled.
"Quiet!" she said, soothingly. "The snake has gone, O Tahagoos, my
friend. Behold, my hand is empty; Sa-kwe-en-ta, the Fanged One
It was true. There was nothing where, an instant before, I myself had
seen the dread thing, crest swaying on a level with her eyes.
"Will you be swept away by this young witch's magic?" shrieked Catrine
"Oneidas!" cried Magdalen Brant, "the way is cleared! Hiro [I have
Then the sachems of the Oneida stood up, wrapping themselves in their
blankets, and moved silently away, filing into the forest, followed by
the war-chiefs and those who had accompanied the Oneida delegation as
"Tuscaroras!" said Magdalen Brant, quietly.
The Tuscarora sachems rose and passed out into the darkness, followed by
their suite of war-chiefs and attestants.
All but two of the Onondaga delegation left the council-fire. Amid a
profound silence the Lenape followed, and in their wake stalked three
Walter Butler sprang up from the base of the tree where he had been
sitting and pointed a shaking finger at Magdalen Brant:
"Damn you!" he shouted; "if you call on my Mohawks, I'll cut your
throat, you witch!"
Brant bounded to his feet and caught Butler's rigid, outstretched arm.
"Are you mad, to violate a council-fire?" he said, furiously. Magdalen
Brant looked calmly at Butler, then deliberately faced the sachems.
"Mohawks!" she called, steadily.
There was a silence; Butler's black eyes were almost starting from his
bloodless visage; the hag, Montour, clawed the air in helpless fury.
"Mohawks!" repeated the girl, quietly.
Slowly a single war-chief rose, and, casting aside his blanket, drew his
hatchet and struck the war-post. The girl eyed him contemptuously, then
turned again and called:
A Seneca chief, painted like death, strode to the post and struck it
with his hatchet.
"Cayuga!" called the girl, steadily.
A Cayuga chief sprang at the post and struck it twice.
Roars of applause shook the silence; then a masked figure leaped towards
the central fire, shouting: "The False-Faces' feast! Ho! Hoh! Ho-ooh!"
In a moment the circle was a scene of terrific excesses. Masked figures
pelted each other with live coals from the fires; dancing, shrieking,
yelping demons leaped about whirling their blazing torches; witch-drums
boomed; chant after chant was raised as new dancers plunged into the
delirious throng, whirling the carcasses of white dogs, painted with
blue and yellow stripes. The nauseating stench of burned roast meat
filled the air, as the False-Faces brought quarters of venison and
baskets of fish into the circle and dumped them on the coals.
Faster and more furious grew the dance of the False-Faces. The flying
coals flew in every direction, streaming like shooting-stars across the
fringing darkness. A grotesque masker, wearing the head-dress of a bull,
hurled his torch into the air; the flaming brand lodged in the feathery
top of a pine, the foliage caught fire, and with a crackling rush a vast
whirlwind of flame and smoke streamed skyward from the forest giant.
"To-wen-yon-go [It touches the sky]!" howled the crazed dancers, leaping
about, while faster and faster came the volleys of live coals, until a
young girl's hair caught fire.
"Kah-none-ye-tah-we!" they cried, falling back and forming a
chain-around her as she wrung the sparks from her long hair, laughing
and leaping about between the flying coals.
Then the nine sachems of the Mohawks rose, all covering their breasts
with their blankets, save the chief sachem, who is called "The Two
Voices." The serried circle fell back, Senecas, Cayugas, and Mohawks
shouting their battle-cries; scores of hatchets glittered,
All alone in the circle stood Magdalen Brant, slim, straight, motionless
as a tinted statue, her hands on her hips. Reflections of the fires
played over her, in amber and pearl and rose; violet lights lay under
her eyes and where the hair shadowed her brow. Then, through the
silence, a loud voice cried: "Little Rosebud Woman, the False-Faces
thank you! Koon-wah-yah-tun-was [They are burning the white dog]!"
She raised her head and laid a hand on each cheek.
"Neah-wen-ha [I thank you]," she said, softly.
At the word the lynx rose and looked up into her face, then turned and
paced slowly across the circle, green eyes glowing.
The young girl loosened the braids of her hair; a thick, dark cloud fell
over her bare shoulders and breasts.
"She veils her face!" chanted the False-Faces. "Respect the veil! Adieu,
O Woman of the Rose!"
Her hands fell, and, with bent head, moving slowly, pensively, she
passed out of the infernal circle, the splendid lynx stalking at
No sooner was she gone than hell itself broke loose among the
False-Faces; the dance grew madder and madder, the terrible rite of
sacrifice was enacted with frightful symbols. Through the awful din the
three war-cries pealed, the drums advanced, thundering; the iris-maids
lighted the six little fires of black-birch, spice-wood, and sassafras,
and crouched to inhale the aromatic smoke until, stupefied and quivering
in every limb with the inspiration of delirium, they stood erect,
writhing, twisting, tossing their hair, chanting the splendors of
Then into the crazed orgie leaped the Toad-woman like a gigantic scarlet
spider, screaming prophecy and performing the inconceivable and nameless
rites of Ak-e, Ne-ke, and Ge-zis, until, in her frenzy, she went stark
mad, and the devil worship began with the awful sacrifice of Leshee in
Horror-stricken, nauseated, I caught Mount's arm, whispering: "Enough,
in God's name! Come away!"
My ears rang with the distracted yelping of the Toad-woman, who was
strangling a dog. Faint, almost reeling, I saw an iris-girl fall in
convulsions; the stupefying smoke blew into my face, choking me. I
staggered back into the darkness, feeling my way among the unseen trees,
gasping for fresh air. Behind me, Mount and Sir George came creeping,
groping like blind men along the cliffs.
"This way," whispered Mount.
Like a pursued man hunted through a dream, I labored on, leaden-limbed,
trembling; and it seemed hours and hours ere the blue starlight broke
overhead and Beacraft's dark house loomed stark and empty on the
Suddenly the ghostly call of a whippoorwill broke out from the willows.
Mount answered; Elerson appeared in the path, making a sign for silence.
"Magdalen Brant entered the house an hour since," he whispered. "She
sits yonder on the door-step. I think she has fallen asleep."
We stole forward through the dusk towards the silent figure on the
door-step. She sat there, her head fallen back against the closed door,
her small hands lying half open in her lap. Under her closed eyes the
dark circles of fatigue lay; a faint trace of rose paint still clung to
her lips; and from the ragged skirt of her thorn-rent gown one small
foot was thrust, showing a silken shoe and ankle stained with mud.
There she lay, sleeping, this maid who, with her frail strength, had
split forever the most powerful and ancient confederacy the world had
Her superb sacrifice of self, her proud indifference to delicacy and
shame, her splendid acceptance of the degradation, her instant and
fearless execution of the only plan which could save the land from war
with a united confederacy, had left us stunned with admiration and
Had she gone to them as a white woman, using the arts of civilized
persuasion, she could have roused them to war, but she could not have
soothed them to peace. She knew it--even I knew that among the Iroquois
the Ruler of the Heavens can never speak to an Indian through the mouth
of a white woman.
As an Oneida, and a seeress of the False-Faces, she had answered their
appeal. Using every symbol, every ceremony, every art taught her as a
child, she had swayed them, vanquishing with mystery, conquering,
triumphing, as an Oneida, where a single false step, a single slip, a
moment's faltering in her sweet and serene authority might have brought
out the appalling cry of accusation:
"Her heart is white!"
And not one hand would have been raised to prevent the sacrificial test
which must follow and end inevitably in a dreadful death.
* * * * *
Mount and Elerson, moved by a rare delicacy, turned and walked
noiselessly away towards the hill-top.
"Wake her," I said to Sir George.
He knelt beside her, looking long into her face; then touched her
lightly on the hand. She opened her eyes, looked up at him gravely, then
rose to her feet, steadying herself on his bent arm.
"Where have you been?" she asked, glancing anxiously from him to me.
There was the faintest ring of alarm in her voice, a tint of color on
cheek and temple. And Sir George, lying like a gentleman, answered: "We
have searched the trails in vain for you. Where have you lain
Her lips parted in an imperceptible sigh of relief; the pallor of
"I have been upon your business, Sir George," she said, looking down at
her mud-stained garments. Her arms fell to her side; she made a little
gesture with one limp hand. "You see," she said, "I promised you." Then
she turned, mounting the steps, pensively; and, in the doorway, paused
an instant, looking back at him over her shoulder.
* * * * *
And all that night, lying close to the verge of slumber, I heard Sir
George pacing the stony yard under the great stars; while the riflemen,
stretched beside the hearth, snored heavily, and the death-watch ticked
in the wall.
At dawn we three were afield, nosing the Sacandaga trail to count the
tracks leading to the north--the dread footprints of light, swift feet
which must return one day bringing to the Mohawk Valley an awful
At noon we returned. I wrote out my report and gave it to Sir George. We
spoke little together. I did not see Magdalen Brant again until they
bade me adieu.
And now it was two o'clock in the afternoon; Sir George had already set
out with Magdalen Brant to Varicks' by way of Stoner's; Elerson and
Mount stood by the door, waiting to pilot me towards Gansevoort's
distant outposts; the noon sunshine filled the deserted house and fell
across the table where I sat, reading over my instructions from Schuyler
ere I committed the paper to the flames.
So far, no thanks to myself, I had carried out my orders in all save the
apprehension of Walter Butler. And now I was uncertain whether to remain
and hang around the council-fire waiting for an opportunity to seize
Butler, or whether to push on at once, warn Gansevoort at Stanwix that
St. Leger's motley army had set out from Oswego, and then return to
trap Butler at my leisure.
I crumpled the despatch into a ball and tossed it onto the live coals in
the fireplace; the paper smoked, caught fire, and in a moment more the
black flakes sank into the ashes.
"Shall we burn the house, sir?" asked Mount, as I came to the doorway
and looked out.
I shook my head, picked up rifle, pouch, and sack, and descended the
steps. At the same instant a man appeared at the foot of the hill, and
Elerson waved his hand, saying: "Here's that mad Irishman, Tim Murphy,
Murphy came jauntily up the hill, saluted me with easy respect, and drew
from his pouch a small packet of papers which he handed me, nodding
carelessly at Elerson and staring hard at Mount as though he did not
"Phwat's this?" he inquired of Elerson--"a Frinch cooroor, or maybe a
Sac shquaw in a buck's shirrt?"
"Don't introduce him to me," said Mount to Elerson; "he'll try to kiss
my hand, and I hate ceremony."
"Quit foolin'," said Elerson, as the two big, over-grown boys seized
each other and began a rough-and-tumble frolic. "You're just cuttin'
capers, Tim, becuz you've heard that we're takin' the war-path--quit
pullin' me, you big Irish elephant! Is it true we're takin' the
"How do I know?" cried Murphy; but the twinkle in his blue eyes betrayed
him; "bedad, 'tis home to the purty lasses we go this blessed day, f'r
the crool war is over, an' the King's got the pip, an--"
"Murphy!" I said.
"Sorr," he replied, letting go of Mount and standing at a respectful
"Did you get Beacraft there in safety?"
"I did, sorr."
"None, sorr--f'r me."
I opened the first despatch, looking at him keenly.
"Do we take the war-path?" I asked.
"We do, sorr," he said, blandly. "McDonald's in the hills wid the McCraw
an'ten score renegades. Wan o' their scouts struck old man Schell's farm
an' he put buckshot into sivinteen o' them, or I'm a liar where
"I knew it," muttered Elerson to Mount. "Where you see smoke, there's
fire; where you see Murphy, there's trouble. Look at the grin on
him--and his hatchet shined up like a Cayuga's war-axe!"
I opened the despatch; it was from Schuyler, countermanding his
instructions for me to go to Stanwix, and directing me to warn every
settlement in the Kingsland district that McDonald and some three
hundred Indians and renegades were loose on the Schoharie, and that
their outlying scouts had struck Broadalbin.
I broke the wax of the second despatch; it was from Harrow, briefly
thanking me for the capture of Beacraft, adding that the man had been
sent to Albany to await court-martial.
That meant that Beacraft must hang; a most disagreeable feeling came
over me, and I tore open the third and last paper, a bulky document,
and read it:
"June the 2d.
"An hour to dawn.
"In my bedroom I am writing to you the adieu I should have
said the night you left. Murphy, a rifleman, goes to you with
despatches in an hour: he will take this to you, ...
wherever you are.
"I saw the man you sent in. Father says he must surely hang.
He was so pale and silent, he looked so dreadfully tired--and
I have been crying a little--I don't know why, because all
say he is a great villain.
"I wonder whether you are well and whether you remember me."
("me" was crossed out and "us" written very carefully.) "The
house is so strange without you. I go into your room
sometimes. Cato has pressed all your fine clothes. I go into
your room to read. The light is very good there. I am reading
the Poems of Pansard. You left a fern between the pages to
mark the poem called 'Our Deaths'; did you know it? Do you
admire that verse? It seems sad to me. And it is not true,
either. Lovers seldom die together." (This was crossed out,
and the letter went on.) "Two people who love--" ("love" was
crossed out heavily and the line continued)--"two friends
seldom die at the same instant. Otherwise there would be no
terror in death.
"I forgot to say that Isene, your mare, is very well. Papa
and the children are well, and Ruyven a-pestering General
Schuyler to make him a cornet in the legion of horse, and
Cecile, all airs, goes about with six officers to carry her
shawl and fan.
"For me--I sit with Lady Schuyler when I have the
opportunity. I love her; she is so quiet and gentle and lets
me sit by her for hours, perfectly silent. Yesterday she came
into your room, where I was sitting, and she looked at me for
a long time--so strangely--and I asked her why, and she shook
her head. And after she had gone I arranged your linen and
sprinkled lavender among it.
"You see there is so little to tell you, except that in the
afternoon some Senecas and Tories shot at one of our distant
tenants, a poor man, one Christian Schell; and he beat them
off and killed eleven, which was very brave, and one of the
soldiers made a rude song about it, and they have been
singing it all night in their quarters. I heard them from
your room--where I sometimes sleep--the air being good there;
and this is what they sang:
"'A story, a story
Unto you I will tell,
Concerning a brave hero,
One Christian Schell.
"'Who was attacked by the savages.
And Tories, it is said;
But for this attack
Most freely they bled.
"'He fled unto his house
For to save his life.
Where he had left his arms
In care of his wife.
"'They advanced upon him
And began to fire,
But Christian with his blunderbuss
Soon made them retire.
"'He wounded Donald McDonald
And drew him in the door,
Who gave an account
Their strength was sixty-four.
"'Six there was wounded
And eleven there was killed
Of this said party,
Before they quit the field.'
"And I think there are a hundred other verses, which I will
spare you; not that I forget them, for the soldiers sang them
over and over, and I had nothing better to do than to lie
awake and listen.
"So that is all. I hear my messenger moving about below; I am
to drop this letter down to him, as all are asleep, and to
open the big door might wake them.
* * * * *
"It was not my rifleman, only the sentry. They keep double
watch since the news came about Schell. "Good-bye. I am
thinking of you.
"Postscript.--Please make my compliments and adieux to Sir
"Postscript.--The rifleman is here; he is whistling like a
whippoorwill. I must say good-bye. I am mad to go with him.
Do not forget me!
"My memories are so keen, so pitilessly real, I can scarce
endure them, yet cling to them the more desperately.
"I did not mean to write this--truly I did not! But here, in
the dusk, I can see your face just as it looked when you said
good-bye!--so close that I could take it in my arms despite
my vows and yours!
"Help me to reason; for even God cannot, or will not, help
me; knowing, perhaps, the dreadful after-life He has doomed
me to for all eternity. If it is true that marriages are made
in heaven, where was mine made? Can you answer? I cannot.
(The whimper of the whippoorwill again!) Dearest, good-bye.
Where my body lies matters nothing so that you hold my soul a
little while. Yet, even of that they must rob you one day.
Oh, if even in dying there is no happiness, where, where does
it abide? Three places only have I heard of: the world,
heaven, and hell. God forgive me, but I think the last could
"Say that you love me! Say it to the forest, to the wind.
Perhaps my soul, which follows you, may hear if you only say
it. (Once more the ghost-call of the whippoorwill!) Dear lad,
Day after day our little scout of four traversed the roads and forests
of the Kingsland district, warning the people at the outlying
settlements and farms that the county militia-call was out, and that
safety lay only in conveying their families to the forts and responding
to the summons of authority without delay.
Many obeyed; some rash or stubborn settlers prepared to defend their
homes. A few made no response, doubtless sympathizing with their Tory
friends who had fled to join McDonald or Sir John Johnson in the North.
Rumors were flying thick, every settlement had its full covey; every
cross-road tavern buzzed with gossip. As we travelled from settlement to
settlement, we, too, heard something of what had happened in distant
districts: how the Schoharie militia had been called out; how one
Huetson had been captured as he was gathering a band of Tories to join
the Butlers; how a certain Captain Ball had raised a company of
sixty-three royalists at Beaverdam and was fled to join Sir John; how
Captain George Mann, of the militia, refused service, declaring himself
a royalist, and disbanding his company; how Adam Crysler had thrown his
important influence in favor of the King, and that the inhabitants of
Tryon County were gloomy and depressed, seeing so many respectable
gentlemen siding with the Tories.
We learned that the Schoharie and Schenectady militia had refused to
march unless some provision was made to protect their families in their
absence; that Congress had therefore established a corps of invalids,
consisting of eight companies, each to have one captain, two
lieutenants, two ensigns, five sergeants, six corporals, two drums, two
fifes, and one hundred men; one company to be stationed in Schoharie,
and to be called the "Associate Exempts"; that three forts for the
protection of the Schoharie Valley were nearly finished, called the
Upper, Lower, and Middle forts.
More sinister still were the rumors from the British armies: Burgoyne
was marching on Albany from the north with the finest train of artillery
ever seen in America; St. Leger was moving from the west; McDonald had
started already, flinging out his Indian scouts as far as Perth and
Broadalbin, and Sir Henry Clinton had gathered a great army at New York
and was preparing to sweep the Hudson Valley from Fishkill to Albany.
And the focus of these three armies and of Butler's, Johnson's, and
McDonald's renegades and Indians was this unhappy county of Tryon, torn
already with internal dissensions; unarmed, unprovisioned, unorganized,
I remember, one rainy day towards sunset, coming into a small hamlet
where, in front of the church, some score of farmers and yokels were
gathered, marshalled into a single line. Some were armed with rifles,
some with blunderbusses, some with spears and hay-forks. None wore
uniform. As we halted to watch the pathetic array, their fifer and
drummer wheeled out and marched down the line, playing Yankee Doodle.
Then the minister laid down his blunderbuss and, facing the company,
raised his arms in prayer, invoking the "God of Armies" as though he
addressed his supplication before a vast armed host.
Murphy strove to laugh, but failed; Mount muttered vaguely under his
breath; Elerson gnawed his lips and bent his bared head while the old
man finished his prayer to "The God of Armies!" then picked up his
blunderbuss and limped to his place in the scanty file.
And again I remember one fresh, sweet morning late in June, standing
with my riflemen at a toll-gate to see some four hundred Tryon County
militia marching past on their way to Unadilla on the Susquehanna, where
Brant, with half a thousand savages, had consented to a last parley.
Stout, wholesome lads they were, these Tryon County men; wearing brown
and yellow uniforms cut smartly, and their officers in the Continental
buff and blue, riding like regulars; curved swords shining and their
epaulets striking fire in the sunshine.
"Palatines!" said Mount, standing to salute as an officer rode by.
"That's General Herkimer--old Honikol Herkimer--with his hard,
weather-tanned jaws and the devil lurking under his eyebrows; and that
young fellow in his smart uniform is Colonel Cox, old George Klock's
son-in-law; and yonder rides Colonel Harper! Oh, I know 'em, sir; I was
not in these parts for nothing in '74 and '75!"
The drums and fifes were playing "Unadilla" as the regiment marched
past; and my riflemen, lounging along the roadside, exchanged
pleasantries with the hardy Palatines, or greeted acquaintances in their
impudent, bantering manner:
"Hello! What's this Low Dutch regiment? Say, Han Yost, the pigs has eat
off your queue-band! Bedad, they marrch like Albany ducks in fly-time!
Musha, thin, luk at the fat dhrummer laad! Has he apples in thim two
cheeks, Jack? I dunnoa! Hey, there goes Wagner! Hello, Wagner! Wisha,
laad, ye're cross-eyed an' shquint-lipped a-playin' yere fife
And the replies from the dusty, brown ranks, steadily passing:
"Py Gott! dere's Jack Mount! Look alretty, Jacob! Hello, Elerson! Ish
dot true you patch your breeches mit second-hand scalps you puy in
Montreal? Vat you vas doing down here, Tim Murphy? Oh, joost look at dem
devils of Morgan! Sure, Emelius, dey joost come so soon as ve go. Ya!
Dey come to kiss our girls, py cricky! Uf I catch you round my girl
alretty, Dave Elerson--"
"Silence! Silence in the ranks!" sang out an officer, riding up. The
brown column passed on, the golden dust hanging along its flanks. Far
ahead we could still hear the drums and fifes playing "Unadilla."
"They ought to have a flag; a flag's a good thing to fight for," said
Mount, looking after them. "I fought for the damned British rag when I
was fifteen. Lord! it makes me boil to think that they've forgot what we
did for 'em!"
"We Virginians carried a flag at the siege o' Boston," observed Elerson.
"It was a rattlesnake on a white ground, with the motto, 'Don't tread
I told them of the new flag that our Congress had chosen, describing it
in detail. They listened attentively, but made no comment.
It was on these expeditions that I learned something of these rough
riflemen which I had not suspected--their passionate devotion to the
forest. What the sea is to mariners, the endless, uncharted wilderness
was to these forest runners; they loved and hated it, they suspected and
trusted it. A forest voyage finished, they steered for the nearest port
with all the eager impatience of sea-cloyed sailors. Yet, scarcely were
they anchored in some frontier haven than they fell to dreaming of the
wilderness, of the far silences in the trackless sea of trees, of the
winds ruffling the forest's crests till ten thousand trees toss their
leaves, silver side up, as white-caps flash, rolling in long patches on
a heaving waste of waters.
Yet, in all those weeks I never heard one word or hint of that devotion
expressed or implied, not one trace of appreciation, not one shadow of
sentiment. If I ventured to speak of the vast beauty of the woods, there
was no response from my shy companions; one appeared to vie with another
in concealing all feeling under a careless mask and a bantering manner.
Once only can I recall a voluntary expression of pleasure in beauty; it
came from Jack Mount, one blue night in July, when the heavens flashed
under summer stars till the vaulted skies seemed plated solidly with
"Them stars look kind of nice," he said, then colored with embarrassment
and spat a quid of spruce-gum into the camp-fire.
Yet humanity demands some outlet for accumulated sentiment, and these
men found it in the dirge-like songs and laments and rude ballads of the
wilderness, which I think bear a close resemblance to the sailor-men's
songs, in words as well as in the dolorous melodies, fit only for the
scraping whine of a two-string fiddle in a sugar-camp.
The magic of June faded from the forests, smothered under the
magnificent and deeper glory of July's golden green; the early summer
ripened into August, finding us still afoot in the Kingsland district
gathering in the loyal, warning the rash, comforting the down-cast,
threatening the suspected. Twice, by expresses bound for Saratoga, I
sent full reports to Schuyler, but received no further orders. I
wondered whether he was displeased at my failure to arrest Walter
Butler; and we redoubled our efforts to gain news of him. Three times we
heard of his presence in or near the Kingsland district: once at Tribes
Hill, once at Fort Plain, and once it was said he was living quietly in
a farm-house near Johnstown, which he had the effrontery to enter in
broad daylight. But we failed to come up with him, and to this day I do
not know whether any of this information we received was indeed correct.
It was the first day of August when we heard of Butler's presence near
Johnstown; we had been lying at a tavern called "The Brick House," a
two-story inn standing where the Albany and Schenectady roads fork near
Fox Creek, and there had been great fear of McDonald's renegades that
week, and I had advised the despatch of an express to Albany asking for
troops to protect the valley when I chanced to overhear a woman say that
firing had been heard in the direction of Stanwix.
The woman, a slattern, who was known by the unpleasant name of Rya's
Pup, declared that Walter Butler had gone to Johnstown to join St. Leger
before Stanwix, and that the Tories would give the rebels such a
drubbing that we would all be crawling on our bellies yelling for
quarter this day week. As the wench was drunk, I made little of her
babble; but the next day Murphy and Elerson, having been in touch with
Gansevoort's outposts, returned to me with a note from Colonel Willett:
"FORT SCHUYLER (STANWIX),
"DEAR SIR,--I transmit to you the contents of a letter from
Colonel Gansevoort, dated July 28th:
"'Yesterday, at three o'clock in the afternoon, our garrison
was alarmed with the firing of four guns. A party of men was
instantly despatched to the place where the guns were fired,
which was in the edge of the woods, about five hundred yards
from the fort; but they were too late. The villains were
fled, after having shot three young girls who were out
picking raspberries, two of whom were lying scalped and
tomahawked; one dead and the other expiring, who died in
about half an hour after she was brought home. The third had
a bullet through her face, and crawled away, lying hid until
we arrived. It was pitiful. The child may live, but has
lost her mind.
"'This was accomplished by a scout of sixteen Tories of
Colonel John Butler's command and two savages, Mohawks, all
under direction of Captain Walter Butler.'
"This, sir, is a revised copy of Colonel Gansevoort's letter
to Colonel Van Schaick. Permit me to add, with the full
approval of Colonel Gansevoort, that the scout under your
command warns the militia at Whitestown of the instant
approach of Colonel Barry St. Leger's regular troops,
reinforced by Sir John Johnson's regiment of Royal Greens,
Colonel Butler's Rangers, McCraw's outlaws, and seven hundred
Mohawk, Seneca, and Cayuga warriors under Brant and Walter
Butler. I will add, sir, that we shall hold this fort to the
Standing knee-deep in the thick undergrowth, I read this letter aloud to
my riflemen, amid a shocked silence; then folded it for transmission to
General Schuyler when opportunity might offer, and signed Murphy to
So Rya's Pup was right. Walter Butler had made his first mark on the red
We marched in absolute silence, Murphy leading, every nerve on edge,
straining eye and ear for a sign of the enemy's scouts, now doubtless
swarming forward and to cover the British advance.
But the wilderness is vast, and two armies might pass each other
scarcely out of hail and never know.
Towards sundown I caught my first glimpse of a hostile Iroquois
war-party. We had halted behind some rocks on a heavily timbered slope,
and Mount was scrutinizing the trail below, where a little brook crossed
it, flowing between mossy stones; when, without warning, a naked Mohawk
stalked into the trail, sprang from rock to rock, traversing the bed of
the brook like a panther, then leaped lightly into the trail again and
moved on. After him, in file, followed some thirty warriors, naked save
for the clout, all oiled and painted, and armed with rifles. One or two
glanced up along our slope while passing, but a gesture from the leader
hastened their steps, and more quickly than I can write it they had
disappeared among the darkening shadows of the towering timber.
"Bad luck!" breathed Murphy; "'tis a rocky road to Dublin, but a shorter
wan to hell! Did you want f'r to shoot, Jack? Look at Dave Elerson an'
th' thrigger finger av him twitchin' all a-thremble! Wisha, lad! lave
the red omadhouns go. Arre you tired o' the hair ye wear, Jack Mount?
Come on out o' this, ye crazy divil!"
Circling the crossing-place, we swung east, then south, coming presently
to a fringe of trees through which the red sunset glittered,
illuminating a great stretch of swamp, river, and cleared land beyond.
"Yonder's the foort," whispered Murphy--"ould Stanwix--or Schuyler, as
they call it now. Step this way, sorr; ye can see it plain across the
The red sunshine struck the three-cornered bastions of the rectangular
fort; a distant bayonet caught the light and twinkled above the
stockaded ditch like a slender point of flame. Outside the works squads
of troops moved, relieving the nearer posts; working details, marching
to and from the sawmill, were evidently busy with the unfinished
abattis; a long, low earth-work, surmounted by a stockade and a
block-house, which. Murphy said, guarded the covered way to the creek,
swarmed with workmen plying pick and shovel and crowbar, while the
sentries walked their beats above, watching the new road which crossed
the creek and ran through the swamp to the sawmill.
"It is strange," said Mount, "that they have not yet finished the fort."
"It is stranger yet," said Elerson, "that they should work so close to
the forest yonder. Look at that fatigue-party drawing logs within
pistol-shot of the woods--"
Before the rifleman could finish, a sentinel on the northwest parapet
fired his musket; the entire scene changed in a twinkling; the
fatigue-party scattered, dropping chains and logs; the workmen sprang
out of ditch and pit, running for the stockade; a man, driving a team of
horses along the new road, jumped up in his wagon and lashed his horses
to a gallop across the rough meadow; and I saw the wagon swaying and
bumping up the slope, followed by a squad of troops on the double.
Behind these ran a dozen men driving some frightened cattle; soldiers
swarmed out on the bastions, soldiers flung open the water gates,
soldiers hung over parapets, gesticulating and pointing westward.
Suddenly from the bastion on the west angle of the fort a shaft of flame
leaped; a majestic cloud buried the parapet, and the deep cannon-thunder
shook the evening air. Above the writhing smoke, now stained pink in the
sunset light, a flag crept jerkily up the halyards of a tall flag-staff,
higher, higher, until it caught the evening wind aloft and floated
"It's the new flag," whispered Elerson, in an awed voice.
We stared at it, fascinated. Never before had the world seen that flag
displayed. Blood-red and silver-white the stripes rippled; the stars on
the blue field glimmered peacefully. There it floated, serene above the
drifting cannon--smoke, the first American flag ever hoisted on earth.
A freshening wind caught it, blowing strong out of the flaming west; the
cannon-smoke eddied, settled, and curled, floating across its folds. Far
away we heard a faint sound from the bastions. They were cheering.
Cap in hand I stood, eyes never leaving the flag; Mount uncovered,
Elerson and Murphy drew their deer-skin caps from their heads
After a little while we caught the glimmer of steel along the forest's
edge; a patch of scarlet glowed in the fading rays of sunset. Then, out
into the open walked a red-coated officer bearing a white flag and
attended by a drummer in green and scarlet.
Far across the clearing we heard drums beating the parley; and we knew
the British were at the gates of Stanwix, and that St. Leger had
summoned the garrison to surrender.
We waited; the white flag entered the stockade gate, only to reappear
again, quickly, as though the fort's answer to the summons had been
brief and final. Scarcely had the ensign reached the forest than bang!
bang! bang! bang! echoed the muskets, and the rifles spat flame into the
deepening dusk and the dark woods rang with the war-yell of half a
thousand Indians stripped for the last battles that the Long House
should ever fight.
About ten o'clock that night we met a regiment of militia on the
Johnstown road, marching noisily north towards Whitestown, and learned
that General Herkimer's brigade was concentrating at an Oneida hamlet
called Oriska, only eight miles by the river highway from Stanwix, and a
little to the east of Oriskany creek. An officer named Van Slyck also
informed me that an Oneida interpreter had just come in, reporting St.
Leger's arrival before Stanwix, and warning Herkimer that an ambuscade
had been prepared for him should he advance to raise the siege of the
Learning that we also had seen the enemy at Stanwix, this officer begged
us to accompany him to Oriska, where our information might prove
valuable to General Herkimer. So I and my three riflemen fell in as the
troops tramped past; and I, for one, was astonished to hear their drums
beating so loudly in the enemy's country, and to observe the careless
indiscipline in the ranks, where men talked loudly and their reckless
laughter often sounded above the steady rolling of the drums.
"Are there no officers here to cuff their ears!" muttered Mount, in
"Bah!" sneered Elerson; "officers can't teach militia--only a thrashing
does 'em any good. After all, our people are like the British, full o'
contempt for untried enemies. Do you recall how the red-coats went
swaggering about that matter o' Bunker Hill? They make no more frontal
attacks now, but lay ambuscades, and thank their stars for the
A soldier, driving an ox-team behind us, began to sing that melancholy
ballad called "St. Clair's Defeat." The entire company joined in the
chorus, bewailing the late disaster at Ticonderoga, till Jack Mount,
nigh frantic with disgust, leaped up into the cart and bawled out:
"If you must sing, damn you, I'll give something that rings!"
And he lifted his deep, full-throated voice, sounding the marching song
of "Morgan's Men."
"The Lord He is our rampart and our buckler and our shield!
We must aid Him cleanse His temple; we must follow Him afield.
To His wrath we leave the guilty, for their punishment is sure;
To His justice the downtrodden, for His mercy shall endure!"
And out of the darkness the ringing chorus rose, sweeping the column
from end to end, and the echoing drums crashed amen!
Yet there is a time for all things--even for praising God.
It is due, no doubt, to my limited knowledge of military matters and to
my lack of practical experience that I did not see the battle of
Oriskany as our historians have recorded it; nor did I, before or during
the affair, notice any intelligent effort towards assuming the offensive
as described by those whose reports portray an engagement in which,
after the first onset, some semblance of military order reigned.
So, as I do not feel at liberty to picture Oriskany from the pens of
abler men, I must be content to describe only what I myself witnessed of
that sad and unnecessary tragedy.
For three days we had been camped near the clearing called Oriska, which
is on the south bank of the Mohawk. Here the volunteers and militia of
Tryon County were concentrating from Fort Dayton in the utmost disorder,
their camps so foolishly pitched, so slovenly in those matters
pertaining to cleanliness and health, so inadequately guarded, that I
saw no reason why our twin enemies, St. Leger and disease, should not
make an end of us ere we sighted the ramparts of Stanwix.
All night long the volunteer soldiery had been in-subordinate and
riotous in the hamlet of Oriska, thronging the roads, shouting, singing,
disputing, clamoring to be led against the enemy. Popular officers were
cheered, unpopular officers jeered at, angry voices raised outside
headquarters, demanding to know why old Honikol Herkimer delayed the
advance. Even officers shouted, "Forward! forward! Wake up Honikol!" And
spoke of the old General derisively, even injuriously, to their own
Towards dawn, when I lay down on the floor of a barn to sleep, the
uproar had died out in a measure; but lights still flickered in the camp
where soldiers were smoking their pipes and playing cards by the flare
of splinter-wood torches. As for the pickets, they paid not the
slightest attention to their duties, continually leaving their posts to
hobnob with neighbors; and the indiscipline alarmed me, for what could
one expect to find in men who roamed about where it pleased them,
howling their dissatisfaction with their commander, and addressing their
officers by their first names?
At eight o'clock on that oppressive August morning, while writing a
letter to my cousin Dorothy, which an Oneida had promised to deliver, he
being about to start with a message to Governor Clinton, I was
interrupted by Jack Mount, who came into the barn, saying that a company
of officers were quarrelling in front of the sugar-shack occupied as
I folded my letter, sealed it with a bit of blue balsam gum, and bade
Mount deliver it to the Oneida runner, while I stepped up the road.
Of all unseemly sights that I have ever had the misfortune to witness,
what I now saw was the most shameful. I pushed and shouldered my way
through a riotous mob of soldiers and teamsters which choked the
highway; loud, angry voices raised in reproach or dispute assailed my
ears. A group of militia officers were shouting, shoving, and
gesticulating in front of the tent where, rigid in his arm-chair, the
General sat, grim, narrow-eyed, silent, smoking a short clay pipe. Bolt
upright, behind him, stood his chief scout and interpreter, a superb
Oneida, in all the splendor of full war-paint, blazing with scarlet.
Colonel Cox, a swaggering, intrusive, loud-voiced, and smartly uniformed
officer, made a sign for silence and began haranguing the old man,
evidently as spokesman for the party of impudent malcontents grouped
about him. I heard him demand that his men be led against the British
without further delay. I heard him condemn delay as unreasonable and
unwarrantable, and the terms of speech he used were unbecoming to
"We call on you, sir, in the name of Tryon County, to order us forward!"
he said, loudly. "We are ready. For God's sake give the order, sir!
There is no time to waste, I tell you!"
The old General removed the pipe from his teeth and leaned a little
forward in his chair.
"Colonel Cox," he said, "I haff Adam Helmer to Stanvix sent, mit der
opject of inviting Colonel Gansevoort to addack py de rear ven ve addack
py dot left flank.
"So soon as Helmer comes dot fort py, Gansevoort he fire cannon; und so
soon I hear cannon, I march! Not pefore, sir; not pefore!"
"How do we know that Helmer and his men will ever reach Stanwix?"
shouted Colonel Paris, impatiently.
"Ve vait, und py un' py ve know," replied Herkimer, undisturbed.
"He may be dead and scalped by now," sneered Colonel Visscher.
"Look you, Visscher," said the old General; "it iss I who am here to
answer for your safety. Now comes Spencer, my Oneida, mit a pelt, who
svears to me dot Brant und Butler an ambuscade haff made for me. Vat I
do? Eh? I vait for dot sortie? Gewiss!"
He waved his short pipe.
"For vy am I an ass to march me py dot ambuscade? Such a foolishness iss
dot talk! I stay me py Oriskany till I dem cannon hear."
A storm of insolent protest from the mob of soldiers greeted his
decision; the officers gesticulated and shouted insultingly, shoving
forward to the edge of the porch. Fists were shaken at him, cries of
impatience and contempt rose everywhere. Colonel Paris flung his sword
on the ground. Colonel Cox, crimson with anger, roared: "If you delay
another moment the blood of Gansevoort's men be on your head!"
Then, in the tumult, a voice called out: "He's a Tory! We are betrayed!"
And Colonel Cox shouted: "He dares not march! He is a coward!"
White to the lips, the old man sprang from his chair, narrow eyes
ablaze, hands trembling. Colonel Bellinger and Major Frey caught him by
the arm, begging him to remain firm in his decision.
"Py Gott, no!" he thundered, drawing his sword. "If you vill haff it so,
your blood be on your heads! Vorwaerts!"
It is not for me to blame him in his wrath, when, beside himself with
righteous fury, he gave the bellowing yokels their heads and swept on
with them to destruction. The mutinous fools who had called him coward
and traitor fell back as their outraged commander strode silently
through the disordered ranks, noticing neither the proffered apologies
of Colonel Paris nor the stammered excuses of Colonel Cox. Behind him
stalked the tall Oneida, silent, stern, small eyes flashing. And now
began the immense uproar of departure; confused officers ran about
cursing and shouting; the smashing roll of the drums broke out, beating
the assembly; teamsters rushed to harness horses; dismayed soldiers
pushed and struggled through the mass, searching for their regiments
Mounted on a gaunt, gray horse, the General rode through the disorder,
quietly directing the incompetent militia officers in their tasks of
collecting their men; and behind him, splendidly horsed and caparisoned,
cantered the tall Oneida, known as Thomas Spencer the Interpreter, calm,
composed, inscrutable eyes fixed on his beloved leader and friend.
The drums of the Canajoharie regiment were beating as the drummers swung
past me, sleeves rolled up to the elbows, sweat pouring down their
sunburned faces; then came Herkimer, all alone, sitting his saddle like
a rock, the flush of anger still staining his weather-ravaged visage,
his small, wrathful eyes fixed on the north.
Behind him rode Colonels Cox and Paris, long, heavy swords drawn,
heading the Canajoharie regiment, which pressed forward excitedly. The
remaining regiments of Tryon County militia followed, led by Colonel
Seeber, Colonel Bellenger, Majors Frey, Eisenlord, and Van Slyck. Then
came the baggage-wagons, some drawn by oxen, some by four horses; and in
the rear of these rode Colonel Visscher, leading the Caughnawaga
regiment, closing the dusty column.
"Damn them!" growled Elerson to Murphy, "they're advancing without
flanking-parties or scouts. I wish Dan'l Morgan was here."
"'Tis th' Gineral's jooty to luk out f'r his throops, not Danny Morgan's
or mine," replied the big rifleman in disgust.
The column halted. I signalled my men to follow me and hastened along
the flanks under a fire of chaff: "Look at young buckskins! There go
Morgan's macaronis! God help the red-coats this day! How's the scalp
Herkimer was sitting his horse in the middle of the road as I came up;
and he scowled down at me when I gave him the officer's salute and stood
at attention beside his stirrup.
"Veil, you can shpeak," he said, bluntly; "efery-body shpeaks but me!"
I said that I and my riflemen were at his disposal if he desired leaders
for flanking-parties or scouts; and his face softened as he listened,
looking down at me in silence.
"Sir," he said, "it iss to my shame I say dot my sodgers command me, not
I my sodgers."
Then, looking back at Colonel Cox, he added, bitterly:
"I haff ordered flanking-parties and scouts, but my officers, who know
much more than I, haff protested against dot useless vaste of time. I
thank you, sir; I can your offer not accept."
The drums began again; the impatient Palatine regiment moved forward,
yelling their approval, and we fell back to the roadside, while the
boisterous troops tramped past, cheering, singing, laughing in their
excitement. Mechanically we fell in behind the Caughnawagas, who formed
the rear-guard, and followed on through the dust; meaning to go with
them only a mile or so before we started back across country with the
news which I was now at liberty to take in person to General Schuyler.
For I considered my mission at an end. In one thing only had I failed:
Walter Butler was still free; but now that he commanded a company of
outlaws and savages in St. Leger's army, I, of course, had no further
hope of arresting him or of dealing with him in any manner save on the
So at last I felt forced to return to Varick Manor; but the fear of the
dread future was in me, and all the hopeless misery of a hopeless
passion made of me a coward, so that I shrank from the pain I must
surely inflict and endure. Kinder for her, kinder for me, that we should
never meet again.
Not that I desired to die. I was too young in life and love to wish for
death as a balm. Besides, I knew it could not bring us peace. Still, it
was one solution of a problem otherwise so utterly hopeless that I,
heartsick, had long since wearied of the solving and carried my hurt
buried deep, fearful lest my prying senses should stir me to disinter
the dead hope lying there.
Absence renders passion endurable. But at sight of her I loved I knew I
could not endure it; and, uncertain of myself, having twice nigh failed
under the overwhelming provocations of a love returned, I shrank from
the coming duel 'twixt love and duty which must once more be fought
within my breast.
Nor could my duty, fighting blindly, expect encouragement from her I
loved, save at the last gasp and under the heel of love. Then, only, at
the very last would she save me; for there was that within her which
revolted at a final wrong, and I knew that not even our twin passion
could prevail to stamp out the last spark of conscience and slay our
Brooding, as I trudged forward through the dust, I became aware that the
drums had ceased their beating, and that the men were marching quietly
with little laughter or noise of song.
The heat was intense, although a black cloud had pushed up above the
west, veiling the sun. Flies swarmed about the column; sweat poured from
men and horses; the soldiers rolled back their sleeves and plodded on,
muskets a-trail and coats hanging over their shoulders. Once, very far
away, the looming horizon was veined with lightning; and, after a long
time, thunder sounded.
We had marched northward on a rutty road some two miles or more from
our camp at Oriska, and I was asking Mount how near we were to the old
Algonquin-Iroquois trail which runs from the lakes across the wilderness
to the healing springs at Saratoga, when the column halted and I heard
an increasing confusion of voices from the van.
"There's a ravine ahead," said Elerson. "I'm thinking they'll have
trouble with these wagons, for there's a swamp at the bottom and only a
"Tis the proper shpot f'r to ambuscade us," observed Murphy, craning his
neck and standing on tiptoe to see ahead.
We walked forward and sat down on the bank close to the brow of the
hill. Directly ahead a ravine, shaped like a half-moon, cut the road,
and the noisy Canajoharie regiment was marching into it. The bottom of
the ravine appeared to be a swamp, thinly timbered with tamarack and
blue-beech saplings, where the reeds and cattails grew thick, and
little, dark pools of water spread, all starred with water-lilies,
shining intensely white in the gloom of the coming storm.
"There do be wild ducks in thim rushes," said Murphy, musingly. "Sure I
count it sthrange, Jack Mount, that thim burrds sit quiet-like an' a
screechin' rigiment marchin' acrost that log-road."
"You mean that somebody has been down there before and scared the ducks
away?" I asked.
"Maybe, sorr," he replied, grimly.
Instinctively we leaned forward to scan the rising ground on the
opposite side of the ravine. Nothing moved in the dense thickets. After
a moment Mount said quietly: "I'm a liar or there's a barked twig
showing raw wood alongside of that ledge."
He glanced at the pan of his rifle, then again fixed his keen, blue
eyes on the tiny glimmer of white which even I could distinguish now,
though Heaven only knows how his eyes had found it in all that tangle.
"That's raw wood," he repeated.
"A deer might bark a twig," said I.
"Maybe, sorr," muttered Murphy; "but there's divil a deer w'ud nibble
The men of the Canajoharie regiment were climbing the hill on the other
side of the ravine now. Colonel Cox came galloping back, shouting:
"Bring up those wagons! The road is clear! Move your men forward there!"
Whips cracked; the vehicles rattled off down hill, drivers yelling,
soldiers pushing the heavy wheels forward over the log-road below which
spurted water as the bumping wagons struck the causeway.
I remember that Colonel Cox had just drawn bridle, half-way up the
opposite incline, and was leaning forward in his saddle to watch the
progress of an ox-team, when a rifle-shot rang out and he tumbled clean
out of his saddle, striking the shallow water with a splash.
Then hell itself broke loose in that black ravine; volley on volley
poured into the Canajoharie regiment; officers fell from their horses;
drivers reeled and pitched forward under the heels of their plunging
teams; wagons collided and broke down, choking the log-road. Louder and
louder the terrific yells of the outlaws and savages rang out on our
flanks; I saw our soldiers in the ravine running frantically in all
directions, falling on the log-road, floundering waist-deep in the water
and mud, slipping, stumbling, staggering; while faster and faster
cracked the hidden rifles, and the pitiless bullets pelted them from the
"Stand! Stand! you fools!" bawled Elerson. "Take to the timber! Every
man to a tree! For God's sake remember Braddock!"
"Look out!" shouted Mount, dragging me with him to a rock. "Close up,
Elerson! Close up, Murphy!"
Straight into the stupefied ranks of the Caughnawaga company came
leaping the savages, shooting, stabbing, clubbing the dazed men,
dragging them from the ranks with shrieks of triumph. I saw one
half-naked creature, awful in his paint, run up and strike a soldier
full in the face with his fist, then dash out his brains with a
death-maul and tear his scalp off.
Murphy and Mount were loading and firing steadily; Elerson and I kept
our rifles ready for a rush. I was perfectly stunned; the spectacle did
not seem real to me.
The Caughnawaga men, apparently roused from their momentary stupor, fell
back into small squads, shooting in every direction; and the savages,
unable to withstand a direct fire, sheered off and came bounding past us
to cover, yelping like timber-wolves. Three darted directly at us; a
young warrior, painted in bars of bright yellow, raised his hatchet to
hurl it; but Murphy's bullet spun him round like a top till he crashed
against a tree and fell in a heap, quivering all over.
The two others had leaped on Mount. Swearing, threatening, roaring with
Back to Full Books